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Friday, March 12, 2010

EDITORIAL 12.03.10

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month march 12, edition 000453, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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

































  2. FACE IT


  1. HOLY COW!










  3. BAN MANJA..!























Afghanistan represents perhaps India's most compelling foreign policy and security challenge. Given this bald reality, it is astonishing that the Government is speaking in divergent voices on India's continued commitment to Afghanistan. In recent days, a Ministry of Home Affairs briefing indicated India would encourage its economic workers in Afghanistan to return, to bunch together if they wanted the Government to help, or else look after their own security. There was talk of issuing a terrorism-specific travel advisory. Within hours, the Ministry of External Affairs did a turnaround and refuted the perception that India was "scaling back" its presence in Afghanistan. The Taliban and the Inter-Services Intelligence would not scare New Delhi from its obligations towards Kabul. As for the advisory, MEA sources insisted it was a routine warning, issued to about every foreigner who landed in Afghanistan. It is possible that an excitable MHA official jumped the gun, said more than he should have or was strictly necessary, and made the mistake of treating the war against jihad in Afghanistan as a variation of the battle the Ministry has been promising to wage against the Maoists for close to a year now but without any hard action. Yet, it is more likely that the discordant voices and the contradiction between North Block and South Block are a reflection of the utterly confused nature of the response of the UPA Government and its political leadership to the developing crisis in Afghanistan. India can pretend that building roads, teaching local Government bureaucrats English, running tutorials for Afghan election officials and a similar building of 'soft infrastructure' counts for a lot. The fact is, it is just not enough if India has to be a true power player in Afghanistan, irrespective of whether the Americans go home in 2011 or decide to stay put. India has to show muscle in Afghanistan. It needs to put its troops there, not just in defensive, security-perimeter positions but in an operational role to bolster the capacities of President Hamid Karzai, to give the Afghan Army sabre teeth and to track down and annihilate the Taliban desperadoes and their Pakistani godfathers. In the absence of this, nobody will take it seriously — not Kabul, not Islamabad, not Washington, DC. The alternative strategy is to pour in billions of dollars and take control of Afghanistan's mineral resources. This is what the Chinese are doing. They have just put in $ 3 billion towards a copper mining project in Afghanistan. That is serious money and will end up paying for Afghanistan's ballooning war and reconstruction bill.

It is not as if India has done nothing for Afghanistan. Its investments have not been extravagant but they have been targeted and efficient. Yet, at this juncture, the world is measuring an individual stakeholder's Afghan effort in terms of big numbers and/or a matching troop presence. India is suffering on this score. To make matters worse, the Government appears nervous. It is indicating the moment the Americans go home, India too will pack its bags. What message is this sending to India's friends in the Karzai establishment? What message is it giving the Pakistanis or, indeed, to the rest of the world? Willy-nilly, the UPA Government is letting the impression gain ground that India is a nation of wimps. It wants others to do the fighting for it and runs away at the first hint of trouble. A pusillanimous Prime Minister only makes the situation worse.






The decision of the Australian authorities to close down some private collages in that country following an independent inquiry that has found many of these institutions to be nothing more than 'permanent residency factories' is a step in the right direction. The $ 16 billion overseas education industry in Australia has seen a mushrooming of institutes offering dubious courses in cooking, hair-styling, fashion designing, etc, whose degrees and diplomas are not worth the paper they are printed on. Yet they do roaring business, thanks to the influx of students from across the developing world who believe that any foreign degree will open up for them never-before-imagined opportunities. There are many students from India, too, who regularly fall for the allure of a foreign degree and whose families are willing to pay good money for it. It is this tendency on the part of our youth — especially those from semi-urban and rural areas where parents want to give their children the kind of education they never had — that has resulted in a significant number of Indian students going to Australia for higher studies each year. Indeed, some of these students are uninformed about the quality and standards of these dubious private Australian colleges they enroll themselves in. But it also cannot be denied that quite a few of them apply to these so-called colleges with the intention of acquiring permanent residency in Australia or a third country by trying to exploit loopholes in immigration laws. The Government of India would do well to put an end to this racketeering. If illegal immigration is something that we take exception to, it is also our responsibility to ensure that our citizens do not become a headache for other countries. In this regard, as a follow-up to the Australian measure, the Government must monitor private colleges in Australia and advise Indian students accordingly of their credibility as well. If they are found to be bogus, measures should be initiated to prevent students from joining them.

That said, it must be made clear this is a completely separate issue from that of racism and anti-Indian violence in Australia. Tackling racial and hate crime is the Australian Government's responsibility. Far greater security needs to be ensured for foreigners working and studying in Australia than is being done today. At no point should the Australian Government think that by shutting down a few collages it can absolve itself of this responsibility. Hate crime against Indians in Australia has exposed a flaw in Australian society (although the vast majority of Australians find such violence abhorrent) that needs to be dealt with at the earliest. This can be achieved by adopting a zero-tolerance policy. The Australian Government has committed itself to this. It must follows through on its word.



            THE PIONEER




This royal throne of kings, this sce- pter'd isle,

This Earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden demi-paradise...

This precious stone set in the silver sea..."

Britain's next Prime Minister is unlikely to indulge in such Shakespearean flights about his native land; winning the next general election on the ground — which political insiders assure us will be held in early May — will be nearer to his heart, presiding over an economy whose penury exceeds anything within historical memory will surely test to the limit his political will and intellectual resource. The next occupant of 10 Downing Street will excite little envy since to restore the country's finances to even satirical likeness to rude health will require a miracle of biblical proportions. The Good Book tells us that water once became wine and that Lazarus rose from the dead, but that was over two millennia ago in the lifetime of one known to his flock as the Messiah. Only with the promised second coming can such such things again come to pass. Meanwhile, the lean years grip the nation, even as the fat kine within grow fatter from their ill-gotten gains.

The governing Labour Party looked dead and buried not so long ago. The burden of Iraq and Afghanistan and the banking collapse, coming on top of the ruined heap of Mr Tony Blair's reputation, had clearly affected the popular perception of Mr Gordon Brown's Government and all its works. The backlash was a double digit Conservative lead in the opinion polls. It appeared the election was over bar the shouting. But "a week is a long time in politics", warned Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister in the 1960s. Much against the odds Mr Brown, it would appear, is up and running as the Tory flood-tide ebbs. "Labour and Tories neck-and-neck in marginals" screamed a Times headline a touch hysterically last week. Mr Rupert Murdoch's broadsheet has been firing on all cylinders for Conservative leader David Cameron.

Disillusionment with Mr Brown and New Labour may run deep, but the prospect of a Conservative alternative has put the frighteners under sections of the electorate, whose recall of the 1980s include an arrogant and uncaring regime that thought little of throwing thousands of workers on the scrap-heap of unemployment. Mrs Margaret Thatcher ann- ounced triumphantly that there was "no such thing as society". There are men and women in the north of England particularly, once the hub of British manufacturing, who haven't worked for almost 20 years. The toll on community life has been devastating. Traditional bonds have withered on the vine. Crime and punishment is the contemporary narrative repeated ad nauseam on television, radio and the printed page. Ian Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, commissioned by his party's present leadership to report on the state of the nation, warned somberly of a rapidly expanding underclass, semi-literate, unskilled and unemployable, living off the fat of the land in welfare benefits, with drugs, sex and weekend soccer as lubricants.

A television documentary on Mr David Cameron produced a portrait of a well-heeled figure reared in Eton and Oxford, a silken talker with a good sales pitch. But the remedies he proposes for the nation's ills are solutions rancid from over-use: An immediate cut in public subsidies to reduce public debt at a time of high unemployment, declining production and increasing plant closures will surely take the current recession into a nightmare depression. Mr Cameron speaks ringingly of returning freedom and responsibility to all Britons, which his former Oxford tutor Vernon Bogdanor dismissed as 19th century twaddle. Those with money to spend have all the freedom they want; freedom for those with less entails poor housing, unbalanced diets and indifferent health care. State protection is what they seek.

Truth is that the Conservative core has always been the party of empire, of the ladies and gentlemen of the shires. The Pitts, Peels, Wellingtons, Disraelis, Salisburys and Churchills embodied an ascendancy long gone. The Tory multicultural makeover is low comedy. US Secretary of State in the post-War Trunan Admistration, Dean Acheson, put the dilemma cruelly: "Britain has lost an empire and not found a role." Britannia's ritual prostration before Uncle Sam, habitual Russian bear-baiting, scornful dismissals of the Continentals and pliant accommodation of Pakistani Islamists point to a present that does not work and a future shorn of hope.

Strutting around with a nuclear-armed, US-supplied Trident submarine force at £ 15 billion apiece as a deterrent against one knows not whom is a draining pantomime for a fragile treasury. Delusions of grandeur are a continuing hazard. Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, invented a parallel universe of secret British greatness and glamour, and fabricated an icon who has outlived his maker — Bond, James Bond — "martini-shaken not stirred" — babe-puller extraordinary, wielder of hubristic gadgetry, his evolution encapsulates the trajectory of the Conservative movement, British upper class attitudes toward sex, the monarchy and America. It was an escapist conflation of fantasy and ego in an intellectual void, epitaph on a ghostly past.

The death of Michael Foot, 96, Labour politician, parliamentarian, author, book reviewer, and robust pamphleteer — The Guilty Men, published in 1940, was a masterly assault on Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler — rung down the curtain on an exemplary life. Long regarded as the sea-green incorruptible of British politics, Foot was formidably learned, his favourite authors extending from Jonathan Swift and Edmund Burke to Tom Paine and William Hazlitt and beyond. He was an outstanding orator on the hustings and a debater of distinction in Parliament, who revelled in free speech and the freedom to think independently. Foot was totally without malice towards his political opponents. He was courteous to a fault, but was not by temperament suited to power and the shoddy compromises power frequently entails. An exemplar of lost causes such as unilateral nuclear disarmament, he was less interested in the mechanics of socialism and more in its ethical and moral dimensions.

Foot's devotion to Indian independence and Indian causes was firm and resolute. He was never given to dissembling on India as was and remains the case with practitioners of the black art in his party and outside. He will be sorely missed.







This is refers to your editorial, "Communal politics" (March 11). While agreeing with the main theme of the editorial, I think that reservation is the antithesis of democracy. To me consent unites while reservation divides the society. Majority of the people in this country are Hindu. Every Hindu scripture accords special status to women as mother, sister or daughter. Quite a large section of the country worships female goddesses like Durga and Kali. According to the Ramayan, even Ram is said to have offered prayers to Durga before battling the demon king Ravan. It is a custom in many pujas to wash girls' feet and offer them reverence. In spite of this tradition of venerating feminine power and strength, we have negligible women representation in Parliament. And it is this that has made cause for women's reservation.

I wonder what prevents the proponents of the Women's Reservation Bill from giving tickets to women candidates during elections. So far political parties have been reluctant to field women candidates because most of them feel that they do not have the same kind of political weight as their male counterparts. Even if this were true, how will reserved constituencies for women solve the problem? Besides, it is a well-known fact that elections today are fought on the basis of money and muscle power. Reserved seats for women candidates will only ensure that the same people retain their constituencies by nominating their women folk as proxies. Thus, the very aim of the Bill, that is to empower women politically and socially, will be defeated.

Also, the proposal for having a quota within the quota for women is most undesirable. This will divide the society further along caste and religious lines. Given the pitfalls involved, it is far better to empower women through education and employment. On the political front, it makes more sense to pass a legislation that will require political parties to give a certain proportion of their tickets to women candidates. This will lead to election through consent and free choice. In a democracy, voting as per one's conscience is sacrosanct and the freedom to choose must be safeguarded jealously.









Had CPI veteran Geeta Mukherjee been alive today, she would have danced around in Parliament after the Rajya Sabha passed the historic Bill providing 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and State Assemblies.

Old-timers recall how Mukherjee was literally in tears when she appealed to the Lok Sabha in 1988 to pass the Bill. She was the standing committee chairman which examined the Bill then.

Though the Bill had been passed in the Rajya Sabha, it is yet to cross hurdles in the Lok Sabha as MPs belonging to different political parties are not very enthusiastic about it with some demanding quota within quota. It was easier in the House of Elders because they have no stakes.

Second, the Bill also has to be passed by at least 14 State Assemblies and then sent for the President's assent after which it will reach the Election Commission. The process is too long. There is also not much clarity in the Bill. Moreover, what about the smaller States and how will the reservation work where there are only one or two Lok Sabha seats? How would they ensure the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes reservation? There is also no clarity on what basis the seats will be reserved.

What is the fallout of the Bill? First of all, political equations have changed now in both the Houses. The RJD, the BSP, the SP and even the Trinamool Congress have not supported the Bill, which means the UPA allies are not in tact. The RJD and the SP have withdrawn their support to the UPA. This also means that for passing of every Bill, the Government has to mobilise the numbers which is a tricky task. The Government will have to depend on free-floating individuals like Mr Jaswant Singh, Ms Jayaprada, Mr Digvijay Singh and others.

The other danger is that the RJD and the SP are talking about bringing a no-confidence motion against the Government even before the Finance Bill is passed. In such an event, what would be the position of the Left parties and the BJP? No doubt, they have given full support for the Women's Reservation Bill but will it be extended to other Bills? As Opposition, will they be in a position to support the Government at the time of no-confidence motion?

Second, the UPA has to deal with not only the Opposition but also with its own allies on every issue. Despite being a Union Minister and party to decisions, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has thrown tantrums often.

Third, the bargaining power of the smaller parties and individuals will increase in view of the fact that the Government may woo them for every Bill.

Fourth, the passage of Women's Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha will be difficult as there are vocal leaders like RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. Although the House of Elders has passed the bill, actually it is the Lok Sabha members who will be affected by it. With almost every party except the Left having divided opinion on the Bill, it will be a Herculean task for the Government.

Moreover, the Government may not bring the Bill to the Lok Sabha before the Finance Bill is passed as the Government's majority in the House after the departure of the SP and the RJD has become thin.

Fifth, and more importantly, the Muslims are not happy with the reservation as they think that the reservation may only bring the 'begums' to the legislatures and not the women belonging to poor section of the society. This may or may not be true but Muslim MPs had even met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and conveyed their fears on Tuesday. The Muslim angle is likely to open the floodgates for the Congress. The party managers have to address the danger of losing their support.

Sixth, the JD(U) seems to have been affected as its five members have voted for the Bill while the party president Sharad Yadav is opposed to it. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who supports the Bill, may break away from the JD(U) and it is rumoured that he will launch his own party. This is a dangerous signal for the BJP, an ally of the JD(U) in Bihar.

As for the Bill itself, it is not clear in what shape it will ultimately emerge because the Lok Sabha can bring amendments or can even throw it out. The Yadav trio is said to be talking about bringing down the percentage of reservation from 33 per cent to 20 per cent. Second, there are reservations about the rotation of constituencies.

However, by and large, the Bill with all its lacunae may be the beginning of a new hope for women who have been oppressed and denied their rightful share in decision-making.

Now, it is for the political parties to bring meritorious women to legislatures and Parliament. There are 12 lakhs women heading panchayats in the country. At least a few of them should find their way to legislatures. Only then the churning will be complete.







After 25 years of trying vainly to clean up the Ganga, declared a 'national' river by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — the first to be so designated —, policy-makers are now determined to chart a fresh course in this direction. The setting up of the National Ganga River Basin Authority, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, on February 20 last year reflected this resolve. Described as an empowered planning, financing, monitoring and coordinating authority for the river, it was constituted under Section 3(3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The high-powered body includes the Chief Ministers of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal, the States through which the Ganga flows during its 2,510 km-long journey from its source in the Gangotri Glacier in Uttarakhand to its termination in the Bay of Bengal. Other members are the Ministers of Environment and Forests, Finance, Urban Development, Water Resources, Power, and Science and Technology; Planning Commission Deputy Chairman; and experts from the areas of environmental engineering, hydrology, river conservation and social mobilisation.

The authority thus encompasses Ministries, whose role is vital to conservation issues. It was set up in the wake of sustained criticism of the abysmal failure of the Ganga Action Plan, which was initiated in 1985 as a centrally funded project at the behest of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Ennui set in after the initial excitement over this laudable conservation exercise. Prime Ministers and Governments changed in the next two decades and more, and barring NGOs, concerned with ecology and environment, few in authority seemed to know or care about the condition of the river, which had become increasingly polluted with the passing of years. According to official data, Rs 816.47 crore was spent on conserving the river under the two phases of the Ganga Action Plan. Anti-pollution measures included enhancing sewage treatment capacity to 1,007 million litres daily; and intercepting and diverting sewage wherever possible.

However, the setting up of the authority amounts to admission of the ineffectiveness of the plan, given the magnitude of the problem. During the two decades of economic liberalisation, India's urban growth, industrial expansion and burgeoning population, coupled with lack of competence in waste management, have resulted in greater pollution of water bodies and the environment. It is openly conceded that the discharge of untreated industrial effluents, sewage and domestic waste into the Ganga, by settlements and factories along its course, have severely polluted it despite official claims of trying to counter the damage. Dumping dead animals and half-burnt corpses into the river has contributed to worsening of water quality. Kanpur, Allahabad and Varanasi are said by experts to be the worst offenders with regard to polluting the Ganga.

To cite reports, 32 drains discharge Varanasi's untreated filth into the river; Kanpur's 22 drains do the same; and Allahabad, famed for overlooking the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and subterranean Saraswati, has 40 discharge points. The fact that Varanasi and Allahabad also happen to be great pilgrimages, with lakhs of people taking penitential dips in the Ganga, renders the task of cleaning up the river more urgent. For, scientific studies have established that pollution at some places has reached septic levels. That apart, high chemical residues and toxins have been detected in soil and, groundwater. These are blamed for the rising incidence of cancer and other crippling maladies. Medical investigations, such as that conducted by the International Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association, confirm the high rate of gall bladder cancer among people, especially females, living along the Ganga. They blame this on the badly polluted water and the residues of heavy metals — lead, cadmium, chromium, etc — in the soil. Arsenic has also been detected, all adding up to a lethal mix.

However, with the World Bank having assured a $ one-billion loan over five to seven years, for the new initiative, there is hope that the cleaning drive will be better monitored by independent and international experts. This will entail greater accountability in the use of funds on the part of the State Governments, than the earlier project. Uttar Pradesh, as the State with the most polluting cities, should be the focus of special scrutiny. A nine-member team will prepare a project report on the basis of field studies in the States, through which the Ganga flows. The stretch of the river along Kanpur, Varanasi and Allahabad, being most polluted, these cities will be tackled on a priority basis under the plan, formulated by the authority, and with Central vigilance being exercised.







The Dalai Lama lashed out at China, accusing it of trying to "annihilate Buddhism" in Tibet and rebuffing all his efforts to reach a compromise over the disputed Himalayan region.

China shot back, accusing the Tibetan spiritual leader of using deceptions and lies to distort its policy in the region. The passionate back-and-forth highlighted the distrust, anger and frustration that separate the two sides and leave little hope for success in recently resumed talks.

Beijing has demonised the Dalai Lama and accused him of wanting independence for Tibet, which China says is part of its territory. The Dalai Lama says he only wants some form of autonomy for Tibet within China that would allow Tibetan culture, language and religion to thrive.

The Dalai Lama spoke on Wednesday in an address marking the anniversaries of two failed uprisings against China, one 51 years ago that sent him into exile in India and the other two years ago that was quashed by a Government crackdown that is still continuing. He accused Chinese authorities of conducting a campaign of "patriotic re-education" in monasteries in Tibet. "They are putting the monks and nuns in prison-like conditions, depriving them the opportunity to study and practice in peace," he said, accusing Chinese of working to "deliberately annihilate Buddhism."

The Dalai Lama's remarks reflect frequent complaints by Tibetan monks that required political study sessions and visitor demands are depriving them of time for religious study. The numbers of monks attaining higher Buddhist degrees are believed to have fallen drastically since the crushing of the 1959 rebellion that resulted in direct rule from Beijing and the imposition of heavy Government control over monasteries.

The Tibetan leader said that "whether the Chinese Government acknowledges it or not, there is a serious problem in Tibet," but that attempts to talk to China about granting limited autonomy to the region had gone nowhere.

"Judging by the attitude of the present Chinese leadership, there is little hope that a result will be achieved soon. Nevertheless, our stand to continue with the dialogue remains unchanged," he told thousands of Tibetan exiles gathered at a temple in Dharamshala, where the Dalai Lama leads a Government-in-exile.

While the Dalai Lama's language was strong and indicated the depth of his concern for the Tibetan clergy, his statement did not appear to indicate a change in strategy with regard to his relations with China, said Mr Kate Saunders, communications director for the International Campaign for Tibet.

China's Foreign Ministry did not have immediate comment, but the official Xinhua News Agency, a Government mouthpiece, issued a harsh commentary accusing the Dalai Lama of trafficking in "distorted facts" and "obstinate lies".

It mocked his claims about the oppression of Tibetan Buddhism as ignorant, telling him to "do some basic research and find out some truth about Tibet before pointing his finger."

The police presence in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa has been heavy ever since the uprising and crackdown two years ago, but it was stepped up even more in recent days with rifle-toting police guarding intersections and demanding to see ID cards at checkpoints, hotel workers said.

"Because of the March 14 riot anniversary, police are patrolling in the streets every day, and they are conducting more checks," said Luo Wen, a receptionist at the Lhasa River Hotel. Despite the tensions, Beijing reopened talks with the Dalai Lama's envoys in January for the first time in 15 months. But China was incensed when he met with US President Barack Obama in the US last month.

In Nepal, about 1,000 Tibetan exiles chanted anti-China slogans and waved Tibetan flags at a temple on the outskirts of Kathmandu, as riot police deployed to keep protesters from marching in the streets.

"Stop killings in Tibet. We want a free Tibet," the demonstrators chanted. Police detained seven people at the temple for defying a ban on anti-China protests.

Separately, about 15 protesters who tried to break through heavy police lines and storm the Chinese Embassy visa office were stopped and detained by the police.

Waving Tibetan flags, the protesters ran toward the main entrance of the office located in the heart of Katmandu. They were quickly blocked by police and taken away in police vans to detention centres.

China, which sent Communist troops into Tibet in 1950, claims the region has been Chinese territory for centuries. Many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that time.

-- Associated Press reporters Binaj Gurubacharya in Katmandu, Nepal, and Anita Chang in Beijing contributed to this report.







The chant of globalisation has been incessantly heard for the past few decades. Globalisation, for many, conveys a profound sense of unity but at immense cost. The world now has a common language — international finance.

The global financial system that we have in place postulates that from Kilimanjaro to Andes there ought to be uniformity in the way the world does business. There is an unthinking tendency to go with the latest fads that seem to grab hold of the movers and shakers of the world of business without giving any second thought to the fact that what is good for the Joneses may not necessarily be the best for the Kapoors.

What started off as the housing bubble going burst in 2008 soon led to a ripple effect that shook the large parts of the world of international finance. The effects were extreme and far-reaching. Some countries just felt a minor slowdown while others like Iceland which had built its entire economy over the past few years on a banking sector that had assets 12 times that of its entire economy were badly hit and needed to be rescued by international financial institutions.

What is it that we did or failed to do for the global financial system to take such a beating? What did we learn from the entire episode? What is the way forward? The questions are just beginning to get formulated.

Taking a close look at the concept of governance, both sovereign and corporate, especially in light of its relevance in the outcome of the slowdown, is essential.

Additionally, there are the inherent concerns of financial globalisation. What is needed is in-depth scholastic analysis of the business trends in the aftermath. One needs to take a look at the financial openness of global economies and how the world is moving towards financial globalisation needs to be handled. We are now in the third era of financial globalisation and it is here that various financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF gain prominence in governing the world economy. The new financial architecture as attempted in several studies and reports need to be understood in all its ramifications. The Indian perspective on the global financial system needs to be kept in mind.

Of this patterns of investment the world over are an integral part. Foreign direct investments are the clearly in the need to be handled in a more equity prone regulatory mechanism. The instruments, that work need to be segregated from those that have proved to be corrosive. The regional dimension would need to integrated into the larger picture. Some parts of the world like the Gulf region or the natural resources-rich parts of African continent will have greater need for focus. In this context sovereign wealth funds need to be understood in a far more sensitive manner.

Financial instruments and capital markets, per se, need a sensitive scrutiny. There is a need for an exhaustive examination of the nature and structure of capital markets. Derivatives, gold and financial market players such as mutual funds, merchant banks and foreign institutional investors need a new dispensation.

A look at the global perspective on investment patterns would inevitably entail a closer look at newer modes of manufacturing such as what is being termed 'frugal manufacturing'. A breakdown of the world economy on the basis of geographies such as North America, Europe and Central Asia, South Asia, South-East Asia, West Asia and North Africa and Latin America may create better frames of reference rather than thinking in terms of nation states.

Besides looking at the efficacy of new categories one needs to have a better understanding of both quantitative and qualitative tools of research. This would lead to, among other things, a more insightful feel of the world of investment. In light of the slowdown following 2008, there has been a call for greater corporate governance, a call for accountability, checks and regulations in places where there was little, were none. We seem to have learnt quite a few lessons the hard way from the past. But it is yet to be seen how well have we understood them and how willing is the global financial system to change in accordance with the times. What is the future of investment? Is the corporate bond market the panacea to current problems? Many questions remain, requiring a rethink on policies and management styles.







INDIA managed to come up with a workable plan to combat the impact of the global financial crisis quicker than most nations, which has been the principal reason why the Indian economy returned to the high growth path quicker than any other major world economy barring China. But India appears to have stolen a march over its Asian arch- rival in an even more important area — ensuring that this growth comes with jobs.


Several professional estimates have put the number of jobs to be added in India this financial year at more than a million.


India is also the best place for a job seeker, with a recent global survey putting India in the lead when it comes to the hiring outlook for employers. More employers in India intend to add jobs over the coming quarter than anywhere else in the world.


What is more heartening is that this optimism is spread across all sectors, ranging from infrastructure and manufacturing to information technology and services.


It is now amply clear that not only has the ghost of recession been buried, but that the economic revival is secular and widespread. This augurs well for the future. Jobs are not just the fruits of growth. In a country like India, where more than two million graduates are added to the workforce every year, job creation is essential to sustain the momentum of growth. India's much talked about ' demographic dividend' — of a large, educated and young population, will become an advantage only if this potential is unleashed by deploying these energetic and youthful hands in productive work.


For its part, the government must work closely with industry and academia to ensure that the educational system produces appropriately skilled talent to meet the growing needs of the economy.







PERHAPS it is only logical for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to be paying money to ghost pensioners or to those who are two- timing the authorities by also drawing the same benefit from the Delhi government. After all, if there can be nearly 23,000 ghost employees in the civic agency — as the scam that broke last year revealed — it is only to be expected that there will also be fake pensioners. In the ghost employee scam, we were told that the civic agency was being robbed of Rs 204 crore every year. Now, the MCD has estimated that Rs 17 crore is being siphoned off annually by about 14,000 fake pensioners.


The MCD may have broken both scams itself but they reveal that its working is mired in corruption. Also, it is obvious that the scams couldn't have flourished without the active connivance of people on the rolls of the civic agency.


But as of now there is no indication of any accountability being fixed. After admitting last year that thousands of ghost employees had been drawing wages, the MCD authorities changed tack later, claiming that the scam was not of the size suspected earlier.


The public would like to have the last word on this matter. As has almost become a norm, it is only after the Delhi High Court ordered it to file an inquiry report by April end, that this seems a distinct possibility.

The MCD could also append its inquiry into the pension scam to that report.







THE Pakistan Cricket Board has behaved in the most unprofessional manner by deciding to bar former captains Younis Khan and Muhammad Yousuf from playing for the country following the national team's dismal performance against Australia.


At a time when sport in Pakistan has virtually come to a standstill, banning these two top players and handing Shoaib Malik and Rana Naved- ul- Hassan one- year bans means the PCB has decimated its own team just weeks before the T20 World Cup.


Wins and losses are part and parcel of sport, but the Pakistani authorities tend to read in sporting defeats an affront to their national pride. This is not just unfair on the players, it is also against the spirit in which sport must be played.


What compounds matters is that the Pakistan hockey team will now be pulled up by its Parliament after losing to India in the ongoing World Cup. Surely, this is a reflection of how our neighbour handles its affairs.







By implementing the Ranganath Misra Report on backward Muslims Congress can trump the Yadavs


JUST when UPA- II had begun to look adrift with no political spark, came the push for the Women's Reservation Bill. If the UPA in its first avatar is remembered for bringing in the Right to Information ( RTI) Act, this government could be remembered for ensuring women's reservation in legislative bodies.


While the RTI made governance accountable, the women's quota Bill has the potential to transform the fortunes of the Congress and the other national parties. It can also change this nation's politics altogether — for, women's reservation in legislatures can erode the caste- identity based politics of the Mandal parties which has fractured our polity.


It goes without saying that women's election to the legislative bodies will bring social issues other than caste to the legislatures. Women's reservation would also mean an absolute reduction in the number of legislative seats open to the caste patriarchs.


This will have the effect of shrinking the caste- prism through which they have forced all policies to pass.


None of the national parties — the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Left — are the primary beneficiaries of caste politics.


Although they have some caste leaders and some associated caste vote, they cannot hope to get any more of that vote share. But all of them are likely to get a fair percentage of the women's vote. The Congress stands to gain the most — with Rahul Gandhi's appeal to the youth cutting across class and caste, the women's quota could be an election- winning plank.


The Mandalite parties, on the other hand, do not have the critical mass of women leaders which the Congress and the other national parties do. All the Yadavs together, for example, could not get a single woman from their ranks to argue their case against women's reservation.




The record of the Mandal leaders fielding Muslim women or any women at all is pathetic. The only women they trust are from their own families, or an occasional freelance actress from Bollywood.


They recognise the inherent structural disadvantages of the patriarchal structure of their community and their political organisations when it comes to projecting women leaders.


They also recognise that their castebased politics in north India has been shrinking.


Nitish Kumar is an honourable exception among the Mandalite politicians who supports women's quota in legislatures. He was the first chief minister to introduce 33 per cent reservation for women in panchayati raj institutions and in urban local bodies, in 2008. He would have found it very difficult to oppose women's reservation now, having steered it in Bihar in 2008.


Although the panchayat and urban local body elections were not contested on party lines, the women so elected are loyal to him. He would like to keep that political support.


The so- called division in the JD( U) will come to a naught because in effect the party is nothing without Nitish Kumar. In fact, we may soon see Sharad Yadav even losing the post of convenor of the National Democratic Alliance.


Lalu and Mulayam Singh Yadav are the two Mandalite leaders who feel the most threatened. Alone as OBC leaders their political fortunes are self- limiting.


They used to have Muslims as their allies till Mulayam drove them away in the last Lok Sabha elections by his alliance with Kalyan Singh. Lalu lost the Muslim vote in Bihar to Nitish Kumar and expects the Congress to further erode it in the next Assembly elections. Therefore, both have started


to project themselves as potential saviours of the minority community through vociferous criticism of the Women's Bill in the Rajya Sabha.


Some think that the Congress has given these caste leaders a new lease of life because their strong arm tactics in Parliament in the name of the Muslim community were televised. However, this need not be the case.


There can be no doubt that the Congress needs to address Muslim apprehensions about their further marginalisation in the legislatures because of the women's Bill. But it ought not to be done through creating sub- quotas within the 33 per cent reservation for women when the Bill comes to the Lok Sabha. Mandalite leaders would then also push for sub- quotas for the Other Backward Castes ( OBCs) along with the Muslims. They would be projected as champions of the Muslim minority — although their track record of fielding Muslim candidates for legislative elections is pretty poor. One of these leaders, in fact, could think of no Muslim other than his personal " kebabchi" ( cook) to field in an election.




Their bluff must be called not only by the Muslim community but also by the Congress party which is steering the Bill. The Congress must say a firm ' no' to any amendment in the Lok Sabha introducing sub- quotas within the Women's Bill. There are other ways of addressing the social, economic and political aspirations of the Muslims and deflating the Mandal leaders.


The government could, for example, delay bringing the women's Bill to the Lok Sabha till it has first implemented the recommendations of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, better known as the Ranganath Misra Commission.


The Ranganath Misra Commission has recommended 10 per cent reservation for Muslims and 5 per cent for other minorities in government jobs.


More importantly, it favours Scheduled Caste status for Dalits in all religions, including among the Muslims.


The recommendation of the Commission is to delink Scheduled Caste status from religion.


This can be done by a Presidential ordinance abrogating the 1950 Scheduled Caste Order which excludes Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis from the Scheduled Caste net. The Order originally restricted the SC status to Hindus but later opened it to Buddhists and Sikhs. There is no reason why it should not be opened to Dalits of other religions as well. This would assuage the Muslim community's fears and open up the legislative constituencies reserved for the SCs to the most backward in the Muslim community.




The Congress party also has other options. If it wants to take on the Mandalites even more aggressively it can take up another recommendation of the Ranganath Misra Commission in case there is opposition to including Muslims in the SC category. The Commission, expecting such an eventuality, has also suggested that since the minorities constitute 8.4 per cent of the total OBC population, an 8.4 per cent sub- quota should be earmarked for the minorities in the 27 per cent OBC quota. The commission has even suggested that the internal break- up of this sub- quota should be 6 per cent for Muslims — commensurate with their 73 per cent share in the total minority population at the national level and 2.4 per cent for the other minorities.


These attempts to marginalise caste- based politics could also be bolstered by taking up other schemes for empowering backward class Muslims, fielding more Muslim women candidates and developing state- specific strategies for the benefit of Muslims and women — especially in UP and Bihar because that is where the opposition to the Women's Reservation Bill is centred.


If the Congress does not move resolutely now to isolate Mandalite politics, such an opportunity may not come again in a long time.









PRESIDENT Asif Zardari has announced his intention to " gift" us a constitutional amendment package before Pakistan Day, March 23 ( when the demand for Pakistan was first articulated in 1940 by the Muslim League), which will ostensibly remove all " unwanted" elements of the much mangled 1973 constitution of Pakistan, in particular the 17th constitutional amendment engineered by General Pervez Musharraf in 2004.


This 17th amendment includes a ban on third term prime ministership and empowers the President to sack governments and appoint service chiefs and provincial governors.


Since the proof of the pudding is in the eating of it, we shall have to wait and see what sort of package is actually unfurled and what objections — there are sure to be many — are likely to be raised by the various stakeholders involved in this exercise. Meanwhile, comment is necessary on one critical element of the proposed amendment that relates to the manner in which judges of the superior courts may be appointed in the future.


The Parliamentary Committee on the proposed reforms package has recommended that a judicial commission comprising the Chief Justice of Pakistan, two senior most Supreme Court fellow judges, the federal law minister, attorney general and a leader of the Pakistan Bar Council should nominate judges for the SC. For the High Courts, this committee will comprise the Chief Justice, the senior- most fellow judge, the provincial law minister and a nominee of the provincial Bar Council. Majority vote decisions will be made for each individual vacancy.


THESE will be sent to an eight member parliamentary committee comprising four members each from the upper and lower house of parliament in which the government, opposition and other parties will be sufficiently represented. This will be able to block any nomination by the judicial committee only by ¾ majority.


The President or Prime Minister shall have no discretion in the matter.


The good news is that this is a more representative and accountable system than the one which exists today by virtue of the aggressive politics of the bar and bench in the last two years in which the judges have broken all links with the executive and imposed a mechanism for self- appointment and selection which is unaccountable to parliament or the executive. The bad news is that this mechanism doesn't touch the current judiciary that is packed with judges of the same political hue, all of whom are acting like members of a trade union rather than individual judges in their own right and conscience.


Indeed, the very omission of any reference in these recommendations to the ineligibility of judges who have taken oath on any Provisional Constitutional Order by a military dictator in the past — a critical element of the Charter of Democracy signed by the mainstream parties in 2006 — makes a mockery of the proposed process by legitimising a vested- interest status quo.


There are other problems too. As presently situated — the bar and bench are one politically — the six member

judicial commission is tilted 4: 2 against


the executive. Worse, no way out is proposed in the event of a tie. Similarly, given the way any government is likely to be overwhelmed by the other parties in the eight- member parliamentary commission, it is never going to be able to muster a ¾ majority to overturn the judicial commission's nominations. ( It is faintly ridiculous that a constitutional amendment should require a 2/ 3 majority while a judicial appointment by a self- serving judiciary should require a ¾ majority to overturn it). It would have been better to establish a seven member judicial commission for the SC with the CJP, two senior- most sitting judges, the attorney general, law minister and two high- standing and bipartisan members of civil society vetted by the PM and Leader of the Opposition and the media to break the ice if and when needed.


IN the same spirit, a simple majority vote by a nine member parliamentary commission should have sufficed to reject the judicial commission's nomination. The same sort of formula should apply to appointments in the HC. The worst part of this " deal" is that the current sitting CJP and CJs of the four HCs will dominate the judicial system for a decade to come, directly until they retire and indirectly by virtue of already having chosen their successors for many years to come in view of the new seniority lists)! In this way, the lop- sided political imprint of the current self- absorbed and self- appointed judiciary will be felt even when parliamentary oversight is supposedly in place after the proposed constitutional amendment. The most worrying aspect of this whole debate is the one- sided view of the leaders of the lawyers' movement and the Bar Associations, in particular the Supreme Court and Lahore High Court Bar Associations.


They say that there should be no parliamentary oversight at all and the judiciary should remain a self- appointing and unaccountable body. This is a materially motivated approach by lawyers who present themselves before the courts for huge sums of money from their clients. It is meant to please the current crop of judges, regardless of the fact that the notion of parliamentary supremacy is undermined by it.


The " expert" bias in favour of the current " independent" judiciary is, of course, understandable. An unaccountable executive has long lorded it over the judiciary, often with disastrous results for democracy. But this doesn't mean that we should push the pendulum to the other extreme. The most important requirement of the day is to hold the current judicial set- up accountable and nudge it to become neutral and unbiased so that it is a force for political stabilisation and genuine accountability rather than destabilisation.


A self- appointed judicial dictatorship is much worse than an elected parliamentary dictatorship.





I AM in bloved London. What a relieve to be here and away from bloved Lahore where bums are going off and tablets are walking on the streets. Sarkon pay goliyan chal rahi hain. But still there is some confuyion.


Yesterday, porter of building brought latter to me and said, "' ello Guv! Is this your letter? The name's smudged". I said, " No thanks. My name's Sharif, not Smudged". He opened his mouth to say something, then stopped, then said, " never moind" and went away. What is problem? After that, I took your bhabi for walk in park. There a band was playing nice, nice tunes. Your bhabi said, " I wonder what that tune is". I cleverly noticed a sign posted near bandstand so I said to your bhabi, " I'll go and see". A little while later I came back and told your bhabi, " It's the Refrain From Spitting tune". As we walked around, a janaza came. In London they don't carry dead body on charpoy with whole mohalla and extanded family walking with it on their shoulders and vailing, crying. Here they are very civilianized. They have a thing called Her's ( I think so this is for women dead bodies. For men, this thing must be called His). Anyway, they were bringing dead body in Her's and walking quitely at the back. The band stopped playing out of respact. Band master came and whispered in my ear, " who died?" I said, " I'm not sure. I think it must be the one in the coffin." There is big huge and cry that Shbaz Saab has revealed his assets. If you don't reveal, ghaddar presswallahs are complaining. If you do reveal, they are complaining. A presswallah called me from bloved Lhore and said that Shbaz Saab has revealed his assets to the election commissioner and how come he is having so less money, hain ji? I am saying to ghaddar presswallah that money is not everything.


Very true, very true, he said. I said, " Besides money, Shbaz Saab is also having stocks, bonds, shares, bearer certificates and so an and so farth". Ghaddar presswallah went and reported this my saying in the newspapers and anger climbed on Shbaz Saab.


Ghussa charrh gaya. He said, " you have to do something now to correct this impression". I said, " what I can do?" then I said, " ok, ok, I will give capital punishment to ghaddar presswallah". Shbaz Saab said, " ok but get on with it then". I possed to think, then I ranged Shbaz Saab back and said, " sorry but capital punishment sounds like federal matter. How I can give with only provincial government in my control, hain ji?" Shbaz Saab slammed phoon. I ranged back and sang: Kyun udaas rehtay ho, Garmiyon ki shaamon mein? Iss tarah to hota hai, Iss tarah kay kaamon mein … NS








The Indian team began with a bang against Pakistan in the ongoing hockey World Cup, before losing their next three games and salvaging a draw against South Africa. It's not been a performance that has set the stands on fire, but it's still an improvement on the last World Cup where India finished at the bottom. This time around they have improved, and will be playing for the seventh position today. However, it's not so much Team India's show but the crowd response to the World Cup that's been most encouraging.

The India-Pakistan game drew a record television audience - by hockey standards - of over 14 million. While this might be considerably less than high-voltage one-day internationals or T20 cricket matches, the numbers were impressive. All the games involving India drew good crowds at the stadium, even when it was apparent that Team India would not make it to the second stage of the tournament. Moreover, the crowd had a healthy sprinkling of women and children. Clearly the World Cup has shown that there is an audience for India's national sport that has over the years become a poor cousin to cricket.

We must not let this opportunity pass. The World Cup should be used as a springboard to revive Indian hockey, which has been starved of funds. The salaries of hockey players are a good indication of where the sport stands. While Indian cricketers get Rs 1,60,000 per ODI/Twenty20 game and Rs 2,50,000 per Test, hockey players get a paltry Rs 25,000 every tournament plus a small daily allowance. It would be foolish to argue that hockey be put on par with cricket. But at the same time there is no reason why hockey players should be paid such measly salaries. Besides, India has lagged behind in providing infrastructure and facilities to hockey players. While Australia has some 300 astro-turf pitches, India has just a handful.

It is also well known that for all the glory that hockey players have got for India in the past, the sport has been utterly mismanaged. This has reflected in India's poor showing in international tournaments over the past decade, with an all-time low in 2008 when India failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. It's time we changed things. What is needed is a complete overhaul of the way the game is run and conscious efforts to make hockey popular among youngsters. The crowds at the World Cup show that hockey is once again on people's minds. Let's ensure that it stays there.







A new law laid down by Myanmar's military government - which effectively bans detained pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting the upcoming elections - is an unfortunate development. According to the new law, any person who has ever been convicted of a crime is to be barred from contesting in the general elections slated for later this year. Suu Kyi, who has spent almost a decade and half under house arrest, is accused of giving shelter to an American last year, therefore violating the terms of her house arrest. Never mind that it has now been established that the man came uninvited. But the effect of the new law would not only be to keep Suu Kyi from contesting polls. Her party, the National League for Democracy, too could be debarred if it doesn't expel her. When the world was hoping that the generals would do more to open up the country, this looks like a giant step backwards.

Western governments, which had for long shunned Myanmar, were coming around to the view that engaging its government and subsequently integrating Myanmar into the international fold is perhaps a better policy. After almost a decade and half, the US reached out to Myanmar last year, sending its top diplomats to begin a dialogue. The diplomats were in turn allowed to meet Suu Kyi. But the latest move to keep Suu Kyi out of active politics would not only aid critics of the policy of engaging Myanmar, it would also alienate fellow members of ASEAN. New Delhi should offer friendly advice to the Myanmarese government not to turn the clock back in the region.







The women's Bill, if it does cross the Lok Sabha hurdle, will indeed be historic. But it might not be so for the reasons being aired on television and newspapers. Whether the Bill will bring about real political empowerment of women we don't really know. However, the Bill could bring about radical changes in the way Indian democracy functions.

According to the Bill, one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies reserved for women will be allotted by rotation, which means that once in every three elections a seat will be set aside for women and for the other two revert to a general seat. How in effect would that work? A woman who wins in a reserved seat won't have the cushion of running against only women if she contests from the same seat in the next election. But she would of course be able to run for re-election so long as she is nominated by her party and is willing to contest on a mixed slate. Conversely, in one-third of the seats, incumbents, whether male or female, will have to sit out once in three elections. Is that such a bad thing? Not necessarily.

Critics have pointed out that there won't be any incentive for elected representatives to work for their constituency if there is no guarantee that they will be allowed to run again in the next election. It could also result in a lack of accountability, prompting MPs and MLAs to squeeze as much as possible from their constituency in one term. But there is a flip side too. Reservation could deal a blow to the phenomenon of pocket boroughs, of which there are several across India, where the same candidate gets elected year after year. And it could undermine the politics of patronage where an incumbent builds up an elaborate network to transfer funds and other favours to his constituents. Political parties, rather than individuals, stand to benefit from this trend, which would be a good thing.

Of course, there are always ways to get around this. We already have a number of bahus and betis in politics. Reserved seats might see an upsurge in the nomination of proxies or relatives of male candidates who are forced to vacate a constituency. The lessons from reservation for women in panchayats do not, however, entirely support this contention. Although initially there was a tendency of male leaders to nominate - and dominate - their wives in reserved constituencies, a 2008 study by the panchayati raj ministry has found that over time reservations have led to greater assertiveness and confidence on the part of women representatives. The same survey though points out that women panchayat members are still battling patriarchal values and prejudices.

Another independent study has found that compared to male counterparts, women representatives tend to focus more on basic issues such as health, education and sanitation that are most critical for vast swathes of India's population. Besides, in some states women representatives now exceed the numbers reserved for them, which goes to show that reservation has had a healthy ripple effect. The same could happen in Parliament and state assemblies.

