month march 13, edition 000454, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
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- THE PRICE OF CHICANERY
- WEALTH OF THE NATIONS
- AFGHANISTAN IS NOT VIETNAM - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
- DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY - AJIT BISHNOI
- GOOD SCRIPT, BUT NEEDS WORK - RIJU JHUNJHUNWALA
- THE POLITICAL ROAD TO GENDER JUSTICE - UDAYAN NAMBOODIRI
- WOMEN EMPOWERMENT OR MINORITY BASHING?
- PAK CAN'T RUN AWAY FROM THESE QUESTIONS
- RECONSTITUTE SIT
- IPL3 UNLEASHED
- MANMOHAN BREAKS OUT - BY MANOJ JOSHI
- DIGITAL INK - SACHIN KALBAG
- COPS SNIFF ISI ROLE IN HUMAN TRAFFICKING - BY DALIP SINGH IN NEW DELHI
- RAISINA TATTLE
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- WHO SAYS BOYS DON'T CRY?
- LET'S FIND COMMON GROUND - ROHINI NILEKANI
- OFFICIALS HAVE GONE TOO FAR
- DRASTIC ACTION WAS NEEDED - PRODOSH MITRA
- HOW THE LOHIAITE WORM HAS TURNED - DILEEP PADGAONKAR
- OUR TAKE - INTERPRETER OF MALADIES
- RICHTER'S LESSONS LOST - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI
- DOING IT ALL OVER AGAIN - PRATIK KANJILAL
- BANGKOK SIEGE
- DEMANDING ANSWERS
- MIND THE GEOGRAPHY
- OUR HOCKEY HIGH - SHEKHAR GUPTA
- A RED CARD FOR THE SIM - RAKHSHANDA JALIL
- INTERPRETING OBAMA - DAVID BROOKS
- MAN'S WORLD, WOMAN'S PLACE - BALRAJ PURI
- POVERTY INVISIBILITY LITIGATION? - KAVERI GILL
- RESIDENT WELFARE
- RUCHIKA TALWAR
- INDEX OF OPTIMISM
- FROM RUSSIA WITH GORSHKOV
- WHY NTPC & NMDC FAILED TO IGNITE - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
- AGAINST TIDE, BUT AT WHAT COST TO RIN? - LATHA R NAIR
- A NEW BEGINNING IN TRANSFER PRICING AUDITS - VIJAY IYER
- THE LONG ROAD TO JUSTICE
- PROTECTIONISM IN CHECK
- A RADIOACTIVE BILL FRAUGHT WITH BIG RISKS - BRAHMA CHELLANEY
- INDIA-UAE: AN ENDURING RELATIONSHIP - PRANAY GUPTE
- LET NOW A THREAT BEYOND INDIA: U.S. CONGRESS - NARAYAN LAKSHMAN
- U.S. FAITH IN CLIMATE SCIENCE HITS NEW LOW - SUZANNE GOLDENBERG
- NEED FOR A BETTER MIX
- CAVEAT ON BHARAT RATNA - AMULYA GANGULI
- NIGHT OUT IN BERLIN -- AND HOW - SUPARNA THOMBARE
- ALL-PARTY TALKS WELCOME
- SIT'S SUMMONS TO MODI
- PAYING TO BE DUPED
- ON THE ROAD TO EQUALITY - BY RAJINDAR SACHAR
- A WORLD TRANSFORMED - BY ROOPINDER SINGH
- RECESSION IMPACTS GROWTH IN HARYANA - BY GOBIND THUKRAL
- SALT BAN BATTLE TAKES SHAPE IN NEW YORK - BY RUPERT CORNWELL
- INSIDE PAKISTAN - BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
- DYING FOR A COP JOB
- SOFT (ON THE) CURRENCY - T N NINAN
- THAT'S MY BROTHER, NOT MY SON - KISHORE SINGH
- THE COLOURS OF HOPE - GEETANJALI KRISHNA
- MORALITY VERSUS LEGALITY - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- WHY THE BUCK DOESN'T STOP - V V
- CHILDREN OF GOOD PEOPLE, GOOD SCHOOLS = UBIR ROY
- DEVANGSHU DATTA: SOCIAL ENGINEERING AND BIGOTRY - DEVANGSHU
- WOMEN SMART, MEN SMARTER? - SURJIT BHALLA
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- SERVICE SECTOR M&AS CALL FOR NEW SKILLS
- INFRASTRUCTURE GETS A BOOST
- BREATHE CONSCIOUSLY AND LIVE MINDFULLY - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- BSNL BOARD HAS NOT APPROVED VRS PLAN: KULDEEP GOYAL - JOJI THOMAS PHILIP
- 'ONCE BOREDOM SETS IT, YOUR FILM IS DEAD' - NANDINI RAGHAVENDRA
- '02 RIOTS: MODI, AT LAST, TO FACE PROBE
- LEARNING TO READ - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
- SCENE UNSEEN
- INDIA'S BIG 'MAHILA MOMENT'
- MEET THE BACHCHANS - BY KISHWAR DESAI
- FLORENTINE CHOICES - BY ROGER COHEN
- TINY SLICE OF SKY
- SPORTS AND THE NATION - RAMACHANDRA GUHA
- FACING THE TRUTH
- CYCLE OF VIOLENCE
- FAR FROM DONE - BY RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA
- THE POLITICS ALL IN THE GANDHI FAMILY - BY KUSHWANT SINGH
- FEATHERED FRIENDS - BY MAYA JAYAPAL
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- PICK YOUR SIDE
- SOMETHING WORSE THAN INACTION
- REPUBLICANS WANTED
- 'A CULTURE OF CORRUPTION'
- DON'T TICKLE ME, BRO! - BY CHARLES M. BLOW
- BIG BROTHER IN BLUE - BY BOB HERBERT
- THE AGE OF CONCRETE - BY BLAINE BROWNELL
- LAHORE BLEEDS
- LOST BOY?
- KARACHI VIOLENCE
- A CASE OF TWO PAKISTANS - ARIF NIZAMI
- MECHANISM OF CHANGE - AMEER BHUTTO
- TOWARDS WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT - FARAHNAZ ISPAHANI
- DEVELOPMENT UNDER ATTACK - DR MASOODA BANO
- HOBNOBBING WITH TERROR - BABAR SATTAR
- ZARDARI KHAPPAY - ANJUM NIAZ
- PAKISTAN'S ROLE IN THE REGION RECOGNIZED
- CRUSHING RISE IN INFLATION
- HOCKEY STARS SNUFF OUT
- WE'RE NOT A DEMOCRACY - NOSHEEN SAEED
- ISLAM ABHORS INGLORIOUS TRADITIONS - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- EVALUATION OF WAR ON TERROR IN NORTHWEST - ASIF HAROON RAJA
- IS 9/11 INCIDENT A "BIG LIE"? - SAEED QURESHI
- NEED FOR CHANGE - A RAFIQUI
- MADHUPUR FOREST FIRE
- DIARRHOEA OUTBREAK
- CLINGY FRENCHMEN ..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- ROW OVER WOMEN'S QUOTA IN INDIAN PARLIAMENT - M. SERAJUL ISLAM
- SMES FOR RURAL EMPLOYMENT - ANU MAHMUD
- ONE-WAY JOURNEY TO IDLE MISERY
- SOFTLY-SOFTLY THE RIGHT LINE ON STIMULUS SPENDING
- OPEN ISSUES NEED OPEN DEBATE
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- OUT OF YOUR HANDS: EMOH RUO PASSED TO THE EXPERTS
- LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DODGY TASTE
- HELP DELAYED MAKES ABUSE WORSE
- FIREFIGHTERS STILL LEAVE WOMEN OUT IN THE COLD
- ISRAEL AND AMERICA: FOOLISH TRICKS
- LIBERAL DEMOCRATS: DEAL OR NO DEAL?
- UNTHINKABLE? HIRING MORE TAX INSPECTORS
THE KOREA HERALD
- STRIKE FOR WHOM?
- PARTY NOMINATIONS
- THE MIDDLE EAST'S HAIR TRIGGER - SHLOMO BEN-AMI
- MURPHY'S LAW APPLIED TO DESIGNS - M.K. THOMPSON
THE JAPAN TIMES
- POLITICAL FUNDING REFORMS
- UPHOLD DEFENSE PRINCIPLES
- DIM FUTURE FOR BLUEFIN TUNA - BY GWYNNE DYER
THE PRICE OF CHICANERY
PAKISTAN PAYS FOR PROMOTING JIHAD
It has been a bad week and a ghastly Friday for Pakistan, especially Lahore which has been rocked by a series of suicide-bombings. The death toll, tragic as it may be, is of little or no consequence as jihadiscontinue with their murder and mayhem in the name of Islam. The real tragedy lies elsewhere: In the decrepit state of Pakistan refusing to admit the fact that it has reared a horrible monster which needs to be put down right away, ruthlessly and swiftly. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the horrific bombings in Lahore; it has also let it be known that the bloodletting witnessed this week is only the trailer, the real show is yet to begin. Flaunting its arsenal, the TTP has said it has 3,000 human bombs, all ready and primed, to let loose a reign of terror. The monster won't rest till it has slain Frankenstein, or so it would seem from the current spate of jihadiviolence in the epicentre of terrorism. But what is being witnessed is only part of the unfolding show in Pakistan and needs to be placed in context to understand, if at all this word can be used given the confusion and chaos that have consumed that country in recent months, why Islamabad is facing a crisis of its own making. The Islamabad-Rawalpindi establishment and the military-jihadicomplex are busy spinning dreams of re-establishing their lost control over Afghanistan through a proxy 'good' Taliban regime in Kabul. At the same time, neither wants the Pakistani Taliban to gain ground and take over power. So, they have cracked down on the 'bad' Taliban the TTP which has a formidable arsenal of human bombs. As if such chicanery were not enough, there is a third factor at play: The Islamabad-Rawalpindi establishment's indulgent attitude towards the love child it has spawned with the ISI the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba led by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed. It's a strange policy that drives Pakistan, one which extols the virtues of killers who shed blood in Afghanistan and India and denounces those who slaughter Pakistanis!
It would, however, be unfair to blame Pakistan's Government, the Army and the criminal enterprise called ISI alone for the grief and misery unleashed on innocent people. Equal if not greater blame rests on the US which has chosen to pursue the path to disaster. The US Administration, for all the claimed wisdom of President Barack Obama whose sole accomplishment till now has been to make his predecessor shine in comparison, has faltered badly. Mr Obama, with his bogus AfPak policy which now lies in tatters, has contributed in no small measure to the surge in jihaditerror in Pakistan and Afghanistan by choosing to play along rather than confront the Pakistani Government. He has rewarded the real culprits with billions of dollars in aid and weaponry. He has legitimised the absurd proposition that there are 'good' Taliban and 'bad' Taliban. He has emboldened those who brazenly cock a snook at the world and refuse to act against known terrorists like Saeed walking free and openly threatening more attacks on India. He has made a mockery of international action against terrorism. He has converted the US-led global war on terror into a policy of abject appeasement. Therefore, while it is perfectly justified to snigger at the Pakistani Government for failing to protect its own from the monster it has lovingly nurtured with American dollars all these years or blaming India for that country's misery, we must also point a finger at the US Administration for worsening the mess in our neighbourhood.
WEALTH OF THE NATIONS
MEXICO HAS THE WORLD'S RICHEST MAN
Over the years, the Forbes annual list of billionaires has been the subject of both criticism and interest. People from various walks of life have lambasted the concept of the list as elitist and something that exemplifies the stark economic contradictions of the world we live in with wealth increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a few while millions go hungry. But on the other hand, the list itself has been an interesting read about those who have amassed gargantuan fortunes for themselves that most of us can only dream about. Indeed, there is something attractive about going through the asset details of the world's richest people. Perhaps it is the vicarious pleasure associated with the exercise. Then there are the salient features of the list that could be interpreted as handy pointers to the health of the global economy. Hence, if one so chooses, a lot can be read into Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim's surprise coup that has dethroned American billionaire Bill Gates from the top spot of this year's list. Mr Slim's expanding assets have ensured that for the first time since 1994 an American does not have the privilege of calling himself the richest in the world. As things stand, Mr Slim's total wealth presently amounts to a staggering $ 53.5 billion and counting, $ 500 million more than second-place Gates. American investor Warren Buffet has come in third with $ 43 billion to his credit. Mr Slim primarily owes his success to his mammoth telecom empire whose mobile phone holdings experienced a massive bull run last year. Even though he hails from a poor, developing country like Mexico, something that critics have been quick to point out, the entrepreneur's achievement has some symbolic value. For, it could be taken as an indicator of how the world's wealth is slowly spreading out that even businessmen from Third World countries are producing billionaires.
That the Forbes list this year also has a fair share of Indian and Chinese business moguls is noteworthy. The richest of the 41 Indians making the list is our very own Mukesh Ambani who is also the fourth richest overall with his assets totaling $ 29 billion. Meanwhile, the Chinese have 60 billionaires to their name, indicating that these two emerging Asian economies are well among those leading the redistribution in global wealth. It is interesting to note that as many as 55 countries have been represented in the list totaling 1,011 billionaires this year, including Pakistan. But the most important inference that one can draw from the list, if it is anything to go by, is that there is a subtle shift underway in global economic power. Obviously, a Mexican topping the list is no clinching evidence of this phenomenon. Yet, we can be hopeful that the days of Western economic imperialism are winding down. In the meantime, let's get back to work; there are bills to be paid.
AFGHANISTAN IS NOT VIETNAM
Those who believe that the United States will lose the present war in Afghanistan are influenced by its defeat in Vietnam, the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan where no outside power has won, and the remarkable comeback staged by the Taliban and Al Qaeda after their shattering defeat and ouster from Afghanistan in 2001.
The first question is: What can be construed as victory? Given the statements by various US leaders and President Barack Obama, it will mean the Americans departing after setting up in Afghanistan a liberal, democratic Government which can hold its own against the Taliban and Al Qaeda trying to undermine it with full support from Pakistan. Since the setting up of a strong, democratic Afghan Government will take time, victory will have to mean crippling the Taliban and Al Qaeda and making sure that Pakistan cannot or does not assist in their bid to capture power. If any part of the Taliban or Al Qaeda or Pakistani jihadi outfits like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen is left intact, there will always remain the danger of their trying to regain power as they did coming remarkably close to success after the US invasion of Iraq.
Does the example of Vietnam apply to the present instance? There are certain similarities. The present Afghan war is a sequel to the jihad against Soviet occupation but is not its continuation. The withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 was followed by bitter warfare among the mujahideen groups thanks to Pakistan's attempt to establish its hegemony over Afghanistan. The country was ravaged by rapacious warlords fighting one another and savagely oppressing the people. The Taliban, promoted, trained and armed by Pakistan's ISI in cooperation with the US's CIA, took up arms against the warlords and gained popularity almost immediately after their appearance in 1994, only to lose it as rapidly because of their establishment of a harsh and regressive order which militated against both the compassionate and libertarian principles of Islam and the traditional Afghan way of life. Not surprisingly, the US-led invasion of Afghanistan post-9/11 was exuberantly welcomed.
One reason why the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who had fled to Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas and North-West Frontier Province following the US-led invasion, could stage a comeback was the absence of American and Nato troops over wide stretches of strategic territory. Regrouping and arming themselves with generous help from the ISI, they just occupied these undefended areas. Not only were the American and Nato troops numerically grossly inadequate, they lacked critical surveillance equipment which were pressed into the Iraq War that began in 2003.
The Vietnam War, whose beginnings can be traced to the late second half of the 1950s, was not a continuation of the liberation war that the Viet Minh waged against the French. Douglas Pike points out in his exhaustive work, Viet Cong: The Organisation and Techniques of the National Liberation Front of Vietnam, "The Viet Minh war was anti-colonial, clearly nationalistic and concerned all Vietnamese north, central and south whereas the later struggle in the name of reunification (waged by the Viet Cong) was regarded by the south Vietnamese as neither nationalistic nor patriotic, nor even very understandable: A rural south Vietnamese, whose sense of national identification was low, could see little in unification that would benefit him."
Second, the Viet Cong were ideologically inspired and had a distinct political agenda. Pike points out, "Sociopolitical factors, including the communication of ideas, loomed far larger than during the Viet Minh war. The guerrilla ambush might get the headlines, but it was the NLF village, agit-prop meeting that did the most to move the cause toward victory." The third major difference, Pike argues, was that the "social milieu of the NLF (National Liberation Front for which the Viet Cong fought) was far broader than that employed by the Viet Minh. What struck one most forcefully about the NLF was its totality as a social revolution first and a war as a second."
The Taliban and Al Qaeda too wanted a revolutionary transformation of Afghan society in accordance of their reductionist view of Islam. There were, however, major differences. The Viet Cong were led by one of the most charismatic leaders of the 20th Century, Ho Chi Minh, and one of the most outstanding Generals of his time, Vo Nguyen Giap, a master of guerrilla warfare. Osama bin Laden does not arouse in Afghanistan the same kind of loyalty that Ho Chi Minh did in Vietnam. Nor do the Taliban and Al Qaeda have any military leader of Giap's brilliance. Their advisers are Pakistani military personnel who do not transcend the level of competence. Hence, their military strategy and tactics lack that touch of brilliance which could have brought victory.
Besides, the Viet Cong were lavishly aided by the Soviet Union, then a super power, and China, a major military power, neither of which could the US browbeat. Equally, the mujahideen could not have made the Soviet Union quit Afghanistan without massive arms aid from the US and financial assistance from Saudi Arabia. The Soviet example, therefore, does not also apply as the Taliban and Al Qaeda are aided by Pakistan, which dare not defy the US beyond a point, and whose ability to aid them cannot go behind the provision of shelter and clandestine arms supply.
Finally, while the Viet Nam War was an industrial age phenomenon, the US is waging an Information Technology age war in Afghanistan with electronic surveillance equipment and computerlinked weapons. Messages exchanged among jihadi formations are frequently intercepted and analysed for vital clues about their plans and the locations of their leaders. Drones are not only killing Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in remote and inaccessible mountains but providing images of activities over vast areas, including the laying of mines and roadside improvised explosive devices, which considerably reduces casualties among American and Nato forces. The US forces, armed with laptops, even have portable drones which they can send over a hill to find the disposition of enemy forces on the other side. What the US needs is the will to win and to stick to Gen Stanley A McChrystal's strategic plan, which, providing for the holding of regained territory, makes solid military sense.
DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY
There was a businessman who was spiritually inclined. He was an avid reader of various scriptures. He regularly chanted too. His family saw all this and was very happy. His loved ones did not have any anxieties about their future well-being. However, surprisingly, this man suffered from the malady of worrying too much, an ailment that can only end with the demise of the body (Bhagavad Gita 16.11).One would wonder why he was thus stricken, since he was an intelligent and spiritual man. Paradoxically, it is mostly successful, intelligent people who are afflicted by this problem. They become proud of their bodies, power, abilities, skills, etc, and misuse their mental faculties and time to think of all sorts of problems that might arise in future. They even consider this to be a wise practice and call it preparation for the future.
Obviously, all such real or imagined problems cannot be solved. Neither can one predict future scenarios. Nor is one equipped to handle any eventuality. Thus, people who constantly think about these things only tie themselves in knots and suffer. The person in the story should have known better, especially since he was spiritual. But how many of practise what we know? In spiritual matters, our knowledge is mostly theoretical. How many of us identify ourselves as souls, that is distinct from our bodies?
What should this man have ideally done? Surely, any intelligent person is inclined to think of consequences; only fools act without thinking. The problem arises when we begin to dwell on the consequences without taking appropriate action to ensure desired results. Let us take the example of the fear of getting a heart attack. An intelligent man, being aware of such a possibility, take steps to control his diet, activities, etc. He does not gain anything from worrying. Anxious people condemn themselves to a hellish existence which is worse than any misfortune that may befall them. Suffering comes and goes (Gita, 2.14) but how do you get away from a recalcitrant mind? No wonder Lord Krishna has advised us to restrict ourselves to doing whatever we possibly can in our interest and not meditate on predetermining the shape of future events (Gita, 2.47).
GOOD SCRIPT, BUT NEEDS WORK
IN THEIR CRAZED COMPETITION FOR POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, THE NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE COMMUNITY OVERLOOKED MANY REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS IN THE WOMEN'S RESERVATION BILL. THE YADAV TROIKA MAY HAVE UNWITTINGLY HANDED US THE CHANCE TO REVISIT CERTAIN VEXED ISSUES
Finally it has seen the light of day. The process towards legislative guarantee for more women began amid unseemly scenes a day after International Women's Day. In the days ahead, the debate will rage and we shall continue to hear voices of dissent and déjà vu.
But I am disappointed at, what many are frenetically terming, a 'historic' move. A reservation based on caste, religion and economic is one thing; we have empirical evidence to suggest that there has been blatant discrimination on all those scores. But to extend this logic to entire womanhood seems too simplistic and a politically-motivated agenda. Not that reservation based on caste, etc. is not politically-motivated, but at least it serves a purpose.
The Bill in its current form mandates that 190 Lok Sabha seats would be exclusively reserved for women. Logically, it makes perfect sense to have at least one-third of Parliament represented by women, especially when demographically the ratio of male to women is roughly the same. However, the manner in which this is being envisaged seems irrational at times. Here are some thoughts on why:
· Several male MPs have spent years cultivating their constituencies. What happens to them one fine day when that particular constituency is reserved for women? Do we see dozens of Rabri Devis springing up? All the housewives/homemakers of those MPs will suddenly feel the 'urge' to serve the nation. So we are ensuring de facto male dominance with only lip service to women's reservation.
· Is it fair on the million-odd electorate of each constituency to only choose between women? Or should they be given a fair chance to choose between who would do the best job for their constituency?
I feel the spirit behind the move is noble, but the way it is being done is questionable.
You want equal opportunities and want to create a healthy environment, choose between the following:
1. Has it mandated every political party to compulsorily distribute one-third of the tickets to women. Not enough? Take it up to 40 per cent. However, at least this does not automatically force people to necessarily have a female representative. In effect, the number of deserving female candidates might still be the same as the number of 190, but no one would be able to question their right to be there in this case.
2. If the government still feels that it is absolutely necessary to ensure the presence of one third-female members in Parliament, as a symbolic and path breaking gesture please go ahead with the Bill in its current form. However, since the idea is to ensure equal opportunity, make the Bill valid for a period of 5 years from when it is introduced after which it shall automatically lapse. By doing this, you have ensured that you have given an opportunity to one-third women to mark their territories. Thereafter, let them be re-nominated from that constituency based totally on merit. If they have done a good job the first time around, no political party shall be dumb enough not to
re-nominate them again.
Both these suggestions are riddled with loopholes, and need to be studied and fine-tuned. But to me, they seem to be fair, unbiased and un-sexist.
Having said that, I remain totally committed to the ethos and ideals of the Congress Party and relish the slew of reforms we have seen spearheaded by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. As a young Indian, I truly wish to see equal opportunity institutionalised in politics for all sections of society and to that effect even support state intervention in ensuring that such legislations go through. However, at a time when we are trying to firmly step into a commanding seat in the knowledge economies of the world, such reforms and ideas need careful implementation.
Its main shortcoming is that the Bill provides for mechanical entry of women members to fill one-third of vacancies in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas. These would be rotated with every election.
Here, I am more worried about women in villages. Will they get what the government is going to offer them? Not at least in the present form. Generally, the 'temple' of democracy is the prerogative of well-to-do women. Of course, there have been notable exceptions, but the fait accompli deepens the rural-urban divide. Because it is again the urban woman who will rule the roost and the women in the hinterland will experience lopsided growth. We must not forget that over 60 per cent of Indians reside in villages. If women from the 'real' India, or 'Bharat,' do not get a chance the very purpose of this reservation is defeated.
In short, women's representation should emerge the natural way. Reservations are one way to empower and change attitudes, so as to lead to that natural order. What is needed here is the implementation of such policies at the grass roots level so that a gradual order of growth can be put in place. Reservation is necessary at the lowest levels to bring about social change.
Many countries now have quotas in one form or another to provide indications of the impact both on performance of politicians and on public attitudes to women at the top. Japan and the Republic of Korea, for example, hold just 10 per cent of legislative seats compared to Nepal where 33 per cent parliamentarians are women and that of Timor-Leste's is 30 per cent. If the objective of this policy is to encourage greater female representation and change attitudes, the country needs a lot of checks and balances. Unless carefully monitored for systemic changes, special quotas for the marginalised would fail to deliver.
As we have seen in the education quota system, special provisions, over a period of time, merely create a prosperous, creamy layer within the marginalised community. It failed to distribute the fruits of development uniformly to the community at large. I think some kind of reservation within reservation is the need of the hour, if the bottom-line is "real empowerment" of women. It is possible at the bottom with proper representation across communities at the top.
Last but not the least, we should acknowledge that a single Bill cannot resolve all social injustices. It is pertinent to ask why we should have a reservation policy. If the objective is to increase women's representation, then this Bill should address that problem, regardless of others that exist in society. At the same time, we must not forget that woman symbolises mother, the image of perfection. But let us not allow that sense of perfection to degenerate.
The author is a technocrat, a keen follower of the Indian political system and an aspiring politician.
THE POLITICAL ROAD TO GENDER JUSTICE
A GENERATION HAS COME UP HEARING OF WOMEN'S RESERVATION, BUT THE RELUCTANCE TO DEBATE GREY AREAS PERSIST. A SATURDAY SPECIAL FOCUS
In India, 'Stree Shakti' has a classical interpretation which is all too well known to recall here. There is also a Marxist heritage. A third, and increasingly vocal one to emerge in the wake of the UPA government's step this week to force the Women's Reservation Bill (WRB) through the Rajya Sabha, holds that the discourse on female empowerment begins with the assumption that the oppressions of gender has, thanks to Brahman-Marxian bhai bhai intellectualism, been collapsed with that of class. Though they struggled to find the right words to articulate dichotomy, what the so-called 'Yadav triumvirate' really wished to put across was the need to see gender injustice as the specific product of the collusions of power at multiple levels and not just as an incidental outcome of India's flawed democratic tradition.
