month march 06, edition 000448, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
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- AN AVOIDABLE TRAGEDY
- HOCKEY IS HAPPENING!
- AND IF THE YANKS DON'T GO HOME? - ASHOK MALIK
- REKINDLE VEDIC KNOWLEDGE - SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR
- THE PRINCE OF INEQUITY - UDAYAN NAMBOODIRI
- RESURGENT INDIA, HUNGRY INDIANS - SWARN KUMAR ANAND
- A SILENT GENOCIDE WE CHOOSE NOT TO SEE
- ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE UNDER PAWAR'S WATCH
- WATCH THAT ALLIANCE
- INFLATION IS ROBBING USOF FRUITS OF GROWTH - BY R.SRINIVASAN
- THIRD UMPIRE - QAISER MOHAMMAD ALI
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS
- A CHOICE FOR CHANGE - SHERRY REHMAN
- OUR BODIES SHOULDN'T BE TOUCHSCREENS - TARA GUPTA
- IT IS A LOGICAL PROGRESSION
- BE CIVIL WITH THE MILITARY - KANTI BAJPAI
- WITH STRONG RESERVATIONS
- RACE AGAINST DISCRIMINATION - PRATIK KANJILAL
- MANY SHADES OF GREY - BARKHA DUTT
- DIFFERENT AVATARS
- LOVE & HONOUR
- BEING HOLBROOKE
- THEM AND US - SHEKHAR GUPTA
- THE HOST'S DIVIDEND - DESH GAURAV CHOPRA SEKHRI
- MAKING THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION REAL - VINOD RAINA
- THE RIGHT TO RIOT - ANANTH PADMANABHAN
- THE BOMBS WITHIN
- SAUDI INTERLOCUTIONS - RUCHIKA TALWAR
- MINE THIS FPO RIGHT
- MORATORIUM COSTS
- LOCAL BODIES STAND TO GAIN FROM TFC - JESSICA SEDDON WALLACK
- WHY THE PIGS WILL NOT FLY ANYTIME SOON - K VAIDYA NATHAN
- COMBAT FOR ATTENTION - LALITHA SRINIVASAN
- DON'T FAIL THE WOMEN OF INDIA
- BANNING PERNICIOUS WEAPONS
- PAKISTAN ARMY: THE STRUGGLE WITHIN - PRAVEEN SWAMI
- EDUCATION IN THE UNION BUDGET - JANDHYALA B.G. TILAK
- BROWN'S MAKEOVER TO CONNECT WITH VOTERS - HASAN SUROOR
- RISING TENSIONS IN BOSNIA
- CHINESE MIGHT
- A NEW WEATHER VANE - V SUBRAMANYAN
- EATING THROUGH THE HEART OF DUBAI - AMRISH ARORA
- YET ANOTHER STAMPEDE
- PUNJAB'S FISCAL MESS
- POLITICS OF INAUGURATION
- FOOD SECURITY IN PERIL - BY ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA
- MYSELF, DASH! - BY RAJI P. SHRIVASTAVA
- BUDGET TO HELP RAISE FOOD PRODUCTION - BY RUCHIKA M. KHANNA
- EUROPE HAS A VACUUM AT ITS HEART - BY MARY DEJEVSKY
- INSIDE PAKISTAN - BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
- WOMEN'S BILL TOO DISRUPTIVE?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- IMPENDING WATER SHORTAGE
- BSF ARREST A POSITIVE
- PULP FICTION
- 'WORST IS OVER FOR INDIAN AIRLINES'
- ADDRESSING TRUST IN CLIMATE CHANGE - MUKUL SANWAL
- MIND ACCOUNTS FOR BONDAGE, FREEDOM - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- HOW MANY TRAGIC LESSONS DO WE NEED?
- WHO'S A BULLY THEN? - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
- JUNIOR BABUS IN TIZZY
- YOU CAN'T DRIVE INDIA OUT OF HUSAIN - BY ANTARA DEV SEN
- FAMILY, BACHCHAN STYLE - BY KISHWAR DESAI
- HONEST MAVERICK?
- CWG CRAWL
- THE ROAD AHEAD
- COMPULSORY VOTING - BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
- 'WTO, FTA CAN DO FARMERS NO GOOD'
- ON RECORD
- DELHI DURBAR
- CASTE IN POWER
- THAT SENSE OF MENACE - SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
- TAXING TO THE HILT
- TIME TO REBUILD
- BANKING ON HOPE - BY R S DESHPANDE
- THE HOLY DIP - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
- THE NEW RELIGION - BY NAVARATNA LAXMAN
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- 'IF YOU BRING IN THE COPS'
- JUSTICE FOR JUDGES
- SO MUCH FOR JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
- REFEREEING THE HEALTH CARE DEBATE
- COPS VS. KIDS - BY BOB HERBERT
- TRADING AWAY PRODUCTIVITY - BY ALAN TONELSON AND KEVIN L. KEARNS
- TRUE TO FORM
- CCI POTENTIAL
- IT SHOULD BE MORE THAN A CHARADE - ARIF NIZAMI
- A TRANSFORMED KABUL? - SALEEM SAFI
- CAN THE TALKS AFFORD TO FAIL? - SHERRY REHMAN
- A NEW MOVE ON APPOINTING JUDGES - BABAR SATTAR
- THE INDO-PAK STALEMATE - MARIAM CHAUDHRY
- VIP VIRUS - ANJUM NIAZ
- PAKISTAN AT CROSSROADS
- MAHBOOB A KHWAJA
- HISTORY CREATED AT DAMADOLA - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- A THREAT TO THE SOUTH ASIAN PEACE - ALI SUKHANVER
- MUSLIMS ARE THEIR OWN WORST ENEMY - PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS
- RUCKUS IN PARLIAMENT
- TRADE LOGISTICS
- A DOSE OF FORGIVENESS..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- POVERTY ALLEVIATION - EDWARD PROBIR MONDOL
- FOR AN EFFECTIVE PARLIAMENT - PRANAB KUMAR PANDAY
- TO WITHDRAW RICKSHAW OR NOT? - PROFESSOR M ZAHIDUL HAQUE
- IS CHINA OVERPLAYING ITS HAND? - CHRIS PATTEN
- HYPERBOLE ERODES CREDIBILITY
- RELEASE THE HENRY REVIEW FOR A SENSIBLE TAX DEBATE
- OUT OF TOUCH . . .
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER MOUNTAIN FOR RUDD TO MOVE
- CLINGING TO LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
- SOMETIMES SAYING SORRY JUST ISN'T ENOUGH
- JON VENABLES: RAGE WITHOUT REASON
- GORDON BROWN AND IRAQ: EVERY ANSWER BAR THE BIG ONE
- UNTHINKABLE? TREASURE ISLANDS
THE KOREA HERALD
- NO NEAT SOLUTION?
- 'THROWING TANTRUMS'
- AFGHAN PEACE THROUGH RECONCILIATION - GRACIANA DEL CASTILLO
THE JAPAN TIMES
- THE CHASM IN THAI POLITICS
AN AVOIDABLE TRAGEDY
LOCAL AUTHORITIES MUST TAKE CHARGE
The stampede at the Kripalu Maharaj ashram located in the small village of Mangarh in Pratapgarh district of Uttar Pradesh that led to the death of 63 people all women and children is yet another reminder of how lax public safety measures are in this country. The incident occurred during the annual shraddh function of Kripalu Maharaj's wife. But what drew in a larger-than-normal crowd this year was the ashram's announcement that it would be distributing free clothes and utensils in addition to the customary community lunch. But as thousands from the neighbouring areas milled to the ashram, things got out of hand. As one of the ashram gates was opened to let in some of the people, a melee of sorts ensued in which the gate collapsed, in turn leading to a stampede. As in most of such cases, the victims were women and children who could not escape the chaos and confusion. In addition to the dead, at least 64 people were injured in the incident to various degrees. It is only expected that in the wake of the tragedy the ashram administrators will point to the unprecedented number of people who had gathered as the cause of the tragic incident. But it cannot be that they did not expect this. After all, the announcement of distribution of free clothes and utensils was bound to attract a large crowd. In fact, it was with this very intention that the announcement was made in the first place. But no special arrangements were made nor permission sought for organising such a large scale event.
The real culprit no doubt is our lacklustre attitude towards ensuring public security at large gatherings. Too many times have such incidents occurred. Yet we have learnt little from them. Almost a similar situation had played out in 2008 at the Naina Devi and the Chamunda Devi temples in Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan respectively. At these two places, too, it was mismanagement of crowds that had led to stampedes that had killed more than 300 people. Religion being an important part of life in India, it is only natural that religious functions draw a large number of people. It is for this precise reason that extra precaution should be taken to maintain security and safety on these occasions. Sadly, it is more of a rule than exception that religious functions in our country are haphazardly organised. Everyone at these events is in a rush to perform ritual. This bizarre display of impatience at communal gatherings seems to be ingrained in the Indian psyche. To remedy this flaw, classes in public behaviour and orderliness in schools might not be inappropriate. Such classes could also be clubbed with instructions on disaster management to prepare our students for a wide range of scenarios including terrorist attacks. The aim should be to prepare each and every one for any eventuality. This is a huge task but something that is definitely worth investing in.
Coming back to the stampede in Mangarh, there needs to be a comprehensive public security management plan at such functions. For starters, it should be made mandatory for any private institution organising an event of such proportions to seek permission from the local administration. Second, the local administration should be in charge of crowd-control measures so that responsibility can be fixed in the event of a disaster. Private events with huge turnouts cannot be left to individuals or institutions. If the local administration, for whatever reason, is not in a position to take charge, then it should eny permission. There is no other option.
HOCKEY IS HAPPENING!
TEAM INDIA HAS DONE NATION PROUD
The Indian hockey team may have lost its chance to storm into the semi-finals of the Hockey World Cup after failing to win Thursday night's match, but its performance thus far has achieved a much larger mission for the national game. The Indian team's stunning victory against arch rival Pakistan in the inaugural match of the tournament has restored both promise and popularity for the game, which till then had long been mired in non-performance and organisational mess-ups. It has been a heartening sight that a stadium meant for 16,000 spectators has been full to the brim, especially during matches in which the Indian team has participated; boisterous fans have contributed their mite to the resurrection of the national game. Indeed, spectator turnout has put paid to sceptics and doomsayers who had written off hockey as a dead sport in India. With the World Cup being held in this country after 28 years, new generations of Indians have been crowding the venue, infusing life into the game and demonstrating that hockey still remains popular. The gritty performance by our largely inexperienced team has made an equal contribution. Given cricket's amazing popularity, both add up to an astonishing feat deserving of national applause.
Seen against this backdrop, it is not surprising that money, which is sorely needed to give the future of hockey a boost, should have begun to flow in for the game as well as the players. It is encouraging to note that the IOA has announced an incentive of Rs 1 lakh (Sahara will be paying twice this amount) for each of the players and support staff of the Indian team after its spectacular victory over the Pakistanis. Hopefully, this is only the beginning of big money sponsorship without which Indian cricket would have been languishing. A grading and contract system has been put in place to take care of the future of our highly talented but till now neglected hockey players. These measures should help push the performance index of the Indian team to a handsome high. It would also be in order to give credit to the coach who has done a fine job: There is good chemistry between him and the team and this has been demonstrated on the field. Does this mean Indian hockey is finally out of the dumps and all set to regain its lost glory? Not necessarily. There is always the danger of the enthusiasm we are now witnessing disappearing after the tournament is over. Were this to happen, it would be tragic for Indian hockey and our players. We must guard against this.
AND IF THE YANKS DON'T GO HOME?
Foreign policy commentators in New Delhi and the Generals and strategic establishment in Rawalpindi-Islamabad are working on the same assumption: That the American withdrawal from Afghanistan is inevitable, inescapable and imminent. The Pakistani Generals have been quick on the draw. They have begun the scramble for a post-withdrawal Kabul even before the Americans have actually begun their retreat.
In the short term, the Pakistani Afghan strategy has three components. First, drive the Indians out of Afghan- istan. Second, weaken President Hamid Karzai. Third, play factional politics within the Afghan Taliban so that the Haqqani militia, considered closest to the Inter-Services Intelligence, emerges victorious.
February's attacks on Indian targets in Kabul were a pointer in this direction. They were believed to have been executed by the Haqqani faction to further the ISI mission of scaring away Indian economic assistance and capacity-building efforts.
The Haqqani faction is the ISI's proxy. It has gradually gained primacy among the various Taliban groups. Mullah Omar's faction the so-called Quetta Shura is being gradually undermined by Islamabad. As per Pakistani media reports, in a "massive crackdown" nine of 18 key members of the Quetta Shura have been arrested in the past two months. In the coming weeks, expect more senior operatives to be 'captured' or 'persuaded' by the ISI to defect.
Pakistan has trained its guns on the Queeta Shura ever since elements of it began negotiating with President Karzai's agents. The ISI sees this as insubordination and seeks absolute control over all Afghan Taliban factions. Essentially, Pakistan is clearing the ground for a post-Karzai, post-America power shift in Kabul. It wants the Haqqani faction to take over, no questions asked. It has been encouraging American contact with the Haqqanis for about a year and will try and present this group as the "good" Taliban or at least the Taliban the West can work with.
The diminution of Mullah Omar has to be seen in this context. He is too much of a religious nutcase to understand or play second fiddle to Pakistan's strategic interests, which are quite independent of any Islamic projections. In September 2001, Mullah Omar brushed aside the Saudis and the Pakistanis and refused to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States. He preferred risking an American ground invasion instead. The Generals didn't quite understand this. True, more and more of the senior ranks of the Pakistan Army are turning Islamist. Yet, at the very top, the military leadership remains rational, cut-throat and bloody-minded. It doesn't love universal jihad as much as it hates India.
As such, Rawalpindi is not bothered about who is a better theologian and more suited to imposing Sharia'h-compliant behaviour laws in Afghanistan Jalaluddin Haqqani or Mullah Omar. It is more interested in who will serve it better in re-establishing Pakistan's strategic depth and permitting the use of Afghanistan for unremitting assault on India as a priority over terrorist strikes against the West.
It is quite possible the ISI will lose control of Jalaluddin Haqqani or his son Sirajuddin should this wing of the Taliban eventually get to power in Kabul. Yet, that is a problem for the future. For the moment, the ISI and Pakistani praetorian guard on the one hand and the Haqqani clan on the other are in complete synergy.
However, there is one niggling question that remains to be answered: Is it certain the Americans will go home? In other words, have the Pakistanis declared victory a bit too early? Despite the recent London Conference on Afghanistan where the British Government's advocacy of a deal with the Taliban seemed to have prevailed, aimed as it was at boosting the Labour Party before this summer's general election the final picture remains unclear.
In Washington, DC, there is a compelling battle on between competing wings of the Obama Administration. One school wants to opt out of Afghanistan and would prefer to tackle terrorism in the West within a crime-fighting framework rather than through the prism of a cross-continental ideological war. Another section fears an American withdrawal will be a crippling blow to the superpower and its aura, influence and long-term security. There is concern that if Osama bin Laden appears on the streets of Kabul a few weeks after some sort of Taliban take over and nobody can rule this out, least of all the ISI clenches his fists and says "We smashed America", the consequences will be catastrophic.
That domestic debate in Washington, DC, has not been settled; perhaps it will never be. What that means is an all-out military assault on the multiple Taliban regiments, stretched across Afghanistan and Pakistan, will not happen. Nobody has the stomach for that and, with the unwillingness of European allies to commit forces, nobody has the troops either.
Yet, equally, it also means there will be enough pressure on the American President to not walk away altogether. If nothing else, covert operations within Pakistani territory could intensify, drone attacks being complemented by on-ground targeted killings or assassinations. In short, the status quo may persist longer than a lot of people, especially the Pakistani Generals, think.
November 2010 could prove a key month for Afghanistan's medium-term future. Congressional elections are due in the United States and will take place exactly midway through President Barack Obama's term. The Democrats are decidedly nervous and fear the building disappointment with Mr Obama will hand them a drubbing. The Republicans are smelling blood. This is expected to be Mr Obama's midterm jolt, just as the Republican triumph in the Congressional elections of 1994 was Mr Bill Clinton's first-term jolt.
That setback in 1994 converted Mr Clinton from a namby-pamby compromiser to a realist. What will 2010 mean for Mr Obama? He will have to re-craft his agenda and branding if he is to rescue his sinking presidency. Doubtless the economy will remain his, and the voter's, primary concern. However, he would also want to avoid being labelled the President who ran away from Afghanistan, didn't give his Generals the men and time they sought and in effect wrote America's obituary as a global power. By neglecting that potential scenario, Pakistan's Generals could be making a fatal miscalculation.
REKINDLE VEDIC KNOWLEDGE
SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR
Whatever we see in nature has a perfect mathematical structure. The rotation of the Earth, the movement of the stars, the growth of trees, etc, all have perfect underlying mathematical structures. Recent research is bringing to light the perfect mathematical structure of the Vedic texts. As a matter of fact, whatever we do in life has mathematics in some from or the other. It is not possible to prepare even a delicious cup of coffee without a precise sense and application of mathematical proportion of different ingredients used. It is a pity that such a wonderful subject of fundamental and vital importance is today creating the problem of Maths anxiety among students the world over.
The gravity of the problem is quite clear from a recent survey report published in the US. The cream of students good in mathematics was asked whether they truly liked the subject. As many as 60 per cent of them said "no".
Further, irrespective of whatever we become in life, we always have a large number of alternatives and choices. How strange is it that in mathematics there seems to be almost no choice and most of the time we have to follow a unique, fixed, monotonous, and tedious procedure in completing an arithmetical operation. Anything fixed naturally becomes monotonous and boring. But Vedic maths, on the other hand, makes maths a playful and interesting subject with its multiple choices.
The Vedas are the source of all knowledge and, thereby, of all sciences. They have guided millions of aspirants on the path of knowledge. With the passage of time, most of our Vedic knowledge has been scattered or lost completed. Vedic mathematics is no exception. Nonetheless, it is inspiring to observe that deep interest is being taken the world over in reviving the Vedic science.
The sixteen Vedic sutras provide a structured system which is capable of explaining almost any facet of the cosmos, both abstract as well as applied. These sutras in their philosophical interpretation even explain the functioning of human psychology. Thus, every effort should be made to rediscover this lost reservoir of knowledge and pass it on to our next generation.
THE PRINCE OF INEQUITY
NEVER BEFORE, TO PARAPHRASE CHURCHILL, HAS SO MUCH BEEN OWNED BY SO FEW. AS HE BATTLED POST-BUDGET BLUES THIS WEEK, MANMOHAN SINGH DEFENDED THE POST-1991 PRIVILEGOCRACY'S RIGHT TO A DISPROPORTIONATE SHARE OF INDIA'S 'GROWTH' STORY
What was that he said on the plane back from Riyadh on the petrol/diesel price hike? "We cannot save people from inflation if we follow all along populist fiscal policies".
Lowering direct taxes for the upper end of the Rs 5-8 lakh per annum earning class so that housing finance corporates could tap them better is to the Prime Minister of India "saving" the people. But protecting the already depleted nutrition intakes of vast masses of Indians affected by a food prices trajectory that has been perennially northward since mid-2008 is 'populism.'
A famous queen of France was so innocent to the reality of her times that (legend has it) she suggested her hungry subjects ate cakes because bread was dear. Manmohan Singh, would you believe it, marshaled all the economics funda at his command to defend the petrol/diesel price hike saying "the effect on the Wholesale Price Index will be only 0.4 per cent."
We must celebrate our good fortune in having a Prime Minister who can accurately predict what the WPI would be like in six months. Now that's some feat considering the Reserve Bank's proven incompetence at the forecasting game. For about a decade now, its projections on everything from GDP growth to inflation has been way off the mark. But Singh, after delivering a figure down to the last fraction of a percentage point, has packed in a sub-text:you don't have a Ph.D in economics/finance, so shut up.
It's good to see Opposition unity, finally. Even sectors within the UPA are having conscience pangs over backing a government so insensitive to the tears and fears of the non-rich. But what usually happens at such times is that politicians abandon the larger political economy just as soon as the government hands them the low hanging fruit. Qualitatively our politicians come too shallow or stupid (often both) to sustain a struggle that would question the general direction that the economy is being given by a regime obedient to the Washington Consensus. If Dr Singh is smart enough to announce a rollback on the price hike, there will surely be a dissipation of the energies released by Pranab Mukherjee's shocking announcement of February 26.
Mercifully that is not likely to happen. While that means more hardship for the aam admi, the silver lining could be the revivification of long-forgotten slogans for economic justice. Since 1991, when Dr Singh, in his earlier avatar as Finance Minister unfurled neo-liberalism as the magic bullet panacea for India's economic ills, it has been unfashionable, even treasonable, to recall that the Directive Principles of State Policy, contained in Part IV of the Constitution of India, had explicitly mentioned that there should be no concentration of wealth in a few hands. The exact words are: "The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by promoting a social order in which social, economic and political justice is informed in all institutions of life. The State shall work towards reducing economic inequality as well as inequalities in status and opportunities, not only among individuals, but also among groups of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations. The State shall aim for securing right to an adequate means of livelihood for all citizens both men and women as well as equal pay for equal work the State shall work to prevent concentration of wealth and means of production in a few hands, and try to ensure that ownership and control of the material resources is distributed to best serve the common good."
Manmohanomics is synonymous with the trickle down aphorism "growth fuels prosperity", and this much-celebrated 'growth' has been restricted to very much the same lot of Indians who were anyway benefiting from pre-reforms protectionism. He is the leader of the privilegocracy of both systems phoney socialism as well as market capitalism. To Dr Singh's utter delight, most Indians today are too young to know that he oversaw the very worst of control-raj that preceded the 1991 collapse which, Voilà! he held up as justification for enforcing the Bank-Fund prescription. Singh had held every important economic office Prime Minister's economic adviser, RBI governor to Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission before the denouement of 1991 when the government was literally forced to pawn off the country's gold to pay for a few weeks' imports.
Also good for him is the fact that few Indians are aware that the trickle-down rationale has been disowned by one of its earliest champions (Norman Lamont, the treasury first secretary under Margaret Thatcher) who famously admitted years afterwards that 'trickle down' means only crumbs from the tables of the rich. But Dr Singh has persisted with it in Budget 2011, packaged, of course, with old-fashioned Congress doublespeak.
For manifestation, consider the 2 per cent excise hike on SUVs. We are expected to believe it would make any difference to the super-rich who go in for these tanks. Even if manufacturers pass on the 'burden', it would work out to just Rs 5,000 at the upper limit. The size of the SUV market (2 per cent of total automobile) is nothing to wish away; there are already 20 models on the road priced between Rs 8.5 lakh and Rs 42 lakh. To a government apparently keen on raising revenue, this segment should have been a logical choice because, after all, India today is home to more dollar billionaires than Germany, Britain and Japan. Even if a flat-out Rs 1 lakh increase was announced on SUVs, the difference to annual sales would be negligible.
But no, he chose to hit the poor. Preserving them from further misery is 'populism' to India's longest-serving non-Nehru Prime Minister. And how much further ruination would have resulted from a few more calories in the bloodstream of our mostly youthful population? Is the great economist listening?
Today, the gap between the top 5 per cent and bottom 80 per cent of Indians has touched scandalous proportions. Naturally, as the man who has shaped India's economy for the major part of the past two decades Dr Singh must bear the cross. When the Arjun Sengupta Committee, which he formed under pressure from the Left in the early days of UPA-1, reported that over 394.9 million workers, who make up 85 per cent of the working population, live on incomes of less than Rs 20 a day and that 88 per cent of the SC-ST-OBC and 85 per cent of Muslims make do with not even that, one had hoped that Singh would chart a truly inclusive course. But 'inclusivism' is like the original Congress bad-joke: "Garibi Hatao"it boiled down to Garib Hatao.
In Budget 2011, five years since that report was tabled, we see the government allocating a measly Rs 1,000 crore for the welfare of unorganised sector workers. Divided up equally between 28 states and three union territories, it translates into about Rs 32 crore each, less delivery costs. A drop in the ocean? No, a sick joke.
In 2009, the Indian Statistical Institute reported that that since 2004-05, Singh's first year as Prime Minister, rural poverty has grown 20 per cent. Yet, the cheerleaders of neo-liberal economics would encourage us to take pride in the fact that we are now the world's fastest growing economy. But wasn't Mughal India the world's biggest economy too ? What did that matter to the flesh and blood Indian?
Those who don't read history are condemned to repeat it.
The writer is Senior Editor, The Pioneer
RESURGENT INDIA, HUNGRY INDIANS
SATURDAY SPECIAL ON THE POVERTY TRAP WHICH INDIA FINDS ITSELF IN AFTER 18 YEARS OF MANMOHANOMICS
SWARN KUMAR ANAND
In an unprecedented incident in the history of Parliamentary procedures, the entire Opposition walked out during the Budget speech. Though it is an entirely different matter that our inarticulate politicians fail to raise the real issues, the moot point remains how is there no significant reduction in the poverty level despite a galloping GDP rate?
It is unfortunate for the country that both the Government and the Opposition are still chasing the "growth" mirage and making tall claims of "Resurgent India", "Shining India" and "Confident India", while the grim fact remains that every third hungry person in the world is an Indian and one Indian in three (340 million) goes to bed hungry. Over 1.9 million of the world's 9.1 million people with tuberculosis live in India.
At the beginning of the liberlisation process in 1991, it was claimed that India's poverty would be wiped out only if the national economy was "allowed" to grow "unfettered" by the license-control raj. Since 2002, India has emerged as one of the fastest growing economies of the world. The GDP growth rate came close to 9.4 per cent in the last three years, except in 2008-09 when it reversed to 6.7 per cent due to the global financial crisis. Still, the poverty question is far from settled.
In fact, the National Sample Survey (NSS-62nd Round) states that the post-economic reform period has created wider gaps between the urban and the rural economy than before. Rural poverty increased from 34 per cent in 1989-90 to 43 per cent in 1992 and then fell to just 28.3 per cent in 2004-05, while urban poverty went up from 33.4 per cent in 1989-90 to 33.7 per cent in 1992 and then declined to 25.7 per cent in 2004-05.
The Arjun Sengupta Committee report says that 836 million Indians live on less than Rs 20 a da. Also, NSSO estimated that in 2005-06 nearly 19 per cent of the Indian rural population lived on less than Rs 12 a day. Seen in this context, the "reform" seems to have produced lopsided results, as it aimed to benefit only 200-250 million people out of the 1 billion population. Though, the number of actual beneficiaries is somewhat 150-170 million, the 250-million mark is a "market" too big to care for the rest of the population.
The flaw in the "national confidence" claim has been vindicated by the poor performance on various parameters of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, like Universal Elementary Education, reducing by half the population living on less the $1 per day, child morality and accessible health service.
The question of food security is hogging the national debate nowadays even as the Government rejects the Opposition's charge of practising flawed policies. But the fact is that four major schemes aimed at fighting hunger and food insecurity public distribution system, integrated child development scheme, mid-day meal scheme and most publicised NREGS have failed to deliver the expected results. The lack of political will and the unabated corruption have failed anti-poverty programmes. The NC Saxena Committee says that 50 per cent of Indians are below the poverty line if one takes into account the criterion of calorie intake, but the Planning Commission counts the number as just 28.3 per cent of the population, as it would then have warranted more food subsidies. According to a report of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution , "In the last three years (2004-2007), Rs 31,585.98 crore worth of wheat and rice meant for the poorest of the poor was siphoned off from the PDS. In 2006, Rs 11,336.98 crore worth of food grain that the government was supposed to distribute to the needy at subsidised prices found its way into the market illegally."
Every year, India's poor are cheated of 53.3 per cent of wheat and 39 per cent of rice meant for them. Exceptions apart, the poor in India simply can't trust the government to deliver them food supplies. Similarly, the NREGA made little impact on the livelihood security of the rural poor. The Delhi-based Centre for Environment and Food Security carried out a survey in 100 villages of Orissa and found that out of Rs 733 crore spent under NREGA during 2006-07, over Rs 500 crore has been siphoned off and misappropriated by the government officials.
Is the economic reforms initiated in the early 1990s by the then Finance Minister, Manmohan Singh responsible for the collapse of rural economies and the agrarian crisis currently underway? This seems to have set an alarming trend. A report of Reserve Bank of India says that as against RBI norms, only seven out of 27 PSU banks could achieve the stipulated target of distributing 18 per cent of the net bank credit to the agriculture sector as on November 2008. Therefore, the percentage of agriculture in the GDP declined to 30.5 per cent in 1988 to 17.5 per cent in 2008, and growth in agriculture declined from 3.1 per cent in 1988 to 1.6 per cent in 2008.
The paradox is that even in apparently prosperous states like Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, farmers are committing suicides. In a decade since 1997, about 200,000 farmers committed suicide due to indebtedness following crop failure caused by adventures in the farming sector shifting from traditional crop to cash crop and slapdash trade liberalisation and corporate globalisation agenda of the government.
The World Bank-led structural adjustment policies have brought new imperialism in the farm sector forcing poor Indian peasants to buy new seeds for every planting season from the global corporate. There may seem to a link between farmers' deaths and the 'reform' agenda. The region in India with the highest level of farmers' suicides is the Vidharbha region in Maharashtra 4000 suicides per year, 10 per day. And this is the region with the highest acreage of Monsanto's GMO Bt Cotton.
It is ironical that the 2010-11 Budget has reduced fertiliser subsidy by a huge Rs 3,000 crore from last year's revised estimates, while the WTO rules have allowed wealthy countries to increase agribusiness subsidies.
Another major player in India's GDP growth story is the retail sector. As per a study of AT Kearney, the organised retail is set for a boom, growing from 3 per cent in 2006 to 15-20 per cent in 2010. But again, the benefits are going to be restricted to a few, as 85 per cent of organised retail boom will be concentrated in urban areas.
The skewed 'reform' process is also taking toll on the future of our most valued capital the youth. Though the Right to Education Bill has been passed, its implementation is another challenge for the government. In the present school system, of the 12,50,775 schools imparting elementary education in the country in 2007-08, 80.2 per cent were government schools. But the moot question is, will the elite institutions opening schools in the rural areas be able to fulfil the objectives of right to free education?
Here is the history summoning India's Government to the open court. Since 1991, Manmohan Singh has scripted India's development agenda, but what has this man delivered? That is the question before Parliament today.
The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer
A SILENT GENOCIDE WE CHOOSE NOT TO SEE
ON THE STREETS OF OUR CITIES ONE OF THE BIGGEST MASS MURDERS IN HISTORY IS ON THE INDIAN WORKER IS SLAVING UNDER MEDIEVAL CONDITIONS AND DYING UNPROTECTED AND UNNOTICED BY A NATION OBSESSED WITH MACRO-SUCCESS
"Work kills an Indian every five minutes, the equivalent of a Bhopal every month," according to a 2001 paper written by Stirling Smith, a UK-based occupational safety expert. Work as a killer of 100,000 people every year should have set alarm bells ringing. But the government is not alarmed. The Labour Ministry puts the figure of workplace casualties at 1,624.
Occupational diseases, according to Smith, affect roughly 2 million new workers each year. The Labour Ministry has no figure for this.
Even the International Labour Organisation (lLO) estimates that at least 40,000 workers lose their lives at work each year in India.
It is a fact that Smith's 2001 estimates, extrapolated from UK occupational safety and health figures, are only close-to-real data that we have of work-related injuries and deaths in India. A decade on, we still do not have authoritative data on occupational health in the country.
According to an ILO report titled 'Decent Work Safe Work, ILO Introductory Report to the XVllth World Congress on Safety and Health at Work', the lack of data on occupational safety and health is due to poor reporting system and coverage. "India reports 222 fatal accidents while the Czech Republic, which has a working population of about 1 per cent of India, reports 231," the ILO report notes. So, does it mean we have better safety at work than European Union member, the Czech Republic?
Despite a surfeit of agencies the Ministry of Labour, National Institute of Occupational Health, Directorate General of Factories Advice Service and Labour Institutes, Director General of Mines Safety and an impressive array of labour laws, the pathetic quality of data on workplace-related injuries and fatalities is not merely frustrating. It is intriguing.
Labour activists and trade unions concede that most of the casualties are workers living at or below the poverty line; most of the deaths are among contract workers rather than those who form the rank and file of organised sector unions. The absence of information on casualties, then, takes on a class dimension, giving the lie to India's claim of equality of all people regardless of economic standing.
What sees workers as a resource to be exploited and expended? The slew of anti-labour policies, laws and responses of the legislature and judiciary in recent times would suggest such an explanation. Just as it is a fact that victims of workplace injuries are predominantly from economically weaker sections, it is also a fact that those who stand to gain are economically powerful, often with corporate social responsibility profiles that would put Mother Teresa to shame.
Take the case of the construction industry. Newspapers are replete with stories about workers being crushed to death, or dying after falling from a height, or in a road project. Keeping construction costs viable, it seems, requires a surplus of dispensable labour a resource that India pretends to have in abundance.
Death and injury from accidents in the Indian construction sector is widespread, while global figure is 17 per cent, according to the ILO. Equally alarming is the number of workers who succumb to dust-related illnesses asbestosis, silicosis.
Unfortunately, institutions like National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), which were set up to help workers realise their aspirations for safe workplaces, appear to be working with industry to publish made-to-order studies masquerading as science. The NIOH's ongoing study on white asbestos - a carcinogenic fibre banned in over 40 countries is supposed to be neutral, scientific and rigorous enough to inform the nation's policy. But, with 25 per cent funding from the asbestos industry, a review committee stacked with asbestos-cement manufacturers, and a research institute that lacks integrity, the study's conclusions are already becoming evident.
The NIOH has suggested that the hazards of asbestos can be addressed through "controlled use". Countries like Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have opted for national bans on all forms of asbestos, indicating that "controlled use" is too much trouble or unviable."Controlled use" in the Indian context is clearly a joke.
An Ahmedabad-based electricity-generation company compelled its workers, who had contracted a debilitating respiratory disease, called asbestosis, in the factory, to an out-of-court settlement. The company tried to persuade victims to sign a document stating that they did not suffer from the disease, and that the company was giving them money on "humanitarian grounds". Thanks to the lawyer engaged by the victims, this disclaimer was thwarted. But most workers do not even get compensation, let alone enjoy the luxury of engaging a lawyer to represent them.
One can understand industry's motives to absolve itself of liability or possible legal action. But what stops a worker or a trade union from reporting accidents or diseases? Out of an estimated 500 million-strong workforce in India, nearly 92 per cent are in the unorganised sector. With informalisation of jobs even in the formal sectors, trade unions have been pushed to a corner where the top priority seems to be fighting for job security and decent wages. Interviews with trade unionists reveal that all of them believe occupational safety to be a critical issue. Equally, all feel that strained resources and a hostile, anti-labour environment have forced them to relegate occupational safety to an occasional crisis-time concern.
If, as Gandhi said, the means to an end matters, then the road that India is taking to the misguided notion of "developed"-nation status, littered as it is with the bodies of Indian workers, is hardly a justifiable means.
This is excerpted from a report prepared by Madhumita Dutta, a Chennai-based activist and a member of the Corporate Accountability Desk-The Other Media; Rakhal Gaitonde, who is associated with the Bangalore-based Community Health Cell; Nityanand Jayaraman, who is with the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal and R Sukanya, who researches and teaches public health, and works withCommunity Health Cell.
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE UNDER PAWAR'S WATCH
THE government's plan to export wheat when the prices at home are refusing to come down has the makings of a fiasco.
The agriculture minister, Mr Sharad Pawar has said that the matter will be discussed at the next meeting of the empowered group of ministers. But, this will coincide with record high wheat prices in India.
As on January 31, the buffer stock of wheat stood at over 206 lakh tonnes or more than twice the quantity required under the buffer stock norms. There is every indication that the coming harvest will yield a bumper crop of wheat. These are the ostensible reasons behind the move to lift the ban on food exports to allow the supposedly excess wheat to be sold on the international market.
Yet, Mr Pawar seems to ignore the fact that the price environment for such a step is inopportune. Food inflation is at an 11- year high. It has stayed abnormally high at over 17 per cent for six straight weeks. At least as far as wheat is concerned, there is no explanation for the continuing high prices other than the inability of the government to release the abundant wheat it has into the market.
Poor management of the food stocks seems to be at the root of high prices in basic food items. Even the finance minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, has pointed to the unusually high deviation between farm gate and retail prices. This underlines the distribution problem. A big impediment in fixing this is the Food Corporation of India which seems to have outdone itself in terms of its incompetence.
The FCI is expected to hold the price line by releasing stocks into the market depending on the prevailing price situation.
But, its record of doing so has been dismal. Indeed, last October, it abruptly introduced new criteria for wheat auctions delaying the release of wheat to the millers. The situation has not changed despite the fact that there have been abundant stocks of wheat with the FCI, indeed, a lot of it rotting in uncovered depots.
Mr Pawar needs to focus on this issue sharply as he is also the food and civil supplies minister. Exporting wheat without addressing the distribution crisis at home would be doing two wrongs there would be little gain from exports because of low international wheat prices and, more important, the Indian consumer would be left in the lurch in their struggle with food price inflation.
WATCH THAT ALLIANCE
DESPITE complaints to the contrary, mainly emanating from Islamabad, there has been a remarkable consistency in US relations with Pakistan for the past sixty years. Pakistan says it needs sophisticated arms and equipment allegedly to fight external enemies the communists in the 1950- 1990 period, and in the current era, the Taliban. The US benevolently supplies them to Pakistan which almost always ends up using them against India.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Defence Minister A. K. Antony has protested against the reported decision of the US to supply laser- guided bomb kits, unmanned aerial vehicles ( UAV) or surveillance drones and the latest version of the F- 16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan.
At first sight it may appear that surveillance drones, for one, would be useful for Islamabad to take on the Taliban. But the fact of the matter is that Islamabad already has a range of surveillance drones based on indigenous technology as well as one produced under licence from Italy.
What Pakistan is seeking, and it remains to be seen whether the US will oblige, is to obtain armed UAVs. Such a development could have implications for India's security because you can be sure that the moment Islamabad gets the UAVs it will begin planning on ways to use them against India.
As for laser- guided bombs and F- 16s, there is no ambiguity about their role in Pakistan's war plans against India. Such systems are more or less useless against insurgents and end up creating collateral damage. This is the reason why in the current offensive in Helmand province, the US has imposed severe curbs on its own forces on the use of air power against the Taliban.
New Delhi's protests are unlikely to make any difference to Washington. It is focusing on its own interests and cares little for the consequences of its profligacy.
INFLATION IS ROBBING USOF FRUITS OF GROWTH
APRIL marks the beginning of the long, hot season in India. But, despite the first fiery blasts of the Indian summer sun browning the landscape, it is an eagerly anticipated month for millions of working Indians.
That is because, in most organisations, April marks the beginning of the new financial year. And for employees, it is the 'increment month', when a year's hard work is, hopefully, rewarded with pay hikes and bonuses.
This year, it looks like it will be a good April for working Joes. After a year's gap, the economy is back on the high growth path, and most companies which form components of this growth story have experienced their own mini-revivals in their fortunes.
And yes, most employers look like they will be sharing part of their good fortune with their staff. Wages will go up the most in India in the entire Asia-Pacific region, a recent survey by staffing major Hewitt has found. The average pay increase in India this year will be 10 per cent, according to Hewitt. But guess what? The joy is bound to be pretty short-lived. That is because, in real terms, every earning adult in this country is already down 20 per cent, in terms of what her or his pay packet can buy.
That is the real meaning and impact of inflation. Retail prices the prices paid by you and me and not the crude oil buyer for Indian Oil or the iron ore purchaser of Tata Steel is rising a staggering ten times as rapidly as wholesale prices, the finance ministry admitted in the Economic Survey, tabled in Parliament just ahead of the Budget.
Yes, the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) is expected to hit around 8 per cent for the year, but even the government has stopped taking the WPI seriously as an indicator of the actual price picture. Even the severely flawed Consumer Price Index is reflecting this. A survey of consumer prices in G20 countries the grouping of advanced and advancing economies which India is so proud a member of showed that inflation was the highest among these 20 nations in India, at a shade under 15 per cent.
And we all know which direction prices have headed in January and February. So a 10 per cent increment is not going to count for much in the face of a 20 per cent rise in consumer prices of everything from food to fuel.
"There is no barrier to India's entry in the age of double digit growth," the Prime Minister said in Parliament on
There is no barrier to growth, but inflation is acting as a huge barrier to the enjoyment of the benefits of growth.
Both the government's management of the inflation situation, and its defence offered for the surge in prices, sound less than convincing. To quote the PM again, from the same Parliamentary debate ( on the President's address), prices are rising in India because of " global recession" and the " impact of drought." Ironically, the impact of global recession appears to be reverse in India vis- à- vis the rest of the world. India, in fact, appears to be an island of inflation amidst an ocean of deflation or stagnant prices.
According to a paper by Ramesh Chand, published in the Economic & Political Weekly last month, global food prices fell considerably during 2009. The FAO Food Price Index in 2009 was 20 per cent lower than in 2008.
In contrast to the global trend, domestic food prices rose rapidly throughout 2009. The increase was much higher in real terms than nominal terms as nonfood prices declined and experienced negative inflation in most of 2009, the author states.
In fact, in retail terms, Indian consumers are already paying a fifth more than what they did last year.
On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the government's mismanagement of the supply side of the equation may have contributed in large measure to the huge increase in food prices seen over the past several months.
It is shocking that Sharad Pawar, the minister tasked with overseeing Agriculture, Food and Civil Supplies in this government, can blithely talk of wheat mountains and the need to export wheat in order to prevent ' surplus stocks' from being lost to spoilage, when domestic wheat prices have surged over 14 per cent.
At a time when retail prices of wheat are ranging between Rs 18 and Rs 22 per kilo, it is inexplicable that any government can think of exporting wheat, even as it is sitting on more than three times the emergency and reserve stock requirements of wheat.
More so, when you consider that this ' excess stock', currently being lost to the vagaries of the weather and depredations of rats, was acquired by the government at less than half this price in fact, some estimates put it at around Rs 11- 12 per kilo.
Sugar offers another good example of what can, at best be described as short- sighted, and at worst, downright mischievous policy.
Indications that farmers were switching massively away from planting sugarcane were available in the monsoon sowing indicators of 2008 itself. Yet, nothing was done to build up any buffer stocks of sugar to tide over the inevitable shortfall in sugar production which was to follow.
Instead, between April and September 2008, India exported sugar worth $ 960 million, clearly in a bid to please the powerful sugarcane lobby, where Pawar has his main political base.
In the following months, India proceeded to import sugar worth $ 432 million.
Because India is the world's largest sugar consumer, any import by India impacts global prices. The average
cost of imported sugar turned out to be double the price fetched by the exported sugar. A policy aimed at benefiting Indian sugarcane farmers ended up enriching cane growers in Brazil, while embittering the Indian consumer.
Amidst the heat and din of the ongoing political debate over inflation, it is worrying that the root causes of food inflation, which can very easily, and quickly, transform into generalised inflation, continue to be ignored.
Supply and demand form the basis. India's food output has been growing at a declining rate, averaging under 2 per cent over the last decade. Demand, during the same period, has been growing at an average of 2.4 per cent, or one per cent faster than the population, driven by higher economic prosperity and growing purchasing power of even the very poor, thanks to schemes like NREGA.
Translated into a nation of more than a billion people, that adds up to a huge lag. The only solution to long term price stability, clearly, lies in active food supply management, and trade.
But we do not even have a clear trade policy in place for food articles, which details the roles of the government or the private sector.
And the role of the state- owned agencies in food supply has been so poor that even the finance ministry was forced to point out in its Economic Survey that these agencies should have a mechanism in place to ensure that buffer stocks get released into the market quickly, whenever the difference between wholesale and retail inflation reaches a " critical level." If the government continues to follow an ostrichlike policy of burying its head in sand in the face of trouble, we might well end up with that commodity in our granaries.
QAISER MOHAMMAD ALI
TENDULKAR IS HUMAN LIKE US ALL
THERE is a lot more to sporting heroes than makes news.
Take for instance Sachin Tendulkar's fetish for shoes; Woodland shoes, to be precise. When the brand was launched in India, the master batsman fell for it hook line and sinker. This has been revealed by former India Test player Ajay Sharma, who shared rooms with the maestro in Pakistan on his maiden tour in India colours in 1989.
While saluting Tendulkar on scoring the first double century in One- day Internationals recently, Sharma said he was a " close friend" of Tendulkar in the early part of his international career. So, he knows a thing or two about him and his choices.
" Sachin was very fond of Woodland shoes. When the brand was launched he liked the shoes so much that he used to buy 10- 15 pairs in one go, to match jeans of different colours," Sharma told this correspondent.
" Sachin was young and like all youngsters he too liked to be dressed smartly. One of my friends had a shoe shop in Karol Bagh in Delhi and I used to take him there for shopping," he disclosed.
Tendulkar, 36, still prefers to wear jeans, T- shirts and different kinds of shoes, mostly of the Adidas brand now as he has a contract with the company. One day during the Champions Trophy in South Africa in September- October, he could have been easily mistaken for an NSG commando as he turned out in an all- black dress, including shoes and dark shades of the same colour. S HARMA, who was Tendulkar's room partner in the first half of the 1989 Pakistan tour before switching to Mohammed Azharuddin, once came to his help when he needed a suit stitched quickly. " He had a function in Dubai and needed a suit urgently before flying off. I took him to Kalamandir Tailors in South Extension market and Masterji made the suit in time," he recalled.
The Delhi batsman also disclosed a little known secret of Sachin's longevity at the highest level. " He has very strong, footballer- like thighs and that is one of the reasons why he has lasted for more than 20 years in international cricket. Kapil Dev used to say that if he had thighs like Sachin, he would have played international cricket for 10 more years," he said.
Sharma and Tendulkar spent a lot of time together on the tours of New Zealand and England in 1990- 91. " He was a good friend of mine. We, for instance, used to go sight- seeing together in New Zealand," he said.
The two players have not been in touch with each other for the last few years. But Sharma is sure the cultured Tendulkar hasn't changed as a man. " The last time I met him was in Taj Palace hotel in Delhi a few years ago. He saw me and came over to meet me," he said.
Interestingly, Sharma was among the batsmen who were competing with Tendulkar for the hardly available slot in a packed middle order in the Indian team. The others were Pravin Amre, WV Raman, Vinod Kambli, and KP Bhaskar. It is a different matter that Tendulkar went on to become a batsman in a class of his own.
Lot more goes on at WC than you think
AT any global sporting event, a lot goes on besides the exciting on- field action. In hockey, the most expensive component of the infrastructure is the artificial pitch and thus it is the centre of a lot of manoeuvrings. So, when a World Cup is staged, a lot of marketing men converge at the venue, trying to strike deals.
Even at the ongoing World Cup in New Delhi, marketing men of the world's top companies are reportedly busy in PR exercises. It is learnt that people from the companies that unsuccessfully bid to install the three poly grass pitches at the National Stadium, the venue of the World Cup, are among those making the backstage moves. Even some players and coaches of the participating teams are believed to be " attached" with the companies.
