month march 10, edition 000451, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
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- ONE HURDLE CROSSED
- HOPE IN BURMA
- DESTINED TO DISAPPEAR - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- GREED RESPONSIBLE FOR BABRI MESS - SHOIB HASAN
- AN EVOLVING THREAT
- HEADLEY CHASE, LASHKAR CONSPIRACY
- CONG FINALLY GETS IT RIGHT ON QUOTA BILL
- ARE YOU SERIOUS?
- SEEKING SAUDI HELP ONPAK TIES WAS STUPID
- PATIALA PEG -VIKAS KAHOL
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- A MILESTONE MOMENT
- IN POOR SHAPE
- BUSTING URBAN LEGENDS - DIPANKAR GUPTA
- 'FOR TRIBALS, DEVELOPMENT MEANS EXPLOITATION' - JYOTI PUNWANI
- NOW TO MAKE THE BILL WORK
- CITY OF BLIGHTS
- LADIES COMPARTMENT - SAGARIKA GHOSE
- NO MORE AMAN KACHROOS - SHIVAM VIJ
- ON LADIES, NOT GENTS - ADVAITA KALA
- PUNCTURE YOUR EGO - RAJAN SURI
- JUDGMENT RESERVED
- LET'S JUNK THE HYPOCRISY - JAITHIRTH RAO
- THE WHIP HAND - C.V. MADHUKAR
- UNSETTLING POLITICS - MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR
- VIEW FROM THE LEFT - MANOJ C G
- TIBET ANNIVERSARIES - C. RAJA MOHAN
- THE STORYTELLING OF WAR
STATE OF BANKS
- EMPOWER, BUT BEYOND JUST THE BILL
- BIBEK DEBROY
- BUDGETING FOR SIMPLER TAX CODES - SANJAY BANERJI
- SEED OF THE PROBLEM - SANJEEB MUKHERJEE
- A HISTORIC VOTE
- SUBSTANCE OVER STYLE
- VISION 2010: A DANGEROUS MYOPIA - AMIYA KUMAR BAGCHI
- LIVESTOCK REARING KEY TO POVERTY REDUCTION STRATEGIES - GAVIN WALL
- OUR WHOLE COUNTRY LOSES IF WOMEN AND GIRLS ARE UNABLE TO FULFIL THEIR POTENTIAL - ELA BHATT
- SHOWER OF AID BRINGS PROGRESS TO KENYAN VILLAGE - JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
- OSCAR: IS KATHRYN BIGELOW'S VICTORY A WIN FOR WOMEN? - PETER BRADSHAW
- TAPPING THORIUM
- DEFEND LIBERTY
- MAOIST WITCH HUNT - YOGI AGGARWAL
- EU MUST DECIDE ITS STRATEGIC PRIORITIES - ROGER COHEN
- RS'S DATE WITH HISTORY
- KILLINGS BY TALIBAN
- INFANT MORTALITY
- ANOMALIES IN AGRICULTURE - BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
- IDENTITY CRISIS - BY UTTAM SENGUPTA
- WATER POLLUTION IN PUNJAB - BY BIKRAM SINGH VIRK
- RUNNING OUT OF FRIENDS - BY YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN
- IMMIGRANTS HAVE CHANGED DUTCH SOCIETY - BY PETER MAIR
- CAN CITIES BE MANUFACTURED?
- THINK IT THROUGH
- MFIS MUST REMEMBER BASICS
- DANGERS OF HUBRIS
- IS THE STABILITY COUNCIL A GOOD IDEA? - INDIRA RAJARAMAN
- SLUMBERING MANDARINS - M J ANTONY
- NO END TO THIS CIRCUS - A K BHATTACHARYA
- PROPERTY RIGHTS FOR FUTURE MIGRANTS - SANJEEV SANYAL
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- CULINARY MANIFESTO
- DIVEST TO RETAIL ALONE
- A DEFICIT OF AUTONOMY
- MORE SATYAMS IN A NEW TELENGANA?
- SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR
- NURTURE QUALITIES TO FLOURISH & FLOWER - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- THE UNION MUST PLAY ITS REDISTRIBUTIVE ROLE
- WE WILL CUT DRUG PRICES BY REDUCING PRODUCTION COSTS: GLAXOSMITHKLINE - KHOMBA SINGH & ARUN KUMA
- OUR DNA IS DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS, SAYS ANIRBAN DAS - RATNA BHUSHAN
- HISTORY IS MADE, MAY HAVE FALLOUT
- PUT STATES IN ORDER - BY P.C. ALEXANDER
- ECONOMIC INSECURITY IS TROUBLING OBAMA - BY BOB HERBERT
- INTERPRETING THE COLOUR GREEN - BY VANDANA SHIVA
- FEEL FREE, MR HUSAIN - BY CHO S. RAMASWAMY
- IGNITE THE HUNGER FOR KNOWLEDGE - BY SADHGURU
- PARTY AND REBEL
- WELCOME CHANGE
- TIGER COUNTDOWN
- SUGAR AND ITS PRICING - BY ALOK KUMAR GIRI
- MONARCHY AS IT STILL EXISTS
- LIVING PROOF OF ARMENIAN GENOCIDE - ROBERT FISK
- BILL FOR CHANGE?
- STEP BY STEP
- AN OPEN LETTER TO M.F. HUSAIN - SHAZI ZAMAN
- AURA OF A RADICAL - ANDRÉ BÉTEILLE
- A GIANT STEP
- EURO TROUBLE
- IN DIRE STRAITS - BY NILOTPAL BASU
- ACCORD PRIORITY TO CHECK PRICE RISE OF FOOD ITEMS - BY ELUMALAI KANNAN
- INSTINCTIVE LESSON - BY KAMALA BALACHANDRAN
- THE HOLY DIP - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
- SUPPING WITH THE DEVIL - BY KULDIP NAYAR
- PROMISE-DELIVERY GAP - BYLINE M J AKBAR
THE JERUSALEM POST
- THE SPANISH DISEASE
- YALLA PEACE: 'APARTHEID WEEK' OR 'WEAKNESS'? - BY RAY HANANIA
- JUST WHOSE COUNTRY IS THIS? - BY DAVID BREAKSTONE
- IN MY OWN WRITE: CHANGE IN THE WEATHER - BY JUDY MONTAGU
- WHEN COURT JEWS DEFEND MORAL COWARDS - BY SHMULEY BOTEACH
- THE NEW AMERICAN JEW ON ISRAEL - BY JESSE SINGAL
- WE ALL LIVE IN SHIMON HATZADDIK - BY DANNY HERSHTAL
- IRAN INCENSED OVER MABHOUH HIT - BY AZAR AZADI
- TIME'S A-WASTING
- JEWISH OR ISRAELI? - BY ALUF BENN
- PROXIMITY FUSE - BY AMIR OREN
- HAREDI SERVICE NOW - BY SHAHAR ILAN
- THEY SHOULD BE THANKFUL - BY KARNI ELDAD
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- SAVING THE POST OFFICE
- LAWS, LIES AND THE ABORTION DEBATE
- AN ADVOCATE FOR EQUAL JUSTICE
- MEET THE CANDIDATE: A CONVICTED ABUSER
- IT'S UP TO IRAQIS NOW. GOOD LUCK. - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- PILGRIM NON GRATA IN MECCA - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- THE GREAT PROSTATE MISTAKE - BY RICHARD J. ABLIN
- A ONE-TRACK SENATE - BY BARRY FRIEDMAN AND ANDREW D. MARTIN
- A GOOD MOVE
- FIRE TRAGEDY
- POLITICAL HYPHENS
- NUCLEAR 'STATUS' AND SECURITY - SHAMSHAD AHMAD
- PATRIOTS - ZAFAR HILALY
- THE CURSED ONES - DR A Q KHAN
- THE RADIO TALK - MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
- YOU'RE NO AMERICAN PREZ, MR PM! - ANJUM NIAZ
- CULTURE OF VIOLENCE - RAOOF HASAN
- STRATEGIC DEPTH: PETRAEUS TOO SEES LOGIC
- ATTACKS BY FLEEING TERRORISTS
- PROLIFERATION OF OMBUDSMEN
- INDIAN TACTICS ARE UNCHANGED - M ASHRAF MIRZA
- ROLE OF INTELLIGENCE IN AFGHAN WAR - AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
- BISP: AN ETERNAL TRIBUTE TO WOMEN'S DAY - FARZANA RAJA
- AN OPEN SECRET REVEALED BY RAW - ALI SUKHANVER
- DOES FOREIGN POLICY NEED RELIGION? - GERARD RUSSELL
- NOT SO ROSY
- ANTI-WOMEN REFORM
- THE CONSERVATIVE YADAVS..!
- FAILURE TO EARN PUBLIC CONFIDENCE - ABDUL KHALEQUE
- OVERSEAS EMPLOYMENT - MD. ABU NASER
- FALL OF AMERICA'S UNIVERSITIES - BILL COSTELLO
- THE RIGHT FOCUS AT LAST
- SHOCK, HORROR? NOT QUITE
- AFTER THE POLL, IT'S TIME TO SALUTE DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- EYE TO EYE WITH YUDHOYONO
- ABBOTT PLAYS BABY POLITICS
- SOLDIERS IN AN ABSURD PREDICAMENT
- WHEN SOME PARENTS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
- THE EUROZONE: FRIGHT CLUB
- IN PRAISE OF DENIS AVEY
- POLITICAL PARTIES: LOST TRIBES
THE KOREA HERALD
- JOINT EXERCISE
- ATTACKS IN RUSSIA
- RISE OF THE MARKET-MIMICKING STATE - ANDREW SHENG
- THE MIDDLE AGAINST BOTH EXTREMES - KIM SEONG-KON
- THE ENEMY WITHIN: GREATER DANGER IN U.S.
THE JAPAN TIMES
- A BLUEPRINT FOR CHINA
- IMF FLUNKS GOOD GOVERNANCE - BY KEVIN RAFFERTY
- AT LAST, A TURKISH MILITARY COUP THAT FAILED - BY IBRAHIM KALIN
THE JAKARTA POST
- OUR CAPITAL-COST DISADVANTAGE
- ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN. AND THE WOMEN? - JULIA SURYAKUSUMA
- WHAT WE COULD EXPECT FROM OBAMA'S VISIT - YOHANES SULAIMAN
- INDONESIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS AUSTRALIAN PM RUDD CHANCE FOR REDEMPTION - JOHN LEE
- WOMEN RIGHTS: AN INTERNATIONAL ISSUE? - VENILLA RAJAGURU-PUSHPANATHAN
- ELECTION CHANGE IS LIMITED
- KEY ROLE OF FOREX POLICY
- SET NEW LOCAL CRITERIONS
- IS US' NUKE-FREE WORLD PLEDGE SINCERE? - BY HU YUMIN (CHINA DAILY)
- COCKTAIL OF ASSETS MAY BE THE RIGHT CURE - BY HE ZHICHENG (CHINA DAILY)
- CARBON INTENSITY A FAULTY GAUGE - BY YANG HONGLIANG (CHINA DAILY)
- CHINA STRIVES TO BUILD SOCIETY WITH MORE FAIRNESS, JUSTICE - BY HAN BING, WU LIMING (XINHUA)
- NEPAL TO BE A SECULAR STATE?
- MOON AND NAMBIAR FAMILIES' ALLEGIANCE TO INDIA AND WAR CRIMES
- UN INVESTIGATORS
- REAWAKENING IN THE EASTERN REGION - BY T.M.J.BANDARA
- CLARITY MISSING
- WOMEN'S SIDE
- NEPAL-US TRADE TIES NEED FOR REJUVENATION - SHANKER MAN SINGH
- PIRATED OR ORIGINAL? - DWAIPAYAN REGMI
ONE HURDLE CROSSED
WOMEN'S BILL GETS THROUGH RAJYA SABHA
It is extremely unfortunate that MPs affiliated to the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party, apart from a couple of others, created an unseemly ruckus in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday for the second consecutive day in their effort to block the Constitution amendment Bill seeking to reserve 181 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha and 1,370 of the 4,109 seats in the 28 State Assemblies or one-third of all legislative seats to which representatives are directly elected for women. It is the inalienable right of any legislator, whether in Parliament or State Assemblies, to oppose legislation, irrespective of whether the reasons are justifiable. But crude behaviour and strong-arm efforts to intimidate the Chair, and thereby the House, as was witnessed in the Rajya Sabha over Monday and Tuesday, to register dissent are unacceptable. While it is unfortunate that a Constitution amendment Bill should have been debated and passed without the participation of naysayers, there really was no other option but to suspend the most unruly of the MPs. The political objective of the RJD and the SP would have been better served had their MPs stayed back in the House, participated in the debate and voted against the Bill. They chose otherwise.
It is to the credit of the BJP that it demonstrated great maturity in facilitating the passage of the Bill. Since the BJP was the first to propose reservation for women in Parliament and State Assemblies Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee moved a Private Member's Bill on this issue in 1996, which was later adopted by the United Front Government headed by Mr HD Deve Gowda it was natural for the party to support this path-breaking measure to politically empower women. Yet, it would be in order to highlight the fact that the BJP, in sharp contrast to both the Congress and the naysayers, rose above narrow partisan concerns and politics on an issue that impacts half the country's population. The Congress is not known to have shown similar concern when the BJP was in power at the head of the NDA Government. Indeed, had it not been for the BJP and its allies, the Bill would have foundered on the rock of naysayers' obstinacy in the Rajya Sabha. In more ways than one, the main Opposition party has bailed out the Government from a tricky situation that could have fetched the Congress huge embarrassment.
It must be noted that the Congress decided to introduce the Bill without consulting the Opposition or, for that matter, even its allies. The purpose was to project the proposed law as a 'gift' of the Congress, more specifically its president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, to the women of the country and then seek their votes in return. Even after getting the Bill through the Rajya Sabha with the help of the Opposition (it will have to depend on the BJP and its allies for the Bill's passage in the Lok Sabha too) the Congress has begun to brazenly claim 'victory' and heap praise on its supreme leader. That's both short-sighted and self-defeating. If the purpose of the Bill is to empower women, irrespective of their political affiliation or ideology, by making them part of the law-making process, then the Congress should desist from appropriating the proposed law. Or else it will stand accused of amending the Constitution to merely further its electoral interests. It's another matter that such chicanery won't wash with the masses.
HOPE IN BURMA
BUT DEMOCRACY STILL A DREAM
The announcement of the first set of election laws by the Burmese junta has been received with mixed reactions. The laws set the stage for an impending national election later this year that the military Government says will see Burma emerge as a "disciplined democracy". Two camps have emerged over this latest development one that believes that the election laws are nothing but a farce and that the polls are bound to be rigged in favour of the military regime, and the other that says that some comfort can be taken in the knowledge that a democratic election, the first in 20 years and no matter how skewed, is better than the status quo. Both sides have valid reasons to trash and hail the election laws. It is a fact that the 2008 Constitution framed by the junta is a highly dubious piece of document that cleverly excludes the country's main Opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, from contesting any polls. A clause in the Constitution bars anyone from standing for election if he or she is married to a foreigner. Though Ms Suu Kyi's British husband Michael Aris died in 1999, there is no reason to believe that the junta will not enforce the constitutional provision in the strictest of sense. Besides, Ms Suu Kyi is still under house arrest she has been so for almost 15 of the last 20 years and it is highly unlikely that she will be released before the election. It will be recalled that Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy had won the 1990 general election, the last time democratic polls were held in Burma, but she was never allowed to form the Government by the military, which has ruled the country in one form or another since 1962. Given the junta's vice-like grip on Burma, it is understandable why some sections of the Burmese people feel that the announced polls will do little in terms of bringing about real democracy. Indeed, according to the declared election laws, it is the junta that will hand pick the election commission and have a significant say in the formation of the new Parliament.
Nonetheless, there is reason for hope. A democratic election, irrespective of whatever degree of probity, could prove to be crucial for democratic forces in Burma to further their democratic struggle. This will no doubt take time and depend on several factors. But the very fact that the junta is willing to move towards a semblance of democracy means that international pressure and perhaps internal rumblings are getting to the military Generals. Maybe the junta does not want a repeat of the 2007 protests that saw thousands come on to the streets for their democratic rights. Thus, the impending election could prove to be a turning point for Burma.
DESTINED TO DISAPPEAR
SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
Turkey's outburst of wrath against the United States takes me back to my schooldays and the tragedy that some of my classmates personified without anyone suspecting it. Those Armenian boys were members of a diaspora of some eight million people, about 6,000 of whom still live in Kolkata.
Our class prefect was a ruddy youth called Minos Ohan. Since initials and not first names were used then, the geography mistress, an Englishwoman, thought M Ohan was an Indian "Mohan". No one could have looked less like Mohan than this stockily muscled boy with heavy features and tightly curled reddish hair but how was anyone to know his father or grandfather had abbreviated Ohanian to Ohan? They didn't insert an apostrophe between O and H but didn't object if the name was mistaken for an Irish-sounding O'Han.
Though their candlelit procession on All Soul's Night hinted at a distant identity, most Armenians tried to camouflage giveaway names. Such are the complexes from which people without a land to call their own suffer. There were the Mackertich (another Anglicised version) brothers and the two unrelated Gaspers. Mr Sarkies taught Physics and married Amy Avdall from the sister school. Our Chemistry master, Mr Catchatoor, must have been, I now think, Kachaturian and may have stuck to the original had the composer been famous then.
We thrived on the legend of Sir Paul Chater, a school dropout who made a fortune in Hong Kong (where a Chater Street still exists though Hong Kongers think of him as Parsi or Jewish) and left some of it to La Martiniere. "We thank thee for Claude Martin our founder and for Paul Chater our benefactor" we dutifully intoned in the school prayer. Galstaun was probably Kolkata's best known Armenian, builder of palaces and mansions, owner of strings of race horses and a figure in Rumer Godden's novel, The Dark Horse. The British never knew how to treat him.
Many years later a British journalist I knew in Tehran turned up to write about the community and Armenian College. There was a sizable number of Armenians in Iran and the Shah's Government sent some to study in Kolkata. I doubt if the ayatollahs continued that non-denominational generosity.
Armenians hovered on the fringe. When I visited a Georgian magazine editor in Tbilisi in 1990 with a Soviet diplomat of Armenian origin, the editor burst out as soon as my companion had left the room, "He's not a loyal Soviet citizen. The only reason they stay is because they know the Turks will massacre them the moment they leave the Soviet Union!"
The Ottoman Turks did just that during World War I. However, when Armenians set up an independent republic in 1918, it was annexed not by Turkey but the Soviet Union. But it's the Turkish killings the Georgian had in mind. Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Georgia, Italy, Russia and Uruguay are among the more than 20 countries that recognise the bloodshed as genocide. So does the European Parliament and the UN Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. But Britain doesn't. Neither does the US though sections of American opinion come perilously close at times to doing so.
This is one of those times. The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee recently supported a resolution by 23 votes to 22 calling the death of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 genocide. Turkey saw red and is at the time of writing going through a verbal equivalent of sending a gunboat. It is threatening not to allow American troops use of Turkey's Incirlik air base as a staging post for Iraq, to withdraw the Turkish contingent from Afghanistan and not to support the US over stiffer sanctions against Iran at the Security Council where Turkey is a member. Turkey might create a crisis for Nato by carrying out its threats if the entire House of Representatives follows the FAC.
But though 215 out of 435 House members have publicly supported the resolution, the US is bound to draw back from the brink, leaving the Armenian National Committee of America gnashing its teeth. The committee may have spent $ 750,000 on lobbying members but Turkey has reportedly spent $ 1 million and there's more where that came from. The FAC adopted the same resolution in 2007 but the Bush Administration's intense lobbying killed it.
No great power can afford to let idealism run away with self-interest. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supported the Armenian cause while on the stump. President Barack Obama did so even more resoundingly. "The Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion or a point of view," he thundered, "but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence." But visiting Istanbul last year, he downplayed the genocide a word that makes Turkish politicians reach for their revolvers to "one of the great atrocities of the 20th century."
Turkey might tacitly concede that. It says nothing about Armenians being forcibly relocated and deported in 1915 but maintains there was no systematic pogrom. About 300,000 Armenians may have perished but they did so from disease and exposure and at the hands of Syrians and Palestinians. In fact, Armenians killed a large number of Turks with Tsarist Russian backing, according to Turkey.
Between 40,000 and 70,000 Armenians still remain in Turkey. Another 140,000 constitute the majority in the disputed province of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia itself has a population of about three million. There are no diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey. Under American pressure they signed a protocol in Geneva last October but it has not been ratified. However, as the International Crisis Group acknowledges, Armenia does not make normalisation of relations conditional on Turkey's admission of genocide.
Despite modest public relations campaigns in Paris and Washington, and though an independent Armenia now exists, Armenians do not have the international reach of Zionists or even Tibetans. Few in India have heard of their plight and Kolkata's once thriving Armenian community is now vanishing. Galstaun's residence is the desolate Nizam palace congested with shoddy Government flats; Galstaun Mansions is Queen's Mansions. With canny prescience, Hitler asked when he was preparing his anti-Jew campaign, "Who speaks today of the annihilation of Armenians?" Ohanian's transformation into Ohan and being mistaken for Mohan confirms that the Armenian diaspora's destiny is to disappear.
GREED RESPONSIBLE FOR BABRI MESS
The Government-appointed red-bearded beauties of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board are responsible for almost all the controversies that plague the Muslim community. The Babri Masjid controversy is one such example. The issue was taken up by the AIMPLB for its own vested interests and blown out of proportion. Otherwise, the matter could have been sorted out amicably.
The Babri mosque was built for Shias by one of emperor Babur's generals, Mir Baqi, who was himself a Shia. There are different mosques for Sunnis and Shias and they offer prayers separately. When the Babri Masjid controversy first reared its ugly head in 1988, the general secretary of the All-India Shia Conference had affirmed in a Press statement that the structure was indeed a Shia mosque and that Shias had no objection to its relocation to a nearby village called Shahnava (in Faizabad) which was the birthplace of Mir Baqi. No heed was paid to this either by the Government or by the AIMPLB.
It was then that the AIMPLB mullahs became the torch-bearers of the Babri issue and, instead of taking a realistic view of the situation, chose the confrontational route. After this the Babri Action Committee was formed and the whole Muslim community was made to believe that the reconstruction of the Babri mosque would lead to salvation, and that no other issue was of greater importance than this one.
The AIMPLB's confrontationist attitude has only added fuel to the fire of hatred against Muslims. The board's rigid position has vitiated the environment to the point that a realistic solution to the problem now seems impossible. Recently, the AIMPLB shrugged off BJP president Nitin Gadkari's well-intended offer to resolve the contentious issue once and for all.
The Babri issue exemplifies how greed and political ambition have corrupted the minds of those who are supposed to guard the interests of a particular community. A community which desperately needs education and employment simply cannot afford controversies like this one if it is to progress.
AN EVOLVING THREAT
STEPHEN TANKEL, AUTHOR OF STORMING THE WORLD STAGE: THE STORY OF LASHKAR-E-TAYYEBA , ON WHY THE WORLD
MUST BE WARY OF LET
In 2006, the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyeba entered the Afghan theatre, necessitating its increased presence in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The group is often mentioned during discussions of the Punjabi Taliban, militants from Punjabi jihadi groups, who arrived in large numbers at approximately the same time. But these militants follow the Deobandi school of Islam and are close to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Lashkar is also a Punjabi group, but its Ahle Hadith faith and close relationship with the Pakistani military establishment have contributed to historically rocky relationship with Deobandi militant groups and other pro-Taliban elements.
Sharing physical space in the NWFP/FATA and operational interests in Afghanistan has created the opportunity for increased conflict and collaboration with Al Qaeda and the various pro-Taliban elements there. As collaboration increases, so too does Lashkar's threat to Pakistan and the West.
This analysis is divided into four sections. The first assesses Lashkar's historical relations with the different actors operating in the NWFP/FATA. The second discusses the nature of Lashkar's expansion in the area from roughly 2006 onward. The third explores its collaboration and conflicts with other groups operating there, and the nature of its involvement in anti-Western and anti-Pakistan activities emanating from the region. I conclude with a brief assessment of Lashkar's threat to the West, particularly the impact of its presence in the NWFP/FATA.
A Group Apart
Although the majority of Pakistani Muslims belong to the Barelvi school of Islam, the major jihadi groups are Deobandi and Ahle Hadith. Multiple militant groups adhere to the Deobandi school of thought. They are tied to one another as well as to the Afghan Taliban and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan by the same madaris, many of which are found in the NWFP and FATA. During the 1990s in Afghanistan, Pakistani Deobandi militants trained at camps in Taliban-controlled areas, their cadre fought alongside the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, and some of their leaders held posts in the Taliban Government.In addition to solidifying their bonds with the Taliban, this brought them closer to Al Qaeda.
The Ahle Hadith are an even smaller minority in Pakistan than the Deobandis and their infrastructure pales in comparison. Since its establishment, Lashkar has differed from the mainstream Ahle Hadith movement over the interpretation of jihad. Thus, it had to build its own support structure. State support for the Kashmir jihad enabled Lashkar to build vast infrastructure, which it has since sought to protect. Given that it has no close allies on which to rely, it is not surprising that Lashkar is more susceptible to state pressure than other militant actors and refrains from launching attacks in Pakistan.
Despite ad hoc cooperation in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, Lashkar historically has had antagonist relations with Deobandi militant groups. Further, unlike these groups, Lashkar had no loyalty to the Taliban Government or infrastructure in Afghanistan. Because of its Ahle Hadith background, and possibly because Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency sought to keep it separate from other actors, Lashkar's freedom of movement was constrained in Afghanistan during the 1990s. It primarily trained at separate camps in Kunar and Nuristan provinces, and did not fight alongside or otherwise work closely with the Taliban. While significant numbers of Deobandi militants crossed the border to fight alongside the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Lashkar did not despatch militants to Afghanistan to counter US troops. This decision created additional tension with the Taliban and its Deobandi allies.
Lashkar's closest Salafi allies in Kunar, the militant Jamiat al-Dawa al-Quran wal-Sunna, initially supported the US counter-attacks and the nascent Government of Hamid Karzai.
However, Jamiat al-Dawa al-Quran wal-Sunna quickly turned against the United States and is now part of the multiheaded insurgency in the Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. Lashkar had been providing logistical support to Jamiat al-Dawa for a number of years and increased this assistance after 9/11. In roughly 2006, as the Afghan insurgency picked up steam and Lashkar's militant operations in Indianc-ontrolled Kashmir became more constricted, the group began working with Jamiat al-Dawa to infiltrate fighters across the border into Kunar province. This decision necessitated increasing its presence in the NWFP/FATA.
Lashkar's post-2006 activities in the tribal areas were geared primarily toward waging war in Afghanistan. The group was recruiting, training, and housing militants as well as facilitating their infiltration across the Durand Line the disputed border dating to the late-19th century. It was reported to be doing some recruiting in the NWFP/FATA for the Kashmir jihad as well, though it is difficult to know if this was merely part of the group's attempt to maintain its Kashmir-centric reputation. In the NWFP/FATA and in Afghanistan, Lashkar has operated through like-minded groups or affiliates, rather than under its own banner. This was done to preserve its reputation and avoid embarrassing entanglements with the state. The group, which is designated as foreign terrorist organisation by the US State Department and the United Nations, is officially banned in Pakistan. However, it has maintained closer working relationship with the army and ISI than many other banned militant groups in Pakistan.
Lashkar built a small presence early in the decade in South Waziristan, where it conducted training not far from Al Qaeda. It is strongest in the Bajaur and Mohmand tribal agencies, where it relies on relationships dating to the Afghan jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s. In addition to recruiting and training fighters in Bajaur and Mohmand, Lashkar also began using its bases there as staging areas for inserting fighters into Afghanistan.7
Under the banner of its aboveground social welfare wing, the Jamaat ud-Dawa'h, Lashkar established mosques, madaris, schools, and offices throughout the NWFP and expanded its relief work in the region. Some of these venues were used for recruiting. For example, Lashkar was one of a number of jihadi outfits to open liaison and recruitment offices in the Lower Dir and Swat districts. Alongside other groups including Jaish-e-Mohammed, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and al Badr, Lashkar also allegedly set up base camp near Derra Adam Khel, a town devoted to producing weapons and ammunition.
Collaboration and Conflict
Lashkar's proximity with Al Qaeda as well as various Deobandi militants and other pro-Taliban actors created opportunities for collaboration and conflict. During conversations with high-ranking members of JuD and Lashkar militants, they criticised the Deobandi groups' jihad against the Pakistani state and made clear their ideological disdain for these actors. Conversely, the Taliban and other Deobandi militants remained upset because Lashkar did not take part in the jihad against the US after 9/11. The group's decision to focus exclusively on the Kashmir jihad was troubling, but not as much as the fact that its relationship with the ISI heavily influenced that decision. According to several of the author's interlocutors, including one activist close to the leadership and another who was highranking officer in the security services, the Taliban and Al Qaeda continued to question Lashkar's loyalty even after it entered the Afghan theatre because of its historically close relationship with the ISI.
Lashkar patched up its relationship with the Taliban and other Deobandi elements in the years after 9/11. However, this has not stopped local rivalries from occasionally developing into violent conflict. According to one former senior officer in Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau, whose account was confirmed by highranking JuD official, the TTP killed approximately 15 JuD members in Swat in 2008. The TTP killed three more of the organisation's members in Bajaur in April 2009. The most infamous conflict occurred in Mohmand tribal agency during the summer of 2008, when the pro-Taliban Omar Khalid group clashed with the Shah Sahib group, which was essentially a Lashkar front that also received support from Al Qaeda.
Some sources suggest this battle was fuelled partly by suspicions that the Lashkar-associated Shah was collaborating with the ISI, though local commander rivalry no doubt played a role. During the clash, approximately 10 members of the Shah Sahib group were killed and many more were captured, including Shah Sahib and his deputy, Maulvi Obaidullah. Lashkar leaders intervened but failed to secure their release, and both were executed.
Despite these episodes, Lashkar's collaboration with Al Qaeda and pro-Taliban groups was increasing from late-2006 or early-2007 onward. Lashkar-linked groups appear to have the highest degree of integration and cooperation with other actors in Bajaur and Mohmand. There are two likely reasons for this. First, Lashkar's networks are strongest in these two agencies, where number of other actors also operate. Second, the location of these agencies makes them ideal for infiltrating militants across the border to take part in the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan. However, collaboration is not limited to Bajaur and Mohmand.
Cooperation takes several forms. Lashkar trains not only on its own, but with other groups in the FATA. Some of its members are believed to be instructing at other groups' camps as well. The organisation also collaborates on infiltrating fighters into Afghanistan and on other logistical matters related to that front. Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, and the TTP run a number of camps in the Waziristan agencies to indoctrinate and train young Pakistanis to become suicide bombers, and Lashkar has helped to recruit potential trainees. For example, Lashkar is believed to have recruited men from the Jalozai refugee camp in Peshawar for training at Al Qaeda camps to become suicide-bombers in Afghanistan. Lashkar has also collaborated with other groups on attacks in Afghanistan, the two most notable being the ambush of the US combat outpost in Wanat in July 2008 and the vehicle-borne suicide assault on the Indian Embassy in Kabul that same month.
Although Lashkar still refrains from launching attacks within Pakistan, some of its members are believed to provide support to the TTP and other actors who do conduct such attacks. Support includes facilitating the movement of men and material within Pakistan, providing safe houses and possibly identity papers to would-be terrorists, conducting target surveillance, and providing information. Freelancing increased at the mid and lower levels after 2006; some of these individuals have provided manpower for the TTP while others have offered logistical support.22 Despite this anti-Pakistani activity, however, the greater threat from Lashkar's collaboration with other actors in the NWFP/FATA is to the West.
India Remains Main Enemy
India remains Lashkar's main enemy, but the group has been waging a peripheral jihad against the United States and its allies since shortly after 9/11. Although the prospect of Lashkar despatching operatives to lead a major attack against a Western country should not be ruled out, the most likely Lashkar threats to Western interests lie elsewhere.
First, as mentioned above, Lashkar's increased presence in the NWFP/FATA is largely result of its decision to take part in the fight against coalition forces in Afghanistan.
According to US military and International Security Assistance Force officials, coalition forces have not seen great amount of impact from Lashkar. However, they consider those Lashkar militants who are operating to be among the most effective fighters in the region.
Second, though unrelated to its collaboration in the NWFP/FATA, Lashkar is prepared to fold Western targets into its terrorist attacks in South Asia. This was illustrated by the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which included hotels catering to foreigners. To mark the one-year anniversary of those attacks, Lashkar is alleged to have plotted attacks against the US Embassy and Indian High Commission in Bangladesh. This does not mean every attack in India or the wider South Asian region will target Western interests, but the threat of such attacks now must be included within its wider targeting objectives.
Third, history suggests that Lashkar is capable and willing to provide support to other actors that are based primarily in the NWFP/FATA and intent on launching terrorist attacks in the West. Support takes two main forms: As training provider or gateway to other organisations such as Al Qaeda, and as facilitator for attacks in Western countries.
Lashkar's training infrastructure is receiving more scrutiny than in the past, but the group still operates more freely than other militant outfits in Pakistan. This makes it an appealing destination for Western militants. While Lashkar might have trained some Westerners in urban terrorism, the greater worry may be that it is gateway to Al Qaeda or others in the NWFP/FATA that are actively seeking wannabe Western jihadis to train for terrorist attacks back home.
The group's trans-national networks make it an ideal global jihadist facilitator. Evidence suggests Lashkar has support cells in the Persian Gulf, Britain, North America, mainland Europe, and possibly Australia. These cells could be used either by the group or by individual nodes within its networks to aid attacks against the West.Because Lashkar is financially robust, it is able to provide financial as well as logistical assistance.
The Headley case and attempted attacks in Bangladesh suggest several important lessons. First, Lashkar continues to prioritise attacking India. Second, the group appears to have been prepared to launch a blended attack in Bangladesh, striking its longtime nemesis India along with US Government targets. Attacking the US Government signifies significant evolution in Lashkar's peripheral jihad against the West, suggesting Lashkar has grown bolder in the year since the Mumbai attacks. Third, even if it were possible to deter Lashkar completely from undertaking or supporting attacks against the West an unlikely proposition the group would continue to pose threat because of its connections to and collaboration with other militant outfits. The more entrenched Lashkar becomes in the NWFP/FATA, the more robust these connections and collaboration are likely to become.
The writer is a visiting professor with Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Courtesy: New American Foundation.
HEADLEY CHASE, LASHKAR CONSPIRACY
THE HEADLEY-RANA AFFAIR SUGGESTS THAT LASHKAR-E-TAYYEBA CONTINUES TO PRIORITISE ATTACKS ON INDIA
TOctober 2009 arrest in Chicago of two men charged with plotting attacks in Denmak illustrates Lashkar's transnational capabilities and the nuanced role they can play in terms of terrorism against India and the West. One of the men arrested was David Headley, (aka DaoodGilani), a PakistaniAmerican who trained with Lashkar during the early part of the decade and changed his name in order to perform surveillance in India. He made multiple extended trips to Mumbai in advance of the 2008 attacks that took place there. During each trip he took pictures and video of various targets, including all of those struck by Lashkar's fidayeen in November 2008.
After each trip, he allegedly returned to Pakistan where he provided his Lashkar handlers with photographs, videos and oral descriptions of various locations. Headley and his handlers are believed to have discussed potential sites for a seaborne infiltration. US charges allege that Lashkar operatives in Pakistan instructed him to take boat trips in and around the Mumbai harbour and record surveillance video, which he did during a visit to India in April 2008.
According toUS Government documents, when Headley returned to Chicago in June 2006 he advised Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a native Pakistani and Canadian citizen living in Chicago, of his assignment. Rana ran First World Immigration Services, and Headley is alleged to have obtained his permission to open a branch office in Mumbai in 2006 as a cover for his surveillance activities. Rana also is alleged to have been in Mumbai prior to the attacks and to have played a role in performing reconnaissance.
A month before Lashkar's gunmen made deadly use of the surveillance he had provided for the Mumbai attacks, David Headley began planning the "Mickey Mouse Project". Also called the "Northern Project", this referred to an attack on facilities of the Morgenavisen Jyllands Posten, the Danish newspaper responsible for printing cartoons in 2005 that depicted the Prophet Mohammed. Headley had taken great offence at their publication, and in October 2008 he set in motion a plan to take revenge. This included travel to Denmark in January and July 2009 for the purpose of reconnaissance, coupled with attack planning in Pakistan following his January trip.
As with his surveillance in I ndia for the Mumbai attacks, Headley also benefited from Tahawwur Hussain Rana's assistance. Rana provided material support for Headley's travels as well as helping to arrange them and disguise their purpose. Headley was coordinating with at least two Lashkar operatives: Abdul Rehman Hashim Syed, a former Pakistan Army officer who oversaw Lashkar's networks in Bangladesh, and an individual identified "Lashkar-e-Tayyeba Member A".
Although the US Government had not disclosed his identity at the time this was written, US and Pakistani officials said that he is Sajid Mir, the former Pakistan Army officer and head of operations for Lashkar's internationalwing. Headley was also coordinating with IlyasKashmiri, a leader from the militant group Harakat-ul-Jihadal Islami who is known to be very close to the leadership of Al Qaeda.
In an example of the gateway role Lashkar can play, Syed is suspectedof introducing Headley to Ilyas Kashmiri. Initially, Lashkar appeared eager to coordinate with Headley on the attacks in Denmark. The prime target was Jyllands Posten, the newspaper that in 2005published controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, but Headley also surveilled a nearby synagogue at Sajid Mir's behest. Yet when the opportunity arose to use Headley for surveillance in India, Mir suggested that he delay the Northern Project in favour of this new assignment. At that point, Headley began working more closely with HuJI to pursue the already planned attacks in Denmark.
He did not, however, bandon his relationship with Lashkar and promised to help with the India operations as well. The group is believed to have been planning to attack the National Defence College on the anniversary of the Mumbai attacks.
-- Extracted from Stephen Tankel's paper.
CONG FINALLY GETS IT RIGHT ON QUOTA BILL
THE Congress finally showed on Tuesday that it had a game plan to counter the Yadav chieftains and push through the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. This is welcome. Yet, one cannot help thinking that we could have been looking at a different scenario had the tough are- you- with- us- or- against- us position of Tuesday been adopted a day earlier.
Was it a deliberate strategy to let things slide earlier? The House marshals were at hand but called in only when the protesters were virtually at Rajya Sabha chairman, Mr Hamid Ansari's throat. There are standard procedures for handling such situations.
They were not followed on Monday. It is well known that some members of the ruling coalition are worried that the points made by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Mr Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Mr Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal ( United) are valid and might affect them.
At one stage it seemed that the passage of the Bill would be stalled once again on Tuesday. For instance, the seven MPs suspended for unruly behaviour refused to leave the House. Then the BJP said it wanted a discussion before the Bill was put to vote.
Ultimately, the might with which supporters of the legislation downed the naysayers should send a telling message to the forces of unreason that their time is past. In normal circumstances, the opponents of the Bill too should have been heard out. This would have only strengthened our democratic tradition. But these were not usual times because the Yadav chieftains chose to undermine democracy itself with hooliganism.
It needed a special kind of politics to call their bluff and pass the historic gender justice legislation in the Rajya Sabha. The SP and the RJD have consistently failed to deliver to the communities they seek to represent. In fact, being essentially single family controlled and clannish, these parties have not even been able to provide political patronage to those they claim as their own. Their defeat, despite the roadblocks along the way, is a heartening sign.
It shows that principled politics, and not cynicism that suggests compromise in the name of stability, can win the day.
ARE YOU SERIOUS?
THE ' Liveability Index' released by the Confederation of Indian Industry which has ranked 37 cities will surprise not a few people. And it will once again raise questions about the reliability of such surveys.
The CII survey says Delhi is overall the best city in India to live in, with Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore being the next best, in that order. While people who have lived in the major cities of India will no doubt have their own take on this view, with personal preferences influencing their judgment, it is on Delhi's high ranking on some vital parameters that questions will be raised.
For instance, Delhi gets the second rank in India when it comes to road accidents.
But the common experience of people in Delhi contradicts this view. Not very long ago there were news reports about Delhi being the most dangerous city in India for pedestrians, with nearly 600 of them being crushed to death on its roads in 2008.
Kolkata and Chennai saw not one such fatality in that year. Has the survey incorporated this fact while coming up with its rankings? On transport, though the Metro has made a huge difference, can we rave about Delhi's buses or its autowallahs ? Again, the survey has placed towns in the National Capital Region way below the Capital though people who have lived in the region for long will concede that satellite towns like Gurgaon and Noida score over Delhi on several aspects.
Then, the CII survey leaves out parameters like water, power and traffic when it comes to judging ' liveability' though they form a crucial part of the urban experience.
For instance on traffic, Delhi, despite its good and wide roads, would fare poorly, what with the huge number of vehicles on its roads making commuting a harrowing experience. One has to only get out of the Capital to appreciate this fact.
If at all the survey result about Delhi being the best place to live in in India says anything it is that the best isn't good enough, notwithstanding the capital's redeeming features including its grand Lutyens' zone.
SEEKING SAUDI HELP ONPAK TIES WAS STUPID
BUT THERE ARE DEFINITE POSITIVES EMERGING OUT OF THE PM'S VISIT
PRIME Minister's recent visit to Saudi Arabia was a plus point in our diplomacy.
Our relationship with the Kingdom has remained tepid, essentially because of the Pakistani factor. Pakistan as an Islamic country has sought and obtained preferential treatment from Saudi Arabia in South Asia.
Pakistan has used the religious card against us unabashedly in the Islamic world, inhibiting in varying degrees several Muslim countries from developing full scope ties with India. They feel obliged to maintain some balance in their South Asian ties, which prevents their relationship with India a bigger, more economically and technically advanced country from finding its optimal level. The Organisation of Islamic Conference( OIC) gives Pakistan a platform to belabour India on Kashmir and treatment of Muslims in India, with negative consequences for our equations with the Islamic world. The OIC is headquartered in Saudi Arabia, and without its connivance Pakistan would not have a free hand in getting outrageous statements issued against India.
Independently of incessant Pakistani projection of Kashmir as an Islamic issue on a par with the Palestinian issue, our inability to settle the Kashmir issue internally weighs heavily on our diplomacy with the Islamic world.
In recent years several developments favoured Indian overtures to Saudi Arabia and a positive Saudi response. India's growing economic stature globally and advances made by us in the knowledge economy increased India's attractiveness as a partner. Improved India- US relations no doubt encouraged a parallel shift in Saudi outlook. The terror strikes of September 11 that roused America to declare a war on global terrorism and ensuing undercurrents of tension with Saudi Arabia seen as the fount of Al Qaeda's Wahhabi ideology, coupled with the threat of terrorism to Saudi Arabia itself, encouraged the Kingdom to improve its image and broaden its external engagement.
Pakistan's decline as a state despite acquisition of nuclear weapons and the Al Qaeda linked terrorist upsurge localised in Pakistan and Afghan border areas, no doubt contributed to some fresh thinking in Saudi Arabia about its India policy. The ascension of the more pragmatic King Abdullah to the Saudi throne naturally was a crucial element in all this.
The initiative in 2006 to invite the King to be the Chief Guest at India's Republic Day in 2006 was timely. His acceptance itself indicated a change of mood towards India in Saudi Arabia.
The hopes engendered by that visit have, however, remained largely unfulfilled, except in the energy field where the Saudis now figure as the largest suppliers of crude oil to India, supplying 20 per cent of our needs.
Direct Saudi investment in India amounting to about $ 15 million remains risible. Saudi Arabian funds are flowing to China, but no investment fund has been set up for India, even as smaller Gulf states like Qatar and Oman have done so. India is, of course, interested in Saudi investments in its infrastructure sector in particular, but so far the Saudis have been deterred by the complexities of our procedures and the reputation of our bureaucracy.
Prime Minister's return visit to Saudi Arabia from February 27 to March 1 was marked by exceptional protocol treatment, including an address to the Majlis. Some significant agreements were signed, though the India- Saudi Fund did not see parturition. The Riyadh Declaration talks of a strategic partnership covering security, economic, defence and political areas, including a strengthened strategic energy partnership.
This signals the future direction of bilateral ties and carries a message to the Arab world and to our neighbours, the impact of which on the latter cannot but be helpful.
The strategic partnership in defence lacks clarity in terms of objectives and practical content. Saudi readiness to supply more crude to India on term contracts constitutes a valuable gain.
The Declaration calls on the international community to resolutely combat terrorism, but India's proposal for an International Terrorism Convention languishing at the UN for years because of Arab opposition did not get Saudi endorsement. The Declaration refers to the nuclear imbroglio Iran is caught in. While the language is balanced and calculated to cause least offence in Teheran, but given Iran's sensitivities, the very fact that it figures in a Declaration with a third country could add to Iran's grievance against India and reinforce its belief that we have further moved into the American camp on this issue.
The ghosts at the India- Saudi banquet are always Pakistan and Kashmir.
It is not without significance that the Saudi Foreign Minister in speaking to Indian journalists during the visit should, quite unusually, express worry at internal developments in Pakistan on the terrorism front in full awareness that this would be resented in Pakistan and deny ( disingenuously) Saudi contacts with the Taliban to allay Indian fears. The Pakistan related part of the visit was, unfortunately, quite unnecessarily botched up by the Indian side, casting a shadow on the otherwise very useful visit.