There are other objections against the Bill which need to be heard out. Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav and others from caste-based parties have been the most vocal. They have sound political reasons for protesting against the Bill, but their demand for sub-quotas is dubious. What stops them from nominating more other backward classes (OBC) women in reserved constituencies? There are some who have argued that reservation for women dilutes the first-past-the-post system by smuggling in proportional representation through the back door. But since we already have reservations based on caste, reservation for women isn't such a radical constitutional departure.

The more serious objection is whether quotas are the best route to women's - or indeed any disadvantaged group's - empowerment. One, there is the perennial question of whether quotas perpetuate inequality rather than alleviate it. During the Constituent Assembly debates, Renuka Ray had raised precisely this issue: "When there is reservation of seats for women, the question of their consideration for general seats, however competent they may be, does not usually arise. We feel that women will get more chances if the consideration is of ability alone."

Two, quotas are a visible and politically lucrative form of public policy but their efficacy isn't always very clear. As we have seen with caste reservations, particularly with relation to OBCs, a creamy layer tends to profit from quotas whereas the intended beneficiaries tend to get squeezed out. This could well be the case with women's reservation too. The ideal way, of course, to increasing women's representation would have been for political parties to have quotas for women. Some of the countries with the most number of women in Parliament, such as Norway, Sweden and Argentina, do have such a provision. But unfortunately some 60 years since independence our parties haven't been able to muster the will to do it.

If the women's Bill does become reality it might not achieve what it set out to. But it could well change the rules of Indian democracy.






The North-East MPs' Forum, a platform for parliamenta-rians from the eight states in the region, recently met in Gangtok to discuss ways to facilitate peace and development. P D Rai , a Sikkim Democratic Front MP and general secretary of the forum, spoke to Amrith Lal :

What is the North-East MPs' Forum about?

It is still a rag-tag group of MPs. But we all realise it's good to have friends, and friends with a common agenda. It's not that the region is ignored. The point is to have focused attention on the region. The region has had a history of insurgency. It began in Nagaland soon after independence. Now we have about 50 to 60 insurgent groups in the region. For a while the government thought this was a security issue, now it wants to treat it as a development issue. They have formed agencies to address it that way. This region, to my mind, is the battery of India. It has a power potential of about 80,000 MW. It is sitting on a colossal amount of hydrocarbons. The region has nearly 33 per cent of India's biodiversity reserves. How much better can it get? So it's important for the country that there is development in the region.

These issues can be effectively addressed through the forum. Let me give you an example. One of the big issues for Sikkim is the National Highway 31A and the state has just one MP in the Lok Sabha. If 10 of us barge into the concerned minister's room and demand that he do something about it, he's likely to act. Numbers matter.

You argue that the Centre must move from a security-centric approach to a people-centric approach.

Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina's India visit has opened up an interesting geopolitical opportunity for the region. Tripura would gain the most if we have a trade and transit treaty with Bangladesh. It will cut the distance to Kolkata from the present 1,700 km through difficult terrain to some 350 km. The polity in Meghalaya is insulated from the issue of migrants. Migration from Bangladesh is a political problem in Assam.

Bangladesh and India have an asymmetry in development. Suppose Bangladesh develops faster, a lot of the migration will slow down. So, this gives a chance to develop the subcontinent or rather the sub-region in a more holistic way. If we include Bangladesh into the paradigm it is a large region that we are talking about for development, for new markets.

What are your priorities? Do you have a wish list for the Centre?

Yes, first let's get the trade and transit treaty going. Currently, more than 75 per cent of the border trade in the region is through informal channels. For Sikkim, the biggest challenge is the National Highway 31A. Secure that for us. We would want to increase the number of items that could be traded at Nathula or through Moreh. Could we have more trade across all these posts?

Peace is a great enabler for development. Sikkim is a shining example of what peace can do for development. Maybe the time has come to desecuritise the region and see what happens. You have done it the other way and nothing has happened. Now let's try doing it this way.








Do you think you're smarter, more good looking, better at your job, and make a much nicer pizza than your neighbours, so there? Of course you think so. And so you should. In exactly the same way as your neighbours think of you: that they are much smarter, more good looking, better at their jobs, and make a much nicer pizza than you, so there. Can both you and your neighbours be right? Is that possible? Certainly. It's what John J Cannell, an American physician, calls the Lake Wobegon Effect, a name borrowed from a Garrison Keillor novel which starts with the words "Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." Cannell discovered that all the states in America lodged school test scores which were above the national average, which is like saying that all of us are taller than each other: it is a statistical paradox. But a win-win situation for all.


What explains the Wobegon Effect? Simple. A correspondent pointed out that you can turn Wobegon into Woe-begone. In other words, don't woe-ry, be happy. Rather than let an underestimation of yourself overwhelm you, let an overestimation of yourself underwhelm your lack of self-esteem. It works. And India is as fine an example as any place in the world to prove it.

Indians - all Indians - know that they are in all respects superior not only to those unfortunate beings called foreigners, but also that they are superior to all other Indians. Bengalis, for example, know that they are superior to everyone else. How do they know this? The answer is obvious. Who were the three greatest people who ever lived? Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, and Satyajit Ray, of course. And what did these three have in common, apart from their greatness? That's right: they were all Bengalis. QED. Bongs are the uber kind of the human species.


If Bengalis pride themselves on being een-tah-lek-chual (intellectual), Punjabis know that brain is a misspelling of brawn and that one good thump on the back from a stalwart son - or daughter, come to that - of the Land of the Five Rivers will turn any intellectual into an outellectual before you can say bhangra rap. It's wrong to say that the only culture that Punjabis know is agriculture. They're dab hands at aggro-culture too.


Marwaris and Gujaratis are not interested in such comparisons. The only interest they believe in is compound interest, preferably at 18 per cent per annum. Per annum. Arre, su tamay kayvo chho, what are you saying? Didn't you read the fine print which says it's 18 per cent per day. Compounded, of koss.


The Tam-Bram doesn't credit such verbal exchanges. The Tam-Brams don't credit words of any kind. In keeping with the legacy of the greatest mathematician in the world, Ramanujan, Tam-Brams communicate with each other purely through the recitation of logarithmic tables, indispensable for calculating rahu-kalam, not to mention the messing charge for tiffin for two in a military hotel on Mount Road. Don't get the reference? Naturally not. You won't unless you're a Tam-Bram: it's a logarithm.

Malayalees don't have time for such petty matters. Or rather, they have too much time to bother about such trifles. Why do they have too much - or rather, two much - time? Because they wear two watches, one on each wrist. One tells Indian Standard Time and the other tells Dubai time, and shows, along with the Bahrain Baroque villa they've built in Kozhikode, that they're Gulf-returned.


So if you're an Indian from any part of India, relax. The Wobegon Effect is in your favour. And if you have any doubts on this score, all you have to do is read this column. It'll immediately make you feel agreeably superior to its writer. With whom, if not the buck, the woe needs must stop.








Can a pilot ever forget to connect with the local Air Traffic Control before landing or taking off? Something similar happened recently, thankfully not in the sky though: the Uttar Pradesh government, high on its plans to develop an international airport in Meerut — we can almost hear the property prices crashing in Greater Noida, the original place where the airport was to come up — forgot the basic requirement: a clearance from the lords of the Indian skies: the civil aviation ministry.


The aviation ministry worthies in New Delhi, meanwhile, are not amused at this oversight. How could they be? Here they are trying to ensure that the skies are abuzz with airlines and the new glass and steel airports dot the landscape and then suddenly you have a state hell-bent on auto-landing. So they rushed to check the Constitution for the meaning of 'federal' polity. Yes, it's a federation all right but they are in charge, it said. Now which ministry would accept such a slip? So we were not surprised when an official said: "In this particular case, far from getting any clearance, they haven't even applied for one." Sigh, we can feel the pain. But putting the cart before the horse is so common here: infrastructure always comes up after new constructions are up and running or cities are cleaned up with great fanfare only after an international event has been announced.


How did all this happen? Now many will read political messages into this — the Lady in Pink is not exactly on good terms with the Queen in Delhi — but we think it's not that. The UP administration was in a rush to get the clearance that does take considerable time: so it tried the smart way out: get everything in place, including a consultant, and then approach the ministry, hoping that this reverse sweep could result in a quick victory.








The passion with which senior leaders like Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad and Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav opposed the idea of giving over 33 per cent of seats in Parliament to women would have been justified if they had led the way in increasing women's participation in a more democratic manner. But the arguments that we have seen from many in the BJP and others opposed to the idea of reservations hardly disguises the fact that there is a more fundamental resistance to the idea of women coming into the political field.


We agree that a fight for political space should be gender-neutral. If the political process in India had been more equitable, we would have seen many more women in the political sphere. But without exception, a powerful male bastion in every political party has opposed the very concept of sharing political power with women. When decision-making affects everyone equally, it is necessary to have as wide a pool of opinion as possible. And this includes that of women. The argument that those women coming into politics are and will invariably be proxies of a patriarchal system does not hold water. The concept of proxies in our system is again gender-neutral. If political parties had genuinely believed in a free-and-fair competition, they would have picked the best man or woman for the seat. But so far, we have seen that all parties have plumped for the best man wherever possible. Even those parties that have been the champions of women's rights like the Left seem to suffer a sudden amnesia about gender when it comes to ticket distribution.


So then it would be a reasonable assumption that the real issue is that of power and the need to hold on to it at all cost. With the panchayati raj system having done fairly well, several worthy women candidates with political experience and visibility can certainly be found to contest seats. That would take care of the so-called winnability factor. Politics should not be treated as a sacrosanct arena. It should function on the premise, as in a corporate, that the most qualified should get first preference. It should be shorn of all the rhetoric, emotion and possessiveness that we see today. We see a lot of talk about the need for political reform. It must begin with inner party reform where the first step should be to eliminate gender prejudices. But the current debate suggests that this will be a long time coming.








Lalu Prasad is the Pied Piper of Patna. One of the more special moments in journalism was travelling with the RJD chief to Pakistan in 2003. Indo-Pak relations were at a low, a series of terror attacks had brought the two countries to the brink of war. In this unnerving environment, the charismatic Lalu was transformed into a peace ambassador. Wherever he went, the cameras inevitably followed. At Lahore's Anarkali Bazaar, the shopkeepers queued up to greet him; when we went to Islamabad's Sunday market, he was again the star attraction. In the heart of the marketplace, he picked up a potato and exclaimed, "Bihar mein Lalu, aur Pakistan mein aloo!" The picture of Lalu buying vegetables made the front pages of most Pakistani newspapers.


Seven years later, the Lalu charisma is fading. He still comes up with the occasional witty 'Laluism' and his persona remains delightfully endearing, but as the high drama in Parliament during the Women's Reservation Bill has shown, Lalu's bark is now greater than his bite. While he may rightfully scream that the Bill was passed through an act of  'political dacoity', the fact is that no one really takes Lalu's threats of  bringing down the UPA government seriously. In a sense, Lalu and his Yadav soulmates — Mulayam and Sharad — represent the past tense of Indian politics, a politics where identity mattered more than issues.


When Lalu first burst on to the national political scene in the early 90s, he was an instant hit. The arrest of L.K. Advani at Samastipur in October 1990 during the Ram Rath Yatra catapulted him into the national limelight. That single act transformed him into the messiah of the Muslims, the politician who had dared to touch the Hindutva icon. Lalu dined out for the next decade on that one single moment of political bravado, his Muslim-Yadav combine forming the base for three successive victories in the Bihar elections.


The ascent of Lalu also coincided with the rise of  private news TV. Lalu was, without a doubt, Indian politics' first TV star. The first time I interviewed Lalu for TV was in 1995 on the back of a remarkable victory in the Bihar elections. He insisted that the interview be conducted in his cowshed, the cows providing the visual backdrop to enhance Lalu's rustic image. That was perhaps the first glimpse of Lalu, the consummate communicator, on national TV. In the years that followed, Lalu on TV guaranteed eyeballs in a manner that no politician before or since has been able to match.


But like a saas-bahu serial that finally begins to lose ratings, Lalu's appeal too has begun to wear thin. The rhetoric, that was once both amusing and incisive, now seems tired and repetitive. Where did the decline begin? In his excellent book, The Making of Lalu Yadav, journalist Sankarshan Thakur writes, "Lalu Yadav lost his magic the day he said he was going to cling on to the chief ministership even if he were to be chargesheeted in the fodder scandal. That was the day Lalu Yadav, Bihar's great rosy-cheeked hope, exposed himself. He wasn't there to deliver power to the people, he was there to keep it for himself."


Unfortunately, Lalu allowed himself to become a prisoner of the caricature that he had created of himself. There was always more to Lalu than the court jester image; he was, and is, perhaps one of the most astute politicians in the country. But because political life for him was a manufactured myth, the very image that he had created eventually devoured him. The backwards and the Muslims began to desert him the moment they realised the wide gap between Lalu the folk hero and Lalu the politician.


Which is why the women's reservation bill has perhaps provided Lalu with a last stab at reviving his faltering political career. By raising the pitch over reservations for OBC and Muslim women, Lalu is making a desperate attempt to recapture his original constituency. The aim isn't to bring down the UPA government, but to create a new focal point for the Mandal forces who have been badly splintered in recent years. In the process, he has joined hands with one-time enemies — Mulayam Singh and Sharad Yadav — in the hope that a political realignment in the Hindi heartland can be achieved.


Where the Yadav troika may have got their calculations wrong though is in their belief that their Muslim-OBC support base is intact, and merely needs to be galvanised into action through emotive slogans. The last two decades have seen a dramatic shift in aspiration levels across the country, and to believe that UP and Bihar would be untouched by the winds of change is to remain frozen in time. How many Muslim women, for example, will truly believe that the Yadavs stand for political empowerment of the minorities when the fact is that none of the Mandal parties have made a serious effort to raise bread and butter issues of jobs and education for Muslims? When the Yadavs, after having enriched their families, claim to stand against elitism, how many people will trust them?


Which is why the anti-woman reservationists, despite the genuine deficiencies in the legislation, may struggle to get their campaign off the ground. The credibility crisis confronting the Yadavs may well rub off on their determined effort to become symbols of opposition to women's reservation. When Rabri Devi and Dimple Yadav are your women 'leaders', who will trust the claims being made to represent womanhood and gender justice?


Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief , IBN Network


The views expressed by the author are personal.








Vladimir Putin deserves our esteem. On assuming power in 2000 he reversed the Yeltsin era drift in India-Russia relations and established a strategic partnership with India. His current visit is his fifth to India in 10 years, testifying to the personal commitment of this pragmatic and practical-minded man to Russia's India relationship.


In the strategic sectors, much has been achieved in the last decade. Russia has given us its most-advanced aircraft, tanks, rocket launchers, cruise missiles, frigates, etc, consolidating its position as India's biggest defence partner. The joint development and manufacture of the fifth generation fighter aircraft (T-50) and the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft (MTR) is intended to give India crucial design capability. The lease of a Russian nuclear-powered submarine and technical assistance in developing our own Arihant give us a strategic sea-based punch. In the nuclear sector, apart from currently building two nuclear reactors at Kudankulam, Russia will build four more at the same site. Its proposed nuclear agreement with India excels in technology transfer terms anything we have signed with others, with an eye on a bigger share of the Indian nuclear pie. Russia is ready to give us access to Glonass (Russian GPS system) military signals, unobtainable from any other source, with civilian applications providing business opportunities.


Defence ties have not been problem-free. Because defence supplies constitute the core of the bilateral relationship, defence transactions maintain their rhythm lest the loss of their cementing force affects the entire relationship. Serious problems such as those of inadequate product support, non-adherence to delivery schedules, cost escalation, incomplete transfer of technology are tolerated.


The aircraft carrier Gorshkov, with a four to five-year delivery delay and steep cost escalation is a glaring case. In view of the high Indian dependence on Russian equipment, such problems affect combat readiness and disrupt planning, prompting calls for diversifying sources of supply. With Israel and France effectively competing and the US making steady headway, Russia's privileged position as a supplier will be increasingly challenged.


At the political level, India and Russia believe in a multipolar world and a rule-based international order. They are opposed to international terrorism and religious extremism. In translating these positions into practical, mutually reinforcing policies, there is less clarity.


In the context of cooperative multipolarity, the biggest question mark is China. It tends to define its core interests unilaterally and expects others to respect them even if they are arbitrarily defined, and lapses into the language of abuse and belligerence when it feels challenged. India and Russia do not have a common vision on China. Can they develop one on the essentials even as both countries continue to engage China, as they should? Not in the foreseeable future because of Russia's strategic need of China to counter western pressures on it.


Russia has shown reluctance to wade into India-Pakistan issues publicly. While it condemns terrorist attacks against India, it is less frontal than even the US about the involvement of Pakistan-based terror groups in such attacks. It may not want to create any misunderstanding with the US on the India-Pakistan issue by appearing to encourage a tougher Indian response to Pakistani provocations.


The contrast between India's economic relations with the US and Russia is striking .The modern sectors of the Indian economy and its most dynamic players are tied to US/Western markets whereas India-Russia economic ties remain limited and their rapid expansion appears unlikely. Even the target of $10 billion of two-way trade by 2010 remains unmet. The India-Russia energy partnership is stagnant. This imbalance in our two strategic relationships needs correction.


On Afghanistan, Russia has given additional transit rights to Nato forces as it sees some advantage to itself in US operations against extremist forces that could destabilise Central Asia and, eventually, southern Russia. In international conferences, Russia is focussing on the important issue of drug trafficking and is quiet about the Taliban. The Central Asians are not active in Afghan discussions. A Russian initiative is needed to chart a hedging strategy involving India, Iran and the Central Asian states against a Taliban return.


A resurgent Russia is necessary for maintaining a desired level of equilibrium at the global level. The space created by the weakening of Russia is being filled in by an increasingly assertive, nationalist, militarily more potent and demographically huge China. Any form of a US-China diarchy would be at the expense, in particular, of large and autonomous countries like India and Russia.


Kanwal Sibal is a former Foreign Secretary, Government of India.


The views expressed by the author are personal.








I have a sneaking suspicion that all the shame and discomfort among our liberal arts-friendly and liberal countrymen over M.F. Husain's giving up his Indian citizenship has little to do with the artist no longer being an Indian passport-holder and everything to do with him choosing Qatar — "Qatar? Qatar?! Qatar!!" — as his country of abode.


You didn't hear such a ruckus being made about another artist, say, S.H. Raza, settling down in Paris — or countless other talents. While Vikram Seth does share residencies in Salisbury, England, and in Delhi, and Amitav Ghosh with New York City and Calcutta/Goa, a significant part of their professional identity is made from the jobs outside India.


Much before and after Arundhati Roy spoke about her being an "independent mobile republic", countless artists and writers were — and remain — unfettered by national identities.


What applies for writers, should apply even more for artists who are unfettered by language politics. And let's not get into the nitty-gritty symbolism of passports, please. At the end of the day, for any artist his/her physical presence in a particular country is almost incidental and bureaucratic. So why is Husain being gobbled up for leaving India for Qatar?


Because, my Louvre and Tate Modern and MoMA-appreciating friends, Paris is Paris, London is London, New York is New York and Qatar is, well, Qatar.


What bothers our anguished culturewallas is that of all the gin joints in all the world, Maqbool had to walk into a Gulf kingdom. That's essentially because the moneyed Gulf is perceived as what America was to Europe years ago: an upstart crow trying to be cultured by throwing money in the face of artists. Something that India, with its 'civilisational prowess' would rather not do because it can't and isn't really interested.


Mondy Thapar is a Delhi-based writer.


The views expressed by the author are personal.








Even by Pakistan cricket's stratospheric standards of unpredictability, there was something reckless in the disciplinary action announced on Wednesday. After the disastrous tour of Australia, something had to give. It did, and how. In essence, the Pakistan Cricket Board has deprived itself of its most talented players.


While players could yet appeal the decision, the incident highlights a concept peculiar to Pakistan cricket: player power. Pakistan cricket continues to be a source of great enrichment for the game in part by the manner in which its talent finds utterance. Players most often burst into the side with a raw talent — this is because of the absence of a robust domestic grid and the popularity of gully cricket with its premium on inventiveness (taped tennis balls, etc). Pakistan's challenge has been to productively harness this talent. But its administrators are divided into factions, often aligned to the ruling dispensation in Islamabad, and a history of wholesale takeovers by rival factions has meant that administration is more personalised than institutionalised. Meanwhile, talent has tended to coalesce around star players, like A.H. Kardar, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, most recently Inzamam-ul-Haq. These players for most of their careers dominated key team decisions, and imposed a measure of discipline on the strength of their personality — arguably while sometimes keeping out talented players seen to be of another camp.


But the current lot, a very talented team that is set to defend its Twenty20 world title in a couple of months, is a loosely aligned bunch and given to shocking infighting, as was on display on the Australia tour. It could perhaps be that the current purge is a way for the board to gain power when player power is so fragmented. Sadly, so far there is no signal that Pakistan's cricket administrators are learning to better manage their talent.








Why a scorpion? The "pictorial warning" of the dangers of cancer that's currently on chewing tobacco, or gutka, pouches isn't even a crab, which at least has the advantage of being associated with cancer by the more zodiac-minded among us. (Who, one presumes, must be warned pictorially that scorpio, not cancer, kills.) And the black insect silhouette, while icky, doesn't in any way suggest to a casual user of chewing tobacco the magnitude of the threat she faces from mouth cancer — which causes four out of every 10 deaths from cancer in India. Nor does the fuzzy X-ray of a diseased lung that's on cigarette packets at the moment manage to convey to a smoker luxuriating in her smelly habit the hacking, painful awfulness of emphysema or lung cancer.


Which is why the next iteration of the pictorial warning, of a mouth that's cancerous — visibly diseased and rotting — is a much better idea. The pictorial warnings were the product of the Supreme Court stepping in to mandate them; they were first introduced on May 31 last year to universal indifference. It is doubtful that a single smoker could have looked at the bad photocopy of an X-rayed lung that's on cigarette packets and had her resolve to give up strengthened. No: that needs something much more visually stark; and something that can affect first-time smokers, usually young enough to feel immortal — so something that carries with it not just a reminder of mortality but of massive amounts of social unpleasantness as well. A large picture of a mouth with yellowed smoker's teeth and blackened, hideous gums will certainly help with that.


Warnings need to be graphic, colourful and shocking. Of course, the decision of whether to smoke or not needs to be left to an individual. But it is now understood that the choice isn't fairly presented unless the individual choosing has access to a visceral sense of what smoking or chewing tobacco can do to her lungs or her mouth. That's what these new warning pictures will do. In a country where more than 2000 people die every day of tobacco-related cancers, that's overdue.







During President Pratibha Patil's visit in September last year, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called Indo-Russian ties "a special relationship defined by special trust". Having weathered the test of time, the two countries indeed still enjoy a friendship forged in the challenges of the Cold War. That political context is long gone, and the Russia that inherited the bulk of the Soviet legacy is a different country. As Putin arrives in India there are, in brief, four pillars of bilateral interests the two nations would look to secure: energy security, defence, trade and geopolitics. Putin's visit is set to ink about $10 billion worth of deals, mostly in defence collaboration and civilian nuclear reactors. (Russia is building four nuclear reactors in India, with more contracts likely on offer.) This visit is also set to boost bilateral trade which, despite standing at about $8 billion currently, is well below its potential.


India and Russia had somewhat drifted apart in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, as a weak Russia looked to Europe to redefine its economic and political goals. Although the US and NATO continue to circumscribe its official strategic discourse, Moscow's focus, in real terms, is shifting to Russia's Asian neighbourhood. This is where India needs to engage Russia in a geopolitical partnership, reformulating the "special relationship" in less abstract and more concrete terms. Needless to say, the rise of China and the explosive potential of Afghanistan — on which Indian and Russian interests converge — are key strategic concerns in New Delhi and Moscow. Embedded in Indo-Russian geopolitical thinking, of course, is the economic issue of energy security. India, a large net importer of energy, needs access to Russian oil and natural gas. ONGC Videsh has invested close to $3 billion in the Sakhalin oil and gas projects and is looking for more oilfields.


Amidst this grander design, India must call for more Russian investment; in turn, it would like greater access to Russia's IT, tourism and financial services sectors among others. Around New Delhi and Moscow, the global institutional and political framework keeps changing, and a possible decline of the US — that would further complicate South Asian stability — is not ruled out. The two nations have done well so far to persist with annual events such as the prime ministerial visits. It is time to forge a new relationship, wherein sentiment is not unwelcome but definitely secondary to optimisation and exploitation of each other's core interests for mutual benefit.








A shrewd Kannada film director once confessed that a lot of tricks going into the film-making business in India were directed to bring the "Muslim woman" to the theatre. The reference may not have been politically correct, but made all the sense in the world to him — "because they won't come alone, they bring with them their large-ish families, and at least a husband or a brother and some children."


This has not been the stuff of only cinema wallahs, anxious to bring in the crowds. Traditionally, from the very start of the business of mass political mobilisations last century, women were a key factor. When the "men" filled the jails, it was women who kept the struggle going, even if it meant singing "Vijayi Vishwa Tiranga Pyara" outside prisons on fleeting jail visits. They weren't called in to talk about "mahila" issues but they played to their own strengths and kept the big fire raging as the men were randomly picked up and incarcerated.


It appeared at first that the Women's Reservation Bill had been brought in only to take attention away from the grocery bill (inflation). But it seems to have gone far beyond that.


Much has been written about the 20-year Mandal-kamandal cycle, which many thought had turned full circle in the 2009 general elections. Now, as the Congress has come in with 207 seats, its hopes rest on stretching the secular imagination to boldly embrace the "progressive" label — going beyond the fulfilment of just material needs for those who don't have them. This is a gamble with a new idea.


As Rahul Gandhi criss-crosses the country meeting university students, a nationwide youth constituency seems to be articulating itself. The Amethi MP is blessed by a coincidence — a helpful step up in the youth curve in demographic terms. Then, PM Manmohan Singh too, the other day, spoke of giving the NRI "the right to vote" — NRIs command a vocal space in public opinion, and perhaps a disproportionate share in public voice.


And now this, the women's vote. The fact of getting it through the Rajya Sabha itself was a way of giving an "idea" the power and shape of a "material force" and unleashing a wide and bitter debate about its merits. This appears to be about an idea for changing the way politics is done and conducted. The promise is not that of bringing in MPs who are "more sensitive" or anything (that is another gender stereotype promoted, oddly enough, by feminists). It's about the offer of unleashing new potential, nurturing new people currently outside policy-making and experimenting with another kind of stratification at a time when other identity markers seem to have run their course.


Again like Mandal, south India is bewildered as several agitated north Indian MPs cross the line between critique and vitriol. In Andhra, for example, as NTR found, even a small issue like prohibition got him half the sky and half the vote with it. This was the precursor to the silent revolution led by the DWACRA — a scheme to help rural women with more opportunities. Or, take the fact that even Jayalalithaa's mainstay for a long time was the rural women's vote.


Inside the House, as MPs frantically debate the outcomes, it's hardly about helping the "Dalit, Minority or OBC woman" as it is about a personal fight for survival. The rotational nature of reserved constituencies makes this legislation appear even more suicidal for a man, as MPs lament a bewildering future of constituencies becoming out of bounds within 15 years.


What is interesting to watch, especially for those of us who saw Mandal take root and give to us the eternal "backward" and "forward" markers, is how the main beneficiaries of B.P. Mandal's recommendations are the major blockers of another possible game-changer. In fact, their total strength in Parliament has never been as low in two decades as it is now — and that is why the GOP feels it is the right time to strike and carve out a much larger, highly secular, inclusive and progressive base of loyals.


Taking steps that seem out of the "general mood" of the party is nothing new. Indira Gandhi had also stepped out almost exactly 40 years ago, against a very formidable syndicate in her own party and done things that secured her a place and secured her politics. In the face of the conservative politics of Morarji Desai, Nijalingappa and others, "Indiramma" struck out on her own — snatching privy purses, nationalising banks and undertaking other big-ticket changes which will for ever be associated with her.


Is Sonia Gandhi trying something similar?


For those not coming to this from a feminist prism, the women's bill is a complicated one. Women are not one single undifferentiated class and it would be stretching it to argue that men have it better than women across all categories. In a country rife with various kinds of discrimination — caste, religion, gender, educational disparities, regional disparities — to determine who is "discriminated against" is a very complex exercise.


But if just the feminist prism and a sometimes jarring display of exuberance have put off many, so have the nonsensical arguments of some on the other side, who have argued for the terrible state they find their "burqa/ ghunghat-clad, hapless and kamzor women" in. After all, goes the argument, how will our women compete with well-to-do aggressive upper class and caste bindi brigade? They imply, of course, that they, the men, are perfectly equipped to "compete with" other castes or religions. But their wives and sisters? Never. Also, what has been singularly missing in arguments for an OBC or Muslim quota within a quota (one has been listening very hard) is even a small exhortation or hope that they want their women to step out.


This is one bill where the politics/ antics of what is going on inside the House is not reflective of what changes (good or bad, depending upon your point of view) this will eventually come to mean for India. What all of us in the spectators' gallery are looking out for is whether the politics of the larger and game-changing variety can overcome the unease of MPs themselves as they sit down to legislate.










In Iraq, nothing is simple. Voting for parliamentary elections took place against the backdrop of bombs. A long list of 6200 candidates — politicians and soccer stars, prostitutes and judges — representing 80 parties across the sectarian spectrum, stood for election. Yet, it's the same Shia, Sunni and Kurdish divide that continues to dominate the political landscape.


Voter turnout of over 60 per cent is undoubtedly a move forward for Iraq. That too when Sunnis — who for the past seven years have stood on the fringes of the political set-up, boycotting elections — participated in large numbers. In many ways this is a move forward for the nascent democracy taking hold in Iraq.


The race has pit Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki against former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Three blocs are central to Iraqi politics; blocs that cross the sectarian divide and are the first of their kind in Iraq. They mark a move towards a more representative set-up that attempts to satisfy the three core ethnic groups in the Iraqi political landscape.


There are the Sunnis, who are largely allied with Ayad Allawi's Al-Iraqiya List. Allawi, a former member of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party, has campaigned on a stridently secular platform. In fact his decision to ally with current Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi, a Sunni, is to ensure more Sunni votes, and to beef up his secular credentials. Al-Maliki's prominence and the rise of Al-Iraqiya indicate Iraqi frustration with religious politics and parties — a staple since the 2003 invasion. Al-Iraqiya enjoys support in Baghdad and the western provinces.


Then there are the Kurds. The Kurds have traditionally voted for their own parties from the autonomous regions in Iraq's three northern provinces. (Their flag-bearer is the current President Jalal Talabani.) The vote has gone en bloc to an alliance between the two major parties — the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). However, this election season the Kurdish alliance faces


internal challenges through the arrival of the newcomer, the Goran party. Kurds have 53 seats allocated to them in the parliament; however, with Goran on the scene, the Kurds have for the first time the option of choice between competing parties. Goran's USP is vociferous opposition to corruption in Kurdish politics.


The Kurds have the capacity to swing the election. If one looks at their performance in past elections, the Kurdish bloc has tended to side with PM al-Maliki. Another positive development (similar to Sunni participation in elections) has been the participation of Kirkuk's Arabs. Kurds have traditionally separated from mainstream Iraqi politics on the issue of oil-rich Kirkuk; their participation in elections this time indicates the will to solve the Kirkuk issue through politics.


The Shia bloc has aligned itself with al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition. He has the advantages of incumbency with him; but his tenure has produced mixed results. It was al-Maliki's decision to pair with the US to battle the militias and rout out the insurgency in southern Iraq and Baghdad. Therefore, he is widely credited with increasing stability. However, he has angered his main allies, notably anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr by routing the al-Sadr militias out of oil-rich Basra. What's more, he broke off traditional Shia alliances and has paired up with Sunni tribal power-brokers. His support comes mainly from southern Iraq.


As it stands these alliances are poised to get even more complex. The Iraqi constitution stipulates that the new parliament must appoint a new president (under Articles 69 and 78). The March 7 elections also end the "transitional phase" of the Iraqi constitution. A key component of the transitional phase was the presidential council — with three members, representing Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. It had the authority to send legislation to parliament three times in order to reach consensus. This set-up will change with the appointment of the new president. The incumbent will have more powers, including that of appointing the PM.


The elections have thus made the process more competitive. As noted by Ali Kareem, an analyst with the Institute of War and Peace and CFR fellow Bernard Gwertzman, should no alliance claim an outright majority in parliament, the president will be elected by a simple majority of votes in the house, as opposed to a two-thirds majority. Thus the formation of parliament will see intense political horse-trading, with each bloc vying for as much control as possible. This is how they will ensure a greater voice in both the appointment of Iraq's next president and politics.


The US plans to withdraw from Iraq starting August 2010. The first round of parliamentary elections in 2005 saw a five-month period of deliberation and a vacuum in leadership. Iraq can't afford something similar this time round.








Pakistan has, since 2009, virtually inscribed Indus waters as the "core issue". Witness the Pakistan foreign secretary, Salman Bashir's recent demarche in Delhi meshing with the heady jihadi rhetoric of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa/LeT chief, Hafiz Saeed.


The Indus Waters Treaty has worked well in a harsh environment of recurrent war and recrimination under the watchful eye of the Indus Commission, headed by empowered engineers fortified with a concurrent conflict management and resolution mechanism. A neutral expert was only summoned once, over Baglihar two years ago, a court of arbitration never. For the rest, the Indus commissioners have overseen current operations and future plans by means of a reasonably transparent and accountable process.


The treaty allocates the three western rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) wholly to Pakistan, but entitled India to irrigate 1.3 million acres and store 3.60 million acre feet of water for conservation, flood moderation and hydel generation within Jammu and Kashmir. India, in turn, was allocated the entire flows of the three eastern rivers (Sutlej, Beas and Ravi), barring minor irrigation uses for Pakistan from four nullahs that join the Ravi. In the final reckoning Pakistan got 80 per cent of the overall flows of the Indus and India 20 per cent.


The treaty mandates broad Pakistani approval for Indian works on the western rivers in J&K. This led to considerable delays in progressing Sallal, Uri, Dul Hasti, and Baglihar, all run-of-river hydel schemes with diurnal peaking "pondage" to drive the turbines, but no "storage". The Tulbul flood detention barrage across the Jhelum has been stymied for 18 years! The design objections to Baglihar, finally cleared in India's favour with minor modifications by the neutral expert two years ago, as in the case of Sallal was that sudden pondage or release of such impoundments could dry up the lower course of the Chenab, or cause floods that would render Pakistan economically and strategically vulnerable. The argument is bizarre and ignores simple facts of valley geometry and prior hazards that India would face before any damage to Pakistan 110 kms down river.


Objection has been taken to the proposed upper Chenab Sawalkote and Pakul Dul projects and the re-designed Kishenganga project, all run-of-river schemes. Uri-II and Baglihar-II will merely utilise seasonal flush flows to generate secondary power as permitted by the treaty. The Kishenganga project entails diverting this Jhelum tributary (known as Neelum in Pakistan), into the Wular lake through which it is returned to the Jhelum, in accordance with the treaty. Pakistan claims that the Kishenganga diversion will leave insufficient water for its Neelum-Jhelum irrigation-cum-hydro project above Muzaffarabad. India has, however, assured it certain ecological releases which, with other stream flows, should suffice to protect Pakistan's "existing uses" at the time India first submitted its Kishengaga proposals, as required.


In any event, recourse may be had to IWT mechanisms for resolving "differences" and "disputes". India has so far not fully utilised its irrigation quota on the three western rivers nor invested in its storage entitlement. "Surplus" Indian waters continue to flow to Pakistan from the western and even the eastern rivers, as the Rajasthan Canal command, under development, is yet to draw fully from Ravi-Beas waters.


Both Pakistan and India face water stress, which will be accentuated by climate change. Aberrant weather and melting Tibetan permafrost and glacial ice could enhance sedimentation and debris dam and glacial lake hazards. Cooperation is essential, not only between India and Pakistan but with China. Meanwhile, even as Indian utilisation of its water entitlements in J&K encounters Pakistani objections, the latter has no control over the upper catchments of the three western rivers. If these waters are to be optimally utilised, the key lies in chapter VII of the treaty, "Future Cooperation", that envisages joint studies and engineering works in the upper Indus catchment on both sides of the LOC.


Rather than seek conflict resolution or future cooperation under the aegis of the IWT, Pakistan seems inclined to up the ante. J&K is being emotionally resurrected as a "lifeline" issue even as its territorial claims on Kashmir are undermined by jihadi terror. Hafiz Saeed has addressed rallies in Muzaffarabad and Lahore. As recently as March 7, he denounced India's "theft" of waters through "illegal dams" that could trigger nuclear war. Banners proclaimed "water or war", "water flows or blood", "Liberate Kashmir to secure water", and "No peace with Indian water aggression".


A carefully constructed and longstanding water framework is being crudely altered from technical to political. Reason is yielding to emotion, accepted principles to ideological hysteria. The locus is shifting from the Indus Commission to the mob and non-state actors. Undermining the IWT can do no good. We need cooperation, not confrontation.


The writer was editor of 'The Indian Express'







When the Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko died on the evening of March 10, 1985, and Mikhail Gorbachev was elected by the Communist Party's Central Committee as its general secretary less than 24 hours later, few realised that this presaged serious reform.


And no one, including Gorbachev himself, realised just how far that reform — known as perestroika (reconstruction) — would go and what would be its consequences. Yet the choice of Gorbachev 25 years ago was of decisive importance. We know the views of every other member of the Politburo at the time of Chernenko's death — from their memoirs, interviews and the official archives — and not one of them would have undertaken radical reform of the Communist system or transformed Soviet foreign policy in anything like the way Gorbachev did.


There was no shortage of pundits in 1985 ready to declare that since no reformer could ever reach the top of the political ladder in the Soviet Union, it would be foolish to expect other than cosmetic change from Gorbachev. International relations specialists, including ex-foreign ministers, lined up to say that Andrei Gromyko would still be running Soviet foreign policy, so we could expect no change there.


Gorbachev had not been chosen because he was a reformer. Apart from a significant speech in December 1984, he had offered few clues to his Politburo colleagues as to how reformist he might be prepared to be. He had kept his more radical views to a very narrow circle.


Within it was Alexander Yakovlev, who at that time was about number 500 in the formal Soviet hierarchy. Such was the accelerated promotion Gorbachev gave him, by June 1987 he was in the top five. During those years Yakovlev was an influential ally in the radicalisation of the Soviet reform agenda. Gorbachev's own ideas, given his institutional power, mattered even more. They underwent further speedy evolution while he held the highest office within the Soviet state.


Gorbachev was chosen by the Politburo, and endorsed by the Central Committee, for three main reasons. The first was that with Soviet leaders dying in quick succession, annual state funerals had become an embarrassment. Even within the aged oligarchy, some could see the need for a younger and more vigorous leader. Gorbachev, who had celebrated his 54th birthday just one week earlier, exuded mental and physical energy.


Second, although Gorbachev had enemies within the leadership, they did not have a plausible alternative candidate. Furthermore, Gorbachev was already the second secretary of the Central Committee and, given the hierarchical nature of the Soviet system, he was able to seize the initiative.


Later he was to be accused of indecisiveness, but there was nothing hesitant about his actions on the day Chernenko died. He convened and chaired a Politburo meeting that very evening and was appointed to head the funeral commission. When Leonid Brezhnev and Yuri Andropov died, that role had been allotted to the person who subsequently became general secretary. Thus, Gorbachev was pre-selected as party leader within hours of his predecessor's death.


The foreign policy change that followed was dramatic. Far from continuing to dominate Soviet foreign policy, Gromyko — who had been foreign minister since 1957 — was moved from that office within four months of Gorbachev's accession and replaced by a neophyte in international affairs, Eduard Shevardnadze.

Within a year of becoming Soviet leader, Gorbachev had changed the entire top foreign policy team and had begun to implement what was called the New Thinking. It involved acceptance that real security meant mutual security and interdependence, agreement on arms reductions, withdrawal from Afghanistan (one of Gorbachev's aims from the outset, and fully realised by early 1989), and constructive engagement with the West. Ronald Reagan, who had not met any of Gorbachev's predecessors, had a summit meeting with Gorbachev in every year of his second term.


The most momentous change of Soviet foreign policy was the reversal of the Brezhnev doctrine, whereby the Soviet Union had arrogated to itself the right to intervene in any Warsaw Pact country in which Communist power appeared to be threatened.


In the summer of 1988 and at the United Nations in December of the same year, Gorbachev declared that the people of every country had the right to decide for themselves in what kind of system they wished to live. The huge implications for Eastern Europe, and the fact that Gorbachev meant what he said, were demonstrated in the course of 1989.


Domestically, growing freedom of speech and publication was accompanied by institutional reforms. The most remarkable manifestation of the former was the serialisation in a major Soviet journal of Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago in 1989. The most momentous example of the latter was the decision in 1988 to move to contested elections for a legislature with real power.


In March 1989 those elections — for the Congress of People's Deputies — were held. Although they were only semi-free, they marked a qualitative break with the past. Scores of millions of Soviet citizens were able to watch live television coverage of real debate during assembly proceedings, including criticism of the KGB and the party leadership.


Those elections also, however, marked the beginning of the phase of perestroika when it ceased to be a revolution from above and became a movement from below that neither Gorbachev nor his increasingly agitated conservative Communist opponents could control. But it was the new tolerance, radical reform and changed international climate that had raised expectations that could not be satisfied.


Had any other member of the Politburo been chosen as leader in March 1985, the society would not have been politicised and revitalised. Highly authoritarian regimes, when prepared to use all the levers of coercion at their disposal, have ways other than liberalising reform of staying in power.









Welcoming the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha, Rashtriya Sahara writes in its March 10 editorial: "The coming together of BJP and Congress on this issue can be described as a welcome step for giving greater rights to women in Indian politics, and if this bill takes the form of law with the joint efforts of these two parties, it would definitely be a historic development. But the political game that is being played is certainly regrettable. A more regrettable episode was what happened in the Rajya Sabha on Monday (some dissenting members' behaviour with the chairman) that has hurt the dignity of Parliament." The paper also criticised the ruling alliance for its failure to accommodate the widest range of views "rising above the party level and in the largest interests of women."


Taking a clear line against the objectives of the bill, Delhi-based Hindustan Express writes: "The apprehension of the political and social leaders of backward classes and minorities and different political parties that their representation will be affected if 33 per cent seats are reserved for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies is not baseless, because women of these sections would not be able to stand up in the contest."


Writing before the presentation of the bill in Rajya Sabha, Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Dehradun-based daily, Sahafat (March 5) commented: "It is possible that the opposition that got united on the issue of price rise will get divided on the women's reservation bill and the government will be at peace. Later on, this matter will be put in cold storage on the pretext of (lack of) consensus."


Delhi-based daily Hamara Samaj commented: "If the government allocates spaces for Muslims, Dalits, and

OBCs and accords reservation to them proportionate to their populations in the 33 per cent quota for women, the (stated) objective of this step would be fulfilled. But if it is not done, the government's objective will be aborted. In particular, the doors to politics will nearly be closed for Muslims."



The likely fillip to relations between India and Saudi Arabia with the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Riyadh and the expression of anxiety about "terrorism, extremism and violence" by leaders of the two countries have been welcomed by most papers. The various agreements pertaining to economic cooperation signed by the two countries during the PM's visit and the agreement on extradition and exchange of accused criminals have been hailed.


Akhbar-e-Mashriq, published from Delhi, Kolkata and Ranchi (March 3), has laid emphasis on the fact that the prime minister described Saudi Arabia as a "strategic partner" and invited it to make investments in various fields in India.


Sahafat, in an editorial on March 1, writes: "An opinion is gaining ground that the Wahabi group has close relations with Taliban and Al-Qaeda because the financial help to these organisations does come from Arab countries, in one form or another. But it is also a fact that Saudi Arabia too is affected by dangers of terrorism. In spite of this, being the most important centre of Islam, Saudi Arabia occupies a special position among the Islamic countries and an appeal by it is significant. Perhaps Manmohan Singh has gone to Saudi Arabia after 28 years (the last time an Indian prime minister visited) with these hopes. What could not be achieved by US pressure may now be possible with the help of Saudi Arabia."



The editor of Hindustan Express, Ahmad Javed, in his Feb 28 column writes: "The exile of Maqbool Fida Husain is not merely the exile of an individual; it is the exile of an 'India' that lives in this great artist." Javed adds: "You can say that Fida Husain has himself opted for this exile. He should stay in India and face the communalists. When persons like Taslima Nasreen and Salman Rushdie can get protection in this country why can't Fida Husain get it ?"


Editor of Delhi-based daily Jadeed-Khabar, Masoom Moradabadi, in his column on the same day, wrote: "If MF Husain actually gives up citizenship of India and becomes a citizen of Qatar, it will be a black day in the history of India, because the world will see with eyes wide open that a democratic country like India did not provide protection to life and property of an artist it is proud of."








Over the years, I must have visited Mumbai hundreds of times, but I still recall the culture shock that I got on my first visit ages ago, when I saw queues at bus stops, unlike in Delhi which did not, and still does not, believe in this queue-sheue business.


In the early post Independence days, Delhi still had some private operators, one being GNIT(Gwalior and Northern India Transport Co.) whose buses went right up to the Qutub Minar. These were rather ramshackle, and broke down with unfailing regularity, needing the combined efforts of the passengers, staff and passers by in pushing them to make their geriatric engines sputter into life, an early version of public private participation!