" The captain of a national team taking part in the World Cup works for a company that makes artificial turfs, besides a few players," claimed a man in the know of the business of hockey. He stressed: " It's a ' natak' ( drama) and a global racket that goes on all the time." Some marketing men also use the media to either gain publicity or put down rivals.
Referring to the complaints that the National Stadium's main pitch, installed only days before the World Cup, was " bumpy", he said it was part of a motivated campaign.
" It's a new pitch and hardly any matches were played on it to allow it to settle down perfectly and get ' ravaan'," explained an official, borrowing a Hindi term popularly used for initial driving of new vehicles.
" Even FIH rules say that a pitch should be installed three- four months before a tournament of this stature is played. By the time the Commonwealth Games are held in October it would have settled down." However, he added that it worked out the same for the two teams even if the pitch is a bumpy one. " Moreover, the unevenness gets evened out when teams change sides after the interval."
DID THE INDIANS PREPARE BADLY?
WITH India performing below par in the hockey World Cup, experts are now questioning the team's preparations. They particularly want to know why the media was kept out of the practice matches that the team played, after Hockey India failed to organise a series with any foreign team.
The absence of proper practice matches, coupled with the players' strike over payment issues and then the captaincy controversy, badly affected the build up to the World Cup. In the absence of a strong team to play against, the Indian team had to be content with games against Petroleum Sports Control Board and India B sides. " The Indian team's performance in these practice games was ordinary and they missed lots of penalty corner conversions. In fact, when the India B team took a couple of goals' lead in the first half against their seniors, they were officially told to keep the intensity low," disclosed someone who witnessed the practice games.
" Had the media not been banned, the public would have known the real propects of the team and expectations from it at the World Cup would not have been so high," he said.
Kambli has a new identity
Cricketers are known to go in for interesting caller tunes for their mobile phones. Many of them choose current hit songs. Some years ago, Virender Sehwag had a ring tone that would make even a sad person break into a smile. The tone was, in fact, an infant's uncontrollable laughter.
These days, Vinod Kambli has a completely different tune for his phone. Call him and you get to hear this: " This is Quick Gun Murugan.
The august personality you are trying to reach is extremely busy. He is not your father's ancestral property. Please hold respectfully or hang up."
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS
A classic film set during World War II - A Bridge Too Far - is about a doomed attempt by Allied forces to secure a bridge in Holland that would allow access across the Rhine into Germany. Now a bridge in Uttar Pradesh has proved to be a bit too far for Sonia Gandhi and the UPA government. The bridge in question is one in Rae Bareli constituency - Sonia's pocket borough - which was meant to be inaugurated by the Union minister of state for roads and highways. But when the Mayawati government got wind of the event, they promptly decided to sabotage it. A day before the scheduled event, UP's public works department minister inaugurated the bridge. He did not even bother to go to Rae Bareli, but did the honours in the state capital Lucknow by unveiling a plaque. For good measure the central minister was stopped from reaching the project in time for the inauguration.
All in all, it was a plan masterfully executed by Mayawati and her team. How one wishes such meticulous planning would go into executing public policy initiatives and projects. But even if that doesn't happen, such one-upmanship between state governments and the Centre might prove to be the panacea needed for development in India.
How often have we seen foundation stones for projects languishing in the Indian countryside? Politicians come, deliver a speech, cut a ribbon and go away, but the projects never see the light of day. Half-completed projects are equally common. But intense competition between the Union and state governments - that is if they are not from the same party - could actually see development projects being not only completed but also done before time.
The Rae Bareli incident is a lesson in how federalism actually works on the ground in India. The Union government sanctions money for many of the development schemes in the states. But who gets the credit? This thorny issue has been sorted out by the Union government of the day by naming schemes after their chosen leaders. The Nehru-Gandhi family naturally enough dominates. BJP leader L K Advani recently complained in Parliament that there are some 450 government schemes named after the Nehru-Gandhis. These include the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme and Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission to name just three. But there's no point complaining. If the BJP had been in power they would have done exactly the same. But what they could do, even now, is to take a leaf out of Mayawati's modus operandi and creatively lay claim to projects funded by the Centre. Instead of the name game, the opposition could then play the claim game.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A CHOICE FOR CHANGE
As the secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan wound down to a brusque finish, headlines all over the world scrambled to draw a red line between success and failure. The Indian prime minister's remarks in Riyadh brought some emollient to a crusty diplomatic stand-off, while the terrorism precondition still hung in the balance. Islamabad's response to coercive diplomacy remained cool.
Despite all the posturing, both sides are aware of the need for talks to go on. New Delhi and Islamabad know that they need to negotiate a shade of grey that invests in the process as much as its progress. At the foreign secretaries' encounter, no date was announced for resumption of dialogue, but no closure was stated either. Both sides said talks must focus on stated priorities, while neither yielded ground on tangible means. The fact that there was no joint press conference, or even a communique, brought forth alarm from all over the globe.
No surprises, actually. Did anyone really think that the two countries' top diplomats were mandated for even a minor breakthrough? After three major wars, two smaller battles, and half a century of conflict and bitterness, choices for change are not made at any level less than the heads of both governments. The SAARC summit in April is where the leaders of both warring nations can either let the ice begin thawing, or reinforce the culture of rivalry.
By then, though, we may have many more buttons pushed as many countries now seem invested in this dialogue, including a proactive Saudi Arabia. One critical factor is that, in the new regional equation, Pakistan holds many of the cards. By leveraging its role as the key neighbour in Afghanistan, Islamabad has begun to redefine the contours of the conflict in a theatre where almost all counterinsurgency plans by the US-Nato alliance have gone pear-shaped.
There is no denying that the only game-changer in the battlefield can now be a shift in anti-Taliban operations across the Durand Line. By arresting much of the dreaded Quetta Shura Taliban, Islamabad has demonstrated two things: that it can swoop down tactically where the US has been unable to tread, and that if given the right strategic incentive, it can draw down on fresh reserves of political will. India was at pains to avoid the word mediation, but clearly, New Delhi hopes that the Saudi card may give it a seat at the Afghan table, as well as open a channel as interlocutor to Islamabad.
As it stands, the motors that work to tip the scales on this razor-edge between war and peace are predictably already at work. Almost as soon as Pakistan's foreign secretary, Salman Bashir, crossed the Wagah border into Lahore, the debris from the Taliban attack in Kabul, where Indians were also killed among others, infected the air. The Jaish-e-Mohammad disclaimed its hand in the incident, blaming it on a fidayeen Afghan attack, but the terrorists who always seek to disrupt talks reminded everyone how they can affect both headlines and deadlines in this terrain.
At the same time, New Delhi chose a bad moment to test its $32 billion war machine and its readiness near the Pakistan border. Nor did it invite Islamabad to send a military attache to witness the exercises, when 30 others were called in as observers. But in the mixed signalling so typical of both players to this tango, the Indian PM opened a track by stating that there is no alternative to dialogue with Pakistan.
So what are the prospects for building the "greater trust" that both players seek in such a fraught environment? Even though home-made labels do stick best, dialogue-failure marks a long history of bilateral engagement. New Delhi is overtly allergic to international players entering the room, more so when Kashmir is flagged. Islamabad is peeved about the fact that New Delhi was able to make Washington drop Kashmir from its special agenda in the region. And now we have the Saudis in the room. Although New Delhi denies it, all bets are on that the US played a quiet role in bringing the two nuclear adversaries to the table, and little money on the talks going further without more prodding.
If New Delhi wants bilateralism to succeed, it must seize this opportunity to move everyone out of a dangerous curve in the neighbourhood. Islamabad too must wake up to its responsibilities and finish what it started at - cleaning up terrorist outfits at home. India must not let insecurity fuel its responses because it sees itself strategically finessed out of the formal Afghanistan endgame. In any matrix for regional stabilisation, New Delhi will still remain a major player. It is the one looking most skittish now, and if the talks flounder on the old bedrock of bilateral posturing, the entire region will pay the price in further instability and greater international meddling.
The writer is Pakistan's former information minister and currently a member of Parliament's National Security Committee.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
OUR BODIES SHOULDN'T BE TOUCHSCREENS
The catchily named Skinput device, the result of a collaboration between Microsoft and researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, will apparently turn the human body into a giant touchscreen by projecting buttons on it. There'll be a menu on your arm, say, and you touch it to play a piece of music or make a phone call. What is the world coming to? Wasn't it bad enough that someone wanted to plant microchips inside people to do stupid things like open doors? Or that consumer goods companies wanted to rent space on people's foreheads to advertise their products? Is absolutely nothing sacred?
The so-called singularity - the point when human capabilities will be outstripped by artificial intelligence to the degree that humans will become a mixture of biological and machine parts - that futurist Ray Kurzweil sensationally claimed was only a couple of decades away is not inevitable. We tend to be so in awe of everything technology can and has managed to accomplish for human civilisation that it doesn't occur to us to draw the line somewhere. Using an arm as a keyboard should be a good place to start drawing that line.
The consequences of messing with the natural course of evolution have been imagined time and again in popular fiction. Frankenstein's monster is the most iconic example. Immortality is one thing, but do we really want it to come at any cost?
Replacing, bit by bit, all our body parts with mechanical components or augmenting our bodies with a bionic this and exoskeleton that would lead to a future where we'll become machine rather than man. It would be the end of the human race. And the tragedy of it is that we could've done something to stop it but we were too enthralled by technology to try.
Things like projecting keyboards onto skin might seem innocuous, but it is just another step in the long and undoubtedly painful path to extinction. That is, unless we get our priorities straight and start privileging what makes us human rather than getting seduced by the convenience offered by new technology.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IT IS A LOGICAL PROGRESSION
It was inevitable. From clunky numeric keypads on first generation mobile phones to full QWERTY keypads to touchscreens was a natural progression. And Skinput, as this result of a collaboration between researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Microsoft's research lab is called, is the inevitable next generation input device.
The technology involved is not particularly groundbreaking, but the manner in which it is used is. An armband contains a mini projector that creates a changing display on the user's arm. The user can input as he would with a touchscreen device, tapping icons, scrolling and the like with motions on his own arm. The device then picks up the various ultra-low frequency sounds made by tapping on the arm at different points and uses software to convert them into accurate input. The possibilities are endless.
The most obvious use, of course, is to offer a more convenient input mode for the huge number of people who already use personal communication devices of one kind or the other. Touchscreens have their limitations, such as a lack of screen real estate. Skinput can neatly circumvent this while still retaining the convenience of the input mode. Another plus, as the researchers have pointed out, is that our sense of our own bodies in three-dimensional space makes visual confirmation of input unnecessary. And this could point to the real significance of Skinput; making personal communication devices accessible to people with various disabilities. Relying on tactile input without any visual element opens up a huge range of possibilities in this area.
But more than the obvious practical uses, it is the aesthetic of the technology that is so appealing. The melding of the human form and technology has already taken place in so many ways. Medical procedures and implants that would have been thought impossible just a few years ago are a prime example. The clean, elegant functionality of an input device that can have any number of applications and uses the human body as a canvas could be a significant addition to this process.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BE CIVIL WITH THE MILITARY
One of the cornerstones of democracy is a healthy civil-military relationship. India stands out as one of the great success stories here. Its military has thankfully stayed out of the hurly-burly of politics, and Indian democracy has been the longest standing in the developing world. Yet, we should not conclude that all is well with civil-military relations in India.
India is not on the edge of a coup or a revolt by its military. However, over the years, the civil-military relationship has not kept up with global and Indian changes. For the sake of democracy and security, and both are under challenge from various directions, we need to pay serious attention to the relationship. We think that discussion of civil-military issues will encourage subversive thoughts, but the truth is that our refusal to discuss the state of civil-military relations could undermine our democracy and our security.
The first thing that needs to be emphasised is that civil-military relations are dynamic, not static and defined for all time. In the life of the nation, they will evolve, as much as any other set of relationships will change. Many of the early decisions after 1947 about the appropriate balance between the civil and the military have stood the test of time, but we cannot expect the original boundaries to remain. Changes outside India and within India in the political system, society, and economy will challenge the civil-military boundary constantly. The threat of war, the advent of nuclear weapons, the emergence of new military technologies, the growth of terrorism and insurgency, the proliferation of other forms of internal emergency (communal and ethnic violence, disasters), the new patterns of military recruitment, the status of the military profession and the civil services compared to business life, the economic opportunities in the private sector, amongst other things, are all affecting the relationship between the civil and the military.
Secondly, the balance between the civil and the military is crucial. The balance can be achieved by control of the military and by its own sense of professionalism. Control implies a series of imposed rules and procedures that limit the authority, jurisdiction and decisions of the military. Professionalism - living by the tenets of the profession, that is, by its internal values and rules - will supplement control by encouraging the military to occupy itself with what it does best, which is to think about the use of violence on behalf of the state. India has done relatively well here, but we must recognise that both elements of the balance need to be revisited. Are the controls sufficient, deficient or excessive? Is professionalism still strong and vital, or is it being eroded?
Thirdly, while we worry that the military might stray across into the civilian sphere, there is a growing sense that the balance is being damaged by the civilians. Civilian authorities have made mistakes - some of omission but others of commission. Civilians have not sufficiently involved the military in issues where military advice and involvement is proper and vital, that is, on issues relating to national security. The military's role in threat assessment and military acquisitions has been unduly restricted. Its thinking on nuclear weapons has never been sufficiently sought or discussed. Military personnel, given their expertise, should staff defence ministry positions and positions in the National Security Council. The appointment of a one-point adviser in the person of a chief of defence staff remains to be made.
Finally, there are matters relating to the terms and conditions of service - pay and perquisites but, also, very importantly, the care of military families. The men and women of the armed forces have been on the front lines of violence for the past 25 years without a break, and there is not enough recognition of the stresses that they operate under and the terrible disruptions and strains that affect their families.
The military in India is an enormous power at the disposal of the state - a power that regrettably must sometimes be used for security and in defence of democracy. This power must be tended and nurtured, with subtlety, sympathy, and grace, or else we risk grave danger to our republic.
WITH STRONG RESERVATIONS
Former Prime Minster Atal Behari Vajpayee once described reservations as a "crutch", temporary at best, that should not be mistaken for a foot. The government on Thursday cleared the decks for the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill, giving its approval to earmark 33 per cent seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. The Bill, which has been hanging fire for 15 years now, will finally be tabled on Monday rather ceremonially, on the centenary of the International Women's Day. But if passed, it will be a major step back for women's political empowerment, if only for presuming that aspiring women legislators in this day and age need Mr Vajpayee's proverbial crutch.
This is not to say that affirmative action for women in India is not required. On the contrary, equitable representation in all fields including politics must be made at all levels. It's the method of cordoning off seats for women for the purpose of higher representation that we find retrogressive and harmful for the cause of providing equal opportunities for women. Reservation of seats in panchayats has indeed seen increased participation of women in local self-government. This is primarily because women needed that push and the obstacles at the grassroots level removed to edge past the patriarchal stronghold of village politics. But to hitch this model wholesale to central and state legislatures smacks of tokenism, a move that is bound to put women legislators into a neat little corner, highlighting the perceived difference in their abilities rather than bringing them into the general fold. One doesn't even need to elaborate the manner in which women's reservation can become a free-for-all political gimmick.
There are ways other than creating reservations to ensure a more gender-neutral political landscape starting with an increased participation of women at all levels in the party organisation, and a more equitable distribution of party tickets based on performance and ability.
The Congress fielded 43 women in the 2009 general elections, a mere 10 per cent of its total force, while the BJP gave ticket to 44 women. All this might suggest that an artificially created quota system is the answer to balance things out. What it will do instead is undervalue those women who genuinely make the grade not because they are women, but because they deserve to be representing the country due to their abilities and their abilities alone.
RACE AGAINST DISCRIMINATION
The English are girding their loins to make war on caste discrimination. They have noticed that the dastardly Asians have imported it to their shores along with chicken tikka masala, cheap phone cards, internet aarti darshan and Patak's pickles. They had learned to respect caste when they began to rule India and then they had learned to use it, dividing their sepoys on religious and caste lines to prevent a reprise of 1857. Now they have learned to despise it, like everyone else. And so Westminster has commissioned a needle-sharp probe into the morass of caste. On the basis of its findings, it plans to wipe out caste discrimination in Albion.
What a hope! We Asians, who invented caste, have been fighting it for over half a century, armed with a Constitution drafted by a Dalit, and we are still baffled by its cockroach-like endurance. Caste discrimination is alive and well and meanwhile its doppelganger, lower caste assertion, is raising steam. Uttar Pradesh is ruled by a caste-based party which is righting historical wrongs through monumental statuary. The upper castes are richly represented in national imagery while Dalits have had to make do with the rustic statues of Ambedkar you see from the train window, pink-faced and clad in a piercingly blue jacket. Now, one caste imagery is competing with the other, though Ambedkar would have wanted neither to exist.
Pursuing our commitment to erasing caste, we have banned the very utterance of caste names, which are sometimes used as obscenities. But it's no use. People of the abused castes freely use those very names as a badge of identity. Caste is the obscenity that dares to speak its name. And it speaks it so casually and familiarly that you forget it's illegal.
I can't get over the embarrassment I once suffered while covering an election in Haryana. For days I had wandered far from the highways, and then I had filed a story from a one-fax, two-dog, three-lathel village. The only reason I didn't get busted to rookie reporter when I returned to Delhi was that my editor of that time was a hard-bitten veteran, not easily rattled. All he asked me was: "Did you want to get me arrested, then?"
I had written that Clan Devi Lal would face surprise reversals in its strongholds because it was being opposed by the community of cha There I go again. Now, I'm trying to get the editor of this paper arrested. My only excuse for having spelled out a derogatory caste name in a newspaper was that for days on end in the villages, I had heard the word being used by everyone. Not as a term of abuse, as city people use it, but as a commonplace descriptive, like 'Darjeeling', or 'banana'.
Action against caste in Britain will put the heat on India by intensifying the 2001 UN initiative to equate caste discrimination with racism. But the English, I fear, will discover that caste is like the human appendix. No one knows what it's for any more but it remains deeply embedded in our psyche. Its nuisance value is easily remedied by surgery. But patients usually resist treatment, for it would mean cutting away a part of their selves.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine
The views expressed by the author are personal
MANY SHADES OF GREY
'This isn't about India as a country; it's just about a few people who do not understand the language of Modern Art. Art is always ahead of Time. They will understand one day.' With these words and the brandish of a giant brush, a twinkly-eyed M F Husain sought to close the recent debate that has polarised public opinion about him.
As I listened to the 95-year-old speak to me across the crackle of a satellite link, I marvelled at his cogency, his generosity, his youthfulness but above all at his refusal to be co-opted as a character in any of the multiple narratives that are being constructed around him.
Husain as he has done all his life was going to be his own man, surprising both foes and friends alike with his maverick and provocative formulations.
As far as I can tell, three major storylines are now emerging in the Husain epic drama. There are those who have always argued that Husain has pushed the boundaries of tolerance with his graphic interpretations of Hindu goddesses. They seem to believe that intimidation is a constitutional principle. They don't care that one of India's greatest painters has been hounded out by vandals and mobs. Today, their venomous campaigns are powered by a new and hateful subtext Husain, the Muslim artist has ended up where he belongs in a Muslim-majority Gulf country. This is clearly the lunatic fringe of our nation one that even Husain says is a minority. "Ninety-nine per cent of India loves me," he said confidently.
Then there's the narrative of the secular liberals well-meaning artists and intellectuals who have campaigned tirelessly for years to end Husain's enforced exile. They are absolutely correct in putting the government on the mat for its failure to bring Husain back home. They have bravely fought for the right of Art to be above Politics and resisted its imprisonment by the puritanical arbiters of religious morality. But have they also over-romanticised the Husain saga with naïve suggestions of dual citizenship and unnecessary defensiveness about material comfort having anything to with Husain's choice of residence?
Husain himself, for instance, was entirely unapologetic about the fact that Qatar's friendly tax-regime and other infrastructural facilities made it a practical choice for him to pursue his three dream projects. And no, even at this age, he didn't feel a greater need for a geographically defined sense of home. "Citizenship for me today is a piece of paper," he said, "Whether I paint in New York, Paris, or Doha, I will always be Indian." This philosophical breadth of thinking is not one that lends itself to easy labels either.
It's a complex formulation simultaneously romantic and pragmatic and one that challenges the third and newest narrative about Husain. This one belongs to the liberals who are otherwise on the side of Creative Freedom, but argue that Husain has let India down with his choice of new nationhood. Their argument goes something like this: how can a man whose life in exile became a symbol of the Democracy debate end up in a Middle East monarchy? For them the choice of country is a sort of sell-out by Husain. There is also a hyper-patriotic demand for him to come back and 'face' the rumblings. They think the surrender of his passport is akin to running away. Now that the home minister has promised 'full security' they demand to know why Husain refuses to live within the system like the rest of us.
So, essentially, they want the barefoot painter to come back and surround himself with black cat commandos, his artistic dreams punctuated by frequent appearances in Tees Hazari. And, so what if his house gets stoned or his exhibitions attacked by vandals he should just go to the local police station and file an FIR, like everybody else. Husain answers them with a simple truth: "It is impossible for me to work in India; everybody knows the reason. If they look within their conscience they will find the answer," he says. As for choice of country and whether Qatar will afford him the freedom to paint as he likes "it's a gamble, but a creative gamble," he readily admits.
After listening to Husain, I'm convinced of the need for a fourth narrative. Husain should be free to paint the canvas of his life in the shades of grey that he chooses. We shouldn't be adding our jaundiced, pre-conceived views to the palette that belongs to him. In our hurry to deconstruct him as a symbol we have forgotten that he is a person a person with brilliance, contradictions, fallibilities, warmth and vulnerabilities.
And can we also examine our own contradictions? How many of us would hold our own against mobs, court trials and non-bailable warrants, if we had another option? As a country we have embraced American citizens like Sunita Williams and Kalpana Chawla and forced an Indian tag on them because we wanted to bask in their reflected glory. So, why all the fuss over what passport Husain carries? At least he still calls India his 'beloved country' and says India travels with him on all his nomadic adventures. As for his choice of citizenship yes, Qatar is not a democracy but do we have the right to complain or judge anymore? If it's a choice that makes us angry or unhappy, we must remember our system failed Husain first; the burden of guilt remains our own.
As he himself said, if he were 40, he would have "fought tooth and nail". Now, he says that stage has passed. As he enters his twilight years, the least we can do is to leave Husain alone and let him paint in peace.
Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV
The views expressed by the author are personal
As the Academy counts down the last minutes to the Oscars, we may ponder the ideological battleground that a single film, touted as the harbinger of a new age in film technology and feared as another "popcorn" epic, has opened up since its release last December. James Cameron, certainly, had a definable thematic framework for Avatar, the making of which had been delayed by almost a decade (since the technology wasn't here), and called it an "environmental parable". But the progress of Avatar is a demonstration of reader response theory in operation. You give them an inch, they take a yard.
But the responses to this sci-fi about blue-skinned humanoid aliens defending their pristine, pantheistic life from colonising humans are a veritable Who's Who of interest groups, thought schools, thought polices, leaders, nations, races. Evo Morales in Bolivia celebrated Avatar's attack on capitalism. Pacifists and leftists drank up its critique of imperialism and America's wars. Environment activists read in it their new gospel. The Vatican criticised its nature-worship. American conservatives blasted its unpatriotic wish to see the defeat of US forces. China, fearing its subversive intent, thought of replacing its 2-D version in theatres with a biography of Confucius. The self-same Left came down heavily on its "double racism" of the "white guilt" complex.
A film with nine nominations, begat by giant predecessors, with ideas and inspiration from the museum of science fiction, environmentalism, hottest global causes, may dwarf, not just dominate, the Academy Awards itself. What's more, it has robbed the biggest actors of sleep, who may feel redundant, much like the inverted message of the film that it is we who need our planet. The planet can jolly well do without us. If Avatar is spawning video games, it's not merely for its form and making. This is vintage openendedness. Avatar, or what you will.
LOVE & HONOUR
A three-hour drive from Delhi a medieval drama is playing out. A khap or caste panchayat in Haryana's Bhiwani district has asked a man and his family to leave the village because he has married a woman of the same "gotra". The family sought police protection after the panchayat threatened a social boycott and pronounced a ban on the sale of their land, saying that it would be held in custody by the panchayat. Incidents of social boycotts ordered by khap panchayats and consequent tension are becoming all too familiar in north India, never mind that these bodies have no legitimacy of law.
Last month, Law Minister Veerappa Moily gave the go-ahead to the home ministry's proposal to make honour killing an offence in the Indian Penal Code, separate from the general category of murder. Reports also suggest that the proposed amendment will treat village panchayats issuing such diktats as conspirators to the crime.
However, current laws, if enforced stringently, can also address the issue. Those who provide the social sanction for intimidation can be booked for criminal conspiracy, under an existing provision in the IPC. What has been lacking is political will, because khap panchayats claim to represent the region's dominant caste. In an ongoing public interest litigation against khap panchayats in the Punjab and Haryana high court, the Haryana government opposed prosecuting these panchayats under the Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act 1967. Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda says the government must tread carefully, given that a "rash step" could affect the "law and order situation". But the current practice of simply offering police protection to those in the eye of the khap panchayats' diktats is not a solution. It must shock us that these so-called elders can get away with passing judgment on private matters like who a person may or may not marry.
Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has always been a difficult person to second-guess. As the formidable architect of the Bosnia peace accords in the '90s, he has a long history of diplomatic induction in the United States' arena of overseas intervention notably Vietnam and Bosnia. The latter has been his calling card for more than a decade now. But it was the former that was to have determined America's choices in a region remapped as Af-Pak precisely on the remit of his new assignment. He would be, it was held, mindful of the differences between Vietnam and Af-Pak, but would also be careful to heed the lessons of Vietnam. However, just over a year into his assignment, it is becoming clear that Holbrooke in Af-Pak is becoming an object lesson for future diplomats on what they should not do. Indeed, envoys of other countries in the region often joke that their challenge is not just to manage Af-Pak, but also to contain Holbrooke.
In an astonishing intervention this week, Holbrooke chose to weigh in on the February 26 terrorist attack in Kabul, in which the dead included six Indian citizens. "I don't accept the fact that this was an attack on an Indian facility like the (Indian) embassy. They were foreigners, non-Indian foreigners hurt. It was a soft target. Let's not jump to conclusions." The remarks not just contradicted the assessment of Afghan officials that a Pakistan-based group, specifically the Lashkar-e-Toiba, had targeted Indians. They elicited suspicion about the chessboard on which Holbrooke was crafting his current moves. It is no secret that while Holbrooke makes dry jokes about avoiding the K-word, India has often discouraged him from visiting New Delhi. On Friday, he regretted his recent outburst which, given the Holbrooke legend of territorially holding the centrestage, is worth a reread in its entirety.
This is not about point-scoring. The Holbrooke controversy is a reminder of the appalling failures of Obama's special representative and also of the mis-steps of his policy-making on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The calendar imposed by the US president's commitment to start withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan in 2011 has led diverse elements to play for the post-exit stakes. Holbrooke's gaffe is a disturbing indication that America's top officials in the region are yet to gain a clear understanding of the forces that are invested in the long-term stabilisation of Afghanistan and those that are not.
THEM AND US
There was nothing un-Holbrooke-like about his utterly insensitive statement that the Kabul attack had not particularly targeted Indians. The use of really awful language, "I do not accept [that this was like the attack on the Indian embassy]" and "let's not jump to conclusions", was also true to form. In fact, coarse directness of this kind is so much his hallmark that, talking about him when his appointment was announced, a former American envoy who himself was not exactly some Mr Congeniality told me, "You guys will learn to deal with Holbrooke... he will make me look so diplomatic to you." It follows, therefore, that there was also nothing so unusual about what should normally have been shocking insensitivity. What kind of a guy other than Holbrooke, of course speaks like this when four Indian victims of that terror attack are still battling for life in the hospital? His tone was dismissive, almost an admonition of those (read the Indian government) who "jumped to the conclusion" that this was an attack specifically on Indian interests.
More significant, however, is his double-quick retraction. Within a day of making that silly statement he had "clarified" it in a manner that almost sounded like an apology and this, indeed, was so un-Holbrooke-like. The Richard Holbrookes of the world will not usually be heard saying, "Oops, I screwed up on this one."
So what conclusions do we draw from this sudden turnaround? Do we go home feeling vindicated, and happy that he has seen reason so quickly? Or was it just a hasty remark which, thank God, has been withdrawn? Or do we start to worry, lose sleep, and weigh our options?
Facts would point to the latter option. We would be erring gravely if we see in Holbrooke's uncharacteristic near-apology a vindication of India's rising power and stature. It is, on the other hand, indicative of the rise of a new, weak and further weakening America. This weakening is underlined by both his initial statement, and his quick retreat. Here is how.
The note of irritation in his initial statement was caused not so much by any arrogant claim of better information from the ground as by irritation with India on the part of somebody representing a power that is increasingly short of ideas and options and losing both influence and the will to exercise it. Obama's "I will send more troops but will withdraw by a deadline" approach has weakened the American position in the region gravely and not just the Taliban but even the Pakistanis are smelling victory. Pakistan now rightly believes though these things can change quickly that the only game left for America (and its envoys like Holbrooke) is to work towards some kind of an arrangement where a withdrawal could be arranged by declaring some kind of a quick "victory". That can only be through a deal with a faction of the Taliban, chosen and controlled by Pakistan. Of course, the Pakistanis will then promise to ensure that these new rulers of Kabul will be no nuisance to America and its allies. Smelling success, the Pakistanis have become so bold as to again openly talk of their need for Afghanistan, for the strategic depth they always dream of vis-à-vis India. Their protestations over the "activities" of Indian missions in Afghanistan have increased and the Americans are now showing less and less conviction in countering that charge. In Holbrooke's kind of worldview, it would do nobody any harm if the Indians agreed to be "a little more reasonable" keeping in mind the "big picture". He is now speaking for a declining superpower that is no longer determined to go fight for its interests far from its shores, and is keen to buy peace, bury the hatchet. The problem is that the Pakistanis, who are central to the success of this defeatist strategy, would prefer the hatchet to be buried in India's back. Holbrooke's quick retraction in the face of Indian disgust and revulsion further underlines the lack of conviction that has seized Obama's waffling America.
Signs of this have been visible for some time. This columnist has also pointed to the perils of continuing with the strategy of "outsourcing" the countering of our terror threat to the US, particularly in view of the new evolving Af-Pak approach in Washington ('Our faff-Pak policy', IE, November 14, 2009, www.indianexpress.com/news/our-faffpak-policy/541281/). This week's developments, seen together with the increasing Pakistani confidence that they have the Americans (and maybe even the Indians) exactly where they want them, shows that Obama's America no longer has either the confidence, or the spine, of a superpower. Further, this declining America needs help from both our immediate adversaries, China and Pakistan, in different ways, but equally desperately. One must continue to fund its deficit, and the other must bail it out of the Afghan quicksand.
Both China and Pakistan have already responded to this remarkable turnaround by hardening their respective postures towards India in their own different ways. The Chinese shifted the goalposts on border negotiations earlier, and now the Pakistanis are resiling even from the vague ideas discussed in the Musharraf era to settle Kashmir. We need to acknowledge and understand this new reality, in which we are much more on our own, and where the power we treated as our own "stalwart ally" (to turn a metaphor on its head) may be taking a very different view of life. I have talked in the recent past of the Pakistanis playing a game of triple-nuancing with terrorists, treating Pakistani, Afghan Taliban and then the India-specific Lashkars differently in pursuit of a larger objective vis-à-vis Afghanistan and India. Could it now be that the impatient Americans may also be indulging in a nuancing of their own, telling us that we face a "common" threat because "Al Qaeda and Lashkar are the same thing" while at the same time setting minimalistic targets for themselves to neutralise Al Qaeda so they could leave us to deal with threats specific to us, and with a revitalised Pakistani military intelligence complex?
The time has therefore come for us to shift gears, to readjust the viewfinder and re-set the strategic GPS. We will find ourselves on our own in the roughest of neighbourhoods eventually. But with American will weakening so much that even Holbrooke is losing his style, this could come to pass sooner than we imagined.
THE HOST'S DIVIDEND
DESH GAURAV CHOPRA SEKHRI
The Hero Honda Hockey World Cup couldn't have had a more auspicious start than an engrossing encounter between India and Pakistan, with the host country emerging triumphant while capturing the nation's imagination. While the elation has been somewhat tempered by the subsequent losses to Australia and Spain, the fact remains that for the first time in recent memory there is widespread interest in a sports event that doesn't involve cricket.
The staging of the hockey World Cup is in many ways a seminal moment in Indian sports, as much on its own merit as on the fact that it is kick-starting the most eventful and active window ever for sports on Indian soil. Seen by many as the curtain-raiser for IPL-III, the 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG), and eventually the Cricket World Cup, it is imperative that at the very least this event be a moderate success, so as to feed the belief that the sports industry in India is on the cusp of exponential growth. And the only way sports can grow exponentially is by staging events of this magnitude in India, on a somewhat regular basis.
The event itself is merely the tip of the iceberg. Ripple effects extend to the popularising of the sport, generating interest in it from an investment and marketing standpoint, and, of course, significant improvement in the skills and performance levels of local talent.
A case in point is the build-up around the CWG 2010. While the games themselves are the focus of the public, it is the pre-games and post-games phases that will be crucial in determining success in the long term. Prior to the games, there has been a concerted effort on the part of the organising committee and individual sports federations to improve the levels of training and competition of Indian athletes. Funding and knowledge have been injected into sports and sportspersons, and this will have a positive long-term effect on their quality and performance levels.
Similarly, during the pre-games phase, the large investment in infrastructure will further boost the quality of training and competition facilities, making India a coveted venue for events in various sports while also ensuring that Indian athletes are forces to be reckoned with. The world-class facilities that Delhi will soon have will also enable individual sports bodies or private players to organise and host world-class events in sports such as basketball, tennis, swimming, soccer, and of course hockey, during the post-games phase.
The benefit of hosting large-scale sports events in India is that it will increase the overall awareness of the sport, its athletes, and its potential from a fan's perspective, or from a business/ value creation perspective. Additionally, the staging of an event locally increases the ability of the public to participate in not only the event itself, but also in the sport. It is this participation that helps expand fan bases.
The hockey World Cup is a good example. Hockey is a sport that has been languishing in virtual ignominy for the past decade or so, much to the chagrin of the loyalists and purists who felt that the national sport of India was being treated shabbily, at best. The Indian team itself has been performing poorly, to the extent that India, once the perennial gold-medal favourite at the Olympics, is now ranked 12th, behind even Canada. None of this however has mattered much for the World Cup, which has managed to generate significant interest to the extent that the India-Pakistan match created nearly as much buzz as an ODI at Ferozeshah Kotla would. If India were to improve significantly and compete with the top nations once more, a sustainable surge in hockey's popularity in India is well within the realm of possibilities that one can envision.
Simply put, events hosted locally are bound to increase the popularity of any sport in India. This could be due to the creation of an environment where the audience can feel and live the experience, or because of the collateral activities surrounding the event, or even triggered due to the media coverage that helps the audiences familiarise themselves with the sport and its athletes.
The IPL is a case in point of live matches taking over the imagination of the audiences, to the extent that international fixtures no longer have the allure they once did, as opposed to actually watching a match in one's home stadium. Beyond just the creation of the fan-base however, it is imperative to understand that the events also trigger investment in human capital (training of athletes), and investment in the sport itself, be it via infrastructure or marketing initiatives. Hopefully, the hockey World Cup will open the floodgates for an era where live international events are the norm rather than the once in a blue moon exception.
The writer is a Delhi-based sports attorney
MAKING THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION REAL
The Budget for 2010-11 was presented precisely 10 days after the Right to Education Act was notified, for implementation from April 1, 2010. That the government took nearly six months to notify its implementation after the presidential assent in August is indicative of the backroom tussles that must have taken place regarding its funding.
The timing of its notification therefore raised hopes that the budget would reflect adequate importance to the only fundamental right to be included in the Constitution since Independence. At a first glance, those hopes seem to have been belied. The allocation for its first year of implementation works out to Rs 15,000 crore out of the total budget of Rs 31,036 crore sanctioned to the department of school education and literacy. This appears woefully inadequate; less than half the estimated cost of Rs 34,000 crore per year (Rs 1.71 lakh crore for five years) as calculated by the National University for Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA). It should be obvious that the Act is front-loaded in terms of expenditure: a) recruit and deploy teachers at 30:1 ratio in every school within six months of notification, b) neighbourhood schools of specified quality for every child within three years, c) all teachers to be trained to a national norm within five years of notification. All three require substantial financial inputs in the initial years and form the basis of NUEPA estimates.
So why did it take six months to thrash out an allocation that is less than half the estimated cost for the coming year? In the absence of public information regarding the backroom parleys, one can only guess. The prime factor could be the inability of the state governments to absorb and expend sanctioned amounts at the required pace. It is no secret that many states, including Bihar, UP, Orissa, Assam and West Bengal have not been able to utilise SSA grants of previous years, particularly for teacher recruitment and classroom construction, the two most important targets to be met under the Act. Estimates suggest that nearly Rs 10,000 crore already sanctioned remain unutilised, and added to the budget allocation of Rs 15,000 crore, works out to Rs 25,000 crore. Which is still nearly Rs 10,000 crore short of the estimated first year cost. The finance minister indicated that around Rs 3,675 crore have been directly allocated by the Finance Commission to the states for elementary education (as per the provisions of section 7(4) of the Act). This would further close the gap between the estimate and allocation.
However, initial estimates prepared by Bihar and Orissa for implementing the Act are as high as Rs 28,000 and Rs 16,000 crore respectively. The Orissa school education minister has publicly stated that unless the Centre makes adequate financial provisions, his state will not be in a position to implement the Act from April 1. Being a concurrent subject, the Centre and states are both responsible for implementing the Act. The tug of war between them is part of the history of this Act, with the Centre asking the states to bring in their own respective Acts in 2006 based on a model Bill. But now that it is a Central legislation, and overrides existing state legislations, the Centre has to assume a greater responsibility for its implementation. Equally, the states have to perk up and improve their delivery systems so that sanctioned funds do not remain unutilised.
An area of special concern here is that of recruitment of teachers. The practice of engaging cheap, untrained and even unqualified teachers at times has boomeranged. After a few years of service, they unionise and start asking for enhanced salaries leading to litigation, with courts staying further recruitments. This is one of the reasons teacher recruitment funds have remained unutilised in states that badly require more teachers. The only way under the Act is to move towards a cadre of trained and qualified elementary education teachers, without resorting to cheap teachers, which anyway is a short term measure since the courts normally pass judgments in favour of the aggrieved contractual teachers. This change would be necessary in order to recruit lakhs of teachers in the six-month framework prescribed by the Act, and then move rapidly towards completing their training requirements within the next five years. Just as the Centre has responsibility for providing adequate funds, the states also need to go beyond asking for more funds and demonstrate their ability to utilise the funds within time frames that are legal and part of the fundamental right of children now. Once the pace of expenditure is at par with the time targets of the Act, the HRD ministry would be justified to demand additional funds from the supplementary budget during the year, which could further narrow the difference between requirement and allocation. However in order to set the pace, the UPA needs to wake up to the fact that the implementation of this fundamental right is not the job only of the concerned ministry, namely HRD, but equally so of the finance ministry and planning commission, and ministries that are directly implicated in its implementation, namely, labour, for issues of child labour; women and child welfare, for children below six years (under section 11 of the Act) and monitoring by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights; social empowerment and justice, for issues related to curbs on social discrimination in the Act, water and sanitation for providing water and toilets in each school, tribal welfare, which runs schools in many states; and panchayati raj, since most of the local authorities under the act are likely to be panchayati raj institutions. Unless the state governments and these ministries work cohesively in a mission mode for the implementation of the Act, the approach is likely to be fragmented, or worse, full of friction.
To demonstrate the UPA's seriousness, it would be befitting to bring all the chief ministers and ministers of the directly involved ministries and others to a conference before April 1, to be addressed by the prime minister, that galvanises the concerned implementers and sets up permanent inter-state and inter-ministerial processes to ensure that an Act that took 100 years to come (Gopal Krishna Gokhale unsuccessfully tried for such an Act in the Imperial Assembly in 1911) is implemented with earnestness.
The writer, an educationist and member of CABE, helped draft the Act and worked for its introduction in Parliament
THE RIGHT TO RIOT
On March 5, 2010, a division bench of the Bombay high court asked former Shiv Sena legislator Sitaram Dalvi to report on whether his party would pay compensation for acts of vandalism committed by him and other party workers. This direction has yet again raised the thorny issue of vicarious liability of political parties for acts of destruction committed by its members.
Political agitation takes manifold forms and names in India, some of the popular versions being "bandh", "hartal" and "chakkajam". These deceptive heads of the sinister hydra are propped up with the support of several foot-soldiers who employ money and muscle to make the agitation a success. States like Kerala and West Bengal are fit case studies on how normal public life is derailed by the illegal use of force.
It was this reality that prompted the Kerala high court in its 1997 verdict in Bharat Kumar Palicha vs State of Kerala, to ban bandhs. Observing that the very intention behind the call for a bandh was to bring about "negation of the rights of the citizens to enjoy their natural rights, their fundamental freedoms and the exercise of their fundamental rights", the high court held that political parties which called for such bandhs and enforced them would be liable to compensate the government as well as private citizens for losses suffered by them. According to the high court, the state was responsible for taking steps to recoup these losses. This judgment was subsequently affirmed by the Supreme Court.
To get over this, political parties then engaged in a tautological exercise by renaming violent acts of political agitation "hartals". So much for substance over form! When "hartals" became a euphemism for resorting to violence, the Kerala high court in Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi vs State of Kerala clarified that the moment an agitation sought to impinge on the rights of others, it ceased to be a hartal in the real sense of the term. Shockingly, the state of Kerala raised an ingenious plea that it was difficult to identify the trouble makers and hence, it would be unfair to call upon the sponsor of the hartal to pay for the destruction caused. The court rightly rejected this. The Madhya Pradesh high court has also followed the Kerala high court verdict in the Bharat Kumar case to issue directions restricting the practice of "chakkajams".
The argument of political parties has been that articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1)(b) confer rights on them to express their political views and assemble for this purpose. What they blissfully forget is that Article 19(1)(b) confers the right to assemble "peaceably." Violent means of protest do not fit in even within the fringes of this fundamental right. However, political parties maintain that even the possibility of being called upon to pay compensation can have a chilling effect on their right to assembly.
The provisions of the Trade Unions Act 1926 and the manner in which they have been interpreted by our Supreme Court shed light on the scope of protection for organised assembly. Section 18 of this act immunises registered trade unions from any act done in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute to which a member of the trade union commits.
But this immunity applies only in cases where a person breaks a contract of employment, interferes with the trade of some other person, or prevents disposing of his capital or of his labour as he wills. Qualifying this immunity, Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer held that even if a technically illegal strike was protected by section 18, if some individuals destroyed the plant or damaged the machinery wilfully to cause loss to the employer, they would be liable for the injury so caused. Sabotage, in the learned judge's view, was no weapon in the workers' legal armoury.
Historically, there has been a reason for conferring immunity on trade unions, not so for political parties. In many situations witnessed in the recent past, the sponsor political party had actively supported resorting to violence to meet its objectives.
The effect that payment of compensation may have on the right of political parties is a small compromise for the larger public interest served by making parties accountable for their actions. It is about time our politicians learnt to disagree without being disagreeable.
The writer practises law in the Madras high court
THE BOMBS WITHIN
Cinematheque, a small art house theater here in Hanoi, isn't easy to find; it's tucked down a long, narrow, dimly lit alley lined with motorbikes. At Cinematheque, I met up with two acquaintances, Lady Borton and Chuck Searcy, for a screening of The Hurt Locker. I was well aware of the historically loaded nature of the situation me, an Iraq war veteran, going to see a fictional film set in that war, in a land still marked by the horror of one of our previous wars, one that for many Americans was only experienced through other fictional films like Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter and Platoon.
In the summer of 2004 (while I was still in Iraq) I wrote a poem called "The Hurt Locker" it appeared in my book, "Here, Bullet," published in 2005. I'd first heard the phrase (which means, in a broad sense, a private place of pain) when my squad leader turned to me and voiced his frustration with so many indirect attacks on us (mortar attacks, roadside bombs, snipers, etc.). He said, "Sometimes I just want to put them in the hurt locker." It was a bizarre phrase that stuck with me for about two weeks before I wrote the poem. Hearing the film's title rekindled my curiosity in the phrase itself, sparking my interest.
Lady Borton is the author of many fine books, including After Sorrow: An American Among the Vietnamese.
She helped both North and South Vietnamese children who were injured during the war get prosthetic limbs. (She's currently the International Affairs Representative for the American Friends Service Committee in Hanoi.) Chuck is a Vietnam vet who returned in 1995 to work on reconciliation. Since 2000 he's worked with Project RENEW "to deal with the problem of landmines and unexploded ordnance in central Vietnam."
Lady and Chuck and I stepped into the Hanoi night after the film, lingering curbside to talk about it.
I asked Chuck, who is humble and professional in speaking of his work, if the film resonated with him. He explained that de-mining in Vietnam now, in peacetime, is completely different: the removal of unexploded bombs and mines is done without the simultaneous layer of ongoing combat. It's done with great attention to safety measures. (Still, I remember the fall of his voice earlier in the night when he spoke of the sad loss of two de-mining experts.)
For me, watching The Hurt Locker brought back memories of among other things roadside bombs in Iraq. I recounted one of the insane jobs I had there. My platoon was tasked to patrol the city of Mosul and to make sure routes were clear. We'd stop short of spots along the way where bombs might be positioned (often in the trash and debris under freeway overpasses, for example). Our squad would then split up one fire team to each side of the road. I'd walk down the shoulder with my team trailing me; Sgt. Zavala, my counterpart, likewise walked the opposite side of the road. We'd then walk up to the trash piles to visually inspect the area for signs of an I.E.D. It became a routine part of our job, but at the same time it was completely insane part of my mind couldn't help contemplating the gravity of what I might be walking into.
In the summer of 2004, we were called up to cordon off a Mosul neighborhood where a roadside bomb had been planted. Helicopters circled overhead. Snipers positioned on the rooftops. Vehicle and foot traffic was barred from the area. Like the curious Iraqis who peered from their balconies to see what the Americans would do next, I turned to watch an soldier from an E.O.D. (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) unit walk out toward the bomb, donned in a thick moonsuit. He was tethered with a white cord from which another soldier unspooled him closer and closer to the I.E.D. This was perhaps the bravest thing I ever saw someone do in Iraq.
There was something in the soundtrack of The Hurt Locker, near the very end of the film, that evoked the Western. And when our main character (Staff Sgt. William James, played by Jeremy Renner) walks back into Iraq, back into the hurt locker of the war, away from the camera and toward the vanishing point on the horizon, I perceived echoes of Shane, the gunslinger hero who rides into the sunset, solo, wounded, into a place beyond the audience, beyond comprehension.