Where was the need for us to publicly suggest that we took the initiative to raise our concerns about Pakistan with Saudi Arabia because Saudi closeness to Pakistan made it a valuable interlocutor? The implication of this is that we expect our concerns to be conveyed to Pakistan by Saudi Arabia. This is quite different from the normal diplomatic practice of explaining during our parleys with foreign dignitaries, especially when they raise, as they always do, the state of India- Pakistan relations, our terrorism concerns etc. If our position remains that we must settle our differences with Pakistan bilaterally and third parties don't have a role, then why should we be encouraging Saudi Arabia to speak to Pakistan on our behalf? We should limit ourselves to explaining our position and leave it to the other side to decide on transmission of messages to concerned third parties. Normally countries give briefings to interested third countries after such bilateral visits.
We aver that we asked Saudi Arabia to use its good offfices to persuade Pakistan to take a reasonable position on terrorism in view of our readiness to walk the extra mile with it to resolve outstanding differences.
" Good offices" has a specific meaning in diplomacy that of a country acting as a go- between. What gives us confidence that if we are ourselves unable to bilaterally persuade Pakistan to be reasonable on terrorism, others can do so on our behalf? Or that they have and will use means of pressure that we lack? Even the US with enormous capacity to press Pakistan as we desire hasn't delivered.
Can Saudi Arabia do this? Why should they put one- sided pressure? Are we convinced that they don't believe Pakistan has any case to defend? Will they place before us Pakistani counter demands? Will these be acceptably different from what Pakistan tells us bilaterally or what it says to the US? By seeking such external support because we feel a degree of helplessness in the face of Pakistani obduracy, we run the risk of inviting renewed pressure on ourselves by those who have traditionally sought concessions from us on Kashmir and our relations with Pakistan. If, as we say, Pakistan is not getting isolated despite its complicity with terrorism, then our hope that Saudi Arabia will help take our chestnuts out of the fire seems misplaced.
The writer is a former Foreign Secretary( sibalkanwal@ gmail. com)
PATIL LOOKS TO GIVE HIS IMAGE A MAKEOVER
HE may not have distinguished himself as the country's home minister in the first UPA government, but ever since Punjab governor and Chandigarh's administrator Shivraj V Patil assumed office, administrative functioning in the city has witnessed a change for the good.
Certain officers and the city's powerful elite who enjoyed direct access to Gen S F Rodrigues, his predecessor are miffed over the change of guard at the Raj Bhawan. They have started feeling the heat after " order" was restored at Raj Bhawan. The files which reached the governor directly during Rodrigues's regime have now been routed through Pradip Mehra a powerful bureaucrat and advisor to Chandigarh's Administrator.
Officials accept that access to the Raj Bhawan had become easy for junior officials during the last regime. They would often bypass their superiors and take direct instructions from Rodrigues. Administrative decorum had gone for a six.
Some officers enjoying proximity to the previous administrator would just " barge into" the Raj Bhawan for anything.
The city has also seen an end to the ugly row between Rodrigues and advisor Pradip Mehra over a web of administrative violations, ego issues and attempts to settle personal scores.
The public is happy that Patil does not appear keen on getting caught up with petty issues concerning the administration. Officials have been instructed to deal with people's problems at their own level and provide fast redressal to public grievances.
The common man hopes that governance in Chandigarh would improve because unlike in the previous regime, Patil, the local MP Pawan Kumar Bansal and the senior bureaucrat get on well with each other. R ODRIGUES had chosen to go after Mehra after he questioned the execution of some real estate projects now under the CBI's scanner. Rodrigues reacted sharply to Mehra's stand and actually blamed two union ministers Minister of State for Finance Pawan Bansal and Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni for putting him and his regime under a cloud. The former administrator had also claimed that Advisor Pradeep Mehra was a " mole and incompetent." Some officers who were a part of Rodrigues' coterie used to overstep their jurisdiction, even bypassing the city's seniormost bureaucrat Pradip Mehra.
While Gen Rodrigues battled Mehra and Bansal, his " lieutenants" conveniently enjoyed " benefits" and moved on to coveted assignments elsewhere.
Congress supporters were upset that Rodrigues would not entertain their pleas for even small and genuine developmental work in the city.
Shivraj V Patil who resigned from the post of Union home minister in November 2008 after the terrorist attack in Mumbai with questions being raised about his competence from all quarters has thus got an opportunity to wipe the slate clean by contributing to Chandigarh's development.
The people of Chandigarh want him to restore the faith of the common man in administrative functioning, which has taken a beating in the recent past.
3,000 GIRLS CHEER SBI'S NOBLE STEP
THE State Bank of India ( SBI) has silently scripted change in the lives of a large number of girl children in and around Chandigarh. The bank's new initiative a brainchild of its chairman, O. P. Bhatt involves adopting girls who cannot undergo formal education due to poverty or some other social or health reason. Bank officials reveal that they zero in on girls including orphans, and the destitute willing to study. Each bank branch selects two girls and sponsors their school fees, books, school bags, uniform and transport.
The bank has been providing the financial aid to the girls on an yearly basis.
The scheme has earned an overwhelming response. The girls whom the bank has adopted are happy that they go to school now and are performing better than many of their affluent counterparts.
" The lives of about 3000 girls have changed so far. The change in their lives is gradual but certain. We celebrate womanhood each time we adopt a girl," states a proud official associated with the bank's initiative.
RAMDEV PUSSYFOOTS ON POLITICAL PLANS
THE other day, yoga guru Baba Ramdev held interactive sessions with the judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and policemen of the 82nd battalion of the Punjab Armed Police ( PAP). While making his intentions of taking a political leap clear, Baba Ramdev told the audience that he was keeping the name of the political party under wraps. " You will get to know about it at the right time," he said.
During the sessions, Ramdev stressed that he intended to make the nation healthy free of illness and corruption.
He urged the judges and policemen to carry out their duties honestly. The function at the high court was organised by the Punjab and Haryana High Court Bar Association while Kunwar Vijay Pratap, commandant, 82nd battalion, took the initiative for the policemen's interactive session with the yoga guru. Kunwar credited with jail reforms in Punjab and busting a kidney racket a few years ago says he wants his men to stay healthy and fit.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A MILESTONE MOMENT
It would not be an exaggeration to say that history was made yesterday with the passage of the women's reservation Bill. The fundamental nature of our politics and by extension the way in which our public domain is ordered will never be the same. With Parliament and all state legislatures making space for a minimum of 33 per cent women representatives, a milestone has been etched in the realm of women's empowerment in independent India.
Some of the landmark legislations adopted by independent India over the decades universal adult franchise, abolition of the zamindari system and quotas for scheduled castes and tribes and other backward classes have changed the complexion of the body politic and power equations in society in a fundamental manner, paving the path for the establishment of a more egalitarian society. The transformative potential of reserving seats for women is similar in scope and significance. It is no secret that patriarchy runs deep in Indian society and women have been historically denied social, economic and political opportunities. Even today, women face discrimination of one sort or another both in the private and public sphere. For instance, personal laws are loaded against women and women earn less than men for the same work just to mention two examples of manifest gender injustice.
The cause of women's empowerment hinges on political representation and economic advancement. Which is why the passage of the women's reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha can be justifiably termed as path-breaking social reform. The experience of reserving seats for women in panchayats over the last 15-odd years illustrates how having more women in governing and legislating positions enhances the prospects of women, and therefore of society as a whole.
Even as we celebrate the passage of the Bill, the hooliganism of those opposed to the legislation in the Rajya Sabha deserves to be unequivocally condemned. MPs from the RJD and SP lowered the dignity of the House and made a mockery of democratic values with their shameful behaviour, all in the name of furthering the rights of women from disadvantaged minorities. Their argument is a bogus one; women cut across all minorities and are therefore doubly disadvantaged. Women are not being granted any favours through this constitutional amendment. Sixty-three years after independence, we are merely acknowledging the political rights of one half of our population. It's been a long time coming.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IN POOR SHAPE
The cost of health care is known to push millions into poverty every year, a fact from which India is not exempt. In fact, rural Indians spend nearly 27 per cent of their income on health care. Given that the Indian state spends only 0.9 per cent of its GDP on health one of the lowest allocations in the world it is not surprising that a large part of the population does not have access to adequate medical services. It is therefore encouraging that the central government has decided to unify the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and the yet to be launched National Urban Health Mission to create a National Health Mission (NHM) that would cater to the needs of millions of Indians who rely on public health care systems. The new mission will receive Rs 15,000 crore and will focus on strengthening the crumbling public health infrastructure so it can cater to the urban and rural poor. That's good, but past experience has proven that increased spending doesn't always translate into better results.
India could certainly do with more funds for health. But it is more important that the money allocated to this crucial sector is spent wisely. Outcomes will not improve unless funds are utilised effectively, which means that service delivery is of paramount importance. As it stands, public health care does not reach everyone, and even where it does it is stretched to the limit. The system is also plagued by a lack of trained health care providers, which impedes service delivery. If the NHM is to better serve citizens, it will need to be targeted better.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BUSTING URBAN LEGENDS
France was only 55 per cent urban in the 1940s; so were large parts of Europe. Today, France, Italy and Spain, not to mention Germany and Scandinavia, are only 2-3 per cent rural. This is an indication of their prosperity. Latin America has just driven in to the smart set. Its high speed urbanisation, like a souped-up limo, touched 85 per cent at various stretches.
What is the Indian story? Contrary to popular belief, most manufacturing plants and workshops in India are in villages, not in cities. Further, the more backward the state the greater the preponderance of rural workshops. Nor is it that these rude rural outfits employ mostly women looking for a second income or pin money. Though this picture is fetchingly flashed in many NGO brochures, the truth is more complex.
The more backward the region, the greater is the proportion of men in village-based manufacturing units and household industries. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, six times more men than women work in such units. In Rajasthan, the figure jumps to an unbelievable 10. Sadly, 93 per cent of our total workforce is in the unorganised sector and 74 per cent of this is in rural India.
So why is rural migration not the answer? Poor people on the margins of a village economy should up and leave at the first opportunity. Yet urban growth due to migration is steadily declining. In fact, the rate of urbanisation in general went down in the period 1981-2001. We tend to overlook this as our towns are crowded and filthy. But they are not filthy because they are crowded; they look crowded because they are filthy. Had they been better planned they would smell different too.
So then how urban is urban India? The mere presence of towns does not always indicate development or prosperity. UP, Bihar and Orissa have a fair number of cities of different descriptions, yet they are all fighting for the last place. Half the towns of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh are really not urban, for agriculture is still the mainstay of their economies. Who would have thought that possible? Weren't we told that 75 per cent of the economy has to be non-agricultural for a place to be considered urban?
But wait, this is India! According to our official definition, even if the economic criterion falters, a place can still qualify as a town. All it needs is high population density and a municipal council or cantonment board. This explains why UP with 704 towns still lacks an industrial base and is cloyingly rural.
Only a small number of urban Indians is really urban. For example, just 25 per cent of Bihar's urban population lives in industrial centres. The remaining 75 per cent is officially urban, but their actual conditions are not. Their routine is still agricultural. The man heads out to his fields at daybreak while his wife stokes her wooden stove. Yet, for the record they are town dwellers, no matter what their real lives are like. If they don't qualify as rural folk, it is because they inhabit overcrowded spaces with a town hall in the middle, like a rhinestone in the muck.
If this is the state of our urbanisation, then where are the hot spots and happening places that account for our 8.5 per cent growth rate? There is, of course, the park-facing view. Information technology is doing phenomenally well, yet this sector employs only three million people. Their scrubbed and healthy looks clean up our sunshine. They live in our neighbourhood and swarm us with their cars. But the stubborn fact still remains: they number only three million.
Most of the action is actually taking place in back alleys where small and informal industries function in largely rural and semi-urban settings. These small enterprises have grown the fastest of all - by over 110 per cent in the past 25 years. They also account for the bulk of our exports. On the other hand, the workforce in the formal sector - that is, those with pucca factory jobs - has remained unchanged for decades, at about 24 million. Considering our population, this number barely bobs up over the bottom axis.
Though our urban growth rate has declined, urban agglomerates around Delhi and Mumbai have expanded. Investors tend to gravitate around bright lights, afraid of being mugged in the dark. Consequently, class II and III towns have remained stagnant and the proportionate numbers in class V and VI have actually gone down.
If investments come to big cities, then so should skilled manpower. But, surprisingly, better educated rural migrants tend to avoid metros and head to small and medium towns instead. Even places like Mumbai and Delhi don't attract as many skilled migrants as they should. Here too entrepreneurs depend largely on semi-qualified and half literate workers. True, it is not quite as bad as Jaunpur or Moradabad, but it ought to have been much better.
The Indian route to urbanisation is like the flyovers in our metros. Traffic jams are now at an elevation and pedestrians don't know which way to go.
( The writer is former professor, JNU)
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'FOR TRIBALS, DEVELOPMENT MEANS EXPLOITATION'
B D Sharma is one of India's foremost experts on tribal issues. He has served as collector of undivided Bastar district in Chhattisgarh and commissioner for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and has campaigned extensively to protect the rights of tribals. Currently, the coordinator of Bharat Jan Andolan, a network of grass-roots organisations, Sharma tells that current notions of development are at the root of the Maoist insurgency:
What has changed since you were collector of Bastar?
That was 40 years ago! Outsiders didn't have so much influence there, except in Bailadila. The presence of the administration also wasn't much. As collector, i didn't sanction any mining lease. When sanctions started being given, discontent grew, and in the 1980s, the Maoists came.
They are now seen as the biggest problem.
When i was working as SC-ST commissioner, i asked Bastar's tribals about the Maoists. They said, 'Dadas are very good. They've released us from the tyranny of the patwaris'. As the Maoists' grew in confidence, they established their stronghold. Outside Bastar, the desire for 'development' kept growing; in it, opposition to it grew. I'm not claiming credit, but my refusal to sanction big projects in Bastar kept peace in the area.
How to resolve this dilemma of development?
God has given the tribals everything. Seated on the banks of the Indravati, they would tell me, ''We have three moneylenders who look after us throughout the year: the forest, the river and the land. We live off them for four months each.'' They have never seen drought or famine. When rainfall is low, the forest produces more kandh-mool to compensate. In Gondi, there is no future tense. They are content living in the present. You can't presume to give them development; they have enough. For them, development means exploitation. A representative of the state, be it a patwari or a forest guard, is someone powerful, to be feared. Just stop their exploitation and provide them health and education.
Will the government accept this?
Do dacoits like to stop looting? The government must accept that the resources they want belong to society. The doctrine of Eminent Domain, which allows the state to capture anyone's property without their consent, clashes with the tribals' view. For them, those who live in the forests are the maalik. You want to turn them into labourers.
According to the Constitution's Fifth Schedule, resources in tribal areas belong to the tribals, and the governor has draconian powers to ensure this. Has any governor sent a single directive on this to the state governments? The 1995 Bhuria commission recommended that for industries in tribal areas, 50 per cent of the ownership must remain with the community, 20 per cent with the landowner and only 30 per cent with the investor. The radical PESA (Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, gives the gram sabha the authority to decide the use of natural resources. None of these are being implemented. Therein lies the dishonesty. It's an unbroken record of broken promises. If this alternate pattern of development is not pursued, the Adivasis will perish.
NOW TO MAKE THE BILL WORK
For 14 long years, the Women's Reservation Bill has been one of the most controversial and bitterly contested legislations. That emotions about the Bill run high was seen in the unseemly fracas in the Rajya Sabha where it was introduced on Monday. But after all that kerfuffle, on Tuesday, chastened members returned to vote the historic Bill through. Now, the devil will lie in the many details. The old argument that it amounts to nothing more than tokenism will surface. In a country that ranks 114th among 134 in gender disparities, there was a need to create a level-playing field. But the big challenge now is to take the move forward and ensure that the benefits it was meant to bring about become a reality.
It has been seen from the panchayati raj reservation experiment that women leaders tend to pay more attention to issues of healthcare, education and other social development issues than their male counterparts. Many expect that this central reservation will bring about more focus on such sectors. However, the passage of the Bill should not mean that it will be left solely to the women who come into Parliament to ensure that social issues are taken up. Good governance is not gender-specific and ameliorative measures should be considered a work in progress. Perhaps this Bill would not have been necessary in the first place had political parties done more to encourage women within their rank and file. In ticket distribution, women lag far behind men. This despite the fact that five of India's major parties are led by women.
At present, there is only about 10 per cent of women in Parliament 59 elected women MPs in a Lok Sabha of 543 members. We would like to sound a note of caution about expectations that the Bill will automatically ensure the empowerment of women. We have seen that in states with women chief ministers, the status of women has not improved dramatically. This has been the story of South Asia that has produced more women prime ministers and presidents than any other region in the world. However, the passage of the Bill is a huge rhetorical push for the concept of empowerment. It will, hopefully, create a groundswell of aspiration among women to opt for politics as a career. But the Bill should be seen as a catalyst to let more women get a foothold in politics and not considered a right in perpetuity. Until now, those in favour of reservations have argued that India's women should get their rightful political due. This will be vindicated if women coming into politics raise the bar of both governance and political discourse. Otherwise the tokenism charge will stick.
CITY OF BLIGHTS
Eat your heart out Mumbai, Delhi has topped the show in the Liveability Index among all Indian cities in a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Institute for Competitiveness (IFC) survey. Liveability in the urban context takes in the mental and social well-being of its citizens apart from infrastructure. We want to add to this. Life in Delhi improves your moral fibre and your physical stamina. For example, if you want to negotiate the BRT, you will require the skills of Michael Schumacher, the patience of Mother Teresa and perhaps the fighting acumen of Bruce Lee.
Now this will come in handy in many spheres of life. Then during the frequent power cuts, you can learn the art of sweating it out without frequenting expensive gyms. And when you're left in the dark at night, think of how much better your other senses develop. Your social skills will be honed razor sharp when say you try to tell the gent next to you to give you right of way on the road. It's a different matter that you may end up in hospital, but have no fear, Delhi's health system ranks at 17. And if you are one of those who want to make a mark in civil society, be assured that we have regular dharnas, marches and disruptions in Parliament which should give you all the training you need in this field.
We have many role models who can teach us the art of survival irrespective of where we are, starting with our political class which has demonstrated that it pays to take what you want, be it public resources or road spaces. So on the whole, while the Sena is wittering on about whom Mumbai belongs to, those in Delhi have evolved to higher things. This will also go down well when the Commonwealth Games start. People will go back startled at our policy of ask not what you can do for your city, instead ask what your city can do for you.
High gender justice rhetoric followed by anti-climactic bathos. That seems to be the story of the Women's Reservation Bill that was passed in the Rajya Sabha yesterday. It's the longest running saas-bahu soap opera in Indian politics. Thrice introduced, thrice aborted for the last 14 years, governments have tried to move the Bill. Every time the Bill has been moved, it has been vociferously opposed by the 'social justice' lobby of Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav and, with monotonous regularity sent back to cold storage.
The Bill, reserving one-third seats in Lok Sabha and assemblies, strikes at the heart of gender relations in India. Patriarchal societies cosset and oppress their women in equal measure. In the violent high stakes game of Indian politics, women are tolerable as supportive wives and daughters who step out shyly to become a substitute for dead husbands or brothers, but intolerable when they stake a claim to robustly represent their own constituency. In fact, all over South Asia, there exists the syndrome that social scientist Ali Mazrui calls, 'female accession to male martyrdom', or the 'Indira, Benazir, Sheikh Hasina' syndrome by which females hold office not as female individuals, but as proxies of the powerful departed male. If, on the other hand, women rise on their own, or creditably claw their way up from the grassroots like Mamata, Uma and Maya, they must cultivate a certain strategic and spectacular insanity that strikes terror and fear in their supporters, a terror that silences all prejudice against femininity. The devi/demoness stereotype, sadly, bedevils most women in Indian public life.
Thus there is every reason to support a legislation that promises special measures to bring women into public life. The odds are so high and the political culture so hostile that if women are to participate meaningfully and in large numbers in politics, then certainly some legislative shock treatment is needed. The question is if this Bill Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008 is the right legislation to secure meaningful participation of women in large numbers in our present day politics. The jury is still out on that one.
The cacophony in Parliament, the shrill polarised exchange of charges of 'elite women' and 'par kati women' on the one side and 'anti-women Yadavs' and 'regressive Hindi belt netas' on the other throughout the life of this Bill have meant that the opportunity for real debate on the Bill has been lost and the public has not had the opportunity to understand and engage with the Bill. No government since the inception of the Bill has made any serious attempt to create a wide-ranging debate or to assess public responses to a legislation that has the potential to transform Indian politics and create tectonic shifts in society.
While we may ridicule Lalu and Mulayam's objections to the Bill, yet their demand for 'quota within quota' may simply be a demand to force the government to spell out exactly what it will achieve through this Bill and what kind of arguments the government is able to bring in favour of the Bill.
As analysts have pointed out, the Bill contains many structural flaws. First, there will be compulsory unseating of two-third of the members every election. Second, there will be no incentive for MPs to nurse constituencies. Third, there is the undeniable fact that family politics will be further enhanced as a male who suddenly loses his seat to a reserved constituency will be tempted to simply put up a female relative as a proxy. Thus the floodgates of bahu-betis may open.
Women who contest from reserved seats will also not be able to nurture their constituencies as they will lose them in the next election and be forever seen as non-serious and ornamental figures who have been foisted on the people. Fifth, women will be consigned to the 'ladies compartment' of politics, busily fighting each other in their own female ghetto without getting the opportunity to test their skills against mainstream politicians. Women, the world over, hanker for equality of opportunity, not certainty of success. If the opportunity to fight is equal then let the best woman or man win. But if the reward is a given, then is the battle worth it?
Gender is the focus of elaborate hypocrisy in our country. On the one hand, we worship at the politically
correct altar of gender justice. On the other hand, equality of women and acceptance of female individuality is frowned on and subverted at every stage. Gender is the subject of endless elite seminars, yet the fact is among the competing inequalities of India, the infirmities of caste and class bear down much more brutally on women than their gender.
Upper class privileged women seeking victimhood on the basis of gender is perhaps an injustice to the millions
of men who suffer far worse privations because they are lower caste and poor. Thus the idea that women are a monolithic victimised caste that need special protection through quotas is totally immature and misguided. Reading through this version of the women's quota Bill, it doesn't seem as if it will succeed in its mission of empowering women.
Sagarika Ghose is Senior Editor, CNN-IBN
The views expressed by the author are personal
NO MORE AMAN KACHROOS
Dear Mr P. Chidambaram,
On March 8 last year, Aman Kachroo was lynched to death in a college hostel in Himachal Pradesh. It was just another case of ragging. It happened nearly eight years after the Supreme Court (SC) of India banned ragging in May 2001. In fact, since May 2001, there's been at least one ragging death every other month, as reported by the media. You can imagine how many cases are hushed up, blamed on academic pressure and 'depression', and never investigated into. We are also not going into the much larger number of cases of attempted suicides, drop-outs, and not measuring the psychological impact such cases have on freshers.
In 2001, the SC's orders said that an educational institution that is unable to control ragging would face grant cuts or be de-affiliated from bodies like the University Grants Commission, All India Council For Technical Education, Medical Council of India, etc. Not one of them ever found any college unable to control ragging. Their bureaucrats issued circulars and thought their signatures on the circulars were good enough. Years later, some of them told the SC that they didn't have the power to act against institutions even though an SC order had empowered them to do so.
Sir, in 2006 the SC took note of the fact that despite its banning of ragging five years ago, it was continuing. So it set up a committee, headed by former CBI director R.K. Raghavan, to find out why. In the capacity of an anti-ragging activist, I was taken upon by the committee as a consultant. I got to see closely the working of the committee. They went from state to state, met students and educationists, conducted surveys and studied state laws. If the committee can be faulted, it is for working too hard, for making too many suggestions and for believing that its report would have an impact.
While the SC was still deliberating upon the committee's report last year, Aman Kachroo was killed. Most ragging deaths are suicides. Throwing oneself before a running train is a less popular method to escape the four walls of the hostel. When the fresher feels that he has no recourse, he chooses to hang himself from the ceiling fan of his hostel room. Aman Kachroo case was a rarity only to the extent that he was lynched to death. But since he was from Delhi, the Delhi media played it big and everyone took note of the case.
Aman's father ran from pillar to post trying to get anti-ragging measures implemented. It took him a few months just to get the Human Resource Development ministry to get going a national anti-ragging helpline. Despite very little publicity of the helpline by the ministry, it got 1.6 lakh calls in just eight months, till February. While that is some indication of the prevalence of ragging, it is worrying that of this huge number only 350 complaints were registered and of those 350, only 18 educational institutions chose to respond.
Two days after Aman Kachroo's death I wrote that it won't be the last case of ragging death. Sadly, I was not proved wrong. Aman's father had vowed he'll not let another ragging death take place. He now says he feels defeated. Since then the death cases reported include those of Ankita Vegda in Ahemdabad, Sneha Dani in Mumbai, Chintumoni Bordoloi in Guwahati, Dheeraj Kumar in Amritsar, Anirban Dutta in Durgapur, Poonam Mishra in Lucknow, Satyendra Singh in Jamshedpur, Greeshma Shanker in Trivandrum, Ayan Adak in Kolkata, Prashant Chitalkar in Pune, Sridhar in Puducherry, Gaurav Sadanand Raut in Nashik, Premlatha in Kancheepuram and a few days ago, Satwinder Kumar in Mumbai.
I dig out names and cities because numbers don't count.
I think, of the 50 recommendations made by the Raghavan Committee, the 45th recommendation is important. It says that the Indian Penal Code should be amended to make 'ragging' a cognisable offence along the lines of Section 498(a). It does not ask for any special punishment, but only to implement other IPC sections, starting from wrongful restraint to murder. We need the law to enshrine the word ragging as a crime so that freshers and parents feel empowered to go to police stations and police officers to not think that it's a trivial matter, which can be resolved through a 'compromise'. As the report argues, "We see no reason why enrolment in an institution or an academic programme should immunise perpetrators of heinous crimes which otherwise attract the penal provisions of law if committed by an adult citizen outside the academic precincts."
Sir, the SC had asked the Home ministry to consider this recommendation. But your esteemed officials felt (as reported by The Indian Express on March 12, 2009) that the SC directives were good enough. If this is the case, then why did the SC make the recommendation and why is my list of names of young lives lost to ragging increasing faster than it ever did?
Sir, I know you are busy fighting big problems like terrorism and Naxalism. But there is a siege within. A simple step by you can make thousands of hostel corridors places of hope rather than despair.
Shivam Vij is a Delhi-based human rights activist. The views expressed by the author are personal.
ON LADIES, NOT GENTS
In the much-vaunted tradition of buddy flicks, the two bad boys of Parliament brought the big guys to their knees, or at least the day's business in the world's largest democracy. The Yadav 'brothers' or bhaiyyas, if we subscribe to authenticity, were the only people who delivered on International Women's Day, on their threat that is. And without recourse to poison or smelling salts, just some good old rabble-rousing and 'back atcha' smack talk.
Smelling salts is really what the ruling party needs; it seems to have spent much of the day in the coy avatar of a BBC adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. Suddenly the party that all have accused of 'poor floor management' how very domestic sounding seems to have shrunk behind the shadow of parliamentary propriety. Not a squeak on what tomorrow brings, no one's channelling Scarlett here, and as all 'ladies' know it's rather inappropriate to be all too obvious about one's intentions.
Which brings us to the Opposition that seems to predate the ruling party's choice of cinematic genre and has gone with the tried and tested formula mythology. Predictable, but then so are the robust declarations of national letdowns and instability. They appear on television and delight in their role of a well-intentioned-but-under-perceived player. Yes, the same one who traverses many portals with well-meaning intentions, but alas, is often misinterpreted. It's a true to the book adaptation here, no credit-sharing required on this one, or so they claim.
Then there is the party that veers to the left, but decides to go mainstream on this one. Full on, paisa vasool style, with lusty declarations of protecting the chair if the government can't. But they didn't, did they? Why you ask? They weren't asked, the tea party came a little too late in the day. There's that Victorian propriety again! Guess even in the time of UPA Reloaded, fond memories of UPA One persist. But here's what a good agent would tell them, "They just wrote out your part, babe. It ain't personal!"
As for the rest of us, yeah the same ones who this is about. We want a remake, something a little hatke this isn't about 33 per cent for women, it's about 67 per cent for men. Let's look at this a little differently. There're many ways to tell the same story it's all in the story-telling.
Advaita Kala is the author of Almost Single. The views expressed by the author are personal.
PUNCTURE YOUR EGO
Having conquered half the world and having ruined hundreds of towns and cities in his ego-driven quest, King Alexander reached India and found himself lost in a vast desert. With no water in sight for days, his thirst became unbearable.
He came across an old beggar who had a pot of drinking water with him. Alexander asked for water, but the latter asked, "What will you give me in lieu of this pot of water?" Alexander, who had not seen a drop of water for almost a week, offered half of his kingdom. The beggar said, "Come tomorrow, as I want not half but your entire kingdom."
Alexander agreed to trade his entire kingdom for the pot of water. The beggar laughed and said, "So the worth of your kingdom is just a pot of water." Alexander realised his mistake and went back, but died on his way.
There is a story of a disciple who went to a Guru to learn martial arts. After sustained practice, the disciple became an invincible sword fighter. "Why should I now bow before the Guru, whom I can easily defeat in sword fight?" The impudent disciple challenged his Guru for a sword fight. The Guru accepted the challenge.
One day the disciple learnt that the Guru was getting an eight-feet- long sword made for the dual so that he could attack the disciple from a safe distance. In response, the disciple arranged a 10-feet-long sword. However, the disciple did not know that the eight-feet sheath of the Guru contained only a one- foot- long sharp sword.
On the appointed day, as the dual started, the disciple scrambled to take out his sword out of the sheath. The Guru quickly brought out his sword and placed it on the disciple's neck, who now pleaded for mercy.
The Guru forgave his disciple and said, "Always keep a small sword in your big sheath if you want to win".
In other words, even when you occupy high posts, or acquire exceptional capabilities, your ego should always be small.
The Direct Tax Code is supposed to make dealing with the taxman simpler. For the vast majority of taxpayers a straightforward tax rate of 10 per cent will be charged, and the maze-like mess of exemptions and concessions will be pruned. Why? Because too much of the Indian middle classes' financial planning works on navigating that maze, focusing on how to save taxes instead of on finding the most productive investment which would be infinitely preferable, from both a personal and a social standpoint.
One such tax-saving scheme, traditionally, has been the provident fund system. This method of ensuring saving to which both employers and employees contribute, has largely been exempt from taxes. This exemption is of the "EEE" type: there are no taxes due at any point in the chain; not at the initial moment of saving, not when saved funds are invested and reinvested, not when returns are withdrawn. The simplification that accompanies the DTC includes the replacement of the EEE system with an EET-type system: where the saving and investment are exempt from taxes, but withdrawing the money from the system in order to spend it trips the taxation. The original idea behind keeping the provident fund tax-free was to incentivise people to save, which has a growth-enhancing effect; this innovation will preserve that incentive, while ensuring that the extra income is taxed anyway when people eventually turn it into consumption, the point at which the growth-enhan-
cing effect disappears. (The government's New Pension Scheme, which aims to eventually replace the provident fund system, uses exactly the same mechanism.)
It is now being reported that this sensible reform has run into trouble. The Prime Minister's Office has suggested to the finance ministry that it review the EET proposal as it redrafts the code: the tendency to withdraw sums in bulk at retirement has been cited as a reason. But there are simple workarounds and exemptions that can deal with this and other such problems. None of these should slow down the process of simplifying the tax code, closing loopholes in the system, and re-orienting Indian financial planning away from tax planning and towards investment planning.
We stand at the cusp of big change the Rajya Sabha has, in a volatile and momentous session, passed the Women's Reservation Bill. After 14 years of stop-start, when demands for sub-quotas within the category of "women" for other disadvantaged groups hobbled the bill's progress, it has finally been set in real motion. As the drama in the Rajya Sabha demonstrated, it will not be easy. Competing demands to be more unequal than others had created political gridlock but that, it now appears, might give way to a new kind of participation by women.
The question of women's electoral representation has reared its head several times, and has always been accompanied by the same tensions. Separate electorate constituencies for women were introduced by the British Raj in the provincial elections of 1936-1937 and 1946, but independent India rejected the idea as an imperial restraint, and patronising to women. Now, we are coming full circle to accepting that women need to be recognised as a constituency by themselves, split as they are across community, class and caste. Women who belong to a backward caste and live in a backward region suffer cumulative layers of disadvantage. However, it's obvious that women of all strata are under-represented in the legislatures making the bill's rationale self-evident. What's more, we are all bags of selves, and choose our self-description according to context. When identity intertwines with material interests, rational calculation comes into play. So if being a woman offers greater benefits than, say, being a Muslim, you might highlight that facet of your identity. As studies of Indian women sarpanches have shown, over the years they have learnt to identify and administer as women, rather than as members of particular castes. Perhaps, if this experiment works out for the best, women might, in just over a decade, no longer need this affirmative action to hold their representation in assemblies.
However promising and ultimately worthwhile such a situation is, the traumatic passage of the bill reveals how imperfect the mechanics of it are. This will have huge and literally unsettling effects on our political system, as a big fraction of our MPs and MLAs are uprooted from their constituency every election. Can our politics be mindful of this imperfect measure and innovatively retain the parliamentary covenant between elected and constituent? Will this newly opened space be co-opted by well-connected women? Will stakeholders be able to subvert the progressive principle of gender parity and consolidate power by proxy? As this experiment unfolds over 15 years, we will discover whose interests it ends up advancing.
LET'S JUNK THE HYPOCRISY
The drama surrounding the proposed reservation of seats for women in Parliament and in the state assemblies has taken an interesting turn. The supporters are parties which are otherwise always locked in opposition to one another. The Congress, the BJP and the Left are all supporters, although the enthusiasm of all their members is suspect. The SP, the RJD and the BSP are opponents and are very vociferous and obstructive about it. The mystery remains: are the supporters pro-women and are the opponents anti-feminist? Does this simplistic analysis say it all?
Far from it. Issues of franchise are always political. Parties may appear to be taking a progressive stance or a reactionary one. Quite simply, they support the position that would help them. The Congress, the BJP and the Left believe that the change will help them get more seats in Parliament, if not more votes. The opposing parties are legitimately concerned that if fundamental processes associated with the electoral exercise are changed dramatically at one stroke, then they could be losers. In 1909, when the British introduced the Minto-Morley reforms, they came up with the then novel idea of "separate electorates". The principal beneficiaries were rich Muslims mind you, not Muslims at large, but rich Muslims. No wonder, the super-rich Aga Khan himself led a deputation of similar "leaders" to ask the Viceroy for this concession. This is not to suggest that the Aga Khan and his friends did not make high-sounding arguments about protecting the rights of Indian Muslims. Political arguments are always couched in such rhetoric. Let us consider the possibility that Minto and Morley, instead of creating a separate Muslim electorate, had in fact created three Muslim electorates, one for the Ashraf, the Muslim aristocracy who claim descent from immigrants, one for the Ajlaf, who are generally considered to be the descendants of lower caste Hindus who converted to Islam, and one for the Arzal, who are assumed to be descended from Dalits who converted to Islam. If the subsequent elections had reflected three separate electorates, it would have been very difficult for the Muslim League to have come up with the slogan that an imagined homogenous form of Islam would be in "danger" in a Hindu majority India. Indian history could and would have taken a different course. When Ramsay MacDonald introduced the "communal award" which conferred separate electorates on the Dalits, Mahatma Gandhi went on a "fast unto death" to oppose this. While undoubtedly the Mahatma's stance was prompted by his strong opposition to untouchability and his deep, sincere personal convictions, it should be noted that a joint electorate of all Hindus, including Dalits, was beneficial to the Congress Party. In the absence of a joint electorate, the Congress could not have had the oversized influence it had in the independence negotiations with the British. Again, history may have taken a different turn.
The SP, the RJD and the BSP are grass-roots political parties who have been beneficiaries of the present electoral system. To expect them to commit political hara-kiri by agreeing to the new bill is naïve. The fact of the matter is that whatever may be its claims about being inclusive, the Congress's leadership has always been drawn from the upper castes. The same is the case with the BJP and strangely enough with the Left. The late Kanshi Ram used to point out that while the rank and file members of the communist parties were from lower castes, the Politburo was always dominated by members of upper caste origin. The political parties who draw their support from backward castes and Dalits are convinced that the entire women's quota idea will help upper caste women candidates and hence reverse the trend of the last four decades where gradually the lower castes have been acquiring political power. Instead of moving from seats of power in the state capitals to power in Delhi, their political aspirations will get derailed. Is this fear justified? Why can these parties not put up women candidates and win? No one can predict the future. But there is a distinct possibility that upper caste women can use their female identity to appeal to women and transcend caste identities a little bit like rich Muslim leaders of the Muslim League appealing to poor Muslims exclusively on a religious basis, bypassing class considerations.
Many have argued that the women's movement in the United States has done a disservice to blacks. By combining issues of racial discrimination with issues of gender discrimination, the beneficiaries have been white women and this has been detrimental to the interests of African-Americans as a group. A similar probable consequence is at the root of the opposition by the SP, RJD and the BSP.
From a strictly constitutional position, one can argue that a radical change in the electoral system would constitute an assault on a "basic feature" and would thus go against the celebrated Keshavanand Bharati judgment. We already have completely discriminatory laws, for instance, women pay less income tax than men. This absurd proposition seems to forget that it is income that is taxed and income does not have any gender. If the Congress-BJP-Left combine to push through this measure, I believe that the opponents will have a strong case to get it struck down by the Supreme Court. The present franchise system no separate electorates, reservation for SCs and STs, nominated seats for Anglo-Indians, etc did not come out casually or by accident. The Constituent Assembly discussed and debated these matters at length, and guess what, consensus was obtained. The Muslim members of the assembly supported the abolition of separate electorates. For the Congress-BJP-Left upper caste leadership to ram down a major constitutional change that can have implications similar to the Minto-Morley reforms, pretending to be women-friendly while actually improving their own electoral prospects, is a dubious measure. On this one, believers in constitutional rectitude must support the SP, the RJD and the BSP even if their parliamentary tactics are too noisy for comfort!
The writer divides his time between Mumbai, Lonavla and Bangalore
THE WHIP HAND
The latest developments on the Women's Reservation Bill once again highlight the role of the whip system in India. In this case, most political parties issued whips to their MPs to either vote for or against the bill, depending on their party line. Once the whip is issued, the MPs from each party will necessarily have to obey the whip or else risk losing their seat in Parliament. The Janata Dal (United) had serious differences within itself, and finally decided not to issue a whip, and to instead allow each of their MPs in the Rajya Sabha to vote according to his/ her individual conscience on this bill.
In practice, the whip is "an official appointed to maintain discipline among, secure attendance of, and give necessary information to, members of his party." Party whips are persons who are expected to be a channel of communication between the political party and the members of the party in the legislature. They also serve the function of gauging the opinion of the members, and communicating it to party leaders. The actual whips issued to members can be of three types: one-line, two-line or three-line, depending on the number of times the text is underlined, reflecting the urgency and importance of the whip.
Issuing whips is an age-old practice in several mature democracies. In the US, the party whip's role is to gauge how many legislators are in support of a bill and how many are opposed to it and to the extent possible, persuade them to vote according to the party line on the issue.
In the UK, the violation of a three-line whip is taken seriously occasionally resulting in the expulsion of the member from the party. Such a member can continue in Parliament as an independent until the party admits the member back into the party. In India, the amendment which added the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution, commonly referred to as the anti-defection law, can potentially result in the MP losing his seat in Parliament if he votes against the party whip. There is no data on the frequency of whips issued in India; and, since most bills here are passed by voice vote, it is quite impossible to say whether a party supported or opposed a bill, except by what one might be able to infer from the speeches made by its MPs. Since 1985, there have been a total of 19 cases where MPs lost their seat in Parliament for disobeying the party whip.
Several practitioners are of the view that the whip should be applicable only to motions where the survival of the government is in question, and not to ordinary legislation. In the UK, political parties sometimes announce a "free vote", in which MPs are allowed to vote as they wish on certain issues. Speaking on the practice of issuing whips in India, the chairman of the Rajya Sabha recently said that "we need to build a political consensus so that the room for political and policy expression in Parliament for an individual member is expanded. This could take many forms. For example, the issuance of a whip could be limited to only those bills that could threaten the survival of a government, such as money bills or no-confidence motions. In other legislative and deliberative business of Parliament, this would enable members to exercise their judgment and articulate their opinion." There is a private member bill now pending in Parliament which seeks to amend the anti-defection law to ensure that it not be applicable to ordinary legislation that does not threaten the survival of a government.
Most observers would agree that the landmark Women's Reservation Bill could not have possibly been passed had political parties not resorted to the use of whips. The idea of "forced consensus" may be a tempting tool to use at such times. But all of us know that such short cuts are detrimental to the long-term health of our democracy. In a country like the US, where primaries determine who would be the candidate for any seat in the legislature, party leaders cannot use the instrument of issuing party tickets to ensure greater party discipline. But in India, since party leaders determine who is nominated for the next election from any constituency, there is already a great incentive for MPs to obey the party line on most occasions.
This implies that MPs will differ from the party line only in exceptional circumstances. The anti-defection law and the whip system reduce the MPs to a mere headcount on the floor of the House, and further deter them from exercising their judgment on major issues. The longer route of building consensus on most issues amongst the majority of the legislators concerned, however arduous, must be the way forward.
The writer is director, PRS Legislative Research, Delhi
MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR
For a long time, any legislation which claimed to be pro-women, no matter how stupid and harmful in substance, sailed through Parliament because any legislative initiative claiming to help women enjoyed a moral aura.
The Women's Reservation Bill is the first piece of legislation witnessing strong opposition within Parliament
because this legislation will affect the fortunes of every single politician. If a secret voting is allowed on this important bill, Mrs Gandhi and BJP party bosses who have issued a whip will discover how deeply resentful their own party members are over this bill.
The Women's Reservation Bill, in its present form, has serious, indeed fatal, flaws. If enacted, this measure will send our already tottering political system into a devastating tailspin. The one-third of the total parliamentary seats to be reserved for women is to be selected through a lottery system. This implies that at random, at least 180 male legislators will be uprooted from their constituencies every election. In their place, 180 women will be assigned those constituencies before every election. Then, at the time of the next election, when the new list of 180 reserved constituencies is declared in the same manner, these 180 women will not be able to contest from the seats they are holding at that point of time because the same constituency cannot be reserved twice in succession under the bill's rotation system.
Thus two-thirds of our legislators will be uprooted at every election. This takes away the incentive for women
representatives to nurture and be accountable to their constituencies since after each election they will be expected to either withdraw from the contest or move to a different constituency since no constituency can be reserved in succession.
Thus this brainless scheme of reservation jeopardises the possibility of sensible planning to contest a political
constituency for both men and women. Since very few women politicians have an independent electoral base, this uncertainty about where they will be fielded from will make them even more dependent on male bosses of their party to win elections. In such a situation, male politicians will find it easy to bring in their wives and daughters the biwi beti brigade as proxies to keep the seat "safe" for them until the next election when they would be likely to be able to reclaim their seats.
Being a politician's wife or daughter ought not to be a disqualification in itself. After all, children of lawyers and doctors often inherit their father's practice. But they have to prove their worth every day with their clientele. However, most female relatives are brought in as proxies whose only task is to safeguard the political interests of the men of their families. Like Laloo Yadav' s wife Rabri Devi or Madhu Koda's wife, they will be brought in as rubber stamps to safeguard family interests and sent home after their use is over.
We cannot afford to pack our Parliament and state legislatures with a larger contingent of Rabri Devis. Apart from other disabilities, they act as very negative role models for women because they enlarge the compass of the ideology of female subservience, which is most prominent in the domestic realm, into the public and political domain as well. The one and only agenda these women have is to do all that they can to save their husbands' seat or protect them from being put on trial for looting the public exchequer. They don't even bother to pretend otherwise. How does such a woman serve the cause of women or empower other women?
The biwi-beti brigade, in fact, acts as a definite block against the emergence of independent-minded women
who wish to make a space for themselves on their own strength in the public domain. For example, it is a common phenomenon in India that the women's fronts of various political parties are headed by wives, other female relatives, or mistresses of prominent male party leaders. These posts are given to these women like a jagir for as long as their men retain their clout in the party. A Brinda Karat, Promila Dandavate or Ahilya Ranganekar is put in charge of the women's front primarily because of their husband's clout in the party. Such women do not easily make space for other women with merit. Any woman who enters the party, no matter how talented, has to play a subservient role to these dependent women. The political initiative of most women thus gets curbed rather than encouraged in the party mahila (women) fronts.
Because of the familial connection between the main party and the women's fronts, the politics of the women's front remains subservient to the party. All too often, the main purpose of the women's fronts turns out to be narrowly partisan on women's issues. For example, if a rape is committed by people associated with the Congress Party, the women in Opposition parties are used to let loose a tirade against the Congress. But the same women turn a blind eye towards victims of atrocities when their own party colleagues are culprits. Can we think of even one Congress woman who took a public stand against her partymen involved in the 1984 massacre of Sikhs? Or any BJP woman who stood in support of the victims of Gujarat riots?
For years Mamata Banerjee kept crying hoarse about the violence unleashed by CPM cadres on people in rural Bengal, including cases of gruesome rape, in order to obstruct the conduct of free and fair elections in West Bengal. The CPM women responded in characteristic style and hurled the choicest of political abuses at Mamata instead of making common cause with her in combating the culture of violence in West Bengal.
No wonder our country has not yet witnessed the emergence of women-centric politics on women's issues. The thoughtless scheme of reservation envisaged by the current Reservation Bill will allow the feminine political space to be totally dominated by the biwi beti brigade which will only demean the idea of women's empowerment.
When it goes to the Lok Sabha, MPs should demand the right to secret vote on this important constitutional amendment. Democracy is meaningless if legislators are denied the right to vote for issues according to their conviction.
