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Thursday, March 11, 2010

EDITORIAL 11.03.10

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month march 11, edition 000452, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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









































  2. DIPLOMACY 102































Having been passed by the Rajya Sabha in what many have termed as a historic vote, the women's reservation Bill is in danger of being turned into a tool for furthering the interests of certain political constituencies. The opposition to the Bill is essentially from three quarters: First, theorists who question the legitimacy of reserved constituencies amounting to almost separate electorates which they say fly in the face of the basic tenet of democracy: Freedom of choice. Second, practitioners of Mandal politics who are demanding a separate OBC quota within the envisaged 33 per cent reservation for women. And, third, politicians who are demanding a Muslim sub-quota within the proposed percentage of reserved seats in the legislatures. All three opposing forces hold little water and much less rationale to back up their claims. At a theoretical level, reserved seats might appear to be antithetical to the essence of democratic governance, but it must be borne in mind that the greatest strength of democracy is its ability to be sensitive to ground realities. Thus, to say that all affirmative action policies are undemocratic would be far too absolute. It is welcome that the vast majority of the country's political leadership has acknowledged the women's reservation Bill as an important mechanism by which the women of this country can be politically and socially empowered.

But the logic that politicians such as RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and SP strongman Mulayam Singh Yadav have put forward to demand a sub-quota for OBCs and Muslims within the 33 per cent reservation deserves harsher treatment. These are people whose politics is solely based on cultivating dedicated vote-banks which they fear will be eroded once the Bill becomes law. It is no secret that the Yadav chieftains have made their political careers on the strength of the Yadav-Muslim vote-bank. Now, with their political fortunes waning, they find themselves staring at a legislation that could very well sound the death knell for their brand of identity politics. Thus, they are trying to browbeat the proponents of the Women's Reservation Bill — which has seen parties such as the BJP and the CPI(M) rise above narrow politics to back the Government on an important issue — into conceding their demand of a quota within the proposed quota. The demand for reserved OBC seats is absurd. The Constitution provides for reserved constituencies for depressed classes, namely Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which Parliament in its wisdom has seen fit to extend from time to time. The demand for an OBC quota is nothing but the rant of opportunistic politicians who can least claim to have contributed to the welfare of this country.

As far as the suggestion of a Muslim quota is concerned, nothing could be more sinister and divisive. The idea of having separate reserved communal constituencies goes against the very concept of India. The Preamble to the Constitution reads "We the people of India…" and not 'We the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Muslims…'. It is from this ideal of unity in diversity that we obtain our system of democratic governance wherein each MP or MLA represents the interests of his or her constituency as a whole, irrespective of whether everyone in that constituency voted in his or her favour. The demand for a Muslim quota is a throwback to the infamous Morley-Minto 'reforms' for which the people of this land have already paid a terrible price. It deserves not only to be ignored but strongly rejected and repudiated.






The news from Nigeria continues to remain ghastly and grim. Earlier this year, Christians, who have for long been harassed and humiliated and have had to face violence and worse, went on the rampage and killed an estimated 300 Muslims. Last Sunday, the Muslim militias went on the rampage and extracted a terrible revenge, slaughtering hundreds — some say thousands — of Christians. Sectarian conflict in many an African country no longer raises eyebrows elsewhere in the world, nor does it cause concern among those African leaders who have governed their countries well. If truth be told, it is taken for granted as the world focuses on other issues of immediate worry. There is, however, every reason why the international community should take a serious view of the worsening situation in Nigeria, the world's 10th top oil-exporting country, and step in to prevent its descent into uncontrollable violence and chaos. Clearly President Goodluck Jonathan is incapable of managing his country's affairs. Nor does he have an able council to advice and guide him. While a functioning democracy is desirable, Nigeria cannot even boast of a shambolic democracy. Neither can its people look forward to the Army rescuing them from incompetent politicians who are more interested in feathering their nests and looting the country's oil wealth than in enforcing minimum standards of governance and a modicum of rule of law.

Ironically, it is the collapse of the Army, or so we are told, that has led to what is being described as a "dangerous vacuum" in the power structure. The Islamist militias have stepped in, as have armed groups of Christians. What we have is a recipe for unending civil strife and religious violence on a frightening scale. This week's blood-letting, chilling on account of the cruelty that was on display, is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. So where do we go from here? The UN can meet and deliberate on the situation in Nigeria, but that is unlikely to have any impact whatsoever. Nor can homilies mouthed by either Europe or America sway opinion or calm frayed tempers in Nigeria. What could have an impact is international resolve to first punish Nigeria's corrupt elite by boycotting its oil; if that fails to bring them to heel, then the UN Security Council should decide to send in an international force, not for bogus peace-keeping but to smash those who are bent upon destroying Nigeria. The time to wait and watch is long over.



            THE PIONEER




What an ugly spectacle over the women's reservation Bill! Just how can women, more or less half the population of the country, be likened to any minority community, caste or sub-caste group is difficult to understand. Claims, especially voiced by a section of the intelligentsia, that the privileged will hijack the seats reserved for women are as spurious as the opinion of those who argued six decades ago that a semi-feudal country like India was unfit for universal adult suffrage.

Of course, the fact that we are still fighting shy of using universal franchise in larger numbers may, as Mr LK Advani and Mr Narendra Modi have advocated, lead to more attention being paid to making voting compulsory. But that is a Constitution amendment Bill reserved for another, no doubt equally contentious, day in the future.

For the moment, Parliament appears to have one-too-many MPs, including those who tried to stall the women's reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha by raising an unseemly ruckus, who are unable to heed the call of the future, one in which caste, creed and gender may not quite be as important as before. Thankfully, as was witnessed on live television, such uncivil behaviour, shorn of parliamentary norms, is unlikely to be countenanced any more. The suspension of seven MPs proves this. Once the Bill becomes law, we can look forward to better behaviour when a third of the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies will comprise women.

The arguments put forward to block the Bill by the dissenters, mostly to the media, because what was said in Parliament was inaudible, are reminiscent of the bad old proportional representation and separate electorate days of the British Raj. These devices, used in the retreating decades prior to independence, suited the imperial policy of divide and rule. The echo of those times, in the injured victimhood being projected by certain regional parties such as the SP, RJD, BSP and the Trinamool Congress, is not a mere coincidence. It is also instructive that a number of other regional parties, such as the DMK, JD(U) and the AIADMK, have not found anything objectionable in the Bill.

But creating and pushing separate constituencies does confer leverage, especially to further narrow regional interests, and act as a bargaining chip for corruption. The broader point is that the fissiparous voices being heard today on various issues owe their strength to the pampering of various disparate vote-banks by the Congress.

Additionally, the majority Hindus have long been depicted by the Congress as a threatening, communal-minded entity, even as every attempt has been made to encourage the break-down of the majority community into its competing castes. But none of it has been done particularly well, or with sufficient conviction, and even the interests of minority communities have been promoted only in a token manner.

This is tacit continuance of the invidious British policy, dressed up as liberal secularism and concern for the underprivileged. Like Pakistan's nurturing of terrorist groups to extend its strategic reach, such cynical manipulation of the illiterate masses and the downtrodden has a way of coming home to roost. Today, the manipulated have acquired some power of their own and are no longer easy to control.

This Bill may not have been tabled for voting in the Rajya Sabha if it wasn't for Ms Sonia Gandhi. It was her firm stand on pushing through this legislation, pending for over 14 years now, that stiffened the spine of the Congress factotums in the Government.

Simultaneously, the assurances given by the Prime Minister with regard to the safeguarding of "minority interests" during the debate on the Bill only underscores the devaluation of political principles that bedevil us today. Otherwise, there is no reason why the fate of women's representation in Parliament and State Assemblies should be held hostage to the interests of minority communities, male domination or caste politics. Yet, notwithstanding Ms Sonia Gandhi's insistence on pushing the Bill through, the Government would have failed to secure its passage in the Rajya Sabha had it not been for the support extended — and the principled stand taken — by the BJP and the Left parties.

It must be noted that it is a considerably weakened BJP, after two consecutive electoral defeats at the national level, and a nearly marginalised Left, which is likely to be trounced in both its bastions of Kerala and West Bengal in next summer's Assembly election, that have come to the rescue of the Congress. Have the BJP and the Left now veered round to the view that coming together with the Congress on matters of national importance may well be the road to recovery and relevance?

The BJP is not in a position to precipitate a general election any time soon; and this goes double for the Left. But there may be a larger, tectonic shift in the works. After all, who could have imagined at the height of the Cold War that Russia and the West would one day break the ice and cooperate on global issues? Likewise, we could be seeing a new, centrist and inclusive BJP emerging under the leadership of Mr Nitin Gadkari, apart from the new leadership in both the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. Similarly, we could yet see a moderate Left. However, it's too early to say anything conclusively.

And the Congress, on its part, could be charting a new blue-print of governance, taking a cue from the prescient electoral verdict that returned UPA 2.0 to power while giving a thumbs-down to the blackmailing tactics of the provincial parties. This new alignment of sorts could, if it becomes the methodology adopted repeatedly, also put paid to any radical aspirations on the part of the SP, RJD, BSP and the Trinamool Congress.

The women's reservation Bill will sail through the Lok Sabha thanks to the BJP and the Left rising in support of the Government. It is a foregone conclusion that the proposed law will be ratified by a minimum of 15 Assemblies likewise. It's only a matter of time before this historic amendment to the Constitution becomes a reality.







A day after the ferocity of the violence at the Mangalore office of Kannad Prabha, and mayhem in Shimoga and Hassan towns of Karnataka over Taslima Nasreen's article, I spent my leisure time watching a few music videos from Pakistan on YouTube. One of those videos, Jugni, featured songs by Arif Lohar, an illustrious folk singer from Pakistani Punjab. Arif's father Alam Lohar was an eminent folk singer of his time and best known for his rendition of Heer Ranjha. Arif, who sings with a chimta, iconic symbol of his blacksmith's caste, could be seen dancing with a posse of gorgeous Punjabi girls. Those girls in salwar-kameez — no burqa nor mini skirts — were hardly distinguishable from their Hindu or Sikh counterparts on this side of the border.

Similar scenes are discernable in Pakistani music videos, stage shows and television shows. Stunningly beautiful maidens are seen singing and dancing in the company of youth who are not bearded or wearing skull caps. Viewers from India might find it difficult to believe that these are images of an Islamic republic. The word Muslim in 'secular' India denotes a convoluted world of burqas, beards, skull caps, Quranic verses and qawaalis. It does not appear, even to the 'secularists', that Muslims could have a folk tradition that has been handed down to them from pre-Islamic times, which is shared equally by men and women. We seek to inspire Muslims to integrate with the larger society on lines of religion. But this only gives a fillip to Islam's male-dominated aggressive agenda.

What is common to Taslima Nasreen and Arif and Alam Lohar, all of whom would have been Indians if frenzied Muslim communalists had not partitioned India? They are all victims of Islam while trying to reclaim and express their humanity. They are products, consciously or otherwise, of a perennial culture shaped by the six seasons, human love, and the open-ended quest for truth. But Islam, which claims itself to be Harf-e-Akhir or 'Last Word', is antithetical to such open-endedness and harmony, hallmarks of Indian culture.









By 2025, an estimated 60 per cent of India's groundwater blocks will be in critical condition as aquifers are depleting at an alarming rate, states Deep Wells and Prudence: Towards pragmatic action for addressing groundwater overexploitation in India, a World Bank report released ahead of World Water Day on March 22. Already 29 per cent of our groundwater blocks are semi-critical, critical, or overexploited, it adds.

The report comes at a time when India is seen having a decisive role on climate change in international politics. Moreover, the fact that India is the largest user of groundwater in the world, with an estimate use of 230 cubic kilometre of groundwater every year — more than a quarter of the global total — reflects the extent to which groundwater is indiscriminately exploited in this country.

Paradoxically, the grim situation is more due to human activity rather than scarcity of groundwater. It has been found that northern India is heavily dependent upon groundwater for public use and irrigation. Today, groundwater supports approximately 60 per cent of irrigated agriculture and more than 80 per cent of rural and urban water supplies. As climate change will put additional stress on groundwater resources, the report states that recharge is not a sustainable solution and, therefore, calls for investment in effective groundwater management. We can no longer solely depend on replenishment efforts.

It is unfortunate that at present, this inexpensive but precious resource attracts little attention in water resource management discussions. It needs to be realised that groundwater like any other resource can be wisely and effectively managed and thereby avert a catastrophe. In the current scenario where politics and commercial interests heavily weigh on such issues, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat seem to hold the key to sustainable groundwater use.

Andhra Pradesh, where farmers self-regulate the use of groundwater thus providing an alternative to the State's control of water resources, is an ideal illustration of grassroot water management. "Farmers in many cases have voluntarily reduced their water use, and still safeguarded their drinking water supply and crops. This has been made possible due to an exceptional programme of farmer education which has created 'barefoot hydrogeologists'. This approach is immediately replicable in other hard-rock areas, which account for two-thirds of groundwater settings in India," says Sanjay Pahuja, lead author of the report and World Bank's Senior Water Resources Specialist in India.

On the other hand, Gujarat's widely-applauded Jyotirgram scheme, a successful initiative to separate agricultural and non-agricultural (domestic, industrial and institutional) electricity feeders in rural areas is a good model that outlines what a Government can do and should do for better groundwater governance. This scheme, which is credited with reversing rural migration in the State, is driven by ground realities and not mere regulations.

Given the fact that seven States — Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu and Karnataka (mostly in hard-rock aquifers) — account for more than 80 per cent of critical and overexploited groundwater in the country and recharge efforts in predominantly alluvial settings would miss the real problem, makes the Gujarat model feasible to be replicated elsewhere.

The Gujarat model has resulted in more efficient use of power and groundwater in agriculture due to the high reliability of power on a pre-announced schedule matching the moisture stress. As the report points out, this scheme has resulted in 37 per cent reduction in aggregate use of power in groundwater irrigation in 2001 and 2006, and a concomitant reduction in groundwater draft. Such environmentally sustainable growth options are worth replicating in other States. This does not mean that community participation in groundwater governance is not important but, undeniably, the Government must assume greater responsibility in saving groundwater. Therefore, the Gujarat model of separate power supply for agricultural purposes merits replication in other States facing the challenge of overexploitation of groundwater.

Moreover, as chronic understaffing plagues several groundwater departments across our States, it is imperative to end the neglect they are suffering and redefine their roles to meet the challenges of this ever-changing world. It is time we realised that a nation which heavily depends upon agriculture cannot progress without addressing the festering groundwater problem. The course to concrete action must transcend political divides, something which calls for determination and resolve.







Violence is a quotidian evil. Be it the Maoists or the Constitutional amendment on Women's representation, it is the same thing; the measure of tolerance, a virtue exercised at the expense of victims in this pious polity, is indulging the violent.

It is so commonplace that it can be handled at the slow and creaky pace of a political class that finds nothing abhorrent in deaths or destruction. It is no accident or quirk that even as the Communist Party of India(Marxists) bleed in the turbulent Jangal Mahal-Lalgarh-Bankura region of West Bengal, the State's administration and police machinery seem to be sluggish in their response to organising themselves as a fighting force. It is no accident or quirk that a Congress-led Government that proclaims zero tolerance to the greatest internal threat to security, namely the Maoists, can paint menacing scenarios even as it takes the Home Minister P Chidambaram weeks to follow up on unrolling Operation Green Hunt.

It is no accident or quirk that the Indian state in the hands of a political class such as this can allow associates like Mr Shibu Soren in Jharkhand, Mr Nitish Kumar in Bihar and Ms Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal to be evasive about binding themselves to an agreed strategy for dealing with the Maoist menace. The Indian state is willing to be beguiled by the Maoists demanding interlocutors who are their compassionate crusaders. The game of fiddling while 160 odd districts are ravage by the Maoists is neither accidental nor a measure of the inefficiency, insensitivity or sheer callousness of the political class; it is a calculated and calibrated strategy of feigning blundering incompetence.

What needs to be faced is the dilemma of all Governments at the Centre and in the States between dealing with the Maoists as a straight law and order problem and dealing with the Maoists and their interlocutors as a political problem with complications that include law and order. The absence of clear political will in the matter is obvious.

As a simple law and order problem, the counter offensive against the sustained Maoist violence is the use of maximum force of which the Indian state is capable in order to deal with an internal law and order situation. Therein lies the rub. It remains a hypothetical question as to what degree of force the Indian state can generate, since the Maoists represent a rather unique political problem — they are not terrorists, but like terrorists; they are not separatists or militants aiming to divide the country; they are insurgents.


By fighting shy of taking out the Maoists, giving them time to recuperate and recruit by threats or persuasion, the Indian political class is revealing not its weakness but its guilt. The nexus of vested interests that misappropriate and redistribute resources includes politicians from all parties. The virulence of the Trinamool Congress attack on the ruling Communist Party of India(Marxist) in West Bengal is a measure of its complicity in encouraging the Maoists. By ducking attending the strategy meeting called by Mr Chidambaram in Kolkata, the Chief Ministers of Jharkhand and Bihar revealed their complicity too. In Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the links between business, contractors, political middle men and the variety of sangharsh or pratirodh platforms espousing the rights of indigenous populations (tribals, adivasis) is widely known.

Therefore, it is impossible in terms of sheer survival and self-interest, it would appear, for the Indian political class to sanction a take out plan against the Maoists. Why else would Home Secretary GK Pillai use a think-tank platform to indulge in kite flying about the Maoist's menacing plans of organising an army and taking over the Indian state by 2050? Why else would he pooh-pooh the idea as a "dream" a day later?

By delaying the launch of Operation Green Hunt, the Governments at the Centre and in the States are not intensely focussing on preparing for the project, they are buying time on behalf of the Maoists and their interlocutors. The realisation that every State police force has huge deficits of personnel is not a new story; it is an old and stupid one. Recruiting these personnel is a process that everyone knows about so the emergency recruitment drive is yet another silly tale.

Every yarn spun by every shade of vested interest is sillier than the other; like the tale about the tribal way of life and the forcible mainstreaming or eviction. Underlying this story is the idea that left to themselves tribals and their leaders are people of unswerving good faith. Underlying this story is that the belief that tribals can be insulated from the processes of social and economic change in India. Underlying this story is the idea that the defenders of tribal rights are persons of unimpeachable good intentions. Would that if any of this were true.







The United States has completed a military operation in Afghanistan's Helmand Province and is preparing a new operation, in Kandahar. The US says its new strategy in Afghanistan does not emphasise action against drug producers.

The US most likely does not want to provoke the wrath of the Afghans, whose welfare largely depends on opium poppy plantations.

According to a recent report published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, although the area sown with opium poppy in Afghanistan has decreased from 193,000 in 2007 to 123,000 hectare in 2009, the production of drugs there has grown considerably since 2001 and now amounts to 7,500 metric tonne of opium.

Heroin production is a major threat. Secret laboratories in the provinces of Badakhshan, Hilmand and Nangarhar annually produce more than 800 metric tonne of heroin.

However, it is Russia that leads in the number of heroin-related deaths. The UNODC report says addicts in the Russian Federation now consume a staggering 75-80 tonne of Afghan heroin a year, or 20 per cent of Afghan heroin production.

Russians consume 3.5 times more heroin than users in the US and Canada (approx 20 tonne) and nearly two times more than in China (45 tonne).

This UN data is confirmed by Russian sources. In March 2009, Mr Viktor Ivanov, head of the Federal Service for Drug Control, said that there were between two million and 2.5 million drug addicts in Russia, out of which 500,000 were officially registered. Increasing numbers of Russians are dying from drug abuse, 30,000-40,000, according to Government estimates, and the number of drug addicts grows by 80,000 every year.

There are three main drug routes from Afghanistan, the largest of them running via Iran (35 per cent to 40 per cent of drugs).

The second route runs via Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (25 per cent to 30 per cebt), with some 50 tonne of heroin reaching Russia annually, mostly through Kazakhstan. There is also an air route to Russia from Pakistan and Central Asia and sea and air routes from Africa.

The third route runs via Pakistan (25 per cent to 30 per cent of drugs), in particular via Balochistan to Karachi and on to Western Europe by sea.

Tajikistan, where law-enforcement corruption runs rampant, is the main transit country of the northern route. When Russia pulled its border troops from Tajikistan in 2005, the number of illicit drug seizures on the border with Afghanistan plummeted.

Kyrgyzstan has recently doubled its anti-drug trafficking efforts. The Kyrgyz President's commission for drug control is closely cooperating with its counterparts in Iran, which is logical because the growing inflow of drugs is destabilising the situation in the Fergana Valley.

The Government of Uzbekistan is focussing on the problem of drug trafficking across the country, especially after the May 2005 tragedy in Andijan, and because several international terrorist organisations are involved.

Kazakhstan is fighting drug trafficking especially actively. The country's law-enforcement agencies seize more than 23 tonne of drugs every year and liquidate some 200 delivery routes.

So far it is difficult to develop cooperation in combating drug trafficking with Turkmenistan. Although not widely used as a transit route for large batches of Afghan heroin and opium, Turkmenistan is a kind of grey zone inadequately controlled by the international community.

The Afghan Government started fighting drugs as soon as it replaced the Taliban regime. The temporary Government led by Hamid Karzai banned the cultivation of opium poppy, set up a drug enforcement agency and started plowing under poppy plantations.

It was believed then that the production of drugs in Afghanistan would plunge 75 per cent by 2008, but none of the above measures bore this out.

Afghan drug traffic poses a formidable threat to the security of Russia and the Central Asian countries, as the drug flow has grown to an alarming proportion.

The US and Nato troops deployed in Afghanistan refuse to address the problem.

This means that the international community must join forces against this global evil, preferably within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, which comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Iran, India, Mongolia and Pakistan have observer status.

--The writer is Learned Secretary of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Coordinating Council for Prognostication







Is Is Bihar plagued more by floods or by droughts? It is not a trite question given the fact the State witnesses both these calamities bringing death and destruction.

In a sense, drought seems a bigger menace than flood as its effects set off a ripple motion affecting agriculture, the main occupation of 84 per cent of the State's workforce (NSSO survey 1999-2000). A reduction in food production is the most tangible and the most disturbing fallout.


According to Government statistics, a whopping 1.26 crore people are facing acute food shortage. There is a cyclical pattern - even before the recovery of agricultural produce begins to take root the State gets hit by yet another year of drought. Bihar is in the second consecutive year of drought and in last two years, nearly two crore people have been affected.

Climate change is yet another factor which is worrying farmers and agricultural labourers, people who are already bearing the brunt of drought and consequent food shortage in the beleaguered region. It has led to a warm December with the difference between minimum and maximum temperature being four to five degrees above normal. According to experts, this could lead to 30-40 per cent decrease in mango and litchi yields. Sahjan trees which flower during March are bursting into bloom in October, a speeded up process which can be traced again back to the unnatural rise in temperature.

The late arrival of monsoons has caused an intense water shortage in northern areas of Bihar impacting the kharif crops, including paddy. This year the crops could be sowed only on 23.02 lakh hectare land as against the normal 35 lakh hectare due to insufficient water. The fallout of this is pegged at a decrease of 30-40 per cent in paddy production. The compound effect will carry into the next phase during the rabi season. All these aberrations in nature are leading to food shortage.

Bhojpur district, once called the bowl of paddy, is expected to witness a decrease of 50 per cent in its production. Bhojpur and other 26 districts have been declared as drought-stricken. North Bihar, which is renowned for its maize production, has also been affected by this onslaught. The yields are falling and entire fields are destroyed. While corn is not a staple food of the local population, its value in the markets within and outside the State keeps many a hearth in the region burning.

All this stands jeopardised today. The hilly areas bordering Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh have seen an unprecedented water shortage. Across 17 districts groundwater levels have fallen between 30-70 feet in June. This region is crucial to Bihar's economy and its compromised situation would only contribute to an already bleak agricultural scenario.

But the question arises: What can be done? The link between the declining agriculture in Bihar, consequent food shortage and changes that are being wrought in climatic patterns is undeniable and needs to be addressed.

The grim water situation is playing havoc with cattle, which plays a critical role in the rural economy. Sheep, goats, bulls, cows, buffaloes and chickens are dying in large numbers, itself indicative of a growing impoverishment of village communities. Those who can migrate with their cattle do so. Those who cannot and are forced to either abandon them, sell them at distress prices or simply watch them die

According to a survey by the Tendulkar Committee, 54 per cent people in the State live under the poverty line. Whereas the figures of the State Government show that 75 per cent people live below the poverty line. These are the people who will be hit by the food shortage most.

The situation in Bihar is compounded by the fact that agriculture relies heavily on the monsoons. Only 60 per cent of the entire agricultural land has adequate irrigation facilities. Most of these, hinge on the use of tube-wells, which have a detrimental effect sucking out the available groundwater and leaving the land drier than before. Tube-wells also mean a heavy use of costly diesel in the absence of adequate power supply. Moreover, mid-day meal scheme meant to provide nutritious food to children are in a low-performing mode. Even under the much-touted 100-day National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, labourers are neither getting employment nor unemployment allowance.

It won't be wrong to say that Bihar could very well be facing the worst food shortage of the century.









IT might seem strange that someone who usually makes sure her voice is heard above the din should have ordered her partymen to stay silent on the women's reservation Bill. On Tuesday, when the landmark legislation was finally put to vote in the Rajya Sabha, the Trinamool Congress MPs abstained. But a day earlier, as parliamentary proceedings were repeatedly held up by the Yadav chieftains, Ms Mamata Banerjee was greatly optimistic on the passage of the Bill. Newspaper reports described how she led her party MPs in singing " We shall overcome" in the Lok Sabha, of which she is a member.


So, what happened in the space of a day? The ostensible reason is that she had not been told the Bill would be put to vote on Tuesday. Surely, few will be naïve enough to buy that. It is no secret that the railway minister's true commitment is to West Bengal where elections are due next year.


In recent polls she has emerged victorious by successfully demonising the CPM- led Left Front government as anti poor, anti farmer and anti minorities. The anti- Muslim tag stuck to the Marxists primarily as a result of her party campaigns in Singur and Nandigram. It all added up in impressive election victories.


Ms Banerjee's about- turn on Tuesday reflects rank opportunism and a measure of agreement with what the Yadav chieftains are saying on the women's quota Bill.


It also betrays her anxiety over who will take the substantial minority vote in West Bengal. The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government has decided to implement the Ranganath Misra report by providing reservation in government jobs to the Other Backward Classes among Muslims.


She is right in thinking that this could affect her electoral prospects and seems to believe that abstaining from the vote will give a boost to her pro- minority and pro- OBC credentials. But the point Ms Banerjee has missed is that by doing so she has joined hands with parties that brazenly tried to stall a progressive legislation. With a year to go for the Bengal polls, voters have sufficient time to decide whether she deserves to lead them.







MAIL TODAY ' S report about children dying in a Madhya Pradesh district due to malnutrition and starvation, coming on the back of reports about starvation deaths in Orissa's Balangir district, should make us hang our heads in shame. As many as 46 children have died this way in the tribal district of Jhabua since October last year and a few more ill children could join this list unless emergency measures are taken up.


And the irony of ironies is that the villages where most of the deaths have occurred fall in the Lok Sabha constituency of Union Tribal Affairs Minister Kantilal Bhuria.


As is common, the district administration is trying to play down the matter, claiming that no deaths have taken

place since January though three children are reported to have died this year. Villagers in the area have poor access to health facilities but health officials say they have been on the job all along organising health camps in the area, a claim denied by the residents.


But this is not just about the lack of health care. If children are dying due to starvation or malnutrition it is obvious that their parents don't have enough to feed them properly. This raises vital questions about the implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in the district. Villagers say they have NREGA cards but hardly get any work under the scheme, forcing many people to migrate to other places in search of a livelihood.


We wonder what Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan, who likes to highlight his pro- development credentials, has to say about the news coming out of Jhabua district though it must be accepted that children dying due to malnutrition is very much a pan- Indian phenomenon. A study has said as many as 2000- 3000 children die every day in India on this account.


About 46 per cent of children under the age of three in India are supposed to be malnourished, accounting for a third of the malnourished children in the world. Considering that malnutrition stems from multiple causes things will not change significantly unless we have a comprehensive national programme with the standalone objective of eliminating malnutrition.







A DAY after the Supreme Court asked Raj Thackeray to avoid provocative speeches, his men were at work again — smashing the glass panes of Airtel and Aircel showrooms across Mumbai and Thane for not having included Marathi in their automated customer service messages, within the deadline given to them by their party. This took place, as usual, in full view of TV cameras, with not a policeman in sight, of course.


The bats and hockey sticks swung into action immediately after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president exhorted a packed auditorium to " pull Airtel by the tail.'' He was speaking at the fourth anniversary function of his party.


That wasn't the only significant utterance made by Raj Thackeray on the occasion. Expressing satisfaction at the success of his party — it won 13 seats in the recent assembly elections — Thackeray thanked the media for his party's growth, for having " conveyed to people across the state what we were saying, thereby motivating people to trust us.''




Two years back, when images of MNS members pouncing upon hapless North Indian bhelpuri vendors and taxi drivers in Mumbai had been repeatedly telecast, Thackeray had lashed out at Hindi TV anchors for having passed judgment on him instead of simply reporting. The Hindi and English media were pointedly told they were not invited to his press conference held after the violence.


That blazing MNS entry into Maharashtra politics had killed two persons, caused hundreds of North Indians to flee the state in fear and destroyed lakhs worth of public and private property across the state.


But even at that time, a leading Marathi newspaper had given the man behind the violence the space to air his views. In a long piece entitled " My stand, my fight'', the main instigator of the violence explained why his men had taken to the streets.


Referring constantly to the " goondagiri'' and " dadagiri'' of North Indians in Mumbai, the article warned that if they wanted to live in Maharashtra, they had better assimilate. The piece ended with a call to all Marathispeaking persons to join the MNS " struggle which would eventually be victorious, because no law could stamp out a Marathi mind on fire.'' The fire's still burning. In fact, after it was fuelled in January by the Maharashtra CM, a Congressman, by announcing that only Marathiknowing taxi drivers would get licences, Raj Thackeray redefined " Maharashtrian'' to mean one born, not domiciled, in Maharashtra. A few months ago, at the oath- taking ceremony of newly elected MLAs, his MLAs had slapped Samajwadi Party chief Abu Asim Azmi for taking his oath in Hindi. And at the fourth anniversary function, the MNS chief matched his mentor Bal Thackeray by expressing anger that one of his party leaders had played Holi with ( north Indian) Congress leader Kripashankar Singh. " I will not tolerate such incidents,'' he said.


All these acts of Raj Thackeray and his men attract criminal provisions of the IPC. The police won't act, in keeping with their tradition of respect towards Maharashtra's first family. But to be told by this man that we, the media, have helped him reach where he is — is that a compliment? The relationship between the media and rabble rousers has always been problematic. Should we ignore them, or allow their venom to reach those not yet exposed to it? Should their rhetoric be stripped bare in the report to render it as harmless as possible, or should it be reported as such to expose them and provide the government with enough evidence to prosecute them? Should such reports be pushed into the inside pages and always countered editorially? Journalists have discussed these questions, but you wouldn't think so, looking at our record of reporting these leaders through the decades.


The media has always been more than generous in its coverage of demagogues, from Bal Thackeray to Sant Bhindranwale, from L K Advani and Uma Bharati during the Ayodhya campaign to Pravin Togadia in 2002, and Narendra Modi and Raj Thackeray today.




The hatred spread by these fanatics has never been masked; and the relationship between their harangues and the ensuing violence has been obvious to all. Two official judicial commissions have held Bal Thackeray, L K Advani and Uma Bharati responsible for acts which caused the death of hundreds, but they remain media favourites, endearingly called " Tiger'', " The Iron Man'' and " feisty sanyasin'', respectively.


But such generosity has not been bestowed by the same media on other demagogues. Their capacity to spew

poison is as great as the chosen ones; their popularity within their own communities perhaps even greater. Remember Salauddin Owaisi and Kanshiram? Abu Asim Azmi is another worthy candidate. Owaisi, who stirred passions in Hyderabad's Old City, was ignored by the national press; Kanshiram became a national figure but was ridiculed ( the same way his successor is today); so was the fiery Mahendra Singh Tikait.


Azmi is positively reviled ( though loved by the Urdu press). Would any Muslim or Dalit or peasant demagogue ever be in a position to thank the media for his success?




Others have moved lakhs not on the basis of caste or religious identity but on their class identity — union leaders George Fernandes and Dr Datta Samant in their heyday. But Fernandes became a media favourite ( though he never reached Bal Thackeray's ratings) much after the Emergency ended, not during the great railway strike of 1974 which he led. As for Dr Samant — for Mumbai's English press, Datta Samant was what the Maoists are to TV channels today. Samant's early trade unionism was marked by violence, even murder.


But then what else marks the politics of the Thackerays and the Modis? Even those whose words inspire non- violent resistance don't get the chosen treatment. One has only to attend Medha Patkar's rallies to see the effect her oratory has on her audience — people made homeless by " development''. But she's been so demonised – with no little contribution by the media — that her mere presence in Gujarat can spark off attacks on her, and the only time she makes news is when she's arrested.


What then makes us so indulgent towards one kind of rabble rouser and so harsh towards another? Why do one class of violent politicians get fawned upon, whereas others get cross- examined and dissected? There's no getting away from it — we in the media love demagogues who preach the politics of the majority; those who prey on minorities, on the ' outsider'. Is their obvious aura of power the attraction?


The writer is a Mumbai based journalist









BIHAR'S top cops are often accused of not being gentlemenly while discharging their duty. More often than not, they are known for enjoying the privileges of office without being people-friendly. But Anand Shankar, who retired as the director- general of police recently, was an exception.


On the last day of his service on February 28, Shankar went quietly to his office in his official uniform to hand over charge to his successor Neelmani. Once the formalities were over, Shankar went immediately into the ante-room of his chamber. When he returned after a few minutes, all the police officials present on the occasion were surprised to see him in civilian clothes.


" I am a civilian now," he said as if relieved of a great burden. His former colleagues in the department wanted him to keep wearing the police uniform until he returned home in keeping with the tradition. But the outgoing DGP politely turned down their request.


Shankar, who was involved in a controversy for sporting a tilak ( vermillion mark) on his forehead during his seven- monthlong tenure, also broke another tradition on the day. He refused to take the official vehicle home on his return.


As per Bihar police's tradition, all the top officials of the force push the car of the outgoing DGP while giving him a send- off.


But Shankar had his son waiting for him outside his office in his personal vehicle. The former DGP got into his own car and exited quickly out of the Bihar police headquarters. Shankar also returned all the police personnel provided to him by the force.


Bihar police had never seen such a quick metamorphosis of a top cop into an ordinary citizen.


His conduct should set an example before those ex- officials who find it difficult to get over the fact that they are no longer in the prestigious Indian Police Service ( IPS). Many of Shankar's predecessors had even kept their staff, engaging them in household chores, long after their retirement. Others have lobbied hard with successive governments to get cushy assignments to retain their job benefits.


But Shankar apparently wants none of this. Asked about his future plans, he said that he would devote the rest of his life in worshipping the Almighty.


His last- day conduct, however, was not all that unexpected.


Even while he was in service, he was known for doing things least expected of the most powerful cop in the state. He would often travel incognito in the general bogies of trains to visit different parts of Bihar and get a feedback from the common man on the performance of his department.


He also had the forthrightness to give state policemen a piece of his mind.


Immediately after taking over, he asked cops to desist from hankering after ill- gotten money and run their homes " on salary alone". There have been many high- profile predecessors of Shankar but he was the first DGP to exhort policemen to improve their image in the public eye through people- friendly conduct. And he did not do it merely with words. He truly believed that a policeman's primary responsibility is to serve society selflessly without fear or favour.


Bihar certainly needs more policemen like him.



BHOJPURI cinema's superstar Ravi Kissen does not hesitate in singing paeans to the performance of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar these days. He says that the state has made rapid strides in many fields under Nitish's leadership. But it is Nitish's political rival Lalu Prasad he wants to act with in a movie.


Kissen, who was in Katihar district earlier this week, said it was his long- cherished desire to have Lalu Yadav as a co- star in one of his films.


Lalu has not responded to his " offer" yet.


But Kissen is probably forgetting that Lalu does not let anybody steal the show when he is around, be it politics or films. The last time Lalu played a bit role in a Hindi film starring Sunil Shetty six years ago, he overshadowed all his coactors.


Even his name was used for the title of the film, Padmashri Laloo Prasad .



BIHAR'S politicians know the ins and outs of vote bank politics better than their contemporaries from other states. It is only expected of them to harness their skills to woo the electorate belonging to a particular section of society in the election year.


Last week, all the top politicians of the state tried to win over Muslims in their own way.


Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad and Lok Janshakti Party president Ram Vilas Paswan were all busy paying obeisance at different shrines in and around Patna. Wearing traditional Muslim caps, they offered chadar like true devouts during the annual Urs at a famour mazaar near the Patna High Court. The trio joined the thousands of faithfuls who throng there every year.


That was not all. Paswan organised a Muslim rally at the historic Gandhi Maidan in Patna where he called for giving ten per cent reservation over and above the Mandal Commission report to Muslims. Nitish followed it up by addressing a congregation at Jehanabad iterating his commitment to uplift the lot of the extremely backward sections of society. Lalu stressed the need for implementing the Rangnath Mishra Commission and Sachar Committee reports. He also tried to connect with spectators at one place by recalling how he used to attend the night- long qawwali nites in his young days.


All of them apparently believe that the Muslims, with 16 per cent population in Bihar, hold the key to government formation in the state. Only time will tell who gets the bulk of votes from the so- called Muslim vote bank later this year.







The historic women's reservation Bill has polarised the polity and that's bound to affect the running of the UPA government at the Centre. The immediate impact of the acrimonious debate in the Rajya Sabha will be on the UPA's strength in the Lok Sabha.

With the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal withdrawing support to the UPA government, the latter now has a wafer-thin majority in the Lok Sabha. That the Trinamul Congress, a crucial ally with 19 MPs, chose not to vote with the government must also rankle. Currently the UPA tally in the Lok Sabha, inclusive of Trinamul members, adds up to only 268. That's four short of a simple majority. There is no immediate danger to the government since it is assured of the outside support of some MPs. Moreover, no political party may want to precipitate a mid-term election. But the Congress will be even more dependent on allies hereafter.

Does this mean a gain for the BJP? Not really. The distribution of seats across parties in the Lok Sabha is skewed against the BJP-led NDA. A consolidation of parties estranged from the UPA in favour of NDA is unlikely at this moment. The SP and RJD spearheaded the opposition against the Bill and targeted the UPA on the pretext that it is against the interests of minority communities and other backward classes (OBCs). They hope to rebuild their old social alliance that included the OBCs and Muslims on this issue. Hence, it's improbable that they'll reach out to the BJP, which shares the Congress's views on quotas for women in Parliament. The Bill has also created divisions within the Janata Dal (United), a member of the NDA. A split in that party could affect the alliance's prospects in the coming Bihar assembly polls.

The immediate focus of parties like the SP, RJD and BSP will be the upcoming assembly elections in Bihar and UP. These parties will aim for a polarisation of voters along caste and religious lines by targeting the women's Bill. How far that'll succeed is anybody's guess. The assumption that communal and caste identities are likely to override gender in an election seems to be driving the politics of SP and RJD. They believe women cutting across caste, class and religious divisions are unlikely to form a vote bloc. The Congress seems to think that women, like youth, could be cultivated as a constituency. It's a gambit aimed at shifting the ground from politics centred on caste and community, a throw of the dice that offers interesting possibilities for the future.







Despite the ruckus created in Parliament by MPs from smaller allies of the government, it was good to see all of India's major political parties come together in agreement in a matter of historic import. The Congress, BJP and the Left privileged landmark legislation over petty politics in supporting the women's reservation Bill. In much the same way, we believe that political parties should work together to evolve a consensus on security policy.

There are some issues and concerns too important to be affected by partisan rancour. The nation's security is one of them. Given that India is situated in an uncertain neighbourhood, and has been and continues to be a target for terrorist attacks, it is imperative that the nation's political leadership set aside their differences for the good of the country. The CIA recently warned that India is at risk from the al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while the government has sounded a terror alert in Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata. At times like this, parties should work together to improve the country's security structures, rather than indulge in political brinksmanship to score cheap points at each other's expense. Unfortunately, after the Mumbai terror attack, parties were busy pointing fingers at each other, while the opposition wasted no time in deriding the government. But the women's reservation Bill proves that there are overarching issues on which political parties are willing to collaborate. They must embrace this spirit of cooperation and come together to develop a new policy on security that will serve the country well.








"We must at present do our best to form...a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect." With these words, spoken in 1835, Lord Macaulay crystallised an imperial approach to the English language that, unfortunately, continues to work to its detriment today. The old resentments about English being the language of the ruling classes, the old accusations about it being an imposition that dilutes our cultural ethos, continue to be political currency.

And so we have Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Samajwadi Party proposing a ban on English in Indian schools, or the Karnataka government banning 2,100 educational institutions in 2006 for using English as a medium of instruction. But there is a disconnect between the section of the political class that denigrates English, and the aspirations of India's burgeoning middle-class and its poor. They are playing to a constituency that is diminishing by the day. The English language is both an aspirational ideal and a practical tool that propels economic empowerment. The people have realised this even if the politicians who represent them have not.

Consider the evidence, both statistical and anecdotal. A study carried out in Mumbai a few years ago - based on a large sample and published in the American Economic Review - came up with interesting findings. According to it, access to English education reduced gender inequalities and the relevance of caste. It multiplied the choices and career options available to children in urban working-class homes, enabling a far greater percentage of them to move on to white-collar jobs than children who studied in Marathi medium schools.

As a corollary, the broader range of economic and social opportunities available to those from English medium schools also resulted in a much higher percentage of inter-caste marriages among them. Little wonder that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is being forced to shut down Marathi medium schools because of lack of demand. As one BMC official put it, parents feel that English can boost their children's chances of securing a better living.

They have good reason to think so. English has demonstrably been one of the building blocks of India's remarkable economic growth over the past decade. By laying such emphasis on the tertiary sector, the growth model has ensured that knowledge of English becomes an essential part of a professional's skill set. To give just one statistic highlighting its importance, 80 per cent of the sector's offshoring business comes from the US and the UK. But even outside of those two countries, English has established itself as the language of international business. With the high profile role of India's IT and BPO businesses as well as the growing market footprint of multinationals, the language of globalisation and international commerce cannot be ignored.