Not surprisingly, these buses hardly ever violated the speed limits, and it was not uncommon to see even the lowly tongas overtake them, especially if the tongawallah put his whip and tongue to good effect to make it clear to the horse that if he did not show a smart turn of the trotters, the honour of his mother and sister was in grave danger at the hands of the tongawallah!


Delhi also had trams which ran on tracks, as well as motor trams, with pneumatic wheels, which ran quieter, and looked like fat sausages on doughnuts. All these got gradually discontinued, leaving only the buses as the main public transport.


Much has changed in Delhi over the years, but what has remained unchanged is the challenging nature of its bus travel. The scene at almost every bus stop, in its chaotic glory, is reminiscent of the equestrian game of Buzkashi of Afghanistan, in which anything goes, including toppling your opponents off their horses. Bus travel in Delhi is no less than this great adventure sport.


If my memory of days long gone by serves me right, almost the only time that I recall buses in Delhi running the way they should was sometimes in the early '50s when I was in school. The staff of the Delhi Transport Service had gone on strike, and the authorities, in a rare show of spine, had called their bluff and taken the help of the army (or it could have been paramilitary forces, I was too young to know the difference), not to quell any agitation, but to run the bus service.


What followed was nothing short of a miracle. Jawans in uniform took over, a flat rate per journey was introduced, buses ran on time, and no one dared push his way in if the conductor — another jawan — said no. Harassment of women and ticketless travel stopped as if by magic. If there was no queue, the buses just did not stop. People got the message fast, and started queuing. It was three or four days of heavenly bliss, then the strike was called off, and it was back to square one in no time. One almost wished the strike had continued!


It must be recognised that such a system could have worked only temporarily, and only in an emergency situation. In any case, it is neither desirable nor feasible to burden the forces with routine civilian duties. However, one wishes that the authorities had learnt something from this, and similar experiences, asking why things work in a crisis situation as they should do in the normal course?


The answer is not far to find. All the ingredients of good management were there to see and learn from. The objectives were clearly spelt out and understood; those executing them were trained professionals; they were above being corrupted by a one rupee note to condone ticketless travel; they operated fairly, even though a bit summarily sometimes; and they had the authority to act as they thought fit in the discharge of their duties with the full backing of their superiors against undue pressures or unjustified complaints. This enabled them to function efficiently and effectively, and the public was happy.


All these elements can be brought together even in the civilian mode in running public services, provided we really want to, and that means a willingness on everybody's part to pay the price to achieve this.


So here is hoping that this great adventure sport of travel in Delhi by public transport will someday be what it should be — a well run public service that would do us proud. Maybe, just maybe, the Metro will set the bench mark. One hopes, and lives for such a day.


The writer is a retired civil servant







The recent announcement from NSE and CME to cross-list index futures contracts was coincidentally accompanied by a similar one from Eurex (a competitor to CME), which will now trade the Kospi 200 stock index options. Nifty futures traded at CME will compete with Nifty futures at the Singapore Exchange (SGX) and at NSE.India as a venue for doing financial trading, and NSE in particular, will face greater competition. As an example, orders placed abroad do not face the securities transaction tax, since taxation of financial transactions is an economic policy mistake that is unique to India. Similarly, NSE's rules about initial margin, NSE's transaction charges and all aspects of NSE's market design will face greater competitive pressure from the best global exchanges.These developments make it easier for portfolio and FDI investment to hold positions in India, since risk management can be done by an American customer in American daytime through an existing American securities firm. By improving the extent of risk management of investments in India, it will spur foreign investment into India.


Access to rupee-denominated futures on the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones index is important from the viewpoint of Indian owners of portfolios, because many Indian companies have a substantial exposure to the US economy. For example, 98% of the revenues of Infosys are from exports, and a substantial fraction of these are to the US. The investor in shares of Infosys is carrying the US's macroeconomic risk. At present, this risk cannot be managed, and the investor is forced to merely suffer from this exposure. Once the S&P 500 futures are available in India, it will become possible for the Indian investors to manage the exposure of the Indian portfolio to the US economy. More generally, access to these products in India will increase the interest and knowledge on the part of Indian citizens about the world economy, and pave the way for a better role in international finance for India. These developments thus imply a better range of tools for risk management, which permit a finer judgement by the investor (whether domestic or foreign) about the risks that must be suffered and the risks that must be removed using derivatives. They mark important steps forward for a sophisticated approach to risk and its management, for the development of India's financial system and for the process of capital account liberalisation.






The 45.7% increase in Chinese exports in February 2010, highlights the steady improvement in global trade prospects fuelled primarily by the positive trends in Asia where trade has recovered faster than in the developed countries. The Chinese gains on the export front were matched by the growth in imports, which picked up by an equally impressive 44.7% in the most recent month. China's trade performance in recent months has been boosted by its free trade agreement with Asean nations, which was operationalised at the start of the calendar year. Though the European Union and United States remain China's two largest trade partners, it is its trade with the Asean countries which is now most buoyant. While trade with the EU rose by more than a third in the first two months of the calendar year, and by a quarter with the US, it shot up by around two thirds with the Asean countries. These gains have helped the Asean countries replace Japan as China's third-largest trade partner in just two months.


This development is of significance to India as it is yet to be seen how India, which has entered into a similar agreement with Asean countries, will fare in competition to Chinese goods. Another positive trend that will give substantial relief to Chinese policymakers is the shrinking trade deficit.China's monthly merchandise trade deficit which had shot up above $20 billion, has shrunk to single digits in the most recent month. This may have come just in time for China. After all, there is a continuing clamour for the revaluation of the renminbi which the US and other countries believe gives an unfair advantage to Chinese exporters. Though countries like India have also benefited from the global recovery—with export growth averaging 13% in the three months till January 2010—the large Chinese gains will push Indians further behind in the battle for global markets. Interestingly, seasonally adjusted figures show that other developing countries like Brazil and South Africa have done better than India with exports growth in December going up to 19.6% and 36.9% respectively. The only consolation is that we are still doing better than the OECD countries which lag even further behind with export growth edging up even more slowly from 5.9% in November to 10.7% in December. India may yet rue the fact that its trade linkages with the major Asian economies, particularly in Asean, are much weaker than China's. That's something we need to work on to reduce dependence on western markets.







There seems to be a widespread belief that the NMDC FPO that opened on Wednesday, with bids for only 17% trickling in, is overpriced at Rs 300. There is probably no need to worry still about the issue being undersubscribed, because in the worst case, state-supported financial institutions can ultimately be nudged to take on whatever is left on the table. There are a few interesting takeaways from this entire matter, however, and most of them are in the nature of food for thought than final verdicts.


First, contrast this with the Oil India IPO in 2009 that was oversubscribed 31 times. Should that be called a success and the NMDC issue a failure? Hardly. For a fair organiser, it is the crowd size that determines success; for a seller at the fair participation is only worth the profits it makes. In making public offerings, the practice of leaving fat first-day or first-week gains for investors through overly conservative pricing of shares is worse than having undersubscribed offerings. Some would say the brouhaha surrounding an IPO or FPO helps bring attention to the company. Neither NMDC nor the government should need it too badly.


The second issue lies in pricing in turbulent times. If you look at the price of NMDC's shares during the last one year, it rose dramatically from Rs 143 to past Rs 556 as late as January 20 before coming down to the Rs 360-400 range this week. When the price band was announced this Tuesday, the market price was close to 400. Surely a 25% discount is not too bad.


The real issue here is the float. NMDC had about 2% on the market, and is planning to offload close to four times that amount through the ongoing FPO. After accounting for institutional holding, the amount of actual float in the market is probably in the region of 0.5% of the company. While traditional finance theory would suggest that supply of stocks should have little to do with its price and in theory, one should be able to sell more shares of a company at the going market price, empirical evidence shows otherwise.


So the market price, highly volatile, is an unreliable gauge of the price at which people are willing to buy large amounts of share of the firm making an FPO. Given this fact is widely recognised in the media as well, it is surprising how much of the discussion around NMDC's share pricing has hinged on the appropriate discount necessary to sell the new shares. If you cannot trust the market price, how can you meaningfully discuss optimum pricing in terms of a discount from that, extremely fickle, number?


So the approach to be taken should be that of fundamental valuation, always a far more difficult exercise. The 'chhota shortcut' to this is identifying a few comparable firms, nationally and globally, and making sure the price-equity ratio in those cases apply to this setting. Comparables, however, are frequently only citric approximations of the apple at hand and rarely do commentators take the trouble of looking at their financial structure and growth prospects to improve on the comparisons. Understandable, for then it would not remain the 'chhota shortcut'.


Other recent public sector issues, NTPC and REC, had scraped by largely on institutional investor support with their retail segment going unsubscribed. This is generally considered a shortcoming, on the argument that it does not give the small investor a "chance to share the wealth". This is true only in part. Many institutions actually channel retail investors' funds into the market. Besides, small investors who need a big discount to buy a stock because they are unsure of their own pricing abilities, are really much better served by not investing directly in the market at all. The ratio of retail to institutional investors in Indian markets is considerably higher than, say, in the US. That is not an empowerment of the aam aadmi, it is just letting innocents into the bull-ring to be ripped off by the institutions and informed players. Underpricing state-owned assets to ensure oversubscription is a far greater disservice to the taxpayers. If that needs to be done to support the market, it's even worse, for such manipulation hurts all market participants.


So, at the end of the day, if the NMDC issue gets by on institutional support, that is just fine. One hopes this support would be spontaneous rather than orchestrated by government, but even the latter is not necessarily a calamity assuming government itself has reasons to believe that NMDC is a good buy for the long-run. Of course, a lot can happen on Friday, and given that this is Friday the 12th and not the 13th, there is every reason to remain hopeful.


The author teaches finance at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad







What do Barack Obama's struggles to undertake health reform and the position of para-teachers in rural Bihar have in common? Both involve efforts to effect change in institutional structures: the health system in the United States, the education system in India. In both cases most observers agree that current systems have major dysfunctions. Yet reform is hard. These seemingly disparate cases illustrate both the difficulty and possibility of change.


Let's start with the problems. For the US health system, the two big issues are exclusion of the uninsured and runaway costs. These are not accidents. They are products of institutional designs and associated incentives: private insurance, with limited pooling and no overall mandate, creates exclusions for households, including many who are vulnerable because of poverty, job loss or prior conditions. High cost inflation flows from third party insurance, the interests of drug companies and an increasingly profit-maximising, as opposed to health-maximising, culture of medical practice groups. The malaise is a consequence of the current institutional design.


India's rural education system also has a dual malaise, of exclusion and dismal quality. Historically the most dramatic exclusions were of children not going to school at all—especially from poor households in regions such as rural Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, and especially girls. There have been big gains in enrolments, but exclusion from an education of anything like acceptable quality remains pervasive. Government schools in rural India still deliver dismal learning outcomes—and rural private schools are only slightly better. Again, the important point is that the malaise is not an accident but a product of institutional designs—especially an incentive system that now pays regular government teachers reasonably well, relative to alternatives, but provides little or no incentive to teach, let alone to impart high quality skills. Teachers are also disempowered by administrative demands and often poor working conditions.


So why has there not been more change? There is widespread recognition in the United States of the health system's malaise, just as there is in India of the education system's malaise. A big part of the answer lies in vested interests. In the American health system, insurance companies, drug companies, hospitals and doctors are major beneficiaries, and they vigorously and effectively lobby politicians. In India, the teachers are a powerful political lobby, typically embedded in state political structures.


Interests get aligned with narratives. In the United States resistance to rational change has been backed by an ill-informed narrative of the evils of 'socialist' health. In India, resistance to sensible change has been supported by ill-informed narratives of the evils of private education or linking performance to results. In both cases the response to date has been partial, half-baked, reform. The health reform on the table in the US Congress does take important steps to tackle exclusion, introduce mandates and stop insurance companies from discriminating on grounds of prior conditions. But it is far from an optimal system, and does little on cost inflation, bar an array of experiments.


Similarly, no Indian education reform has so far tackled the central question of teacher motivation in the government sector, either via career-based incentives or measures to support intrinsic motivation. There is still a distressing lack of attention to quality. However, there has been reform, including more resources and a big expansion in some states of the use of para-teachers—paid a much lower salary, with less security of tenure, and sometimes, as in Bihar, hired by the local village authorities. Yet initial field results suggest this can bring new problems—recruitment can be embedded in local patronage structures, eliciting less community respect and low levels of motivation.

Is the weight of systemic structure cause for gloom on change? Not necessarily. Half-baked starts can become more fully baked over time, especially if they unleash a new dynamic. This is the history of the social security reform in the US, that started in the 1930s and was steadily improved over time. It is also the history of the liberalisation of industry and service production in India, starting in the 1980s and still under way.


For either the US health system or the Indian education system, the prospect of radical change to an "ideal" institutional structure is dim at best. The power of vested interests, the influence of prevailing narratives and the inertia of established systems are simply too great. Half-baked reform could indeed be recaptured and distorted. Yet it is possible to imagine gradual shifts, experimentation and practical learning that would, over time, add up to substantive shifts in systemic functioning. But it is essential that the learning becomes politically salient.


The author is at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Centre for Policy Research







An FII will have much to celebrate from the recent plans to introduce Nifty futures on the Chicago Mercantile exchange (CME). Any bad news on the US jobs data or GDP growth rates, and it could sell Nifty futures on the CME, during their waking time. Later, when the Indian market opens, it will reverse the positions and start selling its portfolio of stocks in the Indian market. It's not that they couldn't have done that before. In fact, Singapore stock exchange (SGX) has traded Nifty futures for ages, but it suffers from two things. One, its regional timing doesn't give much leeway. It opens at 6:30 am Indian standard time and closes at 3: 45 pm. Indian stock markets close by 3:30 pm effectively giving a 15 minute extra leeway. In the morning though, they get two and half hours more.


Also, it suffers from poor volumes, leading to inefficient price discovery. So, for instance, if an FII had to offload $100 million worth of shares in the Indian market, it is unlikely it will find enough volumes in Nifty futures to do so at SGX. In the year 2009, volumes of SGX Nifty futures were just 4% of that of NSE. The daily average contracts were a minuscule 29,524 contracts as compared to 6,87,000 for NSE in 2009.


One Indian fund manager mentions that initially he used to get up early to catch the global bearish or bullish trend and bought and sold SGX Nifty futures. With three and a half hours difference between opening of SGX and that of Indian exchanges, it allowed some leg room. But not any more, as the gap has narrowed (NSE and BSE open an hour earlier), while volumes have also dwindled.


The advantage of having Nifty futures on CME would be that it would open shortly after Indian market closes, effectively allowing FIIs to take quick positions in Nifty futures based on developments in the US as well as Europe. While full details are not known about the exact timings of trading of Nifty index futures at CME, most of them trade for 23 hours, as per CME website. This effectively will allow them to price Nifty better as and when global news flows in. The catch though is that volumes should pick up to make it an effective hedging tool. Not to mention passing regulatory hurdles.








The Supreme Court of India's decision asking the central government immediately to release and deport 16 Pakistani prisoners who have completed their sentence is a welcome step in civilising official conduct towards the hundreds of cross-border prisoners languishing in Indian jails. Hopefully, the Pakistani judiciary led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary will take a similar stand towards Indian prisoners in jails in that country. The bench rightly rejected the government's argument that these men could be set free only if Pakistan released an equal number of Indian prisoners. 'Reciprocity' in this case is shameful: it means using people as pawns in diplomacy towards the other. It is no secret that Pakistan follows the same policy, with identical arguments heard in Pakistani courts. Both countries get away with it because the people who end up in jails on the other side tend to be poor and have little means to have their rights enforced. Many are subsistence fishermen struggling in the unmarked waters around Sir Creek. Others are jailed for alleged offences ranging from crossing the border to drug trafficking, from spying to visa infringement. Few among them pose any real danger to the country where they were arrested. Sometimes years can pass before the prisoner's government gets to know about his arrest by the other side. The two sides even wrangle over granting consular access, which means allowing a diplomatic representative to visit the prisoner to verify his nationality and well-being. Prisoners who have served out their sentence need to wait for months or even years to be released because New Delhi and Islamabad use them as bargaining chips, often waiting for symbolic occasions to free them. There are instances of prisoners losing their mental balance by the time of release. The swift release of a Pakistani child from an Indian prison last month was an exception and owes much to a campaign by the Indian media.


The shabby attitude towards prisoners is in contrast to the bonhomie that exists between the elites of the two countries. When diplomats from the two sides meet, they are admirably pleasant with each other even at tense moments. Retired military and intelligence officers meet and exchange niceties across Track 2 tables. But the two countries seem incapable of decent behaviour when it comes to dealing with prisoners. In 2008, a bilateral committee of retired judges, mandated by the governments, visited jails in India and Pakistan and made excellent recommendations for the early release of these prisoners. The Mumbai terror strikes put paid to all that. Holding the fate of hundreds of prisoners ransom to the complicated Indo-Pakistan relationship is morally abhorrent, inhumane, and politically unacceptable.







The 2015 target to establish a universal moratorium on executions — proposed by the Spanish Prime Minister at the Fourth World Congress against the Death Penalty held recently in Geneva — is likely to revive momentum on the 2007 non-binding resolution adopted by the U.N. General Assembly to evolve a realistic strategy to discourage states from enforcing the ultimate sentence. Many promising developments in the principal retentionist countries, evidence of high cost of specialised expertise needed to handle death penalty cases, and the expensive business of maintaining the death row population as compared to imprisoning convicts for life — not to mention the grave risk of miscarriage of justice — add moral weight and urgency to the case for halting executions forthwith. In 2008, New Jersey abolished the death penalty to become the 13 {+t} {+h} State in the U.S. to do so. This and the decision elsewhere to defer carrying out the death sentences as well as the serious debate in the U.S. Supreme Court over lethal injection as a humane answer to the cruel nature of execution are some of the welcome developments. The triennial World Congress, which brings together civil society groups, human rights networks, and senior representatives from governments, has called upon states that already enforce a moratorium to delete this penalty from the statute and has urged countries where it is no longer legal to hand down death sentences to advocate complete abolition in their international relations. It is indeed significant that, while Russia and Ukraine have in place a moratorium on executions, the other 45 member states of the Council of Europe (the human rights body) encompassing the 27 states of the European Union, have legally abolished the death sentence.


In a striking departure from domestic policy, the Supreme People's Court in the People's Republic of China issued guidelines last week requiring judges to impose the harshest sentence only in extreme instances and to temper justice with mercy. It is also a response to the popular demand for a more fair and discriminating system. The recent measures are a sequel to the 2009 decision to phase out executions by firing squads and instead resort to lethal injections. It is apparent that the moral pressure brought to bear upon states through diplomatic means is far more effective than the hollow discourses on democracy. The road to the universal abolition of the death penalty may be long and uncertain, but the most recent trends towards either abolition or moratorium are certainly gratifying.










Never before in India's judicial history has the government come forward to invest a large sum, Rs.5,000 crore, to improve the justice delivery system. The 13th Finance Commission recommended this for the five-year period 2010-15. It is to the credit of Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily that the judiciary has at last received the attention it deserves, to be able to implement his Vision Plan of reducing the life-span of a case in the system to three years, a target to be achieved within a three-year period. Whether the judiciary, which historically has been reluctant to absorb changes, will rise to the occasion and implement the Plan now depends entirely on the judges and lawyers who operate the system.


How could the money be utilised in time and with good effect? Would the High Courts be a little proactive and get an action plan prepared in advance without waiting for instructions from the bureaucrats in Delhi? Since the Union government seems to have approved in principle the need to make investments in the judiciary to expedite justice delivery, one can expect more money being made available beyond 2015, if the judiciary is prepared to deliver, modifying in the process the systemic and processual ills that have been plaguing it for long.


Bottom-up reforms


There are six components to which the money is earmarked, all of which may not be equally relevant to all the States. Obviously the focus of the expenditure is on the trial courts where over 90 per cent of all arrears reside. However, the administrative and supervisory control exercised over them by the respective High Courts is so absolute that nothing much can happen without the Chief Justice and the portfolio judges in charge of the districts concerned allowing them the freedom to innovate and change. It is hoped that High Courts for once would welcome the initiatives from below and provide the leadership for the effective implementation of the plan even if they do not personally support the changes proposed. This may require amendment to the rules of the court: on an experimental basis this could be allowed in those districts where the plan is to be implemented. The causes of delay are not the same everywhere and a district-wise approach alone can be effective in the beginning. It is more so because the support of the Bar and court staff are critical for the success of the plan. This is easier to mobilise at the local level.


Shift courts


Half the money (about Rs.2,500 crore) is set apart to increase the number of courts operating during morning and evening hours, staffed either by regular judges on payment of additional compensation, or by re-employed retired judges. Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and a few other States have already experimented successfully with courts working in shifts, and they will naturally have a headstart in being able to expand the scheme throughout the State with the Central funds now available. It is for the High Court to decide what type of cases should be referred to the shift courts. If they are assigned small cause matters or petty offences, both pending and current, the regular courts will be left with more serious matters requiring greater attention and more judicial time. Each State will thus be entitled to double the existing number of courts through the shift system, with no additional investment on physical infrastructure.


The High Courts will be well advised to act quickly to recruit the required number of judges and staff, invest in their training for the tasks assigned, work on the rules required to regulate their functioning, and put in place a monitoring cell in the High Court to coordinate and oversee implementation.


ADR centres in districts


Considering the potential of Section 89 of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC) for the settlement of cases without trial, a sum of Rs.850 crore is assigned. Of this, Rs.100 crore is to hold 10 mega-Lok Adalats per High Court each year, and five Lok Adalats a year in each judicial district of the States. As Lok Adalats are already part of the process of dispensing justice, its systematic expansion will not pose any serious problems.


The ADR centre, one in each district, is an innovative measure to address the problem of mounting arrears through the mechanisms of mediation, conciliation, arbitration and negotiated settlement as provided for in Section 89 CPC. There are mediation centres in some High Courts, but very few in the districts. An investment of Rs. 1 crore per district ADR centre is to be used to develop the physical infrastructure and training of mediators, conciliators and arbitrators. A sum of Rs.600 crore for physical infrastructure and Rs.150 crore for training that have been earmarked are attractive enough for the system to act swiftly for the effective implementation of these new judicial institutions at the taluk and district levels.


To augment the resources of the Legal Services Authority, an additional sum of Rs.200 crore over five years is earmarked. Again this sum is to be allocated to the States in proportion to the number of courts within their jurisdiction.


Capacity building


A sum of Rs.250 crore to provide additional support to train judicial officers, Rs.300 crore to equip State Judicial Academies with necessary infrastructure and another Rs.150 crore to train public prosecutors are recommended for the five-year period. A sum of Rs.15 crores per High Court to build infrastructure for judicial academies is provided.


The faculty and infrastructure now available in the Academies are inadequate. A cadre of judicial trainers has to be developed and the practice of deputing district judges temporarily to manage training programmes should end. There is need for trainers in the areas of information-communication technology, interpersonal relationships, court and case management, judicial administration, judicial statistics, judicial performance assessment, judicial planning and so on. At least a third of the faculty members of the judicial academies will need to come from outside 'law', from management, social sciences, technology and public administration.


There is the need for a Dean of Academic Affairs in every judicial academy, who will not only develop and manage programmes but coordinate with other institutions in India and abroad to enhance the quality of training. There is the need for a research and publication cell in each academy.


Court managers


The district judges are over-worked and have very poor professional support systems. They devote a considerable length of time on non-judicial work, to manage which they have neither the expertise nor the training. It is therefore a good initiative recommended by the Finance Commission to provide qualified court managers with degrees in management (such as MBA) or law to be employed to assist judges. In planning the docket, in mobilising the parties concerned and their witnesses, in coordinating the distribution of work, in monitoring progress and removing bottlenecks, in helping assess performance and providing liaison with the public under instructions from the judge, the court manager can give assistance to make a significant difference in judicial administration.


Heritage court buildings


There are courts at the trial and appellate levels that are over 100 years old: some of them date back to the East India Company. For the restoration and conservation of 150 such buildings, Rs.450 crore has been allotted. This will help tell the story of the noble traditions of Indian justice for future generations if it is coupled with setting up a museum containing oral history accounts from lawyers and judges associated with each court, and rare court documents from different periods.




The government has declared that the next 10 years would mark the "Decade of Innovation" in every sphere of life, and the next five years, a period for judicial reforms. In pursuance of this, the Law Minister announced a National Litigation Policy under which government litigation is to be regulated to avoid unnecessary cases being filed by public authorities. The Finance Commission advised the government to release the money for States under this package, seeking that States also announce a litigation policy on the lines of what the Union government has done.


The grants announced to the States and the High Courts are without the sort of conditionalities usually attached to Centrally-sponsored schemes. The release of yearly instalments is, of course, based on the utilisation of funds allotted to the six different components of the scheme. It is now up to the High Courts in consultation with the State governments to quickly prepare plans in their respective jurisdictions and start implementation within the next few months. The State Judicial Academies should be asked to do the preparatory work under the supervision of a committee of senior judges, if necessary seeking advice from consultants. The litigant public now has a right to demand from the judiciary quicker delivery of justice, planned elimination of arrears, and enhanced access to justice. The judiciary is indeed on trial on its commitment to timely justice. No more alibis would be acceptable to the public.


(Professor N.R. Madhava Menon is the Founder-Director of the National Judicial Academy, and a former member of the Law Commission of India.)








During the debate in Parliament and outside over the Women's Reservation Bill, many people have referred to quota "success stories" worldwide — proposing that India could gain from the experience of about 40 other countries that have enacted legislation on such reservation for women.


In fact, if India were to introduce such reservation by the 2014 general elections, the number of women elected to the Lok Sabha will rise three-fold from the present 59 to 181, and India's global position will move from the present 99th rank to the 18th rank. But, for many reasons the success stories referred to need to be studied further before deciding whether India will indeed benefit from emulating them.


The biggest marvel in women's representation has no doubt been Rwanda. It is one of the world's poorest countries, still wracked by the horrific genocide of 1994 that left dead about 800,000 people, mostly belonging to the Tutsi tribe. In 2003, Rwanda's new post-genocide Constitution mandated that 30 per cent of seats in Parliament would be kept for women. In fact, in the 2008 elections, Rwanda broke all records: it topped the world with 56.3 per cent women in the lower Chambre de Deputies. Thus it became the only country with more women than men as elected representatives.


In commending Rwanda for the remarkable feat, though, many tend to ignore the demographics — post-genocide, the population of its women was 70 per cent. Most of the 'missing men' had been killed or fled the country. Even according to the latest survey, women constitute 53.5 per cent of the population. This is a figure that is far higher than that of South Asia, and even parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. The resultant increase in the number of women in positions of power may be explained in part this way.


Once they were elected in such heart-warmingly large numbers, though, Rwandan women deputies have often been criticised for not doing more on gender issues. In a study published by Oxford University Press in 2007, The Effect of Increased Women's Representation in Parliament: The Case of Rwanda, authors Devlin and Elgie have argued that they have succeeded in passing only one major piece of legislation in the past seven years that seeks the empowerment of women, compared to a slew of legislative measures relating to rape and sexual torture, mothers' rights and the quota for women itself, that were passed in the preceding seven years. Clearly, it is not enough for women to be elected to those positions, they need to be more vocal in order to bring about a change in conditions for the larger woman population.


Nowhere is that clearer than in the case of Pakistan — a country that had a woman Prime Minister two decades ago. While in power, Benazir Bhutto was unable to overturn any of the controversial parts of the Hudood ordinance, including one that required rape victims to produce four male witnesses in support of their case, failing which they could be stoned for adultery. Since 2000, the National Assembly has mandated 17.5 per cent of the seats for women in the Assembly — 60 of its 342-member strength. Yet, in 2009, when the government proposed to impose the tough Nizam e Adl Sharia ordinance for the Swat Valley — that would, among other backward measures, keep girls out of school and women out of work — none of the women in the Assembly was at the forefront to oppose it, with the exception perhaps of the outspoken Sherry Rehman.


One must remember that in Pakistan the women brought in through this quota are not actually elected — every party is 'given' a number of seats in proportion to the seats they win in the general elections, to which they nominate women. Given the sub-continental reality, these women tend not to represent the larger woman population. Instead, they "lock in" the seats for a handful of powerful families. Much as in India, the seats tend to go to the bahu-betis and other family members of established politicians and industrialists. In that sense, the fear in India of enforcing "women's-only" seats will encourage a sort of zenana section for women MPs who will only contest elections against other women.


Benazir Bhutto was not alone in the subcontinent — that had four women heads of state long before many developed parts of the world: Indira Gandhi, Sri Lanka's Sirimavo Bandaranaike and her daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga, and Bangladesh's Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia. But all of them proved rather than being an exception to the rule. They ascended to power after the death of a powerful husband or father, and collectively presided over South Asia without significantly improving the figures for women's progress in terms of girl child enrolment in schools, maternal mortality, girl-boy malnutrition levels, and parity for women at work.


Afghanistan again bears out the experience of a country that on paper has reservations for women in Parliament, but where the measure does not translate into better living conditions for them in general. Seventy-seven of 252 seats in the Lower House (31 per cent) are reserved for women, along with 25 per cent of the provincial seats. Yet, maternal mortality rates remain the highest in Afghanistan compared to the rest of the region, and the girl child enrolment figures for school are amongst the lowest, with a higher incidence of violence against women each year. Ironically, the violence even means that many of the reserved seats remain vacant there: the Taliban continue to threaten women candidates, and several gutsy women have paid with their lives for attempting to enter Parliament.


Broad problem


The broad problem across all these countries is the same — it is one thing to get women into the corridors of power, it is quite another for them to change the lives of other women. Recognising this problem, a growing number of women's bodies worldwide are suggesting that political parties be mandated to allot 33 per cent of their ticket to women, rather than simply reserving seats for them, as this would prompt a "real change" in the mindset. Many European countries follow this model. Australia's Labour Party has come up with a unique formula to reserve the ticket for women:men:women and men in the ratio 40:40:20. This ensures that neither men nor women can corner more than 60 per cent of the positions, but leaves some flexibility to choose candidates by merit.


Even the newly released UNDP report on gender equality in Asia and the Pacific ( Power, Voice and Rights, March 2010) calls seat reservations for women a "quick-fix" solution to increase their representation, but not a final tool of empowerment. While all the national parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left must be complimented for coming together with the Congress and the rest of the United Progressive Alliance to push the Women's Reservation Bill through the Rajya Sabha, they must also answer why they have been unable to put up more women candidates in the past six decades of democracy. According to the Election Commission, of the 8,070 candidates fielded during the general elections in 2009, only 556 were women (6.9 per cent). Until that reality changes, a simple 33 per cent 'presence' of women will not go beyond symbolism.


Once it does change, women can reasonably expect that besides holding up half the sky, they also hold complete control of their own destinies.


( Suhasini Haidar is Deputy Foreign Editor, CNN-IBN.)







Millions of Yemenis are starving while the international community focuses on security issues and tackling Al Qaeda, according to the United Nations. Vital deliveries of food deliveries and assistance is being cut because of a near-total absence of funding.


Nearly one in three Yemenis, more than seven million people, struggles daily to find enough food to live a healthy and productive life, leading to rates of malnutrition that are the third highest in the world, the U.N. said. A survey by its World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that, of those going hungry each day, 2.7 million are classified as "severely food insecure," meaning they spend one third of their income on bread.


"They are in a total poverty trap," Gian Carlo Cirri, WFP country director, said. "Most of the time they are illiterate, they have no access to land or water. The children are not attending school and the probability of having a malnourished child in the family is extremely high." WFP estimates it requires $105m this year and next to feed more than three million of Yemen's poor and hungry, including 250,000 people displaced by the recent war in the north and the boatloads of Somali refugees pouring into the country.


Yet the agency's accounts so far this year are barely breaking even. Cirri said it had received just a single donation of food and cooking oil worth $4.8m from the U.S.; the same amount as the internal loan the agency was forced to take out recently.


Traditional donors to WFP Yemen, including Germany, Saudi Arabia and Britain, have yet to pledge assistance, a move seen by some as reluctance to write blank cheques for the government of President Abdullah Ali Saleh, without concrete reforms that would help ease Yemen's acute instability.


A conference last month in the Saudi capital brought together Yemen's Gulf neighbours, building on discussions in London in January on how to spend the $5.7 billion of investment pledged in 2006, but of which less than 10 per cent has been disbursed.


The massive humanitarian intervention in Haiti has also had a direct negative impact on relief aid to Yemen, even as rising food prices, falling fuel revenues, and cuts to remittance flows due to the financial crisis have increased poverty here by nearly 25 per cent since 2006, wiping out decades of development.


If new donations do not arrive by June, the WFP will be unable to continue distributing food rations to refugees fleeing fighting with Shia rebels in the country's north. For families like that of 30-year-old Jamila Ali al-Mohn — a mother of four from the picturesque but poor village of Thulla, 50 km north-west of Sanaa — that means hunger.


At the WFP-sponsored distribution centre in Thulla recently, Mohn, along with a few dozen other new mothers, collected her two-month support bag of grain, oil, sugar and salt and carried it on her head back up the steep hill to the house she shares with two other families.


"We haven't eaten meat for a year. If there's money I go and buy eggs and vegetables from the market, but other than that all we have is bread and tea," said Mohn, sitting on the floor of a room filled with children.


Her husband, the breadwinner, was at work, the first day's labour he had had on the farm for two months, she said.

When there's no farming, like most others, he travels to Sanaa with a bundle of narcotic qat leaves to sell to the many addicts of the city. He makes about $30 a week.


"If there was no WFP I would have to ask for help from my mother," said Mohn.


Asked why her mother was in a position to help, Mohn replied: "She is sick so receives benefits of $35 every three months." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010







  • The Sami people have an ethical relationship with nature
  • They had shown notable ability to adapt to changing climate conditions
  • Governments still resist the idea that Arctic indigenous peoples have something unique to contribute
  • As global warming and habitat degradation accelerate, people indigenous to the Arctic circle say they have much to teach the world.


Elina Helander-Renvall comes from Utsjoki, a place so obscure that even many Finns have little idea where it is. Utsjoki, or Ochejohka, Uccjuuha, and Uccjokk, depending on which local language you are speaking, is Finland's northern-most municipality. Straddling the border with Norway, it shivers, unregarded, deep inside the Arctic circle, a few icy miles from the shores of the Arctic Ocean.


Utsjoki, population 1,034, is home to Finland's largest concentration of Sami speakers, the indigenous people once loosely known as Lapps who have eked out an itinerant existence herding reindeer across the frozen wastes of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and western Russia since the last Ice Age. Nearly 50 per cent of Utsjoki's population are Sami. In Finnish terms, it's the closest this eternal minority has got to being the majority.


Born and raised on the margin though she was, Helander-Renvall's message these days is strictly mainstream. As accelerating climate change and other man-made environmental degradations create growing alarm across the planet, the Sami people have much to teach the world about how to adapt, survive, and thrive, she says.


Lot to learn


"There is a lot to learn from the Sami, they have the traditional ecological knowledge, they really know about nature," said Helander-Renvall, head of the Arctic Indigenous Peoples Office at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi. "They have the most precise knowledge about the weather conditions, about the plants, the diet, the resources. The Sami people have an ethical relationship with nature; a respect for nature that also has a spiritual side."


The Arctic region is uniquely vulnerable to global warming, but if it is to weather the storm, it would do well to adopt Sami methods of land and resource management, communal cooperation and communication, local knowledge and best practice, she said.


In order to keep a reindeer herd out of trouble, for example, a knowledge of different types of snow could be decisive, Helander-Renvall said. Muohta (ordinary snow) or oppas (untouched snow) might be safe. But the presence of sievla (wet snow), skarta (thin, ice-like snow layers) or ceavvi (a hard layer that the reindeer cannot penetrate in search of lichen) could dictate a life—saving change of route or decision to move camp.


Local knowledge will also be vital to the large-scale industrial development on the fast-expanding oil and gas fields of western Russia's Yamal peninsula, and for the burgeoning commercial and tourism industries in the Scandinavian north. Knowing where it is safe to build, how to site the foundations for a new road, airstrip or pipeline, what terrain to avoid, and how to do so responsibly while protecting biological diversity will all be increasingly important. "We need to preserve and transfer indigenous knowledge to future generations," Helander-Renvall said.


Professor Monica Tennberg of the Arctic Research Centre in Rovaniemi said the Sami had shown notable ability to adapt to changing climate conditions. "We've seen how the community adapts, for example finding new ways to deal with floods. We've seen better cooperation, better municipal leadership, better communications, better early warning systems," she said. Adverse effects of climate change on pasture and traditional herding trails had been met with new rotation and migration patterns and also by a tighter communal discipline.


Enormous challenges


The Arctic as a whole faces enormous challenges. Broadly speaking the region is warming at double the rate of the rest of the world, said Paula Kankaanpaa, director of the Research Centre, with local "hotspots" that fare even worse.


Symptoms include reduced sea ice; the opening of blue-water sea passages both east and west in summer, north of Canada and Russia; increased levels of carbon-carrying organic waste in the Arctic Ocean caused by melting tundra; coastal erosion due to increased wave activity; loss of habitat for large mammals such as seals and polar bears and growing disruption of indigenous human communities.


Governments still resist the idea that Arctic indigenous peoples have something unique to contribute. Canada announced this month that it will convene a foreign ministers' meeting of the five Arctic Ocean states (Canada, Russia, the U.S., Norway and Denmark/Greenland) in March "to encourage new thinking on responsible development" and "reinforce ongoing collaboration in the region".


To their dismay, Arctic indigenous people's organisations, including the Sami, Inuit and Inuvialuit, were not invited. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









Just two days after the Rajya Sabha passed the Women's Reservation Bill, all parties seem to be having second thoughts on the issue. While the Congress is launching a charm offensive to win back some of the estranged allies who were miffed about its handling of the vote on Tuesday, senior BJP leaders are muttering darkly about underlying opposition to the bill among party MPs. The only parties that will sleep peacefully at night are the Communist ones.


One thing is clear: the women's quota will set off a huge political backlash among male politicians since it will impact them the most. The law of unintended consequences tells us that in "any intervention in a complex system may or may not have the intended result, but will inevitably create unanticipated and often undesirable outcomes". If the desirable outcome in the passing of the women's bill is greater female participation in the legislative process, the unintended consequence will be changing political equations.


The last bit was demonstrated last Tuesday when Left, Right and Centre voted for the bill with grand speeches. Foes turned friends for a day. But on Wednesday, as the enormity of the act hit all the big players, backbones turned to jelly. In the Congress, there are worries that the defeated Yadavs and other allies will try to embarrass them on the budget.


In the BJP, there is concern about whether Sonia Gandhi has managed to outwit them twice over: first, by forcing them to vote with the government, and, second, by breaking up the growing opposition unity over prices. For Nitish Kumar in Bihar, who managed to alienate his own party by backing the women's quota, the coming state assembly election will open up new options and threats: he may be in a position to choose between the Congress and the BJP as partners.


The Yadavs, who were written off as yesterday's men after the last Lok Sabha elections, are suddenly sniffing comebacks. They have managed to get the Muslims worried about whether their political clout will decline once women's quotas are a reality. If the Yadavs start gaining traction again in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the whole Congress gameplan of reviving itself will come unstuck. For the BJP, which has been routed in UP and is playing second fiddle in Bihar, the women's bill opens up a Pandora's box of uncertainties. We are in for interesting times.







The Indian civil services, particularly the Indian Administrative Service, have not changed quite as much as they should have to cater to the needs of a dynamic, growing young nation. Various attempts to change the requirements and criteria of officers have failed over the years, as they have for the similarly old-fashioned Indian Police Service.


 The Centre's decision to change the civil services preliminary examination to a civil services aptitude test is, therefore, to be welcomed. To come into effect from 2011, the intent is to look for bureaucrats who will be better attuned to the demands of the job rather than primarily focus on being repositories of information.
Of the many problems India faces, not all can be blamed on politicians. It is, after all, the bureaucrats who do the actual ruling of the nation and it is they who need to be best suited to their jobs.


All too often, the bureaucracy not just obfuscates vital issues, but also acts as a major stumbling block in the path of change. For progress or development to take place across the country, the primary obstacle course is usually a recalcitrant and unwilling bureaucrat. The very response to the Right to Information Act from babus —stonewalling, for fear that their wayward ways will become known to the world — is a fine example of the way babudom works.


The caveats for the government are obvious. One, it should ensure that the change in the test is not mere tokenism. Two, the examination should take into account the challenging and changing demands put on bureaucrats when they start out on their careers. Three, the right things must be measured in the test, especially attitudes to serving the people. The oft-repeated comment about the civil service is that it is neither civil nor provides worthwhile service.


For too many years now, the civil services preliminary test has been about cramming information — some of it obscure — and regurgitating it. While it can be no one's suggestion that our civil servants be ignorant or ill-informed, it is also a fact that they can often just be people who learnt things by rote.


What we need is a civil service which understands various aspects of Indian society so that it can truly be "served". Hopefully, the new test will enable us to weed out people who want to be masters, not servants of society.








There is a new mood of resurgence on Gujarat's farms. Farm incomes have more than doubled during the past 10 years, and are likely to grow even more in the coming years. Gujarat's agriculture is expected to grow by at least 9 per cent year-on-year in the coming years, compared with just 2-2.5 per cent for the rest of the country. For the first time in India's history, even farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been flocking to Gujarat just to see what makes the state's farms so vibrant. Some have even begun purchasing land in Gujarat to grow crops in that state.

The roots of the agricultural revolution in the state lay in 2002-03 when Narendra Modi, Gujarat's controversial chief minister, decided to revamp the supply of electricity to farms and to industry. Plagued by mounting power losses (caused by lines tripping and also by theft), Modi decided to supply quality power to the farms for at least four hours without any interruption — but only at night. He sold the idea to farmers thus: accessing power at night would allow them to run their pumps on three-phase electricity, thus saving them the cost of diesel-powered pumps. This single move allowed him to authorise the switching off of power supplies to farms during the day when industry, too, could get quality power without frequent breakdowns. Moreover, since most electric pumps would work only for a limited number of hours, it saved on precious groundwater too.
The next was to allow for farmers to integrate with consumers. So in 2003-04, Modi introduced laws permitting contract farming. This helped farmers sell their produce to large purchasers at least a year in advance and also facilitated industry clients to invest in farmers on a long-term basis.

To galvanise the farming community, he began in 2005 an annual month-long event called Krishi Mahotsav (farm festival), where all government officers, vendors (of seeds, micro-irrigation — MI — equipment, fertilisers and pesticides) and even agricultural researchers and professors are required to visit each of the identified 18,600 villages. This is when farmers meet large consumers, create marketing linkages and even consult agronomists and government officials. Modi monitors complaints from farmers personally, keeping all concerned on their toes, and creating the groundswell — a critical prerequisite for any mass movement.
He then proceeded to set up the Gujarat Green Revolution Company (GGRC) — the pivot around which Gujarat's future agricultural growth will depend. GGRC focuses on MI. One of its moves was to extend subsidies on MI to all farmers instead of restricting it only to small farmers. The reason: big farmers are the first to experiment with new ideas. Most small farmers follow.

The GGRC masterstroke was to make the subsidy available only to vendors who could offer ongoing extension services in terms of advice on plant nutrition and protection from qualified agronomists. This move affected MI suppliers. One firm, the largest player in the country, saw its market share in Gujarat plummet from 80 per cent to 20 per cent, while an Israeli firm saw its market share rise from around 10 per cent to 60 per cent. The latter's agronomists are more in demand than researchers from Gujarat's farm universities.

The shift to MI is critical. Less than 37 per cent of Gujarat's 95 lakh hectares of cultivable land is under irrigation (canal or tubewell). The rest is rain-fed. When rains fail, so does agriculture. Yet tubewells, which irrigate almost 18 lakh hectares, deplete groundwater reserves. To control this, Modi ordered the construction of check dams so that water from streams and ponds stays impounded and doesn't flow into drains and the sea. Over the last eight years, almost two lakh check dams have been built which, in turn, have allowed groundwater levels to soar.

But even this water may not be adequate to meet Gujarat's needs. That is why Modi has been pushing for increasing the height of the Narmada dam and for MI. MI saves on water as it allows for higher productivity using much less water and fertiliser. For example, in cotton, if rainfed land can yield 0.3-0.4 tonnes an acre, canal/tubewell irrigation can yield 0.8-1.5 tonnes. But introduce micro-irrigation (which combines drip irrigation with feeding fertiliser and pesticides directly to plant roots) and yields can rise to 2-2.5 tonnes — a near three-fold increase over regular irrigation. Besides, farmers save on water, fertiliser and pesticides, too. Similar is the case with wheat, sugarcane, potato and green chillies.

In the past five years, almost 1 per cent of the irrigated land has come under MI. Each one has a success story to tell — with yields doubling, often more. The demonstration effect of these farms is beginning to catch on with other farmers, and the conversion rate is accelerating. But Gujarat's success story is far from over.







Oh my God!" muttered the budding writer to a socialite-friend, "you look so different, well, I mean so nice and…" And then she stopped abruptly midway through her sentence, realising that she was about to stray into blunder-land with the OMG hype.


You see, the amply-endowed friend usually wears ill-fitting designer western clothes or designer saris with rhinestones and loads of other semi-precious stones that hurt the eyes, like full-on headlights. All of which makes her appear quite gauche, when not gaudy.