The gunslinger and the horizon. Part of me thinks it reinforces the romantic ideal of the hero that's been handed down to us in the storytelling vein for centuries now. It's connected to the idea that there is glory in war, which I find more than troubling. On the other hand, if we see in that final scene a soldier walking back toward the bomb, to confront the addiction to adrenaline, or the fear, or the confusing and charged emotions that overtake humans in war well, that's intriguing.
The last image of The Hurt Locker expresses a theme I've often tried to articulate. In the film, the main character cannot completely return to America, to the norm of a life back home. In a sense, he's in Iraq whether he's physically in a supermarket in the States, or in a bomb suit walking into the hurt locker.
That image rings true to me, but I'd take it a step further: I'd say that we, as a nation, now contain this explosive ordnance within us. Within our national psyche. We have generations of combat veterans and military family members woven throughout the fabric of our entire culture. Some of us have to walk down those dusty streets. We have to approach that which might tear us apart. We have to try to defuse what is explosive within.
The writer, an award-winning poet, served seven years in
the US Army
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit to Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi foreign minister's "concern" about extremism in Pakistan was carefully tracked in the Pakistani media. The News quoted the foreign office spokesman on March 1: "'Suffice to say Saudi Arabia is our brotherly country, with which Pakistan enjoys exemplary relations. Let us wait for full details of what India is proposing'." Dawn, in its editorial on March 2, said: "Manmohan Singh became the first Indian PM to visit Saudi Arabia in nearly three decades and his Saudi hosts clearly rolled out the red carpet for him... But Pakistanis needn't worry about losing out in a zero-sum game for Saudi Arabia's attention... The Saudis were simply acknowledging an emerging reality: India is establishing itself as a big regional power, and trade with it is becoming increasingly important for other countries. Afghanistan featured only marginally in the talks... Though the Indians will almost certainly be hoping Saudi Arabia will, when the time comes, try and placate Pakistan over India's future role in Afghanistan...It's worth noting, though, that where Pakistan may be interested in Saudi help, India remains fiercely opposed to it: on Kashmir ."
Daily Times also weighed in with an editorial: "Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal made some very interesting remarks during Indian PM Manmohan Singh's visit to Saudi Arabia . He said Saudi Arabia was 'worried' about the rising tide of extremism in Pakistan. One would like to remind him as to the role of Saudi Arabia in fuelling religious extremism in Pakistan... In the 1980s, both Saudi Arabia and Iran competed for influence in Pakistan. Since a majority of Pakistanis are Sunnis, Saudi influence in the country was stronger, ultimately leading to a virulent Wahabi/Salafist ideology...The Taliban are staunch followers of this 'ideology'." Questioning Saudi Arabia 's integrity, it stated: "Since only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE recognised the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, the Saudis were great supporters of the antedilvian policies of the Taliban government until September 2001. How is it possible that during these five years while the Taliban gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, the Saudis were unaware of it?"
Judicial crisis revisited Pakistan this week in a new form. Last month's big reshuffle in the Lahore high court (LHC) and Supreme Court was challenged this week. Dawn reported on March 2: "A constitutional petition filed with the Supreme Court challenged the appointment of Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday as ad hoc judge, elevation of two LHC judges to the apex court and selection of two retired sessions judges as LHC's additional judges. The petition, filed by Barrister Zafarullah Khan, referred to the judgment in the 1996 Al Jihad Trust case that the most senior judge should be appointed as the LHC chief justice..." Daily Times added: "These appointments had breached the 'principle of merit' and 'blocked' the promotion of other deserving judges, he said." The parliamentary committee on constitutional reforms (PCCR) took note of this development. The debate took a new turn as Dawn reported on March 3: "PCCR agreed on the process of appointment of judges through a judicial commission as mentioned in the Charter of Democracy (CoD), but abolished a condition that the body should be headed by a chief justice who had never taken oath under a PCO (Provisional Constitution Order)." Interestingly, Pakistan's chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is the only serving Supreme Court judge to have do so in 2000.
After the army rescued two Sikhs from the Taliban's custody on March 1 from Khyber Agency in FATA, Daily Times wrote in its March 4 editorial: "It is heartening they are back and didn't suffer the unfortunate fate of their companion who was beheaded last month by the Taliban... They have shown no remorse in killing their 'Muslim' enemies, be it 'American spies' or 'pro-government' tribal elders or innocent civilians. However, the state has the responsibility to protect all citizens, particularly minorities, who are at a greater risk of abuse and violence... For a country... whose constitution gives inalienable rights to the minorities as equal citizens, events such as these call for introspection. Pakistan needs to lay the foundation of a state and society that is pluralistic, tolerant and protective of threatened minorities."
MINE THIS FPO RIGHT
The follow-on public offer (FPO) of National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), which opens on March 10, will indeed be a litmus test for the government after the poor response to the FPOs of National Thermal Power Corporation and Rural Electrification Corporation. The government's decision to take the conventional book-building route for the NMDC FPO, instead of the French auction route taken in the last two FPOs, is a step in the right direction and will help in better price discovery that can potentially attract larger retail participation. In the French auction route, institutional investors bid above a base price while retail investors bid at the floor price. As a result, institutional investors with the highest bids are given priority over retail investors. The conventional book-building route is a tried and tested process where an investor can put in application even on the last day and can change the bid price at any point of time. Since the country's largest mining company has low floating stocksthe government owns 98.38% of the company and will divest 8.38% stake through the issue of nearly 330 million sharesthe key challenge now will be to set the floor price with a higher discount than its current stock price. Analysts say that since the price-earnings multiple of the company is exorbitantly high at 48 times, a steep discount will be needed to attract both domestic and foreign investors. Past experience with government-owned companies like Dredging Corporation, IBP and IPCL shows that retail participation in FPOs was encouraging where the government offered 15-25% discount on the market price to retail investors, boosting their participation. The Empowered Group of Ministers will have to take the final call on the floor price and undertake a delicate balancing act so that it can mobilise the targeted Rs 13,000 crore from the markets and meet the total disinvestment target of Rs 25,000 crore for the current fiscal.
The government's decision to announce the company's public issue price a day before the offer opens is a smart move as it will not give speculators any room to pull the stock price down as was perhaps the case with REC. Moreover, the government must increase the number of bidding centres and hold regular meetings with bankers to ensure maximum participation of premium investors. A case in point is the Reliance Power IPO in 2008, which saw the offering getting subscribed by a record 70 times despite no projects on stream. Since NMDC will be the last public company to be divested in the current fiscal, it is important that the government adopts the right lessons from past failures and makes the offering a success. That will help boost confidence in PSU stocks for future divestments.
These columns have consistently been in support of the commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal based on the ample scientific and institutional rigour the first genetically modified vegetable in India has passed through. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh, however, imposed a moratorium on commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal citing insufficient scientific evidence on the long-term health effects of the consumption of such a brinjal by humans. In doing so, he rode roughshod over the opinion of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), a body of experts that had cleared the same crop for cultivation, and damaged the credibility of the whole scientific process. Incredibly, some weeks later, comes the news that Philippines has given the go-ahead for commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal based on the same evidence vetted by the GEAC. The authorities in the Philippines show a lot more faith in the credibility of the GEAC than minister Jairam Ramesh, by deciding not to repeat the same tests that had already been done and certified by the GEAC in India. In fact, the science and technology minister of Philippines, a country known for its pioneering work in food research, wrote a letter praising the quality and work of the GEAC.
The irony of the situation is that while research on the seeds, and all the tests for the safety, of Bt brinjal were conducted competently in India, its commercial cultivation will begin in the Philippines. Ideally, India should have pioneered the cultivation of Bt brinjal. Now, courtesy the environment minister's 'what's the hurry?' argument, Indian agriculture will be a follower rather than leader on not just Bt brinjal but probably in a whole host of other GM crops as well. At roughly the same time as the Philippines gave the go-ahead to Bt brinjal, the European Union gave permission to the commercial cultivation of GM potato. And this is in a region that has always had the loudest opposition against GM foods. But governments, at the end of the day, cannot allow themselves to be hijacked by narrow vested interests and must follow the rigour of scientific and institutional processes. That's what the EU is doing, and that's what the Philippines is also doing. The Prime Minister, in a reply to the motion of thanks on the President's Address on Friday, said that his government was committed to finding solutions to the problem of high food prices. It's a pity that one of his ministers has called a halt to a crucial technological breakthrough that could potentially increase yields, prevent wastage and lower prices for consumers in the near future.
LOCAL BODIES STAND TO GAIN FROM TFC
JESSICA SEDDON WALLACK
We live and die in the care of local governments. From birth to death certificates, the everyday context of our lives is shaped by what local governments do (or don't do): water supply, sanitation, trash collection, traffic planning, tree planting, park maintenance, zoning and addresses are all part of their work. We need them to be responsive and capable, both motivated and able to undertake these tasks.
Their 'coming of age' tale has been a long saga. The Constitution recognised local governments in 1992, the same year that Sebi was formed. Then the plot stalled. The fact that local governance is a state subject under the Constitution has precluded one of the most common dynamics of local government empowerment-from-above. Most of Latin America's local governments went from non-entities to relatively independent service providers in a decade and a half, for example, when national governments decided to send funds, functions and democratic processes straight to the third tier and skip the second until much later. Their motives may have been centristmany observers saw the attention to local governments as an effort to undercut state leaders by supporting a weaker, smaller group of rivalsbut the effect has been the opposite.
Will the recommendations of 13th Finance Commission report finally overcome these hurdles to produce mature local governance? Maybe, hopefully, but not without breaking the fourth wall, the imaginary dividing line between the actors and the audience. Not without spectator participation in the story. The report deserves the praise it is getting for being a game changer. It secures a buoyant revenue base for local bodies with a clever move around the constitutional prohibition on devolving part of the divisible tax pool to local governments: the Commission recommends annually varying grants-in-aid based on defined shares of the divisible tax pool for the previous year, to be voted in the Union Budget.
The report has some teethin rhetoric and reality. Its review of the cycle of recommendations, reiterations and re-recommendations in the past few reports would be almost comic if the unmet goals did not include such basic steps as having credible and complete data on local government finances. The Commission sets aside a quarter of the overall potential grant as a performance grant to be disbursed based on specific criteria for upgrades in state accounting and auditing, streamlining of fund transfers from state to local bodies, and support for property tax administration. Cities must make and publicise clear commitments on service provision, and states must create an independent local body ombudsman to look into local governance problems. The penalty for not meeting these criteria rewards early movers and particularly punishes the laggards.
The most important contribution of the 13th Finance Commission report (at least on local government finance), however, is to set the stage for audience participation in the next act. It sets up a system to motivate performance on process, but these changes are unlikely to improve service provision unless they activate a new wave of political pressure from below.
Accounting and auditing reforms have the greatest impact on outcomes of public expenditure when citizens and
citizen groups use this information to demand that the funds flow into the infrastructure and services that they most want. Local accounting supplements to state budget documents may sound like relatively boring additions to the public domain, but they are a treasure trove of information that can be used to identify gaps between rhetoric, intention and action. Researchers and activists today struggle simply to compile information on what funds have left the state for local governments, what has arrived, and how the two match. Never mind assessing spatial patterns, trends, project timelines or other aspects of public spending. Citizens typically operate on even less informationwithout hours to file right to information acts, pore over miscellaneous tidbits of information and try to piece together a paper trail of conflicting media reports. It can be hard to determine what agency is responsible for a new flyover, much less roadwork for unknown purposes.
Faster and clearer processes for funds transfers from state to local governments are not going to lead to better garbage collection or cleaner water unless somebody watches who is sitting on the money and delaying the implementation of a project or initiation of maintenance. The funds transfer requirement removes a whole set of excuses for poor performance, immediately eliminating the finger-pointing about fund delays, mistakes made in disbursements, and other 'technical problems' affecting local government projects.
Similarly, announcing service level commitments means little unless cities' residents remember them, compare the achievements to promises and vote based on that assessment. The ombudsman creates a formal, recorded space for grievances about local government malfeasance, but it only works if people report corruption and maladministration.
The 13th Finance Commission's recommendations introduce a new level of transparency into local government finance, but it is up to us to determine the conclusion by using it.
The author is director, Centre for Development Finance at the Institute for Financial and Management Research, Chennai
WHY THE PIGS WILL NOT FLY ANYTIME SOON
K VAIDYA NATHAN
I was at a lunch recently with some economists working for investment banks. The conversation was about PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) and who coined the derogatory acronym. It has probably been coined by some economist at an investment bank but because it sounds pretty offensive, no bank wants to claim credit, like they did in the case of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China). Italy, for one, has said publicly that it does not want to be clubbed along with the three other nations in the PIGS acronym. The Italian bank, UniCredit, has waged a campaign to change the 'I' in PIGS to Ireland since they know that they can't stop the rest of the world from using that acronym.
Acronyms can have a fairly long life span. The BRIC concept was first identified by Goldman Sachs in 2001 in
a research report, Build Better Global Economic BRICs. These four countries had different backgrounds but
one shared promisethey were the economic powerhouses of future. It has been almost a decade since the introduction of BRIC and the acronym is still in currency. The PIGS acronym bunches together four different countries with dissimilar size and circumstances but one shared facethey all face serious budget shortfalls.
Each of those four countries has massive social spending and not as much revenues to cover for it. They have excessive labour costs from expansive public unions, coupled with high unemployment. The remedy that is being prescribed is fiscal austerity and higher taxes. However the question remains, why would current taxpayers be willing to pay for government debt that got built up in the past?
Let us put ourselves in the shoes of the citizens of those countries and try to walk some distance. Hypothetically, if the Narasimha Rao government had piled up huge external debt during the early nineties, I am not sure if current taxpayers like you and me would be too keen to foot the bill by giving away a larger portion of our income to the government. The argument would probably have beenthe government excesses and subsidies then were enjoyed by a different class and generation of population, why should you and I have to foot the bill for benefits enjoyed by somebody else. It's a bit difficult to see the citizens of PIGS reasoning any differently.
Let's assume that the citizens in those countries were rational and prudent. They are so well informed that they factor in the damaging consequences of a default. Let's surmise that tax payers in those countries are willing to pay higher taxes to uphold the quality of government credit. The willingness may come from the compulsion that if the quality of government credit remains favourable from the viewpoint of lenders, the rulers and the ruled can continue to take recourse to borrowing money in future times of need. Even with the utopian concept of the masses being rational, the citizens would judiciously not avoid a default, given the current state of affairs. This is because in distressed times, the cost of borrowing becomes extremely high and debt financing becomes too costly and at times, unaffordable for the rulers and the ruled. The CDS spread of Greece, which is a proxy for the risk premium the lenders charge has gone north of 350 basis points. Once issuing new debt becomes too costly, or the debt amount has become too large with respect to their incomethe economic incentive for rulers and the ruled to service the debt declines rapidly. Italy has sovereign debt in excess of $2 trillion. The smaller economies like Greece and Spain are running a fiscal deficit in excess of 11% of their GDP. If they indeed were to pay back the debt, an entire generation would have to sacrifice a greater portion of their income to the government. Reneging on the payment may seem to be an easier option. Another way for PIGS to avoid a default could be to roll over debt, that is, postpone the problem to a future time. However, that too is unlikely because citizens of the better off countries like Germany and France won't be too keen to lend money as they may have to share the losses of their neighbours eventually.
All the four countries have large foreign debt and not much domestic debtthe government has not borrowed much from its citizens. The sovereign debt is predominantly held by those who do not have a direct say in repayment of debt or in setting government policies. The lenders have a say only in monetary policy as they are part of a monetary union. Since the losers will not be their citizens, the incentive for rulers to renege on debt becomes fairly high. The rulers will eventually ask themselves, "Why engage in the politically unfavourable business of taxing citizens, as neither we nor our subjects can issue any more new debt?" The PIGS are in a precarious position with not much reason, intention or incentive to honour their debt. The acronym may become synonymous to sovereign risk for a long time to come.
The author, formerly with JPMorganChase, is CEO, Quantum Phinance
COMBAT FOR ATTENTION
Call it the classic case of combative advertising. After Cadbury India and Nestlé, detergent majors Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) and Procter & Gamble India are now engaged in a bitter advertising war. With the launch of its new ad campaign for Rin, HUL has directly taken on P&G's detergent brand Tide Naturals in its communications. With the tagline Tide se kahin behatar safedi de Rin, HUL's ad directly compares the washing power of Rin with that of Tide. As a result, battle lines are being redrawn in the Rs 4,500-crore branded detergent sector in India. Combative advertising, also known as guerrilla marketing, is back in India after a gap of few months.
Similar battles were fought between cola majors PepsiCo and Coca-Cola India in the past few years. Last year, chocolate majors Cadbury India and Nestlé also locked horns over the much-hyped 'Pehli Tarikh ad'. Nestlé's spoof on Cadbury's 'Pehli Tarikh Ad' created bad blood between the two archrivals. It is not just the highly competitive categories such as colas, detergents and automobiles that are resorting to combative advertising to settle scores. Advertisers across categories are now opting for this mode of advertising to grab the attention of consumers.
Why do companies opt for this mode of advertising? Primarily, companies opt for combative advertising technique to grab eyeballs and negative attention. Clearly, HUL has succeeded in catching the attention of millions of viewers in the last two days. In mature markets with competing firms, a common role for advertising is to shift consumer preferences towards the advertiser in a tug-of-war, with no effect on category demand. Traditionally used as a combative tool by advertisers to draw negative attention to competitors, spoof advertising has moved well past this in India.
As a result, advertisers across categories are now spoofing media content to cut through the clutter and infuse combative advertising into their campaigns. This helps the brand ensure high recall, as the spoof is usually on popular content that is easily identifiable.
DON'T FAIL THE WOMEN OF INDIA
The United Progressive Alliance government's announcement of its intention to push forward the Women's Reservation Bill without any dilution in the coming week is the best political news we have had for a long time. If all goes according to plan, the long-pending Bill will be adopted by both houses of Parliament on or around March 8, which marks the centenary of International Women's Day. The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill seeks to allot one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and in State assemblies to women, with the reservation applying by rotation to the various constituencies. The Bill, which has been introduced in the Rajya Sabha, has the support of the Congress, the BJP, the Left parties, and some important regional parties. Notwithstanding the obstructionism of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party, there should now be no problem in putting together the two-thirds support needed for constitutional amendment. What is really significant in a political sense is that, led by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the government was able to summon the political will to go for this breakthrough, which will surely have far-going and profound effects on the ground. On the other hand, India's dismal 10 per cent representation of women in Parliament indicates that without a constitutionally mandated change, it will continue to bring up the rear among the world's nations.
The experience of working a mandated system of 33 per cent (now raised to 50 per cent) reservation for women in panchayati raj institutions has amply demonstrated that enhanced political participation of women at the grassroots deepens democracy in many ways. It delivers more of the constitutional guarantees of rooting out discrimination on the basis of sex or caste, providing equality of opportunity for women, and redirecting resources in favour of the most disadvantaged in the population who, even within the most deprived groups, are likely to be women. The World Economic Forum in its 2009 report on global gender disparities ranks India 114th in a list of 134 countries. Given the troubling statistics starting with the worsening sex ratio in the 0-6 age group in the population, eliminating the gender gap in its various dimensions should be a top political priority for rising India. Greater representation of women in legislatures and Parliament is likely to force a shift of focus towards this priority. The world over, women's empowerment and advancement through progressive struggles, and by right, have had a highly beneficial impact on politics, the economy, health, education, culture, and society. With the ruling party, the main opposition, and other significant political players deciding to join hands on a key issue, a rare and historic opportunity presents itself. The polity and Parliament must not fail the women of India.
BANNING PERNICIOUS WEAPONS
The global ban, from this August, on the pernicious cluster bombs that drop deadly explosives in their hundreds over vast areas inflicting indiscriminate death and devastation cannot conceal the utter contempt the big powers had for the post-World War II Geneva Conventions on humanitarian law (laws of war) that seek to protect civilian populations during combat operations. Worse, the obdurate refusal of the major arms manufacturing and procuring countries such as the United States, Russia, Israel, China, India, and Pakistan to accede to the pact underscores the fact that a minority of countries, some of them democracies to wit, stand isolated on a concrete step to promote international peace and multilateralism. Cluster bombs, an anti-vehicle weapons legacy from World War-II, outlawed under the new United Nations Convention, are also de facto anti-personnel landmines to the extent that where they fail to detonate on impact, they explode when unearthed years after the end of conflicts, maiming and killing unsuspecting civilians in their thousands. Indeed, the relative success recorded in the abolition of landmines, banned in 1997 with support from the U.S., is often attributed to this similarity with cluster bombs, used extensively by the allied forces in Afghanistan and Iraq; not to mention Israel which deployed them in 2006 against Lebanon. Small wonder then that flagrant violations of the terms of engagement of these powers in West Asia are routine, and the apologies proffered, often as an after-thought and only after much public indignation and outrage, have become equally routine.
The new Treaty outlaws the production, use, and transfer of cluster bombs and States Parties are obliged to destroy stockpiles within eight years and clear their territory of unexploded bomblets within two years thereafter. Therefore, the view that the law may permit a waiver of certain forms of assistance when States Parties undertake joint military operations with countries that are not likely to accede to the Treaty in the foreseeable future is a dangerous and disingenuous interpretation that militates against strict compliance. World powers are under increasing domestic pressure to bring home their demoralised troops from the savage battlefields. It is time they also saw the writing on the wall the demand to demobilise the demonic weapons, on top of which must be the catastrophic nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
PAKISTAN ARMY: THE STRUGGLE WITHIN
"India," Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari famously said in an October 2008 interview, "has never been a threat to Pakistan." In his first major interview, given just a month after taking office, he described jihadists in Jammu and Kashmir as "terrorists." He imagined "Pakistani cement factories being constructed to provide for India's huge infrastructure needs, Pakistani textile mills meeting Indian demand for blue jeans, Pakistani ports being used to relieve the congestion at Indian ones."
Early last month, Pakistan's army chief, General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, outlined a rather different vision. In a presentation to the media, he asserted that the Pakistan army was an "India-centric institution," adding this "reality will not change in any significant way until the Kashmir issue and water disputes are resolved." His words were not dissimilar in substance from the language used by jihadists such as Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed in recent speeches.
Later this year, President Zardari will make a decision that could force open the faultlines between the military-led establishment and the Pakistan People's Party. Gen. Kayani is scheduled to retire in November 2010. Mr. Zardari, as the commander-in-chief, holds the power to appoint his successor.
Ever since Gen. Kayani a former Inter-Services Intelligence chief took office, the Pakistani state has set out on escalating tensions along its eastern frontier. Fighting along the Line of Control has increased, and jihadist infiltration escalated reversing an eight-year trend. Last week, Jammu and Kashmir secessionists were told by Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir that his country had reverted to its traditional policies on the state policies that included unconcealed support for jihadists. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's secret envoy Satinder Lambah, who has been holding secret meetings with his Pakistani counterpart Riaz Mohammad Khan, has discovered that Islamabad no longer appears interested in pursuing a five-principles path to peace advocated by the former President, Pervez Musharraf.
The army, it has long been evident, loathes its commander-in-chief: Mr. Zardari, for example, is never invited to address the staff at military installations.
Last year, Mr. Zardari was forced to hand over control of the National Command Authority, which controls Pakistan's nuclear assets, to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. The military also appears to have been working hard to strip Mr. Zardari of his sole source of authority over the army. In January, Parliament's constitutions reforms committee unanimously agreed that Article 243 be amended to give the Prime Ministerrather than the President effective power to appoint the services chiefs. Even as things stand, Mr. Zardari could face resistance if he picks a chief of his choice. Defence Secretary Syed Athar Ali is a former Lieutenant-General; his predecessor in office, retired Lieutenant-General Iftikhar Ali Khan, refused to sign on the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's orders sacking the then army chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
But come November, Mr. Zardari will likely hold the ace in his hand and a bitter struggle could break out if he chooses to play it.
Gen. Kayani's three years in office have enabled him to build a substantial constituency within the army. For a variety of reasons, the army chief was able to promote a record number of top officers, and give others coveted positions. In 2008, Gen. Kayani promoted six officers to the rank of Lieutenant-General, and assigned several other Lieutenants-General and Major-Generals to prestigious offices. Last year, four more officers were promoted Lieutenants-General. From March onwards, eight Lieutenants-General will retire including ISI Director-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, Chief of General Staff Muhammad Mustafa Khan, Quartermaster General Zahid Hussain, and commander of the Karachi-based V Corps Shahid Iqbal. New opportunities will thus arise for Gen. Kayani to dispense patronage.
Islamabad military gossip has it that Gen. Kayani may use his goodwill within the army to lobby for a further year in office, as part of a deal which would also secure Mr. Zardari's position. Gen. Kayani may also attempt to have himself selected chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. General Tariq Majeed, head of the JCSC, is due to retire just days before Gen. Kayani a coincidence that could ease the move. If that indeed is Gen. Kayani's intention, though, he will unlikely be satisfied with the largely ceremonial position of JCSC chief. He could lobby for supervisory powers over top appointments a move that would likely have President Zardari's support, since it would create tensions between the JCSC and the new army chief.
Gen. Kayani's own favoured choice for his successor, should he not secure an extension for himself, is the current ISI chief, Gen. Pasha, who is due to retire on March 18, 2010. However, Gen. Pasha has had a relatively brief tenure as Pakistan's spymaster a fact which, read along with the critical state of affairs in the country, could justify an extension. Lieutenant-General Masood Alam, who heads the critical Peshawar-based XI Corps, was recently given an extension on just these grounds. However, Gen. Pasha has never commanded a Corps normally a prerequisite for the top job.
Lieutenant-General Nadeem Taj will likely be the second in line for the army's top job, if Gen. Pasha's extension does not come through early in March. Now serving as commander of the Gujranwala-based XXX Corps, Gen. Taj is scheduled to retire only in April 2011 and thus has time on his side. Long a key Musharraf aide, Gen. Taj was appointed Director-General of Military Intelligence, a position he held until February 2005. Later, he commanded the Lahore-based 11 Infantry Division, and served as commandant of the Pakistan Military Academy.
But any move to appoint Gen. Taj is likely to encounter intense resistance from the United States and with some reason. Gen. Taj was made ISI Director-General in September 2007, just before Gen. Kayani replaced Gen. Musharraf as army chief. By late that year as Gen. Kayani brought about changes in policy that the army saw as more consonant with its interests than the pro-western position of President Musharraf Gen. Taj found himself in trouble with the U.S. In August 2008, President George W. Bush was reported to have complained that it had become "impossible to share intelligence on the al-Qaeda and the Taliban with Pakistan because it goes straight back to the militants." Eventually, in October 2008, Gen. Taj was moved out of the ISI but rewarded with charge of a prestigious Corps.
Khalid Shameem Wynne, Lieutenant-General who leads the Quetta-based XII corps and the army's southern command, appears the third in line for the top job and least contentious among those in the race. From a family with a long military tradition his father, Colonel Arshad Wynne, served during the India-Pakistan war of 1971 Gen. Wynne started his career in the 20 Punjab Regiment. He held several important posts, notably serving as Deputy Chief of General Staff, and commanding the prestigious Siachen-focussed 323 Infantry Brigade. Little is known about Gen. Wynne's political affiliations, perhaps because he has none. Notably, Gen. Wynne has had no tenure at the ISI, unlike both his rivals for the top job and, of course, Gen. Kayani himself.
Wars of succession in the Pakistan army have often had significant political outcomes. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's October 1999 appointment of Lieutenant-General Ziauddin Butt an engineering officer precipitated the coup which led to Gen. Musharraf taking charge as President. President and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto picked the junior-most and supposedly most subservient candidate for the army chief's job. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who Bhutto described as "my monkey," returned the compliment first by naming the Prime Minister Colonel-in-Chief of the Armoured Corps and then sending him to the gallows. General Abdul Waheed Kakkar, appointed army chief by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in the course of a bitter power struggle with Mr. Sharif, forced both politicians to resign.
Popular consensus has it that the Pakistan army is a battleground between Islamists and pro-western professionals. In fact, as scholars like Ayesha Siddiqa have shown us, the military is an independent political actor, representing a set of concrete interests: the military is, after all, Pakistan's largest owner of land and custodian of an industrial empire that runs everything from breakfast-cereal plants to banks. The army, thus, is not just the custodian of the ideological and territorial boundaries of the state; it is, in key senses, the state itself.
Gen. Musharraf was reviled by the army for having allowed Pakistan to be drawn into a war that threatens its primacy. Gen. Kayani has responded by seeking to repair the army's relationship with its long-standing Islamist allies and by seeking to find a way out of the war in Pakistan's northwest by escalating tensions along its eastern border. It is no coincidence that jihadist operations like the November 2008 attack on Mumbai took place soon after Gen. Kayani took office. His successor will have to decide if the army's interests lie in this direction, or in charting a new course.
India has enormous equities in the looming struggle for control of the Pakistan army and must watch its course with great care.
EDUCATION IN THE UNION BUDGET
THE PROPOSALS DO NOT INDICATE ANY SPECIAL SIGNIFICANCE BEING ATTACHED TO EDUCATION.
JANDHYALA B.G. TILAK
One looks forward to the Finance Minister's budget speech with a hope that it spells some new major initiatives and schemes for development, and that it might promise any major allocation of resources to any sector, besides fresh tax proposals. In the case of education sector, one might feel disappointed at the proposals made in the Union budget for 2010-11 on both counts. No new initiatives are proposed; no major reference to the importance of education is made, except referring to the enactment of the Right to Education. The proposals on allocation of resources also promise little new.
The total plan allocation for education sector has been raised by 15 per cent to Rs.42,000 crore, from Rs.36,400 crore proposed in the 2009-10 budget. (The revised estimate for 2009-10 is only Rs.30,600 crore.) At the current rate of inflation, the increase is very modest, if not insignificant.
The allocation for elementary education is increased from Rs. 21,700 crore in 2009-10 to Rs. 25,000 crore in current budget a meagre 15 per cent increase in nominal terms. This includes an allocation of Rs.15,000 crore for Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA), the major flagship programme for universalisation of elementary education and Rs. 9,300 crore for the national scheme of mid-day meals together accounting for 97 per cent of the total allocation for SSA. Among others, strengthening of teachers training institutions and quality education in madrassas are the two notable budget items that account for the rest. The increases in allocation of resources to SSA, the mid-day meal scheme and the elementary education as a whole seem to be only token increases. The allocations pale further, given the context of enactment of the Right to Education legislation by Parliament only a few months ago, which promised substantial improvement in access, quality and other dimensions of elementary education and provision of quality education to every child as a fundamental right. The implementation of the Right to Education Act requires enormous resources. Conservative estimates put the requirement as Rs. 171,000 crore for a five-year period, but the government seems to have decided, as per the media reports, to provide only Rs. 32,000 crore for the remaining two years of the eleventh five year plan for SSA, which is considered the main or the only scheme for the implementation of the Act. It appears the Ministry had sought an allocation of Rs. 40,000 crore in the current budget, and the Planning Commission seemed to have indicated its willingness to allocate Rs.35,000 crore; and the Ministry of Finance has allocated finally only Rs.15,000 crore for SSA and Rs. 9,300 crore for midday meals.
In fact, two thirds of the total allocation to elementary education comes from the Prarambhik Siskha Kosh, which is essentially made of the revenues received from education cess for elementary education. Though the District Primary Education Project (DPEP) has been virtually closed, reliance on external assistance for elementary education continues. External aid for elementary education increased from Rs. 683 crore in 2004-05 to Rs. 1,584 crore in 2008-09. In the allocation made for SSA in the current budget foreign aid which is of the tune of Rs. 1,028 crore, constitutes about seven per cent; in addition, foreign aid forms 90 per cent of the Rs. 46 crore proposed for Mahila Samkhya.
On the whole, the overall allocations to elementary education may put serious question marks on the seriousness of the Union government on the implementation of the Right to Education Act, which is yet to be notified.
The allocation to secondary education was least raised from Rs. 4,600 crore to Rs. 4,700 crore. For universalisation of secondary education, the Rashtriya Madhyamik Siksha Abhiyan (RMSA) was launched recently. While Rs. 1,354 crore was allocated to it in the last year's budget, only 40 per cent was spent as per the revised estimate. Navodaya Vidyalayas, RMSA and the scheme of setting up of 6,000 model schools at block level as a bench mark of excellence can be regarded as the three major budget items in secondary education in the current budget. Of the 6,000 model schools, 3,500 were to be set up under public-private partnerships modes which are yet to be finalised.
The National Means-cum-Merit Scholarship scheme was launched in 2008-09, according to which a scholarship of Rs. 6,000 per annum per head is awarded to meritorious students of economically weaker sections to enable them to continue their studies and complete at least senior secondary education. In 2009-10 Rs. 750 crore was allocated to the scheme. But as per the revised estimates only Rs. 253 crore was spent. One might expect such a scheme that aims at promoting equity and merit, to receive serious attention in the budget allocations. Surprisingly, the allocation to the scheme has been slashed in the current budget to Rs. 90 crore to about one-third of the revised estimate and 12 per cent of the of the budget estimate of 2009-10.
Allocation to adult education has been more than doubled increasing it from Rs. 450 crore to Rs. 1,300 crore, the major beneficiary being the recently restructured and renamed Sakshar Bharat Programme.
For higher education
Allocations to higher education (general and technical) are also modest; they increased from the budget estimate of Rs. 9,600 crore in 2009-10 to Rs. 11,000 crore in the present budget. The total plan and non-plan allocation to technical education increased from Rs. 5,400 crore to Rs. 6,000 crore. For setting up of new IITs, again Rs. 400 crore has been allocated, like in the previous year. A significant increase in the allocation has been made for upgrading existing/setting up of new polytechnics. An allocation of Rs. 220 crore has been made for the same, compared to Rs. 45 crore in the previous budget. Non-plan allocations to the UGC, IITs and IIMs etc., have been reduced, though there is a small increase in plan allocations. This might mean that the higher educational institutions will need to either raise student fees or face a difficult situation when it comes to maintaining their infrastructure.
More importantly, the budget allocations do not indicate any major restructuring of the University Grants Commission (UGC) or the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), as the total plan and non-plan allocation to the UGC remains more or less the same around Rs. 7,300 crore and that to the AICTE nearly Rs. 200 crore. There is, of course, a separate provision of Rs. 40 crore for the establishment of tribunals, accreditation authority, the National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER) and National Finance Corporation. The draft bills to set up some of these bodies are believed to be at an advanced stage, getting clearance from the cabinet committee etc.
The proposed NCHER is to subsume the role of UGC, AICTE and other similar bodies. Further, in recent years organisations like the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) were subject to a thorough review and experts have recommended major revamping of the organisation and its institutes. The somewhat stable allocation of Rs.50 crore to ICSSR and equally stable allocations to other research institutes indicate no major thinking on the development of research in social sciences in these organisations.
The only scheme that attracted a huge allocation in higher education Rs.500 crore is the scheme of interest subsidy to educational loans. This scheme, which seems not to have taken off during the last year, is meant to provide subsidy to the students of weaker sections to the extent of interest payments for the duration of the studies. While the scheme needs to be welcomed, it also indicates the government's intention to increasingly rely on student loans as an effective method of funding higher education, rather than providing general subsidies or scholarships.
On the whole, the proposals made in case of education in the 26th Feb 2010 Union budget, to say the least, do not indicate any special significance being attached to education neither to the Right to Education Act, nor to the recent proposals on universalisation of secondary education, nor to the reforms being discussed in higher education.
( Jandhyala B.G. Tilak is professor at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
BROWN'S MAKEOVER TO CONNECT WITH VOTERS
THE BRITISH PRIME MINISTER'S ATTEMPT AT THE ROLE OF EMOTIONALLY LITERATE POLITICIAN IS PART OF AN ELABORATE PRE-ELECTION PUBLIC RELATIONS STUNT.
Indian politicians should regard themselves lucky that they are not required to hug babies, humour demanding mums or chat up lonely pensioners to show their "human" side and prove that they are able to "connect" with voters. The touchy-feely, emotionally literate politician is a uniquely western phenomenon. And, in the 24-hour television news culture with the camera following every movement of political leaders their ability to emote in public is becoming as important, if not more, as their policies.
In this age of the perma-tanned, media-savvy politician, someone like British Prime Minister Gordon Brown comes across as a misfit. Faced with his youthful and slick Tory rival David Cameron, he is under intense pressure to get himself a makeover ahead of the coming general elections. It was as part of this makeover project that his media managers, apparently aided and abetted by his wife Sarah (herself an ex-PR executive), persuaded him to give an hour-long television interview recently to former tabloid editor Piers Morgan who is more used to chatting up footballers' girlfriends and size-zero models.
But then that was the whole idea. The trick, according to widely quoted Labour sources, was to "humanise" their man and present him as "your kinda guy" (as his predecessor Tony Blair famously said about himself) who had had his share of pub crawling when at university; enjoyed an occasional fling; and in good time married a woman he had met on a Glasgow flight. "It was love at first flight," he said in a rare show of humour when asked what attracted him to his future wife.
It was a quip that cynics attributed to some heavy coaching he was put through to prepare him for the interview.
Mostly, though, he guffawed his way through the ordeal during which he was asked questions such as whether he ever had a "spliff" as a university student considering that it was the swinging 1960s. Was it true that (what with those long hair and intense looks) girls fell over each other to court him? Was he still in touch with those who wore "Gordon for me" t-shirts and canvassed for him in university elections? And when, where and exactly how did he propose to Sarah ("Did you go down on your knees?") and did she say "yes" immediately?
In case you really want to know, he proposed to her on a windswept, rain-soaked Scottish beach. No, he didn't go down on his knees but yes, she instantly agreed. To complete the portrait of a "normal" family man (loyal husband, loving father) who understood other families and their concerns, the camera frequently cut to Ms. Brown, strategically seated among the studio audience. So we saw her smile coyly when he talked about their courtship; saw her wipe off a tear from her eyes when he recalled the death of their 10-day-old daughter Jennifer in 2002; and saw her beam beatifically when he praised her for her "strength" etc.
It has been the most discussed/dissected makeover of a modern British political leader since the advent of television; and more in the same vein is expected as elections near. According to media reports, Labour is considering a "masochism" strategy whereby Mr. Brown would be made to "brave the wrath of voters in person to prove that he understands their concerns". The idea apparently is to urge him to get real close to voters and show his willingness to be "confronted" by ordinary people. Hypothetically, such a situation could include being grilled by a studio audience agitated about issues such as the state of the economy or public services or Afghanistan (as Mr. Blair was over the Iraq invasion); being collared by an angry patient or staff in a hospital (another memorable Blair moment); or being heckled at the doorstep.
"You earn respect by showing you can take it. It won't be much fun for him but you've got to show you're not afraid," The Times reported one Cabinet Minister as saying.
The party acknowledges that it is a high-risk strategy because, unlike Mr. Blair who was brilliant at handling such situations, Mr. Brown is known to lose temper easily under pressure. He has just survived a potentially damaging row following explosive claims about his "volcanic" behaviour and allegations that he "bullies" his staff. According to two new books one by a high-profile Labour-leaning journalist, Andrew Rawnsley, and the other by a former senior Downing Street official, Lance Price he swears at staff, throws things at them in a fit of anger and, on one occasion, grabbed a senior adviser by his lapels. Junior employees like secretaries and telephone operators are said to be particularly vulnerable to his allegedly "violent" behaviour.
There is concern among his advisers that it would be disastrous if his temper had the better of him during the campaign "encounters" or if he overdid the "emotive" bit. "Tony Blair was good at that Gordon isn't," one Brown adviser told a newspaper.
But the party is gambling on the fact that things are already so bad for it (despite the polls tightening, Tories continue to be way ahead of Labour) that they can't get worse. And, who knows, Mr. Brown might just be able to pull it off. As he nearly did on the Morgan show. The reaction to his interview has been surprisingly positive even among those who sneer at the idea of politicians talking about their private lives in public.
"He came out remarkably well though I don't believe private lives should be public property," said Roy
Hattersley, a former deputy leader of the party.
Many of his critics warmed to him after watching the interview because they found his very awkwardness rather "authentic" though a lot of people felt "uncomfortable" seeing him talk about his daughter. They saw it as a "cynical" attempt to exploit his child's death after condemning other politicians for using their children as "props". Generally, though, the trick appeared to have paid off with at least one post-interview opinion poll showing an improvement in his ratings.
So much so that Mr. Cameron, who had been rather sniffy about the Morgan show and declined to appear on it, has been quick to sign up for a similar celebrity chatshow though his advisers insist that it would be a more "substantial" interview than Mr. Brown's. He has also given an interview to a men's magazine in which he discusses his favourite costume drama, speaks of his fondness for can beer and says how he loves playing dart!
Indeed, the two leaders are engaged in a race to show the electorate who is more "human".
In another sign of what some see as the logical extension of the trend towards personality-based politics, for the first time leaders of the three parties (Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat) will take part in a series of U.S.-style television debates in the run-up to the elections. Ostensibly, the move is aimed at putting them through a ringer to explain their policies but, in fact, the idea is to focus on their personalities and see how they play out in the glare of television cameras. They will be closely watched for their body language which, it is believed, has been critical in tipping the scales in American presidential debates.
The most widely cited example is the 1992 debate between George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton. At one point, Mr. Bush was caught looking at his watch while a voter in the audience was speaking. That was the moment when he was seen to have lost the election as his gesture was taken as a sign of his indifference to voters. In contrast, Mr. Clinton went out of his way to establish rapport with the audience. And with that he not only won the day but also the election.
Labour is hoping that the debates will help Mr. Brown present himself as a leader of "substance and character" against his "shallow" and "all-spin-no-substance" Tory rival. The Tories, of course, believe that their man (younger, more charismatic, more articulate) has a decisive edge.
For all the apparent sniffyness about politicians baring their soul in public, however, there is also a fairly widespread view that people are entitled to know the personal side of those seeking their votes because, in the words of a leading British psychotherapist, it gives them "a much broader range of evidence upon which to judge how strongly our would-be leaders are internally true and authentic". And, especially, when the voters' dilemma is as acute, as the shifting polls seem to suggest, a glimpse into the rival candidates' "x-factor" might just be what they need to make up their mind.
RISING TENSIONS IN BOSNIA
The European Union urged Serbia and Croatia on Friday to help defuse growing tensions in neighbouring Bosnia, which are undermining stability there, 15 years after a civil war that killed nearly 100,000 people.
"Our joint interest is to have a stable Bosnia," EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said after meeting with Croatia's new President, Ivo Josipovic. Top EU and NATO officials have expressed concern at rising tensions in Bosnia following the collapse in October of a western-backed effort to revise the country's Constitution. Both Croatia and Serbia exert strong influence on their ethnic kin in Bosnia, who are united in a lose confederation with the Bosniak majority.
After 20 years, there is a single-digit increase in China's defence budget in 2010 and this has caused a flutter of sorts. The world's China-watchers are trying to read the signals right here. They are debating whether this is to be attributed to Beijing struggling with the impact of global economic slowdown or if it is due to change in China's security perceptions.
There is speculation in sections of the Western media that perhaps the message underlying this modest defence budget hike is that it does not mean to flex its military muscle and this is part of a PR exercise to cultivate a softer image to reassure its Asian neighbours as much as the Europeans and the Americans.
This fevered interpretation is a reflection of the world's fears and anxieties over the emergence of China as a pre-eminent global player in terms of military and economic power. There is a bit of confusion among analysts whether the world is wary of China the economic powerhouse or China the military giant. Those who might welcome China as an economic giant are not likely to accept it as a military power.
The Chinese themselves are quite clear about their military goals. China is a large country they need to spend to meet its requirements.The Chinese also rule out that their defence outlays are in any way confined to concerns over Taiwan, though the US has recently signed an arms deal worth US$6.4 billion. The argument proffered is that China's defence spend corresponds more to its global positioning.
Beyond rationalisations offered by Chinese leaders and experts and by blinkered Western security experts, there is need for a realistic reorientation of views with regard to China. China is in the big league now and the world has to come to terms with it.
American strategists have been emphasising for the last few years that the US has no plans of containing China but that Washington believes in engaging Beijing. This could be the proverbial diplomatic doublespeak. That is while talking of engagement, what the Americans have on their mind is containment. But this is going to be of little use because of the changed economic reality.
India too has to make up its mind. There is the temptation to join hands with those Western powers which are uneasy with China's rise to power because strategy hardliners in Delhi argue that India and China are rivals who cannot be partners. But covert or open confrontation with China is not a realistic option. India will have to accept China and Beijing will have to concede that India is there at the top too. It is not that there is no room at the top for the two Asian giants but that the world is better off with India and China together at the helm.
A NEW WEATHER VANE
With more and more skeletons falling out of its cupboard everyday the latest being the claim that 55 per cent of the Netherlands is under the sea facing the risk of flooding, whereas the correct figureis only 26 per cent it has become undeniably clear that theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been fooling around for too long, nonchalantly committingblunders with the unfortunate result that there are now too many holes in its bucket to be plugged satisfactorily.
Its earlier goof-ups make a pathetic inventory that all the Himalayan glaciers would melt away by 2035, that 40 per cent of the Amazon rainforests were threatened by global warming, that the same warming process was responsible for natural disasters like hurricanes and floods, that the ice collected on the world's mountains were disappearing, that global warming would cut crop production in rain-fed north Africa by 50 per cent in another 10 years.
A leading British daily, The Sunday Telegraph, known for its investigative journalism, has reportedly alleged that these claims were based on information in press releases, newsletters, student dissertations and so on. An expectant world that was naively looking to the IPCC for directions to tide over the adverse impact of a warming globe is now shaken.
For the IPCC to claim that the rest of its report is still "robust" is unrealistic. This unprecedented mess has resulted entirely due to the apparent lack of an appropriate mechanism for authentic data collection, accurate analysis, unbiased interpretation and acceptable conclusions.
Sadly the IPCC has allowed all sorts of alarming predictions to float around unchecked.Take for instance the postulated temperature changes.The studies commissioned by Greenpeace at the IIT Chennai in 2008 had reportedly come out with the conclusion that "temperatures may rise by 4 to 5 degrees Celsius by 2100 if greenhouse emissions stick to their current rate".
The IPCC itself has estimated that temperatures would rise by 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius with 3 degrees rise as the most likely by 2100. When the weather and, with it its regional version, climate, are liable to frequent changes over time, how is one to project the likely temperature for 2100?
More amusing are the sea level rises postulated. While the Greenpeace report is said to put it "up to 5 metres by 2100", a study at the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute has reportedly put the annual average rise in sea level at 2.4 mm with the implication that by 2100 the sea level will go up by only 80cm! Thus the findings so far have been: temperature may rise by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius and sea levels by 5 metres neither are alarming figures Most coastal cities like Mumbai witness a 4 metre rise in the sea level during the high tide twice
daily and are not unduly affected by it.