Little wonder that English-medium schools have proliferated in slums and rural areas. Or that politicians who have no compunctions about employing the rhetoric of linguistic chauvinism send their children to English-medium schools. We have the example of West Bengal as well. It tried to cut back on Eng-lish in schools two decades ago but had to backtrack when the move was seen as contributing to the state's deindustrialisation. Meanwhile, another communist administration - in China - is moving ahead with comprehensive initiatives to teach Chinese children English from a young age in an attempt to win a greater share of the outsourcing pie.

The idea that English education fosters elitism has been an influential one. But the way to deal with this is not by restricting the number of English-speakers even more. It is by widening its reach and democratising it. The elite has the means to ensure access to English, come what may. Locking the underprivileged out would be tantamount to reinforcing their lack of privilege. Let's build on what most of us acknowledge at some level - that knowledge of English can provide access to better jobs, or even raise one's income in one's present occupation.

There's a demand for English at the grassroots, which can't be ignored. The poor scrimp and save, in order to spend their hard-earned money to send their wards to schools that teach English. Implicit in this is an intuitive recognition that knowledge of English can offer an escape route from poverty, at least for the next generation. Let's facilitate that process, and speed upward mobility, by offering the underprivileged access to decent English-language skills free or at low cost.

None of this is to suggest that local languages should be ignored. Our richest cultural expressions can continue to be in these languages, and our educational institutions should do all they can to facilitate this. But there's no reason why multiple languages can't coexist. Indeed, they have done so since time immemorial in this country. English is just a practical skill, a tool of empowerment which will help everyone access the world of commerce and opportunity.

( The writer is CEO-corporate social responsibility, BCCL, heading a trust for imparting spoken English and life skills to underprivileged youth.)







People often harbour flighty notions about married life. And they pay for it. That's why marriage should be approached more scientifically. Prenuptial training in Iran is a brainwave worth emulating. Some will chafe at the idea of official certification of readiness for matrimony. But look at it this way. Governments also manage education and state-appointed teachers certify academic prowess and other skills. What's wrong if the same principle drives online courses preparing the untutored for life's biggest test: keeping one's marriage vows?

With traditional certitudes increasingly called into question, individuals in their personal and professional lives must cope with the pressures and snares of modern life. As society gets more atomised - a seemingly irreversible process - youngsters become more prone to navel-gazing. Love does draw people out from within themselves but it is self-reflective in its core. Marriage is a different, less intoxicating, kettle of fish: two people stick together for good or bad, even when love's first flush has faded.

Prenuptial training can create awareness of marital responsibilities. To argue that matters of the heart can't be taught or graded is to miss the point. Marriage isn't just about the heart's fuzzy universe. It's also about using the head, about knowing the right time to take the plunge. Suitors and wannabe brides, as interested parties, can't dispassionately judge their own battle-readiness. What's wrong if government-designated experts step in? Childhood onwards, girls and boys undergo social conditioning about what it takes to be good wives and husbands. So the objection to prenuptial training as a pedagogical exercise is rather hypocritical.








You could title it 'The Hurt Shocker'. That sums up what happened to the women's Bill on Monday even as The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow's unflinching film on the Iraq war, was making Oscar history for the right reasons in LA. There were lots of Kodak Theatre moments inside Parliament House as well, thanks largely to some Inglourious Basterds — spelt correctly.


Though Brinda Karat is tailor-made for any brand of red carpet and there's no dearth of glittering cine-MPs, the paparazzi went berserk over Messrs Subhash Yadav and Kamal Akhtar. It's difficult to cast these lumps of dough as a J Lo or even A Jolie, though you could call them the Pitts. But last Monday, they made up in disgraceful drama what they lacked in glamour. Fortunately the next day, Sonia salvaged the Bill, and enabled Indian women to keep their tryst with a greater density.


Indeed the parallels between the unceremonious events of the women's Bill and the almost concurrent Oscar ceremony were obvious. Most clearly, The Hurt Locker was the mirror image of The Hurt Shocker, which unspooled in the Rajya Sabha on March 8. 


 Both blockbusters were WMDs for IWD since both delivered different bombshells on the centenary of International Women's Day. While the political genre blew a gaping hole in the hopes of a 33 per cent reservation for women,  the Iraq war film was a weapon of  masculine destruction. To more awe than shock, Kathryn Bigelow decimated  ex-husband James Cameron's Avatar. Its budget and box-office takings had been Titanic-sized. So was its sinking. Nominated for nine Oscars, the breathtaking sci-fi epic won in only three categories, all 'only' technical ones. 


However, while we went to town and TV on the betrayal of women by the three Yadavs, Ms Bigelow steadfastly refused to fall into the gender trap in her acceptance speech and all subsequent interviews. She could rightfully have gloated since her film licked the cream of Best Director and Best Movie, plus tucked into three side-orders as well.  Kathryn the Great was the first woman director in the 82-year history of the Academy Awards to wrest this top-dog Oscar. 


For the record, only three other women directors have even been nominated. Among them was Sofia Coppola in 2003 for Lost In Translation. This too could have been the title of our own Monday hope-buster because it couldn't  translate a 321-vote majority into the awaited result; victory was Lost In Commotion, mercifully only temporarily. Also for the record, on this historic women's day in LA, the Best Actress award did not go to Meryl Stree(p) in the other woman-directed 'Julia & Julia'. It went to Sandra B.


 Which brings us to the fact that we can't just say 'Bullocks' to the petty, or rather, small-minded  trio of Sharad, Mulayam and Lalu. This 'Blind Side' has aggressively refused to see the political aspirations of  India's women. To borrow from another film that bombed on Oscar Night, these Yadavs left the gender 'Up In The Air' – till Sonia threw in her ballast.  


Alternatively, you can choose the film for which Sandra Bullock got the send-up Golden Raspberry on the eve of her Best Actress Oscar. That movie was titled 'All About Steve'. The Yadav bill-buster is 'All About Peeve'. 



Whichever way you look at the women's reservation Bill, 'It's Complicated'. It leaves just 282 'open' seats for male politicians in the Lok Sabha, after the existing 122 reservation  for SC/ST, and the proposed 181 quota for women. But, big deal! Ask our aspirants to medical colleges, and they will tell you that there's little difference between the MPs' new predicament and their own long-suffered one. Yes, to continue with the Oscar parallel, there's 'Precious' little difference








The Delhi authorities appear to have had an epiphany. And it's not because Easter is advancing upon us. They have suddenly realised the larger truth that 70 per cent of dhabas where people go to nibble their favourite street food are illegal. And, heavens above, any moment, the Commonwealth starter's gun will go off. So in the manner of the Queen of Hearts, off with all of them before some unsuspecting soul from the Commonwealth delegation is felled by an unsanitary gol gappa.


The immutable truth that beggars inhabit all corners of the city also escaped the eyes of those with a higher calling. So, like you'd return a crate of apples gone bad to the shopkeeper, they too have to go back where they came from. And while schools remain open in icy and scorching weather, they will get a 15-day break when the fun and games begin. In other words, life as we know it will metamorphose come the epochal event. Now many may kvetch and grumble at this. But not those of us with a sunny disposition.


Let us take this opportunity to get rid of a few more eyesores like all that encroachments in residential areas and parks. And to have our beloved Municipal Corporation of Delhi workers looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at all times instead of dozing on the job. And perhaps our VIPs could also stay at home so that their screeching convoys don't mow down participants in the Games and those who'll come to see them. And certainly, we should do away with slums and perhaps give people aesthetic housing in Lutyens Delhi where there is a surplus of land. We're really warming up to this now. Oh, and take steps to keep under control that famous Delhi spirit that involves depositing bodily fluids in public and giving anyone who gets in your way a few friendly whacks. Ah yes, we are certainly game for all this provided we are not asked to make ourselves scarce.








Nuclear power wins so much public praise that its advocacy is developing religious overtones. US President Barack Obama called for a nuclear renaissance in his State of the Union address. French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday called for the developing world to seek radioactive communion. Israel has offered to jointly build reactors with its Arab neighbours. Over the next two decades, as many as 400 new reactors, roughly doubling the number running, could come up around the world.


Though Asia was largely unaffected, the shadow created by the Chernobyl disaster has largely passed. There're many reasons the nuclear torch has so many bearers. The first is energy. If one believes in the theory of peak oil — that climate change is man-made, or that petrodollars finance Islamic terror — then one believes in the need for a proven alternative to fossil fuels. The second is money. Reactors cost a billion dollars or two, fuelling and maintaining them millions more. Mr Sarkozy inaugurated a nuclear conference this week to showcase his country's prowess in reactors for export. Others are also offering atomic goodies. Reactor-makers now include upstarts like South Korea. Almost every industrialised country produces reactor components. Another cluster provides reactor fuel and others sell uranium. Because owning a reactor, as Iran has shown, means a country also learns three-quarters of the process for building a bomb and because nuclear power still produces the world's most hazardous waste, a nuclear renaissance needs to be accompanied by a policy safety check. In tandem with 9/11, this is why the world non-proliferation regime has been tightening.


India has been a nuclear laggard — it plans a dozen new reactors while China plans 300. It no longer has the excuse of sanctions and needs to make up for lost time. This is why the passage of the nuclear liability bill in some form is necessary. It will not only open the door for reactor imports from the US, France and other countries. It will also pave the way for India's own private nuclear efforts. A further step towards accomplishing the latter is ending the Department of Atomic Energy's monopoly. Only such reform will allow the sector to develop the finances and innovation needed for India to become a genuine player in a sector that is now achieving critical mass.








Some say multiculturalism has always been an essential part of the Indian spirit. There's a charming story about the earliest Jewish settlements in India I was told by the rabbi of the synagogue in Kochi, Kerala. There was consternation and debate in the court of the local Hindu king when several boats carrying Jews from afar arrived looking for asylum and shelter. How could these aliens live among us without disturbing the peace? The king's advisors said it'd be like pouring water into a glass full of milk: both the water and milk would spill. 'No' said the weary travellers. Rather, it would be like mixing sugar into milk. The milk wouldn't spill; rather, it'd taste sweeter and, therefore, better. Impressed, the king took them in.


The story of Modern Indian Art parallels that of Modern India — artistic awakenings paralleling the political awakenings, both dating back to the mid-19th century. While political India was inventing political multiculturalism, artistic India was inventing artistic multiculturalism. Political India institutionalised 20th century political multiculturalism in 1950 when the country gave itself a new Constitution. For political India, multiculturalism was about the viability and survival of a newly-created multi-religious, multi-racial and multi-linguistic nation. For artistic India, it was about freedom, creativity, self-expression and the universal human spirit.


Even so, India's political embrace of multiculturalism was important for the artistic community since it confirmed, legitimised and validated the political and artistic awakenings that had been going on for the previous half century and enlarged the space for creative freedom. Embracing another culture is an act that involves both mind and heart. There's an intellectual and cognitive component, but equally importantly, there's also the emotional component.


Put simply, you have to feel the culture you are embracing or your art will lack authenticity and vitality. Long before Indian artists looked to western art for inspiration, they embraced the many cultures other than their own in the Indian sub-continent itself. Hindu artists embraced Muslim culture and Muslim artists embraced Hindu culture, Christian artists embraced both, and the many ethnic cultures embraced each other. This challenging, but voluntary, act is rare in the annals of history and its importance and difficulty continue to be underrated in Europe and the US.


The embrace of other cultures has taken Indian artists down seemingly unexpected paths.  Thus one finds subjects like the Crucifixion of Christ and the Last Supper treated extensively by Indian artists, both Hindus and Muslims.  They paint these subjects not because they are in awe of their former colonial masters, but because they understand the passion, pathos and symbolism of those stories. And yet there is a difference in their treatment of these subjects, which springs from their individuality and from their Indian background.


The question that needs to be asked is: why does one not see paintings of Krishna and Radha — a popular and enduring Hindu subject — by western artists? This is a universal story of divine love that's been extensively treated by Indian Muslim and Christian artists to the delight of all. Perhaps there is ignorance and indifference. But another explanation is that they don't feel themselves equal to the task.  The truth is multiculturalism in art, done well, is emotionally and artistically hard work.


Multiculturalism is perhaps the most potent political idea for the world today, and modern India invented it. We invented it. It is the powerful idea that's propelled India's success in the modern world. It's broadened and deepened our democracy, empowered our women and shaped our embrace of modernity, diversity and pluralism. It's the reason why so many of us have achieved great success in the western world and the globalised economy.


Since most Indians — and certainly most non-Indians — are oblivious of these origins, this essay is written with the hope that awareness of this important idea will spark reflection and recognition. That, in turn, will deepen the strength of our multiculturalism at home and hasten its spread abroad. And that, in turn, will be good for India and great for the world.


Rajiv J. Chaudhri is President, Digital Century Capital. His art collection, 'Bharat Ratna! Jewels of Modern Indian Art', is currently on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


The views expressed by the author are personal








'I will consume poison and die, but I will not allow the passage of this Bill!'   


More than nine months after this grand declaration and frantic efforts to stall a legislation that would push more women into his life, political veteran and Janata Dal (United) President and Member of Parliament (MP) Sharad Yadav — born in the year of India's independence — is alive and well, save for a deep sulk that will probably remain with him for life.


While I am no great fan of the Congress party's dynastic habits, I cannot but admire Sonia Gandhi for so determinedly pushing through the 108th amendment to the Indian constitution, reserving 33 per cent of seats in Parliament and state assemblies for women, at the cost of destabilising her government.


The women's reservation bill will not become law easily. The Lok Sabha must say yes. At least 15 assemblies must say yes. As that unfolds, the disgruntled old men who opposed the bill, including some Congress allies, are plotting revenge (They are all old men, either too old to change or aged in belief.)


But the passage of this historic legislation in India's Upper House will galvanise a deeply sexist and unequal country to accept the coming era more easily. The actual effect of women in power may take years, even decades. The idea of a more equal, more efficient, kinder and prosperous India will begin sooner.


On Monday, a United Nations report predicted that India's GDP could grow more than 4 per cent if women were as well represented in the workforce as they are in the US. This lack of female participation is endemic across Asia-Pacific and costs nearly $90 billion, the report says.


Aside from being homemakers, as demanding a job as any, more than 140 million women also work outside the house. Need drives most of them; 75 per cent of these marginal jobs are in agriculture.


Even when pushed to work, women make a difference. More than 3 million (some school dropouts, some post-graduates) serve day-care and health centres across the country. They are the frontline of the government's efforts to improve rural health.


There are islands of genuine hope: women in the infotech workforce went from 4.21 lakh in 2006 to 6.70 lakh in 2008, according to Nasscom; and in two decades, women, as a percentage of those admitted into institutions of higher education, went from less than 8 per cent to more than 40 per cent.


That's as good as it gets.


In business, where women are increasingly visible, India has the lowest proportion of female employees at 23 per cent, says a World Economic Forum report that surveyed 600 companies in 20 leading economies.


The most worrying sign for Indian women is how they are, literally, vanishing.


In 1941, India had 1,047 girls for 1,000 boys up to the age of six. At the last census, there were 927 girls for every 1,000 girls. Together, India and China are missing 85 million women, who died from discriminatory health care or were never born at all.

Aborting or killing female babies is rampant across India, especially in northern India. Only Kerala and Puducherry have more women than men.


This isn't about caste, religion or any other chimeras that Yadav and his ilk let loose. It's about the best chance possible to change the worst things about India.


Might economic progress change the status of women, as some argue? Prosperity appears to deepen the problem. You will find some of India's worst sex ratios in its richest areas, like south Mumbai and south Delhi.


Even hopeful statistics hide depressing facts.


The 15th Lok Sabha has a record 59 female MPs, or about 10 per cent of seats, the first time this figure is in double digits. What's not so well known: the percentage of total female contestants has been in steep decline since 1957, when 48.89 per cent of candidates for 494 seats were women (they won only 4.45 per cent of seats though). At 10.61 per cent, the proportion of female candidates in 2009 was, save 1996 (a testosterone-ridden election that led to a hung parliament, three prime ministers in two years and new elections), the lowest ever.


Opponents of the Bill insist that women of richer means and higher caste will corner reserved seats; that most women will become proxies for a variety of male relatives; that female empowerment must precede reservation.


Empowerment, my colleague Shivani Singh says, is like world peace, a great concept for beauty pageants. To succeed, female empowerment must be shoved down the Indian male's throat.


The argument about the Women's bill being damaging to women of lesser means has some validity, but in practice, parties in this age of social equity tend to do their own balancing. In Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, more than half of 23 women MLAs are minorities. As for the proxies, India has always been a nation of dynasties, male and female. That won't change in a hurry.


Female proxies were indeed the rule after 1993, when a third of seats were first reserved for women in panchayats (village councils). Today, many women do serve as fronts for their male relatives, but, equally, thousands have become exemplars of more responsive, less corrupt governance.


About a million women are now elected to India's self-rule institutions, the largest such democratic mobilisation in the world. As they truly grasp the power they possess, these women are changing the fabric of rural India. Let's give them the chance to change the idea of India.







Are you against the Bill or for it?


Well, the Constitution (109th Amendment Bill) isn't likely to be introduced, let alone passed, in Parliament in a hurry. But yes, I'm against the bill.


You're so outdated! To think that there are men like you in today's day and age!


I'm not only talking about whether Indians are ready for it yet. My serious worry is that it may be misused.


But unless you give it a chance, how can we even move ahead. For crying out loud, this is the 21st century.


Then there's the issue of seats.


You mean whether to keep the seats up or down?


Yes. I mean, in developed countries they at least conduct a referendum. Here, it's being forced into being accepted by people who haven't had even the time to think about it.


But you know that no one will ever come out openly against it. Not even Lalu and Mulayam will have the courage to say no, as they will fear sounding not rustic and rural-friendly enough.


Frankly, my hopes are up. If  reserving parliamentary seats for women is on the verge of becoming real today, I see it being only a matter of time when, by law, all public places in India will have to provide one unisex toilet for each available one for men and for women.


Do say: What kind of scatological nonsense is this?!


Don't say: You've come a long bidet, baby!








The UPA grandly promised to make India slum-free in five years, when it announced the Rajiv Awas Yojana, aimed at giving property rights to the urban poor. HDFC Bank chairman Deepak Parekh is now helming an eight-member panel to fine-tune its strategy and flesh out its financial pattern. The housing and urban poverty alleviation ministry had drawn up a rough regulatory framework, which is now being examined by the panel and made workable. Given the scale and velocity of urbanisation in India, it is crucial that the plan is thoroughly thought out and then implemented.


Rajiv Awas Yojana is an acknowledgement that slums and shantytowns, which look like belts of squalor and insecurity, are also a creative informal economy — economists like Hernando de Soto argue that giving the poor legal titles to their shelter would inject fresh capital and entrepreneurship into the system. The scheme is premised on the idea that giving them the ability to leverage their property titles as collateral will set off a wave of micro-innovation. The aim is to take the slum out of the slum by incrementally improving services and securing property rights, rather than pushing the poor out of sight to the city's peripheries. After all, they are not scroungers, they are service providers. The cobbler, the dhobi, the chaiwallah, the coolie, the rickshaw driver, the construction worker, the rag-pickers — they provide the abundance of informal services that define the city.


Others have argued that granting squatters legal title only enriches speculators and provides an illusion of self-help, while leaving the newest and poorest migrants most vulnerable, vis-à-vis those who have wrested de facto tenure from years of squatting. Either way, the biggest challenge is the lack of updated and accurate data, how little policy-makers often know about the urban poor and disenfranchised.








The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008 was passed with the support of the three largest groupings in Parliament: the ruling alliance, the opposition NDA, and the Left parties. That can hardly be called an anti-democratic development, an "autocratic move", or "tanashahi". But that's how those who object to the bill — primarily Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal and Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party — have responded to its passage. Apparently the suspension of seven of their Rajya Sabha members for snatching copies of the bill, breaking Chairman Hamid Ansari's microphone, and climbing on the table, was anti-democratic in a way that holding up Parliament by doing those things, and by hours of slogan-shouting, was not. On Wednesday, they succeeded in ensuring that the Lok Sabha, too, got no work done.


The bankruptcy of these parties' politics revealed itself in their desperate attempts to hog the spotlight over the

passage of this bill. But for too long have individuals felt that forcing an adjournment through disrupting the House is a legitimate legislative tactic. The speaker of the Lok Sabha and the chairman of the Rajya Sabha have traditionally ruled with a light touch, avoiding the use of suspensions, not calling in marshals. The reasons for that have been understandable: the theory that every parliamentarian should have her say, and that closing off "debate", even if that debate has descended to the farcical shouting of slogans, is a bad thing. But that can go entirely too far. Nobody likes to see marshals entering the house; but ensuring that physical intimidation of the chairman and of the business of the Rajya Sabha doesn't take the place of verbal discussion is precisely what they are supposed to be called in to do.


Hopefully, this response will mark a turning point in our Parliament's recent history. The willingness of both the political leadership and of the presiding officers of the Houses to crack down on particularly egregious misbehaviour should send a signal that constant adjournments are no longer considered welcome. Both MPs with something to say and the public at large have demonstrated, in this latest case, impatience with the tactic. A firm reminder of what parliamentary discipline entails was long overdue.







The passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday drew attention to the practice of a party whip. The Janata Dal (U) revealed its internal divisions by allowing its MPs to vote according to their conscience. In doing so, the JD(U) cast a light on the extraordinary control party leaderships enjoy in votes to ascertain the will of the House.


Unlike the persuasive power of the party whip in other democracies like the US and Britain, and indeed in this country before the adoption of the Anti-Defection Act, the whip in Indian legislatures is an outright coercive tool. Its effect — as it was on Wednesday for the progressive step of increasing the representation of women in our Parliament and assemblies — is to diminish an MP's personal conviction.


Curiously, the Women's Reservation Bill too could concentrate greater power in the hands of party leaderships. And as we welcome the legislation's capacity to shake up entrenched hierarchies in our politics, equally there needs to be a nuanced understanding of its potential to further consolidate power among party leaderships. Great virtue has already been made of the geographical reach of the legislation. Over three elections every constituency will have been reserved once. In that one stroke, this is a move bolder than any other affirmative action plan worldwide. There is no denying the entrenched patriarchies in the practice of politics and electioneering. Compulsorily investing women with representation at the constituency level can change how power is negotiated, if not change attitudes. However, the rotation system to achieve this geographical spread is like a


lottery system. For a political party, this means a woman candidate could have to be found for a seat till now held by a (male) party MP with longstanding grassroots support there. How will she be chosen? By co-opting the local strongman's biwi-beti, so that he does not field them as "rebel" candidates? Or, given the number of women candidates who must now be nurtured, by having the political party mediate


a "deserving" candidate's initiation within local support structures?


And what of the uprooted MP? Having lost a traditional stronghold and possibly on the lookout for another constituency, his or her candidature may no longer be fuelled by a grassroots connect. Would this candidate's electoral chances now be ever more dependent on party satraps? In many ways, political parties will be tested in being inventive, enlightened and democratic in making the new choices the women's quota will bring.







As the visiting Russian Premier Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh celebrate the deepening of the Indo-Russian bilateral relationship this week with a range of impressive agreements on defence and nuclear cooperation, China will be the ghost in the room.


If the two leaders do discuss the implications of a rapidly rising China for the balance of power in the region that Russia and India share, they are unlikely to say much about it in public.


For it is a taboo in the Indo-Russian discourse to mention China except in the context of strengthening the triangular cooperation and its expansion to include other emerging powers such as Brazil and South Africa.


This silence, however, is unsustainable as India and Russia come to terms with the rise of China as the single most important geopolitical fact of our time.


Delhi and Moscow can pretend in public that they are building an "Eastern bloc" with China to limit the power of the West. In private they cannot but fret about the shifting internal balance within the East amidst the emergence of China as a great power.


In any case the Indian and Russian posturing on the "strategic triangle" is unlikely to impress Beijing. After all China has a strong tradition of realism in the conduct of its external relations.


Nor can China ignore the fact that the clutch of defence and nuclear deals between Delhi and Moscow will have some impact on Beijing's own perceptions of the balance of power in southern Asia.


China has long countered the Indo-Russian security cooperation by expanding its own strategic military transfers to Pakistan. Just as a new phase in Indo-Russian defence cooperation has begun, so has the broadening of the Sino-Pak defence cooperation that includes the joint production of fighter aircraft.


It is also not clear if the convergence of Russian and Indian interests in Afghanistan — the most important security challenge in the region — is shared by China, which is a close partner of Pakistan.


But first the question of the strategic triangle and its changing political context. The Russian initiative for triangular cooperation with China and India in the mid-'90s was a response to Moscow's fears about a unipolar world dominated by the United States.


The once feared "hyperpower" is now widely seen as headed for an inevitable relative decline. And few now doubt the proposition that the principal challenger for the US is China.


Unlike the US, which resides in another hemisphere, China is next door to Russia and India and shares massive frontiers with both. For all their anxieties about the US, it is the rise of Chinese power that directly affects the relative positions of Russia and India in the Asian hierarchy.


And nothing gives the jitters to Delhi and Moscow more than the prospect of a political accommodation between Washington and Beijing — the so-called Group of Two. Although the idea of a Sino-US condominium has lost some


of its shine in recent months, Dr Singh and Putin know that China has begun to outrank Russia, let alone India, in the American strategic calculus.


Moscow's security discourse remains focused on the US and NATO. Russia's recently announced military doctrine does


not say a word about China. That does not mean Moscow is not concerned about the implications of China's rise.


Nor is Beijing unaware of the internal debate in Moscow about a potential China problem. Beijing has also been irritated by the Russian reluctance to open up gas sales (as opposed to oil trade) and its arms transfers to China's neighbours, including Vietnam and India.


India's relationship with Russia is often framed, in the public domain, as an anti-American project. But those familiar with the history of Indo-Russian partnership know well that it was shaped as much by Beijing as it was by Washington.


The foundation of the Indo-Russian strategic partnership in the late '50s and early '60s took place in conjunction with the rapid deterioration in the ties between the ruling communist parties in Moscow and Beijing.


The Indo-Russian treaty of peace and friendship of 1971, in turn, was a direct consequence of the Sino-US rapprochement initiated by President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger.


If a relatively weak and internally divided China has had such an impact on the Indo-Russian relationship, a rising China will begin to shape the entire global and regional context of the partnership between Delhi and Moscow.


India and Russia, then, could do with an honest discussion between their leaders about China. Such a discussion does not mean Delhi and Moscow have to return to their old anti-Chinese ways.


Given the centrality of China in world commerce and international politics, there is no way Delhi and Moscow could contain Beijing even if they wanted to. What India needs is not a diminution of the Chinese role in Asia but an expansion of the Russian one.


Dr Singh must press Putin to get Russia to pay as much consideration to the Asian balance of power as it does to Europe and the US. The Slavs, like the Indians, love grand-standing on global issues; it is about time that they focused a little more narrowly on regional security issues in Asia.


India must encourage Russia to take a more active role in the Indian Ocean. Delhi and Moscow could also begin to promote


better coordination between their policies in southern and eastern Asia.


India and Russia already have a mechanism to discuss Afghanistan. They must now institutionalise a new framework to discuss the full range of regional security issues in the littorals of the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific.


The Indo-Russian strategic discourse has been dominated by the nitty gritty of bilateral cooperation and an abstract notion of "promoting multipolarity" during the last decade and a half. As a world of many powers dawns, India and Russia have their task cut out in Asia.








Ben Caspit in Ma'ariv used the phrase that was picked up by the global media to sum up the Mossad's alleged Dubai hit: a tactical operational success, a strategic failure. Almost two months since it happened, and nearly a month since the first outcry, it may seem now that this gruesome murder too will be buried in the annals of covert espionage operations.


So it's imperative to understand that Dubai casts a faint and a dark shadow. It was feared to immediately impact the resumption of peace talks, suspended since Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. However, US Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Israel has followed the script: he reaffirmed US support for Israel, expressed high hopes for the indirect "proximity talks", condemned Israel's decision to build homes in East Jerusalem. Israel has desired direct talks, even as Mahmoud Abbas categorically declared that they will not happen as long as the near-absent mutual trust is continuously undermined.


The timing of Israel's announcement of the building plans — 112 homes in the West Bank, which it claims were sanctioned before Binyamin Netanyahu grudgingly accepted a 10-month settlement freeze last November; and 1600 in East Jerusalem, which Israel had kept out of the freeze zone — to coincide with Biden's trip (the highest-level so far from the Obama administration) has, expectedly, frustrated the vice president, who was meant to break the ice. The Obama "coldness" felt by leaders across Europe and Asia has a near-zero temperature in a country that feels it no longer has a blind, all-weather friend in Washington.


The background to the Biden visit is starker than the actual hopelessness of the proximity talks. It is a prospective Israeli strike on Iran. The building announcements add to the atmospheric noxiousness. What Netanyahu is suspected to be doing is applying the oldest trick in his book — compelling a US administration in love with big ideas to fall back on America's old, unquestioned support for Israel. Meanwhile, Palestinians are clashing with the Israeli police in East Jerusalem, there are fears of a third intifada, and Israel is staring at a possibly violent confrontation with its own rightwing lunatic fringe.


The Dubai hit — isolated in itself — casts its fainter, and shorter, shadow over all this; short because its impact on regional politics will not last long. Faint because, despite the substantial digital trail, all the evidence to implicate the Mossad is, technically, circumstantial. Precedent and past record is no proof. And Israel has a policy of "ambiguity" on such operations, never owning up, never denying. As the 27th suspect was identified by Interpol on Tuesday — another


Australian-Israeli — Israeli incredulity rose: could the Mossad really have been so stupid as to not even deactivate the CCTV cameras, or take the Dubai police for kindergarten cops? Why steal the identities of so many Israelis with dual nationalities? Why employ 27 (and possibly more) agents when the Mossad has an operational prescription of not sparing two agents where one suffices (Never mind the big teams used after the Munich massacre.)? And why did Dubai's heroic police chief suddenly disappear last week (apparently on pilgrimage to Mecca)?


Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the Hamas operative killed on January 20, was in Dubai to negotiate a possible arms deal with Tehran — a deal that could alter the tactical balance in Gaza. Two (subsequently three) arrested Palestinians, connected with the hit, were, as per Hamas claims, members of the Palestinian Authority's security apparatus in Gaza, who had fled after the Hamas takeover in 2007. Was it then a Fatah-Mossad collaboration? Was it part of a larger strategy to monitor Iranian business interests that use Dubai's banking system to help Tehran circumvent the sanctions? Iran, right across the Persian Gulf, is Israel's foremost concern; and an Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in Tehran a week before the Dubai hit.


The Dubai business has become too complicated to separate the strands and ascertain responsibility. But the muck will stay at Israel's door — even if it's forgiven by allies whose passport regimes were violated, even if it's no lonelier than it already was. Yet Netanyahu's priorities are clearly elsewhere. He believes the political dynamic for Israel can be changed by cornering the US through intransigence, and doing nothing to help the talks.


Thus, Dubai's impact on politics will be short and shallow. Its darker, and longer, shadow however falls on the practical and ethical future of covert operations. Covert operations will not end hereafter; they'll change. But Mossad's operability and regional stations stand compromised. Meir Dagan, Mossad's current chief, is being lampooned as the "national blunderer".


The Dubai hit will likely remain a "ripping spy yarn" rather than a "bloody scandal", unless the Dubai police manage to end the trail one way or the other. Meanwhile, Israelis and Palestinians will keep walking, without displacement, as they always have. If indirect "proximity" talks, against the backdrop of simmering violence, are to be construed as progress after a decade and a half of failed direct talks, Dubai is politically a drop of water, not the ocean.








The Women's Reservation Bill, in its tumultuous life so far of nearly 14 years, has sparked off debates and reactions far beyond its limited scope to reserve one-third of all seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women.


The political parties opposing the Bill have concentrated their fire on the issue of "reservation within reservation" insisting that only separate quotas for Dalit, OBC and minority women can ensure the entry of poor and downtrodden women into Parliament. This argument has been echoed in Jaithirth Rao's article ('Let's junk the hypocrisy', IE, March 9), and finds resonance among many sections of society.


The truth, however, is that while in the present Lok Sabha there are 17 SC/ST women members, the enactment of the bill will ensure that their number goes up to at least 42. Electoral results of recent years have seen the numbers of elected OBC members climbing to over 30 per cent of the total in most state assemblies and the Lok Sabha. The size of the OBC population and its tremendous political mobilisation ensures that OBC women candidates are also very successful. For example, in the UP Vidhan Sabha, of a total of 28 women MLAs, between eight to ten are OBCs. Once the bill is enacted, OBC women will probably constitute the largest social bloc among the women MPs.


It is, however, a matter of concern that the numbers of Mulim elected representatives has dwindled both in state assemblies and in Parliament. This needs urgent attention and addressal but it is not a problem that can be addressed or resolved within the parameters of the Women's Reservation Bill.


The March 9 issue of The Indian Express also carries an article by Madhu Purnima Kishwar who objects to the bill on three main counts: 1) that the provision of rotation of seats in the bill will lead to uprooting of legislators after every election and will make women candidates even more dependent on the whims of their male, political leaders and increase the numbers of the


"biwi-beti" brigade, exemplified by Rabri Devi; 2) biwi-beti brigade members are bad role-models for Indian women; 3) they actually "block" the way for other women to develop as leaders as has been done by the likes of Pramila Dandavate, Ahilya Rangnekar and Brinda Karat who were all promoted to heading the women's fronts of their parties by their husbands who were party leaders.


The principle of rotation of seats has been included in the bill so that in 15 years, the lifespan of the bill, the reservation enjoys a horizontal spread across the country and is implemented in every constituency. Uprooting of elected members is bound to result but under the existing dispensation, it is certainly not a fact that all elected representatives devote themselves to development work in their constituencies or that those who do not are punished by their voters. Electoral reality is far more complex. Uprooting may, in fact, force political parties to become more responsive and responsible and discourage personal fiefdoms


The domination of most political parties (and the Left has universally been given grudging credit for being an honourable exception) one or more by political families is certainly a development which is undemocratic. It is astonishing, however, that Kishwar singles out the dangers of the "biwi-beti" brigade, symbolised by Rabri Devi, and bemoans the danger of assemblies and Parliament being invaded by this brigade, but completely ignores the anointing of a long and unending list of "sons" that includes Farooq Abdullah, Rajiv Gandhi, Ajit Singh et al. Kishwar alleges that the foisting of the biwi-beti brigade is done to safeguard family interests but the promotion of the sons has been done for precisely the same reason. Clearly, the serious malaise of political nepotism cannot be remedied by the scrapping of the women's bill.


Kishwar goes on to blame "biwi-betification" for the problems that women have in gaining admission to and promotion within party structures by saying that wives of political leaders, who have been made leaders of women's fronts of these parties are responsible for the road blocks faced by other women and cites Pramila Dandavate, Ahilya Rangnekar and Brinda Karat as examples. Pramila and Ahilya came to politics through their militant participation in the freedom struggle as young students. They later married political colleagues but continued to be leaders of struggles for gender equality, for Samyukta Maharashtra and for a host of other causes. To suggest that either of them owed their positions as leaders of struggles and movements, their elections to Parliament or their positions in organisations and parties to their husbands is the most unforgivable and unwarranted slur on their amazing achievements and to their commitment to travel down a very hard and stony path. Neither of them is with us today but that does not mean that such unnecessary and uncalled-for slander will go unchallenged. Brinda Karat has been an activist from her student days long before her marriage. She started working in the All India Democratic Womens Association from its inception, first as a district-level functionary and then, after five years of hard work, became its general secretary. It was while she occupied that post that she initiated a constitutional amendment that has made it mandatory for the key office-bearers at district, state and national levels to vacate their offices at the end of three terms. This has ensured that women activists can develop as leaders and occupy important posts without impediment.


The difficulties that women face in entering and advancing in the decision-making bodies of political parties are tremendous and they are being fought at all levels by indomitable women. Making false accusations against those who are in no way responsible for this state of affairs does nothing to help them in their struggle. Kishwar began her article saying that any legislation that claims to favour women sails easily through Parliament. This statement trivialises the difficult, bitter and long drawn-out struggles that have had to be waged for even the piecemeal passage of the Hindu Code Bill and the partial passage of the Women's Reservation Bill. The path to gender justice is an arduous one, marked by these and other significant victories achieved through movements and collective action outside and within Parliament.


The writer is president, All India Democratic Women's Association and member of the CPM central committee








When Bihar's chief minister Nitish Kumar announced his support for the Women's Reservation Bill, it shocked and angered fellow Mandal politicians — his party chief Sharad Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav.


Their annoyance was natural — Nitish was part of the Mandal club that had, all along, vowed to oppose the bill "tooth and nail". Nitish, as a member of the parliamentary standing committee that examined the bill had put his dissent in black and white and demanded a quota within the quota for women of disadvantaged and deprived sections. That, however, was more than a decade and-a-half back.


Now, as he backed the Women's Reservation Bill, Nitish said: "I think it is an idea whose time has come." His

words clearly signalled his realisation that the language of politics has changed. Unlike Lalu and Mulayam, he does not want to be seen as a leader unwilling to accept current social churning while clinging to the legacy of the Mandal era. It is a deliberate attempt to break out of the brand of Mandal politicians whose significance is eroding.


The change, however, was not a sudden one. Indications of an altered outlook were underlined in his government's decision to reserve 50 per cent seats in the panchayats for women, one of his first decisions after coming to power in 2005. Despite opposition from party colleagues, Nitish went ahead. After some expected resistance and tension in Bihar's patriarchal society, the idea was absorbed. Nitish made his thoughts clear last year itself, when party president Sharad Yadav threatened to consume poison to stop the passage of the bill. Nitish then called his party MPs and told them that his views over women's reservation had changed ('Women's Bill quota: Nitish quietly disagrees with his party chief Sharad', IE, June 11, 2009).


It is not that Nitish has completely broken away from the Mandal club. In fact, he is being accused of indulging in the most blatant form of caste based reservation through his Mahadalit (disadvantaged Dalits) experiment. Nitish has included 21 of the 22 Dalit castes in Bihar in the Mahadalit list to dole out special benefits. Only the "dusadhs" identified with rival, LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan — have been left out on the pretext that they are a creamy layer among Dalits.


In fact, Nitish has resorted to a delicate balancing act — mixing Mandal methods with a dose of modernity. The decision to reserve 20 per cent panchayat seats for Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) and 50 per cent for women were taken simultaneously. With the first, he enlarged the Mandal pie for a huge chunk (around 30 per cent of the state's population) among the backward castes and tailored a new political constituency and with the second, he presented the image of a progressive politician receptive to change and new ideas. Bihar became the first state to give 50 per cent reservation for women.


Reservation for women in panchayats planted the seed for a slow but sure churning in Bihar's patriarchal society . Despite critics citing examples of women being used as rubber stamps, the move unleashed unimaginable visuals in the hinterland. Men accompanying women — as, say, private secretaries — to district headquarters for meetings called by the district magistrate meant a lot in a society where a woman's place is supposed to be inside the four walls of her home. Slowly, Nitish realised that the reservation had created a new constituency for him. Encouraged, he announced free clothes, books and cycles for school-going girls, which created a huge jump in school enrollment. The move reaped political dividends and widespread publicity. The Centre recently borrowed the idea, and announced it in the president's address — a fact that Nitish has flaunted.

At a time when Lalu, Mulayam and Sharad, who rose on the horizon riding the Mandal wave, are struggling to stay politically alive, Nitish has simply adapted to keep afloat. Mulayam continues to be a vocal opponent of English, though English medium schools have now sprouted even in the rural hinterland. Nitish has successfully projected himself as modern, pitching for ideas of development, economic growth and reform that have been shunned by his Mandal colleagues. He is even striking out against the nepotism that is widely considered one of the biggest reasons for the decline of Lalu and Mulayam, who turned their parties into family fiefdoms. Nitish has decided to deny tickets to the kith and kin of party MPs, despite the displeasure of his party.


In the run up to the polls, Nitish has killed two birds with one stone. He has consolidated the sympathy generated by panchayat reservation among half of the population, and also sent out the message that he was not averse to upper caste/class women crowding Parliament and state legislatures, as his rivals Lalu and Mulayam fear.








The latest issue of RSS mouthpiece Organiser has three-and-a-half pages devoted to the late Nanaji Deshmukh, with a box, picture and introduction on page one, which says: "Nanaji: the messiah of rural self reliance — the saint of Chitrakoot is no more". In a full-page column titled "Nanaji: some reminiscences" veteran RSS ideologue P Parameswaran writes: "Media calls Nanaji a social activist. But he was not one in the usually accepted sense of the term. Social activists of today generally follow the modern Western paradigm. Nanaji was radically different. He was a system builder — a truly Bharateeya system, based on our cultural and spiritual values, tuned to the needs and requirements of the present situation. That is what he attempted in Gonda and successfully executed in Chitrakoot — establishment of a miniature Ram Rajya. That is his real contribution. He was closer to Gandhiji and Shri Guruji (former RSS chief Guru Golwalkar) than any so-called social activists". The Hindi RSS organ Panchajanya has also prominently displayed Nanaji's contributions in its latest issue and discussed his nation-building role in its editorial. It carried a full-page photo feature and two pages, discussing Nanaji Deshmukh's manifold contributions.



The Organiser has a full-page item on RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's visit to Bhopal titled, "When Hindus become strong, the nation will become stronger". The RSS organ says in the news item: "The Bhopal division of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh celebrated its annual day on February 28, by organising 'Hindu samagam' where more than 3,000 swayamsevaks and 30,000 spectators gathered to salute the saffron flag and to listen to the sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat". The news item quotes Bhagwat as saying that "he criticised the western theory of 'unity only through uniformity' and said that true unity can exist in diversity and India is a living example of the same". Discussing the event, Panchajanya quotes Bhagwat criticising the US, saying that "it wanted to expand its influence in the world" and that "to improve its own financial health, the US was trying to impose globalisation on others".



The Organiser has an editorial titled "The pressure is showing: the PM cannot take criticism" in its latest issue. It says: "A successful foreign policy requires a single source, one clear voice speaking for the country. The greatest damage to India 's image has been done during the Manmohan Singh regime by the general impression, we hope we are wrong, that there are many masters handling the affairs in South Block and the final thrust comes from quite remote sources. There is a widespread feeling that India is under constant nudgings from the US to mend itself and talk with Pakistan. This is tragic enough."