This evening she looked like a heavenly beauty who had just stepped out of a Raja Ravi Varma portrait — courtesy a traditional South Indian silk sari with a resplendent border, set alight by the kind of jewellery that adorns Raj Ravi Varma's women. Mercifully, she was following the dress code of the evening.


It was the Delhi launch last Saturday of Rupika Chawla's book, Raja Ravi Varma — Painter of Colonial India (Mapin Publishing), for which the guests, both men and women, had been requested to wear clothes inspired by the painter's canvases. Sportingly, a large number did, with flowers craftily incorporated into the coiffures of several enthusiastic women.


It was a wonderful, moving tableau. Moreover, there was even a deliciously piquant irony in the setting — The Imperial Hotel. A showcase of Delhi's imperial past, its walls are adorned by portraits of the rulers of the Raj and original works of the Daniells, Zollanys, Emily Eden and several other British painters.


The launch was in the Royal Ball Room where the almost-ceiling-high banners with exquisitely produced images from Raja Ravi Varma's paintings were souciantly juxtaposed with imperial art. The painter emulated European academic realism — and the use of oils — but his subjects were Indian: scenes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana, vignettes from Kalidasa's plays, portraits of national leaders, Indian nobility and ordinary people — and much else.


Long after the iterant aristocrat painter's death in 1906 — and one might add a man ahead of his times — his huge body of work (amplified manifold through oleographs) was used by leaders like Lokmanya Tilak to propel the nationalist movement forward.


The lavishly illustrated and designed book is a coffee table tome alright — and full marks for that. But for me the book's value lies in the sleuthing talents of the author. Chawla has in dogged pursuit traversed the country over many years, sniffing out the faintest of clues. This is a pithy book with new insights. The result is the publication of many Raja Ravi Varma paintings that have never been seen before; letters, archival material and insights into the way he painted gleaned from the diary of the Raja of Aundh (near Pune), in whose court the prince-painter spent a lot of time painting.


The Raja was obviously an acute and obsessive observer barraging the painter with a volley of questions. Explains Chawla: "He writes about the way Raja Ravi Varma painted, the hours he painted and about the time and trouble he took to get emotion on the faces he made, reworking them several times... He also writes about the painter's fascination for the nine yard sari because it showed the body so well."


Biography is all about getting under the skin of the subject. Not only does Chawla do so, but also portrays the times the painter lived in. She shows us how this modern man with a vision was able to use turn-of-the-century technological innovations such as electricity, the railways, newspapers and oleographs.


During the Jaipur Literature festival, the renowned biographer Claire Tomalin compared the biographer's craft to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The skill lay in filling in the "empty bits", according to her. For Tomalin, writing biography was also like crafting lace, "making the narrative round the holes". Well, Chawla's getting quite deft at lace-making.










The raucous scenes in the Lok Sabha orchestrated by members of the Samajwadi Party and the RJD and a handful of others seeking revocation of the suspension of seven members for disrupting the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha when it deliberated on the Women's Reservation Bill last week have compounded the misdemeanours of these parties. 


Vice-President Hamid Ansari in his capacity as Rajya Sabha chairperson was well within his rights to suspend the recalcitrant members who spared no effort in preventing the passage of the long-pending Women's Bill. When an overwhelming majority in the Upper House was committed to the passage of the Bill, it was grossly improper of these dissenting parties to seek to throttle free discussion by raising slogans, jumping into the well of the House and breaking the Speaker's mike. By their obstructionist tactics and their blatant attempt to block the business of the House, they left the Chairman no option but to have them ejected from the House by marshals. If, in the process, the prestige and majesty of the House stood compromised it is these members who are to blame.


That members of the SP, the RJD and a section of Janata Dal (U) have not stopped at that and are now engaged in stalling the Lok Sabha, which is due to take up the Women's Bill, is an index of not only the absence of any remorse but also their disregard of public opinion at large which is overwhelmingly against such riotous scenes in a hallowed chamber. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal is perfectly right when he says that the seven suspended members must apologize for their behaviour as a condition for the revocation of their suspension. That is the least that must be expected of them.


Surely, dissent is an essential part of democracy and however small their number those who disagree with a proposed legislation must give vent to their feelings. But this must be done within the bounds of civilised behaviour without obstructing the business of the House. When time comes for the debate on the Women's Bill in the Lok Sabha, dissenting leaders like Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mr Lalu Yadav and Mr Sharad Yadav must speak up. But until that happens, they must allow the House to transact business.








WEDNESDAY's directive by the Punjab and Haryana High Court asking the Haryana government to entrust the responsibility of bringing the recalcitrant khap panchayats to book on Deputy Commissioners and Senior Superintendents of Police is well thought out. A Division Bench consisting of Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal and Justice Jasbir Singh has rightly observed that the state government cannot absolve itself of blame for the continued menace of these extra-constitutional bodies in the state. 


There is neither political will nor bureaucratic support to root it out. As the DC and the SSP are the eyes and ears of the state government in every district, there is due justification for the High Court to make the two top functionaries accountable for lapses. Going a step further, Justice Mudgal observed that if a DC or SSP failed to control the situation, their failure should be reflected in their annual confidential reports. Such a fiat is timely because the state government has failed to rein in these bodies. Not a day passes in Haryana without these members passing orders annulling marriages, asking couples to live like brothers and sisters and socially ostracising them if they flouted their diktat.


Significantly, Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal's directive to the state government to initiate exemplary action against one or two khap panchayats expeditiously is worthwhile because it is bound to act as a deterrent. If these pseudo bodies are able to flout the rule of law and continue to act against the due process of law with impunity, it is only because of the lack of fear the law and the system evoke. Unfortunately, since these panchayats claim to represent the region's dominant caste, the political leadership is reluctant to lay its hands on them for fear of losing vital vote banks.


The Division Bench's proposal to the government to invoke the Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act, 1967, against the khap panchayats also merits attention. Clearly, the legislation, under which a maximum imprisonment of seven years can be awarded to each person found guilty, will come in handy for the district officials while reining in the khap panchayats. The state government, instead of opposing this move on the pretext of the "law and order situation", would do well to implement it in letter and spirit.








Haryana's fiscal fitness has suffered a jolt. From being surplus for three years the state budget for 2010-11, tabled on Wednesday, has left a deficit of Rs 3,912 crore. Last year, ahead of the elections, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda had separately announced Rs 700 crore worth sops on the day his Finance Minister presented the budget. As Chief Minister he had doled out concessions, including a debt waiver, of about Rs 4,200 crore to farmers alone. Though Mr Hooda returned to power with a reduced majority, his populism, if unchecked, could push the state into serious financial trouble.


The government staff's pay and pension revision has cost the exchequer Rs 4,000 crore. While the downturn slowed tax revenue, especially from real estate and mining, the Rs 1,500 crore stimulus helped the industry but depleted the treasury. Shortly before this budget the government had raised the value added tax (VAT) from 4 to 5 per cent. Now a surcharge has been imposed to collect Rs 300 crore for the urban and rural local bodies, which have been facing a resource crunch since octroi was scrapped.


Though the surcharge is seen as the only new levy in the budget, the proposed public-private partnership (PPP) model for infrastructure building will put an additional burden on the industry and the public. Since people generally protest a new tax, the government resorts to heavy borrowings every year. Haryana's debt has reached a scary level at Rs 44,000 crore. Though the Finance Minister, Capt Ajay Singh Yadav's priorities are right – the focus on infrastructure, social welfare, education and health – he has to guard against the deteriorating financial condition of the state, which fortunately still hopes to grow at 8 per cent or so. The government has to ensure that benefits of growth are evenly distributed and the growing rural-urban income disparities are taken care of. 
















Never before was there an atmosphere as conducive as it exists today to ensure closer relations between India and Saudi Arabia. Both need each other to protect and promote their varied interests. Both can be useful to each other considerably. Both have certain common concerns, which call for urgent attention.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit to Saudi Arabia, which came after Saudi King Abdullah's visit to India in 2006, highlighted the need for greater concentration on how to take their relations to a new high. The Riyadh Declaration, issued at the end of Dr Manmohan Singh's visit, is a reiteration of the resolve taken four years ago when the Delhi Declaration was issued. As the two countries move towards having a "strategic partnership", it must be pointed out that both face a serious threat to peace and progress, directly or indirectly, from the same forces wedded to an extremist ideology.


In the post-9/11 scenario, there has been near-unanimity of views between India and Saudi Arabia on how to handle the Taliban in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia is appreciative of India's role in the reconstruction of the violence-torn country. During Dr Manmohan Singh's Riyadh visit the Saudis made a special mention of the development projects undertaken by India despite the threat to the Indians working there.


India's commitment to carry on its humanitarian mission in Afghanistan has been reiterated after National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon's latest trip to Kabul. The Saudis, who had a soft corner for the Taliban before 9/11, want such elements to be dealt with sternly if they refuse to change their ways. Riyadh appears to be apprehensive of any formula that can help the Taliban strengthen its position in Afghanistan. The obvious reason is the Taliban factions continue to work as extensions of Al-Qaida.


The Saudi view cannot match the perceptions of Pakistan, which wants to use certain factions of the Taliban to achieve its objectives in Afghanistan, including that of having strategic depth. Islamabad has also been pursuing a policy of using Pakistan-based terrorist outfits working against India to realise its geopolitical ambitions in South Asia. These outfits, functioning under the patronage of Pakistan's intelligence agencies, are believed to have established close links with Al-Qaida. Thus, Pakistan can be held guilty of indirectly helping Al-Qaida to sustain itself.


The Saudis cannot be comfortable with the situation that prevails in the Af-Pak region. If Saudi Arabia has been the target of attack from Al-Qaida's bases in Yemen and elsewhere in West Asia, there is also a serious threat to its interests from Al-Qaida allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Saudis cannot forget the string of bombings they experienced in 2003 by Al-Qaida. The terrorist outfit's long-term agenda includes toppling of the monarchies in the Arab world, including that in Saudi Arabia.


There is, perhaps, realisation in Riyadh that the extremists operating from the Af-Pak region must be fought with cooperation from different countries, particularly those directly affected by the destructive activities of these elements. The India-Saudi Arabia Extradition Treaty, signed during Dr Manmohan Singh's Riyadh visit, should be seen against this backdrop.


India will have to continue to remind Saudi Arabia that the interests of both countries remain threatened by the same forces of death and destabilisation. Once the Saudis are convinced, they can be expected to make Pakistan mend its ways. As is well known, Saudi Arabia enjoys considerable influence over Pakistan. No other country is better placed to force Pakistan to abandon its policy of using jihadi terrorism for achieving geopolitical objectives. Any policy that can jeopardise stability in any part of the world cannot be tolerated.


If India and Saudi Arabia together can break the back of terrorism, they can also contribute tremendously to the cause of the emergence of an Asian century. Saudi Arabia, which is flush with funds, has been looking for investment opportunities in Asia after the situation in the post-9/11 world took a turn for the worse for Arab investors in the West. Riyadh has been showing considerable interest in India with India's growth story becoming a subject of serious discussion the world over.


The time has come to impress upon the Saudis that they have ample and safe opportunities for investment in India's infrastructure projects. India needs huge investments in this sector. As a fast-developing economy, it is striving to have world-class infrastructure that includes roads, railways, airports, seaports and power generation facilities. Besides, there is enough scope for industrial ventures in different fields.


India's financial system has stood the test of time. It remained unaffected by the 1997 East Asian currency crisis. The global recession, now on the wane, too, has had only a marginal impact on the Indian economy. This has highlighted the robustness of India's economic edifice. The Saudis investing in India have, therefore, little to worry about.


The Saudis can bring about a qualitative change in their oil-based economy by enabling India to participate in its development projects in a big way. India has the necessary technological expertise to bring about an industrial revolution in the Arab kingdom. In the process, India can get Saudi help for ensuring adequate energy supplies for its industrial, agricultural and other consumers.


Once the Saudis acquire a considerable stake in the Indian economy, Pakistan will have no guts to continue with its strategy of bleeding India through a thousand cuts. For the sake of its own economic viability Islamabad will have to abandon its negative approach. In fact, the time has come when the people of Pakistan themselves will not spare a government that refuses to bother about their economic interests. Pakistan's Kashmir-centric policy, which has brought only misery to the people, will have to be given up forever when India and Saudi Arabia are seen together.


Interestingly, Saudi Arabia, like India, stands for safeguarding the "sovereignty and independence" of Afghanistan after the US-led multinational troops leave that country, as announced by President Barack Obama. This means the Saudis are against meddling by Pakistan in Afghanistan's internal affairs through proxy Taliban factions. Closer relations between India and Saudi Arabia can, therefore, restrain Pakistan from playing a negative role in the region.








The way you speak indexes your personality. It is a highly-prized quality."The man or woman who talks well is easier to admire than the one who doesn't talk; and talking well is necessary for anyone who aspires to cultivate the art of success," says J.F. Bender.


Most, in quest of a career, talk carelessly. What they utter is little better than drivel, dull and toneless. The garrulous ones talk twenty to the ten. Some are tongue-tied so that they find it hard to utter a few words. Then there are those who have to torment themselves to say even a few words.


You may not fall in any of these categories but you like to sparkle in your conversation. It is an art which you can learn by mastering its techniques.


If you have a single-track mind, just one subject, and can talk about nothing else, you will be regarded as a bore who drags his tale.


Having a variety of interests can make you confident to talk on a number of subjects. Your talk should range from cabbage to kings rather than the performance of Team India. Don't run the whole gamut of emotions from A to B.


Be inquisitive, curious. Find out. Be intellectually curious. The full, the dead and the duffer ask no questions.


Learn something new, giving it a part of leisure time. In a few years, you will become familiar with a number of

subjects and be able to talk confidently about anyone of them.


Read newspapers and magazines to keep abreast with current events as well as cultural, political, social and economic aspects of life.


Lace your talk with wit and humour. Humorous anecdotes add sparkle to your talk. You cannot be an Oscar Wilde but you can see the funny side in everything and laugh at it.


A bore talks in the first person, a gossip in the third, but a sparkling conversationalist in the second. Talk of the interests of others in your company. Listen to them. Dale Carnegie says: "Listening is one of the highest compliments we can pay to anyone".


Don't dominate. Nor be selfish. Conversation is like badminton. If you keep the shuttle-cock to yourself you kill the game.


Anecdotes are the raisins in the bun. These must be well-chosen. Cultivate the art of using expressive and telling anecdotes to point a moral, to drive an argument, to add vim to talk, and to amuse your audience.


Avoid banality.Vary the pitch of your voice. Avoid monotonous tones. A well-modulated voice, a voice which rises and falls pleasantly on the ear is winsome. Read aloud poetry for a few minutes every day.


Be clear. Your listener should understand it without effort. Utterances which do not give emphasis to the ending of sentences are jarring. Make your speech crisp and clear.

Speak in a cheerful tone. A moaning mournful voice scares the listener. Voice should be warm-hearted and touch the right chord. An icy voice casts a chill and depresses the listener.


Avoid inanities like "did I not tell you"? "Sort of", "You know", "I mean" "kind of", "that's what I said", "yaar", "bastard", "bitch", "shit". Use clean vocabulary. It pays to do so.


If you are a small fish, do not talk like a whale.









When Ms Arundhati Roy added her voice to the elusive Maoist leader Kishanji for a 72-day ceasefire and talks, it was sure that the Maoists were feeling the pressure of the counter-Maoist operations.The past operations were inside states allowing the Maoists to escape to the inter-state boundaries. These are places you're least likely to have maps of, observed Gen Bill Slim, one of World War II's finest military commanders.


The thrust of the ongoing operations is on state borders between Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra and Jharkhand and Orissa. Trapping the Maoists will take one more year and several Operation Greenhunts which are being coordinated by Mr Vijay Raman, DIG, CRPF.


Already 58 CPMF battalions, which include a few from the BSF and the ITBP, assisted by the IAF, are assembling to assist the state police to launch the new strategy of clear, hold and develop.


Rather naïvely, Home Minister P. Chidambaram has sought four words from the Maoists before considering their call for a ceasefire. He wants Maoist supremo Ganapati to say: "We will abjure violence".


Ganapati is known to have told Swedish journalist Jan Myrdal last year that their people's war will be protracted. In 2004, before peace talks with Andhra Pradesh, he observed that negotiations are unlikely to achieve anything. The last thing Mr Chidambaram should do is to accept the offer for talks, even if we need time.


Home Secretary G.K. Pillai provided last week at the IDSA, New Delhi, new insights into Maoists' long-term strategy of seizing power by 2050-60. He expressed doubts about the success of ongoing operations but claimed that 400 sq km of territory had been reclaimed from the Maoists. He expected the current counter-Maoist strategy to succed not before seven to 10 years.


No wonder the Maoists have expanded their presence to 233 of India's 626 districts with 76 districts under their influence and control, and 33 of these have been chosen for treatment by the special security and development package.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been saying since 2006 that the Maoists pose the gravest internal security threat to India. Mr Chidambaram, who is trying to turn the situation around, has admitted that successive governments under estimated the threat and operations at the very least should have been launched in 2004 when the MCC and the PWG merged to form the CPI (Maoist).


In his Budget speech last month, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee devoted nearly three paragraphs to the Maoist challenge while disposing of defence in four lines, he underlined the importance of the Cabinet Secretary's task force on LWE (Maoists) of 2008 and the Planning Commission's integrated action plan for the Maoists-affected areas.


It is heartening that eventually the government is seen to be acting but a great deal more work is required to contain and defeat the 10,000 or so Maoists operating under a centralised command with skills and resources far in excess of what states can muster.


Fifteen of the 33 top Maoist leaders have been killed or arrested with Kishanji's deputy, Dipak, nabbed only last week.


With political will and synergy between the Centre and the states the Maoists can be quelled but the task must be completed in the next two to three years and not a decade.


The Naxals (Maoists) restricted to West Bengal were militarily defeated in 1971 five years after their birth through a joint Army-state police operation called Steeplechase. Three Divisions of the Army, including the 50 Para Brigade, were employed. More than 40,000 troops were deployed in the country's largest and most successful internal security operations.


A counter-Maoist strategy will succeed when there is a political consensus between the Centre and the states on eradicating the Maoist menace and accepting it no longer is a law and order problem under the exclusive charge of state governments.


Like in the North-East, where, politicians have invariably maintained links with the underground, the Maoists too have strong political connections.


Found after the Silda camp massacre last month in West Bengal was the diary of the late Surajbhan Thapa. It read: "threat to life is all the time. The threat of party politics of a few people has endangered the existence of the country".


The state police is mainly armed with .303 rifles, is poorly trained, motivated and led. Funds for modernisation which increased after Mumbai are under-utilised and being diverted to housing and welfare of the police rather than spent on buying smarter weapons. Moulding the police to effectively tackle the Maoists and other internal security threats requires implementation of police reforms and its depoliticisation.


The CPMF, though not designed for counter-insurgency, is the best force available and with right training and equipment can contain the Maoists. Bihar is set to raise an ex-servicemen battalion — and lateral induction of serving personnel in the police will bolster capacity


The Army has been involved since 2006 in helping conceptualise the counter-Maoist strategy, training the state police forces at counter-insurgency schools and assisting the states in establishing 20 such schools in the most seriously affected states.


The Army is establishing cantonments in the Maoist-affected states and the proposal to raise Rashtriya Rifles battalions to counter the Maoists has been rejected. It does not wish to be sucked into fighting the Maoists.


The mobilisation of resources to better administer the Maoist-affected zones is underway. Operations must not be delayed or postponed for negotiations as once the monsoon sets in, it will be advantage Maoists.


A unified command is always useful to achieve optimum resource mobilisation and results. Since the new strategy envisages developing the task force on governance, development must follow in tandem with the operational units as is being done in Afghanistan.


The Cabinet Secretary task force is to ensure coordination between development and security in 33 districts identified as severely affected by the Maoists. According to one survey, 85 of the country's 100 poorest districts are in seven of the ten Maoist affected states.


The socio-economic development campaign is elaborate and government figures on laying new roads and improving existing ones, providing benefits of the Forests Rights Act and other central schemes for the last three to four years are impressive. For example, disbursement under the guaranteed rural employment scheme is Rs 5,050 crore; electrification Rs 2,300 crore; drinking water Rs 600 crore; sanitation Rs 1,122 crore; education Rs 2,154 crore and housing Rs 413 crore.


National and state road construction under the Rs 7,300-crore package has suffered due to interference by the Maoists. Even the famous Border Roads Organisation, which has completed projects in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, has been unable to make much headway in Chhattisgarh. A lacuna is the absence of a mechanism to verify the conversion of funds into projects on the ground. A task force to monitor projects is essential.


Last year's casualties in the Maoist attacks read: 591 civilians, 317 security forces and 217 Maoists. These figures are higher than casualties from violence in J&K and the North-East. The monsoon must not rob the security forces of having a go at the first Centre-state joint operations.


It's time to step up the heat and not fall into the familiar Assam charade of politics superseding military operations. The on-today, off-tomorrow operational philosophy will make Surajbhan Thapa turn in his grave.








The parties in Angela Merkel's increasingly embattled government were struggling to digest their worst popularity rating in nearly a decade on Wednesday, less than six months after the German Chancellor had described her ruling alliance of conservatives and liberals as the country's "dream" coalition.


The damning appraisal came from the Forsa poll group, which found that a massive 84 per cent of Germans thought that Ms Merkel's coalition partners were locked in perpetual dispute. Only 8 per cent believed that the government showed unity of purpose.


The popularity of Ms Merkel's conservatives has sunk two points to 33 per cent, while that of her liberal Free Democrat coalition partners has fallen to a mere 8 per cent. Stern magazine, on whose behalf the poll was conducted, concluded: "The two parties used to be regarded as natural partners, but their popularity has now sunk to its lowest level in nine years."


Ms Merkel has herself been the target of mounting criticism since forming her new coalition last year, on matters from her leadership to her judgement.


However Ms Merkel's own shortcomings – a term which only a year ago would never have been used in connection with Germany's first woman leader – pale when compared to her chief partner in government: Germany's gay liberal leader, Guido Westerwelle, who is also both Foreign Minister and Free Democrat Party chairman.


The abrasive Mr Westerwelle was ridiculed in the media and elsewhere last September when he refused to answer a question in English that had been put to him by a BBC journalist. Since then hardly a week has gone by without his attracting negative attention.


Buoyed up by one of his right-wing liberal party's best electoral performances, Mr Westerwelle has been engaged in a bitter dispute with the conservatives over the tax cuts which he pledged to introduce during his campaign. But these have been dismissed as "unrealistic" by the conservatives.


The issue came to a head last month when Germany's constitutional court ruled that the low amounts paid out under the country's hugely unpopular social security system – known as Harz IV – were inadequate. Mr Westerwelle was again widely criticised for claiming that Germany had become a country of "late Roman decadence" in which the unemployed were better rewarded than those who went to work.


Mr Westerwelle has also failed to score many popularity points for the government as Foreign Minister. His main claim to fame has been to encourage the removal of all remaining US nuclear warheads from Germany. Many argue that such an initiative harks back to the early 1980s and is almost irrelevant today.


If that were not enough, Mr Westerwelle was yesterday again under fire for allowing Michael Mronz, an events manager who is his gay partner, to accompany him on his current whistle-stop tour of Latin America. Mr Mronz was said to have used the tour to tout for business. But Mr Westerwelle refused to accept criticism and insisted that his partner had paid for himself.


Ms Merkel has clearly sensed that her coalition with the liberals has failed to produce the dream-team results she expected six months ago. With key elections in North Rhine-Westfalia – Germany's most populous state – less than two months away, she has refused to be drawn into a damaging public row with the liberals. Instead there are suggestions that she is preparing to ditch them. Ms Merkel's party is already working out plans to join forces with the environmentalist Green Party in the state.


Last week she dismissed as "nonsense" the idea that such a coalition might work at a national level, but, as one commentator remarked on Wednesday: "Her reaction was so heavy that she seemed to have been caught red-handed planning such an alliance." Already, 46 per cent of Germans think that a conservative-Green coalition would be better for their country. By contrast 62 per cent think that conservatives and liberals "simply don't fit together".


— By arrangement with The Independent








Wouldn't you know it? Just as the popular press is getting up to speed with the idea that older women enjoy sex – a notion so scary that some have been dubbed "cougars" – a new piece of research suggests that men can expect a longer and more satisfying sex life than women.


You can relax, guys: according to the online BMJ, studies in the US show at least twice as many men as women in the 75-85 age group are still sexually active. And they're said to be enjoying it more.


"Sexual activity, good quality sex life, and interest in sex were higher for men than for women and this gender gap widened with age", the researchers conclude.


Now there's a surprise: a woman who has reached her late 70s or early 80s would have grown up before the sexual revolution and the Pill, both of which drastically changed women's expectations about sex. There are always exceptions, but most of the pre-Second World War generation became wives and mothers at a time when women lacked a language to talk about what they liked and didn't like in bed. Maybe some read The Hite Report and caught up, but my guess is that lots of them didn't.


Take a high-profile couple like France's President Sarkozy and his glamorous wife Carla Sarkozy-Bruni, for instance: according to the research, Ms Sarkozy-Bruni at 42 has fewer years of active sex life ahead of her than a man of the same age. By the time she reaches 55 (her husband's current age) the gap will be around four years; the President can expect to go on having sex until he is 70 whereas his female peers face a sexual drought at the age of 66.


As it happens, rumours sweeping Paris this week suggest that the marriage of this sexually-adventurous couple is in trouble: Ms Sarkozy-Bruni is said to have found herself a younger man, a 37-year-old musician, while her husband's new love interest is supposedly a 40-year-old female minister in his own Government.


Whether there is a shred of truth in the rumours is unclear; since the French press abandoned its reputation for Gallic restraint, it seems to have become as obsessed with the private lives of celebrities and politicians – the Sarkozy marriage conveniently offers both – as any British red-top.


What is clear is that Ms Sarkozy-Bruni is magnificently unconcerned about her age, appearing at an official function last week in a dress which technically covered her whole body while revealing every curve. She didn't look like a woman who intends to retire from the sexual arena any time soon or indeed at any time at all.


Why should she? Unlike one shame-faced British footballer after another, she has never pretended to value monogamy; she belongs to a generation which seized women's new-found sexual confidence with both hands, at a time when it hadn't yet become fashionable to complain endlessly about young women looking too sexy.n


— By arrangement with The Independent









Continuing with the second part of taking a microscopic look at eateries around the Bombay Stock Exchange – there is actually a plethora of these eateries while a majority of them are very down to earth, fast food/Udipi-type eateries there is also a twist in the tale with some "different" sort of finger-licking food joints which have created their own brand value and are actually on till late in the night.

Gokul used (read as past tense) to be another landmark eatery near the BSE serving its typical no-nonsense vegetarian food situated in the lane of Allana House (situated bang opposite the Mumbai University) and next to the Bajaj Capital office but now has shut down and seems to be under renovation while rumour mills have it that a beer bar along with a speciality Chinese restaurant seems to be in the offing.

Ramdev Veg Restaurant is one of the bigger places in and around Dalal Street and is divided into an air-conditioned and non air-conditioned section with almost equal capacity. It's located at Bombay Samachar Marg and is exactly opposite the landmark State Bank of India building. It is in fact just a couple of shops away from the ICICI Bank ATM on the main road. Roughly, a 72-seater on the ground floor and approximately a 68-seater in the first floor (which houses the A/C section). This eatery has been doing flourishing business for the last three decades or more. The same base applies: no nonvegetarian food, no beer with a little quirk of serving pav bhaji only on Saturdays (not on any weekday). A 10 per cent service charge (slightly surprising) is levied on outside deliveries while a majority of these places in the same location have free delivery with a minimum order size. The standard fare of south Indian dishes is served but after experimenting with a quite a few of them I have arrived at this conclusion that the snacks are a shining example of culinary expertise while the lunch items like Punjabi dishes and rice dishes leave a lot to be desired and can be avoided (the alu gobi was too sour while the veg Hyderabadi biryani had mushrooms, which seemed slightly rancid). The snacky stuff was simply outstanding, must haves include kanda pakodas (excellent), idli chilly, spring roll dosa (brilliant), puri bhaji and pineapple milk shake – with all of the aforesaid competing for equal attention.

   Ayub's must already be on the hitlist of quite a few Mumbaikars but this is especially for those who are not yet aware of the existence of this simply superb eatery (it's a takeaway with no seating capacity). This place has been around for quite some time but was actually floating around, the first location was a roadside stall at Cuffe Parade, then it shifted in the same avatar to the corner of Apeejay House, located just a couple of buildings away from Ensemble, located a stone's throw away from the Kala Ghoda precinct, and has now finally found its moorings, so to speak, to settle down on the ground floor at 43, Dr V B Gandhi Marg in the Rhythm House lane, very close to the Jewish Synagogue. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian biryani are served only on Saturdays and Sundays. Ayub's is normally open till 1.30 at night right from around 11 am. This place simply rocks and Ayub's probably whips up one of the best Veg paneer tikka rolls (with roasted capsicum and onion with paneer and masala wrapped in a roti) and alu rolls in Mumbai while not forgetting the paneer bhurji, alu chat and alu bhurji also.

Yours truly is a ghaas phoos (read vegetarian) man but friends who relish nonvegetarian food strongly recommend the exotic variety of chicken and kabab dishes on offer. In fact for kids, a plain paneer roll without the unbeatable tongue tingling masala is also on offer (my fouryear-old brat actually relishes this rather simple concoction thinking it is Maggi Roll, which I have coined in respect to her favourite snack). Must haves include anything and everything, you just can't go wrong with Ayub's – don't miss it.

 (Next Week – The third part of a guided tour of eateries near the BSE)








   Adecade ago, businessman Kanhaiyalal Jeswani was a content man. Having phased out of his business and with his son settled in Singapore, he was looking forward to a peaceful retired life. But the last ten years have been tough for him. Three years after discovering glaucoma, he was also detected with cancer. Today at 73, he has a detailed bucket list to live by. He tells us his story:


It was in 2001 that I first suspected something was amiss with my eyesight. While driving, I found the glare from the oncoming vehicles a bit uncomfortable. I initially suspected diabetes and had my blood sugar tested. After several visits, tests (and attempts to give me relief by using eye drops), prescribed by my ophthalmologist, I was detected with glaucoma.

   The challenge then was to arrest further damage to my eyesight. The scary part was that vision once lost due to glaucoma is vision lost forever. My treatment mostly consisted of application of eye drops. They are a habit now, and I have retained more than 90 per cent vision in my left eye. But, in my right eye, it's a meagre 10 per cent.


In 2003/04, I was detected with intestinal cancer. It was a setback with my glaucoma treatment already underway. I decided to tackle it head on and began chemotherapy immediately. By 2005, I successfully won the battle against cancer.

 I started getting inclined towards yoga and the Art of Living course. Both helped immensely. Apart from giving me positivity, yoga has made me physically fit. I travelled to Singapore and the Gulf, and lead a hecttic social life here too. The basic and advanced courses at Art of Living along with my early morning pranayam routine make me energetic. (I have been off tea/coffee for long). I have realised that the crux of a happy life lies in four 'S'es: Seva, Sadhna, Satsang and Smiles! No day begins without pranayam; I do Sudarshan Kriya once a week and undergo a medical check-up every six months.


Having always been a family man, I visit my brothers in Kolkata regularly and attend all social occasions. There are many more relatives in America and Canada whom I am planning to meet up with. As for my routine habits, I read easily using my reading glasses and although I have had to put brakes on my driving, I plan to get back to it soon. I can't let my ailments hamper my desire to lead an active life.


Dr A Sanjana, Eye specialist at Dr L H Hiranandani hospital tells us more on the ailment ..
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases characterised by damage to the optic nerve. They fall into two categories — Open Angle Glaucoma (most common; shows virtually no symptoms) and Narrow angle Glaucoma (accounts for less than 10 per cent of all glaucoma cases).

• People over 60 years are six times more likely to get glaucoma.

• The journal of American Medical Association demonstrated a 40 per cent increase in incidence of glaucoma in adults who require approx. 14-35 puffs of steroid inhaler for asthma.


• Other risk factors include high myopia, diabetes, hypertension and high hypermetropia.

• Glaucoma is a chronic condition and must be monitored for life. Medical treatment includes use of eye drops daily. High eye pressure can be effectively controlled by a single or combination of eye drops.

• Laser treatments with YAG laser, Trabeculoplasty (SLT) are possible in selected patients.The surgical option (trabeculectomy, drainage devices) is reserved for a few who don't respond to other modes of treatment.

• Regular eye check up is the key to early detection and effective treatment.

• Daily activities such as driving or playing certain sports may become more challenging. Loss of contrast sensitivity, problems with glare and light sensitivity are some of the possible effects of glaucoma that may interfere with your activities. Just trust your judgment.

• Don't let glaucoma limit your life.You can very well make plans and start new ventures. The eye care community, including the Glaucoma Research Foundation, keeps looking for better methods to treat glaucoma and will eventually find a cure.









The government's plan to vaccinate people against the H1N1 virus is a bad idea since the virus, which caused a pandemic last year, is now ebbing and the number of fresh cases being reported every day is pretty near negligible. And, with temperatures rising as summer approaches, the spread of the virus will be limited even more. In which case, if the government does go ahead with the mass vaccination for the frontline health staff that typically deal with swine flu cases and are, therefore, the most vulnerable group, it will probably just be because it has imported 1.5 million doses of the swine flu vaccine — these have now been found safe to use and have been cleared for use. And, by the time the vaccine is distributed to all hospitals and the frontline health staff are identified for vaccination, the summer will have set in firmly and will automatically kill the virus. Given this, and the possibility that the vaccines could have some side effects, it is best not to use them right now, and instead store them for when they are really needed.


Though H1NI is on the decline right now, its reintroduction cannot be ruled out, especially by passengers flying in from overseas. According to the latest update on global H1N1 pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the virus still persists in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere as well as in South-East Asian countries such as Thailand and Myanmar. The pandemic, which spanned 213 countries, has resulted in 16,450 deaths so far. In India, despite having nearly 30,000 laboratory-confirmed cases and many more unreported cases of swine flu, there have been only 1,387 human deaths attributable to it so far. The real danger is from the possible mutation of the virus into a relatively more deadly form by winter, when the weather conditions will also be ripe for it to strike once again. If the virus does mutate, of course, the present vaccines may be useless and we will need to develop a new strain of vaccine to deal with the mutated virus. In which case, not only do we need to remain vigilant and be prepared for timely action to cope with such a contingency, we also need to keep up on the research and development front. The good thing is that, apart from the fact that a source of the vaccine has been identified, the indigenous vaccines developed by three firms are also likely to be ready for use in the next few months, and these will cost much less than the imported vaccines. The fact that indigenous research is going on also makes it more that much more likely that a vaccine can be developed to take care of a mutated virus.







The government's plan to vaccinate people against the H1N1 virus is a bad idea since the virus, which caused a pandemic last year, is now ebbing and the number of fresh cases being reported every day is pretty near negligible. And, with temperatures rising as summer approaches, the spread of the virus will be limited even more. In which case, if the government does go ahead with the mass vaccination for the frontline health staff that typically deal with swine flu cases and are, therefore, the most vulnerable group, it will probably just be because it has imported 1.5 million doses of the swine flu vaccine — these have now been found safe to use and have been cleared for use. And, by the time the vaccine is distributed to all hospitals and the frontline health staff are identified for vaccination, the summer will have set in firmly and will automatically kill the virus. Given this, and the possibility that the vaccines could have some side effects, it is best not to use them right now, and instead store them for when they are really needed.

 Though H1NI is on the decline right now, its reintroduction cannot be ruled out, especially by passengers flying in from overseas. According to the latest update on global H1N1 pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the virus still persists in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere as well as in South-East Asian countries such as Thailand and Myanmar. The pandemic, which spanned 213 countries, has resulted in 16,450 deaths so far. In India, despite having nearly 30,000 laboratory-confirmed cases and many more unreported cases of swine flu, there have been only 1,387 human deaths attributable to it so far. The real danger is from the possible mutation of the virus into a relatively more deadly form by winter, when the weather conditions will also be ripe for it to strike once again. If the virus does mutate, of course, the present vaccines may be useless and we will need to develop a new strain of vaccine to deal with the mutated virus. In which case, not only do we need to remain vigilant and be prepared for timely action to cope with such a contingency, we also need to keep up on the research and development front. The good thing is that, apart from the fact that a source of the vaccine has been identified, the indigenous vaccines developed by three firms are also likely to be ready for use in the next few months, and these will cost much less than the imported vaccines. The fact that indigenous research is going on also makes it more that much more likely that a vaccine can be developed to take care of a mutated virus.






The latest fad amongst Indian business families is to sit together and write a constitution for the family. The Raos of GMR were the first to do so some years ago; the Bharatrams of SRF have written one; and, if industry gossip is to be believed, the Godrej family too wants to put together a constitution. Indian School of Business Professor K Ramachandran, the foremost authority on family business in India, says two families have sought his help to write a similar book of rules for them, the do's and the don'ts. There are about a dozen such experts in the country. Most of them say business isn't bad at all.

 The idea behind a constitution is to hold the family together. Most families have come round to the conclusion that a split erodes wealth, dissipates entrepreneurial energy and creates bad blood. The only people who benefit from a family split are lawyers. The longer the conflict, the heavier their bank balance gets. But business suffers. Ramachandran likens it to an amoeba. It reaches a certain size and then splits into smaller parts; each of the smaller parts grows to a size and then splits again. The process goes on and on. Conventional wisdom goes that no family stays together, without a split, for more than three generations.

There has been no objective study so far to judge whether a split is good or bad. The impact on all stakeholders — shareholders, employees, associates and customers — needs to be assessed in any such effort. The example of how companies, many of them global giants, run by professionals have come to grief has brought the role of founder families into focus one more time. Long-term vision, new-age wisdom says, can come from entrepreneurs alone. Hence the need is now being felt to keep the family together. Ramachandran recounts the example of a Central India group where the younger sons of the patriarch are trying hard to undo the split he has set in motion.

What does a constitution do? All family members wear two hats in business: shareholder and manager. The shareholder bit is simple to manage because shares are easy to split amongst family members — each branch gets its part. The problem arises in the second act. Most of the times, fights erupt amongst family members over responsibilities in the business. Everybody, of course, wants the corner office in double-quick time. This is where a constitution can help.

A constitution lays down to the minutest detail what the family should do under various circumstances. How can younger members of the family, straight out of college or business school, join the company and at what level? Norms for allotment of board positions to family members, succession, salaries and allowances, education, pocket money for overseas trips et al are all laid down in great detail in most constitutions.

The question that arises is, are such constitutions foolproof. Can they prevent all splits? Please remember that this is not a legal document; what is written in the constitution can be contested in a court of law. Some family members are bound to find their way round the prescribed norms. A consultant who works with several families recounts an incident where a lady wanted a lateral entry for her son, mint fresh from a business school, into the family business, though the family constitution mandates work experience outside the company. The summer training he did at the business school, she argued, was good enough! Digging deeper, the consultant found that a senior position in the company was essential to improve his marriage prospects!

The task, therefore, is to write a robust constitution that offers no loopholes. Here, the GMR constitution is often talked of as the right one, a model for others to follow. The Rao family studied for six to seven years what are the issues that can cause discord in a family. It then got British family business consultant Peter Leach to codify the constitution. It lays down the family values, and a framework to resolve differences. Succession norms have been elaborately laid down in the constitution. It even goes to the extent of prescribing media exposure for the family members. This ensures one member does not hog all the media attention. It also provides a forum for the spouses of family members to get together and iron out all knotty matters! It's an open secret that family differences often start with disgruntled spouses. There are rules for family holidays as well.

Interestingly, the Rao family constitution says that the family will drive any new GMR venture for a while, and once it has stabilised, hand it over to professionals to run. For any project to get off the ground, it assumes, good quantities of entrepreneurial energy and drive are required. And this is exactly what the Raos want to provide in the initial years. This is different from the Dabur model, where the Burmans are not involved in the company's day-to-day affairs at all, though some of them are on the board of directors. They are free to channelise their energies outside Dabur, and most of the Burmans have their own independent ventures. The jury is still out if Dabur could do with some energy boost that promoters alone can provide.







I came across a recent research note titled "Buy chaos, sell order" put out by Russell Napier of CLSA. In the research piece, Mr Napier highlights the argument for why over the coming years India should be a far better investment destination for financial investors than China. He makes the point that India's troubles come from tackling its most difficult problems first, and he senses a tipping point, where the structural impediments holding India back are slowly fading. He also makes the point that China's state-imposed order will slowly disappear as its growth dynamic evolves. He urges investors to not get fooled by China's superficial order and India's apparent chaos.

 Napier makes the point that there is little correlation between levels of economic growth and returns from equities, especially in emerging markets (EMs). One of the chief causes of this is the mercantilist policies followed by most of the EM world, involving ultra-cheap exchange rates and a near total dependence on export growth. These policies hamper equity returns as a thriving and heavily-favoured export sector is normally poorly represented on stock markets, and targeting of the exchange rate can produce extreme monetary conditions, causing severe volatility in economic cycles. A boom/bust cycle can severely damage long-term equity returns.

Today , there seems to be a broad consensus that mercantilist policies have now been maxed out. The OECD economies can no longer continue absorbing an endless supply of goods from East Asia, and this export-led growth approach cannot deliver western living standards to large economies like India and China. The pressure on China to move away from this growth dynamic will keep mounting. Napier argues that the key question for any EM investor is to determine which countries can make the transition to a post-mercantilist world, and it is here that India is better positioned.

India is far more advanced than China in developing a functioning private sector financial system, with the cost of capital being far more real and market-determined than in China. India is also a much more productive user of capital, due to its historic high cost and limited availability. He makes the point that reforming a command-economy banking system is extremely difficult and China continues to shy away from going down this road. The distortion and artificiality in the pricing of money are the key weaknesses of the Chinese system, and it is difficult to think of any command economy banking system that has transitioned into a private sector system without a crisis marking the transition.

Napier also makes the point that India is far better positioned for the post-mercantilist world than China. He bases this observation on the fact that India is far closer to a market-based exchange rate and free interest rates than China. India is also far less dependent on exports, and can move much more easily to a consumption-driven model than China. India's banking system can also far more easily provide consumer credit to support and encourage domestic consumption. The Chinese financial system is still geared towards funding state-owned enterprises and business. The Indian economic model already has consumption as its centrepiece, while China will have to significantly rejig its economic incentives to push consumption.

He also makes some encouraging comments on India's demographics, evolving democracy and improving bureaucracy.

Napier has strong credibility globally, and his piece will, I am sure, attract attention. One has also seen recent articles from Templeton and other large EM investors, making similar arguments and outlining the long-term case for India. Even the Financial Times has been making encouraging noises to this effect.

However, after discussion with serious long-term real money investors in the US and Europe over the past few months, one does not get a sense that they believe in Napier's or Templeton's conclusions. Most investors remain very enamoured of China, its execution and economic model and believe it will continue to outperform India — in economic growth numbers for sure, and implicitly in financial market performance as well. Nobody has thought about the possibility of India actually being able to outgrow China over the next two to three years, something which the Indian intelligentsia feels is a real possibility.

Almost all the investors I speak with have large, dedicated allocations to China, and they do not question the need to have a specific China allocation. The country is too big, markets too large, capital needs too significant and we need a specialist on the ground, is the usual refrain. China has clearly created a separate asset class for itself. The country is simply too important for the global economy and the commodity complex. There are signs of similar things happening for Brazil as well, with many investors incredibly optimistic about it and its long-term outlook.

For India, however, I still feel many investors have not made up their minds on the country. Many of the world's largest and most sophisticated investors have limited specialist India exposure. They are not convinced the country deserves a full-time specialist allocation. India has not yet been able to market itself as a separate asset class the way China has. This anomaly is there despite India having a far greater investable universe than China. India's real attraction has always been seen as being the entrepreneurship of its private sector. One would have thought that stock-picking and specialist-on-the-ground exposure would be far more important and fruitful in a market like India. Also, most LPs (limited partners) seem to have more money in India on the private equity side than on public markets' side, another oddity considering that most private equity investors in the country are anyway investing in public markets.

All this will hopefully change over the next few years as we continue to grow, develop and confound the sceptics. The biggest fears around India remain the fiscal deficit (its sustainability), hopeless implementation skills, weak governance and corruption. Many of the changes one expects to see over the coming years — in areas like the UID project, adherence to the Finance Commission recommendations, better governance and targeting of government programmes, etc. — will go to counter some of these fears. Ultimately, investors will have to stand up and take notice. In the new post-mercantilist world, very few countries have the growth potential and economic model that India has.

If India is able to make the transition into being seen as a separate asset class, then a significant upside remains for the markets in terms of potential inflows. Being able to attract these flows remains very important to ensure our financial markets have the liquidity we need to finance our growth potential.

The author is the Fund Manager and Chief Executive Officer of Amansa Capital







Only 1,411 tigers are left. So says the latest advertisement campaign of a new telecom company and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It is powerful. It plays to our emotions. But it does not tell us what is being done, or should be done about it. It does not tell us how we, the consuming class, can be part of the solution to protect the tiger.

 The reason is simple. One must gloss over the bitter, inconvenient truth that India cannot have more than 1,411 tigers — the figure is the mid-range of the last census — unless one imagines conservation differently, very differently. In fact, if there are these many tigers, that's amazing. Forget more.