It is clear therefore that the IPCC has sadly failed to make any significant headway in its assigned job and instead has allowed itself to be sucked into the quicksand of ignominious allegations and controversies.This has been because of its wrong perceptions about climate and the glaciers. Climatic studies form a part of Geography and mountain glaciation is a part of Geology.
Therefore, what is needed is a competent International Climate Control Commission headed by an experienced climatic geographer with a glacial geologist as his deputy, in the place of the present IPCC. Europe is full of reputed climatic geographers and India, full of eminent glacial geologists. The present teams of the IPCC need to be supplemented by experts and the new commission should have its own machinery to collect requisite data and it should be clearly seen that the interpretations are sound and the conclusions are acceptable and
without any manipulation.
A step in this direction has already been taken by the minister for environment, Jairam Ramesh who has set up a National Institute of Himalayan Glaciology at Dehra Dun and an Indian Network on Comprehensive Climate Assessment (INCCA) to assess climate changes and report by November, 2010.These moves will reduce our dependence on the IPCC.
There is a strong belief among climatologists that we are in fact heading towards another Ice Age-like situation and this is strengthened by the unprecedented heavy snowfall this year in many parts of the world like China, Europe, the Americas and Shimla and Kashmir. Climate is a complex phenomenon and only experts can interpret it.
The writer is a former professor of Geology, IIT Bombay
EATING THROUGH THE HEART OF DUBAI
Mumbai: The first thing that one would notice about Dubai is the sheer scale of everything, the malls, the ongoing constructions and the restaurants.But being the foodie that I consider myself to be, I shall only talk about food. Though I always wonder if one can sample all the variety of cuisines that any place can offer in five days, I must say that I did my level best to sample the varieties on offer. For my first day in any new country it is my ritual to try the local flavours. For my first day in Dubai, I decided to try the Irani food. And after tasting their Irani cuisine, I found myself wondering why our Irani restaurants never serve anything like that. The chelo kebabs paired with a humongous naan and rice were terrific. The kebabs here have a typical Arabic/Aghani flavour and there was no hint of chilly.
On the second day we decided to take a stroll down a walk in the downtown Burj area which faces the Burj Dubai and the Dubai mall. There are restaurants surrounding the man-made lake with a great fountain show every 30 minutes which served hookahs.
At the walk near the Dubai marina which boasts of the finest collection of restaurants we had a delightful meal at a fast food joint which specialises in wraps. The Haloumi cheese made a great filling for the vegetarian wrap and the lamb kebabs were awesome. We also had some lovely Arabian coffee a light black concoction with cardamom and cloves, a little like the Kashmiri kahwa in a cafe next door.
On our third day we had dinner in downtown Dubai at a Chinese restaurant called Hakka. I must admit that I was very disappointed at the below average meal. The mushroom which was recommended by the steward for my vegetarian wife was inedible. And we suffered the same fate with the kung pau chicken suggested by the waitress.
We had a similar experience at Toscana, an Italian restaurant, where we had margarita pizzas (limp and rubbery), fried calamari (again limp and rubbery), risotto for my veggie wife (average). Our choices both the times turned out to be wrong. I believe that most restaurants in popular destinations can be classified as either local restaurants or tourist restaurants. Sadly these restaurants fit neither category.
Even though I was mostly disappointed with the dinner selection, I must admit that the breakfast in Dubai is a
lavish affair which earned the whole family's unstinted appreciation. Most of the hotels have a lavish spread with fresh juice and smoothie bar, which made my kids and wife's day.
The Swiss style muesli soaked overnight in milk with fresh coconut shavings and no sugar, no fat was a novelty which hasbecome a part of our daily breakfast routine.
The meal that made the Dubai trip great for me was our meal at Pierchic at the Al Qasr Hotel. This restaurant is built on a jetty or rather the jetty has been built for this restaurant which specialises in seafood. Great though the food was I had to shell out a bill which still has me reeling in shock. The last day we had a meal at Souk Madinat. To get there we had to travel in an abra (an electric dhow boat).
I feel that Dubai has the charms to hold your attention for 3 to 4 days as after that you yearn for some nature-made and not man-made structures.
Another great thing about Dubai is that it is the best for a family holiday even if you have small children. Everything is super safe for a child-friendly holiday. The lifeguards do not leave their spots for love of money. The go-karting track at the Autodrome is fantastic, with all safety standards like fire suits compulsory even for kids.
Though the destination was a little off the beaten track for a foodie like me I can safely say that we managed to cover quite a bit.
YET ANOTHER STAMPEDE
CROWD CONTROL SEEMS AN ALIEN CONCEPT
Poverty in the interior of Pratapgarh as also in many other districts of Uttar Pradesh is to be seen to be believed. Kripalu Maharaj's ashram in Kunda town stands out as one of the few pucca structures in the area. No wonder when the godman organised a "bhandara" on Thursday to mark the first death anniversary of his wife, Padma devi, people in their thousands assembled outside the ashram gates. By one estimate, the crowd soon swelled to 25,000. Strangely, neither the district administration nor the ashram had made any crowd management arrangements. The surging masses pressed against the gate, making it crumble. A stampede ensued and soon enough some 65 persons, most of them women and children, lay dead.
The gesture of the godman to donate utensils, clothes and food items to the poor was above reproach. But it was also his responsibility to ensure that no untoward incident took place. However, even the administration cannot wash its hands off the tragedy because the ashram is a well-known destination and every event there attracts huge crowds. A similar stampede during a sari distribution function on senior BJP leader Lalji Tandon's birthday in Lucknow some years ago should have made the government wiser but obviously no lessons were learnt.
The tragedy brings back painful memories of similar incidents in Naina Devi where 160 persons died on August 3, 2008, Chamunda Devi temple in Jodhpur (Rajasthan) where 170 perished on September 30, 2008, and Mandara Devi temple in Satara (Maharasthra) where as many as 340 were crushed to death on January 25, 2005. It would seem that the concept of crowd management is alien to the government. It is innocent people who pay for this callous dereliction of duty. A magisterial probe has been ordered into the latest tragedy, but there will never be any inquiry as to why the government is found wanting time and again.
PUNJAB'S FISCAL MESS
WHY BLAME IT ON THE CENTRE?
The Punjab Governor's address to the assembly on Thursday was a reiteration of usual Akali demands: a higher share of Central taxes and transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab, among them. Mr Shivraj Patil must have felt uncomfortable reading out the anti-Centre agenda of the Akali-BJP government. As the Governor he has demanded the transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab but as the head of the UT administration, he is supposed to protect the interests of the City Beautiful. The Congress members' walkout, without provocation, was as much a ritual as the address itself. The Congress MLAs just dubbed the address "a bundle of lies" but clarified that they held the Governor in high esteem.
The Akali Dal's demand for more financial powers for the states could garner wider public support if it manages the state finances in a more responsible way. Because of their short-sighted, populist approach, the ruling Akali-BJP politicians avoid taking hard decisions, dole out subsidies liberally without limiting them to the needy and fail to check massive tax evasion and corruption. The extravagant ways of ruling politicians and bureaucrats drag the state finances to a new low every year. Punjab has piled up a staggering debt of Rs 63,000 crore.
The 13th Finance Commission has recommended a higher share of Central taxes for the states and also suggested a four-year roadmap for fiscal consolidation, which involves spending cuts and higher taxes. Disinvestment in public sector units is a strategy that the Centre follows to raise resources and states have been asked to do the same. These are politically inconvenient measures, which state leaders skirt for political reasons. Central aid comes with conditions which some states Punjab being one of them fail to meet and are therefore deprived of it. Funds tagged with Central schemes lapse due to poor governance and the self-inflicted cash crunch. There is no point in blaming the Centre without the Punjab government first setting its own house in order.
POLITICS OF INAUGURATION
PUBLIC PROJECTS FALL VICTIMS
Politicians in power seldom miss an opportunity to 'inaugurate' anything under the sun. Seemingly, it matters little to them what they inaugurate as long as they are seen waving a flag, pressing a button, cutting a ribbon or pulling a string. So we have the spectacle of politicians and ministers 'inaugurating' toilets, a trial run of the Metro and even 'halt stations', an euphemism for irregular stoppages of a train. In Punjab a former Chief Minister and a former MP ended up inaugurating the two different ends of the same bridge in Gurdaspur, each unwilling to let the other get away with the 'honour'. Whether such public exhibition assures them public support and votes or not, the countryside is dotted with stone tablets and plaques telling stories of politicians' ridiculous games. It therefore was no surprise when the Uttar Pradesh PWD minister Naseemuddin Siddiqui inaugurated this week the same bridge twice. The first ceremony took place in Lucknow secretariat, where employees were hurriedly collected on the pretext of 'Holi milan' while the very next day the minister travelled to Rae Bareli to inaugurate the bridge all over again.
Mr Siddiqui's haste was reportedly prompted by a report that the MP from Rae Bareli, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, had given her consent to inaugurate the bridge, built at her behest and with central funding. The temptation to upstage the Congress president appears to have prompted the decision. The UP government took the position that it could not be dictated to by the Centre in such matters. The Congress on its part fell back on an old, central government circular which stated that the inauguration of all centrally- sponsored projects would be finalised by the central ministry concerned. The BSP government exacerbated the situation further by preventing the union minister of state for surface transport, R.P.N. Singh, from reaching the bridge and taking credit. It is a dangerous precedent and is bound to strain Centre-state relations.
The inauguration of the bridge that fulfils a public need and was built with public funds should have been attended by representatives of all political parties as well as the state and the Union governments. But competitive populism clearly outweighed political decorum. Such political one-upmanship would have been comical but for the serious implications. It is indeed time to free public projects from the antics and machinations of political parties and politicians.
FOOD SECURITY IN PERIL
FRESH STATE INTERVENTION IN LAND USE NEEDED
BY ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA
For a non-economist to talk on a specialised a subject as "agriculture economics" is always fraught with grave consequences, and one dared and asked some silly and irrelevant questions to one renowned professor of agriculture economics the other day. Let the readers judge as to whether the questions indeed were irrelevant or not.
What is the future of food security for 1.2 billion Indians? Why is fertile land doing such an unprecedented
vanishing trick across the length and breadth of the countryside? Who all are buying this fertile agriculture land on either side of the national highways all the way from Delhi-Jaipur (265 km); Delhi-Ambala (202 km); Delhi-Agra (205 km); Delhi-Lucknow (524 km) and many other routes up to a depth of one km thereby destroying the standing agriculture forever?
Does India have a sustained prospect of food self-sufficiency in the near future? Especially since the population thereof, as projected by the Encyclopaedia Britannica, is likely to double in 44 years. A 2.4 billion Indians in 2053! Does it look rosy or scary?
On getting cold and ice cool indifference, nay virtual ignore, one asked oneself; when will the country be able to say with confidence and conviction that, "yes; rain or sunshine, India will make every Indian dine!" Honestly speaking, one gets a funny feeling today that perhaps we are failing our future generation.
Perhaps a huge food crisis looms large in the horizon. Perhaps the shrinking of cultivable and fertile land will be in short supply in near future.
India has always been blessed with eternal source of water by the nature's gift, the great Himalayan glacial system. From time immemorial, the soil of India managed to feed all and sundry who endured to stay here. Yet, famines have taken thousands of lives in the past owing to "man-made" crisis.
Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen's rise to fame and glory began with his perceptible observation on Bengal famine of 1943. He saw people dying on the roads of city and asked himself why are the people starving to death! He soon discovered the reasons. There was no dearth of food items. There was no case of crop failure.
There was colossal mismanagement in the distribution system. And this was manmade. It was an artificial creation for enhanced state of profit. Some middlemen took cover under the war system's or machinery's covert operation. Thus, despite sufficient production and a steady demand from consumers, the distributor's channel (or the distribution) was diabolically choked. The prosperous, therefore, was fed, but the poor men at large were allowed to be bled.
Is India facing a similar syndrome in the 21st century? In this context, one needs to have a close look at the growth of population figures in India. From 31.70 crore in 1940, 35.75 crore (1950), 44.23 crore (1960), 55.50 crore (1970), 68.88 crore (1980), 84.61 crore (1990) to 101.86 crore (2000), India is projected by the Encyclopaedia Britannica to have an estimated 118.5 crore in 2010.
Against this background lie the lifeline agriculture product and the land use thereof. Thus, whereas in 1992 India's land had 23 per cent forest; 3.8 per cent meadows and pastures; 57.1 per cent was used for agricultural and permanent cultivation to feed 91.37 crore mouths in 1994.
In comparison, People's China's 119.23 crore population (1994 figure) had 13.6 per cent forested, 42.9 per cent meadows and pastures, 10.4 per cent agricultural and under permanent cultivation and 33.1 per cent other landuse (1991 figure).
Fifteen years later, however, India's increased population of 114.85 crore (2008 figure) faced an increasingly decreased per cent of total land area being used; 53.6 per cent in temporary crop and 3.4 per cent in permanent crop; 3.6 per cent in pasture and 22.8 per cent overall forest area.
Interestingly, an important parameter of shrinkage of agriculture land could be had from the fact the "forced" migration from rural to urban areas pushed the percentage of the population from 25.7 per cent in 1994 to 27.8 per cent in 2006 at various city fringes of the country. Obviously, it does not require an expert eye of a trained economist to see the reality and ask "stupid" questions on the things to be faced by the nation in near future.
During the same period, China too saw a perceptible change as its 133.84 crore people faced a shrinking land use as 13.5 per cent land was in temporary crops or permanent crops. China's non-agricultural sector of pasture spread to 41.5 per cent and the overall forest area increased to 47.8 per cent of the total land use thereby giving a clear indication that Beijing was becoming an industrial hub banking on export economics which would tackle the food shortage, if any, through technology and import.
Understandably, therefore, Chinese search for farmland in foreign soil had to start with the fat foreign exchange balance of the country to be used for "long lease" from the poverty and penury afflicted willing warlords and landlords thereof.
For India, no such luxurious option appears to exist as yet. A foreign reserve kitty in the range of US$ 275-290 billion is never sufficient enough to be a safe cushion in a macro-economic slowdown era, especially since India has close to 1.2 billion mouths to feed every day.
What then could be the way out? A fresh mega state intervention in land use is the need of the hour. Of course, if the state itself becomes a problem instead of being an instrument to resolve a potential disaster, nothing perhaps can be done except to maintain a stoic silence in the face of a slow, steady and inevitable slaughter in the hands of those whose job it is to protect and not destroy.
The overall scenario indeed looks grim and gloomy! The sudden eruption of "land war" resorted to by all and sundry is destroying the best of fertile soils which feed the country. That agriculture has been the backbone of Indian economics since ages is too well known and well documented. And yet, high-yield variety of food grain and other crops have reached a plateau thereby raising a real possibility of acute food insecurity.
The main problem is the inability (should one call reluctance?) to enlarge the cultivable land to feed an increasing population. Thus, whereas world around acquisition of arable land is being initiated, in India arable land is reportedly dwindling. The countrymen should protest against this diabolical plot of grabbing fertile and arable agriculture land to the detriment of food security!
Who the grabbers are is widely known. It is time to identify and expose them in the interest of 1.2 billion Indians. India's freedom and prosperity can be preserved essentially by food security. And the food security is in peril today.
BY RAJI P. SHRIVASTAVA
Candidate after candidate entered the chamber and faced the interview panel with varying degrees of confidence. The first question was invariably, "Would you like to introduce yourself?" This was merely to put the nervous at ease. All relevant personal details or professional milestones were already available to the panel as a three-page proforma submitted by the candidate at the application stage itself.
This innocuous question was interpreted by some as a chance to impress the hardboiled panelists. Others whose obvious skills lay in inorganic chemistry and not effective communication, fumbled their way through this simplest of all posers. However, one constant was that the torrent always began with, "Myself (the candidate's name)".
"What is your name?" is the first question one faces everywhere when interacting with strangers. One would have thought that 14 years of school and three years of college on an average would have prepared even the most reticent or ignorant student for this commonplace situation. The answer that our textbooks have traditionally offered down the decades is, "My name is .". However, Myself Smita, Myself Jaswinder and Myself Hitesh probably forgot their kindergarten coaching and adopted this "modern" variant like an enthusiastic duck takes to water.
"It was quite alright until the multinationals came to our city and started placement drives," said a Professor of English. So I began asking my corporate sector friends, "What is your name ?", provoking strange looks, before I could explain, "I am merely testing you to see if you have acquired the multinational prefix 'Myself'!"
But the corporate hotshots I am acquainted with disowned "Myself" completely. One sneered, "This is the by-product of an education where English is taught in the vernacular, in cities where shops teaching English speaking courses are located above popular vaishno dhabas." Not really, I say. "Myself" is alive and kicking in Corbusier's Chandigarh, with people from all vocations contributing to its wellbeing.
"Let us launch a war against this 'Myself'," thundered the head of the Education Department during a meeting of Principals, a few years ago. "We must teach our children how to answer these elementary questions. We must equip them with soft skills so that they sail through interviews and make good presentations. The future belongs to those confident youth who can talk their way through any situation. Let us have orientation sessions, workshops and seminars for them. Let us organise refresher courses and training of trainers. No effort must be spared to make sure that our children make the grade and doors open for them wherever they go once they finish school or graduate from college. This "Myself" business must stop at once!"
The conference hall was packed to the brim and everyone nodded enthusiastically. One keen type raised her hand and said, "Sir, you are very correct. We shall all work hardly as directed by your goodself." Irked by this priceless display of questionable English, the Director decided to make an example of her and send her immediately on a Good Grammar course. So he asked, "What is your name?"
The prompt reply: "Myself Chanderkanta, Sir !"
BUDGET TO HELP RAISE FOOD PRODUCTION
BY RUCHIKA M. KHANNA
When the budget proposals presented by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee made a substantial increase in the allocation for the sluggish agriculture sector, it was certainly not a populist political agenda. Behind this move is the urgent need to boost food production and feed the teeming millions.
With growth in this sector having plateaued for almost a decade, India has gradually moved from being food surplus to a food-deficit state. The government is grappling with the spiralling prices of various agricultural commodities be it sugar, pulses, oilseeds, fruits or vegetables.
The buffer stocks of these items have dwindled sharply with the government releasing more quantities in the open market. To curb food inflation, the government has also been importing these at a substantially high cost. The high import bill of oilseeds, too, has prompted the government to seriously promote oilseed cultivation in rain-fed areas.
No wonder the government has decided to give a boost to the agriculture sector this year. The credit to agriculture is expected to go up from Rs 3.25 lakh crore in 2009-10 to Rs 3.75 lakh crore in the coming fiscal ensuring that more and more farmers get access to institutional credit. More institutional credit would mean that even small and marginal farmers can easily avail loans from banks, at a lower rate of interest to buy better quality seeds, fertilizers and farm equipment that can increase production.
Undoubtedly, the Finance Minister has given a serious thought when he decided to reward those farmers who have been regularly repaying their loans with an additional interest subvention of one per cent.
The reduction in farm interest liability to 5 per cent (from 6 per cent last year) and giving them an additional six months time to repay their loans will promote a good credit culture, besides helping banks control their non-performing assets (NPAs) on their books.
Had the repayment time of farm loans not been extended, the banks would have had to include these NPAs in their books during this quarter, thus affecting their annual results as most farmers have defaulted on their loan repayment owing to drought last year.
An additional allocation of Rs 380 crore to promote the Green Revolution in the eastern states, too, will help in increasing farm production, and in inclusion of these states in the national mainstream.
Rain-fed areas will now be developed to promote oilseed cultivation. A sum of Rs 200 crore has also been reserved for the conservation of natural resources like groundwater and soil, for long-term sustainability of agriculture growth.
The decision to invest in cold chain infrastructure, too, will help in curtailing losses in post-harvest handling and ensure higher returns to farmers. The direct subsidy to be given to farmers will bring in fiscal transparency.
But the additional budget allocation may not be enough to boost growth, especially when more and more farmers seem to be leaving farming for more renumerative professions.
With the rising cost of inputs, the latest being a hike in the prices of diesel and urea, farmers are under a lot of pressure.
To make its efforts sustainable for growth in productivity, the government needs to take a call on linking the minimum support price of crops with the wholesale price index.
The MSP should not be used as a tool to gain political ends (like a substantial hike in the MSP around election time and a minimal increase when political heat gets too much on rising prices).
This would go a long way in making agriculture economically viable, and to stop farmers from selling their agriculture land to developers for commercial use. Instead, the MSP has to be raised to a level that farmers should get attracted to growing more foodgrains.
Hikes in MSPs alone would not suffice in the financial uplift of farmers. The government needs to encourage private participation in procurement. For this, the taxation rate will have to be lowered and made uniform across the country to encourage agri-business houses to buy more grains from the market.
The government will also have to encourage farmers to form groups and start futures trading of agri-commodities. For this, the government will have to speed up bringing amendments to the Forward Markets Commission Act. Already, commodity exchanges like NCDEX, are promoting building farmers groups so that they have enough volumes to trade on the commodity exchange.
The government also needs to bring in more area under agriculture production. Economist R S Ghumman suggests that large tracts of uncultivated land in Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand should be brought under cultivation.
"With the states like Punjab and Haryana now being over cultivated, it is imperative that new areas be found, wherein Punjab's Green Revolution model can be replicated. This is the best way to increase farm production in India," he says.
EUROPE HAS A VACUUM AT ITS HEART
BY MARY DEJEVSKY
Something very strange has happened to the political map of Europe. A vast hole has opened up, bounded by Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, France, Switzerland and Austria to the south and the Benelux countries to the west a hole the shape and size of Germany.
It is not six months since Angela Merkel led her centre-right CDU to victory in her country's general election, amid widespread lamentation that Germany's gain was Europe's loss. By continuing as Chancellor, she was now out of the running to be the new-style European president, a job for which she had seemed the ideal candidate in every way. The one consolation was that the reforms enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty would have time to settle down before Merkel, her stature enhanced further, might be free to lead the EU to greater things.
This might still happen. Merkel's personal history as an East German research scientist who came late to politics and chose the centre-right rather than the left remains as appealing as ever it was. But the first months of her second term as Chancellor have not been kind either to her or to Germany. When she popped up at an international women leaders' event last weekend, her appearance not only pointed up her recent invisibility at least outside Germany but prompted a tinge of regret that she might already be relegating herself to old-fashioned gender politics rather than taking her place in the global top flight where she belonged.
In one way, her half-year horribilis provides a glaring example of the need to be careful what you wish for. Merkel's victory in September was hard won. It was not sweeping enough for her to form a government without a partner, but she achieved the coalition she had campaigned for, with the free-market FDP. Which is where at least some of her problems began.
Although the FDP leader, Guido Westerwelle, had held that position for eight years, he had no experience of national government, and his party had been out of power for more than a decade. That the FDP's electoral showing was stronger than had been forecast made for the worst of several worlds. An assured, but in many ways inexperienced party leader, with his expectations boosted by his party's gains, Westerwelle pushed for a better deal more of his people in government and more of his policies than Merkel might otherwise have entertained.
Add to that the sharp change in the national mood since the FDP last shared power, and popular disenchantment with the out-and-out free market as a result of the economic crisis, and the FDP comes to look almost the least suitable partner for the CDU just now.
Merkel might also have banked on a better personal relationship with Westerwelle than she has so far managed to forge. In an ideal world, his flair for communication and flamboyance as Germany's most prominent gay politician would have complemented her common sense and low-key moderation. Instead, his incautious self-promotion seems already to have become a liability. Last week, a Chancellor renowned for keeping her cool showed her irritation after Westerwelle publicly criticised her emphasis on the social safety net. The rumour mill even has it that Merkel is "flirting" with the Greens. And that idea may be less fanciful than it might sound.
As a past environment minister, Merkel has always had a strong green streak, and improbable coalitions along similar lines function perfectly well at local level in Germany. Perhaps Merkel as a former East German misjudged her own appetite for the free market. Or is it rather a matter of political instinct: her sense that the FDP's low-tax, tough-love priorities do not suit these austere times?
Either way, it is by no means clear, after almost half a year, that the coalition Merkel campaigned for has turned out to her liking. Indeed, she could be forgiven for looking back to her former centre-left partners in the SPD, in particular the stolid Franz-Walter Steinmeier, with some wistfulness.
It is, of course, early days. But the air of solidity, modest expectations and give-and-take the combination that made Merkel so popular in her first term seems to have fled the German government just when it is needed most. The last coalition was widely seen as competent and effective, which is also why Germany's international stature rose. It now looks weak and divided, as well as introverted. And its impact abroad has shrunk accordingly.
There is an element of bad luck here. The international gauge of competence in the latter part of Ms Merkel's first term was how a country responded to the global economic crisis, where Germany's domestic good, if conservative, management served it well. The global crisis has now come home to the euro-zone, where the role of Germany, as the biggest and strongest economy, is seen by everyone else as central. But it is not seen so by Germany, which would prefer to operate as just one member of a collective. Being seen to bail out an improvident Greece would go down extremely badly with German voters, while its reluctance to do so infuriates Greece as pointed remarks about war debts show all too clearly. No wonder Germany wants to stay in the shadows.
By arrangement with The Independent
ARMY DOMINANCE ON THE DECLINE
BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
Indeed, the Army retains enormous power (in Pakistan), but with the emergence of a proactive judiciary, an energised media and a growing civil society, power is now being shared and the Army's monopoly is gradually decreasing ." This is how retired Lt-Gen Talat Masood, in an article in The News, describes the changing power structure in Pakistan. This can be seen as the fallout of the successful movement led by lawyers for the restoration of the judiciary's status as it existed before the imposition of the November 2007 emergency.
It seems even the Army is scared of the judiciary and civil society supported by the media, which has been forcefully asserting its right as the watchdog of society. The latest case that can be cited in support of this argument is Tuesday's ruling of the Pakistan Supreme Court giving the government just two weeks "to furnish a detailed report regarding the whereabouts of the missing persons", according to Daily Times.
The missing persons number around 1600, picked up during the Musharraf regime for their alleged links with the Baloch nationalists and militant groups. They have never been produced before any court of law.
The court's significant directive has come following a number of petitions filed by the affected families, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and others. This is an indirect but major challenge to the Army, as the ISI and other powerful intelligence agencies are under the control of the armed forces. Justice Javed Iqbal, who headed the three-member apex court Bench, asserted, "The law will take its course irrespective of who is who ."
The case of missing persons
An editorial in The News says, "It would appear that the government has difficulty in retrieving these persons. The limited evidence that exists suggests that they were 'picked up' by (intelligence) agencies at various points in time after 2001 and put in illegal detention centres. The agencies, it seems, are still unwilling to divulge what became of them."
In the opinion of The Nation, "the determination of the court gives hope to the missing persons' friends and families, who have been running virtually from pillar to post to get their loved ones released Most important, this augurs well for the rule of law."
Under the circumstances, it may not be easy for the government not to comply with the court's order. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has assured the Pakistan National Assembly that all the "missing persons" will be freed. It is, however, feared that many of them may not be alive. Whatever the reality, Islamabad can no longer escape the responsibility of giving the details about these persons.
Gone are the days when it would sit back over a court order. Recently the government had to meekly accept what the Supreme Court Chief Justice wanted on the issue of appointment and promotion of judges.
Now the Pakistan Army is indirectly in the dock. If it fails to help the government to comply with the court's
order, it will risk the eruption of the people's ire against it. The situation is taking an interesting turn.
Uneasiness on Indo-Saudi ties
Pakistan, it seems, is feeling uncomfortable with India and Saudi Arabia trying to improve their relations in different fields. This impression can be gathered from the comments carried in various Pakistani newspapers following Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's successful visit to Riyadh.
Business Recorder says, "May be, the Indians had thought, wrongly, now that Iran is in the line of American fire for its nuclear programme they would be scoring a bull's-eye by outlining a kind of US-India-Saudi Arabia security plan for the region."
The paper, however, reacted differently on economic issues, saying that "Indian potential as an economic partner of Saudi Arabia is considerable and that is where the two governments are seriously engaged. The two sides have agreed to cooperate in information technology, space science and such other frontier technologies, which in turn, is likely to increase joint ventures from the present 500, in which the Saudis have invested something like 20 billion dollars."
Whatever the Pakistanis may think, the Saudis are nowadays more pragmatic in building their relations with different countries. Why should they compromise their interests because of Pakistani sensibilities, not based on reason?
WOMEN'S BILL TOO DISRUPTIVE?
THE TIME MAY BE RIPE FOR THE REVOLUTIONARY LAW, WHICH WILL CHANGE INDIAN DEMOCRACY
Just before the presentation of the Union Budget in Parliament, the Cabinet cleared a landmark legislative proposal. This important event went unnoticed in the cacophony of budget analysis. Now that budget dust is settling, that bill is in the spotlight. If it is passed as law, it will mark a turning point in India's history. This is the Women's Reservation Bill, which will reserve one third of all seats in Parliament and State Assemblies for women.
This proposal is almost two decades old, and was first given concrete shape by the United Front government in 1996. Neither the Congress nor the BJP was in power then.
The bill tried to enter the house at least four times so far. Every time it meets the same fate. In any Lok Sabha if a bill is tabled and no vote is taken, then it lapses. It has to be reintroduced in the new Lok Sabha. Despite many such false starts in the past, the passage of the women's quota bill looks most promising now. That's because of many new developments which have happened in the past 14 years. For instance, we have women's quota already working in most village panchayats and city councils. States such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Bihar have had several local elections (villages, municipalities) with women's reservation. More than a million women are getting elected regularly, an impressive feat for any democracy.
Furthermore, today we have a woman as President, as Speaker of Lok Sabha and as Leader of the Opposition. The leader of the ruling coalition is also a woman. In recent years, more than half a dozen states have had women chief ministers, with Bengal too hoping to join the league soon. Thus in the political arena, it is no longer considered unthinkable for women to hold positions of power. Outside of politics, in business, at least in banking, women hold key positions.
A recent front page article in the New York Times marvelled that six of India's top banks had women leaders at the top, in addition to two Deputy Governors of the Reserve Bank of India. (Of course unlike Pakistan, India has not yet had a woman as Governor of its Reserve Bank. But may be that day is not too far.)
So the idea of women's reservation in mainstream politics is not at ill-timed. But it may seem to be quite disruptive. That's because without reservation, presently we barely have ten percent women in Parliament. With reservation we would need hundred and twenty seats to be vacated by men. That's a lot of sacrifice, from (male) politicians who have fought hard to get into that kursi. The battle for every constituency is very fierce, with wafer thin victory margins, involving mega bucks expenditure. How can anyone give up such a prize, merely to a reserved candidate? But since the Cabinet has cleared the bill, there is a political will right at the top, and grassroots village council have also tasted this version of gendered democracy.
Hence this revolutionary bill might just pass. After all did you expect the politicians to pass a sunshine law, the right to information, which throws unflattering light on themselves? But they did.
Finally all those who are instinctively allergic to the word "reservation", it is worth reminding that this will bring the quickest and most radical transformation of Indian democracy for the better.
The world's showcase democracies are in Scandinavia, where women form more than half their legislatures, that too without reservation.
Because of our historical handicap, if we want to catch up, we need a short cut to get there. The quickest way is to reserve one third of that journey tickets to women.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IMPENDING WATER SHORTAGE
A severe water shortage is in the offing across the sub-continent, with water tables falling and taps drying up. We clearly need to put in place proactive policy to make better, more efficient use of our water resources right across the board.
The projection is that India could face a water deficit of as much as 50% by 2030, with demand rising to as much as 1.5 trillion cubic meters. The way ahead is to shore up agricultural water productivity by increasing 'crop per drop' with a host of efficiency measures like sprinklers and canal-lining, and also bring about 'net water gains' through crop yield enhancement by way of better seeds, for example.
The estimates suggest that we could plug almost 80% of the likely water gap with stepped up productivity in agri-usage. In parallel, we need to purposefully stem municipal leakages, and also incentivise economy in water usage for industrial purposes. What's required is to improve governance in water systems with transparency and reasonable user charges, so as to boost the quality of supply.
Sharp increases in the marginal cost of water seem likely, for relatively small changes in demand. Hence the pressing need to fast-forward innovative water solutions with research, development and a series of public-private partnerships. Singapore, for example, plans to be a global hydro hub with government support and private sector participation, so as to offer a range of value-added water services.
Israel's irrigation technology is already rated as best-in-class, with over 250 businesses active in the field. Innovation in a sector like water does require sustained budgetary support to build vital physical and social infrastructure.
There's also the need for private sector initiatives to incubate promising water technologies and scale up existing ones. Closing the water gap would require augmentation (more dams, with civilised rehabilitation of those displaced), innovation in supply (desalination), industrial efficiency (for water reuse, say) and optimisation for agripurposes (including controls for drip irrigation).
And to boost attendant demand from end-users, what's additionally required is availability of finance including microfinance options. The bottom line is that we need an integrated approach to manage the huge water gap.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BSF ARREST A POSITIVE
The arrest of a BSF commandant for the killing of a 16-year-old schoolboy in Srinagar last month, is a first-ofits-kind event in Jammu and Kashmir. It shows, for a change, that politics rather than security paranoia, can guide policy in Kashmir.
This is wholly in the right direction and the underlying logic needs to be carried forward. And that logic comes up against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), whose basic premise is that the entire population over which the law is operational is hostile, and not just a tiny minority of militants.
Indeed, the whole tragic episode of a youngster returning from a game of cricket being shot dead in cold blood, one of many such incidents in the state, is squarely rooted in the culture of impunity for the security forces institutionalised by the AFSPA.
The unrestricted and unaccounted power this bestows on the armed forces leads to many atrocities. There has been, of course, the argument that faced with the kind of insurgency witnessed in Kashmir, such powers are necessary to allow the security forces to fulfil their duty to protect national interests.
But then again, given that very nature of the problem in the state, such over-reliance on the armed, security, or law-and-order aspects of the situation hardly makes for a lasting solution. Witness the fact that even decades after such a massive counter-insurgency effort, a lasting, political solution is still elusive, separatism maintains its deep roots and, worryingly, there are indications of resurgence in militant activity.
The sole feasible way out, regardless of the Pak involvement, is to foster a wider political dialogue and process. The present political leadership's attempts in this direction remain too fitful to take the process beyond the reach of vested interests who seek to maintain the status quo.
These sources of subversion, entrenched as much in the administration as outside, manage to stymie any progress by actions such as slapping charges of waging war against the state on stone-pelting youngsters. More, and more decisive, political boldness is in order.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
The same week that the Sindh Abadgar Board has urged the Pakistan prime minister to ban import of tomatoes from India to 'safeguard the interests of local farming community', thousands of miles away in the US there are burgers, bologneses and pizzas crying out for a slice of the action.
Thanks to a chill in Florida, the supply of fresh tomatoes in the US has got so squished that fast-food chains and restaurants alike have started skimping on the tart vegetable and providing it only on order as prices have trebled. Matters have come to such a pass as 70% of the Florida tomato crop has failed, leaving producers $300 million in the red.
Of course, this squeeze the worst since 1989 will not last long as harvests from other areas like Mexico and California will soon ketch-up. Till then, however, consumers have to swallow the inevitable price rise, much like Indians are doing.
Besides contemplating the philosophical implications of 21st century Americans having to resort to rationing anything, there is the wider cultural issue of a BLT (bacon lettuce and tomato ) without the third element and a quarter-pounder sans that thick and juicy slice of Solanum lycopersicum factors that the average American will find hard to stomach.
Though the tomato was introduced to the rest of the world from South America only from the 16th century onwards, it has become such a staple, life without it is unimaginable in most parts of the world.
Conventional wisdom decrees that Italy would probably be the most devastated if there were to be a worldwide shortage, but think of its ramifications on butter chicken and dum aloo in India, salsa and gazpacho all over the Spanish-speaking world, not to mention summer favourites such as chilled Bloody Mary cocktails and granita.
Most of all, would anyone be able to do without that ubiquitous condiment Ogden Nash immortalised with the ditty: Shake and shake the ketchup bottle/First none will come and then a lot'll ...?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'WORST IS OVER FOR INDIAN AIRLINES'
All discussions on the Indian airline industry since 2008 have been hovering around mounting losses, downsizing, aircraft delivery postponement, cost-cutting and capacity rationalisation losses. The turbulence is finally behind us and the buzz on expansion, hiring and new aircraft orders is in the air, feels Kiran Rao, president of Airbus India and executive vice-president in charge of sales and marketing at the parent company. His logic behind the turnaround?
The language of customers has changed. No more are they talking about postponing aircraft deliveries or leasing out aeroplanes. Instead, they are talking about traffic coming back and the need to advance deliveries of planes. There is some overcapacity left in certain segments, but aircraft cannot be delivered overnight.
If an aircraft is ordered today, it takes 2-3 years for it to be delivered. Airlines understand this time-cycle and, hence, they are working ahead. In the case of Airbus A350, which is the most modern wide-body aircraft that is about to go into production now, the wait could be as long as five years.
The view at Airbus is that the Indian airline companies have recovered from the global slowdown and the industry will experience rapid growth in the next 4-5 years. Mr Rao cites steady improvement in load factor as a key indicator.
"In the past six months, we have seen load factors increase and yields improve. With a little more improvement in yields, there will be a strong and vibrant airline industry in the country," Mr Rao says.
How is Airbus ensuring it gets orders when growth returns? The aircraft manufacturer has worked closely with its customer-airlines during the slowdown. Adjusting delivery schedules and suggesting new strategies has brought the company closer to its client-airlines. "We got to understand their needs and that has strengthened the relationship. Nearly 70% of the new planes delivered recently were Airbus and, obviously, we had a lot of work to do."
The aircraft manufacturer had booked orders from Indian airlines for over 300 planes and those were being delivered when the slowdown struck in 2008. Airbus has been through ups and downs earlier too, and the lessons from the slowdown have helped the company to push its roots deeper.
It is a matter for pride for the company that nearly 70% of the new aircraft delivered in India in recent years were Airbus . Between 2005 and 2009, the EADS company won orders for 347 aircraft from India. Mr Rao expects a similar bumper harvest once the domestic airline companies bounce back.
Projections of accelerated growth in India makes it an attractive market for aircraft manufacturers. Airbus estimates that Asia will be the largest market for aeroplanes in two decades from now, overtaking North America and Europe that occupy the top two positions now.
While Europe will retain the second slot, North America will fall to the third position, Mr Rao remarks. This explains why Airbus and Boeing are bullish on countries such as India and China. While global passenger traffic rose 3-4 % in January 2010, growth was much faster in Asian countries like India.
No wonder Airbus is developing its sourcing from India. Nearly half of all the 36 A320 aircraft rolled out every year are fitted with doors made by Hindustan Aeronautics. The Bangalore-based engineering centre of the multinational is also growing rapidly.
The engineering centre started off with about 50 engineers that has now expanded to more than 150 engineers. By 2011, Airbus plans to employ 400 engineers at this centre. The interface with India is expected to grow over the years, given the client base that includes Kingfisher, Jet Airways, IndiGo and Air India.
On the emissions front, Airbus is following the aviation industry's example to do as much as it can. The A350 is expected to consume 25% less fuel than existing aircraft of similar size. Airbus has also developed winglets for A320 that will be deployed from 2010.
The aviation industry accounts for only 2% of world emissions, says Rao. However, this cannot be reason for complacency. Airbus is working on new technologies, clean fuels and other measures that could cut down emissions, improve efficiency and check noise pollution.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ADDRESSING TRUST IN CLIMATE CHANGE
The Copenhagen Accord, by shifting the focus on 'what' has to be done, from 'how' it should be done, has the potential to move out of the binary division of the world into two halves and shape the transformation of the world economy and human activity.
Developing countries have to be proactive in evolving the approach for a shared vision to deal with the challenge since future growth in emissions of carbon dioxide is going to come from them. A level playing field requires that the multilateral process determine criteria for burden-sharing to provide the benchmark against which national, as well as aggregate, actions will be assessed so that patterns of resource use are common for all countries.
Unfortunately, there are few studies considering policy guidance on international cooperation for managing transformative change. Current research too only considers adjustments in developing countries, ignoring the required changes needed in the industrialised countries' economy and society.
Although emissions from energy-intensive industries and the power sector together account for almost half of current world emissions from fossil fuel combustion, with the growing importance of the service sector and consumer demand worldwide, the services, household and transportation sectors are projected to account for more than half of all global emissions in 2050.
Therefore, global climate policy must focus on modifying longer-term trends in consumption patterns in the household and transportation sectors in all countries. It will be difficult for developing countries to seek sacrifices from their citizens as long as developed countries maintain their wasteful lifestyle.
For example, setting national, or even sectoral, intensity targets, expressed as emission levels per unit of output; attributing production-based national emissions to individuals instead of average energy use, the 'sustainable development rights' approach; or focusing only on energy needs, defined as electrification and excluding transportation, is being promoted. In view of their larger population and low level of energy services, developing countries rightly fear these approaches will discriminate against their future growth.
A new global climate policy framework is needed because the multilateral process is in danger of losing its legitimacy as developed countries continue to increase their emissions. During 1990-2005, their emissions increased by over 1.35 gigatonne (Gt) and overall increases remained limited only because of the reduction of over 1.76 Gt in the economies-in-transition following the economic collapse of the Soviet Union.
Under the bottom-up approach that emerged at Copenhagen, current pledges of developed countries amount to only 2-2 .5 Gt as they want to maintain their energy use per capita, whereas limiting temperature increases to 2° C requires reductions in cumulative emissions of some 14 Gt.
The crisis we face is that developed countries are not seeking a fair outcome. For example, the cumulative emissions of the US are more than three times those of China, yet it has pledged to reduce half of what China has pledged to reduce by 2020.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MIND ACCOUNTS FOR BONDAGE, FREEDOM
VITHAL C NADKARNI
India and Malaysia are looking to sign a bilateral pact on liberalising trade in goods, services and investment in October this year. Malaysian trade minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed outlined the future course of trade relations between the countries in conversation with ET's Amiti Sen. Excerpts:
Is the India-Asean free trade agreement delivering results?
We got good response from people who have started using the new provisions under the agreement. There aren't enough numbers yet to tell the whole story. The potential, however, is good as it will gradually remove tariffs on 70% of the traded items. This will definitely boost trade ties between India and the region. Malaysia is one of the four Asean members that have ratified it so far.
India and Malaysia are also negotiating a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement....
Asean is a 10- member group with different levels of ambitions. We are engaging in a bilateral CECA with a higher level of ambition. I met commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma today and we have set deadlines for taking the agreement towards completion.
When will you be able to implement the CECA?
We will have a trade negotiations committee (TNC) meeting between March 29 and 31. We have set up eight working groups to discuss all issues. I and my counterpart will meet later this year to review its progress. We hope that the agreement will be ready to be signed during the Asean Summit, which will be held in the third week of October in Hanoi. We want your Prime Minister to be there for the signing. However, to achieve that the negotiations have to be completed by August.
While the India-Asean FTA was being negotiated, you had problems with duties on some products such as palm oil and rubber....
The principle guiding the CECA is that the level of commitment has to be higher than that in the Asean agreement. Otherwise there is no use having a bilateral.
Malaysian car maker Proton has been wanting to set up operations in India. At what stage are its talks with Indian partner?
We are hopeful that the deal will be completed this year. It is another area that will promote closer ties between India and Malaysia. It will encourage more such ventures.
Is Malaysia comfortable with idea of more Indian professionals coming to the country once the services and investment agreement comes into place?
That is the way forward. The labour market is going to get more and more open. And to succeed you need to attract the best talent. It is more about exchange of talent. We want to attract talent that is not available in Malaysia, for example in the IT sector. We want to facilitate movement of professionals by sorting out problems in areas such as work-permits. Some sectors are already open including IT and to some extent financial services. On the other hand, we also have Malaysians working in other countries including India.
The multilateral trade negotiations at the World Trade Organisation have been static for quite some time. What do you think is required to set the ball rolling again?
The mini-ministerial in Delhi in September last year provided an impetus to the Doha round of WTO talks. Unfortunately, nothing materialised in the Geneva meeting in December. Problems remain between major countries. We are not hopeful that it will be concluded by the end of this year.
HOW MANY TRAGIC LESSONS DO WE NEED?
Sixty-five people, including 37 children and 26 women were trampled to death, and about 200 seriously injured, at an annual religious ritual at the Mangadh ashram at Kunda, in UP's Pratapgarh district, on Thursday. They were the poorest of the poor gathered from neighbouring areas. The promise of a free meal and the distribution of utensils and clothes typically attracts milling crowds of poverty-stricken people to such venues.
The organisers temporarily shut the iron gate at the premises to restore order. The impatient, fearing they might get left out, pushed and the gate gave way and collapsed, leading to the stampede. The lesson from the tragedy is plain enough that governments and local administrations learn nothing from the past. Apart from killer stampedes caused by crushes of disorganised people, there are countless episodes in the country of train accidents, building collapses, roads caving in, and bridges giving way that could have been averted if due precautions had been taken by local organisers and the administration, and the "bandobast" been right. Much of this can be said to be a matter of routine anticipation, especially when large crowds are expected; none of it is rocket science. It is common knowledge that maintaining existing systems mechanical or administrative and following basic procedures are no longer accorded the priority they deserve. Possibly this is because the victims are usually needy people. Contrast this state of affairs with how governments go about preparing when a VIP visit is to take place. In August 2008, 150 people had lost their lives in a stampede at the famous Naina Devi shrine in Himachal Pradesh when the rumour of a landslide caused people to rush down a stairway nearly a kilometre high. The administration had been found wanting. There were too few policemen to manage the surging crowds that were expected. Worse, the law and order men began to cane-charge the throngs trying to get out of harm's way. This had been an exact repeat of a 1978 stampede at Naina Devi. On that occasion 65 devotees had been killed. Wonder what the official inquiry came up with then. There would certainly have been recommendations about relevant arrangements that ought to have been made but weren't. Eyewitness accounts suggest there weren't adequate medical units with basic medicines to deal with crowds that would number tens of thousands, that there were no rescue units of the police to deal with a natural or man-made accident, and that there weren't even enough vehicles to transport dead bodies and rush the injured on an emergency basis to properly functioning hospitals in the area. The story of official lethargy encountered in Himachal Pradesh can be substituted for Uttar Pradesh without changing the basic storyline. Chief minister Mayawati has ordered an inquiry, but eventually this would hardly matter. In such situations inquiries are usually conducted to ascertain casualty figures for purposes of arranging official compensation. The poorer the people who die, the less is the compensation usually. Blame is rarely apportioned to the local administration. The kind of accident we have seen at Pratapgarh and Naina Devi is symptomatic of underdevelopment.
WHO'S A BULLY THEN?
BY FARRUKH DHONDY
or is ithome: shanty?"
From Bachchoo's Mantras
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, this royal throne of kings, this sceptre'd isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise, this fortress built by nature for herself against infection and the hand of war, this happy breed of men, this little world etc. etc. has turned into a ghetto primary school playground. The list of all but the last description belongs to Shakespeare, the last attribution to me, following the revelations this week of the British press.