The emancipatory potential of WRB has been celebrated, but one crucial aspect overlooked in the crazed rush to push it down our collective throat is, since this is a politician's product, why not give all shades of political opinion equal play? Why this conspiracy of silence to exclude the Dalit woman and the Muslim parda nashin their rightful shares?
The concept of reservations for women as a gender justice template never figured in the Indian feminist struggle till the lawmakers of Karnataka first introduced it way back in the early 1980s; they earmarked 25 per cent of panchayat seats in their state for women. It's curious that there is no evidence of a women's rights activist having put pen to paper to articulate its necessity before the early 1990s. Before we tut-tut too much over the 14-and-a-half years 'lost', let's recall that no legislation can claim 'revolutionary' legitimacy before being put through the laboratory of real life. WRB, and its ancestor, the Karnataka law, are political steps, hardly rooted in public demand. We don't know if these are giant steps or baby steps in the direction of a perfect world because, frankly, no credible research has ever been conducted on the workings of forced reservation, the rotational system of declaring seats as 'reserved', the bahu-beti syndrome and other glaring horrors which, for reasons of political correctness my feminist colleagues brush away as 'anecdotes'.
Some would even blush when the word 'reverse discrimination' is mentioned. Rajiv Gandhi was impressed so much by the Karnataka experiment that he incorporated women's reservation in the Panchayati Raj Bill, 1989 which failed for lack of numbers in the Upper House. Narasimha Rao resurrected it and gave it its present form in 1993 and the first election under 33 per cent reservations in panchayat institutions was held in 1994. In short, the struggle for women's reservation began only after some politicians, in their infinite wisdom, saw surreal expediency in it. It's akin to a two-minute noodle taking two hours to cook.
What's more unfortunate is the conspiracy to confine its arguable, salutary realisations to the same dominant social formations that created the original tensions in the first place. The backward castes are worried, and rightly too that caste-neutral affirmative action would lead to genderism replacing sectarianism as a political lever. They feel no embarrassment at being accused of using caste as the stick to beat ghosts imagined and real because of the same reason that the Brahmin-Marxist parties find it abhorrent the boot is in the other foot after centuries.
Though Lalu Prasad generated much mirth on Thursday in his Lok Sabha intervention over politicians signing their own political death certificates under party whips to fall in line with WRB, his real point was: if this is the final battle in the reservations war, why not go the whole hog? He has a point, which, however, the avowedly caste-neutral media will not acknowledge.
In political India, whether or not a statement is normative is logically independent of its verifiability or popularity. The root of the problem is the Constitution itself. In their step by step construction, the founding fathers made social justice and caste uplift interchangeable concepts. It may be said that they looked at India through the same glasses which the British used for divide and rule. But while a coloniser can easily use the stick or gun to occasionally restrain the genie within the bottle, a truly democratic government cannot. This was the predicament faced by the government and national Opposition in the slog hours of the veritable one-day match over WRB. At first, the BJP did not make a fuss about the use of marshals by the Rajya Sabha chairman, but just two days afterwards, its leader in the lower House, Sushma Swaraj, discovered in it elements of disproportionate punishment almost in hindsight when Lalu, Sharad Yadav and Mulayam Singh made their respective pitches in the Lok Sabha. Reason: no political formation likes to be perceived as anti-backward caste.
It is easy to condemn as "narrow" and "self-centric", the words and actions of the politicians opposing WRB in its present form. I am reminded here of another, equally revolutionary Bill (albeit with an economic context) passed in 1986 by the Rajiv Gandhi government in advance preparation of liberalisation the Consumer Protection Bill which almost overnight became the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. It was riddled with so many inconsistencies that it resembled a baby born without a left leg and a right arm. It required a slew of Amendments over the next decade, which too was done post haste. As one of the few activists working for consumer justice in those early days, I recall the grave imbalances favouring interest groups which rendered a potentially revolutionary law quite impotent. For instance, it did not explicitly free a harassed consumer from the clutches of the pernicious court system. Then there were vague references to leaving companies covered by the MRTP Act out its purview, which could be interpreted either way leaving the consumer doubly short-changed. Those who extol the virtues of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments on Municipalities and Panchayati Raj overlook the fact that when these two were legislated at the level of the states, a plethora of issues emerged necessitating such rapid fire amendments that often times the core principle of devolution was distorted beyond recognition.
So, essentially what the 'Yadav troika' and our Muslim columnist, M Burhanuddin Qasmi, (The Other Voice) are arguing is that our lawmakers would do well to acknowledge their own past and make correct the already-apparent inconsistencies in the 108th Amendment (WRB) before this 'revolutionary' law suffers the same ridicule as previous ones.
The writer is Senior Editor, The Pioneer
WOMEN EMPOWERMENT OR MINORITY BASHING?
The Women's Reservation Bill would further marginalise Muslims because over and above the 33 per cent for women, the old quotas for SC/ST, which are often at the cost of Muslims, would continueM Burhanuddin Qasmi
It is an unfortunate fact that in a democracy nothing is achievable without united agitation. This time too, the Muslim social and political leadership are failing to unite strongly behind a very genuine demand as they have been blinded by a piece of glaring hypocrisy: so-called 'women's empowerment.'
The electronic media too seems part of the mockery being put to play by UPA chief Sonia Gandhi to distract attention from the government's failures. One wonders, why 24x7 media houses are refusing to debate the ideas put forth by the Samajwadi Party, RJD, BSP, AIDUF, TCM and MIM.
If religion-based reservation is unacceptable when it comes to political empowerment of minorities which is overdue for 63 years then how can gender-based be reasonable? Reservation is usually offered to the weakest sections of society to genuinely empower them and by all government data it is the Muslims who are India's weakest community. Yet, Muslim empowerment is anathema.
If reservation cannot go over 50 per cent of the total, as justified in Andhra Pradesh where 5 per cent Muslim reservation was announced, then how can you justify 33 per cent for women over and above the seats reserved for SCs and STs? The majority of Assembly and Parliamentary seats reserved for SCs/STs are those where Muslims could do well. Take the case of Karimganj in Assam, for instance, where around 60 per cent voters are Muslim but the seat is reserved for SCs even though they make up only 20 per cent of the population.
It is quite likely that women from the majority community would be allotted seats even where Muslims form the majority. Is this really 'women's empowerment?' If we must have a Constitutional Amendment to legalise gender-based reservations, then why is it impossible to go the whole hog and have religion-based reservation for Muslims say Muslim women in this case?
Let's not forget that contrary to the claims behind the recent gender-based Women's Reservation Bill passed on March 9, a religion-based political reservation Bill was passed by Parliament in the very early days republican India. It happened on August 28, 1947 just 12 days following Independence when a Bill was passed to ensure political reservation for SCs and Muslims.
Reservation actually began on the basis of religion. An individual enjoys SC status if he is a Hindu or Buddhist that is his religion is the deciding factor. Muslim and Christian SC people do not get this benefit because of their religion. Even conversion of an SC or ST individual to other religion deprives him of the caste benefit.
The Sachar Committee in its analysis of reservation in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal has shown that constituencies with 3-32 per cent Muslim population and 47-67 per cent SC population were kept 'general, while those with 32-60 per cent Muslim population and 10-26 per cent SC population were reserved for SCs. Thus, the majority of the constituencies where Muslims have a chance of winning has already been reserved for SC/ST and Muslims can never fight in these constituencies come what may.
Is this not religion-based reservation? Or are we to accept that there is a different Constitution for Hindus? In West Bengal, Sagardghi Assembly constituency with 62 per cent Muslim population and 18 per cent SC population is a SC seat, while Sitai Assembly constituency with 67 per cent SC population and 27 per cent Muslim population are unreserved. In Uttar Pradesh, Jansath Assembly constituency with 16 SC and 37 per cent Muslim population is a reserved seat while Marihan with 49 per cent SCs and 3 per cent Muslims has been kept open.
In Bihar, Dhuraiya with 10 per cent SC and 30 per cent Muslim population is kept reserved while Dumaria with 39 per cent SCs and 13 per cent Muslims have been kept unreserved.
These are the hard facts which go largely unnoticed while talking about 'appeasement' of Muslims, or while initiating 'affirmative actions' by 'secular' governments. I think it would be another historic blunder repeated by this country if the Bill went through to become a law.
The present Bill is nothing but another attempt to ensure that the maximum number of women from the present political houses go to Parliament and the state Assemblies. 'Big' leaders wishes to enjoy politics with their wives, daughters and female family members sitting side by side in Parliament, while women from the weaker sections remain on the sidelines of the system. A few of them will be given tickets but that will be tokenism. A far better way would have been to ensure that all parties reserved 33 per cent tickets for women. The Election Commission could easily have enforced it.
The Brahmical political parties like Congress and BJP have made it transparent that they have a hidden understanding to pass the Bill this time. It is unfortunate that some political parties have issued whips to their members in favour of a legislation which is blatantly anti-minority, which would surely reduce the already negligible minority representation to both lower and upper houses of Parliament virtually nil. This is an act of injustice which mocks the Constitution of India.
--The writer is Director, Markazul Ma'arif and Editor, Eastern Crescent
The author can be contacted at email@example.com
PAK CAN'T RUN AWAY FROM THESE QUESTIONS
ALMOST all right- thinking people will agree that the initiative taken by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to befriend Pakistan will come to naught as long as New Delhi's quantum of distrust of Islamabad is as high as it is. Just how high is evident from Union Home Minister's charge that the Pakistani state continues to sponsor terrorism in India through support of groups like the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba, Hizbul Mujahedeen, and the Al- Badr.
Speaking at the India Today Conclave on Friday, Mr Chidambaram revealed the Indian suspicion that two Pakistani military officers one serving and one retired were guiding the rampage of the terrorists in Mumbai in November 2008 by telephone from a control room in Pakistan. He said that India wanted the voice samples of these two officers, as well as some other terrorists, to aid in its investigations.
The fact that these samples, as well as those of five persons detained by the Pakistan government for the Mumbai attack, are unavailable more than a year after the attack, is a mark of the difficulty that New Delhi has to contend with in dealing with Islamabad which otherwise professes peace and insists that it does not support terrorism or terrorists.
The evidence from the 26/ 11 investigation by the Indian and American authorities has raised uncomfortable questions about the role of the Pakistan military in the operation. This is, of course, the military that controls the nuclear weapons of the country and, many would argue, its polity. Terrorism is difficult enough to tackle when non- state actors like Osama bin Laden take to it. It would be infinitely more difficult to handle, were they to get covert state support. This is indeed a matter that the international community needs to confront even as it befriends Pakistan in the name of fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
CIVIL society will welcome the move by the Special Investigating Team probing the post- Godhra riot cases to question Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi even if it has taken eight years to place him in the dock.
But several factors mar the relief afforded by the latest development. As is known, the functioning of the Special Investigating Team headed by former CBI chief R K Raghavan appointed by the Supreme Court to probe major riot cases, is under a cloud. The SIT has chosen to question Mr Modi just before the Supreme Court hears a petition alleging shoddy investigation into the riot cases, giving rise to the perception that it is just a face- saving exercise.
In any case, Mr Modi has not been " summoned" by the SIT. Summons can be issued only after an FIR is lodged, which has not happened in Mr Modi's case.
In a related development, the special public prosecutor and his deputy in the Gulbarg Society case resigned recently, citing lack of cooperation from the SIT in the prosecuting process, and accusing the trial court judge of bias. Activists have particularly raised questions about the role of three members of the SIT. In fact, one of them, Shivanand Jha, has been named as an accused in the case filed by Zakia Jafri, the widow of slain former MP Ahsan Jafri.
In such circumstances, it is not clear how justice can be done, or seem to be done, unless the SC reconstitutes the SIT.
THE third edition of the Indian Premier League, like its previous two avatars, is being organised for one reason alone entertainment. It will have music, Bollywood stars, cheerleaders, comedians posing as commentators, and in the middle of all this human drama, some cricket.
However, in season 3 of what is arguably the most lucrative cricket league in the world, the players would have to push really hard for mindspace not only in terms of getting advertisers for their respective teams, but also for eventual national team selection.
And the understanding is this that, no matter what format of cricket you play, the cricketers would have to get their game's basics right. It is no wonder that some of the most successful T20 players have been or are phenomenal One- Day and Test players Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, Yuvraj Singh come to mind.
MANMOHAN BREAKS OUT
BY MANOJ JOSHI
PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh is, to use a quaint Americanism, " breaking out of the reservation". In other words, he is beginning to break the bonds that have confined him to being a surrogate for Congress party president Sonia Gandhi. Approaching the second year of his second term as the Prime Minister of India, the 78- year- old Singh has become acutely aware of the finite nature of his time in office. So he seems to have decided to do things his way and break the bonds that have made him appear to be a mere puppet for Ms Gandhi.
In a Prime Minister who is into his second term, you would say that this is not unexpected. But then, Dr Singh is not your usual PM and neither is his rebellion quite a rebellion. He has been uncommonly loyal to Ms Gandhi, a loyalty not born out of obsequiousness that comes naturally to many in the Congress party created by Indira Gandhi, but more an innate sense of duty to the person and party who have propelled him to the high office.
Dr Singh's breakout is more complex; it is not seen as a rebellion, as such breakouts were seen in the case of American Indians aka Native Americans.
What he is seeking is more space to carry out policies close to his heart in the areas of administration and governance, though, not politics.
Though he is now a seasoned politician in his own right, there is absolutely no indication that Mr Singh seeks to challenge the political primacy of the party president, even by implication. He has no stakes in the politics of the party.
For him, the party will be over the day he demits office and that day is finitely determined at best, in early 2014, about four years from now. At worst, of course, it could be any time, given the vagaries of heading a minority government in a Parliamentary democracy.
The relationship between Ms Gandhi and Dr Singh was an unusual one to start with, since, in India, at least, no one has voluntarily shied away from taking the office of Prime Minister that comes as part of being the leading political party in the wake of a general election; indeed, to the contrary, many have avidly sought it. Mr Singh was clearly Ms Gandhi's nominee once she decided that she would not take it up.
Since in a parliamentary system, the prime minister is also the de facto , if not de jure , leader of the party, the relationship had to either progress, or regress.
Six years down the line it has clearly advanced and evolved to a point where Manmohan wants to be Manmohan, and Ms Gandhi is not standing in the way.
At this juncture, Ms Gandhi doesn't have too many choices.
First, Singh is clearly not challenging her political authority. Second, even if he were, what options does she have? To be seen to be removing a successful Prime Minister would be politically disastrous. Third, she doesn't really have an alternate figure who is a first rate administrator, politically unambitious and as widely respected as Dr Singh. Fourth, the person that she wants as PM, young Rahul Gandhi, shows no inclination to accept ministerial responsibilities, leave alone the burden of prime ministership.
And, most important, the break out is all about policies that the Gandhis can live with a dogged insistence in making peace with Pakistan and China and a determined nudge to the economy to the high growth path by carrying out the so- called second generation reforms. In almost all these areas, Dr Singh is on the same page as Mr Gandhi, if not his mother and the party old guard.
The first breakout was in the term of the first UPA government when Dr Singh took the Indo- US nuclear deal in his teeth and ran the race alone till the party decided to back him to the point of facing a high- risk no- confidence vote in the Lok Sabha. The victory of the party set the stage for the election outcome of 2009 which was not just about the departure and decimation of the Left and Lalu Yadav, but also about the revelation of the enormous potential the Congress had for re- establishing its once firm hold across the country.
When he took office last year, Singh was no longer looked on as some kind of a puppet. Indeed, he made that clear by putting his own stamp on the Union Cabinet where he ensured that " difficult" ministers were left out and people who owed some loyalty to him were promoted.
With his chosen P. Chidambaram in the Union Home Ministry, Singh shunted Pranab Mukherji to the Finance hot seat ( remember this was at the height of the economic downturn), put a relative nonentity, S. M. Krishna, in External Affairs and promoted Anand Sharma to full Cabinet rank in Commerce.
He also sent clear signals to allies that the government would be less accommodating of corruption and inefficiency. M. K. Narayanan did last out for a while, but probably only to wait for his chosen successor Shivshankar Menon to retire as Foreign Secretary.
The second breakout has been in the area of foreign policy, especially in relation to Pakistan. It is no secret that India's Pakistan policy has been driven first by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then by Manmohan Singh. The two have personally taken decisions that have cut through bureaucratic obstruction time and again. Sharm- el- Shaikh was the first indicator that the Prime Minister was ready to resume serious efforts to engage Pakistan.
But that came a cropper since the formulations he authorised on Balochistan and the Indo- Pak dialogue turned
out to be too far in advance of the Mumbaibruised public opinion back home. Singh, the economist, knows his business well, but, Singh the realpolitik practitioner still has some learning to do.
The third breakout is visible in pushing the economic reform agenda. The moves to remove subsidies in oil and fertiliser prices
clearly puts the PM against the conventional wisdom in his party, as does the decision to begin privatisation of profitmaking public sector units.
Singh is aware of his place in the country's iconography as the driver of the first stage of economic reforms that have inaugurated a period of high economic growth in the past decade. With the Left hobbling him, he was unable to move an inch.
But now he is free and he is determined to push in all the areas that he can.
Usually when American Indians, or Native Americans, broke the reservation, they came to grief.
History and the big guns were against them. Singh, on the other hand, is convinced that he is on the right side of
history. 2014 is his finite limit.
He will be 82 then. If he wants to leave a stamp of any kind, he must strike out now. There is no tomorrow for him. His two chosen areas are a desire to be the first PM to put India on the path of double digit growth, and the one to make durable peace with Pakistan.
A reasonable analysis at this point in 2010 would suggest that the former task is more doable than the latter, at least in the time span available of the good doctor's leadership.
But you can't quibble with his vision: All the boats must rise together in the South Asian harbour. Any state left behind will drag the others down.
But Pakistan of today seems more inclined to hurl its jihadist armies to foil India, rather than make peace, and this is where Dr Singh's problems really lie.
But you have to hand it to him. He is determined to succeed.
WHY YOU SHOULD NOT BUY 3D TVS
THIS week, two of the world's largest consumer electronics companies Samsung and Sony launched their 3D television models. In New York, the Korean chaebol launched its latest range of 3D television models with the help of 3D epic Avatar director James Cameron and the incredibly talented band Black Eyed Peas. In India, Japanese electronics superpower Sony launched the 3D version of Bravia, their popular LCD flatscreen TV. Bad idea.
In terms of what the British call " marmaladedropping news", the reality of 3D viewing at home is right up there. Avatar , the I- earned-$ 2- billion- and- counting- for- James- Cameron movie, made 3D viewing popular and the Tim Burton film Alice in Wonderland may make it even more.
Yet, 3D television at home just does not make sense; not in 2010 at least. Buying a 3D television set is like buying a plot on Mars Earth will someday have no space for humans and we will have to move to the red planet, but it ain't going to happen soon. Three- dimensional television is the same name one programme on Indian television that lends itself to 3D viewing.
To wit, there is very little 3D- compatible television content going around. Someday, of course, you will watch Avatar on TV in 3D, but you'd really have to wait for Star Movies or HBO Asia to splurge on the kind of money Mr Cameron will demand for television rights. And because our networks won't have the money producers demand, we may have to stick around with Bgrade 3D content. In which case, we are back to square one why did we really buy 3D television, we would ask ourselves.
Making 3D content for television is not easy; it's not even cheap. A large majority of non- film, nonsport television programming in India is done using non- 35 mm cameras. So, in a manner of speaking, we are yet to even reach the same level of production quality that the West already has had for more than three decades. While a significant portion of programming in the West especially on special interest and sports channels is high- definition by default, we
have a grand total of one highdefinition channel Discovery HD. The real question is, which television producer in India will bite the 3D content bait.
Strapped for budgets and time, they might not even think of it, leave alone tape it.
James Cameron himself is not optimistic of the immediate future of 3D television. In an interview he gave to USA Today soon after the Samsung launch, he said: " The ( consumer electronics) companies have created almost the reverse problem that we had with movies. With movies, we were generating the content but the screens weren't there. With the home, we've got the screens available and people are going to buy them because they're future- proofing. If they're monitor they want to make a decision that they're going to feel good about three or four years from now. But right now we've got a content gap." This content gap, Mr Cameron says, cannot be filled with movies, " because we cannot make them fast enough." In effect, he says, 3D television will be all about live event production or near- live production.
Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch, the media magnate, knows a thing or two about live 3D events. On January 31 this year, his channel Sky Sports broadcast a Manchester United- Arsenal football match live in full 3D glory in select pubs across England and Ireland. The event was a major hit, but expense was an issue as 3eality, a Californiabased live 3D broadcasts, had to set up eight 3D cameras in addition to the several HD cameras that Sky had already put up to broadcast the match.
You can do that for a high- voltage Man U- Arsenal match or even an Indian Premier League game, but to buy an expensive new television set in the hope of seeing what could be equivalent to less than one per cent of all television programming does not make sense. At least not in an age when Rahul Mahajan In fact, since sport is the only genre of television programming that could see high demand for live 3D broadcasting, it makes eminent sense for broadcasters and event organisers such as IPL commissioner Lalit Modi to tie up with cinema halls that already have 3D infrastructure rather than wait for people to buy 3D TVs just so they could watch a few cricket matches. The success of Avatar in Indian theatres is enough proof that when you give visually appealing content in 3D, people will flock to see.
Imagine the next 3D blockbuster: an India versus Australia cricket World Cup final in 2011, shown live in 3D across 5000 cinema halls across India. Now, that is a real hit, not Balika Badhu in 3D, isn't it?
MICROSOFT'S BING IS GAINING ON GOOGLE
WHILE Google is forever innovating to be ahead of competition, Microsoft's search engine Bing is inching its way to earn parity with Google in the search engine stakes.
We say inching with a lot of caution really because at the rate at which it is growing, Bing may take up to a few decades to overpower Google and win the Web search war.
Yet, there is hope for Microsoft. Bing is now officially in control of 11.5 per cent of the search engine market. Google is not unduly worried because Bing is gaining at the expense of Yahoo! Search. At the same time, Google increased its market share by one- tenth of a per cent to 65.5 per cent.
In any case, the Web search war in the next five years is going to be between Google and Bing, with Yahoo opting out after a record deal with Microsoft to let Bing power all the searches on Yahoo, too.
Says eWeek : " While Yahoo's search is greater than Bing's, it is clear Bing will be propping up Yahoo's search going forward.
The combined companies' market share, which is now 28.3 per cent to Google's 65.5 per cent, will largely be viewed as owned by Microsoft."
GOOGLE ON YOUR TV? IT'S VERY MUCH IN REALM OF POSSIBILITY
THERE is credence in the statement that no one searches better than Google. Which is why it is notable that the world's largest Internet company is now experimenting with search for television set- top boxes.
According to the Wall Street Journal , Google has given the new software in the hands of a select few employees who will use it on their set- top boxes to figure out whether it works or not.
The experiment is in collaboration with the US- headquartered Dish Network ( not to be confused with India's Dish TV network), and will enable users a Wall Street Journal report says to find video content on a conventional TV set and on the Internet.
Wonder how it will work? It's pretty simple logic, really. Instead of using the remote or the service provider's Help menu to search for a specific video you need, Google will work with the Dish Network to find the exact video or stream you are looking for, and change to the channel accordingly.
A report in InformationWeek says: The experiment is another indication that a wide range of companies are seeking to take advantage of the emerging convergence of TV and Internet video offerings. Google and Dish Network officials have declined to discuss the test publically. Google's chief executive, Eric Schmidt, however, has suggested that Android technology could be used by TV hardware manufacturers. ' It makes sense that people would use Android as an operating system for set- top boxes, buddy boxes and TVs,' he said, according to published reports.
' All of those ideas have been proposed by our partners'."
COPS SNIFF ISI ROLE IN HUMAN TRAFFICKING
BY DALIP SINGH IN NEW DELHI
THE DELHI Police have leads to a Bangkok- based ISI operative believed to be pushing counterfeit money into India. He is also allegedly involved in forging visas and trafficking people to Europe.
The ISI's foray into human trafficking is being seen as the Pakistani intelligence agency's attempt to raise funds for its anti- India activities through another low- investment, high- yield illegal business.
The ISI operative code- named Shah Saheb alias Sajjad Ahmed is actively involved in forging the visa stickers ( a security feature pasted on the passports while getting visas) and getting air tickets.
Shah's name figured in a human- trafficking- cum- visa racket the Delhi Police were investigating.
In an FIR filed on Thursday, the Delhi Police ( special cell) have charged that " Shah Saheb, an ISI officer
based in Bangkok, along with associates Azhar Bhatt alias ' Ganja' and Shafiq Bhatt", were " actively involved in human trafficking and circulation of counterfeit money". The police said the names of Azhar and Shafiq have blinked on the intelligence radar for more than two years.
Their names had come up in counterfeit note cases handled by the police in Kolkata, Bangalore and Uttar Pradesh.
However, Shah's name had not cropped up in any case, the police said.
It is learnt that Shah operated through Azhar and Shafiq. They held meetings at the Sher- e- Punjab restaurant in Pahurat, the police said.
The police have also busted the Indian ring of Shah. A Sikkimese woman, Chung Chung Doma Bhutia, 44, who was staying at Gandhi Vihar in New Delhi, and Nasiruddin, of Ghaziabad, have been arrested.
Two fake visa stickers of Canada, 15 Indian passports and nine Nepali passports were recovered from their possession, a Delhi Police special cell release said.
During interrogation, Bhutia is said to have disclosed that she was involved in human trafficking and got forged visa stickers from Shah.
Internal security experts suspect counterfeit money is being transported from Pakistan to Bangkok in diplomatic baggage.
The Pakistani agents then distribute the currency notes among their conduits topush them into India.