It's Women's Day, so you switch on the TV set, eager to witness history being made. You expect to watch the Women's Reservation Bill being passed in the Rajya Sabha. All you see are men kill Bill. You expect to see happy women smiling; all you see are grim disappointed faces. You expect to hear cheers; all you get are boos. And when all seemed lost, when you expected the man whose one film had made more money at the box office than any other film ever, to win the ultimate film accolade, Kathryn Bigelow snatched Uncle Oscar away from James Cameron. The director of Avatar had to be satisfied with three Academy Awards and two billion dollars, poor fellow.


On Women's Day, you expect to see affirmative action. Since every single TV serial is about women, you expect to see something positive and rousing. Well. On Sajan Ghar Jaana Hai (Star Plus), a woman is tied to a stake and as the drums beat faster than her heart, buckets of Holi water lash her body like whips. Meanwhile, Balika Vadhu (Colors) does a Slumdog Millionaire on us with young children, including girls, being auctioned off by goons to the highest criminal bidder. The goon boss, reclining on his bed with an ugly leer on his face, asks them to perform a 'mujra'.


That should have brought out the child activist in each of us. But before we crowd the streets, shouting, "nahin chalegi, nahin chalegi", Jamunia (NDTV Imagine) has something more in store for us. The channel's description of the serial says, "poor humble girl finds her life in turmoil when she moves in with her husband to live in a haunted house". But that is not what we see. We see the pretty young heroine deliberately thrust in front of a bus so that she is injured and her beastly male relative can claim compensation from the bus driver. Then a carrion bird flies over her home and her family blames her for bringing them ill luck. Whereupon, her Mamiji advances upon her with a piece of burning wood. To the unconcealed amusement of her female relatives, the girl stumbles, falls. "Nahin Mamiji," she pleads. Held down by two young female cousins, she is then impaled by her aunt and the last sound you hear as you hurriedly switch channels, is the scream of her pain.


From one scream to another. "Ma, mujhe bachcha de deejiye", screams the young girl in Behenein(Star Plus). But Ma slams the door in her face and says she can never have the child back. The girl collapses against the door in tears and loud wails.


It's enough to reduce you to tears. Female characters are abused, neglected, mistreated — by men and women. Not one soap at prime time celebrates a woman who is not labouring under the terrible burden of being born a woman in India. The misery is never lightened by anything remotely positive. These women have been stripped of everything except their garish clothes and gaudy jewellery. The characterisation of women as perpetual victims is a terrible crime, as bad as any the female characters suffer.


There should be 33 per cent reservation in serials of female characters who are positive role models; we need women who smile, not those who weep, women who are not oppressed by men just as we need men who do not oppress women. Otherwise, young viewers, girls and boys are growing up with negative images of the iniquitous relationship between women and men. It's time to change that.


Just as it is time that shows like Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayega (NDTV Imagine) undergo a complete makeover. It is ridiculous to have a show in which the bride is chosen on the basis of her ability to dance, sing, walk the ramp — or whatever. While it is difficult to make such shows intelligent, they could avoid insulting our intelligence and that of the participants. Why do the girls lend themselves to such demeaning exercises?







The government's decision to appoint an eight-member independent committee under the chairmanship of Deepak Parekh to comment on the draft guidelines of the ambitious Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY) shows that it is taking the goal of a slum-free India within five years seriously. The appointment of this committee comes soon after finance minister Pranab Mukherjee made a 700% hike in allocation towards RAY in his Budget speech. Deepak Parekh and co are expected to suggest appropriate strategies, financial and others, to make RAY implementable. The key to slum redevelopment and rehabilitation is according property rights to slum dwellers. However, there are two tricky issues which make this more difficult than it sounds. In an interview to The


Financial Express last month, the Peruvian economist and property rights expert Hernando de Soto had said that it is wrong to look at slum redevelopment and rehabilitation as simply a housing problem. Because for many slum dwellers, the slum isn't just a house but often also a small factory, warehouse and shop. Unless a slum dweller is accorded property rights in this broad sense (rather than simply housing rights), slum rehabilitation will be a difficult exercise and run into resistance.


That conceptual problem aside, there is a real problem in deciding cut-off dates. There is a need to balance the interests of people who have lived in a slum for long and those who are recent squatters hoping to be assigned property rights. This is a tricky issue and perhaps one that the Deepak Parekh committee ought to mull over carefully. Of course, the more fundamental question to be asked is why people choose to live this way in the first place? Surely, if they had a choice, they would not. And that leads to the bigger issue of providing affordable housing to the poor. There are a couple of schemes for affordable housing under the JNNURM, which may be merged with RAY. There is also the possibility of merging the interest subsidy scheme for housing for the urban poor with RAY. But the government needs to think beyond specific schemes about how to increase the supply of affordable housing, built either by the private sector or public private partnerships. There is also the question of the availability of finance. At the moment, it is difficult even for a middle class person to get a sizeable home loan at less than double digit rates of interest. Hopefully, Deepak Parekh and co, apart from the specifics on RAY, will also be able to impress this larger issue on the government.






In the first four years of the Eleventh Five Year Plan, the government has spent less than 60% of the target for almost all its major social sector plans. And this from a government that is never chary of flaunting its aam admi connection. As a recent news article carried by FE shows, the only exception is the NREGA, where the government is on track to meet its plan target. To recapture the target for the Eleventh Plan for the other schemes, in 2011-12 the Centre will need to double the spending for its social sector budget from the Rs 1.34 lakh crore allocated in Budget 2010-11. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee could face some additional fiscal pressure to make good this difference. What can be the reason for the government to undershoot its target for spending on the social sector so badly? Finance ministry officials privately admit the problem in the sector lies with its absorptive capacity. State governments have found spending on the social sector programmes difficult. The difficulty is similar to the problems international aid agencies also run into. The better-off countries in the developing world, and this includes India, have stronger delivery and accounting mechanisms to utilise more funds. This asymmetry is visible within India too. The poorer states show far less ability to handle the funds earmarked for them and often return unspent. In the government's budgeting format, every time a ministry shows lower utilisation of funds compared with the budget estimate for the fiscal, the next year's budget estimate is lowered. In the process, the five-year targets recede further into the future.


What are, therefore, the options to get over this hump? There can obviously be no case for relaxing the rules for allocation, for that will simply be an invitation to pilfer. While the government needs to push the implementing agencies in the short run, in the long term the problem may actually show signs of dissolving, if delivery mechanisms are improved. The states and the local governments have just begun to come to grips with the enhanced fund allocation that began in earnest in the current decade. The NREGA model is itself a reminder of how many experiments were made before we hit upon the right one. So the dichotomy of broken school buildings and crores of unspent funds might litter media reports at the moment, but the delivery mechanisms take time to evolve. The 12th Plan will bear this out.







It is most unfortunate that the idea of setting up a Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC), announced by Pranab Mukherjee as part of the 2010-11 Budget, is fast degenerating into a narrow turf war between babus in North Block and RBI. No wonder the only issue being debated so far is who should head the FSDC— someone in finance ministry or the central bank. No one is really talking about the real issue of what the financial stability council will do in terms of contributing to our knowledge of potential risks that may emanate from either the domestic or global financial system in the future.


Indeed, the Council is being set up against the backdrop of the global financial crises of 2008-09, which did not affect the Indian banking system partly because our banks did no business with their western counterparts in terms of sharing the risks contained in the trillions of dollars of dud derivative assets. Indian banks largely steered clear of toxic assets, although many private sector bankers repeatedly pleaded with the then finance minister P Chidambaram to be allowed to buy into the global derivative market, simply because easy money was being made.


As is now widely recognised, India did a decent job of regulating the banks with strict micro prudential norms. RBI discouraged too much easy money coming into the Indian real estate sector, thereby preventing the kind of bubble that got built in the western housing markets. RBI may have gone overboard in other aspects of monetary policy making which impacted growth. For instance, it was criticised for keeping interest rates too high for too long in 2008 which could possibly have retarded GDP growth by a few percentage points.


Many central bankers around the world were baffled by the sheer volatility in commodity prices—driven by easy money on Wall Street—which made anticipating inflation behaviour an impossible task. So central bankers ended up making the mistake of raising interest rates too rapidly, not realising that a deflationary bust cycle was around the corner!


These are entirely new behavioural issues caused by the high risk taking global market participants that need to be urgently studied. Mind you, these issues have not gone away yet. Cheap money being thrown around in the western financial system is building another commodity bubble. Commodity prices, especially of oil and some metals, are today at the same level as they were at the peak of the 2007 boom.


India today is again on the threshold of importing massive inflation from the rising global commodity prices. Human memory is short and we seem to have forgotten about the G-20 promise to study asset bubbles under the aegis of the Basel Committee. India is trying to come back to an 8%-plus GDP growth path and this will become possible only if it can import commodities at reasonable prices to fuel sustainable growth. Assessing and mitigating the risks arising from unusual volatility in asset prices is therefore a very critical task for emerging economies like India.


Indeed, these are the real issues which a body like the Financial Stability Development Council must address in a spirit of healthy cooperation with the central bank. One is not sure whether the turf-conscious babus of North Block are at all aware of the big picture that is staring at us. As far as the venerated Indian Administrative Service (IAS) is concerned, the FSDC is another platform which they must capture.


So far, the informal word out of North Block is that finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will head the FSDC, which is to be a purely advisory body. The finance minister did well to clarify that the FSDC will not act in any manner prejudicial to the autonomy of the current set of regulators.


Some bright babu had also suggested that the FSDC must get a statutory status through an Act of Parliament. An internal note to this effect was  moved. But the seasoned finance minister was smart enough to realise that in a fractious coalition system this would be fraught with other risks. An unpredictable coalition system also cannot guarantee that you get balanced and statesman-like finance ministers all the time. Conceptually, the political class cannot be expected to be detached enough to research and regulate professionally. A body of knowledge, in this regard, is built over the decades.


The larger issue is what the government's direct involvement in FSDC will do to the progressive maturing of India's regulatory regime. Over the years, the finance ministry and RBI have evolved a relationship in which the latter has been accorded more and more autonomy to oversee monetary stability and to operate the currency and credit system of the country.


This process had gathered momentum after the launch of economic reforms in 1991-92. It is true that RBI is a peculiar multi-service central bank that performs many roles. Central banks in other countries don't get involved in such multiple functions.


Managing government debt, micro-regulating banks through a regular reporting process, overseeing development of new financial products which have an impact on interest rates or exchange rates are all functions RBI undertakes at present apart from its core objective of maintaining price stability.


It can be argued that RBI has too much on its plate and must gradually divest itself of some of the current roles it performs. If so, this must be done in a manner that does not affect the integrity of the institution which has painstakingly evolved over decades and served the needs of the country.







The passing of the Women's Reservation Bill by the Rajya Sabha is a once in a long time event. In itself not conclusive, since constitutional amendments are not easy, not the whole solution to the problem since the upper caste Hindu male like me doesn't change that easily. But a land mark all the same. The process started with the 72nd and 73rd Amendments so close to the heart of late Rajiv Gandhi and s ome reflections on that will show the long road ahead.


Representation is only the first, necessary but by no means a sufficient, condition for effective participation. I think the Women's Bill is great but we must know that while it is somewhat easier to legislate for representation, it is an infinitely more complex task to create the conditions to obtain effective participation. At least part of the unfulfilled project of the movement to enhance women's as well as other disadvantaged sections' representation has been the mistaken assumption that the translation of representation into participation would be fluid and almost automatic. Given this distinction, it becomes important to examine the institutional mechanisms by which representation is enhanced or inhibited; and explore the conditions, both institutional and social, under which historically disadvantaged groups are able to participate effectively in local government. This means ensuring not only that such groups have access to these institutions, but also that they are able to effectively participate in them, and are in a position to influence decision-making in a way that can be assessed through the policy outcomes that ensue from these processes.


The research literature on international experiences with decentralisation, federalism local governance and gender participation shows that decentralisation structures are varied, and dependent on the historical-cultural milieu where they are located. There will still be efforts required in building capacity of such institutions, attending to myriad substantive and procedural challenges associated with participatory, bottom-up planning before the vision can be realised.


If panchayats continued to remain in a state of unclear functional domain, without sufficient human and financial resources to enact their independent/ autonomous will, then mere linking of rural development programmes to them would make very little difference in delivery of programmes and outcomes. This argument had two implications; that powerful official agencies must go beyond the cosmetic steps of linking their programmes with Panchayats. panchayats must be seen as partners in determining the entire rural development programme/ scheme cycle and not as mere supplicants. Second, so long as this approach is not adopted, panchayats will continue to be 'subverted', thereby jeopardising the objectives and outcomes of rural development initiatives themselves.


Capacity building will enhance quality of participation of women representatives. Many states carry out training and capacity building activity pertaining mostly to the chairpersons of the Panchayats rather than to all the elected representatives. In spite of the obstacles, both institutional and social, the participation of elected women representatives has resulted in both developmental and empowerment outcomes. Women have initiated work on plans of bringing piped water into the villages and also building schools as against infrastructural development favoured by men. Results from a nationwide survey of women's participation in panchayats suggest that a majority of the EWRs report an enhancement in their personal effectiveness and image after being elected. They also report a reduction in household responsibilities. But the politics of caste remains centre-stage in discussions of governance reform.


With the rapid changes taking place in the country and the world , governance systems will have to assiduously protect the poor, the oppressed, the vulnerable and the underprivileged. The democratic aspirations of India, enshrined in its Constitution and laws, will have to be met in a fair and transparent manner. Safety nets will need to be developed and implemented as the market economy expands and claims its victims. Poor women, the girl child, the minorities, the tribal and the dalit, the handicapped and the destitute, will need special attention.


Some of these have been said before. Yet, all such prescriptions in the past met with limited success as the key precondition, i.e., the appropriate institutional framework, within which these could play themselves out was not available. This week we took another step forward. Jai Ho.


The author is a former Union minister







If there was one area in which Gujarat, the country's numero uno investment destination, had lagged thus far, it was communications and IT. But Trai's latest report is an eye-opener. In the telecom sector at least, it is setting new benchmarks of penetration. As per the survey, Gujarat has a mobile density upwards of 50 per cent making it one of India's most well-connected states. And this is just not limited to urban centres but also reflects a pattern observed in the state's rural areas.


Interestingly though, mobile telephony was not an initial hit specially in the late nineties when call charges hovered in the range of Rs 8 per minute. At that time, according to the Trai report, a miniscule 4,000 mobile connections were registered in the state renowned for its discerning value-for-money customers. In fact, it took all of 10 years for Gujarat to touch the magic one crore subscriber mark. With the periodic slashing of rates by service providers thereafter, it has taken Gujarat less than three years to breach the 3 crore mark . Small wonder then that Gujarat has suddenly become a hot favourite among service providers. The focus is now on the rural markets to spur future growth.


Giant strides in telecom apart, the state is moving at break-neck speed to cover lost ground in the IT sector too and is poised to notch up over 20 per cent growth in the IT and ITeS sector this year. Preliminary statistics indicate that exports from this sector may cross the Rs 1,500 crore mark during the ongoing fiscal against the single-digit growth predicted by Nasscom for the growth of IT exports nationally. That's not surprising given the fact that Gujarat today has probably the highest number of notified SEZs in the IT space. With 17 IT SEZs already notified and many more in the pipeline with the state government planning to assiduously woo software biggies like Infosys and Wipro to set up and expand facilities in the state, Gujarat is clearly set to ring in a whole new era of growth and consolidation in the communications arena.








Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi recently took the extraordinary step of unilaterally releasing the minutes of the October 14, 2009 meeting between Union Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Central and State Information Commissioners on a proposal to significantly amend the Right to Information Act, 2005. The meeting's importance lay in the fact that it saw the hopeless isolation of the government side (Department of Personnel and Training, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Training) on the proposed amendments. Of the 60 Information Commissioners who attended, all but two were opposed to the idea of tinkering with the historic legislation. What explains such unity of resolve? The DoPT's package contained two 'killer' amendments. The first would include under Section 8 (which specifies exemptions to the Act) applications deemed to be "frivolous and vexatious." The second would bar from the Act's purview any discussion leading up to an official decision. The best judge of whether or not an application is "frivolous and vexatious" is the Information Commissioner who is called upon to decide the issue. In the four-and-a-half years since the Act came into force, no information officer has complained of being overburdened by such applications. Nor is there anything to suggest that government functioning is hampered by the disclosure of official discussions (previously known as file notings) and records of process. The only reasonable conclusion is that both the bureaucracy and the political government fear transparency of process because it will expose wrongdoing.


In recent days, RTI queries relating to public spending, governance, distribution of largesse, and even the procedure adopted for deciding awards have proved to be deeply embarrassing for the government. The ghost of RTI amendments has returned – in the controversial form of exemption for the office of the Chief Justice of India. The irony is too glaring to miss. It was the Supreme Court that laid the ground for opening up acts of governance to public scrutiny. In the 1975 State of U.P. vs Raj Narain case, the court said: "In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way, by their functionaries…" The RTI Act has empowered the ordinary citizen in a way its architects did not anticipate. Studies have shown its growing appeal across all social strata, which is surely why the government is set on blunting this powerful tool in the hands of the people. Such obscurantism must be seen through and defeated.







In three decades, India has not seen any success at the highest level of its 'national game.' The euphoria that followed a win over Pakistan in the ongoing World Cup tournament in Delhi was short-lived. The host crashed to three successive defeats, suggesting an eventual placing not much higher than what India has achieved in the competition since winning its solitary title at Kuala Lumpur in 1975. Ranked 12th before going into this World Cup, the team can be reasonably pleased with a place in the top eight. In the tough world of international hockey, fitness, speed, agility, and tactics, which were displayed so splendidly by the Australian side, count more than reputations. The tournament has exposed the chasm that exists between India and the top teams in these areas. Although chief coach Jose Brasa's assertion that a winning combination cannot be developed in eight months is reasonable, the Spaniard's tenure might come in for review at the end of the Asian Games in Guangzhou in November 2010.


There has been improvement in this Indian team but it is not the sort that can make an impact at the world level. Brasa was engaged only after India's failure to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. It was a humiliating 'first' for a country that has gloried in its eight Olympic gold medals in the sport, though the last one came way back in 1980 in a devalued competition. A player revolt at the Pune camp demanding incentives and annual payments, manipulative establishment politics, and messy litigation marked the run-up to this World Cup. It is time to move on to settling a long-term development plan. Sadly, the authorities hounded Richard Charlesworth, one man who could have helped execute such a plan, out in 2008. The Australian team, under his guidance, has shown in this World Cup why it is rated so high. Any long-term plan should focus on reviving dwindling hockey interest in traditional pockets. The administration should be restructured to meet the demands of the game and to offer financial security to the players without compromising discipline. The national championship and the Premier Hockey League should be revived, along with junior competitions, to widen the base for a talent hunt. This World Cup has aroused pubic interest and passion in a sport that seemed to have been forgotten. Near-capacity crowds at the Dhyan Chand National Stadium and good television ratings augur well for Indian and world hockey.










A spate of reforms in the field of education, some of them already implemented and some awaiting implementation, have brought the subject of education into the focus of public debate. These include the abolition of examinations at the Class X level, the unification of syllabi of higher secondary courses and the introduction of a national common entrance examination. Moves towards public-private-partnership in education, the legislation on the Right to Education, the proposal to create a National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER), and steps towards compulsory accreditation, foreign direct investment and prevention of unfair practices also come in the same genre.


To be fair, education is getting the attention that is due for it from the Central government for the first time since the great initiatives in institution-building in the post-Independence period. There is some recognition of the role that education plays in national development. There is a significant national consensus on the three broad objectives of enhancing access, equity and excellence. An increased awareness of the pivotal role of education in national development finds reflection in the Eleventh Five Year Plan. The overall financial allocation for education is five times that of the Tenth Plan. The Prime Minister is justified in calling the Eleventh Plan an education plan.


While there are no two views on the need for changes in the system of education with a view to increasing access, equity and quality, the nation is divided on the direction of the changes and the modalities for their implementation. Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal was on record as having said that he would do for the educational sector in 2009 what Manmohan Singh did for the financial sector in 1991. The Minister does not conceal his neo-liberal agenda. While Manmohan Singh had introduced the policies of liberalisation in the 1990s almost stealthily and apologetically, Mr. Sibal is brimming with confidence, giving the impression of an honest and well-meaning reformer.


But honesty is not enough in the determination of educational policies. Education concerns all the people. Different individuals and groups have different concerns in education, which have to be reconciled in policy planning and implementation. It is the primary responsibility of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to provide a common platform to contest ideas and aspirations, on the basis of which a consensual agenda of action could be evolved and implemented. It appears that Mr. Sibal continues to act more as an attorney than a judge in these matters.


The confusion between the neo-liberal commitments of the Minister and the inclusive aspirations of the people was nowhere more apparent than in the conflicting statements made by Mr. Sibal on the question of the fee structure of students and the salaries of private school teachers. At a meeting of school Principals in Delhi, he declared that private schools in Delhi would be free to charge fees and pay teachers as they liked, once the Right to Education Act came into force. The Delhi State Act that regulates the fee structure and salaries would be rendered inoperative by the Central legislation. But following a volley of protests from the people, he had to clarify the next day that the Delhi State Act would continue to be in force. What the incident brought out was the Minister's divided loyalties. He had a fleeting realisation that his personal and party loyalties to the ideology of liberalisation are at odds with the aspirations of the large majority of the people, to whom he is ultimately answerable.


The sad part is that such instances where the voice of the people is recognised are few and far between. In this instance, the response to public opinion was instantaneous, as protests emanated in Delhi itself. But India is a vast country and all the people cannot come to Delhi to impress upon the MHRD about their reservations on decisions that adversely affect them. Hence, a healthy solution to the problem lies in decentralising the process of policy making and implementation. Unfortunately, the MHRD is moving in the opposite direction, at a very fast pace.


Take, for instance, the decision to enforce a common syllabus, textbooks and examination for Plus-Two courses. The National Curriculum Framework 2005, drafted under the chairmanship of Professor Yash Pal, observed that the " pluralistic and diverse nature of Indian society" demanded the preparation of " a variety of textbooks and other materials" to " cater to the diverse needs of different groups of students" so as to " promote children's creativity, participation and interest and thereby enhancing their learning." In pursuance of the objective, the States were encouraged to develop their own curriculum framework in a participative manner. The lead that Kerala took in framing the Kerala Curriculum Framework (KCF) through large-scale people's participation extending to the panchayat level received acclaim. Now Mr. Sibal wants to do a volte face, that too without the sanction of a new curriculum framework. This will amount to undermining the structural and curricular reforms initiated during the term of the first United Progressive Alliance government. The administrative convenience that a centralised common entrance examination will provide is touted as the excuse. The objective of education is reduced to coaching students for competitive examinations, conducted in a rigid framework. The idea of education as an inclusive process of unleashing the creative potential of diverse groups and individuals, leading to the creation of harmony in variety, which Professor Yash Pal dreamt of, is lost in the process.


The story of the legislation to set up the NCHER is no different. While the broad administrative objective of bringing all educational activities within a single central regulatory framework as suggested by the National Knowledge Commission and the Yash Pal Committee have only been partially met (as medical and agricultural education are kept out of the Commission's purview), the academic objective of giving greater autonomy to universities, colleges, teachers and students have been ignored. The heart of the problem lies in the failure to define autonomy and accountability as the academics' freedom to do what society expects them to do. Such an understanding would necessitate appropriate Central and State regulations, leaving room for academic initiatives and administrative flexibility at the institutional and individual level. The proposed NCHER Bill unfortunately tends to centralise powers in the hands of a few experts, who would be invisibly but effectively controlled by the Central government, leaving little role for States in higher education.


The framers of the Constitution, exposed to the trauma of Partition and divisive domestic demands posing challenges to the unity and integrity of the nation, conceived a constitutional framework with a unitary slant. Still, they left education in the State List, obviously in appreciation of India's cultural, geographical and religious plurality. Education was moved to the Concurrent List during the Emergency through strong-arm tactics. Nevertheless, it was done constitutionally, at least in form, through an amendment to the Constitution.


Now decisions are being taken by the Central government unilaterally, as though education is in the Union List. In the process it is usurping some of the powers for policy making and regulation that the States enjoyed. The federal spirit of the Constitution is infringed upon in the process. The objective of promoting harmony in variety through a pluralistic educational system is also defeated.


( M.A. Baby is Minister for Education and Culture, Kerala.)








Finally, it happened. It was no more than a flash, of burnished, steely determination glinting in the sun. But it was there and no mistaking it for anything other than the old Obama magic


What was so startling about President Obama's fiery, provocative speech at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania on Monday was the powerful surge of déjà vu that it brought, the invocation of a stirring within every member of the audience. By the end of it, all of them were swept away in the crescendo of his words as he roared, "And if you share that belief, I want you to stand with me and fight with me" to thunderous applause. The General had returned.


The "belief" that the President referred to, of course, was America's faith in the urgent need for healthcare reform. Why did it evoke déjà vu? Because after weary, interminable months of tackling the relentless siege of opposition obstructionism, the memory of Candidate Obama had, unbelievably, faded.


And faded not just for those all-important swing voters in what is still very much a polarised American polity. It had faded for even his strongest base of supporters, the so-called Millennial voters, who until today the polls indicated were disillusioned with the President's inability to deliver change.


So low is the ebb of hope today that few would readily recall that this was the man who brought a tired, frustrated and internationally unappreciated America back up to its feet with a renewed sense of purpose.


Yet finally, after more than thirteen months of gentlemanly conduct, he stepped out on the front foot and no apologies. Finally, after more than a year of putting his faith in quiet persuasion and patient interlocution, he did more than just block a punch. He rolled up his sleeves (literally, he did). He took off his jacket, saying "It's hot up here!" And, lo and behold, the man started punching.


First an uppercut: "When you're in Washington, folks respond to every issue, every decision, every debate, no matter how important it is, with the same question: What does this mean for the next election?"


Then a jab: "Every year, insurance companies deny more people coverage because they've got pre-existing conditions. Every year, they drop more people's coverage when they get sick… Every year, they raise premiums higher and higher and higher. Just last month, Anthem Blue Cross in California tried to jack up rates by nearly 40 per cent. Anybody's paycheck gone up 40 per cent?".


A feint to the left: "The other day, there was a conference call that was organised by Goldman Sachs… in which an insurance broker was telling Wall Street investors… that insurance companies know they will lose customers if they keep on raising premiums, but because there's so little competition in the insurance industry, they're okay with people being priced out."


And finally that killer hook: "So what should I tell these [chronically ill] Americans? That Washington is not sure how it will play in November? That we should walk away from this fight, or [that] we'll do it incrementally, we'll take baby steps? [AUDIENCE: "No!"] So they want me to pretend to do something that doesn't really help these folks."


Of course when Obama fights, it ain't no brawl — so he took some time with the Arcadia crowd, as he did for seven and a half hours in a recent summit with Republicans, to carefully lay out the reasons why his reform would help the healthcare system cut costs, increase coverage, reduce its deficit impact and end the tyranny of insurance companies enriching themselves to the detriment of ordinary Americans.


The experience was salutary. Obama could not have missed that fact. His audience certainly did not. Yet with all eyes, including Democrats', on Congressional elections in November, Monday's speech and the reaction bring an important behavioural question to the fore: should Obama seek to go toe-to-toe with would-be maligners across the aisle? Or, should he retreat once again to his role as a thoughtful yet hesitant President?


In truth the answer may well not matter, because regardless of the stormy weather November may bring, it will

be followed by a whole two years during which possibly 30 million more Americans will be returned to a life of dignity, security and affordable, quality healthcare. And they will not forget their President when he needs them.


In Obama's own words, he would have put doing what is right before doing what is politically expedient. If that high moral choice might also result in the transformation of a purely exploitative system, then Republican objections become irrelevant. Let them kick and scream.








The recent proposal to introduce a new medical course, Bachelor of Rural Health Care, has been met with resistance from many sections of the medical fraternity. Its opponents argue that it will result in second-class health care for rural India and increase the rural-urban divide. They suggest other solutions, including using the services of trained nurses and paramedics and medical practitioners from Indian systems of medicine. The compulsory posting of fresh medical graduates to rural health centres with weightage for rural service in selections to post-graduate courses is also cited as an answer to improve health care in rural parts of the country. Setting up of new medical colleges in north India, an increase in the permissible number of seats in existing institutions and private-public partnerships to improve rural health infrastructure are also suggested as remedies. Most of these recommendations are not new — have been around for decades — and do not directly address the reality of health and health care in rural India. Cynics would argue that these are suggested to tinker with the existing system, with the aim of actually maintaining the status quo.


Specialist factories and fetish: Currently, the training of doctors occurs in tertiary-care institutions, with specialist perspectives dominating the curriculum. Referral systems to tertiary care and prevalent narrow expert perceptions result in rare and exotic medical conditions forming the basic case load for teaching. Communication of theoretical knowledge without the transmission of the necessary skill to manage common diseases churns out doctors who are poorly equipped to work in primary care and small hospitals. Lack of clinical skill and absolute reliance on technology make fresh graduates uncomfortable outside a large hospital setting. Their obvious lack of confidence in managing simple diseases forces them to specialise. The long periods of training and the investment of time, effort and money, in addition, to the dependence on tertiary-care support and technology, make specialised physicians averse to working in small hospitals in rural India. Their narrow perspectives and circumscribed fields make them incompetent to manage common problems in primary and secondary care.


Compulsory rural service and commitment: Students from very few medical colleges in India have a compulsory obligation to serve in areas of need and in not-for-profit rural hospitals. Such service is enforced through the carrot of additional points for selection to post-graduate courses and the stick, which includes the refusal of certification for failure to serve. While this works well at a superficial level, most fresh graduates are uncomfortable in the alien environments of small hospitals and small towns where they are located. The vast majority complete their time limited obligations and leave; very few choose careers in primary and secondary care, opting instead to specialise and work in urban tertiary care. Such lack of long-term commitment among doctors to work in small hospitals weakens these institutions, resulting in their deterioration and eventual closure. The idea of a brief but compulsory obligation to serve in small hospitals in rural India is, thus, at best, a temporary solution and, at worst, a way to put fresh graduates completely off such service, thereby maintaining the status quo.


Health infrastructure sans work ethic: The National Rural Health Mission has had a major impact on the health and hospital infrastructure of rural India. It has brought in budgetary flexibility in the system with specific funding for local needs. It also funds human resource in situations of shortage. And yet, in many places, nothing has changed. While the renovated and clean primary health centres and district hospitals have made a big difference, the prevalent work ethic leaves much to be desired. Years of neglect have resulted in a work ethic which is less than optimal. While many doctors and nurses serve diligently, many are apathetic to the needs of patients. The infusion of money alone will not change the morale or the circumstances of service. Frequent transfers, political interference in postings and the lure of private practice need to be tackled for optimal health care delivery. The audit of the programme, thus far, has been about process. We await the assessment of its impact on health outcomes.


Specific intervention or generic personnel: The reality of primary care and rural India demand locally relevant solutions. Training generic personnel with long periods of exposure to tertiary care and then transplanting them to smaller settings is a sure recipe for disaster. The lack of skill and confidence in managing common diseases, the excessive dependence on technology and the different demands of the context make young doctors opt out of such service. They would rather go back to their tertiary care institutions for more training to become specialists. Poor monetary rewards and limited facilities in small towns also add to their woes.


The situation described begs the question: Are inappropriately trained generic personnel the solution to the current crisis of health care in rural India or should those who intend to serve in such capacity be given specific training to match their skills to the reality of primary and secondary health care? The generic health personnel currently trained lack the necessary skill to deliver the specific interventions required in small hospitals. Should we tinker with the existing system, which has failed to deliver adequate and appropriate health care to rural India or should we aim at transforming the structure in order to provide good quality health services?


Status quo or radical solutions: The fall of socialism and the rise of capitalistic thought resulted in the weakening of the trade union movement. However, the medical profession, the world over, under the guise of being part of scientific organisations, has consolidated its power. Doctors form a powerful trade union, successfully lobbying to maintain their special status, vested interests and their financial clout. Their success is attributed to their ability to disguise their actual intention of maintaining their monopoly on the supply of expertise by using scientific, ideological and moral arguments. The majority refuse to acknowledge the suffering of millions of Indians who do not have easy, affordable and equitable access to health care.


The debate on health care for rural India often sheds more heat than light. The majority of doctors will neither work in rural India nor will they allow systems to develop to meet its essential health needs. Yet, they talk of equal status for their rural brethren at every opportunity; they argue for equality of health services for all. Cynics would argue that these attempts are aimed at maintaining the status quo which suits doctors' vested interests. The strategies of centralisation of power and regulation and limitation of the supply of expertise result in their stranglehold on health care delivery. The larger vision of health for all and the need to empower other health workers have always been subservient to their collective self-interest.


The way forward

The disparity in health indices, infrastructure and personnel between rural and urban India demands urgent action and radical solutions. Such disparities are due to a toxic combination of poor social and health policies and programmes, unfair economic arrangements and bad politics. China has shown that "barefoot" doctors with specific training in the prevention of diseases and in the treatment of common health problems can improve indices of health. Equitable and accessible health care in Cuba has also demonstrated marked improvement in the health of its people.


The bold idea of the new course needs our support. Much needs to be done. Many issues related to the course, its curriculum, examinations, skill sets required, training, trainers, eligibility, practice, regulation and oversight need to be sorted. The course should concentrate on prevention of diseases and on public health. It should train for the provision of basic curative services for priority health conditions. It should transfer skill and confidence. It should set out and teach the criteria for referral.


The focus of the current debate should be on the health of the rural population of India. Achieving health standards similar to those living in urban India in the foreseeable future should be the goal. Pragmatism, rather than ideological arguments, is called for. Support for better essential health services, rather than the current status quo of neglect, is a fight for social justice and for the human rights of all peoples.


(Professor Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore.)







In September 2009 it was announced that the U.K. was the first major economy where advertisers spent more on internet advertising than on TV advertising, with a record £1.75 billion online spent in the first six months of 2009.


Now, a similar story seems to be happening in the U.S. Information researchers and analysts Outsell surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. advertisers in December 2009. They found that in 2010 companies will spend $119.6 billion on online and digital strategies, from search engine keywords to seminars on the web, while they plan to invest $111.5 billion in print such as newspaper and magazine ads. Online's lead over print will still be minor, though, at about 1.2 per cent.


However, as companies are restructuring their marketing budget from print to online, they often leave their former marketing partners to invest in other strategies.


"Advertisers are directing dollars toward the channels which generate the most qualified leads and most effective branding," said Chuck Richard, vice-president and lead analyst at Outsell. "As they emerge from the recession, they need more accountability, and they're spreading their spending over a widening set of options." Overall, Outsell forecasts that U.S. spending on advertising and marketing will increase in 2010, but by just 1.2 per cent to $368 billion. Print magazine advertising will rise by 1.9 per cent or $9.4 billion, according to Outsell.


Outsell's study indicates that ad spending is picking up pace again, but might be directed towards online rather than print. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







Some six years ago, on a cold and wet November morning a group of bleary-eyed London-based journalists , mostly from India and Pakistan, were bussed to Birmingham to be briefed about the BBC's revamped Asian Network, a digital radio channel devoted exclusively to expatriates from the subcontinent. We were given a day-long tour of its studios and senior executives lined up to underline its significance portraying it as the ultimate symbol of BBC's commitment to Britain's cultural diversity and an answer to the Asian community's "need" for a channel of its own.


When asked whether it was a good idea to have a separate channel for Asians when the government's policy was to promote greater "integration" of immigrants and wasn't the BBC "ghettoising" Asian culture by putting it in a "box," the boss of the Network at the time Vijay Sharma protested that, on the contrary, the BBC was trying to give a "voice" to the Asian community.


The network, he said, offered a much-needed platform to the Asian youth to showcase their talent prompting two non-Asian journalists in the group to wonder why only the Asian community had been chosen for a special favour. Why not similar channels for other immigrant groups? they wanted to know.


Six years later, the Network faces closure as part of the BBC's new policy to concentrate more on "quality than quantity," in the words of its director-general Mark Thompson. The nearly £600 million to be saved by axing struggling channels and curtailing its website would be ploughed into making "high-quality" programmes, he says.


The real reason, of course, has nothing to do with any of this. It is to do with the threat from the Tories to freeze the BBC's licence fee revenue (currently £3.6 billion a year) if they come to power after the May elections unless the corporation itself takes steps to cut flab and allow its commercial rivals such as Rupert Murdoch's Sky TV more "space." The Tories' gung-ho approach is driven by a desperate need to have the Murdoch media on their side in the run-up to the elections; and taming the BBC is the price the old man wants for his support.


So, if the move goes through after a 12-week consultation the Asian Network which now broadcasts nationally will be replaced by five part-time local services. Predictably, the decision has provoked criticism especially from the Asian artistic community. But there is a view that, with its falling audiences (a 20 per cent drop in the past three years alone), fuzzy programming, a confusion about its target- audience and the growing cost of running it (an estimated £12.1 million a year), the Network had it "coming." Critics agree with Mr. Thompson that this makes it difficult to "justify the level of BBC investment" needed to keep it afloat.


The Network's supporters like to portray it as a great creative force but the truth is that with its usual mix of Bollywood music, bhangra , "desi tracks," and news it is simply a slightly more "posh" version of the Southall-based commercial Hindi-language Sunrise Radio. Many believe that with Asian audiences becoming more diverse, the idea of a "monolithic" Asian community which can be served by one single station has had its day; and, indeed, this is reflected in the shrinking listenership figures for the Asian Network. As one commentator pointed out a "station defined by their [Asians'] ethnic needs is no longer the priority it was in the late 1980s."


Still, the Network has a solid core of supporters and they are up in arms with Twitter and Facebook buzzing with anger. More than 10,000 people have already signed an online campaign to "save" it. This is in addition to a separate campaign launched by its own staff. Some of Britain's top Asian artists, writers and broadcasters, including Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Gurinder Chadha, have made a public appeal to the BBC to review its decision.


In a joint letter, published in The Guardian, they said the Asian Network was a "vital part" of the BBC's public service broadcasting remit.


"The BBC we have grown up with has always prided itself on celebrating diversity. In that respect, the Asian Network ...provides a key platform for the national Asian community and offers an outlet to British Asian talent which is demonstrably unrepresented in the more mainstream BBC," they said.


With up to 700 jobs at stake, one would have thought that the protest would focus on the effect the closure would have on the future of the channel's young staff, especially in a recession. Instead, the entire campaign is dressed up as a struggle in defence of creativity and cultural diversity.


Privately, of course, the staff are worried. One journalist, who didn't want to be named, said job losses was a big issue but added, after a pause, that it was something for unions to sort out. In the rarefied art world it is, obviously, regarded as a bit naff to be seen talking about jobs and security.


But coming back to the old question: is there really a need for a separate Asian radio station except as a political sop to the community for its under-representation in the mainstream BBC? After all, it was a former BBC director-general who called it "hideously white, male and middle class."






An absolute majority of Palestinians lost confidence in the credibility of U.S. President Barack Obama's efforts to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a poll said on Wednesday.


Only eight per cent of the 1,200 people surveyed "are still optimistic about Mr. Obama's seriousness in building a Palestinian state" while 67 per cent said Mr. Obama was not acting properly to settle the conflict on a two-state solution, according to the study conducted in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank by the Arab World Research and Development Centre (AWRAD).


When Mr. Obama delivered his renowned speech to the Muslim and Arab world in Cairo last June, 41 per cent of people told a similar survey that they were still hopeful of a change in the U.S. policy in the Middle East, AWRAD said.


Sixteen per cent said a Palestinian statehood could be created during Mr. Obama's era but 73 per cent ruled this out.


The current survey was conducted between February 25 and 27 after Washington presented a proposal to revive Israeli- Palestinian peace talks by leading indirect proximity talks between the two sides. — Xinhua











It's not easy to justify quotas. Indian politicians have been gung-ho about quotas for so long, that each passing decade has seen more groups, more communities hankering after it. If they demand things loudly enough, they do manage to get something for their efforts. So why should we welcome the addition of such a broad category of beneficiaries (women) as worthy of quotas?


One of the main arguments used by the backward class parties in voicing opposition to the Women's Reservation Bill is that it will enable articulate upper-caste/upper-class women to grab the levers of power, nullifying all the gains made by the other backward castes (OBCs) in recent years.


Even Muslims seem to be uncomfortable with the idea, even though they have never been beneficiaries of quotas. The bill, it seems, has suddenly woken up every community to demand its share of the spoils. Sooner or later, we will have to start putting a lid on quotas.


Even so, this newspaper heartily welcomes the crossing of the first hurdle in the bill — clearance by the Rajya Sabha. There are three reasons why. One, the dramatic increase in the number of women entering legislatures could be a game changer, even if the new entrants happen to be all upper-class women (though that is highly unlikely).


The first lot of women beneficiaries could well be the wives of the Lalus and Mulayams, but their large numbers will lead to new thinking. Women congregating in Parliament are less likely to remain yes-women to their spouses and sons. Two, the high visibility of women leaders will give all women a psychological boost, even if there is no immediate change in the kind of laws they enact. Third, it should be possible for such a large gender group to reach out across party lines to work for common programmes that will benefit all. The very fact that the women's bill got support from across party lines is testimony to this fact.


To be sure, the quotas are not going to come anytime soon. The Congress, having alienated many of its allies, is in no mood to rush the bill through the Lok Sabha. Once that hurdle is crossed, the battle will shift to the states. The Congress, BJP and the Left will have to move quickly to get the bill passed before male legislators start regrouping and the mood changes to one of active opposition. The spadework better begin now.







The statement issued at the end of the Copenhagen climate summit last December was a shabby face-saver. It was pushed through at the last minute by US president Barack Obama in his huddle with prime minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. It was not something that the summit arrived at through the concerted efforts of all participants.


The European Union (EU) kept out, and the African countries were not there. It was implied that the Copenhagen statement was no accord and that it was a mere declaration of intent. Everyone was dissatisfied with the outcome. In short, it was literally inconclusive because there was no basic agreement among the participants.


It is, therefore, surprising then that Union minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh should have told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that India is now officially associated with the Copenhagen statement along with Brazil, South Africa and many other developing countries of G77. A non-accord then gets the legitimacy of an accord. Perhaps the government's move makes strategic sense because, as Ramesh has said, it is better to negotiate from within rather than from the outside.


The caveats that go with the decision do not exactly inspire confidence. The fact that the statement is not legally binding is hardly needed to be reiterated because no one has accepted it as an accord in the first place. That the intentions mentioned in the statement should be taken forward within the UN framework on climate negotiations is a non sequitur because no climate deal can be made by a group of countries among themselves.