Let me explain what I have learnt from some reputed wildlife experts in the country: Tigers are territorial. They literally need land to roam. With the birth of a new male tiger, this search starts. Either the old tiger gives way or the new male tiger looks for a new ground. But where is that ground? All around our parks, forests are destroyed. People who live in areas adjoining tiger reserves resent this animal, which kills their cattle. They have no use for the reserve forest, which protects the herbivores and the wild boars that eat their growing crop. They get nothing in return for living around tiger land. They want no tigers on their land.

At Kanha tiger reserve, for instance, I learnt how field managers keep count of tiger cubs. They know there should be an increase of 10 tigers each year to maintain a viable and healthy population. They do much to protect the inside of the park. But the numbers do not increase. In search of a territory, the young tiger moves beyond the protected, and now increasingly guarded, area. When the outside world was forested, the tiger could expand its space. But now, forests are degraded. The people who live there are poor and angry. So, tragic incidents, as in Ranthambore, where two young tigers were poisoned just this week, usually happen.

Nobody wins in this bloody battle. This is why we have to make peace — between the tigers who need to roam and the poor people who need benefits from conservation. This is why we must practise coexistence.

The numbers are stark. Irrefutable. Over the past many years, tiger censuses have revealed that many more tigers lived outside tiger reserves. The 2001 census put the number at some 1,500 inside and as many as 2,000 outside. But, nobody quite believed these numbers. In 2005, the task force I chaired to look into tiger conservation suggested the method of counting be changed in order to be more accurate. This was done. The next census found the numbers in reserves were about the same between 1,165 and 1,657 tigers. But between the two censuses, the tigers outside (if they ever existed) just disappeared. This is why the numbers fell. This is why we cry for the beloved tiger. Paper tigers.

This is not to say that poaching or sheer lack of protection isn't a problem. There are so few guards. These are crucial, as the task force report "Joining the Dots" showed. But the crisis of numbers will not go away unless we practise conservation differently.

Till now, policy has ensured people outside the reserve get nothing from protection. Over the years, with little investment and even less understanding of how to plant trees that survive cattle and goats, the lands outside the reserves stand denuded. People have no option but to use the protected areas to send their cattle for grazing. At the same time, as the ruminants move into forests, the herbivores — deer and other animals — move out to farmers' fields to forage and destroy. It is also an inconvenient fact that the tiger often survives on easier and slow-moving prey, the cattle of the farmer.

The conflict is simply growing. In villages adjoining Bandhavgarh, people told me their lives were worse than birds. Why? Because birds could sleep at least for some hours at night. For them, the vigil to protect crops from wild animals was unending and fruitless. What an indictment of conservation.

So, if we want more land to protect more tigers, we must learn this reality. The answer is in, first and foremost, paying people quickly and generously for the crops destroyed or the cattle killed. Currently, this doesn't happen. Second, we need to ensure that there is huge and disproportionate development in the lands that adjoin a tiger reserve. People should be benefited from living in the buffer of the reserve. Third, people must get direct gains from conservation. They must get preference in jobs to protect. They must be partners, owners and, indeed, earners from the tourism that the tiger brings.

This is the agenda for tiger conservation: For the 1,411 and many more. Otherwise, the media campaign will be nothing more than noise — drumming up support with a frantic chest-thumping that leads nowhere.  








India and Russia have good reasons to further strengthen their traditionally strong ties. The cold calculus of commerce today has joined geopoliticsin informing relations between the two countries. This is masked, to a large extent, by the preponderance of defence in the things the countries do together. While some deals do derive from a competitive market for defence equipment, some others are of a special kind that need to flow from bilateral negotiations. The steadily mounting costs of the aircraft carrier India is procuring from Russia is an instance of commercial behaviour towards a captive buyer, and this remains a sore point. However, the joint production that India and Russia have entered into in missiles, advanced combat aircraft and transport planes offers both strategic and commercial benefits.

Russia is a strategic partner for India when it comes to energy as well, both conventional and nuclear. Russia runs a current account surplus to the tune of 4% of GDP, thanks, essentially, to its oil and gas exports, for which a recovering world economy has a huge appetite. Given the murky origins of Russia's oil and gas giants in wholly non-transparent corporatisation/privatisation of state assets, and the resultant tendency for the Russian government to intervene in any deal they strike with foreign companies, government-to-government relations are key to tapping into Russia's vast hydrocarbon resources . While India has, of late, been sourcing the bulk of its crude from Saudi Arabia, sustained high growth of the Indian economy would call for diversifying and augmenting its sources of hydrocarbon supplies.

However, India and Russia need to turn their attention also to the huge untapped potential of non-strategic sectors. India can gainfully import uncut diamonds and fertiliser from Russia, for instance, while Russia needs to remove its hurdles to the export of pharma products and meat from India. The ongoing visit of Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin provides an opportunity for New Delhi to reaffirm and expand the ties of mutual confidence that ultimately translate into viable trade.







India's chief statistician Pronab Sen got it right when he said 'statistics has now become an integral part of public discourse.' Unlike in the past when hardly anyone questioned the quality or even the availability of data, today, in our information-driven age, data have become critical. Issues of quality and timeliness are no longer brushed under the carpet but widely debated, and bring about change, as indicated by the recent revision in the base year for GDP data. But that's just the first step. We've raised the level of consciousness regarding data quality. But to move from that to actually getting quality data is a long haul.

Ironically, data compilation was relatively easier in the licence-permit raj when the state oversaw almost every aspect of economic activity. But the demise of the earlier system and dependence on voluntary compliance has meant steady erosion in data quality. The problem is particularly acute in agriculture and the services sector. In the former, old systems such the village patwari (revenue collection officer) collecting estimates of crop areas and yield have developed cracks and have not been replaced by new systems. As for the services sector, all we have is a five-year survey from which data are extrapolated to get annual figures. Things are better when it comes to industry where the Annual Survey of Industries and corporate returns provide a reasonably accurate picture.

Hopefully, some of these ills will be addressed once the rules under the Collection of Statistics Act are notified. True, the penalty for failure to submit data — a fine of up to Rs 1,000 per day — may not be large enough to ensure 100% compliance. But enabling legislation is only part of the answer. Beyond that we need a drastic change in mindset with both central and state agencies according much more importance to data collection. The collection machinery needs to be beefed up in tandem; today there is a huge dearth of field level staff that can be entrusted to collect data. Fortunately, the Thirteenth Finance Commission has tried to build in some incentives for states to improve the quality of their statistics. It is a long haul yet. The only consolation is we have begun the journey.







Marriages are made in heaven, but hyperlinks now offer the earth connect. Matrimonial sites are today among the most profitable in the internet world, with matches on offer split across religion, caste, subtribe, even the "fair & loveliness" levels of skin. Last week, another matrimonial site quietly entered the fray, but with the loftiest motive yet., launched by the Nilambur village panchayat in Kerala, offers a forum for the like-minded to congregate and find life partners eschewing that bane particular to South Asia, which has made sarees, gas cylinders and kerosene stoves potential improvised explosive devices. The village, at the heart of Kerala's only Muslim-majority district, Malappuram, says the site has already received more than a thousand resumes within days of its inauguration from Hindu, Muslim and Christian candidates.

ET salutes the men and women behind the effort, who have listed, tongue in cheek, the prevailing dowry rates. A civil servant could command Rs 1 crore-5 crore while doctors come next with a Rs 50 lakh-1 crore. Scraping the bottom of this very Moody rating are techies who, for the time being, seem to have declared themselves slowdown-hit and hence dowry-free. The site credits figures based on trends in Andhra Pradesh for these figures.

Considering the Kerala milieu, in due course, the site may need to add sub categories: dowry-free (Gross) and dowry-free (Gold). The state has a near-obsession with gold that makes the yellow metal almost an alibi for dowry. Many dowry-free thinkers fail to see this point and associate the gold ornaments that adorn the bride as part of the larger aesthetics. Sure, everyone wants to look their best on the wedding day, but the negotiations between families that precede this golden display could put a merchant banker to shame. So that's the next step for the braves of Nilambur. Go beyond dowry and restore the glory of marriage as an act of free will, not free trade.








There is a certain vacuousness in current discussions on bank consolidation in India. The entire vocabulary of the discourse seems to be coming straight out of the US and UK. The discussions suggest that the banking sectors in the US and India are similar and the lessons from the current financial crisis apply equally in both countries. There is much talk about not allowing Indian banks to become too big to fail. Discussions on the development of secondary markets, problems with derivative products, cautiousness in rules governing foreign bank entry and the role of NBFCs are conducted with a certain self-satisfaction. Frankly, all these are quite unhelpful. What we need is to locate the debate in the context of India and our needs.

India is, no doubt, part of an integrating world and a basic global backdrop for our discussion is useful. In the view of my colleagues in BCG we have a three step world economy today. Countries like China, India, Brazil and a few others are likely to return to their pre-crisis growth path by 2011. Economies like the US, UK and Germany, where governments have the fiscal strength to provide a real stimulus, growth will return at anaemic levels - but it is growth nonetheless. And finally, there are countries where governments do not have the fiscal strength to support their economies and these economies could shrink - current discussions on Greece highlight this. In a world like this, especially in democracies, politicians will be under great pressure to battle with unemployment. In fact, the two indicators that will need to be watched very closely by politicians and economists alike are unemployment and trade imbalances. With high unemployment in the US, if trade imbalances continue to grow, especially between the US and China, protectionist rhetoric will gain momentum. If that happens, world growth will suffer, including the economies in the first step. This has implications on how we think about our economy and banking sector.

Current protectionist rhetoric comes with a certain increased element of jingoism. Politicians in every country talk about supporting domestic industry to create employment. In such a situation the domestic banking sector needs to be strong enough, and with a large balance sheet size, to support domestic industry in their strategies. It is in this context that we need to review our current financial sector reform initiatives. The 'too big to fail' argument that is being cited in the US to limit the size of banks is a poor reason to prevent bank consolidation in India.

What exactly do we mean by saying a bank is to big to fail? Is any bank in India too small to save? Do we believe the government will allow any bank, much less a public sector bank, to fail today? If we look at past history, even Madhepura cooperative bank, with assets of less than Rs 100 crore, was bailed out. The Global Trust Bank was merged with OBC rather than be allowed to fail. Over many years small failing banks are merged with stronger PSBs. PSBs in trouble get direct contribution to their capital to bail them out - recall Indian Bank and Dena Bank. In fact, even after the fraud at Satyam, the government intervened to prevent it from failing.

In the Indian context, failure of banks of any size is a political no. So, the entire sector seems to be seen as too big to fail. If that is so, is there any advantage in banning acquisition in the Indian banking sector? We can do that only if we believe that mergers make banks weaker. While it is true that many bank mergers do not create shareholder value, it is also clear that most industry leaders have become leaders through successful acquisitions.


In fact, companies that do not grow atrophy and die. So the argument against acquisitions is weak. Even in Asia our banks are smaller than their peers in China , Japan, Australia, Singapore and South Korea. This has implications for out corporate sector as it is forced to go to international banks to fund their growth. In Davos in January , one Indian promoter was telling me the problems he was having in getting financing for his international operations due to the weakness of the American and English bank balance sheets. He said only Indian banks are willing to fund and only SBI is meaningful as the others are too small. The problem with this is that only the SBI has the balance sheet to support any large, growing, real sector company and even it does not feature in the top 50 global banks.

So how should we think about size and sector stability? Our policy should ensure that size does not stifle competition and consumer choice. Competition in the banking sector improves efficiency and service. This needs to be maintained. Systemic stability needs effective regulation. Paul Volcker's proposals to the US Congress are quite sensible. He recommends banning banks from doing proprietary trading, directly owning hedge funds and private equity funds, and doing derivative transactions without a merchant base. Indian banks have always had controls on such activity. The other issue getting a lot of attention is around distorted incentive payment systems. Again, the situation in India is quite different. Salaries of bank CEOs in India are regulated by the RBI and are lower than their real sector counterparts.

Thus, the 'too big to fail' talk in India is a bit out of place. The ownership structure of the banking sector in India is unlikely to change in the next 10 years and listed PSBs are likely to continue to dominate the market place. Their listing has been a great innovation in India and has led to dramatically superior returns and much improved operational efficiency than was provided by PSBs in the decade before. It is important to level the playing field for our private and public sector banks even more. This should be done in terms of HR policies, branch licensing and in the freedom to pursue board-initiated acquisition to maintain a robust and efficient market place.

In his first term in office Manmohan Singh said, "There comes a time in the history of a nation when it can be said that the time has come to make history. We are today at the threshold of such an era.... There are no external constraints on our development. If there are any hurdles, they are only internal." In his second term, with reduced political constraints, he needs to remove the internal constraints around Indian banks so that India may truly make history.

(The author is chairman, Asia Pacific, BCG. Views are personal.)








Odd, atypical and unexpected things always surprise us. But, generally speaking, this is a short-term reaction, one from which we routinely rebound to normal and move on with our day-to-day life. More bizarre occurrences induce a heightened sense of shock or amazement, which lingers longer in memory and can sometimes lead to life changing behaviour patterns. People who have had so-called out-of-body or near death experiences, for instance, often say that their attitudes towards life has undergone a radical shift of perspective and that they have subsequently become far more tolerant, kind and compassionate.

There's also a third category of magnitude involving the extraordinary . When we're confronted with something, so unimaginably different and alien that we possess no vocabulary or concept to articulate or even process it, the mind does one of two things: it either denies its existence altogether or accepts it without acknowledging any part of its continuing validity. Some exobiologists believe that if we ever find extraterrestrial life, it might turn out to be so totally outside our ability to conceptualise it that we may fail ultimately to recognise it at all.

The story goes that when Captain Cook's ship arrived off Australia in 1770, the vessel drew no reaction from the natives. According to the historian Robert Hughes: "It was the largest artefact ever seen on the east coast of Australia, an object so huge, complex and unfamiliar as to defy the natives' understanding." It was almost as if the ship could not be seen. Botanist Joseph Banks who accompanied Cook was also baffled by their indifference: "... they pursued their way in all appearance entirely unmoved by the neighbourhood of so remarkable an object as a ship must necessarily be to people who have never seen one."

Our own 'native' reaction on being told that the godhood resides in us is somewhat similar. Those of us who have no problem worshipping a deity that is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and eternal - qualities which should make us baulk at the very incomprehensibility of the notion - simply cannot come to terms with how we could be that! But we nod and smile and accept the words of the wise and then go right back to our normal worshipping. Which is why it remains out there as a purely intellectual construct and doesn't affect us any further.






It should not be called an anti-Muslim Bill. For, women from any caste or religion are considered weaker. In fact, that was the stand of stalwarts like Lohia, who was one of the first to ask for such reservation for women, demanding that women should be included in the backward and oppressed groups category. But we believe it would have been better if the Bill had recognised the criteria of the 'most backward (MB)' sections across religions. In Bihar, for example, we have OBC reservation in Annexure 1 and 2. The same way, OBCs should be divided into two groups all across the nation so that among the Muslims too the MBs should be given reservation, just as the Hindus. To do so only for Muslims would go against the Constitution.

Muslims as a whole are declining in Parliament. In the last Lok Sabha, we had 36 Muslim MPs, now there are only 29. That's a cause for worry not just for Muslims but for democracy itself. A section is not being represented in proportion to its population. There is another question. How many OBCs are there even among the current Muslim MPs? Perhaps two or three. So, Muslim society itself as well as the rest of the nation has to think about this. As Ranganath Misra had recommended, religion should be delinked from Article 341 of the Constitution. And all political parties should think about this. Muslims are not a monolith or homogenous. Just like the Hindus, they are divided into castes. Talk of monoliths brings home communal polarisation. So, while we are against a Muslim quota, the women's Bill should have been aware of these realities.

While the Sachar committee identified the malaise, the prescription was provided by the Ranganath Misra Commission. But while the government tom-toms Sachar, there has been no debate on that report. Even with the Misra commission, set up earlier, the report was presented without an 'action taken report'. Thus the issue is much deeper if we are to speak of preparing and helping Muslim women. The Bill was overdue, but now needs an amendment on the MB front. Now comes the fight for that improvement in the Bill.







When a critical mass of 182 women enter Parliament and occupy one third seats in state assemblies, it will include women from all castes, communities and classes. It will no longer be possible to sideline Muslim women or, for that matter OBC women. The reasons are clear. The reserved seats will be selected in some manner, such as drawing of lots or hammering out a consensus . These seats will be rotated every five years so that at the end of 15 years (or three elections) a woman would have represented every single constituency in the country. The men will have to give up their constituencies in favour of women, just as they did with the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendment.

It is quite likely (judging from the panchayat experience) that men will field women from their families in order to 'retain their seat.' This 'advancement of family women' at the expense of the cause is repugnant to all right-thinking people because the objective of women's reservation is different. It is to get capable, strong, articulate and right thinking women into Parliament, so that the selection of issues, standard of functioning and calibre of debate can improve. But the reality is that today, men, even those seven men who created the ugly scenes in Rajya Sabha on March 8 and shamed the nation, will be thinking about women in their circle in case their constituency becomes reserved in the next election. They will include Muslims, OBCs and Dalits.

Reservation within reservation is a fallacious argument. Groups supporting this have deliberately closed their eyes to reality. No one is asking the question that if empowerment of Muslim women was such a burning issue for those who today are shouting from the rooftops about 'Muslim sisters' why didn't their political parties field them in the first place? And if they did field a few, why give them constituencies where they were sure to lose? Our responsibility is to begin preparing lists of women across the country, Muslims, OBCs and others to ensure that the dignity of Parliament is safe in the hands of women and men of substance and dignity.








Within a week of taking over as head of the $6 billion, Michigan-based Domino's Pizza, the chain's global president and CEO, Patrick Doyle , is in India for a market visit. That's hardly surprising — India is the fastest growing market for the pizza chain and is on track to become one of its top five markets within three years. Excerpts:

India is your first market visit overseas after taking over as president and CEO. What's the significance?

India is among our top 10 markets now in terms of growth. I'm coming here after nine years, and I find the economy, infrastructure, our business, everything, so different. The expansion of the middle class has been remarkable. We spent five-seven years learning insights about the consumer here and we are seeing dramatic growth. The right product being offered at the correct value is what is working for us. From 120 stores three years back, we are now 300-stores strong. Our focus is as much on tier-II and tier-III towns and cities as on bigger markets. Our business is growing at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of almost 45%, compared to 20-25% the quick service restaurant industry is clocking. Our teams in India and Louisiana are two of our largest and best franchisees. We are already in office campuses like Infosys.

Most foods companies are re-positioning themselves on the health and wellness platform. Aren't you planning any such move?

Well, you can top a pizza the way you want. We are still far off from the day calorie intake of pizzas becomes a concern in this country. If, for example, printing calorie information on food packs becomes mandatory in India, we will be happy to comply. We already do so in countries where it's regulated. But as of now, pizzas is a highly under penetrated category in India and has a long way to go. Research reports say of the overall Rs 60,000 crore food retail market, organised pizza and pasta has just about a 2% share. So changing food habits is not easy but we are on track.

Is the India strategy any different from what you have adopted in other markets?

A significant strategic change is that while our unique selling proposition is home delivery in all markets, we have been creating dine-in spaces at our restaurants here. We will never change our tagline 'khushiyon ki home delivery' which cuts through the advertising clutter. But in tier-2 and tier-3 cities, people like to experience eating out. Close to 75% of our restaurants now have dine-in facilities. This is different from our global strategy where our key focus has been on home delivery. I will add that orders by the Internet has become very big in the US, and we are in trial stage in India.

Food inflation is a cause for huge concern among foods companies. How much does it impact a busines like yours?

Our business model is such that inflationary cost pressures have been negated by economies of scale. Every country operates on different cost structures but our prices here are lower compared to global markets. We did take a marginal price increase late last year but we are not taking up prices as of now. This is a competitive market and prices are dictated by consumer demand.

What about investments in India?

Our franchisee partner, Jubilant Foodworks, has invested in share capital and through internal accruals. This year, they expect to invest Rs 55 crore on capacity expansion through internal accruals.








Kevan Watts is ready to retire and take off from India, but he's yet to make up his mind about what's going to be his next big venture. He is happy to bring back an old Merrill hand, Kaku Nakhate, to take up his job. After 29 years with the company, Mr Watts has spent over two years understanding the new Indian CEO and learning about the India story. In the past, he has been candid enough to admit that it's not been easy to understand the Indian market and that's one of the reasons why he always believe a local person is able to connect with the complex Indian conglomerate a lot better. Mr Watts has served in many senior roles in New York, London, Hong Kong and Mumbai, which include head of European investment banking, co-head of global investment banking, executive chairman of the Asia Pacific, chairman of EMEA and chairman of Merrill Lynch International. Excerpts:

What's the thinking behind bringing Kaku Nakhate as CEO?

I think she's very well known and a strong person to have. She is familiar with our clients and it would be comfortable for her to fit back into the system. She is internally a familiar person for the team and externally well regarded by all our clients. We are very happy with the appointment and to welcome Ms Nakhate back to the bank. This is a critical milestone for our India plans, and is a continuation of our long-term commitment to India. I am delighted she is back.

Will the balance in the business change in anyway, given that Ms Nakhate is considered a strong trading hand?
Balance of business will not change, it will strengthen itself. We have a sizeable business, both on the trading side and the banking side. You have to remember that any financial business is very dependent on transfer pricing. We really do have quite an integrated set up from corporate banking, investment banking, sales & trading, all put together. We have globally been an integrated entity offering all services, and we will continue to keep it that way here. But Ms Nakhate's understanding of the business dynamics and past relationship with the bank makes her an ideal person to run the business in India.

Since the merger with Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, how have things changed on the ground for India and how will Ms Kaku's appointment take the strategy further?

It's not about strategy, but about leadership. India is a very important market for the new merged entity of Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. Our strategy, even with Ms Nakhate at the top, will be using synergies of corporate banking from Bank of America and boost our business here in Merrill.

What is next for Kevan Watts?

I had a time table when I came to India and we are as per that plan. We have a strong and successful franchise today in the country. In the interim, Ms Nakhate and I will ensure the transition is smooth. We have a family business, which my wife runs back in the UK in London. I am returning to the pavilion. There are lots of things on my mind and I will think about them all over the next several months. I am not yet ready to speak about them, but I am ready to retire. For now, I am off to Calcutta for the weekend.





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




In a few short hours, instant cricket's latest extravaganza — the Indian Premier League — will get its third edition under way in Navi Mumbai's D.Y. Patil Stadium, and already all bets are off on who will emerge the champions from among the eight participating teams in 45 days' time. Included in the cast for the hour-long opening ceremony is ageless crooner Lionel Richie, who will serenade the watching millions before defending champions Deccan Chargers take the field against last year's bottom-placed team, the Sourav Ganguly-led Kolkata Knight Riders.


Indeed, given the roller-coaster nature of results in IPL-1 and IPL-2, the 2010 tournament sees no clear favourites as yet, though just going by the personnel in their ranks, Delhi Daredevils and Chennai Super Kings will be the punters' tip, at least early on.


Among the other teams to watch will be the Deccan Chargers, though how they will cope with the weight of expectations after their stunning performance last year remains to be seen, and the Mumbai Indians, who have so far flattered to deceive despite having a stellar array of talent led by the great Sachin Tendulkar. Royal Challengers Bangalore followed the example of the Chargers and picked themselves off the floor under Anil Kumble's stewardship and made some big names eat crow en route to the finals in South Africa, while the irrepressible Shane Warne can never be written off after leading rank outsiders Rajasthan Royals to the very peak in IPL-1. Many of the eight franchises have used the last few months to reshape squads and management, and it promises to be quite a ride.


Also, given the fact that this is the third time the event is being played, tactics will be still further evolved, as will be the batsmanship, and hopefully, the bowling as well. In the shorter forms of the game, the bowlers are the ones that get it in the neck and in the shortest format, there is just nowhere to hide. Quite obviously, the return to the lower and slower Indian pitches after IPL-2's dalliance with the faster tracks in South Africa will mean a change in approach and possibly bigger scores than we have seen in previous T20 tournaments across the globe, which means bowling coaches will have a bigger role to play in getting their wards to check marauding batsmen.


Not the least among them will be the Chargers' leader, the swashbuckling Adam Gilchrist, who led from the front in South Africa to see the Hyderabad-based team rebound from a slow start to mow down fancied opponents all the way to the final in Johannesburg. In yet another way, IPL-3 will also be a challenge to the tournament itself, a test to see if the thrill of the first two tournaments is still around, and whether it can still generate the buzz IPL-1 in particular did. T20 cricket is no longer just the glamorous new baby, It has arrived and claimed a place alongside Test and 50-overs cricket — evident from the speed with which the ICC put together a T20 World Championship of its own — in the hearts of those that follow the willow sport.


More than anything, however, IPL-3 will be test of resolve. It is after all 22 men striving to give of their best day after day for a month and a half. It takes a mighty resolve to last the course, to be able to bounce back from setbacks and heartbreaks over that period, and still have enough steel to walk out to yet another cricket ground and begin the endeavour all over again. That will — 45 days from now — mark the champions out from the rest.








As the Pakistan Army Chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, works to preserve his strategic space in Afghanistan, he is a worried man. The February 13 Pune blasts, the February 26 Kabul suicide attack and ramping up of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir are manifestations of his unease. Two radical departures have been made by Pakistan after the unveiling of the new re-focused International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Strategy in December 2009 whose timing are indicators of Gen. Kayani's nervousness.


One, it apprehended Mullah Beradar, a member of the Afghan Taliban executive committee. Whether by design or default, or at the behest of its Saudi benefactors, or whether he had fallen out with Mullah Omar, or to put pressure on the latter, Pakistan is sending clear signals that it wants a central seat at the negotiating table as the new ISAF strategy envisages, among other things, a reconciliation and reintegration process.


Two, Gen. Kayani has evinced a new-found love for the Afghan National Army (ANA). While speaking at the Nato Commanders Conference at Brussels in January, he said, "If we get more involved with the ANA, there's more interaction and better understanding... It's a win-win for Afghanistan, the US, ISAF and Pakistan".


The problems for Gen. Kayani are that the ISAF military strategy is going to make the Taliban weaker, the ANA stronger; its political strategy of reconciliation with the top Taliban leadership may be minus Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network, whom the Americans call a "bridge too far" because of their strong Al Qaeda connections. There is the additional worry that even if these connections are renounced, there is no guarantee that these may not be revived in a later time frame.


Gen. Kayani does not have much time to get Haqqani and Mullah Omar to renounce Al Qaeda as the American pressure on him grows stronger to move into North Waziristan congruent to the ISAF clearing operations and moving closer to the Durand Line. The ISAF military strategy is set to unhinge Gen. Kayani's calibration as never before. There are a number of things the ISAF is doing and proposes to do. A few of them will succeed. A few will not. But it is the few things that may succeed which accounts for the Pakistani discomfort.


For instance, the underpinning of the new strategy is to put the Afghan people first, with the caveat that the insurgency can afford to lose fighters and leaders but cannot afford to lose control of the population. The earlier emphasis on kinetic targeting and "kills" has given way to preventing collateral damage and driving the Taliban out of its strongholds, such that they are made irrelevant in their own Pashtun backyard. In its biggest offensive in Marjah, the ISAF has separated the population from the insurgents by driving the Taliban out at a meagre civilian casualty of 28, very low for an offensive of this magnitude. This strategy will be replicated in Lashkar Gah, Kandahar city and, finally, Spin Boldak, all Taliban heartland.


Importantly, this may impact the $200,000 Taliban monthly income generated from poppy fields in and around these strongholds. If this happens, it will choke off funds to the movement.


As these areas are cleared, the ANA will hold them for "a government in a box" to build the Afghan farm

sector, improve governance, establish law and order, education, health, etc.

While conventional forces separate the Taliban from the population, the Army's Delta Force, the Navy's "Seal Team Six", and drones take out insurgents from known hideouts astride the Durand Line. In fact, in the last three months alone drones have taken out more than 200 hardcore insurgents with 17 strikes in North Waziristan. Special Forces' raids on specific targets along the Durand Line have gone up from an average 10-15 per month to almost 100 per month in the last two months. This strategy is keeping the top Taliban leadership away from the battlefield.


The ISAF reintegration strategy, too, is immensely worrisome for Gen. Kayani because it is aimed at a huge

number of "local Taliban foot soldiers" who are not ideologically committed but are in the war because of unemployment, frustration with the lack of change since 2007, or anger because a local villager was killed by the ISAF. The ISAF proposes to reintegrate these "loose" Taliban through monetary and employment opportunities, thus weakening the Taliban further.


Already, in a significant development in January, leaders of the largest Pakistan tribe (Shinwari), representing 400,000 Pashtuns in the eastern province, have pledged to send at least one male from each family to ANA. This pact is the first time an entire Pashtun tribe has declared war on Taliban insurgents. In return US commanders have given $1 million directly to tribal leaders, bypassing the local government.


A mighty force will succeed in all this. It will not succeed, however, in preventing the Taliban from moving back in. But their numbers will be small and may no longer have the capacity to mount large-scale operations to overwhelm any particular location.

What it means, therefore, is that ANA will represent a domestic authority that will stand up to the Taliban as and when the ISAF begins to draw down. The ANA of late has shown tremendous resilience and held its own against the Taliban. Gen. Kayani knows that it will take the ANA at least three to five years to take over all its responsibilities, in which time they will continue to grow stronger at the expense of the Taliban. This is what, if handled well, will prevent India from going down under. As the ANA grows over the new few years, from 170,000 in end 2010 to 300,000 by the end of next year, it will require $12 billion a year from the current $6 to $7 billion annually. With Nato approving the expansion of the ANA trust fund to allow non-Nato countries to contribute, India can chip in. An ANA sympathetic to India is a big source of worry for Gen. Kayani and, hence, his sudden offer to train them.

For the moment the US is concentrating on a ruthless military efficiency which seeks to marginalise the Taliban in its own heartland while the Special Forces and drones undertake precision strikes against the Haqqani network and Al Qaeda in North Waziristan. If the ISAF mission succeeds in sufficiently separating the Pashtun population from the Taliban and degrading the latter's economic and military strength, it will set the ISAF and Afghan government tone for negotiations from a position of strength. Then, it will not be only Pakistan that will matter; there will be the ANA, and Afghanistan's northern neighbours who have enduring interests in and influence over particular segments of Afghanistan. India is not out of the Afghan equation. Not yet. This is Gen. Kayani's worry.


* The author is a research associate at CLAWS, the Centre For Land Warfare Studies, Delhi








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 programme 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 programmes 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 programme 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 programme, 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 per cent 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 recognising 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 programme 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, Kansas, 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.

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 Centre 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.








The Indo-U.S. nuclear deal of 2008, which caused so much political turmoil, is now a forgotten footnote in Indian history. Was it a one-off event, or part of a grander strategic vision for "rising India"?
The nuclear deal actually was a very complex process, involving the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, the American Senate and the Indian Parliament where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, facing opposition from the Left for the deal, put the survival of his government at stake to narrowly survive a "no confidence vote" in 2008 and went on to sign the deal in the United States.


The Indo-US nuclear agreement of July 18, 2005, culminated when the US House of Representatives passed the bill on September 28, 2008, and India became the only nuclear weapons nation which has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but could now carry out civil and nuclear commerce with the rest of the world. Within two days, India and France signed a similar nuclear deal which provides for the latest French LWRs (Light Water Reactors), lifetime supply of uranium and reprocessing of spent fuel from French LWRs, all under IAEA safeguards. The Indo-US nuclear agreement was finally signed on October 10, 2008, and contracts for American nuclear plants will be signed after the Obama administration goes through its bureaucratic paperwork, given that the India-IAEA's "India-specific agreement" of February 2, 2009, came into force in February 2010.
As India and the rest of the world are moving ahead, Uncle Sam is still trying to make up its mind about formalising the actual contracts with India for civilian reactors and taking steps to strengthen the so-called "strategic relationship" which appears to be moving in reverse gear, given the latest American military hardware gifts to Pakistan, and its expected withdrawal from AfPak.


In the meantime, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who arrived in Delhi on March 11, is expected to give a further boost to the already strong Indo-Russian ties in the field of defence, space exploration and civilian nuclear energy. Aware of America's role in pushing the nuclear deal through, India has earmarked a special region (for "nuclear parks") and financial outlay for American nuclear plants, though the American reactors are likely to come with far more stringent conditions with regard to fuel supply, enrichment, reprocessing, fuel storage etc. In the world of realpolitik, while India does a balancing act with US, Russia, China and others, it will have to ensure that its national interests are not jeopardised.


For once India moved with uncharacteristic speed to secure her civilian nuclear energy future. On January 24, 2009, the Indo-Kazakhstan deal was signed for supply of Kazakh uranium to India. Kazakhstan is the world's largest exporter of uranium and has the second-largest reserves of uranium ore.
On August 31, 2009, India signed another deal with Namibia for supply of uranium. Namibia is the fifth-largest uranium producer in the world, but this agreement is unique in that India has agreed to help train Namibian personnel and set up civilian nuclear power plants there. Another agreement for uranium supply was signed with Mongolia on September 14, 2009, to be followed by the October 14, 2009, Indo-Argentinian "generic nuclear cooperation" agreement. Even more significant was the Indo-Canadian agreement for supply of uranium and civil nuclear power plant equipment, thus breaking a 34-year "freeze" following India's 1974 Pokharan-1 nuclear bomb test.


India and Russia signed a very comprehensive agreement on December 7, 2009, along with three other defence agreements. This is significant given that military security, energy security and space exploration are interlinked with national security, and Russia is a close partner of India in all these three strategic fields. This Indo-Russia nuclear deal caters for uranium fuel supply in perpetuity for Russia-built LWRs, building five more LWRs, right to reprocess spent fuel from Russian LWRs, and facilitating transfer of technology for enrichment and reprocessing.


South Korea, which has recently won a contract to build two nuclear reactors in West Asia, signed an agreement with India on January 25, 2010, to "develop a framework for civil nuclear cooperation". And finally, on February 11, 2010, India and the UK signed a "general umbrella agreement on civil nuclear cooperation", which gives a legal framework for British companies to supply equipment.

As is well known, the NPT came into force in 1970. So how did India manage to get this unique civilian nuclear deal? The answer lies in a combination of factors which include India's growing economic clout, enabling it to spend about $150 billion on civilian nuclear reactors by 2030; India's perfect non-proliferation record, especially when compared with China's record of proliferating missiles and nuclear weapons to Pakistan and North Korea; the rise of global religious terrorism and secular democratic India's clean record; and India's unique geostrategic location in the Indian Ocean region where it can play a stabilising role against piracy and terror, thus enabling free flow of global seaborne commerce (including shipment of oil by sea).


India will be the third-largest global economy by 2050 where nuclear power will barely contribute 10 per cent to the national power grid, but its importance will continue to grow as oil and gas reserves decline. Hence it makes political and economic sense for the great powers of the world to cooperate with India and "be on the right side of history". Similarly, it makes sense for India to have excellent economic and diplomatic relations with all nations without compromising its core national interest.

The geostrategic and economic factors which ensured the unique civilian nuclear deal for India will continue to be valid as the Indian economy closely follows the rise of the Chinese economy starts narrowing the gap after 2020. It is, therefore, important for India's political leadership to ensure that India plays its diplomatic cards correctly and agrees to sign the NPT as a nuclear weapons state (NWS).


Despite much talk of India's new strategic relationships with various countries, the fact remains that in todays world their are only two strategic partnerships: US-UK and China-Pakistan. The Russia of today is primarily focussed on Europe and for the US, India has a "secondary status". Thus, while Russia can meet some of India's requirements for military equipment, strategic systems, space exploitation and energy, India cannot ignore the hard reality of a rising European Union and China, and a declining US and Japan. We need the backing of all to get a permanent UN Security Council seat (with veto powers), to be accepted as NWS, and to ensure peace in our subcontinent.

Unlike what was portrayed in the last Indian general elections, the nuclear deal cannot solve all our problems, nor "provide light in every home". It is merely a symbol of India's rising economy and a catalyst for moving India to its rightful place in the world.


* Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam








Initiated in the Chishti Sufi Order, I feel a deep connection with the Chishti Masters, finding spiritual rejuvenation at their thresholds. Some days ago, a large number of devotees gathered at the dargah of Khwaja Qutub Bakhtiar Kaki in Delhi to partake of the barakah, spiritual blessings at the urs festivities. Urs means wedding, for the passing away of a Sufi is seen as a union with the Beloved, the Creator.
Sufis do not die in the ordinary sense of the word, but are "hidden" from the world. They are true martyrs who have annihilated themselves in the way of Allah. Of them, the Quran says, "and say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah. 'They are dead'. Nay, they are living, though ye perceive it not". (2:154)
An enchanting story affirms the divinity of the modest area around Khwaja Qutub's tomb at Mehrauli. While flying over the city of Delhi on his throne, the Prophet King Solomon noticed nur, the light descending towards the ground. On enquiry from the angels, Solomon learned that the area would be the final resting place of one of God's friend. It is widely believed that heavenly showers constantly pour on the city of Delhi.
There are different legends on how Khwaja Qutub got the title of Bakhtiar Kaki. The most accepted one narrates that his wife used to take provisions on credit from a nearby grocer to feed her starving family. One day, the grocer taunted her, saying that her family would have starved had it not been for his kindness. Khwaja Qutub learnt of the remark and forbade the taking of provisions on credit. Pointing to a niche in the wall, he told his wife to recite "Bismillah" and take bread from it. The kak, bread, continued appearing miraculously till his wife revealed the secret to others.

Khwaja Qutub, the spiritual successor of Khwaja Moinuddin of Ajmer, earned the title of Qutub ul Aqtaab, the central pole in the spiritual hierarchy. He came from Ush, a Sufi stronghold in Central Asia. The young mystic travelled to Baghdad where he became a disciple of Khwaja Moinuddin, following him to India. The Master instructed him to stay in Delhi where Sultan Iltutmish welcomed him.

The Sultan remained an ardent devotee, visiting Khwaja twice a week. The local clerics resented Khwaja's popularity and used his love for musical assemblies to stir up controversies. On learning of his disciple's troubles, Khwaja Moinuddin came to Delhi and asked Khwaja Qutub to accompany him to Ajmer. When the two great Sufis began their journey, the citizens of Delhi came out on the streets and followed them for miles. Led by Sultan Iltutmish, the people wept and picked up the dust the Sufis walked on as a holy relic. Touched by the display of affection, Khwaja Moinuddin ordered Khwaja Qutub to continue residing in Delhi, where Khwaja established the city's first Sufi centre. Despite his intimacy with the Sultan, Khwaja Qutub led an ascetic life steeped in poverty. He taught austerity purifies the soul, bringing it close to God, and that the biggest tribulation was separation from the Lord. He said that friendship with God requires accepting afflictions and bounties, expressing gratitude to Him a thousand times a day.

Khwaja Qutub believed that sama, musical assemblies, kindle the fire of love, providing nourishment for the soul. In the year 1237, the Chishti Master went into a spiritual state of ecstasy while listening to mystic verse and died in an ecstatic state after four days. The couplet was by the Persian Sufi poet of Chisht, Shaykh Ahmed Jam:

Kushtagan e khanjar e taslim raHar zaman az ghaib jane digar ast(Those who are slain by the dagger of submissionTo them new life returns from the Unknown, at every moment of Time)Sultan Iltutmish led the funeral prayers and Qutubuddin Aibak, the founder of the Slave Dynasty, named the Qutub Minar to perpetuate the memory of one of the greatest Chishti Sufi Masters. — Sadia Dehlvi holds Sufi gatherings of Zikr, Remembrance of God with the intent of polishing the mirror of the heart. She maybe contacted at [1]








Barbie and Dr. Who are perhaps not the first names that come to mind if you're looking for things to collect for profit.

They're hardly Van Gogh, but they have been commanding headline-grabbing prices at auctions for long enough now to be interesting to serious investors.

The new collectibles say little about art — although they belong very much to the world of design. They are all about icons, dreams, personalities, popular culture and the fixations of youth. Items popular with American collectors can fetch particularly impressive prices: the comic Uncanny X-Men 1 cost 12¢ in 1962 and is today typically worth $3,000 to $10,000.

So-called "vintage" Barbie dolls made before 1972 can fetch astonishing prices. A pristine doll that skipped off the production line in 1959 and originally cost $3 recently went for $47,500.

Boringly, though, it's primarily the dollies that were never played with and are still in their original packaging that raise the most money.

Collecting experts say that if you want to buy stuff that's likely to be valuable in 10 or 20 years' time, you should invest in items that today's teenagers want but can't afford, such as iPhones. It's the grown-ups of today who chase the must-haves of their youth: chopper bikes, for example, cost £35 in the 1970s — a lot for many parents in that recessionary decade — so teenagers who couldn't afford one then are buying now, in early middle age.

Juke boxes, electric guitars (particularly those played or smashed up by rock stars) and posters are bought by accountants and lawyers pretending to themselves that they were once the "wild ones". Designer clothes can also be investments — but they need to be kept in very good condition to bring in a profit when they're sold.
Even items created after the death of cult figures can increase in value if they're kept in good condition. Items that these legends actually wore or owned will always make more, though. Michael Jackson's single rhinestone-studded glove sold for $350,000 at auction at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York last December.
So the message is, if you're going to a rock concert or a Hollywood premiere, keep your ticket and grab a poster. Don't throw away your iPad — in fact ideally, from an investment viewpoint, don't take it out of the box, use it or let anyone else see it. If your boyfriend or sugar-daddy insists on buying you designer clothes, don't wear them, just put them in tissue paper and barely breathe on them. Oh, and make friends with Lady Gaga (she likes boiled eggs apparently). Even a monogrammed handkerchief, used once to dab her lipstick or mop her brow, could pay the central heating bills in your old age.


* Jasmine Birtles is the founder and editor of


By arrangement with the Spectator









TOKENISM is not confined to women's reservations. South Block would pat itself on the back that on the eve of the visit of the Russian prime minister it obtained the $ 2.35 billion approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security to clear the decks and finalise the Gorshkov deal, as well as other defence supply contracts. But is there not an element of the puerile to such accordance of symbolism to what is unquestionably important bilateral interaction? It would be pointless to reopen the contentious debate on whether the Navy really needs such a huge, refurbished carrier and whether an exorbitant price has been extorted for it. What must worry is why the sanction came only when it did: even a month earlier might have given a little impetus to the long overdue delivery, and remember that financial issues alone have not caused the delay. Instead of waiting for a "photo op" of officials signing and exchanging documents the visit could have been exploited to ensure no further delays: the navy needed the carrier yesterday, actually much earlier. Meetings with the Russian PM could also have served to help remove the cobwebs hanging over so many other defence purchase arrangements. Cobwebs, or worse, that have led to India looking far beyond the once-reliable "Soviet" military-industry complex as its prime source of military hardware ~ the most recent example being Parliament being informed of this country having expressed interest in an American heavy-lift long-range military transport aircraft.

Sure the Gorshkov/MiG-29 K deal is no laughing matter, more so after a further delay has been officially confirmed in the development of the naval version of the LCA that might not render the plane available when the indigenous carrier comes on stream. Yet linking the deals to VIP jaw-jaw does not inspire confidence. At least not among those who put their life on the line preserving national security. As it is the processing of military purchases is a complex, arduous process so once all creases are ironed out the contracts must be finalised expeditiously ~ the stock the MEA places on "convenient dates" is irrelevant in this context. Must the babus work overtime only to meet such "ceremonial" deadlines?   








SINCE the Governor in his Assembly address was reading a text prepared by West Bengal's ruling party, he was not expected to please the Opposition with information that would become part of its pre-poll campaign. It is, therefore, more pertinent to analyse the claims made and to decipher what was left unsaid. The Left Front had evidently opted to steer clear of controversial references which may have been shouted down or, as has happened in the past, left the Governor with the choice of skipping portions resulting in protests from Treasury benches. To that extent, the Opposition was left to repeat the cliche about the Governor's address containing "a pack of lies'' without succeeding in extracting any mileage that it may have sought from a more virulent protest. In an election year, the Left's strategy would have been to emphasise the milestones in the great leap into an industrial era had that indeed taken place. The reality is that a car project collapsed, a chemical hub is embroiled in formalities made worse by local resistance and new manufacturing industries are testing the political soil. Mr MK Narayanan could only hope that facts and figures assembled to justify the claims on serving basic needs reflected actual experience in areas like health and public distribution in which there has been evidence of serious discontent. More than politicising the address which may have proved counter-productive, the government may have decided to focus on social hurdles that prevented effective governance. Allegations of Trinamul's "collusion'' with extremists would not wash after Mr Chidambaram's response during his visit to Kolkata. The Governor himself may not have wanted to venture into sensitive political terrain.

The safest escape route was the reference to the climate of violence rooted in Maoism and inter-party clashes that made life abnormal and development uncertain. If that was meant to explain the yawning gaps in the government's performance and the failure to cope with nagging problems like Gorkhaland and tribal discontent in Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore, the address opens a Pandora's Box of unanswered questions. Is the government's focus still on industrial rejuvenation or does the chief minister take greater pride in a bumper potato crop? Will Presidency finally become a university released from the control of Writers' Buildings and Left-aligned teachers' unions? Will reservations in jobs and educational institutions be the new mantra for minority welfare? If contentious issues didn't find place in the address, it was perhaps because what is now in Prakash Karat's view a "beleaguered and besieged'' Left may not have the answers.