Workers and ex-workers in 10 Downing Street, servitors of present Prime Minister, have told Andrew Rawnsley who has just published a book, which alleges to have got under the covers of the seat of government, that Gordon Brown is a bully. The press, in previewing the book, featured several incidents in which the Prime Minister lost his temper with his staff. There are incidents in which mobile phones were flung at the underlings, in which members of staff were "nudged" on a staircase, where some undeserving soul was pushed off her chair in a group discussion by an infuriated Mr Brown.
The incidents, or alleged incidents because the Prime Minister's office denies they ever happened, have been classified by the hostile press as incidents of "bullying". To be fair, there have also been comments sceptical of the "bullying" charge. Throwing a phone at someone with whom you are annoyed may not constitute bullying. It may simply be an act of extreme frustration at their stupidity, their blundering through some important assignment or, indeed their petty betrayals.
I have never thrown a mobile phone or anything else, partly because I value property above petulance. I have never understood why distressed or embattled wives or lovers destroy a man's suits by cutting them to shreds, or why they smash precious crockery in fits something I have seen in films. On balance I think the flung phone is on a par with the smashed bits of crockery and doesn't quite fit any definition of bullying which my ample experience as a child, friend or father has forced upon me.
Now: nudging on the staircase? Yes, I can see how that can be interpreted as bullying. In the school to which I went in Pune all those years ago, bullying sometimes took the form of shoving hockey sticks into the wheels of the victim's bicycle while it was on the move and having him fall of it in startled shock and with considerable injury. It was usually not the bully's hockey stick as the severity of this "nudge" could damage the hockey too. It was, the hockey, in all probability, taken off some weedy junior with a minimum of persuasion and a tangible physical threat.
In school and later, the definition of bullying was clear. It was the exercise of strength, of threat, of power to coerce or terrify the subservient or the weak. It was causing pain to people unable to defend themselves, for the sake of some twisted, mean psychological thrill: Ducking the feeble fatty of the class repeatedly through the swimming session to derive amusement from his begging to be spared. Yes that used to happen. And then there was the sexual bullying weaker boys physically forced to strip and even to perform shaming acts on their tormentors.
At the time, in our school, in that era, it felt as though there was no recourse available to the bullied. Making a complaint was "sneaking", punishable by perpetual bullying in new ways by hitherto inactive tormentors. Telling your parents was a terminal offence. It was a cruel, grin-and-bear-it culture.
Perhaps it was in other schools around India too and, from the testimony of literature ("Put out his eyes, apologise, apologise, put out his eyes") of British and Irish schools too.
But those were Tom Brown's Schooldays, not Mr Brown's paroxysms of power. Does our Gordon really bully his staff? Is it a matter of definition, because there is a lot of both about.
I mean bullying and definition. And the more definition there is, the more bullying can be statistically registered. Anti-bullying has, from perfectly understandable and laudable origins, become an industry. Literally. It has funding, official and charitable, workers, investigators, advisers, clinical services, trauma-management therapies, other formalised assistance and a hundred websites on which all of these are available.
That big kids thumping small kids in school playgrounds should be stamped upon and stopped is not something anyone but the deranged, or those with twisted minds who believe that the smaller kids will benefit by being repeatedly challenged to fight back, would disagree with. That employees should not, because of their status as such be humiliated by employers is also an accepted tenet of civilisation.
The technology of the Net and of mobile phones has given rise to its own forms of cyber-bullying and these too can be easily recognised as old evil instincts discovering fresh outlets. There's what the current generation call "happy-slapping" which is the recording on the video facility of mobile phones, the act of beating someone weaker.
The Internet has made it possible for gangs, even hundreds and thousands of unseen and unknown strangers to unite in the bullying of an individual through spreading slander or photographs, lies or even hurtful truths about the vulnerable.
Now every schoolchild knows that the Second Law of Rammsammy says that definitions expand. In the case of medical provision, diseases are invented to suit available cures. The anti-bullying industry more power to one of its elbows! has, in strict accordance with Rammsammy's Law, extended the definition of "bullying" to include any disciplinary procedures taken at school, in employment and even in punitive institutions. The definition includes being made redundant, domestic violence, stalking, suspension and even giving unwitting pain to strangers via your blog or website.
Investigations of and advice to the victims of all these are available through the anti-bullying agencies, on and off-line.
And so, very neatly, we see Rammsammy's Third Law beginning to operate: Definition spread leads to dilution. Being made redundant is a serious matter and its remedies lie in the economic and political sphere. Coming to terms with one's dismissal from work is a different category of misery from being nudged on a staircase by the Prime Minister.
Similarly, domestic violence and stalking may be considered forms of bullying, but they should be treated as criminal activity and taken more seriously than injury from a flung mobile phone. I have been the target of one of these and it didn't hurt much.
JUNIOR BABUS IN TIZZY
With the Chief Minister, Mr K. Rosiah, making it known that he would go for an overhaul of the district administration after the Budget Session, junior babus aspiring for the post of collectors have started hectic lobbying with the powers that be. The grapevine is that the government will go for new collectors in Hyderabad, Ranga Reddy and East Godavari districts. It is learnt that those heading Karimnagar, Adilabad and Kurnool are seeking posting in the state capital. Collectors of Khammam, Guntur, Kadapa and Mahbubnagar have been in their posts for more than four years and there is also pressure to change Medak and Nellore collectors. What the officials are discussing most is whether the KVP-Jannat combination will continue to call the shots or whether Mr Rosaiah would act on his own inputs. As of now, the officials are trying to please everyone.
Botsa must watch out at home
The panchayati raj minister, Mr Botsa Satyanarayana, has suddenly created a stir with his statement favouring division of the state. Though leaders have been making open statements favouring their respective regions, this is the first time that a minister hailing from coastal Andhra has come out with a statement supporting bifurcation. This has been like music to the ears of the Telangana leaders. For the last couple of days whenever Mr Botsa got up to speak in the Assembly, he was cheered by Telangana leaders of all parties and jeered by leaders from coastal districts. The minister was surely mentally prepared for this. But what perhaps surprised him was his wife and Lok Sabha member, Mrs Jhansi Laxmi's opposition to his idea. She has reiterated her commitment to the United AP cause. This is one domestic backlash he may not have expected.
JOURNOS TRY TO GUESS DGP'S NEXT MOVE
Many an eyebrow was raised when the convoy of the director general of Police, Mr R.R. Girish Kumar, entered the D-Block in the Secretariat the other day. Officials murmured that the DGP might have driven in to meet his predecessor, Mr S.S.P.Yadav, who has been twiddling his toes as chairman of the Godavari River Valley Authority.
Mr Girish Kumar has been continuing in his post with the aid of a High Court order and probably wanted to patch up with Mr Yadav, they speculated. Some enthusiastic electronic mediapersons also got ready to catch an exclusive visual of their meeting. However Mr Girish Kumar smartly walked into the room opposite to that of Mr Yadav's occupied by Mr A K Goel, who recently challenged the elevation of Mr S.V.Prasad as chief secretary. It soon became evident that he had merely come to attend a meeting of the departmental promotion committee. After grumbling a while, mediapersons returned to their gupshup.
Tucker in trouble for giving unsolicited suggestions
The irrigation principal secretary, Mr S.P. Tucker, helped out the Chief Minister, Mr K Rosaiah, on flood
control last October. The Chief Minister was so impressed by the bureaucrat that he even said that he would give the Bharat Ratna to Mr Tucker if he had his way. But despite all the talk, things did not change for Mr Tucker who continues to handle the insignificant minor and drip irrigation while his juniors are busy with big dams. And now it looks as if he is inviting trouble through his unsolicited suggestions on irrigation projects. Mr Tucker recently shot off a letter portraying Jalayagnam in poor light when the Assembly session is on. He said only a meagre area had come under cultivation after Jalayagnam.
Since the government swears by Jalayagnam, such a comment is not likely to earn him kudos.
YOU CAN'T DRIVE INDIA OUT OF HUSAIN
BY ANTARA DEV SEN
"Writers and politicians are natural rivals", said Salman Rushdie. "Both groups try to make the world in their own images; they fight for the same territory". I was reminded of this after M.F. Husain became a citizen of Qatar. For not just writers, creative artists in general are natural rivals of politicians. They fight each other for your world view, your vision of yourself.
In Husain's case, the fight between the politician and the artist was as rich as an epic narrative. It was like a scene from the Mahabharata one of Husain's favourite and most celebrated subjects. It took a dramatic turn when Husain was driven away from his motherland, the country he represented and earned admiration for over a lifetime, to a country that he has done nothing for but which wants him, honours him and wishes to make him comfortable for the rest of his life. The artist has lived as an Indian for almost a century at age 95 he is unlikely to suddenly feel like a Qatari. But though he is not exactly young, one feels that this development is just a twist in the tale.
The battle has ended, but there are no clear victors or vanquished. The story continues, like in the Mahabharata. The twists and turns don't end with the women mourning their dead in Stree Parva, the tale continues through Shanti Parva and Anushasan Parva, expounding on peace, justice, morality and good governance. It's a long way from the final renunciation of Mahaprasthan Parva or knocking on heaven's door in Swargarohan Parva.
A couple of years ago, Husain's Mahabharata: The Battle of Ganga and Jamuna was sold for a world record $1.6 million at Christie's. Begun in 1971, the epic series on the Mahabharata captures the spirit of his country in turbulent times, revisiting the terror of war while reiterating its impermanence, imagining an India of the future drawing on the past through familiar stories and cultural imagery. The Mahabharata, largely a secular philosophical text, represents an amazing diversity and pluralistic Indian identity that is threatened by Hindu chauvinists today. It reminds us of the need to reinterpret ourselves through values and thought rather than blind religion. The spectacular success in the art world of Husain's series underscores the irony of the Indian situation today. It shows that we are deeply aware of and can beautifully depict moral conflicts, our artistic excellence is exemplary, our pluralism is widely accepted, our democratic freedoms are among the best in the world yet we cannot protect our artists. We can only watch limply as they are driven out of their homeland by thugs. The moral battle is far from over.
Husain has been persecuted for a decade and a half and has been in exile for years. Self-proclaimed protectors of national pride and Hindu gods have vandalised his home, ruined his art, attacked his exhibitions and riddled him with legal cases. The Supreme Court had stepped in when the police rushed to confiscate the property of this "proclaimed offender", the Hindu Personal Law Board had offered Rs 51 crores for his head, and a Muslim politician had offered Rs 11 lakhs to have his hands chopped off. In short, fanatics had intimidated the elderly artist using both legal and criminal muscle.
But Husain is indefatigable. "I am an original Indian painter and will remain so till my last breath", he said when asked about his Qatari citizenship. And brushed away the idea of losing his native country. "I really fail to understand this physicality of an existence", he pointed out. He is, and will continue to be, an Indian of course.
You can drive Husain out of India, but you cannot drive India out of Husain
He is a part of Indian culture, just as Indian culture is a part of him. Political boundaries and citizenships cannot change that. As a proud Indian Muslim he celebrates Muslim festivals as vigorously as he draws upon the predominant cultural heritage of India, which is largely Hindu. As an artist he stakes his claim to his inheritance as an Indian, reaching for the myths, the stories, the iconography, the epics, the real and mythical cultural figures that shape the Indian consciousness.
The story of Husain highlights the many Indias we live in. There's one India he carries within him a secular, free, pluralistic India where freedom of expression is respected and imagination flourishes. The India he belongs to, the motherland that has nurtured him, and that he has nurtured in return.
The India that he leaves behind is quite another. It is narrow, rabid, illogical, frenzied. Where might is right, imagination is stifled and freedom of expression is tailored to fit specific communities. That's the India ruled by fanatics. The India that is slowly gaining the upper hand over the other Indias.
And there is yet another India, one we don't usually wish to talk about. That is the sickly, scared, cowering India, one so weak that it cannot hold on to principles if it sees purse-strings, one full of terrified little lying and cheating politicians and businessmen, an India teeming with tiny, self-absorbed men and women.
We know the first two Indias pretty well, but choose to ignore the third. Because that's where most of us belong. We studiously avoid confrontation art exhibitions and summits drop Husain's work, film festivals drop Husain's Golden Bear winning cult art film, even textbooks drop entries on Husain.
We play safe. We get on with our lives. We nod and cluck in support of artistic freedom but steer clear of real involvement. Art collectors quietly hoard Husains for future trading but don't use their clout to protect his artistic freedom or his life.
Politicians point the finger at other politicians, shake their heads and shrug off responsibility. Even the Congress, which Husain has unmistakably rooted for (remember the Indira as Durga painting?) has stayed away. In fact, it was a Congress minister who had offered Rs 11 lakhs to "a patriot" who would chop Husain's hands off. For years the artist has been in exile, fleeing from the fanatics. And it is only now, after Husain became a citizen of a Muslim State, that our government offered to ensure his security in his homeland.
In the battle of these three Indias, the biggest loser is the third. That is most of us. And Husain is the clear winner. For he carries his India deep within him, keeps it safe. It's the India we once treasured, the India we are fast losing.
- Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: email@example.com 
FAMILY, BACHCHAN STYLE
BY KISHWAR DESAI
Chairing a film festival, I always thought, would be a very simple thing: just appear and disappear at your own whim and fancy. All I needed to do was give my blessings and benedictions and then move on grandly. But it's not so simple, and especially not when one is chairing an Asian Film Festival in London at a time when Asian cinema is suddenly so attractive. Therefore, when I asked Abhishek Bachchan almost six months ago to inaugurate the Tongues on Fire festival at Bafta (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), as well as participate in it, I kept my fingers crossed. Similarly, I was extremely nervous when I asked Jaya Bachchan to come for the celebration of a "women in cinema week" at the Nehru Centre.
But the first auspicious omen was that theywere both very gracious in their acceptance without any fuss whatsoever and, in fact, the fortuitous coming together of the mother-son duo has provided a real impetus for the festival. And then the penny dropped: this can only happen in India where a mother and son can share a stage without any problems and with perfect humility and respect for each other. And to our further delight, and the excitement of their fans in London, not only did Abhishek and Jaya (thankfully) agree, both Amitabh and Aishwarya also decided to accompany them. So here I am on the day before the festival actually opens, getting up at five in the morning to rush to the airport to pick up four Bachchans in one go! Now I am worrying about what kind of security arrangements we will need with all four Bachchans under one roof at Bafta. I know there is going to be a perfect storm.
The arrival of the four Bachchans has created a frisson for the festival. But there is particular excitement around the masterclass being delivered by Abhishek at Apollo Theatre at Piccadilly. This is something that has never been tried before: an Indian actor, from the popular commercial genre, talking about his art and craft. But I really do believe that this is precisely the sort of thing that we need to do more of, so that a new respect is born for Bollywood and there is appreciation for how much work and effort Indian actors have to put in. It is time to understand that often Indian cinema is not just cut-and-paste meaningless kitsch but carefully planned and comparable to the best in the world. We have many other greats attending the festival Shyam Benegal, Sharmila Tagore, to name a few and we also have cinema from all parts of Asia, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. But I have to say that my favourite moment will remain when Abhishek will stand on stage and his parents and wife watch him perform. This is a perfect snapshot of a great Indian family moment which can, of course, only happen at an Asian film festival. I cannot imagine a similar event taking place in any other part of the world. You know what I mean: that peculiar sense of pure simple affection and pride that only an Indian family radiates sigh!
MEANWHILE, I am back to my regular haunt of the West End and within three days of arriving have already devoured my first play, the award-winning grim sign of our times, Enron, based on the fairly quick destruction of the company. Unlike my Bollywood moment of teary soppiness (noted above), the play generated pure anger as we all remembered that it was careless corporates like Enron which have been responsible for destroying the ethics of management. And once the rot had set in, it was only a matter of time before recession arrived. Carefully constructed by Lucy Prebble, the play is almost evangelical in its narrative of the bad boys of the bonus culture. Written perhaps deservedly with black and white characters, it is somewhat impossible to comprehend how the seventh-largest corporate in the US, worth around $70 billion, took just 24 days to go bankrupt. Now that we have our own home-grown Satyams we know that these episodes are everywhere. But while the characters of Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling (once known as The Smartest Guys In The Room) are performed without any coy changing of names, I wonder how long it will before similar hard-hitting play about Raju and the Satyam/Maytas conundrum can be enacted in India? And if an honest play recording the involvement of politicians will ever be allowed indeed, Enron explores the entire shady nexus between George Bush and the company.
It is worth remembering that Skilling was sentenced to 24 years in the penitentiary for fraud and Ken Lay died of a heart attack when finally their scams were exposed. We can never hope for a transparent sentencing of Raju but, please, can we at least turn his story into a good play?
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org 
PARLIAMENT EXPECTS STEREOTYPES
BLUNDER indeed it might have been for the Congress in the Lok Sabha to entrust Rao Inderjeet Singh with moving the Motion of Thanks. A blunder which had the Treasury benches embarrassed, the Opposition titillated and sections of the media reflect its "man bites dog is news" mindset. A blunder essentially because the former minister did not perform the traditional "His Master's Voice" part and sing paeans in praise of the government. Even if the honourable member for Gurgaon deviated from the expected script and declined to confine himself to the beaten path, what did he say that caused such offence that his party seniors openly indicated they would be relieved when he ended, and cheer the lady seconding the Motion who opted to be the government's trumpet-blower? That particular debate has become a freewheeling discussion on governance, and nobody could sincerely aver that there was no veracity to what Rao Inderjeet said. Does not everyone ~ across the political divide ~ concede that the bureaucratic "Yes, Minister" is only a ploy to maintain the status quo, that non-implementation of programmes is the bane of every government? So also his pointing out that licensed arms accounted for an infinitesimal share of the weapons in circulation. What about the oft-alleged nexus between business and politics: even if he did describe it colourfully, that they "slept in the same bed." And is the media not alive to the link between a thick wallet and column-centimetres, remember he mentioned that only in the context of the demand for state-funding of elections. No, from a member of the ruling party all that was heresy.
What the indignation actually confirmed is there is no room for independent thought in the legislature today ~ particularly after the Anti-Defection Act converted a three-line Whip into a conscience-killer. Members have been reduced to toeing the party line: the Treasury insisting the government was infallible, the Opposition determined that the government could do nothing right. The "quality" of an intervention being determined only by how caustic or shrill was its delivery, the thought-content being reduced to naught ~ wisdom being the sole monopoly of the party leadership. The forum is now worth little more than a head-count, debate no longer its forte. No wonder several members have found other avenues of "success".
PROGNOSIS NOT COMFORTING
ADMITTEDLY there must be no pre-judging conclusions to be drawn next week when the president of the CWG Federation and 71 national representatives take stock of the preparations for the forthcoming festival, but experience suggests there will be no glossing over what is found wanting. Hopefully, there will be less cause for complaint than last time around, and ego issues will have dissipated. However, warning bells have been rung from another quarter ~ a parliamentary panel has slammed the lethargy in readying facilities to receive tourists. Damning indeed is that committee's finding an "utter lack of coordination, determination and sense of urgency". It fears a shortage of hotel rooms, even suggests tapping accommodation in towns as distant as Udaipur and Jodhpur and improving connectivity. As for schemes like cleaning up the Yamuna and city beautification, it notes they are still at a "planning stage" with various official agencies unclear about their role. True the scope of that panel was limited, but there is every reason to extend those deprecating conclusions to several other aspects of the preparatory exercise. A drive around the Capital will confirm that many infrastructure projects await completion while they ought to have been opened for live trials by now. It is difficult not to exorcise from the memory how a veneer of "completion" had been created around several developments for the Asian Games of 1982 ~ the first winter rains washed away the topping of re-surfaced roads and the roof of the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium leaked profusely. Not to mention that the proposal to raise a roof over the swimming pool at Talkatora had been abandoned because the support-pillars were too weak.
It would be crass to describe the current World Cup Hockey as a preparatory event ~ five of the planet's top sides will not be in action in October: Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, South Korea and Argentina ~ but the shortcomings resulting from rushed jobs is evident. The untested artificial pitch has yet to settle down, that has impacted on quality play contend the coaches/players of Germany, Australia, South Africa and the Netherlands. The mess over media accreditation and pre-event entry to the National Stadium is ominous. As is the list of items spectators are not allowed to take into the stadium, coins included. What's next? Shoes? After all they have been used as missiles recently ~ fortunately only against politicians!
THE ROAD AHEAD
NORTH-EAST CONNECTIVITY THE NEED
THOUGH finance minister Pranab Mukherjee did not offer much to the North-east, railway minister Mamata Banerjee had at least some good features in her budget proposals, the most important being the plan to double the Guwahati-Dibrugarh line that cuts through Dimapur in Nagaland. This has been a longstanding demand after the route was converted to broad gauge in the late 1990s. The New Delhi-Guwahati Rajdhani Express will now run up to Dibrugarh. A weekly train between Guwahati and Mumbai via Howrah and Nagpur has been proposed. The plan is to link all North-east state capital towns and preliminary work on extending the track from Dimapur to Kohima is already on. Miss Banerjee has proposed extending the link from Rangpo on the Sikkim-West Bengal border to Gangtok, but this will have to wait until contruction of the Siliguri-Rangpo link is completed. She did not fail to appreciate trade between neighbours when she proposed extending the track from Agartala to Akhaura on the Bangladesh border and she has also appreciated the economic imperatives of completing the Lumding-Silchar gauge conversion on a priority basis. Work on this section started some years ago but was considerably delayed because of militant activity in the North-Cachar hills. Guwahati is to have a state-of-the-art wagon factory.
The proposal to extend the railway link from Guwahati to Byrnihat in Meghalaya has been around for a long time but the Khasi Students' Union is opposed to it, arguing that this will only encourage illegal migrants. In this context, the proposal to link Shillong is doubtful. Given that any project in the North-east invariably involves a long gestation period, it is doubtful if people will be able to take a train to Shillong, Gangtok, Kohima, Imphal and Aizawl in Mizoram even in the next 50 years, or more. Until that materialises, the focus should be on better road connectivity and maintenance of the existing roads and highways.
A LEGAL PROVISION IS NOT THE REMEDY
BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
THE Gujarat government has recently introduced a Bill to make voting compulsory. If passed, every voter will be legally bound to cast his vote. He will be liable to face punishment unless he can furnish valid reasons for abstention. In fact, the turnout in this country is so poor that the idea of compulsory voting was made some time ago. The Gujarat government has accepted the suggestion. Though Article 326 of the Constitution has granted universal adult suffrage, a large number of people abstain from voting. More often than not, it is the minority within the electorate that decides on electoral issues. In effect, democracy becomes a misnomer. If one compares the percentage of the turnout with that of the Western countries, India's performance demonstrates that democracy has failed to strike roots.
It bears recall that SP Sen Verma, former chief election commissioner, once suggested that voting should be made compulsory in order to make democracy a government of the people. He had cited the examples of some countries where penal measures are taken against those who abstain. In Australia and the Netherlands, fines are imposed.
In Chile, those who don't vote are imprisoned. Indeed, Sen Verma had suggested that abstention be made a cognisable offence. The Gujarat government's Bill recalls the proposal of the former CEC. Such a measure does not require a constitutional amendment; Article 32 empowers Parliament to enact legislation regarding the representation of the people. "Entry 72" may help Parliament to introduce such changes.
A complex issue
BUT law alone cannot determine such a complex issue. There are related questions that ought to be seriously considered. Sundaram, Sen Verma's predecessor, was opposed to the idea for various reasons. It is important to note that voting is a right, and not a duty. Therefore, should a voter want to abstain, he cannot be forced to take part in the polls. As many as 10 fundamental duties were inserted by the 42nd Amendment (1975) in part IV of the Constitution. But the duty to vote has not been inserted in the list. Nor has it been made legally compulsory.
Second, under Article 19(1)(a) the individual enjoys freedom of thought and expression. This is a fundamental right which is judicially enforceable by Article 32 and Article 226. So, if a voter thinks that none the candidates of his constituency can be relied upon, he can reserve the right to stay away.
Third, the law that is on the anvil in Gujarat may bring the unwilling voter to the polling booth. But if he is a reluctant participant in the polls, how can the law expect him to cast his vote judiciously? He may deliberately misuse this right in order to avoid the legal penalty.
Fourth, the low turnout is a symptom of a vulnerable democracy. Compulsory voting can, at best, be a palliative which can hardly cure the actual sickness. Instead of introducing this mandatory system, we should ascertain the actual reasons behind public apathy.
The fact of the matter is that the majority has lost its faith and interest in our democratic system. They elect their rulers, but have no control over them. Collectively, the elected representatives become the masters of the electorate. They do not serve the electorate. Between 1967 and 1971, 10 per cent of the MLAs across the country defected from their respective parties for political gain or personal profit. As the former Governor of Haryana, BN Chakraborty, observed, a change of party was, for these persons, a trifling affair like the change of a necktie. Floor-crossing can be profitable. This has made democratic politics unstable. No wonder people are largely disinterested in the electoral process. After the 1967 election, Orissa knew no fewer than 16 ministries in as many months, a measure of the opportunistic floor-crossing.
There is another factor. As the Constitution is silent about the qualifications of the representatives, there has been a qualitative deterioration in the legislatures. The behaviour of the members is often deplorable. In the midst of the all too frequent pandemonium, there is little or no scope for serious discussion. The debates are largely sub-standard, the attendance of members is irregular and doesn't always ensure a quorum. The Speakers often suspend the members for misbehaviour.
THE electoral process is vitiated, marked by booth-capturing, intimidation, impersonation, abduction and violence. Money and bullets can influence the results.
Above all, there is little or no interaction between the people and their representatives. Most of the chosen legislators do not visit their constituencies during their term. Even criminals can contest and capture votes at gunpoint. Therefore, a large segment of the electorate can deem participation as useless.
Given the mounting electioneering costs, leadership has become an oligarchical affair. An able but poor person can hardly think of being a candidate. An election has become a lucrative game of the few. The electoral process has hardly changed the lot of the poor. Poverty, social oppression, political injustice and concentration of wealth have vitiated our body politic. The majority of voters are frustrated and, therefore, indifferent.
Of course, universal adult franchise without the spread of education is the basic reason for such indifference. The Government of India Act, 1935, recognised the right to vote in such a restricted manner that only 13 per cent of the people could cast their votes. But the new Constitution has made it almost universal despite the fact that crores of voters are still deprived of educational opportunities. So, a large number fail to realise the significance of franchise and the need to take part in the polls.
A legal compulsion can never be the remedy. Instead, purification of politics along with the spread of education can achieve results. If these two requirements are duly fulfilled, there will be no reason to express concern over the low turnout in elections.
The writer is former Reader, New Alipore College, Kolkata
'WTO, FTA CAN DO FARMERS NO GOOD'
Steering the Indian farming community is a tough task but Mahendra Singh Tikait has been doing it for decades. His words carry immense weight among agriculturists in western Uttar Pradesh and pockets of states like Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan. President of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, Tikait has led a number of mass farmers' movements against the state and central governments. However, at 75, he has reasons to be disillusioned with the movement he has tried to lead all these years. By his own admission, the agri-scene in India is only worsening. In an interview with NIRENDRA DEV, he speaks at length on various issues confronting the farming class.
What is the agriculture scene in the country today? At this age after struggling for so many years, what is your assessment of the agrarian movement?
I do not have reasons to feel very happy. I have been demanding a separate budget for agriculture. The railways have one but Indian farmers who feed the rest of the country do not have one. There are so many issues. Even the recommendations of the National Farmers' Commission headed by Professor M S Swaminathan have not been implemented. There is a long way to go. I often tell the farming community that India got independence after 90 long years of struggle once it started in 1857. So we have miles to go. Farmers will continue the struggle. "Kisano ne hamsha hal se talwar banakar lada hae'' (Farmers have always made swords of their ploughs and fought). We have to continue to work.
Things have got aggravated lately with the increase in prices of essential commodities. Farmers are, however, not getting their due and they are perhaps worst hit by the price rise. The agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, claims he is also a farmer. Your comments.
There is no doubt about these. "Pawar bhi bawla ho raha hae. Satta sab ko bawla kar deta hae''. (Sharad Pawar is also getting spoiled. Power spoils everyone). In fact, several other agriculture ministers also did not do well. They have always helped business circles and traders. That's why you have WTO and other formulae to destroy the Indian farming community.
Do you agree that people like Sharad Pawar and Ajit Singh have been pro-farmers as they claim to be?
"Waisey toh sabhi kisan hae''. (In India everyone is a farmer). Ajit also. What I should say is that Sharad Pawar has not helped improve the situation for farmers. In fact, Pawar has only worsened things. "Bawla hae & seekh jaega'' (May be he got spoiled, he will learn things gradually).
What about a few recent decisions by the UPA government? First, there was an agitation over sugarcane pricing and lately they have moved to nutrient-based fertiliser subsidy and also increased the price of urea.
Yes, these are the problems they create. The Bharatiya Kisan Union has strongly opposed nutrient-based fertiliser subsidy policy and 10 per cent hike in urea price. These would adversely affect the farming community and also have a cascading effect on prices. Our main concern is who would decide about soil conditions and how. It will only give scope for corruption and manipulation. Actually, the government should have direct and complete control over fertiliser prices. Once the new subsidy policy comes, it would result in fixed subsidy and floating pricing. So you can imagine the problems. The 10 per cent hike in urea price is just not acceptable. It will put an extra burden on farmers who are already suffering from increased cost of production and low productivity.
You were referring to the M S Swaminathan Commission report. The panel had also spoken about the criterion of differential calculation for deciding minimum support price (MSP).
I have said earlier also that the fixing of MSP needs to be done in advance so that farmers can be saved from instability in food prices. Today MSP is decided with the yardstick of farmers as daily wage fourth grade staff in government offices. The Swaminathan committee has also said that calculation of MSP must be decided considering the 18 long hours of labour the farmers put. The land rent should be considered and farmers should be put in the bracket of skilled workers. The Swaminathan committee has clearly suggested that MSP should be calculated taking all these aspects and add 50 per cent of profit.
So does all this frustrate you as the farmers' leader?
It is your job to decide about success and failure. But from the government's point of view, there is always a double standard. You are supposed to follow America for everything, but in agriculture while US has 60 per cent subsidy, our subsidy share is three per cent only. They want to increase further and you brought it down by signing WTO clauses. These treaties like WTO and free trade agreements (FTA) can do us no good. One more thing I must add, the government had encouraged using pesticides all these years and now they say we have spoiled the soil. Who will answer these questions?
What about the ongoing debate on Bt brinjal?
There should be a permanent ban on Bt Brinjal. The recent moratorium is only for two years. We demand that the government support ecological agriculture and provide incentives for growing toxic free foods.
We seek co-operative relations with Pakistan. Our objective is permanent peace because we recognise that we are bound together by a shared future. If there is co-operation between India and Pakistan, vast opportunities will open up for trade, travel and development that will create prosperity in both countries and in South Asia as a whole.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Saudi Arabia.
I want the Prime Minister to tell Parliament what secret talks have taken place between India and Pakistan.
BJP leader LK Advani.
We have many essential social obligations and to meet them it is necessary to raise resources.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the fuel price hike.
Toy balloons are a source of joy to millions of children. To bring a smile to their mothers' faces, I propose to fully exempt them from any excise duty.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
It is not at all an issue for me. In a democracy one party wins while another losses but the show goes on. What is the guarantee that they (read Trinamul Congress) would come to power in 2011? Let the people say the last word in parliamentary democracy.
Assembly Speaker Hasim Abdul Halim.
We cannot save people from inflation if we follow only populist fiscal policies. Sooner or later these populist policies if persisted for a long time to come will lead to the erosion of the investment climate.
Deepak had even faked as Kishenji and gave a number of TV interviews. After Maoist state secretary Somen's arrest, Deepak wanted to take the job. But as he was not a local, the party selected Kanchan.
Bhupinder Singh, Director General of Police, West Bengal.
Some of the industrialists met me on Monday. I asked them to take care of themselves and move around carefully.
West Bengal chief secretary Ashok Mohan Chakrabarti.
No other religion would tolerate this. Husain has hurt the sentiments of Hindus and the matter could have been closed by a simple apology.
Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray.
India is my soul. But the country has rejected me.
People are bound to flock to Mumbai as Hindustan belongs to all.
Asha Bhonsle to an audience that included Raj Thackeray.
Vigilance centres will identify and monitor adverse effects of drugs used by patients in government and private hospitals.
Santanu Tripathi, Professor Budwan Medical College.
I am very disappointed that we are out of semis. Our target is now to finish fifth in the tournament.
Mr Brasa, Indian Hockey coach, after India's disappointing performance.
SOME PSU AUTONOMY
PSUs were set up as temples of modern India. And the pujaris were chosen solely on merit. And they rose up the ranks. From among them, the head priest was selected. As with everything else, there has been a change --from merit to the right godfather. First it was the "right connection". Later, with the family orientation in politics, it became helpful if you were the son-in-law or a brother-in-law of somebody important, particularly when you had to deal with a modernisation programme that involved more money than the annual budget of one of the larger Indian states. So the "rishtedari'' has to be established.
This came to light in a recent case when the Public Enterprises Selection Board met to choose the head of a Maharatna. The first shocker was when it was found that none of the internal candidates were found suitable. So much for the much-talked about succession planning in the public sector. And then came the "outsiders''. If an IAS officer from family planning can move to steel and decide on the product mix, why can't it be extended to others as well ? The specious argument was that you don't need to know metallurgy to make steel which is tantamount to saying that you don't need to know rocket science to launch one.
It is reported that the selections have been made. The chosen one claims to have the blessings of the royal family whose pocket borough he had supposedly serviced loyally while in an IT PSU. A little bird reveals that the "rishtedari'' route has carried the day!
All in the surname
What is in a name? In this case, a surname smells resourcefulness. Not surprising in a land of castes and creed. It was a welcome sign when the straight-laced, straight-faced PMO brought out strict norms for tenure postings, deputations, extensions, transfers, etc. But perhaps it did not realise that exceptions prove the rule.
One glaring case is that of an IPS officer from God's own country who joined a PSU in 2005 on a three-year stint. He was given a two-year extension in 2008. No problems with that, possibly because of the great unfinished tasks he had. His five-year term ended in February 2010. And yet again , he has been given an extension. Now eyebrows are being raised in babudom about the guiding principles, or the lack of them, in deciding on such exceptions. There is enough consternation about privileged treatment to a section of the officers hailing from a certain part of the country.
Or is it the surname that counts? He shares a surname with a top functionary at the PMO, something he flaunts in the corporation to get his way. His travel bills during his tenure have touched a whopping Rs 42.4 lakhs. To be fair to him, he has had to go various parts of the country and even abroad to discharge his duties, although he is as far away from sales and marketing as Kanyakumari is from Kashmir. Will somebody in South Block take note?
Devil and deep sea
This is no critique of the Budget, but just a revelation of a startling fact which our top flight economists tend to deliberately obfuscate for reasons best known to them. It is a scary picture. Everybody talks of fiscal deficit, but the more frightening issue is the rising national debt. Everybody is aware of the financial turmoil Greece is in. But are we not far behind. The current Central and State debt touches 82 per cent of the GDP. Bankrupt Greece has a public debt of 120 per cent.
Even in the US where the unemployment rate is more than 10 per cent, the public debt is only 55 per cent which could-- given the continuing slump--rise to 67 per cent. But it is a country with a large economy and larger tax revenues. The public debt in U.K is 57.5 per cent which again is manageable on the premise that there would be no more bank collapses.
So India is caught between the devil and the deep sea! The debt vis-a-vis the GDP needs to be brought down to stay afloat; but a fear has been created by vested interests that to cut the stimulus will result in the stifling of the economy. However, for the fat cats, it is a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose situation!
There is always a ruling class, according to Georg Wilhelm Hegel. The trappings and paraphernalia vary according to the times. There is no longer a herd mentality. Now, it is the rise of a new yuppie generation which is bonded by status symbols like star cruises, Ferraris, gadgets and gizmos. They rub shoulders with others of the ilk at "dos", shows, or at fashionable gyms and then switch with facile ease to a rural setting to dine with the Kalavatis of the world. They come and go talking of Michelangelo.
They have competing business goals and differing ideologies but they unite to conserve and promote their individual interests. It is a kind of new G8 where ideas or doctrines don't divide them. In all this, they are aided and abetted by the bureaucracy. This is the net result of the great phenomenon called Globalisation. Some get into Parliament, preferably Rajya Sabha, whose membership entitles them to diplomatic passports. And they are being used increasingly for business purposes.
Even Communist China has found it difficult to resist the temptations that globalisation offers. According to a recent survey by five reputable organisations in China, 91 per cent of rich families have strong political connections and have benefited from it. Only 16 per cent of the respondents in the survey felt that "wisdom and hard work of family members" was responsible for the wealth of the rich families. The verdict also shows the bitterness among ordinary Chinese that official corruption and nepotism plays a key role in making some people exceptionally rich.
Will somebody in this great dynastic democracy ever take the cue ?
Two disconcerting items about high profile corporates appeared. The first was about a renowned IT company which besides a brief statement failed to make a formal disclosure relating to embezzlement. This raises grave questions regarding the disclosure policy, the efficacy of internal controls and the use of outdated models for authorising large cash transfers. The second was the arrest of a CEO of a large group in western India for allegedly evading customs duty. Two cases coming to light doesn't mean there aren't many more.
Are the corporates making turkey out of investors? Where does this take us ? Is this only the tip of the iceberg ? The answer is more regulation and greater transparency.
Heard on the street:
Rumour is rife that a high profile, first time minister who manages to stay in the news for some reason or the other even without tweeting of course, has been sending "inappropriate messages" to the Hong Kong bureau head of an international daily. She had met him on an official assignment. Who is this starry-eyed minister?
CASTE IN POWER
Caste is one of the thorniest issues in Indian society. Any discussion of it opens up spaces of ambiguity and hypocrisy. In all that is considered official and hallowed by the Indian State, caste is not recognized and is deemed to be non-existent. India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, declared the caste system to be reactionary and a barrier to progress. B.R. Ambedkar, the chairman of India's constituent assembly, went even further and wrote, "You cannot build anything on the foundations of caste. You cannot build up a nation; you cannot build up a morality. Anything you will build on the foundations of caste will crack and will never be a whole." According to the Constitution, any form of discrimination based on religion, caste, race and gender is punishable by law. Yet no observer can deny that caste is a ubiquitous aspect of Indian social life. Caste is something that the State does not recognize and approve of, but its presence is undeniable.
This ambivalence or contradiction is, in fact, the failure of the Indian State to engineer social reforms to eradicate an embedded sign of inequality. This vitally affects some of the operations of the Indian State. One example of this is the decision taken that the census operations of 2011 will not collect caste-based data from any section of the population except those belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. This was announced by the junior home minister, Ajay Maken, in the context of "request for conducting caste base [sic] census has been received from government of West Bengal among others". One interpretation of this decision is that the 2011 census, like the previous ones, will not reflect a vital aspect of India's social reality. The other interpretation and presumably this will be the State's rationale could be that the official recording of caste-based data would reinforce caste divisions in society. The moot point here, of course, is what is perceived to be the purpose of a census.
The State, as social scientists following Michel Foucault have pointed out, enumerates its citizens under various categories through the census. The census is one of the instruments that the State uses to gain knowledge of the governed. The British Indian State that started census operations in India in the late 19th century chose to enumerate the population by caste. This enabled it to deploy policies of divide and rule to maintain its dominance over a colony and a subject and an increasingly recalcitrant population. The aims and priorities of the independent Indian State are different. To maintain its power over the governed, it needs to set itself forth as the primary upholder and protector of Indian unity. The unity of India is one of the raison d'être of the Indian State. For this purpose, the rhetoric of castelessness is more useful to it than the enumeration of castes.
THAT SENSE OF MENACE
IAN PAISLEY MAY BE RETIRING, BUT HE LEAVES MANY INHERITORS
SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
The sense of menace that envelops Western cities was sharply manifest last Monday when the passengers crammed into our Air India plane were suddenly ordered back into their seats after landing at Heathrow. It wasn't because Ian Paisley, Northern Ireland's sinister "Dr No", who was said to have lit the first fuse of the civil war I covered in the late Sixties, was about to quit politics. This time, the terror that holds London to ransom was in our midst.
Though the faithful spoke in hushed tones of "the Reverend Doctor Paisley", his religious credentials prompted as much scepticism as his academic pretensions. But not for Malcolm Muggeridge, the born-again Christian journalist who had not yet discovered Mother Teresa but was already in his ecstatic phase and planning a film on Paisley's brand of Protestant militancy. "The good doctor fascinates me, doesn't he you?" "Saint Mugg" (Muggeridge's nickname) gushed as we waited one afternoon in Paisley's anteroom in Belfast, the province's ravaged capital. I was spared the embarrassment of replying because the man himself boomed in just then and was about to introduce us in his gravelly Irish voice when Muggeridge plunged me into worse embarrassment.
"But of course I know him. I was his deputy editor!" he oozed. I was too taken aback to reply. Though he had, indeed, worked for The Statesman in Calcutta, he left at least three years before I was born. That was not the devotional Muggeridge's only terminological inexactitude. Gentlemen didn't need labels in those days and there was no need to spell out who would stand in for the editor and take over if need be. Muggeridge represented the paper at the viceregal court in Delhi and Simla; in the head office in Calcutta he wrote editorials and was one of several assistant editors. Such informality lasted until the baboos (and I use the word in the colonial British sense and not to mean civil servants as in the parlance of today's baboos) came along.
Earlier that day in Belfast I had sat quietly in the congregation of Paisley's chapel for my first glimpse of the man. There were two reasons for this unorthodox approach. Paisley was a latter-day F.E. Smith (Lord Birkenhead) who was credited not only with saying "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right", but with smuggling in guns for the purpose while the government turned a blind eye, and I wanted to experience at first hand the mesmerizing charisma of which so many tales were told. Second, I was told he didn't meet the press.
It was a session well spent. "'Ave yer 'eard?" the woman on my right hissed across me to the woman on my left. "Papa's forbidden Papists to take honey because it comes from the bees!" Both women dissolved in laughter. Papa was the Pope; "bees" stood for the Royal Ulster Constabulary B-Specials whom Roman Catholics accused of repression.
Northern Ireland's Catholic minority was probably just as obdurate. Religion defined Belfast's Falls and Shanklin road ghettos and only a taxi driver of the right faith would take you there. There had been a pitched battle the night before, and I gathered the Clonard monastery was involved. Visiting there, I had a job avoiding being dragged into the confessional box. When the stocky monk in black at last accepted I was a journalist and not a penitent, he sat down patiently to answer questions. Where had he been the night before, I asked, not for a moment dreaming of the candour with which I would be rewarded. "And where else would I be but with my flock out in front?" the priest retorted. Hitching up his cassock, he had manned the barricades all night.
Paisley was too sophisticated to be as directly engaged. But as a Catholic priest in Singapore observed with delicious irony many years later, he had single-handedly done more for Irish unity than anyone else. The priest meant that revulsion provoked by Paisley's rhetoric had pushed all decent Protestants into seeking a compromise.
Suddenly, Paisley strode heavily on stage, yelled "Hallelujah!" with outstretched arms and flopped down on his knees. After a period of silence, he jumped to his feet and with another dramatic "Hallelujah!" burst into torrential speech. There were strangers in the room, he bawled, not from across the border but from far-off lands beyond the seas, to them "Hallelujah!" and a warm welcome. It was no surprise he had spotted me for I stood out then in a UK audience as I would not now. His threat followed his welcome. "This is a house of god. Reporters are warned they will not be allowed to take notes or pictures. The moment they try, they will be thrown out and their notebooks, pens and cameras confiscated!" There was a hint of physical chastisement.
Afterwards, he reminded me of the Pope's sinister designs on India. "Why did Papa go there?" he asked rhetorically. One of his entourage told me Northern Ireland's Catholics were not loyal to the Crown. "It's only the half-crown they're after, mister," he sniggered, referring to the coinage of the time.
Paisley relented sufficiently in the end for the Democratic Unionist Party he founded and led to enter into alliance with Sinn Féin, the Catholic party and political front for the Irish Republican Army. He and the Provisional IRA leader, Martin McGuinness, became so close people called them the "Chuckle Brothers". But Protestant hard-liners splintered off to found the Traditional Ulster Voice. Whether or not more leave when his son inherits his mantle, Northern Ireland's age of the Protestant warrior is over.
But violence isn't. As usual with a planeload of Indians, we were pushing and shoving with the huge bags that should never have been allowed on board as hand baggage when the captain peremptorily ordered us to sit down at once. No one had permission to get out, he bellowed; everyone should sit down in the original seat for which he had a boarding pass. As the instructions were repeated in hectoring tones, I forced the couple next to me back into their seats. They had made my eight hours in the air a torment for they spoke only Punjabi, had never been in the air, leave alone abroad, and were bursting with insatiable curiosity.
Six burly Brits in navy blue uniforms and unseeing eyes, Border Agency written on their chests, appeared and made a beeline for a tall, lanky young man sitting by himself in the more spacious area by the emergency exit. I had noticed his jeans, jacket, tie and mop of curls earlier as I stretched my limbs, trying to place him in the social matrix so beloved of us all. I failed for he was smart and seedy, debonair and downcast at the same time. Now he was being taken off the plane without a word said, without a hand laid on him as he walked along the aisle among the policemen. The last I saw of him was through the glass on our way to Arrivals and Immigration, a lost figure slumped in a chair, the guardians of his person looming over him.
How had they known exactly which seat to target? "We know all about the passengers before they land!" chuckled the cheerful young black Immigration officer. He thought it a better idea to pick up suspects on board before they landed but as to what they were suspected of he wouldn't hazard a guess. It used to be drugs; then it became terrorism.
British politics may not seem the same without the burly dog-collared mastiff of a firebrand who has decided to call it a day at 84. But whether he was trafficker or terrorist, our flying companion demonstrated there are inheritors enough to carry on the legacy of menace.
TAXING TO THE HILT
'CONSERVATIVE APPROACH TO BUDGET IS THE BANE.'
The state budget for 2010-11 presented by chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, who also holds finance portfolio, in the state Assembly on Friday, is devoid of any fresh thinking or imagination. While admitting that the state's own tax revenue is more than 10 per cent of the Gross State Domestic Product, "which is the highest in the entire country," as against a national average of less than 6 per cent, he has imposed additional taxes to the tune of nearly Rs 2,000 crore. The hike in value added tax from 12.5 per cent to 13.5 per cent on nearly 540 commodities will add to the inflationary pressure when the common man is already suffering from high prices of food articles. The motor vehicle taxes have also been increased substantially, to take advantage of the recent spurt in sales of two and four wheelers.
The point to be noted is that the winds of change that have characterised the budgetary exercises at the Centre in the recent past -- which have brought handsome returns on lowering of tax rates -- seem to have missed Karnataka completely as the state still wallows in the old mindset of excessive taxation to squeeze more out of the common man. The chief minister has admitted a revenue shortfall of as much as Rs 3,300 crore during 2009-10. Perhaps the way forward would have been to lower the tax rates which usually ensure better compliance and higher revenue realisation. For the year 2010-11, the chief minister has projected a revenue surplus of Rs 500 crore on total estimated receipts of Rs 53,639 crore. This appears ambitious. Excise remains the biggest hope for revenue accretion as the state expects a growth of 10 per cent. He expects to mop up Rs 7,500 crore through state excise collections.