The third condition, that the statement should be negotiated within the existing two-track system, does not make much sense either. The statement is being given the official stamp of approval and at the same time an attempt is being made to keep it as a document of limited importance.


India's stance on the climate issue is much too tentative. India, like China, the US and many other countries does not want to do too much on the climate issue which will have an adverse impact on the economy. So, what India wants to negotiate or wants to do is tied to its compulsions on this front. Manmohan Singh is aware that climate has long term implications for growth. However, apart from declaration of pious intention, nothing has been done about it. The latest move is clever and smart but it does not help in coping with the core issue.







If you are wondering what the ruckus was about in the women's quota bill passed by the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, here's the answer: men have their vulnerable spots, and the quota bill gives them a kick in the you-know-where. And you-know-where is not a word beginning with 'b', but 'w'. It's 'w' as in wallet and wealth (ill-begotten), money that's stashed away in private vaults and bank safety lockers — the "hurt" locker, so to speak.


Sure, male politicians have the usual fears about female empowerment, but their underlying worry is not about lost opportunities if the bill becomes law — which is some time away. The real, and stronger, reason for their opposition to the bill is that it disrupts their business. For most of our MPs and MLAs, politics is a business, a private business in which you invest money in buying votes and then recover your costs (and more) by ripping off the public and taxpayers in every possible way.


The bill, by reserving 33% of parliamentary and assembly seats for women, reduces the number of "businesses" open to men dramatically — and even these businesses are at constant risk since the bill says the women-only seats will rotate. By making all seats uncertain for male politicians, effective power shifts to party bosses since they get to decide who they want in a particular constituency every five years. All the efforts you put in by buttering up the voters will go waste when the seat changes gender.


Consider your predicament if you, as a businessman MP (or minister), have managed to get yourself elected from, say, Gulbarga in Karnataka. You make tonnes of money in the five years you get — assuming there is no mid-term poll. You may even do some good for your voters, but at the end of your term, if the election commission decides that your seat will go to women, your investment is at risk. You can try to get your wife or daughter a party ticket, but this puts power in the hands of your party bosses.


Your licence to print money is effectively cancelled every five years and you have to bid again, possibly under benami names. Not quite an efficient way to run any business.


So, the first step to understanding the sharp opposition to the women's bill is that it ruins an existing business model for politicians. If you don't believe Indian politics is about business from the ground up, ask yourself: what was the money-for-questions scandal all about? Parliament worked up a lather over that Cobrapost expose, which showed that MPs, largely from the opposition benches, were collecting money for raising questions in Parliament. That's a job they are supposed to do free, but when you are in the Opposition, it's lean season in the slush business.


So you take what you get. The poor chaps lost their seats just for trying to eke out a living on spartan opposition benches. Another MP went to jail for using his passport to traffic in women and migrants. A third option for backbench MPs is to illegally lease out a portion of their official residences in Delhi to earn rent. Anything to earn a living.


Now, let's move up the scale, and look at ministers. This is where politicians scale up a cottage industry into a national enterprise. You make money on every deal cleared by the ministry, every policy flip-flop. You use public sector companies as private property — stuff them with your relatives, use their guest houses for personal purposes. And it need not all be done only for private profit. The UPA used taxpayers' money to get itself re-elected. P Chidambaram used oil bonds to protect his reputation as a responsible spender.


The big question: if politicians are protesting the women's bill more for economic reasons than gender ones, why is it that only the Yadavs — the Mulayams and Lalus — are raising a shindig about it? The answer: these are one-man parties, and thus least vulnerable in terms of image among women. It is easier for them to pretend that opposing the bill is about empowering OBCs. The Mayas and Mamatas are miffed purely because it's the Congress that will walk away with the glory.


The lineup in favour of the women's bill largely comprised national parties. The Congress, BJP and the Left like it precisely because the bill will shift power from the party's base to the top. It is no longer possible for a strong MP to tell the party leadership to go take a walk if he doesn't get a ticket because there is a strong possibility that his seat may go to a woman.


Thus, though the underlying reason is loss of business opportunity for all male MPs, it's the Yadavs who find it

easy to raise the banner of revolt. The bill "hurts" every MP's cash "locker" and Swiss bank balance, but the Yadavs are carrying the can.







I have just planted a sapling with nice long leaves. That's Shina. It has Bavaria and Koch for neighbours, and is right opposite Multani. I chose this neighbourhood for Shina because if there is anyone that can match Multani's muscle and spirit, it's her. And Shina would get along with Koch, they are both from the hills — though Kashmir and Cooch Behar aren't exactly alike. As they all grow up, they will make up the Bhasha Van — the forest of languages.


All 320 of them, with each tree representing an Indian language. Together, they would stand for the amazing linguistic diversity of our country, offering a forest of hope, reminding us of our rich cultural roots and our distinct identities.


Yes, there are hundreds of Indian languages. Thousands, if you are lenient with your definition of 'language'. The 1961 census mentioned 1,652 mother tongues in India. But there is a matsyanyaya in language. Bigger, more powerful languages are swallowing up smaller ones, thus wiping out the identities of speakers of those mother tongues, creating language refugees who move to the dominant languages displaced from their beliefs, their cultural roots, their worldview, which were all embedded in their lost mother-tongue.


The Bhasha Van is an attempt to counter this dreadful cultural erosion. An initiative of the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre at Vadodara, this was part of the Bhasha Confluence that brought together 600 delegates from far-flung corners of the country. Participants ranged from the writer Mahasveta Devi, veteran Gandhian activist Narayanbhai Desai, linguist DP Pattanayak and several academics and activists, to hundreds of representatives of different tribal and minority languages and dialects. And of the 320-odd saplings planted at the Bhasha Van in the sprawling campus of the Adivasi Academy at Tejgarh, around 300 represented tribal languages.


The brainchild of Ganesh Devy, the man behind the Bhasha Centre and the Adivasi Academy, this forest of languages aims to remind us of the lush linguistic heritage that we need to nurture, the sheltering cultural space that we must not allow to wither and die. The tribal languages are at greatest risk and need special care.


The saplings were blessed by the guests. "Get the government to deliver, especially in the tribal areas," said Mahasveta Devi. "Don't let government officials get away with doing nothing just because they don't know the local language. They must know it. They need to understand the needs of the tribals. There must be no forgiveness if they don't understand what the locals are saying."


Implementation of government policies is possibly our biggest problem. Failure of the government to deliver, especially in the tribal belt, is responsible for the rise of the Maoists. I wonder if the Adivasi Academy could produce primers for administrative officials to introduce them to the language and cultures of each tribal area so that they could indeed understand the problems better and have no excuse for not doing their job.


Another pragmatic suggestion came from DP Pattanayak. "Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan cannot be successful unless it becomes Sarva Bhasha Abhiyan," he said. Government policies need to reflect the fundamental importance of the mother tongue in education.

Languages, like the saplings planted in Bhasha Van, need to be nurtured, watered, at times even sheltered. That's the only way to protect our various linguistic identities.


For when a language dies, we lose a part of our invaluable collective heritage. Like when Boa Sr, 85, the last speaker of the ancient Bo language of the Andamans, died in January, Bo — the language that embodied cultural and knowledge traditions of 65,000 years — died with her.


We may not always be able to keep languages alive, but we can prevent them from being killed by neglect. Hopefully, the Bhasha Van would be an important reminder of this.










The passage of the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill by the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday providing for reservation of 33 per cent seats for women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies has received an overwhelming response from the nation. People from all sections have hailed the vote in favour of the Bill. The support extended by the BJP and the Left parties to the UPA government's historic initiative needs to be appreciated. It is perhaps after many years that the ruling party and the Opposition have joined hands to pass a revolutionary and historic piece of legislation aimed at empowering women. While participating in the debate on the Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rightly said that the "near unanimity" between the government and the Opposition reached on the Bill is a "living proof that the heart of the Indian democracy is sound and in the right place."


Now that the Rajya Sabha has passed the Bill, the government should move it in the Lok Sabha and get it passed in the current session itself. As the Bill enjoys the support of the people, there should be no problem for the government to push through it with a two-thirds majority in the Lower House. Needless to say, the same spirit of cooperation and consensus should mark the passage of the Bill in the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha has put the obstructionists of the Bill from parties like the RJD, the SP and a section of the JD (U) in their place. These prophets of doom have simply no numbers to stall it in the Lok Sabha.


After the Lok Sabha clears the Bill, it will be sent to the State Assemblies for ratification. As it is a constitutional amendment, at least 50 per cent of the states (14 out of the 28 states) will have to ratify the Bill. The outcome in the states will be no different, but it is a time-consuming exercise. Women can reap the fruits of the Bill only after some time because even after the Bill's ratification and presidential assent, an independent commission like the Delimitation Commission will have to undertake the exercise of identifying the seats that need to be reserved for women in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, before the rotational formula comes into operation.








The Punjab State Public Service Commission is stinking once again. The scandalous recruitment of doctors is bound to remind one of the depths to which the commission's reputation had sunk under its previous disgraced Chairman. Those who thought that the shady goings-on of the past would not be repeated, given the scale of public outrage then, have been proved wrong. The Ravi Sidhu saga has got lost in dilatory legal wrangles. Exemplary punishment has not been handed over in time to act as a deterrent. Hence, ignominy has returned to haunt the once prestigious constitutional body which ought to have made selections without fear and favour.


The previous Congress government had exposed the Ravi Sidhu scandal to widespread public applause. Occupying a high moral ground, the then Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, had overhauled the discredited PPSC. For a long time the next Akali-BJP government kept the Congress-appointed commission out of business. It even tried to outsource recruitment work to the UPSC, which declined it. Finally, the government relented and sent a requisition for the selection of 100 doctors in October 2008. Later, 212 more posts were added. Even as the selection process began, some doctors, shocked at the manner of interviews, opened up in the media. One lady doctor lost her job for challenging the selectors.


The state public service commissions were made autonomous to insulate them from outside pressure or influence. But they have to be held accountable for wrongdoings, if any. The Haryana Public Service Commission's PCS selections are under judicial scrutiny. The PPSC's selection of undeserving doctors could put the lives of patients at risk and further erode their shaky faith in government hospitals. The muted reaction of the Chief Minister is surprising. Instead of a routine inquiry by the Chief Secretary, the government should thoroughly look into the allegations of favouritism and abuse of power and, if need be, the wrongful selections should be scrapped. Those found guilty must be brought to justice swiftly to keep up public faith in the state health system and the fairness of selections.








Ms Mamata Banerjee is no longer a political storm trooper, fighting the police on the streets of Kolkata. But her conduct often belies that fact and does not reflect the sobriety, wisdom and maturity expected of a senior Cabinet minister of the Union government. Her flip-flop this week over the Women's Reservation Bill is a case in point. On Tuesday she declared herself to be 'upset, very upset' and asserted that the Trinamool Congress was opposed to the Bill in its current form. Demanding a special quota for Muslim women, she ordered Trinamool Congress members to abstain from voting on the historic Bill in the Rajya Sabha. But better sense seemed to have prevailed when she told the media on Wednesday that her party was totally 'committed' to the Bill. It has long been known, of course, that she is impulsive. But by defying the principle of collective responsibility and speaking out against the Bill, she only managed to embarrass the government and also herself.


Her conduct is indefensible because she was present in the Cabinet meeting which finalised the Bill. She had the opportunity to voice her reservations then. But there is no indication to suggest that she raised the issue of a separate quota for Muslim women in the Cabinet. It evidently was an 'after-thought' that prompted her to espouse a quota within the quota for reasons of expediency. But while she complains of a communication gap and not being consulted, she herself appears to have taken the government by surprise with her public outburst. A far more plausible explanation of her behaviour is provided by her publicly aired complaint that the government appeared to be consulting the Left and not its own allies. The close cooperation between the Congress and the Left over the Bill and the sight of Comrade Brinda Karat complimenting the government for pushing the Bill through could well have prompted Ms Banerjee to lose her composure.


Those who have closely followed Ms Banerjee are used to the passionate, sometimes incoherent speeches and often contradictory positions taken in swift succession by the temperamental leader. Although she first became a Union minister in the early nineties, she has been erratic all along, threatening to resign, once throwing her shawl at the Deputy Speaker and on another occasion at a former Railway Minister. It is a pity though because the country, and specially West Bengal, would like her to show greater maturity. 
















The talks being conducted by the government with the Nagas through the NSCN (IM) appear to have entered the final lap. Both sides by now well understand the other. After meetings with the Prime Minister and Home Minister, Mr Muivah is currently in dialogue with the new interlocutor, Mr R. S. Pandey, a just retired IAS officer drawn from the Nagaland cadre. He succeeded Mr K. Padmanabhiah, who, over several rounds of talks with Mr Muivah and Mr Iasac Swu, patiently constructed the framework within which a settlement is now sought.


The government's acceptance of the "unique" history of the Nagas laid the foundations for trust and further progress. The NSCN (IM) started with two primary demands, sovereignty and Nagalim, or the unification of all Naga-inhabited areas within India (and "Eastern Nagaland" in Myanmar). Over time, the government has more or less been able to persuade the NSCN (IM) that the states within India's structure of cooperative federalism are co-sovereigns within a commonwealth. Going beyond that, however, it has conceded that the Nagas' unique identity merits unique recognition through additional devolution within the 
framework of the Constitution.


The NSCN (IM) was asked to consider what part of the Indian Constitution the Nagas were freely willing to accept and what additional heads, safeguards and features they might wish to inscribe within a special "Naga constitution" that could perhaps be incorporated as a separate chapter within the Indian Constitution. Critics might scream, but a moment's reflection will convince them that there are many mini-constitutions or special dispensations within the Indian Constitution. These are spelt out in Articles 370, 371, and 371-A (pertaining to Nagaland) to 371-I and the Fifth and Sixth Schedules, and extend to special affirmative action covenants pertaining to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, the OBCs and religious and linguistic minorities. All these subtle variations are so much part of our constitutional and social landscape and have been so completely internalised that we often fail to notice their existence.


Some of this might be done by transferring to the State List certain items that are now in the Concurrent List of

the Seventh Schedule through a constitutional amendment. This should not be problematic as some of this has already been done to a limited extent in the existing Article 371-A. Still wider devolution is possible through Article 258 under which the Centre is empowered to "entrust" to a state "any matter to which the executive power of the Union extends". None of this will affect the unity and integrity of the country because of the accommodative genius of the Indian Constitution. Nor is there any cause to fear a domino effect, whatever others may claim, as the Naga case is sui generis.


The other issue of Nagalim too is not intractable. The imagined boundaries of Nagalim, as sometimes drawn, have little historical basis as the Naga tribes, like their cousins in much of the Northeast, have been and perhaps still are migratory. Dimapur, for instance, the most prized territorial plum, was the capital of the Dimasa kingdom. It is now a predominantly Naga city and so it must remain, despite Dimasa claims, as history cannot be rolled back. In any event, Manipur, one of the oldest principalities in India, cannot be vivisected nor will Assam and Arunachal countenance the excision of Cachar and Tirip and Changlang respectively. "Eastern Nagaland", the home of the rival NSCN(K) leader, Mr Khaplang, is in Myanmar.


The solution lies not in territorial reorganisation, which will be resented and resisted , but in the coming together of these other Naga-populated areas in a non-territorial entity. This would permit a coming together of all Nagas for purposes of economic, social and cultural development without derogation of current administrative jurisdictions. An example of this is to be found in the existing apex councils first created by Hiteshwar Saikia in Assam to accommodate the common interests of small, scattered tribes like the Tiwas, Rabhas and Mishings, who live in non-contiguous villages spread over a wider area. The apex councils elect an executive body to administer a devolved budget and plan through their 
own key personnel in case of "transferred subjects".


In a non-territorial "Naga peoplehood", however, distinctively Naga areas in Assam, Arunacal and Manipur could be empowered to administer common programmes of economic and social development. This could be done by means of any of several administrative devices overseen by the parent state on the one hand that enable the administered units across state boundaries to sing from the same page. At the political level, the all Naga Ho-ho has functioned across state boundaries and even the international boundary.


Imaginative and creative solutions are available. Some already exist; others can be enabled by constitutional amendment. The K-Group has denounced the IM-Group for forsaking "sovereignty". These are bargaining counters. Yet, it is absolutely necessary to get on board all shades of Naga opinion, IM, K and the two factions of the Naga National Council that Phizo founded, to endorse an overall settlement. That Mr Muivah is a Thangkul Naga from Manipur and Mr Khaplang a Hemi Naga from Myanmar does not matter. Given a just and true settlement, each can find a place of honour in the new scheme of things. Nobody need feel left out.


It is necessary to travel in order to arrive. Both the Naga and the larger Indian leadership and societies need to abandon outworn notions to embrace the emerging opportunities. An end to the Naga conflict will be a triumph and a balm and a signal that insurgency anywhere is not the path to peace and progress.








I read an interesting article by a friend on types of fathers. It made me think about fatherhood generally and specifically about us as parents. I remember when we were growing up, the sentence "I will tell your father" held a great significance and threat value – fathers were relatively more shadowy and so quite feared.


Now, since fathers are in constant proximity to the children, almost as much as mothers, any mystery element is gone and the kids have them figured out completely. The children are fairly confident that fathers can be wound around their little fingers with perhaps greater ease than even the mother.


My husband finds fatherhood a very enjoyable and positive experience. There are, however, moments when I

have found him feeling severely challenged.


We had taken the kids for a swim and it was time for them to come out of the pool. My son was being particularly recalcitrant about coming out of the water so my husband decided to be a little firm and told him that he had no option but to step out of the pool. His efforts were rewarded by a loud wailing on the part of my son and out of the blue the unfair verdict "you are the worst papa"! Everyone in the pool looked at my husband to see who had earned this title. He became beetroot red.


We had taken the kids for a Dhrupad (it's fairly serious, slow, timeless classical music) recital and they were reasonably lukewarm about this style of music. They were both fighting for the chair near me before the show and it was decided that it would be half and half time each.


An hour later, my son decided that it was now his turn to sit next to me and asked my daughter to exchange places. She refused. Whereupon his face became set into the expression which comes on just before he is about to begin wailing loudly. I can never forget the look of pure terror on my husband's face as he urgently took my arm and whispered "I think he's about to cry!'.


He had visions of our son's loudly familiar wail drowning out the concert completely and thought that they both may well make it to the next day's newspapers entertainment section, for the wrong reasons. I somehow managed to save the situation.


My husband never recovered fully — he is always very uneasy when taking the kids anywhere (though they sit very nicely through most performances now ) and keeps searching the children's faces for status checks during the programme.


My husband has reached the universal conclusion "there is never a dull moment…"








There have been a number of articles in the print media on the functioning of the National Security Council and the role of NSA. Most of them have emphasised the need for reorganisation of NSC and its substructures as well as for redefining the role of NSA. Before considering these issues, a professional analysis of the objectives of NSC and NSA's role is essential.


It is crucial to note that the functions and responsibilities of NSC and NSA have undergone significant changes in the last 11 years of its existence. The Task Force of Sri K.C. Pant had recommended a Planning Commission type organisation to act as a government think tank on security issues.


It suggested that the NSC should develop strategies keeping in view the security requirements in the next 5 to 25 years. Such projections were considered necessary to determine our military doctrines and develop plans for the acquisition of technologies and weapon systems, calibrate our nuclear doctrine, modify our foreign policy to develop leverages in the target foreign countries and to take appropriate steps for strengthening our comprehensive national strength.


To carry out its tasks, the Task Force had recommended that besides the National Security Adviser in the rank of Cabinet Minister, there should be three Dy NSAs in the rank of Principal Secretary for intelligence, coordination and planning wings. Each of the wings was expected to have full-time members (experts in different fields) to be appointed for 3 to 5 years.


The National Security Council was set up in 1998, albeit on a smaller scale in terms of staff. The notification clearly laid down that the NSC's role was to advise the government on security issues, which included internal and external threats, food security and threats to atomic energy, space and high technology as also patterns of alienation in the country.


The role of the NSC did not include any executive responsibility. NSA was assigned the responsibility of functioning "as the channel for servicing the National Security Council." NSA was expected to give directions to the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) comprising experts in different fields to focus on priority areas and also to get required papers prepared for consideration by NSC.


The Strategic Policy Group (SPG), a body of Secretary-level officials from the key ministries, was tasked to act as the principal mechanism for inter-ministerial coordination and integration of relevant inputs in the formulation of national security policies.


However, soon after the establishment of NSC, NSA and NSCS were given additional responsibilities, changing the nature of NSC from a think tank to an executive office. After the Kargil conflict, the Group of Ministers gave NSA the responsibility of chairing the Intelligence Coordination Group's meetings.


This body was meant to ensure that the consumers got their requirements from the agencies. It was also expected to evaluate the performance of the agencies. NSCS was expected to project the requirements of the consumers to the intelligence agencies. In addition, the newly created National Technical Research Organisation, the technical unit to support the entire Intelligence community, was placed under NSA. And when the Nuclear Command Authority was created, NSA was given substantial responsibilities connected with it.


If NSAs in the past could carry out all the tasks dexterously, the credit goes to their high calibre, competence and rich experience. However, overburdening NSA and NSCS with administrative responsibilities would not be conducive for the growth of NSC as an institution to undertake long-term planning – the very purpose of its formation.


Moreover, growing complexities in the security environment would make these tasks further taxing in the coming period. In fact, the tasks of NSA and NSCS are of higher nature than the executive functions. They have to objectively review governmental policies and the manner in which they are implemented and suggest changes and modifications to achieve our national objectives. Expectations from NSC and its substructures is that together they would act as the "Chankya mind" to provide "out-of-box" thinking to the government.


Releasing NSA and NSCS from the pressures of administrative responsibilities is essential to facilitate them to concentrate on the basic objectives of NSC to anticipate security threats, suggest coordinated strategies to deal with such challenges and recommend measures necessary for enhancing our comprehensive national strength.


While NSAs and NSCS have been sensitising the political leadership on important current threats like the possibility of the use of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, various dimensions of terrorism, implications of growing circulation of fake currency and unrestricted flow of foreign direct investment, now in the present security environment they should also sharply focus on food, water and energy security issues — necessary for building our comprehensive national strength.


There is also an urgent need for streamlining the functioning of other two substructures of NSC viz. SPG and NSAB. The SPG is often replicating the task of the Core Group of Secretaries on security matters because of lack of clarity of their charters. The responsibilities of these bodies are entirely different. While the latter deals with current security issues and takes necessary decisions for implementation, the former is meant to "provide relevant inputs in the formulation of national security policies, to act as the principal mechanism for inter-ministerial coordination and to undertake long-term strategic review".


For these tasks, the NSA has to provide directions on a continuing basis and NSCS has to provide necessary assistance. For these objectives, NSA must regularly attend SPG meetings. In the past, a few meetings were attended by the previous NSA, Mr M.K. Narayanan, and he was able to provide directions to the members making the discussion meaningful and was also able to get relevant inputs from the ministries/agencies.


NSAB is not fully utilised in the tasks of NSC. Its closer integration in the preparation of policy papers is highly desirable. For this, more frequent interaction between NSA and NSAB and provision of a dedicated research staff to assist NSAB are essential. The idea of having a few full-time members should be given a serious consideration.


What is required is not the reorganisation but the reorientation of the NSC and its substructures to the original charter.


NSA has several responsibilities in the NSC system, which require his undivided attention. Moreover, if NSC and its substructures are directly involved in certain tasks, then objective review of those tasks would not be feasible.








Three years ago the SAD- BJP government came to power in Punjab with the declaration that it marked the end of high-handed governance by Capt Amarinder Singh. Even before they settled down, witch-hunting started. The government hastily registered cases of corruption against Congress leaders.


Soon high-sounding development schemes like the metro rail for Ludhiana and the establishment of thermal plants, express highways and airports were announced.


The chorus of discrimination against Punjab continued without caring for the fact that the grants pouring through Central schemes like NREGA, the Rural Health Mission and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan could not be put to use for the benefit of the people. Acquisitions of land for SEZs resulted in controversies. As a result, the government had to abandon some of the prestigious projects. The World Class University to be set up at Amritsar with 100 per cent funding by the Centre, awaits the acquisition of land by the state 


Factionalism in the ruling coalition stalled the reconstitution of the market committees, improvement trusts and corporations for a long time. Only recently began the process to fill the posts of chairman and member of 
these bodies.


The working of the local bodies has remained in jeopardy because of lack of funds. They cannot spend funds collected by them even on development works. Industrial development has not taken place for the past three years and industry is sinking. The new industrial policy has failed to encourage the industry and trade to set up new units. The industry is upset with power cuts and red tape.


The industrial development boards have failed to help the industry despite giving the status of Cabinet minister or state minister to the chairmen and vice-chairmen of the boards. They are just a burden on the exchequer. They have no background of the industry. The only consideration is to please the favourites. All major industrial development corporations of the state are bankrupt. The tall promise of wiping out corruption has remained in the election manifesto. No senior bureaucrat has been caught except one.


The government has failed to provide the basic health and education facilities to the people. Both these sectors are in a mess.


There is a deterioration in the law and order situation. The police reforms suggested by the Supreme Court have not been implemented. The state police continues to be politicised. The state has witnessed the emergence of mafias in the shape of drug mafia, transport mafia and land mafia with the political backing. The poor are becoming victims of these mafias.


With the elections two years away, the Chief Minister is now expressing concern over unemployment and drug addiction among youth. He talks of generating employment opportunities for them. The government is filling vacant posts in various departments. Despite the price rise, Punjab has not seen any action against hoarders and black-marketeers. People will not get swayed by gimmicks of the coalition government. Capt Amarinder Singh also followed the policy of pleasing the people during the last two years of his five-year term.








The accident happened in early March in Reading, but its circumstances could be repeated at any time, anywhere from Penzance to Purley. Pakistani national Shehzad Akbar, 33, made the national news after ploughing his taxi into a tree. He was nearing the end of a 14-hour night shift and had fallen asleep at the wheel. He died shortly afterwards.


Such tragic incidents should serve as a wake-up call to a nation sleepwalking its way to an early grave with heavy hearts and droopy lids. A study published earlier this month by the Sleep Council – a charity circumspect enough to promote the benefits of a good night's sleep – told of 36 per cent of Britons sleeping poorly most nights. The average amount of sleep that people get is 6.6 hours – well below the recommended eight hours.


There are few who've avoided mainlining stimulants ahead of an exam but sustained tiredness – in its most extreme forms – can truncate lifespans. Lethargy caused by our lifestyles, on the other hand, can cause anxiety, depression and affect our ability to think clearly and react normally.


"If you're tired all the time it can be a mask for a variety of different problems," says Richard Vautrey, a GP in Leeds. "It could be stress-related depression, in some cases physical problems; anaemia, thyroid problems, diabetes or low blood sugar. Generally with people who complain there is no one reason that accounts for it; it's often more stress-related or something going on their life.


"In general terms people should have a balanced diet, exercise on a regular basis which can help release endorphins from the system which gives people energy; limit alcohol, stop smoking. Looking after your weight can help, it's common sense things. Also get plenty of rest. Some people are surprised that they get tired when they have been working excessively and forget to look after themselves. It's important to do things that can help you relax and unwind."


. Woodson Merrell, who has written The Source, Unlock Your Natural Energy, Revitalise Your Health and Change Your Life, suggests the British standard of half an hour three times a week, with a preference for yoga. He advises on useful yoga positions – for their beneficial effect on stress ("staff" – sitting upright, legs outstretched; "cobra" – lie flat on your belly then push your arms out and bend your head back, though probably best to consult a qualified instructor first).


"The book is examining how people can take charge of their health and revitalise their energy levels so they can achieve optimum wellness," he says. "Not everyone can do this, however. If you are a type one diabetic, you are probably never going to be in perfect health. But there are various areas – stress, diet, detox, exercise, rest and connectedness – which are important for the average person to consider."


He recommends that people take a stress log, work out the areas of their life where they can make a positive change and act accordingly. He also tells us to meditate during the morning, one of the most stressful times of day.


"Various studies suggest that when we're sleep-deprived the body overcompensates by producing the hormone cortisol [a stress-related hormone that increases blood sugar] which can make it more difficult to get to sleep in the evenings," he says. "If you don't sleep, you can also retain body fat, which in itself makes you sleepy and can weaken your immune system. It's also about the quality of sleep you get; if you wake up every hour throughout the night you can emerge in the morning feeling like you've been run over by a truck."


He recommends baths containing lavender, calming music, abstaining from alcohol, and has some interesting theories on how to stay sleeping if you feel like you're waking up. "If you're coming up into consciousness, and you are at that point where you are still thinking about something in a dream – latch on to the thing you're thinking about. Half the time you will return to sleep."


By arrangement with The Independent








It may have been because it was a limited edition published by a small press. Or perhaps it was the subject matter of the poems. Whatever the reason, Christopher Reid's book of poems A Scattering, a tribute to his actress wife Lucinda Gane who died of brain cancer, sold out on the day it was published. The first part of the book was written during Gane's illness, the other three at various times after her death.

 For those used to a more vocal form of mourning, the lines with which Reid evokes the long-dreaded moment when life passes into death, may seem too understated. I find their economy perfect: "Sparse breaths, then none-/and it was done." There is no ranting at the gods (Reid doesn't believe in them), or fate or even the cancer itself, "malignant but not malign,/it set about doing-/not evil,/simply the job/tumours have always done: skewing/perceptions, closing down/faculties and functions/one by one."

 So what do you do with your grief, especially when it is considered bad taste to mention the subject, or even the loved one's name in public? There's a wonderful poem called Exasperated Piety in which Reid recalls what the novelist Henry James felt about a society in which "old friends and associates who had died/were not so much forgotten as denied:/a frosty ostracism from the club/ of the left-over living". For this reason, James called London "a terrible place to die in;/ the poor dead, all about one, are nowhere so dead as there".

Grief fuels the poems. Would Lucinda Gane have minded such a public exploration of their life together, Reid was asked. He was certain she wouldn't, he said. She had read the poems he wrote about her during her long and distressing illness, and had thought them his best work. She undoubtedly knew he would continue to write about her. In any case, she was a practical woman, and willed her body to medical science, "because she couldn't bear not to be busy and useful". He walks past the institution that took her body, and thinks it a place that is "hallowed" for him, a place "preferable to either Heaven or Hell". He has to get on with his life, and writing poems about her is, as he says in an interview, "therapy without a cure at the end of it."

Gane's illness created a kind of reversal in the relationship. She is ironical about the role she plays: "I'm being radiant/again aren't I!" He admires her for not being the typical patient as she cheers her nurses, gives advice and support to friends, and encourages her husband "to address his/possible future/with something of her hope".
 Christopher Reid was born in Hong Kong in 1949, and read for a degree at Oxford. He was Poetry Editor for almost a decade with Faber and Faber, and he and his wife also started their own publishing house. He is Professor of Creative Writing at Hull. In January 2010 he won the Costa Book Award for A Scattering, in the poetry section, and also the Book of the Year for the same book. Including this book, Reid has published nine volumes of poetry, and two books of poems for children. He has also edited, among other books, a volume of the letters of Ted Hughes for Faber. The Costa Awards were formerly known as the Whitbread Prize and tend to be regarded as more "populist" than the Booker. All that seems to mean is that the concerns of the books which win the awards in various categories are seen as reaching a wider range of people.







It's official, ladies! Stubble is sexy. And a huge turn-on. While many women swoon over chocolate-boy good looks or go weak in the knees in front of a clean-shaven sex god, a study reveals it's the stubble that does the trick for them.

A recent poll by a British website that claims to crack a woman's wish-list as far as men are concerned says facial stubble and a geeky personality are top in a list of women's secret turn-ons. Girls may complain it looks unkempt or feels rough, but the unshaven look on a guy is attractive to four females in 10. There have been other studies too which say that hair may be a signal of aggression as it boosts the apparent size of the lower jaw.

Of course, most women might not exactly ponder on the size of the jaw or thickness of the beard, but what matters to them is the spunk and the attitude to carry it off. As Sanchita Roy, an arts student says, "Never generalise about stubble. Whether a man can carry it off well depends entirely on his attitude; it just cannot suit anyone who sports it. I would love to see a Hugh Jackman with stubble but not for instance, a Ruslaan Mumtaz!" Ouch!

Attitude apart, the stubble has now come to be held in high regard as a sign of style and class. Which explains why stars like David Beckham or Gerard Butler in Hollywood and closer home our very own Hrithik Roshan are so successful with the ladies. Never mind the little rashes or redness in the skin after a steamy session in the sack with a guy with a stubble — that, the stubble-votaries argue, is part of the package!

But for a long time, fuzz on the face has been a matter of many     beauty-debates.How much is     too much? What separates the caring-yetmacho look     from the cuddly teddy bears or hirsute masculinity? The answer lies somewhere in between. "I like only those who have a very light stubble, like a morning shadow as I feel that it gives them a more intense look. It gives the impression of a deeper character (rightly or wrongly). Besides, an unruly beard is scratchy on facial contact," says Mariette Valsan, public relations executive.

The right balance is that stubble which offer women the best of both worlds — not too overtly masculine and therefore a put-off, but mature and that which signals sensitivity. Neelam Mane, editor of a shopping magazine explains it best. "There is a difference between facial hair which gives a man a rugged look and that which can easily be called a full-grown beard. Most women would prefer the former, a well-maintained beard is always welcome. Just as long hair looks good on a woman only if it's looked after. My personal favourite is a goatee. I think goatees add a lot of dramatic value to a face." In other words, don't pass off your laziness for a fashion statement. Men, take care of your stubble the way you'd take care of your beard.

So does that mean the rise of the so-called metrosexual man was just a myth? As it turns out, pedicured feet and pink shirts are fine, real women prefer the moderate 'manly man'. And a stubble hints just that — not too rough, but has just the necessary edge. "I agree. A beard completes the face of a man. It makes him look more distinguished, though it is also a reason why a lot of wannabes sport it to catch attention and 'fit in'. Like they do for apparel and hair styles, every man should decide whether they have what it takes to carry of a beard — and a fitting type at that!" says Tejal Daftary, owner of a communications firm. That, kind of, sums it up.








Unrestricted entry of foreign equity into the Indian pharmaceuticals sector is being questioned on three grounds, one serious and two non-serious. The least serious of the three comes from the National Security Council, which has proposed that the sector be put on the "sensitive" list, requiring prior scrutiny by the Foreign Investment Promotion Board. This is difficult to understand as there is no intellectual property to guard against foreign takeover, the Indian industry being entirely generic. The second non-serious reason, given by the department of pharmaceuticals, is that Indian firms are not on a level playing field — they do not have deep pockets to do the kind of R&D necessary for survival in a free-for-all which global firms do. But the key example cited in favour of this argumentis the takeover of Ranbaxy by Japanese firm Daiichi Sankyo, which happened not because Ranbaxy ran out of money to carry forward the vision of Parvinder Singh, but because his heirs wanted to cash out.

 The department is on firmer ground when it fears that a growing tide of foreign takeovers can impact the pricing and availability of medicines in India. It is in India's national interest to ensure that essential medicines are available cheaply and easily to meet health-care needs. India was able to do this in the last century by ignoring the product patent regime and becoming a global leader in generics, using its chemistry skills to produce quality medicines cheaply. Now that it has accepted the product patent regime, it is faced with a new challenge, a growing tide of evergreening. Global majors, seeing their product patent pipelines dwindling, have resorted to more and more ingenious arguments and devices to prolong the life of patents so that generic substitutes cannot be marketed even after the running out of the original patent. The government has to actively guard against this, all the more so because Indian doctors appear entirely in thrall of costly medicines. If more and more good Indian firms get taken over by global firms, who will challenge patents because it is the former that are the global leaders in doing this? In allowing foreign entry, the government has to ensure that the firms take on an obligation to produce and sell essential medicines cheaply, according to the requirements of national policy.

Of the two devices used in the past to keep medicine prices low, a favourable patent regime and price control, the latter has worked up to a point. Any price control system has its limitations and in the past, populist ministers have sought to unduly extend the list of medicines under price control even as pharma companies have tried to dodge by tweaking formulations. A better way for the government to access good medicines cheaply can be through negotiated bulk purchase for distribution through the public health-care system. This way it can ask for precisely what it wants and talk only to the firms that follow good manufacturing practices. This route can become important over time as the government raises its expenditure on health care, which it must. Also, as incomes rise rapidly, private health-care expenditure is likely to rise even faster. Therefore, the market for affordable drugs is likely to grow long and fast. Foreign firms which play by these rules and get in are likely to reap early-bird advantages






The revelation by the developer of pest-protected Bt cotton Bollgard, Monsanto-Mahyco, that pink bollworm pest has developed resistance to the killer Bt gene, Cry1Ac, in parts of Gujarat, and the rebuttal of this by a government-funded cotton research institute have created a fresh, albeit avoidable, controversy around genetically modified (GM) crops. The Monsanto statement had claimed that during field monitoring of the 2009 cotton crop in Gujarat, the company's scientists had detected unusual survival of pink bollworms on Bt cotton hybrid Bollgard in four districts — Amreli, Bhavnagar, Junagarh and Rajkot. The firm also said that this has been conveyed to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), the apex GM regulator, following the principle of transparency and accountability. However, the director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has asserted that this conclusion is not well-founded as it is based on faulty testing methodology and has not been peer-reviewed. What lends a degree of credibility to the latter view is the fact that this institute has been involved in resistance-monitoring of Bt cotton since 2003 and its director heads the immunity-monitoring panel of the GEAC. Moreover, scientists of the Bt cotton developer firm are also members of this panel, which has neither noticed such resistance among pink bollworm nor reported any such development to the GEAC. Monsanto's claim, on the other hand, is not necessarily well-founded because it is based on just one season's observations when other factors, including weather, could have played a role in facilitating relatively higher survival of a particular pest.

One reason why the company's view is suspect in the eyes of its critics is the feeling that it is seeking to create a market for a new, higher-priced seed. While Monsanto may have business reasons in mind, the fact also remains that its claims should be objectively verified and the farmers properly reassured of the factual position. After all, even GM crops are not immune to disease. Countless good crop varieties have in the past gone out of cultivation because of the loss of their inbuilt immunity against particular pests and diseases. Indeed, even in the case of human beings, pathogens and viruses inflicting them are known to often develop resistance against particular antibiotics, necessitating discovery of newer molecules to treat the diseases caused by them. The same is true in the case of vaccines and medicines used by humans to combat insect-borne diseases and other pandemics. Thus, there is no merit in denigrating new technologies per se. It would also be short sighted to altogether abandon modern biotechnology in the creation of new and better seeds and crop varieties. Be it Bt cotton or Bt brinjal, or any other GM crop, what is really required is that one be on guard all the time in the use of modern science and technology in the unending battle against pests and diseases. Scientists must continue to evolve new varieties of seeds with different kinds of resistance and periodically review them and replace older and outdated varieties or hybrids with superior ones.








Shortcuts always lead to problems, and nowhere is this more evident than in the biotechnology sector. Research in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) crops was permitted, both in the public and private sectors, even before a clear policy was in place and before any guidelines had been formulated on the priority areas for Indian agriculture. Nor was any socio-economic survey, vital for understanding the implications of introducing such high-tech crops, ever conducted before releasing the first GM crop, the Bt cotton. And the regulatory system, manned mostly by bureaucrats till recently, was clearly not up to the task of tackling the complex issues related to the sector because of their limited understanding of the technicalities. The result: A host of concerns about the environmental and health effects of GM crops that have not been addressed clearly.

However, the remedy that the government is proposing in the form of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, 2009, promises to compound the problems. What the government wants to set up in place of the Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee (GEAC), the apex regulatory body with representation from several ministries, is a three-member regulator that will act as single-window clearing house for all GM commercial applications. With the processing of such applications as its primary mandate, the Bill, scheduled to be introduced in the current Budget session of Parliament, ignores the basic premise for biotech regulation.







Later this month, after four years in the making, Laos' biggest hydropower plant so far, Nam Theun 2, will start producing electricity and selling almost all of it to Thailand. With this will further expand the landlocked country's reputation as the "battery" for South-East Asian nations and its novel way of earning money for its development.

Also, to go into operation soon is another Thai-related hydropower station, the 615-MW Nam Ngum 2, while 17 other surrogate projects are at various stages of planning. At least 45 more projects are being studied for feasibility with the primary objective of exporting electricity to neighbouring countries and earning much-needed foreign exchange.

For Laos, it makes great sense. Its hydropower resources are among the largest in the sub-region but it doesn't have the means to develop these resources on its own. At the same time, its neighbours, mainly Thailand and Vietnam, undergoing rapid economic growth, are acutely starved of electricity. So, why not call in the neighbours and ask them to set up power stations and buy back all the electricity produced by these plants for a guaranteed number of years?

It's excellent regional cooperation too, and, chaperoned by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), it's working very well. Of course, Thailand has been buying electricity from Laos since 1971 while Laos gets low-voltage power from Thailand to supply its border areas. But the trade got bigger in 1993 when Bangkok signed an agreement to import up to 1,500 MW of electricity a year from Laos. Through a series of new agreements that followed, Thailand's annual commitment now stands at 5,000 MW till 2015 and 7,000 MW thereafter.

This resulted in the 214 MW Theun-Hinboun project, Laos' first power joint venture with the private sector. It went into operation in 1998, cost $280 million, involved Thai and Swedish investors and is now being expanded. A year later came the 152 MW Houay Ho plant in the southern Attapeu province.

Construction of the $1.2 billion, 1,088 MW Nam Theun 2 plant on Nam Theun River, a major Mekong tributary in central Laos, began in 2005, ahead of the 523 MW Nam Theun 1, with investments from Electricite de France (35 per cent), Lao Holding State Enterprise (25 per cent), Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (25 per cent) and Italian-Thai Development Public Co of Thailand (15 per cent). Ninety-three per cent of its production is slated for export to Thailand, and it's estimated Laos will earn over $2 billion from this venture alone over the 25-year life of the concession.

It's only natural that the success of the power arrangement with Thailand should encourage Vietnam too, whose energy needs are also growing by leaps and bounds. According to agreements concluded so far, Vietnam will import 2,000 MW of electricity from Laos and has lined up a number of projects for achieving that goal. The biggest of these is a 1,400 MW plant in Luang Prabang proposed by Petro Vietnam, while a 210 MW station, Sekaman 3, is being built in Sekong province. Last month, representatives of the two governments met and agreed to speed up the projects.