The police sources said fake currency with a face value of Rs 1,000 can be bought in Thailand for Rs 350. It is then sold at the rate of Rs 700.
Another modus operandi the ISI has adopted to fund its anti- India campaign is cloning credit cards. The sources said Shah and his henchmen cloned credit cards of Indian banks and used them to withdraw money.
After obtaining details of the credit cards, the information is passed on by means of text messages to Thailand.
The cards are then cloned there. The cards of a popular private bank and another leading public sector unit are
being targeted the most for cloning.
The special cell police said Nasiruddin had disclosed that his associates and he managed to send seven persons to Bangkok. According to him, the septet will fly to Canada or the European countries.
They charged Rs 6.5 lakh per person and got Rs 1 lakh as their share in the deal.
In April 2001, the Pakistan embassy's former first- secretary in Nepal, Muhammad Arshad Cheema, had been expelled from Kathmandu after the Nepalese police recovered a large quantity of RDX from the house he was staying in.
Sheila govt cracks whip on ' poor performer' MCD
THE Delhi government is planning to propose two new laws for the assembly's approval to wrest power from
the Municipal Corporation of Delhi ( MCD). The proposal is likely to come up during the budget session that
begins on Monday.
The Bills will enable the government to seek a complete takeover of the MCD's slum wing and its control over 23 industrial estates in Delhi, a senior government official said.
The Sheila Dikshit government made unsuccessful attempts in 2009 to take over the MCD. It cited the corporation's " poor functioning" and " multiplicity of authority". An official of the urban development department said the Delhi Urban Shelter Bill 2010 sought to constitute the Delhi Urban Shelter Board along the lines of the existing Delhi Jal Board.
The proposed board will take over the MCD's slum work and JJ cluster department's jobs of upgrading the city's existing slums, drafting policies, and stopping new clusters from cropping up.
The Bill was approved by the cabinet about two years ago and was waiting for the Centre's nod. " The proposed
board will provide housing to the economically weaker sections of society and provide loans to the poor so that they can buy low- rate flats," the official said.
The other Bill, also expected to be tabled, is the Delhi State Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation Amendment Bill, 2010, that state officials hope will improve the city's industrial areas.
The Bill seeks to transfer the management work and maintenance of industrial clusters to the Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructural Development Corporation.
At present, the MCD manages 23 of the Capital's 28 industrial estates.
WHERE'S THE VISION?
MAMATA Banerjee is a fighter alright but she is " like a leader without a vision". No, the description of the Trinamool Congress leader hasn't come from the CPM. A ' comrade' in her own party, who is also an MP, feels so. The parliamentarian with a poetic bent of mind was heard saying the other day that he had joined hands with Banerjee in the belief that she would bring about a much- needed change in West Bengal.
But, he now feels that the Trinamool leader has a ' strong dictatorial streak' and does not allow freedom of speech inside the party. " I thought I would be her colleague in the party but it has turned out to be a master- slave relationship," the crestfallen MP said. Is Didi listening?
Mark of victory
< on Parliament in forehead his tilak sandalwood sporting seen was Kerala, from MP Congress a Suresh, KODIKKUNNIL>
The tilak , other MPs from Kerala said, was in place because he was elected unopposed as the secretary of the Congress Parliamentary Party ( CPP) along with high- profile leader Suresh Kalmadi. K. Suresh is the first Congressman from Kerala to be elected as the CPP secretary. Senior party leaders such as Vayalar Ravi, Vakkam Purushothaman, P. C. Chacko and Thalekkunnil Basher had unsuccessfully contested for the post earlier.
The low- profile Suresh, a Dalit MP, is supposed to be close to Nehru scion Rahul Gandhi.
BJP sniffs a scam
< and Ranchi department tax income the investigations) ( directors of transfer recent over controversy sniffed has Sabha Lok BJP THE>
Participating in the discussion on the general budget 2010- 11, BJP's Nishikant Dube sought an explanation from the finance minister Pranab Mukherjee in the wake of reports that the transfers were meant to bail out former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda and some top industrialists. Dube said he smelt a rat when he heard Mukherjee speaking of expanding the scope of cases which might be admitted by the Settlement Commission to include search and seizure cases pending for assessment. The Settlement Commission comprises officers whom the government wants to oblige after retirement, Dube claimed.
A noble effort
< centre cancer regional to paintings 12 sale proceeds 50,000 Rs handed manager, bank Elizabeth, paintings. her selling by patients for funds raised Elizabeth wife Antony's K. A. minister>
The function was organised by Navoothan, a voluntary organisation founded and headed by Elizabeth.
She drew the paintings recently, an official of her organisation said. " It is an attempt to mobilise money through voluntary work without accepting contributions," Elizabeth said. Navoothan volunteers also distributed a bag full of toys to children suffering from cancer.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WHO SAYS BOYS DON'T CRY?
Just the other day, men were back on top. The Y chromosome was found to be on evolutionary overdrive. This shook scientific punditry about decay of the genetic thingamajig that makes men male. If only science answered the SOS of India's male netas. They fear becoming extinct in legislative boyzone. In the political battle of the sexes, the Y (Y for Yadav) chromosome isn't on top. Women's quota is cooking on the fire. That too, in the political households of Lalu and his supporting caste.
Lalu's better half did once become Bihar's CM. But that, it seems, was as patidev's proxy. Unabashed about our ''male-dominated society'', Lalu seems to now say men are the power behind women's throne in any fodderland...sorry, fatherland. Bharat Mata or no, bharatiya naris mustn't therefore aspire to the 33 per cent. Do you think, he thunders, that all the world's Rabris will defy whips on voting issued by menfolk? Don't women uphold male honour, vested in official kursis, spousal docility and hirsute moustaches (though not necessarily in that order)?
Well, ask the wives of some Kill Bill MPs herded out of the Rajya Sabha recently. These ladies reportedly prefer a vote-by-conscience. Some may trot out the hubby-horse of quotas within quotas. But they do know a Thrill Bill when they see one. Don't tell the warring boys, one lady said: who wants in-house "tension" due to singed male egos? In contrast to such stealth bombing, the Y-clan's battle plan pandemonium in Parliament is rather crude for being full of sound and fury. Plus, it overlooks the X factor: bahus, behens and betis back home may just be the Trojan mares of the par-kati enemy camp.
After all, these domestic dissenters are eyed by none other than the Congress chief. For her, it's Chill Bill, and with reason. A pro-legislation sorority's double agents can intensify the homeland insecurity of political He-men. Why, as she remarked, Lalu's own seven daughters would surely want politics to be less of a papa-dom. Any wonder the guest list for a celebratory dinner at 10 Janpath includes the biwis of all the men invited? In gender skirmishes, tactical infiltration should begin at home.
All for a good cause. Legislatures are wild places where marshal law's rarely imposed. With stree shakti rising, you may not even need the marshals. The rasoi ghar rolling pin will work here as well, putting a lid on manly juvenilities like slanging matches and chappal-hurling contests. That's not all the Y-team fears. Girls are beating boys in many gladiatorials from sober academia to glam-bam, thank you ma'am sending self-styled Avatars into hurt lockers. A study once even credited women with greater muscle endurance in certain exercises than the brawn sahibs! Add women's higher scores on electoral winnability, and you have one muscular combo. Which could turn Mandal into a mahila mandal. When that happens, the boys can go crying home...to mama.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
LET'S FIND COMMON GROUND
What will it take to become an inclusive, just and environmentally-sustainable society? In the divine din of our democracy, there are many approaches to and many ideologies about justice. The roles of the state, markets, communities and individuals are differently constructed in each philosophy. Yet there is a broad agreement that we need to find better means for the distribution of resources.
Recently, two different conferences one attended were each occupied with such issues of development. One had a decidedly liberal, left-wing orientation: Here, there was a clear tilt towards a rights-based discourse for equity and justice. In the other, which had many development practitioners working within a broadly Gandhian perspective, there was a serious reflection on the idea of trusteeship as the means for economic and social renewal.
Are these two ideas mutually exclusive or are they socially compatible in contemporary India? Currently, we are witnessing a march of socio-economic rights. Many rights are already enshrined in our law, the latest being the right to work and the right to information. The right to water is being deliberated. The right to land is being talked about all over again. These have created an exciting climate where people expect rapid social change and shifts in the balance of power.
In a society that has practised structured social exclusion for thousands of years, the concept of justiceable rights has a strong moral basis. We need the legislative and judicial framework to enable individual citizens and disempowered groups to claim their rights in the absence of a climate of social justice. And as the experience of both RTI and NREGA has shown, the rights framework brings together a wide swath of people and institutions that can work together to enable the effective implementation of new laws that seek truer participation in our democracy.
In a sense, the rights framework puts the citizen in a situation of a claimant, making demands on the benefactor state. It requires a strong, perhaps overweening state. At the least, it demands an efficient state with effective nested institutions, if the proclaimed rights are to become a reality. We need deep and distributed political movements and enlightened leadership for this sort of state to emerge. For, in a society as deeply hierarchical as ours, the habits of the heart change slowly, as does human behaviour.
The idea of trusteeship is completely different and yet possibly complementary. The trusteeship idea in today's context borrows from but goes beyond the Gandhian ideal of trusteeship, which was more about redistribution of wealth and economic resources. Gandhiji wanted the wealthy, especially, to see themselves not as owners but as trustees of their wealth, for future generations and for society as a whole.
Knowing what we know about the destruction of the natural environment, today's idea of trusteeship must extend to the concept of each one of us being trustees of the planet's environment. This infuses the idea of development with a much-needed moral energy in the face of environmental destruction and ethical confusion.
Many of our communities, especially our forest-based tribals, have been practising trusteeship of the commons for centuries. Yet that practice is now under threat from many forces, both internal and external. There is no point in romanticising the past. It will be interesting, however, to see if the basic tenet of trusteeship will retain some foothold among those longest immersed in its practice as new power structures alienate and disrupt old practices.
Faith in others is embedded in the idea of trusteeship. Today, whether it is government, business or civil society, none has any faith in the other. We have a trust deficit running much higher than the fiscal deficit. In addition, current economic policy and trends situate the individual's needs, rights and personal growth at the centre of the debate, with a clear shift towards pro-market social values. Where is the space for the concept of individuals as trustees of any resources?
The way forward could be through the twin paths of rights enshrinement and trusteeship development. Both ideas need the supporting role of the state. Indeed, the state, in all its forms, is itself a trustee of its territory and of citizens' rights. But if it has also to be a trustee of the idea of trusteeship by citizens, it will have to cede more space. It will have to walk softly, and carry only a small stick. When communities and individuals are willing to assume trusteeship of national resources, government will have to reframe its relationship with citizens. Examples of this could be in the sphere of philanthropy, forest protection, water resources protection, and so on.
People power, arguably, is on the rise all over the world, partly thanks to technology that potentially gives every citizen and each group an equal voice. This is slowly but surely challenging the untrammelled power of both the state and corporations, globally. The framework of rights and that of trusteeship both need to be understood as powerful tools in this process and discussed without fear or prejudice, to address the ethical, ecological and economic crises before us.
The writer is a philanthropist.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
OFFICIALS HAVE GONE TOO FAR
It's not the best of times for Pakistani sport. Cricket and hockey, two games Pakistan excelled at in the past, are in deep crisis. Following a disastrous tour of Australia, where the team lost all the Test matches and limited over games, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has sacked four senior players from the side. The move seems to have had an effect on the hockey team, which finished last in the World Cup. Players have resigned from the national team, their decision perhaps also influenced by the hockey federation's move to sack the selection committee and coaching staff.
In this case, Pakistan's sports administrators have gone over the top. Certainly, players need to account for their performance. But disciplinary action and other corrective steps must be reasonable. The PCB investigated the team's disastrous performance in Australia and found that players lacked discipline, commitment and team spirit. The diagnosis is perhaps correct, but the proposed cure is likely to kill the patient. Can a team remain competitive without its best players? Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf, among the finest batsmen Pakistan has produced as well as former captains, have been barred from selection into national teams. Some others have been disciplined with suspensions.
While taking excessive action against players, the PCB has refused to discuss its own role in creating the mess in Pak cricket. The board is as complicit as the players are in messing up their game. Successive boards have promoted nepotism and encouraged players to overlook team concerns while playing purely for personal interests. The blame for losing matches must be shared equally between players and administrators. Singling out players is unlikely to help matters. This applies to hockey as well.
A related problem is that Pakistani authorities and fans refuse to accept that their teams could sometimes lose matches. This leads to an atmosphere that's conducive to conspiracy theories. Such scrutiny and suspicion puts players under enormous stress. When sport stars are discredited in public, they cease to be inspirational figures and role models for aspiring players. The sport suffers while babus flourish, a problem that afflicts India too.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
DRASTIC ACTION WAS NEEDED
Pakistani sport is in a mess and someone's got to pay for it. Though the ban and fines on some of the biggest names of Pakistani cricket might seem over the top, it is exactly what the doctor ordered. Ditto for the hockey team where the team management and selection panel were sacked after Pakistan's abysmal performance in the World Cup. The players read the writing on the wall and resigned en masse.
These days sport is not just about going out on to the field and playing. Sport is tied up with nationalism and big money. In such a situation players cannot be let off the hook if they perform poorly.
A glance at the performance of the Pakistani cricket and hockey teams in the past few months shows that there is something drastically wrong. Let's first look at cricket. The Pakistani team on their latest tour of Australia were whitewashed 0-3 in the Test series. In the ODIs that followed Pakistan lost every single game. It wasn't only the scoreline that was pathetic; the manner in which Pakistan capitulated has angered both administrators and fans. In the second Test against Australia, Pakistan was in a great position when they needed to score a mere 139 runs to win the match, but they blew it by playing irresponsibly. It's the same story in hockey. Pakistan went rapidly downhill after losing their first game against India. Worse they couldn't even put it across Canada in the play-off for the 11-12th position, finishing last in the World Cup.
This has necessitated the drastic action that Pakistani administrators have taken. It is well known that infighting is endemic to Pakistani cricket. In the current team, it is no secret that Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan, both former captains, don't like each other. This hurts the team's morale. Not surprisingly, both of them have been banned for an indefinite period. The others who have been fined deserved their punishment, such as Shahid Afridi who tampered with the ball. Hence, several former players such as Zaheer Abbas and Abdul Qadir have welcomed the decision. Pakistani sport needs to set its house in order, and only severe action can do that.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
HOW THE LOHIAITE WORM HAS TURNED
A stunning irony lies at the core of the debate on the women's reservation Bill. For the first four decades after we adopted the Constitution, opposition to legislative measures designed to redress economic and social disparities the abolition of the zamindari system, the 'secularisation' of the Hindu Code Bill, the end to privy purses, bank nationalisation, the implementation of the Mandal commission report came from parties, groups and individuals who were widely denounced as champions of entrenched interests and privileges. That included the landed gentry, upper caste Hindus, princes, capitalists and other sundry 'reactionaries'. Ranged on the other side were radicals of various hues: liberal and left-wing Congressmen, communists, socialists and an assortment of Gandhians.
However, the bitterest foes of the women's reservation Bill are those who claim to be socialists, especially of the Lohiaite brand, and some liberals who are active in feminist movements or engaged in punditry in the media. And those who vociferously support it cut across ideological lines. Indeed, in a fractured polity like ours, the emergence of such a near-unanimous consensus on an issue that could not be resolved for close to a decade and a half is nothing short of a miracle.
How far we have travelled would be evident from the fate of the early attempts to amend the Constitution. The move, initiated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1951, to abolish the zamindari system was sought to be stymied partly by elements within the Congress which then had an overwhelming majority in Parliament and partly by the judiciary. At stake was whether the president Rajendra Prasad in this case or the courts could challenge the decisions of Parliament. The latter were primarily concerned about reconciling two constitutional rights: one the right to property and the other the prerogative of the state to pursue social engineering regardless of any other consideration.
That conundrum was also in evidence during the debates on other issues such as the Golaknath case of 1957 and on Indira Gandhi's moves to get rid of privy purses and nationalise banks all in the name of social justice. One of those who led the battle against the abolition of the privy purses was Madhavrao Scindia. (His son, Jyotiraditya, is now an articulate advocate of women's reservation.) This particular Bill failed to make headway in Parliament because Indira Gandhi lacked the necessary number of votes. She was let down by some members of her own party.
The difference between Nehru and Indira Gandhi was this: Nehru preferred to compromise, to bide his time, to enact a piece of legislation while Indira Gandhi went so far as to split the Congress to get her way. On the Hindu Code Bill of 1951, Nehru too faced resistance from conservatives within the party including, above all, from President Rajendra Prasad and, to a lesser extent, Sardar Patel. It was finally divided into several Bills and adopted in 1956. By and by questions regarding Parliament's supremacy were settled. The limits of the president's authority were demarcated and so were those of Parliament. The introduction of the concept of the 'basic structure' of the Constitution meant that the latter did not have the unfettered prerogative to do as it pleased. On matters related to reservations, too, judicial pronouncements provided strict guidelines. Thus, slowly but surely, the system of checks and balances was put in place but not before Indira Gandhi had made a mockery of it in the years leading to the Emergency in June 1975 in order to perpetuate her rule.
Against this backdrop, the hurdles faced by the women's reservation Bill seem to be far less daunting. Most parties support it. Their leaders must remain steadfast in their commitment despite some rumblings of protest in their ranks. The naysayers of the SP, RJD and BSP stand exposed for what they are: casteists who cultivate criminals and appease the most retrograde elements in the Muslim community to protect their fiefdoms against the rising tide of modernity. In fact, they loathe women. To appease them with a 'quota within a quota' lollipop or, worse still, to put the Bill on the back-burner again, would be to besmirch the Republic.
OUR TAKE - INTERPRETER OF MALADIES
Assam wants to make healthcare a basic right. What's stopping other states?
Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was spot on when he said this week that healthcare must be seen as a "right" of the people rather than the "charity" of the State. Equally heartening to note was the Assam government's decision to walk the talk: on Thursday, the Congress-led government tabled the Assam Public Health Bill, 2010, in the assembly.
Assam is the first state in India to come up with such a Bill that proposes to provide free treatment to poor patients and make it mandatory for all hospitals and health institutions (both government and private) to provide free healthcare services to patients admitted in the emergency wards for the first 24 hours. The Bill will be put to vote on March 31. Health is on the State List of the Constitution.
The importance of health in a nation's development cannot be undermined and India as a country does not have a glowing track record. The National Rural Health Mission's (NHRM) says that the curative services favour the rich: for every Re 1 spent on the poorest 20 per cent population, Rs 3 is spent on the richest section. Moreover, only 10 per cent Indians have some form of health insurance and over 25 per cent hospitalised Indians fall below the poverty line thanks to medical expenses. In the face of such figures, Assam's move must be applauded and other states should seriously think of taking a similar step. Assam was one of the states that was identified by the NHRM for special focus because its medical care system was paralysed due to lack of funds and personnel. Taking structural and financial help under NHRM, the state is reversing this trend. Take for example, Chirang district. In 2001, its immunisation level was less that 5 per cent but today it's around 70 per cent. The local public health units are well-staffed with three medical prac- titioners including an ayurvedic doctor. However, a recent Comptroller and Auditor General report has also pulled up the government for financial irregularities and procurement of substandard medicines.
The challenge for Assam will be when the NHRM exits in 2012. As of now, it is the NHRM and not the state system that is delivering. The Bill cannot be just ornamen- tal; it must have the capacity to nurse back its own parent system to health. Nevertheless, a good start has been made and expectations will be running high. The Assam govern- ment's challenge now is to ensure that the Bill treats the symptoms and administers the cure in time.
Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was spot on when he said this week that healthcare must be seen as a "right" of the people rather than the "charity" of the State. Equally heartening to note was the Assam government's decision to walk the talk: on Thursday, the Congress-led government tabled the Assam Public Health Bill, 2010, in the assembly.
Assam is the first state in India to come up with such a Bill that proposes to provide free treatment to poor patients and make it mandatory for all hospitals and health institutions (both government and private) to provide free healthcare services to patients admitted in the emergency wards for the first 24 hours. The Bill will be put to vote on March 31. Health is on the State List of the Constitution.
The importance of health in a nation's development cannot be undermined and India as a country does not have a glowing track record. The National Rural Health Mission's (NHRM) says that the curative services favour the rich: for every Re 1 spent on the poorest 20 per cent population, Rs 3 is spent on the richest section. Moreover, only 10 per cent Indians have some form of health insurance and over 25 per cent hospitalised Indians fall below the poverty line thanks to medical expenses. In the face of such figures, Assam's move must be applauded and other states should seriously think of taking a similar step. Assam was one of the states that was identified by the NHRM for special focus because its medical care system was paralysed due to lack of funds and personnel. Taking structural and financial help under NHRM, the state is reversing this trend. Take for example, Chirang district. In 2001, its immunisation level was less that 5 per cent but today it's around 70 per cent. The local public health units are well-staffed with three medical prac- titioners including an ayurvedic doctor. However, a recent Comptroller and Auditor General report has also pulled up the government for financial irregularities and procurement of substandard medicines.
The challenge for Assam will be when the NHRM exits in 2012. As of now, it is the NHRM and not the state system that is delivering. The Bill cannot be just ornamen- tal; it must have the capacity to nurse back its own parent system to health. Nevertheless, a good start has been made and expectations will be running high. The Assam govern- ment's challenge now is to ensure that the Bill treats the symptoms and administers the cure in time.
RICHTER'S LESSONS LOST
The Haiti quake of January 12 that killed over 230,000 people and left 1 million homeless seems far back in time. The one in Chile of February 27 that is still counting its victims seems less distant, yet distant enough. The one that shook Islamabad and its environs on February 28 is as recent as yesterday, but it was, well, not in India. And these are earthquakes in 2010.
How many of us would remember how many died and were rendered homeless in Latur (6.4 Richter, 1993),in Kutch (8 Richter, 2001) or even in the Indian Ocean tsunami (8+ Richter, December 26, 2004) that shook the whole planet from Indonesia to Africa and Indonesia to Alaska? And the brutal one of October 8, 2005, which left 79,000 officially dead in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and 1,500 in Jammu and Kashmir? To find that out, I would need to Google. It would give me the facts. But even that magic lamp would not convey the magnitude of the inner loss, the raw pain of those whose kin were crushed under falling rubble, heaving hearth, surging seas.
Shortly after the Kutch earthquake on our Republic Day, 2001, I called on Arthur C. Clarke in his Colombo villa-cum-futurist office. I had been intending to do so ever since I arrived in that city to work in India's High Commission but one thing or another had intervened. It required those 'interventions' to be interrupted by that quake of quakes to jolt me into that meeting.
The planetal visionary was confined to a wheel chair from a suspected spinal injury. He opened the conversation with the earthquake. "I have spent three weeks in Ahmedabad as a guest of the Sarabhais," he said, "and so my sense of sorrow is all the greater."
I then asked Clarke if in his view earthquake prediction would ever be possible. "Strange that you should ask that," he exclaimed and wheeling himself to the bookshelves thronging with his own works, pulled out a copy of the squat novel co-authored by him Richter 10. The novel has a foreword by him which begins thus:
"Many years ago I was standing in a Delhi hotel when I became aware of a faint vibration underfoot. 'I had no idea' I said to my hosts, 'that Delhi has a subway system'. 'It doesn't', they answered. That was my one and only experience of earthquakes."
So, Clarke's only novel about earthquakes begins with his only real-life experience of an earthquake. And that was in Delhi. What is far, what is near?
The protagonist in the novel, Lewis Crane, has been crippled and orphaned in the 'great' Californian earthquake of 1974. He grows to be a physicist and a Nobel Laureate with a passion for devising a method for earthquake prediction.
The world does not heed him. The consequences are terrible. Returning to my question, Clarke went on to say that while earthquake prediction may take some more time, what should be done is to inaugurate a new architecture in quake-prone areas which would not oblige the devastation.
Where does earthquake anticipation stand today? It stands rather still. Except, curiously, in that remote country, Iceland. With its lunarscape of treeless tracts, volcanos and hotwater 'geysers', that island nation has shown the way, even beyond the United States which pioneered the studies.
India and Iceland are now working together in this important life and death field. But the nation needs to know more about it, not just for the sake of being better-informed but for the sake of being better-prepared.
And as to quake-resistant architecture, are our cities and towns identifying buildings that are fragile? Are we regulating high-rise constructions in zones of high vulnerability like hills stations?
Darjeeling is a case in point. Building activity of the multi-storeyed kind proceeds on that Himalayan perch remorselessly. Leave alone 10, even 6 on the Richter in a hilltown like Darjeeling or Gangtok, Mussoorie or Shimla can bring logarithmically multiplying devastation to those beauty spots. Rescue itself would be a behemoth of a challenge there, as the thickly populated areas would become impossible to access, the roads climbing up from the plains clogged by quake-induced landslides and treefalls.
Alarmist? Richter 10 is not fantasy. Particularly not for us in India, where the sub-continent's pushing into Asia has not stopped. Our great monuments, our gleaming new airports, our sky-scrapers are all as vulnerable to the caprice of that crawl as are our smaller homes and hearths. Better far to be shocked by Clarke's Richter 10 and act, than be rocked by Richters of a lesser force and be unable to move.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi was the Governor of West Bengal from 2004 to 2009.
The views expressed by the author are personal.
DOING IT ALL OVER AGAIN
After 14 contentious years, the Women's Reservation Bill is about to become law. Of course it will be a rough passage littered with whips, marshals and inflamed testosterone, but sometimes the unlikeliest of movements begins to look as if it was predestined. The Bill now enjoys an enabling environment in these 14 years, reservation in panchayati raj institutions has been seen to work and urban women have become very visible in professional and public life. But what makes it unstoppable is the commitment of a government that is backing an ethical idea at the risk of its political future. I cordially hate dynastic politics, but I must say that Sonia Gandhi is doing something substantial to redeem it.