The writer is professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, and founder editor 'Manushi'
VIEW FROM THE LEFT
MANOJ C G
INSTRUCTIONS FROM AMERICA
Having taken a stand that New Delhi's decision to resume talks with Pakistan came under US pressure, the CPI now feels that the UPA government may allow "direct" American interference in the Indo-Pak dispute or will avail the help of countries friendly to Washington.
The assertion came in an editorial in the latest edition of CPI mouthpiece New Age. Although both India and Pakistan are making noises to satisfy their home constituencies after the foreign secretary-level talks, it says: "India has to join the US plan on Afghanistan. It has also to allow Pakistan to do what the Americans want on Pak-Afghan borders. This is the reality. Under US pressure, UPA-II may accept the direct US interference in Indo-Pak dispute or will avail the services of Saudi Arabia."
For the CPI, the government's decision to "rush through" the Nuclear Liability Bill and the PMO's plan to get the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill which it says clearly favours American multinational corporations promoting GM crops and foods tabled in Parliament indicates that Washington has started dictating terms on other issues as well as foreign policy.
An article in the CPM's weekly People's Democracy also focussed on the Nuclear Liability Bill, dubbing it "one more chapter" in the sorry saga of the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, and claiming that the key part of the proposed bill is to absolve all American equipment suppliers of any liability.
"Without this, the US equipment suppliers will not supply any equipment and the US government has held up all action on the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. Though the French and Russian equipment suppliers have not asked for any such liability legislation, the Manmohan Singh government has buckled under US pressure and is now willing to provide the US suppliers with this comfort," it says.
The article argues that the bill caters to the wishes of the US nuclear industry, which it says "wants the billions of dollars in profits from Indian sales, but does not want any risks". It points out that limiting the liability to about $450 million, restricting the liability of operators to only Rs 500 crore and making no legal liability for the supplier contradicts the law of the land.
It recalls that the Supreme Court in its judgment on the Oleum leak case from Sri Ram Food and Fertilisers in 1987 had made clear that the industry operating hazardous plants had absolute liability including that for environmental damage. "The current bill seeks to reverse this," it says.
PARTIES AT ODDS
In sharp contrast to the CPI's assertion that the US had pressurised India to resume talks with Pakistan and New Delhi may even accept direct American interference, the CPM seems to be supportive of the government's efforts and is not raising its pet American intervention bogey this time around.
The editorial in People's Democracy on Indo-Pak foreign secretary-level talks says it is now clear that New Delhi has correctly decided to press its case across the dialogue table for firm action on terrorism and quotes extensively from External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna's statement in Parliament on the talks.
Besides, it says: "India has correctly reiterated that the composite dialogue process can only be restored when such measures are undertaken by Pakistan and an improved atmosphere of trust and confidence is created between both the countries. These talks have resumed despite the concerted efforts made by various quarters that provide mileage for terrorism. The lack of a dialogue between the two sides interpreted as India's reluctance to engage with Pakistan has often been used to detract and dilute Pakistan's efforts on its western borders against the activities of the Taliban."
C. RAJA MOHAN
In a week of tragic Tibet anniversaries the Dalai Lama's failed 1959 uprising and flight to India and the Lhasa riots two years ago Beijing would want to make sure there are no surprises of any kind.
Beijing has tightened security inside Tibet as part of a pre-emptive "strike-hard" campaign against dissidents and trouble-makers. China is confident enough about its control over the law and order situation to invite groups of foreign journalists into Tibet during the last few weeks.
China has also stepped up security along the border with Nepal, where nearly 20,000 Tibetan refugees live. Since the Lhasa riots in March 2008, Beijing's relentless pressure has compelled Nepal to crack down on all possible sources of cross-border support to the autonomy movement inside Tibet.
Beyond the imperatives of getting through this week without any major incidents in Tibet, Chinese President Hu Jintao has reaffirmed the strategy of promoting economic development and political stability in Tibet.
The Chinese Communist Party and the government in Beijing have always paid special attention at the highest possible levels to the economic and political situation in Tibet. Since 1980 Beijing has organised special forums aimed at giving a measure of purposefulness to the party and governmental work in Tibet.
The report of the Fifth Forum on Tibet which met earlier this year underlined the progress achieved since the fourth report that was issued in 2001. The report says that the national government has invested about $46 billion in Tibet since 2001 and the gross domestic product of the region has posted an annual growth rate of 12 per cent during the last decade.
This impressive growth picture is, of course, is based on low base figures; but there is no denying the dramatic economic transformation of Tibet in recent years. Sceptics would, however, argue that economic growth does not always buy political love and point to the fact that the Lhasa riots two years ago underline the enduring political tension in Tibet.
Quite aware of its vulnerabilities in Tibet, the CCP has acted vigorously during the last decade to remove them. Part of that strategy had been a direct engagement with the representatives of the Dalai Lama and his exiled government based in Dharmashala.
After the ninth round conducted earlier this year, it is quite evident that China has all the cards and the Tibetans not too many. In a recent report on the talks so far, delivered at a think tank in Washington last week, the principal Tibetan negotiator, Lodi Gyari, pointed to the extraordinary difficulties that Dharmashala has had in getting Beijing to accept any of its demands.
The Chinese don't even acknowledge the existence of a "Tibetan issue" and have rejected the Dalai Lama's repeated assertions that he is not seeking Tibet's separation from China and commitment to seek a shared future with the Chinese with the People's Republic.
The disagreement between the Dalai Lama and the CCP envelops all major issues the geographic definition of what constitutes Tibet, its historical political relationship with China, and the meaning and scope of the autonomy sought by the Dalai Lama for his people.
As China became stronger by the year during the last decade and is well on its way to become a superpower, it is not clear how the Tibetans can nudge Beijing towards a settlement that meets even the minimal goals of the Dalai Lama.
One way is to appeal to the higher sensibilities of the CCP leadership. As Gyari argued, China can't become a superpower only "through military and economic strength". "Moral authority is a very important condition," Gyari insisted and added that this can be "imparted by the Tibetan Buddhist culture".
China's growing weight on the international stage has undermined the essence of the Dalai Lama's political strategy during the last two decades to mobilise Western pressure on China to accommodate Tibetan aspirations.
In the past, Beijing was willing to make a few gestures to get the US and the West to get off its back on Tibet. In the last couple of years, Beijing had made it absolutely clear that it will not make any compromises on Tibet. This puts the ball back in the court of the Dalai Lama who must now consider alternative approaches to get Beijing's attention. Therefore his speech on Wednesday marking the 51st anniversary of the 1959 uprising will be heard with some interest.
THE STORYTELLING OF WAR
Two war movies, The Hurt Locker and The Messenger, received multiple nominations for the Academy Awards (The Hurt Locker, in fact, won Best Picture). Though I've enjoyed war movies in the past, I haven't seen either of these. I've stopped watching movies about our current wars for the same reason I don't like recounting my scariest moments for voyeuristic friends. I am protective of my memories and don't want them crowded out.
People seem impatient when I choose to talk about playing volleyball with interpreters, drinking tea with warlords, training police, or dredging irrigation canals. It's as if you lack authenticity if you talk about anything other than killing or being killed. The expectation bores into your memory, and you struggle to distinguish how you felt from how you are expected to feel. Often, it feels easier to surrender to expectation. There is truth in what Isaac Babel wrote in his story, My First Fee: "A well-thought-out story doesn't need to resemble real life. Life itself tries with all its might to resemble a well-crafted story."
I feel the reality of my experiences seeping through my fingers as my own life tries with all its might to resemble one of two stories: that of hero or victim. I can be the hero who in the face of danger mustered all the old truths of the heart, or, and perhaps simultaneously, I can be a well-intentioned victim of circumstance forced to commune with death through the moral ambiguities of war.
Whatever a veteran's faults, they are all excused with four simple words: I've been to war. Whatever a veteran's faults irritability, boorishness, aloofness, alcoholism, drug use, self destruction they are all excused with four simple words: I've been to war. For many, the effects are genuine, sure, and we should help them. I do not want to dismiss anyone's suffering. I do, however, want to acknowledge the seductive power of the red carpet of victimhood, and life bending to resemble a well-crafted story.
I've listened to a reading of The Iliad from nine cassette tapes three times. Its heroes were legitimately distinguished by valour and prowess in specific opposition to those who stayed with the ships during battle. The rest were neither victim nor hero, but soldiers doing their jobs and shouldering their burdens unglamorous labour, homecoming and all.
I remember Iraq, 2003-04. This was before the swarms of reporters left in search of riper piles. The well-crafted story then, as now, involved the struggles of well-intentioned soldiers, though back then it contrasted more starkly with how I think I remember feeling.
Morale in my unit was generally high, especially early on, and I resented the efficiency with which reporters seemed to sniff out the young soldier among us who was having a hard time. I resented the constant parade of them on the news.
The reports were honest, of course, but as I've written before, the problem with war narratives isn't lying. The problem is there's too much truth. Everything you've ever heard or suspected about armed conflict is likely true. The enterprise is so vast that writers, myself included, can choose whichever truths support a particular thesis.
But who will tell the story of those who don't struggle to adjust? Is there space in our consciousness for those who enjoy themselves? For those who choose to return to do similar work as contractors for a salary three times as high? Those who return because they didn't get enough action? Who will admit that many of us are capable of facing combat? I never met anyone emerging from an intense firefight who wanted to go back, but those who folded under the pressure were the exception, not the rule. Who will admit that some of us even revel in it? And if such statements are made, who will listen?
I'd be kidding myself to think The Iliad isn't a whitewashing propaganda even for the Greeks.
Although it puts me and many of my personal friends in a flattering light, I fear the narrative of the reluctant, well-intentioned soldier because, along with similar reverence for all things military, it seems a requisite for endless war. The misguided motives of empire hide behind the sympathetic portrayal of its servants. I also know, as we all probably do but hesitate to admit, that many of us servants were far from reluctant.
Anyone who's been over there understands how, toward the end of a deployment, soldiers who haven't gotten enough action begin volunteering for dangerous missions. They don't want to talk about playing volleyball and dredging irrigation canals when they return home. They want to say they've seen things gentler people could not possibly understand.
Similarly, if our wars ever draw to a close, there will be a headlong rush within the ranks to get over there and earn combat patches and action badges because such decorations are good for careers. They are good for telling stories to grandchildren too, though I don't think prospective grandparents planning far in advance should worry about missing the opportunities of Iraq or Afghanistan. Since we ended the inconvenient practice of declaring our wars, the United States has waged one every decade. There will be no shortage of opportunities to see things your civilian friends couldn't possibly understand.
These more selfish impulses are no less real and no less human than those behind heroism and victimhood, which are so much more readily embraced. Excluding them, as most war movies do, whitewashes reality.
My favorite war narrative is Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War. The two-and-half-millennium-old
narrative does not ignore selfish pettiness, opportunism, false bravado, naïve adventure seeking, and is more familiar to me than many accounts of our wars being peddled today.
I resent the thanks I occasionally get because it is given without knowing whether I commanded an infantry
platoon or a desk, whether I'd been a good leader or a bad one, and I resent the pity because, all told, I've benefited from all the military has taught me. Occasionally, I'm tempted to walk the red carpet of victimhood so often unrolled at my feet. For a split second, I even wonder if it isn't deserved, and this scares me. I feel my memories bending to accommodate the world.
Wars, like everything else, are replaced by the telling of them.
The Rajya Sabha has passed the Bill reserving 33% seats for women in India's legislatures, and the move is well-intentioned. Women's political participation is important in terms of both the design and aspirations of democracy. It's a reflection of an increasing respect for this reality that women's global parliamentary representation has been steadily rising, with different governments taking differing credits for encouraging such developments. But good intentions are not always the guarantee of good deeds. This being the case, it's important to give reservation's opponents due consideration. So, it's interesting to wonder, if they had seen Kamal Akhtar and Ejaz Ali tear up the women's reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, how would Simone de Beauvoir, Mary Wolsttonecraft or Sarojini Naidu have responded? With reason. Pioneering feminists were intimately familiar with how conspicuous claims to equal rights for women drive some men to hysteria, to violence. But, matters are more complex here and now. Today, even while decrying the mayhem wreaked by a select, shameless few in Parliament over the last couple of days, it behooves rational Indians to consider thatin this matterthings have gone beyond being simply for or against women.
First, the latest move towards reservation comes on the back of several others; so India has data to judge whether this strategy actually serves the cause of equity. Even disregarding other institutions, consider the SC/dalit reservation in Parliament itself. There is not enough hard evidence to suggest that target communities have been uplifted in their entirety. Anecdotal evidence, in fact, suggests that the creamy layer has cornered the benefits. In fact, it is political mobilisation rather than reservation itself that appears to have strengthened SC representation, but the ghettoisation appears permanent. Lasting segregation is clearly not a desirable goal for women either. Second, let's ask whether or not the Bill in its present form works in favour of improved governance in India. The rotation principle is the real catch. It will result in the compulsory unseating of two-thirds of incumbent membersone-third being women and one-third being men in every general election. The resulting disincentivisation for parliamentarians to make long-term investments in their constituencies has doubtful merit. On top of all this, one must also consider how the introduction of the Bill will impact the government's legislative agenda, particularly on economic reform. All the political fissures, within and outside the UPA, that this issue has thrown up are bound to make the FM and party more restrained on the other fronts. The UPA after all does not have a comfortable enough majority in the Lok Sabhawithout the support of the two Yadavs and BSP.
STATE OF BANKS
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee reintroduced the State Bank of India (Amendment) Bill in Parliament on Mondaythe Bill which will reduce the government's shareholding in SBI from 55% to 51% was first introduced in 2006 but lapsed with the dissolution of the 14th Lok Sabha. The long delay between the time the Bill was first introduced and now reintroduced tells the story about the kind of time lags that plague key decisions on public sector undertakings. In a private corporate entity, reducing promoter shareholding from 55% to 51% would be a matter decided in days, weeks or may be months, but not years. But the UPA government seems in no mood to free public sector undertakings, including banks, from such control. That is unfortunate.
Still, the SBI Bill, if passed, will help India's largest bank in a number of ways. First, the offloading of some government shares will help shore up SBI's equity base from sources outside the governmentSBI plans to raise Rs 40,000 crore in the next three years. That is welcome. The amendment bill will also give SBI more autonomy from the government in its functioning. The government will no longer be able to appoint more than four managing directors, and the post of vice-chairman will be abolished. Significantly, any shareholder with at least Rs 5,000 worth of shares will be allowed to contest an election to directorship of the bank's board. Of course, this is hardly in the category of big bang reform that Indian banking needs. But if the government is going to continue to shy away from privatisation, then as a second best it is important to give PSBs autonomy and subject them to the discipline of the stock market-something that listing a larger proportion of their shares on stock markets will enable. The autonomy should also extend to PSB boards, rather than finance ministry officials, taking decisions on whether to merge or acquire other PSBs. That should help improve efficiency in the largest segment of the Indian banking industryprivate and foreign banks are still minor players. Of course, over the medium term one hopes that RBI will follow the finance minister's Budget promise and give out many more licences to banks, and take other steps to increase competition in the banking system. That is probably the best way to spur SBI and other large PSBs to improve their efficiency and performance.
EMPOWER, BUT BEYOND JUST THE BILL
UNDP has just (International Women's Day) brought out an Asia-Pacific Human Development Report (APHDR), with a focus on gender equality. Unfortunately, reportage of HDRs is too often based only on indicesGDI (gender-related development index), GEM (gender empowerment measure) and others. To dispose of these first, India scores 0.594 on GDI. (GEM cannot be computed because of data paucity.) Like HDI (human development index), GDI is based on indicators of health (life expectancy), education (literacy, gross enrolment rate) and PPP per capita income and splices in male/female differentials. Let us gloss over methodological issues and there are some. To benchmark ourselves in the South and West Asia region, Iran has a GDI of 0.770 and Afghanistan of 0.310. We are also behind Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, but ahead of Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Not all development or deprivation indicators are necessarily used in constructing indices.
Here are a few more. In 2007, 42.7 million women in India were missing, because of discriminatory treatment in health and education. The under-five male mortality rate is 72.0 (per thousand), but the female figure is 81.0. The net primary school enrolment rate is 86.8 for females and 90.4 for males and discrimination continues up the education ladder. Estimated female PPP per capita earned income is $1304, with a male figure of 4102. Female labour force participation rate is 34.2%. Mao Zedong's quote about women holding up half the sky means a large chunk of the Indian sky is missing or is full of holes. While that is obvious, notwithstanding MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), there are three reasons why everyone should read the APHDR. First, it is topical because of the women's reservation Bill and has a discussion on quotas. Second, there is a rich discussion on policy (ownership of assets, inheritance, nature and quality of female employment, sexual abuse, violence) and APHDR transcends many other HDRs on this count. Third, it states the case for gender equality in a broader framework. "The case for gender equality is often pitched as a human rights or social justice argument, but a growing body of evidence reveals that gender equality is good economics as well. For instance, over the last 10 years the increase of women workers in developed countries is estimated to have contributed more to global growth than has China's remarkable economic record. Reaching the same level of women's labour market participation in the USover 70 per centwould boost GDP in countries, for example, by 4.2 per cent a year in India.The gains would be greater where current female participation rates are the lowest."
That's a potential demographic dividend of a slightly different kind. Such HDRs use all-India figures. Let's not forget backward States have low female work participation rates. In 2001 Census, female work participation rate was 16.82% in UP and 20.71% in Bihar.
On reservations proper, the authors of APHDR couldn't possibly have anticipated how relevant this document would be or that there would be this remarkable coincidence, though 8th March was the obvious date for the release of APHDR and for placing the bill in Parliament. "Both (BJP and Congress) parties have female leaders and platforms that make commitments to gender equality. But often women are put into constituencies where they are less likely to succeeda common practice for parties that want to appear to embrace gender equality without actually having to disrupt the status quo." Opposition to the Bill is partly about disrupting status quo.
However, APHDR also has a quote from a note of dissent to the 1974 meeting of Committee on Status of Women in India. "Our investigations have proved that the application of the theoretical principle of equality in the context of unequal situations only intensifies inequalities, because equality in such situations merely means privileges for those who have them already and not for those who need them." Distinctions between de jure and de facto apart, a key question is identification of backward, deprived and poor. All collective categorisations are second-best.
Identification through collective categories like caste, religion and gender leads to an obvious double problemexcluding the deprived outside these collective categories and including non-deprived inside these collective categories. Ideally, one should move to a stage where all identification of backwardness and poverty is individual-based, with caste, religion, gender, residence, class as determinants, but not used as fool-proof indicators.
However, are we ever likely to get this first-best? Probably not. As second-best, as experience with local bodies demonstrates, reservations aren't a bad idea. Not for economic reasons, but thanks to the dividend of broader social empowerment. Having said this, an even bigger challenge is removal of legal discrimination in personal (marriage, divorce) and inheritance laws. We do need uniform civil code and arguments based on preserving diversity are actually arguments for discrimination.
The author is a noted economist
BUDGETING FOR SIMPLER TAX CODES
A budget, besides keeping accounts of income and expenditures, also contains information about the path of action planned by the government. In that sense, perhaps the most salient feature of the Budget 2010 is its laying down of a roadmap not just for this fiscal year but for the medium term spanning at least two years from now. It spelt out clearly what one should expect in the coming years and what one should not.
First, one can expect that reforms in the structure of various kinds of taxes will occupy the government's agenda. The government's pronouncement of its plan to implement GST and DTC as of next year is a clear indication that reforms in tax structure will take place on a continual basis. The hallmarks of the new tax regime will be eliminating multiple taxes to form an integrated structure at both the federal and state level, phasing out the CST, making the process of tax payment much simpler, adopting technology both for collection and to ensure compliance and anything else that reduces costs of transaction between taxpayers and the government.
The political economy behind this reform is clear. A government, like any other institution, seeks to minimise costs while trying to earn a certain amount of revenue to cover its expenditures and is subject to various everyday constraints. Here the costs are not just taken from the textbook economics of public finance but also include expenses that can cause political instability, including adverse effects on the probability of re-election. The numerous constraints are shaped by various conflicting elements like varying opinions of coalition partners on different issues, infeasible demands from lobbyists and from pressure groups from industry, agriculture and commerce, etc. In such scenarios, reforms are always staggered and the government follows the path of least resistance. Reform in tax structure isn't the hardest reform to push.
The old structure of a complicated direct and indirect tax system corresponded to a stagnant economic system where very few individuals and companies paid various kinds of taxes and a vast majority were not under the purview of either because of deliberate non-compliance or a lack of income. However, almost uninterrupted growth in the last decade created new businesses and helped many old ones expand and enabled them to pay taxes. Still, many of them are not under the tax net partly because of the high transaction costs of an unnecessarily complicated system of taxation. Earlier, this did not matter because the size of the taxpaying population was small anyway. However, an ever-increasing number of potential taxpayers, reductions in transaction costs thanks to transparent tax rules, the availability of low-cost technology for surveillance and encouraging participation of states in the CENVAT introduced in 2004 have relaxed both political and economic constraints. These developments have made tax reform a politically superior instrument for revenue collection compared to cutting expenditures by slashing subsidies or undertaking disinvestment of PSUs, which fuels controversy and inflicts political costs.
While tax reform is meant to mop up untapped resources with the least political cost, the use of technology to curb leakages in expenditure will also be a priority and exemplified by the allocation of a whopping sum of Rs 1900 crore to UID, which will help the government in a big way carry out its various poverty alleviation programmes in the future. To give a concrete example, the delivery of food grains at subsidised prices to people under BPL is fraught with corruption as the outlets tend to buy such items at a subsidised price and sell at a higher market price, leaving at best adulterated food items for the poor. However, the introduction of a coupon system in the near future, allowing people to buy food items of their choice at the market price, will certainly eliminate such corruption to a great extent. Though such a system of vouchers is being floated in various proposals, it will be effective when the UID system is in place. The execution of the UID system by 2012 will be a silent revolution in not only curbing the waste of funds but also in radically changing the mechanism for delivery to the poor. Here also, the government, instead of restructuring the internal governance mechanism of institutions responsible for delivery, resorted to technology to deal with corruption and information that would provoke controversy.
Many people are dismayed because the budget did not cut subsidies and shied away from disinvestment, but they do not account for the political constraints faced by a government. Given these constraints, the real question is: did the government do its job efficiently within severe limitations? The answera 'qualified yes'was also confirmed by immediate reactions from the financial market.
The author is reader in finance at the University of Essex
SEED OF THE PROBLEM
Since Monsanto's open admission that the pink bollworm pestone of the major pests that attack cotton crophas developed resistance to its Bt cotton variety, the debate on spurious seeds and effective measures to check rampant proliferation of untested seeds in the name of hybrids is back on centrestage.
With some scientists claiming that it is not genetically modified or hybrid seeds but their fake versions that cause all the troublea point which also found mention in Jairam Ramesh's statement putting a moratorium on Bt brinjalthe whole question of spurious seeds and the need for strict checks has been reinforced.
It is well known that just like in cotton, illegal, untested hybrid varieties of seeds of other crops have been sold for a long time. Seeds usually develop resistance to the principal pests when an insufficient dose of toxins is administered, giving the target pests an open field to develop resistance and proliferate. As most spurious seeds are untested in government laboratories and not sold by registered companies, there are no checks and balances on the toxicity level or other parameters. In the case of cotton alone, unofficial reports show that 15 to 20 lakh acres of land is under spurious seeds and almost 90% is in Gujarat.
Surprisingly, independent studies and surveys have shown that the rampant usage of spurious seeds is greater in areas and crops where private seed companies are less prevalent. Then again, which large private seed company would encourage the proliferation of illegal seeds at its own expense? The presence of private seed companies evens the demand-supply imbalance since with their expertise, private companies can scale up supplies at short noticeanother case for private companies to have active participation in farm technology. The Monsanto episode reinforces the need to fast-track implementation of the new Seeds Bill. The Bill, which was recently cleared by the Cabinet, seeks to check the sale of spurious seeds by making registration mandatory for the sale of seeds.
A HISTORIC VOTE
India may have missed the symbolism of passing the Women's Reservation Bill on the hundredth anniversary of International Women's' Day but the delay does not rob the Rajya Sabha's decision of its historic and global significance. There is hardly any example of such a bold and progressive measure to improve the representation of women anywhere in the world, least of all in a society plagued by pervasive gender inequality, discrimination, and violence. After developing cold feet in the face of political threats by the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal and the disruptive tactics used by their MPs, the Congress party decided to stiffen its spine and go for broke, despite the risks involved. Credit for this resolve must be given primarily to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, whose unequivocal advocacy of the bill helped quell the misgivings within a section of its male leadership, as well as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But the applause must also go to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left, which put the politics of oppositionism aside to help the government pass the 108th constitutional amendment in the upper house on Tuesday. The Trinamool Congress's criticism of the suspension of seven SP and RJD MPs for their unruly behaviour on Monday demonstrates the party's duplicity and need not unduly detain the government's floor managers. Once the reality of women's reservation sinks in, few of those who have staked such strident positions against the bill can afford to remain in denial.
In all probability, equilibrium will quickly return to existing alliances and arrangements as parties turn their attention to managing the mechanics of seat allocation under the new dispensation. The United Progressive Alliance government should now move quickly to win the Lok Sabha's approval for the women's bill. Any delay will only play into the hands of the obstructionists, defeating the purpose behind moving ahead in the first place. As in the Rajya Sabha, there will be protests in the lower house, perhaps even more unruly and boisterous than before. Unlike their colleagues in the upper house, many male MPs in the Lok Sabha will stand to lose their seats to women and are likely to throw everything into what will, after all, be their last stand. Ensuring a proper floor strategy to deal with disruptions is vital so that there will be no repeat of Monday's disgraceful scenes. The members who attacked the dignity of the Rajya Sabha chairperson betrayed the trust reposed in them by the people. Suspending or expelling MPs for flagrant violation of parliamentary procedure and indulging in violence is a requirement of democracy and there is no reason for the government or Speaker to be squeamish about it.
SUBSTANCE OVER STYLE
It was evident from the start that this year's Oscar awards were going to be a two-horse race for best picture and best director. Gratifyingly, Hollywood's Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences opted for Katherine Bigelow's The Hurt Locker over James Cameron's Avatar in this contest of intriguing contrasts. Bigelow's intense Iraqi war drama about an elite bomb disposal squad in Baghdad was made on a modest $11 million budget and earned a paltry $14.7 million before the award was announced. By contrast, Cameron's visually breathtaking interstellar epic, which employed cutting edge digital technologies, consumed $237 million in the making and has grossed a record breaking $3 billion (and counting). In rewarding the nerve-wracking portrayal of war, steeped in realism, over a fantasy about a conflict between humans and blue-skinned humanoids, which is marred by a cliche-ridden and clumsily allegorical storyline, the Academy favoured substance over style. It has not always done so, opting often for commercially successful big-budget films over smaller and much better ones. This attitude has been changing in recent years. In terms of art, the only possible contender to The Hurt Locker this year was Quentin Tarantino's hip and stylishly compelling Inglorious Bestards. Fittingly, while the winner picked up six Oscars of the nine for which it was nominated, Avatar bagged three well-deserved statuettes in the technical category.
The uncertainty over the Bigelow-Cameron contest, which was lent an additional edge by the fact they were once husband and wife, is a departure from last year, when Slumdog Millionaire was the runaway favourite. But this year's Oscars are proof that a bigger nomination list for best picture (10 against the usual five), doesn't necessarily mean a better list. Apart from Slumdog Millionaire, last year's list included Milk, the crusading biopic of America's first openly gay public official , The Reader, a haunting and beautifully filmed love story in the time of Nazi Germany, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, an intriguing and meticulously crafted story of a man who ages backwards. The justification for returning to a 10-picture nomination list, a practice given up in 1943, is that it prevents some very good films from getting squeezed out of the race. But in the bid to provide greater exposure to films, something for which there exists strong commercial pressure, the Academy should not spread itself thin and devalue nomination to the world's best-known film awards.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
VISION 2010: A DANGEROUS MYOPIA
THE CENTRAL BUDGET OF 2010-11 IS A FURTHER STEP IN THE REALISATION OF A VISION OF INDIA VIBRANT WITH THE INCOME, WEALTH, SAVING, EDUCATION AND THE ENTREPRENEURIAL ENERGY OF THE TOP 5-10 PER CENT OF THE POPULATION AND THE REST OF INDIANS, SERVING THAT MINORITY AND SURVIVING AS BARELY LITERATE, MALNOURISHED MULTITUDE.
AMIYA KUMAR BAGCHI
With the accession of Rajiv Gandhi to power, a vision began to germinate. That vision was that of an India that would be vibrant with the entrepreneurial energy of the few, and the rest of the population serving those few with their labour.
The argument was that despite more than 40 years of independence, with slogans of a 'socialistic pattern of society,' Indians remained desperately poor. Most of them also remained actually illiterate or barely literate. The free market advocates backing Rajiv Gandhi thought that the energy of the business community could both enrich the rich and, through trickle-down effects, better the condition of ordinary people. The Central budget of 2010-11 is a further step towards the implementation of that vision.
Look at the successes of the budget: the professional middle class is happy with the cuts in taxes collected from it. The business community, including foreign investors, is happy, because of further privatisation of public assets by which the Finance Minister proposes to raise Rs. 25,000 crore, because of the looming privatisation of many operations of the Indian Railways, whose kitty is nowhere near what it should be for even partial implementation of the projects announced by the Railway Minister, because the FDI path would be further smoothed and because licences would be issued for fresh private banks. Never mind if they fail as the Global Trust Bank did, the government will pick up the bill directly or indirectly, in accordance with its earlier record and the recent practice in the United States and Britain where banks failed but bankers remained prosperous. The Indian stock market responded positively, thus sending a message of welcome to the budget and generating profits for the bulls.
The Finance Ministers of the neoliberal Central government had earlier instituted the Fiscal Responsibility and Responsibility Management Act. This became their excuse to drastically cut down public investment and expenditure on the social sector. As soon as the global financial crisis hit India and the interests of the Indian rich demanded fiscal stimulus, the government overthrew fiscal orthodoxy and budget deficits soared. North Block policymakers can claim that the stimulus worked and the growth rates did not crash. The problem is with the content of that growth.
The Indian Constitution is only quasi-federal. Using and abusing the power of centralisation vested in it, the neoliberal policymakers have concentrated more and more financial powers in their hands, leaving the State governments with scantier resources to carry out their constitutional responsibilities of providing health care, education and rural livelihoods. The Central government has introduced an enormous number of Centrally-Sponsored Schemes and encroached on the States' jurisdiction. The Centre has handed over much of the financing to aid agencies of the U.S. and European Union governments, which have imposed fresh conditionalities on the States. The irony is that the more backward the regions are, the less able they are in fulfilling the conditions. Hence, the greater the deprivation of those areas.
The centralising tendency has been rampant in the field of education: the government has established Central universities not just in backward or remote areas but in States with well-established universities, which continue to suffer stagnation because of lack of resources as well as political manipulation. Instead of learning the proper lessons from the often tardy responses of the over-centralised AICTE, NCERT or UGC, namely, that they need more and more assured supply of public money and must devolve some of their powers to regional bodies, the Ministry of Human Resource Development has decided, with the proposed National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill to concentrate all powers in its single wise head. Not all wisdom resides in persons who tread the corridors of power in Delhi.
Moreover, the policymakers have proclaimed that they want the institutions to be of international standard, and that the scholars employed there will be judged according to international (read U.S. establishment) accreditation criteria. The idea that there is a single, uncontested international standard in economics, history, political science or sociology is laughable. In areas of technological education too, local adaptation is critical and 'international' standards will not provide the knowledge of the local cost-benefit conditions in the diversity that is India. How would 'international' standards be applied to scholars of Tamil or Bengali or Marathi literature, culture and history who do not write in English?
The acceptance of the NCHER Bill will have many unacceptable consequences. First, under an NCHER endowed with powers far exceeding its optimum span of control, decisions will be even slower in critical areas of education than they are now. Second, with a niggardly Central government, tuition fees will rise far beyond the paying capacity of poor students and, therefore, will exclude much larger numbers of meritorious but poor students from higher education. Third, the step will lead to further dilution of the quality of teaching in State universities, the further proliferation of private colleges doling out poor-quality education.
The Union Cabinet recently approved an agreement with the U.S. on 'Agricultural co-operation and food security.' Under an India-U.S. Agricultural Knowledge Initiative, multinational agribusiness firms such as Cargill and Monsanto can become members of the policymaking body. This is ironical since most of U.S. agribusinesses are conducted under the umbrella of huge government subsidies, while the current budget has cut the measly subsidies poor farmers enjoy in India. Indian agriculture has grown slowly in recent years, and food grain production has lagged behind population growth.
Ordinary Indians are badly malnourished and calorie intake has fallen over time. An Expert Group appointed by the Planning Commission has proposed 1800 calories per day as the norm of consumption by an adult for fixing the poverty line. This norm is applicable only for light or sedentary work. How is a construction worker with heavy head loads or an agricultural worker driving buffaloes in a flooded paddy land going to do his work and lead a healthy life or survive long? Even this norm yields an estimate of poverty of about 42 per cent in 2004-05, much higher than the estimates quoted officially. If the Food Security Bill is passed by Parliament, it will presumably be implemented by accepting the older estimate or the new estimate of the Expert Group. Either way, a vast number of people who are malnourished will remain in that state.
Under the Common Minimum Programme, the first UPA government adopted the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Even its partial implementation has helped the desperately poor and yielded rich dividends for the ruling parties under whose auspices there has been a better record of implementation. But this can be regarded only as a halting step towards a universal public distribution system, which is the proper way to address the issues. The budget is still focussed on the interests of the middle and richer classes and on tie-ups with the U.S. as the exemplar and leader of the system that the advisors want. The Right to Education Act, for example, excludes the education of children below the age of six, and the ICDS programme that is supposed to look after them is still poorly funded and poorly governed. The allocation in the current budget for mid-day meals for school children is far short of what would be needed to universalise them.
Finally, the whole saga of the nuclear agreement with the U.S., currently developing into a bill that caps the liability of suppliers and operators at Rs. 500 crore whereas a Chernobyl-like development could impose unimaginable costs on the current and future costs often appears like a black comedy in the making. We should remember that crime rates in U.S. cities still remain high, and there is a continual war going on on U.S. borders against 'illegal' immigrants from Latin America. Do the policymakers at the Centre want a permanent state of civil war with the disaffected inside to be added to the worries on subversion across India's borders?
(Professor Amiya Kumar Bagchi is Director, Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata.)
LIVESTOCK REARING KEY TO POVERTY REDUCTION STRATEGIES
FROM EQUITY AND LIVELIHOOD PERSPECTIVES, LIVESTOCK REARING MUST BE AT THE CENTRE STAGE OF POVERTY ALLEVIATION PROGRAMMES.
Livestock rearing is a key livelihood and risk mitigation strategy for small and marginal farmers, particularly across the rain-fed regions of India. Livestock products comprised 32 per cent of the total value of agriculture and allied activities in 2006-07 which was a noticeable increase from 27 per cent in 1999-2000 and from 1980-81 when it represented 14 per cent of the agricultural gross domestic product. The livestock sector has therefore been growing faster than many other sectors of agriculture and if this trend continues then the sector will be the engine of growth for Indian agriculture that many have predicted.
Most often we see livestock as providers of essential food products, draught power, manure, employment, household income and export earnings. However, it is a very important fact that livestock wealth is much more equitably distributed than wealth associated with land. Thus, when we think of the goal of inclusive growth, we should not forget that from equity and livelihood perspectives, livestock rearing must be at the centre of the stage in poverty alleviation programmes.
There are two other important aspects: firstly, livestock rearing at the household level is largely a women-led activity, and therefore income from livestock rearing and decisions related to management of livestock within the household are primarily taken by women. Interventions in India have demonstrated that support for livestock rearing has contributed significantly to the empowerment of women and an increasing role in decision making at both the household and village level. Secondly, livestock rearing, particularly in the rain-fed regions of the country, is also emerging as a key risk mitigation strategy for the poorest. They face increasingly uncertain and erratic weather conditions which negatively impact crop productivity and wage labour in the agriculture sector.
Three overarching messages
A global analysis of the livestock sector by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) was contained in the recently released State of Food and Agriculture and it highlighted three overarching messages that merit discussion in the context of India.
First, although livestock products make important contributions to food security and poverty reduction for many low-income rural families, the policy and institutional framework in many countries has failed to serve the needs of these poorest households and to get them onto the conveyor belt of development. A lack of public services in animal health that reach out to the poorest in rural areas and a failure to link small holder livestock keepers to better paying markets are but two examples of common failings. The institutional and policy frameworks tend to support intensive and commercial livestock rearing, both in the provision of services and also in facilitating access to markets.
Second, livestock producers, including traditional pastoralists and smallholders, are both victims of natural resource degradation and contributors to it. Corrective action most likely lies in a mix of public goods related to environmental protection, ecosystem services and through incentives for private investment to improve animal productivity, particularly in remote regions. In the case of India, there are numerous examples of community-led interventions where community management and sustainable use of natural resources has positively impacted small holder livestock rearing.
Third, animal health services not only combat animal diseases that cause mortality and reduce animal productivity, they also protect human health because of the risk of animal to human disease transmission. Animal health systems have been neglected in many parts of the world and this has led to institutional weaknesses that in turn lead to poor delivery of animal health services and higher risks to livelihoods and human health. In correcting this situation it must be recognised that the poor face different risks and have different incentives and capacities to respond than do intensive commercial farmers. Therefore, animal health service providers have the additional challenge of recognising the differences between their stakeholders and developing mechanisms to reach them all.
Moving forward on these key findings is not possible by relying either on individuals alone or a single string of actions. Progress requires attention from all actors in the social, environmental, animal health, human health and agriculture sectors; that means public, private and community organisations being actively engaged together. The livestock sector is far too important to accept anything less. Courtesy: United Nations Information Centre for India and Bhutan.
( Gavin Wall is FAO Representative in India and Bhutan.)
OUR WHOLE COUNTRY LOSES IF WOMEN AND GIRLS ARE UNABLE TO FULFIL THEIR POTENTIAL
MANY OF OUR POLITICIANS WOULD STILL RATHER IGNORE THE INFORMAL SECTOR AND THE WOMEN WHO FORM ITS BACKBONE. THEY DO SO AT OUR PERIL.
India is undergoing enormous change. In a very short time, many Indians have become much richer, and our country is now often described as a "world player" economically and politically. Despite this transformation, our rich history, culture and traditions rightly remain important. Indeed, our success rests on this potent combination of the old and the new.
We have, however, to be realistic. These traditions are also used to justify out-dated and unfair practices which feed inequality and trap many millions in poverty. Women and girls in particular find themselves excluded from opportunities, with the poorest terribly vulnerable to exploitation, neglect and abuse. Women's work is denied recognition or proper pay. They face enormous obstacles in having their voices heard and in claiming rights and freedoms that are enshrined in our constitution and laws but denied in practice.
In some cases, this prejudice is open but in many cases it is subtle although no less damaging. What it means, however, is that Gandhiji's plea for equality between women and men is being ignored at great cost. Any girl denied the chance to fulfil her potential and any woman exploited and repressed by unscrupulous moneylenders, landlords, traders or even their families is a loss to our country.
Inequality between the sexes occurs not just here in India but all around the world. In every continent, girls and women face barriers in their daily lives which simply don't exist for men. Tradition, culture and religion are often the underlying justification for this discrimination. This is not just unfair but stifles our future prosperity.
This is why The Elders, a group of leaders from around the world, brought together by Nelson Mandela, have called for community and religious leaders to join them in speaking out against prejudice. I am honoured to have been asked to join their number and want to share some experiences from my own country.
These are things I have learned from three decades of struggle with SEWA, the Self-Employed Women's Association in India a labour union for women workers in the informal sector. These millions of women earn meagre incomes producing goods in their homes, picking and recycling rubbish, working as agricultural labourers, small farmers, construction workers, street vendors and hawkers. Bereft of a voice, they have remained invisible to most of my middle class compatriots and are vulnerable to exploitation and neglect. It is sadly clear how bigotry, dressed up as culture or tradition, helps maintain this unfairness. But it is clear as well the enormous benefits to entire families and communities when women are helped to exercise their skills and talents fairly.
In 30 years with SEWA, I have seen again and again the extraordinary qualities and resilience of these women, whose labour sustains us all. They work incredibly hard. They are as clever and quick as any man in business, dealing with money and making each paise and rupee count.
SEWA has played its role in helping to empower them through work. From tiny beginnings, organising women workers into a union, SEWA has grown into an organisation of 1.2 million members in nine states across India with an impact both at community and national level. By banding together, millions of poor Indian women have managed to improve their bargaining power, produce and market their goods collectively and get access to credit at fairer rates.
For the first time, they have the chance to put money aside, invest in their business, better housing and education for their children. But the impact of financial independence goes far beyond putting more food on the table or securing shelter at night. I have watched them also nurture their communities, stand together in a crisis and learn to speak with confidence. They say their husbands value them more and no longer treat them as inferior. Violence in the family decreases. Decisions are shared and women's influence rises, not only in the family but through the community. Mothers can insist their daughters receive the education they were denied and they actively take part in helping their own communities reach the right decisions on the future because they, at last, have a voice.
None of this would have surprised Gandhiji. He strongly believed in women's equality and saw women as natural leaders in the fight for justice and equitable social change. He would have approved of the way women in India are coming together to lift the barriers blocking their progress in a determined but non-violent way.
But as long as women's status is lower than men's and boys are valued above girls, poverty will remain a reality in our country and across the world. We have to rid our society of the view that to be female is to be a second-class citizen, no matter how deep the roots of this belief.
Many of our politicians would still rather ignore the informal sector and the women who form its backbone. They do so at our peril. India's population is young and their aspirations are high. Making the most of all the talent in this country is essential if we are to satisfy the hopes and needs of this growing, young population.
Today, we come together to celebrate the special contribution that women make to our world. This 35th anniversary of the first International Women's Day is a time to reflect on women's progress and the obstacles that remain to equality. Our country rightly is proud of its democracy and its diversity. We must make sure that everyone has the chance to succeed, whatever their caste, gender or background. It is the only way to fulfil our ambitions and Gandhiji's vision for our country and our world.
( Renowned entrepreneur and women's activist Ela Bhatt is a member of The Elders.)
SHOWER OF AID BRINGS PROGRESS TO KENYAN VILLAGE
In the past five years, life in Sauri the bushy little patch of western Kenya has improved dramatically.
Agricultural yields have doubled; child mortality has dropped by 30 per cent; school attendance has shot up and so have test scores, putting one local school second in the area, when it used to be ranked 17th; and cell phone ownership (a telltale sign of prosperity in rural Africa) has increased fourfold. There is a palpable can-do spirit that infuses the muddy lanes and family compounds walled off by the fruity-smelling lantana bushes. People who have grown bananas for generations are learning to breed catfish, and women who used to be terrified of bees are now lulling them to sleep with smoke and harvesting the honey.
"I used to think, African killer bees, no way," said Judith Onyango, one of the new honey makers. But now, she added, with visible pride, "I'm an apiarist."
Sauri was the first of what are now more than 80 Millennium Villages across Africa, a showcase project that was the dream child of Jeffrey D. Sachs, the Harvard-trained, Columbia University economist who runs with an A-list crowd: Bono, both Bills (Clinton and Gates), George Soros, Kofi Annan, Ban Ki-moon and others. His intent was to show that tightly focused, technology-based and relatively straightforward programs on a number of fronts simultaneously health care, education, job training could rapidly lift people out of poverty. In Sauri, at least, it seems to be working. Some of the goals were literally low-hanging fruit, like teaching banana farmers to rotate their crops. Other programmes were more sophisticated, like the battle against malaria, which employs mobile technology against a disease that kills more than one million children each year.
The other day, a community health team in Sauri stooped through the doorway of a home of several sick children, said hello to Grandma and got to work. Within minutes, a health worker had taken a child's blood sample, sent a text message with the blood results by cell phone to a computer server overseen by a man named Dixon in a town about an hour away and gotten back these instructions: "Child 81665 OKOTH Patrick m/16m has MALARIA. Please provide 1 tab of Coartem (Act) twice a day for three days."
These small miracles are happening every day in Sauri, population 65,000. But the question for Sachs and his team remains: Is this progress, in development-speak, scalable? ©2010 New York Times News Service
OSCAR: IS KATHRYN BIGELOW'S VICTORY A WIN FOR WOMEN?
IS SHE AN ANOMALY, OR IS HOLLYWOOD REALLY CHANGING?
After every Oscar ceremony, observers traditionally attempt to distil a zeitgeisty trend from the proceedings, and the one available here would appear to be obvious. On Monday, on International Women's Day in fact, we woke up to hear that Kathryn Bigelow had become the first woman to win the best director award in the Oscars' 82-year history.
Women have, of course, been extravagantly admired as prizewinning actors at the Oscars and always been expected to provide the glamorous media faces of the Academy Award ceremony, the red-carpet icons and fashion queens. But never before has a woman actually been distinguished for being at the creative and administrative helm: and it is difficult to tell if there is really any feminist meaning to this, or if Bigelow is a Thatcherite anomaly. Either way, for her to have won so massively with such a male-orientated film in such a male-orientated industry is a significant victory. And the fact that so little fuss is made about it is, arguably, a heartening sign an indication that the academy will be unself-conscious about picking a woman next year, or the year after that.
The Hurt Locker itself was a classic Oscar landslide: like Slumdog Millionaire last year, the consensus tipping-point was reached that this film was a very good thing, propelled by great reviews and also, perhaps, by its perceived underdog status. Quite suddenly, as if by some mysterious chemical reaction, everything went its way and Avatar, the hugely hyped box-office behemoth, was disappointed.