As the demand for energy rises throughout the Greater Mekong Sub-Region, averaging 10 per cent to 16 per cent a year over the next decade and in step with its fast growing economic activities, Laos' "battery" role is destined to get even bigger in future, and it's only a matter of time before Myanmar, blessed with similar huge untapped water resources, also decides to join the game. ADB, the architect of cooperation in the Greater Mekong area, is now helping develop regional transmission networks to put the regional power trade on more solid ground. A Regional Power Trade Coordination Committee has been formed to oversee various aspects of the trade and develop common standards.

A $20 million ADB technical assistance grant will help develop the first module of the sub-region's northern power transmission project. Though mainly intended to boost domestic supply through 400 km of 115 kV transmission lines, the project will also provide a cross-border interconnection with Thailand. But the major focus is on building a network of 500 kV transmission interconnection, which include the following: (1) Jinghong (China) to Luang Namtha (Laos) to Thailand; (2) Luang Prabang (Laos) to Vietnam; (3) Hating (Vietnam) to Nam Theun 2 (Laos) to Thailand; (4) Pleiku (Vietnam) to Ban Sok/Attapeu (Laos) to Thailand; and (5) Tay Ninh province (Vietnam) to Strung Treng (Cambodia) to Attapeu (Laos) to Ubon Rat (Thailand).

When this basic network comes to be in place, not too far in the future, regional cooperation will acquire a different meaning in the Greater Mekong area. South Asia could have been another territory fit for a similar experiment in neighbourly living, with Bhutan and Nepal taking on the role that Laos plays, but there's simply not the right political desire that could make it happen.








It is very heartening to see that education has finally started to attract the attention it has always deserved but was given an inexplicable short shrift especially in the last 20 years or so. While India talked about financial and other reforms, the education sector actually saw even more regressive policy steps and more stifling of efforts to create high-quality capacity from primary schooling right through post-graduate studies.

At this time, there is a lot of optimism about the reforms in the education sector. Hopefully, many of the progressive reformist measures articulated by the Union HRD minister since his induction into the Cabinet last year will see their implementation in the current year itself, creating the right policy framework and operating environment for attracting large investments into the sector. Indeed, India's challenge in the education sector, as it is in all other social and physical infrastructure sectors, is mind-boggling. For a population that is likely to touch almost 1.2 billion by the time the next census begins in 2011, India needs — just to illustrate this humungous challenge — over 1.5 million qualified doctors. Against that, we have no more than 550,000 and of this small number, probably 30 per cent or more may be concentrated in the four metros alone. The current annual capacity for MBBS seats is less than 40,000. India's gross enrolment ratio (number of students in colleges) is just above 10 per cent, while the same for developed nations is over 50 per cent. Just to increase this ratio to 20 per cent in 10 years will require a near doubling of higher education seats in India (the school-going population would have increased by more than 100 million in the next 10 years), needing an investment of more than Rs 480,000 crore. Not only this, 45 per cent of all higher education seats in India are allocated to humanities and arts compared to 3 per cent in Brazil, 14 per cent in China, and 4 per cent in Russia. Not surprisingly, India is way behind in seats available for technical and business/manufacturing-oriented education compared to developed or major developing countries. And finally, while justifiably, a lot of attention is focused on primary education and higher education, and relatively less attention is given to those estimated 400 million out of about 460 million jobs which are skill-based and which require vocational training. Less than 6 per cent of this huge mass of workers receive any form of vocational training. The current landscape of vocational training in India comprises about 5,500 industrial training institutes and about 1,750 polytechnics. China, having a population not much bigger than India's, has over 500,000 such institutes.

While this infrastructure is being created, it is now also important to start giving serious attention — through policy framework — to the 4 A's: Accessibility, Appropriateness, Affordability and Accountability. Accessibility has to be universal in the context of all socio-economic strata of society and across the entire geographical spread of India. Appropriateness has to meet not only the aspirations of the individual but also India's needs, and the demands of the Indian society at large. Affordability has to be seen both from the point of view of the individual who (or whose family) should be able to finance her studies from the school right through doctoral programmes, and also the country (how much it can afford to subsidise since available resources for all infrastructure are severely limited). And finally, accountability has to be seen first from the perspective of the student who would have trusted the system and the regulators with 16 or even more years of her life in the hope that once she completes her education, she would be able to find the appropriate job or vocation for which she has dedicated those years to school and college. Accountability also has to be to the nation so that there are no shortages of qualified people when the population is so large, and so young.

Hence, as the governments (both at the Centre and in states) have, in the past decades, come up with a slew of incentives and subsidies based on backward area development or promotion of specific industrial and service sectors, they must now come up with policies that can direct this new capacity creation in the education sector based on these four crucial principles of accessibility, appropriateness, affordability, and accountability.








Nearly a fortnight has passed since the presentation of the Budget. There has been plenty of intelligent commentary... and some not so intelligent. It's hard to find something new and worthwhile to say. Indeed, the only justification for this column is the hope (delusion?) that there may be a few loyal readers out there with an interest in my views on the subject. So, here goes. I shall be selective.

On television, on Budget day, I rated this Budget "good-average", that is, clearly neither "bad" nor "excellent" in the four-step assessment grid allowed by the anchor. Let's begin with the good. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee gave high priority to fiscal consolidation, after the blow-out of the previous two years, which took the Central government's fiscal deficit to a record 7.8 per cent of GDP in 2008-09 (inclusive of oil and fertiliser bonds) and the revenue deficit to a new peak of 5.3 per cent of GDP in 2009-10. For 2010-11 the finance minister aims for a fiscal deficit ratio of 5.5 per cent, compared to the estimate of 6.9 per cent for 2009-10. This target has the dual virtue of signalling a modest but significant (and timely) exit from the hugely expansionary deficits of the previous two years, as well as heightening his credibility by exactly matching the commitment he gave in the July 2009 Budget. He also committed his government to fiscal deficit ratios of 4.8 per cent and 4.1 per cent for the next two years, marginally improving on the consolidation path recommended in the recently published Thirteenth Finance Commission (TFC) report. However, the finance minister's medium-term revenue deficit commitments were significantly weaker than those recommended by the TFC.

Mr Mukherjee burnished his fiscal consolidation credentials by accepting the TFC recommendation for adopting a government debt-to-GDP target as an integral part of the medium-term fiscal consolidation process. He promised a status paper giving a detailed analysis and a road map, but (and this is interesting) without unambiguously accepting the TFC goal of 68 per cent by 2014-15. On recourse to oil and fertiliser bonds, he was more forthright in eschewing such practices and giving a clear and welcome commitment in favour of fiscal transparency on subsidy accounting

So far, so good. But how good? On closer examination (as T N Ninan astutely pointed out, BS February 27), the 1.4 percentage point reduction in the fiscal deficit seems to rely heavily on a few items: an additional Rs 15,000 crore of PSU disinvestment proceeds (over the Rs 25,000 crore anticipated in 2009-10), Rs 35,000 crore of the much-postponed 3G telecom auction proceeds, about Rs 20,000 crore of absent (in 2010-11) Pay Commission arrears, about Rs 15,000 crore of absent bank loan waiver payments and Rs 10,000 crore of absent oil/fertiliser bonds. Together, these five items add up to Rs 95,000 crore, or all of the 1.4 per cent of fiscal deficit ratio improvement claimed by the Budget speech! The problem is that all (except, arguably, the disinvestment increase) are one-off items. They do not establish a basis for future fiscal consolidation. Where is that to come from?

Since the easy gains from expenditure "reduction" are behind us, it surely has to come from revenue growth. But the kind of strong revenue growth achieved in 2003-08 seems unlikely to be replicable, unless the induction of the postponed GST and Direct Taxes Code in April 2011 can work miracles. In fact, the latter could worsen the fiscal situation, since the current Budget's generous (profligate?) move in the direction of the personal income tax structure recommended by the Code is estimated to cost the exchequer about Rs 25,000 crore in 2010-11. Indeed, the sharp reduction in effective income tax rates announced in this Budget (via big increases in tax brackets) could seriously hobble growth of income tax revenues in future as well and render the task of fiscal consolidation even more difficult. Were they really necessary? If some sops were required for getting the middle class and the media behind the Budget, could that not have been achieved through shallower cuts in effective income tax rates?

Such doubts about the sustainability of targeted fiscal consolidation may have begun to worry the bond market, which saw the 10-year benchmark interest rate cross 8 per cent three days ago. On a recent visit to Mumbai, the finance minister reiterated his Budget reassurance that the government's borrowing requirements (Rs 345,000 crore net and Rs 457,000 crore gross) would not crowd out private investment. After all, the net borrowing requirement anticipated for 2010-11 was a good 20 per cent lower than the humungous Rs 400,000 crore of net borrowing estimated for 2009-10. But what people forget is that the huge borrowing this year has been managed skillfully by RBI in the context of a massive expansion of liquidity, significant open market purchases of government bonds and the synchronised unwinding of the Market Stabilisation Scheme (MSS) accounts.

None of these three mitigating factors will operate significantly in 2010-11. RBI will (rightly) continue its recently begun exit from a seriously expansionary policy and MSS reversal will provide little comfort. Moreover, commercial banks are already holding nearly 30 per cent of their assets in the form of government bonds and may have little appetite for more such assets, which are exposed to capital losses from higher interest rates. So, ministerial assurances notwithstanding, medium- and long-term interest rates are likely to be driven north by the second largest borrowing programme in India's history, to the detriment of investment and growth.

As in Mr Mukherjee's July 2009 Budget, there aren't too many green shoots of reform peeping through. A promising exception is the proposal to begin competitive bidding for allocating coal blocks for captive mines. A more threatening one is the plan to set up "an apex-level Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC)" to "monitor macro prudential supervision of the economy, including the functioning of large financial conglomerates, and addressing inter-regulatory coordination issues". If this FSDC is chaired by the RBI governor, it may be a good way of formalising the existing High Level Coordinating Committee and mandating it to focus on these issues. If it is headed by the finance minister, it would be a manifestly bad idea, as this newspaper has already observed editorially (BS, March 8). First, it could undermine the credibility and clout of the premier regulator on financial stability issues, RBI. No other official institution in India (the finance ministry not excepted) has even remotely comparable expertise and experience to deal with financial stability issues. It would be particularly odd to do such undermining after a global financial crisis in which the RBI's performance has been widely applauded in India and abroad. Second, it could inject a far higher degree of political and administrative control into an arena where professional autonomy should be nurtured. Having interacted closely (from the finance ministry) for 15 years with RBI and Sebi (the last four as the ministry's nominated board member), I have no doubt that the present legal structure and operating convention allows far greater autonomy (from government) to RBI than to Sebi. Little good could come from reducing such autonomy.

For these reasons, I stick to a "good-average" rating for Budget 2010-11.

The author is Honorary Professor at ICRIER and former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India. Views expressed are personal







Is the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in danger of losing its majority in Parliament after the loss of outside support from the Samajwadi Party (SP)and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and after coalition member Mamata Banerjee got lost in a "communication gap" that led her party to abstain on the women's quota Bill in the Rajya Sabha? Should we worry about political stability and coalition chaos once again? Absolutely not. On paper, the UPA now has only a razor-thin majority in the Lok Sabha, against a hypothetically united Opposition. But, the aftermath of the UPA-Left divorce on the nuclear deal serves as a reminder as to how realpolitik goes beyond numbers. So, there are sound reasons to believe that the momentum of politics today favours the desire of the Congress to be bold and take risks, and limits the Opposition's capacity to block the budget or topple the government.

To get the numbers in the right political perspective, one should note that the UPA-II never treated the SP or the RJD as supporters, of whatever kind. If the Congress were willing, the two would have been pre-poll allies and post-poll partners in the cabinet. The Congress rejected the two as allies because that is the only way it can rebuild the party in UP and Bihar. And Mulayam and Lalu know their real danger lies in the Congress taking away their Muslim base.

The women's quota Bill just happened to be the occasion for the Yadavs to end their pretence of an alliance. But, by taking back their threat to move a no-trust motion, they also advertised their own limitations. Mamata Banerjee, too, a day after a short remission to a communication gap, is back to the reality of having to live with the Congress to capture the Left citadel in Bengal. Yes, the combined Opposition could give the government tricky moments through cut-motions. But all Opposition parties know that, at the moment, they cannot risk a fresh Lok Sabha poll. It would also be naive to believe that the Congress has no parallel plot to stabilise its Lok Sabha numbers, which would unfold through rumblings in the JD(U), the SP and smaller parties and repositioning of a party like the Biju Janata Dal.







This should not happen in liberalised India. The Department of Telecom ordered S Tel, a new entrant to India's thriving telecom market, to shut down operations. The order did not say why such a serious decision has been taken, affecting about 5 lakh service providers in three states. It was put out that security concerns prompted the decision. However, the ministry of home affairs has made it clear that it has not asked DoT to shut down S Tel's operations. What it has said is that S Tel should put in place the necessary facilities for lawful interception of communications, as is required of all communication service providers.

So that leaves DoT without any 'security' cover for its decision. What else could be the reason for this sudden, terminal move on DoT's part? Surely, it cannot be related to the possibility of DoT losing, in the Supreme Court, its appeal against a high court order that had upheld an S Tel plea against the unfair manner in which DoT had allotted licences in 2008, arbitrarily advancing the deadline for submission of applications in a manner that favoured some applicants and discriminated against others, including S Tel. The latter had applied for 22 licences, but got only six, and legally challenged the government's action.

After it got orders to stop operations, and prior to the Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday, S Tel wrote to DoT saying that it was no longer interested in pursuing the other licences. The Supreme Court has directed S Tel to file an affidavit explaining what prompted it to write to DoT undermining the case it had won in the high court, on the eve of its hearing in the Supreme Court. The answer, as they say, is blowing in the wind. This cannot be allowed to go on. DoT cannot be run like a fiefdom. The prime minister and the council of ministers have a collective responsibility, which cannot be abdicated in the name of coalition compulsions.








Amidst all the debate over the women's reservation Bill in India's House of Elders, otherwise known as the Rajya Sabha, the obvious point was not made that enacting the bill would improve parliamentary dignity and decorum by at least 33%. While paying his respects to his Puratchi Thalaivi or Revolutionary Leader J Jayalalithaa, an AIADMK MP did praise India's women for running the country's households more efficiently than the Union finance minister, but he glossed over the fact that all the MPs who were suspended for almost assaulting India's vice-president cum Rajya Sabha chairman on Monday were men! Some of the suspended MPs were cricketers who had represented their universities but their behaviour showed none of the sporting spirit which has characterised the national women's cricket team even while winning a keenly-contested ODI series against the world champs, England.

Women MPs like Mamata Banerjee have been known to shout and sometimes scream on the floor of the House. Samples of such shrill behavior can be regularly seen on TV chat-shows where the likes of Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan can more than hold her own when it comes to outshouting BJP spokesmen. And one is not referring to the CPI(M)'s Brinda Karat who gets her point across by raising a cultured eyebrow! But, never, ever, even in her shrillest moments, has Mamata didi grabbed the mike on the Rajya Sabha chairman's table. When she gets provoked while presenting her Budget for Bengal, sorry India, the Union railway minister sarcastically shrugs off innuendos that she is favouring her own state by listing the goodies given to other parts of the country like Orissa and rhetorically asking, "Where is Cuttack?" If women MPs carry umbrellas during the monsoon session of Parliament, we can rest assured that it is for defensive purposes like covering their own heads and not for offensive acts like beating up those in the immediate vicinity!








Angelo Siciliano was a £97 stripling. One fateful day, when he'd gone to the beach, a bully kicked sand in his face. Humiliated, young Sicilianojoined the YMCA to try out exercise routines to develop his physique. It was while watching a lion in the zoo that he had an Aha moment: "Does this old gentleman have any barbells, any exercisers?" he asked himself. "And yet how is it so strong and husky? And then it came over me," he reminisces in his memoir. "The lion's been pitting one muscle against another!" Siciliano concluded that lions and tigers became strong by muscle resistance and went on to develop his famous 12-step method which transformed the scrawny weakling into the "world's most perfectly developed man".

Siciliano also changed his name to Charles Atlas after being told that he resembled the statue of Atlas supporting earth on top of a hotel in Coney Island, where he worked as a strongman.

The Charles Atlas brand revolved around the insult that made a man out of a mac (changed later to "a champ from a chump"). This is not so much about patented weights and pulleys as about belief. Most of us are very good at describing what is. But how many can muster up the will to believe what can be? That calls for giving up old habits of thought and action.

This is not as tough as it may seem. Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer's research shows that small changes, small gestures repeated slowly and steadily, can make big differences, but "(first) we need to open ourselves to the impossible and embrace a psychology of possibility," she writes in Counterclockwise.

Rather than starting from the status quo, this argues for a starting point of what we would like to be. In the case of Charles Atlas it began with inner vision of a perfectly formed man superimposed on the reflection of the scrawny weakling staring back from the mirror. It's a subtle change in thinking. But too many of us believe the world is to be discovered, rather than a product of our own making and thus to be invented.

"Pursuing the psychology of possibility is itself empowering," Langer insists. "It feels good to have a personal mission, it contributes to a more positive outlook in general, and it works against the idea that the rest of us are soon to follow suit and fall apart. As we actualise the possible, we may find out other interesting things about the world."







Every form of tax incentives introduces some distortions in the decision-making process. In choosing between incentive regimes, therefore, it is useful to be clear that this is a choice between different forms of distortions. Before exploring the distortions, it is useful to understanding the distinction between investment-linked and profit-linked forms of incentives, as they are to be applied in India. This terminology is possibly misleading.

In both these incentive regimes, the gains from the incentive regime accrue to the firm only when the firm earns revenues in excess of the cost of running the firm, ie, when the firm begins to earn some profits. Investment-linked incentives provide a deduction from the revenue in computing profits and profit-linked incentives allow for such profits to be deducted from the computation of taxable profits.

The difference however lies in the mechanism used to limit the benefits allowed — the investment-linked scheme implies a limit equivalent to the amount of investment undertaken while the profit-linked scheme limits the number of years the benefit is provided. A more appropriate phraseology would possibly be investment-linked versus time-bound incentive regimes.

Some of the distortions introduced by the profit-based incentive regime are as follows: firms which generate more profit per unit of investment can derive a larger proportion of benefits when compared to a firm where the profits per unit of investment is relatively lower. This would approximately be the distinction between firms with high and low capital output ratio. A unit with a high capital output ratio would be associated with a lower profit per unit of capital invested and hence during the course of the incentive regime, would derive smaller amounts of benefits when compared to unit with a lower capital output ratio. In other words, the profit-based regime would tend to favour firms with lower investment requirements. This seems to have been the case in area-based exemptions for instance.

Similarly, firms with a longer gestation lag would derive a smaller amount of benefit when compared to the firms or activities with a smaller gestation lag. A third form of distinction is between existing versus start-up firms. The profit-linked incentive regime, it is often argued, favours existing units over start-ups.

At the very least, existing firms would have a marketing network which facilitates the sale of products or services of the new unit and hence can record profits and avail the incentives available. In a start-up firm, on average, the development of the economic activity and the market for the same, can limit the extent of benefits the firm can avail during the course of the incentive period.

Since all incentive schemes do introduce distortions, it is fair to recognise that the investment-linked incentive scheme would be associated with a perverse consequence of a preference for more capital intensive activity. To the extent such a regime can encourage larger investments with a smaller potential to withdraw or relocate, investment-based incentives could get closer to delivering the intended benefits of the incentive regime.

Conversely, if it continues to attract firms or units with small scale of investment, the cost to the exchequer could be lower than in the a time-limited incentive regime like the profit-linked incentive regimes. To this extent, the so-called investment-linked incentive regimes appear to be superior to the profit-linked ones.







The finance minister has created a largely unrestricted provision in Budget 2010 that enables any hotel of two star or above category that starts functioning after April 1, 2010 to avail of full tax deduction on capital expenditure. This provision amends a previous provision that made profits deductible for a certain category of hotels in specified areas.

India as a country has underinvested in its tourism infrastructure for the last 60 years. China has 10 times more and the US 40 times more hotel rooms than India. According to a Knight Frank report, even New York Metropolitan region has as many rooms as all of India. This has led to high room rates and low availability of rooms.

A sweeping provision like this ensures spurt in investment in a sector that has experienced waning interest from investors over last couple of years. There is a possibility of over-investment and misuse, as in any government policy. Small leakages are unavoidable. However, it is time India moved away from a "trading" mindset of immediate profits to investing for the next 10-20 years. The US and then China have successfully used large scale investment — directly or through indirect benefits — to create industries.

The global renewables sector is a great example of a sector that has got created in a short period due to investment-linked benefits in countries like Spain, Germany and the US. Initially wind energy, and then solar energy has been given a tremendous boost through investment-linked benefits that have enabled scaling up of manufacturing capacities and lowering the overall cost of putting up a project.

Once an industry achieves scale, economic benefits accrue to all the stakeholders, especially consumers and employees. It also creates large ancillary industries, which in the instance of hotels can range from training, maintenance, housekeeping, or organised transportation. These ancillary industries can sometimes take a life of their own, and create competencies that can become "sustained national competitive advantages".

Profit-linked deduction can work better in sectors where capital expenditure can be taken care of relatively easily from the cash flows of the companies. It has worked beautifully in the information technology sector, as the sector has been largely self sufficient in terms of growth — capital expenditure with high return on capital employed (RoCE).

Profit linked incentive essentially covers a small gap to ensure self sufficiency. A hotel typically has a payback period of 5-8 years, and doesn't start making a profit until the third or fourth year of commencing operations. Only a small percentage of investors have an appetite for long gestation projects in India, and hence need for an investment linked benefit. Profit linked schemes are also more inefficient and inequitable — putting higher compliance and administrative burden, resulting in revenue loss and increasing litigation.

However, as in all incentive programmes, this cannot be the only strategy to enhance the sector. The objective should be to attract more capital in the sector in the country, and not just garnering a larger share of the currently available capital pool. This can just be a start to a far more comprehensive solution for the challenges faced by the hospitality sector, especially tourism.







YES. The advertising council needs a paradigm shift to remain relevant in these dynamic and brutally competitive times. For one, it has to cease to remain a self-regulatory voluntary organisation. Can a self-regulatory approach reign in the modern-day marketing professionals who treat marketplace as a warzone and make guerrilla warfare their favorite marketing game? Most of them don't think about 'overstatement' or 'ethical consumer approach' when they sit down to list non-real USPs in the name of differentiation.


The self-regulatory approach can work only (if it can) for ASCI members. What about others? How can it effectively check an advertisement when the advertiser, ad agency and the media agency are not part of the organization?

Another problem is, it takes far too much time to make a decision. Its consumer complaints committee (CCC) meets once in a month to look into complaints where both complainant and defendant have responded. ASCI gives two weeks to the advertiser to respond and takes 4-6 weeks for an overall decision.

It's a very long time in this age of high-impact properties and high-decibel media bursts coupled with media orchestration. There is ample time for one to plan a hit-and-run campaign and get away with it.

Hours, and not weeks, is the desired reaction time for an effective regulatory process.

As of now, by the time an advertiser complies and stops a campaign (after 4-6 weeks), the damage would have already been done. And ASCI does not have the authority to instruct the advertiser to pay compensation or damages to the complainant. So, to seek compensation, there is no other way except to take a legal recourse.

Also, the regulatory body takes up an issue only after someone files a complaint. It has to adopt a proactive approach to be effective as a watchdog. The self-regulatory and voluntary industry watchdog was a great initiative and ASCI has done a lot of good work in the past. But, clearly, it is time the organization evolved.

In the interest of consumer rights and ethical business practices, the country must have a strong and powerful advertising watchdog.







The finance minister has created a largely unrestricted provision in Budget 2010 that enables any hotel of two star or above category that starts functioning after April 1, 2010 to avail of full tax deduction on capital expenditure. This provision amends a previous provision that made profits deductible for a certain category of hotels in specified areas.

India as a country has underinvested in its tourism infrastructure for the last 60 years. China has 10 times more and the US 40 times more hotel rooms than India. According to a Knight Frank report, even New York Metropolitan region has as many rooms as all of India. This has led to high room rates and low availability of rooms.

A sweeping provision like this ensures spurt in investment in a sector that has experienced waning interest from investors over last couple of years. There is a possibility of over-investment and misuse, as in any government policy. Small leakages are unavoidable. However, it is time India moved away from a "trading" mindset of immediate profits to investing for the next 10-20 years. The US and then China have successfully used large scale investment — directly or through indirect benefits — to create industries.

The global renewables sector is a great example of a sector that has got created in a short period due to investment-linked benefits in countries like Spain, Germany and the US. Initially wind energy, and then solar energy has been given a tremendous boost through investment-linked benefits that have enabled scaling up of manufacturing capacities and lowering the overall cost of putting up a project.

Once an industry achieves scale, economic benefits accrue to all the stakeholders, especially consumers and employees. It also creates large ancillary industries, which in the instance of hotels can range from training, maintenance, housekeeping, or organised transportation. These ancillary industries can sometimes take a life of their own, and create competencies that can become "sustained national competitive advantages".

Profit-linked deduction can work better in sectors where capital expenditure can be taken care of relatively easily from the cash flows of the companies. It has worked beautifully in the information technology sector, as the sector has been largely self sufficient in terms of growth — capital expenditure with high return on capital employed (RoCE).

Profit linked incentive essentially covers a small gap to ensure self sufficiency. A hotel typically has a payback period of 5-8 years, and doesn't start making a profit until the third or fourth year of commencing operations. Only a small percentage of investors have an appetite for long gestation projects in India, and hence need for an investment linked benefit. Profit linked schemes are also more inefficient and inequitable — putting higher compliance and administrative burden, resulting in revenue loss and increasing litigation.

However, as in all incentive programmes, this cannot be the only strategy to enhance the sector. The objective should be to attract more capital in the sector in the country, and not just garnering a larger share of the currently available capital pool. This can just be a start to a far more comprehensive solution for the challenges faced by the hospitality sector, especially tourism.







YES. The advertising council needs a paradigm shift to remain relevant in these dynamic and brutally competitive times. For one, it has to cease to remain a self-regulatory voluntary organisation. Can a self-regulatory approach reign in the modern-day marketing professionals who treat marketplace as a warzone and make guerrilla warfare their favorite marketing game? Most of them don't think about 'overstatement' or 'ethical consumer approach' when they sit down to list non-real USPs in the name of differentiation.

The self-regulatory approach can work only (if it can) for ASCI members. What about others? How can it effectively check an advertisement when the advertiser, ad agency and the media agency are not part of the organization?

Another problem is, it takes far too much time to make a decision. Its consumer complaints committee (CCC) meets once in a month to look into complaints where both complainant and defendant have responded. ASCI gives two weeks to the advertiser to respond and takes 4-6 weeks for an overall decision.

It's a very long time in this age of high-impact properties and high-decibel media bursts coupled with media orchestration. There is ample time for one to plan a hit-and-run campaign and get away with it.

Hours, and not weeks, is the desired reaction time for an effective regulatory process.

As of now, by the time an advertiser complies and stops a campaign (after 4-6 weeks), the damage would have already been done. And ASCI does not have the authority to instruct the advertiser to pay compensation or damages to the complainant. So, to seek compensation, there is no other way except to take a legal recourse.

Also, the regulatory body takes up an issue only after someone files a complaint. It has to adopt a proactive approach to be effective as a watchdog. The self-regulatory and voluntary industry watchdog was a great initiative and ASCI has done a lot of good work in the past. But, clearly, it is time the organization evolved.

In the interest of consumer rights and ethical business practices, the country must have a strong and powerful advertising watchdog.









What would a rich India look like? No need to imagine it in your head. A closer look at Delhi is enough for a blinding road-to-Damascus moment. Simply put, if India becomes as prosperous as its capital, we've got it made.

Delhi is India's most upwardly mobile state. And for most Indians, the Dilliwallah'slife is the stuff of dreams. The common man on the capital's streets (obviously, that includes women) usually lives in a family of five, including two kids. Nine out of 10 men can read and write. So can seven out of 10 women. It's a city of shopkeepers and people who list their business as 'service-providers'. And they are doing well. The average Dilliwallah earns close to Rs 70,000 a year, says NSSO's latest survey. That is three times what the average Indian makes. A majority of families own their house. Most houses have an electricity connection and a LPG cylinder in the kitchen. Meters, however, are another matter.

An average Delhi family spends about Rs 7,500 a month, which is 60% more than what the aam aadmi in the rest of India would expect to spend. In keeping with their carpe diem philosophy, Delhites spend more on entertainment every month than they do on medicines and doctors. And they spend Rs 600 on tea, coffee, tobacco, alcohol, cold drinks, snacks and mithai. Diets are rich and loaded with animal protein. Families don't mind shelling out Rs 1,000 a month on milk, paneer, dry fruits, eggs, fish and meat.


In a city where middle class incomes are more ubiquitous than middle class values, appearances are everything. A family spends about Rs 7,000 every year on clothes and shoes. Another Rs 4,000 goes toward buying toiletries, cosmetics and other stuff to look good. A Delhite's aspirations are as powerful as his road rage. To keep up with the Kapoors, families spend upwards of Rs 3,000 a year on white goods, TV, furniture, mobile phones and other symbols of the middle class lifestyle. Of course there is poverty. Out of every 100, 15 persons are officially poor. But it's a tad less ugly poverty. In the rest of India, the poverty line starts at Rs 539. In the capital, you are poor if you earn Rs 612. In short, the average Delhi resident earns three times more than the average Indian. He has access to all the basic amenities of urban life. And if he spends more, he also enjoys a significantly higher quality of life. Even the villages around Delhi are more prosperous than villages elsewhere in the country. Imagine what would happen to our economy, factories, farms, schools, and shops if everyone in India began earning and consuming like Delhi! Overdrive doesn't describe it. It would be a market on steroids.

To get an idea of the potential numbers, look at food. The average Delhite consumes 7kg wheat a month. People in the rest of India each eat about 5kg. It's partly habit, of course. But Delhi families eat more wheat also because they can afford it. Atta is much more expensive than rice or coarse grains. Plus they eat out more often. Suppose each Indian starts eating that extra 2 kg wheat a month. India would then need 93 million tonnes of wheat to feed us all. What is the best we could do over next four years? 86 million tonnes, according to the National Food Security Mission. We would see a similar demand explosion in everything from cooking oil, sugar, and dals to tellies, toothpaste, cars, schools, medicines, and cinema halls. If incomes in India rise to match Delhi's level, it will become a mega challenge to keep pace with its consumer demand. Obviously, the rest of the world will have to pitch in with its factories and farmland. That makes this challenge an equally fantastic business opportunity.

Sure, India's incomes won't jump overnight to match Delhi. But it is certainly a far more measurable and visible economic goal than peeping over the Great Wall to benchmark how we are doing. Who needs China when we have Chandni Chowk? India would do enormously well if it simply becomes one big Delhi, economically speaking, of course. Because that's where the cloning should firmly stop. No amount of money would make it worthwhile to live among a billion-plus Delhites. And their toxic driving habits.







India has been one of the better performing emerging markets so far this year, thanks to strong FII inflows over the past few weeks. What's the quantum of FII inflows you expect in the current calendar, and which sectors do you see the money flowing into?

I would expect between $18-20 billion of FII inflows this year, with a 70:30 mix between secondary and primary markets. A sizeable chunk of money is likely to flow into public sector divestments and infrastructure companies, which require a lot of capital for their growth.

Let's talk about global institutional investors. Are there are any specific themes they are looking to play?

I would say three things are emerging. FIIs invest in India through three types of funds, India dedicated funds, Asia funds and emerging markets - usually BRIC - funds. The people responsible for making these allocations to India are clearly very upbeat about India. The Union Budget has been a big positive, and therefore, the allocations to India are clearly on the rise. The second trend is of valuations.

Because of the volatility due to global events, investors are seeing opportunities arising from any sharp corrections. The third trend is in terms of stock picking. It is clear that the 85% rise in the market seen over the past year is unlikely to be replicated soon. So, the focus will be more on identifying stocks that are likely to outperform the broader market.

Which sectors are looking attractive at this point in time and where would be funds making fresh allocations?

We believe that this is not really a play on taking a 3-month or a 4-month or a 6-month position, but at the minimum, a 1-year to 3-year time-frame.

So, the first bucket of sectors that we like are fundamentally infrastructure, especially in terms of sub-sectors such as power, roads, irrigation. And increasingly, what I like to believe is now social infrastructure, which is education and health services. Clearly, the demand for these services is infinite.

We have the level of penetration so low that there is tremendous growth opportunity. The policy support for this sector is strong and these are capital consuming industries. So, I would expect the infrastructure sector continuing to be a favourite, going forward. The second set of growth will come from sectors that have helped boost the economy.


They have shown a turnaround, but valuations are yet to catch up. So, for instance, sectors like media or hospitality clearly fall into this category. And lastly, I would say defensive sectors such as FMCG and pharma, primarily driven by domestic demand, would also continue to do well, going forward.








India's entry into the league of fast-growing economies was accompanied by a thrust on fiscal responsibility, which necessitated an improvement in the quality of macroeconomic data. While the base year for the GDP has already been revised, the IIP and inflation data will also be revamped soon. Dr Pronab Sen presided over this exercise in his capacity as the country's chief statistician. Dr Sen, whose term is coming to an end later this year, explains the impact of these changes in conversation with ET. Excerpts:

What are the major changes that have come about during your tenure in the ministry of statistics and programme implementation?

There are two big things and they are also related. The first is that statistics have now become an integral part of public discourse. This has led to a lot more scrutiny of statistics. So a lot more questions are being asked and a lot more demands are being raised. While this could be interpreted as critique, what has happened is that the statistical system has started to feel more important than before. Earlier it was felt that it was being neglected... that has changed now.

We had a 25-year period where the base year for data didn't change and no one asked a question about it. Newspapers reported the data as a two line item. There was no pressure, and no recognition. I think both have come now, which is a good thing.

The pressure helps bring out the weaknesses of the statistical system. The government's responsiveness has improved a lot and that's really the big change.

What were the drivers of this change?

I think that 2008 and 2009 were extraordinary years. Suddenly, the decision makers both in the government and the private sector realised that for them to be able to do anything meaningful, they really needed data. So in a sense it was fortuitous.

Where do we stand in terms of quality with regard to data on GDP?

Lets start with GDP. The Indian National Accounts are probably one of the best in Asia. In some respects, we are at par with some of the developed countries. The system of national accounts after 1968 was revised in 1993. We didn't really start implementing the 1993 revision and were only thinking about it till 1998. We started to implement it in 2003 and completed it by 2006. We are amongst the four countries in Asia, who have done the 1993 revision. The next revision of the S&A 2008 was released by the end of last year and we have already started the process of implementing it.

At the moment there's a workshop going on in the ministry on implementing S&A 2008. India is the first country in the world, where IMF is conducting this workshop.

Price indices are still perceived to be of poor quality...

On the price indices, I think there is a legitimate debate—whether the whole sale price index (WPI) is the right index or whether we need a general consumer price index (CPI) than a group specific CPI. Ideally the price index that we should have is one we need for our purposes. The two CPI indices that we have— for agricultural labourers and for industrial workers, are CPIs for the poorest components of the society. So if poverty reduction is on the top of our agenda, then we need CPI indices for those groups. We won't get any additional insight, if we have a CPI for the middle class.

Similarly, there is a lot of debate on the WPI versus the producer price index (PPI). My personal take is that 95% of all people in the debate don't even know what it is. The question we need to ask is what is appropriate for our use. The WPI is the only index that's measuring what is happening at the mandi level. In our discussions regarding food price inflation, we always talk about hoarding and market manipulation.


Where does that happen?

That happens at the mandi. Suppose if we move to the PPI, we wouldn't be collecting mandi prices at all but what the farmer gets at the farm gate. The entire chain of intermediaries between the farmer and the mandi would vanish. Is that what we want?

So it's not a failing of the statistical system. If the Planning Commission, the finance ministry and RBI which ultimately are the users of the data tell me that they want something different, we'll produce it. It's no great trick. If I can produce the CPI by collecting the data at the retail level, it's easy enough for me to do it at the farm gate level as well. The same bunch of people will do that as well.

And what about industrial data?

Industrial data is a bigger issue. We used to have a very good IIP in the bad old days of the license raj when every producer was compelled by law to report. Since licensing went, that compelling force has gone. Now submissions are entirely voluntary and this results in faulty reporting.

How can the savings and investment data be improved?

We are actually pretty good on the aggregate. Our problem is really on the break up, especially with residuals. We don't have direct measures of household savings or investment, which are residual items, while we have direct estimates of public and corporate savings and investments. Any error of measurement in these components gets reflected in the residual data. So the household component is not very reliable.

That's why the Rangarjan committee had recommended that there should be some data on household savings and investments so that at least we know what the direction is even if it is not very precise. We have had pilot surveys and will have another one on it soon, but the simple fact is that nobody is willing to tell you what their assets or savings are. We suspect it'll be much more than what's reflected in the residual category.

Where are we in terms of quality of data?

The quality of data is very good. The question is about the frequency and the time lag of the data. There are certain kinds of data where the frequency is unacceptably low, like employment. We give a national estimate once a year. But at the state level we can't give it any more frequently than five years. Perhaps this was not much of an issue earlier, but now employment is a major issue and in my opinion there should not be less than a quarterly estimate. That's in a sense the biggest lag.

The five yearly frequencies on the social variables such as poverty are probably acceptable as they don't change that quickly, but unemployment does.


Is a two-month time lag on the GDP acceptable? Also what is the broad agenda for addressing the time lag?
For GDP, two months is better than the world average. The SDDS requirement—the most demanding statistical requirement, is three months. When we started our quarterly estimates, we had a three-month lag, which we have reduced to two months. At the moment we are not really trying to compress it further but in any case it can't go beyond one and a half months, as we just won't have the data really.

On the broad agenda, we would like the IIP and the WPI, the CPI to all come out in at least seven days to two weeks sooner than they do now.

Is the institutional arrangement to deliver all this falling in place?

It's slowly falling in place. We are suffering from the skill deficit. But the fact is that today I am hamstrung by one very simple thing. Out of 3,900 odd field investigators, I have 1200 vacancies. One third of my positions are empty, which affects what we can do. There's no point asking for more funds from the government, as funds are not the issue.








At 21, he took over a struggling vegetable oils company and turned it into a global giant straddling information technology, engineering and consumer products. At 64, when he is not attending board meetings or sitting through power point presentations, Azim Hasham Premji treks through the wild countryside of southern India, pondering new ways of keeping himself and his company fit. In a freewheeling 90-minute chat with ET, Premji opens up about succession, the challenges facing Wipro and the Indian economy. Excerpts:

What are your thoughts on the Women's Reservation Bill? An across the board attempt by companies to draft women at the top has not been successful. What do you think are the reasons?

We are looking for a women director but we're unable to find the right, qualified person. That's because we want to do some rotation on the board as some people are getting old and the same names keep coming back time and again. Unless we get someone from the social sector which is what we'll probably do. Not from the commercial or business sector.

I'm sure you can but when you stack it up versus the male candidates, the lack of availability of talent is so much more. We'll probably eventually settle for somebody from the social sector or for a foreign lady. In our search for foreign directors, we are trying to see if we can get a woman. Our first preference should be a lady director.

You did say the recovery is beginning to take shape a year back and that India would be the first country to get out of slowdown and subsequently you were proven right. If you look back what is the one big lesson that India Inc could learn from the slowdown?


I think the one big lesson which the whole system has learnt from this is that it has got back a higher sense of reality among younger people who just saw their careers in one direction and their salaries in one direction. It was going up and up and up. So to that extent I think it's got back some measure of maturity in terms of what the realities of the marketplace are, in terms of cycles and what the reality of working for stable successful companies is in terms of meaningfulness.

So far as leadership in India is concerned, I think to the credit of leadership they have done an exceptional job of rising to the challenge whether it be in terms of trying to differentiate themselves, whether it be in terms of fundamentally looking at their companies, in terms of strategy, productivity, whether it be fundamentally looking at areas where they needed more tight management of costs.

The general conservatism of Indian banks, basically a culture which was set by the public sector banks, has really mitigated the crisis vis a vis other countries. Sure there were one or two banks which went overboard in terms of growth which have also pulled back, but there was no major crisis in our banking sector.

Is this the right kind of approach?

If you don't underestimate the innovation which banks are doing in terms of products, I think there's less of 'funny money' going around. And I don't think, except in the case of a few banks, we have an overriding culture of having a very large percentage of variable pay, which was really a motivation to just get carried away. In public sector banks it's virtually zero but even in private sector banks the variable component in Indian banking sector is relatively low.

Are you optimistic now about the economic scenario? Do you see a different kind of atmosphere?

Even the finance minister's budget is based on 8.5% of growth, correct? That's not unrealistic, if we have a really good monsoon, we can probably better that. I just think that our finance minister and the prime minister should be conservative on the fiscal deficit. They should not compromise anymore than what is absolutely necessary to compromise. I wish the opposition were a little more realistic on issues like this.

Are you happy with the steps that the government has taken to rein in the fiscal deficit and grow the economy?

By and large, the budget is a mature budget, whether it is in terms of a little more emphasis on primary education, higher percentage of planned expenditure on infrastructure, the focus on sustaining the focus on renewable energy. I think the key issue is execution, and they must execute, that's what differentiates us from China. Execution is absolutely the key, and ministries which are not executing should be made accountable, ministries which are executing should be applauded.

The global situation is a lot better than what it was but there seems to be a new storm brewing? People are talking about a sovereign debt crisis? What are your thoughts?

Everything seems to be spinning around Greece. I don't know too much about Greece. It is not a large economy, and I don't think you are going to get any large scale bail out taking place. The worst economy which's taken the brunt has been UK. And we have been operating in UK for a long time, we have a large stake in UK and business still continues. I think part of it is also hyped up because of poor Gordon Brown getting bad press all the time. The media really seems to be after that poor fellow. Spain is going through a hard time, Italy is going through a tough time, and these economies constantly go through good and bad times. But we are working in France and Germany and we are back to business as usual.

What about the US?

Our estimate is that the US will get a GDP growth of around 2-3% this year, probably closer to three per cent, with contained inflation. I think decisions are getting made, I don't think business leaders are in a mood to add headcount so the unemployment situation will continue to be what it is ie 9-10%. But we are not expecting any double dip. Europe is following the US in terms of recovery by may be about six to nine months because they woke up to the crisis later. We are finding decision making is back, which is reflected in the estimates that Nasscom has also given for the next year --13 to 16%--I think that's a reasonable estimate.