Given the constrains of economic slowdown and the battering that the agriculture sector received due to unprecedented floods during the year, Yeddyurappa has tried to allocate the available funds more judiciously. It is laudable that the social services constitute 38 per cent of the total expenditure, with education (Rs10, 505 crore) and health and medical education (Rs 2,673 crore) getting substantial hikes. The government has proposed many innovative schemes to perk up the agriculture sector, including 'Jalasiri' a water harvesting scheme. The 'Nirantara Jyoti' scheme to improve electricity supply to irrigation pump sets and rural habitations, will be extended to 70 more taluks with an investment of Rs 1,200 crore. But, overall, the conservative approach seems to be a bane that afflicts this budget and earlier the state comes out of it the better it will be.
TIME TO REBUILD
'LARGER PICTURE REVEALS THE MALAISE.'
World Cup hockey 2010 will go down as an opportunity lost for India. The tournament is not over yet and there are a good number of matches to be played but it is almost certain that the host nation will not be there in the semifinals. A rousing win against Pakistan raised the hopes of millions but subsequently, defeats against Australia and Spain have pushed them to a point of no return. At the start of the tournament, no one expected India to storm to the title. Ranked 12th in the world, their last semifinal appearance at the World Cup came way back in 1975, when they emerged champions at Kuala Lumpur. From then on, it has been a steady decline with even the wooden spoon landing in their cabinet that once showcased eight Olympic gold medals.
Playing in familiar conditions and with a passionate crowd rooting for them, India had plenty in their favour. A few good results would have raised the profile of the sport in the country but the team has only succeeded in bringing back memories of the negative build-up it had towards the tournament, when payment disputes and a row over captaincy overshadowed the preparations. In three matches in New Delhi, India have paraded their talent in good measure but talent alone cannot take you the distance. As India's coach Jose Brasa observed after the defeat against Spain, it was essential for the team to experience the heat of a real battle or two. Instead, cloistered in camps, they went through routine drills and playing matches amongst themselves, largely unaware of the changing world around them.
With two defeats and a not so bright future looming, it is easy to blame the players for India's plight. But a glance at the larger picture would reveal the malaise, with incompetence in administration being the root cause of most problems. The history of Indian hockey is replete with tales of politicking ruining the gains on the pitch. With no legitimate governing body in place, the sport in the country has floated along like a rudderless ship in recent times. Getting the administration back on track must be the first target if hockey has to regain its old glory in the country of magical stick-wielders.
BANKING ON HOPE
THE BUDGET ENVISAGES A GROWTH RATE OF 5.5 PER CENT. BUT GIVEN THE EXISTING AND CHARTED OUT INVESTMENT, WILL THIS COME TRUE?
BY R S DESHPANDE
The Economic Survey of Karnataka presented in the Assembly on Thursday indicated the critical economic situation of the state. Last year there were unprecedented flash floods in the traditional drought-prone areas in North Karnataka that had taken a huge toll on the state resources despite the help from all the quarters. More than 20 lakh hectares of crops got washed out and about 300 villages were severely affected.
Not many have said much about the handling of the situation but one must appreciate that the machinery has done its best so also the people of Karnataka who supported the calamity fund. This was one of the reasons given in the budget for the precarious financial situation. The preceding year also posed a formidable challenge in terms of low growth rates across sectors. The GSDP from primary sector had grown at a miniscule rate of 0.1 per cent and thanks to the other sectors which had kept the aggregate growth rate ticking at 4.5 per cent. On this background this budget envisages a growth rate of 5.5 per cent per annum at constant prices.
But the moot question is: given the existing and charted out investment, will this come true? There is little on the production side to achieve this. The state will have to depend a lot on the manufacturing and services sector and the promised investment that comes from outside.
The pre-budget assessment of fiscal situation of the state was quite grim as the revenue receipts did not show the expected growth. The estimated revenue receipts of Rs 32,721 crore in 2009-10 could not be realised and fell short by Rs 3,300 crore. Despite the increased grants from the Central government of Rs 7,572 crore, there was a shortfall in the revised estimates.
The chief minister was confronted with a critical fund shortage with revenue efforts in the first six months showing signs of concern which were revived afterwards. But the revival was not really great to match the requirements of expenditure.
Now the present budget shows a revenue surplus Rs 500.49 crore whereas, the fiscal deficit is put at Rs 9,708.46 crore. The chief minister has indicated that a non-loan capital of Rs. 2,903 crore will be raised in order to meet the deficiency on the fiscal side. The additional chief secretary, Finance, must have spent sleepless nights in order to tally the budget and this was possible only with the help of some dis-investment and a few prudent tax proposals. The total expenditure in 2010-11 is estimated to be Rs 70,063 crore consisting of Rs 53,138 crore of revenue expenditure and Rs 16,925 crore of capital expenditure. The government expects to collect Rs 36,228 crore of tax revenue and Rs 2,820 crore of non-tax revenue. The total central transfers, including taxes and grants are expected to be Rs 14,591 crore. That matches the revenue and expenditure side. The chief minister chalked out a fivefold strategy for the budget that includes: Promotion of agricultural and industrial growth, human resource development, empowerment of weaker sections and development of backward areas.
Agriculture and horticulture sectors have been provided allocation of Rs. 2,094 crore and about Rs 2500 crore is provided for supplying free electricity to irrigation pumpsets and Bhagyajyothi/ Kuteerjyothi schemes. Besides, Rs 320 crore go for facilitating farmers to get subsidised loans from commercial banks and cooperative institutions.
The budget also gave importance to agriculture infrastructure (Jalasiri), with a promise of 2 lakh water-harvesting structures and a scheme called, 'Nirantara Jyoti' for 126 taluks, to provide electricity supply to irrigation pumpsets and the rural habitations in 2 years.
The CM has allocated a hi-tech rice technology park and establishment of new institutions is given high priority. These include: 'Antharganga Micro-irrigation Corporation' with a capital of Rs 100 crore, Karnataka Mango Development Board with a provision of Rs 10 crore and a Food Processing Development Corporation is to be established with a capital support of Rs 10 crore.
The budget promises quite a few interesting things viz, the micro irrigation, Krishi Melas, concession on the RTC, emphasis on horticulture, veterinary colleges at Shimoga and Hassan. Similarly, Suvarna Gramodaya Yojana along with rural roads. There are a number of such small schemes for many activities in the budget and the chief minister probably wanted to have a multi-pronged strategy rather than getting into single track development strategy.
The development theme of this budget seems to be creating employment through various means so that, it will indirectly impact poverty. The chief minister has provided quite a bit of investment for the development of roads, rural development and urban infrastructure.
He has emphasised on tourism as one of the major service sectors that helps to generate secondary employment as well as income to the state enterprises. Small scale industries as well as industrial development have been put on the high agenda but one should wait to see the process of implementation which usually has its own faults.
When one looks at the relative allocations, the impression carried is to cover a large number of areas rather than focusing on a specific development paradigm. In that case, one can classify the budget as trying to satisfy many, but not arguing any single development paradigm.
(The writer is director, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore)
THE HOLY DIP
HINDUS AND SIKHS MUST BE THE ONLY TWO RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES IN THE WORLD WHICH BELIEVE THAT IMMERSING ONE-SELF IN A RIVER DECLARED HOLY OR A POND (SAROVAR) DECLARED SACRED WASHES AWAY SINS.
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
If it were that easy we could soon achieve a sinless society. Without meaning to offend the religious susceptibilities of millions, I would like to ask believers in bathing as a religious ritual a few questions: Why is the sin-cleansing limited to specific times e.g. the Kumbh Mela or place like Har-ki-Paudi in Hardwar and why not for all times? Why is it that the Sarovar of the Harimandir (Golden Temple) specifically marked out for soul and body cleansing? Since childhood I have heard Sikhs recite:
Guru Ram Das Sarovar Nahatey
Sab utrey paap karraatey
Bathe in the pool dug by Guru Ram Das
And cleanse yourself of all sins you have committed.
Surely a shower or a few lotas of water splashed on your body with soap is more cleansing than a few dip in water with no soap!
There is no logic behind the Hindu-Sikh fetish for Snan or Ishnaan. Nevertheless, men and women gather in hundreds of thousands on special occasions to take this quick and easy path to salvation. It is special occasion for Sadhus of different akhaaras to foregather and extort money from the gullible. In their rivalry they often come to blows against each other. There are stampedes and dozens of men, women & children are trampled to death. Isn't it time for thinking Indians to raise their voices and question the continuance of such meaningless rituals?
II. Myth & Reality
There are many words whose meanings we vaguely know but rarely bother to find out what they actually stand for. One of those words is genes. I thought it was just another word for "in one's blood". A concept which was drilled into out heads since our days in school is that we Indians belong to five racial groups: Adivasis, Dravidans, Aryans, Mangols & Semites. I am a little more enlightened after reading Invasion of the Genes, Genetic Heritage of India by B S Ahloowalisa (Eloquent Books). The author did his Doctorate from the University of Chicago and worked for the Agriculture and Food Department in Dublin. He was also with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Food & Agriculture organisation (FAO) of the UN. He has made his home in Vienna (Austria).
I admit I was reluctant to read his book as I thought the subject was beyond my comprehension. However, the word 'genes' in the title made me curious to know what the word really meant. I was in for a very pleasant surprise as he not only explained it in simple, lucid terms with diagrams to illustrate it but at the end of every chapter gives a glossary of difficult words and their meanings. It read like a precisely written high school text book. I went through it without any difficulty and learnt much.
Another myth he rubbishes is the nation of the origin of life on earth drilled into out minds by teachers of religion. Human beings were not created by churing of the oceans nor by a God who created all creatures within six days before taking a break on Subbath. It was, as Darwin has proved, with species of fish coming on dry land and evolving into reptiles, birds, mammals and humans. We are in fact descended from monkeys.
And finally, he tells us that there is no such thing as a pure race anywhere in the world. There has been so much inter-makingling through conquests and trading that introduced new genes in every country. India had innumerable invaders who came without women. They mated with local women, reared offspring of mixed races.
The latest arrivals in India were Europeans, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English. The earlier immigrants came without their women and were quick to adapt themselves to life-styles of Indian Rajahs and Nawabs. They acquired harems of Indian women and concubines and bred dozens of children. David Ochterlony, the first British Resident in the court of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar had 13 Indian wives, who bore him dozens of children. His assistant William Fraser had over half-a-dozen wives and mistresses and "as many children as the Shah of Persia". Maharajah Ranjit Singh had over 30 Europeans to train his soldiers. At his instance they married Indian women so that he could be sure of their staying in his service.
Dr Ahloowalia's book is an eye-opener. It removes a lot of cobwebs spun in our minds by religious bigots. If I had my way, I would make it compulsory reading in all High schools.
III. Nobel for Santa
Santa was seen standing in the middle of his acre of land under the scorching heat of the sun at mid-day. His friend Banta asked him: "O Sante! what are you doing at this hour in your farm?
"I have applied for the Nobel Prize," replied Santa.
"What has this to do with the Prize?"
Banta replied: "It says that the Prize is awarded to somebody outstanding in his field."
(Contributed by Dilsher Singh, Calgary (Canada)
THE NEW RELIGION
WITH THE ADVENT OF TELECAST, CRICKET HAS ACQUIRED A NEW DIMENSION.
BY NAVARATNA LAXMAN
It is no exaggeration that cricket as a game is religiously watched and enjoyed in our country today by practically everyone - irrespective of age and disposition. During 1940s and 50s when only Test matches were played, we as kids used to sit with our ears glued to the bulky radio sets listening to the lively running commentary of the matches by Vizzy, Berry Sarbodhikary, Pearson Surita and AFS Talyarkhan, whose clarity and precision never failed to give a clear projection of the proceedings on the field.
This 'luxury' was obviously limited to urban fans who could follow English commentary.
With the advent of telecast of the game -- in both its long and limited over forms -- from mid 1970s, cricket acquired a new dimension, becoming a national event viewed by millions in every nook and corner of our land, especially whenever India took on other international teams. One sees masses of fans even in public places where TV sets are on, watching the game transfixed, oblivious of their errands. No wonder that a chap travelling with me by GT express missed the train when he rivetted himself on the platform at Nagpur watching the India-Pakistan One day International.
The mesmerising spell cast by the game has understandably become a matter of concern for the parents of the children appearing for Board exams whenever the matches are played during the crucial exam months.
It is indeed amazing that the fans, irrespective of the generation gap, meticulously grasp the finer aspects and rules of the game. In the recently played first One-dayer at Jaipur between India and South Africa, India won the match just by one run when Tendulkar flung himself acrobatically at the ball and prevented it from touching the boundary. It was so close that the third umpire had to take a call. This was a point of contention between me and my friend with whom I was watching the match. It was my friend's 95-year-old mother who resolved our dispute by explaining that as per ICC rules the benefit of doubt goes to the fielder if tele-replays are inconclusive!
Cricket fever has its amusing side too. While waiting for my turn at a saloon, I happened to witness the second ODI recently played between India and South Africa at Gwalior when Sachin broke the world record by hammering a double century.
The barber boy who was all the while intently watching the telecast while trimming the moustache of a customer was so excited that he flicked off a good part of the customer's carefully groomed moustache! Though angry initially the sportive chap pardoned the boy and reconciled to his Charlie Chaplin cut!
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
'IF YOU BRING IN THE COPS'
United States and NATO troops have chased most of the Taliban out of the Afghan city of Marja. The fighting was hard. But what comes next will surely be harder leaving behind an honest and competent Afghan administration that can win back the loyalty of local people.
Without that, Marja will be another empty victory in an eight-year war that Washington has mostly won on the military battlefield and mostly lost everywhere else.
Marja is the first test of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's new counterinsurgency strategy based on building effective governance in newly secured areas. The challenges Washington and Kabul face there will be repeated as General McChrystal moves to reclaim other population centers that have fallen back under Taliban control.
The Taliban's brutality and medieval ideas have few fans. But the failure, year after year, of President Hamid Karzai and his local allies to provide security or the most basic government services has led many Afghans to decide they had no choice but to welcome back the Taliban.
Central to Afghanistan's local governance problem is the discredited national police force, which has earned a notorious reputation for extortion and theft.
That problem haunts the Marja operation. When General McChrystal's forces push on to their next target, Afghan police will be in charge of local security along with the Afghan National Army, which freshly discredited itself by looting Marja's bazaar as soon as American Marines secured it.
Earlier this week, our colleague C.J. Chivers reported on a meeting that two Marine colonels held with Marja residents. The residents assured the Marines of local support. "But if you bring in the cops," they added, "we will fight you till death."
Eventually the Afghan National Police must take over. But that must not happen until properly trained and supervised units are available. American commanders promise that different, and presumably better, police will be brought in to walk the beat until an effective local force can be recruited and trained. But despite the millions that Washington has paid to private contractors for police training over the years, few high-quality police units exist anywhere in Afghanistan today.
A redesigned and expanded police training program, oriented toward ensuring civilian security, not paramilitary combat against the Taliban, must be one of Washington's top priorities. The Obama administration has taken an important first step, winding up the expensive and ineffective training program that the State Department had contracted to DynCorp International and putting police training under direct Pentagon control.
Besides honest police officers, Marja and other reclaimed cities need teachers, health workers, engineers and judges. They also need experts to direct rural development programs. The only bright spot in Marja's economy today is opium poppy cultivation. The ripening poppies must be destroyed. But the local farmers who counted on their proceeds must be compensated and given help in switching to less harmful crops.
Afghanistan has talented engineers, agronomists and other professionals, some of whom courageously toughed it out during the Taliban years. Others have courageously chosen to return since the Taliban's overthrow. The problem is that the Karzai government has not been interested in reaching beyond its circle of political cronies. That must change. It will likely be years before Afghanistan's Army can defend its people, judging by its latest (non)performance. Better civil governance cannot wait that long. It is needed now in Marja.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
JUSTICE FOR JUDGES
New York judges have not seen a pay raise since 1999, not even a token cost-of-living increase. They have justly complained about it. Legal scholars have pointed out how damaging it is to the cause of justice. Editorial pages, like this one, have denounced lawmakers' baldly political tactic of linking the salaries of judges to their own.
Last week, New York State's highest court weighed in, adding a constitutional argument to the increasingly urgent fight to raise badly lagging judicial salaries.
New York ranks near the bottom among states for judicial compensation. Senior government lawyers, law professors, federal judges and beginning associates at major firms all earn more than the $136,700 salary of New York trial court judges handling a growing docket of cases. Comparable judges in New Jersey earn nearly $30,000 more. Beyond the unfairness to New York's 1,300 judges, the math is hardly an inducement for the most qualified and able lawyers to seek judicial office.
The new Court of Appeals ruling addresses three lawsuits filed by current and former state judges, including a 2008 suit brought by the state's former chief judge, Judith Kaye, after years of trying to reason with Albany's players.
The court correctly declined to say that the failure to grant cost-of-living increases amounted to an unconstitutional diminution of judges' wages, or to challenge the Legislature's power to set judicial compensation. But the decision found that the Legislature's tying of judicial pay raises to legislative pay and other unrelated bills violated the separation of powers doctrine. The court said that approach treated the matter "as if it were merely another government program appropriation as opposed to compensation for members of a co-equal branch."
The court stopped short of ordering the Legislature to grant a pay raise, or dictating its size or timing. But the decision conveys the court's expectation that the Legislature will resolve the issue, and left open the possibility of more muscular intervention if it does not.
Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker, and John Sampson, the Democratic conference leader in the State Senate, have said that judicial salary increases must be deferred indefinitely in light of the state's fiscal crisis. Refusing to grant any increase would be grossly unfair to judges, undermine the quality of the court system, and ignore the ruling by the Court of Appeals.
A sensible resolution would be to raise state judicial pay to the federal level, in stages, perhaps over two years. The Legislature should create a commission, as other states have, to review judicial salaries and decide on future raises. That is a smart move in any budget climate.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SO MUCH FOR JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
It is possible to put a positive spin on the jobs numbers for February, released on Friday. The unemployment rate, though still elevated at 9.7 percent, held steady. The economy shed 36,000 jobs last month, but the pace of job loss is moderating. An average of 27,000 jobs have been lost each month over the past four months, compared with 727,000 jobs a month, on average, over the same period a year earlier.
But a positive note is, sadly, premature. The job market may be hitting bottom, but it seems likely to remain mired there. And despite the insistence that their top three priorities are jobs, jobs, jobs, Congress and the Obama administration aren't doing enough to create them.
With the latest monthly tally, 8.4 million jobs have been lost since the recession began in December 2007. Another 2.7 million jobs needed to absorb new workers were never created, leaving the economy bereft of 11.1 million jobs. To fill that hole, while keeping up with a growing work force, would require more than 400,000 new jobs a month for three years wildly in excess of even the most optimistic projections.
Employers are unlikely to make new hires until they restore current workers to full time. In the private sector, just restoring hours cut during the recession will be like adding 2.8 million jobs, without a single hire.
Congress, meanwhile, has yet to pass a puny bill that is expected to create, at most, a few hundred thousand jobs this year. Over the next several months, the economy will get a temporary job boost from the census, which will hire some one million temporary workers.
The danger is that with stopgap measures boosting the headline job numbers, Congress and the administration will avoid the heavy lifting that is required to clear away the wreckage of the recession.
The big need now is to get another slug of fiscal aid to the states. Without another infusion, layoffs, on the wane in the private sector, will shift to the public sector. And as the states tighten, the private sector would be squeezed anew because lower state spending and higher state taxes would mean less consumer spending.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
REFEREEING THE HEALTH CARE DEBATE
Even before the health care showdown begins, Republican lawmakers have begun questioning the fairness of the Senate parliamentarian, the obscure but well respected career expert who must referee from the wings when points are challenged in floor debate.
The Republicans have done a great deal in the cause of obstructionism, but it's patently absurd to pick on the lawyerly, apolitical Alan Frumin. He has worked in the office for 33 years and has been accepted by both Republican and Democratic majorities to be the arbiter when appeals were made to Senate rules and tradition.
No one will envy the parliamentarian if the Democrats use the reconciliation process to restore majority rule 51 votes for approval on health care reform and foil endless Republican demands for 60-vote supermajorities. Reconciliation was created in 1974 as a budgetary prod and to restrain demagogic filibusters.
The Republicans used it repeatedly when they held the majority notably to pass the previous Bush administration's huge upper-bracket tax cuts that helped balloon the budget deficits that are suddenly such a concern to the same Republicans.
"Is there something wrong with majority rules?" asked Senator Judd Gregg when he was in the Republican majority opposing a Democratic filibuster to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling. Now Mr. Gregg denounces reconciliation as an underhanded violation of the will of the people.
He insists that it has never been used for installing such a sweeping program. But that is not true. The health care bill has already been approved by a 60-vote majority. The coming debate will be over amendments. Beyond that, reconciliation was a tool in such major changes as welfare reform, children's health insurance and the balanced budget mandates of the 1990s.
Mr. Frumin is not the issue. The true issue is whether the long-delayed effort to reform health care will rise or fall on the merits.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
COPS VS. KIDS
BY BOB HERBERT
If you don't think the police in New York City need to be reined in, consider the way the cops and their agents are treating youngsters in the city's schools.
In March 2009, a girl and a boy in the sixth grade at the Hunts Point School in the Bronx were fooling around and each drew a line on the other's desk with an erasable marker. The teacher told them to erase the lines, and the kids went to get tissues. This blew up into a major offense when school safety officers became involved.
The safety officers, who have been accused in many instances of mistreating children, are peace officers assigned to the schools. They wear uniforms, work for the New York Police Department and have the power to detain, search, handcuff and arrest students. They do not carry guns.
In this case, the officers seized the two pupils and handcuffed them. Before long, an armed police officer showed up to question the youngsters. The girl asked for her mother and began to cry. Tears were no defense in the minds of the brave New York City law enforcers surrounding this errant child. They were determined to keep the city safe from sixth graders armed with Magic Markers.
The children were transported in handcuffs to the local precinct.
The girl in that case is one of five plaintiffs in a federal class-action lawsuit filed against the city by the New York Civil Liberties Union. The suit alleges widespread mistreatment of public school students by safety officers and the police. New York City schoolchildren are often arrested, the suit charges, for minor misbehavior that might be a violation of school rules but is in no way a violation of law.
Just last month, a 12-year-old girl at a junior high school in Queens was arrested for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. She was paraded out of school in handcuffs and taken to a precinct stationhouse. She wept, too.
When asked about that case, a spokesman for Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said "common sense should prevail" when decisions are made about whether to handcuff and arrest students. But common sense is frequently in short supply when the safety officers and the police are imposing their will on students who are not lawbreakers.
The lawsuit, for example, refers to a case that occurred in the fall of 2008, when a school safety officer kicked in the door of a stall in the boys' bathroom at Robert F. Kennedy Community High School in Queens. The student in the stall, who had done nothing wrong, was hit in the head by the door and injured. The safety officer is alleged in court papers to have said: "That's life. It will stop bleeding."
The boy's family sued the city and a settlement of $55,500 was reached.
In January 2008, a 5-year-old kindergarten pupil became unruly at a public school in Queens. A public safety officer, seeing her duty, pounced. She handcuffed the boy who was then shipped off to a hospital psychiatric ward. A 5-year-old!
Was that child perhaps traumatized by the way he was treated? Hey, it's the price you pay if the city is to be defended against unruly 5-year-olds. After a few hours the boy was released into the arms of his mother.
These are all incidents that are familiar, or should be familiar, to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who went out of his way to demand control of the public schools, and Mr. Kelly, who is in charge of the police and the school safety officers. But we don't hear much from them about the abuse of children in the public schools. They'll crow at the drop of a hat about crime going down. But when the abuse of innocent children is up for discussion, their silence is something to behold.
One of the plaintiffs in the Civil Liberties Union lawsuit was a 10th grader at Hillcrest High School in Queens in 2008 when he was arrested by school safety officers. During a gym class, according the suit, the boy was asked by a classmate to pass a cellphone to another classmate. Cellphones are not permitted in the schools.
When confronted by safety officers, the boy tried to explain that he had merely passed the phone to someone else, and he insisted that he did not want to be touched or searched. But he was pushed into a storage room, the suit says, and forcibly searched. The suit alleges that he was also beaten, punched in the face, forehead and elsewhere.
No cellphone was found, but an ambulance had to be called. A recommendation by the safety officers that the boy be given a psychiatric examination was apparently ignored. All charges were dropped.
Charles M. Blow and Gail Collins are off today.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TRADING AWAY PRODUCTIVITY
BY ALAN TONELSON AND KEVIN L. KEARNS
FOR a quarter-century, American economic policy has assumed that the keys to durable national prosperity are deregulation, free trade and a swift transition to a post-industrial, services-dominated future.
Such policies, advocates say, drive innovation, which leads to enormous labor productivity and wage gains more than enough, supposedly, to make up for the labor disruptions that accompany free trade and de-industrialization.
In reality, though, wage gains for the average worker have lagged behind productivity since the early 1980s, a situation that free-traders usually attribute to workers failing to retrain themselves after seeing their jobs outsourced.
But what if wages lag because productivity itself is being grossly overstated, especially in the nation's manufacturing sector? Then, suddenly, a cornerstone of American economic policy would begin to crumble.
Productivity measures how many worker hours are needed for a given unit of output during a given time period; when hours fall relative to output, labor productivity increases. In 2009, the data show, Americans needed 40 percent fewer hours to produce the same unit of output as in 1980.
But there's a problem: labor productivity figures, which are calculated by the Labor Department, count only worker hours in America, even though American-owned factories and labs have been steadily transplanted overseas, and foreign workers have contributed significantly to the final products counted in productivity measures.
The result is an apparent drop in the number of worker hours required to produce goods and thus increased
productivity. But actually, the total number of worker hours does not necessarily change.
This oversight is no secret: as Labor Department officials acknowledged at a 2004 conference, their statistical methods deem any reduction in the work that goes into creating a specific unit of output, whatever the cause, to be a productivity gain.
This continuing mismeasurement leads economists and all those who rely on them to assume that recorded productivity gains always signify greater efficiency, rather than simple offshoring-generated cost cuts leaving the rest of us scratching our heads over stagnating wages.
Of course, just because productivity is mismeasured doesn't mean that genuine innovations can't improve living standards. It does mean, however, that Americans are flying blind when it comes to their economy's strengths and weaknesses, and consequently drawing the wrong policy lessons.
Above all, if offshoring has been driving much of our supposed productivity gains, then the case for complete free trade begins to erode. If often such policies simply increase corporate profits at the expense of American workers, with no gains in true productivity, then they don't necessarily strengthen the national economy.
In this regard, the case for free trade as a stimulus for innovation weakens, too. Because productivity gains in part reflect job offshoring, not just the benefits of technology or better business practices, then the American economy has been much less innovative than widely assumed.
How can we actually increase innovation and real productivity? Manufacturing, long slighted by free-market extremists, needs to be promoted, not pushed offshore, since it has historically accounted for the bulk of research and development spending and employs the bulk of American science and technology workers who in turn spur further innovation and real productivity.
Promoting manufacturing will require major changes in tax and trade policies that currently foster offshoring, including implementing provisions to punish currency manipulation by countries like China and help American producers harmed by discriminatory foreign value-added tax systems. It also means revitalizing government and corporate research and development, which has languished since its heyday in the 1960s.
Much of government policy and business strategy rides on false assumptions about innovation, and although the Obama administration acknowledges the problem, it has done nothing to correct it. With the economy still in need of government life support and the future of American manufacturing in doubt, relying on faulty productivity data is a formula for disaster.
Alan Tonelson, a fellow at the United States Business and Industry Council, is the author of "The Race to the Bottom." Kevin L. Kearns is the president of the council, which is an association of small manufacturers.
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
TRUE TO FORM
Continuing the long tradition of rewarding bad behaviour the government has promoted three officials of the National Highway Authority (NHA) who were held responsible for the collapse of the Shershah bridge. It is now two and a half years since the bridge on the Karachi Northern Bypass fell killing six people and incurring millions of rupees of loss. Presumably it is felt that the memory of the collapse and the findings of the subsequent enquiry have faded sufficiently in the public mind for some of those held responsible to be rehabilitated. Thus we find that Altaf Ahmed Chaudhry has been made the chairman of the NHA, Yousuf Barakzai is now member construction, and Raja Nowsherwan member operations. All three were named in the 58-page report on the incident, and were members of a group of six senior NHA office-holders who were held responsible along with the consultancy firm, ECIL, they jointly owned.
Equally true to form all concerned are making statements to the effect that none of anything was their fault, they were not remotely responsible for anything that smacked of mismanagement or misuse of power and position, and even were the faulty flyover to have been constructed with plastic bags and Elfy glue it was done without their knowledge or permission. Once again public servants fall face-down in the sewage but manage to stand up again smelling of violets. Every kind of bureaucratic circumlocution has been employed to justify the promotion of these men whose careers now continue as if nothing had ever happened. Once again responsibility has been avoided, accountability knifed in the back and its body dumped (probably under a dodgy flyover) and the distinct impression gained that somebody, somewhere, has got away with it yet again. The enquiry report named the NHA and its members and the ECIL as the responsible parties in this woeful affair. None of those named has yet chosen to challenge the findings of the enquiry which in a world other than Planet Pakistan might have been assumed to be almost an acceptance of responsibility. If there is a moral to the story it is to always look both ways before crossing the road; and when you have done that have a close look at the surface of the road you are about to cross and if you spot widening cracks run for your life.
I. THE NEWS
The reconstitution of the Council of Common Interests by the president, on the prime minister's advice, marks a continuing commitment to introducing greater provincial harmony within the federation. The CCI, comprising the prime minister, the four chief ministers and other key federal ministers, has the potential to help work out many of the issues that currently divide the units. The fact that sensible dialogue geared towards the building of consensus can indeed be achieved was demonstrated recently by the successful finalisation of the NFC Award for the first time in many years. The differences that exist among the provinces over the share of water, the use of resources and other issues have over the decades acted to weaken the country. One reason for this has been the consistent failure to make effective use of bodies such as the CCI. Running a federation is a business that will always require considerable tact and the ability to talk over issues. It is vital that smaller units be given a voice; when this does not happen, we see dramatic events such as the break-up in 1991 of the former Soviet Union.
Pakistan has faced tensions that are in some ways at least as bitter as those seen in that country. The unrest we see in Balochistan is just one example of this. Nationalist feelings simmer on too in Sindh, NWFP and even in southern Punjab. Ignoring these sentiments will not make them go away. It is important then that matters facing the provinces are not skirted around but addressed head-on. The CCI offers one forum to do just this. It should be used as the focal point around which to build a new unity within the federation. This can best be achieved by allowing differences to be aired and hearing all the various opinions that exist. This step is indeed crucial to defining what the common interest of the federating units is.
I. THE NEWS
Pakistan has internationally become known as one of the most dangerous places on earth because of the terrorism that has so badly shaken it. But the fact is that we are facing a far wider breakdown of law and order. Indeed, even more than bomb blasts, crime presents the biggest threat to most people. Thousands confront it each year in one form or the other, both on the streets and in their homes; many cases are not reported since the victims fear the police as much as the criminals or believe there is little to be gained from lodging a formal complaint.
The high-profile abduction of a small boy from the UK visiting family in the town of Gujjar Khan and the ransom of 100,000 pounds highlight the extent of how bad things have become. The security apparatus is no longer able to perform its primary function of protecting people. This has indeed been the case for many years in parts of the Jehlum district, and in other areas of Punjab, which are now known as dens of criminal elements. The failure to tackle them has allowed them to become bolder and carry out more and more audacious offences. The alleged involvement of the police with some of these gangs means the line between law-enforcers and the perpetrators of crime is a very thin one. We all hope and pray that the five-year-old Sahil Saeed will safely be reunited with his distraught parents. The case has immediately drawn the attention of top officials, given that it involves a foreign national. But the reality is that more such cases will occur unless wider-ranging action is initiated. This must include re-introduction of rule of law and sending out of a message to people about a commitment to assert it equally and evenly.
I. THE NEWS
IT SHOULD BE MORE THAN A CHARADE
If the events of the past week are any indication, our policymakers have to be delusional to harbour any hope of a meaningful dialogue with India on Kashmir or on the incrementally desperate water dispute. As if the cold shoulder given to Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir by his Indian counterpart, Nirupama Rao, was not enough, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recently concluded visit to Saudi Arabia was the mea culpa.
It has become abundantly clear that we might consider Kashmir to be the core issue to be discussed with New Delhi, the Indian leadership considers "Pakistan-based Islamic terrorists" its core concern. The resumption of composite dialogue has been predicated with "Islamabad's response over combating terrorism."
Washington's pressure on New Delhi to resume a meaningful dialogue with Islamabad, stalled since the Mumbai attack in November 2008, has been cleverly deflected by the Indian prime minister's recent sojourn to Riyadh, the first by an Indian leader since 1982. Manmohan Singh sweet-talked his way in his meeting with King Abdullah. While addressing Saudi Arabia's quasi-parliament, the Shura Council, he made the right noises about ties with Pakistan, with the caveat that Islamabad acted decisively against terrorism.
In response, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal urged the Pakistani leaders to forge unity amongst themselves to thwart the menace of terrorism. It is indeed ironical that the main patron of Islamic fundamentalism in our region now lectures Pakistan on how to "thwart the designs of the extremists." The unkindest cut for Islamabad is the fact that this hectoring was done during a meeting with Indian journalists accompanying their prime minister.
It is an open secret in Islamabad that since the present government took over two years ago, Pakistani-Saudi relations have been downhill. At the outset the Saudis felt annoyed and humiliated when a tract of "shikargah" was awarded to members of the UAE royal family which they considered to be theirs. Incidentally, the Saudi hosts made no mention of resolving the Kashmir issue during the visit of the Indian prime minister.
A perception has been created that since the Bhuttos spent their years in exile in Dubai and the Sharifs in Jeddah, President Zardari has tilted in favour of his UAE benefactors at the expense of Islamabad's traditional friend. Islamabad's failure in getting oil from the kingdom on deferred terms and Riyadh's lack of enthusiasm to contribute to the "Friends of Pakistan" is another indicator of Pakistan's diminished influence over the Saudis.
There has been a storm in a teacup over Indian minister of state for external affairs Sashi Tharoor's reported statement that New Delhi had sought "mediation" by Saudi Arabia to urge Pakistan to check cross-border terrorism. The junior minister who was accompanying Manmohan Singh understandably backed off to save his job.
New Delhi has consistently stuck to its novel stance that the Simla Accord precludes third-party and multilateral mediation over Kashmir. It is owing to this reason that New Delhi successfully persuaded the US to exclude India from the agenda of President Obama's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. Hence the US is euphemistically referred to as a "facilitator" to bring India and Pakistan close, albeit with mixed results
Notwithstanding the Pakistani army's recent successful onslaught against the Taliban, wiping out not only the TTP but also half the Quetta Shura, it still considers India as an existential threat. It is in this backdrop that Washington has been urging New Delhi to resume the composite dialogue with Islamabad. But under no pressure or in a hurry to start meaningful talks the Indians have very successfully put the whole onus on Islamabad to deliver on their self-serving interpretation of terrorism.
Islamabad states ad nauseam that as a victim of terrorism itself, its army has fought valiantly to combat the menace. During the past year the Taliban and their allied groups carried out 87 suicide attacks inside Pakistan, killing at least 1,300 people, mostly civilians. But New Delhi is not amused. Its media pins every terrorist incident inside India on Pakistan-based militant organisations. The Taliban consistently targeting the Indians in Afghanistan, especially its army personnel, is also somehow pinned on the much-feared and much-maligned ISI.
The Indians have handed over three dossiers to Pakistan regarding alleged anti- India activities by militants operating from Pakistan. In this context there is a consistent demand to arrest Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the banned Lashker-e-Taiba (LeT). Islamabad, on the other hand, claims that there is not sufficient evidence to arrest, let alone try, Hafiz Saeed. And the rub lies in Pakistan's sincerity coming under increasing doubt in dealing with India- and Kashmir-specific militants.
The Taliban regime's last ambassador to Islamabad has recently published a book. My Life with the Taliban makes startling revelations about relations with the ISI. According to Zaeef, late in 2001, as the US prepared to attack Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, the ISI's then commanding general, Mehmud Ahmed, visited him, wept in solidarity and promised: "We want to assure you that you will not be alone in this jihad against America. We will be with you." Ironically, it is the same general who, on a visit to Washington at the time of 9/11, readily agreed to all the preconditions of the US, even without consulting his boss General Musharraf in Islamabad.
Since then a lot has changed. The military under its present leadership has achieved spectacular success against the Taliban in the past one year. In some ways, no matter how much things change they remain the same. There are still amongst our ubiquitous establishment who insist upon maintaining the myth of good and bad Taliban. They also stick to the antiquated doctrine that Afghanistan is our strategic depth.
The Pakistani army is unapologetic about maintaining an India-centric policy. Nor does New Delhi's aggressive posture give Islamabad any reason to alter its strategic paradigm. Perhaps the only way forward is to resolve outstanding disputes through meaningful talks, rather than belligerency and clandestine wars. There is the lunatic fringe in both the countries that still thinks that a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours is still an option.
The Indian political establishment is bent upon bleeding Pakistan's already emaciated economy by keeping the pot boiling, and to further intimidate Islamabad the Indian generals have recently unveiled their cold start war strategy. In this scenario, barring a miracle, nothing much is going to be achieved in future talks. The only silver lining on the horizon is that no matter how meaningless it is, both sides have agreed to continue with dialogue. The Indian foreign secretary has been invited to Islamabad, while the prime ministers of the two countries will meet on the sidelines of the SAARC summit due next month in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan.
But these talks, in the absence of a framework and without the political will, are going to be nothing more than a charade to keep the facilitators of the process at bay. In the meanwhile an economy-driven agenda to bring prosperity to the hapless poor of the subcontinent will remain a pipedream to be continually sacrificed at the altar of the myopic thinking of the hardliners and hawks on both sides of the divide.
The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
A TRANSFORMED KABUL?
Being a Pakistani of Afghan origin, I have never missed an opportunity to visit Kabul because of my love for the city and its people. However, every time I visited there, I felt a change in the city's political ambience. This time around the change was both novel and pleasant.
My latest visit to Kabul was aimed at recording Afghan leaders' interviews for a special edition of Geo's current affairs programme "Jirga" and interactive sessions with the vice chancellor of Kabul University, teachers and civil society leaders under the auspices of the German foundation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. In the month of February last year, the chilling cold spell due to heavy snowfall had made life difficult in the city. However, now the light snowfall had given way to pleasant weather in Kabul. For the three days over there, clear blue skies and pleasant weather could hardly be resisted for enjoyment.
The really heartening change was the positive attitude towards Pakistan. From Hamid Karzai to his national security advisor, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, to education minister Farooq Wardag to members of parliament from the North, everyone avoided talking about Pakistan in a negative tone. Unlike in the past, this time my requests for an interview for Geo News elicited positive responses from all the Afghan leaders from the North, including Doctor Ramzan Bashar Dost, a presidential candidate in the previous election. The latter not only happily appeared on "JIrga" on short notice, but also avoided voicing his traditional hard stance on Pakistan.
Unlike in the past when Afghan friends would avoid a visit to the Pakistani embassy in Kabul despite repeated requests, most Afghan leaders and journalists not only met the Pakistani ambassador in crowded meetings but also tried to establish a good relationship with him.
On the day we arrived in Kabul, Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq had just returned from a visit to northern Afghanistan. He told me that he had visited all northern provinces where the unbelievably warm receptions in his honour impressed him.
President Karzai afforded me an opportunity of a detailed meeting on short notice. During the meeting, I insisted on a formal interview. However, the president preferred an informal discussion lest an inadvertent reference to "any issue, God forbid, harm the improving relations between the two countries." However, in the final moments of our meeting, I took him to a formal interview. To all my questions, the president offered only one answer: Kabul was ready to go to any extent in fostering dependable good-neighbourly relations with the people and government of Pakistan. On the issue of Mullah Beradar, he said he hoped that Pakistan will send him to Afghanistan, without demanding that Islamabad extradite him. He was non-committal on the issue of Mullah Berdar's trial in Kabul or his possible use in the planned reconciliation process with the Taliban.
The residents of Kabul have always hated the US presence in Afghanistan. This attitude, which translates into awareness that rapprochement with Pakistan is require, has infected the leadership in Kabul as well. Some government leaders are using the same language against the US as Gulbadin Hikmatyar and Mulla Muhammad Umar.
In the discussion with Hamid Karzai, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta and some presidential staff were also in attendance. My criticism of US policies towards the region did not evoke a single word of contradiction from President Karzai. Similarly, the president did not reject my assertion that the presence of the US in the region was the root cause of problems and the US and India had played a negative role in creating misunderstanding between Pakistan and Afghanistan. I also reminded Karzai that he and Musharraf, instead of understanding the US mission of instigating a perpetual downslide in relations between our two countries, had introduced into the equation for achieving the opposite. But now Kabul and Islamabad must set together for a fruitful dialogue and shut their doors to third-party intervention. This suggestion was received well.
At the call to Maghreb prayer, Karzai took me to the mosque. After the prayers, Karzai was all praise for the architectural beauty and vastness of Faisal Mosque. Nostalgically, he remembered enjoying his prayers in this mosque during his stay in Islamabad.
I was thinking as to how long Karzai, a practicing Muslim, would remain in the good books of the US and its Western allies. Perhaps, the secular allies and friends failed the religious president's attempts at bringing peace and stability to the country through reconciliation with estranged Afghan groups with religious credentials and nomenclatures.
Perhaps, a transformed Karzai is now more willing for reconciliation with these groups. But the-million-dollar question is: will his friends and allies allow him to do this? And more importantly, are the religious forces, Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami, ready to respond to such overtures?
In response to Karzai's praise for Faisal Mosque, I told him that this symbol of heavenly love is open for a warm welcome to the president if the journey to Islamabad takes the shorter route via Torkham and not Washington. In a lighter mood, he retorted that one should also offer the same advice to Islamabad. Sarcastically, I told him that we used to call Karzai a mayor of Kabul, having no control on the rest of the country. But now the facts seem in reverse gear; Kabul's writ is spreading out of the city's bound towards far-flung provinces, while our president wears the mantle of Islamabad's mayor. Factually, being imprisoned in a five-star hotel called the Presidency and accessible to few men, the latter cannot even claim to be a mayor of Islamabad.
However, on few and far between opportunities, I have unsparingly requested the occupants of the GHQ and presidential palace to kindly take the route to Kabul via Torkham and not Washington.
The writer works for Geo TV. Email: saleem .firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
CAN THE TALKS AFFORD TO FAIL?
As the secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan wound down to an unceremonious finish, headlines all over the world scrambled to draw a red line between success or failure. The Indian prime minister's remarks in Riyadh brought some emollient to a crusty diplomatic stand-off, while the terrorism message still hung in the balance. Islamabad's response to coercive diplomacy remained cool.
Despite all the posturing, both sides are well aware of the need for talks to go on. New Delhi and Islamabad know that they need to negotiate a shade of grey that invests in the process as much as its progress. At the foreign secretary encounter, no date was announced for the resumption of dialogue, but no closure was stated either. The fact that there was no joint press conference, or even communiqué, brought forth alarm from all over the globe.
No surprises, actually. Did anyone really think that the two countries' top diplomats were mandated for even a minor breakthrough? After three major wars, two smaller battles, and a half century of conflict and bitterness, choices for change are not made at any level less than the head of governments. The SAARC summit is where contact can be made between the leaders of both the nations, where ice can either begin thawing, or can reinforce the culture of rivalry.
Despite New Dehli's public recoil at the suggestion of international mediation, there are clearly more than two players involved in this dialogue. In fact, with Saudi Arabia now so overtly drawn into the fray by India, despite protestations to the contrary, the question to be asked is this: why are so many countries invested in this dialogue, and how far can they go in this limited options menu?
Enmity between the two South Asian nuclear countries has always drawn international attention, and in fact, the United States, and the UK have a long history of mediation both behind the scenes and inside the room. They only ceased to mediate institutionally when, after the Simla Treaty, Indian intransigence on bilateralism, as well as a serious erosion of their own diplomatic positions in South Asia followed frustrated missions. Since then, all the US' efforts have been focused on crisis-management between the two nuclear neighbours.
The perennial motive for the US' crisis management was of course to stabilise a region that Washington saw as the most dangerous nuclear flashpoint in the world. Kashmir too, was in fact, feared as a festering sore that could trigger a nuclear Armageddon, as late as President Clinton. But New Delhi's growing economic clout with American markets and its links with influential Israeli caucuses tipped the balance during the Bush years, enough to provoke an arms race in South Asia by signing the US-India nuclear deal. Islamabad found little reprieve in this new strategic framework even under the Obama Administration, when it was forced to accept the fact that New Delhi was able to make Washington drop Kashmir from its special representative's agenda in the region.
Recently, though, a whole range of tectonic political plates in the entire region have begun to shift. The new motive for international interest in stabilising the shifting sands between India and Pakistan has to do with the US policy failures, and fear of further defeat, in Afghanistan. As a state with the longest border with Afghanistan, and human intelligence that can deliver ground victories, Pakistan has successfully begun leveraging its role as the key neighbour in Afghanistan, by redefining the contours of the conflict in a theatre where almost all counterinsurgency plans by the US-NATO alliance have gone pear-shaped.
The stakes for the US to at least reverse the momentum of the Taliban in Afghanistan are very high. Even if such a reversal is temporary, and gives American soldiers an opportunity for a half-way draw-down in 14 months, the Obama presidency would at least be saved from the prospect of an election year quagmire. Which makes the bottom line suddenly very opportune for Islamabad, where it seems as if the only game-changer in the battlefield can now be a shift in anti-Taliban operations across the Durand Line. The reality is that by arresting over much of the dreaded Quetta Shura Taliban, Islamabad has demonstrated that it can swoop down tactically where the US has been unable to tread, and that if given the right strategic incentive, it can draw down on fresh reserves of political will.
Yet if the road to Kabul lies through Kashmir, it is a long way to go. Pakistan has clearly shifted some of its threat perception towards new enemies, but that shift will not yield policy traction if substantial changes don't appear on the Indo-Pak conflict template. New Delhi is still overtly allergic to international players entering the room, more so when Kashmir is flagged. Although New Delhi denies it, there is betting all around that the US has played a quiet role in bringing the two nuclear adversaries to the table, and little money on the talks going further without more prodding.