Politically, the Congress is unprepared for the revolution it has set in motion. There are only four women in the Congress Working Committee, one-third of the representation of women in the BJP's national executive. In fact the BJP, the most conservative party, is miles ahead of the most progressive, the CPI(M), though Prakash Karat believes that more women legislators will make for more sensitive politics. Such as not hounding party members to suicide, perhaps. But the only woman in the Politburo is his wife Brinda Karat. And in their cups, their colleagues complain, she should have resigned long ago to prevent a conflict of interest, since an apex decision-making body should not have related people who may vote as a bloc.
Now, we will have reservations for women in the highest such body in the land, the Lok Sabha. But please, let's not expect the moon. Women are people, the same as men. They are not kumaris and mother goddesses who can heal the sores and cankers of Indian politics with the magical touch of the eternal feminine. What they can do is to mature our politics by bringing a different set of concerns to it, as they have done in the panchayats.
Legislators who obeyed the party whip in the Rajya Sabha are privately agitated about the effects of the Bill on their political fortunes in the next election. One appreciates their concern, as carefully nurtured constituencies are about to be handed over to amateurs. This has happened once before, when seats were reserved for candidates from the scheduled tribes and castes. That shock to the system has been absorbed. But I remain a little uncomfortable about reservation in the highest offices what next, reservation in the PMO and Rashtrapati Bhavan where, by the way, tokenism has already taken root? I would have preferred to see reservation at the local level throwing up women politicians with a demonstrated capability to assume the highest offices.
This could have been possible if genuine equal opportunity was secured in village-level elections. If wives, mothers and daughters had been prevented from standing in as dummies for their menfolk, more women of real ability would have risen to the surface. And if the national parties could briefly overcome their sexism, some of them could have even got tickets. If that had happened, perhaps there would have been no need for the Women's Reservation Bill. Or for the top-down social and political revolution that we are witnessing as gender activism is forced upon the highest legislature.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine.
The views expressed by the author are personal.
A familiar feeling of siege is once again gripping Bangkok. The so-called Red Shirts have planned to gather in the Thai capital for anti-government protests. Collected under the
banner of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, they are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, now in exile after being removed in a
military coup in 2006 and slapped with cases of corruption. Their stated aim is to force fresh elections, a demand being strongly spurned by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
As Vejjajiva's government hunkers down for a tough phase, with fears of Bangkok being shut down in the process, the development is a reminder of Thailand's peculiarly polarised politics. Put simply, and as is evident from their rhetoric about a march on Bangkok, the Red Shirts are mostly drawn from the countryside. They are the mainstay of Shinawatra's politics and his continued ability to force disruptions on the country while in exile. They see themselves to be in political opposition to the Yellow Shirts, who are anti-Thaksin and seen to be royalists and representative of the Bangkok elite. The rhetoric about fresh elections is based on the contention amongst Thaksin's supporters that in a countrywide contest, he's bound to be winner. Thaksin's opponents, who are believed to have the backing of Thailand's very powerful royal family, hold that Thaksin has the rural masses in his sway by populist measures that would wreck the country's polity and economy. In this regard, they want the law amended to put checks on the popular vote.
Thailand's business and tourism sectors are bracing themselves for the kind of losses earlier sit-ins by Yellow and Red Shirts inflicted. And by all accounts, it seems Thailand is in for an extended phase of political instability.
In 2002, when Gujarat was convulsed with hate and communal violence, it happened under the watch and some would charge, complicity of Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The special investigation team probing the riots has now summoned Modi for some answers about the Gulbarg society massacre, a call that carries great symbolic weight, if not much else yet.
"I have not slept properly ever since the incident. Now, he (Modi) will also have sleepless nights," said Zakia Jafri, widow of Ehsan Jafri, the former MP who was killed in the Gulbarg violence. Whether or not Narendra Modi's personal culpability is established, Gujarat's state machinery cannot absolve itself of criminality the state even abandoned its constitutional duty by the survivors of the riots. The role of the lower judiciary, administration and police in the denial of justice came under a cloud, and the Modi government portrayed the matter as one of Gujarat pride, to have outside judgment passed on it. (To date, he has not expressed
regret for the 2002 violence.) Amidst charges of tinkering with evidence, washing away of trails, or witnesses being made hostile through inducement or threat, the Supreme Court finally transferred the most pressing pending cases out of the state. This special investigation team, headed by a former CBI director, was set up last year on the National Human Rights Commission's plea to track 14 of the most critical cases from sites like Gulbarg Society, Naroda Patiya and Sadarpur. After months of investigation, the team has now called the chief minister to account for his actions at the time, and respond to the accusation that he and his government orchestrated the violence.
This summons has, predictably, led to a shouting match between the Congress and the BJP. It is unclear what evidence the team has garnered, and whether any charges will ultimately stick to Modi, who has meanwhile recast himself as a development dynamo. But as he faces an investigating team for the first time, the call holds out some faint hope for the thousands of survivors that perhaps, this time, the methodical madness of 2002 will have to be answered for.
MIND THE GEOGRAPHY
As it affirms the commitment to stay the course in Afghanistan following the attack on unarmed Indian citizens in Kabul at the end of February, Delhi must adapt to the rapidly evolving circumstances in the north-western subcontinent. Neither bravado on standing up to terror nor the pique towards Pakistan, which is trying to hustle India out of Afghanistan, should colour India's policy. Evidence from the three major attacks on Indian targets during the last 18 months including two on the Indian embassy in Kabul points unambiguously to the involvement of the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI. There is speculation in Delhi about more attacks against India, especially its diplomats in the Kabul embassy and the consulates in four other cities.
That the Indian presence in Afghanistan, which has positively contributed to the development of post-Taliban Afghanistan, has now become vulnerable to violence promoted by the Pakistan army is no longer in doubt. The physical targeting of Indians is only one element of Pakistan's campaign in Afghanistan. In the last few years, Islamabad has successfully propagated the myth that the large Indian presence in Afghanistan threatens Pakistan and is at the source of its inability to cooperate fully with the international community in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Anyone familiar with the recent history of Afghanistan knows that India's presence in Afghanistan was limited in the '90s when Pakistan had a free hand resulting in the creation of the Taliban.
Meanwhile, there is growing pressure on the international community and the government in Kabul led by President Hamid Karzai to engage a resurgent Taliban to find a political settlement. Not surprisingly, the Pakistan army, which has nurtured the Taliban, has offered itself as the principal interlocutor. Sensing an endgame in Afghanistan and betting on its new leverage, the Pakistan army wants to decisively influence new political arrangements being considered for Kabul and establish its much vaunted dominance over Afghanistan. In responding to this challenge, India should avoid the premise that it is in competition with Pakistan. There is no way Delhi can neutralise Pakistan's advantage in Afghanistan an open frontier that runs 2,500 km long. Having no geographic access of its own to Afghanistan, India must necessarily rely on an asymmetric strategy. Such an approach would focus not only on expanding India's security footprint in Afghanistan, but also on the Pashtuns, who hold the key to stability on both sides of the Durand Line. Having neglected them all these years, Delhi must establish political contact with different Pashtun formations including a range of groups that form the Taliban.
OUR HOCKEY HIGH
Let me begin by asking you a simple question. And if you cannot answer even this one, you can ask it at your work place, in your classroom, at your chai ka adda, wherever. The question is: which is the premier national hockey tournament in our country? For simplicity, what is the hockey equivalent of cricket's Ranji or Duleep Trophy? If most of you, your colleagues and friends fail that test, I can offer a lifeline: name any major domestic hockey tournament played in India. It's only when you flunk that test too that you will appreciate why an eighth place for India in the Hockey World Cup is not such bad news for India which ruled the game for nearly five decades. You will also then understand why we need to celebrate not just our performance, but also the fact that this World Cup got played in India. Because, more than anything the sports ministry, the Indian Hockey Federation and even FIH, the hockey equivalent of ICC, have done to revive the game in India in the past two decades, more than even the heady afterglow of Chak De India, it is this World Cup that may signal the beginning of a second innings for hockey in India.
Of course, a higher finish by the home team would have helped. A podium finish would have in fact been brilliant. But, now that you have seen some of the most brilliant hockey played in these two weeks, in fact for most Indian adults below 40 perhaps their first experience of watching the game at its highest level, you can see why flukes do not get you shock victories in hockey. Those of my generation, when hockey was still played in schools, would remember the coach's favourite adage: hockey by practice, cricket by chance. It is a dangerous thing to say in a country where people can kill for cricket, but a "Miracle at Lord's" (Kapil Dev's team, 1983) kind of thing is impossible in hockey.
There are many reasons why this is so, but the most important is that hockey, like football, is much more of a team game than cricket. Not one great Sachin-like innings, Imran-like bowling spell can close the match against the other side, even if it happens to be much better than you on paper. And, even if for a day, a great team switches off and lets a poor challenger win, the others will not let it go any further. In short, in hockey as in football, it is nearly impossible to defy form, in fact it is totally impossible to defy form over an
entire tournament. In fact, that's why this is the third World Cup final in a row between Germany and Australia. But check out where the 12 contenders in this Cup were ranked in the world before coming to New Delhi, and then check out the rankings in this tournament. You might in fact find one very pleasant surprise: India, ranked 14, finishing now at eighth. Number eight in a World Cup played at home sounds awful, but not quite so when you see it as a nearly hundred per cent improvement over your world ranking.
In India as well as Pakistan, the biggest reason hockey has suffered so much is not because money discovered cricket and vice versa. It is because we looked at hockey with too much emotion. Once again, it may sound like a fantasy to anybody under 40 today, but until the late '70s, even early '80s, when the subcontinent still figured in the top four, it evoked a lot more raw, unfortunately even unsporting emotion in both countries. We did hockey disservice not because we gratuitously designated it our national game, but because we did so with the presumption that if it is to justify that title, it must keep winning us Olympic golds and World Cups. The moment we slipped from the top four, we lost interest. You can't blame the sponsors and advertisers. They come much later in the picture even for cricket, in fact much after the advent of colour TV (after Asiad '82) and then in the wake of the 1991 reform. (Where were Coke and Pepsi before then?) By that time we had cursed and abused our hockey into the ground. You did not see a single good news story on hockey in your paper, TV almost never covered any tournament live, schools banished the sport and even Punjab Police, BSF, the army (Sikh Regimental Centre, Meerut, Bengal Engineering Group and more), Indian Airlines who had nurtured hockey for decades lost interest.
And yet whenever we went out to play, we expected nothing but a podium finish, and when our hapless teams failed that test, we rubbished them for bringing dishonour to our "national game". The Pakistanis did a little bit better, helped along by some foreign coaches, even winning a World Cup in these decades of decline (1994). But just that same emotional, irrational weight of expectation, combined with total neglect and failure to understand the strides the rest of the world was making, has now brought their hockey to the bottom of a World Cup rankings table. It may be some consolation that India had got there much earlier (England, 1986).
So-called experts and enthusiasts, including former hockey stars in both countries, have spent three decades now finding alibis for their falling rankings. They point at the usual suspects: "white" nations who have allegedly changed the entire pattern and system of the game to suit "their own" style. Now the subcontinent is brilliant at inventing conspiracy theories. But even by that standard this is totally, totally untenable and self-defeating. In fact this has generated self-pity and self-inflicted damage which has played a greater role in destroying our hockey than any shenanigans of our respective officials. This has psyched two generations of our players into believing that the new rules and the choice of an artificial surface were grand conspiracies to dethrone them and because they do not suit the "Asian" style, we stand no chance before the "whites", particularly the hard-hitting Europeans. We forget, meanwhile, that under the same new rules, South Korea has risen as a world power ranked much higher than us, and China is getting there.
In fact it is Astroturf and the new rules that have made hockey such a wonderful game to watch, a fact to which several lakh people who came to watch the World Cup over two weeks would testify. Astroturf turned hockey into an all-weather game, so no rain breaks and, for the Europeans, no long winter breaks. It gives you true bounce, fast and consistent ball movement, both of which should help the Asian style of short-passing, ball-control hockey rather than hamper it. The changes in rules, abolition of off-side, sticks, turning and so on were carried out with the specific purpose of reducing referee whistles by more than a half, and with that it is now a much faster, enjoyable game, played by not just two countries in one neighbourhood but in a lot of the world, in fact in all continents. And then if you can get several thousand Delhiites to pay and watch it over a fortnight, or for Ten Sports to have such healthy ratings for its high quality live telecasts, even in a tournament where India finishes at eight, somebody must have done something right to bring back the beauty and joy of this great game. Of course, my argument would remain incomplete without acknowledging the foresight of Hero Honda which put so much money and emotion behind the game. SAIL and Sahara did their bit too, but if the Munjals of Hero see a future in hockey they must have spotted something there the rest of us didn't. And who understands the market better than them? Check with Hero Honda's competitors!
A RED CARD FOR THE SIM
The controversy regarding the conferment of Qatari nationality upon M.F. Husain and his acceptance of it has given us the opportunity to revisit an old but neglected debate. The debate on being an Indian Muslim or a Muslim Indian is old hat; but the one concerning the "secular Indian Muslim" the SIM? needs our urgent attention. Those who doubt the existence of such a breed and view it as a contradiction in terms would do well to remember the legacy of a long line of distinguished people, from Mirza Ghalib, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Dr M.A. Ansari, Maulana Azad, Dr Zakir Husain to M.F. Husain, to name just a few. Then there are the nameless millions doctors, lawyers, writers, journalists, teachers, wage earners who are living proof of Indian secularism. Husain is simply another link in this ganga-jamuni chain. He needs to neither establish his credentials nor protest his innocence; his work speaks for him.
Having established the credentials of this breed, let us set out the contours of its present dilemma: one, it exists in sufficiently large numbers to have escaped our notice yet, oddly enough, has never managed to establish a public profile for itself; nor has it, given its numbers, translated into a sufficiently large, and therefore woo-able, vote bank. Two, despite its largish presence (I imagine roughly half the population of Muslims in India), the breed is under severe threat.
One is not interested in establishing the presence of the SIM, for that one takes as a given. It has always existed
in the weft of the Indian tapestry as the warp that runs alongside. In fact, what ought to concern us is the threat to its existence. That this threat is from two most unexpected quarters adds to the terrible irony of the situation: the first threat has traditionally been from the rest of the Indian Muslim community, that is, the other half that is not secular and sees the secular Muslim as a blot that must be erased. The second threat, and this is more worrying, comes from the government. In the past 60 years of independence, every successive government even ostensibly well-meaning ones such as the two recent Congress-led UPA regimes end up inflicting great damage to the SIM. Whether it is Shah Bano or M.F. Husain, the governments of the day (as it happens, in both cases, Congress-led governments with an avowedly secular agenda) have shown their inability to deal with the SIM or safeguard its interests.
Instead, these governments have chosen to engage with the SIM in ways ranging from the insidious to the unintentional: by seeking to engage with the not-secular face of the Indian Muslim rather than the secular one; by regarding the strident, illiberal, not-secular factions as representative and thus not only placing them in positions of legitimacy but forcing them upon the entire Muslim community as their spokesmen (which they clearly are not); and worse still in the guise of benevolence by appointing, to head the few remaining citadels of secularism in this country, those Muslims who are divisive rather than inclusive, short-sighted rather than visionary.
In the light of the debacle over Husain, we must address the following questions, squarely and soberly: why does the SIM elicit support and solidarity in reassuringly large numbers at the private, individual level but almost never at the public or governmental level? Why has every democratically elected government found it so hard to engage with this substantial and substantive section of secular Indian Muslims? Why does every government regardless of where it is placed on the political spectrum persist in viewing the SIM as an exception rather than a fairly healthy norm? Moreover, why does it view the SIM as an exception that is quaint and other-worldly, a minority within a minority, to be patted on the back and given the occasional Padma Shri but not otherwise taken seriously?
Placed somewhere between a rock and a hard place, the SIM is in an unenviable position. Shakeel Badayuni's words, made immortal by Begum Akhtar, best summarise the creature's plight:
Mera azm itna buland hai ke paraye sholon ka dar nahi/ Mujhe khauf atish-e-gul se hai ke yeh kahin chaman ko jala na de The right-wing fundamentalists (the paraye shole) can do it little harm; it is the aatish-e-gul (the fire of the flower) that the SIM needs to guard against.
The writer is based in Delhi firstname.lastname@example.org
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 centre-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 organised centre 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. 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
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 centre-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 per cent 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 centre-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.
MAN'S WORLD, WOMAN'S PLACE
When the Rajya Sabha passed a bill for reservation of 33 per cent seats for women in Parliament and state legislatures, the Jammu and Kashmir assembly admitted a bill which would strip women of permanent resident status if they married an outsider.
A similar bill was tabled in the state assembly in March 2004, moved by a member of the National Conference, which was then in opposition. The Congress, BJP, CPM and the RSS-supported Jammu State Morcha retracted their support to the bill in the upper house, after their national leaderships issued directives. The then ruling PDP coalition government dragged its feet and the chairman of the state legislative council adjourned the house sine die. Moreover, the bill lacked support of two-thirds of the members of the council, which was needed for any bill relating to permanent residents rights of the state, according to Section 9 of the state's constitution.
The basis for the proposed bill is the state subject law that Maharaja Hari Singh had promulgated (vide notification dated April 20, 1927), which provided certain safeguards and privileges for permanent residents of the state. But that law was not based on gender-discrimination, while the 2004 bill, and the current one aim to disqualify only women, while allowing men to retain permanent resident status if they married outsiders. A further disqualification has been added in the present bill, building on the 2004 bill, debarring women who acquire permanent resident status by marrying a permanent resident after divorce, and also after the death of her husband, in case she settles outside the state.
Neither bill has any sanction in the legal and constitutional history of the state. Nor does it have anything to do with Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which grants special status to the state. If at all, it weakens the moral basis of Article 370, giving an opening to those who can now argue that it should be abrogated because it can be used to deny equality to women. Even the Permanent Resident Act, 1957 and its rules do not provide legitimacy to this bill or that of 2004. Rule 8 of the Jammu and Kashmir Grant of Permanent Resident Certificate does not provide for cancellation, not to speak of disqualifying only women, on any grounds.
When the daughter of a senior J&K bureaucrat S.A Qadri married Mehmood-ul-Rehman, an IAS officer from outside the state in 1973, her permanent resident status and her right to inherit her father's property was declared valid by the revenue minister on the grounds that "the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir or any law does not provide for deprivation of a permanent resident status of his or her status".
Curiously, the bill's supporters argue that the loss of permanent resident status to the women of the state who marry outsiders would be made up by the gain of women from outside who marry J&K citizens. The message: women have no identity of their own, and their status is deemed to be determined by their husband.
In 1956, the UN General Assembly passed a Convention on the Nationality of Married Women, which stated that a woman's nationality would not be affected by "either marriage or its dissolution or the change of nationality of her husband." After this, a woman's independent identity has been enshrined in international law. This principle remains valid with or without article 370; whether the state becomes just like any other Indian state, becomes more autonomous or even acquires sovereign status.
If the fear is that outsiders, by marrying women from the state, acquire property rights and influence in the life of the state, it is more applicable to the Kashmir valley than to Jammu. And there is a greater need to disincentivise men who marry outside. As PDP president Mehbooba Mufti had argued in a press statement, "there are more reasons now that the law (which seeks to disqualify a woman of her status as permanent resident of the state) should also be applied to men because,
a) within last 15 years many young men have died (due to militancy related incidents);
b) due to turmoil in the state so many boys have gone out for their higher studies who tend to marry their class or college mates;
c) there has been an influx of Bengali, Bihari and other women in the state, who marry Kashmiri boys belonging to poor classes."
According to Mufti, Kashmiri women are deprived of much choice. This ratio will become very disturbing unless there are some restrictions of men marrying outside the state, she adds. Otherwise, she warns "the girls may have to settle down as second wives". (Kashmir Times, March 20, 2004)
But the Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill is applicable to women alone and does not take these fears into account. Perhaps making it equally applicable to men and women would strike a good compromise between the bill's supporters and its liberal detractors. Whatever its other implications, it would not violate the fundamental rights provided by the Constitution or drag Article 370 into needless controversy.
The opponents of the bill are harming their cause greatly by describing it as anti-Jammu or anti-national. It is simply anti-women.
The writer is a J&K-based commentator and director, Institute of J&K Affairs
POVERTY INVISIBILITY LITIGATION?
Recently, the Delhi high court ruled in favour of Mahavir Singh. The petitioner filed a PIL claiming the area between Nangloi and Bahadurgarh in northwest Delhi hosts a number of "polluting" and "non-conforming" industries, including plastic recycling units. The court instructed the Delhi government to act immediately, in accordance with the Supreme Court industrial relocation order of 1999-2000, which also ruled in favour of the petitioner (M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India and Others, Writ Petition No. 4677 of 1985). No doubt the act of recycling is unpleasant, involving as it does plastic waste, its manual segregation into pure polymer types and basic technology. Research suggests only a subset might be harmful to the vicinity, however. Judging by the sealing of 2000-2001, the official charged with surveying thousands of units to decide which to padlock is unlikely to be unduly bothered about whether a particular one falls in 'polluting' Groups B to G, or the "highly polluting" H category of the 2001 Delhi Master Plan, or MPD 2001. For example, if I deal in dyes for plastic moulding, I fall in Group C; conduit pipes, Group E; and plastic-related chemical industries, Group H. Greasing the surveyor's palm might aid in determining whether I am consigned to an actionable category subjective, due to revised classifications and different categories targeted in each sealing drive. There is no avenue for appeal in case of wrongful closure.
Then there is the question of what is to be done, once a unit's pedigree is decided (Group B to G to relocate to "conforming" areas within the Delhi National Capital Territory, or NCT; Group H to relocate outside the NCT but within the National Capital Region). MPD 2001 designates 28 industrial estates as "conforming", including Mangolpuri and Najafgarh, which are in the neighbourhood of Mundka. As an informal plastic recycler, I might be confused about where in the city the lakshman rekha of "conforming" is drawn. I might also be tired of being displaced from the centre to the periphery, in accordance with changing definitions within a fast-growing urban agglomeration. In the 1970s, the market was located in Karol Bagh and Punjabi Bagh; in 1981, the Delhi government and the DDA moved it out to Jwalapuri; in 1995, they banned work in that neighbourhood, and the DDA allocated land far out in Tikre Kalan, taking bribes to assign actual plots. Since no provision was made for water and electricity and 15 years on, there is still no provision the market settled itself midway. The High Court ruling now brands Tikre Kalan "non-conforming". If even the DDA gets it wrong, surely the individual recycler cannot be held responsible.
The ruling will, on conservative estimates, put 100,000 people out of work in the informal plastic recycling industry alone. This is a group who make a living dealing with the 30 per cent of waste produced by middle-class consumption that remains uncollected for disposal by the municipality. They recycle 60-80 per cent of post-consumer plastic waste generated within India, the highest rate in the world. The economic and political power gained through numerical hegemony of this market is used to overcome the social stigma of being Dalit and engaging in work that is ritually polluting. To now be told that it is environmentally polluting is perplexing, is it not? After all, they are promoting Schall's famous green ranking of reuse, recycle, energy recovery and disposal! Findings from a small household survey conducted in the surrounding slums suggest none of the categories of informal recycling labour, not even pickers, fall below the narrow official state poverty line for Delhi, and therefore, despite manifest deprivation, do not qualify for BPL status and handouts from the state. It is in this context that they must rely on the market to support themselves, like the 93 per cent of India's labour force toiling in other informal industries. I hope the bench did not mistake "informal" for "polluting" and "non-conforming". After all, the Arjun Sengupta Committee shows we are relying on this sector for employment and poverty alleviation for now. The PIL came into being in order to allow poor people to petition the court. All environmental jurisprudence in our country stems from liberal interpretations of the right to life and the right to personal liberty bestowed by Article 21 of the Constitution. In this case, I fervently hope the high court bench asked itself: what of the right to work, and by extension, the right to not be poor? NREGA confers statutory rights and is a landmark step, but only in the rural sphere. Was the bench privy to detailed research findings of the kind outlined, and exposed to more than the petitioner's sole view, in arriving at 'public interest' and not 'private inclination' litigation? I hope so, because I want to live in democratic Delhi, with rights for all its citizens, and not autocratic Beijing, with its brutally contrived aesthetic of a first world city.
Gill is the author of the book 'Of Poverty and Plastic', Oxford University Press, 2010
Once again, Pakistan's security and intelligence establishment came under attack from terrorists. In Lahore's Model Town, a residential area, the Special Investigative Agency of the Punjab Police faced a suicide attack on March 9. Civilian casualities triggered protests from the residents, as reported by Daily Times on March 9: "Residents of the Model Town Society have criticised the government for failing to move the offices of security agencies from residential areas... The demand emerged in 2008... which grew stronger with the attack outside the Rescue 15 office last year." Supporting this was Dawn's editorial: "Given that Monday's attack was not the first against a 'secret' intelligence location in the city, it seems staggering there still exist such centres in residential and commercial areas. Can such suspects not be detained at police stations, prisons or military centres? Why are the lives of civilians being endangered for what appear to be counter-terrorism shortcuts?"
The service extension given to ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha has evoked mixed views in Pakistan's press. Dawn wrote on March 10: "Although service extension is always viewed with scepticism, in the case of Lt Gen Pasha it was widely expected but many believe it meets the merit criterion. They say although he reaches the age of superannuation on March 18, more than a year remains in his tenure as a three-star general. Besides, Pasha was directly involved in major missions... Pasha is one of the few ISI chiefs who have remained in close touch with the administration and have briefed parliament on military operations... Regarded by most as an upright and dedicated intelligence official, Pasha is also considered to be a close confidant of army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani."
The Daily Times editorial on March 11 celebrated the extension: "Normally such extensions are not considered a good idea as they block the elevation of others, but these are extraordinary times. Not only are we in the middle of a war inside the country, we are also a frontline ally of the US in the war on terror. Thus there is some weight in the logic of giving an extension to Lt-Gen Pasha. It doesn't make much sense to change horses midstream when we are embarked on such an important mission, i.e. to eliminate terrorist networks from Pakistani soil and make South Asia a peaceful region." The News joined the applause: "For the first time we can see the possibility of an all-out defeat for the militants. We must hope the decision will ensure that there is no going back in the effort against militancy... Unlike other ISI chiefs in the past, who had quite evidently seen themselves as above civilian authority, Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha has been willing to brief parliament on efforts against militancy."