The jobless recovery, that everybody has been talking about, and in the past you have also commented on protectionism and the flavours of it that you see in the US. How do companies like yours deal with it especially when such issues rear their heads during times of slowdown and high unemployment? Is there a way to deal with this protectionism?

I think our approach is simple, we are localising more and more. Our objective is quickly to get up to at least fifty per cent of the people we have working overseas to be locals. We have started recruiting from campuses in a big manner for several reasons. Three reasons. It's a good insurance against any more restrictive visa policies, which encourages local employment. Two, it positions us well for certainly state government business if you focus on critical masses in some states. Three, it's cost effective compared with sending people on visas.

First of all you pay the visa fee, you pay transfer-in transfer-out expenses for their family, then you have to pay them comparable American wages because the laws are very clear on this and they are very strict on it. And the market situation demands it because you send good people there, among your best people you send there and if you don't pay them comparable wages, they would leave you, why should they work for you. And that H1B visa is fungible, it can move from company to company, it's not that they are locked in as a unique visas for Wipro wherein if you leave Wipro the visa gets terminated.

So the issue is you must get the talent, you must be willing to invest in training that talent, and you must be able to pick quality talent as a brand like you can pick quality talent in India. Best people want to join you in India. So if you position well, concentrate on a few universities and you can build a brand. People think well of you, the students think well of you, faculty thinks well of you. You have a strong reference base of ex-students.


Does localisation fit in well with the globalisation agenda of companies such as yours? Does globalisation mean that you have to hire locals, be seen as a local player?

I think the most acid test to globalisation is how much of your top management, senior leadership is local, not just the soldiers. Any fool can do that. We have been moving well on that. Our global head of sales and operations is a lady. She's an American. Our global head of consulting and our global head of telecom we just announced--Mark Fleming is also an American. The head of Europe we just announced is an Englishman. Our head of China is Chinese, the head of Japan is Japanese. For all practical purposes, our partner in Saudi Arabia, is very active. He is the managing director, chairman of the company. He works very closely with us. We are systematically trying to induct talent which can rise quickly.

All this is entirely merit-based, the conscious policy of hiring foreigners?

Entirely merit based. How can you compromise on that?


What difference does it make whether a guy in charge of a certain country is a local or a foreigner? How does it matter?

Our experience is in certain conservative countries, local talent is more accepted. Two, you can get talent today. In the past 18 months, due to the slowdown, you can get talent. You wouldn't like Hindustan Lever to have 20 expat directors here, would you? It's the same approach.

What is the next big step for Wipro? What are the issues that you and others in the management are focused upon?

I think it's building domain understanding in the areas you focus on. Whether be it energy or utilities, retail, large format retail or fast moving consumer goods retail, insurance securities or banking. I think the leading companies are investing and building the understanding about customers' business. That's moving up the value chain because then you are able to configure and give solutions to the customer on a proactive basis. I think people are investing, we certainly are, to be able to conceptualise, bid for and execute large complex projects. So it's complex project management. I think people are investing in having more payments lined to outcomes model. You take the risks of outcomes. I think people are investing in building more local presence, because it's required to have a local presence. I think good companies are investing in consulting, we are investing in high end consultants, primarily because they bring thought leadership. People are investing much more in large account management, because large accounts are really manned by 'mini CEOs' who really bring out everything of that organisation into the account and are responsible for growth, satisfaction of the account.

Is clean energy the next big shift for Wipro?

It will be a big business, but why talk too much about something that is still not clear. If you'd asked me when we went into software in 1987, whether we would be this big, I wouldn't have known. I think it's an interesting field and it converges with our existing expertise well. So it's not entirely a diversification, it's an interesting extension of all our competencies, market presence, distribution. We also service 3-4 million outlets including in the villages because of our consumer business and there is interesting potential for renewable energy products in villages whether it is solar lamps or solar cookers, stripped down smart grids. Sanitation has fallen below standard to the point that even for a village stomach it's reached some 'animal level' of quality. Water tables are falling. We then can also exploit our consumer distribution for that. Which other company can exploit that?

We are doing some good work in eco energy, it's a new business which is now getting segregated as a focussed business for us --Wipro Eco Energy. We think there is a very interesting future prospect in that business.

We are basically, in very simple terms, consultants and system integrators. We can give recommendations on how you can save energy in very simple terms, from 15-50%. We started this business a little over 15-18 months ago and we are gaining traction in it because as a company we bring unique technologies and understanding.

We are also a water company, so we understand water purification, recycling. From our consumer care and lighting, we understand fairly serious optimization of processes to save energy and conserve energy and we have a very strong brand in India and the Middle East. Customers trust us with the solution and we are hardware agnostic. We look for the best solution in solar, thermal, biodiesel; so we are not wedded to any one technology or a company which helps us recommend solutions impartially to customers.

The critical issue is for you to get your act right, prioritise the right thing. If you spread yourself too thin then your cost of marketing becomes unaffordable. Then you don't make money. But we see that we must own the customer, to us that is more important than owning the technology or hardware. We must own the customer because that's the axis on which you can really build success.

Any particular green technologies?

Solar. To the credit of the prime minister, it's a very progressive policy they have come up with, it's a very generous policy. People are willing to make big bets, big investments because you are assured of a certain internal rate of return and technology is available to build very competent solar farms. We are a 'Sun-rich country'.

Is India playing catch up with China and US in clean energy? Are we ambitious enough?

India has become an interesting centre for manufacturing, for some of the components, some assemblies, frameworks on the renewable energy. I don't think today any major fundamental research is being done in that area within India like in China. China is getting into much more than what people are realising. They are saying that how can I jump to leadership position globally in the next transition technology, which is what electric car is. I mean they can change the ballgame in the automobile industry with an electric car versus a conventional car. The same thing they see in renewable energy, they can change the ball game. India is not doing that, but India, because of the size of its market and the fact that it makes sense to manufacture it here, can be interesting.

Would you be interested in solar manufacturing?

Provided it does not hurt our agnosticism. We don't want to be associated with any one company, because it's a volatile field.

If one could broach the sensitive issue of succession planning. All big Indian companies are now doing this as they become global. It is widely perceived that your son Rishad is the heir apparent. How would you and Wipro approach the issue of succession planning?

You know, we have a very structured process for succession planning including for my job. It's reviewed by the board in depth in terms of strategy once a year and some reviewed by the board between two to three times in the year. It's based on the best person for that particular job.

My son is not even a vice president, he joined at the sub-general manager level, he's now become a general manager. He's much too young to be in contention. He is doing well with us. He entered on merits, we went through the whole process of due diligence and getting interviewed by all the board members and there's no bias. He brings credentials, which is good. It's an elaborate process. Why complicate his life more? He's worked in a good professional balance, let him keep working in the job.

He represents ownership in a way, if something was to happen to me, which I think is the main security you want. That doesn't mean he necessarily has to be an active CEO of the company. At an appropriate stage he can be an active member of the board representing ownership.

Would that mean there will be other claimants for the CEO position?

Absolutely, no question about that. I mean the signals are quite obvious. Our joint CEO structure has worked well, in fact we have repeated it in our foundation. We call them co-CEOs there,it's a nicer term than joint CEOs. You know if people have worked as a team, it works well. You must ensure that there is no politics building among the employees or among the participants, which is not difficult if people have worked together.

Do you think Indian companies should look at having foreign CEOs?

I think people should look at it. But we believe that a CEO for our operations, because of the mass of employees ebbing in India, should have an Indian face, a very high Indian familiarity. And we have experimented with Vivek Paul, so we know the pros and cons, we have unique advantage of experience. People are critical in this business, it's not customers. Customers can be serviced by travel. All CEOs today travel 100-150 nights a year that's part of the hazard of being in this job, part of the requirements of this job.

Will you look within first?

We will always look within. It's only when we have a vacuum within that we will go out. For a position like that, cultural continuity of the organisation in my view is very important.

So your son could represent ownership on the board and you may be succeeded by a CEO?

Absolutely. Because there has to be continuity in ownership, otherwise it will be irresponsible.

Is there a need to have one of the CEOs based in the US?

It has an advantage. What we are doing now is that we are putting SBU heads there. So the healthcare head is based in Boston, energy and utilities head is based in London. The manufacturing head is based now in California. All these units are roughly a little under billion dollars. So if you look at size of our operations, roughly this will represent 40% of our revenues. And if you take the aggregate, I would say about half our business is based overseas. It's not a bad idea (having one CEO based overseas).


What is the process for handing over your responsibilities?

There is a process in place. How can I spell out all the details?

How many years would that take to happen?

I am not hanging up my shoes quickly. I will get more involved in our foundation because we are seeing some significant upscaling there and that will require time.

What further moves are you contemplating in that direction?

We are setting up a university now and there is an ordinance from the state government. Hopefully it will be passed in the state assembly now and we are in the process of procuring land. We will set up a university which will focus on training teachers, focus on training administrators in the area of education. There's thrust on primary education. There are 600 teachers to be trained in every district, we will also set up resource centres in every district to be able to give onsite execution support. The plan is fairly large scale. It will be a very large committment we are making, much beyond what we are doing today in our foundation. In Wipro, we are doing some very good work on applying thought in schools. We have been doing it for 8-9 years and basically what we do is work in


city schools not in rural schools like we do in the foundation. We do various interventions in those schools with over 230 partners. Their idea is how we upgrade the quality of learning and teaching. We charge them anywhere between 25-75% depending upon their affordability and we have covered nearly 800,000 students--not small. We have got schools such as the Doon School, Delhi School, so our programme is evidently very high standard.

Then we have Mission 10X, which we launched a little over two years back and have covered close to 600 colleges and 10000 teachers. We train engineering professors in these colleges, we work with them in upgrading their curriculum.

What will be the scope of foundation?

The focus today is primary education in the villages of India but the dimensions of what kind of interventions we do will be significantly scaled up, significantly value-added. We would probably add some miscellaneous programmes and support it on a long term basis.

The university can be big, and if we are successful we can duplicate this in other states. It can be a big operation. There are 6 million teachers in primary education in our country, so that is the scope of the challenge. Now, there is a also a spate of private schools coming in the villages, so already about 20% of primary education in villages is becoming private. I think they will pay for quality education even in the villages, which means that these schools can afford to hire and pay more to teachers. So talent will be sought after.

The last few weeks must have been challenging considering that one of your employees committed a fraud and it was not detected for some three years?

Don't take it out of proportion. My personal view is that it became sensationalized much more than what it


Your response seemed a little out of character......?

How? Why?

People have come to expect proactive transparency from Wipro......

What was the scale of operation? Rs 22 crore worth of embezzlement out of which nearly Rs 13 crore was returned by the person. Look at the size of our company, look at the size of our profit flows and look at the size of this thing. There are many areas where we are firing employees all the time, offences relating to Rs 50 lakhs, Rs 100 lakhs, Rs 2 crore, cheating on purchase, cheating on facilities management contracts--it happens in every organisation. We are ruthless on this in terms of rooting it out and firing people.

This was on a larger scale, and was carried out for a longer period of time. It so happened that the unfortunate person committed suicide. We debated if we needed to issue a communication but we decided it was inappropriate. We have a very mature board of directors who agreed with us. People have gone through much bigger crisis in the past. So they had gone through the fire before, and they said this was not a case to make a public announcement and we followed that viewpoint.

At an appropriate stage when the investigations were over and we started taking actions, we made the announcement. We made a judgment and you can say that may be we should have made the announcement earlier.

What about private equity?

We've had our share of problems and our share of successes, which has not been carried by the media. Coronation is a good one, we've invested in NSE, our healthcare investment onclogy unit, Kumar's its doing very well. Subhikhsa was an error we made.

How did that happen? What has come out of it?

You may see more visibility on it going forward, let's wait till then. Subhiksha was unfortunate. I think it's a retail equivalent of Satyam. I think the media has completely ignored it, it's a very interesting minefield for you. It's an out and out fraud, there's no question on it. The company law board is investigating it. There was an overstatement of accounts, fake inventory, fake bills, fake companies that money was transferred to. At the time of investment that was not visible to us.

What has been the feedback from ICICI?

That's a private conversation. Let's bring it to a head and close it.

What happens to that investment? Has it been written off?

Let's see. It's a public litigation issue. It was a governance issue and the level of ethics which really rattled investors in terms of transparency. It makes it difficult for others to now have the same courage to invest. It was also a failure in our due diligence.

Were you misled into making an investment?

We are at a subjudice stage, let it come to a head. The Company Law Board is involved in it. We wish they would get more involved in it and at a faster pace.

What really drives you?

At the end of the day, it is a race with yourself. I work intensely and also take time out through short breaks, I go trekking. Competition keeps you on your toes. Everyone who is more successful makes you look small. IT is a competitive industry with high standards.

India has done very well as an IT services powerhouse. But there are people who say that India must take the next big step towards developing products. There must be an Indian Apple and an Indian Google? Why do we think that has not happened as yet?

Frankly, I don't think too much of investment is being made. Our focus is on services. But what you must appreciate on products is that it requires very intimate access to market intelligence, it's fundamentally different, people don't realise. And in a product company, R&D is a subset of the total expenditure, the expenditure on sales and marketing is significantly more. So you immediately lose your arbitrage of development because marketing and sales have to be local, it cannot be done remotely. Two, it's much more risky and three, it requires a strong brand or a very well focused OEM nature. I think there have been some successful products. Finnacle is a good job, but it took them a long time. Finnacle is a good example of a successful product, but how many others are there?

What we are building is solutions. We give a retail solution on display, to optimise display. So we are talking about solutions which you are able to surround with services so they accelerate the process of giving serviceas to a customer. We invest in frameworks, which accelerate process of giving a solution. We invest in non-linearity model. We are not building any Microsoft or Lotus 1, 2, 3. We are primarily a services company and we intend to focus on that. We are not doing any major investments outside of what I discussed in products.

I think you have to appreciate that product is a different business, completely different. Contrary to that, many product companies are getting into services, but there are not many services companies getting into products. IBM is now doing that.

How would you assess the Indian companies versus the global service providers?

I think you are increasingly finding the line between the large top three top four companies like IBM, Accenture and the leading Indian companies clearly disappearing. We are learning their business, they are learning our business, which is very good from a customer's point of view because it generates more competition, better pricing, more customer sensitivity. We are investing in consulting, domain skills, senior architects, building competencies in building very large multi year cross functional cross geographic projects. Indian companies are winning more and more of the $100, $200 million projects. The customers are more and more shifting away from billion dollar contracts, and saying let us break the contracts, into two or three contracts of say, $200 million each and then look for best in class for each of those. We play the pilot role, the captain role because then we get more competition, we have less dependence on one party, can negotiate better terms. The trends are really to make the field more 'free for all', which I think is good. We are investing a lot in technology, a lot in building solutions, in non-linearity, renewable business models, which are not one-to-one with people, and so is our competition.

Accenture employs 175000 people, and they will be having 45-50,000 people in India, and they have something like 15,000 in Philippines. They also have a reasonable workforce in China, so for Accenture more than 50% is from 'non-emerged' countries. And if you see, within that how much is American, I don't think it's more than 30-35%, so how can you call them an American company. Now they have shifted their corporate to Ireland, so nationalities are also disappearing in companies.

Are you happy with quality of entrepreneurial talent currently in the country?

I am very impressed with the second generation which is stepping into the shoes of first generation. I deal with them because India is a very large market for us.

High quality. They are gutsy, they are reasonably well qualified professionally, they are determined to build strong professional cadres under them and they are willing to get talent from outside.

Do you work with outside experts such as professor Ram Charan?

We work with Ram Charan, we have been doing that now for a past year and half because we value his wisdom. He has some interventions with us which we find useful, he does senior level training programmes. I use him as a personal bouncing board because I find he is a very mature, wise person. It is like we use our directors as personal bouncing boards because of their background, their wisdom, maturity, and understanding of the business. We run two global programs in leadership. We have a very structured system of leadership training, supervisory level, middle and top management level, which we think is probably the finest in the country, in terms of the way it's executed. We will be investing in a central leadership institute much beyond what we have here, we are outgrowing this. In fact, we were reviewing plans for that yesterday. We have a leadership feedback system which we have been running for 16 years, which we will again fine tune it in terms of the next wave. We use that as an important tool to assess leadership talent, coach leadership talent, mentor. It's a mature process which is working well.

We encourage people to job rotate. We are encouraging our best people to take foreign assignments. We have been doing successful cross functional transfers also across businesses, across functions because it gives breadth and experience.

Every time we speak with you, we manage not to talk about the consumer business. How is the consumer business faring?

Our focus is India, the Middle East, Far East into China and some parts of Africa. We are not focussing on Europe and America at all, that's not where we are acquiring or building organically. Our focus is primarily on toiletries, including soaps. We are confident we can grow that business 20% a year. Now we are reporting the size on a quarterly basis, it's profitable, gives good return on capital.

The success we are getting in the road construction business--it's a huge market for us. So if Kamal Nath is really able to take this to 20 kilometres a day, which I think he will, it's certainly three times what we inherited. We are seeing it in demand, a surge in demand is taking place because we supply components for the equipments which are used in road construction -- rollers, handling equipments.

You had earlier spoken about the state of infrastructure, roads in and around Bangalore and you tried to get yourself involved in those discussions. Has anything changed now?

Let's break up infrastructure. One is telecommunications, where things are moving well enough. There's no question as we are getting best in class here. The second is civil aviation, things are moving well in our country. Some of the airlines we have here are equal to the best in the world. Every customer who visits here endorses it. There is some movement taking place in the ports, there is privatisation going on. It's not as fast-paced as in the case of civil aviation. I think if the Prime Minister focuses on it, it will happen quickly.

This is because there is private money to be made and there is a good public-private partnership which can be worked out. Road construction is moving, this will not just be national highways but also interconnecting highways and I'm confident with the leadership we have in Kamal Nath, road construction will move. I think what is happening in power is that investment is coming in but this problem between distribution and manufacture is just not getting resolved, with the result that projects are getting delayed. But interesting privatisation is taking place in distribution, including this new trend on smart grids where there is a potential power saving of 20-25%.

The commerical aspect for a private enterprise is that I can enter it if I can fix the distribution losses and eliminate theft, there's money to be made. But power will be a ten- year problem. I don't think you'll see a lackof shortage of power. Falling water tables is also a serious problem, its not getting the attention of the government. Cities are also getting from bad to worse, whether in terms of municipal infrastructure, water pollution levels or traffic. There has to be a very major national initiative on public transport, high-quality metros.

In my opinion, a measure that should be very unpopular has to be imposed. There has to be a punitive tax on cars. Which city doesn't have traffic? City commute has to move drastically to public transport. It's not practical to have so many cars on the road.

Is there a business opportunity in terms of solving the problem?

Consultancy in that area is very specialised and we are not in that area at all.

Are there other diversification prospects in clean energy?

Not at the moment. All our businesses have so much headspace. Take our hydraulics business, we are the largest at 4.5% global market share. We can certainly aspire to have 15% market share, globally. We can increase the size of the business three times overnight. Even in the most fragmented industry, the market leader should have 15% market share. That's not unreasonable to expect, if you really put your shoulder behind it. We can grow that business.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The cancellation of the Rs 30,000-crore tender by BSNL for the 93 million lines to be laid underscores the unending roadblocks faced by this once-upon-a-time telecom giant. The problems of this once blue chip corporation started when the then telecom minister, Mr Dayanidhi Maran, delayed the first tender, which was floated in 2006 for 45 million lines. By the time he was ready to take a decision he was eased out and the current telecom minister, Mr A. Raja, took over. This delay led to BSNL facing the pinch of capacity constraints. After further delay under Mr Raja and some bickering over price, it was decided to float this 93-million-line tender, which made history as it was the largest ever tender floated in the world for the telecom sector. The process that followed was mired in controversy and court cases and the last straw was a corruption charge made by one of the BSNL board members. The matter went before the Central Vigilance Commission last year, which concluded that there was no transparency in awarding the tender. There was an uproar among the workers of BSNL and allegations that BSNL would not be able to compete at this rate. There is no doubt that there is huge money involved in the deal. According to industry sources, these huge deals attract payments of two per cent kickbacks on equipment value and services. In this case, the amount involved would be around Rs 500 crores, which is big money. Sam Pitroda, known as the telecom czar during Rajiv Gandhi's government and who is now an adviser to the Prime Minister, was appointed to resolve the issue arising out of the CVC's observations. On February 15, 2010, nearly two years after the tender was issued, he recommended that the tender be scrapped and a fresh tender awarded in 60 days. He also said he preferred the Bharti model where, instead of buying equipment, BSNL should buy capacity. Now, in a new twist, another BSNL board member has alleged that BSNL does not need such huge capacity and that it has not used at least 29 per cent of its existing capacity. This may not be entirely true because in South India BSNL has some genuine difficulties in using capacity. In all these twists and turns, the battered telecom major has seen its market share down to around 12 per cent and is now in sixth position. Even Idea, a newcomer, is bigger. Its balance sheet has taken a beating as its profits were down for the second year in succession to Rs 575 crore at March end 2009. Behind the vacillating fortunes of BSNL there seems to be a not-so-hidden message that all is not well between the telecom minister, Mr A. Raja, and the government. In recent times all important decisions relating to the telecom industry have been taken outside the telecom ministry. Whether it is the 3G spectrum auction or the improvement of BSNL and MTNL, it was either the government or an empowered committee that took the decisions. Mr Pitroda has recommend a three-member committee to evaluate the new tender and has set a deadline of 60 days. One hopes that further time will not be lost beyond the 10 months that have already gone by. But Mr Pitroda's decision is a good one. If the Rs 30,000-crore tender was allowed to go through, it would have been disastrous for BSNL.








National politics operates in two concentric circles. The inner circle concerns the day-to-day running of government and of Parliament. Parliament is a universe of its own. Its motivations and stratagems — floor coordination, cornering the government, dividing the Opposition, pulls and pressures within committees — are dramatic and all-important to its practitioners. To be fair, this is something of an illusion in the context of real politics. It does not necessarily mirror electoral realities or influence the popular mood.


The second, outer circle is about the actual momentum among the people, and the ability of political parties to mobilise voters or offer attractive election-time platforms. Often, this has little to do with the limited games within Parliament.


That caveat is important before assessing the implications of the political theatre that led to the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha on March 9. Its impact on Parliament in the coming weeks is likely to be monumental. Just how it will play out in broader, mass politics is another matter.


It is now being recognised that the Congress has pushed through the bill at massive cost, at least in the short term. It has three pitfalls to contend with.


First, the entire chapter showed the Congress' parliamentary managers as decidedly amateur. With deft positioning and old-fashioned legislative doggedness, the BJP and the CPI(M), the principal Opposition parties, succeeded in bottling up the government and splitting it from key allies. In a sense, this episode was a test for the new leaders of the Opposition — Ms Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha and Mr Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha — and they came out with flying colours. The Congress walked right into a trap.


Remedial action will have to be taken. The UPA government's parliamentary affairs minister is Mr Pawan Kumar Bansal. He is simply not senior enough for the job, especially at a juncture when the Congress does not have a majority in the Lok Sabha and the treasury benches are not in a majority in the Rajya Sabha.


Mr Prithviraj Chavan, one of Mr Bansal's ministers of state, is responsible for the Rajya Sabha. As it happens, he is also minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office and, independently, handles the science and technology portfolio. Party sources say Mr Chavan has been repeatedly asking to be relieved of his parliamentary affairs duties as he doesn't have the time or bandwidth to spare.


This situation is no more tenable. If and when a Cabinet reshuffle takes place — perhaps this summer, as some expect — a new parliamentary affairs minister, a senior Congress MP with a vast cross-party network, needs to be appointed.


Second, in the 2009 general election, the Congress won 206 seats on its own and a relatively comfortable mandate for the UPA. It was spoilt for choice in picking supporters. Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP), Mr Lalu Prasad (RJD) and Ms Mayawati (BSP) were all willing to do deals, but the Congress could afford to snub them, and play off one against the other and act tough.


Conditions seem dramatically different today. The BJP and Left have backed the government on the Women's Reservation Bill but can be expected to oppose it on other counts. If the Yadavs are added to the Opposition numbers, if the BSP shifts as well and if the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, which is partnering the BJP in a government in Ranchi, are factored in, the government's strength in the Lok Sabha comes down to 276 in a House of 543.


To understand the compromises this may entail, it is worth noting that the 276 figure includes two independents the Congress would not ordinarily want to be associated with: Mr Madhu Koda, the disgraced Jharkhand politician, and Jayaprada, formerly of the SP but now run by Mr Amar Singh. Alternatively, it could court Mr Jaswant Singh, the member from Darjeeling who believes Jawaharlal Nehru was more to blame for Partition than Muhammed Ali Jinnah.


Nobody is suggesting that the government is in imminent danger. Yet even everyday legislative business can become a bit of a problem. Deals will be called for. Mr Amar Singh could be back in business. Ms Mayawati may ask to be cajoled and persuaded each time there is an important vote in Parliament. A government that was walking three feet in the air has hit the ground with a rude thud. Indeed, this week's events have also opened up the intriguing possibility that the Congress leadership may not have a five-year timetable for this government.


Third, there is no guarantee that the Bill that will be introduced in the Lok Sabha will be identical to the one the Rajya Sabha has cleared. The "minority question" could acquire a life and momentum of its own.


Correctly or incorrectly, a growing section of Muslim politicians are of the view that women's reservation will limit opportunities for them. This perception has been encouraged by the Yadavs with trademark crudity ("jung aur jihad"). However, on March 8, it also led to Muslim MPs within the Congress repeatedly petitioning Ahmed Patel, the Congress president's political secretary. The idea has gained ground that the number of Muslim MPs in the Lok Sabha (it is 28 at the moment) could decline even further and a community that makes up 14 per cent of the population could be severely under-represented.


In the near future, the Congress will face a serious challenge on the subject of Muslim representation in Parliament. Among its allies, the Trinamul Congress has raised the first cry. Its regional rivals — the Yadavs in Bihar and UP, Mr H.D. Deve Gowda in Karnataka, perhaps the TD in Andhra Pradesh — are likely to take a maximalist position and convert this into a demand for Muslim reservation per se: in jobs, educational institutions and, of course, the legislature. The Ranganath Mishra Commission report, which makes a case for minority reservation, could become even more of a political hot potato.


It is here that consequences of the Women's Reservation Bill drama could jump orbits, and move from the confines of Parliament into the larger electoral arena. They have the potential to galvanise the Other Backward Class chieftains who were till the other day facing political oblivion. The Yadav-Muslim coalition was built amid the turbulence of the Ayodhya dispute in the 1990s. It had lost its raison d'être in recent times, and the verdict of 2009 reflected this. Now it may just have another emotional theme to exploit. Completely inadvertently, the Congress has left its adversaries smelling a chance.


- Ashok Malik can becontacted at [1]








Of all the pictures I saw from the Iraqi elections last weekend, my favourite was on 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 United Nations, the US 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 — Shias, 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 US 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-Shias — who always viewed ourselves as superior to Iraqi-Arab-Shias — can only vote for a handful of pre-chewed, pre-digested, "approved" candidates from the supreme leader, while those lowly Iraqi Shias, 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 US'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 Shia-majority, multi-ethnic democracy right next door to the phoney 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 US 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 per cent — 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. US President Barack 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.









If Bihar's Chief Minister, Mr Nitish Kumar, believes that his opposition to the JD(U)'s official position, which endorses quota-within-quota in the Women's Reservation Bill, will help him win back Bihar's restive upper castes in the Assembly polls, he may be disappointed.


While the gamble may help Mr Kumar consolidate his assiduously created image of being the most progressive politician — one with a national vision — of a state that has supposedly improved rapidly under his stewardship, there lies a wide gulf between the manufacture of positive perceptions and reaping the dividend of this in electoral battles.
Mr Kumar was hailed in 2006 for giving Bihar's women 50 per cent reservation in panchayati raj and local urban body elections. However, reports abound of elected women representatives routinely working as their husbands' handmaidens in the public arena without possessing the requisite skills for independent decision- making.


The upper castes may find some solace from Mr Kumar's U-turn from his earlier support to a quota-within-quota in reservation for women in Parliament and state legislatures, but electoral gains from this may prove to be too little. To an OBC leader such as Mr Kumar the upper castes were critically useful in installing his JD(U)-BJP government. But that goodwill eroded gradually as distrust grew between the upper castes and Mr Kumar due to his government's pro-dalit and pro-minority steps. This was reflected in the JD(U)'s setbacks in Assembly byelections in September 2009, and in the rebellion by several upper-caste JD(U) leaders.


Mr Kumar's popularity faded among the upper castes as he was seen as being too pro-dalit. But his failure to implement land reforms has alienated the dalits and backward castes from him. Mr Kumar had raised hopes by setting up a commission for land reforms with the avowed aim of ensuring that no family in the state remains landless. But when the D. Bandopadhyay Commission's recommendations came last October, the chief minister backed out. The reason was an upper-caste backlash manifested through the results of the byelections the previous month.


Worse, the divide in the JD(U) over the Women's Reservation Bill has sent a negative message to Bihar's electorate and is likely to damage the credibility of the party's MPs and MLAs who looked torn between Mr Kumar and party president Sharad Yadav. This has effectively made Mr Kumar a lonely figure. Considering that the JD(U)'s robust optimism is based on the personal charisma attributed to Mr Kumar, his combative stand on the Bill has harmed his own and his party's electoral prospects in Bihar.


Prof N.K. Chaudhary is former head ofeconomics department, Patna University


A well-calculated political move


Kishori Das


By differing with the JD(U)'s official position so emphatically articulated by party president Sharad Yadav, Bihar Chief Minister, Mr Nitish Kumar, looks like he may have taken a risk for the Bihar Assembly polls due in November. It is also true that the success of the strategy might depend on how effectively the Opposition parties like the RJD play the game. However, looking at Bihar's traditional voting preferences based on the identity of various social sections, it is perhaps only the Yadavs who will still stick with Mr Kumar's arch rival Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD. Nearly all the other communities that might play a crucial role in the Assembly election have been appeased in numerous ways by Mr Kumar in the last four years of his term.


Mr Kumar's astute managerial skills have cornered his other major rival and dalit leader, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan, the LJP founder-chief who is now left with the support of only his own community, the Paswans, also known as Dusadh. In his quest for creating a reliable votebank for himself and the JD(U), Mr Kumar played a shrewd move last November by expanding the controversial Mahadalit category to include 21 of Bihar's 22 Scheduled Castes. The strategic exclusion from the government's new welfare-oriented category were the Dusadhs, Bihar's second largest dalit group. This has effectively shrunk the LJP chief's political prospects. In recent months the upper castes had come to increasingly show their indignant defiance to Mr Kumar. The Women's Reservation Bill provides the chief minister a most timely opportunity to mend fences with them. The general perception across Bihar is that a quota-within-quota for women's reservation in Parliament and the state Assemblies will limit the upper castes' political clout. This is what makes mr Kumar support the Bill in its present form.


Bihar's upper castes, which helped bring the JD(U)-BJP to power, are feeling neglected primarily due to Mr Kumar's stress on the empowerment of those who are marginalised in socio-economic terms. Dissident JD(U) leaders like Mr Prabhunath Singh demanded last month that Mr Kumar provide a 10 per cent reservation for the upper-caste poor.


The chief minister apparently believes that at the present juncture the absence of a quota-within-quota in the Women's Reservation Bill will not hurt the OBCs and backward castes in Bihar to the extent that they will turn against him. On the other hand, he calculates that his opposition to Mr Sharad Yadav will make him popular with the upper castes. Kumar, of course, will need to make efforts to ensure that Mr Lalu Yadav is not able to transform his resentment into a mass movement.


Kishori Das is a human rights activist and chairman of Backward Classes Coordination Committee








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 "centre of the Earth", as he called it, in the Saudi city where the Prophet Mohammad 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 Mohammad'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 centre 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 turns out, is not conducive to an interfaith dialogue. But couldn't they build a centre to promote Islamic understanding in Mecca or Medina?


Saudis understandably have zero interest in outraging the rest of the Muslim world by letting members of other faiths observe their deeply private rituals and gawk at the parade of religious costumes fashioned from loose white sheets.

(Osama bin Laden's jihad, after all, began with anger about American troops being deployed to Saudi Arabia during the first gulf war, which he considered a profanity against sacred ground.)


Still, I pressed on with Prince Saud al-Faisal. With his tinted aviator glasses and sometimes sly demeanour, the Saudi foreign minister has the air of a Hollywood mogul — if moguls wore thobes.


I noted that when 15 Saudi hijackers joined four more proponents of radical jihad and flew into the twin towers, Islam had been hijacked as well. He nodded.


King Abdullah's formal title is "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques". And Saudis are very eager to remove the restrictions on visas and enhanced airport security measures slapped in place by America after 9/11.


So isn't there a way for Saudi Arabia to shed light on Islam and reclaim it from the radicals?


"Well, at least leave one place closed for the moment", he said, looking askance at the mere question. "We only have Mecca now and Medina. Everything else is wide open now".


Wide open is not a description that applies to anything in Saudi Arabia. Besides, I said, there were objections when I tried to go to a mosque.


"Well, you know, it depends who you ask", he said. "Somebody in the hotel who doesn't want to run into trouble may tell you no. Mecca is a special case. It's written in the holy book that only Muslims can enter it because of an incident in the past where somebody desecrated the mosque in Mecca.


"But for other mosques to be entered, there is absolutely no reason why not. If you go to a mosque and you want to see the mosque and somebody prevents you, you can go to the emir of the region and ask to see the mosque and he will take you there".


Sure. Just call the emir. I bet he's listed.


In the end, I did see the Haj. When I got home, I went to the Imax theatre at the Smithsonian and bought a ticket to Journey to Mecca. I was surprised when the movie said that the Kaaba was built by "Abraham, the father of the Jews" — a reminder that the faiths have a lot to learn from each other.








The basil or tulsi, as it is commonly called, has been considered a holy plant and plays a major role in the rituals of our country.


Traditionally, our ancestors used to keep a tulsi leaf behind the ears during prayers and even afterwards. But does it have anything other that ritualistic relevance?


The most powerful point of absorption in the human body is right behind the ears. It is believed that the skin in this area easily absorbs the medicinal element of the leaf. This is why the sages of yored urged people to wear it.


In the forecourts of our houses, tulsi is usually planted in a raised ground and is also well protected. Krishna tulsi is preferred to other varieties.


One should go round the plant chanting specific hymns. While plucking flowers or leaves also, one is supposed to utter certain hymns. The holy plant should be left intact on Ekadasi, on Tuesdays and Fridays and in the evenings.


One verse says:


"Thulanam dathum, Akshamaa Thulasee"


(One that has nothing to stand equal to it, is tulsi)


And another adds:


"Naraanaryaschathaam drishtwa, Thulanaam dathumakshamaa, Thena naamna cha Thulaseem"


(Espying her, man and woman could not find one equal to her. Hence they called her tulsi, meaning one having no equals.)


When we visit temples, we are given holy water whose main ingredient is tulsi leaves. This holy water has the effect of medicine, so to say.


In foreign countries, there is a sort of pure water named "clustered water". American scientists have found out clustered water prevents the dangers of widespread pollution.


It is highly pure and has minerals that keep the body healthy and alert. Two drops of clustered water added to a glass of ordinary water is a sure-shot health drink. It is now found out that tulsi water has the same properties as clustered water has!


Celebrated Indian Scientist Dr T.P. Sasikumar has conducted research in this regard. He collected the tulsi water used to bathe an idol and conducted an experiment. To everyone's amazement, he found that this water had all the properties ascribed to the clustered water!


Likewise, banyan trees too play a major role in our belief systems. These trees are grown in the premises of all famous temples. Sages have made it a rule to circumambulate the tree when you visit the temple. Banyan tree lets out oxygen in abundance. The huge tree provides cool shade also and its appearance reminds us of the all-pervading Lord Siva.Going round the tree and breathing in the fresh air is indeed a good exercise. It revives the lungs and purifies the organ. Hence in every respect it is advisable to circumambulate the banyan tree.


Sages of ancient India linked plants and trees to our belief systems and rituals to offer people a healthy, nature-friendly and blessed life.


— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the authorof Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals.


He has also written books on the Vedasand Upanishads. The author can be reachedat [1]









HISTORY will take its time making a determination if changed realities actually reflect all the glowing expectations raised with the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill by the Rajya Sabha. The impact of social legislation cannot be felt overnight; indeed there are valid doubts if substantially more women in the legislatures will translate into the ultimate, desirable goals of empowerment and elimination of gender-bias. Such discussion is, however, jumping the gun. Of immediate relevance is whether the government makes bold to process the legislation in the Lok Sabha at an early date (after which 15 state legislatures must ratify the Constitution amendment). To wait for all financial business to be cleared (the Finance Bill is traditionally voted in the second half of May) would confirm both that it is "chicken", and that the 8 March date in the Rajya Sabha was just another example of the tokenism that has ever marked not just the Bill but the empowerment of women at large. Delaying the action in the Lok Sabha ~ where the chief opponents have more muscle, and as the debate in the Rajya Sabha revealed, the demand for sub-quotas cannot be wished away ~  would dilute much of Tuesday's euphoria. Until that is done there will be speculation about the varied spin-off: the government's majority in both Houses being precariously reduced after the loss of RJD and SP backing, now some problems with the Trinamul too. Perhaps the government's greatest source of comfort is that it is unlikely that the Opposition will push things to the extreme ~ nobody appears prepared for another call on the voter. The impact on not-too-distant Assembly polls could, perhaps, be more telling. 

 There is, however, no scope for speculation over the need for the Congress/UPA to come up with more effective floor-management should the Bill move to the Lok Sabha. Even as there must be total condemnation of the despicable conduct, reluctant acceptance of the inevitability of physically ejecting the disruptors from the Rajya Sabha, there can be no denying that the glory of Parliament has been smeared. More so because some of that disgrace might have been averted had the floor management been competent, which includes the exercise of persuasive power. On day-one, there was no strategy evident, though after abandoning "consensus" for "majority" trouble was only to be expected. Day-two saw some over-reaction, that the delayed move to suspend the disruptors was effective till the end of the current session appeared excessive. What prompted that tough reaction, even a bid for a vote sans debate which the BJP scuttled (Mamata slammed all that as  "bulldozing") and putting so much on the line despite internal apprehensions? Genuine commitment to the "cause"? Or stern instructions from the Congress president not to let her personal prestige get punctured? Her legion of admirers, particularly those required to project the overlapping image of her and the party, will no doubt hail her courage, use all the superlatives at their command. Yet others will quietly recall with trepidation what happened 35 years ago when the Congress party and government bent over backwards to implement the diktat of another Mrs Gandhi.








There is an extremely important connection between the economics of the midday meal scheme and the considerably higher outlay proposed in this year's central budget. It is generally known that the food dished out is sub-standard and bereft of the nutritional content so essential for a child at the threshold of learning. Far from being an incentive, the midday meal has served as one of the many deterrents to primary education. It is imperative, therefore, that  the financial constraints, that are ridiculous even to imagine, be addressed across the country with the hiked outlay that has been proposed by effecting a cut in the expenditure on centres of higher learning. Chief among these constraints is the pittance ~ it would be an exaggeration to call it an honorarium ~ that is paid to the self-help groups (SHG) that prepare the meals. If the five members of each group are together paid Rs 600 every month, it works out to Rs 120 on an average. This isn't even a living wage. If Mr Pranab Mukherjee's higher outlay is to be meaningfully utilised, the cost of the labour input is one of the critical issues that needs to be settled. The latest report of the Pratichi Trust focuses on Bengal, but this is a fairly all-India phenomenon, one that is not confined to the state's region of endemic poverty ~ Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum and West Midnapore. It if calls for a substantial increase in the payment to self-help groups, so be it. The scheme will languish further if the staff running the kitchens, however dilapidated, are either under-paid or virtually not paid at all.

  The budgetary allocation leaves little or no scope for contrived excuses. Aside from the labour input, the outlay ought to address the malaise overall, chiefly the poor quality of the food that is served, as often as not unfit for consumption. No less crucial is the diversion of the food to the open market. If honestly utilised, this year's budgetary allocation ought to bring about a nationwide dramatic improvement in the midday meal scheme ~ a primary segment of primary education.









IT would be interesting to see how the Ibobi Singh government tackles the potentially dangerous situation arising from the "quit notice" issued by the Revolutionary People's Party ordering all outsiders to leave Manipur by 31 May in view of the "growing hatred against them". Constitutionally, an Indian citizen has the right to settle and earn a livelihood in any part of the country and it is the duty of the government to protect that right. The RPF has identified outsiders as those entering the state after 1949. Manipur was already an Indian state at the time but the outfit is yet to accept what it calls the "forceful" merger of the princely state in October 1949 without the people's consent. Locals have been told not to deal with outsiders by way of renting out houses, selling land, engaging them as labour or having them as business partners.  There will, however, be no restriction on outside students studying in Manipur institutions and those visiting in connection with sports and cultural activities. Over the past three years unidentified gunmen have abducted and killed as many as 50 "outsiders", mostly floating daily wage-earning migrants. The RPF's threat cannot be  brushed aside because since 2000 its ban on the screening of Hindi films, playing of songs and display of signboards is being dutifully observed and no government has been able to circumvent this ban. An arrested cadre is said to have told the police that the objective behind the killing of "outsiders" was to destabilise Ibobi's Congress government. Two years ago, the dominant and oldest outfit, the United National Liberation Front, suggested it would be better for all concerned if newcomers left Manipur as they were depriving its indigenous people of jobs that were rightfully theirs. It, however, denied having indulged in killing anyone. Hopefully, the state government will be able to assess the situation and take appropriate action.









FOR years now, India and Saudi Arabia have been poised for a major advance in their relationship but something has held them back. There is no good reason for it: their interests, especially in economic matters, are complementary and encourage them to look to each other for mutual advantage. Moreover, both are moderate in their dealings with the world, factors for stability and continuity.

India's booming economic growth makes it a highly desirable partner for the entire region, and Saudi Arabia's standing as the premier oil country hardly needs emphasis. India's large Muslim community can be regarded as an important cementing factor, while the millions of Indians who live and work in Saudi Arabia give weight and body to the relationship. In present-day circumstances, both countries feel the pressure of religious extremism and fanaticism, against which they make common cause.