Even though the Indian minister for external affairs, Shashi Tharoor, was quick to debunk any invitations of Saudi mediation, New Delhi's interest in engaging Riyadh for leaning on Islamabad was very open. In the larger framework of dialogue-resumption, New Delhi was once again making noises about conditionalities for talks, such as a "terror-free environment", yet the pattern of engaging potential trade allies such as Saudi Arabia in the game means that India is seeking a seat at the Afghan negotiating table, as well as making space for dialogue with Pakistan. At the same time, by signing new trade agreements and MoUs with Riyadh, New Delhi is seeking to hedge its relationships further as bilateral encounters, hoping to leave less room for the Pak-Saudi dynamic to bog down its trade deficit with its biggest oil-import source.
As it stands, the motors that work to tip the scales on this razor-edge between war and peace are predictably already at work. Almost as soon Pakistan's foreign secretary, Salman Bashir, crossed the Wagah border into Lahore, the debris from the Taliban attack in Kabul, where Indians were also killed among others, infected the air. The Jaish-e-Mohammad spokesman disclaimed their hand in it, but the terrorists who always seek to disrupt talks reminded everyone how they can affect both headlines and deadlines in this terrain. At the same time, New Delhi chose a bad moment to test its $32 billion war machine and its readiness near the Pakistan border. Nor did it invite Islamabad's military attaché to witness the exercises, when 30 others were called in as observers. But in the mixed signalling so typical of both players to this tango, the Indian PM continued to keep one channel open by stating that there is no alternative to dialogue with Pakistan.
So what are the prospects for building the "greater trust" that both players seek in such a fraught environment? If New Delhi wants bilateralism to succeed, it must seize this opportunity to move out of a dangerous curve in the neighbourhood. Islamabad too, must wake up to its responsibilities and finish what it started at cleaning up terrorist outfits at home. India must not let insecurity fuel its responses because it sees itself strategically finessed out of the formal Afghanistan endgame. In any matrix for regional stabilisation, New Delhi will still remain a major player. It is the one looking most skittish now, and if the talks flounder on the old bedrock of bilateral posturing, the entire region will pay the price in further instability and greater international meddling.
The writer is a former federal information minister. She is currently a member of the parliament's National Security Committee.
I. THE NEWS
A NEW MOVE ON APPOINTING JUDGES
The Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms headed by Senator Raza Rabbani has published its proposal for amending the mechanism for appointing judges to the Superior Courts. The new constitutional mechanism being proposed is commendable for striking an appropriate balance between (i) the formal principles of the Constitution, such as trichotomy, federalism, separation of powers, parliamentary form of democracy and independence of the judiciary, (ii) the functional realities of our justice system and the process of selecting judges that we are presently accustomed to, and (iii) the dictates of transparency, rigour and due process.
Our present system of judicial appointments is broken, as evident during the mini-crisis over appointment of judges a few weeks ago. Under the existing text of the Constitution and the manner in which the courts have interpreted it, the concept of the executive branch's "consultation" with the chief justice has come to mean seeking the "consent" of the chief justice. Further, the Al Jihad, Malik Asad Ali and the Supreme Court Bar Association rulings that address the issue of judicial appointments view the chief justice as pater familias (father of the family), whose discretion in selecting and nominating individuals for judicial office is beyond question.
Conferring the title of pater familias on the chief justice fits right into our social culture of sycophancy and personal patronage, institutional culture of arbitrary discretion and political culture of autocracy. It is unfortunate that our apex court, in all its wisdom, found such an archaic feudal concept of Roman origin (that placed all the members and properties of the household within the exclusive authority of the head of the family and owner of the estate) befitting for the office of chief justice. By holding that the chief justice is under no obligation to solicit the advice of his peers in making judicial nominations and further making his recommendations binding on the executive, we have injected excessive arbitrariness into our judicial appointment mechanism.
Under the Rabbani formula, it will be a judicial commission comprising the chief justice, two senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, the law minister, the attorney general and a lawyer nominated by the Pakistan Bar Council making judicial nominations for the Superior Courts. In case of nominations to the High Courts, the chief justice and the senior-most judge of the relevant High Court, together with the provincial law minister and a nominee of the provincial bar council will also form part of the judicial commission.
The judicial commission will recommend one individual for each vacancy by majority vote. In the second stage, the judicial commission will send nominations to an eight-member parliamentary committee that will comprise an equal number of members from the Senate and the National Assembly. The parliamentary committee will only be able to block a nomination made by the judicial commission with a three-fourth majority. If the committee doesn't cast an up or down vote within 14 days, the nominations will be deemed confirmed and sent to the president for notification, who will have no discretion in the matter.
The Rabbani Committee deserves compliments for proposing a transparent and deliberative mechanism for judicial appointments. In determining the composition of the judicial commission for the first stage of the appointment process, it seeks to include the right mix of expertise to find and assess judicial nominees, gives the judiciary a predominant voice in the process, but not a veto, and provides representation to the executive and the bar council.
In a sense, the proposed mechanism assimilates the strength of the present system by endowing the judiciary with the primary responsibility of identifying lawyers with legal acumen and potential for elevation to the bench. But by requiring the judicial members of the commission to take along either the nominee of the bar or the representatives of the executive it ensures that the process will be more consensus-oriented, the judiciary will be unable to bulldoze patently unreasonable nominations and no one individual or institution will have unfettered discretion in selecting judges.
In the second step of the nomination process, the parliamentary committee will be unable to block nominations of the judicial commission on partisan basis. The threshold for rejection has been kept so high that the mainstream parties will have to come together in a non-partisan manner to block the nominees of the judicial commission. This will probably happen only if the nominations are extremely egregious. Thus, if both mainstream political parties in parliament, together with the federal and provincial government, are of the view that appointing an individual to the bench will be an unmitigated disaster, the parliamentary committee could act as a safety valve.
The imposition of a stringent timeline on the parliamentary committee for consideration of judicial nominees will discourage the committee from using procedural delay as a negotiating tool with the judicial commission to influence its choice of nominees. In the ultimate resort, the parliamentary committee stage in the judicial appointment process will enhance accountability of the choices made by the judicial commission through disclosure and the glare of publicity that this process will attract.
There are two sets of criticisms likely against this proposed mechanism. The first is that judicial nominees should not be required to attend public hearings conducted by the parliamentary committee, for such publicity will impinge on the privacy of the nominees and allow members of parliament to settle scores and malign the un-favoured candidates even without the ability to block their elevation. Part of this concern is legitimate, especially in relation to the elevation of serving judges from the High Court to the Supreme Court. In such cases it would be preferable to have in camera proceedings that protect the credibility of the judicial office such candidates continue to hold.
But in relation to new appointments, such objection is mostly rooted in mistrust of democracy and a conceited view that members of parliament would know no better. There is, however, no reason in principle why nominees to high judicial offices should not be publicly questioned about their integrity and their approach to interpreting and implementing the law and the Constitution. The judiciary is neither representative nor accountable to the public, and its members are granted security of tenure and legal protection against personal criticism once in office. It would therefore be preferable for the system to err on the side of caution in selecting who gets to sit on the bench.
The second criticism is that diluting the authority of chief justice in selecting future judges would undermine judicial independence. This viewpoint springs from a fundamental misconception about judicial independence. Independence of the judiciary is meant to ensure that in performing judicial functions a judge is capable of acting as a neutral arbiter of the law, free from considerations of fear or favour. Such independence is instilled primarily by constitutional security of tenure. Allowing judges to select future judges by no means enhances judicial independence.
It does not matter who selects judges, so long as the process is transparent, sifts out unworthy candidates and picks individuals on the basis of integrity and merit. To the extent that serving judges are better placed to gauge the integrity and expertise of the lawyers appearing before them in courts, it makes sense to make them an integral part of the evaluation process. But while giving them a decisive say in excluding undesirable elements makes sense, vesting in them the arbitrary discretion over who must be included, does not. The proposed judicial nomination process is a step in the right direction. It distributes the discretionary powers of the chief justice more widely amongst his peers, marks a move away from the concept of pater familias to making the chief first among equals, and introduces a public accountability process that will encourage all stakeholders to support the best candidates for judicial positions.
I. THE NEWS
THE INDO-PAK STALEMATE
Black and white. Green and saffron. Right and wrong. These are the boundaries within which India and Pakistan continue to view each other. Our topography of lofty peaks and pitless oceans does a good job of typifying the gaps in our sentiments. Yet more imagery in contrasts played out few days ago, when at the conclusion of the Indo-Pak talks, both the Indian and the Pakistani foreign secretaries addressed separated press conferences, ostensibly directed at each one's home audience. Sharing the same podium, it seems, would have appeared too friendly, too conciliatory, surely too much like 'giving in'. And appearances, of course, must be kept, even as both sides agreed on continuing the process.
The latest round of talks between the two countries took place under such unusually low expectations that terming them a success or failure would be pointless. It is, however, not at all unusual for the Indo-Pak interactions to be wrapped around semantics rather than substance. And true to its tradition, each side carefully worded its respective stand, took a bow and retired until the next valuable opportunity to repeat the same may be created.
Yet another lesson in semantics was dispensed recently when the newly anointed junior Indian minister for external affairs, Shashi Tharoor, was squarely rounded off for suggesting that Saudi Arabia could act as an 'interlocutor' between India and Pakistan. Mr Tharoor was 'Tharoorly' ill-informed; words such as 'interlocutor' may not be used as they resound too close to 'mediation'- something that the government of India can't, won't and shan't accept! No, Mr Tharoor, that would have upset the apple-cart of 'bilateralism' in which all discomfiting matters can be buried!
So, while India enters into talks on the US prompting and seeks Saudi help in dealing with Pakistan, all in the name of 'non-mediation', why is there no outcome after all? Semantics offer us one suggestion. The India-Pakistan relations are steeped in such brutal history that even the subtlest hints of reconciliation send paroxysms through the vast contingents of hardliners present on both the sides. This complicated emotional syntax of the subcontinent manages to overwhelm rationality. In India, Prime Minister Manmohan's retort to President Zardari in Russia was to be celebrated, Sharm al Sheikh mourned and General Musharraf dismissed for his outspokenness in Agra. There was little by way of outcome at any of these gatherings, it was all about navigating the language. Self-preservation was tied to the ability of trouncing the other in a war of words. The upshot of such interactions is naturally limited then.
But there is another reason why talks between India and Pakistan amount to one step forward and then two steps backwards. A dialogue directly pitches India and Pakistan's stance on the 'core' issue of Kashmir against each other. New Delhi doesn't want to talk about Kashmir; it is quite content with the current status quo in which it controls over two-thirds of Kashmir with its army. It would happily accept the LoC as the international border or freeze the current status quo. The only concern is militancy, which India fails to acknowledge, stems from the disputed nature of the Kashmir issue and the recalcitrance of the Kashmiri leadership in clinging to their demand of 'self-determination'. When the going gets tough on these two counts then it is time to talk.
Thus, India comes to the talks table, but with a unifocal soliloquy on treating 'terrorism'. And now there are other compulsions, of course. In the current milieu India also wants to preserve its role in Afghanistan which is currently in jeopardy. It would hugely gain if a transit trade agreement allows it to transport goods to Afghanistan via Pakistan. In fact, trade with Pakistan itself would benefit it immensely. These are all good reasons to talk, but its contentment with its asphyxiating clutch on Kashmir prevents it from a serious ngagement which tackles the 'core' as well as the fringe variety of topics. It doesn't want mediation either which would likely hold a more balanced view of the situation.
There is more than a degree of denial to this approach though. Wishing away problems doesn't make them go away. The vocabulary of engagement is already changing in South Asia. On the west side, after years of battling the Taliban, the United States now talks of re-integrating them into the folds of society. In the east, the Indian Home Minister Chidambaram tells the Maoist rebels that he is ready to talk if they halt violence for three days. The Maoists in turn want a three day halt in what they term as 'state terror' against them. Clearly, using force and obduracy to yield results has its limits.
Now, it would help greatly if we all came to that realisation earlier than later. If we invest less jargon and more meaning to the Indo-Pak meets, then perhaps we may finally end up with more than a stalemate at our hands.
The writer is an independent journalist. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
Why must I continue to dwell on the VIPs? Only because they are a social evil number one. We need an antidote to the virus they suffer from, found only in the Third World. It's been largely eradicated from the developed world. Anyone inventing a cure deserves the Nobel Prize. The disease is as fatal as AIDS. It attacks healthy cells that produce a chemical called 'humility.' Our DNA, that differentiates us from every other human being, is made of molecules that store information. The DNA acts like a blueprint, or a recipe, or a code, grounded in our genes. No scientist to date has succeeded in identifying and separating the VIP virus from the genes of a person in power. His DNA is delusional, prompting him that his genes are superior to others around.
The VIP virus is very destructive. It brings out the worst in a human. The symptoms are common and very easy to detect: a bloated head; a swollen ego; a stiff neck; a facial smirk; an air of impertinence; a stuffy gravitas; and a cocksure gait.
Since the virus is contagious, anyone who was once a maja, saja, gama (Tom, Dick or Harry) but now elevated to a VIP status gets infected the moment he assumes power. He begins to suffer from symptoms mentioned above. He consciously isolates himself from friends and acquaintances who appear to be 'nobodies' and therefore deserve the VIP's scorn.
The VIP virus makes the sufferer delinquent, demented and deranged. He begins to imagine that he or she is destined for greatness; is God's chosen; is invulnerable; and is indispensable. No, I'm not only talking about our four army dictators Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf -- but also our civilian presidents and prime ministers: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and even Shaukat Aziz. They wouldn't let go of their chair.
President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani too have been infected with the VIP virus. Not only that but they have passed on the virus to their governors, chief ministers, ministers, ruling party parliamentarians, bureaucrats and heads of state-run organisations.
We have a full-scale epidemic of the virus and there's nothing we can do about it! We must suffer their hubris.
Remember the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George Bush during a press conference in Baghdad. He became an overnight hero for his people. And more recently the corrupt Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, got punched in the face. While his henchmen gave clichéd statements like, "Democracy is at risk in this country," (sounds familiar, doesn't it?) or that the punch is "an act of terrorism," the truth is that the Italians hate the guy. But the president is in denial. He told his hecklers: "You paint me as a monster, but I don't think I am one -- firstly because I am good-looking and secondly because I'm a good guy."
Ever heard of mob hysteria? It can turn very ugly. I strongly suggest that our VIPs try to lick the virus circulating in their bloodstream before they become the victims of mass hysteria. They can get hurt very badly. Don't try the patience of people already plagued with a broken-down system of governance and brazen corruption at all levels.
But I have good news to share with my readers. Senator Raza Rabbani has not been stricken with the VIP virus. Thank God for His small mercies. He's symptom-free! I wrote in my last column that a flagged Mercedes car waited for him at the apron as he alighted from the PIA aircraft that brought us to Islamabad from Karachi last Sunday. It now turns out that the couple I saw sit in the limousine was not Raza Rabbani but Senate Chairman Farooq Naek and his daughter. Does Naek hold this post only because he was Zardari's personal attorney fighting his corruption cases? Some VIP!
Email: anjumniaz@rocketmail .com
MYTH OF MARKET ACCESS
PRIME Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has once again called upon the European Union to give more market access to Pakistani goods. The demand was made during briefing to the ambassadors of the European Union, who visited Peshawar on Thursday to express solidarity with Pakistan in its fight against terror and President of the EU Gonzalo Maria Satavia gave an assurance that all the EU countries want to help promote trade with Pakistan including access to the quality Pakistani products to the European markets.
The demand for greater market access is in line with the policy of Pakistan to seek more trade than aid and the objective is to help the country stand on its own feet economically. It is understood that more exports would require intensified industrial activity that in turn would boost employment opportunities for our youth and in a way would also help tackle the most burning issue of extremism and terrorism. It is in this backdrop that Pakistani leaders have been urging both the United States and the European Union for more market access for Pakistani products and especially grant of GSP Plus status to the country by the EU for the purpose. We would, however, point out that the market access has become a mere buzzword for the government functionaries but it has lost relevance as far as ground realities are concerned. One fails to understand what our leaders and policy-makers meant by market access when we have hardly anything to offer even if EU and Americans wide open their markets for our goods. This is because industrial production in the country is not only stagnant but going down because of closure of industrial units due to different reasons. The law and order situation, which was already not satisfactory, has complicated because of the war on terror sending depressing signals to both local and foreign investors. There is crippling shortage of both electricity and gas forcing almost all industries to operate below their capacity and discouraging new entrepreneurs. And above all, the Government hikes rates of power and gas every now and then and that too without any justification, as a result of which products have become highly uncompetitive in the international market. In the present-day world, success in trade depends on competitiveness, quality, value addition and aggressive marketing and an overview would reveal we lack on almost all these accounts. It is time to concentrate on these aspects and if we succeed then our goods would themselves find necessary access to each and every corner of the globe and not just EU and the United States.
ANTI-PAKISTAN TIRADE BY INDIAN MEDIA
OF course, there is universal consensus in Pakistan that resolution of the Kashmir dispute was a must for a sustainable peace and friction-free relationship with neighbouring India, but an overwhelming majority of the public opinion favours establishment of good relations with the eastern neighbour. There are also scores of NGOs, so-called civil society organizations and even some sections of media who, day in and day out, plead this cause more aggressively.
As against this, there are numerous instances in the recent past that both Indian media and some extremist entities forced Indian Government to move away from the path of dialogue and discussions. It is known to all that it was the Indian media that yelled "sell out" to Pakistan following Sharam El-Sheikh meeting between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh where the two leaders agreed not to allow the issue of terrorism to block resumption of the composite dialogue process. Pakistan-bashing by Indian media continues unabated and it was bitterly experienced by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir during his recent visit to New Delhi, forcing him to urge the Indian leadership to take steps to address the rising anti-Pakistan sentiments in that country. The only exception when the Indian media failed to persuade its Government was immediately after the Mumbai incident when it sought attack on Pakistan but failed. Now the propaganda campaign against Pakistan has assumed new dimensions with reports from New Delhi that the communication technology is being used to churn out venomous and vicious propaganda against Pakistan. According to these reports, since January 21, 2010 an SMS is being received on the mobile phones to exercise extra care while calling anyone in Pakistan. Whenever a call is made to Pakistan, the caller receives an SMS "You just made a call to ISD Code 0092 (Pakistan). We urge you to exercise caution while calling unknown number and sharing personal details as it can be misused". Being commercial ventures, the cellular phone companies would never discourage their clients from dialing any number or destination until and unless directed by the Government. Therefore, there are reasons to believe that the campaign has been launched at the instance of the Government and this exposes intentions of the policy-makers in New Delhi. These new trends should be taken due care of by all those concerned in Islamabad.
RAILWAYS FAST GETTING DERAILED
ELSEWHERE in the world Railways have developed into a modern entity having technological and service excellence and that is why it is still the preferred mode of travel and transportation of goods. The world has also moved towards monorail, subways and bullet trains and the railways business is flourishing, contributing hugely to national economies.
In this backdrop, it is a pity that Pakistan Railways, despite its immense commercial potential, has become a huge burden on the national exchequer and its service has reached to the lowest ebb. The organization is incurring huge losses and according to the incumbent Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Rs 200 billion worth of investment is urgently needed for its survival. This shows to what extent the deterioration has plagued the once fine Department of the country and the need to take urgent measures to find a solution. Injection of Rs 200 billion is unlikely to make any difference if basic problems confronting Pakistan Railways are not addressed seriously because in the past too the Government provided billions of rupees to the organization but no one knows where they have gone. Railways has become a white elephant and those at the helm of affairs seem to be not fully alive to the magnitude of the problem and the way out. Why is it that the Railways, which has no rival of the kind is suffering losses despite the fact that it has no dearth of clientele be it passengers or transportation of goods. One hardly gets railway ticket for the desired date, timing and the train but even then the Railways is incurring losses. The causes are known but no one is ready to take the bold steps to rectify the situation. There are thousands of employees in Railways who are doing nothing but getting salaries alone, billions of rupees are digested in granting licences and contracts of different sorts; locomotives, freight wagons and coaches are procured from abroad every now and then for the sake of commissions and kick-backs, no efforts are made for improving local manufacturing; only lip-service is paid to improvement of railway track, signalling system and different services; facility-less trains are haunting passengers; black-marketing of tickets is still there; some departments are misusing Railways resources without paying anything or negligible amounts and trains are not run on profitable routes just to benefit the private sector transport. These are only few instances of what is going on in the Department and many of these ills do not need investment but will, hard work and honesty to treat them.
UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL!
On 14th August 1947, Pakistanis achieved their cherished goal of freedom and established Pakistan as an independent sovereign State, where they could live freely with honour, dignity and self-respect. God blessed Pakistan with enormous wealth, resources, potentialities and possibilities. To utilize these gifts, God provided talented, committed and enterprising people, possessing a vision, ability and devotion. Every Pakistani had the opportunity to contribute towards his homeland by serving it honestly, sincerely and selflessly thus leading his homeland towards progress, prosperity and development.
The early departure of Quaid-e-Azam left Pakistan in a state of quandary. Every successive government was worse than the other; each blamed the other for its deceptive and destructive policies. The previous being the devil and the current pristine. This tug of war weakened institutions and law and order. Intolerance grew giving birth to sectarianism and discrimination between caste, creed and communities. Government after government shelved national wellbeing and worked towards personal and vested interests. Those who were against the creation of Pakistan became the ruling class. To perpetuate their rule, they trampled fundamental law, morals, values, principles, traditions, discipline and code of conduct.
The issues held dear by the Quaid, national integrity, social justice, faith and supremacy of law were shrouded. The Quaid's image was modified to suit the dubious ends of our time tested, tried and failed politicians. This cliché took over the State and ruled over it like a colony imposing its rule on the slaves hapless people. Lacking originality, vision, sincerity and having no notion of governance, leave alone good governance, unleashed a reign of confusion. Our social and religious ideology succumbed to pressures and quick fixes. Consequently, it was misconstrued and adjusted according to circumstances. Democracy suffered at the hands of civil and military oligarchs. A reign of corruption, favouritism and personal aggrandizement was unleashed, killing merit, competence and professionalism. Infringement and contravention sowed the seeds of provincialism and sectarianism. Instead of galvanizing the people towards national integrity and following the Quaid's motto of unity, faith and discipline, dissension and diversion, set in. Loot and plunder of the State's riches continued by mercenaries, the rich became richer and the poor became poorer thus with the passage of time an unbridgeable gulf between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' widened.
The Quaid found it painful to see the curse of provincialism holding sway over Pakistan. It was imperative to get rid of this evil which he considered a relic of the old administration when people clung to provincial autonomy and local liberty of action to avoid British control. After the creation of Pakistan, having one's own central government, it was a folly to continue to think in the same terms. This is truth easily forgotten by people who begin to prize local, sectional or provincial interest above national interests. In the words of the Quaid, "Local attachments have their value but what is the value and strength of a part, except within a whole." He further emphasized, "Our duty to the State comes first; our duty to our province, to our district, to our town and to our village and ourselves comes next." On another occasion he stated, "You must learn to distinguish between your love for your province and your love and duty to the State as a whole, our duty to the State takes us a stage beyond provincialism. It demands a broader sense of vision and greater sense of patriotism." He asked to pause and consider before taking any step whether it would be conditioned by ones personal or local likes or would be determined by consideration of the good of the State: "Representative governments and representative institutions are no doubt good and desirable, but when people want to reduce them merely to channels of personal aggrandizement, they not only lose their value but earn a bad name." A bright future lay ahead if individuals, both officials and non-officials, play their part and work in this spirit. Pakistan would emerge as one of the greatest nations of the world.
While talking on the subject of sectarianism, the Quaid declared, "If you want to build up yourself into a Nation, for god's sake give up this provincialism. Provincialism has been one of the curses; and so is sectionalism Shia, Sunni etc." He warned the Nation not to fall into the trap of the enemies of Pakistan who were unfortunately Muslims financed by outsiders.
He referred to them as quislings and fifth-columnists trying to sabotage Pakistan; Muslims who were indifferent to the creation of Pakistan and for vested interests were out to destroy it. These people hoped to kill Pakistan at its very inception but were disappointed, so they set about actively encouraging provincialism in the hope of weakening Pakistan, According to Quaid-e-Azam, "Thwarted in their desire to prevent the establishment of Pakistan, our enemies turned their attention to finding ways and means to weaken and destroy us."
According to Pakistan's founding father, the fitting response to the machinations of our enemies would be to get down to the task of building our State on strong and firm foundations and to develop unity. He went on to say, "If we begin to think of ourselves as Bengalis, Punjabis, Sindhis etc. first and Muslims and Pakistanis only incidentally, then Pakistan is bound to disintegrate."
On the subject of minorities, the Quaid gave strict directions to protect the life and property of the minorities in Pakistan, "We must take it a matter of our prestige and honour to safeguard the lives of the minorities and to create a sense of security among them." The architect of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, fore-warned and cautioned the nation against internal dissensions. He notified in advance that we would never be able to weld, mould or galvanize ourselves into a strong nation, if we don't throw off the poison of provincialism, sectionalism, extremism and discrimination. Isn't it ironical that the approaching dangers and risks, the founder spoke of, fifty-seven years ago, are still looming over our country? They are corresponding to the stated facts.
According to the Quaid, we as a nation should be strong and united; prepared for all eventualities and dangers. The weak and the defenseless invite aggression from others. The only way we can remove temptation from the path of aggressors is to make ourselves impregnable. When the country is facing external dangers and is called upon to deal with internal, of a far reaching character, affecting the future of the people, it demands complete solidarity, discipline and unity. While addressing the Tribal Jirga in Peshawar on 17th April, 1948 and seeking their support, to create complete solidarity amongst the Mussalmans, the Quaid stated, "We Mussalmans believe in one God, one book The Holy Quran and one Prophet. So we must stand united as one Nation. You know the old saying that in unity lies strength; united we stand, divided we fall."
We are free but freedom does not mean license. We cannot behave just as we please and do what we like, irrespective of the interests of other people and of the state. A great responsibility rests on us, it is necessary to work as a united and disciplined nation. What is required is the constructive spirit not the militant spirit. We need to follow the Quaid's motto of unity, faith and discipline in letter and spirit and shun intolerance and extremism which can only weaken and destroy us. The people must work hard to repair and enrich the country. Pakistan has come to stay and no power on earth can destroy it; it is now fait accompli. It is ours and we our proud of it.
PAKISTAN AT CROSSROADS
MAHBOOB A KHWAJA
Pakistan bears the hallmarks of the US-British roadmap for Iraq with massive killings of the civilian population, destruction of its socio-economic infrastructure as the foreign implanted leaders have adequate share of their fortunes for looting its irreplaceable natural wealth, time, human and economic resources. Dean Nelson of the UK Telegraph (October 07, 2009), made a pinching observation and asked: "Has Pakistan lost its honour?" The article referred to Dr. AK Khan's much appraised Urdu write up "Ghairat" honor a reflection on the current bloody affairs of the nation. Could any official of the ruling clan dare to answer that question? Ordinary folks believe that General Pervez Musharraf, late Ms Bhutto and Zardari have sold the country to foreign interests to maintain their own relevance and foreign bank balances.
To entertain the anti-Islamic Washington-based lobbyists, America carries out its own attacks on the civilian population inside Pakistan. In clear violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and international law, the daily American predator drone attacks kill innocent people in South Waziristan but no one can dare to question the might of the US control over Pakistan's internal affairs. President Obama talks about peace and harmony with the Muslim world as face lifting postulation to shield the American worldwide moral, political and financial bankruptcy but appears determined to send more troops to Afghanistan to increase the deaths and destruction of the war torn country. He and his advisors have never been to a war front but want to fight new wars against Muslims. The US never identified the 9/11 perpetrators as being Afghans or Pakistanis - the inherent lies in the US policy on the current revamped war on terror. It further signals intellectual bankruptcy amongst the US policy makers. The aggressive military nuisance must be stopped. American and British have no purpose to be fighting in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
The Bush led War on Terrorism was bogus and it destroyed America not just its history and values but as superpower to be credible in global governance. The people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan never threatened nor posed any threats to the security of the United States. To pursue the Bush war on Muslims, American policy makers searched for moderate Muslims and invested almost 10 billions to keep afloat most corrupt authoritarians like the former General Musharaf and Karazai. It was not time and money well spent but to rekindle the anti- American reactions in view of the massive warmongerings in Iraq and killings of almost 2.5 millions civilians for no other reason except to satisfy the insanity of the few actively waging bogus war on Islam. Political irony overwhelmed the American expectations that General Musharaf could deliver tangible goodies to Bush and the neoconservatives. Corruption knows no other motives except to institutionalize itself. The General came to power to eradicate corrupt politics until he transformed himself to be one of them. In the process, Pakistan lost precious time and opportunities for change and political reformation and future-building. Time and opportunities lost, are never regained. If and when the General is held accountable, he will never admit of doing anything wrong. He used to claim that Pakistan comes first, not democracy." The self-proclaimed president made Pakistanis looklike beggars to American so called economic aid. The advanced nations of the world are striving to envision the promising future for their survival, whereas, some political factions are engulfed with political madness and extremism of killings, perhaps not of their own origin but implanted by the foreign masters. Today, retired General Musharaf owns costly villa in UK worth 1.4 million dollars and is protected by the British secret service. Where did he get the money from? What official entitlement facilitates the British security protection to a corrupt and retired General? Pakistan has history of corrupt leadership. Late Ms. Bhutto and her husband Zardari with 15 known criminal court cases of money laundering, financial embezzlement and Swiss bank case of 60 million dollars of bribes money, killings and fraudulent businesses and Nawaz Sharif - twice removed as PM on corruption charges no angel either, and so many before them were all self-centered naïve and corrupt who institutionalized the corruption and drained out the positive thinking, abilities of the nation and lifelines of the future generations of hopeful young Pakistanis for change and development. Only ignorant and stupid people could hope for anything good out of them.
After the American bloodbath in Iraq and the extension of war to Afghanistan, Pakistan was next to be crippled with political chaos and killings of the civilians enabling Zardari and the Generals to profit from the daily bloodbath of the innocent civilians. The on-going war seems to have undermined the very integrity of the Pakistani nation. Islam does not preach extremism but peace and harmony for a balanced life. The radicalization of Islam stems from ignorance and arrogance. Islam is peace and peace represents logic of reason and understanding of normal human values and respect for life. Those who call themselves Taliban must learn that Islam does not allow public scolding and beating of the females/males as a staged show and part of the law and justice system approach but instead focuses on education and reformation of the individual and collective well being of the Muslim society to be obedient to God. If they resort to force as means to introduce "shariah", it is ignorance (jahalliya) not Islamic ways of life.
Though emotions appear to override the people's reaction in the tribal belts of Afghanistan-Pakistan against the brutal military action, and that is not the solution but a reason for new emerging problems which Pakistani army is not equipped to deal with. The prevalent situation warrants fresh thinking and new strategy away from the military action to reason the unreason. The forty years of military dictatorship in alliance with corrupted politics of Bhuttos and Sharifs has given rise to such volatile problems of exploitation where ordinary citizens lack basic amenities of life (education, health and security) and where the ruling elite class lives like kings and queens of the poverty stricken nation. The nation seems to have failed to create leaders except the traitors. Islamic scholars should have taken the lead initiatives to speak out against the obsessed ignorance perpetuating the reactionary attacks on civilian life and elsewhere. Islam has no place for extremism as evolved by the few self-centered radical preachers in the tribal areas. Ironically, today Muslim scholars are confined to the boundary of the masjid, not concerned about the decaying moral and political affairs of the Muslim Ummah. Military action was not the proper answer but a comprehensive intellectual dialogue with the few who call themselves Pakistani Taliban.
Pakistanis need competent and honest leaderships and security, not the US aid or the forged presidency of Zardari and the PPP government an insult to common sense and disgrace to conscientious Pakistanis. The foreign planned war has destabilized Pakistan and ruined its economy, resources and futuristic prospects of normalcy. Thinking people of the nation must THINK and foresee beyond the obvious for change and a new viable political system to encourage educated and honest members of the young generation to assume leadership roles and responsibilities. It is their future not of the Generals, not the Bhuttos and not Zardaris or Sharifs - they are the shameful history of the dead past, not a hope for the future. Pakistanis living abroad view a larger picture of the unfolding political problems stalling the nation and undermining its existence.
Many educated and visionary Pakistanis could contribute much needed intelligent and transformational leadership role to safeguard the country from the current turmoil and bloodbaths. The former colonial masters failed to learn from the history that they no longer can and will "divide and rule" the people of Pakistan. The NEED is desperate and Urgent to think, plan and act for a navigational change. More than anything, the people of Pakistan need intellectual security to safeguard their integrity. Zardaris, Bhuttos, Gilani and Sharifs are not the hope for the future but dark forces of the dead past. Nation-building is not the child play that few military Generals or corrupt politicians could deliver. The onus is on the educated and conscientious Pakistanis scattered around the globe to come to terms and realize that they owe lot more to Pakistan for what they are, their happiness and success and should take initiatives to help free the besieged nation at a difficult juncture of its survival.
HISTORY CREATED AT DAMADOLA
Pakistan's armed forces created history by wresting control of Damadola in Bajaur Agency once a no-go area and thought to be insurmountable, the entire Bajaur agency stands cleared of militants within a short time. The area was convenient route for supply of explosives and ammunition from terrorists' backers to FATA and other settled areas of Pakistan.
A large quantity of explosives, weapons and currency notes were found in the caves. According to Major General Tariq, "Pakistani flag has been raised in the region for the first time since independence". The capture of key Taliban complex has proved that Pakistan army is capable of fighting against militants having expertise in unconventional (guerrilla) warfare. Pak army's professionalism and prowess were already proved during operation in Swat and Malakand Division and South Waziristran, but Damadola was indeed a bigger challenge than any of those areas. If an honest appraisal is made it will not be difficult to reach the conclusion that Pakistan army's military is second to none to the best of armies in the world.
Pakistan's armed forces indeed deserve all the superlatives. The ruling and the opposition should place on record their appreciation and acknowledgement and stop maligning the army for the deeds of the military adventurers of the past, because they are now part of history. Military strategists wonder as to how Pakistan's armed forces could rout the militants who were well-trained in guerilla fighting over decades rather centuries. It has to be mentioned that mlitants had all the ingredients for successful guerilla warfare -difficult mountainous remote area, scanty and thinly populated area with porous border, and at east 150 caves in which they were well-entrenched; and last but not the least they had forced the local population to support them. Anyhow it was an arduous and very difficult task.
However, Pakistan army tactfully made inroads in the local population and convinced the residents of the area that Pak army personnel are there to protect them from the barbarians. On this assurance, they came out in droves and told the reporters that militants had made their lives miserable before the military offensive and had subjected them to the worst kind of atrocities.
Journalists were later taken to Bajaur, where locals were reported to have raised a 10,000-strong lashkar. About 2,000 armed men were seen brandishing guns, dancing and chanting slogans in favour of Pakistan. Pakistan army and intelligence agencies had to face enormous difficulties due to Indian RAW's support to the Taliban. They used their clout to send Afghans to penetrate in Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan who received funds and arms through Afghanistan. Credible reports reveal that Maliks of Pakistani tribes are persuaded through middlemen and taken to Kabul for meetings with high ranking RAW officials. Million of dollars are paid to the tribal Maliks to purchase their loyalties, besides valuable gifts and all paid visits to India are some of the ways the Indians bribe the tribal. These tribal elders, unaware of Indians designs, remain available to them and serve their interest. FATA and other settled areas like Swat and Malakand remained violent in the past due to heavy investment by RAW with the collaboration of Afghan intelligence. Weapons, ammunition and other combat equipment were made available to militant to fight Pakistan Army. To make things worse, the US and NATO commanders did not trust Pakistan army and its agencies. After successful operation in Swat and Malakand Division, the trust deficit has decreased and America is cooperating with Pakistan.
It has to be admitted that successes of Pakistan armed forces are due to their professionalism, courage, conviction and determination. However, American cooperation has also helped in apprehending the Al Qaeda and the Taliban leaders. When the terrorists attacked Pakistan's General Headquarters, the US and the West tried to convey an impression that Pakistan's army is incapable of securing the nukes and the terrorists have the ability to attack wherever they want. They had unfounded fears that the terrorists could one day take over the country, and with it the nukes' control.
It was a flawed perception because there have been militants' attacks on the best of the armies' camps and barracks in the world. On 18th April 1983, a suicide bomber exploded an explosives-truck near the US military barracks at Beirut Airport killing 241 marines. Minutes later, second bomb killed 58 French paratroopers at West Beirut. On June 25, 1996, in Saudi Arabia a truck bomb exploded outside Khobar Towers' military complex killing 19 American servicemen and injuring hundreds of others. In Iraq, terrorists had penetrated in Iraq's greenbelt and other military camps causing colossal loss of army personnel.
On 11th September 2001, Al Qaeda operatives had crashed planes in World Trade Centre; thus exposing the weakness of the sole super power and its agencies that were considered as the best in the world. After a recent incident of Nigerian citizen who was successful in taking explosives on an American plane, President Obama said: "The buck stops with me, as I am responsible for the protection of the American people. We are at war against Al Qaeda, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, and that is plotting to strike us again. And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them." On 1st September 2004, the Beslan school hostage crisis began when a group of armed terrorists, demanding an end to the Second Chechen War, took more than 1,100 people hostage at School Number One (SNO) in the town of Beslan, North Ossetia-Alania, an autonomous republic in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation. During the commando operation, at least 334 hostages were killed, including 186 children. Hundreds more were wounded or reported missing.
Anyhow, Pakistan army was earlier successful in Swat, Buner, Dir and South Waziristan, and one of the reasons was that the army could build up trust by helping in rehabilitation of the displaced persons. Of course, accommodating such a large number of IDPs was a challenge for the government, and people had faced difficulties, but they were full of hope that their coming generations would live without trepidation and fear and would play their role for the security, progress and prosperity of the country. To destroy the internal enemies was not difficult for the Pakistan armed forces, but because of divided opinion of political and some religious parties earlier, the action was somewhat delayed. Defence experts and analysts say that difficult terrain, porous border and friendly population that provide safe hideouts to the militants are the ingredients for the success of guerilla warfare. And TTP operatives have had all of these advantages. On the top of that the TTP leadership was using religion to motivate and indoctrinate the people. Now, the terrorists stand exposed, and it is hoped that the civil administration would put in place a mechanism to sustain the gains of Pakistan's armed forces
A THREAT TO THE SOUTH ASIAN PEACE
The war against Pakistan's nuclear program seems more vibrant and more violent and certainly more popular than the international war against terrorism. These two wars are being headed by two different countries separately; one is the super power of today and the other is aspiring to be the super power of tomorrow. The most interesting fact is that both these countries, the USA and India are apparently fighting on different fronts but inwardly they have the same target; same aim and the same object; the one and the only Pakistan. It is a very common feeling in Pakistan that the US policies and the Indian conspiracies have joined hands together, simply to weaken Pakistan. On one hand USA is showing its concern over the safety of Pakistan's nuclear assets and on the other hand India is encouraging and strengthening the extremist elements in Pakistan to proceed towards these assets. Ironically India has completely ignored the safety of its own nuclear program in its heat and haste and this nuclear program has become a security threat not only to all her neighbors but to the total peace in the South Asia. Neglecting the safety of its already existing nuclear arsenals, India is trying to add more to its nuclear strength by doing more pacts and by starting new nuclear plans.
According to the media reports, on December 7, 2009.an agreement was reached in Moscow between India and Russia, under which India would get four more nuclear reactors from Russia. At the same time, in New Delhi, a US Commercial Nuclear Mission told the media that, under the US-India nuclear deal, a minimum of 12 plants would be set up, with the work on them starting in 2010-2011. Some other nuclear agreements of the same type were also reported by the media; most important of them were between India and France, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Mongolia and Canada. According to many impartial analysts, it would have been much better if India had concentrated upon the safety of its already existing nuclear assets instead of doing new agreements in this respect. The Kaiga incident is the worst example of unsafe and insecure nuclear program of India. The Kaiga Nuclear plant is located near one of the biggest Indian naval bases, Project Seabird.
As per details provided by the Indian newspapers, a few months back , the authorities hit the alarm button when the staff and workers at the Kaiga nuclear plant began to show above normal radiation levels. The investigators began to urgently comb the Kaiga nuclear complex for any signs of a radiation leak that could have exposed the staff to radioactivity. After the detailed examination of urine samples of more than 50 workers at the plant, they came to the conclusion that all the workers had used a particular water cooler. Surprisingly the cooler was locked and sealed and almost unapproachable to a common man. So the investigation team pointed out the hidden presence of someone who injected heavy water into the machine by using a pump. On the other hand, J .P Gupta, the director of the plant, denied there was any security lapse and said the effect of the contaminated water was minimal. Among those affected were contract laborers who are hired out locally. The statement of Mr.Gupta seems showing that the lives of 'locally hired out' labourers are not important and it is nothing to be worried about if such labourers are affected by the contaminated water. There is another part of his statement which has added more irony to the situation. He said, "Whoever did it perhaps knew doping the water cooler would not kill those who drank the water. It could have been intended to disrupt the plant's functioning."
The situation is not as simple as portrayed by JP Gupta. The addition of heavy water into the drinking water cooler means the addition of tritium-contaminated water to a drinking water cooler .Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen also known as hydrogen-3.It can be used as a booster in the making of fission bombs as well as thermonuclear weapons or hydrogen bombs. Tritium emits beta rays which, if ingested, can cause death, cancer and mutations. A one gram vial of tritium costs up to $100,000. How is it possible for a common man to get hold of such a precious element? There must be someone having a full command, authority and approach in the supervisory or administrative crew of the plant. Unfortunately, the government of India tried to put a cover on the incident instead of bringing the inquiry report to the surface. The present incident at The Kaiga nuclear plant is nothing new and novel; this plant has always been very mysterious with reference to different unexplainable happenings during the last many years. The death of an Indian Nuclear Scientist Lokanathan Mahalingam on June 12, 2009 is still one of such mysteries. Mahalingam was training young scientists and working in the simulator training division of the plant which is in fact the replica of the original plant. He had been working in the atomic plant for the last eight years. Reportedly, he was in possession of highly sensitive information. According to the Times of India one morning Mahalingam went for jogging and could never return. After a week's search, his body was found in the nearby Kali River and cremated before the results of the DNA test were brought to light. The mysterious end of the scientist was reported on India's television channels on June 13. The channels asserted that the death of the nuclear scientist was nothing but a successful suicide attempt but the police could never find any suicide note. The Kaiga-staff is still of the opinion that the murder of Mahalingam was the artistic work of different Indian Intelligence agencies that were searching for the culprits involved in the past Uranium theft cases. Mahalingam might be one of the accused ones. In such a horrible situation when radioactive elements are easily approachable , when even the nuclear scientists are involved in theft-crime of uranium and when the lives of the workers serving at nuclear plants are at stake , how can the nuclear arsenals in India can be safe. In this horrifying situation it is highly objectionable if the countries like the USA provide more support and help to the incredible nuclear states like India. It is simply a paradox on the part of the US policy makers that they are all time worried about the nuclear programs of Islamic countries like Iraq , Iran and Pakistan but intentionally ignoring the underhand gimmicks going on in the nuclear programs of India.
President Obama and many of the other democratic leaders are often found stressing the need and importance of peace and prosperity of the world. It is their responsibility to keep a strict eye on the nuclear program of India if they are sincere in their desire for peace and prosperity particularly in the South Asian region. This world is looking towards them with dependent eyes for a bright future and a happy present. It would be certainly very disappointing if these peace-makers do not come up to the expectations of the world revolving around them.
MUSLIMS ARE THEIR OWN WORST ENEMY
PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS
Muslims are numerous but powerless. Divisions among Muslims, especially between Sunni and Shi'ites, have consigned the Muslim Middle East to almost a century of Western control. Muslims cannot even play together. The Islamic Solidarity Games, a regional version of the Olympics, which were to be held in April in Iran, have been cancelled because the Iranians and the Arabs cannot agree on whether to call the body of water that separates Iran from the Arabian Peninsula the Persian Gulf or the Arabian Gulf. Muslim disunity has made it possible for Israel to dispossess the Palestinians, for the U.S. to invade Iraq, and for the U.S. to rule much of the region through puppets. For example, in exchange for faithful service, Egypt receives $1.5 billion a year from Washington, which enables President Mubarak to buy off opposition. The opposition had rather have the money than support the Palestinians. Therefore, Egypt cooperates with Israel and the U.S. in the blockade of Gaza.
Another factor is the willingness of some Muslims to betray their own kind for U.S. dollars. Don't take my word for it. Listen to neoconservative Kenneth Timmerman, head of the Foundation for Democracy, which describes itself as "a private, non-profit organization established in 1995 with grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to promote democracy and internationally-recognized standards of human rights in Iran." By now we all know what that means. It means that the U.S. finances a "velvet" or some "color revolution" in order to install a U.S. puppet. Just prior to the sudden appearance of a "green revolution" in Tehran primed to protest an election, Timmerman wrote that "the National Endowment for Democracy has spent millions of dollars during the past decade promoting 'color' revolutions in places such as Ukraine and Serbia, training political workers in modern communications and organizational techniques. Some of that money appears to have made it into the hands of pro-Mousavi groups, who have ties to non-governmental organizations outside Iran that the National Endowment for Democracy funds." So, according to the neocon Timmerman, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, it was U.S. money that funded Mousavi's claims that Ahmadinejad stole the last Iranian election. During President George W. Bush's regime, it became public knowledge that American money is used to purchase Iranians to work against their own country. The Washington Post, a newspaper sympathetic to the neocon goal of American hegemony and war with Iran, reported in 2007 that Bush authorized spending more than $400 million for activities that included "supporting rebel groups opposed to the country's ruling clerics."
This makes the U.S. government a "state sponsor of terrorism." For confirmation, one of the U.S. paid operatives, who conducted terror operations in Iran, has ratted on his terrorist supporters in Washington. Abdulmalek Rigi, leader of the Baloch separatist group responsible for several attacks, was recently arrested by the Iranians. Rigi admitted that the Americans in Washington assured him of unlimited military aid and funding for waging an insurgency against the Islamic Republic of Iran. (Read his confession here.) Possibly Rigi was tortured into confession. It is the American way. If the "light of the world," the "indispensable people," and the "shining city on the hill" tortures people, perhaps the Iranians do as well. Rigi's younger brother, himself on death row in Iran, has said that the U.S. provided direct funding to the separatist group and even ordered specific terrorist attacks inside Iran (see Antiwar.com, Feb. 23, 2010 and also here and here.) The U.S. and its NATO puppets have been killing Afghan women, children, and village elders since Oct. 7, 2001, when the U.S. military invasion "Operation Enduring Freedom," a proper Orwellian title for a self-serving war of aggression, was launched. The U.S. installed puppet president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, is bought and paid for with U.S. dollars. The money that Washington gives Karzai finances the corruption that supports him. Karzai's corruption and his treason against the Afghan people encourage the Taliban to keep fighting in order to achieve a government that serves Afghans instead of Washington, D.C. (Officials puzzle over millions of dollars leaving Afghanistan by plane for Dubai, by Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, February 25, 2010.