Dawn, however, disagreed: "Much of the reporting in the media has focused on Gen Pasha's impeccable credentials and the army's desire for 'continuity' in the ISI chief's office while the state is waging a counter-insurgency. But these are really not very good reasons. Gen Pasha may be an exemplary spymaster and he may deserve the nation's gratitude for services rendered but is he really indispensable?... Next door, in Afghanistan, the Americans and British have been struggling to contain a deadly insurgency for years now but there has been no talk of 'exemptions' and 'special considerations' for top military offices there. Arguably, the case for extensions in military service should be even stronger for American or British leaders in Afghanistan: after all, the generals there are operating in a foreign land and possess unique knowledge about that war."
CAUGHT AND BOWLED
Pakistan Cricket Board's (PCB) decision to slap penalties on its top international players was met with varying reactions. Daily Times commented on March 11: "A decision by PCB on player discipline couldn't have come soon enough. The players and their indiscretions have brought shame on this country for too long. That certain players having been banned, dropped, and/or fined by the PCB should be welcomed by every single Pakistani... However, some serious reservations remain over the selection committee of the PCB and the inability to groom a captain ever since Imran Khan retired." The News' editorial blamed PCB for Pakistan cricket's debacle: "Long-term 'bans' on sportsmen should never be meted out lightly, given that they affect careers and performance. Life in sport...is 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."
INDEX OF OPTIMISM
A 16.7% growth in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) in January 2010 shows that high growth rates, even if bolstered by the low base year impact, are here to stay. What is most remarkable about the latest figures is the 56.2% growth in the capital goods output, the highest ever recorded. And unlike the overall industrial growth rate, this surge in demand for investment goods has less to do with a low base year effect as growth was a respectable 15.9% in January 2009. To put this in perspective, one should note that the highest increase in capital goods production even during the much acclaimed pick-up in the mid-1990s was only less than half the current level. And the extensive nature of the demand for investments or capital goods is indicated by the trends in both machinery and equipment and transport goods, which account for a substantial part of the capital goods sector. While growth of machinery and equipment touched a new high of 45.9% in January, which is substantially higher than the peak levels of 36.2% achieved in the mid-1990s, that of transport equipment touched 57.6%, which is still further ahead of the peak rate of 32.2% achieved in the mid-1990s. Such a substantial pick-up in demand for investment goods means a major change in the fortunes of the economy as it indicates that adding new capacity and modernisation of existing capacities has become the top priority for industry, unlike at the start of the financial year when less than optimistic expectations even shrunk the capital goods output.
While mining and manufacturing have also contributed to the resurgence in industry, the only discordant note is from the electricity segment where the pick-up in production has been less than one-third the pace of the overall increase in industrial output. In fact, the review of the economy by the Prime Minister's economic advisory council just a few weeks ago has flagged this problem and noted that power constraints will emerge as a major hurdle in utilising the full potential of the manufacturing sector in the medium term. Another constraint that has emerged is the sharp slide in demand for consumer non-durables or articles of daily consumption, where output has even declined in January for the first time in eight months. But this trend is likely to be reversed as the marketing of the rabi crop begins in April. A continued accommodative monetary policy stance for a while longer will help sustain the current optimism.
FROM RUSSIA WITH GORSHKOV
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Russia in December. Now, the Russian PM Vladimir Putin is visiting India. High-level exchanges of this sort have become a regular feature for the two countries. To what extent are India and Russia just trying to bolster traditional ties and to what extent are they succeeding in fashioning novel ones? Putin is expected to sign over a dozen agreements amounting to around $10 billion during his visit. Many of these are in the conventionally core area of Indo-Russian cooperationdefence. Whether it is the refitted Soviet-era aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov or new MiG acquisitions, there is an air of familiarity in this sector. Even the drawbacks of Russian supplieslike delayed deliveries at escalated costs and inadequate product supporthold no surprises for New Delhi. But with the US, France, Israel and others aggressively competing for the Indian defence pie, Russians can't afford to take it for granted anymore. Beyond explicitly defence offerings, they continue to offer support in other strategic areasfor example, by offering India additional nuclear reactors. But in contrast to all the ways in which the modern sectors of the Indian economy have increased synergies with the West since liberalisation, the Indo-Russian relationship just hasn't thrived. There are, however, some signs now that it is beginning to enter a more dynamic territory.
Take telecom. Putin has pledged state financial aid for the Indian telecom unit of Russian conglomerate Sistema, which is looking to expand in India. Take bankingwhere the Commercial Bank of India has presence in Russia and Russia's VTB branch has presence in Indiawhere Putin has spoken about a legal foundation to enhance cooperation. Take tourism, where there is enormous scope for growth in bilateral exchanges and the governments are beginning to recognise this. Take gems and jewellery. The Russian state-run company Alrosa overtook De Beers last year as the world's biggest diamond producer while India is the world's second-largest consumer of jewellery and polished diamonds after the US. Mutual interest is growing, with Alrosa selling more than $500 million of diamonds here last year as compared to $250 million in 2008. But the most important developmentwe are back in strategic Indian territory nowto watch out for are obviously taking place on the energy front. ONGC is in discussions with Gazprom and Roseft over taking equity stakes in oil and gas projects in Russia, whether these are in Siberia or north Russia. And given that government-to-government contacts are key when it comes to tapping Russia's vast hydrocarbon reserves, India needs to keep leaning on Putin and his cohorts.
WHY NTPC & NMDC FAILED TO IGNITE
The ongoing disinvestment in public sector companies was supposed to be the coming of age party for the Indian stock markets. But one after another the issues of NTPC, REC and now NMDC have appeared in the equity markets without much fan following. It is like an Aamir Khan starrer that does not excite the audience. It could happen once, but it does not happen thrice in succession. If it does, the obvious reading would be that the star's appeal is well and truly gone.
That should not be the case with the PSUs. Throughout 2009, this was the only party happening on Dalal Street and so it does seem peculiar that just when the economy is on the mend, the party mood seems to have evaporated. A closer look shows a different picture.
To get the perspective right, take a look at how another blue chip SAIL has fared in the same period. From an average price of Rs 218.23 as on January 27 this year it has climbed to Rs 233.90 as on March 10, a rise of 7.18%. This is more or less the same period when the three issues opened. Within this span of 41 days, SAIL has also touched a low of Rs 203.44 but otherwise it has mostly been an upward climb. For short-term investors, the scrip therefore has delivered an impressive capital gain.
This was no flash in the pan. In the same period, BHEL has risen from Rs 2,343.15 a share to Rs 2,432.45, logging a gain of 3.81%. The lowest it touched was Rs 2,303.30, the same day as SAIL, when all Asian markets were hammered.
These are impressive numbers and show the value creation embedded in the story of good counters. Note I am not using the word public sector in this analysis. To get an idea why, one just needs to observe the fate of the PSU index in the same period. In the past four weeks, the same period we are tracking, the PSU index at the BSE has lost 1.78% of its value. The loss is sharper, when one remembers the 52-week high for the index was recorded on January 19, this year.
This makes it clear that the value of the PSU has been sorted out, by the investors, just as they have done for years to companies from any sector. As the SAIL and BHEL counters show, there is a lot of value investing that could be done in good PSU stocks. Never mind, what has happened to the NTPC, REC and even the NMDC public offers.
It is a tribute to the quality embedded in the value of these stocks that such humungous issues did not make their prices collapse significantly despite the issues taking off amidst globally depressed market conditions. Without going into the question of whether in the current market conditions a 5% discount is adequate for the retail investors to show interest, the stocks will remain good buys, going ahead.
That will, however, not be true of all the PSU stocks which will hit the market almost every month through 2010-11.
There are two value propositions in a PSU stock. The first is the sovereign guarantee against their failure. There are no studies to pinpoint the percentage impact on the stock prices of such guarantee. For instance, of the price difference between L&T and BHEL, what owes itself to the sovereign guarantee? The attraction among the earlier set of retail investors was based on this guarantee. Each of the 49 PSU was, therefore, a blue chip by design.
But that picture may have changed for ever. With more than a hundred PSUs in the market expected before 2011 is over, every one will compete against the other and then against their peer in the private sector for the same investor pie.
Then the other value proposition in these stocks will come to the fore. Namely, the value of good management in each company. It is this difference that will now guide how well each of them will perform in the primary market and going forward in the secondary market too. This is a tall order. Except for some of the power sector companies, most of the PSUs are inefficiently managed. They are sitting on huge cash reserves, (HAL, BSNL, for instance) running a monopoly charter with high inventory costs that are billed to the state or the captive consumers (like PFC which borrows with government guarantee at lower costs but sells at market rates).
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was, therefore, more than stating a fact in the budget outlining his plan for disinvestment, when he said listing of the companies will improve their performance. Guarantee will not deliver the capital gains to the share holders; the performance of the company will do so.
So, those who were surprised at the performance of the big three in the primary market were essentially reckoning that just the guarantee will be reason enough for retail investors to flock to the scrip.
But investors are evaluating them just as they do private sector issues. One is inclined to believe that as the year wears out, the homogeneity in the PSU index will be history, with stand-outers and failures riddling the group just as in any other index. Analysts will gauge performance against the sectors where they operate; the retail investors have already begun to do so.
AGAINST TIDE, BUT AT WHAT COST TO RIN?
LATHA R NAIR
An audacious advertisement campaign for Rin started by Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), by pitching and comparing it with Tide Naturals, a Procter & Gamble (P&G) product, has become a hot topic of discussion for intellectual property rights (IPR) enthusiasts.
The ad, currently in the eye of a legal storm, is yet another episode of what has been described by some as a soap opera (or an ego battle?) between the two FMCG conglomerates, part one of which was staged by HUL last month before the Chennai High Court when it filed a suit alleging that P&G's claim that its detergent 'Tide Naturals' contained lemon and sandalwood was untrue. Having convinced the court that it was only synthetic compounds that smelled like lemon and sandalwood in 'Tide Naturals' and not the real stuff, HUL got the court to direct P&G to insert a disclaimer in all its ads to that effect. The scene then moved to the television screens across the nation which started airing a new Rin ad by HUL which compared the white school uniforms of two boys, washed in Tide and Rin respectively. While the shirt washed in Rin sparkled, the one washed with Tide was yellowish. It was P&G who went to the Calcutta High Court this time, alleging disparagement and infringement of its trademark 'Tide'. It was also pointed out by P&G that the disputed ad used a packet of 'Tide Naturals' in its visuals, but used 'Tide' in the voice-over. The Court is understood to have stayed the ad on various grounds including disparagement.
The rules in the game of comparative advertisements have been laid down both by the courts and also prescribed under Section 29 of the Trade Marks Act, 1999 ('the Act'). While Indian law permits comparative ads, denigration or derogation of competing goods is impermissible.
The principles for grant of injunction in such cases were laid down by the Calcutta High Court in Reckitt & Colman of India Limited vs MP Ramchandran & another, 1999 and have been followed consistently by various courts. Briefly put, these principles state that a tradesman can declare his goods to be the best in the world and better than his competitor's even if it is untrue and while doing so, he can even compare the advantages of his goods over his competitor's. However, if he says that his competitor's goods are bad, then it would slander and defame his competitor and his goods. While no action lies in the absence of proof of defamation, if there is defamation, an action is maintainable and the court can also grant an injunction restraining repetition of such defamation.
Section 29 of the Act makes it an infringement of a registered trademark if any advertisement involving such a trademark, (a) takes unfair advantage of and is contrary to honest practices in industrial or commercial matters; or (b) is detrimental to its distinctive character; or (c) is against the reputation of the trademark.
Hence, the legal position is clear as to the dos and don'ts of comparative advertising. While it is an attractive proposition to hit your competitor below the belt by daring to air an ad which brashly compare your product with the competitor's product, it is equally important to play the game by its rules. A very important, yet less-voiced issue that calls for the attention of corporate houses, particularly in the FMCG sector, in this context is the coordination of the marketing team with the legal team while dealing with issues pertaining to brands. Though no such assumption is made here about the coordination between the legal team and the marketing team of HUL, it is mystifying as to how the ad in question made it to the TV screens when disparagement was writ large on the dull and visibly yellow shirt of the school boy which was projected to have been washed by Tide! It needed no informed legal eye to reach a conclusion of disparagement.
A decision to launch a new brand name or an advertisement in respect of a product has to be first tested on the touchstone of trademark law as the success or otherwise of a brand is pivoted on the many nuances of trademark law. An oft-aired complaint of in-house legal counsel is that they are being pressured by the marketing team to approve brand decisions that are not exactly in alignment with IPR laws. Unless there is a seamless coordination between the marketing and the legal teams, a decision as simple as the selection of a brand or its promotion could have disastrous legal consequences. While an aggressive strategy is required in the FMCG sector for brands to survive, disregarding the legal requirements under IPR laws could result in lawyers and admen laughing all the way to the bank and the brand owners making endless visits to the court.
The author is a partner with the Gurgaon-based IPR firm K&S Partners
A NEW BEGINNING IN TRANSFER PRICING AUDITS
Our tax laws are increasingly perceived as fraught with uncertainty in international circles. The recently concluded transfer pricing audit for the assessment year 2006-07 reaffirms this notion. Until last year, the transfer pricing controversy concerned the use of contemporaneous single-year data and high margin expectations from captive software and back-office service providers. But this round of audit has brought many other issues to the fore.
A shortfall in tax collections over the past few months and pressure on Indian tax authorities to increase revenues could have led to a focus on high-yield tax issues such as transfer pricing. Current estimates suggest that adjustments on account of transfer pricing have almost doubled since the last assessment.
In the present scenario, the introduction of the dispute resolution panel (DRP) is a welcome step. This alternate remedy is available to all 'eligible' taxpayersforeign companies or taxpayers for whom tax adjustment has been proposed on account of transfer pricing matters. Detailed rules, formed in this regard by the Central Board of Direct Taxes, were released on November 20, 2009, and provide further guidelines on appeal filing procedures. They also empower the Board to constitute panels headquartered in eight locations including Delhi and Mumbai. Each panel will consist of three commissioners of income tax. The formation of a panel to preside over the issue is likely to standardise the approach within a particular jurisdiction and reduce judgemental errors. Most importantly, the present DRP provisions will bring an end to prolonged litigation.
Another significant step taken by the government in this regard has been the introduction of safe harbour provisions, which have been introduced in many countries. In India, this is in the context of circumstances under which income tax authorities accept the transaction price declared by the taxpayer. Safe harbour rules and the alternate dispute resolution mechanism introduced in the last budget are expected to provide much-needed guidance and relief to taxpayers.
The author is tax partner, Ernst & Young. Views are personal
THE LONG ROAD TO JUSTICE
The Special Investigation Team tasked by the Supreme Court of India to enquire into the communal violence that shook Gujarat eight years ago has summoned Chief Minister Narendra Modi to appear before it for questioning on March 21. The summons is pursuant to a petition filed in the court by Zakia Jaffrey, widow of the former Congress Member of Parliament, Ehsan Jaffrey, who was one of the 69 persons killed at the Gulberg housing society in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002. Ms Jaffrey, and her co-petitioner, Citizens for Justice and Peace, have accused 62 senior Ministers, political leaders and activists, police officers and bureaucrats, including Mr. Modi, of conspiring to unleash large-scale violence against the Muslims of Gujarat. This followed the Godhra incident in which 59 passengers, all but one of them Hindu, perished following a mob attack on the Sabarmati Express. Ms Jaffrey first tried to file a complaint with the police in Ahmedabad, which refused to accept it. She then moved the Gujarat High Court without success. As a last resort, she appealed to the Supreme Court.
If the truth about Gujarat is ever to emerge, the SIT must be allowed to conduct its investigations without fear or favour. It must be free from the pressure of the establishment as well as activists, some of whom have levelled baseless and even over-the-top charges against it. Mr. Modi and the Gujarat government have always denied that there was any method in the madness that convulsed their State in 2002. But the failure to ensure proper investigation of the shocking crimes committed under their watch suggests a pattern of behaviour that needs thorough probing. A diligent investigation would look at the phone records of the Chief Minister and his closest associates to try and get a fix on the persons they remained in touch with during those days. Already, the SIT has established a prima facie case against one of his senior Ministers, Maya Kodnani, as well as various leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Since it is reasonable to assume that a man of Mr. Modi's intelligence and authority must have been aware of what his political associates were doing then, the SIT needs to establish why he never saw fit to get the police to act against them or the others against whom cases are now being filed. Was the de facto legal protection that was provided to rioters and their ringleaders the product of oversight, indifference, callousness, or complicity? This is a question the people of Gujarat, and the whole of India, want an answer for, however challenging the task and however long it takes.
PROTECTIONISM IN CHECK
Although the global economic recovery after the recession has been fragile and uneven, trade among countries has bounced back after a sharp decline a year ago. Between October, 2008 and January, 2009, global goods trade dropped by nearly 20 per cent. Several factors that were behind last year's plunge assume significance in the context of the ongoing recovery. Initially, supply side factors, notably the complete drying up of trade finance and protectionism, were blamed. A more recent analysis has attributed the fall in merchandise trade to a decline in demand, amplified by the synchronised downturn in nearly all countries. The globalised supply chains transmitted the weak demand signals rapidly. The relatively quick recovery corroborates the view that a precipitous fall in demand in the wake of the financial crisis was the principal factor. Consumers across the globe, shocked by the intensity of the crisis, put off their purchases. With the global economic climate improving, they are returning in strength. The impressive turnaround in the export performance of many developing countries, notably China, is due to the revival in demand at the global level.
Protectionism was a major threat during the downturn. However, a new report, prepared jointly for the G20 countries by the WTO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, points out that the feared surge of protectionism did not materialise. Even more significantly, in the recovery phase, most countries have successfully managed the political process of keeping protectionism at bay, despite the high unemployment rates and the shrinkage of employment opportunities. Over the past six months, the number of restrictions on international trade has dropped sharply. A majority of the new curbs relate to industries such as minerals and base metals that have traditionally relied on such measures. There has been no spurt in the emergency measures to block imports such as anti-dumping laws and recourse to safeguards mechanisms for goods deemed unfairly priced or subsidised. There are many critics of the report who contend that protectionism exists but in less traditional forms, as for example the bailout of financial institutions and car companies and the "Buy American" home procurement rules in the United States. The inability to move ahead with the Doha round also shows a lack of commitment among industrialised countries to free trade. The consensus is that protectionism is nowhere near its peak levels of the 1930s but cannot be discounted totally in today's world.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
A RADIOACTIVE BILL FRAUGHT WITH BIG RISKS
THE CIVIL LIABILITY FOR NUCLEAR DAMAGE BILL SEEKS TO BURDEN THE INDIAN TAXPAYER AND ENCUMBER THE RIGHTS OF VICTIMS OF ANY POTENTIAL RADIOACTIVE RELEASE FROM A FOREIGN-BUILT PLANT.
The government has finally released the text of its controversial nuclear-accident liability Bill. The text not only confirms the concerns expressed earlier over key elements of the proposed law but also raises additional issues of worry.
What stands out in the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill is the extent to which it goes to aid the business interests of the foreign reactor builders. In the process, the Bill seeks to financially burden the Indian taxpayer and encumber the rights of victims of any potential radioactive release from a foreign-built plant.
A special Indian law limiting liability in amount and in time has been sought by Washington for its nuclear-exporting firms, with the largest two, Westinghouse and General Electric (GE), set to win multibillion-dollar contracts to build several commercial nuclear power reactors. To forestall lawsuits filed against American suppliers in U.S. courts by victims of a nuclear catastrophe, Washington has also pressed for exclusive jurisdiction for Indian courts so that there will be no repeat of what happened after the Bhopal gas disaster. The Bill seeks to help out the U.S. firms on these counts, going at times even beyond what American law provides.
Under the Bill, the foreign reactor builder however culpable it is for a nuclear accident will be completely immune from any victim-initiated civil suit or criminal proceedings in an Indian court or in a court in its home country. The Bill actually turns the legal liability of a foreign reactor supplier for an accident into mere financial compensation that too, pegged at a pittance and routed through the Indian state operator of the plant. Foreign suppliers will have no direct accident-related liability.
The foreign builders will bask under legal immunity because the Bill channels all legal liability to the Central Government. Clause 7 states the "Central Government shall be liable for nuclear damage in respect of a nuclear incident" when such liability exceeds the Rs.500-crore liability limit of the operator or where the accident occurs "in a nuclear installation owned by it [the Indian government]." The Union government will own all foreign-built reactors.
Indeed, the Bill creates a specious distinction between the operator and the government when both are fused in the Indian context. After all, it is the Indian state which will run all foreign-built plants through its operator, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). Yet, throughout the Bill, the pretence of a U.S.-style separation between the operator and the government is maintained.
Under Clause 6, the maximum liability of the operator and the government combined has been set at "the rupee equivalent of 300 million special drawing rights (SDRs)," or Rs.2,087 crore ($458 million) 23 times lower than what is provided under the equivalent U.S. law, the controversial Price-Anderson Act (labelled "Half-Price Anderson" by critics). Of this, the total liability of the operator has been limited to Rs.500 crore ($109 million). The Central government will be liable for damages in excess of Rs.500 crore but only up to Rs.2,087 crore.
In actual fact, all liability falls on the Indian taxpayer, whether it is the operator's slice or the Central government's portion. The state operator, the NPCIL, through a construction contract, can make the foreign builder legally responsible to pay compensation for an accident. But the amount payable by a foreign builder can only be up to the state operator's own liability ceiling, which is a trifling Rs.500 crore ($109 million).
So, even if the accident were triggered by wilful negligence on the part of the foreign supplier and the consequences were catastrophic, all claims would have to be filed against the Indian state with the NPCIL required to disburse the first Rs. 500 crore and the Central government the second portion up to Rs. 2,087 crore. The NPCIL could, in turn, try to recover its Rs. 500 crore from the foreign supplier. But for the Indian taxpayer, this is a lose-lose proposition.
That raises a fundamental question: What will it do to nuclear safety to grant foreign suppliers legal immunity upfront and to shift the liability to the Indian taxpayer?
Another key issue relates to the rights of victims. The Bill ensures that victims of a disaster involving a foreign-built reactor will not be able to sue the builder in its home country. Worse still, the Bill blocks the victims from suing the foreign supplier even in Indian courts.
Only the "operator shall have a right of recourse," according to Clause 17. The state operator can sue the foreign supplier where "such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing" and "the nuclear incident has resulted from the wilful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services, or of his employee." But such a right of recourse can only be to meet the operator's own small liability of Rs. 500 crore.
In fact, the Bill seriously shackles Indian courts. All nuclear-damage claims will be dealt with by a Claims Commissioner or a Nuclear Damage Claims Commission, and any award made "shall be final" and cannot be appealed in any court. "No civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceedings in respect of any matter which the Claims Commissioner or the Commission, as the case may be, is empowered to adjudicate under this Act and no injunction shall be granted by any court or other authority in respect of any action taken or to be taken in pursuance of any power conferred by or under this Act," according to Clause 35.
By contrast, the Price-Anderson Act permits economic (but not legal) channelling of liability, thereby allowing lawsuits and criminal proceedings against the reactor builder or any other party in U.S. courts. That is a key reason why the U.S. has not joined the Vienna or Paris convention the two main international liability instruments. But the U.S. has become party to another convention it helped draft under the auspices of the IAEA the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC), which is still not in force. The CSC, as the name suggests, is about compensation through an international fund, to be paid "supplementary" to the liability limit.
The Bill also limits liability in time, with Clause 18 stating: "The right to claim compensation for any nuclear damage caused by a nuclear incident shall extinguish if such claim is not made within a period of 10 years from the date of incident " That provision was retained despite the Environment Ministry's note of caution revealed by this newspaper that the 10-year time limit was untenable because damage to human health from a serious radioactive release "involves changes in DNAs, resulting in mutagenic and teratogenic changes, which take a long time to manifest."
And although the Finance Ministry, in its comments on the Bill, had warned the proposed law would "expose the government to substantial liabilities for the failings of the private sector," the Bill essentially seeks to give foreign reactor builders a free ride at the Indian taxpayer's expense.
The Indian Bill, in effect, amounts to a huge hidden subsidy by protecting foreign reactor builders from the weight of the financial consequences of accidents. If the Bill is passed, the costs of doing business in India for foreign suppliers will be low but the assured profits will be high. To cover the maximum potential compensation payable for an accident, a foreign builder will need to take insurance for a mere Rs. 500 crore. What is more, the foreign builders are being freed from the task of producing electricity at marketable rates. The NPCIL will run the foreign-built reactors, with the state subsidising the high-priced electricity generated.
India is under no international obligation to pass such a law. In fact, efforts to create common international standards on liability and compensation since the Chernobyl disaster have made exceedingly slow progress. Yet the Bill's accompanying "Statement of Objects and Reasons" creates the deceptive impression that the proposed law aims to bring India in line internationally. If anything, the Bill seeks to set a wrong international precedent by its mollycoddling of foreign suppliers.
To be sure, technological improvements in reactor-safety systems have significantly lowered the risks of a major nuclear accident. Yet nuclear technology remains intrinsically dangerous, and a single catastrophe anywhere in the world will impose colossal, long-term costs and have a chilling effect on the global appeal of nuclear power. Given the nuclear safety and security issues that have been highlighted by recent incidents in India, accident liability is a matter demanding serious consideration.
The government must answer the central question: In seeking to invite U.S. reactor builders, should a poor country rush to pass a special law that skews the business terms in their favour, gratuitously burdens the Indian taxpayer and ignores the lessons of the Bhopal gas disaster?