QUITE the most distinctive feature of the parliamentary elections in Iraq is that the exercise towards the West's perception of democracy has been exceptionally open and competitive. This must be reckoned to be a unique achievement for a fractious nation with a turbulent history of colonial rule, ruthless dictatorship and more recently the Anglo-American invasion. Seven years after that war, its rationale is now a subject of intense debate both in the US and Britain. True, the insurgents  posed a major challenge as much to the authorities as the electorate. The death of 38 people and the mortar fire that marked the polling testify to their determination to scuttle the process. Equally, it is clear that this time the voters have generally defied the bomb. There was a perceptible sense of pride as Iraqis, including Kurdish women, flaunted their purple stained fingers to indicate that they had voted.

Despite the violence and the killings, the turnout was higher than expected, indeed far above the figure registered in 2005 during the country's first parliamentary election following the invasion. A striking feature was the participation of the Sunnis, who had boycotted the last election. At another remove, the  increased turnout in the south illustrates the attempted consolidation of the Shia votes. The result may not be known anytime soon; the wait may be longer still before a new government is formed. The 325-member parliament may well have to contend with a fractured verdict; a single party gaining a majority is almost out of the question in a country whose democracy is nascent at best and vulnerable to sectarian attacks at worst. The fragile democracy may yet be reinforced; or the country may be riven further along ethnic and sectarian lines. Whether or not a coalition will be cobbled up can at this juncture be only speculated upon though the alliance of Prime Minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki may yet have an edge. Suffice it to register that unlike neighbouring Iran and Afghanistan, no glaring irregularities marked the election in Iraq. And that ought to afford a measure of comfort to the West. Well may Barack Obama view the election as a test of Iraq's stability... not merely for Iraq's sake but no less crucially as a prerequisite for the pullout of American troops.








OVER the decades, we have come to cherish a few myths about Kashmir, which on scrutiny appear to be baseless. First, we are convinced that Pakistan has no locus standi in the Kashmir question. Second, we believe that the Kashmiris had opted for accession to India of their own free will, and therefore it is immoral for them now to ask for secession. Third, we believe that if only Nehru and his daughter had forcibly re-occupied what is now known as Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the Northern Area comprising the Gilgit, Dardistan and Baltistan regions, then there would have been no insurgency in the Kashmir Valley.

As against Pakistan's claim on Kashmir, we stake ours on purely juridical lines. True, as per the Mountbatten Plan it was the ruler's privilege to decide to which dominion his or her state was to accede, and the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir did sign the Instrument of Accession to the Indian Union. However, we forget that on 11 July 1947, the All-India Congress Committee, in its wisdom, had decided that the authority to decide a state's future lay ultimately not with the ruler but with its people. Armed with this democratic principle, we ignored the fact that the Nawab of Junagad had acceded to Pakistan, and sent armed volunteers there to drive away the Nawab from what was then legally Pak territory, and to force the new administration to join India. A year later the same excuse inspired us to resort to police action against the Nizam and forced him to accede to India.
We applauded our action and the world condoned these acts of aggression because these were visibly in tune with the desire of the population. But, in the case of J&K we only stress the fact that the Maharaja had signed the Instrument of Accession, and hence the entire territory ruled by him is an integral part of India. Even the promised plebiscite we never cared to hold.

Princely state

MOREOVER, we forget the fact that had J&K not been a princely state but a British-Indian province, the entire state, but for the non-Muslim majority districts of Jammu, Udampur, Kathua, and Leh, would have gone to Pakistan as contiguous Muslim-majority territory. It is difficult for Pakistan to accept that the Muslims of  J&K, who then constituted over 77 per cent of the state's population, would lose their chance of being with their neighbours and co-religionists as citizens of Pakistan, only because they happened to be under a 101-year-old Hindu monarchy.

Secondly, if the people of the state, of whom the overwhelming majority were Muslims of Kashmir and its surrounding regions of Jammu province, had really asked for accession to India then the Hindu Maharaja would, like all other states in similar situations, have joined India before or on 15 August 1947. But, the Maharaja dithered knowing full well that his preference and those of the majority of his subjects tilted in opposite directions. In fact, there was no strong popular movement, as in Travancore and Hyderabad, asking the Maharaja to join India.  

The Muslim Conference representing the Muslims of Jammu province, including what is now PoK, asked the Maharaja to join Pakistan, while the rulers of Hunza and Nagar Haveli also joined the chorus. The Raj Hindu Sabha, first asked the Maharaja to opt for independence, but later changed its tone in favour of joining India. The voice of the all-important Kashmiri majority remained choked. The National Conference was virtually the sole voice of the Kashmiri people, but all its leaders were in jail since the summer of 1946 for their involvement in the Quit Kashmir movement. So, no one knew their viewpoint when India attained independence. It was only on 28 September 1947 that they, including their leader Sheikh Abdullah, were released. Even then they did not rush to Delhi. Instead, the Sheikh first sent his two topmost emissaries, Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad and Ghulam Muhammad  Sadiq (both of them later became chief ministers of the state), to Lahore for confabulation with Pakistani leaders.  But, Jinnah would not talk to anyone save the Sheikh himself, while the latter, who had a confrontation with the former in Srinagar in 1944, would not entrust his fate to the Pakistani leadership. He came down to Delhi to meet his old friend, Nehru, and was staying with him when  armed tribals swarmed into the Valley to make a Junagad of Kashmir. Once it was clear that the state forces were no match for the raiders, mainly because of large scale desertions and betrayals by its Muslim elements, the Kashmiris had nowhere to look for security except India. Only the Indian army was in a position to save their lives, honour and property, and accession to India was the price they had to pay. So, their decision to endorse the Maharaja's decision regarding accession was taken under duress.

The Kashmiris through their accession handed over to India only their rights concerning foreign policy, defence, and communications. The Sheikh Abdullah-led government of J&K never signed the Instrument of Merger, unlike other princely states, whereby the latter handed over to the Constituent Assembly the right to frame a national Constitution that would be applicable to all. J&K till date has its own Constitution and flag, and some form of separate status ~ although much diluted over the years ~ guaranteed under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. 

Why did they insist on autonomy and separateness? The reason is that the Kashmiris in general feel that they have a distinct identity, more than the peoples of other regions within India. They had effected a sacrifice by acceding to India in order to save their lives, honour and identity, and were not prepared to lose that cherished identity by merging themselves in the vast "Indian ocean" of crores of people visibly different from them. They only wanted the Government of India to protect them, but not to interfere with their internal affairs. So, they resented every effort to strengthen the links between Delhi and Srinagar, and to discontinue their separateness and privileges. When the Sheikh sought to assert the state's autonomy he was dismissed and hustled into prison without trial. In the words of Syed Mir Qasim, later a chief minister of J&K, "the shabby treatment meted out to their dearest of leaders severed the umbilical chord between Srinagar and New Delhi. Thereafter, the clever and cultured Kashmiris accepted Indian aid and subsidies, but never gave India their loyalty in exchange".

Political dispensation

THE Kashmiris value peace more than the risks inherent in any effort at changing the political dispensation. But that does not mean that they prefer joining Pakistan. They may use the latter against India, but at heart they look down upon them, and crave for nothing but independence, which  they had expected India to give them in a limited form after 1947. No one should be blamed for not occupying what is today known as PoK. It was the Kashmiris who were followers of the National Conference and Sheikh Abdullah and, rightly or wrongly were expected to be loyal citizens of India. At least the Kashmiris were and are a settled and cultured people. In contrast, the people of PoK and the Northern Area are not Kashmiris, and had little sympathy for the National Conference. Living in the barren hilly region of western J&K the local Pathan, Sudans, and Awans are a martial people, who were known for their anti-India and anti-Hindu sentiments.

So, it was an act of shrewdness on the part of both the father and the daughter not to go after that barren land with a martial and hostile population.  We now have our hands full with insurgent Kashmiris. The situation would have been far worse if the fierce semi-tribals of PoK and the Northern Area been with them since 1948 or 1972.

The sooner we disabuse ourselves of these myths, the easier it may be to explore the way to an acceptable solution to the half-a-century-old problem.

The writer is former Head of the Department of History, Jammu University







It was business as usual on the streets of Yangon on the morning of Friday, February 26, 2010, though it could have turned out to be a historic day for the people of Myanmar. The supreme court was to hear the appeal of Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar's independence hero and leader of the National League for Democracy, to end her 14-year-long house arrest. Last year, in a suspicious incident, an American man had swum uninvited to her lakeside compound. That resulted in a lower court upholding the decision to extend Ms Suu Kyi's house arrest by another 18 months. So, under ordinary circumstances, one would have expected a lot of public anticipation around the hearing. But politics in Myanmar is a foregone conclusion, an unnatural affair that has bred a spirit of natural resignation among its population. In the event, the court settled the matter in five minutes, dismissing Ms Suu Kyi's appeal without even a token reasoning. A week later, the ruling was followed up with an injunction from the military government asking the NLD to expel Ms Suu Kyi if it wants to participate in the general elections coming up later this year. The political parties registration law, framed by the notorious military junta, prohibits anyone with a criminal conviction from contesting polls.


A peculiar sense of déjà vu pervades the prevailing political situation in Myanmar. Since 1990, when the NLD

was voted to power but never allowed to assume control by the military general, Than Shwe, the people of Myanmar, as well as the international community, have watched helplessly as things have gone from bad to worse. Along with Ms Suu Kyi, more than 2,000 pro-democracy activists remain imprisoned, as every appeal for clemency and fairness, even from the big Western powers, is scorned with impunity. The military, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, has become unshakably complacent about its invincibility — and perhaps with good reason as well. It is truly amazing, and no less embarrassing, how little has been achieved in spite of sustained agitations by human-rights activists and severe international criticism. Nothing seems to deter the military, let alone defeat its iron will. In fact, a bevy of sanctions (including an arms embargo, suspension of all aid except humanitarian aid, and trade preferences) only seems to have exacerbated the military's impetuosity — and the people's misery.








Tradition sanctifies all kinds of subversions on the day of Holi — even that of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled. But the rules of the game are different in Uttar Pradesh, where four teenaged students found themselves behind bars for allegedly defacing a poster of the chief minister, Mayavati. The four were arrested a short distance away from their school hostel in Lucknow, and sent to a home for juveniles after being charged under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act. They were released only after the chief minister herself intervened and "reprimanded" the keepers of law and order for failing to appreciate the pettiness of the crime. What seems like a completely lopsided sense of justice on the part of the police would, of course, take on a different dimension if the school's allegation — that a vengeful officer was seeking retribution for the school ignoring his request for a mid-term admission — were true. Even if that were not the case, the incident would still raise serious questions about the attitude of the police force. Perhaps the chief minister cannot deny that much of this attitude has been formed by the emphasis she herself has placed on the protection of symbols of Dalit power — monuments and statues built to venerate Dalit icons, such as B.R. Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and herself, many of these guarded by a heavy posse of policemen.


Part of the attitude could also have been shaped by experience. Both in UP and Maharashtra, Ambedkar statues have been repeatedly targeted by those who know how useful such acts can be in lighting the divisive fire. The police are, naturally, sensitive to violations of the kind that purportedly happened in Lucknow. But even if one were to ignore the particularities of this case, there is no denying that the overreaction of the police has something to do with an attitude that is peculiarly Indian, and now a valued attribute of the civil servant — mindless surrender to the powers that be. This attitude has been cultivated for the rewards it has fetched in the form of promotions. It is possible that the policemen in Lucknow had acted with this purpose in mind. They could not but have been inspired by this entrenched practice in the civil service, where servility is rewarded, and independence of spirit leads to punishment postings. UP, with its record of transfers under both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayavati, has almost institutionalized this system.









The feudal grandeur of the name tagged to him at birth — Kumarendu Narayan Roy Chowdhury — must have caused discomfort fairly early. Scion of landed gentry, he grew up in opulent surroundings. A child reared in Bengal in the late 1920s could not, however, remain unaffected by the turmoil in the air. Indian nationalism was soaring to its peak. It was almost like the unfolding of a Passion Play. Never mind in whatever way, patriotic valour must find its expression. While Gandhiji was preaching and practising non-violent resistance, the call to arms by restless Bengali revolutionaries captured the imagination of even kids born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Sublimation of a sort took place though. The elegant mansion in the town of Dinajpur had a library crammed with books, including many historical novels and plays. That apart, to stage an occasional amateur play was a normal ritual in comfortably placed households. There was, in fact, attached to the main building owned by this Dinajpur family, a miniature theatre with a raised platform for a stage. It was Bengal mofussil, the props and accessories were of a mundane, rudimentary kind. The thrill and enthusiasm for dramatic performances compensated for all that. Patriotic emotions found an outlet in such performances even in a family whose prosperity was a gift of Lord Cornwallis's Permanent Settlement. Plays put up had in the beginning puranic themes based either on the Ramayan or the Mahabharat. But the transition to the enactment of romanticized history was swift, thanks to the flurry of plays that had emerged in the first decade of the century from the pen of D.L. Roy. Several of Roy's works were marked by a stylized depiction of resistance offered by Hindu chieftains to marauding Pathan and Mughal adventurers. This was interspersed with pious discourses on the need for Hindu-Muslim amity. And one could almost catch the wink in the eye: why don't you look behind the façade, the real intent of the plays was to invoke the strength lying dormant in patriotic souls; once the slumber terminates and patriotism awakes, the British infidels will flee with their tails between the legs.


For Kumar Roy, the emission of nationalist fervour was, of course, the main issue. But a parallel fascination lay in exploring the mechanics of putting together a play. Then an accident happened. He went to college at Rajshahi and was befriended by that mad genius, Ritwik Ghatak. The universe was suddenly, totally transformed. The convergence of events that followed was overwhelming: the Second World War, the Quit India movement, the people's war policy adopted by the communist party and the Bengal famine. Layers of arguments got sandwiched with layers of felt passion. Producing amateur plays for domestic entertainment was displaced by the lure of mass theatre. Kumar Roy discovered himself as a partisan with a cause. The cause he opted for was less overt than that of a political activist. He had nonetheless neatly worked out a neat syllogism. Man exists to serve society. Man has to choose a specific calling in order to serve society. Kumar Roy found his calling. He, the landlord's son, became a workman for that impressive social endeavour, the theatre group, Bohurupee. Bohurupee was his cause for the rest of his life, a stretch beyond 60 years.


The workman was at work, relentlessly, over these six decades, in the course of which Kumar Roy emerged as the Compleat Thespian. He, the artisan, worked and learnt everything that was necessary to learn about drama and aesthetics. He learnt to be daringly innovative too. His initiation into the mystique of acting was partly under the tutelage of the towering actor, revered as Maharshi, Manoranjan Bhattacharya. But, during the rest of the apprenticeship, there was only one guru, Sombhu Mitra. Kumar Roy was putty clay in Sombhu Mitra's hand and was shaped, as Sombhu Mitra wanted him to be shaped. It was absolute devotion on Kumar Roy's part which withstood all shocks and interruptions, including the great schism of 1978 which saw both Sombhu Mitra and Tripti Mitra detach themselves from Bohurupee. With Khaled Chowdhury and Tapas Sen lending helping hands, he grasped the essentials of the different aspects of stagecraft, including décor, fittings, lighting, voice modulation and sound control. Following Sombhu Mitra's decision to sever his links with the group, Kumar Roy was voted by colleagues and associates into assuming leadership of Bohurupee. It was an astoundingly smooth transition. None of the group felt that they were being led — or even nudged. That surely was the truest criterion of effective leadership. Kumar Roy would be taken aback at the showering of plaudits on this account: why, all he did was to adhere to what Sombhu Mitra had grilled into him. There was more to it than his modesty would allow him to admit. Drama builds itself on tension, the tension must rise and rise until the heat reaches the point of explosion. The magic reposes in the director's ability to ensure that even when tension reaches Fahrenheit Three Thousand, it is not allowed to explode. Kumar Roy did reach the pinnacle of that achievement.


It is at this point that the standard accolades fail to satisfy: Kumar Roy was a great theatre personality, an outstanding producer, an outstanding actor as well, and an equally eminent director. His long tryst with Tagore's plays, and — with the spell of Raktakarabi refusing to dissolve — his obsession to interpret, re-interpret and re-re-interpret their inner meaning have already contributed to legend. He was, besides, a great communicator; a successful thespian has to be one. Communication in the role of director means engaging now and then in controversies in the public domain. Such controversies often tend to be both sharp and bitter. Here, too, Kumar Roy succeeded to be different. It will be difficult to recollect any incident in his life and career where he caused offence or hurt anybody. He might have differed, he might have argued, he might have chosen to part company, but he would never have parted with rancour.


This person stood way apart. Despite his feudal antecedents, he was a democrat non pareil. He would on occasion be unbending because the discipline he owed allegiance to necessitated such demeanour. Even so, whether it was within the close group of Bohurupee or within the precincts of the wider theatre world, none could ever complain that Kumar Roy was less than generous. And that assertion would receive generalized endorsement.


Much hilarity and some banter have crowded the debate about what constitutes the perfect image of a sophisticated Bengali gentleman. At one end was Nirad C. Chaudhuri, the Bengali babu, who wanted hard to be an English gentleman and ended up as a caricature of both species. At another extreme is the picture of a Bengali bhadralok supposedly belonging to the intellectual breed, who dresses impeccably, wears his Derrida on his sleeve and nurtures the notion that run-of-the-mill hauteur is appropriate proxy for high thinking. Yet another category consists of a species belonging to the Bengali middle class who dresses with elegance and talks a language a Tagore devotee would be expected to talk, but his intellectual horizon is suffocatingly constricted and he reeks of mannerisms that are sickeningly provincial.


Kumar Roy occupied an altogether different slot. He was perhaps the last representative of a generation of individuals who were gentle to the core and magnanimous towards each and all, full of grace and dignity, extraordinarily affectionate in manners and possessing the ability to keep under wraps the wisdom and learning that was their accumulation. Globalization is a merciless process; it is rapidly making a comprehensive nonsense of sectarian cultural mores. So, in any event, the civilization represented by the archetypal Bengali bhadralok is soon going to be extinct, not even to be found on display in an old curiosity shop. There would still be a left-over pride in some people's memories: Kumar Roy, the nature's gentleman, personified that civilization, and they had the great good fortune of knowing him.








The Right to Information Act was one of the most salutary initiatives of the United Progressive Alliance government, endorsed by the Congress. Recent rumblings that the prime minister and his administration would like to amend its constitution, applications and other modalities make one wary of the possibly limited and isolated intentions that merit changes and, therefore, dilution. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when secretaries to the government of India, people like L.P. Singh, L.K. Jha and endless others, were proud and honourable, correct and careful, when marking their comments on the 'file'. They stood by their markings, were in complete control of the subject and not given to lobbies or delivering favours. There were exceptions to that rule, but few and far between. Today, alas, the reverse is true. In this context, we in the public domain cannot support exempting public servants from scrutiny. There is no other way to cleanse the system of governance that has overwhelmed India.


Most Indians want this nation to return to clean, inclusive governance. Any attempt, however mild, to protect the erring civil servant or to veil him in secrecy will be unacceptable. Sonia Gandhi has been steadfast in her support to initiatives such as this in an effort to restore dignity to government. For the UPA government, led by her and the Congress, any tempering down would amount to tampering with the essence of the act. I have often wondered why honest administrators and jurors would object to scrutiny. Surely, they must stand up there and be counted. Unfortunately, our rulers have complicated the laws with a plethora of addenda, making them untenable and impossible to enforce. Those who make our laws today neither live by them nor enforce them. Now they are demanding 'protection', terrified that their exploitative processes will be exposed.


Long wait


The Indian administration does not need protection for its inaction, for politicizing what was deemed a non-partisan civil service machine and for corrupting the processes of function and delivery. This breakdown neither merits explanation nor must it be permitted under any circumstances to operate in the unacceptable manner it has adopted over the last few decades. If anything, it needs radical administrative reforms that each successive government has shunned. As a technocrat, Manmohan Singh understands well that a service such as the IAS or the police must be incorruptible, must abide by and enforce the law, and stand by the notings made on file. The abject lack of transparency and running amok of 'coteries' that change with shifting power manipulations have made India a laughing stock. A committed process of correction is essential and who better than a technocrat to lead the charge. So, please lets have no dilution whatsoever of the RTI Act.


The unspeakable performance in Parliament by members of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party has shamed all Indians, and insulted the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of this civilization. Small wonder that women continue to be brutalized by men if the male leadership in place can behave in such an uncouth manner on the floor of the House and get away with it. Of course, the RJD, SP and other such parties will stall the bill and find different 'reasons' to do so. Why did these 'leaders' not ensure a place for women in their own parties? Why was it a wife who was pitched into the fray and not 30 per cent of the Dalit and Muslim women since these men claim they are the saviours of the less privileged? Fourteen years is a long time and there is no explanation except that they do not believe in allowing any such representation at all.



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The Yeddyurappa ministry's move to come back to the Assembly with the bill banning cow slaughter, within days of introducing and withdrawing it, indicates muddle-headed thinking in the government. If it was assumed that wisdom had dawned on the government in the light of allround criticism over the bill, such hopes seem to have been misplaced. The bill that was tabled in the Lower House on Wednesday is a piece of legislation that was completely unnecessary, as a similar law is in force since 1964. If that law did not prove effective, the problem was with the implementation and not the law itself. The statement of objective and reasons attached to the proposed bill do not even pretend to make out a case for it.

The law virtually equates the killing of a cow with the murder of a human, and appears to have been inspired by the Indian Wildlife Act, 1972. The latter was a law that banned hunting and poaching of wild animals for food or profit and proved crucially important in arresting poaching to a great extent. The bill in question, on the other hand, seems to have no other purpose than challenging the food habits and rights of a section of the population, since it does not mention ritualistic killing of cattle, notably buffalos that goes on with impunity in temples across Karnataka.

If the law indeed had the objective of 'preservation and improvement of the breeds of cattle,' the government would have come out with plans to revive the magnificent breeds of Indian cattle such as Hallikar, Ongole, Amrithamahal and so on instead of merely trying to hand over veterinary farms to organisations of dubious background. Section 18 that provides for 'Establishment of institutions for taking care of cattle' deepens the suspicion that the bill is less about the welfare of cattle and more about an agenda that is all too familiar.

But what is most worrisome about the bill are the penalties that it provides for. They are draconian and are open to misinterpretation and misuse. Worse, the bill will strengthen the hands of vigilante groups in certain parts of the state that have been targeting minorities under the guise of protecting cattle. Many such groups are little more than mafia gangs that sport the facade of religion to prey on certain communities. The BJP government will do well to put the bill in cold storage and concentrate on development works.








Irom Sharmila's rearrest by authorities for the 10th time in the past decade indicates the Centre's utter lack of imagination in responding to her historic non-violent struggle against the Indian State. Sharmila has been on a fast-unto-death since Nov 4, 2000, demanding the repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The Act under which she has been arrested for attempting suicide permits authorities to detain her for a year at the most. Hence, she is released only to be rearrested the next day. This has been the state's standard response to her fast.

Sharmila is no ordinary activist on a hunger strike. She is an extraordinary human, whose integrity and political honesty is uncommon in the world today. It is often said that Irom Sharmila has iron in her soul and a steely determination defines her protest against the AFSPA. Compare her peaceful struggle based on moral principles to the state's utterly unprincipled response and one understands why the country should be extending Irom Sharmila and her cause whole-hearted support.

Enacted in 1958, the AFSPA vests sweeping powers in the hands of the armed forces deployed in the northeast — in areas that have been declared 'disturbed.' It empowers the armed forces to arrest without warrant and to shoot at sight based on mere suspicion, as this is supposedly necessary to 'maintain public order.' Far from quelling the insurgency in Manipur and other parts of the northeast, the AFSPA has fuelled public anger against the state. In the name of tackling insurgency, thousands of innocent youth have been killed in so-called encounters or detained and 'disappeared' using the awesome powers that this legislation gives the armed forces. Government-appointed committees and independent human rights organisations have repeatedly called for AFSPA's repeal. But the government has chosen to ignore these well-considered recommendations. It is said that the armed forces are opposed to the repeal of the AFSPA.

A couple of years ago, prime minister Manmohan Singh promised to amend some of the provisions of the AFSPA. The government has failed to fulfil even that half-hearted promise. The AFSPA violates the Indian constitution and and it is a slur on our claims to be a democracy. The AFSPA's continuance is unconscionable. It must be repealed now.








Tamar is a small Adivasi village in the deep jungles of Chhattisgarh. Two tribal farmers from the village are fighting a losing battle against a young Congress MP. He has forcibly built a factory on their fields, spread over 10 acres. He belongs to an industrialist scion from Haryana.

One farmer, possessing one and a half acres, is a policeman who has resigned from his job to devote all his time to get back the land. He and the other farmer, having seven and a half acres of land, often travel 400 km to Raipur, the state capital, to knock at the door of top officials because the farmers have got no justice at the district headquarters Raigarh.

Both have been dubbed 'Maoists,' though, in this case, they are merely fighting for their land. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has characterised Maoists as the "single biggest internal security challenge" to India. The two farmers have nothing to do with the Maoists or Naxalites. But since the Maoists have evoked revulsion in the last few months after slaughtering 24 policemen in West Bengal, and 12 villagers in Bihar, the government finds it convenient to call the two farmers Maoists to divert attention from the forcible occupation of the land. But they are not an exception.

I met at Raipur this week many tribals who had been ousted from their land — and villages — to make room for industrialists of different climes, Indian and foreign, to exploit the natural resources like coal and iron ore. The state government has signed as many as 105 MoUs. The rag-tag force of Sulwa Judum is an armed private outfit that the government has constituted to drive out tribals by force.

Some of the uprooted tribals, numbering two lakh, have crossed over from Chhattisgarh to the jungles in Maharashtra, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. Many are yet to be rehabilitated (40,000 are still in camps). Tribals could have used their poisoned arrows to defend themselves as they have done in the past.

The National Human Rights Commission gave a critical report against the treatment meted out to tribals. On the basis of the report, the supreme court has instructed the Chhattisgarh government to rehabilitate the dispossessed Adivasis. Every collector has been asked to rehabilitate the dispossessed. But there is no action yet.

An overwhelming number of tribals, roughly 84 million or 8.2 per cent of India's population, are not with the Maoists in their rebellion against the state. But what option do tribals have when they find the Maoists equipped with latest weapons threatening them? Tribals are also victims of lack of development and corruption. In fact, they find themselves caught between the government's neglect and the Maoists' gun.

Basic needs

Tribals want to return to their old life when the forest provided them with everything they needed. They had then 'jal' (water), 'zamin' (land) and the bounty of jungle. In fact, that is their demand and they agitate to have them back. They are too innocent for the mechanisations — and brute force — of the nexus between the government and the corporate sector.

The Maoists have only made things more difficult for them because their war cry and their violence have driven the state to adopt fascist tactics. Unthinkingly, New Delhi has given its operation the nomenclature of Green Hunt. If at all it is a hunt, it is of the Red and it endangers whatever the green is left. The ravages of operation through the jungles can be devastating. The innocent will bear the brunt.

I also met Dr Vinayak Sen at Raipur. He is president of the Chattisgarh's PUCL. He is a doctor who has spent two years in jail. I did not see anything violent either in his deeds or words. Why the government took umbrage against his fight for civil rights of the suppressed tribals is not understandable. Such people should be given recognition for the good work they are doing to retrieve the people from the Maoists' clutches.

The crisis of Indian politics, as I see, is a crisis of change. It reflects the widening gap between the base of polity and its structures. Both political and economic processes have brought sections of the peripheral and deprived social strata in the open without the rulers doing anything about it.

Home Minister P Chidambaram may be able to suppress the Maoists by employing the huge apparatus the government has built in the name of law and order, a state subject. But he should realise that some other Maoists will come up if the 70 per cent of people remain poor and if the disparities between the people and the areas do not get narrower.

Chidambaram's advice to the Maoists to give up violence would go down better if he were to announce the economic package as well. He must have seen how the movement confined to a few villages in West Bengal some 50 years ago has spread to Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.

Political parties have to tear a leaf from the book of the Maoists. Today they have come to represent a socio-economic change in the country. They alone talk about such an agenda. What they do not realise is that they will be a big force to reckon with if they take to electoral politics.









Ideas die too. The cemetery of political parties overflows with the remains of organisations that at one time ignited passions and roused multitudes but are now relegated to oblivion. Who in Europe today agrees with Radicalism, though it was one of the most important political forces (centre-left) of the second half of the 19th century? Or Anarchism? Or Stalinist Communism? What happened to these formidable mass movements that in their day could mobilise millions of workers and peasant farmers? Were they just passing fashions?

Because of what it has abandoned, retracted, and renounced, European social democracy today finds itself being dragged towards the grave. Its life cycle seems about to end. And yet, this is happening at a time when its arch rival, ultraliberal capitalism, is passing through one of its worst periods ever. How can social democracy be dying just as ultraliberal capitalism finds itself in severe crisis? The answer is clear: because it was incapable of generating popular enthusiasm for its weak response to the urgent social problems of the day.

Without compass or theory, it gropes along, seemingly broken, its leadership sickly, with neither organisation nor ideas, neither doctrine nor direction. And, most important, without identity. This was an organisation that was supposed to have carried out a revolution but backed away from the idea. It was a workers party, but today it is the party of a comfortable urban middle class.

The recent elections demonstrated that European social democracy no longer knows how to appeal to the millions of voters who are victims of the brutal postindustrial world brought about by globalisation — the multitudes of disposable workers, the new poor of the suburbs, the marginalised, the retired though still of working age, at-risk youth, middle class families threatened by destitution, all groups damned by neoliberal shock.

The social democratic parties that had been in power were dealt serious setbacks, while those in the opposition also suffered losses. If evidence had been lacking of the European social democrats' failure to devise an approach different from that of the EU leadership, Gordon Brown and Jose Luis Zapatero provided more than enough when they backed the shameful election as president of the European Commission of ultra-liberal Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, the fourth man of the March 2003 Azores Summit where the decision was made to launch the illegal invasion of Iraq.

In 2002, the social democrats were in power in 15 countries of the EU. Today, despite the fact that the financial crisis has proved the social, moral, and ecological bankruptcy of ultraliberalism, social democrats rule in only five countries.

Indeed, repudiating their very foundations has become a habit: European social democrats decided years ago to ramp up privatisations, demand lower budgets at the expense of the citizens, call for raising the retirement age, dismantle the public sector, while pushing for giant corporate mergers and concentration and pampering the banks. It gradually converted itself, without remorse, to social-liberalism, dropping as priorities certain objectives that were part of its ideological DNA — for example, full employment, the defence of acquired social advantages, the development of public services, and the eradication of hunger and poverty.

European social democracy lacks the vision of a new social utopia. Times have changed. In the minds of many constituents, even the least well off, consumerism has triumphed, along with the desire to get rich, have fun, luxuriate in abundance, and be happy without feeling guilty.

In the face of this dominant hedonism, permanently stamped into people's minds by relentless advertising and manipulation by the media, the leaders of the social-democrats do not dare go against the current.

They have even managed to convince themselves that it isn't certain that capitalists get rich by exploiting workers but that, to the contrary, the poor are taking advantage of the taxes paid by the wealthy. They think, in the words of Italian philosopher Raffaele Simone, that "socialism is possible only when misfortune outstrips happiness, when suffering far exceeds pleasure, and chaos triumphs over structure".

In contrast, however, in certain countries of South America, we may be seeing a rebirth, with force and creativity, of a new, 21st century socialism, as in Europe the bell tolls for social democracy.








My attention was drawn to a recent report in a national daily. The government is apparently planning a major overhaul of the driving rules in the country, which includes putting an upper age limit on people eligible to drive and making training from recognised driving schools mandatory for applicants wanting a licence.

However, I wonder if prohibiting people above the age of 75 from taking to the wheel will reduce road mishaps. We surely cannot overlook the fact that rash driving is more the preserve of young people.

Driving in India is clearly not for the fainthearted. The problem is that in driving — as in so many things — Indians don't share the English love of queuing. When I went to the UK five years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to note how systematic road traffic was and still is. In India, if one car is waiting to turn right, the vehicle approaching from behind, rather than wait behind it and join the queue, will decide to pull up alongside that car in order to nip in front. Of course, when a third car pulls up and also considers itself too important to wait in line for the right filter, that makes three cars trying to turn right.

Although roads in major metros such as Delhi are generally three-lane affairs, the traffic stacks up six abreast at most junctions. The dotted white lines are considered wholly advisory and best used for lining up the centre of your vehicle at night.

Anyway, the result of this chaos is that all the people trying to go straight on work themselves into a honking fury as they are held up by the vehicles waiting for the filter light to turn green. The fact that all the drivers trying to turn right will have been inconvenienced in this way themselves a million times before doesn't prevent them from blocking the road. Memories are short.

In India, rules are made to be broken. One of the main reasons of well-ordered traffic in the UK is the strict enforcement of the law aided by facilities like speed cameras, etc. Even if new rules are made in India, things will revert to what they were all too soon. Moreover, if the government thinks that most ills can be cured by banning septuagenarians from driving, it is living in a fool's paradise.


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In his speech at Tel Aviv University yesterday, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden outlined the American approach to the Middle East in its broadest sense, from the Israeli-Arab conflict to the Persian Gulf.

This is President Barack Obama's line, and Biden made sure to mention that it was the president who instructed him to denounce the decision to build 1,600 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood Ramat Shlomo. Even if a Republican takes over the White House after Obama, this basic line is not expected to change.

The American administration's position is territories in exchange for peace, peace to ensure security and security to ensure the region's stability and foil the Iranian nuclearization, which constitutes a "strategic threat to Israel's survival." The position also supports a Jewish, democratic Israel alongside a Palestinian state, with the Green Line as its border, minus agreed territory exchanges.


This means that if Israel wants to keep neighborhoods and settlements in exchange for other territory, Washington will understand, but on condition that the Palestinians agree to the deal.

Biden pointed out the self-evident: To reach a deal, the sides must negotiate directly with each other. And if the corridor to the direct talks is indirect talks, as the Palestinian leaders demand, then this is the way it must be done. For Israel will not find better Palestinian leaders than Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. Thus the key is to eliminate reasons and excuses for avoiding indirect talks that lead to direct talks. One of these is the Israeli construction beyond the Green Line, whether in West Bank settlements or East Jerusalem neighborhoods.

Pushing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express regret over the announcement of the building plans in Ramat Shlomo enabled Obama and Biden to tie Netanyahu's hands. They leave him no option of implementing the declarative decisions.

This week the Obama administration showed Netanyahu a yellow card. Next time, if Netanyahu takes that risk, whether with ill-intent or because one of his 30 ministers, a mayor or some clerk forgets to coordinate with him - the White House will brandish a red card.

Biden also trapped Netanyahu by bringing up the latter's agreement to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel, as he stated in his Bar-Ilan University speech. Netanyahu listed reservations in that address. Biden ignored them - as a way of telling Netanyahu he must choose between siding with the international community in general and the Obama administration in particular, or surrendering to the right wing within and outside Likud. Biden indicated that Israel has a right to define and prioritize its interests as it sees fit, but Israeli-Arab peace is also an American interest.

Netanyahu focused on Iran as his main source of concern. Biden, speaking for Obama, explained to the Israeli public the importance of preventing a rift between Jerusalem and Washington. This is another reason the status quo with the Palestinians "is unsustainable," as Biden put it.

This was a support speech by an old friend, with whom the Israeli public can identify. Israel's leaders should respond to his call.







The Israeli consulate in Los Angeles held a cocktail party in a restaurant in honor of the creators of the film "Ajami," an Oscar candidate for Best Foreign Language Film. During the celebration, actor Elias Saba, who looks particularly young, lifted a glass of champagne to toast his friends. Before he could say a word, the owner of the restaurant stopped him and asked whether he was 21, the minimum age for serving alcohol in California. Because he had no such ID, he was insulted. Even though the consul explained to him that those are state laws, the actors left the restaurant angrily, one for all and all for one - the motto of the Three Musketeers that is applied in Israel, too, when it comes to violating the law in public.

For years Israel fought unsuccessfully against smoking in public places, as was the case with many other municipal laws. But the moment they began to impose heavy fines on restaurant owners, the smoking stopped. On the other hand, the prohibition against selling alcohol to people under 18 has become a joke. More and more accidents and violent quarrels involve drunken children.

And if the young people are not high on alcohol, they get high by inhaling gas from air conditioners in public buildings, which has already caused several accidents. Has anyone thought of blocking access to this lethal drug? Is anyone keeping track of what and to whom the kiosks are selling? And what do you do with a 27-year-old woman who was arrested on suspicion of raping boys aged 14 and 15 and sexually abusing children aged 4 to 9 by threatening them with a knife and buying their silence in exchange for cigarettes and alcohol?


If we add up all these sick episodes and the 31,000 killed in traffic accidents since the establishment of the state, we can say that the situation in the film "A Clockwork Orange" pales in comparison. Fistfights, vandalism against private and public property and more violence in the schools. The young people who are our future are more violent, and the street is less safe.

This week, amazingly, a police-station armory was emptied of its weapons in a nighttime break-in.

And the story about a 14-year-old girl whose "friends" at school raped her over three years at the initiative of her boyfriend, whom she was in love with - was that also one for all and all for one? The police said the boy who initiated the rapes is "emotionally blocked." But that's not the opinion of his mother, who said he is a "pure soul."

We can cautiously say that today's parents have "resigned" from their jobs - it's as though they don't have to deal with their children's classic claim: "I'm bored." Children today have television, computers and cell phones, through which they are exposed to sex and enticements to buy drugs, which are camouflaged as ordinary medicines. And they form dangerous acquaintanceships, which often end badly.

The cell phone is one cause of the lethal traffic accidents. Nothing infuriates me more than the sight of a woman pushing a baby carriage, crossing a street with one hand on the carriage and the other on the cell phone.

In the past, young hooligans would disturb the audience in movie theaters with catcalls and by rolling empty bottles. The police would occasionally intervene and fine the hooligans. During that period an article by Rafael Eitan (yes, the former chief of staff) appeared in Haaretz in which he suggested restoring flogging as a punishment. "That's the only language the hooligans understand," he wrote. The fact is, we overcame this nuisance and the plague of stealing flowers in public parks.

But what we have now is a country that violates the law on all levels. Although the police have been quite successful recently handling the crime families, they pay less attention to hooligans and people who defy the law. A crime is a crime, but even here there is an infuriating ranking. The most serious phenomenon is breaking into the apartments of solitary, poverty-stricken old people, who are cruelly beaten so they will reveal where they "hide" their money.

Although Israel is a country that grants rights to suspected criminals, it's unconscionable to have a situation where drivers who run over others are released to house arrest while the victims have died or are fighting for their lives. Despite the presumption of innocence, if you run someone over in a traffic accident you must be considered guilty until you prove otherwise.

The police must show zero tolerance toward violent demonstrators such as the ultra-Orthodox who throw diapers filled with excrement at policemen. The violence in the territories also affects what happens at home. The hooligans of the settlements must not have the upper hand.

The country is so busy with Iran and construction in the territories that it has stopped paying attention to quality of life, which is an important part of our security. The increasingly serious evil must be handled with soft words, but with a big stick. So what in the world is the public security minister doing?








The president spends a lot of his time touring the country and listening to people's problems. But what would Shimon Peres tell a man who woke up one morning with a stomachache and it turns out he has kidney stones? Would he advise him to consult the "brilliant minds" Peres met this week at the Ponevezh Yeshiva, or simply go to an ordinary hospital run by secular people?

It's possible that after his self-effacement and fawning in Bnei Brak this week, Peres will send the man to Ponevezh. There the patient will hear from the yeshiva's rabbis what the Talmud says about methods for treating stones in the urinary tract.

Healing according to the Sages. In Tractate Gittin, Folio 69b, it says: "For stone in the bladder let him take three drops of tar oil and three drops of leek juice and three drops of clear wine and pour it on the sexual organ of a man or the corresponding place in a woman. Alternatively he can take the handle of a waterskin and hang it on the sexual organ of a man or the breasts of a woman. Or again he can take a red thread which has been spun by a woman of ill repute whose mother is also a woman of ill repute and hang it on the sexual organ of a man or the breast of a woman. Or again he can take a louse from a man and a woman and hang it on the sexual organ of a man and the corresponding place in a woman; and when he makes water he should do so on dry branches near the hinge of the door, in order to examine the stone that separates from the urine."


Interesting. In any case, Peres should know that when a Ponevezh Hasid falls ill he immediately runs to secular doctors, because he has less trust in the Talmud that Peres praises so highly. The Hasid knows that the "brilliant minds" of Ponevezh spend all their days in long-winded debates about virtual problems that don't really exist. They don't study science, mathematics, physics, English or history. That's why there is no chance that a single doctor will emerge from the ranks of the Ponevezh.

After so much flattery of the extremist Lithuanian Hasidim - "A yeshiva is a spiritual fitness room ... I would do anything to have all Jews observe the Sabbath" - Peres forgot that the secular, humane and educated world is responsible for the revolutions that advanced our living standards and quality of life in the past 200 years. No aspect of global wealth has been contributed by the ultra-Orthodox.

The world has advanced thanks to the science they hate so much and dismiss. Thanks to people like Charles Darwin, the inventor of the theory of evolution, Louis Pasteur, the inventor of vaccines, Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric lightbulb, and Albert Einstein, the inventor of the theory of relativity. And also thanks to computer engineers, software developers, communications technicians and the inventors of the Internet, none of whom emerged from Ponevezh.

This is an anti-Zionist and anti-democratic yeshiva. The late Rabbi Eliezer Schach, who was the leader of the Lithuanian community and the head of the yeshiva, said that "democracy is like cancer." He said the Knesset has no legitimacy because "there are people sitting there who have intercourse with women who are nida [menstruating, ritually impure] and who violate the Sabbath in public." And these are the culture and values Peres wants us to adopt.

But it was even more infuriating to hear the president saying that the ultra-Orthodox should not be blamed for the fact that they don't work. The actual culprit is the secular community, which did not create conditions "that suit their lifestyles, because it's time to end this seclusion, [to stop] treating anyone who walks around with ritual fringes as though he were different."

This is already a real libel. How dare Peres blame the secular public for the idleness of the Haredim? They're the ones who want to seclude themselves in their communities, disdain the secular community and shun any contact between their children and secular people's children, for fear they'll fall into bad company. They're the ones who don't want to work, but rather to live on handouts and let the secular donkey continue to bear the burden.

And if all that were not enough, it turns out that Peres is also in favor of the Haredi evasion of service in the Israel Defense Forces. "I'm very proud the State of Israel agreed to release those who dedicate their lives to Torah study from military service," he said. In other words, tens of thousands of Torah scholars are the important ones, who deserve to be released from service, but those who dedicate their lives to studying philosophy, biology, brain science, physics or electronics in the universities, the Technion or the Weizmann Institute have to both work and serve in the army. A new scale of values a la Peres.

Despite the disgraceful self-disparagement, we should remember that the State of Israel was established by secular Jews, contrary to the propaganda of the Haredim who wanted to wait for the Messiah. The economy was built by secular Israelis contrary to Ponevezh wheeler-dealers, who sanctified idleness. Our culture and literature were also promoted by the secular community, as was the IDF that protects everyone, including the draft-dodging Haredim.

So maybe, in light of these accomplishments, Peres should advise the guy suffering from kidney stones to go to the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. After all, the hospital is not far from his beloved Ponevezh Yeshiva.









They estimate that the number of participants in the demonstrations in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah was 3,000; and they stress that for a long time, no one has seen such a large protest here. Yallah! We have a fight.

Two flags were raised at the demonstration, one Israeli and one Palestinian. I'm not a big fan of flags; I always ask myself what is amusing them on top of the mast. After all, there is no crime scene - a war crime or crime against humanity - which has no flag flying above it.

The same goes for national anthems. It once happened to me that the national anthem was being played and I stood to attention. Afterward I discovered that someone had used the opportunity to pickpocket me. I learned to be cautious.

But there is a difference between not waving a flag and folding up a flag that has been waved so as to not offend. And there is a difference between no flags at all and only one flag. Had I been at the demonstration and had I had the urge for flags, I would have waved them both - the Israeli flag alongside the Palestinian flag.

In the narrow space where the purists of the left stand, far-leftists have no room. There is no space for all of them and they have to push the deviants out.

Even "Zionism" is starting to be considered an ideological deviance because many not so good people take its name in vain, and despicable acts are committed in its name. We are not part of them.

Indeed, it is not aging gracefully, that Zionism. Nevertheless we don't want to chase it out of the house simply because there are horrible people who also claim it as their mother, smear it in make-up and make it a laughing stock.

They are the Zionists and we are the anti-Zionists; but if we are the Zionists then they are the anti-Zionists. And why should we concede ground and make happy those who dismay us?

We have not given up on Israel as a democratic country, even though it does not defend itself as much as it should and it helps those who wish it evil. And the socialists among us have not given up on their beliefs simply because Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the hedonist, is a vice president of the Socialist International.

And I have not forgone the Bible simply because the covetous prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu places it next to himself and reads the Book of Joshua from left to right.

And I also do not plan to forgo Zionism. I define myself by myself and not by my enemies. They are not the ones who choose my flags.

The Israeli left is by and large Zionist, and those who have abandoned it are a mere handful. Anyone who is still struggling for an end to the occupation of the areas of Palestine and the Golan Heights, for a withdrawal to the borders of 1967 and for the division of Jerusalem into two capitals is my ally.

And when, upon our return to Zion, our eyes behold the Palestinians and ourselves with mercy, we shall get to the root of the original sin from 1948, which was a necessity not to be condemned but now needs to be mended as much as possible.