These and other factors create the basis for much closer ties between them. This was the case even four years ago when the King came here on one of the rare visits India has received from a Saudi monarch. Now the return visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh confirms the trend and will accelerate the pace. It helps that these two leaders know each other well, having first met more than 15 years ago, one as Crown Prince, the other as Finance Minister. Their personal association has now taken fuller shape.

'Strategic relationship'
THE Prime Minister's visit was  a success at many different levels. It was marked by some special features that honoured the individual, like the opportunity to address the Shura Council and the conferment on him of an honorary degree. In the course of the visit, the two leaders decided to upgrade India-Saudi ties to a 'strategic relationship' ~ this concept has become somewhat overused but a look at the communiqué suggests that in this instance it was more than just a form of words. The document mentions several substantial issues on which they agreed to work together and describes a wide range of shared interests. Looking back, it can be seen that India and Saudi Arabia have come a long way from the constraints that affected their relationship when they were on opposite sides of the strategic argument, whether during the Cold War, or the oil crisis of the early 1970s, or the OIC, or sundry regional affairs.

By contrast, today they seek to cooperate in matters of security and against terrorism, and to share information and intelligence, which bespeaks close political understanding between them. The signing of an Extradition Treaty sets the seal on this aspect of their evolving relationship. From India's point of view, the treaty will bring Saudi Arabia into creating a tighter net against criminals from the region who are responsible for violent activities on Indian soil. 

The Riyadh Declaration calls for tolerance, religious harmony, and brotherhood, irrespective of faith or ethnic background. It is a striking formulation that provides an underpinning for the partnership to which the two countries aspire. For India, being secular, subscribing to these concepts comes naturally. Saudi Arabia, however, is theocratic in structure, its monarch the keeper of the Muslim holy places, its Constitution the Holy Quran. It has thus sometimes been too readily assumed that Saudi policy is driven by religious considerations, especially in its dealings with other Muslim states in the region, and that this can affect its view of India. But the Riyadh Declaration shows this is not so, and the imperatives of religion are no bar to the expansion and development of Saudi Arabia's relations with India and with other secular countries. It is an important point to note. 

Another striking feature of the Declaration is what it says about Palestine. India has been a consistent supporter of the Palestinian cause, in its direct dealings with that land and within the non-aligned movement, and Yasser Arafat was a frequent visitor to New Delhi. While there has been no change in state policy, in recent times India has not been very vocal on the subject. Meanwhile, its relations with Israel have developed rapidly, especially in the sensitive area of arms purchases, so that it is sometimes assumed that India's relative quiescence on Middle Eastern matters is brought about by its reluctance to complicate relations with that country. Such an assumption has an impact on both domestic and regional opinion. It is, therefore, salutary that the joint declaration in Riyadh sets out with clarity where India and Saudi Arabia stand on this important issue. In the Riyadh Declaration, the UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 are invoked, as the bedrock of the peace process and of the various Peace Plans that have been floated from time to time. Among these is the Arab Peace Plan, which is endorsed in the declaration. The two sides call for the establishment of a Palestinian State, and a two-state solution of the Middle Eastern problem. The policy of establishing settlements on Arab land by Israel is denounced. On the issue of Palestine, therefore, the Riyadh Declaration should help clarify where India stands and rebut accusations of a change of approach.

Appeal to Iran

THE declaration also goes into the tricky issue of nuclear weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). It makes a call for West Asia and the Gulf to be kept free of these weapons, which can be regarded as being a comment on Israel, which is the only regional nuclear country, albeit an unacknowledged one. Iran's ambiguous handling of this issue is also referred to in the communiqué, which urges that country to clear doubts about its nuclear programme. India has been making similar demands in the IAEA and it would appear that these concerns are strong in the region itself, where the Iranian programme can have the most direct impact. 
Another regional matter that figures in the joint declaration is that of Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia had a major part to play in supporting the mujahideen who confronted and ultimately defeated the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. But it is wary of the Taliban who are creating havoc in that country today. Thus there is common ground between that country and India in this matter, and this is set out in the document.
Putting it together, the Riyadh Declaration identifies a significant set of issues on which the two countries have found common ground. The Prime Minister's visit should clear the way for a big expansion of their ties. Economic issues like trade, investment, energy security, among others, provide much practical ground for joint activity. The strengthening political relationship provides plenty of encouragement to potential participants, official and non-official. The road has been cleared. We must now await effective efforts to advance further.
The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary







The urbane, respectable and polite faces tell us that Indian women are going places but what they don't tell us is that there are millions who are not even aware that they now have a place to go, says ANISHA BHADURI
A sense of entitlement is a very helpful thing. For one, it puts an end to the debate over who is entitled, to what and how much. For another, it is non-negotiable, absolute. Once the limits have been set and the boundaries defined, the intended beneficiaries identified and made aware of the benefits, and the rules about who qualify and who don't codified, entitlement is legitimised. Right out there, to be plucked and bitten into at will with all the abandon and intent one becomes rightfully entitled to. But as long as entitlement is just so and not a consideration thrown in as an afterthought.

For more than sixty years now, Indian women have been caught in a curious limbo. The proverbial "nowhere women", to paraphrase John Lennon, "sitting in her nowhere land, making her nowhere plans… doesn't have a place to go, doesn't know what do to, isn't she a bit like a female Indian?" They are burnt as brides, become mothers on touching puberty, forced to abort female foeti as a way of life other than being raped, heckled, subjected to domestic and other routine violence. Their self-esteem crushed, their value as human resources negated.
But this is India and we all know about statistics. And of their morbid suggestions. Such is life. But we are also an up-and-coming democracy, the biggest in the world, already being bracketed with the mightier nations thanks to our glistening promise of a double digit growth and a burgeoning middle classes to facilitate it. More statistics, but the kind that make us feel good. The kind that tells us that everything would get even better if we levelled the playing field a bit more, get more politically correct and try and shed the sociological solecisms that have so far firmly branded us er, well, backward. The world's glare, thanks to our pecuniary promises, is on us but, hey, the slip is showing.

So what does a parvenu struggling to pick up the etiquette to eat at the table of the politically-correct tribe do? It tries to do the right things. Not necessarily the appropriate or the remedial but the acceptable right things. Things to drown out the deafening silence of more than 60 years of executive and legislative complacence.
Silence, that sociologist Michel Foucault defines as: ""Silence itself ~ the things one declines to say, or is forbidden to name, the discretion that is required between different speakers ~ is less the absolute limit of discourse, the other side from which it is separated by a strict boundary, than an element that functions alongside the things said, with them and in relation to them within over-all strategies.... There is not one but many silences, and they are an integral part of the strategies that underlie and permeate discourses."
For a country of remarkable traditional orality, there are many Indian silences. Silence of conformity, silence of respectability, silence of ambition, silence of self-abnegation. And, also the silence of acknowledged self-delusion.

For a strategically silent government, which occasionally erupts in bursts of self-congratulatory spiel, there's probably nothing wrong in taking to that universally-accepted currency of politically-correct tokenism to defeat the silence of inaction sometimes. So we have a woman President, and a woman Speaker, a woman Ambassador to the USA and a woman foreign secretary. And, also a woman head of the ruling party. The urbane, respectable and polite faces of all these successful women tell us what we don't need to know but the world does ~ that Indian women are going places.

What they don't tell us or can't is that there are millions of rugged, not-so-respectable and betrayed female faces in this country who are not even aware that they now have a place to go. A place called entitlement. A defined, rigid, so what if only 33 per cent and no more and no less? A place, nevertheless.

Entitlement is a gritty, 11-letter word. Certain to shake the acquired self-confidence of dedicated chauvinists. No wonder it took the Indian legislature more than 60 years to make some sense of it.

The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Statesman, Kolkata





The time was in the 1950s, and the place was Calcutta. We lived by the side of a main thoroughfare of the city, close to a busy crossing. The front of every building had several stores. The shop that sold sherbet had an array of bottles containing enticingly colourful liquids. On the dirty footpath in front of the shop, a man would crush a chunk of ice in a bag by hammering it with a wooden club. Hygiene was obviously not high on his agenda, but his clients survived.

At the junction, there was a large building that had a bank, a photography studio, many residential flats, and a portico. Under the portico, an elderly man sat beside the main entrance and sold newspapers and magazines. He was called Master Moshai by everyone because he had been a school teacher in East Bengal before Partition. I won't be able to explain why I liked him, but he did impress me with his quiet dignity. One day, Master Moshai was seen with a bandage round his head. He had been to a football match the previous day. A supporter of East Bengal club, Master Moshai had applauded a fine goal scored by their opposing team. Hence a laceration on his head! I came across many such instances in my childhood.

Opposite our house, across the tram line, was a cinema, a perennially noisy place. Many young ruffians earned their daily bread by selling movie tickets in the blackmarket. When the theatre started showing a potential blockbuster, there would be a commotion. Nowadays, prices of legal tickets are far more than what these goons would have ever charged their clients, even after the impact of inflation.

I saw my first movie there: V. Santharam's Do Aankhe Barah Haath. I could more or less follow the story of the jailor and six murderers he tried to reform, but the unforgettable Lata Mangeshkar song "Aye maalik tere bande hum'' did not make any impression on me then. The hard work done by the men and their mentor produced tangible results in the shape of a rich harvest. Towards the end of the movie, when the six reformed men were being beaten up by villagers threatened by their enterprise - that is how I remember the film - I cried bitterly. I didn't know then that the film was based on the true story of a Gandhian experiment, but those two hours left an impact on the rest my life.

There was a grocery and a workshop next to our building. The workmen were grimy and their trousers were always smudged with oil and grease. I think they repaired automobile radiators in that workshop. However, the middle-aged man who sat behind a big weighing balance hung from the ceiling in the grocery was an antithesis of the dirty workmen. He was always in a clean white dhoti and a white shirt and had a dab of sandalwood paste on his forehead, a mark of Hindu religiosity. It was a one-man show by the Hindi-speaking Lalaji who weighed everything from sacks of grain to handfuls of spices, put the merchandise in neat paper bags, calculated the cost faster than any cash register would, accepted cash and returned the balance. Whenever mother ran out of something in the kitchen, she would send me to Lalaji's store. I admired his silent efficiency. He spoke little and never smiled. Neither did I ever see him glum, unhappy, or agitated. He went on doing the same thing day after day, wearing a mask-like impassive face. Running the store had possibly become automatic and natural for him, like breathing. Almost forty years later, after we had stopped living in that house for decades, I was shocked to see him sitting behind the weighing balance with the same impassive face, wearing the same white shirt, and sporting sandalwood paste on his forehead. Somehow, he had defied the passage of time and hadn't aged at all. Then it dawned on me: the man who sat before me was the son, not the father







What kind of image of themselves and of Parliament are the honourable members sending to children and indeed to the whole world, asks Rajinder PuriSeven MPs were forcibly expelled from the Rajya Sabha by Marshals of the House. This was done after the MPs refused to vacate the well of the House, continued to shout slogans, disallowed the House to proceed with business and forced three adjournments. Eventually the Chairman called the Marshals to evict them. The event evoked strange reactions.

One of the evicted MPs, Ejaz Ali said: "This is dictatorship. What happened to us is dangerous for democracy. It is for the first time in Indian history that MPs have been marshaled like animals". It is truly shameful that this happened for the first time in the history of Parliament. This should have happened much earlier. Because it was not for the first time that MPs behaved like hooligans. The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Hamid Ansari, deserves praise for exercising his prerogative to enforce discipline that ought to have been done years ago.
The MPs are enraged for being administered discipline. Until now they often behaved as if they were above the law. It now seems that they believe they are even above Rules of the House. They seem to believe that they are even above the norms of decent, civilized conduct. RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav said that the event heralded another Emergency. He was echoing the sentiments of many fellow members.

Sadly enough the arrogance of status seems to have afflicted all MPs. In an otherwise masterful speech, Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley likened the incident to the manner in which MPs opposed to the 42nd Amendment had been jailed by Indira Gandhi. Later, this undemocratic amendment was rolled back by Parliament. Does Jaitley seriously believe that dealing with rowdy hooliganism in the House under the rules of conduct is comparable to the imposition of the Emergency in which thousands were jailed in order to preserve in office a corrupt and unlawful prime minister? Perhaps Jaitley was trying to bond with potential allies. But surely there should be some limits to politicking!

It is a sad reflection of the lack of real self-esteem that MPs have about their importance. Millions of children watched their deplorable antics on television. For millions of children these MPs could be the role models they would like to emulate. What kind of image of themselves and of Parliament are these honourable members sending to the children and indeed to the whole world?

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







Economic boycotts, blockades and divestment campaigns have been used as powerful weapons in the realm of international policy. Expect boycotts and blockades to be used by the Opposition in Parliament against the government's divestment, or rather, its proposal to reduce its stake in the State Bank of India through the State Bank of India (Amendment Bill) 2010, which was reintroduced on Monday. The United Progressive Alliance government originally introduced the bill in 2006, and this version is broadly along the same lines. The amendment seeks to reduce the government's shareholding in the SBI down to 51 per cent. Unlike with other public sector undertakings, the government does not intend to raise any proceeds for managing its fiscal deficit from this reduction in its stake in the SBI — the government currently holds 59.4 per cent — but is doing this to allow the SBI to raise capital from the markets, of anywhere between Rs 11,000 crore and Rs 15,000 crore. The SBI reportedly plans to raise Rs 40,000 crore over the next three years; the chairman, O.P. Bhatt, has talked of raising about Rs 20,000 crore through a rights issue in the next 18 months.


From a capital adequacy perspective, the SBI does not need the additional capital; but it does need the money for growth and expansion of its balance sheet. The dilution would also help the bank become more independent in appointing senior management personnel, and even give investors a bigger say in the management; anyone with Rs 5,000 worth of shares in the SBI can contest a directorship. But in the next decade, the SBI will continue to have a large government stake; the Reserve Bank of India uses the SBI to manage its foreign exchange reserves, and to manage its oil imports.


There is another possibility: for the government, reducing its stake in the SBI down to 51 per cent could be a trial balloon to test how greater reductions in its ownership of banks are likely to be received. Most opposition parties have steadfastly blocked this idea as exemplifying deeper financial sector reform; proponents of reform, on the other hand, want the government to reduce its stake to 40 per cent. And even in other public sector bank divestments, the government is unlikely to realize any money for its fiscal purposes. Already, the government has very little capital space in most public sector banks anyway; and the pursuit of fiscal consolidation will constrain the government's ability to provide more capital to the banks to continue growing. The opposition parties have too many blockades to manage; adding one more could prove counterproductive to their interests.








Freedom and imprisonment obviously do not make much of a difference to Irom Sharmila Chanu. Nor can the supposed symbolism of her release from a prison in Imphal on International Women's Day mean anything to her. But her 10-year-long hunger strike, intermittently broken by the authorities force-feeding her, has given a new meaning to the power of democratic dissent. The government has not conceded Sharmila's demand for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. She is perhaps reconciled to the fact that the act will be in force in Manipur for many more years. That she continues with her fast despite this knowledge makes her protest even more potent. The government has its own arguments for continuing with the act, but it is clearly uncomfortable with the moral strength of her protest. Sharmila has always wanted to do precisely that — make the government answerable for the excesses committed on innocent people in the anti-insurgency operations in Manipur. If that goal is even partially achieved, her campaign will have been largely successful. The way she has inspired large numbers of women in Manipur to raise human rights issues is also a measure of her success.


However, Sharmila's protest has its lessons far beyond Manipur. Secessionist rebellions in the Northeast or in Jammu and Kashmir, and Maoist revolts in other parts of India have repeatedly pitted the State against human rights groups. For all its moral strength, Sharmila's protest does not answer crucial questions about the State's response to armed rebellions. Excessive use of force by the State is not only morally wrong, it is also a bad battle strategy that alienates the common people from the law-enforcing agencies. But the terror tactics of insurgent groups in Manipur and elsewhere make the debate on human rights abuses very complicated. Manipur's armed insurgents threaten not just the Indian State but also the common people who value peace and democratic politics. Ultimately, Sharmila's message is all about freedom from fear.









Several commentators on the various television shows after the budget used practically the same words to describe the Union budget for the next fiscal year. All of them felt that the budget reflected the personality of its maker — devoid of any frills and, in fact, almost boring — but are budgets meant to be titillating? — yet pragmatic. I have not met Pranab Mukherjee and know nothing about him. But I do agree that his budget is very workmanlike and pragmatic. While there are no big-bang reforms, some seemingly small measures can have very far-reaching consequences for the future.


The main thrust of this budget is towards improving fiscal discipline. The fiscal deficit for the fiscal year 2010 is sought to be brought down to 5.5 per cent of the gross domestic product, with a promise to reduce this even further during the course of the next couple of years. Importantly, the finance minister seeks to do this without taking recourse to any draconian measures of taxation — quite the contrary, because his new tax proposals have been relatively mild. In fact, the increase in net tax revenue due to additional taxation is estimated to be only Rs 20,000 crore.


Of course, Mukherjee has luck on his side. Unlike the current year, he no longer has to provide for additional resources in order to finance stimulus packages, since the economy has been restored to health. Moreover, he has already paid off all the arrears on account of the last Pay Commission award. Neither does he have to write off bank loans for farmers. The last two items account for a tidy sum of Rs 35,000 crore. The finance minister also hopes to collect fairly large sums from disinvestment (Rs 40,000 crore) and the auction of 3G telecom licences (Rs 35,000 crore).


Apart from disinvestment — which the government can in principle carry out in small doses for several years — the others are fortuitous in the sense of being one-off items. Neither can the finance minister claim much credit for them. However, what he can claim credit for is his promise to curtail non-plan expenditure. The budget estimates that this will grow only by about 5 per cent. Of course, we will have to wait till the end of the next financial year to see whether he has actually achieved this target.


His new direct tax proposals are relatively simple. He has given the middle class an unexpected gift by widening the tax slabs so that the higher marginal tax rates kick in only at much higher levels of income. Households willing to invest in new infrastructure bonds can also deduct an additional Rs 30,000 from taxable income. The direct tax proposals on the corporate sector are more or less revenue neutral, with the surcharge being reduced to 7.5 per cent; but the rate of minimum alternate tax is being increased to 18 per cent.


Practically everyone had expected the finance minister to reverse the earlier reduction in the rate of central excise taxes. The rate had been reduced as part of the stimulus package, and even the corporate sector was prepared for some increase. Mukherjee must have pleased everyone by effecting a very modest increase of only 2 per cent. Quite surprisingly, the most controversial feature of the budget — one prompting the unprecedented walk-out by all Opposition members of parliament — was a similar decision to increase the customs duty on crude oil and refined petroleum. The customs duty on these products had been reduced earlier when the international price of crude had reached stratospheric levels. Since current crude oil prices are considerably lower, the finance minister sought to restore duty to its earlier level. Of course, this increase will have an impact on prices. But, so will the across-the-board increase in excise rates. Why did the Opposition not protest when excise rates were increased?

One of the most important features of the budget has attracted relatively little attention. This is the attempt to widen the reach of the service tax. The transport of goods on the railways, air travel and real estate will now be subjected to service tax, and clearly more items will be included in due course. The services sector as a whole is now the overwhelmingly largest contributor to national income. Unless this sector contributes its share of tax revenue, the government will be confronted with two very stark options. Either it will have to impose very draconian rates of taxation on other sectors, or it will have to live with a diminishing ratio of tax revenue to GDP. This ratio has already dropped quite alarmingly to just over 10 per cent from the earlier level of 12.5 per cent before the onset of the global recession. This has caused the revenue deficit to reach 4 per cent of GDP. Clearly, there is no way in which the health of the exchequer can be restored unless the base of taxation is widened. Moreover, the new areas to be brought into the tax net must be precisely those areas which are likely to grow at levels faster than the average rate of growth of the economy. The services sector stands out as the prime candidate!


It is almost an axiom that no budget can be without at least some minor irritants, and this budget is no exception. There was at least one act of commission which I found particularly disappointing. This was the throwback to a bad practice of the past. Earlier finance ministers delighted in proposing several exemptions to the normal tax rates. These exemptions typically did not have any obvious rationale, and so the blatant use of discretionary powers always raised the suspicion that the exemption was brought about through the successful efforts of some powerful lobby. This year too, some of the exemptions granted by Mukherjee defy logic. Why on earth do toy balloons deserve an exemption? Or, for that matter, magnetrons used in microwave ovens? The latter is not an item used by the 'common man', while there are surely many more important steps the government could have taken to improve the lot of children.


What can we expect in the future? Mukherjee has promised to implement the goods and services tax by April 2011. If he does keep his promise, then the next budget will be amongst the most important ones in several decades, since it will transform the system of public finance in the country. Clearly, no one will be able to call that budget boring or drab.


The author is professor of economics, University of Warwick








Any mention of peace-talks with Naga rebels tends to elicit a yawn. And not without reason. For well over a decade now, such talks have been held at long intervals in New Delhi, Bangkok and elsewhere, but without any appreciable progress. The only success that has been achieved so far is that they have kept alive the ceasefire, and peace in Nagaland remains undisturbed. Otherwise, the general feeling is that the impasse will never end.


This time round also, there is little to suggest that cynicism would be replaced by hope. On his arrival in the nation's capital and before meeting the prime minister, the leader of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, T. Muivah, again spoke of sovereignty and of Greater Nagaland including the Naga dominated areas of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. But the fact that his earlier demand, that he be given an audience with the prime minister, had been met must have satisfied him to some extent.


This was evident from his decision to talk even with a new interlocutor about whom he had some reservations. R.S. Pandey, the new man in, is an IAS officer of the Nagaland cadre. Muivah and his team obviously knew that sitting down to talks with him will mean they were indirectly giving credence to a state government, which they had all along refused to recognize. Even then, they did not walk out and this should raise expectations of a positive note creeping in at last. It is too early to talk of any settlement, but perhaps for the first time, Muivah, Isak Chishi Swu and others have decided that the time has come to take the road towards that goal.


Plan ahead


And there is some reason for that. Muivah and his comrades had earlier proceeded on the assumption that the situation within Nagaland would be such that the Centre would be pressurized into granting them a fair measure of their demands. For some time, things went their way as a parallel government came to exist and the rebels called the shots. New Delhi, however, held on, and today things are not exactly what they used to be. Not only in Nagaland but also in the entire Northeast, the younger generation is much more eager to be a part of the mainstream and to avail themselves of the opportunities it offers.


Many of these youths have talents in various spheres and they cannot afford to keep themselves aloof. At the same time, they want their identity in terms of culture recognized and respected within the Indian Union. Muivah and Swu are witnessing the changes in Nagaland and must have realized that pressures for sovereignty can no longer be kept up. They also know that the closer they move towards a settlement, the more they will be able to isolate the rival faction, the NSCN (Khaplang).


That group also knows this, and in its desperation, is now seeking to create inter-tribal tension by saying that Muivah and his friends, being Tangkhul, do not represent the 'real' Nagas. This is unlikely to cut much ice unless overground politicians begin to talk along the same lines.


As for a Greater Nagaland, the demand continues to be raised in the Ukhrul district of Manipur, dominated by the Tankhul Nagas. But this is also a pressure tactic. The NSCN leaders must be aware that the Centre cannot create a situation that will earn it the anger of three states.


The pressure on this count is to wrest as much autonomy for Nagaland as possible. Sorting out all this will take time, and here a lot will depend on the attitude of the international Christian community — how long will it extend its support? For the rebels, time is running out. While New Delhi can play the waiting game, the choice for the rebels is simple: either play a role within the Constitution or end up like the Naga leader, Angami Phizo, on foreign shores.






The Maoist threat cannot be tackled effectively unless the state government improves the standards of its intelligence agencies, writes Shyamal Datta


The unseemly controversy over the contradictory statements by the state home secretary and the director-general of police on the reported intelligence input warning of an attack on the Eastern Frontier Rifles camp at Shilda in West Midnapur caused serious embarrassment to the Left Front government. Even murkier was the quixotic appearance of the special inspector-general, EFR, before the media, covering his face with a black cloth for 'safety', assailing the district superintendent of police for not accompanying him to the Shilda camp and changing its location. His conduct tarnished the image of the state police, adding salt to the wound. Everyone was flummoxed by the pusillanimity of the government, which stopped at seeking an explanation from the officer for such an act of indiscipline.


Both incidents could have been avoided. It is worth remembering that the bureaucracy and the police are not trained to handle the media, which are often on the lookout for statements that could be used to belittle the government. But officers, senior or junior, love the idea of appearing before the camera without much preparation, and thus fall prey to the designs of the media. A professional approach would be to approve the brief for the media in advance, and leave it for the spokesperson of the ministry or department to handle it. In the other case, it was unfortunate that the special IG put himself above service, deciding to hog the limelight through theatrics. He failed to appreciate that his 'safety measure' was going to cause a colossal damage to the police fraternity. It was unpardonable.


The Shilda massacre demands an urgent assessment of the Maoist movement to capture power through the barrel of the gun. The state needs to have a strategic outlook to shape its policies, including the one that would deal with internal security. The policy must include dimensions that go beyond paramilitary concerns. There are two schools of thought on the modalities of tackling the Maoists. The school that supports coercion and the blatant use of force believes that in terrorizing, the fear of reprisals far outweighs the desire to help the extremists. The use of power to destroy and impose punishments compel people to shun the company of the revolutionaries, and the path of violence.


The school opposed to the paramilitary approach, on the other hand, believes that coercion generates more heat than light. It proves counter-productive when brutality makes the Red Guards desperate to lacerate the underbelly of the government and society. Indiscriminate use of force can also inspire the protagonists of the movement to carry on with the struggle against the State with greater resolve. It triggers a groundswell of support for the movement, and widespread publicity to fuel the militancy further. The 'hearts and minds' approach, therefore, prescribes management and containment of violence for restoration of the writ of the government in the 'liberated areas' by meeting the basic needs of the people, including security.


The success of this endeavour will not only challenge but also weaken the popular base of the extremists. The areas under Maoist influence have to be liberated and a semblance of governance established by revamping the institutions and the systems charged with enforcement and delivery. There is a natural tendency in the people to align themselves on the side of those who are able to provide safety and services aimed at addressing their grievances. However, the use of force will remain the first and last line of defence against any compromise with the security of life and property. The only precaution that needs to be taken is to exercise force with greater care so that mindless actions by the State do not exacerbate extremism.


The strategy must have a provision for engagement with the receptive elements of the movement. The Maoists are still very much in the minority. The areas under their control are limited; so is their influence. Ground realities demand that the strategy to combat them be more political than paramilitary. Negotiations for peace and settlement must be integral to the strategy. The alienated must be brought into the mainstream by meeting their aspirations. The task is so huge that it cannot be done by the government alone. Besides a close coordination among departments, ministries and agencies of the government, careful networking with the bordering states and non-State actors is essential to strengthen the campaign. Efficacy of governance will create greater confidence and flow of public support in the disturbed areas. The mechanism for negotiation should be kept separate from the campaign to "clear, hold and build". The progress achieved in these three areas will help pave the way for reintegration. The State must have the skills to wage concurrently the battle for peace and development as well as the war on violence.


Intelligence plays the role of a force multiplier. It has to be refined and operationalized. Intelligence dies a premature death when ignored and debunked. Such instances are common. The intelligence input during Kargil, 9/11 or 26/11 met with the same fate. It is difficult to gather intelligence about militant and terrorist organizations which operate with a considerable degree of secrecy, and use force as the main instrument of operation. There is an element of unpredictability in the time, place, date, nature and targets of the attacks.


It is impossible for intelligence agencies to live up to the peoples' expectations all the time. Intelligence flows in bits and pieces. No one possesses all the pieces of the puzzle or the full picture. One has to connect the dots — and some of the dots may be missing or not have the numbers. It is then that the expertise of analysts becomes necessary to study the trends, interpret the fragments, and assess the designs of the enemy. Before 9/11, bits of information was available pertaining to the plans for an aerial attack. Those involved in the planning reportedly gave as many as 11 opportunities to the State to intervene, but all were ignored because none in the establishment could imagine that al Qaida could execute such a diabolical plan. It is said that the failure of the agencies in the United States of America was one of imagination, not of intelligence.


Strategic and tactical intelligence are mostly operational. These demand a follow-up on the ground, verification of factual inputs, and tasking of intelligence operatives for further details to fill up the gaps. A painstaking exercise between the intelligence and the law enforcement units is essential to track the status of the input, to separate the chaff from the grain, and monitor progress, before using intelligence to neutralize the threat. The objective should be to try stay a few steps ahead of the adversaries and do all that is necessary to deter, defeat or destroy the sources of threat. A comprehensive strategy has to be drawn up with effective instruments at different levels of the state and the Centre. High-quality resources and technology will be necessary to vest the instruments with the required competence. Intelligence gathering and investigation call for special aptitude and skills, different from normal policing work. These are not everyone's cup of tea.


At present, when threats are diverse, it is impossible for any single intelligence agency to survey all the information and produce intelligence that is actionable. It demands a framework of seamless relationships with agencies at different levels and places for action to be integrated and intelligence to be productive, both in content and application. The acid test of the efficacy of the intelligence machinery will be judged by a decline in the incidence of violence and security threats.


The Marxists are well-known for their disdain for intelligence from official sources. They tend to rely more on information received from party sources. This mindset must change when the challenges are stupendous. It is imperative that the Marxist leadership moves with the times and develops a healthy respect for the intelligence hierarchy. Any dithering may cost the state dear. Some of the institutionalized arrangements that have helped intelligence agencies build a direct channel of communication with the top echelons of the administrative pyramid can be made stronger by removing the aberrations that may have crept in over the years. The revamping of intelligence with improved resources is also long overdue.

Alongside this, the civil police, neglected and politically manipulated, must be assured the freedom to operate without fear or favour. They must uphold the rule of law to win public support. The harassment of innocents must be checked, giving way to professional rectitude. The abysmally low police-public ratio must change.The number of police stations in India has risen from 12,000 at the time of Independence to only 14,000, when the population has increased fourfold and modern policing has become far more complex. Police stations are chronically understaffed and ill-equipped. On the yardstick of 22 policemen per 10,000 people, the country needs an extra 3.4 lakh policemen. So the recruitment and training of the police need to be taken up on a war-footing, along with the proper strengthening of the legal system for effective action, quick disposal of cases and speedy delivery of justice.


In the Operation Green Hunt, the Central paramilitary forces are expected to bring to bear on the state police their rich experience in combating insurgencies. A close collaboration with the state machinery will help harness the latter's reservoir of knowledge pertaining to topography, local conditions and people. This will go a long way in improving the quality of policing as well as operations. The success of the operation at Lalgarh police station is a clear indication of the results that may be achieved when the two work in tandem. It is necessary for the security forces and the police to give the administration space to work safely and closely with the people. The success of their actions would help make the idea behind the revolution irrelevant.


Finally, the success of the policies will be judged by the normal flow of life with people moving about without fear on their mind, and by the priorities of the government focused on development and growth, not on mere elimination of extremism. Lasting victory will come from a vibrant economy, political participation of the deprived, and the restoration of hope for those living on the margins of human existence.


The author is former director of the Intelligence Bureau, and the former governor of Nagaland




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The alarm sounded by the World Bank over the sinking ground water table in India is not new. Experts and agencies both inside the country and outside have many times drawn attention to the depletion of ground water, shrinking of water bodies and the prospect of a severe shortage of water in the coming years. The awareness that water is no longer a free and plentiful natural resource but is a precious economic commodity and imperilled social asset is yet to sink in. Therefore over-exploitation, misuse and lack of conservation and augmentation efforts are the norm in the country. The scenario is bleak across the world, provoking comments that countries may in future go to war over water. But the situation is specially critical in India with an increasing population exerting greater pressure on the resource for agricultural, drinking water and industrial purposes.

The World Bank has projected that 60 per cent of the country's ground water blocks will be in a critical condition by 2025. The over-use of water could lead to a reduction of agricultural output by as much as 25 per cent and lead to serious drinking water shortages. Industry will also be badly affected by the shortage. The only solution is efficient use of water at personal and community levels and conservation. Better irrigation techniques, distribution of water through leak-proof canals and education of farmers on the optimum use of water will help to stop the depletion of ground water.  Efficient use of water for irrigation can go a long way in maintaining the present availability. Proper user charges will help to inculcate a sense of thrift and economy among individual and domestic users. Rain water harvesting and preservation of lakes and other water bodies have been much talked about but action on the ground is unsatisfactory. More research and development of technologies are needed in areas like desalination. Budgetary allocations for water conservation and augmentation efforts are meagre. They should be increased and efficiently utilised.

Karnataka has to take urgent and effective steps to preserve its ground water resources because it is the most drought-prone state in the country after Rajasthan and its ground water management has been poor in large areas. Committed and effective measures can make a difference, as is shown by Gujarat. Construction of large number of check dams and improvement in irrigation facilities saw the water table going up in that state last year.








Restrictions on the movement of people do not mix well with free thought and exchange of ideas in a democracy. India has always prided itself on the freedom of expression it gives to its citizens but this freedom will not be complete if its citizens are denied access to different points of view, emanating from outside the country too. The restrictions on foreign academics visiting India to attend conferences are not in conformity with the liberal ethos in the country. The restrictions are claimed by the government to be based on security considerations but it cannot be taken at face value. Foreign scholars are required to take security clearance from the home ministry if they have to attend conferences on 'sensitive political and social subjects.' The Union home secretary has clarified that the government is considering a relaxation of norms for genuine scholars. But this is poor consolation because those who sit in judgement will be bureaucrats who are not qualified to make such judgements.

It has been noted that the restrictions inhibit the visits of scholars especially from our neighbours. This is very undesirable because free exchange of views between intellectuals in the country and in its immediate neighbours is necessary for improving the political relations and for building better social and people-to-people relations. The Track II interactions between personalities and organisations in India and Pakistan have helped to improve the social relations between the two countries. A veto power for the government in the matter of who should attend conferences in academic institutions also goes against academic freedom and the autonomy of these institutions. Access to different perspectives from other parts of the world can only be beneficial to Indian scholars and academics.

Security is an easy excuse for governments all over the world to curb the movement of people and free expression of views and opinions. The rules and procedures used for that often amount to thought policing. In practice these rules hardly contribute to improving security. They instead give a bad image to the country and give rise to criticism that our democratic credentials are not strong enough to withstand unfavourable and unpleasant views. Openness and encouragement of debate will strengthen the country more than misplaced security considerations and unjustified phobias.








After the minister of environment Jairam Ramesh announced a moratorium on Bt brinjal, article after article in the media has denounced the decision, saying such decisions should be left to 'scientists.' The issue is however not science vs anti-science. It is reductionist science vs systems science. The moratorium took into account the best of science.

Many scientists have called for caution and for full and independent assessment. Dr Pushpa Bhargava, the leading scientist who established genetic engineering in India, has been the most vocal voice against Bt brinjal. The so called 'scientists' speaking most vociferously for Bt brinjal are in fact 'technicians' who are using an outmoded reductionist science to develop GM crops for corporations like Monsanto/Mahyco.

Leaving biosafety decisions in their hands is unethical and risky for society. It is unethical because developers and promoters of a technology cannot decide if it is good for society or not. This is an example of conflict of interest. It is risky because they lack the scientific expertise needed for biosafety assessment.

They are like makers of refrigerators who have no idea that the chlorofluorocarbons they use can make a hole in the ozone layer. They are like makers of cars who have no idea that the emissions of their cars pollute the atmosphere and destabilise the climate. Production expertise is not the same as impact expertise.

Genetic engineering is based on reductionist biology, the idea that living systems are machines, and you can change parts of the machine without impacting the organism. Reductionism was chosen as the preferred paradigm for economic and political control of the diversity in nature and society.

Genetic determinism and genetic reductionism go hand in hand. But to say that genes are primary is more ideology than science. Genes are not independent entities, but dependent parts of an entirety that gives them effect. All parts of the cell interact, and the combinations of genes are at least as important as their individual effects in the making of an organism.

More broadly, an organism cannot be treated simply as the product of a number of proteins, each produced by the corresponding gene. Genes have multiple effects, and most traits depend on multiple genes.

Genetic engineering moves genes across species by using 'vectors' — usually a mosaic recombination of natural genetic parasites from different sources, including viruses causing cancers and other diseases in animals and plants that are tagged with one or more antibiotic resistant 'marker' genes. Evidence accumulating over the past few years confirms the fear that these vectors constitute major sources of genetic pollution with drastic ecological and public health consequences.

Risk assessment

Biotech technicians do not have either the scientific expertise of gene ecology or the expertise in the multiple disciplines that are needed for the risk assessment of GMOs in the context of their impact on the environment and public health.

Real scientists know that mechanistic science of genetic reductionism is inaccurate and flawed. Deeper research has led to the emergent field of epigenetics. Epigenetic mechanisms can edit the read out of a gene so as to create over 30,000 different variations of proteins for the same gene blueprint. Epigenetic describes how gene activity and cellular expression are regulated by information from the environment, not by the internal matter of DNA.

The limitation at a higher systems level is even more serious. Bt brinjal is being offered as a pest control solution. A gene for producing a toxin is being put into the plant, along with antibiotic resistance markers and viral promoters. This is like using an earth-mover to make a hole in the wall of your house for hanging up a painting. Like the earth-mover will destroy the wall, the transgenic transformation will disrupt the metabolism and self regulatory processes of the organism.

Genetic engineering is 'high tech' like the earth-mover, but it is also crude tech for the sensitive task of maintaining the ecological fabric of agriculture to control pests. Pests are controlled through biodiversity, through organic practices which build resilience to pests and disease. In Andhra Pradesh, a government project for non-pesticide management has covered 14 lakh acres.

The scientific alternative to the crude tech of putting toxic genes into our food is agro ecology. The International Assessment on Agricultural Science and Technology Development has recognised from a global survey of peer reviewed studies that agro ecology based systems outperform farming systems using genetic engineering.

Epigenetics and agro ecology are the sciences for the future. Reductionist biology is a primitive science of the past.

Our decisions about food and agriculture need to be based on the best of science, not the worst of science. They definitely should not be based on a crude technology parading as science.

Because we are what we eat, and food enters our bodies, citizens must have a choice about what they eat. The democratisation of science and decision making has become an imperative. All human beings are knowing subjects and in a democracy people's choices must count.

That is why the public hearings on Bt brinjal were a democratic imperative. Those who say our food choices must be left to biotech technicians are working against both science and democracy.







With books in hand, the Russians have returned to Cuba. For 30 years they were an indispensable presence on the island. The then Soviets provided socialist Cuba with international political, economic, and military support in a world clearly divided between two blocs and swept by the frigid winds of the Cold War and threats of atomic conflagration.


We Cubans had electricity and watched television thanks to Soviet oil; we read books and periodicals printed on the paper they sent us; we built up a defence with their weapons and equipment, baked our bread with Soviet wheat, and ate tins of 'Russian meat'. During these three decades, tens of thousands of Cubans studied in Moscow, Leningrad and  Kazan and thousands returned with Russian brides.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and with it the indestructible friendship, the oil vanished as well, and the paper, and the wheat. The new countries that sprung up from the ruins of the union unanimously opted for a return to capitalism, and capitalistically demanded money for trade. Cuba had to maintain its system of socialism in the most desolate solitude.

As soon as this provider of technical assistance and resources collapsed, its previously suffocating and expanding presence in the Cuban culture and daily life ended in an instant. Of the Russian women married to Cubans, most fled, unable to take the chronic blackouts and shortages.

No visible traces were left of the 30-year social, cultural, and political marriage: not a single custom, popular dish, or even military base, all of which vanished as well. The Russian footprint in Cuba was simply wiped clean, and in no time at all nothing remained of the complicity between the two countries aside from a few ideological notions and political practices that even the Russians would eliminate in their own country but that Cuba's leaders chose to retain.

In recent years, Moscow has initiated a rapprochement with Cuba, urged by prime minister Vladimir Putin, who has sought to revive Russian pride and greatness and its prominence on the political map. Cuba, crippled by a tightening US embargo, has long needed all the political support and economic and trade help it could get. It responded enthusiastically to this gesture. The exchange between the countries revived, though in a different form: it was no longer a product of socialist geopolitics but rather a group of tactical, trade, and political agreements based on common interests between two countries with different, if not antagonistic, economic and ideological systems.

This new contact has brought with it various psychological and historical advantages: a nostalgia for the old days of brotherhood, or the fact that virtually no historical analysis of what happened in the Soviet Union in its 70 years of socialism, deeply scarred by the political methods of Stalin, was to be found in Cuba.

Now, with books in hand, the Russians are returning to the island. The Russian Federation was the guest of honour at the Cuban Book Fair. The event was transformed into a platform for a massive disembarking of figures from Russian politics and the contemporary Russian art scene. Books, films, and dance companies were at the forefront of this attempt to restore the closeness between the two countries shattered for almost two decades, during which insults and accusations of disloyalty were exchanged in abundance.

Though the Cuban press may at times filter, for example, commentaries on the devastating effects of socialist realism on Russian art, it is clear that the image Russia is presenting of itself and its present bears little relation to what it was in the 1990s, when the country tipped into the void, and the cradle of the socialist revolution renounced the principles that it had proclaimed for 70 years, opening its arms and soul instead to the most savage form of capitalism in what we in Cuba called the 'desmerengamiento', or the collapse of the great meringue.

This stable and  prosperous country, respectful of the differences between us today, is nonetheless, a capitalist country, and for reasons of  dialectical and economic logic, it must carry along with it the characteristics of the system studied and condemned by Marx  which led the Bolsheviks to foment  revolution so many decades ago. Perhaps the most unexpected lesson generated by these developments is that we are learning, now, that there are evil and less evil forms of capitalism, and that the past is a book from which we can lift favourable chapters and skip over those that stir contention, for the benefit of politics. Always politics. IPS









Come March, the wedding bells start ringing. You know the fever has begun, when the saree shops put up their advertisements with mega discounts. It's boom time for priests, cooks, owners of wedding halls, hirers of lights, vessels, shamianas, taxi operators, decorators, florists and a whole lot of supporting services. A closer look into this marriage world is in itself a study in human psychology. It's virtually a game of one-upmanship, with each family trying to outdo the other in the scale of lavishness.

It begins with the invitation itself. Gone are the days of the plain white card. It's now a silken flower or heart with beautiful calligraphy and Sanskrit verses from Kalidasa. Or it is handmade paper with Khadi embellishments for that ethnic touch. Next is the venue. The most sought after halls are those with air-conditioning, marble flooring, polished granite cladding, bathrooms and toilets that stun you into hesitation in using them and a façade that is a mélange of architectural styles. And the rental, — my hand trembles in trying to  type it out. The chandeliers look like they belong in Buckingham Palace.