INDIA-UAE: AN ENDURING RELATIONSHIP
SHEIKH MOHAMMED BIN RASHID AL MAKTOUM TRULY BELIEVES THAT INDIA AND THE UAE CAN COMBINE THEIR INTELLECTUAL AND PRACTICAL ENERGIES TO SPAWN A DYNAMIC NEW LOCUS OF 21ST CENTURY POWER.
If a photograph could capture the rapport between two leaders, the one appearing on the front pages of many newspapers on Friday morning certainly succeeded. It showed His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates in animated conversation with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India.
That photograph can be seen as a metaphor, and not only an image capturing a high-level diplomatic meeting in New Delhi. The story of the United Arab Emirates and of Dubai is familiar to people around the world by now. It is a story of how a pioneering band of hardy Bedouin tribesmen created a modern society from stark desert through sheer willpower, judicious use of natural resources, and relentless promotion of education, innovation and enterprise.
This narrative has held up remarkably well in the nearly 40 years since the federation was formed after the British administrators left the Gulf region. But now the UAE is accelerating the pace of its narrative to take into account the demands of a new age of globalisation and of the federation's own desire to contribute even more fulsomely to economic progress in the global commons.
Central to such an accelerated narrative is, of course, trade. The UAE and India have an annual bilateral trade that's approaching $50 billion, making each country the other's largest trading partner. This sort of trade did not just happen overnight. Dhows have plied the waters of the Gulf and the Indian Ocean for centuries, bringing spices and textiles and consumer goods from India, and taking gold and jewellery from Arabian shores. (Some would say, of course, that arms were also carried aboard the dhows.) The economy of the UAE and of Dubai in particular has been strengthened by inputs from India and Indians, who have brought not only their business acumen but also technological expertise.
In turn, India's trillion-dollar economy one of the world's biggest has been hospitable to investments from the UAE. Sheikh Mohammed told Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Thursday that he liked to think that their two countries are each other's closest and most trusted friends. And both leaders like to think that it's in their mutual interest to ensure that such a relationship should endure. Shashi Tharoor, currently India's Minister of State for External Affairs, and almost certainly a future prime minister at least in his considerable high self-regard is known to share such a sentiment.
This remarkable relationship did not happen by accident. Sheikh Mohammed often said that the secret lies in the multicultural, multiethnic fabric of UAE society. In UAE society, social and business interests co-exist in an easy, open environment. The government's role is largely regulatory it is that of an enabler. The business sector of the UAE now has a unique international fabric, and Indian businessmen constitute an integral part of that fabric. In tandem with the efforts of Emiratis themselves, the collective contributions of Indians and other entrepreneurs from different parts of the world have established the UAE as a leading hub for trade, financial services, and tourism.
Sheikh Mohammed's visit to India came at a time when economic and diplomatic relations between the two countries have never been healthier. He clearly sees the huge market that beckons in India. As someone who has often said that he "discovered that there is no shorter distance between two civilisations than that between the Arab and Indian civilisations," Sheikh Mohammed recognises the potential of enhanced trade with India. For example, that India plans to spend $600 on developing its infrastructure over the next five years. The UAE has formidable experience in this field. It is interested in making significant new investment in India due to faith in India's economic potential and the synergy that the two countries' economies share. The UAE already has nearly $6 billion invested in various projects in India.
UAE companies also have considerable experience in working in India itself. Emaar, for example, is helping
develop the facilities for the 2010 Asian Games. Dubai World has operations in India. And in the UAE itself, thousands of Indian companies operate profitably in various sectors, especially precious metals, textiles, foods and services.
Of course, there are human-rights issues such as the treatment of construction and unskilled workers. But Sheikh Mohammed has made it clear in no uncertain terms that his government will not tolerate abuses. Strict legislation is being enforced to ensure that the rights of guest workers are protected, a point emphasised in former Indian Consul-General Venu Rajamony's new best-selling book, India and the UAE: In Celebration of a Legendary Friendship.
When UAE leaders such as Sheikh Mohammed look at the tumultuous world around them and not only in the Middle East it may be tempting to be dismayed by how nations and their leaders sometimes lose opportunities to advance the interests of their people. But one can fairly guess that his worldview is that of an irrepressible optimist: Where there are setbacks, he sees opportunities. Where there is failure, he sees a chance for redemption. Where there is economic gloom, he surely sees prospects for engendering positive energy.
These are qualities that Sheikh Mohammed shares with India's great leaders, past and present Gandhi, Nehru, Indira, Rajiv, and now Sonia and Manmohan Singh and Shashi Tharoor. That's why Sheikh Mohammed travelled to India because he truly believes that India and the UAE can combine their intellectual and practical energies to spawn a dynamic new locus of 21st century power. Call it "soft power," if you will. But it is, in the final analysis, the power to change lives, the power to transform societies into engines of progress and prosperity.
( Pranay Gupte, a veteran journalist and writer, is the author of a forthcoming book on India and the Middle East.)
LET NOW A THREAT BEYOND INDIA: U.S. CONGRESS
THE U.S. OUGHT TO TAKE THE THREAT "VERY, VERY SERIOUSLY."
In an unmistakable sign of rising concern in the United States over the expansive reach of the militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Congressional hearing on Thursday emphasised the urgent need to "crush" the group.
The hearing, titled "Bad Company: Lashkar e-Tayyiba and the Growing Ambition of Islamist Militancy in Pakistan", Chairman Gary Ackerman said that in the wake of the Mumbai attacks in 2008 computer records and email accounts investigated yielded 320 locations worldwide deemed to be possible targets of LeT attacks. Only 20 of the targets were locations in India, Mr. Ackerman added.
Highlighting the relationship between the LeT and the Pakistani military, Mr. Ackerman said the LeT was a deadly serious group of "fanatics" and the U.S. ought to take this threat "very, very seriously."
Ms Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and expert witness testifying at the hearing, said, "It has been a failure of U.S. policy to not insist Pakistan shut down the LeT long ago. U.S. officials have shied away from pressuring Pakistan on the LeT in the interest of garnering Pakistani cooperation against targets the U.S. believed were more critical to immediate U.S. objectives, i.e., Al-Qaeda shortly after 9/11 and the Afghan Taliban more recently."
However overlooking the activities of LeT in Pakistan is the equivalent of standing next to a ticking time bomb waiting for it to explode, she warned. Furthermore, given that the LeT has cooperated with Al-Qaeda and shares a similar anti-west Islamist ideology, Al-Qaeda cannot be dismantled without also shutting down the operations of the LeT, Ms Curtis said.
Mr. Ackerman pointed out that today LeT were well-financed, ambitious, and, most disturbingly, both tolerated by and connected to, the Pakistani military. This is the same Pakistani military to which we are selling advanced arms, Mr. Ackerman added. There was agreement at the Committee that "Pakistan was in a delicate dance with a Frankenstein's monster of its own making... which was now going global."
Ashley Tellis, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, concurred on LeT's deep links to the establishment in Pakistan. He said, "LeT uses Pakistani territory as its main base of operation, and continues to be supported extensively by the Pakistani state, especially the Army and Inter-Services Intelligence. [However] it does not need constant operational support from the ISI for its effectiveness today."
Influence beyond borders
The Chairman's report at the hearing described the LeT's substantial global network, stating that it stretched from the Philippines to the United Kingdom. His comments further emphasised that the LeT was not just India's problem and while it was historically been in the Kashmir valley and the Jammu region, it has also undertaken repeated and numerous mass casualty attacks throughout India, directed at the Indian government.
Touching upon LeT's broader global agenda Mr. Tellis said, "The organisation's close ties with Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and its support for the Afghan Taliban's military operations pose a direct threat to U.S. citizens, soldiers, and interests."
The Chairman categorically stated, "The idea that this group can be appeased on the subject of Kashmir is dangerous nonsense." He further added that the LeT has not been shy about announcing its intention to establish an Islamic state in all of South Asia, and has been attacking U.S. forces in Afghanistan almost from day one."
During his testimony Mr. Tellis called for greater candidness by the U.S. saying it should stop pretending that LeT is an independent actor. "A candid recognition that the organisation receives protection and support from the Pakistani state would go a long way toward solving the problem", Mr. Tellis said. He further exhorted the U.S. to be prepared to take action if Pakistan did not move decisively against the LeT.
In his final remarks Mr. Ackerman made a strong statement calling for action, saying, "This group of savages needs to be crushed. Not in a month. Not in a year. Not when the situation stabilises in Afghanistan. Not when things are under control in Pakistan. Now."
If the U.S. did not effectively lead a global effort to do so, Mr. Ackerman added, they would regret it bitterly.
U.S. FAITH IN CLIMATE SCIENCE HITS NEW LOW
Public belief in climate science has seen a precipitous slide in the U.S., according to new polling that suggests fewer Americans are concerned about the threat posed by global warming.
Nearly half of Americans 48 per cent now believe the threat of global warming has been exaggerated, the highest level since polling began 13 years ago, the poll published on Thursday by Gallup said.
It directly linked the decline in concern to the controversies about media coverage of stolen emails from the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia, England, and a mistake about the Himalayan glaciers melting by 2035 in the U.N.'s authoritative report on global warming.
"These news reports may well have caused some Americans to re-evaluate the scientific consensus on global warming," Gallup said.
Half of Americans now believe there is a scientific consensus on climate change. Some 46 per cent believe scientists are unsure about global warming, or that they believe it is not occurring. A U.K. poll last month showed adults who believe climate change is "definitely" a reality had dropped from 44 per cent to 31 per cent over the past year.
"The last two years have marked a general reversal in the trend of Americans' attitudes about global warming," Gallup said. "It may be that the continuing doubts about global warming put forth by conservatives and others are having an effect." The poll feeds into fears among some environmentalists that the furore over the hacked emails has given new fuel to opponents of action on climate change, and stopped short the momentum in Congress for passage of a clean energy law.
A troika of Senators trying to draft a compromise climate bill that could get broad support said this week they may not be able to produce a draft until after the Easter recess, further reducing the chances of enacting legislation in 2010.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration faces lawsuits from Virginia, Texas, Alabama and a dozen business lobbies challenging its authority to act on greenhouse gas emissions through the Environmental Protection Agency.
Tim Wirth, a former Colorado senator who led the campaign against acid rain, told a conference call the science
squabbles resembled a re-run of efforts to discredit that earlier effort for an environmental clean-up.
He said the scientists who worked on the IPCC report were woefully outmanoeuvred in PR by business groups which have the funds to employ legions of lobbyists and communications experts. "It's not a fair fight," he said. "The IPCC is just a tiny secretariat next to this giant denier machine." A majority of Americans continues to believe that climate change is real, but they are less convinced of its urgency. Only 32 per cent believe they will be directly affected by the consequences of a warming atmosphere, despite a major report by the Obama administration last year that climate change could bring flooding, heat waves, drought and loss of wildlife to the U.S. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
NEED FOR A BETTER MIX
Fashion shows in Europe and America are tied to seasonal offerings. Hence autumn and winter, spring and summer collections are de rigueur. Along with the cat-walks and show-stoppers, Indian fashion too seems to unthinkingly follow the European pattern.
One wonders why Indian fashion designers and show managers do not want to infuse some indigenous ideas to make fashion a little more vibrant and give it the much-needed desi branding. After all, fashion cannot mean Italian and French design patterns being adapted through Indian fabrics and to Indian preferences.
The general lament that what you see on the ramp cannot be worn on the sidewalk is slightly impertinent because haute couture is essentially a statement of passion, imagination, extravagance and opulence. While making high street fashion accessible at the downtown market is a business proposition,what is more relevant is whether India's fabulous resources, not just in terms of fabrics, but in terms of climate, can be made into a leitmotif of design as well.
It is surprising that the rainy season, which is such an inalienable part of the Indian calendar, does not inspire a monsoon collection among our designers. It could and should inspire designers to think of ways of getting drenched in a downpour without looking downright bedraggled. Then there is the famous, or infamous, scorching Indian summer which should prove as much of a challenge to the fashion designers' imagination as the rainy season.
The renowned gauze-like Dhaka muslin is an example of what the fabric can be made to do to meet the demands of weather. A similar raiment response is the Lucknowi chikan.
If one digs a little more into the Indian mode beyond rains and summer, the designers should be able to discover the traditional six seasons celebrated in Sanskrit and other Indian language literatures, the most well-known being Kalidasa's Ritusamhara, which is a description of grishma (summer), varsha (monsoon), hemanta (early winter), shishir (late winter) and vasanta (spring). Each season should lead to a collection, and there could be six instead of four European collections.
This is not exactly a case for going native or striking a note of cultural nationalism. This should be an exercise in giving Indian fashion its own resonance, which will make it an attractive player on the world stage as well. The saree, the wrap-around of all seasons, is getting much attention from designers and the gliterrati all over the world. To add seasonal motifs to Indian fabrics will not only make Indian fashion exotic, but also give it that niche value which is the hallmark of sound business.
CAVEAT ON BHARAT RATNA
Given the clamour for conferring the Bharat Ratna on Sachin Tendulkar from Bal Thackeray to Sourav Ganguly, it is now almost a certainty that the master batsman will get the award sooner or later. However, an observation of Farooq Abdullah in a television programme that the conferment of Bharat Ratna on Sachin will bring glory to the award itself inadvertently hinted at what has gone wrong with the honours system.
The expectation that Sachin will restore the original lustre of the coveted prize implies that he will receive the medal when it has lost its sheen. Such an interpretation is patently unfair to a person who is more deserving of the decoration than a number of other recipients. Yet, the devaluation of the award makes a derogatory value judgment of this nature unavoidable.
However, if and when Sachin receives the award, it is expected to mark the first step towards the restoration of its worth. But the question could arise whether he would have been considered for the honour if the prize had not been devalued. After all, however talented a batsman and nice a person he is, he is not Jawaharlal Nehru or Nelson Mandela or CV Raman.
The original purpose of the award was to give it to a great son or daughter of India, who has played a seminal role in moulding the country's history. Or to a world citizen whose luminous personality has made him transgress the boundaries of his own country and stand out as a beacon for the rest of the world. Or to a scientist who brought glory to India by winning the Nobel Prize.
The fact that Sachin does not belong to this category will be obvious when one considers the case of Jawaharlal Nehru. Few were as qualified for the tribute as the first prime minister for his role as the architect of modern India and for laying down and strengthening the roots of democracy in this country when these were withering away in most of the newly-independent nations of Asia and Africa. That he was the fifth to get the Bharat Ratna suggests that the standards had become wobbly right from the start although it is also possible that Nehru himself had demurred since he was in power at the time.
This could not have been the case where his daughter Indira Gandhi was concerned, who was also in power when she received the award or gave it to herself in 1971. Along with her son Rajiv she must be counted among those whose contributions to the nation were overvalued. If Indira received the Bharat Ratna in 1971 for cutting Pakistan in half, she botched her own record by her tryst with dictatorship four years later. Similarly, Rajiv's claim to fame remains his suspected involvement in the Bofors scandal, which makes him an unworthy recipient of the award in 1991, the year of his death.
There are, of course, others who were even less deserving. Heading the list in this respect was Gulzarilal Nanda, who was acting prime minister twice after the deaths of Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri before he was unceremoniously shunted out in favour of a more preferred choice. Why he should have been given the highest award is unclear unless it was to soothe his bruised ego.
Politics has evidently been the guiding factor in these selections, none more so than when the honour was conferred on VV Giri in 1975, presumably for having been Indira's nominee for the president's post in 1969 against the so-called syndicate's Sanjeeva Reddy, and posthumously on Vinoba Bhave for having described the emergency as "anusashan parva" or the period of discipline.
Given this unedifying background, it was perhaps just as well that the Morarji Desai government discontinued the awards in 1977 because of their politicisation. Interestingly, when Indira restored them on returning to power in 1980, the first person who was chosen for it was Mother Teresa and (after Vinoba Bhave) Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, both of whom eminently deserved the honour. The Frontier Gandhi was the first person to be given the award despite not being a citizen of India, but his salutary past made that irrelevant. The other person was Nelson Mandela, the Gandhi of the present era.
Clearly, the quality of the recipients has varied wildly. There have also been curious controversies as when the award given posthumously to Subhash Chandra Bose was withdrawn because of the belief among Bengalis that he did not die in 1945. But the point remains that the Bharat Ratna hasn't remained the untarnished jewel that it was supposed to be. Sachin, therefore, will receive a flawed medal.
The writer is a Delhi-based commentator
NIGHT OUT IN BERLIN -- AND HOW
I believe that a city's nightlife speaks a lot about the spirit of the people and the place. I had heard a lot about Berlin as an emerging nightlife destination in Europe from friends, in online reviews and travelogues. So I signed up to take the pub crawl to check it out for myself when I got there.
We reached the square in front of the designated cafe to start the pub crawl. It was close to two degrees and the wind chills weren't helping either. My friend and I were wrapped in layers from head to toe but still couldn't beat the chilly weather. Beer was the last thing on our mind. But in keeping with German tradition, our welcome drink at the crawl was a pint of Berliner. Shivering with cold, we gulped it down. Germans drink beer come rain, come snow, they just drink beer!
Our guide was a young Australian girl whohad fallen in love with Berlin and stayed back. During my visit I heard many stories of people who had stayed back in this city. Not because they got good money or good jobs, but because they fell in love with Berlin.
Most of the city's buildings and facades of monuments were rebuilt in heritage style and it was hard to tell that all this was just 20 years old. Rents were low and life was comfortable. Berlin's unpleasant past with Hitler and World War II seemed to have made the locals more helpful towards and acceptable of outsiders.
Our crawl group was a complete mix, just like the local population. First, I noticed a bunch of loud Irish men who had come to the city for a bachelor party. Second was a group of Dutch men, relatively quiet and soft spoken. Our guide told us that Berlin pubs are open all night, smoking is allowed inside and you can easily take one for the road if you don't finish your drink when you leave the pub.
That's as free as it can get for a partygoer, I thought. So we hit the first pub. It was a dimly lit, tiny watering hole. Everyone ordered another beer and got a free round of two shots. I noticed a guy from Israel. He had had a fight with his friend and decided to join the crawl alone. Well, from the way he was sulking I thought he was gay and had had a tiff with his boyfriend. Anyway, we got to hear a lot about his views on the Palestine problem, and how nightlife rocked in Tel Aviv too.
The only German in the group was a 20-year-old boy named Victor (he could drink legally at that age) and in typical German style he had taken it upon himself to make the visitors feel comfortable. Two more rounds of shots and we were set for the next destination. We got out and as we walked across the road, I felt warm enough to get rid of my jacket. I guess it was all the alcohol but I wasn't complaining.
After we left our next pub, we realised how alive the streets were. The city seemed transformed in the night. There was no obvious distinction between East and West Berlin. But in daytime, dark history was everywhere in museums, on roads, in the last existing stretch of the Berlin Wall and in the holocaust memorials. But at night, everything changed. The city was modern and futuristic.
In the next pub, two Irish guys introduced themselves as Sara and Michelle and that's what we called them all night. We danced, took pictures, shared stories and Victor got us drinks. The Israeli guy was no longer gay because he danced like a man!
We left the last club wearing only T-shirt and jeans. And we walked the empty streets of the city with the joy of going sans layers of clothing after freezing in the first two days of our Berlin visit. That's when we understood why Germans drank so much beer!
And when we woke up the next morning, we were confused as to exactly how many pubs we had gone to. We didn't remember the name of a single one. It was all a haze. Apart from the momentary loss of perception, the tough German names had a lot to do with it too! But what we did remember were Sara, Michelle, Victor, Tel Aviv and the Berliner. I guess Berlin nightlife does rock after all.
ALL-PARTY TALKS WELCOME
BUT WOMEN'S BILL MUST GO THROUGH
Though belated, the offer to consult all political parties on the Women's Reservation Bill is certainly welcome. It ended the four-day old stalemate in Parliament, allowing both the Houses to finally get on with their business. The talks, as and when they take place, are expected to address the concerns voiced both in and out of Parliament about what is undoubtedly a contentious piece of legislation. But then both the government and the vocal opposition needed some breathing time and a face-saver to emerge from the embarrassing situation of their own making. The relief , therefore, showed on the face of the UPA troubleshooter and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as he folded his hands and expressed his hope that the assurance of talks would assuage the feelings of all members and allow business to be conducted smoothly. Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sharad Yadav also badly needed an escape route after having disrupted the proceedings over the preceding three days and after getting increasingly isolated over the issue. The please-all offer has, naturally, satisfied all these sections.
It is, however, to be hoped that the government will not use the need for talks to put the Bill on hold. The stiff opposition to the Bill in its present form has been known for a long time, in fact ever since the Bill was first introduced 14 years ago. There was general agreement that the Bill, which would require amendment of the Constitution and ratification by at least 15 state Assemblies, each one by two-thirds majority, would require a consensus across parties. But no political party utilised the last decade and a half to build that consensus or develop an informed public opinion. Even now the contours of future consultations are far from clear. The demand for a 'quota within quota' for Muslims or OBCs is best dealt with, as suggested by the Congress president, by letting political parties nominate as many women from these groups as they like. But then by that logic, there would be no need for mandatory reservation of seats for women either. It could well have been left to the political parties to nominate more women to contest elections, something that even the Congress has failed to do over the years.
In any case, it is in the interest of the nation that the government does not go back on the Bill at this stage. The government must not allow any delay or dilution while containing the damage caused by its inept handling of the Bill
SIT'S SUMMONS TO MODI
THE TRUTH MUST BE UNMASKED COME WHAT MAY
The summons issued to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi by the Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court to fix responsibility for the 2002 post-Godhra carnage is a step forward in the quest to find answers to nagging questions that continue to haunt the country's conscience. That eight years have elapsed after the horrible massacre before such a basic aspect of investigation could take off is testimony to how slowly the wheels of justice move in our country. It is ironical indeed that with the cases relating to the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom proceeding at a snail's pace, some draw solace from the pace of investigations in the post-Godhra riots cases. It was the BJP government in Gandhinagar that is in the dock on the 2002 incidents as it was some leaders of the Congress party that were believed to be responsible for the ghastly incidents of 1984. That tells the story of how politics has got derailed in our country and how vote bank politics plays havoc with the lives of innocent people.
It speaks volumes of the courage and tenacity of the complainant Zakia Jafri, widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the 2002 post-Godhra riots, that she has waged a dogged battle to unmask those who may have instigated the massacre or looked the other way while lumpen elements were killing and looting at will. Zakia Jafri's petition says Modi, along with other ministers in his government, conspired to "allow the massacre of Muslims". She has alleged that the chief minister and his colleagues instructed policemen and bureaucrats not to respond to pleas for help from Muslims being attacked during the riots. These are serious charges that Mr Modi must answer convincingly if he is to shake off the image of being complicit in the carnage.
It is imperative that the truth behind Ehsan Jafri's murder and that of so many others in the post-Godhra incidents be established. The SIT, which under former CBI Director Raghavan has set about its task in right earnest, must be given complete backup to complete its task without fear or favour.
PAYING TO BE DUPED
ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION TAKES ITS TOLL
Statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have confirmed what anecdotal and other accounts have established illegal immigration from Punjab continues unabated in an increasing hostile world environment. It comes as no surprise that 84 per cent of such immigrants are uneducated if not, many of them would have joined the ranks of the other Indian immigrants who have made a place in the world with their professionalism and skills.
The UNODC report maintains that 20,000 persons from Punjab try to migrate illegally every year, and most of them do so by selling off a part of their land. They sell off tangible assets for an intangible dream that often turns nightmarish. The study shows that the preferred destination is the UK, with its English language and the large Punjabi diaspora being the main attractions. Ironically, because they are uneducated, the immigrants lack English language proficiency, and thus they face many difficulties. Illegal immigrants have 57 other destination countries, including the US.
It is vital that we equip our citizens with specific skills that are in demand in destination countries. The Indian diaspora is centuries old, and the reasons for immigration remain the same, a perceived lack of opportunity at home and the dream of making it big in a foreign land. Most of the Punjabi immigrants, according to the study, are young, 55 per cent between 21-30 years. Lack of education contributes to their being duped by agents who promise them the moon, while sometimes delivering them to hell. The agents are seldom punished, because victims often reach out-of-court compromises and don't pursue cases. The agents should be punished to the full extent of the law and effort must be made to ensure that the immigration sector operates in a transparent manner, is regulated properly and all players are held accountable for their actions.
ON THE ROAD TO EQUALITY
WOMEN'S QUOTA BILL CAN CAUSE SOCIAL CHANGE
BY RAJINDAR SACHAR
A welcome demonstrable step in favour of gender equity and a chink in the arrogant male chauvinism have been struck by the passing of the Women's Reservation Bill by the Rajya Sabha.
It is justly being celebrated by women and all right-thinking men as a step towards ending the commonly accepted version in India of a woman being either as a mother, a daughter or a wife, but not as an individual with her own personality, notwithstanding the commendable achievements of a woman being the President of India, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Minister of the biggest state in the country. The Bill is, however, only the beginning of a fight for gender justice.
The passing of the Bill has generated extraordinary confidence among women in the country. That enthusiasm should not be allowed to be frittered away by what one is fearing of political expediency by not passing this Bill in the present session of the Lok Sabha, but waiting for the next session which will be months away.
Some weak-kneed persons in the ruling party may trot out the excuse of the danger of passing the Budget or the risk in the weakening of outside party support. There seems hardly any justification for this gloomy view a last-minute corrective action by the Prime Minister and Mrs Sonia Gandhi (notwithstanding the shaky advise of their advisers) in insisting on passing the Bill in Rajya Sabha was the real knock-out blow against the opponents of the Bill.
Of course, this was made much easier by the open and correct support given by both the BJP and the Left parties. That support is still available. Notwithstanding the bullying buster by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mr Sharad Yadav, these diehard obscurantists cannot muster strength or make a cleavage in the support given by the BJP and the Left on this issue.
The Yadav trio need to be reminded to freshen up their Lohia readings the mentor had clearly opined that reservation for women was an instrument in social engineering; he never suggested splitting the strength of the women's quota by further dividing them in sub-quotas.