Indeed the fate of Jaffa is not the fate of Sheikh Jarrah - a comparison of that kind is a recipe for an eternal war. But nevertheless it is essential that Israel recognize the injustice that was done. I recognize it and am prepared to participate in healing the open wound.








What does the Arab (or Muslim) street think? Whom does it hate and whom does it admire? These questions have reverberated among us from the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser to Hassan Nasrallah today. But who speaks on behalf of this "street"? Due to the lack of reliable public opinion polls, authoritarian rule and media outlets that are trained what to say, it's not surprising that the assessments of the man on the street are so incomprehensible and based merely on impressions and gut feelings.

It's against this barren backdrop that the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project published a survey last week that was carried out in the Muslim countries. The Washington-based center invested a great deal of effort in its survey on Islamic issues - its second one ever. It included Arab countries and populations in Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and the Arabs of Israel, as well as the non-Arab Muslim countries of Turkey, Nigeria, Pakistan and Indonesia.

In every country, between 1,000 and 1,200 men and women aged 18 and above were interviewed; the sample was chosen scientifically. The interviews were carried out in the interviewees' mother tongue in May and June last year. What hits the Israeli reader are the findings about the negative attitudes toward Jews. In Egypt, Lebanon and the PA, 95 to 98 percent of the respondents held negative views of this kind. We therefore have significant evidence on the extent of Arab anti-Semitism. This hostility is prevalent in non-Arab Muslim countries as well - it encompasses three-quarters of the citizens of Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia and 60 percent of Nigerian Muslims.

But what concerned the respondents above all was the rift between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, which, as far as they were concerned, exists everywhere. That's the opinion of around 95 percent of the Muslims in Lebanon, three-quarters of the Palestinians, some 60 percent of those in Egypt and Jordan, about half of the Turks and even 42 percent of the Arabs of Israel.

In this respect, the most divided country, other than Iraq, is Lebanon. And the rift, when compared with the Pew Research Center's survey two years ago, is deepening. Hezbollah has the support of all the Shi'ites as well as 2 percent (!) of the Sunnis (while 95 percent are hostile to it). Among Christians, one-quarter support it and the rest are opposed.

Of course, this phenomenon is linked to the dramatic change in political alliances; if before the Lebanese civil war the Sunnis were hostile to the Christians and tended to favor the idea of a Greater Syria, a quarter century later they have become Lebanese patriots who are hostile to Syria, especially since the 2005 murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. And they are suspicious of Hezbollah, Syria's ally.

An important, if less serious, rift is also seen in Egypt. Despite the official myth about the ancient unity of the nation, half the Muslims view the Copts negatively and with suspicion. (The folk belief among Muslims in Egypt is that "the Copts have blue bones.")

Obviously the importance of public opinion in non-democratic regimes is limited. At most, it draws the boundaries of "what is reasonable" and as such exerts indirect pressure on the rulers. But as long as the issue is what the rulers consider a matter of supreme interest, public opinion to them is totally insignificant.

Thus, for example, more than half the respondents in Egypt and Jordan expressed a positive attitude toward Hamas, but this did not prevent President Hosni Mubarak from building an "iron wall" between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Neither he nor King Abdullah of Jordan agreed to cut off diplomatic ties with Israel during Operation Cast Lead. Nevertheless, such widespread hostility has unfortunate significance regarding Israel's chances of integrating into the region, at least with its close neighbors, even after a peace agreement is signed with Syria and the PA.

In conclusion, in view of the crisis in relations between Israel and Turkey, it's interesting to note that 60 percent of Turks view Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his regime negatively. This may be connected to the fact that most Turks are Sunnis. But how can we explain the finding that 70 percent of them are hostile to Hamas and only 5 percent support it? It turns out that Arab and Muslim public opinion is divided from the ethnic point of view, but united in its anti-Semitism.





******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




New York State is facing a $9 billion budget deficit in the coming fiscal year — a calamitous shortfall that is likely to get worse before it gets better. The state's credit rating is at risk, and painful budget cuts are inevitable.


Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch has offered a five-year plan that is a solid response to the crisis. The State Legislature and Gov. David Paterson should approve it.


Mr. Ravitch is a veteran of New York City's budget crisis in the mid-1970s, and his proposal resembles in some respects the emergency steps taken then to keep the city from sliding into bankruptcy proceedings.


It would cap the state's borrowing at $2 billion a year in short-term loans to help cover operating expenses and ease the transition to smaller, more balanced budgets.


In return, the Legislature would have to accept a more straightforward accounting system — one that would make it much harder for politicians to get away with tricks like rolling over expenses into the next year and paying recurring bills with one-shot asset sales.


The plan would create an independent board of "highly respected private citizens" to assess the progress toward a balanced budget. And the fiscal year would end June 30, instead of March 31, giving lawmakers a clearer sense of incoming tax revenues.


There is plenty here to annoy the Legislature.


Some legislators worry that the review board will trample on their prerogatives. Given the sorry state of New York's finances, that is a plus in our view. Others have raised concerns about any borrowing.


It is, in fact, hard to accept the idea of adding to the state's debt. Mr. Ravitch's proposal for short-term borrowing is plausible if — and only if — the Legislature accepts the discipline called for by the rest of his plan.


Winning approval of this plan will be not be easy, since nearly everyone involved seems distracted by Albany's scandals. There are serious ethical issues that need to be addressed. But the Legislature and Governor Paterson must deal with the deficits. That means making painful but necessary budget cuts, then moving quickly to approve Mr. Ravitch's blueprint — the best chance for healthier budgets in the years ahead.






After serious setbacks to sensible gun control, the top court in Massachusetts on Wednesday made it clear that the Second Amendment does not bar states from protecting children and others against the risk posed by unsecured guns in the home.


The unanimous ruling by the state's Supreme Judicial Court upheld the constitutionality of a state law that requires guns to be kept in a locked container or equipped with a trigger lock when not under the owner's control. The law allows for unlocking a weapon kept at home if needed for self-defense.


That makes the law significantly different from the District of Columbia's ban on unlocked guns in the home, which included no such exception. That law was overturned, wrongly in our view, by the United States Supreme Court's conservative majority in 2008. The decision asserted that the Constitution creates an individual right to bear arms beyond the context of state militias.


As the Massachusetts ruling also noted, the Supreme Court has yet to hold that the Second Amendment applies against city and state governments, not just against the federal government and the federal enclave of the District of Columbia. That issue, known as "selective incorporation," was the subject of a lively oral argument in the nation's highest court just last week.


That case involves a Chicago law that makes it extremely difficult to own a handgun within Chicago's city limits. The city's unusually broad law may not survive Supreme Court muster. But there were heartening comments from the justices indicating that the forthcoming ruling will not foreclose the enactment of strong gun regulations for public safety.






With every day that passes in the mud and rubble of Haiti, the failures of the relief effort are heartbreaking. There are four main strands to the campaign to make sure 1.2 million homeless people are sheltered and safe as the weather turns fierce. All are inadequate.


THE MAJOR PLAYERS The United Nations and foreign countries and aid organizations have dispatched tents, tarps, food, water, medicine and doctors, as they should. They have done a lot of good, particularly the United States, which rushed supplies, a troop force that peaked at about 20,000 and a hospital ship. Many lives were saved. After meeting with Haiti's president, René Préval, this week, President Obama pledged continued aid.


But after nearly two months, it's not enough. Only half of those displaced have received even the crudest means of emergency shelter: plastic tarps and tents that will hardly protect them when floods start in earnest next month, and the hurricanes come in June. In hundreds of crowded settlements around the country, like the ones sheltering more than 600,000 in Port-au-Prince, food, water, medical care and security remain spotty.


Large swaths of the earthquake zone remain untouched by aid. They are choking in rubble, and trucks and volunteers have barely begun to scratch out safe places in the wreckage for people to live.


Relief agencies have overcome staggering obstacles, starting with the fact that the quake demolished the United Nations mission, killing much of its leadership and employees. The United Nations is in high gear now, but it has been rightly criticized for disorganization. Last month, in a scathing e-mail message, the emergency relief coordinator for the United Nations, John Holmes, blasted his colleagues for having been too slow to step up to the challenge. Weeks after the disaster, he said, several of the agency "clusters" in charge of handling needs like food and shelter had not even developed a basic overview of what they had to do, much less a plan.


THE HAITIAN GOVERNMENT The quake ruined the presidential palace and the best managers and workers were still on the job when the tremors hit. President Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive have not been able to resume strong or even visible leadership.


The government has not made decisions or has made confusing ones. It has, for instance, refused to allow undamaged or lightly damaged schools to reopen with a full curriculum until all schools can reopen — letting children languish. Mr. Préval was visible at the White House on Wednesday, but in Haiti the question "Where is Préval?" draws a shake of the head.


THE N.G.O.'S Existing charity mechanisms have been revved up to try to match the staggering scale of the earthquake, and new ones are being invented. The big multinational nongovernmental organizations are providing vital support to the United Nations.


But there are thousands of others, like the small rural mission churches and other groups that right now are offering just pinpricks of relief.


THE PEOPLE Haitians are eager to help themselves. Refugees are forming settlement councils and electing representatives to collaborate with the nongovernmental organizations. They are building homes themselves, clearing rubble themselves, burying the dead themselves, organizing security brigades themselves. But they are as overmatched as everyone else by the scale of the disaster.


There is a burning need to tap the energies of Haitians — not just the devastated national government. That means at the grass-roots, church, business and neighborhood groups that know the country, speak its languages, and are deeply committed to its rebirth.


Efforts to do so have been negligible so far. A report by Refugees International, an advocacy group in Washington, says that Haitians have been excluded from major planning at the United Nations compound because they don't know about meetings, aren't allowed in or don't have the staff to send. The United Nations Development Program has hired more than 70,000 Haitians to clean debris. Much more is needed.


Haiti should be able to count on American technical expertise, security and money, especially as energy shifts to rebuilding. Everyone should keep improving basic efforts to keep refugees safe and in good health. But, ultimately, it is the United Nations that must take responsibility to lead and coordinate the relief efforts.






House Democrats are suddenly in a rush to ban corporate earmarks, those just-for-our-donors legislative favors that benefit everybody but the taxpayers. It is the right thing to do, but it is also a classic case of closing the barn door just in time for Election Day.


Meanwhile, holier-than-thou Republicans are trying to trump with a call for a much-too-sweeping ban on all earmarks, even those helping nonprofit endeavors.


The quid-pro-quo awarding of government contracts — and the scandals that come along with it — has been especially rampant in recent Congresses. Most notoriously there was the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal that bedeviled Republicans right into minority status.


Democrats should have been feeling endangered ever since the Justice Department began investigating the coziness between defense contractors and high-ranking members of the Appropriations Committee. But their enthusiasm only blossomed after the ethics committee gave all seven members involved a blanket exoneration.


The appropriators — five Democrats and two Republicans — steered more than $245 million in earmarks through a defense lobbying firm now under criminal investigation. The lawmakers received more than $840,000 in political donations from the firm's corporate clients.


The House ban was announced just days after the committee blithely pronounced the coincidence of generous defense contracts and political contributions as just that — a mere coincidence that does not "support a claim that a member's actions are being influenced by campaign contributions." The committee, notably, deep-sixed the recommendation from its new advisory panel, the Office of Congressional Ethics, to open a more thorough inquiry into two of the seven: Representatives Peter Visclosky, a Democrat of Indiana, and Todd Tiahrt, a Republican of Kansas.


Whether this embarrassment can be trumped by a last-minute earmark ban is doubtful. Senate Democrats instantly announced opposition to the House ban. That means, in final conference bills, corporate donor earmarks can be salvaged by grateful senators.







Health reform is back from the dead. Many Democrats have realized that their electoral prospects will be better if they can point to a real accomplishment. Polling on reform — which was never as negative as portrayed — shows signs of improving. And I've been really impressed by the passion and energy of this guy Barack Obama. Where was he last year?


But reform still has to run a gantlet of misinformation and outright lies. So let me address three big myths about the proposed reform, myths that are believed by many people who consider themselves well-informed, but who have actually fallen for deceptive spin.


The first of these myths, which has been all over the airwaves lately, is the claim that President Obama is proposing a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy, the share of G.D.P. currently spent on health.


Well, if having the government regulate and subsidize health insurance is a "takeover," that takeover happened long ago. Medicare, Medicaid, and other government programs already pay for almost half of American health care, while private insurance pays for barely more than a third (the rest is mostly out-of-pocket expenses). And the great bulk of that private insurance is provided via employee plans, which are both subsidized with tax exemptions and tightly regulated.


The only part of health care in which there isn't already a lot of federal intervention is the market in which individuals who can't get employment-based coverage buy their own insurance. And that market, in case you hadn't noticed, is a disaster — no coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, coverage dropped when you get sick, and huge premium increases in the middle of an economic crisis. It's this sector, plus the plight of Americans with no insurance at all, that reform aims to fix. What's wrong with that?


The second myth is that the proposed reform does nothing to control costs. To support this claim, critics point to reports by the Medicare actuary, who predicts that total national health spending would be slightly higher in 2019 with reform than without it.


Even if this prediction were correct, it points to a pretty good bargain. The actuary's assessment of the Senate bill, for example, finds that it would raise total health care spending by less than 1 percent, while extending coverage to 34 million Americans who would otherwise be uninsured. That's a large expansion in coverage at an essentially trivial cost.


And it gets better as we go further into the future: the Congressional Budget Office has just concluded, in a new report, that the arithmetic of reform will look better in its second decade than it did in its first.


Furthermore, there's good reason to believe that all such estimates are too pessimistic. There are many cost-saving efforts in the proposed reform, but nobody knows how well any one of these efforts will work. And as a result, official estimates don't give the plan much credit for any of them. What the actuary and the budget office do is a bit like looking at an oil company's prospecting efforts, concluding that any individual test hole it drills will probably come up dry, and predicting as a consequence that the company won't find any oil at all — when the odds are, in fact, that some of the test holes will pan out, and produce big payoffs. Realistically, health reform is likely to do much better at controlling costs than any of the official projections suggest.


Which brings me to the third myth: that health reform is fiscally irresponsible. How can people say this given Congressional Budget Office predictions — which, as I've already argued, are probably too pessimistic — that reform would actually reduce the deficit? Critics argue that we should ignore what's actually in the legislation; when cost control actually starts to bite on Medicare, they insist, Congress will back down.


But this isn't an argument against Obamacare, it's a declaration that we can't control Medicare costs no matter what. And it also flies in the face of history: contrary to legend, past efforts to limit Medicare spending have in fact "stuck," rather than being withdrawn in the face of political pressure.


So what's the reality of the proposed reform? Compared with the Platonic ideal of reform, Obamacare comes up short. If the votes were there, I would much prefer to see Medicare for all.


For a real piece of passable legislation, however, it looks very good. It wouldn't transform our health care system; in fact, Americans whose jobs come with health coverage would see little effect. But it would make a huge difference to the less fortunate among us, even as it would do more to control costs than anything we've done before.


This is a reasonable, responsible plan. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.







THE Obama administration introduced a plan this week to encourage defaulting homeowners to sell their houses at a loss, the latest in a long line of reform packages promising to break the logjam of underwater mortgages. But without major changes to the bankruptcy system, such measures won't aid the American families torn apart by the economic upheavals of the last two years.


To date, our bankruptcy courts have done little to help the millions of people swimming in debt. Almost 5 percent of mortgage loans are now in foreclosure, an increase of more than 85 percent since the beginning of 2008, and more than 10 percent of credit card accounts are delinquent. Yet bankruptcy filings for the first two months of this year are only 1.5 times what they were two years ago. And even after that increase, current filing levels are far below those in the first half of this decade.


The problem is that our bankruptcy system is too difficult and expensive for the people who use it. The system has always been complicated, but in 2005 Congress made things worse by changing the rules to make it harder for bankrupt people to avoid paying their outstanding bills. Now that the recession has exposed the flaws of the system, Congress should go back to the drawing board and drastically simplify the bankruptcy system.


At the heart of the existing process is a strategic choice between liquidation under Chapter 7 or rehabilitation under Chapter 13. Under Chapter 7, households give up all of their nonessential assets (as determined by the law of the state where they live), but pay nothing out of any future income to clear their debts; those debts are simply erased. Under Chapter 13, households make payments out of future income, but are more likely to retain their homes and automobiles.


The 2005 reforms, driven by an exaggerated concern that debtors might game the system, instituted a series of paper-intensive procedural safeguards. All debtors must produce documents that estimate potential increases in expenses or income during the year to come, a monthly net income statement and a complex "means test calculation" that certifies expenditures in a large number of specific, carefully defined categories.


The result is a lawyer- and paperwork-centered system in which the families most in need of quick relief wait months to save up for the filing costs and attorneys' fees necessary to file a bankruptcy petition. Although total expenses vary a great deal, the statutory filing fees are now almost $300 and lawyer's fees alone average more than $1,000.


Congress's 2005 reforms also directly discouraged filings under Chapter 7 (the option typically used by people with few assets) and encouraged filings under Chapter 13 (the traditional procedure for homeowners).


If the bankruptcy system was doing its job, the mortgage-driven financial crisis should then have led to a sharp increase in filings under Chapter 13. Homeowners unable to keep up with their mortgages should have been able to file for relief under Chapter 13, resolve their problems and move on with their lives. Yet the share of Chapter 13 filings fell in 2009 to only 28 percent of all filings, from 42 percent in 2006.


That's another perverse result of the 2005 reforms: Chapter 13 does not let people avert foreclosure by paying the actual value of their homes, even when their bubble-era mortgages far exceed realistic market prices. In fact, a "special rule" for home mortgages allows lenders to prevent normal bankruptcy relief for borrowers. Thus, the reforms created a system that makes it harder to file for Chapter 7 while doing nothing to make Chapter 13, once the savior of homeowners, useful in this sort of mortgage crisis.


Under a sensible bankruptcy system, households in severe financial distress ought to be able to discharge their debts if they are willing to do two simple things: turn over all assets and make payments out of future income, to the extent that either exceeds a low and nationally uniform threshold. If debtors wanted to keep assets against which they have borrowed, they should have to pay the fair value of the assets, but nothing more.


A rational bankruptcy system would also scrap the separate chapters altogether, along with the

complicated paperwork now required to document and justify the chapter choice in each particular case. There would be simple, separate tracks automatically determined by each family's financial position. Families with no substantial income or assets — the great majority of bankrupt households — should face a process as simple as filing a 1040EZ tax form.


The debtor would provide the most basic identifying information (name, address and Social Security number); current information about salary and nonsalary income (rents, royalties, dividends and the like); and a list of debts owed on houses, cars, credit cards or other arrangements.


The form also would require disclosure of assets broken down by simple categories, permitting the typical debtor to check boxes indicating, for example, that he had less than $1,000 in household assets or less than $500 in financial assets, and renouncing claim to any other assets. This document could be completed without the assistance of legal counsel. All unsecured debts would then be wiped out in a matter of days without further hearings or judicial procedure.


Like taxpayers with more complicated financial affairs, debtors with mortgages, car loans or income and assets they wish to protect would need to fill out more detailed forms to allow a reasoned determination of the assets and income they should turn over to their creditors. A legal process and judicial supervision would be appropriate to assess the debtor's responsibility in cases where creditors can expect borrowers to make payments.


It might seem that this proposal does little more than substitute a new two-tiered system for the two-chapter system we now have. But the existing system lets borrowers choose between payment plans based on their strategic interests, and requires wasteful paperwork in all cases, just so the courts can limit the abusive potential of that choice.


The new system would eliminate debtor choice and state-by-state variation, make distinctions based only on income and asset holdings and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, drastically truncate paperwork and process. Most important, it would lower the counterproductive obstacles to filing for bankruptcy.


Such a bold reshaping of the bankruptcy system would provide Americans immediate respite from crushing debt and the ceaseless emotional and financial pressure that comes with it. Then they could turn their attention to finding new jobs, moving into housing they can afford and caring for their families.


Ronald Mann is a professor of law at Columbia.







Cambridge, Mass.

IN the wake of the Congressional hearings on the Toyota recalls, we have heard various proposals for countering unintended acceleration in automobiles.


Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently said the federal government may recommend that carmakers install "smart pedals" that give brakes priority when both brake and accelerator pedals are pressed simultaneously. Meanwhile, Toyota has said that, in contested acceleration accidents, it will give regulators access codes to data recorders — essentially, onboard black boxes being installed in some new cars.


But sometimes the solution to a safety problem is simply more transparency. Indeed, there is a relatively easy solution that would help identify problems before they affect thousands of cars, or kill and injure dozens of people: allow drivers and carmakers real-time access to the data that's already being monitored.


Current federal law requires annual emissions and safety inspections for all cars. A mechanic plugs an electronic reader into what's known as the onboard diagnostic unit, a computer that sits under your dashboard, monitoring data on acceleration, emissions, fuel levels and engine problems. The mechanic can then download the data to his own computer and analyze it.


Because carmakers believe such diagnostic data to be their property, much of it is accessible only by the manufacturer and authorized dealers and their mechanics. And even then, only a small amount of the data is available — most cars' computers don't store data, they only monitor it. Though newer Toyotas have data recorders that gather information in the moments before an air bag is deployed, the carmaker has been frustratingly vague about what kind of data is collected (other manufacturers have been more forthcoming).


But what if a car's entire data stream was made available to drivers in real time? You could use, for instance, a hypothetical "analyze-my-drive" application for your smart phone to tell you when it was time to change the oil or why your "check engine" light was on. The application could tell you how many miles you were getting to the gallon, and how much yesterday's commute cost you in time, fuel and emissions. It could even tell you, say, that your spouse's trips to the grocery store were 20 percent more fuel-efficient than yours.


Carmakers could collect the data, too. Aberrant engine and driving behavior would leap out of the carmakers' now-large data set, allowing them, if necessary, to conduct recalls much earlier. And, in exchange for your contribution of anonymous data, carmakers could send you driving benchmarks aggregated from your peers; then your app could tell you how your driving compares with the average of all drivers of the same car.


Having such readily accessible data streaming from your car might raise fears of a Big Brother scenario, in which carmakers would know where you are and how you are using (or misusing) your vehicle. But you would still decide whether you wanted to tap into the data, how you would use it and with whom you'd share it.


Allowing drivers and carmakers access to real-time performance data wouldn't prevent every future mechanical failure. But it would allow carmakers and entrepreneurs to develop analytical tools to help catch developing problems in both individual cars and entire model lines. Cars would continue to break down and even cause accidents, but it wouldn't take a Congressional hearing to figure out why.


Robin Chase, the founder and former chief executive of Zipcar, is on the Intelligent Transportation Systems Program Advisory Committee for the United States Department of Transportation.


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Who is Barack Obama?

If you ask a conservative Republican, you are likely to hear that Obama is a skilled politician who campaigned as a centrist but is governing as a big-government liberal. He plays by ruthless, Chicago politics rules. He is arrogant toward foes, condescending toward allies and runs a partisan political machine.


If you ask a liberal Democrat, you are likely to hear that Obama is an inspiring but overly intellectual leader who has trouble making up his mind and fighting for his positions. He has not defined a clear mission. He has allowed the Republicans to dominate debate. He is too quick to compromise and too cerebral to push things through.


You'll notice first that these two viewpoints are diametrically opposed. You'll, observe, second, that they are entirely predictable. Political partisans always imagine the other side is ruthlessly effective and that the public would be with them if only their side had better messaging. And finally, you'll notice that both views distort reality. They tell you more about the information cocoons that partisans live in these days than about Obama himself.


The fact is, Obama is as he always has been, a center-left pragmatic reformer. Every time he tries to articulate a grand philosophy — from his book "The Audacity of Hope" to his joint-session health care speech last September — he always describes a moderately activist government restrained by a sense of trade-offs. He always uses the same on-the-one-hand-on-the-other sentence structure. Government should address problems without interfering with the dynamism of the market.


He has tried to find this balance in a town without an organized center — in a town in which liberals chair the main committees and small-government conservatives lead the opposition. He has tried to do it in a context maximally inhospitable to his aims.


But he has done it with tremendous tenacity. Readers of this column know that I've been critical on health care and other matters. Obama is four clicks to my left on most issues. He is inadequate on the greatest moral challenge of our day: the $9.7 trillion in new debt being created this decade. He has misread the country, imagining a hunger for federal activism that doesn't exist. But he is still the most realistic and reasonable major player in Washington.


Liberals are wrong to call him weak and indecisive. He's just not always pursuing their aims. Conservatives are wrong to call him a big-government liberal. That's just not a fair reading of his agenda.


Take health care. He has pushed a program that expands coverage, creates exchanges and moderately tinkers

with the status quo — too moderately to restrain costs. To call this an orthodox liberal plan is an absurdity. It more closely resembles the center-left deals cut by Tom Daschle and Bob Dole, or Ted Kennedy and Mitt Romney. Obama has pushed this program with a tenacity unmatched in modern political history; with more tenacity than Bill Clinton pushed his health care plan or George W. Bush pushed Social Security reform.


Take education. Obama has taken on a Democratic constituency, the teachers' unions, with a courage not seen since George W. Bush took on the anti-immigration forces in his own party. In a remarkable speech on March 1, he went straight at the guardians of the status quo by calling for the removal of failing teachers in failing schools. Obama has been the most determined education reformer in the modern presidency.

Take foreign policy. To the consternation of many on the left, Obama has continued about 80 percent of the policies of the second Bush term. Obama conducted a long review of the Afghan policy and was genuinely moved by the evidence. He has emerged as a liberal hawk, pursuing victory in Iraq and adopting an Afghan surge that has already utterly transformed the momentum in that war. The Taliban is now in retreat and its leaders are being assassinated or captured at a steady rate.


Take finance. Obama and Tim Geithner are vilified on the left as craven to Wall Street and on the right as clueless bureaucrats who know nothing about how markets function. But they have tried with halting success to find a center-left set of restraints to provide some stability to market operations.


In a sensible country, people would see Obama as a president trying to define a modern brand of moderate progressivism. In a sensible country, Obama would be able to clearly define this project without fear of offending the people he needs to get legislation passed. But we don't live in that country. We live in a country in which many people live in information cocoons in which they only talk to members of their own party and read blogs of their own sect. They come away with perceptions fundamentally at odds with reality, fundamentally misunderstanding the man in the Oval Office.




******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS




Tap the side of any vessel and the sound you hear will tell you that whether it is full or not. The sound of an empty vessel being tapped was being heard as President Karzai of Afghanistan (more correctly president of parts of Afghanistan and particularly those run by his relatives) paid us a visit. The hollowness of his words was never more evident than at the press conference held before he left. He managed to say next to nothing beyond the repeated use of words like 'brotherly' and 'shared' whilst looking meaningfully at Prime Minister Gilani. He gave the impression that so far as India was concerned Afghanistan's relationship with our neighbour was limited to the economic sphere; whilst its relationship with us was closely linked to the political stability of both countries – which at least had the value of being patently obvious, so he was on safe ground there. He also wanted to leave us with assurances that he would 'not allow Afghan soil to be used against Pakistan' – which suggests that his connection to the real world is somewhat tenuous.

There may or may not be a role for us in the training of Afghan armed forces (heaven forbid that this is a role that India might like to try its hand at) and there may or may not be developments on the water and power fronts. But definitely not there was any sense that Mr Karzai is a man with a vision and a future outside hackneyed expressions of fraternity and shared values. Afghanistan is today no more secure or stable than it was when the Taliban were overthrown and the Karzai government installed. Western forces are going to be leaving sooner rather than later and when they do the Afghans are going to be (mostly) on their own. Planning for that eventuality is mostly limited to the convening of yet another Grand Jirga, the agenda for which, having been seen by a British diplomatic official quoted in the UK press, appears to have been 'prepared by the C-team'. Whilst we may not be joined in the 'Af-Pak' sense of Holbrooke-speak, what happens in Afghanistan has reverberations far beyond the borderlands and NWFP generally. What all Afghans need, whatever their tribe or ethnic origins, is a truly representative government that is inclusive and which, when tapped, has the ring of solidity to it. Difficult it may be, impossible it is not. Hollow sounds are not what we need to hear.













Major sports in Pakistan are in turmoil and undergoing an overhaul perilously close to top world tournaments. Cricket seems to lurch from one crisis to the next, both on and off the field. Seniors of our team have been penalised almost arbitrarily. An 'indefinite' ban has been placed on the two senior-most members of the team, Younis Khan and Muhammad Yousuf. Two other players have been banned for a year, and fines imposed on three others. The entire hockey team and its managing and selection committees have been dissolved. There has been immediate public anger. The fact that the committee which punished the cricketers consisted entirely of PCB employees has done nothing to help. It seems Younis and Yousuf were penalised for speaking out about infighting. There is no word about the evidence the ICC had apparently sent to the PCB about the involvement of two players in match-fixing. Their names have not been revealed – but it seems from the PCB action that it sees 'indiscipline' as a bigger issue than corruption. In hockey the issues are similar but more of incompetence and lack of proper management.

These are pressing issues. Long-term 'bans' on sportsmen should never be meted out lightly, given that they affect careers and performance. Life in sport at the highest level is, after all, a short one anyway. Not only the PCB and its chief should ask themselves about their role, the high-ups should hold them responsible for the total disaster. The government and the NA committee have moved in an almost farcical situation because the board and its managers have failed but don't admit it. Is it possible the right choices were not made for the captaincy, triggering the kind of comedy – or tragedy – of errors we see now? Some argue that Pakistan has lacked the leadership skills it requires to excel since Imran Khan bowed out. It is also true that shaping a captain, where no 'natural' for the post exists, takes time and effort. This opportunity has not been given to any individual. The PCB has played its own part in creating discord – and the result is a mess that will add to the woes of our cricket with court battles and other controversies possibly looming ahead. In hockey too we need accountability not only of the players but the senior managers and politicians who run hockey affairs.






By-polls falling in between general elections are important in that they highlight the mood of voters. This mood, in Lahore, had been predicted long in advance with the PML-N rolling in to a comfortable victory in its stronghold of NA-123, the city seat where it has long enjoyed dominance. No one else came close, with the PTI finishing in second place – with around 9,300 votes compared to the over 44,000 claimed by the PML-N candidate. Of significance was the continuation of the trend seen recently in the province, with the JI and the PML-Q alliance failing to make any kind of impact. Elsewhere, the three provincial assembly seats were shared out between the PML-N, the PPP and, somewhat surprisingly, the PML-Z. Ejazul Haq's party picked up the seat in Bahawalnagar, the PPP took Jaffarabad and the PML-N Jhang.

Nawaz Sharif's party picked up votes everywhere, suggesting it remains on the up. This is something for the PPP to think about. With acrimony between it and the PML-N becoming increasingly open, it is obvious that the tactics of the Sharifs have been paying off. Many people seem convinced that they can offer better leadership than the ruling setup – and this view seems to be gaining ground since the last general election. As they have done before, voters in Lahore in particular demonstrated once more that they have few sympathies with the religious right. The JI continues to suffer one humiliation after the other. In this there is something for mainstream parties to learn too. The religious card has little real hold. What people really want is quite different. The parties willing to deliver this to them will then win out in any situation where the opinion of people is sought, and this could have many implications for the future.







It is not given to everyone to be this lucky: to be able to cast off the cares of the world and take to the road. My own fantasy used to be to put on saffron or, safer in our parts, green, and walk down the length of the Indus to Lal Shahbaz's shrine at Sehwan. But it has remained a fantasy.

In my mind I trek the far corners of the globe. In actual fact I am a desk-bound person, overwhelmed by the thought of having to prepare for a journey.

Thirty years ago in midsummer -- and summer in Sindh can be cruel business -- I took the train to Sehwan to attend the annual urs. That journey remains etched in my memory.

I went in poverty and had nowhere to stay. But the assistant station master, taking pity on me, gave me a room. Only at night would I make use of that room. My days were spent wandering or sitting in chai-khanas, all by myself, alone in that bustling multitude.

I would just go and sit in the shrine and watch the faqirs, lost to the world, dancing the dhamal. Outside the shrine gypsy girls, drawn from all corners of the desert, would be dancing in a state of complete abandon: dusky and sinuous goddesses, with bright lips and laughing eyes. The drumbeaters were beside themselves too. Yet there was no levity about that performance. It was more an act of devotion, a form of worship.

Pakistanis on the whole are bad dancers not because there is anything wrong with our limbs but because there is some kind of problem with our souls. Deep down where it really matters, we are not completely free. Something hems us in, most probably because we seem to have inherited not the wisdom of the ages but the fear of the ages. The confusion in our minds about our direction as a nation arises from this disability: the imprisonment of the soul clouding the ability to think clearly.

Why is it so easy for foreigners to impose on us not so much their will as their thinking? Why do we start dancing so readily to any tune played in our ears? Why has physical liberation not been matched by mental liberation? My guess is because deep down we are unsure of ourselves. We are not a confident nation although, God knows, there is no reason to feel so insecure.

Those were the early Zia years when the malevolence of his brand of self-serving ideology -- from the effects of which we are not yet wholly recovered -- had begun to poison every aspect of life in Pakistan. But Sehwan was untouched by that hypocrisy. Maybe the remoteness of interior Sindh had something to do with it. Or maybe it was the power of Sindh's foremost saint to keep evil at bay. I have no idea how things are in Sehwan today.

Years later I had the good fortune to attend the urs of Shah Abdul Latif at Bhitai. I went not in poverty, as I was a guest of the Sindh government. We were lodged well and fed well, such being the ways of government in our part of the world. But it is the poverty-attendant journey to Sehwan which casts a warmer glow in my mind.

Today a similar journey would entail slightly different problems. I would probably have to take my laptop with me, such an inseparable part of my travelling gear this wonder of marvellous science has become. In fact I can only stay in maddening Chakwal, as much of the time I do, not because there are unlisted pleasures to be had there which are unattainable elsewhere (although about this too, I suppose, a tale could be told), but because it is as connected to the god of the modern universe, the internet, as any other place on earth.

What I still do for a living, my journalism, is now wholly dependent upon this form of communion, remaining connected to the net, possibly with a fast broadband connection. So wherever I go I, who came very late to the miraculous ease of computer writing, must take my laptop with me.

All the more so, because the internet is no longer just about work. It is also about pleasure, or I should say entertainment which is the more contemporary word. This is because of its exhaustible resources, the almost trackless realms of music and literature (or, needless to say, pornography, should anyone's inclination run in that direction) which are part of its matchless domain.

So if I am on the road to Sehwan or indeed any other shrine of the chosen I would have to take my magic box with me, addicted as I now am to my fix of music at night before slipping into the kingdom of dreams or, as is the case more often, into the stuff of troubled sleep and strange nightmares.

It could be anything: Noor Jehan at her best in semi-classical mode, and at her best there was no one like her; K L Saigal around whose voice, I am convinced, the Lord of the Hosts lingered while he went about shaping it; Lata at her best -- try this one as an example: sapnon mein sajan kee do baatein, ik yaad rahi ik bhool gayi; Kamla Jharia (sample her, she's worth it); some of Talat's offbeat geets; some of Surraiya's; anything in raag yaman kalyan, especially by the great Ustad Amir Khan; this from Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan which I keep listening to all the time, bahut bechain hai dil: and so on. The list is endless.

Who could have thought of YouTube only a few years ago? This is another miracle not so much of science as of the universe. For anchorites in the desert there was no more compelling, vision of Elysium than of an extended garden with enduring shades and never-ending streams. For the modern anchorite (if this be not a contradiction in terms) Elysium would be incomplete without YouTube and broadband internet access.

Indeed, even when the walls of Jericho come tumbling down and the mountains are one with the seas, cyberspace as we know it will perhaps remain unaffected. Imagine, the world coming to an end but not cyberspace.

We in Pakistan have no direct access to opera or ballet. Both are not part of our culture or tradition and on our radio and television they simply do not figure. This is a pity because both are great art forms and to be deprived of them is to miss out on a vital aspect of the human experience. This omission is easily filled with YouTube.

The great names of opera that enthusiasts of my generation are familiar with are, and this is just a rough and short list: Callas, Tebaldi, Pavarotti, Domingo, Tito Gobi, Kiri Te Kanawa, etc. But there are so many new faces out there today that are dazzling, as good as anything happening before.

In music I am an amateur. I think I have an ear for it but about its theory or philosophy I know next to nothing. A dissertation on it I would not be able to deliver. But a good voice and a good song I think I can recognise. And it is in this spirit that I say that if at all interested in opera (and here again I am at pains to stress that I am not addressing the highbrow specialist) you will thank me if you go to YouTube and click Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon.

This will open a world of beauty and virtuosity that you may not have seen, the perfect antidote to the depression and anxiety of the age of terror. Netrebko is the hottest face in contemporary opera. But, more important, the hottest voice too. Villazon is handsome in a way, I am given to understand, women die for (and perhaps for this reason the kind of face most unhandsome men detest). He too is an extraordinary singer. And it doesn't really matter if the words are not understood. Opera primarily is about mood and feeling.

Taking to the road then takes on a slightly different meaning: remaining cut off from the world but remaining connected to the mysterious world of cyberspace. I suppose this would be a new form of mysticism.








Among the many vicissitudes faced by Pakistan in its short history, the NRO has been one of the most damaging. It has ushered in a bogus democracy which is nothing short of a disgrace. It is the ill-conceived consequence of a deal between Musharraf and Shaheed Benazir, very obviously brokered by the Americans and the British, for the paramount purpose of escalating the civil war raging in the North-West of the country.

The collateral damage has been the murder of the most popular leader of the country, the return to government and the assemblies of corrupt and absconding politicians, and an inconceivable political dispensation, with a man like Zardari in the presidential chair who has failed on all counts to give the desperately needed leadership. On Feb 18, 2008, the people voted for roti, kapra, makan, together with the promise to avenge Benazir's murder. They have betrayed them on both counts.

It started with the decision to place the ISI under civilian control, and then a quick retraction of the decision. Next came the refusal to restore the sacked judges followed by complete surrender under pressure, together with the rapid reversal of the impositions of emergency and governor's rule in Punjab. Then it was the pushing of the NRO through a parliamentary committee but backing out when the time came to bring it to parliament. Finally, confronting the Supreme Court on the appointment of the judges and then backing down.

These are some of the ventures which highlight the alarming truth of a man in the presidential chair who neither has the capacity nor the calibre to be there. As if all this is not disturbing enough, we are now heading towards yet another crisis on non-implementation of the orders of the Supreme Court to restore the Swiss and other corruption cases against Zardari and his gang. The outcome will be either another humiliating retreat for him, or action by the Supreme Court under Section 190 of the Constitution. This will draw the armed forces into the fray, which may lead to undesirable consequences.

The question of Zardari's eligibility under Sections 62 and 63 of the Constitution has already come up and been rejected by the Election Commission, but it will not end there. The Lahore High Court has already ceased the hearing of the matter on a separate petition. Also, Zardari's being certified as mentally unfit by three American specialists is too significant a matter to remain ignored. Then there is the restriction on holding public and political office at the same time, imposed by Section 17(2), which will also spring up.

But above and beyond all else is the big question of presidential immunity under Article 248 of the Constitution. Is the president above the law and free to commit with total impunity any crime he fancies? This question will have to be answered by the Supreme Court, bearing in mind the sacred principle that no one is above the law. Recently, Musharraf was refused such immunity by the Supreme Court.

The nation cannot be allowed to live in a state of chaos, uncertainty and backwardness merely so that the accidental president may continue to have a ball at the cost of the people. Of course, there is no question of Zardari quitting. He has already said that he can only be removed from the Presidency in an ambulance. and no doubt he means it. For a person like him even ten minutes more in office is worth all the humiliation that comes his way.

Therefore, the powers that be may have to step in to adopt one of the following courses:

1. Hold a referendum, supervised by the Supreme Court, for a yes or no vote on "Zardari Khappe."

  1. Hold similarly supervised general elections, as the mandate of the people has been betrayed and withdrawn. They must have a chance to decide again.

  2. 3. Form a national government composed of clean people with unblemished records who are not affected by the provisions of Sections 62 and 63 of the Constitution.
  4. It has become dangerous to maintain the status quo. The false promises and hollow claims of the government have exhausted the patience of the people. All the evils of the Musharraf era have grossly multiplied since the advent of this government. The shenanigans of ministers, advisors, jiyalas, hangers-on and jail mates cannot be projected as support of the people, or the Sindh card.
  6. The war on terror has cost the nation thousands of lives and a large number of innocent people have become its victims, while its cost in monetary terms has been above Rs850 billion. Foreign debt has increased from $35 billion to an all-time-high of $56 billion, while local debt has gone up to Rs500 billion. Poverty has increased to 40 per cent and the prices of basic commodities have more than doubled in the past two years, so much so that mothers are forced to sell their infants in bazaars to buy flour.

    This does not deter Zardari from taking junkets abroad, which cost people Rs700,000 per day, while the upkeep of the presidency costs Rs1 million per day. Even the much trumpeted Rs70 billion to be handed out to make beggar of the people through the Benazir Income Support Scheme (which should be invested in projects to increase production and job opportunities) have mostly disappeared and only 17 billion have been handed out.

  7. The fear in which the rulers live necessitates elaborate security arrangements for all, right down to the level of their private servants, costing the people Rs160 billion per year, which comes out of the development outlay of Rs700 billion. Even greater damage is caused by the drastic reduction of personnel for combating crime and providing protection to the people.
  8. The patience of the vanquished masses is wearing thin. The lava is boiling, and once it erupts, the damage will be huge. Therefore, sanity must prevail and the right steps taken to prevent the destruction of the country.

The writer is chairman of the Sindh National Front.







The word "riparian" has been appearing in the media far too frequently for my liking. It's usually preceded by the adjective "lower" and usually followed by an irrational rant about how the "upper riparian" is taking advantage. This is unsettling because, as one knows, when the word "riparian" becomes part of one's day-to-day vocabulary, it means water has become a major issue. And it should be. As has been foretold, water is becoming, if not already is, the mother of all political issues.

At Partition, we are told that Pakistan had water resources in the region of 5,000 cubic meters per person. Now, we are told this resource has fallen to close to 1,200 cubic meters per person, a figure the UN warns is close to when a country is said to be "water scarce". That may sound alarming but, as someone once said, there are lies, damn, lies and then there are statistics

Nevertheless, the fact is that Pakistan's water resources are fast dwindling. But before someone panics, they need to understand that, more than other things, we are becoming water scarce because of the remarkable job we've done at breeding: it's the increasing population that's one of the reasons our per capita water resource statistics are falling.

There are other reasons why Pakistan's water resources are falling. There is, for example, the remarkably outdated and inefficient irrigation system we currently have in operation. Over 90 per cent of Pakistan's water resources are used in irrigation (with somewhere near 3 to 5 per cent servicing drinking water requirements and the remainders servicing specific industrial purposes), and over 40 per cent of irrigation water is said to be "lost" because of evaporation and theft. Then there's the world famous Pakistani work ethic: in today's day and age, farming is a science and economical yields simply can't be achieved if sowing and harvest dates are left subservient to the whims of lazy farmers (with due apologies to the many hard-working members of the agricultural sector).

Pakistan's water resources aren't just threatened by inefficient irrigation and farming techniques. There is also the spectre of climate change. Almost all of Pakistan's water resources originate from glacial melt off of Himalayan glaciers. Increases in global temperatures resulting from climate change are expected to affect the rate of glacial melt: At first there will be widespread flooding and then, as the glaciers melt away, there will be no water resource. This is expected to happen within the next century.

The 2003 Government of Pakistan Initial Communication on Climate Change indicates that global warming will affect every one of Pakistan's cash crops. This will affect our agriculture -- the current backbone of the national economy -- and rural livelihood. As things stand, poverty in Pakistan -- and nearly 30 per cent of the population hovers near the poverty line -- is a rural phenomenon. The economic effects of a shortage of water will affect rural livelihood and only exacerbate the conditions of poverty that increasing numbers of children will be forced to experience.

Water shortages have affected inter-provincial relations. The waters of the Indus Basin are regulated within Pakistan by the Indus River System Authority (IRSA), which itself was created by the inter-provincial Water Accord of 1991. Sindh regularly accuses Punjab of not providing it with its share of water. Punjab, on the other hand, claims nothing more than its rightful share of water under the Water Accord. With crop productivity affected in both provinces due to water shortages, IRSA hasn't been much successful in resolving the increasingly antagonistic positions being taken by these opposing provinces. This has the potential to affect inter-provincial harmony and, by extension, the balance of power in government.

If these factors don't qualify water to be a pre-eminent political issue in this country, then surely the international repercussions of water will.

Just as the lower riparian Sindhi is a vicious critic of the upper riparian Punjabi, the lower riparian Pakistani holds a deep amount of scepticism of his upper riparian Indian. The flow of water in the Indus Basin is regulated by an agreement between the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan: the Indus Basin Treaty, 1960. Under the treaty, the rights over the water of the three Eastern rivers (Sutlej, Bias and Ravi) are given to India and the use of the waters of the three western rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) is given to Pakistan. Recently, and there has been further proof that water is an pre-eminent political issue of our time--India has been accused of "stealing" Pakistan's share of water. Even if Pakistan had the latest means to accurately measure the flows of water--and thereby substantiate its claims--this accusation cleverly hides the fact that, on account of climate change, there are circumstances of drought along the Indian side of the western rivers under Pakistan's control.