The Hurt Locker really is a brilliant film about the strain, fear and sheer boredom of war, but also, like many anti-war films, it also provides a lot of the old-fashioned excitement that is generally associated with action films. Jeremy Renner, playing the sociopathic, cigarette-smoking bomb-disposal technician, terminally addicted to the army life, does bear a strong visual resemblance to Marine Lance Corporal James Blake Miller, who became famous in the U.S. after being snapped by news photographers in Falluja in 2004, smoking a cigarette in an unconscious "Marlboro man" pose.
Everything about this film is intensely male; there is a sweaty, sour and defeatedly masculine tang seeping out of every frame. Perhaps, in retrospect, it was not so startling for a woman director to have made it, and to have provided the shrewd perspective on this maleness.
Elsewhere, well, there was not too much to cheer about at the Oscars on the feminist front, or any other. Jane Campion, a brilliant director with her Keats movie Bright Star the best film of her career was nowhere to be seen. Jeff Bridges was a popular winner, though the sentimental Country & Western drama Crazy Heart was not his best work, all heart and no crazy. The prize for Sandra Bullock (surely the least deserving winner of the five nominees) seemed to tap into a robustly Palinesque admiration for tough-minded hockey moms everywhere, and any perceived liberal-feminist trend in the Bigelow prize has to be balanced by Bullock's unlikely triumph. Bullock has never been nominated before and has never exactly been an awards contender, but is instead notable chiefly for having garnered a guarded industry respect for being a solid box-office draw outside the U.S. She also won a Razzie this weekend for the unspeakable All About Steve, becoming the first performer to get an Oscar and a Razzie in the same year. Perhaps it won't be long before someone gets the Oscar and the Razzie for the same performance. The best supporting actor awards for Christoph Waltz and Mo'Nique were the right decisions, however.
It was an awful night for Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon and Jacques Audiard's A Prophet, confined to the best foreign film ghetto where they were defeated by the Argentinian thriller The Secret of My Eyes. The Haneke and Audiard films were both widely hailed as modern classics but ignored by an academy that is highly receptive to critical kudos where these opinions appear to be sympathetic to the U.S. military and U.S. concerns, but pretty indifferent otherwise.
This was a clunkingly disconcerting moment at the Oscars: a reminder, if we needed it, that the Academy Awards will always give us a vivid, muddled snapshot of the American mood, but no very compelling or focused view of what's happening elsewhere in the world of cinema. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
Uranium reserves will not last. Turn to thorium and evolve the needed technology through necessary research.
This was the argument that India's atomic energy research commission (AERC) chairman Srikumar Banerjee proffered at an international conference on access to civil nuclear technology in Paris on Monday. It makes sense because India has the largest thorium reserves in the world.
What Mukherjee is pleading for is international collaboration to utilise thorium to generate nuclear power. At present, nuclear yields from thorium are lower and, therefore, inefficient compared to uranium. Greater research could help improve the nuclear power yields from thorium.
Critics would be tempted to view the nuclear chief's statement as a confession of Indian scientists' failure to take advantage of indigenous thorium reserves.
This would be a harsh interpretation of the issue. Indian scientists have been working on the thorium route for decades now and it is true that they have managed to achieve limited success.
It would possible to argue that if India had achieved a breakthrough it would not have had to sign the civil nuclear agreement with the US and other countries and get the green signal from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as well as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to access nuclear technology.But then the policymakers did not have the political will to press with it and allocate the funds needed for research and development (R&D) to make the breakthrough.
In a way, even this argument is flawed. Even if India had achieved success on the thorium front, it would not have been easy to ignore international pressures in the nuclear area because this is not just a technological issue.
There are strategic implications. As a matter of fact, by seeking international collaboration to work on ways of tapping thorium to generate nuclear power, India could become a lead player because it already has the R&D base. It will be better then if India takes the lead in research on the use of thorium and sets up an international centre for the purpose.
This would also inspire greater confidence in the international community that India means to be transparent in this business and its declarations about its peaceful intentions are not mere rhetorical flourishes.
The Supreme Court has done the country proud by pulling up the government for not releasing 16 Pakistani nationals who have completed their prison terms and for arguing that these prisoners are being held to negotiate a swap with Indian nationals in Pakistan prisons.
Judges Markandey Katju and RM Lodha asserted that no one should remain in prison for a second after they have completed their sentence.
This was a resounding declaration of the basic tenet of rule of law that individual liberty is of paramount value and that it cannot be used as a bargain chip in diplomatic or other negotiation processes. This need not be used to score brownie points against Pakistan where the rule of law has had a troubled existence.
On the contrary it should be both a gentle and firm reminder to the country that what distinguishes India more than its economic power and military might is its commitment to the rule of law and liberty.
Many people, both from the right and left ends of the political spectrum ardently believe that individual liberty is a bourgeois fetish and that it can be dispensed with for reasons of state.
The courts have always come to the rescue of the individual and asserted time and again and tirelessly that individual liberty is inviolable and that it can be curbed, and in rare circumstances deprived, only through the due process of law. This fundamental principle is established with greater conviction and authority when it is extended to individuals who are not Indian nationals.
This is sure to raise the hackles of those who believe that India should take a hard line against Pakistan in the face of the many provocations, direct and indirect, from the other side of the border.
The court has proved that the law's credibility and the commitment of the nation to liberty faces its real rest when it is not bound to extend to those who are not citizens of the country.
Due credit also needs to be given to petitioners Panther Party leader Bhim Singh and advocate BS Billowriya for taking up the cause of these 16 Pakistani prisoners, risking the taunts of the right-wing hotheads that they are pleading for the enemy.
Human rights activists can be irritating and a nuisance as well but we need such gadflies to keep Indian democracy on an even keel. The roots of democracy can be strengthened only through the defense of individual freedoms, even if those individuals happen to be Pakistan nationals.
MAOIST WITCH HUNT
The home minister P Chidambaram would like to have a law-an-order approach, meeting force with ever more force.
Thus his policy of 'operation green hunt', a misnomer that does not say who or what is being hunted and seems to imply that it is all for the good of the natural forests that still abound in the areas of Maoist rebellion.
There is to be saturation coverage of police and paramilitary forces to fight the Maoists. In Jharkhand for instance, these are estimated by intelligence agencies at between 2,000 and 3,000 fully armed cadre.
Paramilitary forces of 50,000 armed men are being raised to meet the threat, up from 20,000 at present. In all the affected states, the numbers add up to several times this.
A Kashmir-like situation is being created, not to fight Pakistani backed militants in one of the wealthiest states of the country, but home-grown guerillas in some of the poorest.
In official and political circles in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, it is often feltthat this policy will not work. Some bureaucrats talk of a five to 10 year military siege to break the back of the Maoists, while some political observers see the situation becoming worse leading to the imposition of an internal emergency.
The only certain thing is that people in the affected states will be ground between the two armed sides and life there will become even more brutish.
It need not be so. More than anywhere else, it is the lack of development, the consequent corruption and the reckless usurpation of tribal land that have created the ground for the violent Maoist insurgency.
Bihar, a state badly affected by Maoist violence till recently, has seen them retreat ever since the Nitish Kumar administration put the state on an 11 per cent growth trajectory.
And former chief minister Madhu Koda in Jharkhand created a record of sorts when he was caught having whisked away over Rs2000 crore in corruption money during his short tenure.
The major reason for the rise in Maoist insurgency, however, is the accelerated grabbing of tribal land once globalisation took root from the mid-90s.
In the last 15 years there have been 104 MoUs signed between the government and private companies that involve the transfer of 300,000 hectares or 3,000 sq km of land, at a pittance of Rs15000 to 25000 and acre, one-twentieth the market price of the land.Senior officials in Ranchi feel that not one of these 104 projects will be able to acquire the land.
Under the fifth schedule of the Constitution, tribals in this belt cannot be deprived of their land without their consent.
The violation of these constitutional rights in Andhra Pradesh by the government in leasing out tribal lands to private mining companies led to a Supreme Court judgment which declared all agreements leasing tribal land to private mining companies as null and void.
Further, the court declared that in case private parties were to be brought in at least 20 per cent of the profits were to be used as a permanent fund for development needs, apart from that needed for reforestation and maintenance of ecology.
The displaced would not only want a fair price for ancestral land but sympathetic government help in making the transition from an agricultural to an industrial way of life. This would involve decent jobs, retraining for new occupations and unless they feel they are the beneficiaries of development and not its victims they will not give up their "jal, jangle or jameen".
Until the 1960s the tribals readily gave up their land in the name of development but of the 2.5 million people displaced in Jharkhand alone, less than two per cent were properly rehabilitated.
Instead of ending up as rickshaw pullers and domestic servants, the displaced should be given adequate compensation, trained, given jobs or helped to start small businesses.
This is not to say that the unlawful killing of policemen by Maoists or the murder of civilians should not be
stopped by using all the force of the state.
But in a situation where the armed constabulary are seen as "thugs in uniform", feared as much as the Maoists, the use of state force has to be carefully calibrated. The danger with operation green hunt is that in their attempt to show success, many opponents of government policy will be branded as Maoists and arrested. It will do more harm than good.
EU MUST DECIDE ITS STRATEGIC PRIORITIES
President Obama learns with interest that Europe now has a phone number. He's told that, responding at last to Henry Kissinger's famous jibe, the European Union has appointed a President named Herman Van Rompuy from Belgium and given him a 24/7 phone line. So, Obama decides to try out Europe's phone number. Henry will be tickled. But the president forgets about the time difference and gets an answering machine: "Good Evening, you've reached the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy speaking. We are closed for tonight. Please select from the following options. Press one for the French view, two for the German view, three for the British view, four for the Polish view, five for the Italian view, six for the Romanian view. ..."
Obama hangs up in dismay.
This self-deprecating little story was told by the Finnish foreign minister, Alexander Stubb, during a meeting here last week on NATO's future. The Obama presidency has been a shock to Europe. At heart, Obama is not a Westerner, not an Atlanticist. He grew up in Indonesia and in Hawaii, which is about as far from the East Coast as you can get in the United States.
The great struggles of the Cold War, which bound Europe and the United States, did not mark Obama, whose intellect and priorities were shaped by globalisation, and whose feelings are tied more to the Pacific and to Africa. He can make a respectable speech on a Normandy beach, but he's probably the first US president for whom the Allied landing is emotionally remote.
These truths have taken a while to sink in because Europe, in its widespread contempt for George W Bush, saw in Obama a saviour who would restore trans-Atlantic ties. One by one European leaders have been disappointed by the president's cool remoteness.
In fact, Obama is a pure pragmatist. He wants Europe's help, particularly in Afghanistan, but he has no misty-eyed vision of Atlanticism and sees more pressing strategic priorities in China, India, the Middle East and Russia. He is transitioning the United States to the post-Western world, which is another way of saying he is adapting America to a world in which its relative power is eroding.
It remains to be seen how Americans will respond to the sobriety of a foreign policy that is short on stirring exceptionalist narrative and long on realism. Europeans, meanwhile, are wondering what hit them.
The situation was well summarised by Jeremy Shapiro and Nick Witney in a report for the European Council on Foreign Relations that described the European attitude to the US as "basically infantile and fetishistic... America wants to be Europe's partner, not its patron; but it cannot be responsible from without for weaning Europe off its client status."
Europe needs to get over America to discover itself. That discovery might provide a basis for strong ties going forward. To use Baloo's memorable image in The Jungle Book, the old trans-Atlantic world is "gone, man, solid gone."
If the Lisbon Treaty is to mean anything, and Van Rompuy to emerge as more than an amiable figurehead, the European Union needs to develop coherent strategies for China, Russia, Middle East peace, Afghanistan and energy security, to name just five areas where it seems to have no unified position.
Now that even France has seen that EU-NATO rivalry is of comical silliness in a world where the West needs coherence just to hold its own, Europe must also work hard on harmonising its military strategy.
I don't see European defense budgets increasing. But what's essential is that duplication and waste in Europe be cut by coordinating defense spending priorities. It's clarity, not voicemail hell, that America's non-Atlantic president needs from Europe.
RS'S DATE WITH HISTORY
PASSES BILL FOR EQUAL RIGHTS FOR WOMEN
The Rajya Sabha on Tuesday took the first great step to give a better place to women in society when it passed the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill by 186 to 1 vote. The Bill seeks to provide for 33 per cent of seats for women in Parliament and State Assemblies which means that the women of India will have greater voice in making laws for the nation. This is a major step forward by the country's evolving democratic system where women have been given a raw deal over the centuries.
The Bill has had many ups and downs in the last 14 years. Indeed, the events in the past two days were shocking and unprecedented in Indian parliamentary history. A handful of unruly members of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party disturbed the proceedings only to be suspended by the House. They created disorder in the Rajya Sabha demanding quota within quota for the Muslims, the OBCs and Dalits among women. And when they refused to leave the House and continued to disrupt the proceedings, the Chairman, Mr Hamid Ansari, rightly decided to get them evicted by the Marshals of the House.
The Congress-led government, backed by understanding with the BJP and the Left, kept its nerve and went ahead with the resolve to ensure more power to women. The Rajya Sabha vote shows that if the major national parties join hands on vital issues, they can achieve several national aims. In the process, they can call the bluff of smaller regional parties, which are not much concerned about national political and societal aims. The kind of consensus seen on the women's Bill among the Congress, the BJP and the Left, cutting across the ideological divides, can be consolidated further to forge unity of purpose on other divisive issues.
Tuesday's vote came as a result of a lot of back-channel contacts among the three major political parties. This is how a democratic system should be encouraged to function in a vibrant democracy. Hopefully, the consensus arrived at for the Rajya Sabha vote will ensure a smooth passage of the Bill through the Lok Sabha where the Speaker of the House, like the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, will also be determined to uphold the highest parliamentary traditions and will not succumb to pressures from motley groups whose politics is becoming irrelevant for a modern India.
KILLINGS BY TALIBAN
PAKISTAN'S SOFT POLICY IS TO BLAME
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan continues to cause death and destruction despite what Islamabad claims to be doing against the militants. The Taliban has owned up responsibility for Monday's killing of 13 persons when a suicide bomber rammed an explosive-laden car into a building having the offices of Pakistan's Special Investigative Unit in Lahore. According to a Taliban spokesman, "The attack was to avenge (US) drone attacks and (Pakistani) military operations in the tribal areas." Such attacks, as the man boasted, will continue so long as the US and Pakistani drives against the militant movement do not come to an end. The latest killings have occurred after the arrest of a few top Taliban commanders like Mullah Baradar and Colonel Imam. The Taliban militants have demonstrated the capacity to strike at will anywhere in Pakistan.
Yet it is surprising why Pakistan has been pursuing a soft policy towards the militants. It has been clandestinely helping the militants having strong links with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the jihadi outfits working against India. The truth, however, is that terrorists of all persuasions have the same destabilisation agenda. Their ideology is the same. If they are the enemies of India, the US and Afghanistan, they are also no friends of Pakistan. Islamabad's belief that the Taliban factions being patronised by the ISI can help in achieving strategic depth in Afghanistan is wishful thinking. The Taliban carrying out suicide bombings in Pakistan may intensify their activities once the Taliban factions in Afghanistan become a part of the ruling dispensation.
The Taliban is, however, more interested in capturing power in Pakistan than in Afghanistan obviously because Pakistan is a nuclear-weapons state. They have any number of sympathisers in Pakistan's armed forces and intelligence agencies, as is well known. These elements continue to assist the Taliban in various ways. The latest proof of this uncomfortable reality has been provided by the arrested former colonel of the Pakistan Army. Therefore, the need of the hour is not only to launch an all-out war against the Taliban, but also to weed out the pro-Taliban elements in the military. Blaming India or any other country for the suicide bomb blasts in Pakistan will not do.
FUNDS TO FIGHT THIS GO UNUTILISED
As if being one of the biggest contributors to neo-natal and child mortality in the world was not damning enough, there is now added reason for Madhya Pradesh to hang its head in shame. While the revelation that in that state more than a lakh of children under five died between 2005 and 2009 is benumbing, what is more shocking is that crores of rupees under the Reproductive and Child Health programmes meant to reduce infant and maternal mortality rate and the total fertility rate were not used.
Undeniably, while the Madhya Pradesh government cannot be absolved, unfortunately the record of other state governments is no better. A relatively prosperous state like Punjab too recorded nearly 19,000 infant and 900 maternal mortality cases last year. Not only is India's infant mortality rate high, even safe motherhood remains a distant goal. According to a survey, no state in India will be able to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals related to maternal mortality rate by 2010. The 13th Finance Commission's recommendation that a state's performance in reducing infant mortality rate be linked to grants from the Centre and the Union Government's acceptance of the "incentive grant" is in the right spirit. But how earnest are the state governments in using these funds is evident from Madhya Pradesh's example.
The state governments must realise their responsibilities and work sincerely to improve human development
indicators. Indeed, the reasons behind high IMR are many. Early marriage and early pregnancies too have a bearing on children's health. In Punjab with IMR of 41 per 1,000 live births the major cause is attributed to low birth weight. Yet reasons cannot be an excuse for the inaction of the state governments, especially in tackling malnourishment among small children of impoverished sections of society. The fact that the IMR in rural areas is higher than in urban areas once again points to the need to provide better care to the rural people. The NRHM's goal of reducing IMR to 30 per 1,000 live births by 2012 can only be achieved with the active cooperation of the states.
ANOMALIES IN AGRICULTURE
A CLOSE LOOK AT POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
In Budget-2010, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee pointed out that agriculture was the weakest sector of the economy today. It is because of the crisis in agriculture that we are having such a difficult time coping with food inflation. If the urban middle class is reeling under its impact, imagine how the poor in the countryside are dealing with it.
Between Budget-2010 and Economic Survey-2009-2010, many anomalies in agriculture and public distribution system have been addressed. An important point that has been revealed in the Economic Survey is the consistent decline in private investment in agriculture. How to make more credit accessible to the middle and small farmer, however, remains somewhat nebulous both in the budget and the survey.
It is lack of access to easy credit and high rates of interest that are behind the fall in private investment in agriculture. Without investment in irrigation storage and farm equipment, there cannot be a significant rise in productivity. It is of utmost concern that Indian agriculture has low productivity in all major crops as compared to most other farming countries in the world and even as compared to China.
The farmers who have huge debts also cannot invest, and on this front much progress has been made towards debt relief. Around 3.68 crore farmers have benefited from the scheme involving a debt waiver, and debt relief has amounted to Rs 65 319.33 crore. Crop loan repayment has been extended by six months and the interest rate subvention of 1 per cent has been raised to 2 per cent for timely repayment of loans. This means that for the farmers who are able to repay on time, the interest rate is only 5 per cent. What about others?
For higher agricultural productivity, farmers need to access nutrient-based fertilisers at cheap rates and a change of the subsidy regime has been suggested. Instead of giving subsidies to the companies producing fertilisers in bonds, direct cash subsidies are being contemplated.
The Economic Survey has proposed a coupon-based fertiliser subsidy that will be given to all farmers but more to the small and medium farmers and they can trade these coupons for purchasing fertilisers. But they could use the coupon to buy anything else if they wish for example, they can buy a TV set or sell it freely to others. Does it not amount to giving the farmer too much of a free hand?
For more efficient public distribution of foodgrains, necessary to minimise the impact of the food inflation on the poor, another option has been offered that will take care of the many "leakages". No grain will be given at a subsidised rate to the PDS shops and they will be free to charge the market price while selling grains irrespective of who the customer is. Coupons would be given to BPL families and ration shops would be allowed to accept such coupons. Shopkeepers will not have the temptation to adulterate foodgrains for BPL families when they would be getting the market price through coupons. The shops can trade their coupons for cash from banks. But will this work?
Surprisingly, the government has cut the budget for the monitoring of food and civil supplies and strengthening of the PDS. For the 2010-11 fiscal, the overall outlay for monitoring and research in foodgrains and management and strengthening of PDS, Rs 40.40 crore was allocated in 2009-2010. But the actual expenditure was only Rs 14.60 crore. For this fiscal year, the outlay has been brought down to Rs 29.60 crore and for PDS, it has been cut down from Rs 7.20 crore last year to Rs 3.91 crore because the Ministry of Consumer Affairs could not spend the money and only spent Rs 2.83 crore. Perhaps better utilisation should have been the aim instead of a lower allocation.
The Economic Survey has also mentioned the need for maintaining proper and efficient buffer stocks and has rightly pointed out that the very purpose of such stocks is defeated if the FCI sticks to the buffer stock norms and insists on maintaining minimum stocks, especially in cases when releasing of such stocks fully would bring down the prices. A better solution would be to release foodgrains directly to retail consumers which would immediately lead to downward pressure on prices.
India has a huge buffer stock of foodgrains and still there has been such a hike in the prices in recent months. What is the purpose of the stocks which are just lying in storage at a great cost to the exchequer?
One subject that needs attention and has not been duly addressed in the latest Economic Survey is the issue of raising the minimum support price (MSP) of wheat and rice over the past few years and which have contributed in no small measure to the food price inflation. There has been a substantial increase in MSPs to incentivise farmers to increase productivity and production. But it has always signalled a higher floor price of the produce which has led to rising foodgrain prices every season.
The increase in the MSPs has, however, not led to small and medium farmers from enriching themselves as they
have no easy or direct access to the agricultural market. It is thus a questionable move why the government has gone on raising the MSPs when the small farmers are not seen to be gaining from it directly.
In the production of pulses, India has faced smaller output in the last few years (14 to 14.8 million tonnes when
the demand is between 17 and 18 million tonnes) and there has been a persistent gap between demand and supply. The steep rise in the prices of pulses is due to the fact that the shortfall in production has not been met by timely imports. And there are very few countries that export dals. In oilseeds, we are more or less import-dependent and over the years, oilseed production has just declined in the face of fierce competition from abroad.
Cheap imported palm oil was hard to compete with and oilseed farmers switched over to other types of crops. In
the Budget, there is a provision of Rs 300 crore to organise 60,000 pulses and oilseeds villages and also provide integrated intervention of watershed and related programmes.
The Finance Minister has laid emphasis on cold storage facilities in order to preserve the produce longer. These are important for enhancing the farmers' incomes and their ability to purchase goods and services.
It is the consumer demand emanating from the rural and farming sector that held up the total demand for goods and services in the country in the months following the global financial crisis. The factories kept busy catering to the demand from rural India and that is why we did not witness a collapse of the demand in the face of the global meltdown and industrial growth, even though it declined in the past two quarters and is again rising in an impressive manner.
BY UTTAM SENGUPTA
Who are you ? Where do you live ? What do you do? Three rather simple questions to which I believed I had the answers. But one lives and learns. These days you need a proof for everything.
A lesson in "identity crisis" was taught early by a bank clerk, who blandly asked me to prove that I had only two siblings, a brother and a sister, and not more.
Is there any proof that you have only one brother ? The question infuriated me but I had no answer till I blurted out, "What kind of proof do you need ?" He reflected for some time and then said, " Get me a certificate from the panchayat or zila parishad of the place you were born or where you grew up," he said. But what if they also ask for some evidence, I enquired sarcastically, since the family had moved away two decades ago. He gave me a cold look and shrugged.
That was 20 years ago. Last month I sought to change the billing address with the mobile service provider. An application in writing with an identity proof should be sufficient, I reckoned and persuaded my wife to carry them. But where is the address proof, they asked. She went back with an address proof issued by the office since it was an official accommodation.
But what is the proof that your husband works for this organisation, they persisted. What would convince you, she asked in turn. The "pay slip", they blandly told her.
It was my turn to explode. What nonsense, I exclaimed later at home. I have not asked for a loan, for God's sake. And if I can fake a letter from the office, what would prevent me from faking a pay-slip, I hollered. " Go and get it changed," she replied with a stiff lip, " I am not going back".
I turned to the corporate communication head of the service providing company. Surely he would vouch for the fact that I am not a terrorist, had nothing to do with Richard Headley and that I reside where I claim to be residing and do what I claim to be doing.
He was sympathetic. Just furnish the identity proof and the address proof and that's it. Eureka, I triumphantly told my wife. She looked unconvinced.
I marched into their office and offered the documents. But would I be carrying a photograph ? I had not brought one. I went back with the photograph when they enquired if I had filled up the forms. Nobody had told me about forms till then. When I filled the forms, they took one look and threw up their hands. They should be filled in black ink, I was admonished. After filling the forms in black ink, I returned. But no, photo copy will not do. I went back with the original. They looked at my identity card, my PAN card, my driving license and the letter issued by the office. They made a few phone calls, listed what I had submitted before putting down the receiver. "This will not do," I was told, " we need your pay slip".
That is when I raised my arms, gathered all the documents and fled. It would not have been nice screaming at the poor girls.
WATER POLLUTION IN PUNJAB
BABA SEECHEWAL OFFERS A SOLUTION
BY BIKRAM SINGH VIRK
THE untreated sewerage water of the cities is a big problem in Punjab with its stink making life a hell for the urbanites. With no treatment facilities at most of the places, water flows through open nullahs and pollute the water bodies, including rivulets, water streams and even the rivers.
The Sutlej is totally black and stinking beyond Ludhiana, as the city's effluents along with the untreated sewerage water fall into it through Buddhah Nullah.
The Malwa belt, where people use this water for drinking purposes, today is marred by cancer. None of the statutes or government dictates has cured this malaise.
A solution to this multi-faceted problem is a unique sewerage treatment plant, which the noted environmentalist and the man behind the cleansing of Kali Bein, Sant Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal, has indigenously designed and built on about six acres of land near Dasuya town in Hoshiarpur district at a measly cost of about Rs 18 lakh.
The plant, built in one month's time only, has in the first leg three 11 ft-deep wells with a diametre of 30 ft, 20 ft and 15 ft respectively and six adjoining ponds of 170ft x 100 ft in the second leg, all built at the height of about 12 ft from the ground level.
Thick sewerage water from the open nullah is thrown through two pump sets in the first well from a height by scattering it on a platform for aeration. It then swivels in the well and enters into the second and then into the third one.
Sewerage water loses its thick slurry in the bottoms of these V-Shaped wells from where it is separated with the help of a pre-laid underground pipe and taken aside in the open beds. After drying, this slurry becomes very fertile soil capable of growing vegetable and flowers in flower pots and kitchen gardens.
The water from the wells then moves to the adjoining larger ponds of 170ft x 100ft, three of which are built in a row and gets purified automatically as it moves from one pond to another, losing its stink after the second pond.
After passing through the first three, water enters into the set of other three ponds parallel to the first ones. In the fifth and sixth ponds, the water is crystal clear and fit for irrigation purposes with all the healthy nutrients in it.
From here it is channelled to a 3 km underground pipeline taking it to the adjoining fields for irrigation. The tilt of wells and ponds is so designed that the water moves automatically with the gravitational force.
Daily around 10 to 12 lakh litres of sewerage water of Dasuya, having a population of around 20,000, falls into this sewer and irrigates around 300 acres of crop of wheat post-treatment.
Farmers who use this water are a happy lot as they have stopped using ground water for irrigation and their yield has shot up by 30 to 40 per cent due to this nutrient rich water.
Roughly, it increased the output of wheat by around 180 tonnes and that of paddy by 240 tonnes last year from these 300 acres, which means an additional income of Rs 40 lakh to the farmers.
Their fertiliser consumption has also fallen to around one-third of what they used earlier and approximately 60 tonnes of urea and 30 tonnes of DAP was saved in a year, which means a net saving of about Rs 6 lakh on account of fertilisers.
Since the farmers have stopped using underground water, the water table has also gone up fairly in the area. Kali Bein, which was polluted with its dirty water, has been spared of this curse.
In nutshell, this plant can be seen a model for solving the sewer woes of all the towns in Punjab and that too with huge economic and environmental advantages coming in as a bonus.
Punjab today has 134 municipalities and three corporations with a population base of about 85 lakh. Taking Dasuya town's population as the base for all calculations, all the cities of Punjab put together have a capacity to irrigate 1,25,000 acres of land, thereby increasing the output of wheat and paddy by 37,500 tonnes and 50,000 tonnes respectively, which means an additional income of about Rs 80 crore to the state farmers.
They will also save around 25,000 tonnes of urea and 12,500 tonnes of DAP resulting in a net saving of Rs 24 crore. It will further stop polluting the water bodies and ground water and the people will be spared of diseases caused by impurities in water. All the rivers and rivulets of Punjab will again become clean with a single stroke.
Apart from land, with a cost of around Rs 75 crore, this model can be easily replicated in small and medium towns of Punjab. The only thing which needs to be ensured is that the implementation work should not be entrusted to any government agency, which may take years to commission the plants and at many times of what Baba Seechewal has spent.
It will be in the fitness of things if the required land and funds are handed over to Sant Seechewal's NGO, which can build such treatment plants in Punjab in a single year! There is no better solution to the problem of water pollution in Punjab than these low-cost treatment plants.
RUNNING OUT OF FRIENDS
BY YASMIN ALIBHAI-BROWN
I am but Muslim lite, a non-conformist believer who will not be told what and how by sanctimonious religious sentinels for whom religion is a long list of rules to be obeyed by bovine followers. Readers know I am often critical of Muslim people and nations. Bad things that happen to us cannot all be attributed to "Islamophobia", a nebulous and imprecise concept that, like anti-Semitism, can be used to besmirch and sully and silence criticism.
But this week even I, even I, can see that for the British establishment Muslims are contemptible creatures, devalued humans. As I prayed before starting this column I felt tears stinging my eyes and my face was burning as if I had been slapped many times over. Do they expect me to turn the other cheek? Millions of other Muslims must have felt what I did. And some may well go on to do things they shouldn't. Their acts will intensify anti-Muslim prejudices and will be used to justify injustice. The cycle is vicious and unrelenting.
Once again at weddings and birthday parties, in quiet, tranquil mosques, at dinner tables across the land, including those of millionaire Muslims, I am hearing murmurs of trepidation and disquiet voices kept low, sometimes vanishing into whispers, just in case; you never know if they will break down the door. These people are, like myself, well incorporated into the nation's busy life. Some own restaurants and businesses, others work in the City or law firms and chambers. At one gathering a frightfully posh, Muslim public school boy (aged 14), an excellent cricketer, said in his jagged, breaking voice: "I will never live in this country after finishing my education. They hate us. They'll put us all in prison. Nothing we do is OK. Do you think I am wrong Mrs Yasmin?" No I don't, though his hot young blood makes him intemperate.
Where do I start? Well, with the PM who takes himself to the moral high ground at every opportunity, to orate and berate as he did when called in by the placid Chilcot panel. The son of a preacher man, John Ebenezer Brown, Gordon has the manse gene. Unlike the shape-shifter Blair, he is authentically himself, driven by embedded values, and I admire that. But, like his predecessor, he is shockingly indifferent to the agony of the people most affected by the Iraq war, a war Brown still says was "the right" thing to do for the "right reasons". His only regret? They should have thought a bit more about what to do next after they had defeated Saddam and pulled down his statues.
Not a word about the countless Iraqis killed when we bombed indiscriminately in civilian areas, no word of sorrow, however hollow or feigned, about the dead children or those now born in that blighted land with two heads and other grotesque abnormalities. John Simpson's recent BBC report described the rising number of such births in Fallujah, picked for the cruelest collective punishment by America.
Are they not children, Mr Brown? You still cry for your own baby, who died so young. For Muslims, that only confirms native Iraqis are grains of sand to those who executed the imperial war. Martinique intellectual and liberationist Aimee Cesaire wrote: "Colonisation works to de-civilise the coloniser, to brutalise him ... to degrade him." We saw how with Brown, whose empathy is withheld from Iraqis, Muslim victims tortured with the connivance of our secret services and perhaps from all citizens who pray to Allah.
Meanwhile at Isleworth Crown Court, Judge John Denniss is industriously sentencing demonstrators who gathered near the Israeli embassy to rail against that state's attack on Gaza, one of the worst acts of state terrorism in recent history. Our government said nothing then, and were therefore complicit. Protesters came from all backgrounds but the vast majority of those arrested were young Muslim men. Dozens are being sent down for insignificant acts of bravado. Some were about to go to university, to train as dentists and the like. Their homes were raided, families cowed and terrified. Joanna Gilmore, an academic expert on public demonstrations, says never before have such disproportionate sentences been handed out, not even with the volatile anti-globalisation protests. Denniss intends his punishments to be a deterrent. To deter us from what? Having the temerity to believe we live in a democracy and are free to march?
And then the crypto-fascist, Aryan Geert Wilders, is invited into the Lords by UKIP and crossbench peers to show his vile anti-Islam film in the name of freedom of expression. Freedom my arse. It is just another entertaining episode of Muslim-baiting. I dare the same peers to now invite David Irving, the Holocaust denier, to share his thoughts freely in the Lords, and get Omar Bakri over from the Lebanon with films of himself making fiery speeches on what to do with infidels. Again Muslims are made to understand that different standards apply to others. We are on trial, always, and always must expect to lose.
I am here accusing the most powerful in government, parliament and the judiciary, not those individual MPs, peers and judges who try to do the right thing. To them we are immensely grateful, and to the extraordinary lawyers, activists, journalists, artists, writers and ordinary Britons fighting ceaselessly for our liberties. We just witnessed Helena Kennedy in court passionately defending Cossor Ali, accused of providing active support to her convicted terrorist husband. The jury, scrupulously fair, bless them, acquitted the young woman. Muslims involved in crime and violent Islamicism must be tried and punished. But their acts do not give lawmakers and law keepers of this land licence to strip the rest of us of our humanity and inviolable democratic entitlements.
During the dark days of the conflict in Northern Ireland, the Irish in Britain were often treated unjustly by parliament, police, judges like Lord Denning, and vast sections of the media. Under Thatcher, miners and trades unionists were mercilessly "tamed", too. But this time, with Muslims, the establishment has surpassed its previous disgraceful record. They steal our human and civil rights and don't even try to behave with a modicum of honour during and after war. The same people call upon us to be more "British" but treat us as lesser citizens. Deal or No Deal? You tell me.
By arrangement with The Independent
IMMIGRANTS HAVE CHANGED DUTCH SOCIETY
BY PETER MAIR
What had been expected to be relatively run-of-the-mill local elections in the Netherlands quickly acquired a lot more significance once the Dutch government had unexpectedly collapsed over the Afghanistan issue.
These results tell us little about Afghanistan, but they do offer a foretaste of the possible result of the general
election that is planned for 9 June, and in particular they give us a good indication of the prospects for Geert Wilders' far-right Freedom Party.
Dutch politics has been in disarray since the traditional patterns were first challenged by Pim Fortuyn's populist protest in 2002. Fortuyn was, of course, assassinated just before that election, and his leaderless party fell apart soon afterwards. Wilders has now taken up Fortuyn's legacy, but in a much more extreme and direct manner.
His is an explicitly anti-Islam party, decrying the Koran, threatening deportation for immigrant offenders, promising a ban on the building of mosques and minarets, and so on. In this, he builds on, and further promotes, the inter-communal tensions that have been so evident in the Netherlands since Fortuyn, and which also hit the headlines with the assassination of film director Theo van Gogh and the hounding of the politician and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Dutch society, long one of the most homogenous in continental Europe, was never as tolerant as it appeared, and problems which rumbled for long under the surface have become steadily more acute as the share of the non- Western immigrant population has grown to become one of the largest in western Europe.
The Dutch party system is now exceptionally fragmented. No party is expected to win much more than 20 per cent in the coming election, which, given the extreme proportionality of the electoral system, means none is likely to win more than 30 of the 150 seats.
In this clouded Dutch landscape, Wilders's sharp and direct appeal wins a lot of favour. He also runs a highly disciplined party. There is no membership, and hence no activist layer which needs to be appeased, and the party's parliamentary group currently nine seats is firmly under his control.
In the local elections, he concentrated his efforts on just two flagship municipalities: Almere, a new city near Amsterdam, and The Hague, the seat of government. His party did tremendously well in both, topping the poll in Almere, and running a close second to Labour in The Hague.
All this is good for the image that Wilders promotes, of a party for straight talking and with popular appeal. It also positions him well for the general election, with the Freedom Party now being forecast to emerge as the first or second largest in parliament. The big question now is whether, and how, that success might translate into a role in government.n
By arrangement with The Independent
CAN CITIES BE MANUFACTURED?
WHILE MANICURED URBAN DREAMS ARE ATTRACTIVE, THEY MISS THE ENERGY THAT COMES FROM THE WAY PEOPLE, WORK, FUN AND COMMERCE ENMESH INTO EACH OTHER IN CITIES LIKE MUMBAI
Mumbai and Pune are overseeing the birth of two new cities growing in between their long, expressway-connected urban sprawl. These are Amby Valley and Lavasa. Both these urban dreams have been conceived in the mode of planned cities even though they have very different starting points. One is an out and out imitation of American suburbia while the other uses very sophisticated rhetoric about new urbanism. The interesting thing is that they began with the idea of containing their membership, of controlling the process through which they would get users to come to the city, but may well land up eventually opening their doors. After all, no city in the world can afford to have gateways, no matter how exclusive the original intention. The problem with cities that like to think of themselves in utopian terms ultimately find their unrealistic vision coming undone for three basic reasons money, investment and sustainability. You have to understand the w o r k - ings of u r b a n economies very carefully to appreciate that. A city is not just about beautiful buildings, clean streets and idyllic landscapes. It needs to be an economic generator primarily. If you isolate these features and make them the focus, people will get bored. At best you will produce a suburban landscape, at worst a bedroom city. Mumbaikars who one presumes are a big market for these two projects may be fed up with traffic jams, garbage and badly managed civic services for sure. But just take them away from their city for a long period and they start missing it terribly. They are certainly not missing the jams and garbage but definitely primarily its energy that comes from the special way in which people, lives, work, fun, entertainment and commerce enmesh into each other. They like the easy access that the city's layered economy allows them to cheap basic services no matter how rich or moneyed they are. Everyone wants things delivered to their door steps, safety in numbers and car shopping even if they do complain against hawkers too. Giving them clean utopias will work up to a point. The unbearable pain of dealing with the city's basic pressures may make them fantasise about the promised new urban land but eventually when they are confronted with the reality of a cardboard cut, picture perfect city, they will back off.
What may eventually happen is that both Lavasa and Amby Valley may loosen up a bit and allow the spirit of Mumbai dirt and all to flow through their haloed gateways and share that magic. Navi Mumbai too tried hard to preserve a sense of planned idealism but what remains of that today is a grid over which the standard layer of Indian working class service-oriented urban economy has settled down nicely and thickly. Informal settlements have become firmly entrenched in the landscape.
Such experiments convince us that you cannot really plan or manufacture a city. You have to be sensitive to the way in which markets, bazaars, jobs and needs organise themselves and facilitate the process through which these translate into decent settlements. The expressway connecting Mumbai and Pune could itself have been a stimulus with the potential of being harnessed effectively to create many organic urban spaces. Instead, what we have is one unholy sprawl which multiples the civic, environmental and problems of both Mumbai and Pune.
Rather than create two islands of urban idealism, the proper way would have been to pay greater attention to the possibilities of the entire stretch and create ideal living conditions for everybody not just the moneyed classes. But one presumes that everybody in the business of making these two cities knew that. No wonder the first thing they thought of was having helipads and airports.
THINK IT THROUGH
How you relate to your fat determines if you lose those troublesome inches. Experts explain how a change in feelings and beliefs can result in weight-loss
In the popular soap Mahi Way, the protagonist, Mahi Talwar (portrayed by Pushti) plays a girl who goes through several complexes because of her weight. In real life too, the actress reportedly had to cope with weighty issues. That is, until she decided to stop conforming to others' ideals and accepted herself the way she is.
Like Mahi, a lot of people find themselves on the wrong end of the weighing scale despite going through punishing diets and rigorous workouts.
The reason often has little to do with the gym or diet, but more with the mind. Before you fight your fat, you need to battle with the demons in your mind. And how does one do that? By establishing a 'relationship' with fat, 'talking' to your body, learning to love food and letting the heart direct the body. The result is a slimmer body and a new you. Confused? Read on.
THIN AND FAT THOUGHTS
The 'relationship with fat' approach believes fat is nothing but emotions being stored in the body. This method divides thoughts into two types: Fat thoughts negative emotions like fear, anger, guilt, jealousy etc. And thin thoughts love, positivity, joy peace etc.
In a low phase, your energies are all concentrated on the negatives; eating, thus, becomes a mechanical activity which results in food not being assimilated well in the body. But when you feel light, energetic and positive, eating gives joy and the food gets absorbed too.
WORK ON BELIEF SYSTEM
If you step on the treadmill thinking 'I am never going to lose this bulge,' you never will. It's because the negative thought hinders you from going further. So the first step to losing weight is to connect with the sub-conscious and find out the belief system that is fuelling negativity. Such beliefs can be changed with the help of simple exercises. Here are two of them:
Think about your weight-loss goal. Say, it's losing 25 kgs in six months. Inform six people you interact with daily friends, family, colleagues about it. Write a positive statement about your goal. Eg: 'I HAVE lost 25 kgs'. Then take action towards achieveing it exercising, walking, yoga etc keeping your six co-partners in the loop. The idea is to involve others who will motivate and remind you of your goal, while reinforcing your own positive beliefs.
Imagine three things:
1)How people talk about you once you have achieved your goal 2) What you hear people discussing your new look the appreciation and envy 3) How do you see yourself after the weight loss energetic, beautiful and happy You are basically diverting your mind, (hitherto crowded with thoughts of being sloppy, overweight and unable to dress well) to give way to confident feelings about your body.
TACKLING FOOD ADDICTION
It's one of the most common reasons of weight gain. Often you crave for a cola or need a sugar fix when you are depressed, fearful or stressed. That's what food addiction is eating when the body really doesn't need it. Here is a simple exercise to deal with it.
Visualise that there is a parent, child and adult within our body. When you reach for the chocolate you don't need, it's the child within you that's coming out. You feel guilty immediately thereafter a sign of the parent acting up. To control the urge, put a sign on the refrigerator 'only for adults'. And watch yourself. You might not be always able to control the child in you, but after a while, you wouldn't want to break the self-imposed 'adult rule'. Instead, like an adult, you would want to focus on solving the problem head on and not seek comfort (read escapism) in food.
BREAK FOOD PATTERN
Changing beliefs also means doing away with set meal routines. If you have always been used to eating breakfast at 9 am, your body automatically craves food regardless of whether it is hungry or not. Break the pattern. Instead of 9 am, have your breakfast at 7 am (pre-empting hunger). Often you'll find you are eating less than your regular quantity. If at 9, your body sends a reminder, remember it's just out of habit and not hunger. Be aware of the craving but do nothing; it will go away.
Eat happily, even if you have an extra dollop of cheese or ghee. Don't fear the dietician or be worried about breaking your resolve. Eat slowly, chewing it well. A simple trick is to move your hand or spoon away from food. Don't eat another morsel before you finish one. You'll realise you are eating less, but enjoying each bite. And relax, you won't gain weight if you enjoy your food and eat, guilt-free.
LOVE YOUR BODY
Turn your thoughts from 'I am depressed because I am fat' to 'I am fat because I am depressed'. Accept and love your body for body-image, self-esteem and fat are all interrelated. One way to gain better selfimage is the 'touch therapy'.
Hold the body part you don't like your flabby arms, the love handles or not-so-flat belly. Observe it and say 'I love you' to the body part'. Touching makes you feel secure and good about yourself.
Simply put, while gymming or dieting can help you shed the kilos, the real solution has to come from within. Tweaking the much-talked about mind-body connection, think from the heart, let the mind direct the body instead of vice-versa and watch your fat melt away.
Inputs by Dr Kaajal, a naturopath and healer, and Rajan Santhanam, founder, Wealth of Wellness, a wellness company
MFIS MUST REMEMBER BASICS
SUCCESS SHOULD NOT DERAIL THE MODEL
It is natural for a sector like microfinance, which is growing exponentially, to face problems on the way. But the current crop affecting microfinance institutions (MFIs), which are constituted as non-banking financial companies (NBFCs), is somewhat more serious and require a relook at the roots. Microfinance has been celebrated for bringing institutional credit to the poor who have no security or collateral to offer. The model's success lies in extremely high loan recovery rates of 98 per cent or more. This is why microfinance is now considered mainstream and is attracting private equity funding from all over the world. Founders of some of the best-run MFIs who started off as philanthropists are exiting at phenomenal profit and giving MFIs hitherto undreamed of valuations like half a billion dollars. The importance of private equity will grow as MFIs go public and with this will come the need for private equity to chart its exit according to pre-determined schedules. Private equity and the global financial crisis have brought in senior managers from the financial world at what is considered exorbitant salaries to the world of microfinance.
Professional management and private equity targets, both financial and temporal, have set agendas for both lending and recovery. The result on the ground is that multiple lending (the same borrower taking loans from several MFIs), which was always there, is now considered rampant by some long-term MFI observers. Servicing multiple loans every week is not easy, particularly when they are disbursed under group guarantee, creating peer pressure not to default. A borrower who has bitten off more than she can chew often has no choice but to go to the moneylender. Significantly, informal credit has grown apace with microfinance in recent years. Thus, there is a danger of microfinance not only being unable to remove poverty (health emergencies and social obligations like marriages make the removal of poverty a more challenging goal) but ending up enhancing indebtedness.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which regulates NBFCs, is worried that over and above the adverse trends noted above, the advent of more professional management and economies of scale bringing costs down are not leading to lower borrowing costs. Not all private equity firms are the same but their basic aims militate against charging borrowers less. RBI has, therefore, indicated that if the benefits of success are not shared with the poor borrower then it will take microfinance out of the ambit of priority sector lending, thus not allowing MFIs to access commercial bank credit at attractive rates for onlending to the poor. There are several solutions. One, better self regulation. Two, creation of credit bureaus to help MFIs avoid the pitfall of multiple lending. In Latin America, for example, this has enabled MFIs to get away from group guarantee which has its evils. Three, issuance of banking licences to the best-run MFIs so that they can access cheap funds via community savings. SEWA and Basix already do so. But it is most important for MFIs to reaffirm their social agenda. They are there to help the poor earn more by providing affordable credit. Typically, the poor are vulnerable to emergencies like flood, drought, illness and marriage. So, to insist on a near-perfect recovery schedule is to invite a crisis.