Another fear put forward is that a no-confidence move by the Yadavs might tempt the BJP and the Left to make use of this opportunity. I do not see any such possibility. Notwithstanding the cleavage in their political formulations, the women electorate as such will never forgive a political party, which sought in any way to trifle the numbers and endanger the passing of the Bill in the present session.
Surely, some kind of via media can be worked out. This writer knows the fuel price hike is one of the most contentious issues each party can project its own stand, but that cannot and should not result in any danger to the stability of the government. Could not the fuel price hike differences be sorted out by these three parties by following the Lenin's slogan of "two steps forward and one step backward", say, by suspending the fuel price hike in the present scenario and taking up this issue in the next session?
It may look a little anomalous and frustrating, but the overall compulsion of passing the Women's Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha in this very session is of so overwhelming importance that some kind of adjustment is necessary among the Congress, the BJP and the Left parties.
Half of the state assemblies have still to approve of the Bill before it can become a law. If the enthusiasm generated is not made use of in this very session, the Bill may run out to become empty rhetoric and face the danger of being caught up in mutual mudslinging with uncertain prospects and might suffer a near-fatal blow, as it happened in the past.
The opponents of the Bill are projecting false fears. The argument that the women's quota will be monopolised by urban women is a red herring. There are about 200 OBCs in the Lok Sabha. It is a stark reality that it is not their public service, but merely the caste configuration that has preferred them. Similar results will follow even after reservation for women. The only difference will be a big chink in the male bastion. That is the real reason for opposition by a section of the male legislators.
Crimes against urban women are no less heinous than those against rural women. Women as a class cannot be bifurcated in the matter of injustice. The creation of artificial sub-quotas within this suppressed section is a conspiracy of male chauvinism to perpetuate its dominance.
The provision of a sub-quota for OBC women runs the risk of being held as un-constitutional. The reservation of seats is guaranteed only for the SCs/STs in Article 330. The framers of the Constitution did not intend further fragmentation of the legislatures on caste lines.
The latest Asia-Pacific Human Development Report estimates that the under-representation of women in the workforce costs the region about $89 billion each year roughly equivalent to the GDP of Vietnam.
In South Asia, on critical issues such as health, adult literacy and economic participation, the gaps between men and women are very large by world standards, and almost half the adult women in South Asia are illiterate, a higher proportion than in any other region in the world. Women in South Asia can expect to live five fewer years than the world average of 70.9 years.
The opponents of the Bill refuse to treat women as equals. It is this mindset that is sought to be destroyed by the Bill, which selfish politicians are resisting while pretending to fight for social justice.
Women are not asking for grace and charity. Their contribution to the cause of nation-building exceeds that of men. An International Labour Organisation study shows that "while women represent 50 per cent of the world adult population and a third of the official labour force, they perform nearly two-thirds of all working hours, receive a tenth of world income and own less than 1 per cent of world property." Therefore, reservation for women is not a bounty but only an honest recognition of their contribution to social development.
The reservation for women would check the muddy polities that their menfolk have brought about. It can lead to social consciousness in political life. It will also help break the criminal-politician nexus the real danger to our democracy. The working of this law will unleash a powerful agent of social change, gender respect and social reforms.
The writer is a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court
A WORLD TRANSFORMED
BY ROOPINDER SINGH
These girls are bright, they do well in their exams and what happens after that ... they come and meet you a few years down the line, with a baby in their arms. What have they done with their education? Which of your students has done well, professionally? What's the use of educating them?"
The diatribe came from a petulant youngster and it was flung at his mother, the then Principal, Government College for Women, Patiala. "This is not a professional college; it's one with focus on liberal arts. It takes time before you effect change in society. When I was a student, there were precious few girls who were educated, be it in Patiala or Lahore, where I studied."
In 1975, the Principal went on to become the first woman Vice-Chancellor of a university in north India, one of the three in the world at that time. Now, she headed an institution that prepared many professionals. Some of these students were those whose mothers had studied under her. By now, career was firmly on the agenda of these young girls, and many became professionals ... things had changed a lot.
A few years later, again in her new assignment as Chairman, the gender-neutral term of Chairperson had yet to gain currency, of the Staff Selection Commission, New Delhi, she saw many young women competing for traditionally male bastions, encouraged by role models like Serla Grewal and Kiran Bedi.
As Mrs Inderjit Kaur Sandhu and I sat together to see the tumultuous scenes in the Rajya Sabha while the women's Bill was being 'debated', we started chatting about women politicians. India had taken a lead over many Western nations in giving franchise to women right from Independence, the struggle for which had thrown up many women leaders like Sarojini Naidu, Aruna Asif Ali, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur and Vijayalakshmi Pandit.
When we are young, the names of women political leaders like Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto, Margaret Thatcher, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, were on our fingertips. These ladies fought in a world of men, and left their mark on the polity of their nations. The way the Women's Reservation Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha is enough indication of how vested interests can try to sabotage progressive moves.
Empowering women has many consequences, some unintended, but that is a result of power. The world that my mother saw has been transformed in her over eight decades of existence. After the debate, she said: "Once you asked me how many of my students became professionals. Their education made them ambitious for their daughters, who did well in various professions. You know what, a number of my students became active in politics, too. Who knows, we will soon see their granddaughters in Parliament." Mother is always right. But then, you already know that, don't you?
RECESSION IMPACTS GROWTH IN HARYANA
BY GOBIND THUKRAL
THE economic meltdown has taken some shine out of Haryana's economic well-being. The state's fiscal health is not as rosy as it was a year back. For three consecutive years, 2007 to 2009, the state showed a constant surplus Budget, which was a reflection of good economic growth and better management practices. During the current year, 2009- 2010, the government has admitted that the revenue collection was adversely affected. There was a significant decline in the growth rate of state tax revenues and collections under stamp and registration and urban development acts.
Moreover, Haryana suffered critically due to the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission for the welfare of its employees. It implementation has put an additional financial burden of Rs 6,000 crore per annum on the state. Since the arrears were to be paid to the employees with effect from January 1, 2006, the state had to cough out huge money. The total salaries and pension outgo during 2010-11 shall be a whooping Rs 11,630 crore nearly four times increase since 2001. The revenue deficit is primarily on account of the impact of the Sixth Pay Commission, with the annual pay increase impact for 2010-11 amounting to about Rs 2,600 crore, and the arrears of pay and pensions amounting to about Rs 1,570 crore. The Central government, despite pleas, has not come to the rescue of the state government. In fact, since its per capita income is the second highest after Goa, it was denied benefits given to some other states.
The 13th Finance Commission has used the per capita income of Haryana as "Fiscal Capacity Distance", in its formula for horizontal distribution of central taxes among states. This criterion has been assigned the maximum weight of 47.5 per cent, while the other criteria, namely population, area and fiscal discipline have been assigned less weights of 25 per cent, 10 per cent and 17.5 per cent, respectively. Due to this unique position, its in shareable pool of central taxes has marginally come down. However, the total devolution to Haryana under the latest Finance Commissions is Rs 19, 470.30 crore as compared to devolutions of Rs 8, 040.44 crore during the 12th Finance Commission period. Though Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his Finance Minister, Capt. Ajay Singh Yadav, have appealed to the Centre, they cannot protest the way Punjab does.
The total expenditure, excluding repayments, under the Budget estimates 2010-11 is projected at Rs 33, 600.84 crore, of which revenue expenditure is Rs 28,482.64 crore, while the capital expenditure is Rs 5, 118.20 crore. These signify, respectively, an increase of Rs 2,004.73 crore, Rs 1,818.49 crore and Rs186.24 crore over the corresponding projections in the revised estimates of 2009-10. The Budget for 2010-11 projects a revenue deficit of Rs 3, 941.81 crore. Fiscal deficit is placed at 3.6 per cent of the GDP. In fact, the deficit during the last decade has hovered between two and four per cent. Rising debt at Rs 44,000 crore should worry the state and it has now to pay interest to the tune of Rs 3,913 crore or nearly 16 per cent of its revenue.
The total plan expenditure during the five years from 2000 to 2005 was only Rs 9, 235.41 crore, whereas the plan expenditure for just the current year is going to cross Rs 10, 400 crore. In the last five years, the spending on the plan was 230 per cent higher than that of the previous regime. The average annual plan outlay growth rate during 2005-2010 is 37.83 per cent per year, compared to just 4.8 per cent during 2000-2005. This, however, does not take into account rising the inflation and fall in rupee value. There is an increase of Rs 400 crores to budget plan of Rs 10,000 crore for 2009-10 despite constrains which is 46 per cent higher than the actual plan expenditure in 2008-09.
An analysis of annual growth shows at constant prices, with base year 1999-2000 showed that the growth in GSDP in 2008-09 is 7.9 per cent. The primary sector (agriculture etc.) contribution stands at 19.8 per cent in 2008-09, whereas that from the secondary (industry and manufacturing) and tertiary sectors stands respectively at 28.8 per cent and 51.4 per cent. The contribution of the primary sector to GSDP has registered an increase of 3.5 per cent, while that of the secondary sector increased by 5.4 per cent, and that of the tertiary sector recorded a growth of 11.2 per cent. The declining share of the primary sector and the increasing share of the secondary and tertiary sectors indicate a maturing of the economy. As per advance estimates, at constant prices the GSDP's expected growth is 8.1 per cent. But it is agriculture and allied sectors that take care of gainful employment for over 50 per cent of the population and also provide essential food grains etc. to the nation. The time to gloat on its fall has not come.
The per capita income at current prices has increased by 16.8 per cent from Rs 59, 008 in 2007-08, to Rs 68, 914 in 2008-09. During the current year, it is likely to grow further by 13 per cent to Rs 77, 878 at current prices, and by 6.2 per cent to Rs 44, 493 at constant prices. But we all know the per capita criteria of finding prosperity are flawed.
There is a huge power subsidy of Rs 4, 643 crore during 2010-11, which is 20 per cent higher than the allocation for the current year. This includes Rs 1,671 crore on plan side and Rs 2, 972.04 crore on non-plan side. Irrigation gets Rs 1, 616 crore which includes Rs 768 crore on plan side and Rs 848 crore on non-plan side.
The Congress government hopes to create a total revenue of Rs 30,085.98 crore and estimates its expenditure at 33,600.84 crore during April 2010 and March 2011. For a small state like Haryana, these figures sound huge. Government's total salary and pension bill would be enormous burden. Haryana can certainly gallop with a large staff and such big money. Yet, there is something that could hold back the state. There is too much of government with officials of all kinds adding to the flab. The present government has added 60,000 more. In a welfare state we do require a government that pays full attention to education, health, transport, industry, agriculture, electricity and irrigation besides host of social welfare activities. Yet, the leaders can certainly study the necessary requirement and prune what is not required. Prudence should the watchword. Also, where is the reward and punishment system?
The government in Haryana, as in other states, and the Centre, suffers from some maladies which are proving fatal. One is inefficiency and the other is corruption. Both are eating the vitals. The government either does not get much useful feedback or cares little to use what it gets. At another level, there is not much meaningful monitoring to find if the money is suitably utilised. Reports from the Comptroller and Auditor General year after year ritually point out to these faults that are in abundance. But remedial measures are scanty. It is here the government shall have to pay attention.
SALT BAN BATTLE TAKES SHAPE IN NEW YORK
BY RUPERT CORNWELL
FOUR years ago New York City's health commissioners banned artery-blocking transfats in restaurants. Now, if a legislator has his way, the chefs at without salt.
The language of Bill A. 10129, introduced by Felix Ortiz, a representative from Brooklyn, in the New York State Assembly, could not be more specific.
"No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of food for consumption by customers," it says, whether on or off the premises. The penalty for every violation would be $1,000.
Mr Ortiz, long a campaigner for healthier eating in the state's schools and for restaurants to display the nutritional content of that they serve, insists his proposal is designed only to save lives. The measure would be a "giant step" in the right direction. "We need to talk about two ingredients of salt: health care costs and deaths." He cites a recent report by the World Health Organisation showing that at least three-quarters of the sodium consumed in the United States n where the average daily intake is 3,400mg, half as much again as the generally recommended maximum of 2,300mg n comes in pre-prepared or restaurant foods.
"Studies show that reducing the amount of salt people eat, even by small amounts, could reduce cases of heart disease, stroke and heart attacks as much as reductions in smoking, obesity and cholesterol levels," Mr Ortiz maintains, arguing that billions of dollars and countless lives could be saved.
In fact, the New York Assemblyman is not the only local politician campaigning against salt. Michael Bloomberg, New York City's mayor, wants the salt content of pre-packaged and restaurant food to be reduced by 25 per cent over five years. The city estimates about 1.5m residents n out of a population of 8.3m n already suffer from high blood pressure, which excess consumption of salt tends to make worse.
Those alarmed at the relentless advance of the nanny state will moreover be pleased to learn that the proposed measure does not prevent the consumption of salt in restaurants. Cooks may be barred from using the stuff, but salt cellars will still be on the table for patrons.
But that has been scant consolation for the culinary stars of a city that likes to think of itself as the restaurant capital of the world. Salt or no salt, Mr Ortiz's idea has sent the collective blood pressure of the city's gastronomic establishment soaring.
Fast food might be full of sodium, "but in a kitchen that's doing fine dining, the use of salt is moderate," John DeLucie, chef at The Waverly Inn and the soon-to-be-opened Lion restaurant, told the New York Daily News.
The last word, however, belongs to Tom Colicchio, star of the TV programme Top Chef, and owner of Craft restaurant. "If they banned salt," he says, "nobody would come here anymore." Those who wanted to taste food without salt should "go to a hospital and taste its food."
By arrangement with The Independent
WHY GENERAL PASHA REMAINS ISI CHIEF
BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
What was being intensely speculated has proved to be true. ISI chief Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, due to retire on March 18, has been given one year's extension in service.
The questions now being raised are: Has he been favoured "to ensure that the military effort against militancy, which is currently underway, continues without any disruption", as The News has commented? Or Lt-General Pasha's closeness to Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has been the deciding factor? Or is General Kayani, due to retire in November, preparing a strong case for the grant of an extension to himself?
Before the decision to retain Lt-General Pasha was announced, three other three-star generals were granted extension in service on the same pretext as given in the case of the ISI chief. An editorial in Daily Times explains it thus: " These are extraordinary times. Not only are we in the middle of a war inside the country (Pakistan), we are also a frontline ally of the US in the war on terror." The other beneficiaries are Corps Commander (Peshawar) Masood Aslam, Lt-Gen Sikandar Afzal, now on UN assignment, and Lt-Gen Tanvir.
Preparing a case for Kayani?
Lt-General Pasha's case falls in a slightly different category. The ISI is technically under the control of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. That is why his extension in service had been vetted by Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani before General Kayani made the announcement. The civilian factor has, however, been there only in name. The Pakistan Army has never allowed any civilian to be appointed as ISI boss.
General Kayani, it seems, has sent across the message that Lt-General Pasha's services cannot be dispensed with so long as he is there as Army Chief. As leading Pakistani journalist Syed Talat Hussain points out in his article in Daily Times (March 11), "Both as the head of the ISI and as the Director-General, Military Operations, he (Lt-General Pasha) has been General Kayani's most trusted comrade. His centrality to General Kayani's scheme of things is reinforced by the rapport he has developed with his counterparts across the world's most important capitals, including and primarily Washington, Riyadh, London and Beijing. A newcomer to the job would have taken time to develop this comfort level ."
The same arguments can be given when the time comes for General Kayani's retirement. He can be described as indispensable. But this will go to prove that institutions and rules are not as important as individuals in Pakistan.
Disapproving of the decision in favour of Lt-General Pasha, a Dawn editorial says, whatever the compulsions or his achievements, "there must be another officer in the entire Pakistan Army who is capable of stepping up and filling General Pasha's shoes." The paper highlights a basic flaw in the very appointment of Lt-General Pasha as ISI chief, "the Pakistan Army high command showed an astonishing lack of foresight when it appointed General Pasha. One glance at the calendar would have alerted those involved in General Pasha's appointment that he would reach the age of retirement before his term as ISI chief would expire. Had someone who had at least three years to go before reaching the age of retirement been appointed in October 2008, the question of an extension would never have arisen."
DYING FOR A COP JOB
The stampede at a police recruitment centre in Mumbai raises many troubling questions
About a week ago, on a Sunday evening, thousands of youth started congregating in Kalina in Mumbai. They were lining up outside the gate of an open ground, getting ready to spend the night.
When you have young people camping overnight outside an arena it sounds like preparation for a rock music concert. Were Shankar Ehsaan Loy giving a free concert the next day? Or were they camping to get first day first show tickets? To IPL?
Alas it was nothing of the sort. These were about 50,000 youth from mostly far off areas like Palghar, Dahanu, Nashik, Jalgaon, Solapur. They did not even have access to drinking water or toilets. The boys managed, but the women among the youth perhaps had to trek for miles early morning in the dark for their ablutions. They had all assembled to be screened for jobs in Maharashtra's police force. The police had advertised for recruiting around 3500 constables, and had sold more than 75,000 forms, at Rs 50 each (or maybe more).
So the authorities were aware of the scramble for these jobs. Unfortunately the next morning, there was a stampede to get in, and one youth from Ahmednagar was crushed to death. Another 11 were seriously injured.
Consider the irony. Police are responsible to maintain order, ensure crowd discipline. Watch out for the elaborate security arrangement at the IPL venue. The place will be swarming with police. On any given day, as a VIP cavalcade goes down any busy highway, the one thing you notice is how strict the traffic police become.
In these days of heightened security consciousness, there's police bandobast, or nakabandi everywhere. But when it comes to their own recruitment, knowing full well that young people from rural Maharashtra are desperate for any government (secure) job, the police authorities were indifferent. Were they overworked (thanks to IPL or VIP duty)? Or did they not care?
This job scramble for a lowly-paid and highly-overworked police constable throws up many more questions.
If India is a booming economy, how come a lowlypaid police job is so much sought after? By the way the pre-requisite is passing Std XII board exams with at least 60 per cent marks. Are these job applicants hoping to make some extra income? Or is the situation in rural Maharashtra so hopeless that the youngsters will accept any job to get away?
In a nationwide survey, most farmers, or their kids said they would gladly leave agriculture if only they could get a job. This seems to be doubly true in Maharashtra.
After being rattled by the avoidable death in Kalina, police are being extra cautious. In Thane city they are looking for 670 recruits, and have sold 52,000 forms already. But the arrangements are considerably beefed up to ensure safety of the applicants. For 206 female vacancies, there are almost 15000 applicants.
Similarly for 464 police positions in Navi Mumbai more than 18,000 forms have been sold. Since the recruiters have advanced information about applicants from the sale of forms, they should be adequately prepared to handle the melee. The very fact that they sell so many forms, far in excess of vacancies, shows the skew between supply and demand.
The fact is 90 per cent jobs in India are from the unorganised, and hence insecure sector. These jobs have no pensions, very little medical insurance and no job security. The last two decades have seen government jobs getting frozen, tepid growth in secure private sector jobs, especially at the lowly (constable type) levels. Hence any opening in this category attracts a stampede. It's a paradox that we have almost jobless growth when it comes to secure jobs, but plenty of growth in temp, unstable jobs. Yes that includes a huge growth in private security personnel (including the humble watchman).
In India's economic boom, secure jobs are scarce, but surely nobody should be dying to get a job.
BEING FRIENDS WITH YOUR EX MAY NOT BE A TRICKY ROAD TO NEGOTIATE IF YOU FOLLOW THE RULES. HERE ARE 10 TIPS TO TURN YOUR PAST LOVER INTO A FRIEND
One must hand it to Sushmita Sen. Few celebrities handle their relationships with the grace and élan that this eternal diva does. Not only is the former Miss Universe extremely open about the men in her lives, unlike others, she has been able to strike a neat balance between her current and past relationships. A fact that's most evident in the way she bonds with her exboyfriends. (Example: her recent rekindled friendship with former flame Manav Menon). No ugly accusations, no kiss-and-tell tales and no looking the other way when the ex is around.
While it may not be always possible to be so evolved in matters of the heart, being friends with your ex is not a bad idea. Just because someone was a devil as a boyfriend/girlfriend doesn't mean s/he wouldn't make for a good friend. It has its advantages, the foremost being that moving on is a lot easier when you come to terms with your past relationship on a friendly note. These are the ways to go about it.
GIVE IT TIME
It may not be easy to see each other or spend time together right after the relationship ends. Give it some time. You grow, your ex grows. You mature, so does your ex. And you will find it easier to connect. In fact having an ex as friend can be good, for you will still have a good listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. But don't expect more.
DON'T AVOID HIM/HER
Instead make an attempt to draw your ex into your new group. Inviting your past love for a drink with friends is one way to be friends. Of course, it might hurt if s/he comes with his/her current flame. But realise and accept the fact that the way you have moved on, so has your ex.
DON'T SHOW S/HE STILL MATTERS
In the past, s/he was the focus of your existence. Not any longer. Regardless of who dumped who, let him/her know that you have well and truly moved on. Your life's rocking now, yet you don't want to bother about the bad old days. Hence the extended hand of friendship.
S/HE'S NEEDED, NOT WANTED
Don't wear the martyr's cloak and pretend you do not need your ex ever again. Let him/her know that his/her help is appreciated, even if his/her place in your life isn't all-consuming. For instance, if you are visiting the city your ex is living in, don't hesitate to call him. He'd be there to pick you up from the airport, take you around. Isn't it the least he can do for you?
LOOK AT THE LARGER PICTURE
Life's a lot larger than a few nasty words exchanged while breaking up. Technology emails and smses are useful tools. They help maintain contact, yet they are not 'dangerously' personal like meeting face-to-face.
TEST THE WATERS
Begin by texting him/her innocuously. Be positive in the texts, avoid using any sarcasm or anger. See if s/he replies. If it doesn't come, give it a rest. If it does, it means your ex is keen to build bridges too. Work on it.
REMEMBER THE DATES
Never forget his/her birthday, marriage anniversary and the like. Involve his/her current partner too (so you are not viewed as a threat!). Try and find commonalities with the spouse and who knows you may end up making a new friend. This will also make your ex and his/her spouse comfortable with the friendship. Buy gifts for the kids. All to emphasise you are not living in the past.
DON'T BADMOUTH YOUR PRESENT
Being friends with your ex doesn't mean you are laying the ground for falling in love again. Hence when you talk to your past love, don't discuss your current relationship. And if you do, talk about it positively. Don't share your problems with your present partner, if any. It might only lead to 'what if' situations and confused emotions for you and your ex.
When you do start spending time together again, don't fall into the trap of reminiscing about "old times" when you used to date. Your ex might be uncomfortable, especially if s/he is dating someone new.
GUARD YOUR EMOTIONS
If you ever find yourself comparing guys/girls you date to your past, run away. Remember that you are nothing more than friends with your ex. If your emotions or actions suggest that you are harboring even the slightest desire to get back, immediately cut contact. It's not worth it, as you would be only jeopardising your future love for a friendship.
T N NINAN: SOFT (ON THE) CURRENCY
INDIA HAS BEEN COMPLETELY SILENT EVEN THOUGH IT IS AS MUCH A VICTIM OF THE YUAN'S DELIBERATE UNDER-VALUATION AS THE US AND EU
T N NINAN
China has a 2:1 trade balance with Europe (Chinese exports being twice Chinese imports). It also has a 4:1 balance with the United States (it used to be 6:1). With India, too, it is 2:1 about $29 billion of Chinese exports, and $14 billion of Chinese imports. India's trade with the rest of the world does not follow the same pattern; indeed, if you take away oil, the country has no trade deficit at all. Clearly, India's economy is not out of whack, whereas China's currency stance is. What makes matters worse for India is that its exports are mostly raw materials while what come back are finished goods mirroring the old colonial pattern of trade. Meanwhile, given China's large trade surplus with all its major trading partners, the end result is predictable: an over-all trade surplus that is about 9 or 10 per cent of GDP! No large, rapidly growing economy has enjoyed such a trade surplus in the last century and more, if ever.
The odd thing, though, is that while the US has been openly pushing China to do the obvious thing (revalue its currency upward), and the Europeans have been conveying the same message more privately, India has been completely silent even though it is as much a victim of the yuan's deliberate under-valuation. Instead, India has preferred sectoral defensive action shut out Chinese telecom manufacturers on national security grounds, crack down with anti-dumping action in other areas, and so on. But as the power sector shows, Chinese firms have sewn up the bulk of the orders for coal-based power equipment to the detriment of domestic players like BHEL and L&T. The bilateral dialogue, meanwhile, has focused on issues like the disputed border. The closest that India came to discussing the glaring trade imbalance was in January, when Anand Sharma went to Beijing and pressed the Chinese to get rid of some non-tariff barriers.
But what about the yuan, which is the core issue? The yuan was pegged to the dollar for many years, which was ok till about the mid-1990s because China's trade used to be alternately in surplus and deficit. But from 1994 to 2004, when the Chinese economy gained real muscle, its trade surplus zoomed to reach $68 billion. In the next four years, that figure shot up to an astonishing $426 billion. This is after Beijing took the yuan off its dollar peg in 2004, for while the Chinese currency rose against the dollar over the next four years by 17 per cent, so did the euro; even the rupee gained 8 per cent. In the last two years, the yuan has once again been steady against the dollar. It is obvious that the currency problem has not been addressed.
Beijing may have its reasons. It has to manage the transition from export-led growth to growth that is fuelled by domestic consumption, and many sectors will have to switch from export to domestic markets. Not all will succeed, and there will be frictional unemployment, even as a rising yuan feeds import-led inflation. But these are typical of the challenges that confront macro-economic managers and, therefore, not valid excuses for inaction. Indeed, Chinese leaders say that they do want to trim their export sails and start looking inward, to spread the benefits of growth to the relatively neglected hinterland. Which is all very well, but why do Indian leaders continue to fight shy of raising the currency issue, in an act of generosity that matches letting Beijing off the hook on carbon emissions?