The stage decorations. A setting fit for a celestial wedding. The decorators album contains designs that would outdo the palace of Indra. Artistic pillars, chiffon drapes, exotic fruits suspended between shell strings. The cost? My eyes blur in counting the zeroes. Now, proceed downstairs to the dining hall. Do you want north Indian? Or Chinese? Or the various chaats? How about Mumbai pav bhaji?  

Come on, try mixing gobi manchuri with masala dosa. Fruits mixed with grated carrot and chopped cucumber? Sweets, varieties of ice creams, dry fruits? I'm salivating as I write this. The bill? The stomach churns at the mere mention.

As I stand in the serpentine line of guests to greet the couple, the sheer waste of all this pomp and show makes me ponder. The amount of food wasted would have satiated a good number of hungry stomachs. The money spent would have helped treat at least 10 cancer patients, unable to take life-saving treatment. But I know that mine is a cry in the wilderness.


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Israel could not have asked for a better beginning to Biden's visit this week. Now it must rebuild Washington's trust.


Israel could not have asked for a more positive beginning to US Vice President Joe Biden's visit this week. Positive body language abounded, with all the requisite hugs, warm gestures, smiles and general good vibes.

There were verbalized emotions, such as the vice president's comment to President Shimon Peres that Israel "captured my heart." Biden even made declarations with diplomatic ramifications. The cornerstone of the Israeli-US relationship, he said on Tuesday, "is our absolute, total unvarnished commitment to Israel's security," and then managed to top even that with the adamant declaration that "there is no space between the US and Israel when it comes to Israel's security."

After almost a year of distance – most notably contrasted with President Barack Obama's June 2009 Cairo speech that focused on reconciliation with Islam – the Biden trip, with its private meetings aimed principally at coordinating strategy for thwarting Iran's nuclear drive, was turning out to be everything that an embattled, nervous Jewish nation could dream of.

As Israeli Apartheid Week draws to a close, it sometimes seems that the only real friend Israel has in the entire world is the good old US of A, and the Biden visit was confirmation of that partnership. By sundown Tuesday, it would have been fitting to note that on another Tuesday, the third day of creation, God said "and it was good" twice.

But then it happened. A three-year chain of bureaucratic events climaxed to spectacularly damaging effect. In a staggering example of diplomatic obtuseness, the Interior Ministry's Jerusalem Regional Planning and Construction Commission announced the approval of 1,600 additional housing units in Ramat Shlomo, a haredi neighborhood of 20,000 in northeast Jerusalem – inside the sovereign city limits, but squarely over the pre-1967 Green Line.

Safeguards that some previous governments had put in place to ensure the careful handling of such sensitive issues were plainly not in effect this time. Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), preoccupied with a coalition crisis over  conversion policy legislation, said he was not informed of the decision, nor would he have expected to be. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had evidently failed to make it clear that he wished to be informed of any such developments, and thus was not alerted ahead of the announcement.

Biden and his wife Jill arrived over an hour late to dinner with Netanyahu and his wife Sarah on Tuesday night. And when they finally did show up, they brought with them what constituted a major league castigation. "I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in east Jerusalem," Biden said, in a statement released during dinner. "The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I've had here in Israel."

SUCH RIGHT-hand-not-knowing-what-the-left-hand-is-doing blunders strike a blow to Israel's image, and a blow on more substantive levels too.

For a start, the Netanyahu government looks completely incompetent. If the announcement on Ramat Shlomo had been a calculated, coherent decision aimed at torpedoing the fledgling "proximity talks", or aimed at expressing an unshakable commitment to the fast-growing haredi population desperately in need of housing, its merits or failings could have been legitimately discussed.

But the reality is much more prosaic – and worrying. The expansion of Ramat Shlomo accords with broad government policy. Differently timed, and ideally quietly explained to Washington ahead of time, it might have prompted public displeasure from the United States – that the administration had tried and failed to persuade Netanyahu to extend the settlement-building moratorium to east Jerusalem – but likely no more than that.

Instead, because of sheer ineptitude, the timing of the announcement immediately threatened the "proximity talks" in which Netanyahu has stressed Israel has a profound interest. It united the Palestinians, the Arab world and much of the international community in a chorus of anti-Israel condemnation.

And most unhappily of all, it embarrassed our most important ally at a time when this ally, as represented by Biden, was making a heartfelt effort to improve relations and assure Israel of its abiding support.

It seem fair to assume that, in the long run, the truly deep and significant bonds between our two countries will endure. The shared values and interests, many of them encapsulated in the commitment to freedom and democracy, plainly outweigh even significant missteps like this one. But to attain these common goals requires avoiding serious mistakes that embarrass our friends and strengthen our enemies. To attain these common goals requires profound trust between allies.

Now Israel must set about rebuilding that trust.








The government once again made a foolhardy, unnecessary and damaging mistake, with the announcement that the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee has given the go-ahead to build 1,600 new housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, which sits beyond the Green Line, on the same day that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in the capital for a visit.

Biden's visit was aimed at opening a new chapter in the Obama administration's relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as demonstrating America's commitment to Israel's security, advancing peace in the Middle East and thwarting the Iranian nuclear threat. The vice president had been effusive in his statements of support for Israel - until, that is, he learned of the latest construction plans in East Jerusalem. Following that disclosure, Biden issued a condemnation and arrived late for dinner at the Prime Minister's Residence. Any diplomatic achievement yielded by his visit quickly gave way to an embarrassing faux pas.

Netanyahu passed the buck to Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who expressed "sorrow for the distress" and proceeded to blame Planning and Building Committee subordinates "for not updating him." These responses are ridiculous, and only serve to present the government as an unruly organization whose officials operate without any supervision or direction from above. It is hard to believe that Netanyahu and Yishai were unaware that such a vast construction project was in the works; if they really did not know, then they failed in their duties.


The real problem, however, is not the timing of the announcement or the act of insulting a crucial ally - which are in themselves quite serious issues. Rather, it is the government's policy, which from the outset spawned this damaging project. Under the cover of nicely worded statements touting two states for two peoples and the hoopla over the renewal of indirect negotiations with the Palestinians, Netanyahu and his government continue to establish facts on the ground - and in such a way as to conquer yet another hill and another path, while populating East Jerusalem with more and more Jews.

Rather than making conciliatory gestures toward the Palestinians and promoting an end to the conflict, the prime minister is sabotaging any chance of an agreement on the issue of Jerusalem. His construction and settlement ventures do not contribute to Israel's security or economic prosperity. Instead, they render the chances of a diplomatic solution more remote, fuel greater frustration among the Palestinians, and degrade Israel's international standing. This campaign to consolidate control over East Jerusalem must be stopped.








Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu handed U.S. Vice President Joe Biden broken glass. Netanyahu had not intended to do so, of course. He wanted to give Biden a tree-planting certificate in honor of Biden's mother. But his need to lean on the podium while addressing his guest caused the certificate's glass frame to shatter silently. When the festive moment arrived to proffer the gift to Israel's greatest friend, it turned out it was broken to pieces. The only thing the prime minister could offer the vice president was broken glass.

The moral is clear, but unforgivable. There has been tension between Washington and Jerusalem for a whole year. At a time when the two countries should be coordinated against the Iranian threat, they are having trouble functioning as allies. In recent months a major effort has been made to ease the tension and restore the intimacy between the governments. Biden's visit was to have been the peak of renewed rapprochement and the turning over of a new leaf in the relationship between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama.

It started out on the right foot and created a real feeling of closeness. But on Tuesday evening, the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee approved the construction of 1,600 new apartments in Ramat Shlomo, beyond the Green Line. Thus the committee made clear that there are more important things than the Iranian threat and the alliance with the United States. The committee spit in the face of both the friendly vice president and the friendly superpower. It disfigured the face of the State of Israel with acid.

It's enough to make you pull your hair out. The threat against Israel is unprecedented. Our need for the United States is unprecedented. At this critical juncture, any national interest should be subservient to the supreme interest of strengthening this alliance. But now of all times, at the most sensitive moment, Israel chooses to act insanely, sabotaging national security with its own hands. The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee has committed an act whose implications might be no less serious than the act by Mordechai Vanunu.

Netanyahu washed his hands of it: He did not know, he had no intention, he just leaned on the glass. But this time Netanyahu can't run from responsibility. Biden's visit is of strategic importance. Jerusalem is an issue of strategic sensitivity. Ahead of a visit of strategic importance, the prime minister must ensure that a matter of strategic interest is properly managed. On his own initiative, he should speak with Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to ensure that there are no surprises. If Netanyahu did not hold such conversations, he made a serious mistake. If Netanyahu did hold such conversations, he's not really in control of the government and state. Either way, the outcome is grave. Netanyahu's country did not resemble a Silicon Valley country this week. It seemed like a miserable and shameful shtetl of a country. A Chelm of a country.

The problem is deep. Over the past 20 years Israel has shown amazing capabilities in technology, economics and security. But the success is overshadowed by two fundamental problems: the government's weakness and the continuation of the occupation. The government's weakness results in the flourishing of the private sector and the free market, while the state is not functioning and public systems are deteriorating. The continuation of the occupation makes Israel disfigure itself and its image; with its own hands it undermines the legitimacy of Zionism.

These two fundamental problems create a clear and present danger. Their fatal combination makes Israel unable to act rationally against a threat to its survival.

This week's scandal should sound a warning in Netanyahu's office. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has no better ally today than the loony Israeli right. No one is helping the Shi'ite zealots more than the Jewish zealots. Day after day, the settlements in the West Bank serve the centrifuges in Natanz. If sane Israel does not wake up, it will be defeated by the metastasizing of the occupation and the lack of the central government's ability to stop it. When the test comes, the national body could be found cancerous to the marrow.








Here's someone new to blame for everything: Eli Yishai. After all, Benjamin Netanyahu wanted it so much, Ehud Barak pressed so hard, Shimon Peres wielded so much influence - and along came the interior minister and ruined everything.

There we were, on the brink of another historic upheaval (almost). Proximity talks with the Palestinians were in the air, peace was knocking on the door, the occupation was nearing its end - and then a Shas rogue, who knows nothing about timing and diplomacy, came and shuffled all the proximity and peace cards.

The scoundrel appeared in the midst of the smile- and hug-fest with the vice president of the United States and disrupted the celebration. Joe Biden's white-toothed smiles froze abruptly, the great friendship was about to disintegrate, and even the dinner with the prime minister and his wife was almost canceled, along with the entire "peace process." And all because of Yishai.


Well, the interior minister does deserve our modest thanks. The move was perfect. The timing, which everyone is complaining about, was brilliant. It was exactly the time to call a spade a spade. As always, we need Yishai (and occasionally Avigdor Lieberman) to expose our true face, without the mask and lies, and play the enfant terrible who shouts that the emperor has no clothes.

For the emperor indeed has no clothes. Thank you, Yishai, for exposing it. Thank you for ripping the disguise off the revelers in the great ongoing peace-process masquerade in which nobody means anything or believes in anything.

What do we want from Yishai? To know when the Jerusalem planning committee convenes? To postpone its meeting by two weeks? What for? Hadn't the prime minister announced to Israel, the world and the United States, in a move seen at the time as a great Israeli victory, that the construction freeze in the settlements does not include Jerusalem? Then why blame that lowly official, the interior minister, who implemented that policy?

What's the big deal? Another 1,600 apartments for ultra-Orthodox Jews on occupied, stolen land? Jerusalem won't ever be divided, Benjamin Netanyahu promised, in another applause-winning move. In that case, why not build in it? The Americans have agreed to all this, so they have no reason to pretend to be insulted.

The interior minister should not apologize for the "distress" he caused, but be proud of it. He is the government's true face. Who knows, perhaps thanks to him America will finally understand that nothing will happen unless it exerts real pressure on Israel.

What would we do without Yishai? Biden would have left Israel propelled by the momentum of success. Netanyahu would have boasted of a renewed close friendship. A few weeks later, the indirect talks would have started. Europe would have applauded, and Barack Obama, the president of big promises, would even have taken a moment away from dealing with his country's health-care issues to meet with Netanyahu. George Mitchell, who has already scored quite a few diplomatic feats here, would shuttle between Ramallah and Jerusalem, and maybe Netanyahu would eventually have met with Mahmoud Abbas. Face to face. Then everything would have been sorted out.

Without preconditions, certainly without preconditions, Israel would have continued to build in the territories in the meantime - not 1,600 but 16,000 new apartments. The IDF would have continued arresting, imprisoning, humiliating and starving - all under the auspices of the peace talks, of course. Jerusalem forever. The right of return is out of the question, and so is Hamas. And onward to peace!

Months would go by, the talks would "progress," there would be lots of photo ops, and every now and then a mini-crisis would erupt - all because of the Palestinians, who want neither peace nor a state. At the very end, there might be another plan with another timetable that no one intends to keep.

Everything was so ready, so ripe, until that scoundrel, Yishai, came and kicked it all into oblivion. It's a bit embarrassing, but not so terrible. After all, time heals all wounds. The Americans will soon forgive, the Palestinians will have no choice, and once again everyone will stand ceremoniously on the platform and the process will be "jump-started" again - despite everything that the sole enemy of peace around here, Eli Yishai, has done to us.









Just hours before Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, Scandar Copti, one of the co-directors of "Ajami," announced that the film does not represent Israel. At around the same time, MK Jamal Zahalka was taking part in an Israeli Apartheid Week event at McGill University in Montreal, pouring oil on the flames of the Arab-Jewish rift. At a special Knesset session to honor the 12 members of the pre-state Jewish underground militias who were hanged by the British during the Mandate era (known as the olei hagardom in Hebrew), MKs Ahmed Tibi and Talab al-Sana called these men terrorists.

As a movie, "Ajami" is no better or worse than others of its ilk created around the world that tell nearly the same story. In every part of the world in which national minorities fight the majority (especially when the fight regularly erupts into verbal and physical violence), the reality is even worse than in Israel.

It's reasonable to assume that had the film not been set in Jaffa, where, it is implied, the sad state of the Arabs is the consequence of the Jewish sin of "the occupation of 1948," it would likely not have been nominated for best foreign film. Similarly, "Beaufort" and "Waltz with Bashir" were nominated for Oscars because they were critical of Israel.


The political statement made by Copti turned "Ajami" from a movie into another link in the fight waged by the Palestinians in Israel against the state of which they are citizens. That makes it just like disrespecting the memory of the olei hagardom or accusing Israel of being an apartheid state even though the Israeli Palestinians' rights as citizens here exceed those of any Arab country (and include supernumerary rights, such as exemption from mandatory military service).

It can be assumed that the Israeli Arabs would present their position more moderately (and thus more effectively) were it not for the encouragement they receive from Jewish entities in the areas of art, culture, academia, philanthropy and the media. A large proportion of Israeli films, both features and documentaries, focus on and promote the Palestinian narrative, whether directly or indirectly. This narrative blames the Jews for all the ills of the Arab community - the result of the mother of all occupations, that of 1948.

All Israelis seeking public funding for a movie are aware that aid from international foundations, and even Israeli ones, depends on the submission of a screenplay that is critical of Israel. No filmmaker could obtain funding from a European or even an Israeli foundation (including governmental ones) for a movie that presents a balanced view of Israel, much less a positive one.

The result: Dozens of "checkpoint films" telling the story of Arab suffering. None of the films in this genre delves into the reasons behind the checkpoints or asks about the mass killings that were prevented by the capture of terrorists or timely discovery of explosives at those very checkpoints. Many of these films show women weeping and crying out next to their demolished homes.

The movies - in Israel, too - evoke sympathy for the oppressed and that is their purpose.

But not a single movie has been made that shows the reasons leading up to the demolition of the homes, that tells the story of the hundreds of Jewish victims who were murdered by the terrorists whose homes were subsequently destroyed.

Had they not wallowed in the mire of "We have sinned, we have trespassed," it is doubtful that "Ajami," "Beaufort" or "Waltz with Bashir" would have gotten so close to the pinnacle of Hollywood recognition. It is fashionable today to criticize or even to hate Israel. Among those contributing to hatred of Israel are, in addition to filmmakers, Israeli intellectuals and artists from other disciplines - and for exactly the same reasons that the filmmakers are so eager to make their self-flagellating films.








Last week, at an event at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, hundreds of young people joined a new "purchasing group" set to build high-rise apartment buildings in that city. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a storm was brewing over a plan to demolish homes in Silwan. Ostensibly, these are the two extremes of Israeli life: Glittering towers in the big city on the one hand, and confrontations between settlers and Palestinians on the other. But actually, those extremes have a common element: the centrality of the home as a symbol in Israeli society.

A home, in the form of a roof over one's head, is a fundamental human necessity, so it's a central symbol everywhere in the world. The Americans have cliches for it: "There's no place like home" and "Home is where the heart is." And here, Yankele Rotblit has written: "How good it is that you've come home, home - that's really all there is." But what is that "all"? What exactly does "home" mean to us?

Home is warmth, stability, family. Home is where you live. But do these values explain fully why it's so important for us to own our homes? The towers up for sale at the Fairgrounds event don't yet have all the necessary permits; still, the organizers said, every two minutes a new customer joined the purchasing group. Today you need more than 100 average monthly salaries to buy a typical apartment in Israel, but according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, this has not prevented 69 percent of households from owning their homes. This is one of the highest rates in the world. In Germany the figure is only 42 percent, in Denmark 51 percent, in France 55 percent and in Austria 56 percent.


It's true that it's customary to regard buying a home as an investment, although according to a recent Technion study, in Israel you're better off economically renting than buying. It's also true that we wandered the globe for 2,000 years and we want, just for a moment, the security of owning a place where we can take off our shoes without the fear of being forced to move out. However, it's also possible that the lust for one's own home is driven by a darker belief, a belief that finds expression in buying and building homes for ourselves but sealing them up or demolishing them for others.

This is because hiding away among all the pleasant and sentimental emotions evoked by the notion of a home is a primeval belief that home is not only a shelter but also the force of life itself. It's as if someone who buys a house gains eternal life, and someone whose house is demolished is wiped off the face of the earth. This not entirely conscious belief gets us into trouble. It fuels our readiness to mobilize for an enormous economic effort to become homeowners, and it ignites the impulse to destroy thousands of homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a punishment, or because they were built without a permit - permits that are impossible to obtain.

The bind we're in is thus made worse because apparently this concept of a home is prevalent among Israeli Arabs, too. In urban Arab communities in Israel, 92 percent of the people own their own homes - almost the entire population. And "May your house be destroyed" is one of the gravest curses in Arabic.

Tragically, it seems that Israelis and Palestinians share the attitude that a home is proof that its owners exist, or in other words, it's a monument. That is, homes derive their power as an emblem not because they are perceived as a place for living, but because deep inside, we see the home as a place in which to die





******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




Ground zero is no longer the depressing place it was a few years ago. The important public structures are starting to take shape — the memorial to the victims, Santiago Calatrava's birdlike transportation hub, and 1 World Trade Center (the centerpiece once known as the Freedom Tower), 20 stories high and climbing.


But as has been true since the beginning, the commercial parts of the project — skyscrapers financed by both public and private money — remain mired in controversy. And at the heart of all this, not surprisingly, is the developer Larry Silverstein, whose powerful supporters now include Mayor Michael Bloomberg.


Mr. Silverstein wants what he has always wanted: more money from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the owners of the site, to build three huge office buildings on speculation. These are hard times to get tenants and private financing. So Mr. Silverstein wants the authority to be his banker. The Port Authority has already agreed to help finance one of his three buildings, but it should be very stingy with the rest. It has many other, far more important demands on its funds, including upgrading bridges, tunnels and airport terminals.


The city certainly doesn't need three new office buildings immediately. The commercial vacancy rate downtown is 11 percent and is expected to worsen as some Wall Street firms shrink and others relocate. The last thing a battered downtown needs is a nest of empty office buildings.


Mr. Silverstein leased the World Trade Center a few weeks before it was destroyed and has since claimed the right to rebuild the office space with the authority's help. An arbitration panel rejected his main complaint — that the authority's delays cost him money by forcing him into a bad market. But the arbitrators also ordered the two sides to resolve the matter on their own by Friday or risk the panel imposing its own solution.


In recent days, Mr. Silverstein has promised to use more of his own money, with strings attached. The authority has agreed to finance one skyscraper as well as a five-story podium for retail stores that could serve as the base for a second tower. A third tower would be on hold, possibly turned into much-needed green space.


The ring of skyscrapers was a dynamic part of the architect Daniel Libeskind's original master plan for the site. Given the right market conditions, they may someday appear. But the Port Authority should not be obliged to provide what the market and Mr. Silverstein cannot. It must keep its finances safe for the region's transportation facilities and concentrate on making sure that the memorial is available to visitors by Sept. 11, 2011.


For Mr. Silverstein and the mayor, that memorial — and not simply 4 million square feet of extra commercial office space — should be the goal.






Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. used rare and decidedly undiplomatic language on Tuesday to upbraid Israel after it announced plans to build 1,600 new housing units in a Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem. "I condemn the decision. ...," he said in a statement.


The Obama administration is understandably furious. Mr. Biden was in Israel working to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The word came after he had spent the day vowing the United States' "absolute, total and unvarnished commitment to Israel's security."


Aides say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was blindsided by the announcement from Israel's Interior Ministry, led by the leader of right-wing Shas Party. But he didn't disavow the plan. And it is hard to see the timing as anything but a slap in the face to Washington.


There were conflicting reports on whether the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, would go ahead with "proximity talks" — in which George Mitchell, the Middle East envoy for the United States, is supposed to shuttle between Jerusalem and the West Bank in hopes of making enough progress to revive direct negotiations on a two-state solution. Mr. Abbas should stick with the talks.


President Obama seriously miscalculated last year when he insisted that Israel impose a full stop on all new settlement building, only to have Mr. Netanyahu refuse. The goal was — and is — just. The Palestinians are legitimately fearful that the more Israel builds in the West Bank or East Jerusalem the less likely it is to ever negotiate away any disputed territory. A settlement freeze could well have jump-started serious negotiations.


But one of the basic rules of diplomacy is that American presidents never publicly insist on something they aren't sure of getting — at least not without a backup plan. By the time Mr. Netanyahu finally acceded to a 10-month partial halt that exempted Jerusalem, the Palestinians felt so burned that the peace effort collapsed.


It must be noted that Mr. Obama and Mr. Mitchell also failed to persuade Arab leaders to agree to make any gestures to Israel in return for a settlement freeze.


The Obama administration worked hard to get Mr. Abbas to agree to renewed talks, arguing that more stalemate was not in the Palestinians' interest. And it made some rare headway with Arab leaders, persuading them to endorse the American proposal for talks — giving Mr. Abbas needed political cover. Suggestions that Arab leaders might now renege on that support are worrisome.


Mr. Mitchell will have to keep working all sides to move this ahead. He must continue to press Israel on the settlements issue. And if Israel is to make real concessions, it will need more than gestures from the Arab states.


Mr. Biden said on Wednesday that the administration would hold both Israelis and Palestinians "accountable for any statements or actions that inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of talks." That would be a very important start. We also hope that if progress lags, the administration will be ready to put forward its own proposals on the central issues of borders, refugees, security and the future of Jerusalem.


Mr. Obama has another chance to move the peace process forward. This time he has to get it right.






When the nation's largest voting machine manufacturer, Election Systems and Software, acquired the voting machine business of Diebold, the nation's second-largest manufacturer, it set off alarms for anyone who cares about election integrity. The combination meant that 70 percent of the nation's voting machines would be provided by just one company.


The Justice Department has now announced that it intends to block certain parts of the deal on antitrust grounds. That is a very welcome step, but the department and Congress need to do more to protect the vote.


After the 2000 presidential election, and Florida's hanging chads, states vowed to replace old-style voting machines with new and better technology. The electronic machines now in use across the country have their own serious problems. They are far too vulnerable to hackers, and unless they have voter-verifiable paper trails and careful audits their results are not trustworthy.


The Justice Department is right to try to block the deal between the voting machine makers. It was a clear violation of antitrust law and a clear threat to the public interest. Less competition would mean less choice for states and localities looking to buy and service voting machines — and even less incentive for industry to produce first-rate products. We hope a federal court approves the Justice Department's decision and that Election Systems and Software quickly finds a buyer.


The Justice Department's work should not end with blocking this one sale. It also needs to keep a close eye on widespread reports of anticompetitive behavior by Election Systems and Software and other vendors. It should look in particular at how Election Systems handles sales of service contracts for voting machines, which are a big revenue generator, that make it hard for other companies to compete.


Congress also should hold hearings to investigate that and other reports of anticompetitive behavior in the industry. It also should set strong standards for voting machines, including a federal requirement for paper trails and audits. The security of the vote is too important to leave those decisions up to local governments or an industry with a less-than-stellar track record.







Recently, I have been considering the four-way stop. It is, I think, the most successful unit of government in the State of California. It may be the perfect model of participatory democracy, the ideal fusion of "first come, first served" and the golden rule. There are four-way stops elsewhere in the country. But they are ubiquitous in California, and they bring out a civility — let me call it a surprising civility — in drivers here in a state where so much has recently gone so wrong.


What a four-way stop expresses is the equality of the drivers who meet there. It doesn't matter what you drive. For it to work, no deference is required, no self-denial. Precedence is all that matters, like a water right in Wyoming. Except that at a four-way stop on the streets of Rancho Cucamonga everyone gets to take a turn being first.


There are moments when two cars — even four — arrive almost simultaneously. At times like that, I find myself lengthening my own braking, easing into the stop in order to give an unambiguous signal to the other driver, as if to say, "After you." Is this because I'm from the East where four-way stops are not so common? Or do most California drivers do this, too? I don't know. What I do know is that I almost never see two cars lurching into the middle of the intersection as if both were determined to assert their right of way.


I find myself strangely reassured each time I pass through a four-way stop. A social contract is renewed, and I pull away feeling better about my fellow humans, which some days, believe me, can take some doing. We arrive as strangers and leave as strangers. But somewhere between stopping and going, we must acknowledge each other. California is full of drivers everywhere acknowledging each other by winks and less-friendly gestures, by glances in the mirrors, as they catapult down the freeways. But at a four-way stop, there is an almost Junior League politeness about it.


And when the stoplights go out at the big intersections, as they do sometimes, everyone reverts to the etiquette of the four-way stop as if to a bastion of civilization. But there are limits to this power. We can only gauge precedence within a certain distance and among a very small number of cars. Too many, and self-policing soon begins to break down. But when we come one by one to the quadrille at the four-way corner, we are who we are at our best, bowing, nodding, and moving on. VERLYN KLINKENBORG







A drumroll, please. In a moment, the winner of my 2010 "win-a-trip" contest.


But first, a message from the sponsor — that's me. A generation ago, the most thrilling program for young people was the Peace Corps. Today, it's Teach for America, which this year has attracted 46,000 applicants who are competing for about 4,500 slots.


Peace Corps and Teach for America represent the best ethic of public service. But at a time when those programs can't meet the demand from young people seeking to give back, we need a new initiative: Teach for the World.


In my mind, Teach for the World would be a one-year program placing young Americans in schools in developing countries. The Americans might teach English or computer skills, or coach basketball or debate teams.


The program would be open to Americans 18 and over. It could be used for a gap year between high school and college, but more commonly would offer a detour between college and graduate school or the real world.


The host country would provide room and board through a host family. To hold down costs, the Americans would be unpaid and receive only airplane tickets, a local cellphone and a tiny stipend to cover bus fares and anti-malaria bed nets.


This would be a government-financed effort to supplement an American public diplomacy outreach that has been eviscerated over the last few decades. A similar program, WorldTeach, was founded by a group of Harvard students in 1986 and does a terrific job. But without significant support from the American government, it often must charge participants thousands of dollars for a year's volunteer work.


Teach for the World also would be an important education initiative for America itself. Fewer than 30 percent of Americans have passports, and only one-quarter can converse in a second language. And the place to learn languages isn't an American classroom but in the streets of Quito or Dakar or Cairo.


Here's a one-word language test to measure whether someone really knows a foreign country and culture:

What's the word for doorknob? People who have studied a language in a classroom rarely know the answer. But

those who have been embedded in a country know. America would be a wiser country if we had more people

who knew how to translate "doorknob." I would bet that those people who know how to say doorknob in Farsi

almost invariably oppose a military strike on Iran.

(Just so you don't drop my column to get a dictionary: pomo de la puerta in some forms of Spanish; poignée de

porte in French; and dash gireh ye dar in Farsi.)


American universities are belatedly recognizing how provincial they are and are trying to get more students abroad. Goucher College in Baltimore requires foreign study, and Princeton University has begun a program to help incoming students go abroad for a gap year before college.


The impact of time in the developing world is evident in the work of Abigail Falik, who was transformed by a summer in a Nicaraguan village when she was 16. As a Harvard Business School student two years ago, she won first place in a competition for the best plan for a "social enterprise." Now she is the chief executive of the resulting nonprofit, Global Citizen Year, which gives high school graduates a gap year working in a developing country.


Global Citizen Year's first class is in the field now, in Guatemala and Senegal, teaching English, computers, yoga, drama and other subjects. Ms. Falik is now accepting applications for the second class, and in another decade she hopes to have 10,000 students enrolled annually in Global Citizen Year.


Getting young people more engaged with global issues is also the aim of my annual "win-a-trip contest," in which I take a student with me on a reporting trip to the developing world. And without further delay: The winner this time is Mitch Smith, a 19-year-old from Overland Park, Kan., who is studying journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He's a terrific writer who has never been outside the United States, so stay tuned for his blogging and videos from Africa later this year. (One possibility is an overland journey from Gabon through the two Congos to Angola).

Congratulations as well to the runner-up, Saumya Dave, a medical student who took a leave from Drexel University so that she could study writing at Columbia University. The other finalists are Kate Eaneman of the University of California at Berkeley and Matt Gillespie, a recent Stanford graduate now at the Hunter College School of Education. And thanks to the Center for Global Development for whittling down the pool of 893 applicants for me.

And for those of you who didn't make it, ask President Obama to create a Teach for the World so that you can win your own trip.







AFTER years of false starts and broken promises, we have reached a defining moment in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center. By Friday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the site's developer, Larry Silverstein, must make a choice: Will they broker a compromise that allows them to move forward with rebuilding the historic heart of our city? Or will they allow their dispute to return to arbitration, condemning the World Trade Center site to years more of delays?


For the two of us, the choice is clear. In the days after our city was attacked, New Yorkers vowed to rebuild, to make Lower Manhattan whole again. And with new schools, parks and housing, it has been rejuvenated as a dynamic, bustling community. There has also been some important progress at ground zero. The memorial is on track to open in time for the 10th anniversary of the attacks, next year. The tower at 7 World Trade Center is a commercial and critical success. Construction of the Port Authority's 1 World Trade Center, Mr. Silverstein's 4 World Trade Center and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Fulton Street Transit Center is well under way.


But the latest stalemate between the Port Authority and the developer, which has been dragging on since last summer, now threatens to overshadow and overwhelm all of the progress. At the root of their dispute is financing for the office towers that are to be built along Church Street, on the east side of the complex. With capital markets still tight, Mr. Silverstein is seeking credit assistance from the Port Authority for two of his skyscrapers; but the Port Authority is willing to fully back only one of them.


Because the new World Trade Center has been designed so that all the buildings share key infrastructure, an indefinite delay for one building would delay the entire eastern side of the site. That would mean the loss of 10,000 construction jobs and leave us with an enormous empty lot where we should have a revitalized Trade Center.


That outcome is unacceptable. And it doesn't have to end up this way: Mr. Silverstein and the Port Authority have one day to hash out an agreement that fulfills their moral obligation to our city.


Several months ago, the two of us spelled out a compromise. It's a deal that's still within reach. Our proposal would require Mr. Silverstein to invest significantly more equity and take on more risk, and the Port Authority to provide more temporary credit assistance to move construction forward on both towers.


Mr. Silverstein has been receptive to this plan, but the Port Authority has not, couching its opposition as an effort to protect taxpayers and preserve its ability to pay for other transportation and development projects in the region. Its continued intransigence, however, comes with its own price.


Delays at the site have already cost the Port Authority tens of millions of public dollars. Not only would further delays cost much more, but rent proceeds from a thriving World Trade Center would provide money for the Port Authority's other transportation projects around the city, including Moynihan Station and a new passenger rail tunnel under the Hudson River.


From the beginning, the redevelopment process was always intended to be a public-private collaboration. We need a reinvigoration of that partnership now more than ever. The parties have one day to produce a realistic schedule, a budget and a financing plan for the World Trade Center. The future of Lower Manhattan — and a piece of our national pride — depend on it.


Michael R. Bloomberg is the mayor of New York. Sheldon Silver is the speaker of the New York State Assembly.








THE Obama administration has said that it may require automakers to install "smart pedals" on all new cars. This kind of system — already used in BMWs, Chryslers, Volkswagens and some of the newest Toyotas — deactivates the car's accelerator when the brake pedal is pressed so that the car can stop safely even if its throttle sticks open.


The idea is to prevent the kind of sudden acceleration that has recently led to the recall of millions of Toyotas. Federal safety regulators have received complaints asserting that this problem has caused accidents resulting in 52 deaths in Toyotas since 2000. Smart pedals might help prevent more such accidents if the cause of unintended acceleration turns out to be some vehicle defect.


But based on my experience in the 1980s helping investigate unintended acceleration in the Audi 5000, I suspect that smart pedals cannot solve the problem. The trouble, unbelievable as it may seem, is that sudden acceleration is very often caused by drivers who press the gas pedal when they intend to press the brake.


From the mid-1980s until 2000, thousands of incidents of sudden acceleration were reported in all makes and models of cars (and buses, tractors and golf carts). Then, as now, the incidents were relatively rare among car crashes generally, but they were nevertheless frequent and dangerous enough to upset automakers, drivers and the news media.


I looked into more than 150 cases of unintended acceleration in the 1980s, many of which became the subject of lawsuits against automakers. In those days, Audi, like Toyota today, received by far the most complaints. (I testified in court for Audi on many occasions. I have not worked for Toyota on unintended acceleration, though I did consult for the company seven years ago on another matter.)


In these cases, the problem typically happened when the driver first got into the car and started it. After turning on the ignition, the driver would intend to press lightly on the brake pedal while shifting from park to drive (or reverse), and suddenly the car would leap forward (or backward). Drivers said that continued pressing on the brake would not stop the car; it would keep going until it crashed. Drivers believed that something had gone wrong in the acceleration system, and that the brakes had failed.


But when engineers examined these vehicles post-crash, they found nothing that could account for what the drivers had reported. The trouble occurred in cars small and large, cheap and expensive, with and without cruise control or electronic engine controls, and with carburetors, fuel injection and even diesel engines. The only thing they had in common was an automatic transmission. An investigation by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration found no electro-mechanical defects to explain the problem. Nor did similar government studies in Canada and Japan or any number of private studies.


In the Toyota situation today, some have suggested that unintended acceleration has been caused by floor mats or sticking throttles, but there is considerable doubt about these explanations, and the search for the smoking gun continues. One thought is that computerized engine management systems or electronic controls may be to blame. And so it is interesting to note that unintended acceleration in the 1980s happened before the arrival of drive-by-wire controls and computerized engine-management systems.


Back then, many of us who worked in fields like ergonomics, human performance and psychology suspected that these unintended-acceleration events might have a human component. We noticed that the complaints were far more frequent among older drivers (in a General Motors study, 60-to-70-year-olds had about six times the rate of complaints as 20-to-30-year-olds), drivers who had little experience with the specific car involved (parking-lot attendants, car-wash workers, rental-car patrons) and people of relatively short stature.


Several researchers hypothesized how a driver, intending to apply the brake pedal to keep the car from creeping, would occasionally press the accelerator instead. Then, surprised that the car moved so much, he would try pressing harder. Of course, if his right foot was actually on the accelerator, the throttle would open and the car would move faster. This would then lead the driver to press the "brake" harder still, and to bring about even more acceleration. Eventually, the car would be at full throttle, until it crashed. The driver's foot would be all the way to the floor, giving him the impression that the brakes had failed.


In the cases that went to court, jurors naturally asked, why would a driver with decades of driving experience suddenly mistake the accelerator for the brake? And why would the episode last so long — often 6 to 10 seconds or more? Wouldn't that be ample time to shut off the ignition, shift to neutral or engage the parking brake?


First, in these situations, the driver does not really confuse the accelerator and the brake. Rather, the limbs do not do exactly what the brain tells them to. Noisy neuromuscular processes intervene to make the action slightly different from the one intended. The driver intends to press the brake, but once in a while these neuromuscular processes cause the foot to deviate from the intended trajectory — just as a basketball player who makes 90 percent of his free throws sometimes misses the hoop. This effect would be enhanced by the driver being slightly misaligned in the seat when he first gets in the car.


The answer to the second question is that, when a car accelerates unexpectedly, the driver often panics, and just presses the brake harder and harder. Drivers typically do not shut off the ignition, shift to neutral or apply the parking brake.


In 1989, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration concluded that the incidents of unintended acceleration by the Audi 5000 were mostly caused by this kind of pedal error — not some electro-mechanical defect in the vehicle. To fix the problem, Audi designed something called an automatic shift lock, which, when the car is being started, keeps the transmission in park unless and until the brake pedal is depressed. If the driver should press the accelerator instead of the brake, the vehicle remains safely in park.


(In a car with a manual transmission, a driver is naturally prevented from making a simple pedal error, because even if his right foot goes to the accelerator instead of the brake, the car still will not move unless he also intentionally lifts his left foot from the clutch.)


Audi ultimately gave the world's other automakers the rights to the patent on the automatic shift lock and by the mid-1990s virtually all new cars had adopted the feature or some variant of it. Incidents of sudden acceleration when people started their cars dropped sharply. The shift lock not only made people safer but also provided evidence for the hypothesis that most of the problems had been caused by driver error.


Yet the automatic shift lock did not entirely do away with sudden acceleration incidents — as the Toyota problems illustrate. The fix now championed by the Obama administration could work in situations in which there is an actual vehicle defect. It would tell the car that if it receives signals to both accelerate and brake, the accelerator should go dead so that the brake alone will work.


But this smart-pedal system can be of no use if the driver is simply pressing the accelerator and not touching the brake. The unintended acceleration — and the crash — would still occur.

What the smart pedal may do, however, is finally give us a sense of whether sudden acceleration tends to stem from operator error. If the reports of acceleration continue (and the smart pedals work properly), then there will be nothing and no one left to blame but the driver.


Richard A. Schmidt is a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.



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The ISI chief Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha has been given a year's extension as a three-star general. He is expected to continue at his present post. The move coincides with similar extensions given to other military men. The purpose seems to be to ensure that the military effort against militancy which is currently underway continues without any disruption. This is sensible, given that in the past there has been doubt over the degree of military commitment to the battle against the Taliban. It is only over the past two years that we appear to have succeeded in putting together a team determined to take on the militants and do everything possible to defeat them. There is now, perhaps for the first time, conviction in the country that the military does truly mean business. This is vital to injecting hope in a nation where there has been far too much despondency. For the first time we can see before us the possibility of an all-out defeat for the militants. We must hope the decision will ensure that there is no going back in the effort against militancy. Persisting with the kind of effort we see now is the only way to achieve this. It is true that in the longer run this needs to be combined with much more, but there is no getting away from the fact that defeat on the ground in physical terms is absolutely vital to getting anywhere at all.

There is another dimension to this. Unlike other ISI chiefs in the past, who had quite evidently seen themselves as above civilian authority, Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha has been willing to brief parliament on efforts against militancy; indeed he has even given an interview or two talking about the role of the agency. This is significant in a country where the military agencies in particular have remained shrouded in shadows zealously guarding all that is happening from the eyes of ordinary people. A change in this is vital. We need greater trust between the men in khaki uniform and the people they serve. In the past this has been sadly missing. The relative candour and tact adopted by men such as the ISI chief can help build this. The extension granted in service is therefore a wise step. It is important that the team we have assembled to fight militancy be kept intact till the final target is achieved.













The president, after creating a degree of consternation at the APNS award ceremony in Islamabad by saying that the 17th Amendment would be done away with by the end of next month, quickly clarified himself by saying he had actually meant the end of March. We must hope this indeed is nothing more than a slip of the tongue. All of us have been waiting far too long for the Constitution to be restored to a document that more closely resembles the 1973 model. The reduction in the powers of the president that would come with a scrapping of the 17th Amendment could do a great deal to restore stability and the balance of power within our country. Despite the many claims on this count made by the prime minister, few are as yet convinced that parliament is truly a sovereign body. Most believe the actual process of decision-making takes place at the presidency. This perception – whether fact or fiction – does a great deal of damage to the working of our democracy. Things could change after the 17th Amendment is scrapped.

There is also the question of the credibility of the government. We have been hearing promises for too long that the 17th Amendment will go. There has been a clear reluctance on the part of the president to do this. We must hope that he has now seen that there is no good in persisting with this attitude. Now that he has given his word in public, Mr Zardari must indeed ensure the 17th Amendment goes. Both he and the prime minister appear now to be saying that the date for this will be around the end of March. The date of March 23 is also being mentioned. We hope that this does indeed happen over the coming weeks.






The news from Balochistan of around a dozen children suffering from a rare – and almost invariably fatal – skin disease that results in damage being caused by ultraviolet light highlights problems caused by ignorance and lack of awareness across our country. The illness is reported to be genetic in nature and largely a consequence of marriages between close relatives over a number of generations. Other serious sicknesses, including thalassaemia, are frequently the result of similar factors. So too is congenital deafness and deformities of the kind seen recently at Rehri Goth in Karachi. Though legislation to test people before they are married has been proposed, there is as yet no implementation. What we need is far more awareness. People need to know that marrying first cousins brings with it certain risks in many cases. Such marriages of course continue to be favoured given that ties between young people continue in most cases to be 'arranged' by elders and the presence of traditions that bar marriage outside clan or caste.

The story from Balochistan has been taken up by the media. But television channels can potentially play a far greater role in educating people about such issues. By doing so a great deal of suffering and misery could be reduced. A key to this though lies of course in educating people and widening the still limited net of literacy. People able to read are also able to access a far broader range of information. Indeed curricula at schools should be used to inform children – at the appropriate level – on health matters. Programmes aimed at this have had great success in other countries. We need to emulate their example and ensure we do all we possibly can to save people from harm caused by inherited factors which give children sickness as a part of their genes.