DANGERS OF HUBRIS
FROM SHARM-EL SHEIKH TO TELANGANA TO WOMEN'S BILL
First, the mishandling of the Sharm-el Sheikh joint statement issued by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. Second, the knee-jerk response to Telangana Rashtra Samiti leader K Chandrasekhar Rao's feigned fast. Now, making a mess of a long-pending Bill for reservation for women in Parliament. With three self goals, the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has breathed life into a moribund Opposition and alienated allies, and wasted three precious sessions of Parliament. More striking than the mishandling of an issue or the absence of a strategy to deal with opposition is the insensitive handling of allies within the ruling coalition. The Congress party has dispensed with the mechanism of a Coordination Committee, which has met sporadically only in response to a crisis, not as a matter of course. The institutional mechanism of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) has also been neglected. The CCPA never met after the new UPA government came to power till the Telangana issue rocked the government. One would have expected a discussion within the CCPA on a crucial issue like a Constitutional amendment on reservation for women in Parliament. If the government finds itself in one imbroglio after another, each disrupting a session of Parliament, it is time to ask why an electorally re-empowered alliance is faltering.
Has the Congress party misread the verdict of the general elections of 2009? Dizzy with an unexpected success, having won over 200 seats in the Lok Sabha, the party's spin doctors rushed to claim victory not for their alliance, indeed not even for their coalition government, but for their party's first family. The "architect of the election victory", claimed Congress party managers, was Rahul Gandhi. It is paradoxical, though, that this "architect", and a prime ministerial aspirant, has not spoken on crucial issues affecting the ruling alliance, be it Telangana, the women's Bill or, indeed, even inflation and budgetary policy. What the Opposition and its allies are trying to tell the Congress party is by now crystal clear that the 2009 verdict was not a vote for the unquestioned leadership of Sonia Gandhi or her son. It was, without doubt, a vote of confidence in favour of the UPA. But the credit for that ought to be shared by all members of the UPA. It is their successful running of the first Manmohan Singh government and the prime minister's successful management of the economy, with a historic 9 per cent rate of growth, and the balanced conduct of foreign policy, including relations with Pakistan, that enabled the UPA to return to power. By disempowering the prime minister and its allies, the Congress party has weakened its own government. Nobody but the party is responsible for the mess it finds itself in over the handling of the Women's Reservation Bill. Rather than genuflect all the time before the party president and general secretary, Congress party leaders must ask themselves how they can strengthen the prime minister's hands so that the government can bring the economy back to 9 per cent growth, improve relations with our neighbours and major powers, and take India back to the path it was firmly set on in the first decade of the century.
IS THE STABILITY COUNCIL A GOOD IDEA?
THE FINANCIAL STABILITY AND DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL IS LIKELY TO UNDERMINE RBI'S POWERS WHILE ITS CREATION WILL NOT AUTOMATICALLY ENSURE BETTER SUPERVISION OF THE FINANCIAL SECTOR.
Honorary Visiting Professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi
Another layer on top of the existing regulators will reduce the speed of response as well as accountability. In any case, the current system has worked well for us
The announcement in the Union Budget 2010 of a Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) follows the suggested changes to the regulatory architecture prescribed by the Raghuram Rajan Committee on Financial Sector Reforms, which submitted its report on September 12, 2008 just a few days before the great crash. Although the Committee prefaced its recommendations by saying that it was "premature to move fully towards a single regulator at the moment", a unified regulatory structure was clearly the goal towards which the Committee thought regulation in India must begin to move.
The principal argument advanced by the Committee in favour of unified regulation is that it is needed to combat financial conglomerates and holding companies as they begin to dominate the system across financial spheres. At the same time, the Committee adopts the contradictory stand that a unified regulator is less vulnerable to capture because it faces countervailing pressure from different segments of the regulated. Arguing from first principles, regulatory capture is actually that much easier when a single regulatory fortress is all that needs to be stormed. In developing countries with a democratic structure, and political parties in need of election funding, a unified regulator is a disturbing prospect.
In the B.C. (before crisis) era, unified regulation was the flavour of the time, and the UK went ahead and did precisely that. Prudential regulation was gouged out of the Bank of England, and merged into a single regulator, the Financial Services Authority. The crisis demonstrated the folly of separating prudential regulation of the banking sector from the central bank's role as lender of last resort. That lesson has fortunately not been lost. It is fully expected that prudential regulation of banks will soon be restored to the Bank of England. Regulation in the US, on the other hand, was not unified, and the structure there did not shine either. It collapsed more utterly than elsewhere. No single model emerges unscathed from the empirical test of the great crisis.
That leaves us with the task of thinking through the regulatory structure that will best suit us. The Raghuram Rajan Committee recommended two distinct bodies. A Financial Sector Oversight Agency (FSOA) was suggested, for risk assessment and co-ordination across regulatory spheres, to be chaired by the senior-most regulator. A Working Group on Financial Sector Reforms was also suggested, with the finance minister as chairman, and regulators included in the membership. The danger is that these two quite separate recommendations will in practice be conflated into a single body, chaired by the finance minister. Political chairing of a co-ordination council is a troubling arrangement. An apolitical institutional mooring is needed for long-term financial stability, so central to the lives of all Indians whether or not they are directly linked to the formal financial structure.
Informal co-ordination and discussion across regulators are certainly good, but this already existed at the time of the Raghuram Rajan Committee, and are mentioned in its report. There is the High Level Coordination Committee (HLCC) on capital markets, supplemented by operational coordination between regulators. All the financial regulators in place RBI, Sebi, Irda and PFRDA have defined mandates and powers. If a further legislated layer is superimposed, a loss of accountability is foreseeable. Given the Indian penchant for ceding all power upwards, it is clearly possible that speed of response, an essential feature of effective regulation, will be lost as regulators seek and await approval from the highest layer.
The Financial Council that has been proposed is a solution to a problem that does not exist. During the crisis, India earned universal admiration for the robust shield surrounding its regulatory structure. Friends of India will watch with horror if we tamper with the very edifice which held us up so well.
The Budget announcement of a Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission, on the other hand, is a good idea. There is most certainly legal untidiness that needs cleaning- up, and if in the process pending cases before the clogged judicial system are also resolved, a huge source of friction standing in the way of financial sector advancement will have been addressed.
CHAIRMAN, DAMODARAN GROUP
The HLCC hasn't been able to resolve issues between regulators an FSDC chaired by the FM would fix this and also ensure their autonomy is preserved
In a Budget speech mercifully devoid of flights of fancy and purple prose, the announcement of a Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC) stands out in splendid isolation. The carefully crafted paragraph sets out multiple objectives, seeming to strengthen the suspicion that even the authors of the proposal were not entirely convinced of the need for the proposed Council. Some of the post-Budget explanations have tended to further cloud the issue.
It seems near-certain that the Council would have as its members the regulators in the financial sector as well as the finance secretary and would be chaired by the finance minister. The stated intention being to "strengthen and institutionalise" the existing mechanism, the High Level Coordination Committee (HLCC), comprising all the financial sector regulators and the finance secretary, should be simultaneously disbanded. The Council is expected to "monitor macroprudential regulation of the economy". Post-Budget explanations have it that the Council would bring to the notice of the regulators the emerging trends worldwide and the likely impact on the Indian economy and the financial sector. This should not have been beyond the competence of the HLCC, if it saw itself as appropriately tasked to do so. The proposed monitoring of supervision, "macroprudential" or otherwise should legitimately raise eyebrows. Is that why the Budget took care to say the functioning of the Council would be "without prejudice to the autonomy of regulators"?
What seems most bizarre is a recent explanation that in the context of the "global" financial meltdown, developed economies are coming up with new institutions or mechanisms as regulatory responses and, therefore, we need one of our own it would be reasonably clear that the regulatory responses of the developed world have been deficient, ill-conceived or excessive, and there is no reason for us to take a leaf out of their book to redesign our regulatory architecture.
The proposed Council's "focus on financial literacy and financial inclusion" merits a brief comment. It, almost certainly, will lead to a lack of focus on the principal objectives with which the Council is being set up.
Notwithstanding these doubts and reservations, the Council isn't such a bad idea. The HLCC, comprising all the relevant regulators, has not covered itself in glory in sorting out turf issues. It was unable to create the space that the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) needed as a functional regulator of the debt market, because banks were major players, and the RBI as entity regulator was unwilling to give up what Sebi saw as its legitimate turf. That the issue found some resolution subsequently is no thanks to the HLCC. Recent developments over unit-linked insurance plans have given rise to reports of divergence of views between regulators, and there is no evidence that the HLCC has found any solution. The proposed FSDC, with the finance minister as its chairman, would be far better placed to facilitate a decision on the way forward the absence of regulatory coordination is a luxury that no nation can afford.
There is also the question of the functional autonomy of regulators. Autonomy is what one exercises in bona fide discharge of one's functions. It is not the handout of a satisfied superior to a supplicant subordinate. Therefore, the apprehension that the Council would automatically have an adverse impact on the functional autonomy of regulators is not well-founded. A council headed by the finance minister could well be the best insurance against attempts at middle levels in the ministry to interfere with the autonomous functioning of regulatory organisations in the name of, but not at the instance of, the minister.
The remit of the Council should be unambiguously articulated, so that there is no temptation for regulators to shy away from decision-making and seek comfort in endorsement at "higher levels". Notwithstanding what is contained in the Budget speech, the Council should not take upon itself the monitoring of the supervision of large financial conglomerates.The ministry could then become the first port of call and that is best avoided. The institution of a lead regulator, based on the predominant activity of each conglomerate should suffice. Also, if stability is the primary objective, the commodity market regulator should have a place in the Council.
The Council is not such a bad idea. Let's give it a chance without prejudice.
THERE IS MORE THAN WHAT MEETS THE EYE IN BELATED FILING OF APPEALS BY REVENUE OFFICIALS
M J ANTONY
Judges who hear routine requests from lawyers to "condone" inordinate delays in filing appeals, crossing the time limits set by statutes, face a problem. Condoning the delay would encourage lethargy among litigants who would take such judicial leniency for granted. On the other hand, if they dismiss such appeals because they were filed beyond the strict time limits set by the law, litigants with genuine justification would suffer and their rights would be effaced.
Time limits are set on the basis of the old legal maxim: "Equity aids the vigilant, not those who slumber on their rights." The dilemma faced by judges is acute when the revenue departments plead for condonation of delay. Huge amounts in taxes are involved and the departments are habitually late in filing their appeals, not by days, but by months or years. If the judges take a stern view and dismiss these appeals on the ground of delay, the people would be the ultimate sufferers as revenues would be lost. Since tax evaders are the winners in this game of delays, they are the main suspects when there is a long wait. It is difficult to say whether the appeals were filed late because of the generic nature of bureaucracy or if the delay was encouraged by the artful evader.
The Supreme Court judgment, delivered a few days ago, in the Oriental Aroma Chemical Industries Ltd vs Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation case is the latest to highlight the judicial quandary. The judges of the Gujarat High Court pardoned the delay of more than four years committed by the state Corporation in filing the appeal in a case it had lost in the courts below. The judges used their discretionary powers pointing out that though the delay was claimed to be more than four years and 28 days, in fact it was only 1,067 days. That was a fine point of law and good arithmetic.
When the company moved the Supreme Court, it not only found the exercise of discretion faulty, but proved from the facts that the state Corporation had not approached the court "with clean hands". The lawyers of the Corporation did not appear in the court several times and they were not even instructed by the Corporation officials. The Supreme Court not only dismissed the appeal of the Corporation pending in the Gujarat High Court, but also ordered a probe by higher functionaries into the conduct of the officers who caused the delay. If the Corporation had suffered losses on account of the conduct of the officers, the court said the amount should be recovered from them.
Around this time last year, the Supreme Court found a "classic example" of engineered delay in litigation in the State of Karnataka vs Y Mooideen Kunhi case. The state government filed an appeal in the Karnataka High Court 14 years after it lost a case before the land tribunal. The government pleaded for condonation of delay which was rejected. Its appeal to the Supreme Court invited condemnation for the behaviour of the officials. The court asked the government to pay Rs 10 lakh before hearing the appeal. It also directed the government to initiate action against "every person responsible for the alleged fraud and delay in pursuing legal remedies, fix responsibility and recover the amount from them". No balm for petitioner Kunhi, as he had died during the proceedings he had started in 1982.
The Supreme Court remarked in that judgment that delays are "skillfully managed" and it is done "to protect unscrupulous litigants at the cost of public interest or exchequer. Though the courts are liberal in dealing with belated presentation of appeals, there is a limit to which such liberal attitude can be extended".
A few months earlier, the court had again called upon the government to fix responsibility on erring officials in the State of Delhi vs Ahmed Jaan case.
The Comptroller and Auditor General had made a study of such delays in 2003 and found that these were mainly due to negligence in following the rules that are already in the statute books. Delays occur at all stages, for example: receipt of certified copy; submission of papers to the board; their examination; drafting by the panel of counsel and filing by the officials. Then there are transfers and promotions of officials dealing with sensitive revenue cases.
The problem has become acute and chronic in recent years. A committee headed by a former attorney general had not succeeded in clearing up the mess in the Union law department processing and filing appeals. Recently, there were reports of the income tax department moving the Supreme Court for condoning delays in 700-odd appeals. The loss to the government in such cases was astronomical. Since there are no guidelines on the use of discretion, the high courts take different views according to the "facts and circumstances" of the case.
A K BHATTACHARYA: NO END TO THIS CIRCUS
FOR HOW MANY MORE YEARS WILL THE ANNUAL BUDGET CIRCUS CONTINUE IN ITS CURRENT FORM?
A K BHATTACHARYA
For how many more years will the annual Budget circus continue in its current form? This is a question often asked at post-Budget seminars held across the country every year around this time.
Calling the annual Budget a circus has some justification. With tax rates becoming more or less stable, the annual Budget of the Union government is now largely about expenditure allocation in tune with the policy priorities of the finance minister and the political leadership at the Centre.
Has the government spent more on infrastructure? Could the finance minister reduce the fiscal deficit a little further? The curiosity that the Budget continues to arouse on the taxation front should also disappear next year when the proposed direct taxes code is in place and the goods and services tax becomes part of the country's indirect tax regime.
Why should the annual Budget then still be a major media event? Similarly, what would then be the justification for continuing with the series of minor events now held, with great fanfare, to analyse the various proposals the finance minister announces in his speech? Indeed, there are no rational explanations.
Take a look at the annual Budget of any developed country or even an emerging economy. There is no such hype, excitement or a series of events around the government's annual budget exercise. This is purely an Indian innovation. The annual Budget is now a mega event in which the finance minister revels as much as his team of senior officials.
In many ways, the transformation of the annual Budget into a mega national event is a post-reforms phenomenon. Economic reforms definitely ensured that more and more Indians got interested in the Budget. Since reforms also meant lower taxes and duties in addition to simplification of the taxation regime, the annual Budget exercise created an inevitable feel-good factor. No finance minister could let go such an opportunity to wax eloquent on what his Budget was going to mean for an individual's pockets and for the economy's growth.
What aided that hype and excitement was the emergence of several new television news channels in the 1990s. In the last decade or so, the number of television channels has only increased and their interest in the Budget has risen, contributing further to the hype and excitement of the finance minister's annual exercise. The print media has not lagged behind. Newspapers too have realised that there is a lot of merit in exploiting the Budget and its content for offering more to the readers. Undoubtedly, competition among newspapers and television channels has provided a further boost to this annual Budget circus.
Finance ministers too seem to have played along with this transformation. Over the years, the finance minister's Budget speech has become longer. Increasingly, finance ministers have spent more time on announcing minute details of tax rate changes, even though merely tabling the papers on the tax rate change would have served the purpose. Yashwant Sinha's decision to present the Budget at around noon, instead of at 5 pm, also made sure that the government had a longer time to hog the limelight before the event became a day old.
Finance ministers have also shown the tendency to announce a list of reformist measures in areas not monitored by their own ministry, a move that, on many occasions, has boomeranged because other ministries never implemented those decisions. However, these were only minor setbacks. The mind space a finance minister grabs by making those grand policy announcements is a big enough gain to compensate for the embarrassment caused by the failure to implement those decisions later. Senior officials of the finance ministry have also benefited from the annual Budget circus, flitting from one television channel studio to the other and sharing with the viewers their understanding of the new fiscal policy initiatives.
In such a scenario, where everybody seems to be benefiting, there is little chance of the annual Budget circus returning to its old sedate form and shape. The tax policy may become more stable and the government's expenditure priorities may soon lose their ability to spring a surprise year after year. However, it will take a brave finance minister to reduce the Budget to a short and simple exercise without the current hype and excitement. Most significantly, no finance minister can possibly strike a blow at the formidable alliance of beneficiaries of the annual Budget exercise.
Make no mistake that the media is one of those formidable beneficiaries. For the media, the Budget is not just an opportunity to present and analyse the government's fiscal policy initiatives. It has now become an important annual revenue source. So, even if the Budget becomes predictable and the finance minister decides to avoid being part of an annual circus, the media will do its best to ensure that the circus continues to prosper as long as it can. Is there anybody who thinks otherwise?
PROPERTY RIGHTS FOR FUTURE MIGRANTS
PROPERTY RIGHTS OF THE URBAN POOR ARE MUCH MORE THAN JUST THE OWNERSHIP OF REAL ESTATE
In his recent Budget speech, the finance minister reiterated the government's plans to make India "slum-free" within five years. This mantra is now being chanted in many urban-related conferences. However, this raises a number of questions. What does a "slum-free" India really mean? Is the removal of slums really desirable? Most importantly, what needs to be done to improve the lives of the millions of urban poor? In this article, I will argue that public policy should focus less on getting rid of slums and more on rethinking property rights, especially those of the poor.
The flow of urban poor
The conventional view for making our cities slum-free is that we should build low-cost housing and shift the existing slum-dwellers into them. There is a serious flaw in this solution because the urban poor are not a static group but a flow.
In the last two years, I have travelled across many parts of rural India. The message is very clear. The children of farmers no longer want to stay on in their farms. No government scheme is going to hold back the change in aspirations. The country's cities need to prepare for the influx. In an earlier column, I had argued that slums play an important role in the phase of rapid urbanisation by absorbing and naturalising the new migrants into the urban landscape (see Slums defy a concrete answer in Business Standard, December 9, 2009). As hundreds of millions of people are absorbed into urban India, slums and small mofussil towns will be needed as routers in this process. If we simply get rid of today's slums, we will merely get new ones.
The point is that we should concentrate on alleviating urban poverty rather than getting rid of slums. The former is the problem and the latter is merely the symptom. Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has been arguing for years that the solution lies in strengthening the property rights of the poor. This is usually interpreted as formalisation of squatter rights. This may make sense in Latin America, which has a relatively stable population of urban poor and whose economy is growing slowly. However, this is too narrow an interpretation for a high-growth economy like India where booming urban centres are sucking in millions of new migrants.
The first problem with recognising squatter rights is that we create problems of governance by potentially encouraging land-grab. We not only have to think about today's urban poor, but also about the incentive structure presented to the next generation of migrants. Second, the formalisation is usually done on the basis of a cut-off date. This often recognises the rights of better-off old-timers against those of poorer newcomers. Finally, and most importantly, in next generation cities like Gurgaon, the poor live in the "urban villages" where property rights are very clearly defined and any tampering would cause serious social upheaval. So, what should we do?
Beyond merely ownership
In my view, we need to rethink the property rights of the urban poor as being much more than the ownership of real estate. This is especially true when we have a pipeline of migrants who do not have any existing claim on the city's land. Therefore, alleviation of urban poverty must focus on those property rights that will benefit these migrants and allow them to climb the economic ladder. There are three broad categories of such interventions:
Identity as a property right: The single-most important, and sometimes only, asset of a poor migrant is her identity. Without any form of identification, it is very difficult for a newcomer to fit into the urban landscape no gas connection, no mobile phone, no voter rights, no credit and so on. It is nearly impossible for such an individual to apply for jobs in the formal economy or sometimes even as domestic help. Thus, a reliable and robust system of identification is invaluable. This is why Nandan Nilekeni's Unique Identity Number scheme may turn out to be a major intervention.
Access to the 'commons': The urban poor rely heavily on the "commons" to lead their lives. Therefore, much of their property rights relate to access to public amenities rather than to private space. These include access to public transport, public toilets, public health, parks/open spaces, pedestrian networks and so on. These user rights are far more important to the poor than merely providing a "housing" solution for the individual. Urban design and public investment needs to be reoriented to focus on the commons.
Legal infrastructure: All rights, including property rights, exist only within a legal framework. Urban laws and their application need to be oriented towards protecting the legitimate needs of the urban poor, especially in areas related to livelihood. For instance, street hawkers need to be recognised and incorporated into the legal and architectural framework of the city. Rather than see hawkers merely as a nuisance, we should see them as part of the ecosystem of a vibrant city. What they need is transparent regulation not banishment. The current approach taken by most municipal authorities is merely leading to the proliferation of illegal hawkers and to corruption.
If these frameworks are put in place, the urban poor will themselves find ways to move up the value chain. Indeed, the slums themselves will evolve and upgrade (as is happening anyway in many of the older urban villages of Delhi).
To conclude, we need to strengthen property rights that can be leveraged by the pipeline of future migrants. In Latin America, it may make sense to interpret property rights as mostly relating to land titles and squatter rights. The population of urban poor in Latin America is relatively static the countries are already fairy urbanised and their economies are growing slowly. In India, the throbbing economy is sucking millions of new migrants. We need to think of property rights in ways that allow these new migrants to enter and climb the system.
The author is the President of Sustainable Planet Institute
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
The demolition of the established world order has been their credo; and their unhampered rampage through the alimentary jungles has only given them encouragement. Who, after all, has dared to put an end to their depradations which led to the discovery of such transnational, culinarily mutilated creatures such as the paneer pizza and chicken tikka masala sandwich, not to mention California maki rolls and sun-dried tomato bagels?
These gastronomic guerrillas are known to pay scant obeisance to established norms and cultural mores and operate from the dim recesses of experimental kitchens, only emerging to make surprise attacks on the custodians of convention cooking, raiding ingredients at will, taking recipes hostage.
What emerges from their lairs often bears little resemblance to the entities that had been kidnapped. While these radicals have their sympathisers among the liberal elite who feel there is nothing wrong with their methods or their stated ideology of forcible overthrow of all existing epicurean conditions, there are a few who are trying, albeit somewhat misguidedly, to form bulwarks of resistance around the world.
One recent occasion was the donning of geographical indication (GI) protection by the venerable Tirupati ladoo. Now, the battered Yorkshire pudding one of the most vulnerable British entities, given its propensity to be an appendage of the gravy train has jumped into the resistance too.
Backed by campaigners for regional food, the fluffy popover has taken steps to be protected in its home territory, Humberside, against all incursions, hijackings or transmutations. Some countries such as France have already safeguarded many of their gastronomically important provisions (GIPs) from anarchists, as can be seen by the relatively fortified status of Champagne, Camembert and others, but a lot still needs to be done if this nihilist movement is to be contained before food as we know it is lost forever. The state and international forums can do sonly so much; it is time individuals took up their spatulas.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DIVEST TO RETAIL ALONE
The government has abandoned a modified version of the French auction in favour of the traditional form of book-building , for the sale of 33 crore odd shares of National Mineral Development Corporation. No part of the public offer proceeds go to the company to fund its businesses.
So, it is logical that a larger float should depress the stock's valuations there is some basis for the prescribed price band of Rs 300-350, below the traded prices of recent weeks of Rs 450-500. Coupled with 5% discount for retail investors and employees, this should make the issue attractive for retail investors for whom 35% of the issue has been earmarked.
However, price discounts alone will not encourage the uninitiated investors to channel their savings from safe instruments such as bank term deposits or post office savings into riskier assets such as equities. There are two main reasons for offering shares to retail investors : widen the equity ownership base of listed public enterprises and spread the share-owning culture among the public. If these objectives were not present, the government only needed to have a private placement, and would get a better price too, determined by qualified investors who would presumably know how to value shares.
However, to spread the equity culture among the public, as well as to widen ownership of shares in PSUs, the government should launch a countrywide campaign targeting all individuals who have some form of financial savings. This was pretty much what Margaret Thatcher accomplished in the UK during the 80s. Also, there is a case for offering the entirety of the divested shares to retail investors, at a discount to the traded price.
A retail focus will surely depress the government's earnings from selling its holdings in public enterprises. But revenue maximisation should not be the primary consideration of divestments. Rather, it has to be enhanced liquidity, wider shareholding of individual companies, a more broad-based capital market and all the benefits that derive from these.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A DEFICIT OF AUTONOMY
State-owned telecom service provider BSNL makes a profit thanks to interest income and loses money from core operations, even as its private counterparts make money hand over fist. It cannot place equipment orders without inviting court cases, vigilance commission inquiries and intervention by the all-powerful telecom ministry, resulting in zero addition to network capacity over the last two years when the industry has been adding millions of subscribers every month.
Clever powerbrokers think up innovative schemes to raid BSNL's rich reserves. Is there a way out? Reportedly, a committee headed by Sam Pitroda has recommended a 15 point course of action to sort BSNL out. Among other things, the committee has recommended downsizing BSNL's staff by 100,000 and outsourcing the ownership and management of the network on which it delivers its services to a third party, as Bharti and Vodafone do. These two recommendations go hand in hand if BSNL no longer owns and manages its network, it does not require the manpower engaged for the purpose at present.
A voluntary retirement scheme now, however, is likely to see off whatever talent the company still retains after private telcos built up, over the years, their expert manpower, recruiting from the stateowned telecom enterprises. What BSNL needs more than anything else, to pull itself out of its current losing streak, is autonomy from the telecom ministry.
Any public enterprise that has done well in India owes its performance to autonomy from its controlling ministry . Such insulation can be provided only by the top political leadership. There is little reason to believe that this will not work in the case of BSNL as well. As its owner, the state has the right to mandate BSNL with policy objectives that go beyond turning in a profit. But after that, it should be up to the company to execute the mandate, without micro-management by the ministry.
Rural transformation today depends on rich data connectivity, providing which need not be profitable in the short-term. BSNL, therefore, has a role that the private sector would not fulfil. If only the political leadership would allow it to deliver.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MORE SATYAMS IN A NEW TELENGANA?
SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR
Carving small states (Jharkhand , Chattisgarh and Uttrakhand ) out of larger ones (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, economic success . Not only have the new states grown faster economically, even Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have experienced much faster growth after the separation, though not Madhya Pradesh. This appears to strengthen the case for creating more small states such as Telengana.
Yet a short visit I made to Andhra Pradesh showed dramatically that a separate Telengana could result in problems that other newly-created states have not experienced. The biggest is a problem of land ownership, and this could conceivably create new Satyams. In Hyderabad, some, though by no means all, businessmen talk with trepidation. The fears are highest among the Andhras, folk from the coastal districts, who fear they will be adversely affected and maybe even forced to flee by the local folk or mulkis.
One such businessman told me, "My driver, a local mulki, said to me, quite gently, that when I left Hyderabad after the separation of Telengana, could I please gift my car to him?" Another businessman trumped this with a better story. "My domestic servants", he said, "requested me to hand over my house to them as and when I leave!"
Is it really possible that a new Telengana will spark the mass exit of outsiders? No, says economist C H Hanumantha Rao. There is some fear among coastal Andhras, but not among people from other parts of India. Obviously mulkis will get a much larger share of government jobs, but not of business. The real fear of businessmen is not of physically being expelled. Rather, it is about land, in which businessmen have sunk enormous sums, and which they might now lose. Businessmen have a second, and more credible fear. They say that the Maoists who were tamed by Y S Rajashekhara Reddy will make a comeback in the new Telengana, since a small state will not have the resources to tackle the Maoist menace. That could affect business prospects and land values.
The big difference between a separate Telengana and other newly created states like Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Uttrakhand relates to the state capital. In the three earlier cases, the state capital remained with the original state. But Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, will go to Telengana. This horrifies coastal Andhras who claim to have created 90% of Hyderabad's wealth.
A compromise could be to make Hyderabad and the surrounding Rangareddy district a Union territory housing the capitals of both Telengana and residual Andhra Pradesh. This solution worked when Haryana was carved out of Punjab. However, politicians leading the movement are dying to lay their hands on the lucrative land of Hyderabad, and will never give up this golden goose from which they hope to get a thousand golden eggs.
Vast amounts of land around Hyderabad have been grabbed in questionable ways. In a new Telengana, many existing landowners including major industrialists may lose enormous tracts of land worth thousands of crores. Illegal land grabbing has till now been very lucrative, but may become the kiss of death after Telengana's creation. All Indians love land, but in Andhra Pradesh it is a veritable passio . Coastal Andhras have engaged in an orgy of land speculation in the last decade. This passion for land ultimately caused the fall of Ramalinga Raju of Satyam: He lost his company because of his forays into real estate, through Maytas and other channels.
Like many other Andhra businessmen, Raju borrowed enormous sums for buying land, and prospered as land prices went through the roof. But then prices collapsed with the onset of the global recession, catching many speculators including Raju with their pants down. As India emerged out of the recession, land prices started recovering everywhere. But with the announcement of a separate Telengana, real estate prices have fallen once again in Hyderabad and surrounding areas.
This has hit the state government's finances. It had hoped to raise Rs 12,000 crore through land sales, a figure that now looks impossible. Far worse hit are thousands of land speculators, including a host of top businessmen. Nobody knows for sure who controls how much land in Hyderabad and Rangareddy districts, since much of the land is occupied illegally or through dubious means. But the risk is clear: land debacles could create new Satyams.
The risk should not be exaggerated. Most businessmen who survived the Great Recession should be able to survive the separation of Telengana too. But some may collapse. Many politician-speculators will suffer too, and so are among the strongest opponents of division. However, division is inevitable : it is only a matter of time.
Many mulkis resent what they see as the obscene prosperity of outsiders, especially coastal Andhras, who dominate not only land and business but also professional jobs and government employment . In many states migration has occurred from poorer to richer areas, but in Andhra Pradesh farmers moved from the prosperous coastal areas into Telengana , a region that used to be part of princely Hyderabad under the Nizam, and was terrible backward in education, agriculture , roads and everything else.
The Andhras brought in improved farm practices, skills and capital. They helped develop Hyderabad and the rest of Telengana, which is no longer backward compared to the state as a whole. Public sector investment, especially in defence industries, brought in many new skills and services. And more recently the IT companies came roaring in, many run by coastal Andhras.
But although the newcomers greatly improved and enrichened Telengana, they also aroused resentment and accusations of quasi-colonialism. Being better educated, they dominated government jobs. Osmania Unversity's students are at the fore of the Telengana agitation because they hope to dominate government jobs in the new state.
However, there is no reason to think that more land and jobs for mulkis will mean the expulsion of coastal businessmen. The real risk lies elsewhere: in the continuing fall of land prices, leading possibly to new Satyams.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NURTURE QUALITIES TO FLOURISH & FLOWER
VITHAL C NADKARNI
The notion of a positive psychology movement popped into Martin Seligman's head soon after his election as president of the American Psychological Association. He was weeding the garden with his five-year old daughter, Nikki. He seemed to be in a tearing hurry and was rapidly beginning to lose patience while his daughter merrily kept throwing weeds into the air and dancing around. Finally, he yelled at her. She walked away, only to return and say, "Daddy, I want to talk to you. Do you remember before my fifth birthday?" she asked. "From the time I was three to the time I was five, I was a whiner. I whined every day. When I turned five, I decided not to whine anymore. That was the hardest thing I've ever done. And if I can stop whining, you can stop being such a grouch."
That was a turning point for her father, nothing less than a full-blown epiphany. He had learned something about his daughter, something about raising children, something about himself, and a great deal about his profession. Raising Nikki was not about correcting whining, he writes in his classic treatise on positive psychology. She did that herself. Rather, he realised that raising Nikki was about taking that marvellous skill which he called "seeing into the soul," amplifying it, nurturing it, helping her to lead her life around it to buffer against her weaknesses and the storms of life.
Raising children, he realised, was more than fixing what was wrong with them. It was about identifying and nurturing their strongest qualities, what they own and are best at, and helping them find niches in which they can best live out these positive qualities.
In retrospect, Seligman admits that his daughter had "hit the nail right on the head" with her comment as far as his own life was concerned. "I was a grouch. I had spent 50 years mostly enduring wet weather in my soul, and the last 10 years being a nimbus cloud in a household of sunshine."
Any good fortune he had was probably not due to his grouchiness, but in spite of it." In that moment, he resolved to change. He went on to develop therapeutic initiatives that focused on positive rather than negative aspects. The rationale seemed simple enough: If one only focused on the problem, one might not see the solution. The goal was to nurture the very qualities that enabled individuals and groups not just to survive and limp along but to flourish and flower.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE UNION MUST PLAY ITS REDISTRIBUTIVE ROLE
India's indirect tax system is unique. While the Centre has the authority to impose Union excise duties on goods, state governments are assigned the
power to levy tax on the sale of goods. Tax on services is independently levied by the Centre, now under the Union List.
Due to this dichotomy of authority under the Constitution, a major reform in the indirect taxes was the adoption of the system of dual-VAT. This change needs to be viewed in a tax scenario where most of the buoyant taxes are assigned to the Centre and expenditure functions to the states. This results in vertical imbalance in the Indian federation.
The Indian tax system is based on the beliefs that redistribution is a concern of the Centre; broad-based taxes are given to the Centre and region-based taxes are assigned to the states. Besides, the Centre needs "excess" revenue to carry out its allocative and distributive functions to influence state actions to achieve both "incentive compatibility" as well as horizontal equity.
The next reform in the system of commodity taxes is to have a dual GST: CAST at the central level and SGST at the state level. This would pave the way for a common Indian market and enable Indian businesses to be internationally competitive. But it will not change the balance between the allocation of resources and assignment of expenditures at the central level. It will also keep intact the fiscal autonomy of the states. Data related to collection of taxes by the two tiers of governments indicate that under the current system the share of taxes collected by the Centre is 62%, while that of the States is 38%.
In the proposed system of GST, a study by the FPEPR for the TFC shows that with the 4% levy on some essential items and 8% on the rest of the goods and services, both the Centre and the States would get almost the same revenue as they are collecting at present . Hence, the CGST revenue should be distributed to the States if the Centre is to perform its allocative and a redistributive role.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE WILL CUT DRUG PRICES BY REDUCING PRODUCTION COSTS: GLAXOSMITHKLINE
KHOMBA SINGH & ARUN KUMA
The world's second-largest drugmaker GlaxoSmithkline (GSK) will bring down drug prices in India as part of a new strategy to tap lower-income consumers, CEO Andrew Witty told ET. India is a top strategic market and the company is evaluating potential acquisitions and alliances with Indian drugmakers. Though it had walked away from some of the earlier negotiations, it will be disappointing if the company does not pull off something now, he said. Excerpts:
In recent times, global pharma majors have focussed significantly on emerging markets like India. In addition to your alliance with Dr Reddy's (DRL), what is your strategy for generating more business?
Clearly, that is all to do with the shift in economic activity around the world. Asia and India have been dynamic for a long time. But in the past 3-4 years, we have seen the balance shift in the whole economy.
GSK already has a strong position in many of these economies. India is a fantastic example. We are the biggest pharmaceutical MNC, far bigger than any other, and we compete well with local firms. We are going to invest in our existing business. That means making sure we invest in innovation, and huge amount of products are developed in India by Indian scientists with consumers of different economic groups in mind. In India, we cater to the whole spectrum of affordability, from the very highest to the very lowest.
I would love to buy more businesses. If you look across the world, last year we did 10-12 acquisitions, of which eight were in emerging markets. But, we focus to get good value for money and don't pay crazy valuations. We are quite happy to walk away from deals that don't make sense. Thirdly, we will do alliances, like the way we did with DRL, that combine our complementary resources.
Will your alliance with DRL change into an equity investment?
No. There is no pre-determined pathway or secret arrangement. We are open and pragmatic about deal structures. We have done outright acquisition, non-equity alliances and equity-based alliances such as the one with South Africa's Aspen. And I have done a JV with Pfizer. We don't have a 'one size fits all' view on how to create deals. But what you should definitely expect more deals from us a range of different types of deals. I will be disappointed if we don't pull off a deal in India.
Do you have a take on the amount you plan to invest in India for these deals?
I would love to do a deal in India to increase the size of our activities. But I am ready to walk away from deals that do not make any economic sense. The size of the fund is all opportunity driven. Can we make the economics attractive for our shareholders? For GSK, we have relatively big firepower in terms of our ability to do things. India is one of our top strategic markets.
Have you actually walked away from a deal in India?
Yes, we have walked away from discussion in India because of valuation differences. I am not criticising others or saying that they over paid, as we do not know about their economics. But it did not make sense to us.
Did the entry of Daiichi Sankyo change your strategy for India or influenced your decision making process in anyway?
No, my view of India was cast when I was running India operations around 2000. This conversation is not about the next quarter but it is about the next 10 or 20 years . The entry of new players such Daiichi Sankyo and others only reminds us not to be complacent.
Your global peers like Pfizer and Novartis have dedicated generics arms or divisions. Do you have similar plans and how big is the business potential from generics for the company?
Unlike those companies we are not interested in the US or European generic markets. So I am not interested in the Para IV markets that have made Ranbaxy and DRL. If we did buy a company which happen to have an American generic division, we will sell it. What does interest me is the branded business in emerging markets, where we have less government intervention in terms of payments. In these countries, consumers want reputed and high quality brands from companies like ours.
There are concerns among some of your global peers about the patent and regulatory environment in this country. Are you concerned with the existing regulatory environment in India?
I am relatively relaxed with the Indian regulatory environment. The government has made it clear about the direction to have an intellectual property (IP) mechanism and to be TRIPS compliant. Some people are unrealistic and want everything to change overnight. But we should be absolutely realistic about pricing to keep it affordable for India. If someone has the IP right, it does not mean that it should make it inaccessible for lower income people. Over the next 10-15 years India will become increasingly IP defined market.
Do you see India becoming a production hub for emerging markets for GSK? Or would you rather depend on DRL type alliances?
We will have to do both. We have a big network of manufacturers, many of them are Indian companies including DRL. We also have our own big manufacturing facilities in India. We ought to be investing in our own plants to keep up with local demands and exports opportunity. At present, our exports constitutes 5% of revenues. This will increase significantly over the period. We will use a combination of our own and partners' facilities, depending on the cost advantages.
What are your capital investments for vaccine manufacturing in India?
Investments in vaccine manufacturing tend to be around euro 70-100 million at the minimum. Its very difficult to spend less than that. We just commissioned a facility in Singapore, which cost E600 million. When we talk about vaccines in India, we are talking serious investments. We are not looking for partners and we will most likely manufacture vaccines on our own in India. We are the biggest vaccine manufacturer in the world with a huge portfolio and fantastic pipeline. Is there any opportunity that you feel you have missed in India?
Indian operations have a lot to teach GSK's overseas businesses. Particularly our consumer business (GSK Consumer Healthcare) the way we have developed our brands and networks its an excellent example of a premier consumer business. For us , it is important to encompass the whole population. I am delighted that we have more than doubled the percentage of our business from the lower income categories of India. We are also working to bring down the prices of our drugs.
How will you reduce drug prices in India without impacting your bottomline?
We will do it through alliances with local firms, by reducing the cost of production. As you have seen over the past two years, our margins have improved. That's because we have driven greater efficiency within the organisation and taken away unnecessary costs.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
OUR DNA IS DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS, SAYS ANIRBAN DAS
NEW DELHI: After a decade in the talent management business, sports management veteran Anirban Das is convinced about fast unfolding opportunities in the space. The former CEO of Mahesh Bhupati's sports and celebrity management firm, Globosport, has floated his entertainment and marketing firm Kwan with a clutch of serial investors. Das has spread his business to include endorsements, shows and appearances, live events, brand placements in movies, and so on. Excerpts:
Your business model straddles various aspects of the entertainment space. Are you not putting too many eggs in the same basket?
No, our DNA is different from others. We are not dependent on, say, endorsement deals signed by any single celebrity. So, the pressure is not on us to sign only corporate endorsement deals with the stars we manage. Our business model is scaleable and disaggregated and we intend to keep it that way. We believe a gap exists companies in our business seem to be too focused on endorsements and appearances, but that does not give scale to the business. So we decided to work with producers and production houses, directors, designers, singers, models, film actors. And the work straddles a lot more than that just endorsement deals we deal with celebrity management, shows and appearances, live events, music, in-film brand placements, and technical talent.
We are creating an entity focused on two business models management backend and sales front end. This, we believe, gives us a strategic advantage over others, and helps us to co-create and co-own entertainment properties. For example we have signed on three directors Abbas Tyrewala (Jaane tu ya jaane na), Anurag Kashyap (Dev D) and Abhishek Kapoor (Rock On).
Last year, the industry went through a slowdown of sorts, with actors slashing prices and few big-ticket endorsement deals being signed. Is the slowdown over?
There was not much of a slowdown in the entertainment space in any case. The business did not shrink so to say; it was not as if corporates were dropping celebrities left right and centre. It is just that lesser deals were being signed for some months. But the past three-four months have been the single most fruitful period for the endorsement space; the period is seeing an unprecedented bull run. I think corporates realise that a celebrity endorsement is a tactical necessity. Take some of the deals that have been signed recently -- Ranbir (Kapoor)'s deals with Virgin Mobile and ITC's John Players; LG Electronics' signing John Abraham, Abhay Deol and Genelia D'Souza, as well as Akshay Kumar. These are validation of the fact that in the absence of a really big idea such as Vodafone or DoCoMo, corporates are looking for stars to portray brands that's where endorsements come in. In the three months that we have been around, we have done 165 celebrity-linked transactions. This translates into Rs 35-40 crore worth of business in the short time that we have been around.
What is your growth model?
We will certainly look at acquisitions and strategic tie-ups in the entertainment space. Because we are trying to unlock synergies between entertainment and business, we are looking at greater scale and distribution. We are in a business that is niche, so we will grow both organically and inorganically. In certain areas where skill sets do not exist, we will grow organically. We believe the kind of opportunity that exists today in this space may not be there 12-24 months later.
HISTORY IS MADE, MAY HAVE FALLOUT
The Rajya Sabha missed the deadline of International Women's Day in passing the Women's Reservation Bill, as the 108th Constitution Amendment Bill has come to be known, but was able to pass the proposed legislation although amid considerable acrimony with the required two-thirds majority a day later on Tuesday. The first clear hurdle in the life of this bill has thus been passed, although this has taken 14 long years. This might well be something of an international record. It is noteworthy, however, that Ms Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress, which is part of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, abstained on the vote instead of lending the measure support, as might have been expected. Ms Mayawati's BSP nominally extends support to the government in spite of its mismatched political chemistry with the Congress, but it did not take part in the voting in the Rajya Sabha. These are signs that can give no comfort to the UPA. Predicated on calculations that allowed the bill to gather the support of the BJP and the Left, the principal Opposition groups in the House, the 108th Amendment should clear the Lok Sabha when it comes up in that House, provided some contrary hidden dynamics do not come into play. The earliest that the bill could go to the Lok Sabha is next week, unless the UPA parties, and the BJP and the Left, want the matter deferred until after the Finance Bill is out of the way so as not to rock the boat before the passage of the Union Budget. Seen in a broad perspective, the Women's Reservation Bill clearing the Upper House is a historic occasion. Its progress has, of course, been rocky all the way, given the nature of the social and political constituencies that are likely to lose their equilibrium with its passage. Nevertheless, the political class might have been expected to register a sense of achievement, given the landmark nature of the proposed legislation. But this is not the case. Plainly, there is no sense of jubilation among MPs of any description, other than women. This underscores the depths of the gender divide that exists on our political canvas. The only stalwart figure who cannot contain her happiness is Congress president Sonia Gandhi. But for her single-minded endeavour, it is unlikely that the bill would have secured the endorsement of even the ruling Congress. It is no small pity that an important piece of socio-political legislation such as this should leave the political class as a whole cold. More than that, it is not unlikely that the decision of the Congress to bring the Women's Reservation Bill, especially at this stage, will feed anti-Congress sentiments in Parliament. Coming after murmurs cutting across party lines on the question of food inflation, and the Budget proposal to increase the excise duty on diesel that is likely to exacerbate the price situation, the 108th Constitution Amendment might have set in motion impulses that could produce unpredictable results. With the withdrawal of support by the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in the wake of the introduction of the measure, the ruling coalition has been made vulnerable as it now has a majority of only three in the Lok Sabha. This arithmetic can change further if the BSP casts a negative vote against the Women's Reservation Bill when it comes up in the Lok Sabha, instead of doing what it did in the Upper House. If this mood is transferred to motions in the LS that test the viability of the government, the politics of possibilities could be said to be truly open.
PUT STATES IN ORDER
BY P.C. ALEXANDER
Most people who have been following the functioning of Parliament in recent years would have noticed that which causes protests and disorder in the House is the complaint that the government has not been taking the leaders of the Opposition parties into confidence while taking decisions on policies which are in violation of the national consensus evolved over a long period. An interesting feature of such protests is that the demand is for prior consultation with the leaders of the political parties represented in the House and not with the chief ministers of the states.