Without the puppet Karzai selling out Afghans to Washington, the U.S. would have already been driven out of the country. With Karzai paying Afghans with American money to fight Afghans for the Americans, the war drones on into its ninth year. Feminists, liberals, and naive American flag-wavers will say that what is written here is utter rot, that Americans are in Afghanistan to bring women's rights and birth control to Afghan women and to bring freedom, democracy and progress to Afghanistan, even if it means leveling every village, town and house in the country. We, "the indispensable people," are only there to do good, because we care so much for the Afghan people who live in a country that most Americans can't find on a map. While this collection of naïf's rants on about America "saving" Afghans from whatever, the White House and the Congress are conspiring against the American people to cut $500 billion dollars out of Medicare in order to give the money to private insurance companies. Jobless benefits are about to run out for millions of Americans, whose jobs have been moved offshore in order to make the rich richer. The U.S. Senate failed on Friday, Feb. 26, to extend jobless benefits. A single Republican Senator, Jim Bunning of Kentucky, was able to block the bill because it would cost a measly $10 billion and "would add to the budget deficit." The "fiscally responsible" Bunning supports blank checks for wars of aggression (war crimes under the Nuremberg standard), and payoffs to investment banks for wrecking the retirement plans of most Americans. Bunning sends the bills to the unorganized and unrepresented Americans, whose jobs have been stolen by corporate offshoring of jobs and whose retirements have been stolen by the endless greed of the Wall Street investment banks.
Finally realizing the power of lucre in the Arab world, the Americans put 80,000 Sunnis on the U.S. military payroll and paid them to stop killing Americans. This is how the U.S. won the war in Iraq. Iraqis sold out their independence for American dollars. Considering that a few thousand Sunnis were able to prevent superpower America from successfully occupying Baghdad or much of Iraq, had the Shi'ites joined with the Sunnis against the invaders, the U.S. would have been defeated and driven out. This outcome was not possible, because the Shi'ites wanted to settle the score with the Sunnis, who had ruled them under Saddam Hussein.As long as Muslims hate and fear one another more than they hate their conquerors, they will remain a vanquished people.
The CG News
RUCKUS IN PARLIAMENT
If after so many years Parliament can descend into near pandemonium, we wonder what parliamentarians have learnt over the years. Not only has the speaker censored the unruly behaviour of the lawmakers in Parliament but people from different professional groups have expressed their deep shock at Wednesday's furore, saying that the incident has proved that Bangladesh's political culture has hit a new low.
The chaos erupted following derogatory remarks made against Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and BNP founder late Ziaur Rahman which were totally uncalled for and the Speaker, who was not presiding at the time, urged the lawmakers to have some self-esteem. He said it was their responsibility to maintain discipline in the Parliament and rightly warned them that he would have to be tough to keep the house in order and maintain its sanctity. He told them that the language they used in the house Wednesday could in no way be considered as parliamentary. ProfessorSerajul Islam Chowdhury, renowned educationist said, "The incident manifested the extent to which Bangladesh's political culture has declined. The incumbent parliamentarians do not have minimum tolerance and patience required for making parliamentary democracy workable." In fact it would seem to us that the members of Parliament have no clear idea of what constitutes a democracy. He termed the incident as an act of 'extreme vulgarism.' If the members of Parliament continue to forget they are accountable to the people, the people will judge them at the next election. Parliament is an essential part of the democratic process. We must have a Parliament that is active with strong political parties and institutions that are accountable and effective. In other words if the democratic process is to function lawmakers must be constrained and must keep in line with parliamentary decorum. If politicians do not respect the most important of our democratic institutions, nothing good can come out of it.
Bangladesh's position improved slightly in terms of trade logistics, says a World Bank report. The country's position improved from 87 to 79 among 155 countries. This is, no doubt, an improvement of sorts but then if we are to remain competitive we have to do much better than that. The logistics include time needed for Customs clearance, shipping cost and punctuality in shipment. All this adds up to the cost of doing business, internationally, and if we are not the fastest and cheapest, our goods will also be expensive.
Over the last few decades there has been a radical change in the technology that has been used for trading, internationally. But we have not been able to keep up with it. Containerization and automation has been the key to a modern transport system. But we have adopted a laid back approach, which has led to stockpiling of goods at the ports and consequent pressures on existing infrastructure. We have been most regressive in multi-modal transport and our goods need to be transported long distances to avail other forms of transport. In most advanced countries the transport system is integrated so that goods and commodities can shift from one transport system to another. Creating such a system in Bangladesh would need a huge amount of investment but it is worth it, as the returns far outweigh the costs.
Development is a multi-dimensional activity. It is not only about setting up factories or increasing agriculture production. It has a lot to do with improving the quality of transport, education and health among other things. If we are to move forward we must be able to take that complex reality into account. Otherwise, we will always lag behind others.
Much of the activity needed to keep up with the rest of the world can be done by private entrepreneurs but the government must have the vision and the structure to facilitate it. Without a proactive administration in place, nothing much will move. And that is precisely where we are lagging behind.
A DOSE OF FORGIVENESS..!
Something that startles me no end is to hear people talk about old hurts, insults and old humiliations, and know that forgiveness has not taken place. And as I listen to bitter, shrill voice expounding on such old incidents, I want to shake them and say, "It's you who are killing yourself carrying your bitterness on!" And more than that, "You kill present day relationships, because nobody knows when dormant volcano within you, will erupt and intrude into everyday situations!"
Dr Frank Boehm learned long ago that not everything that happens to our body is assigned to medical facts.
"My father who escaped the Holocaust believed that anger, resentment and unforgiveness, bred disease of the soul, as well as the body. Forgiveness is good medicine he told me."
Some years ago a patient came to see Dr Boehm about her constant neck pain, headaches and high blood pressure. But he couldn't find a medical cause for her ailments. "Tell me about your life," he then said. She told him she was in conflict with her two sisters because they had forsaken her in her time of need earlier. Recalling his father's words, the doctor encouraged her to forgive her sisters. Years later Boehm received a letter from his patient. She had made peace with her sisters and sure enough her physical ailments had abated. "She found forgiveness and from this good health," said Boehm.
"When you are treated unjustly by another, anger is a natural response," says Robert Enright, professor of educational psychology and author of 'Forgiveness is a Choice'. "But if these resentful feelings are not resolved, a grudge will form: Victims, may want to hold a grudge because it gives them a regained sense of control and superiority. However when nursing a grudge you're essentially stuck in the victim role and are inviting anger to become a companion in your everyday life and a toxin to your body..!"
Says Dr Redford Williams, author of 'Anger Kills', "If you don't forgive, resentment can erupt at any time and the cost to your body is ongoing. It's like taking small doses of poison daily!"
Forgiveness is not denying you're angry or pretending the injury didn't happen. Forgiveness is to reframe how one feels about the offense and those seen as responsible. It is moving from continually replaying your personal grievance story to revising it so that you are no more a victim of your past.
Start small by learning how to forgive minor slights. If you arrive home and trip on your son's bicycle in the verandah or driveway, recognize that he isn't out to get you, and forgive him.
"By changing your thinking you can decide whether your anger is appropriate," says Williams, "and over time you will be able to forgive tougher injuries."
"One forgiving act is the beginning," says Enright, "as you continue offering forgiveness, your identity will no longer be that of a victim but of one who is powerful in the face of adversity!"
Want to be healthy? Swallow a dose of forgiveness..!
ROLE OF CSR PRACTICE
EDWARD PROBIR MONDOL
Corporate responsibility includes how a company could fulfill its social contract with the society, especially on the issues on poverty alleviation, as well as a company's strategy related to its policy for maintaining its relationship with stakeholders and survive in a highly demanding business environment. Current corporate social initiatives highlight appropriate indicators to assess corporate social performance in poverty alleviation strategies whilst expecting traditional economic indicators. It is expected to get insights for preparers and regulators on the components and rankings of social performance indicators associated with corporate engagement in poverty alleviation.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is where organisations consider the interests of society by taking responsibility for the impact of their operation activities on customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, communities and other stakeholders, including the environmentalists and the regulators. Mohr, Webb and Harris (2001) and Deegan, Rankin and Voght (2000) stated that companies are facing increasing pressure to both maintain profitability and behave in socially responsible ways. The application and recognition of CSR is relatively new in Bangladesh.
As we understand it, CSR is not only about protecting the environment, stakeholders, complying with anti-corruption action policies and a range of other activities but it also aims at eradicating poverty. Poverty which has a close link with the environment remains the primary social problem in Bangladesh. Currently there are 37 million people live under poverty line where there has been no significant poverty alleviation since 2001.
Poverty alleviation (one of CSR initiatives) is one of the major objectives of every nation, international organisation, non-governmental organisation, and local community. Furthermore, Ite (2005) states that lately, the business community has increasingly used the concept of CSR to establish a framework for wider private sector involvement in poverty alleviation. However, Shankleman and Selby (2001) claim that, to date, there has been a minimum involvement of business in engaging poverty alleviation, even though, Blowfield and Frynas (2005) mention that meeting development challenges in reducing poverty is as important as maintaining economic growth of the company. Government and business communities see CSR as a bridge connecting business and development, and increasingly CSR programmes are discussed in terms of their contribution to development. Overall, however, corporate contributions through social initiatives targeted to the disadvantaged or the marginalised remain minimal.
Environment and poverty alleviation initiatives in Bangladesh are conducive to finding the best solution for social problems. Since handling environmental problems itself is very costly, there is a strong requirement for corporations to participate in poverty alleviation. Since poverty directly creates many social problems (crimes, low level of education, low productivity, malnutrition, etc), this issue must be solved quickly and strategically especially when United Nation's Millennium Development Goal (MDG) has indicated that global poverty should be reduced significantly by 2015. Therefore, there is a need to have broader corporate involvement in addressing the issues of slum settlements, health, education, unemployment, and meeting basic needs.
Social performance indicators for poverty alleviation initiatives, especially for the developing nations, have been discussed earlier by Lokshin (2001), Peinado-Vara (2006), and Reddy (2007). Current CSR approaches do not warrant claims that CSR gives benefits to the poor and marginalised in developing countries.
Company's motivations are driven by system-based oriented theories. While system-based oriented theories which consist of legitimacy, stakeholder and institutional theories are discussed to acknowledge the role of information and disclosure in the relationships between reporting entity (the preparers), the government bodies (regulators), individuals and capital market where entity is influenced by, and influences, the society in which they operate. Secondly, to whom to report is the next stage of company's reporting which is linked to stakeholder theory, the companies need to define who their stakeholders are. In relation to motivational theory, if managers overwhelmingly are motivated by the desire to increase shareholder value those who have the power to change the share price, then reasoning to disclosure will be for powerful stakeholders than the less powerful ones. The third stage will cover what to report which will involve communications with identified stakeholders. The last stage will be what the format will be for the disclosures of the report.
The current challenges are:
1. Do current CSR initiatives taken by the Bangladeshi companies make enough contribution to poor and marginalized people in developing countries especially the case for Bangladesh?
2. Is meeting development challenges (reducing poverty) as important as meeting the economic/financial growth for a company?
3. Is CSR important in connecting the arenas of business and corporate sustainability?
4. Are there differences in perceptions and expectations on social performance indicators (especially on poverty alleviation) between different parties (i.e. reporting entity, stakeholders, professionals and regulatory bodies)?
5. Are there differences in perceptions on poverty alleviation amongst different corporate features (company and industry characteristics)?
6. What are the components and ranking in social performance indicators for each category of research question?
7. What are the motivations and behaviours between respondents with their perceptions on poverty alleviation?
There are key social performance indicators which are believed to be effective in minimising the legitimacy gap. Most companies have a difficulty in identifying and implementing CSR project, perform corporate initiatives directly related to their core business, and do not have enough funds to finance corporate evidence.
(The writer is Executive Director of CSR Bangladesh and President, Bangladesh Institute of Sustainability Leadership.)
FOR AN EFFECTIVE PARLIAMENT
PRANAB KUMAR PANDAY
In a democratic country Parliament is the highest decision-making body. All policies and acts are shaped and get their final approval in the Parliament. Since it is an apex body with immense power and importance, members of this house, who are elected based on universal adult franchise, are highly respected in society. But, unfortunately national Parliament of Bangladesh has not been established as an effective law-making body as a result of exercise of confrontational politics.
Since long the oppositions have been using boycotting the session of the Parliament as a strategy to exert pressure on the government. Of course, one may argue that in a democracy, boycotting the session of the Parliament in protest of irrational and illegal activities of the government is a constitutional right of the opposition. But the opposition parties in Bangladesh very often boycott the session of the parliament without any valid grounds. In the past, we witnessed that the opposition boycotted the parliament for months after months, and years after years. Such practice is not healthy for our democratic culture.
Democracy in Bangladesh started its journey for the second phase after the overthrow of Ershad regime in 1990. Since then, our democracy has been passing through a hectic journey. Provision of non-partisan Caretaker Government was introduced to conduct a free, fair and credible election in every five years. However, this effort has already become controversial after 15 years time. In most cases, the losing party does not accept the election result on the ground that there has been widespread manipulation in the election. They even dare to show respect to the opinion of the voters which is really unfortunate for the whole nation.
After two years of peculiar rule of the so-called army-backed Caretaker Government where politicians were worst affected, the whole nation expected that there would be a change in the political culture of Bangladesh. We were enthusiastic to observe that the present opposition despite opposing the election result joined the first session of the Parliament. But our enthusiasm and joys did not last long since the opposition started to boycott the Parliament in the very first session on a fake ground of distribution of seats in the front line of the Parliament. The whole nation was surprised to witness the behaviour of both the opposition and the ruling party on the seating arrangement of the parliament. The issue could have been resolved easily if the treasury bench agreed to offer one extra seat to the opposition in the front line. Later on, the opposition came up with a number of pre-conditions for joining the session which contradicted to the values of democracy.
After a long time our country men heaved a shy of relief hearing the opposition's decision to join the session of the Parliament after their long absence. There are two groups of people who have described inherent causes of joining the parliament differently. The opposition is arguing that they have returned to the Parliament to criticize different activities of the government while the treasury bench argues that the opposition has joined the parliament to save their membership.
In democracy, the opposition should act as a shadow government. And the parliament is the right place to hold the government and its ministers accountable for their actions. But our opposition does not play the role of a shadow government.
Apart from opposition's frequent walkout from the parliament, people are really frustrated seeing undemocratic attitude and speeches of our parliament members. With the help of the BTV nowadays we can watch live telecast of the parliamentary debates and discussions. But we feel very sorry when we find most of our Parliament members spending most of their time in praising their leaders while addressing on the speech of the President. And they spend rest of their time in criticizing the opposition. In the total process they do not find any time to make any sort of constructive comments on the address of the President. Sometimes, we notice Parliament members criticize their opposition using coarse sentences. If such thing continues what our future generation will learn from these parliamentarians who are considered as the elite people in society?
Another issue of concern is that due to having brute majority the government does not respect views and comments of the opposition members on different bills. This is an indication of the existence of the confrontational politics where consensus building on any issue is really impossible. For making parliamentary affairs more deliberative, the government should respect and accept some of the comments and suggestions of the opposition members which would in turn encourage them to participate in the Parliamentary affairs.
Effective Parliament is a sin-qua-non of successful democracy. And effectiveness of the parliament depends to a large extent on the meaningful participation of the opposition in its affairs. But, unfortunately, opposition in Bangladesh remain absent from the Parliament for most of the time. Thus, the opposition should show responsibility and the government should respond positively towards the opposition. Only then, an environment would be created where both the ruling and the opposition party would be able to work together.
(The writer is an Associate Professor, Public Administration, RU)
TO WITHDRAW RICKSHAW OR NOT?
PROFESSOR M ZAHIDUL HAQUE
WHETHER paddle or cycle rickshaws should totally be withdrawn from the streets of Dhaka is yet to be settled. But by now rickshaws have been prohibited on a number of roads with a view to containing traffic congestion. As a result, the rickshaw passengers are going to their same old destinations by undertaking long journey through narrow lanes and by-lanes wasting precious time and paying more money as fare. The rickshaw-pullers on the other hand are also getting deprived of making more number of trips as it takes more time to reach to a old destination through alternative paths as plying of rickshaws on straight roads is restricted.
If we stroll through the history lane of rickshaw, it would be evident that rickshaw is a traditional means of transport. The word 'rickshaw' is originated from a set of Japanese words - jin, niki, and sha (jannikisha) meaning human, power, and vehicle respectively which collectively called "Human-powered-vehicle" or rickshaw. In 1868, rickshaws were introduced in Japan. Earlier a rickshaw was pulled by a runner (human-powered) but present-day rickshaw is cycle-powered and paddled by a rickshaw-puller. In many literatures, Bangladesh capital Dhaka has been cited as the "Rickshaw Capital of the World" or the "City of Rickshaws".
There is no doubt that rickshaw is a traditional and very popular means of transport in our country. In this age of climate change and environmental degradation, rickshaw is a pollution-free mode of transport. A huge number of people in Bangladesh particularly in Dhaka are earning their bread by pulling rickshaws. Due to withdrawal of rickshaws from some major roads and streets, a number of rickshaw-pullers became job-less. In a country like ours where the employment opportunities are too limited, whether it would be wise on our part to banish rickshaws needs serious thought and review.
Earlier with many others, this writer had also suggested on a number of occasions to construct separate lanes for rickshaws on major city roads.
Meanwhile there is of course other ways to modernize our paddle rickshaw. As far as I can remember, sometime in 2008, a new solar-powered rickshaw was introduced in Delhi, India.
The solar-powered rickshaw or "Solockshaw" is run by a solar charged 36 volt battery which can provide power to run the rickshaw up to 40 miles at a maximum speed of 10mph with one full charge.
And this is enough for a puller's one-day work. In the context of Bangladesh, such type of rickshaws may proved to be quite profiteering and can also contribute to control environment pollution caused by gas driven vehicles.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been attaching priority on popularising the use of solar-panels for power generation in government buildings. As a beginning, the PM's office is being powered by solar energy through installation of solar-panels.
Bangladesh is blessed with ample sunshine round the year which can easily be converted into electric power at a lower cost than generating electricity through thermal units. Some solar battery charging stations may be set up to providing charging facility to solar battery users.
(The writer is a Professor at SAU, Dhaka)
IS CHINA OVERPLAYING ITS HAND?
Remember the G-2? America's financial difficulties and foreign entanglements, together with China's economic ascent, led many last year to envisage the emergence of a sort of global condominium between the two countries. The G-8 had morphed by necessity into the G-20, which, whenever it really mattered, would shed its zero: the United States and China would call the shots.
The idea was an over-simplified reflection of global realities. It left out other emerging powers like Brazil and India. It exaggerated the weakness of America, which remains the world's only superpower. It also reeked of the European Union's peevish realisation that its inability to get its act together on contentious issues was likely to place it firmly on the sidelines. At the Copenhagen climate summit last December, don't forget, a deal of sorts was cobbled together by the US and the emerging economies over the EU's head, even though Europe had the most advanced set of proposals on tackling climate change.
Despite all this, there was enough credibility in the G-2 idea to give it legs. President Barack Obama's first visit to China last November, in which he accepted the role of pliant suitor at the court of the emperor, strengthened the impression of a deal between today's great power and tomorrow's.
That was last year. This is now, and the idea looks a lot less plausible. Why has the G-2 become so far-fetched so fast?
First, the weak and largely jobless economic recovery in America and Europe shines the spotlight on China's surging exports and the non-tariff barriers confronted by would-be importers to China. You would have difficulty finding many members of the US Congress who do not ascribe some of America's problems, including the hollowing out of the middle class, to China's alleged currency manipulation.
China may point to the mountain of US Treasury bonds that it has bought up, thereby helping to sustain America's budget deficit. (What China's recent sell-off of US T-bills will mean is, for now, anyone's guess.) They grumble at the injustice of blaming them for the global economy's imbalances.
But China does have a case to answer. Critics think that pegging the currency below its real value is part of a deliberate strategy to keep growth rolling, thereby avoiding the tricky politics of growing unemployment in a system that has no institutionalized channels for expressing popular grievances. Unless this issue is addressed soon, it will lead inexorably to protectionism in America and Europe. Advocates of tit-for-tat trade polices have even found supportive quotes from Adam Smith on the subject.
A second issue likely to blow the G-2 apart before it has actually taken shape is the impact of China's authoritarianism on the free movement of information. China's clash with Google and US protests at cyber attacks on American targets remind the outside world, as well as America's media and political elites, of the difference in values between the two countries.
This is particularly awkward at a time when the Chinese authorities seem to be taking an even harder line on dissent. The human rights activist Liu Xiaobo has just been locked up for 11 years, drawing widespread condemnation. The veteran campaigner for the release of political detainees, John Kamm, argues that this was a tipping point for the Chinese authorities, and that they will have to work themselves out of this in a less hard-line way.
The outcome of the climate talks in Copenhagen is a third reason for concern. China has been widely accused of blocking a more ambitious result, mostly because of its resistance to external surveillance of its agreed targets, appealing to state sovereignty with all the self-righteousness that the world was accustomed to hearing from former US President George W. Bush. Maybe the criticism is unfair. But it certainly was unwise to allow a junior official to shout and wag his finger at Obama at one of the key Copenhagen meetings. Americans, too, Chinese officials should remember, have face that they do not wish to lose.
Some people cite the spat over arms sales to Taiwan and the Dalai Lama's visit to Washington as a fourth dampener on all the G-2 talk. I am not so convinced. These are fairly ritualistic issues, and Chinese officials are smart enough to know that, given the Chinese government's recent behavior, Obama had little choice but to decide on them as he did.
Far more worrying is an issue that is yet to play out. How will China react to any move to introduce tougher sanctions on Iran if no progress is made in efforts to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons? If China blocks action in the United Nations Security Council, relations with America will be set back to a point where any G-2 talk will seem laughable.
Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's economic rise, advised his colleagues to move stealthily in dealing with the rest of the world. Hide your brightness, bide your time, he counseled. As someone who believes that China's rise should be good for the world, I hope that Deng's wise advice will be heeded by those Chinese officials who seem to think that this is a good moment to start stamping their feet.
(The writer, the last British Governor of Hong Kong and a former EU Commissioner for External Affairs, is Chancellor of the University of Oxford.)
HYPERBOLE ERODES CREDIBILITY
IN SERIOUS DEBATES, NOTHING DEMOLISHES CREDIBILITY AS READILY AS INCONSISTENCY AND EXAGGERATION.
Many Australians, therefore, will find it baffling that six state governments are working off four different sets of figures for the sea-level rises they expect to be caused by climate change. The projected rises vary from 38cm in Western Australia to 80cm in Queensland and Victoria and 90cm in NSW, creating confusion for councils and developers. Fortunately, all fall far short of the 6m rises predicted by Environment Minister Peter Garrett and scientist Tim Flannery's doomsday scenario of 80m rises. But you don't have to be a climate change sceptic to realise they can't all be right.
On balance, it is prudent to give the planet the benefit of the doubt by putting a price on carbon, preferably through a market-based emissions trading scheme in concert with other industrialised nations. That does not preclude debate, however, on both the science and economics of climate change. Indeed, the hallmark of good scientific practice demands that assumptions be challenged and tested. Solid science also demands sound observation tempered with a degree of common sense. Empirical evidence deserves more weight than the apocalyptic forecasts of famine, epidemics, cyclones, mass migration and fresh water shortages envisaged by social economist Clive Hamilton in his dystopian tome Requiem for a Species.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the debate is the rise of green totalitarians, who have tried to silence those with different viewpoints. Their intolerance does not stop at the sceptics. Commentators such as Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg, who accept the theory of man-made climate change but believe mitigation is expensive and ultimately futile, arguing instead that resources would be better invested fighting disease and malnutrition, are also granted heretic status.
Nor is it reasonable, as some activists do, to attribute every drought, flood, storm, hot day and even unseasonal snowfall to man-made greenhouse emissions. After reporting on many a cyclone, drought and flood, the only firm conclusion we can draw from the weather is that there is plenty of it.
Senior scientists from Britain's Met Office Hadley Centre, Edinburgh University, Melbourne University and Victoria University in Canada are warning there is a 95 per cent chance that man is to blame for global warning. The group assessed more than 100 recent peer-reviewed scientific papers and it remains to be seen which of the lines drawn on computers by scientists and regional planners prove accurate. Who knows, they may be right. But after the Copenhagen shambles, IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri's alleged conflicts of interest and the fabricated propaganda of the University of East Anglia emails, proponents of climate change action need to rebuild credibility. Politicisation of science and inflated claims of certainty have badly damaged their case: it's time to put down the megaphone.
RELEASE THE HENRY REVIEW FOR A SENSIBLE TAX DEBATE
IN 2008, KEVIN RUDD SAID TREASURY SECRETARY KEN HENRY'S REVIEW OF THE TAX SYSTEM WAS NEEDED TO, "POSITION AUSTRALIA TO DEAL WITH THE DEMOGRAPHIC, SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES OF THE 21ST CENTURY".
But while the challenges have not changed, the review's role in Labor's strategy has. With hospitals now the Prime Minister's election issue of choice, he has decided against an early release of the review. This is a short-sighted strategy. Certainly, keeping Dr Henry's proposal off the agenda will deny Tony Abbott the opportunity to attack its recommendations. But it ensures the Opposition Leader will be able to ask what is in the document that Mr Rudd does not want us to know about. Whoever takes the tactical point, the rest of us lose, because whatever policy areas dominate the lead-up to the election, the question that really matters -- how to raise the taxes to pay for them -- cannot be answered while the Henry review stays under wraps.
Mr Rudd's plan for Canberra to fund public hospitals direct, using 30 per cent of the states' GST revenue, makes the point. Whatever the medical merits of the proposal, it makes some sense in terms of financial administration. Giving the GST to the states always involved the heroic assumption that they would use the revenue responsibly, which many Labor premiers have not -- using the tax to pay off their pals in the public service unions. Nor have most state governments -- Victoria is an honourable exception -- possessed the policy firepower to contain the ever-increasing costs of their hospitals. As Mr Rudd rightly points out, hospital spending could account for all the states' entire budgets before the middle of the century. With hospital funding directly under Canberra's control it will be possible to force efficiencies by capping expenditure. But as the population ages and ever more expensive ways to keep us alive longer are developed, this will be nowhere near enough to pay for public hospitals as well as the health areas Canberra already administers -- payments to doctors and the cost of drugs. Sooner or later the GST will have to increase to 12.5 per cent if Australians are to continue enjoying a well-resourced medical system and largely high-quality public hospitals. But because Mr Rudd is resisting a full-fledged debate on tax, future funding is missing from the hospital funding plan and it renders arguments over which level of government should pay for what service incomplete. Similarly, Mr Rudd began the year talking about improving productivity but this cannot occur without considering personal and company tax plus all existing concessions for special interest groups.
It need not have been this way. Mr Rudd followed his instincts as a former bureaucrat and empowered the chief tax collector to talk discretely to his choice of experts and decide how much tax we should pay. And the Prime Minister followed his instincts as a politician by ruling out any increase to the GST before the review started. It would have been far more productive if he had followed Bob Hawke's example and convened a tax summit, where the experts slugged it out in the intellectual arena and public opinion deciding what ideas got the thumbs up. Paul Keating's proposal for a value-added tax failed at the 1985 summit, basically because it was not well enough presented -- no tax reform has a hope unless the people who will pay it understand how it will work and why it is needed. Including everybody in the policy process is not easy, as John Howard demonstrated when he fought the 1998 election on the GST, losing the popular vote in the process. But decisions emerging out of an open debate on tax reform provide more of a mandate than a report imposed on us by a bureaucrat.
We need a mature discussion on tax and we need it now. Mr Rudd should release the Henry review and go to the election with a tax policy shaped by months of public debate about it. There is still time to convene an open and expert summit to consider Mr Henry's proposals. And Mr Abbott should avoid the opportunity to run a scare campaign on tax, or rule out needed reforms, which he will have to consider if he wins. The way the Henry review was researched and written is not in its favour but it is the only comprehensive tax plan Australia has -- we should be allowed to debate it.
OUT OF TOUCH . . .
AFTER A HUGE FORTNIGHT OF REAL NEWS, THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD'S STAY IN TOUCH COLUMN WANTS TO KNOW WHY WE AREN'T FILLING OUR COLUMNS WITH FOLLOW-UPS TO THE PHONE HACKING SCANDAL ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD INVOLVING MURDOCH-OWNED TABLOID NEWS OF THE WORLD.
But we don't need a conspiracy theory to recognise why Herald editor Peter Fray and political writer Phillip Coorey missed the significance of the roofing insulation scandal. As late as February 12, the Herald insisted: "The idea of subsidising home insulation is a very good one." It wasn't bias or green ideology that shaped their woefully inadequate coverage -- just bad news judgment and bad editing. Not that tabloid hacking in London was a bad yarn, either, as the two lengthy articles we carried eight months ago, when it was fresh news, showed.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER MOUNTAIN FOR RUDD TO MOVE
THE Rudd government is starting to resemble the Monty Python How to do it sketch. Rudd and his ministers have yet to promise to rid the world of all known diseases, or to show how black people and white people can live together in peace and harmony, but their approach to genuinely complicated problems shows some of Monty Python's blithe superficiality.
Following Julia Gillard's My School website, and her instant national curriculum to solve the problems of schooling, in recent weeks, Julia has been showing us how to fix education. You set up a website, so schools can be compared against each other. And you get a new national curriculum, including lots of grammar, so children in all states are learning the same things. Simple.
And this week Kevin Rudd has been showing us how to fix our health system: you just get rid of the states. Easy-peasy.
The problems being addressed - particularly in health - are serious, and need attention. The Rudd government's approach to many of them contains good ideas - or at least a promising start towards good ideas. What is lacking, though, is a sense that the movement for change is based on solid foundations.
The hard work of convincing the public and the major stakeholders of the need for change and the desirability of the government's preferred solution has barely been attempted. It is assumed all know the problems. It is assumed too that once the government's plan is known, its rightness will be obvious, and all will inevitably agree.
On health, having promised the world before the election, Mr Rudd discovered how difficult change would be and appeared to set the issue aside.
Now, a few months out from another election, he appears to have rediscovered it, and devised a new funding
arrangement supposed to fix the problem.
Mr Rudd's solution is for the Commonwealth to provide more of the health budget (but not all of it), and to take
administration from the states and give it to a new bureaucratic structure, a series of hospital networks. Whether or not it will really solve the problem, the administrative side of his prescription is a revolutionary change, given Australia's constitutional arrangements. That may well be no bad thing, given the states' indifferent record in health. But Australians do not alter their constitution easily. Without virtually unanimous support, across the political spectrum, referendums to change the constitution fail.
It may not come to a referendum, of course: it is possible Mr Rudd will get the states to agree to hand over their health powers, and get the Senate to agree to pass the laws he needs to pay hospital networks directly. It is possible - but not very likely.
Mr Rudd has an obstructionist opposition facing him, which sees an opportunity in painting him as all talk and no action. It suits the Coalition's strategy to thwart him at every turn. And with Senator Steve Fielding, who sees saying no to important changes as a way to raise his profile, the Coalition has the Senate numbers to do it.
Mr Rudd believes that if the issue goes to an election, voters will see the sense of his proposals. He is probably right that many people understand the health system is in trouble now and heading for worse trouble as the population ages.
He is right that the Commonwealth must take a greater role. But Mr Rudd is ahead of public opinion in treating the states as if they barely exist. Many - particularly in this state - will certainly sympathise with his impatience over the quality of administration and political leadership at state level.
They will question the need for two levels of government with increasing overlap between their roles. But they may well be concerned about his sleight of hand in addressing the problems in health and elsewhere.
By not confronting the obvious constitutional question of the states' role directly, and gradually usurping their powers on issue after issue instead, he looks as if he is up to something shifty.
Not having done the groundwork preparing the public for major - no, epoch-making - constitutional change on this issue, he risks failure. And with failure he risks delaying necessary reform of the health system.
He risks entrenching the states in a role which they are showing a diminishing ability to perform. He risks a rerun of the republic referendum, which postponed a desirable change possibly for decades. This time, though, the issue is more than symbolism: it affects people's health and people's lives.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
CLINGING TO LIFE IN THE FAST LANE
MERCEDES-BENZ'S vice-president for safety development says speed doesn't kill; it's just driving at the wrong speed in a given situation that causes accidents.
Drivers should decide their own speed limits. We can hear the thump of approval from lead feet across the nation. But we are not so sure.
It's all very well for someone of German background to claim that driving at 250km/h is safe.
That is true - in Germany. Germans gave the world the autobahn. Australia gave the world the hoon. Germans are known to prefer order and discipline and all that, and as a result they drive at 250km/h in an orderly and disciplined - and safe - way.
Australians, on the other hand, being regrettably less focused, like to multitask behind the wheel. We check out bootylicious fellow road users, or text our friends.
Allowing us to decide how fast we drive while simultaneously reading the paper or applying make-up will not contribute to road safety. Slow down and smell the coffee - but try not to spill it on yourself changing lanes.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
SOMETIMES SAYING SORRY JUST ISN'T ENOUGH
LEADERS of other Western democracies might wish they had Kevin Rudd's problems. Australia has put the global financial crisis behind it and staved off the threat of recession, with an annual growth rate now running at 2.7 per cent. No Australian banks failed during the crisis, the rise in unemployment has been markedly lower than projected and the government is in the rare position of being able to prepare an election-year budget that cuts spending. It will argue that winding back the stimulus measures in this way is also a mark of its achievement as an economic manager, and the evidence is that voters are likely to agree. The latest poll shows Labor still ahead with a comfortable, if not huge, election-winning margin: 52 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote, compared with 48 per cent for the Coalition. By the conventional wisdom of politics, the Prime Minister should now be seizing every opportunity to remind voters that the government has proved its ability to guide Australia through difficult times.
But the conventional wisdom is not being followed, and Mr Rudd is not boasting about the government's economic credentials. The penitential formula ''mea culpa'' almost never passes the lips of politicians, but the Prime Minister uttered it fervently before the nation's television audiences. It was his way of acknowledging that the roof-insulation saga, which almost brought down Environment Minister Peter Garrett, pointed to a deeper problem in the process of government: too much haste, and too little attention to detail, in the implementation of key programs. And that failure, Mr Rudd conceded, went all the way to the top. Hence the mea culpa.
Since the roof-insulation program was part of the stimulus spending, the confession of fault cast doubt on the government's area of strength. And when the Prime Minister quickly moved on to announce the government's plan to end blame-shifting and cost-shifting between the Commonwealth and the states over healthcare, the praise from the industry's stakeholders was noticed less than their qualifications of that praise. The plan was sketchy on detail, some said, so how can we be sure that this assumption of responsibility for most public-hospital funding will work? And that, inevitably, prompted the government's political opponents to argue that a shoddy overhaul of hospital policy risked far worse disasters than anything seen in the roof-insulation debacle.
What was the Prime Minister thinking? As Age political editor Michelle Grattan writes in Insight today, it has never been an easy question to answer, and never harder than now. The easygoing Kevin Rudd Australians got to know on breakfast television when Labor was in opposition seemed to vanish in office, to be replaced by a man with a reputation for incessant micro-managing of staff and cabinet colleagues, and a penchant for speeches riddled with incomprehensible jargon. The micro-manager image is the most puzzling, because the prime ministerial mea culpa, politically inept though it may have been, recognised a fact. Far too often, the government has shown too little attention to detail. A government that likes to portray itself as soberly pragmatic has in fact been better at sketching its visions than it has been at explaining how they might become reality.
The Age has supported many of the Rudd government's major initiatives, and still does: the economic stimulus; the national broadband network; the My School online information scheme and the national schools curriculum; the emissions trading scheme; the assumption of responsibility for public hospitals and primary healthcare. But many of these initiatives have been marred by the government's haste and inattention, or seem likely to be. The broadband network has the potential to transform the way Australians interact with each other and the wider world, yet it was announced before it had been properly costed, with the result that the government is belatedly trying to heal its relationship with Telstra. Instead of threatening the telco, it now covets its network. The economic stimulus measures included the troubled, and now suspended insulation scheme. What else might have been insufficiently scrutinised? The national curriculum and the hospitals takeover involve fundamental shifts in federal-state relations, yet the government insists that it can substantially set them in place within the next 18 months. And the emissions trading scheme? That part of the vision has been receding into the background of late, along with pledges to restore the ecological health of the Murray-Darling basin. If the Prime Minister is serious about that mea culpa, he needs to offer Australians more than grand plans: we need to know they'll work, too.
JON VENABLES: RAGE WITHOUT REASON
This show of populist strength but the red-tops backed by the Conservatives is a dangerous game which could self-defeat, even in its own terms
Graphs of the prison population reveal that it suddenly started hurtling upwards 17 years ago, the start of a ruinous, costly and relentless climb that has continued ever since. It got going in early 1993, just as young Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were being charged with the murder of the even younger James Bulger. CCTV images of a helpless two-year-old being abducted and taken off to be slaughtered inevitably shocked, but they also created a disabling panic about crime which has lasted for a generation. With news that Venables has been recalled to jail, the case is now triggering a fresh flight of reason from the justice debate.
The tabloids are waving the principled banner of the public's right to know, but are trading speculative accounts of where Venables is, what he looks like even what he is eating while damning the government for "betraying James" by "silencing" details of Venables's latest misdoings. No matter that there is no presumption for disclosure, still less an automatic press release, at this stage with recalls, the red-tops backed by a Conservative party whose "rehabilitation revolution" now seems almost forgotten suggest the justice secretary is being soft by refusing to publish the details. This show of populist strength is a dangerous game which could self-defeat, even in its own terms. There are rare occasions when casual spraying about of information can frustrate justice, most obviously before a criminal trial. Even if Venables has committed a serious new crime, and even if the aim is to make him suffer as much as possible, it will not be served by prejudicing proceedings against him to the point where the courts rule themselves unable to establish guilt.
If, as is also possible, Venables has been recalled for some lesser bail breach such as skipping probation then reporting in a manner which unmasks him could also have perverse consequences. The punitive pundits are desperate to strip the secret identity that the courts granted him so that he can feel the full force of the fury he faces. But a fleeting incarceration for some minor transgression might have to be followed by the creation of yet another new identity at public expense, even though the cost of the last one created such outrage.
Venables initially had to be masked only because caving in to populist demands of the hour the trial judge departed from convention about juveniles and put names to the convicted child A and child B. Even those who see no moral reason to treat young offenders with mercy might pause to consider that it was their own demands to expose the name of the child killer that are now frustrating their desire to know about his adult sins. This topsy-turvy position flows from the triumph of fury over reason
GORDON BROWN AND IRAQ: EVERY ANSWER BAR THE BIG ONE
The prime minister had an answer for all questions except the one that really mattered why did he not take a stand against the war in 2003?
As he left the QEII exhibition centre after giving his evidence to the Iraq inquiry yesterday afternoon, Gordon Brown had a smile on his face. And so he might have. His four-hour session in front of Sir John Chilcot and his colleagues was, in his own terms, a success. With an election in mind, the prime minister's goal was largely a defensive one, to make a different impression from that which Tony Blair made in front of the inquiry in January while not reopening any big controversy about Iraq. The smile said it all: mission accomplished. If nothing else, it was a reminder that Mr Brown may do better in the election debates than he is widely expected to do.
Mr Brown began with an unambiguous declaration that the Iraq war was the right policy, embarked on for the right reasons. He then produced an answer for every question that the panel asked, not least the potentially tricky ones about defence spending during Mr Brown's Treasury years. Mr Brown's reputation as a details man the sort of man who really reads Annexe E, as one of the interviewees in Andrew Rawnsley's new book puts it was much in evidence. There were nerdy exchanges about the working of helicopter rotor blades in desert air conditions and anoraky stuff about the impact of changes in accounting procedures. But Mr Brown was always on his best political behaviour. At times, though, it was as if everyone involved sensed they were going through the motions. Anyone who hoped that Mr Brown might take this opportunity to dissociate himself from Tony Blair over Iraq will have been disappointed, not for the first time.
Yet Mr Brown also made some points that were designed to distance him from his predecessor. He talked more about the importance of cabinet than Mr Blair, and he made implicitly critical remarks about some of Mr Blair's sofa-governmental ways. In particular, he went out of his way to praise the sacrifices of the armed forces and to express his sadness over service and Iraqi civilian losses. Mr Blair conspicuously did not do that, and he has been been much and widely criticised, including by his own lieutenants, for the offence. Mr Brown, well coached, made sure not to make any such mistake. By the end, his frequent reiteration of his distress began to sound a touch fulsome. But it was important that regrets were offered, and Mr Brown was also right to meet some bereaved service relatives privately yesterday.
Having made clear that he was not going to criticise the war at all or attack Mr Blair head-on, the biggest danger for the prime minister concerned his relationship with the MoD and the services as chancellor. Mr Brown was lambasted in some front pages yesterday, with the former chief of the defence staff Lord Guthrie accusing him of underfunding the army and thus costing the lives of soldiers, while the former SAS head Sir Graeme Lamb charged that so much equipment was either broken or lacking that the military's ability to wage war was now compromised. But the panel, not for the first time, were unable to make such charges stick. Mr Brown continues to play a bit loose with the figures his claim to have been a supportive chancellor to the services is borne out neither by the sums nor by the military's experience. But Mr Brown insisted the military had everything that it needed though not, he acknowledged, everything that it asked for.
In short, Mr Brown had an answer for all questions except the one that really mattered. Why on earth did someone so historically and politically aware, so proud of his sense of right and wrong, so sensitive to the government's standing and so sceptical about Mr Blair's leadership not take a stand against the war? Everyone in British politics in 2003 knew that if Mr Brown had opposed the Iraq war it would not have happened. Yesterday was never going to be the defining Iraq moment for Mr Brown. That moment was in March 2003 and he flunked it.
UNTHINKABLE? TREASURE ISLANDS
Unsurprisingly, cash-for-Corfu has gone down in Athens like 'Up Yours Delors' did in Brussels
"We give you cash, you give us Corfu and the Acropolis too". Bild is Germany's equivalent to the Sun, and it covered a proposal to salvage the creaking eurozone with Wapping-style tact. Unsurprisingly, cash-for-Corfu has gone down in Athens like "Up Yours Delors" did in Brussels. Even before the story broke, the overdrawn government was muttering that Berlin should say thanks for the Greek gold it stole during the war, and the very idea of surrendering Hellenic heritage in return for mere money was always likely to drive this proud nation into the sort of rage associated with losing one's marbles. But just pause and coolly consider the original suggestion of the German Euro-MP who suggested that if Athens's largesse necessitates a bailout for the continent's currency, then the Greeks might consider what they can offer in return in terms of "assets, such as uninhabited islands". Would such an exchange necessarily be such a bad thing? If Greece obtained a measure of solvency, while the Germans laid their hands on a happy sliver of history, then most economists would declare a clear gain from trade. And why not extend the approach? Instead of grandstanding with Argentina over the Falklands, Gordon Brown might exchange them for funds to fill the gaping hole in his books. And if France fancies the Channel Islands, would it be unthinkable to have the discussion? In straitened times, wider diplomacy must factor in islands, and not simply presume that each is entire of itself.
THE KOREA HERALD
NO NEAT SOLUTION?
In January, the nation's jobless rate shot up to 5 percent, as the number of unemployed people seeking jobs increased by 368,000 to 1.22 million from a year ago. Add to this number those that did not search for jobs and the underemployed, and the number will surpass 4 million.
When it comes to unemployment, youths constitute the largest group of victims. The official jobless rate of the group of people aged 15 to 34 stood at 9.3 percent. Excluded from the official rate here again were those who did not seek employment and the part-timers and temps who worked more than an hour per week.
More light can be shed on their plight when the focus is placed on a specific group of unmarried jobless people aged 15 to 34, who do not attend school. They are classified into three groups: those who search for jobs, those who express a desire to work but do not search for jobs and those who express no desire to work. The latter two groups are defined to be "NEET" - "not in employment, education or training."
The NEET population, which had been growing steadily in the past, surpassed the 400,000 mark for the first time last year. According to a report from the Korea National Statistical Office, this population grew from 330,000 in 2004 to 430,000 in 2009. It increased by as many as 100,000 although the total population of the 15-to-34 age group declined 7.5 percent during the same period, from 15.34 million to 14.19 million.
Jobless youths may have high expectations for employment now that the economy is recovering fast. But they had better not. Not many jobs are created just because the economy is growing at a faster pace.
It goes without saying that the economy must anchor itself to a strong manufacturing base. Such an economy more effectively shields itself from global economic disruptions, as evidenced during the current global financial crisis.
But the government must pay an equal amount of attention, if not more, to the service sector if it wishes to free the economy from the yoke of "jobless growth." The reason is that growth in services creates more jobs than that in manufacturing.
According to a report from the Korea Labor Institute, it took 9.2 people to produce 1 billion won in value added in the manufacturing sector in 2007. But almost twice as many people, or 18.1 to be precise, were needed if the same amount of value added was to be generated in services.
A serious problem concerning youth unemployment is the mismatch of jobs available and jobs sought. Small- and medium-sized business enterprises often find it difficult to recruit qualified high school graduates. On the other hand, applicants vastly outnumber jobs available at big businesses such as Samsung, Hyundai, LG and SK. A first step in addressing this problem may lie in the recent launch of "Meister" high schools.
Vocational high schools were supposed to help provide a skilled workforce for the intermediate level between unskilled labor and college-educated engineers. But they failed to do so because of inadequate funding.
Against the backdrop, 21 vocational schools have recently made a fresh start as Meister high schools, each of which is entitled to hundreds of millions of won in government subsidies - up to 10 million won for reeducating teachers in the first year of operation and up to 250 million won in three years for other purposes. More vocational schools are set to follow suit in the near future.
The Meister schools and the corporations concerned will have to cooperate with each other very closely in developing job-training programs. It will be mutually beneficial if the schools are able to provide the kinds of workers demanded at workplaces with assistance from the corporations.
THE KOREA HERALD
Pyongyang is threatening to revoke tourism accords with Seoul if tour programs for Mount Geumgang and Gaeseong are not allowed to resume in the near future. It says that if no action is taken, it would withdraw all special favors given to the South Korean tourism operators and freeze all assets it holds in the tourist areas.
But the North is grossly mistaken if it believes such a threat would bring the South to its knees, forcing it to permit South Koreans to visit Mount Geumgang and Gaeseong soon. As expected, Seoul is adamant in demanding a renewed guarantee of security to South Koreans as a precondition for resuming tourist visits.
South Korean tourist visits to North Korea came to a halt when a South Korean woman straying to an off-limits zone near the Mount Geumgang resort was shot to death in 2008. Seoul has since demanded an investigation into the case, a commitment to preventing such an incident and a renewed guarantee of security. It says tourist visits will not resume unless these preconditions are met.
The North denounces the South for making such demands, accusing it of "throwing tantrums" and putting a "roadblock on tourist visits." But which country would permit its nationals to visit places where they would be exposed to a security risk?
The two sides failed to reach an accord when they held talks on this issue last month. On Thursday, the North issued a statement, calling for the resumption of visits to Gaeseong this month and to Mount Geumgang in April.