Pakistan and India need to sit down to examine the issue of the management of their shared resource of the Indus Basin. Pakistan can only do this if it has a strong opening bargaining position vis-à-vis India, else it stands to lose even the precarious ground it holds under the Indus Water Treaty. This is a point that the proponents of "revisiting" the treaty on the grounds that it does not envision the impact of climate change must keep in mind.

Water also has security repercussions. It is my understanding (and I stand to be corrected here) that one of the reasons the Pakistan Army maintains the troop levels it does on the eastern border (when the fighting is so obviously along the western border) is because water is considered a security issue. If India gains control of the western rivers of the Indus Basin, it will have the advantage to literally shut off Pakistan's water resources. In addition, since the canal irrigation system also provides security against a ground attack, Pakistan's ability to charge these canals will determine some of its defence capabilities. Unlike other political issues in Pakistan, water is not just one- or two-dimensional. Water is multi-dimensional. No other political issue affects the Pakistani economy and society, creates internal migration, is directly linked to climate change, places stress on inter-provincial relations, has security repercussions and involves negotiations with India all at the same time.

At the moment, the types of voices that are filling the debate are unsettling. Over and above the clichéd upper and lower riparian antagonism, the debate is often fuelled by anti-Indian sentiment. One senior journalist has gone as far as offering himself as a human bomb against Indian dams. For once, I wish he would carry out his threat to prove to others who share his worldview: This is not how things are resolved.

In water, the mother of all political issues, Pakistani politics faces a great challenge. For better or worse, the full attention of the Pakistani people is soon going to focus on water-related issues. This is the time for forward and out-of-the box thinking on never-before- encountered problems. Solutions to water-related issues are hot topics globally and all eyes are fixed on how a democratic Pakistan is dealing with the issues water is throwing at it. We must not let the debate and our actions on water be hijacked by unproductive jingoism. In today's world, Pakistan must constructively deal with its problems. If this can be done, water can be an issue on which Pakistan can be an example to the world.

The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email:







"When did they leave?" she said in a manner which clearly indicated that she was not asking a question. I looked at her veiled face and long black abaya and quickly realised that I had made a blunder in front of a gathering of five hundred plus students who had come to the main auditorium of the Tehran University to listen to the evening's lecture on 'Empowerment'.

"They did not really," I corrected myself, "but most post-colonial narratives have this make-believe phase, which states that we are living in a post-colonial world."

"One can even say that this 'post-colonial' world is more colonised than the one that existed prior to World War II. The routes of colonisation are now far more insidious than those of their precursors." She said in her even tone, this time in the microphone, which one of the volunteers had handed over to her in the few seconds which I took to respond.

"Indeed, there is compelling empirical evidence that the economic, cultural, political, and outright military control--and the consequent disempowerment--of the people of the so-called less-developed world has never been so harsh as it is now in this first decade of the twenty-first century. Thus, your statement about 'realities of daily life in the post-colonial era' raises serious problems."

She stressed my words "realities of daily life in the post-colonial era" with a certain degree of relish; I felt the grinding words echoing back and realised that her intelligence and quick perception had a certain degree of experiential truth which has sharpened her vision.

"I agree with you," I had to admit, "the myth of the post-colonial era is just that--a myth repeated so many times that we often fall prey to the phantom."

"There has only been a change of technique," she said, conclusively, "and the new techniques are far more devastating, because most people cannot even recognise that they have been disempowered. The control is so deadly that people now happily send text messages, thoughtlessly and needlessly use their cell-phones, without realising that each time they do so, a certain amount of their life and national wealth goes out to their past colonisers--the masters of their fathers and forefathers, who said to them one day: here, we are giving you freedom and leaving your country. And now so many nations of the world have their founding fathers, fathers of the nations and so on.

"It is all a make-believe chimerical façade. Do you know who controls the uranium resources of the world today? Who controls the air traffic on the skies? The waterways in the oceans? Who has the control of the gold and copper ores? Who controls the motorways? And the airwaves over which happy-go-lucky men and women bring their mantra of expertise on millions of TV screens in all these banana republics spreading throughout outh America, all the way to the Gambia, taking in the entire Middle East, Asia, and Central Asia?"

Her eloquence had made everyone breathless. By now, she had taken over the floor and the question-answer session had become a mini-lecture in itself.

"I do not mean to deliver a lecture, it is your lecture, but I expect our intellectuals and leaders to pay attention to ground realities of the world in which we are living. Look at the state of Israel; it has been exponentially expanding ever since the day it was established by the European Jews in the heart of a land which had never belonged to them in the entire history of humankind. Is it not strange that the settlements are said to be opposed by the godfather called the United States of America and the godmother called the European Union and yet, this banned activity takes place in broad daylight and no one actually moves a little finger? Is it not strange that the disempowered, rather dismembered, Palestinian nationhood--and whatever that word may mean--remains a still-born child that no one wants to own?

"I was in the Gambia recently and I went to villages where the mere appearance of a white man or woman still creates awe and terror and people are ready to bow down to these men and women just because they carry the stamp of terror unleashed on the world during the past three centuries. We cannot go on like this, in these isolated auditoriums, cut off from the realities. We need to go out and see with open eyes what life is like in those parts of the world which our intellectuals and political leaders happily call the post-colonised world, misleading everyone. "Qul, seeru fi'ld-ard," the Quran tell us, say, travel through the lands…

"I am sorry, I am not an intellectual, just a student of history, but our teacher has taught us that we must remain objective if we want to study history in order to learn from it. Our teacher has taught us to look at the reality as it is, and he says that in reaching this conclusion he has been inspired by the most noble Messenger, upon him blessings and peace, who asked his Lord to show him the nature of things as they really are."

When she sat down, there was pin-drop silence in the auditorium and all I could do was to pray for light and guidance.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:







Quaid-e-Azam understood his people well. He knew their strengths and their failings. That is why, besides unity and faith, he gave discipline as an essential aspiration for the nation. Sixty-three years down the line, we are still struggling to get there.

Discipline has many dimensions. There is the personal angle where you discipline yourself to follow a work or a health regime. In an organisation, it means following its norms and rules of behaviour. In a larger context, it is the internalising of a moral code that flows from religion, society, family and law of the land.

In all these dimensions of discipline, we as a people are woefully inadequate. This does not mean everybody, because there are many good people in this country who carry the regime of discipline as a part of their lives. It is the vast majority who don't, that create the rot.

Basic pop psychology would perhaps tell us that discipline is not natural to human beings. Without fear or pain or deprivation of some kind, most people have a propensity to go wild. It is for this reason that societies have evolved a regime of crime and punishment to keep instinctive human behaviour in check.

The successful ones have such effective law enforcement and judicial mechanisms in place that disciplined behaviour becomes psychologically ingrained. Those that fail in governance neither apprehend nor punish. They encourage a personality type that is wild, bereft of any moral or social code, and concerned only with selfish goals.

Corruption emerges out of this, but that is not all. In social settings, it means lies, violence, fraud, cheating, blackmail, intimidation, anything as long as the desired result is achieved.


The fact that such a personality type flourishes in this blessed land is a denunciation of our governance and society. At one level, it is a failure of our law-enforcement and judicial system. But it is also a failure of society, because such types are accepted, and even supported and admired.

Our politics is a classical example of this. Granted that we live in an imperfect world and politics is a tough business that does not reward innocence. Yet, look at the types who reign supreme in the Land of the Pure. Would any lawful society tolerate them?

Known criminals not only participate in politics but flourish here. What kind of an example is this for those who are taught in schools that honesty is the best policy or do the right and fear no man. Even the better ones in politics wear a garb of piety yet are not averse to any shenanigan to increase their personal or political fortunes.

Being good in this environment is akin to being unmanly, almost cowardly. And the beautiful part is that some who are genuinely good become defenders of these criminals. In their convoluted logic, subscribing to a higher principle is more important than holding wrongdoers to account.

This confusion between means and ends has, and is, causing enormous damage. It is obvious that there is no substitute to democracy. It is a system that is morally right and practically effective. Yet, does that mean a clean chit for all looters and plunderers?

A similar confusion has prevailed in the world of cricket. For nearly twenty years, we have condoned criminal conduct and rank indiscipline from those who were undoubtedly world-class cricketers. We have done this because administrators, and by extension the nation, feared losing. The result has been utter chaos in the way we manage and play cricket.

From the mid-nineties, it was obvious that some of our best cricketers were up to dirty tricks. They were involved in match fixing, player politics and dubious commercial deals. Our cricket administrators refused to take a stand because getting rid of them would have meant losing matches. And this would make them lose their own jobs.

The players knew this and played the administrators like accordions. They would blackmail and threaten them. They would walk out in a huff or throw a match or two to get them into trouble. The administrators loved their positions so much that they swallowed it. Not only that, they were reduced to begging players to give their best.

This reprehensible charade has been going on for a long time and some of our best players were involved in this. They were so important that even after the Qayyum inquiry report held them guilty, real action was taken only against Salim Malik and a nobody like Ataur Rehman. People like Inzimam and Waqar Younis and others were let off with a slap on the wrist.

Some of us had hoped that once this feuding, and at times criminal, group of players from the nineties retired, sanity would prevail. But it was not to be. The recent debacle in Australia has shown that the next generation is equally dreadful.

Even a little pipsqueak like Umar Akmal, who had just joined the team, tried to be funny. And this after his brother, Kamran, had given the most shameful display of wicket keeping in our entire cricketing history. If Mr Ijaz Butt had any guts, he would have asked the team managers to put both brothers on the first plane back to Pakistan.

He did not, but that was then. He has shown that he has the courage to do what is necessary now. A much needed accountability at least in the cricket field has begun, and he needs to be supported.

Interested parties that include some journalists have begun to attack the decision to ban some cricketers and fine others. This is to be expected. It is these people who never allowed in the past any kind of discipline to come into cricket. They are at it again, and on the behest of those who have been proceeded against.

Stand firm, Mr Butt, even if you lose your job. A stand against immorality and indiscipline has to be taken. If it rebounds on you, it is a sacrifice worth making. Whether in cricket or in the field of politics, we have to be ready to lose a few matches for the greater good. No gain, as they say, without pain.

Many people who are worried about the future of this nation ask how this rot can be stopped. The answer is simple. We have to show zero tolerance for crime and bad behaviour. And we have to make examples, so that the message gets rammed home.

This is where leadership becomes so important. A leader cannot do everything personally. He or she can only set a direction, and if it is of moral behaviour, it gets percolated down the line. An environment of accountability is thus created, leading to discipline.

Without it, we will continue to be a rabble. And the Quaid's dream will remain unfulfilled.








Harris Khalique

Habib Jalib wrote a poem for Benazir Bhutto when she came back to Pakistan in 1986 to lead the struggle against General Zia's rule of darkness. It was titled "Aik Nihatti Larki" (One unarmed girl). He highlighted the fears of the powerful, the omnipotent dictator and the coterie of undignified men who surrounded him. They were fearful of a frail young woman, physically frail but mentally stronger than mountains in her resolve to bring change to her country. It was a replay of an earlier struggle launched by the political workers of this country led by the sister of the founder of Pakistan, Fatima Jinnah. The otherwise weak, old woman stood up to take on General Ayub Khan, the man responsible for sowing the seeds of military dictatorship in the country. The status of both these women transcends their party affiliations and many of us consider them our common heroes. For the same reason, Mai Jori, the peasant woman who ran for PB 25, Jaffarabad-I, the provincial assembly seat in Pat Feeder's command area of eastern Balochistan, the only place irrigated by a canal from the Indus in the otherwise arid province, chose to launch her election campaign from Benazir Bhutto's tomb in Ghari Khuda Bakhsh.

Mai Jori was a candidate of Awami Party Pakistan, the newly established political organisation of workers, peasants, middle-class professionals, youth, women and common citizens of the country. Earlier, for NA-55 Rawalpindi, the party fielded Abdul Sattar, a trades-unionist who was forcibly retired from Pakistan Railways some years ago due to his struggle for the rights of workers. Talib Hussain, a young, enthusiastic political worker who trained as a chartered accountant, ran for NA-123 on party ticket. All three of them lost. They had no money to match their competitors to invest in the campaign, they were far less known to the constituents and the vernacular media completely ignored Sattar and Talib. Mai Jori was an exception. But the statement these three candidates give out is loud and clear. Enough is enough. Commoners are finally showing their will to take charge. They are in the process of organising themselves and reaching out to people at large. They are very much in the political arena. Even after use of coercive measures by the feudal contestants in the area, disinformation disseminated among the voters, life threats to the candidate herself and massive rigging, Mai Jori stood by her commitment to fight the polls. She said in her last press conference, "Whoever sits in the assembly now doesn't bother me. I have done what I had to. I am from the people. They will also realise one day that they can win. And that day will come sooner than most of you realise."

Her party officials also held a press conference in Islamabad to highlight threats to her life and the failure of the Election Commission and the Balochistan government to ensure the security of the candidate and her supporters. One of the journalists with a flash of arrogance asked them why the party had given ticket to Mai Jori Jamali, an uneducated peasant woman. "What contribution could she make to the assembly?" "What contribution to the betterment of people has been made by the Harvard-, Oxford- and Cambridge-returned sons and daughters of feudal lords and capitalists, or how well have the highly qualified bureaucrats served us?" they responded. Our parliament and assemblies need true representatives of people who could seek solutions to our deep-seated problems.

The writer is a poet and advises national and international institutions on governance and public policy issues. Email: harris@







IT is heartening to note that with the passage of time the Government has started focusing some attention on economy related issues, which are of serious concern to the masses. The latest indication is the decision of the Cabinet to restructure state-owned enterprises with a view to making them viable and profitable.

Almost all the entities included in the said list are in a sorry state of affairs and have become white elephants, complicating financial woes of the hard-pressed country. Only a few days back, Minister for Railways himself acknowledged that Pakistan Railways needed huge investment of 200 billion rupees to make it a sustainable organization. A few months back, Defence Minister Ch Ahmad Mukhtar told National Assembly that PIA suffered accumulated losses worth Rs 76.54 billion till June 2009 due to various reasons. The losses incurred by WAPDA or Pakistan Electric Power Company because of inefficiency, corruption and worn out system are known to all and the situation is deteriorating day by day despite unprecedented hike in power charges allowed by the present Government. These and other organizations intended for restructuring were once considered as jewels of the country's economy playing significant role in national development, providing excellent services to the people and earning huge profits. Why PIA, Railways, WAPDA and Pakistan Steel should suffer losses when they are enjoying a sort of monopoly and have huge clientele? There is no reason for them to slide down continuously despite enormous potential to grow and excel but regrettably no worthwhile efforts were made to run them on professional and commercial lines. Successive governments inducted inefficient and incompetent people at different levels purely on political considerations, increasing burden of these entities besides a nosedive in their performance and output. The process is continuing todate and the present Government too has added to the woes of the State owned entities by reinstating thousands of employees, over and above their required strength, and increasing their expenditure considerably. Similarly, there is large-scale corruption and element of commission and kickbacks that is ruining their prospects to deliver quality services to the people. It is satisfying that the Cabinet has given deadlines for their restructuring but the initiative would remain a non-starter if the Government again stuffed them with its cronies, as has been the case with many other public sector institutions. Professional people should be hired to restructure and run these entities on professional lines to make them profitable as the country can no longer afford to inject more money at the cost of miseries of the poor.






PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari has underlined that Pakistan and Afghanistan should stand together and persuade the international community to devise a Marshal Plan for the region to get rid of militancy and its effects. During talks with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, he pointed out that the two countries have to speak the same language at international forums because both suffer from the same malaise.

President Zardari has, on different occasions, called upon the world community to work out a Marshal Plan for Pakistan in view of the huge damages caused to the country during the ongoing war on terror. This time, he has rightly included Afghanistan as well in the demand as the neighbouring country too has been devastated by not only the war against terror but also due to successive foreign occupation. According to some estimates, Pakistan suffered losses worth over $60 billion on account of its role as a frontline State in the war against terrorism. Though no systematic efforts have been made to calculate the losses incurred by Afghanistan, it is understood that this country too needs huge assistance to rebuild its infrastructure and create economic opportunities that could wean away the youth from the path of militancy and extremism. It is regrettable that the United States and other Western countries are not as forthcoming as they should be and as a result difficulties and miseries of the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan are mounting with the passage of time. The United States has miserably failed to move towards the plan announced years back for setting up of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones on the tribal belt on both sides of the Durand Line that has the potential to improve living conditions of these backward areas. Similarly, the Western countries have also failed to live up to their commitments made at donor conferences held for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Under these circumstances, the idea of the President that both Pakistan and Afghanistan should work together to impress upon the international community to come out with a Marshal Plan for the region deserves serious and immediate implementation.







PAKISTAN Cricket Board (PCB) has finally come out with a decisive move by taking action against players who were mainly responsible for the pathetic performance of the national team on the last tours of New Zealand and Australia. The action, a major surgery, taken on the recommendations made by PCB's probe committee, has been hailed by the former senior cricketers and cricket fans across the country.

Younus Khan and Mohammad Yousuf have been barred from the team indefinitely and different punishments and fines imposed on Shaoib Malik, Rana Naveedul Hassan, Shahid Afridi and Akmal brothers. Cricket crazy Pakistanis, who expect their team to put in their best in the matches were upset at the poor performance which gave no semblance of their potential in the Test and One-Day matches. No doubt win or loss is part of the game and teams play like a well-knit unit. But this was not the case in the Pakistani camp during the tour abroad. Performance of Pakistani cricket team had always been unpredictable. They emerged victorious when they played with commitment. There had been persistent reports in the media about grouping and internal bickering in the team on the one hand and with the Cricket Board on the other and that were the reasons behind poor performance. After the series, there were demands from former cricketers for a comprehensive surgery if Pakistanis were to find their path again. Former greats like Zaheer Abbas, Sarfraz Nawaz and Abdul Qadir supported the PCB action while people like Inzamamul Haq, who played with the senior players and naturally has sympathetic views about them resented strongly. The cricketers earn massively and make fortunes and they must realize that whatever they are today are because of their country and the team. For too long the player power culture had been allowed to thrive and it was the right time to make them behave like sportsmen. The decision taken by the PCB is courageous and we hope that it would stick to it. There is a lot of talent in the country and now the whole attention of the PCB should be to groom it and build a well-knit team.











Like many others in the Indian establishment, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has spent years in international institutions, where he developed a worldview that places the US at the top of the international pyramid. As Finance Minister (1992-96), he was against then PM's Rao's plan to agree to the atomic scientists demand that a nuclear test take place. As Prime Minister, he accepted the severe constraints on the Indian nuclear program mandated by the India-US nuclear deal, and thus far has been silent on his scientists plans for acceleration of the fast breeder reactor program and the substitution of uranium with thorium as feedstock for nuclear reactors. He has thus far refused to amend the law so as to allow Indian companies to enter the nuclear industry, while welcoming French, Russian and US firms. In Kashmir, he has followed the policy of A B Vajpayee in being attentive to the wishes of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his articulate daughter Mehbooba, both of whom favour a Kashmir that is in substance independent of India. His friends say that left to himself, the PM would settle the Siachen issue and open the borders between two of the three segments of Kashmir (the third being occupied by China).

India, of course, is not Saudi Arabia, where a single family decides policy, or China, where the party leadership can do the same. Nor indeed Pakistan, where the army is decisive when it cares to be. The world's largest democracy is a chaos of competing lobbies, and unless an administration achieves a broad consensus between most of these, it would not be practical to change policy. The 26-28/11 (26-28 because it took three days to quell) Mumbai attack drained away public support for Prime Minister Singh's peace moves with Pakistan, and the recent Pune terror attack has further consolidated sentiment against concessions. The view within the Indian establishment is that the hawks in the Pakistan army (including, in their view, General Ashfaq Kiyani) seek nothing less than the dismemberment of India. Hence, if they were to get satisfaction over Kashmir, this would only whet their appetite for the disintegration of India. They regard the US-EU faith in Kashmir being the "core" issue as a dangerous exercise in self-delusion

Deluded or not, it is a reality that US policy on Pakistan ( as is Pakistan's policy on India) is set by the US army. And that General Stanley McChrystal is pathetically eager for more help from General Kiyani, who has made it clear that he wants India out of Afghanistan and making major concessions on Kashmir. Not surprisingly, the US military too would like to see Delhi move on such a wish list, even though it would be political poison for the Manmohan Singh government, and it has ensured that off screen pressure (from the US State Department, the Department of Defense,the CIA,the National Security Advisor and the White House has been severe on Manmohan Singh, who has thus far of course denied any such arm-twisting, as has every one of his predecessors. However, his actions reveal the truth, that on most matters, he has favoured the very policy urged by the Obama administration.

Singh overruled advice from his security and diplomatic establishment to order the resumption of talks with Pakistan. His colleagues say that he has also been instrumental in the recent decision to downscale India's substantial civilian commitment in Afghanistan. At a cost nearing $2 billion, India has earned - according to US polls — the trust of 71% of the Afghan populace, as compared to just 2% who are for Pakistan. This latter result is not surprising, as few populations like the Big Brother next door. In the case of Pakistan, India is the Big Brother, a role that Pakistan fills for Afghanistan. Although some weak denials have come out about this downscaling of the Indian presence in Afghanistan (from unnamed sources in the Home Ministry rather than from the Prime Minister's Office), the reality that almost all the medical missions - for example - have been closed speaks for itself. The security establishment in India fears that the pullback would, while pleasing General McChrystal, sharply reduce India's leverage in Kabul, and spark off fresh attacks because of the perception that Delhi bows to pressure and intimidation.

Manmohan Singh also went along with the Obama administration in reportedly favouring the introduction in India of the genetically modified brinjal developed by Monsanto, but was unable to convince his Environment Minister, who resisted pressure from another GM food backer, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, to approve the modified vegetable. Ramesh also took an independent stand at Copenhagen, refusing to ally with the US and preferring China. However, the PM is not giving up, either on the modified brinjal or on ensuring that India becomes a "deal-maker" on Climate Change, the deal of course being the one scripted in Washington. The soft-spoken economist is convinced that the only way India can reach the double-digit growth that Deng Xiaoping ensured for China would be by moving closer to the US, and he has been courageous enough not to conceal such a view, despite opposition from within his own party. Indeed, the story of Manmohan Singh is that of a leader who, although lacking a political base, is determined to have his way on policies that he feels strongly about. Hence the softer approach in Kashmir, the talks with Pakistan, and other steps that show the Obama administration that in Manmohan Singh, they have a partner they can trust. There is a quiet layer of steel in the man, although this often gets manifested in a "dovish" way! However, his friends wonder if he is going too far in his accommodation of the wishes of the Obama administration, which is much less India-friendly than was the Bush team

Singh even seeks to amend Indian law so as to ensure that US suppliers of nuclear power equipment be liable only for a maximum of $100 million in any accident, which is a fourth even of the very low award of $400 million following the 1985 Bhopal disaster. His eagerness to ensure that such a Nuclear Liability Bill gets passed has angered many within his own party, who recognize that it would be an immensely unpopular law, and one that would encourage US suppliers to experiment with reactor designs in India, given the very low financial cost of even a major disaster. The pullback from Afghanistan and the Nuclear Liability Bill have sent alarm signals within the Congress Party, so that there is now frequent talk of the PM stepping down well before his present term ends in 2014. Should Manmohan Singh lose his popularity with the middle classes and become an electoral liability because of his dovish views, his own party may follow the lead of the British Labour Party in dumping Tony Blair, who became toxic as a consequence of Iraq.

If Manmohan were to step down, who would be his Gordon Brown? While the Congress Party ranks overwhelmingly favour the youthful and telegenic Rahul Gandhi as the PM, the young heir to the Nehru family's political estate may decide that he needs more time before taking up one of the toughest jobs in the world. In that case, a possible front-runner would be Home Minister P Chidambaram, who is articulate and effective in his current job, and enjoys a good reputation internationally as well. Of course, all this is speculation. Prime Minister Singh is a canny politician who has the advantage of being underestimated, and he may yet confound his critics by ensuring peace with Pakistan and close ties with the US without compromising Indian interests. Singh is seen as a reflective and non-sectarian leader, and thus far, he has known when to push ahead, and when to draw back. Hopefully, there will not be yet another mass terror strike in India that would push the hawks into the driver's seat once again.








Abdul Malek Rigi, the Jundullah leader, wanted by Iran has been arrested, as announced by Iranian media. Jundallah, which means "Soldiers of God" in Arabic, has operated since 2002 in the border area between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Jundallah comprising Balochis, from both Iran and Pakistan, was formed about seven years ago in the southeastern Iranian province of Sistan-Balochistan, on the border with Pakistan.

Many of Iran's minority Sunni Muslims live there, and Rigi and Jundallah claimed to be fighting against the discrimination that Sunnis suffer in predominantly Shiite Iran stressing that their aim is to fight for Baloch economic and political rights in Iran's marginalized southwest. They are set apart from other Baloch outfits active on the Pakistani side by their staunchly religious character. Jundallah may have as many as 1,000 militants. The group's first alleged major action came five years ago in an attack on a motorcade carrying then-newly elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

There have been many attacks since, including a bombing last October that left 42 dead, including five senior commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Tehran has been accusing some Pakistani forces of providing tactical support to the group. There are conflicting reports regarding Rigi's arrest. According to Iranian state media, on February 22, Iranian agents allegedly intercepted him when he was on a flight bound for Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, from Dubai when the Iranians forced the plane to land at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. A day later, Iran's Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi hailed Rigi's arrest as proof of "the power of the Islamic Republic." Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar announced on state radio the same day that the government "had spread a dragnet and managed to capture him. He is now in the claws of justice." A state-backed Iranian cinema institute has been asked to make a film re-enacting Rigi's capture.

It is still unclear how exactly Tehran managed to track Rigi's presence in Dubai and his travel plans further. After the October 2009 terrorist attack, Iran had been pressurizing Pakistan to hand over Rigi to them, The Iranian authorities were informed that Abdul Malek Rigi was not in Pakistan. Piecing together various bits of information pertaining to the circumstances of Rigi's arrest is difficult without independent confirmation. Three days after his arrest, on February 25, Iranian state television broadcast footage of a confession purportedly made by Rigi, saying that he was flying to Central Asia to meet with his American handlers at the U.S.-run Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan. Intelligence Minister Moslehi had already pointed his finger at Washington and the hand of the CIA, claiming to have evidence that Rigi was earlier housed at a U.S. base in Afghanistan and set up with fake documentation by the Americans. U.S. officials as well as British diplomats in Tehran have denied any links to Rigi. According to USA's National Public Radio NPR, "Asked about Rigi's confession, a spokesperson for the CIA said claims coming out of Iran on this are nonsense."On the other hand, Pakistan, which has bent backwards to eradicate terrorism and extremism from its soil has often been unduly blamed for "not doing enough". At times there are allegations of favouring one group of extremists over another. When Pakistani Army and security agencies cracked down on the center of terror in Swat, there were demands of action against the terrorists holed up in the Waziristan region. Swat was a major and complex battle against insurgency and took a heavy toll of lives—both civilian and security forces. Hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Swat were forced to find refuge in safer climes, abandoning their homes and hearth. It goes to the credit of the Army and state agencies like the Special Support Group that the IDPs were enabled to return home after a displacement of only two months.

Once the Army commenced its operations against the terror groups hiding in South Waziristan, there were immediate cries from the west for taking action against the terrorists in North Waziristan. It may be remembered that no invader has ever returned successfully from operations in Waziristan over the centuries. Instead of fully appreciating Pakistan's victory and the success in the demanding and intricate operations in the rugged and inhospitable terrain, there were accusations that Pakistan was demurring in taking action against the Afghan Taliban as it wanted to maintain good relations with them in the post NATO/US scenario in Afghanistan. Even now Pakistan's efforts are being described as "work in progress".

These objections and observations are coming from force commanders, who have not much success to boast of. Pakistan Army and the security forces must be having a lot of patience. Besides exterminating thousands of terrorists, apprehending and handing over hundreds of the wanted miscreants to international agencies, in addition to sacrificing own armed forces personnel; they have even arrested and brought to book members of the Afghan Taliban leadership too.

At the same time, the people of Pakistan have a lot to complain of. Ever since Pakistan became an ally in the war against terror, it is the ordinary citizens who have been suffering; innocent victims of terror attacks; civilians killed as collateral damage; children abducted for ransom by the terror merchants. They have been bearing the trial and tribulation patiently. If on top of it they have to listen to demands of "Do More!" they must be truly exasperated and hurt with the salt in their wounds. Let us take the case of Abdul-Malek Rigi; Iran had been expressing and directing a lot of its ire at Pakistan for the loss of lives in the October 2009 attack. The loss of innocent lives is always a major human tragedy; however some of this incense and angst appeared to be oblivious of the sufferings of the people of Pakistan, who have been inflicted upon more attacks than anywhere else in the current history. Now that Mr. Rigi has been apprehended and locked away, perhaps Iran owes the people and government of Pakistan an apology for its earlier outburst.









Islam's message is plain and profound. It starts as a seed and blossoms into a garden. Seven years after Muhammad Sall-Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam had been charged with the duty to convey the message, the Makkans banished and confined him and and his kith and kin of the Banu Hashim clan to the Valley of Abi Talib. The message had been spreading, despite all opposition and oppression, and, therefore, the oligarchs of Makkah had decided on a policy of boycott and isolation. It was assumed that while the people outside would hear no more of Islam, those under siege would recant. In any case, they hoped, the message would die a natural death. There cannot be a Kind and Just God Who creates a whole humanity and a complex environment around it, but does not provide it with rules and guidance and leaves it in a state of total anarchy.

The besieged had to subsist by eating leaves and roots of desert plants or boiled or roasted hide. The wail of hungry infants could be heard outside the Valley, but the sanction-keepers were unmoved. The blockade lasted around three years. However, if anyone happened to stray by, Muhammad Sall-Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam would say to him, 'Qul La Ilaha, tuflahu!' - Say there is no deity (but Allah, and) prosper! These were four few words, but their meaning was clear and complete. The success and prosperity, Muhammad Sall-Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam was inviting them to were not so visible but seemed implicit and inevitable. The Arabs were by now so well familiar with the Kalima, the basic statement of Islam, that the listener had no difficulty in relating the two words La Ilaha to its complete form - There is no deity but Allah, Muhammad Sall-Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam is the Messenger of Allah! There cannot be a Kind and Just God Who creates a whole humanity and a complex environment around it, but does not provide it with rules and guidance and leaves it in a state of total anarchy. The belief about God and messengership has, therefore, always gone together. The first man on this planet, Adam, was a vicegerent and messenger of God. So were Noah, Abraham, David, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and thousands of others whom we do not know of today, alayhimu salam. They all spoke of One God. First there is subjective evidence within ourselves. Since we all come from God, there is within all of us a fine sense of awareness that there is God. There is more evidence outside.

You try a 'null hypothesis', that there is no God, and you can't think of a perfectly designed and perfectly ordered Universe and everything contained therein without everything made according to a plan, behaving according to an integrated system of rules and laws, all without a Master and Creator. It would be absurd to conceptualise anything otherwise. But if there is God, and there surely is God, then what does He mean to us? Just Someone merely out there somewhere without any continuing relationship between Creator and the created? It is easy to be aware of God, but you cannot determine simply on the basis of your subjective cognition of what that relationship requires of you. Hence all that long line of messengers from God, from the first one, Adam, to the last one, Muhammad Sall-Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam. Otherwise we would have no certain means of knowing God and knowing what He wants of us.

The Qur'an tells us that God is Kind and Beneficent, Just and Merciful, Lord and Provider, Sovereign and Law-Giver, Wise and True. He is Original. He is Eternal. He does not retire or sleep. He has no partners or kin. He is All-Knowing and All-Seeing. No one can escape His reckoning and He will punish or reward each one according to his deeds. His justice is blended with mercy. His mercy is blended with justice. Every child that is born, is born a Muslim, with a clean slate. It is not condemned at birth. Muslim means one who submits, submits to God, of his own volition. The test, therefore, lies in the future, when the child has grown up and has the ability to act any way he or she likes, to obey or not to obey. God does not impose Himself. People are free to believe or not to believe. And many do not. They invent their own deities and worship their own desires. Naturally there are consequences to both belief and unbelief. No system of law or discipline treats those who abide by the law and those who do not in the same manner. It cannot be otherwise.

There is, therefore, the Akhirah, the Hereafter. Nothing is as sure as death, and it is only logical that people are judged at the end of the Day and rewarded or punished accordingly. The best reward is the Pleasure of Allah and the worst punishment is His Displeasure. But Humans are also very much bone and flesh. The rewards and punishment are, therefore, tangible too: Heaven and Hell. It is a long journey from Here to the Hereafter. You have to have your bearings right, the right sense of destination, the right navigational equipment, and an inbuilt system of correcting the course and raising an alarm, in case one begins to go dangerously astray. You need to have your limits (Hudood) defined which you may transgress only at your peril, because otherwise you may be endangering the whole society. You need a very powerful social vehicle to carry you through a long, arduous and not unoften hazardous journey. A powerful vehicle needs a very powerful brake too. Islam offers the ability to relate directly, without any intermediary, to God. Islam is, therefore, not just maxims and precepts, about being nice and good; it is also about social and personal discipline, a system of law and punishment without which maxims and precepts could become meaningless outside a small and limited area of individual morality. But an Islamic society is not governed by laws alone. Just as the lock on the door is fixed only for the thief or someone who may otherwise feel encouraged to steal, laws in Islam are directed at the wicked fringe, or the weaker ones who may feel tempted to break the law and once having done so with impunity, may find it difficult to get out of the vicious circle. The aim is to keep the wicked fringe as much narrowed down as possible, to punish the actual guilty, deter the potential breakers of law, and protect society and its economic, social and moral fibre.

One knows what happens otherwise: a geometric progression of crime, which neither the courts and nor the prisons are able to cope with. We also need to reckon the sheer economic cost of laissez faire morality! The contemporary focus on the Islamic state, by Muslims who want to regain their lost freedom and by those who are somehow afraid of Islamic state and Islamic Shari'ah, tends to convey a fallacious impression of a polity that is saddled with a plethora of laws. It is not true. The number of laws that would govern an Islamic state are very very few as compared to those hundreds and thousands we find otherwise. It would be an instructive exercise if someone was to count the number of Islamic laws that used to govern the former Ottoman caliphate and compare them, for example, with the number of laws on the statute book of the then British Empire.








I cry for the country that is nearly 63 years old and still has not been able to stand on its own feet. I am sad that the country had neither been able to develop a stable political system nor had succeeded in establishing viable modern institutions in the service of its citizens. I am baffled that China, Vietnam, and even Cuba, have been able to provide stability and security for their citizens. All three countries have been striving to develop their economies under communist rulers, although Cuba has to deal with additional burden of the United States embargo for several decades. Despite the fact that they have been, and still are, dictatorial regimes, they have nonetheless successfully provided security and political stability to their citizens and ensured the development of their countries.Development failure in Pakistan has often been attributed to lack of democracy.


The primary reason for poverty, illiteracy, lawlessness, and extremism has been laid at the feet of dictatorial rulers. History tells us that there are many countries that had achieved modernization without practicing democracy. For example, Chile, under General Augusto Pinochet, South Korea, under General Park Chung-hee, Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew, China, under Deng Xiaoping, earlier Japan, under the Meiji emperors and Russia, under Peter the Great.Lofty goals of democracy are fine, but not all progress in political fields can be achieved through democracy alone. Was Japan not modernized in about 56 years without democracy? Military-industrial progress in Russia was achieved again without democracy. Recently, China succeeded in modernizing itself again without democracy. Do millions of people in South Asia, who are living on one dollar a day for food, clothing and shelter, give a damn about democracy? Democracy and free enterprise are fine dogmas, but a starving person cannot eat democracy and a free enterprise in which rich continue to get richer and poor continue to spiral into poverty can hardly be a utopia fit for equality and brotherhood of Islam.Incidentally, Pakistanis are capable of developing stable institutions; has the Land of the Pure not developed successfully an institution that actually works? Pakistan's military is almost a self-sustaining institution, it provides all services, including health to its servicemen and their families through its own military hospitals. It controls the best land, gets proper power supplies, and its members maintain a reasonably good living standard. And, the great institution does not even let the democratically elected civilian government monitor its finances in any great detail! Pakistani military, like its sister military in Turkey, considers itself the ultimate guardian of the fatherland. Unfortunately, Pakistan has neither produced a Kamal Ataturk nor a secular system, which has arisen to become a state religion for Turkish High Command. It will take years to control the Pakistani military hierarchy, just ask Recep Tayyib Erdogan of Turkey. But the primary purpose of this institution was and still is the protection of the fatherland. Historically, not once has the institution truly kept its commitment to safeguard Pakistan's borders; millions of unaccounted Afghans have crossed the Durand Line and brought the Klashinkov culture to Pakistan.

Did the beloved institution actually honor its promise and protect the beloved country? The poor war performance of 1965, the painful separation of East Pakistan in 1971, and the latest Kargil episode, did not quite enhance its reputation. Sadness pervades when one reads about the country's politicians; it seems as though they are a selfish bunch since they appear to seek and gain political advantage by promoting their own selfish agendas. It seems as though some of these politicians were quite arrogant since they actually believed that only they could save the faltering state structures. Mujib of East Pakistan and Bhutto of West Pakistan actually believed in their holy missions. Both of them never quite paid any attention to the old adage, "Nobody is indispensable, the world continues irrespective to who gets hanged and who dies in bed."Many of these new politicians have been awarded with ministries for their past services, rendered not in a political arena, but more on a personal level; not only are they shortsighted but they are also disingenuous since they have gained their leadership positions through non-democratic means. In reality, none of the Pakistani political party hierarchies get elected through democratic means; they obtain their nominations as though they were fiefdoms. Furthermore, the bewildering scope of money transactions in Pakistan is so enormous that it would take a chartered accountant to figure out the mess. Nepotism, granting and forgiving loans, corruptions on every level, military men becoming rich beyond their salaries, it seems as though both military and civilian stooges had continued to commit fraud on the Pakistani nation. As a matter of fact, Pakistani military rulers have a history of forgiving loans, both government and government guaranteed loans, and dropping corruption charges of politicians, particularly of those who might pose direct threat to their rule. Further, a truly threatening politician is banned and kicked out of the country, often on trumped up charges.

Did the Pakistani military not help execute the founder of the PPP on some trumped up charges? On the other hand, who had helped the generals to achieve their Napoleonic aspirations? Wasn't Nawaz Sharif, and the Chaudhary brothers of the crime-ridden Gujrat, the creation of General Zia and General Musharraf? Oh, and where were the Pakistani judges? Did they not acquiesce to the demands of the military brass?

And, how did the other leader, Nawaz Sharif of the Muslim League N, also un-elected, though he could explain his riches because of various existing businesses, became the defender of the judiciary, while during his premiership, on November 28, 1997, his goondas/thugs had attacked the same supreme court? Had he not orchestrated the removal of Chief Justice, Syed Sajjad Ali Shah, just as Musharraf did on November 3, 2007? And what about the Pakistani new parliamentarians; why are they not questioning their leaders and their selfishness, when they are running around attending meetings, called by the un-elected leaders. Who pays for their travel expenses? While enjoying all parliamentary privileges, they barely attend parliamentary sessions and hardly develop any meaningful legislation. And, why may I ask our fourth pillar of government, namely the independent media, does not highlight the misdeeds of the absent Members of the National Assembly? Let the Prime Minister, who seems be the only one attending practically every session, make mandatory the attending of each parliamentary session.

It is hard enough to put up with one nearly independent institution in Pakistan, and now judiciary in Pakistan too would prefer to become truly an independent institution. Wow, are the Pakistani judges really beyond reproach? And, are they truly selfless? The noise about restoring judges, which had emanated practically from all Pakistani quarters, could not drown the deafening silence about the role of the Pakistani judiciary had consistently played through all the military coups d'état?

Now, here in the land of infidels, where despite racial profiling, Sunnis, Shi'as, and even Ahmadis freely practice their versions of Islam, a Pakistani expatriate feels as though no one gives a damn about the country, since the old bureaucracy, laden with financial gains has steadily been replaced with the new one, which too would probably follow the same old traditions!

The cries of an old expatriate are not likely to change the ways of Pakistan rulers and politicians, but it would tell them, at least, that they are directly held responsible for maligning the beloved country. However, among the present political shenanigans, there is a ray of hope in the sitting Prime Minister. First, may Lord God protect him, second, may he continue his honorable behavior inside and outside of the parliament. And, may I ask that he move a little faster and adopt a bit more aggressive political posture against all those rogue elements that surround him.

—The writer is CEO of an information research & analysis company in US.








During the Iraqi parliamentary elections on Sunday, this city's main thoroughfares presented an almost overwhelming visual mosaic of politics. From the Karada neighborhood in the south to the Adhamiya district in the north, from poor Sadr City to rich Mansour, posters for the capital province's 1,300 candidates hung from almost every tree and lamppost. Billboards crowded medians and roundabouts, promising Change, Justice, Unity, Jobs, Security and more. Iraq's underlying political currents are even more cacophonous: among the candidates are soccer stars, TV news anchors, judges and prostitutes. Still, it is the images of Iraq's big political players that dominate the city's landscape, especially Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and his two predecessors in that post, Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jaffari.

Winning the poster contest, of course, may not mean much in terms of the actual election. Messrs. Maliki, Allawi and Jaffari are each part of a complex cross-sectarian coalition. Each draws support from intricate and often contradictory sources. Given the convoluted "party list" system employed in the balloting, about the only thing certain is that nobody will win the election outright. The Kurds, who are likely to win 15 percent of the vote, are open to forming an alliance with almost anyone. The provinces and smaller cities — with no big names running in them — will return an unpredictable grab bag of members of Parliament. Influential smaller candidates like Ahmed Chalabi, the one-time American favourite in Iraq, and Bayan Jabr, the finance minister, only add to the complexity.

We should know the polling results in a few days. Then, once the parliamentary seats are allocated, the game will start all over again: coalitions will crack, new alliances will form, and every seat in the 325-member Parliament will have its price as a handful of leaders compete to build majorities. As I revisited old haunts in Baghdad in recent days, it became clear to me that the increasing order on Iraq's streets and the bewildering scramble in its politics are of a piece. In Sadr City, my old acquaintance Fattah al-Sheikh, who was elected to Parliament in 2005 as part of the bloc loyal to the extremist Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, is now with the Baath-tinted, mostly Sunni party of Ayad Allawi. In Iraqi politics there is no more extreme conversion than that from Sadrist to Baathist.

"I'm a patriot above all else," he told me. "And the Iranians have more or less kidnapped Moktada al-Sadr, so I stand against them." Opportunistic as this claim may appear, Fattah's stand, and his ability to survive in Sadr City as a vocally anti-Iranian candidate, exemplify the post-sectarian flexibility that is the hallmark of these elections. Walking in the spring sunshine up and down the length of Abu Nuwas Park along the Tigris — a green and tempting place I had always admired from hotel rooms across the street but had never felt comfortable venturing into — I spoke to a man of about 65 who had a young grandson on his knee in the shade of a tree. "That is my son," he said, pointing at a young man on a nearby bench. "One of his brothers I found beheaded in the street. The other is still missing."

The grandfather would not say whether he was a Sunni or a Shiite. I asked how he viewed these elections in light of his personal calamities. "The rest of the Middle East is in a stage of political infancy, adolescence at best," he answered. "Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, even Lebanon, they are all juvenile. But we are passing this stage of a politics about 'who you are.' This election in Iraq is about the politics of 'what you want.' And we want an end to sectarianism." At the Karkh Hospital I met Jassim, a 39-year-old Army sergeant whose lower leg had been blown off the day before (soldiers voted on Friday so they could provide security over the weekend). Recuperating in his bed, he showed me a purple-stained forefinger and said Iraq needed a leader to serve "the whole nation."

Most Iraqi politicians have caught the anti-sectarian mood. That is why Prime Minister Maliki, a Shiite, had the confidence to break with the big coalition of his co-religionists that dominated in 2005 and run alongside several major Sunni tribal leaders. It is why once virulent Shiites like Fattah, the former Sadrist, now see Mr. Allawi's party as a good bet. It is why the Iraqi National Alliance includes not only Salaam Smeasim, a pro-American Shiite in a veil, but also Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, a Sunni cousin of Iraq's last king and the chief claimant to the long-vacant throne.

With more Sunnis participating this time even as the old religious monoliths break down, Iraq's coming government-formation phase will be slow and complex. During the weeks of horse-trading and grandstanding, the rhetoric will occasionally be vituperative, Iraqi leaders from all parties will be accused of unsavoury relationships with foreign powers and the overall winning faction may well have an identity-based core. Still, as that grandfather in Abu Nuwas Park explained to me, this messy process reflects the decline of sectarianism, a necessary and hopeful step in Iraq's political maturation. — The New York Times










Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has launched a free healthcare service for the people of Dahagram and Angorpota - two enclaves inside India that have been facing problems ever since it was officially incorporated into Bangladesh after the Mujib-Indira accord of 1974. She also promised full-time access to the inhabitants of the two enclaves to the mainland by construction of a footbridge over the teen-bigha (one acre) corridor. She also promised electricity to the region although the country itself suffers from a chronic shortage of power. 
The problem of the enclaves has been a persistent one ever since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 as the mid-stream of rivers is the international boundary in a number of places. The region being an active delta, tectonic movement is continuous and the rivers change their course frequently. This means that the mid-stream also changes creating enclaves on both sides of the river, much to the detriment of people living near it. Currently there are almost 124 such enclaves, according to the last count, straddling the international boundary.