While it may be desirable, it is not always possible in the present state of multiplicity of political parties represented in the House. If we had a two-party or three-party system in our parliamentary democracy, such interactions between the government and leaders of the Opposition parties would have been practicable. But in our present system of coalition governments the number of political parties supporting the government will be over 20 or so, with more or less equal number in the Opposition benches. This makes what is desirable not practicable.
When the Congress had a clear majority in Parliament without having to depend upon coalition arrangements supporting it from outside, as for example during the stewardship of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister had on many occasions taken the chief ministers of some states into confidence on important decisions to be taken by the government. Meetings of the Congress Working Committee, parliamentary board etc. provided good opportunities for such interaction between the chief ministers and the Prime Minister. Above all, Nehru was not merely the leader of the Congress in Parliament but was the unquestioned leader of the Congress in the country as a whole whether or not he was occupying the office of the president of the party.
Unfortunately the office of the chief minister has been devalued so much that the opinions and advice of chief ministers now hardly count for decision-making by the Union government. The chief ministers who belong to the national parties, of late, have been nominees of the high commands of the parties with weak electoral credentials of their own. The absence of inner party democracy has made them dependent on the pleasure of their high commands to retain their offices as chief ministers.
In fairness to the chief ministers it must be pointed out that the Constitution of India has been deliberately framed in such a manner that the Union government could, if it chooses, function like the government of a unitary state.
The blatant misuse of the powers of control over the states vested with the Union government has contributed to the further dilution of the authority of the states and the trend is already set by which states will be reduced to the level of the subordinate offices of the Union government in most sectors of administration. Article 1 of the Constitution states that India shall be a Union of states. Even though the Constitution lists the powers of the Union and of the states separately, residuary powers are vested with the Union. Article 249 allows the Union to encroach upon the state list while Article 356 and 357 allow the Union to take over the executive and legislative powers of the state on the ground of failure of the constitutional machinery in the state. Even the existence of states as permanent or indestructible entities is denied in the Constitution as Article 2, 3 and 4 make it clear that new states may be formed by changing the boundaries or even altering the name of any state by Parliament through ordinary legislation passed by a simple majority of votes in Parliament. It is important to note that the major decision for the setting up of the Planning Commission, whose function is to make an assessment of the material, capital and human resources of the country and to formulate plans for their efficient and balanced utilisation, was taken in March 1950 without even a statutory backing, leave alone a constitutional one.
The Constitution has no doubt enabled the Centre to maintain the unity and integrity of the nation and facilitate accelerated development in several crucial sectors of the development in the states. People in general are in favour of retaining the Constitution without any major changes. But even without amending some of the provisions of the Constitution which have led to over-centralisation of power at the Union level, it is time to take the steps necessary for greater devolution of powers from the Centre to the states and the states to panchayati raj institutions in order to strengthen democracy from the grassroot levels. Over-centralisation has also had the most unwelcome result of frustrating the formation and development of local leadership and of distorting the concept of genuine democracy.
With the adoption of economic reforms in the country involving large-scale liberalisation in imports and investments, it is time that a close look is given to Centre-state relations as they have evolved over the last six decades and take such steps as are necessary to devolve on the states much larger powers relevant to social and economic development.
Along with decentralisation of powers to the states, the state governments should delegate to the local self-government institutions much larger powers and responsibilities so that panchayati raj becomes a genuine grassroots level reality. Even though great hopes were entertained about the panchayati raj institutions in India when they were established through the necessary constitutional amendments, in actual practice they have not been allowed to function in the way visualised for them. The MPs in some of the states seem to believe that once elected MP they should have control over the panchayati raj institutions as well. This desire to dominate over the panchayati raj institutions shows how much some MPs are influenced by the motive of power rather than of service.
In this connection there should be a review of the need for allowing large sums, called Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLAD) funds, to the MPs to be spent on development projects in their constituencies. The problem of shortage of funds for panchayati raj institutions can be met to a large extent if the MPLAD funds are added to the resources of the panchayati raj institutions with, of course, suitable provisions to ensure efficiency and cleanliness in their management.
In a country of India's huge dimensions, democracy can be real only if power is devolved to the states and from the states to local self-governing institutions to the maximum extent possible. The present is the right time to make a beginning. A strong Union of states needs strong states, which, in turn, need a strong network of local bodies.
- P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra
ECONOMIC INSECURITY IS TROUBLING OBAMA
BY BOB HERBERT
The Obama administration and Democrats in general are in trouble because they are not urgently and effectively addressing the issue that most Americans want them to: the frightening economic insecurity that has put a chokehold on millions of American families.
The economy shed 36,000 jobs last month, and that was trumpeted in the press as good news. Well, after your house has burned down I suppose it's good news that the flames may finally be flickering out. But once you realise that it will take 11 million or more new jobs to get us back to where we were when the recession began, you begin to understand that we're not really making any headway at all.
It's also widely known by now that the official employment statistics drastically understate the problem. Once we take off the statistical rose-coloured glasses, we're left with the awful reality of millions upon millions of Americans who have lost or are losing their jobs, their homes, their small businesses, and their hopes for a brighter future.
Instead of focusing with unwavering intensity on this increasingly tragic situation, making it their top domestic priority, US President Barack Obama and the Democrats on Capitol Hill have spent astonishing amounts of time and energy, and most of their political capital, on an obsessive quest to pass a healthcare bill.
Healthcare reform is important. But what the public has wanted and still badly needs above all else from Obama and the Democrats are bold efforts to put people back to work. A major employment rebound is the only real way to alleviate the deep economic anxiety that has gripped so many Americans. Unaddressed, that anxiety inevitably evolves into dread and then anger.
But while the nation is desperate for jobs, jobs, jobs, the Democrats have spent most of the Obama era chanting healthcare, healthcare, healthcare.
The talk inside the Beltway, that super-incestuous, egomaniacal, reality-free zone, is that Obama and the Democrats have a messaging or public relations problem. We're being told and even worse, Obama and the Democrats are being told that their narrative is not getting through. In other words, the wonderfulness of all that they've done is somehow not being recognised by the slow-to-catch-on masses.
That's just silly. People are upset because they are mired in economic distress and are losing faith that their elected representatives are looking out for their best interests. They've watched with increasing anger as their government has been hijacked by the economic elite. They know that the big banks that were bailed out by taxpayers can borrow money at an interest rate of near zero while at the same time charging credit-card holders usurious rates of 20 to 30 per cent.
They know that the financial fat cats are fighting the creation of a truly independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. They know that while ordinary Americans are kept out of the corridors of power, the elites with their lobbyists and lawyers and campaign contributions have a voice in every important decision that is made.
It's not the message that's a problem for Obama and the Democrats, it's the all-too-clear reality. People know that the government that is supposed to be looking out for ordinary people for working people and the poor is not doing nearly enough about an employment crisis that is lowering standards of living and hollowing out the American dream.
This is not just a short-term crisis. There are many communities across the country in which the effective jobless rate is higher than 50 per cent. Many state and local governments are grappling with disastrous revenue shortfalls that are forcing cuts in services and layoffs, and threatening the viability of even a modest national economic recovery.
A University of Michigan survey of consumer sentiment in February found that 60 per cent of American consumers expect to receive no income gains at all in the year ahead, the worst finding in that category in the history of the surveys.
The Republican Party has nothing in the way of solutions to Americans' economic plight. It is committed only to the demented policy of trying to ensure that Obama and the Democrats fail.
But the fact that the Republicans are pathetic and destructive is no reason for the Democrats to shirk their obligation to fight powerfully and relentlessly for the economic well-being of all Americans. There are now six people in the employment market for every available job. There is a staggering backlog of discouraged workers who would show up tomorrow if there were a job to be had.
The many millions of new jobs needed to make a real dent in the employment crisis are not going to materialise by themselves. Obama and the Democrats don't seem to understand that.
INTERPRETING THE COLOUR GREEN
BY VANDANA SHIVA
Ecologists like me are called "greens". We work to protect the green mantle of the earth forests and biodiversity, soil and water. Nature's green capital is the real capital that supports all life, and in the final analysis all livelihoods and the entire economy. However, the colour green has been much abused and used for anti-green, anti-nature, anti-people programmes.
The first abuse was the "Green Revolution". It was neither green nor revolutionary. It was called "green" only to differentiate it from "red revolution" which was the colour of the Chinese peasant revolution. The Americans wanted to counter the "red revolution" with what they called the "Green Revolution". They thought that encouraging peasants to use chemicals and re-engineered seeds that adapt to chemicals (the high response varieties, HRVs, instantly called high yielding varieties HYVs) and the commercialisation through the new chemical seed technologies would create rural prosperity. This logic is what earned Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, a Nobel Peace Prize.
However, while the narrative won the peace prize, the reality of the Green Revolution did not create peace. Punjab, the land where the Green Revolution was first applied, became a region of extremist violence in the late '70s and early '80s. In 1984, the Indian Army entered the Golden Temple where Bhindranwale, the leader of the extremists, had taken shelter. That winter, Indira Gandhi was assassinated. And Indira Gandhi's assassination led to the killing of thousands of innocent Sikhs.
This spiral of violence was triggered by the disillusionment and frustrations created by the Green Revolution. The anger and discontent in Punjab was the result of the loss of resources and loss of control over farming. The Green Revolution, based on chemical-intensive, capital-intensive, energy-intensive farming methods, had destroyed Punjab's soil, water and biodiversity. While subsidies created a buffer in the early days, the need for more chemicals and reduction of subsidies led to a negative economy. And as the Punjab farmer spent more and earned less, he also realised he was not making any decision related to chemical production of rice and wheat for the nation.
The Gurmata (collective resolution by the congregation) passed at a Sarbat Khalsa (all Sikh convention) on April 13, 1986, expresses this perception of the communal conflict as primarily a Centre-state conflict explicitly: "If the hard-earned income of the people or the natural resources of any nation or region are forcibly plundered; the goods produced by them are paid at arbitrarily determined prices while the goods bought by them are sold at high prices and in order to carry this process of economic exploitation to its logical conclusion, the human rights of people or of a nation are crushed, then these are the indices of salver of that nation, region or people. Today, the Sikhs are shackled by the chains of slavery. This type of slavery is thrust upon the states and 80 per cent of India's population of poor people and minorities".
The Green Revolution was neither green in terms of ecological sustainability, nor green in terms of peace. It had become red and bloody, with more than 30,000 people killed in Punjab.
The externally directed extremist violence of the '70s and '80s mutated into self-inflicted violence expressed through farmers suicides in the 1990s when the violence of the first Green Revolution was superimposed with the violence of globalisation and the second Green Revolution, introduced through genetically-engineered Bt cotton seeds. About 200,000 farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997 as a result of a capital intensive, external input intensive debt creating agriculture.
What we need is a real Green Revolution. Biodiverse organic farming reduces costs and increases output by working with nature's ecological processes, not against them. An agriculture that makes peace with nature also produces more food and nutrition per acre. It is time to put aside the myth that chemicals and genetic engineering are necessary to increase food production. Chemicals and GMOs produce more toxics, not more food and nutrition. They have no place in a real Green Revolution.
Today the colour "green" is once again being abused for a campaign to uproot and displace the tribals, the first people. Operation "Green Hunt" has deployed 70,000 armed personnel from paramilitary forces in the mineral-rich tribal areas. These are the areas where deposits of coal, bauxite and iron-ore lie, which mining corporations want to grab tribal land.
The tribals have rights to defend their resources.
For the first time after 50 years of India's Independence, a significant step was been made by the introduction of the Provisions of the Panchayats (extension to the scheduled areas) Act, 1996 whereby the village communities (Gram Sabha) have been granted legal recognition as a community entity. This new law (which provides an extension to the provision of Part IX of the Constitution of India) for the scheduled areas came into force on December 24, 1996. It envisages Gram Sabhas as being the basic unit of the self-governing system. According to Section 4(b): "A village shall ordinarily consist of habitation or a group of habitations, or a hamlet or a group of hamlets comprising a community and managing its affairs in accordance with traditions and customs".
In 2006, India passed the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act to correct the historic wrong of violation of the rights of tribals.
But after when tribals have exercised their constitutional, democratic, resource and human rights, they have been met with violence. I remember going to Bastar to witness a Gram Sabha decision to say "no" to a steel plant being set up in Nagarnar. The police stopped us. The decision of the Gram Sabha was torn and later the tribals were thrown into jail. Now, the tribals are being hunted down in their homelands by paramilitary forces, to clear the way for mines and factories. This war against India's "green" capital the forest regions, and against India's original inhabitants is being called the "green hunt".
The justification of operation Green Hunt is hunting out the Maoist. The reality of this operation is terrorising every tribal so that they leave their homes in the forest, and the steel and aluminum giants can have direct access to the minerals that lie under tribal homes.
Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust
FEEL FREE, MR HUSAIN
BY CHO S. RAMASWAMY
Now that M.F. Husain has settled in Qatar where there is total freedom, he is free of the shackles imposed by the Indian system on freedom of expression. All those who appreciate his art would now eagerly await his imaginative paintings of the leaders of Qatari society, hopefully not artistically clothed.
His fans would not expect him to confine nudity to Hindu deities alone; it would extend to all the religions.
Having already painted his mother, daughter and Muslim kings fully robed, Mr Husain, being the freed citizen that he is now in Qatar, should be prepared to remove those clothes. How can the artist in him be satisfied with seeing Saraswati and Parvati alone in the nude?
Fortunately for art in the nude, the courts here cannot do anything to Mr Husain now that he has run away from the Indian judicial system. All the cases could be now buried amidst the pictures drawn by him. Both would mercifully go to the dustbin. I am very anxious not to get branded as communal in my thinking. I want to be hailed as a secularist and so I would say with all the force I can command that Mr Husain has the inalienable right to depict the Hindu deities in the most obscene manner while taking care to paint even non-religious Muslims fully clothed. He can claim that because he hates Hitler he painted him in the nude so he could humiliate him and in the same breath justify his nude pictures of Hindu goddesses as depiction of purity.
And because I am secular, I would also assert that his not returning to India is only to gain freedom from the Indian fascism and not to avoid being apprehended by the law enforcers in this country. Being a liberal-minded artist, he naturally is not able to put up with the protests which do not harm him in any way. Shunning the Indian system and preferring the Qatar environment is not an act of hypocrisy but one of liberal, secular and free thought. And now that Mr Husain has established himself as such a stout campaigner for free expression, I must believe firmly that he will forcefully plead with his new protectors in Qatar to roll out of a bit of that red carpet to Taslima Nasreen, another hounded victim from the literary world.
- Cho S. Ramaswamy is a well-known politicalanalyst, actor, dramatist and editor ofTamil magazine Tughlak
IGNITE THE HUNGER FOR KNOWLEDGE
There are so many things that one can do in this world walk, swim, dance, gossip, love, drink And yet, for ages why is it that human beings have longed for something beyond all these? When you are struggling for survival this longing fades, but the moment your stomach is full, once again it starts. If you and your body were indestructible, this longing would not have risen.
Every day, you may not be conscious about death, but with a slightest provocation you become conscious of it. For example, someone you love went out and did not come back at the appointed time. You would start thinking "What could've happened?" Did s/he fall dead somewhere? That's the last thing. In between, there is injury, pain, disease. "What could have happened?" is just a reminder. We often think that we have a wonderful life. We live with many thoughts and emotions, but little do we realise that one day it's going to wane. The human nature is unwilling to accept this truth. Some people say there is something beyond death. Others say there is nothing while some say that you will land up in the lap of God.
Since time immemorial, people have been arguing but without any conclusion. People have propounded every kind of answer they could think of, yet it has not solved anything because this is the trick. It doesn't matter for how long you slow down, but when the moment of death comes, suddenly you know that you know nothing about life or death.
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a yogi, is a visionary, humanitarian and a prominent spiritual leader. An author, poet, and internationally-renowned speaker, Sadhguru's wit and piercing logic provoke and widen our perception of life. He can be contacted at www.ishafoundation.org 
PARTY AND REBEL
A POOR REFLECTION ON BOTH
IT looks as if Abdur Rezzak Mollah is challenging his party leadership to act against him on disciplinary grounds. The minister for land and land reforms has in the past been summoned by Alimuddin Street for his outspokenness after being targeted on the Vedic Village scandal. He proceeded to mock the warning by expressing his doubts on job reservations for minorities, which the Left Front wants to turn into a vote-catching device when the going is tough. Now just when the Left seeks to come to the aid of the UPA on the Women's Reservation Bill, perhaps to hold out an olive branch to a party it had ditched at one stage but now must woo if Trinamul has to be checked, Mollah again lets himself loose. If he merely echoes what Brinda Karat had said about the CPI-M being a male-dominated party, the real message has to be read between the lines: the leader of women's movements has been accommodated in the party's highest policy making body while the rebel in Writers' Buildings is largely being ignored. Now when he does more plain-speaking on his party's hypocrisy, this time on the gender issue, he may have realised that he has nothing to lose.
No one, however, will miss the poor reflection on both the party and the rebel. The CPI-M is cruelly hamstrung by compulsions of the impending elections. Disciplinary action would remove what threatens to be a perpetual thorn in its side but could disrupt the calculated moves to win back disillusioned minorities. Nor is it likely to do the party any good to sustain the embarrassment of refuting charges levelled by its own minister when it is incapable of exerting its authority. Mollah, on his part, has wifully turned into a dissident who does not intend to surrender the privileges of office. He may instead have decided on confronting the evils from within on the pretext of fighting for principles. If that is seen to be opportunistic and anti-Marxist, Mollah may not be all that concerned. Like most others, he may be convinced that ideology has fallen by the wayside. As a discarded soldier, he just needs to make a point for what it is worth.
AND ULFA MUST RECIPROCATE
TALKS with Ulfa leaders call for a peaceful atmosphere and there have been some encouraging signs of late. At Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi's undertaking ~ that his government had no objection if the designated Tada court granted bail to Ulfa vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi and publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary ~ the duo were released recently. They each face half a dozen criminal cases and had been lodged in Guwahati Jail after Bhutan handed them over to the Indian authorities in the aftermath of the December 2003 crackdown. Gogoi reportedly was a guest of the Pakistan government for eight months in 1991 and had been arrested earlier but jumped bail in 1996. There is no doubting that the chief minister has a soft corner for the incarcerated Ulfa leaders.
In 2005, when the Ulfa-appointed People's Consultative Group ~ now defunct after holding talks with the Centre for a year ~ sought the release of five jailed leaders for consultation, he rushed to Delhi within hours of the demand to plead and was told the matter would be considered after consultations with Dispur. Somehow the matter rested there and many suspected the chief minister's motive was to ensure peaceful assembly elections the following year. No one likes a prison cell, not least Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, who has been in Guwahati Jail since his arrest last December. Even more frustrating is the absence of any immediate trial. Since the prime object is to break the impasse, his release alone should create an ideal ambience and he could perhaps persuade self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua to see reason and return home.
No less significant was the transfer of Ulfa ideologue Bhimkanta Burgohain from Tezpur to Guwahati Jail to ensure he consulted his colleagues. Union home secretary GK Pillai's recent statement, that if the Ulfa leaders showed an interest in negotiation Delhi would not even insist on a formal written commitment for talks from its leaders, suggests the extent to which the Centre is prepared to go to accommodate them.
PROTECT WILDLIFE, NOT TOURISM
'ONLY 1411 left" is the thrust of the semi-commercial television message lamenting the tiger's plight. Who knows to what level that figure will fall ~ many feel it was an optimistic assessment ~ before the ad-campaign concludes. Parliament has just been informed that already 11 tigers have died in 2010, one conclusion being that even the action initiated by the Prime Minister has failed to preserve the raja of the Indian jungle. Poaching still flourishes, attempts to clear the "core" area of Project Tiger parks of human habitation have floundered. Yet the recent killing of two young tigers on the fringes of Ranthambore points to mismanagement of a different kind, emphasises that more than the poacher is at work. That park is over-populated, and searching for prey the cats have been frequently straying beyond the highly-protected zone, thereby coming into conflict with local communities. Persons arrested for the tigers' killing have confessed they deemed the cats as endangering their cattle, poisoned the "kills" to which they knew the tigers would return to feed. Only armchair experts and well-heeled tourists would fail to understand ~ there can be no excusing ~ the rustics' misdirected response: cattle-lifters are just a shade less criminal than maneaters in some folks' reckoning. Particularly those whose legitimate livelihood is under strain.
The really despicable side of the story is that a potential way out exists. Forest officials have calculated that despite it proving one of the most preferred habitats, Ranthambore/Sawai Madhopur can sustain no more than 28-30 cats but the last census suggested at least a dozen more were present. The mismatch between mouths and resources was palpable, the cats began to forage "abroad". The remedy prescribed by those on the ground was substantial re-location to Sariska (the cats re-settled there seem to have accepted their new environs, though have yet to reproduce). That would relieve pressure on Ranthambore, revitalise Sariska. The proposal has been scuttled, allegedly by the powerful tourism lobby operating out of Ranthambore: fewer tigers would mean fewer "sightings", hence fewer tourists, fewer profits. The union ministry appears to have fallen for that "bait". While in theory, and African experience, the economic spin-off from wildlife tourism does help conservation, those conditions do not obtain in India at present. The critical battle remains protecting wildlife, rather than protecting tourism companies.
SUGAR AND ITS PRICING
HELPING THE GROWER AT THE COST OF THE CONSUMER
BY ALOK KUMAR GIRI
AS sugar becomes costlier every day, the Centre has surrendered to the demands of the agitating cane-growers. This may refurbish its pro-farmer image and help it to gain political mileage, but will push up the price still further. On 21 October, the government issued an ordinance, called the Sugarcane Control Order. Accordingly, the Essential Commodities (Amendment and Validation) Bill was introduced to fix a Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) of sugarcane at Rs 129.84 per quintal for the 2009-10 crushing season. This replaced the earlier practice of fixing the Statutory Minimum Price (SMP).
However, the system allows state governments to fix the State Advised Price (SAP) if they were prepared to pay more. It was also announced that the government would purchase 20 per cent of the total requirement of levy sugar from mills at the FRP for subsidised sale through ration shops under the Public Distribution System. The difference between the two would be paid by the states. This somewhat defused the tension created by the powerful sugarcane growers' lobby and the opposition parties, demanding higher price for sugarcane.
THE fact is that the FRP is the floor price. It may appear to be low when the demand for sugarcane is high, but will protect the farmer in the event of a glut in production. As growers naturally want better price for their crop and do not bother about who bears the brunt, the opposition parties pressurise the government to roll back the provisions of the ordinance and shift the burden of payment from the state government to the mills.
By announcing the FRP and letting the SAP prevail, the states pay the difference between the two. The union agriculture ministry killed two birds with one stone. It responded to the Supreme Court judgment, validating the SAP and shifted the burden of the difference between the SAP and the levy price and payment of accumulated arrears on the mills, thereby guarding its monetary interest.
The objective of the Bill was to discourage the states from resorting to populist moves of raising the cane price, which would make it different in each State. The government buckled in the face of the mounting opposition from farmers. The agriculture ministry subsequently introduced an amendment of the Essential Commodities Act (ECA), incorporating its new FRP policy, under which the government would procure one-fifth of levy sugar for the PDS from the mills and make them pay for the rest of the crops at the SAP rate. The Bill has since been passed by both Houses of Parliament.
The parallel pricing ~ the FRP by the Centre and the SAP by the states ~ will certainly increase the prices of sugarcane and sugar further still. The declared FRP of Rs 129.84 per quintal takes into account the recovery rate of 9.5 per cent. In fact the rate, which varies between 9 and 11.5 per cent, determines the quality of sugarcane. One quintal of sugarcane yields nine kg to 11.5 kg of sugar. The per quintal FRP being Rs 129.84 against 9.50 per cent recovery, a one per cent rise in the recovery rate will push up the purchase price of cane by Rs 13.68. Similarly, for cane with 11.5 per cent recovery, mills will have to pay Rs 157.74 per quintal. The production cost remaining the same, the states growing cane of "higher recovery" will gain much more than those growing cane of "lower recovery". Thus, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which grow cane of 10 per cent to 11.66 per cent recovery and above, will gain more than Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttaranchal which grow cane of nine per cent to 10 per cent. The first category of states will thus get better prices for their produce. The burden of a higher cane price will be offset by the mills by raising the price of sugar, which went up by more than 100 per cent between September 2008 and November 2009.
On the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), the union agriculture ministry announces the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for every essential agricultural commodity and the SMP for sugarcane. In the retail sector, sugar is now selling at Rs 38 per kilogram, and the price is rising every week. As a basic ingredient, sugarcane constitutes about 70 per cent of the cost of production. With cane at the FRP of Rs 130 and a sugar recovery rate of 9.5 per cent, the raw material necessary to produce one kilogram of sugar costs Rs 14. To that is added the costs of labour, capital, and management. At this rate, the cost of one kilogram of sugar should not be more than Rs 20 at the mill gate. But only a year ago, when the SMP was pegged at Rs 92 at the national average of 10.2 per cent recovery, the production cost of sugar would not have been more than Rs 14 per kg, covering the price of cane and other costs. Thus, the cost-based pricing does not justify the prevailing price spiral and the abnormal rise in the last one year. Even if part of the increase can be attributed to scarcity, decline in production and to losses in transit, storage and handling, hoarding and other unscrupulous practices by traders and middlemen and between the mills and retail outlets cannot be ruled out.
THE Bill to resolve the issue and tackle the growers' agitation betrays lack of prudence and far-sightedness... both of the Centre and the opposition parties. The UPA government has taken a hasty decision to defuse an unpleasant situation, arising out of the agitation by cane-growers and opposition parties before Parliament on 19th and 20th November last year. It has succumbed to the unjust demand of growers, backed rather unethically by the opposition. The Bill, when it becomes an Act, will open a Pandora's Box, if farmers and growers of other crops also agitate for better prices.
While advocating higher SAP for sugarcane, over and above the FRP, the opposition parties ignored the basic factor in fixing prices of agricultural commodities, as distinct from that of industrial products. The price fixed for farm products is like a double-edged blade; the price rise pumps blood into the farming segment and sucks the consumers' blood at the same time.
Farmers allocate their land to various crops, keeping in view their prices, as announced by the Union government. The increase in the SAP and FRP of sugarcane is bound to distort the terms of trade against other crops and divert more land to growing sugarcane This will ultimately reduce the acreage under foodgrain. Hence, the administered pricing of sugarcane should not be lopsided. It it is favoured over the other major crops, it will create a price spiral, resulting in hardship for consumers and frustration for the growers of other crops, compelling them to reduce their cultivable area. Although both Houses of Parliament have approved the Bill, the President should exercise her privilege of returning it for reconsideration in the interests of the people who are groaning under the relentless price-spiral of sugar along with that of commodities.
The writer is a former Professor of Agricultural Economics in Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vishwavidalaya, Mohanpur, Nadia, in West Bengal
MONARCHY AS IT STILL EXISTS
When we look at the Middle East, the monarchy operates in a strong manner linking modern methods of economic enterprise with hereditary privileges, says Robi Chakravorti
Monarchy was removed from Europe after the French Revolution of 1789. The King of France was executed. When we look at French history, we find that monarchy was restored . The revolution in France which inspired Karl Marx targeted monarchy, but the parody of the French Revolution is that monarchy was revived when Napolean declared himself as emperor.
The French Revolution and the American Revolution are historically shown as stages when the dominating role of religion and monarchy in politics was diminished and replaced by the concept of people's will which was advocated by the French philosopher, Rousseau. Before the Renaissance in Europe, religion also played an important role in politics. After the Renaissance, there was first a separation of monarchical and Christian framework. It took a long time and many ups and downs before the separation between religion, monarchy and politics took place in Europe.
In Asia, monarchy operates in two nations: Japan and Thailand. There is a dramatic difference in the role of monarchy in these two countries. In Japan, the monarchy's rule declined since 1947 when the constitution stripped the royal family of its divinity. Now the monarchy plays generally a decorative, institutional role in Japan.
In Thailand, the monarchy plays the old-fashioned traditional role of respected autocracy. Thai royal law mandates a penalty of three to 15 years in prison for "whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen,the heir to the throne or the Regent". Last year, a writer was imprisoned for 10 years for allegedly insulting the royal family by uploading anti-royal videos. A female Thai activist was sentenced for six years for alleged support of the country's one-time Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was mildly critical of some actions of the monarch. He escaped imprisonment by leaving Thailand in time. Another activist is in prison for giving a speech paralleling the fate of the Thai monarchy with that of deposed dynasties in Russia Nepal and France.
Monarchy still operates in parts of Europe in a formal decorative sense. The monarchy in England is an example. According to a report last year, ten monarchies in a formal sense exist in Europe .When we look at the Middle East, the monarchy operates in a strong manner linking modern methods of economic enterprise with hereditary privileges. Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are colourful examples of this aspect of politics.
Let me present some documentary evidence on Saudi Arabia as a dramatic illustration of this aspect in politics today. Saudi Arabia represents a strange combination of old-style feudalism, religious fundamentalism and modern economy of so-called free enterprise. In 1926 after a series of tribal wars in the area, Abdel Ibn Saud crowned himself as king and in 1932 he named the entire territory Saudi Arabia. A modern form of feudalism is illustrated by the fact Ibn Saud built for himself a marble palace in Riyadh costing $4 million merely to plan and $140 million to complete it. Hundreds of princes and their relatives live at royal expense at magnificent palaces,
It happens to be the only state in the world that is titled the property of a single dynasty. America would not have cared for its existence, if it did not have rich oil resources. According to a report, Saudi Arabia supplies about half of America's petroleum needs. The profit is monopolised by the Saudi family. It covers hundreds of people since the founder of the state himself married several times and royal princes today also marry several times. All members of the family get lots of money from its oil revenues. Without its rich oil resources, the country would have turned into a strange weird monarchy neglected by America and rest of the world.
Let me present some illustrations of the odd linkage between feudalism and modernism, religious fundamentalism and free enterprise. A report in the British media couple of years ago said that British ministry of Defence paid over one billion pounds to the Prince of Saudi Arabia following Britain's big arms deal with the country. BAE Systems paid upto 120 million pounds a year into two Saudi accounts in Washington.
ARAMCO (Arabian American Oil Company ) operates the oil industry in Saudi Arabia . It started production of oil in Saudi Arabia in 1938 and continued the business since then . In 1951 it built a prestige railway for King Ibn Saud at a cost of over $160 million. The US Government assists ARAMCO by providing tax benefits for their work in Saudi Arabia Washington helps Saudi Arabia economically and politically and often justifies the support. During the Cold War, Saudi Arabia's status was supported on geopolitical and geo-economic grounds. In 1957, the American ambassador to Saudi Arabia praised the Saudi regime saying that Saudi King is "a good king who has the welfare of the people primarily in mind" ("Arabia Without Sultans" by Fred Halliday, 1975).
When King Saud visited America in 1957, President Eisenhower took the unusual step of greeting him in person at the airport, a courtesy he had not extended to any other state upto that time.
When the Saudi King Abdullah visited England about three years ago, he attended a special banquet hosted by the Queen of England . It was a big show. Six planes brought the king and his huge family to the capital. A convey of 84 limousines drove the party into London.
American support for Saudi feudal monarchy is open and often takes dramatic forms. ARAMCO publishes a colourful magazine entitled :" Saudi Aramco World". Let me present two excerpts from this magazine (January-February,2007) to show how it glorifies the positive side of Arab and Muslim culture as a supportive argument in favour of Saudi ArabiaA British Muslim named Timothy Winter in an article entitled "The Art of Integration" wrote Islam "makes room for the particularities of the people who come into. The traditional Muslim World is a rainbow, an extraordinary patchwork of different cultures all united by a common adherence to the doctrinal and moral patterns set down in Revelation".
The article deals with mosques in Britain with colourful pictures and a short note on their presence in China. "When Muslim Arabs first travelled to China nearly 1,300 years ago, they were not in fact introducing an alien religion to an already long-established civilisation. Rather they called their Islam 'the way of the Pure' a name and an ideal that did not conflict with the Confucian beliefs prevalent in China at that time and their early mosques looked like Chinese temples and pagodas''.
In the context of the darker side of politics and economics currently operating in the Middle East, this type of commentary ignores the fact that US economic interests provide material support and religion the ideological justification for current oligarchy in the middle East.
The writer is Professor Emeritus, California State University, Sacramento
LIVING PROOF OF ARMENIAN GENOCIDE
THE US WANTS TO DENY THAT TURKEY'S SLAUGHTER OF 1.5 MILLION ARMENIANS IN 1915 WAS GENOCIDE. BUT THE EVIDENCE IS THERE, IN A HILLTOP ORPHANAGE NEAR BEIRUT, REPORTS ROBERT FISK
It's only a small grave, a rectangle of cheap concrete marking it out, blessed by a flourish of wild yellow lilies. Inside are the powdered bones and skulls and bits of femur of up to 300 children, Armenian orphans of the great 1915 genocide who died of cholera and starvation as the Turkish authorities tried to "Turkify" them in a converted Catholic college high above Beirut. But for once, it is the almost unknown story of the surviving 1,200 children between three and 15 years old who lived in the crowded dormitory of this ironically beautiful cut-stone school that proves that the Turks did indeed commit genocide against the Armenians in 1915.
Barack Obama and his pliant Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton who are now campaigning so pitifully to prevent the US Congress acknowledging that the Ottoman Turkish massacre of 1.5 million Armenians was a genocide should come here to this Lebanese hilltop village and hang their heads in shame. For this is a tragic, appaling tale of brutality against small and defenceless children whose families had already been murdered by Turkish forces at the height of the First World War, some of whom were to recall how they were forced to grind up and eat the skeletons of their dead fellow child orphans in order to survive starvation.
Jemal Pasha, one of the architects of the 1915 genocide, and alas Turkey's first feminist, Halide Edip Adivar, helped to run this orphanage of terror in which Armenian children were systematically deprived of their Armenian identity and given new Turkish names, forced to become Muslims and beaten savagely if they were heard to speak Armenian. The Antoura Lazarist college priests have recorded how its original Lazarist teachers were expelled by the Turks and how Jemal Pasha presented himself at the front door with his German bodyguard after a muezzin began calling for Muslim prayers once the statue of the Virgin Mary had been taken from the belfry.
Hitherto, the argument that Armenians suffered a genocide has rested on the deliberate nature of the slaughter. But Article II of the 1951 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide specifically states that the definition of genocide "to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group" includes "forcibly transferring children of the group to another group". This is exactly what the Turks did in Lebanon. Photographs still exist of hundreds of near-naked Armenian children performing physical exercises in the college grounds. One even shows Jemal Pasha standing on the steps in 1916, next to the young and beautiful Halide Adivar who after some reluctance agreed to run the orphanage.
Before he died in 1989, Karnig Panian who was six years old when he arrived at Antoura in 1916 recorded in Armenian how his own name was changed and how he was given a number, 551, as his identity. "At every sunset in the presence of over 1,000 orphans, when the Turkish flag was lowered, 'Long Live General Pasha!' was recited. That was the first part of the ceremony. Then it was time for punishment for the wrongdoers of the day. They beat us with the falakha [a rod used to beat the soles of the feet], and the top-rank punishment was for speaking Armenian."
Panian described how, after cruel treatment or through physical weakness, many children died. They were buried behind the old college chapel. "At night, the jackals and wild dogs would dig them up and throw their bones here and there ... at night, kids would run out to the nearby forest to get apples or any fruits they could find and their feet would hit bones. They would take these bones back to their rooms and secretly grind them to make soup, or mix them with grain so they could eat them as there was not enough food at the orphanage. They were eating the bones of their dead friends."
Using college records, Emile Joppin, the head priest at the Lazarite Antoura college, wrote in the school's magazine in 1947 that "the Armenian orphans were Islamicised, circumcised and given new Arab or Turkish names. Their new names always kept the initials of the names in which they were baptised. Thus Haroutioun Nadjarian was given the name Hamed Nazih, Boghos Merdanian became Bekir Mohamed, to Sarkis Safarian was given the name Safouad Sulieman."
Lebanese-born Armenian-American electrical engineer Missak Kelechian researches Armenian history as a hobby and hunted down a privately printed and very rare 1918 report by an American Red Cross officer, Major Stephen Trowbridge, who arrived at the Antoura college after its liberation by British and French troops and who spoke to the surviving orphans. His much earlier account entirely supports that of Father Joppin's 1949 research.
Halide Adivar, later to be lauded by The New York Times as "the Turkish Joan of Arc" a description that Armenians obviously questioned was born in Constantinople in 1884 and attended an American college in the Ottoman capital. She was twice married and wrote nine novels even Trowbridge was to admit that she was "a lady of remarkable literary ability" and served as a woman officer in Mustafa Ataturk's Turkish army of liberation after the First World War. She later lived in both Britain and France.
And it was Kelechian yet again who found Adivar's long-forgotten and self-serving memoirs, published in New York in 1926, in which she recalls how Jemal Pasha, commander of the Turkish 4th Army in Damascus, toured Antoura orphanage with her. Adivar says she told the general that "I will never have anything to do with such an orphanage" but claims that Jemal Pasha replied: "You will if you see them in misery and suffering, you will go to them and not think for a moment about their names and religion." Which is exactly what she did.
Later in the war, however, Adivar spoke to Talaat Pasha, the architect of the 20th century's first holocaust, and recalled how he almost lost his temper when discussing the Armenian "deportations" (as she put it), saying: "Look here, Halide ... I have a heart as good as yours, and it keeps me awake at night to think of the human suffering. But that is a personal thing, and I am here on this earth to think of my people and not of my sensibilities ... There was an equal number of Turks and Moslems massacred during the  Balkan war, yet the world kept a criminal silence. I have the conviction that as long as a nation does the best for its own interests, and succeeds, the world admires it and thinks it moral. I am ready to die for what I have done, and I know that I shall die for it."
The suffering of which Talaat Pasha spoke so chillingly was all too evident to Trowbridge when he himself met the orphans of Antoura. Many had seen their parents murdered and their sisters raped. Levon, who came from Malgara, was driven from his home with his sisters aged 12 and 14. The girls were taken by Kurds allied to the Turks as "concubines" and the boy was tortured and starved, Trowbridge records. He was eventually forced by his captors into the Antoura orphanage.
It was only in 1993 that the bones of the children were discovered, when the Lazarite Fathers dug the foundations for new classrooms. What was left of the remains were moved respectfully to the little cemetery where the college's priests lie buried and put in a single, deep grave. Kelechian helped me over a 5ft wall to look at this place of sadness, shaded by tall trees. Neither name-plate nor headstone marks their mass grave.
BILL FOR CHANGE?
It was a difficult feat for the Congress to get the bill for women's reservation in legislative bodies passed in the Rajya Sabha, although the bill has a long way to go before it becomes a law. The victory itself is dubious. The indiscipline in the Rajya Sabha on March 8 demonstrated that little has changed since 1996 when the bill was first introduced in Parliament. Each time it came up, the same opponents put up the same objections and disrupted Parliament with equal violence. Yet there was more than enough time for discussion and debate, not merely within Parliament but also with parties, in states and in public fora. In all the rhetoric around the bill including the bill as "gift" to women on the centenary of International Women's Day there has been a remarkable absence of effort to prepare the nation and the polity for the change. The Congress's idea of barrelling through the bill simply because the party was confident of the support from the Opposition was just a way of politicking with numbers. This is hardly worthy of a decision that means amending the Constitution.
Does change depend on law alone? The system itself makes space for women who rise to the top through the political process, as Mamata Banerjee and Mayavati have done. More than law, it is often convention that is the better teacher. But no party, not even the Congress with Sonia Gandhi at its head, has yet nominated election candidates of whom 30 per cent are women. Such practices lead to a natural, as opposed to coercive, form of change. The passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha has done little to establish the government's credentials regarding gender-justice. The quota system has been legitimized in India as affirmative action, although it functions more as tokenism useful in getting votes. Tokenism glosses over fundamental issues, such as the fact that there is no shortcut to the empowerment of women. Or that an undemocratic principle, whatever its rationale, is a marker of a failure of democracy rather than a sign of its power of creative change. The government has time to rethink before the bill becomes a law if it can shed illusions of prestige and seriously address the problems that lie behind the bill's formulation.
STEP BY STEP
Iraq voted as Afghanistan did last August in the shadow of violence. But unlike in Afghanistan, where the Western coalition forces could not dispel the suspicion that they were favouring a particular candidate, in Iraq, they have managed to put a healthy distance between themselves and the vote-seekers. It is perhaps this apparent detachment and impartiality of the occupying powers that have encouraged Iraqis 62 per cent of the 19 million registered voters to defy death threats and violence and turn the elections into one of the most successfully conducted democratic processes in the post-Saddam Hussein era. What has contributed to the success of the polls is the overwhelming participation of Sunni Arabs from the extremist stronghold of Anbar, as also from Sunni-dominated areas that had boycotted the elections in 2005. It goes without saying that this image of fairness will be crucial to the credibility of the government, which will eventually be formed, although that may seem a long way off. The results are unlikely to be known soon, and government-formation may take a longer time given that none of the parties, not even the Rule of Law coalition of the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has sufficient support to claim a majority. All this will mean a prolonged phase of uncertainty as parties try to strike a deal with like-minded groups and even fortune-seekers. The Kurdish parties will have a major role in coalition-building, and their support will be determined by the amount of flexibility negotiators display on Kirkuk, the disputed oil-rich area the Kurds claim as their own. There is also likely to be a period of constitutional vacuum during the time the president decides which coalition should be called upon to form the government.
There are two factors that make this period of waiting doubly uncertain. The first is the time-frame set by the United States of America for a pull-out. The second is the designs Iran may have on Iraq. It is common knowledge that Iran has had a part to play in the ferment of communal violence in Iraq, and may continue to play this part to maintain its influence there. Both the US and Iran have to realize that Iraq's stability is crucial to peace in the Middle East. Hurry and selfishness on the part of either country are bound to undo the gains made painstakingly in Iraq.
AN OPEN LETTER TO M.F. HUSAIN
Respected Husain saheb, Your flight to Qatar has anguished us in more ways than one. Firstly, because we could not keep you here. Secondly, and more importantly, because you thought you could not live here.
I hope you would not mind the reaction of a person less than half your age. Great responsibility comes with greatness. Your action has to be questioned and cross-examined by all who stand and fight for freedom of expression. The issue is far too important to be glossed over as a 'Husain act'. Your flight to Qatar is not an artistic latitude that we could be indulgent about.
Your flight has dealt a blow to our deep belief that the fight for freedom of expression has to be fought and won on the Indian soil. By bolting, you dealt a blow to this belief. And you did not have the right to do that.
For two reasons. A large body of people stood up and spoke for you in the confidence that you are with them in this struggle. Secondly, a large body looked up to you as a symbol of creative freedom. We thought you would stand up and fight. Who would, if not you? We thought that a person as privileged, as loved, liked and respected as you would certainly fight. But you took a flight out to Qatar.
Husain saheb, you have left a gaping hole in our cherished belief that we can fight and win. Is that the example to set for those who face the forces of intolerance? Would you expect all of them to take a flight to Qatar? That is, if they had the option.
While taking the Qatari passport did you spare a thought for those who stood up for you? People you left behind. Did the thought cross your mind that your departure only resolves your personal issue? If at all. It does not resolve the larger battle.
Your ticket to artistic freedom took you of all places to Qatar. Did you think it affords you greater freedom than lndia? We would wait for an answer or watch for developments.
Giving up a citizenship or taking another is a matter of personal choice. But could it be so personal for you? Could you be so oblivious of the message this would send to liberal India? While your life is yours, what about the voices of those who rose for you?
Husain saheb, I am raising these questions because we felt answerable for your plight in the past. Do you think you are answerable to the people who believed in your freedom of expression? Standing on a pedestal you had become more than a person. You had become an idea. Could that idea migrate to Qatar?
Why am I raising these questions? I am trying to articulate the vacuum many feel at what you have done. Did
we fail you or did you fail us?
Sir, as a great artist you had to show a way to all who believe in the freedom of expression and creativity. Lesser mortals expect great messages and signals from great people. Their life and message are meant to guide the multitude. The signal that emanates from your flight to Qatar is a sad one.
Can these words of yours (in Barkha Dutt's interview) justify your taking the Qatari passport: "Hindi hain hum watan hai sara jahan hamara"? Did you realize you had mixed up the two Iqbals the separatist and the nationalist! The nationalist Iqbal had said, "Hindi hain hum watan hai Hindostan hamara". Later, the separatist Iqbal said, "Muslim hain hum watan hai sara jahan hamara".
We cannot take one line from the separatist Iqbal and the other from the nationalist one. We cannot quote conveniently, the same way as we cannot always live conveniently.
Editor, Star News
AURA OF A RADICAL
A DOMINANT PRESENCE IN DELHI SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS
When I joined the University of Delhi in 1959 as a young lecturer, the dominant presence at the Delhi School of Economics was that of K.N. Raj. Everyone at the School talked about him, and he was well known and well liked throughout the university. Part of Raj's attraction lay in his youthful spirit. He was specially liked because he did not throw his weight about, but, on the other hand, was always ready to stand up for the underdog. It is this instinct to stand up for the underdog that gave Raj his aura of a radical in the best sense of the term.
Raj's appointment as full professor at the age of 29 was something of a sensation in the university. The circumstances under which he was appointed are worth recounting because they tell us something about methods used for attracting talent to the universities that can now be no longer used. He was brought to the School by V.K.R.V. Rao, who, at the time of Independence, was fired by the idea of establishing a first-rate institution for teaching and research in economic science and policy. In 1947, the institution that was to become the Delhi School of Economics existed mainly in Rao's imagination.
On one of his trips to England, Rao decided to track down I.G. Patel, about whom he had heard great things. But when he knocked at I.G.'s door in Cambridge, he discovered that I.G. was not free to accept the offer. As it happened, his friend, K.N. Raj, was then visiting him, and I.G. suggested that Rao might consider making the offer to Raj. Rao made up his mind after a brief interchange with Raj and offered him the position which Raj accepted happily.
Immediately on his return to India, Raj took the train from Bombay to Delhi and presented himself to Rao, and asked when he should join his duties. But Rao had to tell him that he could not be given the appointment as the post was still to be created. So Raj was sent back to Bombay carrying a warm letter of recommendation for C.D. Deshmukh. Through Deshmukh he found his way into the Reserve Bank of India, and from there he moved to Delhi to join the Planning Commission. By 1953, though only 29 years old, Raj had begun to make a name for himself through his work on the first five-year plan, and the Delhi School of Economics had become a reality. Rao called him over and told him that he was now in a position to offer him not just a readership but a professorship, and this time it was a firm offer. So Raj left the Planning Commission and joined the Delhi School of Economics.
In 1959, when I came to Delhi University, only three post-graduate departments had more than one professor each. The department of economics had three, but one of the positions remained vacant after Rao became the vice-chancellor. The two professors of economics were B.N. Ganguly, who was the director of the School, and Raj. Ganguly was a scholar and a gentleman of the old school. He was full of kindness and courtesy, and never raised his voice when he spoke. We all noted his great affection for Raj for whose talent and ability he was never short of praise.
When Ganguly left the Delhi School in 1962 to become the pro-vice-chancellor of the university, Raj replaced him as the director of the School as well as the head of the department of economics. He lost no time in following the example set by Rao in attracting young talent to the School. He played the main part in attracting Amartya Sen, Jagdish Bhagwati and Sukhamoy Chakravarty to the School and appointing each of them a full professor at the age of 29. Having Deshmukh as the vice-chancellor and Ganguly as the pro-vice-chancellor must have helped. Later, as vice-chancellor of the university, he appointed Manmohan Singh to the School to occupy the chair vacated by Jagdish Bhagwati.
Everybody in the Delhi School knew Raj, and most of them sought his company. But the person who was closest to him was Amartya Sen. In my long association with Sen, I had never communicated with him by e-mail. When Raj died, I thought I should send him an e-mail to express my grief. Within a few hours, he wrote back, "I keep thinking of the great years we spent together in our interconnected apartments in Chhatra Marg we were in almost one household then. I think of what Raj did for his friends and for the world, and the vision that informed his life, which moved and inspired us so much. Those of us who gathered around him at the Delhi School of Economics under his stewardship would not have come but for the inspiration and the quality of his personal magnetism and leadership."
I cannot assess Raj's contribution to economic science, nor is this the place or the time to do so. But he certainly was an inspiration to many both within and outside his own discipline. P.N. Dhar, who was both his friend and his rival, was bemused by the admiration Raj was able to attract. Shortly after he joined Indira Gandhi's office as her adviser, he prepared a note for her with great care and some satisfaction. When he went to see her about the note, the first question she asked him was, "What does Dr Raj think of this?" It mattered to many people what Raj thought of them and their work. It certainly mattered to me.
In 1968, I was awarded a Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship for two years. I chose as my subject the study of agrarian social structure, at that time a somewhat unusual choice for a sociologist. My choice was influenced to a large extent by my association with Raj. I was determined to show him that sociologists had something to say about class and not just about caste, but that they had their own approach to its study. My colleagues in the department of sociology were a little puzzled by my choice of subject, and some even thought that Raj was turning me into a Marxist.
Raj was very earnest about his public responsibilities. But he also had a strong sense of fun, and his youthful appearance and manner made it easy for him to mingle with the students. He took an active part, along with his friend and admirer Putul Nag, in organizing plays for Founder's Day. He has himself written about a School play when the formidable V.K.R.V. Rao was director. "I recall vaguely a play we jointly produced depicting Napoleon and slyly imputing some of his qualities to V.K.R.V. Rao, but it failed in its purpose because he saw no such parallel and enjoyed the play more than anyone else!" Which person who knew Raj in his prime will not miss him today?
The author is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, and National Research Professor
A GIANT STEP
''WOMEN'S RESERVATION CAN BE A GAME-CHANGER.''
The passage of the Women's Reservation Bill by the Rajya Sabha is a historic penultimate step in the story of women's empowerment in India. After the shameful incidents in the House on Monday when a determined minority blocked the bill, the country's political and government leadership rose to the occasion to debate and vote on it on Tuesday, endorsing the national will behind the idea with strong parliamentary approval.
The idea of statutory representation for women in parliament and state legislatures has now come out of a dark tunnel after nearly 15 years of groping for light. If the Women's Reservation Bill seemed lost as late as on Monday it was because of the vocal and subterranean opposition to it from a section of the political establishment. But ultimately all the main political parties came round to support and pass the bill.
The BJP, the Left parties and many regional parties deserve praise for setting aside their differences with the government and supporting the measure. However, it is no time for full celebration yet, as the bill has to go through the Lok Sabha before it becomes law and it is here it had met the most vociferous and repeated opposition earlier. There are many Doubting Thomas's even now among supporting parties and they may subtly join hands with the opponents to scuttle the bill. But, Tuesday's developments give hope that history is within India's grasp.
The 33 per cent reservation that the bill proposes for women is not a concession for women but an acceptance of their rightful role in national life. The bill was passed without diluting its original intent. There were demands to break up the reservation into sub-quotas or to increase the number of parliament seats so that men's representation would remain the same. The government has indicated that it is ready to accommodate some concerns when the bill comes up in the Lok Sabha but this should be done without compromising the purpose of the bill.
That purpose is to increase the role of women in public and parliamentary life and make them more active participants in governance and national life. Experience has shown that this is not possible without legislative support. Experience has also shown that women have risen to the occasion when they were given the opportunity, as in the local self-government bodies where women's reservation has worked well. When the bill becomes law and gets finally implemented, it will be a game-changer and will make a signal difference to national life.
''NO EUROPEAN COUNTRY IS WILLING TO BAIL OUT GREECE.''
The severe economic crisis that has afflicted Greece has sent ripples of disquiet in the Eurozone and created doubts about the sustainability of the fragile recovery in the entire continent. The problems in Greece are themselves painful but there is the worrisome prospect of more economies cracking up. Greece faces a budget deficit of about 13 per cent of its GDP against a norm of 3 per cent in the Eurozone and owes billions of dollars to international creditors, mainly German banks. Other countries like Spain, Portugal and Ireland are also in crisis. Spain is a major EU country with a large economy which too has a public deficit of over 11 per cent of the GDP and has a high unemployment rate of about 20 per cent.
Though fellow European Union countries have been sympathetic, nobody is willing to bail out Greece from its troubles. Germany is the strongest economic power but the German banks are reluctant to put more money in a sinking Greek economy. The popular opinion in Germany is strongly against any bailout and Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken a tough stance. Greek prime minister, George Papandreau, is on a tour of Europe and the US, soliciting assistance, but got advice that Greece should deal with its crisis by imposing a severe austerity programme. Greece has implemented such a plan, which is not found to be good enough.
There is even a proposal that countries like Greece and Spain should split from the Eurozone and reintroduce their national currencies as a way out of the situation. But this is considered a remedy worse than the disease. It will also put question marks on the sustainability of the European Union. During the formation of the EU it was thought that political integration was more difficult, but a seamless economy and common currency would give it a boost.
However uneven economic strengths and divergent ways of economic management have now proved to be equally threatening. Ultimately it will be difficult for the EU to escape responsibility and may have to go to the aid of Greece with stringent credit conditionalities. Allowing some member countries to go down will in the long run weaken the Union both economically and politically.
IN DIRE STRAITS
THE FINANCE MINISTER HIMSELF HAS ADMITTED THAT HIS BUDGET PROPOSALS DO CONTAIN INFLATIONARY ELEMENTS.
BY NILOTPAL BASU
For the first time since Manmohan Singh was sworn in as prime minister to head the new UPA government, he has started appearing vulnerable. The extent of vulnerability is that in the face of insistent opposition both inside and outside parliament to the food inflation, the Congress has been forced to mobilise the full weight of its president and the UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi behind the government.
Seldom in the past have we seen such a rally to salvage the image of the government battered by the increasing irreconcilability between the claims of representing the concerns of the 'aam aadmi' and the blatant neo-liberal direction to burden the common man and providing tax breaks to the high and mighty.
She has claimed that the government has done everything possible to tame the incessant upward movement of food prices. She has even hinted apportioning the blame on the state governments as her other colleagues have attempted in the past. But she is defending the indefensible!
In his post-budget interactions in the public space, the finance minister himself has admitted that his budget proposals do contain inflationary elements. But he has tried to reassure the nation that the impact of the oil price hike will be limited to just 0.41 per cent. The future will only unravel the veracity of his assertion.
The basic premise of his assertions is indeed misplaced. He claims that inflation is driven by the rapid upward movement of the food prices and essentially because of the failure on the supply side insofar as food grains are concerned. And it can be absorbed by increased production. But the reality of the Indian agriculture today and the budget proposals and allocations in the sector would actually prove otherwise.
India continues to remain a major agriculture dependent economy despite the claims of emerging as a global player. Around 65 per cent of the population depends on agriculture despite the share of agriculture declining to 15.7 per cent during 2008-09 in the GDP. The 10th plan target for agriculture was of 4 per cent growth. It was achieved only by half. With last year's growth at less than 2 per cent and this year's estimate of -0.2 per cent, the 11th plan target is also slated to go for a toss.
The reason for this is not hard to find. The public investment in agriculture has sharply declined since the onset of reforms in early 90s from 16 per cent of the GDP to an abysmally low of 6 per cent last year. The alternative strategy of supplementing this decline by the engagement of the private sector has not yielded results in augmenting the overall production or productivity.
The individual farmer is in the process of marginalisation with increasing adverse terms of credit. An eminent commentator on the sector has brought out a damning equivalence study. In 1990, a cotton grower in Maharashtra could buy 15 grams of gold by producing one quintal of cotton. Today the same grower would need 15 quintals of cotton but would get only 8 grams of gold. That is clearly a 30 fold adverse ratio for the hapless cotton grower. Such tragic facts of life form the backdrop for the never ending queue of suiciding farmers.
The economic survey has revealed that the total kharif production this year is down by 16 per cent. With rabi and kharif accounting for roughly 50 per cent of the total production each, the estimate of -0.2 per cent appears to be extremely optimistic. What was therefore needed was a sharp enhancement in the allocation. But what the finance minister has actually managed is a measly amount.
The share of allocations towards agriculture and allied activities as a proportion of the total Union budget and the GDP in the 2010-11 budget estimates is as a proportion of total Union budget and the GDP are 9.45 per cent and 1.56 per cent respectively. This sets out the direction of financial allocation and the sense of priority that the finance minister accords to the unfolding challenge that grips our agriculture sector. Together with this, one can add up the sharp reduction in the fertiliser subsidy and the intent to move towards a market driven international price regime which will further burden the farmer.
The sense of urgency that ought to have featured the budget is conspicuous by its total absence. The structural drawback of Indian agriculture lies in the reality of its skewed nature. Without concentrating our efforts on improving the irrigation infrastructure and technology promotion, the overall growing food needs cannot be met.
The private sector comprising of seed, pesticides and supply chain corporates both domestic and multi-nationals would never be interested in addressing such an onerous challenge. Such huge swathes of backward agriculture and the adversely affected petty growers will continue to remain unviable.
So that is the story of the budget. With the finance minister refusing to show the urgency that is needed to draw the Indian agriculture and the peasantry out of the bottomless pit that they are continuing in a sinking journey, the hope for containing food inflation by managing the supply side deficit will remain a pipe dream.
(The writer is a central secretariat member of CPM)
ACCORD PRIORITY TO CHECK PRICE RISE OF FOOD ITEMS
PUBLIC DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM HAS AN IMPORTANT ROLE TO PLAY IN STABILISATION OF FOOD PRICES.
BY ELUMALAI KANNAN
Food inflation the general rise in price of food articles is much debated as it continued to show increasing trend since November last year. Food inflation is not a new phenomenon in India and is caused by cyclical fluctuations in demand and supply conditions. Recently at the chief ministers' conference on prices of essential commodities, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opined that "the worst is over as far as food inflation is concerned" on the premise that food prices have started softening during recent weeks and it would stabilise soon. But, contrary to his expectations food inflation has risen to 17.97 per cent for the week ended Feb 6 over the same week ended in the previous year.
The alarming rise in food inflation, if it remains unchecked will shoot up the daily grocery bill of common people. There is a danger that spiralling food prices may percolate into other sectors of the economy. Thus, greater understanding of factors underlying food inflation is necessary for making strong interventions to protect common man suffering from rising cost of basic items like food.
Economic stimulus measures introduced since September 2008 seemed to have put back the Indian economy on higher growth trajectory. According to Central Statistical Organisation, Indian economy has registered an impressive growth rate of 7.9 per cent in the second quarter of the current financial year. Compared to the first quarter, private consumption expenditure registered a growth rate of 5.6 per cent.
Further, rebound of most advanced economies from the worst economic crisis has revived the IT and consumer goods sectors creating new jobs during the last few months. This is also evident from buoyant sales growth of the Indian corporate sector. Overall, economic stimulus measures have helped to augment the consumption expenditure in the economy.
According to the Second Advance Estimates of Foodgrains Production released by the ministry of agriculture on Feb 12, foodgrain production fell short of target by about 22 million tonnes. However, only hope is the bountiful rabi crops, which were less affected by the fluctuations of rainfall across the country.
In recent years, several states have witnessed the emergence of organised retail and supermarkets selling fruits, vegetables and other food items. However, neighbourhood stores have also shown phenomenal growth. Foreign firms are restricted to enter retails markets. But many of them have set up joint venture with domestic players to enter the wholesale sector. Both wholesale and retail formats have built state of art infrastructure to procure and store the produce for considerably long time to meet off-season demand.
Public distribution system has an important role to play in stabilisation of food prices. However, the effectiveness of the PDS is a big issue. Except southern states, the system is plagued with several problems. Proper mechanism need to be put in place to check diversion of foodgrains to open markets and make it available to the beneficiaries. Further, there are reports that several private traders maintain undeclared stocks of foodgrains and sugar to take advantage in speculative activities.
Futures trading is often blamed for increase in prices of agricultural commodities. However, research studies indicate that there is no link between futures trading in agricultural commodities and inflation. There were instances during 2007 that spot prices of certain commodities were much higher when these commodities were not traded in futures market.
There is a strong need for policy support for resurgence of agricultural sector with large investment to augment agricultural production through new technological breakthrough. With obsession of policy makers about only overall GDP growth rate and those sectors contributing more to it, the significance of agricultural sector to sustain livelihoods of millions of people cannot be relegated. The government introduced some measures like distribution of diesel subsidy and sinking new tube wells in an attempt to tide over Kharif crises.
But, the government should go beyond these ad hoc measures and find permanent solutions for sustainable growth. There is a huge gap between irrigation potential created and actual utilisation. With limited scope to bring additional area under cultivation, potential of dryland farming should be exploited through appropriate interventions.
(The writer is associate professor at Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore)
I HAVE THE TIME IN ABUND-ANCE AND THE PARENTS HAVE IT IN SHORT SUPPLY.
BY KAMALA BALACHANDRAN
Grandmas are expected to take to infants naturally. They are supposed to have so much experience that they would know all there is to know about raising babies. That's what I believed too, till I experienced it myself.
It was a momentous point in my life. I was seeing my first grandchild for the first time. Strangely my first thoughts on entering the room were that it looked like a toy shop. I was so over stimulated by all the colourful, baby paraphernalia that the two month old almost receded to the background.
Day 2 and the baby was still a curio. The H1N1 scare provided the reason for me not to get too close to the infant. Surprisingly, I was ok with the arrangement. The week of quarantine, I told myself, would provide the time to take in the ambience, understand the various gadgets and settle down to the routine of the house.
Ironically, it was this period that unsettled me. As I observed my son and daughter-in-law go about doing their parts, the understanding dawned on me that my 'experience' in child care was totally irrelevant in the new context. For it wasn't just that the last word on parenting came from the internet and the books; these also provided the first! I felt like a new kid on the block who stood awkwardly in the periphery, watching the other kids in their game.
To join in, I had to volunteer and make the move forward confident that I could play the game just as well. But I felt so completely outdated that I couldn't figure out what position I could take. It seemed as if all the meaningful spots had been taken and there was none left for me. Until that afternoon.
The parents were busy at work. The baby had been fed and burped and left to be on his own. I went up to the crib and looked down at the little fellow. The little one was wide awake and was looking around with large, curious eyes. I said 'hello' and asked very softly if he knew who I was. My grandson looked at me intently for a brief few seconds and then gave me an absolutely divine smile. I was overjoyed and for the next 10 minutes we had an animated 'conversation' punctuated with gurgles and coos.
Now I know where I fit in. I have the time; something that I have in abundance and the parents have in short supply. That puts me in a unique position of being there, to respond to the baby whenever he is in a mood to talk and play. Not only do I enjoy doing that, I also know that it is a skill that will never get outdated!
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. IF IT WERE THAT EASY WE COULD SOON ACHIEVE A SINLESS SOCIETY.
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
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 ater 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 chrious 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 SantaSanta 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)
SUPPING WITH THE DEVIL
THE BJP HAS DUPED THE COMMUNISTS TO BELIEVE THAT ITS AGENDA ON INDIA'S DEVELOPMENT IS SIMILAR TO THAT OF LEFT PARTIES.
BY KULDIP NAYAR
The Bhartiya Janata Party has triumphed in its tactics. It has emerged as the real opposition. After losing in the last parliamentary election it was keen to win over the Left which could give the BJP, an image of being a liberal in economic matters.
It has finally duped the communists to believe that its agenda on India's development was more or less what the Left is following. In fact, efforts to woo the communists began in the last session, but bore fruit only during the budget. Both found an understanding in their hurt.
This was visible in parliament when the BJP and the Left rose together in the two houses against the government on price rise, shouted in the same vein and walked out hand-in-hand on the first day of the budget session. It was more or less the same story on the subsequent days. Apparently, the two had met beforehand and consulted each other to finalise their strategy.
No doubt, the topic was the inept handling by the inept government of price rise and abnormal inflation. The BJP also brought in the India-Pakistan secretary-level talks into the discussion. Yet the Left did not realise that making a common cause with the party which has communal credentials may rub off on the secular ideology of the communists. It is not known what advantage the communists saw in diluting their identity with the known rightists. But the BJP leaders have already gone to town to propagate that the Left has come to their side.
When the vision gets blurred and when political parties think of their immediate gain, pluralist Indian nation has every right to be worried. It has seen the communists hugging the BJP members who swore at their Indore sitting a few days ago to the party's core agenda. The communists forgot to underscore any of these points during the debate and did not realise that their bonhomie cannot disguise the BJP's parochialism. There is no change in the party's agenda.
The BJP's appeal to the Muslims to allow the building of the temple at the site of the Babri masjid may have been worded differently but the content remains the same. The party should recall that it came to power only when it put aside its three-point agenda. In doing so, the BJP got the much-needed credibility to attract secular parties under a relatively moderate Atal Behari Vajpayee.
It looks as if the communists have let the BJP off the hook on communalism. Battering the government for its non-performance is justified but not sharing the platform with the party which has been taken over by the RSS openly. Surely, the communists, after the rout in the Lok Sabha election, have not strayed from their ideological moorings so much that they want support even from known communalists.
Unfortunately, a Muslim gathering, the National meet of Reservation Activists at Delhi, has given a handle to the BJP and the Shiv Sena by passing a resolution for reserving 10 per cent seats to Muslims. Even the banner put up at the back wall of the meet said: National Movement for Muslim Reservation. Understandably, the backwardness can be the criterion, not religion. Some high courts have already rejected religion to be the basis for reservation.
The constitution makes it obligatory for the government to address the problem of poverty and educational backwardness. The reservation activists should have concentrated on getting reservations without translating the demand in terms of Muslims. The RSS, the BJP's mentor, has begun propagating that reservation will lead to another partition and induce Hindus into embracing Islam and Christianity.
The Sachar committee
The Sachar committee on the plight of Muslims was correct in diagnosing the malady. It pointed out how the community had been denied its share in education, economic benefits and services on the basis of its population. However, the subsequent Ranganatha Mishra commission has recommended reservations for all minorities on the basis of religion.
India is a pluralistic society and it cherishes diversities in the name of religion, language and customs. The community consciousness which the reservation activists are trying to arouse may deliver a serious blow to pluralism. The same old question of separate identity will come to the fore when there should be only one identityIndian. The reservation for Muslims may open the Pandora's Box of communal and divisive politics.
Yet the 12 to 13 per cent of Muslims in the country should reflect their number in employment in government and private sectors. The community's share should also be tangible in the economic fields. There is no alternative to the affirmative action. The government has done little since the submission of the Sachar committee report two years ago.
However, mixing genuine aspirations of the Muslims with religion will be misdirecting the effort to find a remedy to the long-time neglect. The louder the reservation activists raise their voice, the more favourable will be the fallout for the BJP to exploit. The pluralistic India cannot afford it. Nor can the Muslims.
''TRAINING CAMPS ARE ONCE AGAIN BEING SET UP ON THE PAKISTANI-CONTROLLED SIDE OF KASHMIR.''
BYLINE M J AKBAR
It was such a relief to learn, from no less an authority than Home Secretary G K Pillai, that Maoists aim to overthrow the Indian state by 2050. That gives us four decades during which the plus-40 bourgeois can die in their beds; those blessed with first jobs in 2010 can retire in comfort, and hope for a ringside view of the revolution; and those below 20 can worry unless, of course, they have joined the revolution.
Frankly, if by 2050 we have not managed to eliminate poverty, there won't be much of an Indian state left to overthrow.
The government has a shorter timeframe: it believes it can eliminate Naxalites from the 34 districts where they are still impregnable, within seven to eight years. Pillai is a fine officer and an excellent home secretary, but the solution to the Maoist threat does not lie in his domain. Whether the Naxalites fortresses increase from 34 to 100, or dwindle to zero, will depend on whether the government can make impoverished India part of the narrative of rising India. This will not happen if government functions on the static principle of 'business as usual'.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called Maoists an existentialist threat. So far, his government is treating it as a law and order matter. It is a hunger and oppression problem: life subsists at near-starvation levels in the catchment areas of Maoism; and public protest is suppressed brutally by the police, who treat the tribal poor as a contemptible species. This brutality is hidden behind a thin veneer of lies, which we the whole establishment, whether politicians, civil servants, businesspersons or media condone through our silence.
There seems to be a curious, and incomprehensible, edge of helplessness in the prime minister's statements, as if he is unable to escape the trap of 'business as usual'. He told parliament, for instance, that the government had been a failure on sugar prices. To begin with, it is his government that he is talking about. Second, he is publicly and directly accusing a senior colleague, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, of mismanagement. So what happens? Nothing. Mea culpa is meaningless if those who are culpable are not held accountable. But of course, to apply this dictum to only Pawar would be subjective. Singh admitted in parliament that minorities (code word for Muslims) were under-represented in government jobs. Admission is fine, but this government has been in power for six years: what has it done to resolve the problem? The prime minister did try, which is why the Ranganath Mishra commission was constituted; but he has not found the will to implement its recommendations. The Marxists in Bengal have done so, incidentally. Our democracy's parameters have shifted from promise to delivery.
The gap between promise and delivery could also affect the principal thrust of the prime minister's second term, progress in relations with Pakistan. Certainly, Singh means well, but good intentions are, alas, not good enough. BBC News not an Indian propaganda vehicle has just sent out a story from Islamabad which says: "Since 2009 militant activity has been on the increase in the Kashmir region Initially, militant groups in Kashmir appeared to be operating on their own but there is evidence to suggest that they are once again under the protection of Pakistan's intelligence establishment.
Training camps are once again being set up on the Pakistani-controlled side of Kashmir.
Recruitment is also up in Pakistan's Punjab province, which has provided most of the 'shaheeds' or 'martyrs' for the militants. In fact, so emboldened have the militants become, that one militant alliance, the United Jihad Council (UJC), held a public meeting for militants in Muzaffarabad in mid-January 2010. The meeting was chaired by, among others, former ISI chief Lt Gen Hamid Gul. It called for a reinvigorated jihad (holy war) until Kashmir was free of 'Indian occupation'."
The resurgence of militancy coincides with Singh's efforts to revive the peace process, which began through second-track channels and led to the joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Cairo. Islamabad, in other words, read Delhi's goodwill as weakness. It also believes that India will buckle under pressure from two prongs: escalation of terrorism, and American pressure on India to settle on Kashmir. Pakistan's foreign secretary Salman Bashir nodded discreetly towards the international community during his press conference in Delhi, even as he thanked Singh personally and profusely for reopening talks.
Delhi has to get real if it hopes to fend off impending crises. India will survive the Maoist insurgency by ending poverty, and in no other way. This is only possible through good governance, which is impossible without accountability. And peace with Pakistan is a welcome hope, which we applaud; but it is risky to shake hands with anyone holding a gun.
THE JERUSLAM POST
THE SPANISH DISEASE
How is Israel to cope with the Spanish challenge? Obviously, Ambassador Shotz cannot brave it alone.
A virulently anti-Israel tribunal likened to a "lynching" by the Israeli Embassy in Madrid is the most recent in a spate of anti-Semitic incidents instigated by Spaniards. This flurry of attacks on Israel has caused us to pause and ask, What is happening on the Iberian peninsula and what can we do to combat it?
Gathering at the beginning of this month in Barcelona, which in the 13th century hosted one of Jewish history's most illustrious communities, the tribunal, which did not include a representative of Israel, was tasked with examining "on what level the European Union and its member states are complicit in... violations on the part of Israel of the rights of the nation of Palestine."
The Israeli Embassy said it was no coincidence that the "Rusell Tribunal," named after British philosopher Bertrand Russell, was held in Spain and that it was funded by Barcelona's city hall, noting the "worrying situation of anti-Semitism" in the country.
At the end of February, meanwhile, the embassy received dozens of postcards written by Spanish schoolchildren with messages such as "Jews kill for money," "Leave the country to the Palestinians" and "Go somewhere where they will accept you."
And in mid-February, Ambassador to Spain Rafi Shotz protested the display of two pieces of art at the International Art Fair in Madrid with virulently anti-Israel messages. One is a sculpture of a menorah sprouting from the barrel of an Uzi sub-machine gun. The other is a highly realistic polyurethane sculpture of a hassid standing on the shoulders of a Catholic priest who is kneeling on a prostrate Muslim worshiper, called "Stairway to Heaven."
In an interview with El Pais, Catalan artist Eugenio Merino, who made both sculptures, defended his art with the claim that "Stairway to Heaven" has been bought by a Belgian Jew for 45,000.
Ambassador Shotz, who was verbally assaulted last year with epithets such as "dirty Jew," "Jew bastard" and "Jew murderer" when he and his wife returned from a soccer game accompanied by police, chose not to demand the removal of the displays, fearing it would spark additional anti-Semitic incidents.
Spain has a long, infamous history of anti-Semitism that pre-dates the Inquisition. For centuries after the 1492 Expulsion, Spaniards enforced the ban against Jews setting foot on Spanish soil. Francisco Franco's fascist, pro-Arab dictatorship that ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975 stoked anti-Israel sentiments.
Now the left-wing prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, is aligned with anti-globalization activists whose agenda includes strong anti-Israel sentiments. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Zapatero, with a keffiyeh thrown around his neck, told a group of young socialists that "no one should defend themselves with abusive force which does not protect innocent human beings."
A year earlier, he was quoted as saying that "someone might justify the Holocaust."
Zapatero, who took power in a surprise election victory following Islamist train bombings in Madrid in 2004 and immediately pulled Spanish troops out of Iraq, was reelected in 2008. In September 2009, the Anti-Defamation League published a report titled "Polluting the Public Square: Anti-Semitic Discourse in Spain" in which it expressed concern over viciously anti-Semitic cartoons and articles in Spain's mainstream media, and opinion polls conducted over the preceding year showing an alarming rise in anti-Semitic attitudes. All this is in a country with no more than 30,000 Jews out of a population of almost 47 million.
How is Israel to cope with the Spanish challenge? Obviously, Ambassador Shotz cannot brave it alone. Nor can we expect tremendous results from Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein's new idea to conscript ordinary Israelis, who happen to be traveling abroad, to fight the PR fight, no matter how much we arm them with the "tools and tips."
A positive start would be to streamline PR. It makes no sense to disperse responsibility among the Foreign Ministry, the IDF Spokesman's Office, the Government Press Office and Edelstein's new project, not to mention the apparatus Ehud Olmert established in the Prime Minister's Office, as well as a new grouping being overseen by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
Even the best public diplomacy, of course, however, will not eradicate ingrained Spanish anti-Semitism. That's a challenge for Spain to meet.
THE JERUSLAM POST
YALLA PEACE: 'APARTHEID WEEK' OR 'WEAKNESS'?
BY RAY HANANIA
Rather than hold celebrations that fuel a hatred of Israel around an exaggerated word like apartheid, Palestinians should call for compromise.
There is one important fundamental about truth: Genuine truth gives one the power to tolerate even the most heinous criticism. Tolerance of criticism is a sign of confidence. Intolerance is a symptom that what you believe may not really be true. So throw the toughest, harshest argument against what I believe, because I have faith in my own truth. Do you?
The Middle East is ripe with intolerant views that reflect the insecurity of people who refuse to see the truth. And the first truth assaulted is existence. By denying one's existence, it becomes easy to respond to provocations with violence. It's easy to kill something that doesn't exist. Easy to deny something that doesn't exist. And easy to explain to your own people when things don't go your way that it's their nonexistence that is the problem, rather than your own failure.
Palestinians and Israelis have been denying each others' existence for years.
The late prime minister Golda Meir declared: "There was no such thing as Palestinians." Israelis still argue that Palestinians don't exist.
Arabs do the same, insisting Israel does not exist. They refer to it as "the Zionist entity." Well, if Israel doesn't exist, how can it be an entity? Why are so many people afraid of something that doesn't exist? When denying existence doesn't work, people turn to denying the celebrations of existence.
EVERY YEAR, Palestinians and Israelis mark May 14 in different ways. For Israelis, who mark Israel's creation using the Jewish calendar, it's a celebration. For Palestinians, the date is one of mourning.
Both sides take the reaction of the other as an offence rather than with understanding. Arabs see Israelis celebrating their victory in anger. Israelis watch as Palestinians commemorate their failure as a tragedy. So Jews are prohibited from celebrating Israel's existence in Arab countries, and Israel is moving to adopt laws prohibiting Palestinians from celebrating the nakba. When banning the words that address existence doesn't work, people turn to using words that hurt.
One word that hurts Jews is apartheid. Many Jews refuse to even speak the word itself, referring to it as the A-word in much the same way that Americans revile the pejorative racist description of black people, as the N-word. The word apartheid has more power to hurt than its actual meaning, which is why Palestinians seem to have glommed on to it.
What is the word apartheid and why are we fighting over it?
The word apartheid surfaced in, of all years, 1948 as the name of a political party in South Africa that symbolized the official policy of segregating blacks from whites.
In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, apartheid evoked a sinister meaning and became a bludgeon the world used to strike down South Africa's separation of the races. South Africa's racist white regime fell and the man it had imprisoned for 25 years, Nelson Mandela, became the new South Africa's first black president.
I can understand how Israelis fear the word. It invokes the issue of separation a word Israelis have used to describe the wall. It plays to Arab claims that Israel is a racist country that discriminates against non-Jews.
It's first victim was Jimmy Carter, who while president ushered in the first peace accord between Israel and Egypt. He wrote a book that used the A-word in the title.
I think Carter is one of the most reputable people in the world. The most caring, genuine human being who ever became a leader. But like many Arabs, Carter exaggerated the problem by using the word. Carter tried to explain he wasn't talking about Israel, but about how Israel's occupation of the West Bank evoked images of apartheid.
Israelis and Jews around the world recoiled in anger and responded with punitive attacks against his character. Although Carter has backed down, the rejectionist Arabs have not.
Rejectionist and extremist Palestinians and their Arab allies have launched "apartheid week" to attack Israel. Although they are a minority they have built up a mirage of public support by exploiting the unanswered anger of the majority in the Arab world.
THE WORD apartheid does not really apply accurately to the Palestinian-Israel conflict. The word occupation does. But the rejectionists no longer like the word occupation. Apartheid symbolizes the creation of one state, while occupation fuels the movement to create two.
In misusing the word apartheid, the rejectionists and their angry, blind followers are pushing toward reenacting the transformation of South Africa in Israel and Palestine.
Palestinians who support "apartheid week" do so either out of sinister hatred of Jews, or out of blind, unreasoning anger that simmers because they can't properly vent. The inability to release pent up anger empowers the rejectionist minority but stems from the failures of Palestinians and Arab leadership.
When Arabs couldn't defeat Israel, they turned toward demonization. And when demonization didn't work enough, they simply exaggerated the truth. Exaggeration is a common trait among Arabs and Israelis, too.
It's not easy for Israelis to deal with. Israelis also come in two categories, those who hate Arabs and those who are angry with Arabs but don't know how to deal with the issue of justice and compromise.
Most Israelis simply denounce anyone who uses the word apartheid as anti-Semitic another abused word used as a bludgeon for those who criticize Israel.
The word anti-Semitic is to Palestinians what apartheid is to Israelis.
I could ask Palestinians, won't it make the creation of a Palestinian state that much harder to achieve if they put all their bets on the word apartheid? I could ask Israelis, doesn't it show a weakness in your beliefs if you are so afraid of one simple word?
Maybe the answer is that both Palestinians and Israelis live in the dark shadows of one real truth that they have done terrible things to each other over the years.
What frightens me more than the violence that has wracked the region over the past century is when people start attacking the use of words.
Is it anti-Semitic to criticize Israel? No. Tolerance of criticism of Israel or Palestine is a sign of strength and hope.
Is it "apartheid week?" Or is it really "apartheid weak"? Rather than hold celebrations that fuel a hatred of Israel around an exaggerated word like apartheid, Palestinians should instead organize rallies and conferences that call for compromise based on peace and the creation of two states.
But Palestinians have to ask themselves the same question that Israelis must face: Do we release our anger against each other, or do we control it, and focus it on peace?
Peace and compromise are words I feel very comfortable to live with, even in a backdrop of anger.
Named Best Ethnic Columnist in America by New America Media, the writer is a Palestinian-American columnist and peace activist. He can be reached at www.YallaPeace.com
THE JERUSLAM POST
JUST WHOSE COUNTRY IS THIS?
BY DAVID BREAKSTONE
Has the time come to give Diaspora Jews a voice in determining Israeli policy?
The recent commotion in the Knesset over legislation that would allow Israelis abroad to vote in national elections got me thinking. Shouldn't we be talking about extending the same right to any Jew in the world? After all, this is their country too. Or is it?
For decades we've been speaking out of both sides of our mouth in answering that question, and meaning every word we say.
From the "yes" side: Already within Israel's Declaration of Independence, its signatories "appeal to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz Yisrael... and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream."
The country's basic laws a hodgepodge of legislation that constitute the fundamental precepts of this nation contain a number of references affirming this relationship. The most familiar is the Law of Return, essentially a preapproval of any Jew's request for citizenship. Less known is one that expressly prohibits someone from running for Knesset whose platform might be construed as promoting "negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people."
But then there is the "no" side: The same Declaration of Independence that asserts "the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its national home" also avows that the state "will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants... it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex..." This proclamation, furthermore, has found expression in numerous acts of legislation and adjudication, including recent decisions requiring the state to allow non-Jews to settle on and acquire even that land that was purchased by the Jewish National Fund expressly for the Jewish people.
There is also the fact that Israeli law and policy relating to such things as personal status, immigration and burial exclude large numbers of Jews from the same Jewish people for whom the state was supposedly founded.
SO, DOES this country belong to those who live here Jews and non-Jews alike or to those in whose name it was established? Do we change the flag and the national anthem, as is seriously proposed every few years, so that they not consist exclusively of Jewish symbols and aspirations? Or perhaps we transfer these insignia to the Zionist movement, and adopt new ones that make sense for a state in which 22 percent (and rising) of the population is not Jewish, many of whom are expected to serve in the army and pledge allegiance to its colors.
Symbols aside, do we provide the opportunity for Jews abroad in possession of an Israeli passport or not to influence policy? Before responding, consider that I've been living here for 36 years and am still allowed to vote in American elections. I daresay there are many Jews abroad who would exercise their right to participate in Israeli elections with more integrity than I might exercise in voting for the next senator from New York. Don't tell Uncle Sam, but the last time I marked my ballot in a US presidential contest, it just may be that my concern for Israel carried more weight than my concern for America. And no, these concerns are not always one and the same.
But I don't believe that's the point. We're not talking dual loyalty here, as the question is not one of dubious motivation but of inalienable rights. If this is indeed the "state of the Jewish people," then it would seem to me the time has come to find a mechanism that would allow world Jewry to contribute not only to filling its coffers but also to shaping its policies.
Wow, does that mean people living on J Street, Haredi Road, Reform Avenue, Conservative Boulevard and Secular Humanist Way would all be given a voice? Scary thought. Almost like letting everyone living within Israel vote.
I don't think I'm taking an extreme position here. I've been careful to refer to affecting policy rather than taking part in elections. What I think we need is a responsible way for Jews abroad to influence those decisions made here that relate directly to the country's Jewish character, and that affect the Jewish people as a whole. How difficult could it be in a world of Twitter and Facebook to organize a worldwide referendum on matters such as who is a Jew?
The challenge is not in creating the platform, but in deciding who gets to take advantage of it. Perhaps the time has come to reintroduce the Zionist Shekel. Inspired by the biblical levy imposed on the children of Israel that went toward the Tabernacle and later the Temple, Theodor Herzl too sought to involve the masses in the rebuilding of our ancient homeland, and instituted a voluntary tax that gave any Jew who paid it a voice in determining the policies of the Zionist movement right up until the state came into being. Why not renew that possibility, giving Jews everywhere the opportunity to stake a claim in the well-being of this country, allowing them some sense of ownership along with the ability to make their voices heard on matters affecting them?
OF COURSE, this may not be a good idea. Maybe we don't really want this to be "the state of the Jews." To those abroad we can say: We gave you your chance; you decided to stay where you are. You're still welcome to join us, but in the meantime, know that this will be a Jewish state only to the extent and in the manner that those of us living here see fit. Let's be clear: Israel belongs only to those residing within its borders. Let's continue caring about each other, but recognize that we are each going our own way in matters of religion, culture and identity.
This may be a legitimate position, but if it's the one we take, we should anticipate that one day soon a new generation will remind us that there can be no taxation without representation. Despite having been nurtured on this hallowed hallmark of the American ethos, Jews in the United States have held this commandment of civil religion in abeyance for the better part of a century when it comes to Israel.
And not only them. Jews around the world have given dutifully and generously to the Jewish state generally with no questions asked and always without a vote. Even the growing demand for a modicum of accountability as to how campaign dollars are spent is still a far cry from insisting on a voice in determining policy. With no-strings-attached contributions on the decline, however, and growing alienation from Israel on the part of the young, perhaps it's time to tamper with old formulas and restore a sense of belonging, possession and responsibility.
In any case, the time has come to talk about this. The World Zionist Organization will be convening its congress in June, and the right of Jews everywhere to affect matters involving Jewish peoplehood needs to be discussed there, just as the rights of Israelis abroad need to be discussed in the Knesset.
The writer represents worldwide Masorti/Conservative Judaism on the executives of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization, where he also serves as head of the Department for Zionist Activities. firstname.lastname@example.org
THE JERUSLAM POST
IN MY OWN WRITE: CHANGE IN THE WEATHER
BY JUDY MONTAGU
Spring is sprung
The grass is riz;
I wonder where
The birdies is?
They say the bird is on the wing,
Ain't that absurd, I thought
The wing was on the bird.
Attributed to Ogden Nash
I'm back at the Post after four months away, and it was very pleasant strolling down the corridors of the old building greeting colleagues and chewing the fat with refound friends.
It does pay, however, to be perceived as actually doing something while one is at work, so I used the occasion to ask people: "What association comes into your mind when I say 'spring'"?
"You mean, 'What springs to mind?'" a witty colleague shot back.
"Precisely," I replied. Here's some of the responses I got:
"Sunshine, longer days."
"Green... daffodils (from an ex-Brit), rabbits."
"Not having to wear tights if you go out in a skirt."
"Less confining clothes, a certain scent..."
"More outdoorsy things to do."
"Tiny little buds on the trees."
CHEERFUL and optimistic, indeed.
But for some people, spring is very far from being an unmixed delight. To them, the prospect of renewal feels more like a curse than a blessing.
I've never forgotten the extreme reaction to this change of season of one student whom I met when I was 18 and in my first year at Britain's Manchester University full, as they say, of the joys of spring.
He was a dark, brooding individual, a year or two older than me, short but powerful and charismatic.
"I'm happiest when the sky is grey and stormy," he told me, adding with surprising savageness: "I hate blue skies. They depress me."
On another occasion he reduced me to tears with some pointed observation or other, and I avoided him after that.
'THE LIFETIME risk for depression in all populations ranges between 15 percent and 18% of the population," wrote Post health reporter Judy Siegel-Itzkovich in an article earlier this month, quoting Prof. Joseph Zohar of the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. Depression becomes more common when the seasons change, the psychiatrist noted.
The appropriately named SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, feels like depression and, experts believe, is related to seasonal variations in the amount of light. Just as these variations affect animals' activities their reproductive cycles and hibernation patterns, for example so they may shift the human "biological internal clock" or circadian rhythm.
We need to get ourselves back in sync. And until we do, it's unsettling.
WE ISRAELIS who hail from Western countries, recalling the gentle glide of other springs that began at winter's last outpost and continued for months, remain even years after we made aliya slightly shocked at the rapid mutation of our seasons, winter transposing into summer like a tap being turned on. It catches us by surprise, even though we know it's coming.
"It's arriving too soon," we can't help feeling. "We're not ready for summer yet. Tell it to wait."
Last year was the exception: a wonderfully balmy May, a month of caressing warmth before the oppressive weather hit.
One year, though, I overslept and missed spring entirely.
SPRING in Israel, wrote Hillel Halkin in this newspaper in 2004, "takes off in a rush and never stops to catch its breath... Ahead of it is not a long, languorous northern [American] summer, its ripening as endless as a July twilight, but a brutal killer of a sun and no rain to quench the fire that will blast everything. It has so little time, this spring of ours. That's what makes it so gorgeous and so frantic."
"Wonder why 500,000 Israelis jumped into their cars last weekend to have a look at the flowers blooming in the Negev and on Mount Gilboa?" asked Herb Keinon, waxing lyrical in 2007 on the topic of the Israeli springtime.
"Simple," he answered his own question, "because of the knowledge that in two or three weeks those fields of flowers will be gone, their red, yellow and blue panorama turned into a hazy shade of brown."
As of this writing, in the second week of March 2010, the living's been easy some heat, yes, definitely, but lots of rain too and some lovely, really springlike weather.
What's ahead climatically? That's anyone's guess.
WHAT'S AHEAD on the calendar is also unique to this country. In most other places, the advent of spring is a simple, unalloyed pleasure, as those who live there welcome the end of the winter harshness and the transition into a time of light and warmth. Not for them the emotional roller-coasting that awaits Israelis during these several weeks.
While nature unfolds, we close in on ourselves.
Not enough that we must attune our bodies to an altered circadian rhythm, risking depression while we do. On the heels of Pessah which, like all major holidays everywhere, engenders anxiety and even alienation in some individuals comes Holocaust Remembrance Day, its drawn-out siren commanding depression over a loss to the Jewish people that can hardly be fathomed, let alone assimilated.
And as if that's not enough, a week later comes Memorial Day, when we commemorate the thousands fallen in our wars and felled by terror attacks.
On both days, true to Jewish tradition, the Jewish collective here begins its observances the night before, moving into a long day of ceremonies, interviews, gruelling TV films and documentaries and first-person accounts. We see the portraits hundreds of them and, as the day progresses, grow heavier with the knowledge of so many cut down before they'd really begun living; we share the anguish of their families.
When Israel commemorates, it really commemorates. It's a depressing 24 hours. And then, as Memorial Day ends, everything turns around and it's Independence Day. Suddenly, there's music, dancing and widespread joy over having a Jewish home to call our own. Barbecues, trip, parties have been planned.
Some of those mourning their dear ones right up to the minute these festivities begin find it very hard, maybe impossible, to switch from sadness to gladness. Others say the sweetness of celebrating national independence gives perspective to their suffering of just moments before.
WHATEVER the case, springtime in Israel is not a simple affair. Why should we expect it to be? Few things are simple in this place to which we immigrants have transplanted ourselves in the great Jewish adventure of our time.
Pessah is almost here, and what will follow is a dizzying emotional ride. Maybe we should look around and see if there's anyone newcomers, widows, lone soldiers, singles who might welcome a bit of human support during the ups and downs of this unsettling season. We could reach out to them; at least smile at them. You never know, we might get some welcome support ourselves.
THE JERUSLAM POST
WHEN COURT JEWS DEFEND MORAL COWARDS
BY SHMULEY BOTEACH
Of late it's been a tough time for those working to prevent genocide. Darfur has been off the world's radar screen for months. Then there's the poor Armenians. It wasn't enough that 1.5 million were murdered in a genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks during World War I. Turns out that for the sake of appeasing Turkey and its increasingly militant Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, US President Barack Obama is prepared to rewrite history and deny there was ever a genocide in the first place.
Breaking his campaign promise of January 2008, when he said that he "stood with the Armenian American community in calling for Turkey's acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide" and that "as president I will recognize the Armenian genocide [which is] not an allegation, a personal opinion or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence," Obama changed his tune last week.
After the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a resolution that declares the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, the Obama administration urged the committee not to pass the measure. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has vowed to stop the resolution where it stands for fear of angering Turkey.
THEN THERE was the curious story in The New York Times about Gary Krupp. A Jewish medical machinery salesman from Long Island who has no formal training in history but who has emerged as "the Vatican's most outspoken Jewish ally in a heated debate at the crux of tensions between Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders and historians: Whether Pope Pius XII, the pontiff during World War II, did as much as he could have to save Jews from the Holocaust."
Having already been knighted by John Paul II for medical services to the Church, Krupp has now set up a foundation whose purpose it is to whitewash the sins of the man known to the world as "Hitler's pope." The Times' article quoted leading Vatican officials as saying that if not for Krupp, it would be extremely difficult for the Church to move forward with its plans to declare Pius XII a saint.
Now, it's not difficult to understand why the Catholic Church would seek a court Jew to help it clean up Pius. And it's not particularly difficult to understand why a Jewish businessman, ignorant of history, would be willing to perform the role and take pictures with Pope Benedict at Castel Gandolfo. What is perplexing is how the mighty Catholic Church would have to fall back on a Long Island nobody to help it canonize a man who served as pope for almost 20 years.
Could it be desperation?
Pius was, of course, the man who, as cardinal secretary of state, became the first statesman, in 1933, to sign an agreement with the man he called "the illustrious Hitler," sending him a letter expressing his confidence in his leadership. His concordat with Hitler forced the Catholic Center Party into dissolution, not only removing the last obstacle to Hitler's goal of absolute power in Germany but also destroying any further resistance by Germany's Catholic bishops to the Nazis.
He was the pope who famously refused, amid unmistakable evidence of thousands of Jews being shipped to slaughter in Nazi concentration camps, to ever speak out against the Holocaust. This followed Pius's successful efforts to prevent the publication of an encyclical commissioned by his dying predecessor to condemn Nazi anti-Semitism. This is also the pope who sent Hitler birthday greetings every single year and who refused to excommunicate Hitler or any other top Nazis who were on official Catholic rolls (to give this context, the singer Sinead O'Connor was excommunicated).
He ignored the pleas of president Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill to denounce the Nazis. He later refused to endorse a joint declaration by Britain, the US and Russia condemning mass murder of Europe's Jews, claiming that he simply could not condemn "particular" atrocities. The most he ever did was a single pronouncement during the war on the murder "of hundreds of thousands." By then, of course, there were millions, and he did not mention Hitler, Nazi Germany or the Jews in the statement.
Most infamously, he was silent when the Germans rounded up Rome's Jews in October 1944 for slaughter. They were being processed for extermination in a military school a few hundred yards from his window in St. Peter's. An Italian princess, Enza Pignatelli, forced her way into the pope's study and warned him about the imminent assault on the city's Jewish citizens. "You must act immediately," she cried. "The Germans are arresting the Jews and taking them away. Only you can stop them." The pope assured her, "I will do all I can." He made no protest and nearly all were later gassed in Auschwitz. Curiously, amid the pope's inability to find his voice to condemn the extermination of European Jewry, when the Catholic archbishop of Berlin issued a statement mourning Hitler's death, the pope did not reprimand him.
AUTHOR JOHN Cornwell unearths letters from Pius's early career in Germany which reveals a stubborn, even distasteful disposition toward Jews. While papal nuncio in Germany, Pius refused to perform favors for the Jewish community on the flimsiest of grounds and describes the Munich chapter of the German Communist Party as being filthy and full of Jews. Pius refers derisively to "a group of young women, of dubious appearance, Jews like all the rest of them" and he describes communist leader Max Levien as a Jew, "pale, dirty, with drugged eyes, hoarse voice, vulgar, repulsive..."
Perhaps this would explain why, in one of the greatest acts of mass-kidnapping in history, Pius, in 1946, instructed the French Church to refuse the return of entire classes of Jewish children who were entrusted to the Church for safekeeping during the Holocaust if they had already been baptized.
Now, if, as the Church maintains, Pius is being falsely maligned by his critics as a pious fraud and moral coward who disgraced a great world religion, then why doesn't the Vatican fix the error by simply opening its archives on his pontificate that would reveal Pius's correspondence and actions during the war?
It has thus far released a very select and carefully scrubbed collection of wartime documents that reveal next to nothing about the Church's interactions with the Third Reich.
There is a comical element to this debate, which would be more humorous if it weren't so tragic. It involves Pius's defenders arguing that he purposefully refrained from condemning the Holocaust because the Jews would have fared even worse had the pope spoken out.
Worse than the Holocaust? Now that's funny.
The writer is founder of This World: The Values Network, and has just published The Blessing of Enough. www.shmuley.com
THE JERUSLAM POST
THE NEW AMERICAN JEW ON ISRAEL
BY JESSE SINGAL
The Israeli gov't certainly has the right to choose who it talks to, as seen last month with the congressional trip organized by J Street.
Whether it was a major diplomatic slight or a minor one overblown by media coverage, what happened to Representative William Delahunt in a congressional trip to Israel last month was telling.
Because the trip was sponsored by J Street, a "pro-Israel, pro-peace" organization that has criticized the Israeli government, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his deputy, Danny Ayalon, refused to meet with the five congressmen as long as J Street and another pro-peace sponsor was present. The message was clear: Your traveling companions have criticized us, so we won't sit with you unless you keep them away from the table.
Israel's government certainly has the right to choose who it talks to. But its actions show it to be a step behind the changing composition and attitudes of American Jewry. At a time when many American Jews are feeling fewer compunctions about criticizing Israel, and are often less concerned with external threats posed by Iran and Israel's other enemies than the demographic time bomb it faces as its Palestinian population expands, what it means to be "pro-Israel" is changing, particularly among younger Jews.
THERE ARE still plenty of young American Jews who take pride in wholeheartedly supporting the Israeli government. But this view isn't nearly as dominant as it once was, and research by Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew Union College helps show why. Cohen found that younger Jewish professional and religious leaders tend to be less likely to see Israel as threatened by its neighbors, and therefore less worried about its security.
The idea that being an American Jew doesn't necessitate lockstep support for Israel, and that it is strong enough to withstand criticism from the outside world, were on full display last week at Harvard's Hillel House, which hosted a talk by J Street's head, Jeremy Ben-Ami.
In an interview before the event, Ben-Ami talked about the changing experience of being an American Jew.
"If you've had personal experience if not you [then] at least your parents with the destruction of your people, you're more likely to take it as a possibility that it could happen again," he said. "If you have grown up here in complete comfort and safety and no one you know in an immediate sense has been through that, I do think [you're] going to have a very fundamental[ly] different view, a different take, on how you view the Iran threat."
This different, less fearful view of things came through clearly in some of the young members of the audience. For instance, when asked about the prospect of Iran destroying Israel, Harvard Divinity School student Kenan Jaffe, 26, said he thought it was "unlikely." "I also don't think it's directly related to the Palestinian question," he said, "and it is only to the extent that if Israel comes to a final status solution with the Palestinians, Iran will have nothing to say about Israel and no reason to make threats against it."
This is a far cry from the notion of a bloodthirsty, implacable Iran fueled only by hatred for Israel a story we hear quite often from groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. And while most members of the audience probably weren't as sanguine about Iran as Jaffe, fear of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wasn't, for the most part, what had brought them to Cambridge on a rainy February evening.
Rather, they were worried about the grim prospects that face Israel if it can't make peace with the Palestinians. Given the region's demographic patterns, absent a two-state solution, Israel will soon have to choose between being a Jewish state and a democratic one.
While J Street does strongly oppose the possibility of Iran getting nuclear weapons, the demographic crisis, not an attack from Iran, is the greatest threat facing Israel, said Ben-Ami.
He's not alone in thinking so, if the popularity and early clout of his organization, which is just two years old, is any indication. And regardless of one's political affiliation, this shift is going to have huge ramifications for the future of US-Israeli relations. If Israel wants to continue turning its back on those who criticize it, it may soon find itself with little to say to an increasingly large, vocal segment of American Jews.
The writer is a frequent contributor to The Boston Globe. His work has also appeared in Newsweek online, Politico, Washington Monthly, and The American Prospect online.This article first appeared in The Boston Globe on March 4.
THE JERUSLAM POST
WE ALL LIVE IN SHIMON HATZADDIK
BY DANNY HERSHTAL
Every neighborhood in the country could one day face the same challenges and protests the east Jerusalem neighborhood, also known as Sheikh Jarrah, faces today. A traditionally Jewish territory, with historical significance to the Jewish people, was violently conquered and settled by foreign Arabs, and is now being reclaimed by rightful Jewish owners. Now this territory is becoming a source for international condemnation and denial of Jewish rights. Sound familiar?
The Shimon Hatzaddik neighborhood, also known as Sheikh Jarrah, is an area of Jerusalem just north of the Old City. The neighborhood is named for, and centered around, the tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik (Simon the Just), a venerated high priest who served in the Second Temple (in either the fourth or second century BCE). The tomb and its compound were purchased in 1876 and settled in 1891 as a Jewish neighborhood, at a time when the Old City had become dangerously overcrowded.
In 1936, the neighborhood was attacked by Arab rioters and later conquered by the Arab Legion in 1948, before being annexed to the kingdom of Jordan in 1950. The Jordanian conquerors allowed Arab families to occupy abandoned Jewish homes, in violation of the rights of the property owners. When Israel retook the area in 1967, the committee that originally purchased the land began working to evict Arab tenants and to resettle the neighborhood with Jewish residents, as intended at the time of the original purchase.
Israel's Supreme Court has upheld these evictions. However, left-wing activists and Arab supporters have recently made these legal evictions a flashpoint issue in the general Israeli-Arab conflict. And why shouldn't they?
THE ENTIRE country of Israel was brutally conquered by Rome in 64 BCE and, later, by the Arabians of the Islamic Caliphate. Between these conquests, the Jewish residents repeatedly attempted to regain their sovereignty, but were slaughtered and expelled in stages after each revolt against the foreign occupiers.
Since the mid 1800s, our struggle to wrest back our property has received international legitimacy through the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo Conference, to name two examples. However, the Arabs, various anti-Semitic groups, and even the anti-Zionists in our midst have consistently opposed these efforts.
If we cannot uphold our rights against squatters from the 1950s, how can we effectively defend our claims against those of the seventh century?
The very foundation of Zionism has to be that we, as Jews, have been dispossessed of our land and have every legal, historical and moral right to reclaim it, by force if necessary.
While we can generally agree to give basic freedoms to non-Jews who wish to live peacefully under Jewish sovereignty, we cannot grant anyone extralegal rights to our territory without compromising the fundamental right of Israel's existence.
People may be upset, protest or even riot, but there is no justification to forego this right. Temperance in justifying one's existence is no virtue and, in fact, threatens the state's veryexistence. Shying away from controversy only encourages violent confrontation and further historical revisionism.
ON SATURDAY, the prime minister of Turkey encouraged the Arabs to riot because of Israel's inclusion of ancient religious sites in Hebron and Bethlehem on a list of heritage sites slated for restoration. The Turkish leader also denied any Jewish connection to these sites, which Jews used as sites of pilgrimage and prayer continuously since the Second Temple period.
The audacity of such a statement shows that even the slightest hesitation in asserting our fundamental right can cause an immediate threat to our existence. The American and European governments also criticized the inclusion of these sites on the National Heritage list as problematic and counterproductive to peace efforts.
Clearly, such comments are not as biased or anti-Semitic as the statements issued by the Turkish government, but they point to the same central issue: In the world's eyes, Israel cannot make peace with the Arabs without giving up its fundamental claim to the territory. A peace based on our denial of our own rights cannot last and will bear tragic results, especially since our claim to sovereignty in Hebron is sounder than our claim to sovereignty in Haifa, Ashdod or the Shimon Hatzaddik neighborhood in Jerusalem.
Every neighborhood in the country could one day face the same challenges and protests that Shimon Hatzaddik faces today. We are all residents of some "Shimon Hatzaddik" neighborhood.
So, for the sake of our entire country, the most prudent move is to give our complete support to the residents of Shimon Hatzaddik today.
The writer was a candidate for the 18th Knesset with Israel Beiteinu. He is a research fellow at the Galil Institute (
THE JERUSLAM POST
IRAN INCENSED OVER MABHOUH HIT
BY AZAR AZADI
The regime cared about the Hamas commander and others of his ilk who are key to keeping the arms flowing, so that resources can be in place should Iran be hobbled by sanctions or even attacked.
If one were to take the temperature of the Iranian regime's who's who right now, one would detect a slight rise. The regime cared about Mahmoud al-Mabhouh and others of his ilk who are key to keeping the arms flowing, so that resources can be in place should Iran be hobbled by sanctions or even attacked. While it is unknown who caused Mabhouh's demise, it is a certainty that the arms supply chain to Gaza and potentially to Yemen has been affected.
Iran needs well-armed proxies to spin out some provocations now and then. The reasons are twofold: First, the Iranian regime needs to deflect some of the world's attention for a little while longer until it successfully assembles a bomb on its long-range rockets; Second, every time Israel goes to war there is a build-up of global negative emotion toward it, in particular, and Jews, in general.
Keeping the Mabhouh story alive takes some effort, though. Iran is leaning on the United Arab Emirates, in particular, rather heavily. The PR firms, reporters, politicians, and bureaucrats on the payroll globally are doing their best to keep the story alive, but the magnitude of Mabhouh's demise has certainly put a small dent in arms smuggling to Gaza and preparation for the eventual multi-front attack on Israel.
The potential options for such attacks are either when and if Iran is attacked prior to having built the bomb, or when it has completed the building of the bomb and the regime is secure in the knowledge that it would not be attacked, no matter what it does in the world.
WHEN THE Iranian foreign minister raises the issue at the UN, it illustrates that they are attempting to keep the story alive, since most European politicians received appropriate intelligence briefings on the matter and are now back-pedaling to distance themselves from
their initial reactions. Fanning the flames further benefits Iranians in ensuring such eliminations do not happen in the future, as they would like to protect their network of arms dealers. These select reliable agents and facilitators are quite valuable, not to mention extraordinarily expensive to sustain. Even with a large delegation of foreign nationals on their payroll across the world, it is difficult to groom stable contacts and facilitators to replace Mabhouh.
At present, the situation is starting to become intolerable for the Russians as well. It's been fun and games, and certainly billions in arms deals. But the Russians are starting to realize that they are going down the same path as Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s and early '80s humoring the regime. The significant shift from autocratic to military dictatorship is also putting most of the "stans," along with Georgia, Turkey and Armenia at risk. Most importantly, Iranians have the inside knowledge and connections to the Russian arms black market throughout the old Soviet bloc.
Russia has had close calls like that in September 2009, when the Iranians had reportedly secured high-grade black market weapons such as X-55 cruise missiles and S300 anti-aircraft rockets without their knowledge and loaded them on board a ship, hidden in secret compartments, destined to be delivered to Teheran. The embarrassment caused by the Iranians, and particularly by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which has infiltrated the Russian underworld, caused the Kremlin to spare no expense in sending destroyers, subs and elite forces, with the Mossad's help according to The Sunday Times, to secure the ship and return the shipment.
INDEED, THE elimination of Mabhouh, has shown that some of these facilitators, arms dealers and terrorists connected to the regime have been identified and are now on the radar. The flow of arms shipments from Syria to Lebanon is alarming. It will be probably take only a year, if not months, for the Lebanese army to be shadowed by a better-trained and well-armed parallel force, much like the IRGC.
Certainly for Israel, the likelihood of the next engagement being a multi-front war is high, especially with Washington at its weakest (morally, intellectually and financially) and the Iranians and their satellite states at their strongest. While most of us hope for peaceful solutions, others, like Syria, are either interested in wars (ideological or physical) or stand to gain financial benefits from it.
Although no one knows at present who caused the demise of Mabhouh and we can only speculate why, we can all agree that the controversy has benefited Islamists, terrorists and rogue nations. Israel has yet again been lambasted and public opinion has swelled against such extrajudicial and extraterritorial killings. While European and Australian politicians fell over themselves chastising and singling out Israel, their miscalculated selective domestically-oriented actions have fed the controversy, benefiting the Iranians by creating further instability in the region and furthering arm smuggling into these troubled regions.
The price of this misstep, particularly by Britain, portrays weakness before these rogue nations and the underworld and makes it difficult to unify nations against arms shipments to Hamas, Hizbullah and the Yemeni Shi'ite separatists.
Consequently, nations like the UK or Australia, France and the US may have to clean up the aftermath that ensues from arms shipments to terror organizations. There is no doubt that we will be facing a significant mopping up period in the near future. One hopes that we may be able to lessen its severity through unified global action now.
The writer's name has been changed to protect his/her identity.
Following America's announcement that the Israel-Palestinian peace process would be resumed in the form of indirect talks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hoped the proximity talks would quickly lead to direct talks, and thence to an agreement.As Haaretz reported yesterday, the Obama administration has acceded to Israel's request that the understandings reached by the previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, with the Palestinian leadership be taken off the table. The United States made it clear that the Netanyahu government is obligated only to the agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinians and to the road map, which the Sharon government ratified.
From a formal, legal standpoint, the Netanyahu government is indeed not obligated by its predecessors' positions, nor by understandings reached with the Palestinians that did not ripen into agreements. However, Netanyahu's demand that the talks begin "from square one" - as is implied by the phrase "without preconditions" - and ignore all prior talks puts the process at risk of failure, or at least of unnecessary complications.
In Netanyahu's first term as prime minister, he himself conducted secret talks with Syria based on the understandings that Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres reached in their peace talks with former Syrian president Hafez Assad - even if, as he claims, he made changes to them. If the Syrian channel is reopened, as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday he believed it would be, Netanyahu certainly cannot imagine that President Bashar Assad would "forget" the progress made in previous talks. The same principle should guide Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
His insistence on starting all over again raises the suspicion that Netanyahu would rather drag his feet in a "diplomatic process" than make progress toward a final-status agreement. This suspicion is reinforced by a statement by Moshe Ya'alon, deputy prime minister and member of the inner circle of seven ministers: He said the Palestinian Authority's willingness to hold proximity talks mediated by the Americans "does not bode well."
If Netanyahu really wants to implement a two-state solution, he must take advantage of previous understandings in order to translate this vague formula into a permanent-status agreement as soon as possible - because time is not on the side of either Israel's interests or those of its Palestinian partners.
JEWISH OR ISRAELI?
BY ALUF BENN
The occupation is dead. Over. No, not in the territories: The Palestinians in the West Bank still hope to be free of Israeli control, demonstrate at the roadblocks and fight with their settler neighbors over every hilltop and every olive grove.
But on this side of the separation fence, only a few are interested in what is happening on the other side. The debate over the territories still troubles the extremists on the left and right who bother to meet and shout at each other at Sheikh Jarrah, but it no longer defines the political debate in Israel.
The key issue in public debate today centers on Israel's national identity: how to strike the right balance between the components of "a Jewish and democratic state," and the past and future. The battle is over the soul of the mainstream, the shrinking majority of secular and traditionalist Israelis.
The demographic changes are increasing the power of the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs, but because of the cultural and political differences between these two communities, the Israeli Jews who drive on Shabbat and do not put on phylacteries will continue to rule the country.
Since he returned to power, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has focused on presenting the Likud Party as the party of the contemporary Zionist ideal. Netanyahu considers himself as a continuation of the legacy begun by Theodor Herzl, or at least an updated interpretation, and often quotes the early Zionist leader.
His main demand of the Palestinians, which he reiterated at the start of the indirect negotiations on Monday, is that they recognize Israel as "a Jewish state." The Palestinian refusal serves Netanyahu in the domestic debate: I am defending fundamental principles and our historical rights, compared to governments on the left who gave up on them.
Netanyahu's approach is at the root of the national heritage plan, which he announced last month, and the pedagogical initiative of Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.
Inviting Israel Defense Forces officers into schools, commemorating Jews executed by the British, presenting the leftist organizations as collaborators with the international "delegitimacy campaign" against Israel, the demand that the Palestinians alter their narrative and recognize the Jewish right to the Land of Israel, all have combined into the same effort. Netanyahu is trying to revive symbols of Ben-Gurionism: the Bible, the IDF, archaeology, Trumpeldor and Tel Hai.
"A nation needs to know its past in order to ensure its future," Netanyahu, the son of a historian, has said.
Netanyahu's ideology, which can be described as "national capitalism," brings into the same tent the immigrants from Russia, who identify with the governmental theme of a powerful state, and the Haredim, who identify with the Jewish message.
In the eyes of the prime minister, members of the rival camp suffer from cultural shallowness, "a hollowness of knowledge and spirit," overly focused on themselves and mistakenly believe that they are cosmopolitans.
These expressions from Netanyahu's address at the last Herzliya Conference sound like a laundered version of "these leftists forgot what it means to be Jewish," circa his previous tenure as prime minister.
Against Netanyahu's nationalism stands a shapeless camp, which wants to bolster the democratic element in the identity equation and create an "Israeli state." Its ideology is focused on openness to the world; its efforts aim to develop Israel into a Western, liberal country, and not a fortified, aggressive ghetto.
They adopted social elements from Ben-Gurion's heritage, all the way to neo-socialism, with concern for the weak and the refugees and the environment, but also by copying models of worldly success, such as Shai Agassi and Bar Refaeli.
Tzipi Livni symbolizes these values and, even if she does not realize she is like that, her constituents pushed her that way during the election campaign. The question of whether she will continue leading the camp in the future, and to which direction, remains open.
Netanyahu is aiming for the mainstream that loves the army and associates with national symbols. The left is divided between political interest, which requires that it link up with the Arabs and incorporate them in Jewish society, and its wish for legitimacy, which leads it to a more security-based and less democratic position. This dilemma serves the right, and ensures it remains in power, for the time being.
A state, Jewish or Israeli, facing the past or the future, isolation or openness - these are the characteristics of the contemporary debate on the character of Israel. The dispute over the future of the territories, to the extent that it even exists, is only an extension of the contemporary debate. After all, where is Yitzhar?
BY AMIR OREN
A tall, graying pilot in a U.S. Air Force uniform walked through the General Staff Building in Tel Aviv last month with a thoughtful, or maybe worried, expression on his face. This was Lt. Gen. Paul J. Selva, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, following his meeting with a pilot in an Israel Air Force uniform, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, head of the army's Plans and Policy Directorate.
Selva is the Pentagon official who accompanies Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her trips abroad. He also has another role left over from the days of former secretary Condoleezza Rice and the Annapolis summit: He is the road map peace plan's kashrut supervisor.
The Obama administration's statement that the Annapolis understandings no longer obligate Israel has no real substance. At bottom, in Jerusalem as well as in Washington, there is continuity between administrations. Selva, like Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, who is building up the Palestinian security forces, was held over from the previous administration to the current administration. If Israel wants former president George W. Bush's vague promise to former prime minister Ariel Sharon - that any Israeli-Palestinian deal will recognize "the new realities on the ground" - to obligate Bush's successor, President Barack Obama, then there must also be continuity from Sharon through former prime minister Ehud Olmert to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Interim agreements have always been considered nonbinding until there is a comprehensive agreement. The talks between Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, or between former foreign minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei, would not have obligated Livni, either, had she formed the current government. But practically speaking, national, organizational and personal memory form the basis for continued talks. There is no such thing as a clean slate. There are only slippery leaders.
Nor is Annapolis dead in a more profound sense. American policy has two stages: It starts with ana, which means "please" in Hebrew, and moves on to polis, which means "police" in Turkish. If polite urging does not suffice, we will glimpse the international policeman's baton - that of military, economic and diplomatic aid, and also that of the police force that hightails it out of the neighborhood when war breaks out between gangs who murder each other. A degree of isolationism, expressed in bumping Israel and its neighbors down on the list of international locales to which the White House gives its attention.
Fear of the impact of a failed diplomatic process led by America formed the background to both the talks with Egypt in 1977 and those with the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993: Both began courtesy of a third party (Morocco, Norway), but were handed over to the Americans as a draft account when the time to close it arrived. Processes that begin with an American initiative - such as the talks with Syria, from the Madrid summit to Shepherdstown - have never succeeded, even if through no fault of the mediators.
The indirect talks between Netanyahu and Abbas, after nearly 17 years of direct talks between former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and his successors on the Israeli side and Yasser Arafat and his successors on the Palestinian side, reflect a regression presented as progress. One must look not only at the talks' exterior casing, but rather at the ridiculous deal that ended with each side getting what it wants - Netanyahu the casing and Abbas what isn't inside it. The former will be able to say he talked, and the latter, that he has proved there is no one to talk to and nothing to discuss.
Israel's real problem is not with the Palestinians or the Syrians; its real problem is with itself: It has no self-definition. Israel has not yet decided what it wants to be when it is no longer so big. It is avoiding actions that accord with what is ostensibly its guiding idea - "to be a free nation in our land" - because it is still not clear on what our land is, who belongs to our nation and how concepts of freedom, independence and sovereignty should be implemented in an impossibly knotty world of dependency and reciprocal relations. Therefore, Israel's representatives conduct empty, conditional talks, on the implicit assumption that toward the end, they will have to go back to those who have sent them to receive the authorization without which the talks had no point to begin with.
Without an overarching idea, a vision from which to derive the moves that together make up a path, Israel is subject to endless turbulence, which is making it seasick. It has only political captains, who fear to lead and whose message is "both this and that." "Situation assessments" and "staff work" are the faded substitutes for statesmanship, leadership and winning the hearts and minds.
Prior to real proximity talks between Israel and itself, any contacts with any Arab party will become proximity fuses - detonators of bombs, landmines, booby traps or missile and rocket warheads, which cause explosions when the intended victim draws near.
HAREDI SERVICE NOW
BY SHAHAR ILAN
For decades, Israel Defense Forces officers were careful not to become involved in the debate over drafting yeshiva students, apparently out of concern over being dragged into a political dispute. But over the past year, one senior officer after another has spoken out about the IDF's serious human resources problem and the consequent need to draft yeshiva students, given the army's prediction that in another 10 years, one out of every four potential draftees will evade the draft in a yeshiva. What this prediction means is that Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) draft evasion, once a serious moral problem, has now become a real threat to our stamina as a nation.
Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi takes every opportunity to unfurl his vision of military or national service for all, including Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox. "If that does not happen," he warned in a newspaper interview earlier this month, "I don't know where we are headed."
The IDF's human resources chief, Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir, said in a December interview with Israel Hayom that each year, another 5,500 young men refuse to be drafted on the grounds that they are full-time yeshiva students. "We are on the way to being one-third of the people's army," Zamir said. "The goal is to draft 50 percent of the ultra-Orthodox."
"We don't have enough soldiers," added Brig. Gen. Orna Barbivai, a senior officer in the IDF's Personnel Directorate, to the Jerusalem Post earlier this month. Such statements are a sign of real trouble.
There is no doubt that the latest data given to the Knesset committee that oversees implementation of the Tal Law, which was enacted to encourage Haredim to serve, are encouraging. Some 1,200 yeshiva students did civilian national service in 2009, and about 800 served in the army - either in the Nahal Haredi combat unit or one of the IDF's special service programs, known as Shahar, in which ultra-Orthodox soldiers learn a profession and then serve in it. It is important to remember that two years ago, there were only 200 ultra-Orthodox soldiers, while civilian service for this group had not yet even been established.
Still, these are very small numbers, given that some 55,000 yeshiva students of every age are currently deferring their service indefinitely. Also very problematic is the fact that most of the civilian service volunteers did their stint in ultra-Orthodox social service organizations rather than in the emergency services, which free up the security forces for other tasks.
It is now clear to all: Yeshiva students can serve, both in the army and in civilian frameworks. But to ensure that this happens in ever-growing numbers, more programs with suitable conditions must be created. Another Haredi battalion should be established, but most of the programs should integrate the Haredim into the rest of the army, as the Shahar programs do, while taking their special needs into account. In addition, positions for the ultra-Orthodox in the emergency services - the fire department, the Magen David Adom ambulance service, the police and the Home Front Command - must be funded. We must remember that this small investment provides yeshiva students with a beeline to the labor market, and thus to contributing to Israel's gross domestic product.
At the same time, massive allocations to the ultra-Orthodox parties must stop. The more child allowances grow, the more funding yeshivas receive and the more housing benefits Haredi cities offer, the more yeshiva students will continue to eke out a living at the public's expense and avoid going into the army or out to work.
The ultra-Orthodox community is suffering a growing economic crisis, but its representatives are channeling funds to the yeshivas instead of encouraging students to enlist in the army or civilian service and then get a job. It is hard to avoid the impression that they are not being guided by what is good for the Haredi public, but rather by their desire to keep it locked up in ghettos.
If they do not come to their senses, the crisis will turn into a complete collapse. Such a collapse would cause their voters a great deal of unnecessary suffering that can still be avoided.
The author is vice president of research and information at Hiddush, an association promoting religious freedom and equality
THEY SHOULD BE THANKFUL
BY KARNI ELDAD
The Israeli left does not have an agenda. It has Arabs. The more hallucinatory the Arab spokesman, the more extreme he is and the more he hates Jews, the greater the enthusiasm with which leftists will adopt his words. Every youngster who hurls stones stands before the cameras and gives the speech of his life, which immediately, in a cut-and-paste process, becomes the moral purists' next slogan.
Silwan is a wild and violent village. Anyone who finds himself there by mistake (for no sensible person would go there on purpose) will sense this. The inhabitants' looks are not welcoming, to say the least. These guys haven't really internalized the words of our patriarch and theirs concerning hospitality. We could let this slide if that were their worst sin. But their sin is far greater.
For if you examine the 88 houses of the neighborhood around which the King's Garden controversy has erupted, you will not find a single one that was built with a permit. Even a retroactive one.
And then along came Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. Out of all the mayors who have spouted exaggerated slogans, it is he, the high-tech entrepreneur, seemingly without an agenda, who, with no pomp and circumstance, picked up this bomb and decided to neutralize it.
Under his plan, 66 of the neighborhood's houses would undergo a process culminating in the receipt of a permit. They would be able to benefit from commercial development of the entire area, construction of infrastructure and public buildings and upgrades of the road and sewer systems - things they never received from any previous administration. Moreover, the tourism enterprise that would be established in the area would improve the standard of living.
Three quarters of the neighborhood's inhabitants are thus receiving a prize they do not deserve. If we adhered to the law, then the fate of these houses should be the same as that of houses in, for instance, settlement outposts - demolition.
One quarter of the neighborhood's houses, 22 in number, would indeed be demolished, but their inhabitants would receive permits to build new homes a short distance away. Again, a prize they do not deserve.
Granted, they would have to pay for the new construction. But it is worth remembering two things: First of all, the value of the new house would be significantly greater than the value of an illegal house against which a demolition order is pending. Second, these people have violated the law. By law, their houses should be demolished.
Many of the neighborhood's inhabitants have welcomed this process, albeit not publicly, because it entails many advantages for them, especially financially. However, they are under heavy pressure from the Islamic Movement, whose interests are harmed by any positive progress in East Jerusalem. It is, after all, interested in stressing Israel's impotence and the "division" of the city.
Thus, for example, when the municipality tried to develop a parking lot in the area, in coordination with the residents, the work was stopped after the Islamic Movement rented the plot of land and fenced it.
So when at long last a courageous mayor comes along, someone who acts for the benefit of all and does not try to whitewash the situation like his predecessors - who demolished a few buildings on the margins but turned a blind eye when tens of thousands of houses were built without permits - the left rears up on its hind legs and screams. Why? Because somebody or other hanging out on a street corner in Silwan said it was bad. And instead of investigating and thinking and realizing that this is a good and courageous plan that benefits the neighborhood's Arabs, it is much simpler just to cut and paste, cut and paste.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
SAVING THE POST OFFICE
Many Americans rely on six-days-a-week mail delivery and expect to have a post office just around the corner. But if the United States Postal Service is going to survive the transition to the Internet age without requiring billions of dollars of federal subsidies Congress must allow it to cut some services, close some offices and make other sensible changes.
Since 1970, the Postal Service has been required to pay its own costs. Still, Congress has insisted on the right to make many policy decisions. The Postal Service made a profit until 2006. Since then, declining mail volumes as more Americans use e-mail and pay their bills online and the demands of its retiree health benefit system have dragged it deeper and deeper into the red. Last year, it delivered 17 percent fewer pieces of mail than in 2006 and reported losses of $1.4 billion, this year it expects to lose $7 billion. Postmaster General John Potter warns that unless the service takes major steps to bring its costs into line, it will lose $238 billion over the next 10 years. To avoid insolvency or falling back into the taxpayers' lap he is asking Congress for the flexibility to implement an ambitious plan to reconfigure services and cut costs.
Not every idea is sound, and Congress should retain oversight to ensure that all Americans still have reliable mail delivery. But Congress should grant the service most of the authority it requests.
Mr. Potter estimates that ending mail delivery on Saturday when the volume is 17 percent lower than on weekdays would save $40 billion over the next decade. He wants to close some yet-to-be-announced number of post offices and replace them with cheaper alternatives, such as automated kiosks and postal windows at supermarkets and other retailers. He is also asking for more flexibility to raise the rates of some services to meet changes in demand and costs.
These seem reasonable compromises considering the magnitude of the challenge. They have to be done the right way. Post offices should not be closed in rural areas and other hard-to-reach places that do not have alternatives. The Postal Service also must work with other government agencies to ensure that people who receive crucial mail such as Social Security checks on Saturday, receive it on Friday rather than on Monday.
The service says these proposed changes, dramatic as they are, would still fill only part of the gap. Mr. Potter believes it can find other savings and new profits by expanding product offerings like new direct-mail products for small businesses and cutting labor costs, including by hiring more part-time workers and reducing full-time employees through attrition. Some 300,000 postal workers are expected to retire over the next decade about half the Postal Service's entire staff.
Some of the proposed changes are flawed. Mr. Potter is hoping to save another $50 billion over the next decade by stopping contributions to a fund to pay for future retiree health benefits, covering them instead on a pay-as-you-go basis. As many workers have discovered, unfinanced promises of future benefits have a troubling tendency to become worthless in times of economic stress.
Still, the service might be allowed to reduce its annual contribution. Right now, by law, it has to make
contributions consistent with a 7 percent annual rate of inflation for health care costs, while Medicare uses a rate of 5 percent to 6 percent to project future benefits.
Even with the Internet, Americans will need mail services for packages, legal documents and, yes, letters for years to come. In some areas of the country, the Postal Service is the only service available. And all Americans should not have to rely solely on private businesses for anything as fundamental as mail delivery.
That means that Congress has a straightforward choice: It can give the Postal Service some more flexibility to run like a business. Or it can start subsidizing it to the tune of $10 billion-plus a year. We vote for flexibility.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
LAWS, LIES AND THE ABORTION DEBATE
It has been three years since the Supreme Court's conservative majority abruptly departed from precedent to uphold a federal ban on a particular method of abortion. Emboldened, foes of reproductive freedom are pressing new attacks on women's rights and health.
In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, has signed a bill that would criminalize certain behavior by women that results in miscarriage. It was prompted by a sad and strange case last year in which a teenager who was seven months pregnant sought to induce a miscarriage by hiring a man to beat her. The measure exempts lawful abortions, and particularly worrisome language about "reckless" acts has been removed. But the law still raises concern about zealous prosecutors using a woman's difficult choices to open an investigation.
In Oklahoma, the Center for Reproductive Rights succeeded last week in blocking a burdensome measure designed to discourage abortions by requiring preprocedure sonograms and exempting physicians from liability for failing to disclose fetal abnormalities. But the ruling turned on a technical flaw in the law, and its supporters are expected to try again.
An even more ominous assault on reproductive freedom is looming in Nebraska. A blatantly unconstitutional measure moving through the State Legislature would ban abortions at 20 weeks' gestation before viability and earlier than constitutionally allowed. Its narrow health exception excludes mental health. Indeed, the bill prohibits doctors from performing an abortion to avoid a serious risk that the woman may commit suicide.
The obvious goal here is to present the Supreme Court with a new vehicle for further watering down Roe v. Wade. That is troubling enough, but lately another tactic is being deployed to demonize abortion and abortion providers and further polarize the nation.
Citing the disproportionately high number of African-American women who undergo abortions, for example, abortion foes are hurling baseless charges of genocide and racial discrimination. Since last year, a staff member of Georgia Right to Life has been traveling to black churches and colleges, spreading the lie that abortion is the key to conspiracy to kill off blacks. Recently, the group posted dozens of billboards around Atlanta that proclaim, "Black children are an endangered species."
In fact, of course, there is no conspiracy. The real reason so many black women have abortions can be explained in four words: too many unwanted pregnancies.
Even in this charged debate, phony accusations of genocide should be out of bounds, but political forces that oppose abortion are pursuing a focused, often successful campaign. Americans who support women's reproductive rights need to make their voices heard.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AN ADVOCATE FOR EQUAL JUSTICE
Providing poor defendants effective appointed counsel is more than a constitutional obligation. It is a concrete measure of the nation's commitment to equal justice under law. Yet indigent defense offices across the nation have been allowed to sink into crisis. They have fallen victim to insufficient financing, overwhelming caseloads and a slew of policies that hamper effective representation.
The civil legal aid system is no less challenged. Short on resources, local offices supported by the Legal Services Corporation, the federal agency that provides legal assistance for low-income Americans in civil cases, must turn away about half the eligible individuals who contact them for help with life-altering issues such as child custody or saving their homes from foreclosure.
One rare piece of good news is that Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has made it his mission to try to narrow this gap in the administration of justice. To lead his campaign, he has hired Laurence Tribe, the prominent Harvard Law School professor and constitutional scholar.
The basic, sound idea is to look at ways indigent legal services can be improved, including by creating incentives for states to make better use of pro bono legal assistance, and help the growing number of people who represent themselves navigate the courts.
Realistically, Mr. Tribe cannot be expected to solve all the financial and other problems impeding the delivery of indigent legal services. But in applying his formidable teaching and advocacy skills, he can be a catalyst for bolstering stressed criminal and civil legal service providers and finding fresh strategies for serving more Americans with their urgent legal needs.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MEET THE CANDIDATE: A CONVICTED ABUSER
Former State Senator Hiram Monserrate's story would seem to rule him out of any race for public office.
He was convicted last year of brutally dragging a female companion through his apartment lobby after she was, somehow, slashed in the face with a broken glass while in his room. His fellow state senators, from both parties, voted 53 to 8 to expel him, the first such action taken by the State Senate in more than 90 years.
Yet here is the disgraced former senator, shamelessly running in a special election in Northern Queens on Tuesday in an effort to return to his old seat. Mr. Monserrate is not baring his soul or apologizing for his actions. Incredibly, he is declaring himself the victim in the mess he created for himself, his wounded companion and many others around him.
The main candidate running to fill this now-vacant Senate seat is Assemblyman José Peralta, a Democrat from Queens. Elected in 2002 to the Assembly, he has a strong record of supporting immigrants and working people in the community. He has a long list of Democratic endorsements, from almost every union and public official who counts. Among the most enthusiastic are women's groups.
Despite such support, Mr. Peralta is facing an increasingly tough campaign. Mr. Monserrate's backers are trying to make the election about same-sex marriage (the former senator voted against it), and that aspect of the campaign appears to be growing uglier by the day.
The Monserrate forces also are portraying his expulsion as political payback by Democrats after he defected briefly to Republicans last year causing a monthlong stalemate in Albany. Voters should not be swayed by such distractions. The real issue in the district that includes Corona, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights is Mr. Monserrate's flawed character. Tuesday's election gives voters the chance to oust him for good.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
IT'S UP TO IRAQIS NOW. GOOD LUCK.
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Of all the pictures I saw from the Iraqi elections last weekend, my favorite was on nytimes.com: an Iraqi mother holding up her son to let him stuff her ballot into the box. I loved that picture. Being able to freely cast a ballot for the candidate of your choice is still unusual for Iraqis and for that entire region. That mother seemed to be saying: When I was a child, I never got to vote. I want to live in a world where my child will always be able to.
God bless her. This was a very good day for Iraq.
To say that mere voting or an election or two makes Iraq a success story would obviously be mistaken. An election does not a democracy make and Iraq's politicians still have yet to prove that they are up to governing, nation-building and both establishing and abiding by the rule of law. But this election is a big deal because Iraqis with the help of the U.N., the U.S. military and the Obama team, particularly Vice President Joe Biden overcame two huge obstacles.
They overcame an array of sectarian disputes that repeatedly threatened to derail this election. And they came out to vote Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds despite the bombs set off by Al Qaeda and the dead-end Baathists who desperately want to keep the democracy project in Iraq from succeeding. This latter point is particularly crucial. The only way Al Qaeda, Baathism and violent Islamism will truly be defeated is when Arabs and Muslims themselves not us show they are willing to fight and die for a more democratic, tolerant and progressive future. Al Qaeda desperately wanted the U.S. project in Iraq to fail, but the Iraqi people just keep on keeping it alive.
And how about you, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran? How are you feeling today? Yes, I am sure you have your proxies in Iraq. But I am also sure you know what some of your people are quietly saying: "How come we Iranian-Persian-Shiites who always viewed ourselves as superior to Iraqi-Arab-Shiites can only vote for a handful of pre-chewed, pre-digested, 'approved' candidates from the supreme leader, while those lowly Iraqi Shiites, who have been hanging around with America for seven years, get to vote for whomever they want?" Unlike in Tehran, Iraqis actually count the votes. This will subtly fuel the discontent in Iran.
Yes, the U.S.'s toppling of Saddam Hussein helped Iran expand its influence into the Arab world. Saddam's Iraq was a temporary iron-fisted bulwark against Iranian expansion. But if Iraq has any sort of decent outcome and becomes a real Shiite-majority, multiethnic democracy right next door to the phony Iranian version it will be a source of permanent pressure on the Iranian regime. It will be a constant reminder that "Islamic democracy" the rigged system the Iranians set up is nonsense. Real "Islamic democracy" is just like any other democracy, except with Muslims voting.
Former President George W. Bush's gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right. It should have and could have been pursued with much better planning and execution. This war has been extraordinarily painful and costly. But democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing.
Some argue that nothing that happens in Iraq will ever justify the costs. Historians will sort that out. Personally, at this stage, I only care about one thing: that the outcome in Iraq be positive enough and forward-looking enough that those who have actually paid the price in lost loved ones or injured bodies, in broken homes or broken lives, be they Iraqis or Americans or Brits see Iraq evolve into something that will enable them to say that whatever the cost, it has given freedom and decent government to people who had none.
That, though, will depend on Iraqis and their leaders. It was hopeful to see the strong voter turnout 62 percent and the fact that some of the largest percentage of voting occurred in regions, like Kirkuk and Nineveh Provinces, that are hotly disputed. It means people are ready to use politics to resolve disputes, not just arms.
We can only hope so. President Obama has handled his Iraq inheritance deftly, but he is committed to the withdrawal timetable. As such, our influence there will be less decisive every day. We need Iraqi leaders to prove to their people that they are not just venal elites out to seize the spoils of power more than to seize this incredible opportunity to remake Iraq. We need to see real institution-builders emerge, including builders of a viable justice system and economy. And we need to be wary that too big an army and too much oil can warp any regime.
Iraq will be said to have a decent outcome not just if that young boy whose mother let him cast her ballot gets to vote one day himself. It will be a decent outcome only if his life chances improve because he lives in a country with basic security, basic services, real jobs and decent governance.
I wish I could say that that was inevitable. It is not. But it is no longer unattainable, and I for one will keep rooting for it to happen.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PILGRIM NON GRATA IN MECCA
BY MAUREEN DOWD
I was tempted to turn my abaya into a black masquerade cloak and sneak into Mecca, just hop over the Tropic of Cancer to the Red Sea and crash the ultimate heaven's gate.
Sir Richard Burton, the 19th-century British adventurer, translator of "The Arabian Nights" and the "Kama Sutra" and self-described "amateur barbarian," was an illicit pilgrim to the sacred black granite cube. He wore Arab garb and infiltrated the holiest place in Islam, the Kaaba, the "center of the Earth," as he called it, in the Saudi city where the Prophet Muhammad was born.
But in the end, it seemed disrespectful, not to mention dangerous.
So on my odyssey to Saudi Arabia, I tried to learn about the religion that smashed into the American consciousness on 9/11 in a less sneaky way. And that's when the paradox sunk in: It was nearly impossible for me to experience Islam in the cradle of Islam.
You don't have to be a Catholic to go to the Vatican. You don't have to be Jewish to go to the Western Wall (although if you're a woman, you're squeezed into a slice of it at the side). You don't have to be Buddhist to hear the Dalai Lama speak and have your picture snapped with him afterward.
A friend who often travels to Saudi Arabia for business said he thought that Medina, the site of Muhammad's tomb, was beginning to "loosen up" for non-Muslims. (As the second holiest city in Islam, maybe they needed to try harder.) But the Saudis nixed a trip there.
I assumed I at least could go to a mosque at prayer time, as long as I wore an abaya and hijab, took off my shoes, and stayed in the back in a cramped, segregated women's section. The magnificent Blue Mosque in Istanbul, once the center of one of the greatest Muslim empires, is a huge tourist draw.
But at the Jidda Hilton, I was told that non-Muslims could not visit mosques not even the one on the hotel grounds.
A Saudi woman in Jidda told me that the best way to absorb Islam was to listen to the call for prayer while standing on the corniche by the Red Sea at sunset.
That was indeed moving, but I didn't feel any better equipped to understand the complexities of Islam that even Saudis continually debate and where radical Islam fits in. Or to get elucidation on how, as Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria put it, "the veil is not the same as the suicide belt."
Couldn't Mecca, I asked the royals, be opened to non-Muslims during the off-season? The phrase off-season, as it tu