THAT'S MY BROTHER, NOT MY SON
Every year, I find myself getting a little older, a little wearier; every year, my kid brother gets a little younger, a little trendier; every year, the chasm between us grows. I may not be at the stage where I've started examining walking sticks yet, but as my brother recedes further from creeping age, it is to sports bikes that he turns, and off-terrain dirt-riders, things you'd expect to pump up adolescent adrenalin, not middle-age sap.
I find myself looking at a wardrobe that grows intimidating for its abundance of greys; my brother probably can't see past the glitter of sequins and tinsel and metal in his cupboard. I wear glasses; he has shades. I look at the start of slackening skin, a loss of biceps; my brother looks at his skin to see if there's a spot that's escaped being tattooed, some place a snake might want to curl, a dragon to breathe fire. I pull at my lobes in concentration; he punctures them for yet another stud to pierce through his ears.
Every year, I warm a little more to the comfort of friends; every year, he seeks out strangers to befriend. I prefer conversations and bright lights when neighbours meet; he likes music, dim lights, the scandal of a cop breaking up a party. When he comes to our house for dinner, there isn't anyone of our friends he doesn't know; when we go to his house for a meal, there isn't anyone of his friends we know any more.
He gyms, I read; I prefer strolling, he loves biking. We have invited performers with dholaks to play on special occasions; his preference, if his birthday this week gone by is any proof, veers towards a belly dancer whom he had contracted to entertain his guests. I'm embarrassed by photographs of how guests look after a quick couple too many; his party pictures are on Facebook even before we've got back home. He has television screens in all rooms with the exception of his bathroom; I can barely tolerate a television even in my bedroom.
A faulty gene runs in the family, but where I'm merely losing hair, he shaves his head to prevent his from falling out. When family chores are being split up, I get the part that has to do with duty and responsibility, but he receives a disproportionate dole of pampering and affection. As my girth grows, my clothes keep getting larger, more loose; as he sculpts his waist, his clothes seem to shrink so it seems he's wearing a size smaller every time we meet. He is his son's role model and my son's hero; his son dresses like him, and my son dresses like him too.
"It's called a generation gap," my wife explains, when I point all this out to her. "I get along just fine with my son," I say, "so where's the question of a generation gap?" "Is that why our son," she points out, "seems to spend his entire week's break with your brother rather than with us?" There is some truth in what she says "he does come home to sleep," I mutter defensively but it is hardly validation that my son and I don't see eye to eye, which we don't, especially on matters to do with, oh, motorbikes and tattoos, hygiene and haircuts, clothes and grooming, on diets and synthetic supplements, on waking hours and sleeping hours and choice of music, films, friends, on slouching instead of sitting, and shuffling instead of walking
"I guess there is just a little bit of a generation gap between our son and me," I concede to my wife. "Oh him," smirks my wife, "I was referring to the generation gap between your brother and you!"
THE COLOURS OF HOPE
It was a usual morning at Karm Marg, home to children and young adults from the streets. Veena, the president, was bawling out Anish Bhatt, an alumnus who continued to work there as an adult. Anish stood, head bowed, with a piece of newspaper in his agitated hands. By his own admission, not only was he the one who received the maximum scoldings, he also deserved them most of the time. "I listened, folding and rolling the paper in my hands, while Veena didi lectured on and on, and suddenly, the paper in my hands took an interesting shape ," he recounts. He'd managed to roll the old newspaper into a long pipe, and twist it over and over again to create a round coaster. He painted it with colour mixed with acrylic glue, and it hardened. "The next day, after Veena didi's temper had cooled, I showed her what I'd made. She liked it so much that she ordered 50 pieces from me on the spot," says Aneesh. And thus began Koofsutra, this young man's own label for original handicraft products fashioned out of waste newspaper.
His product range baskets, coasters, clocks, mats and photo frames to name some is so funky that people have to really look carefully to figure that it is all made of a newspaper rolled into pipes of varying thicknesses. "We turn some of the slimmer pipes into roundels to create baskets, coasters, mats and more. And, we glue the pipes along their lengths to create photo and mirror frames," he explains. Once the basic shape has been achieved, it is painted over and lacquered. In the last year or so, Koofsutra has exhibited its range with a fair degree of success. These products also retail in some niche stores like People Tree in Delhi. "Now that our sales are going up, our group has also expanded to include some people from Karm Marg, and with ladies from a village near our campus in Faridabad," says Anish enthusiastically.
Watching him explain his products to browsers at Dastkar's Basant Bazaar, I was struck by his confidence and marketing abilities. "Today," says he, "if I can look at life in the eyes, if I can hold my head high amongst people much more educated than me, it's because of the guidance I received from Dev bhaiya and Veena didi of Karm Marg!" Anish recollects that when he told them he didn't want to study further, they encouraged him to find a means to earn a dignified living instead. "They inspired me to make something of my life," says he, "and I tell everyone all the time that whatever I am today is because of them!"
Listen to his life story, and you'd realise what a long way Anish has come. He came to Delhi with his mother from Nepal when he was he was hardly 12. Although his mother worked as a domestic help, they never had a proper home. Eventually, he joined Karm Marg and for the next eight years, the home and its people became his family. After he turned 18, the age when Karm Marg encourages its members to seek out their fortunes in the outside world, Anish decided to stay put and work on campus.
It's no wonder, then, that Karm Marg's philosophy of recycling has found its way into Anish's creative consciousness. "At Karm Marg, jugaad (using waste innovatively to create objects of beauty and functionality) was a way of life," says he. When I left him, Anish was animatedly planning on other newspaper-based products, and wondering whether he should try using organic Holi colours on them
And think, most of us usually just throw out old newspapers without a backward glance!!
CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD
WOMEN GRADUATES GET A SALARY A FOURTH LESS THAN WHAT MEN DO AND A THIRD DON'T EVEN GET TO WORK
Women graduates get a salary a fourth less than what men do and a third don't even get to work.
If India's ranking on the human development index remains relatively poor (India was ranked 134th out of 182 countries in 2007), its ranking on the gender development index isn't any better (114th out of 155 countries). Look at most indicators and you'd know why this is so. According to the World Bank, female literacy rate in India is around 77 per cent versus 87 per cent for males; less than half the births are attended to by skilled health staff; a fourth of pregnant women don't receive pre-natal care; 84 per cent of men in the 15-64 age group work as compared to 36 per cent for women, the list goes on.
MARS VS VENUS
(A) Millennium Development Goals
Female literacy rate, (% of females ages 15-24)
Male literacy rate, (% of males ages 15-24)
Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (%)
Ratio of female to male enrollments in tertiary education
Births attended by skilled health staff (% of total)
Contraceptive prevalence (% of women ages 15-49)
Maternal mortality ratio (modeled estimate, per 100,000 live births)
Pregnant women receiving pre-natal care (%)
Source: World Development Indicators database
Whether the Women's Reservation Bill which plans to reserve a third of seats for women in Parliament will solve this is an open question, as, of course, the question of how political parties will find enough women to "man" these seats (just 9 per cent of seats in Parliament are held by women according to the World Bank's World Development Indicators). The purpose of this article, however, is limited to seeing how women fare in India's job market and to link this with the levels of education they have. The source of data is the latest countrywide National Survey of Household Income and Expenditure (NSHIE, 2004-05) conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER).
The results are shocking in several ways. Though women account for around 47 per cent of the country's population, they comprise just marginally over 30 per cent of the country's graduates and post-graduates. Indeed, the proportion of women keeps declining as we go up the education ladder. So, while 48 per cent of students in primary school are girls, this number falls to 42 per cent at middle school, and further to 38 per cent at the matriculate level and stands at just 37 per cent at the level of passing school. As a result, over a third of women are illiterate as compared to a fifth in the case of men; just 3.6 per cent of women are graduates as compared to 7.2 per cent in the case of men. What is worse is what the women do, or are allowed to do, after getting this education. Of the women graduates, according to the NCAER survey, 35 per cent are housewives.
(B) BY LITERACY STATUS
(% of total)
Up to primary school
Middle (8th) school
Matric (10th) school
Higher secondary school
Source: NCAER, NSHIE 2004-05
Given that men outnumber women in all higher education groups, and have a much higher worker participation rate (84 per cent versus 36 per cent for women according to the World Development Indicators), it is not surprising that men earn a lot more than women. According to the NCAER data, 8 per cent of men have regular salaried jobs as against 1.2 per cent for women. Looked at another way, this means 88 per cent of all those who have salaried jobs in the country are men this is the occupation group that earns the highest incomes in the country. When it comes to "own-account" workers (small shops/ businesses which don't employ outsiders), 20 per cent of men run their own enterprises as compared to under 2 per cent for women.
(C) BY ACTIVITY STATUS
(% of total)
Unpaid family worker
Regular salary earner
Unfit for work
What is quite surprising, though, is that even at the same levels of education, women earn a lot less than their male counterparts do. So, according to the survey, while the average male earned Rs 43,885 per annum, this figure was just Rs 14,994 for women. This difference was pervasive across most occupation types and not restricted to just certain occupation groups.
So, when it comes to "own-account workers", men earned Rs 50,824 per annum as compared to Rs 21,657 for women. In the case of salaried employees, while men earned Rs 70,810, women earned a much lower Rs 40,429.
While an illiterate man earned Rs 33,680 as his salary as a sweeper/peon/driver/whatever, the illiterate woman earned just Rs 12,923. If you look at those who'd been educated till the 8th standard, the average salaried male earned Rs 43,010 as compared to just Rs 19,805 for women.
(D) BY EARNING STATUS
Up to primary school
Middle (8th) school
Matric (10th) school
Higher secondary school
*Income in Rs per annum for salaried class
You'd think this discrimination would disappear for graduates. It doesn't, though it does come down significantly. Male graduates who have regular salaried jobs earn Rs 85,211 or around a third more than women this is high, but less than at lower levels of literacy where men often earn 2.5 times what women do. When it comes to diploma/vocational training, there is little difference between men and women, suggesting that specialised jobs offer less discrimination.
While just 4.2 per cent of all households in the country are headed by women, what's interesting is the impact this has in terms of their household incomes. There is no major difference at the all-India level, but in Delhi, while the annual income is Rs 2,02,270 for households headed by men, it is Rs 2,84,545 for households headed by women. In Greater Mumbai, the figures are Rs 1,92,985 and Rs 2,21,094 respectively.
All told, if political parties are indeed able to get enough women to occupy Parliament seats as opposed to what's called the bahu-beti brigade, these women have their task cut out when it comes to reducing gender discrimination. The good news, of course, is that as education levels rise, the discrimination reduces significantly even though it doesn't completely disappear. This, of course, applies only to those women who are allowed to work with women labour participation rates less than half those for men, and over a third of graduate women opting out of the work force, this is clearly one of the first action areas for India's women parliamentarians.
The author is Senior Fellow, NCAER
MORALITY VERSUS LEGALITY
THE FEAR OF PUNISHMENT RATHER THAN A SENSE OF ETHICS IS WHAT GUIDES LAWMAKERS
SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
The fear of punishment rather than a sense of ethics is what guides lawmakers.
It is revealing that the three British MPs facing fraud charges are trying to claim parliamentary privilege and deny that the courts have any jurisdiction over them. Similarly, Lord Paul of Marylebone argues that the rules allowed him to claim £38,000 in overnight expenses by registering as his main home a flat in which he had never slept.
One notes that in neither instance is there any denial of the actual acts for which these public figures are being investigated. Not for a moment are the three MPs saying they did not charge substantial sums of money by making the claims that others might say were economical with the truth. Lord Paul doesn't deny that he lives in London. But the Oxfordshire flat is available for his use because it is attached to a hotel he owns and is lived in by the hotel manager. The rules allow him to claim it as his home so that he can make out he has to travel to and from London and stay overnight in town every so often to attend the House of Lords.
A parallel that comes to mind is of those years in India when holiday travel allowance paid by employers was taxed unless one went to one's home town. People discovered miraculous new homes then. If you worked in Calcutta and had a cousin in Trivandrum, you could show Trivandrum as your home. Then, no matter where you went on holiday, the equivalent of the Calcutta-Trivandrum return fare was free of tax.
There is an element of venality in every human being. Whether that element is suppressed or encouraged depends on the circumstances. It's not surprising that it is encouraged in Britain where MPs were quietly advised when they demanded higher salaries that they should make it up in expenses instead. A pay rise would raise a public stink whereas inflated expenses could slip through unnoticed. When the present scandal erupted last year, one MP was caught stinging taxpayers for 16 bedsheets in seven weeks while another gave himself £13,000 as interest for a non-existent mortgage. Eyebrows were raised at Gordon Brown's own payment of £6,500 to his brother for a shared cleaner.
Prominent Indian businessmen (Lord Billimoria, for instance, whose creditors lost £70 million when Cobra Beer went into a pre-pack administration last year) must feel very much at home in this new Britain. I was staying with a banker in London in the late nineties when a life peerage was bestowed on an Indian that neither my host nor I had heard of. We looked up all the biographical reference books in his home and bank but couldn't find him. I mentioned the mystery lord to a British journalist and he directed me to the who's who of Conservative party (then in power) donors. An explicit list isn't published but the information is public knowledge. It is no secret, for instance, that Lord Paul has given some £400,000 to the Labour Party, apart from £45,000 to Brown's leadership campaign.
Honours have always also been bestowed for services rendered. But it's only in relatively recent times that those services have become almost entirely pecuniary. Lloyd George as prime minister institutionalised the commerce with slabs of payment for the different ranks with recognised middlemen who took a cut. A British honour hasn't been one since then which may be one reason why Winston Churchill preferred to go down in history as the Great Commoner.
Margaret Thatcher persuaded Harold Macmillan to accept an earldom late in life. It added nothing to his stature but gave Lady Thatcher a useful precedent. However, good sense prevailed ultimately and instead of making herself a countess, she revived the dignity of a baronetcy for her husband, presumably so that her son could flaunt a handle to his name.
The other scam of the "non-dom" British subject who escapes taxes by not being domiciled abroad illustrates the same point of legality at the expense of morality. The Tory benefactor, Lord Ashcroft, is the principal offender but as jubilant Tories counter-attack, so is Lord Paul. He says he will comply fully if a new law bars non-doms from both Houses of Parliament. Of course he will. That's the whole point of this sorry business. Skirting close to the wind, the makers and guardians of Britain's law are guided not by any sense of ethics but by the fear of punishment. It's less an indictment of persons than of a system that makes thieves of us all.
WHY THE BUCK DOESN'T STOP
Here is a question no one is asking about the global financial crisis: How do we know so little about who or what brought on the crisis after all the literature that has been produced over the last two years. Is it because no one knows anything about the "Invisible Hand" or how long the current crisis will last as we don't know how deep it is? Or because, as Nobel laureate Robert Solow (1987 for Growth Theory) put it, "the dangerous combination of the 'real' recession the unemployment and idle productive capacity that come from lack of demand and the financial breakdown, each being the cause and effect of the other, makes the situation more complex, more unstable, more vulnerable to psychological imponderables, and more distant from previous experience?" Put it any way you like, but about 17 causes of the crisis have been identified as John Lanchester says in Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay (Allen Lane paperback, Special Indian Price Rs 450).
Of the multiple causes, the main suspects that just about every economist has pointed out are as follows, though not necessarily in the same order:
1. The crisis did not originate in the real sector of the economy. It was triggered by the excesses of the financial system. What stands out glaringly is the regulatory failure in relation to the financial markets. Some parts were either loosely regulated or not regulated at all. Along with this was the failure of the regulatory authorities to understand fully the implications of the various derivative products. The regulators did not exercise the required degree of oversight and control. Therefore, fixing the financial system is the first priority.
2. The persistent current account deficit in the US and the low and declining savings rate in the advanced countries mean they are all living on borrowed money and borrowed time. Unless the US economy is put on a sounder footing, concerns will continue to arise regarding the strength of the dollar which has implications for its use as a reserve currency.
3. Globalisation, which has proceeded at a rapid pace, is a double-edged weapon. While it has resulted in a better allocation of resources, particularly investment among different countries, it has also resulted in accentuation of inequalities among and within countries.
4. While the first three are the fundamentals of the disease, there is a whole cast of minor players who piled in to exploit the regulatory failures to make a fast buck. These were: the predatory mortgage broker who sold loans that most couldn't really afford; the sleazy real estate agent who kept saying that houses were a good investment because house prices almost never went down; and low interest rates that tempted the middle class to take loans.
All this has been said in different ways in the vast literature that has been published on the crisis, but what makes Whoops! different is the prose. It is lively, readable and plainspoken. Over seven chapters The Cashpoint Moment, Rocket Science, Boom and Bust, Enter the Geniuses, The Mistake, Funny Smells and The Bill Lanchester spins out his story in memorable images to clarify complex points of high finance: "The whole idea that a banker looks a borrower in the eye and takes a view on whether he can trust him came to seem laughably nineteenth century."
In chapter two Rocket Science is a clear exposition of derivatives or the takeover of modern banking by advanced mathematics Lanchester is possibly at his best. The first paragraph mixes economics with analogies from the humanities: "Finance, like other forms of human behaviour, underwent a change in the twentieth century, a shift equivalent to the emergence of modernism in the arts a break with commonsense, a turn to self-referentiality and abstraction and notions that couldn't be explained in workday English. In poetry, this moment took place with the publication of The Waste Land... Dance, architecture, painting all had comparable moments... The moment in finance came in 1973, with the publication of a paper in the Journal of Political Economy entitled The Pricing of Options and Corporate Liabilities, by Fischer Black and Myron Scholes." For the common reader, the intermeshing of literature and finance makes the understanding of complex financial instruments, like credit default swaps that brought down AIG and set off the threat of a chain reaction, so much simpler without oversimplification.
In the course of his exposition of high finance and its discontents, Lanchester raises two questions that the common man would ask. First, what are banks for? Are they meant to serve society or are they there to help us own houses and buy more goodies? Second, since the irresponsible, deregulated banking system was primarily responsible for the financial mess, would stricter regulation be required in future? But would this be a guarantee against the irrationality of human behaviour? The only guarantee against future disasters is to set limits to consumption or, as Lanchester says in his conclusion, to cry "enough". As Gandhiji said long ago, "There is enough for everyone's need but not for everyone's greed."
CHILDREN OF GOOD PEOPLE, GOOD SCHOOLS
NOW THAT THE NEED TO REDUCE CARBON FOOTPRINTS IS NATIONALLY RECOGNISED, ALL CHILDREN MUST COME TO SCHOOL BY BUS
It is still early days but a strong contender for the most uninformed and backward-looking statement of the year comes from the principal of one of the most prominent schools in Kolkata. The lady has a unique solution to the problem of traffic jams in front of such schools. She told a leading paper that allowing cars within schools to drop children creates "security" problems. So, "flyovers alone can solve the traffic congestion in front of prominent schools".
What an unnamed traffic police sergeant has to say is revealing. "Whenever we have tried to be strict," he laments, "our men have been shunted out by our seniors." The reason is simple, "pool car associations" and "school authorities" have a "good understanding" with "our senior officers".
The problem is neither new nor unique to the city. The good schools, where good people send their children, have been around for long, and are usually located in the heart of towns, built when cities were uncongested and cars were few. Today, more children per school and exponential growth in traffic create traffic jams in front of these schools.
The city where this problem is the least endemic is Delhi for two reasons. It has more road space than most cities and, what is vital, many schools have for long gone in for an institutional solution. Delhi Transport Corporation buses are contracted out to schools to ferry their children, thus reducing to a minimum the number of vehicles in front of a school jostling for space and blocking traffic. Some still send their children by car, but bus-using children far outnumber those using cars and so the problem is minimised.
Mumbai, which is also a congested and old city like Kolkata, has in the past tried to solve the problem in its distinctive civic sense-driven way. Long ago, one of its venerable institutions, Cathedral School, had absolutely forbidden parents from sending children to school by car and an elaborate bus system had been put in place. Then a model school bus system was tried out about a decade ago in which software was used to ensure that students took the shortest possible route to school. Several schools tried it out and a few more will do so soon.
But the city similar to Kolkata in the unwillingness of its good people who send their children to good schools to change is Bangalore. Afflicted by the same kind of traffic jams, the police, a few years ago, banned cars from dropping children right in front of schools. They had to either organise the bus system state-owned BMTC was ready to play the role of DTC or allow permit-holding pool cars to drop children within the schools. This was feasible as most of them sat on extended campuses.
Initial parental reaction was of outrage, some even went to court, mercifully the courts decided to give the system a try and it got going. But over time, nothing seems to have changed. The traffic jams, cars bringing children in singles if not groups, still clog the streets before the schools. Some schools use some buses but it is still a car ride for too many children.
Now that concern for global warming is mainstream, and the need to reduce carbon footprints nationally recognised, there is only one set of solutions to the traffic-jam-before-schools problem: All children have to come to school by bus. Where a good public bus system exists, its help can be taken. Where it does not, schools should pool their buses and devise a shared system whereby different school children from an area use buses plying along different routes touching schools on the way. So, a child boards a bus that touches her particular school. If computer-shy Kolkata denizens with a Left hangover can't figure out how to do this, they can ask any number of software firms in Bangalore to devise an application which can optimally structure routes connecting neighbourhoods to schools, using a pool of school buses.
Another solution, part of the package, has to be devised by the authorities staggering school and office timings so that all school and office journeys do not have to be made at the same time. If these solutions are implemented together, then the jams-before-schools will be severely curtailed.
If this is not rocket science, why has it not happened yet? Good people who send their children to good schools rather dislike public transport, even though the experience with DTC has proved perfectly safe. The model bus system in Mumbai is being regulated after some accidents. This should make it safer; and cars meet with accidents too. The Kolkata middle class finds it respectable to travel by bus, unlike its counterpart in Delhi. But still.
The authorities, as the traffic sergeant's words admirably bring out, have not acted because they are part of the good people who send their children to good schools. You can hardly take a school to task if you have moved heaven and earth to put your child in that school in the first place.
As for the schools, they are also run by the good people who form the constituency for good schools, sharing the same habits of thought. Also, as the principal's words quoted above show, they are often tragically out of date, uninformed and ingenious in raising "security" issues. Global warming, or the fact that flyovers don't help they simply transfer traffic jams to their two ends have passed them by. Sure, flyovers are built with public money, but aren't prominent schools a part of the public? Only a bit more equal than others.
DEVANGSHU DATTA: SOCIAL ENGINEERING AND BIGOTRY
The Economist recently quoted a Tennessee shopkeeper who described Barack Obama as a "F**ing N***". Those words and the person they were directed at, together summed up the limits of social engineering.
Obama could not have been elected without the Civil Rights Movement and the social engineering it triggered. However, though the US' social engineering reduced racial bias, it did not eliminate bigotry. The Tennessee shopkeeper's words hark back 50 years, to a time when racists reviled a charismatic preacher named Martin Luther King in exactly the same terms.
The timeframes required to re-engineer social attitudes are mind-boggling. When a black seamstress, Rosa Parks, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat in a Montgomery (Alabama) bus to a white man in 1955, the 48-year-old Obama was not even a glint in his parents' eyes. Parks' arrest sparked a bus-boycott, orchestrated by King. That led directly to desegregation and affirmative action.
India started its social engineering experiments even earlier. Gandhiji was preaching about the evil of untouchability in the 1920s. Legal equality and affirmative action through reservation have been embedded in the Indian Constitution since its adoption.
Sixty years later, it's evident that those social engineering efforts have not been entirely successful. The reservation concept was flawed from inception in its definition of eligibility criteria. It ignored the issue of high-caste poverty, for one.
High-caste poverty continues to be ignored, leading to massive resentment. Increasingly, arbitrary definitions of caste-eligibility have also been adopted. The concept of the "creamy layer" is prone to leaks, given inefficiencies of governance.
Yet, flawed as it may be, the social engineering embodied in reservations has created routes out of poverty for millions. It has empowered the previously marginalised. Mayawati has a genuine shot at becoming Prime Minister someday. That would have been plain unthinkable for Dr Ambedkar, or even Jagjivan Ram.
Urbanisation, and the mixing it enforces, has also lowered many barriers. Most cubicle-dwellers neither know nor care about the antecedents of canteen staff. Nevertheless, bigotry persists. Many still baulk at the thought of marrying out of caste. Professional descriptions like leather-worker and sweeper are commonly employed as insults.
These examples show that social engineering is long-gestation. Any analysis of the Women's Reservation Bill has to start from that context. It is undeniable gender discrimination exists. Across India, women lag in terms of education; the population gender ratio is unfavourable. In many professions, women are paid less. Domestic violence ranging from wife-beating to honour-killings and dowry murders is endemic.
It would be clearly beneficial if these evils were removed, and the imbalances corrected. The Women's Reservation Bill is supposed to energise the process of reform and correction. But it could take decades before outcomes, favourable or otherwise, are apparent.
The immediate outcome is that more women will enter Parliament. Given dynastic biases, the beneficiaries will probably be members of political families. Will those ladies do right by their under-privileged sisters? Panchayat reservation hasn't noticeably accelerated the uplift of rural women and that has been in force since 1993.
There may have been other ways to correct gender imbalances. Affirmative action aimed at educating girls and adult women may have produced quicker returns. Adapting micro-finance models to target female entrepreneurs may also have been more direct.
Chances are, the Bill and its efficacy will still be debated in 2050. But while more women in Parliament may not do much good in the short term, it cannot do any harm. At worst, the new MPs will emulate the men they replace by ignoring their responsibilities, screaming and sitting in the Well. If so, at the minimum, more women bailiffs will be hired. So, that is one guaranteed positive outcome.
WOMEN SMART, MEN SMARTER?
IT IS DIFFICULT TO IMAGINE A WORSE 'IN THE NAME OF WOMEN' LEGISLATION ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD
Amidst much obsequious and self-indulgent fanfare, the Congress party was able to push through the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. One reason for the inordinate hurry was the fact that constitutional policy change in India is now being made with a firm eye on international newspapers and magazines. It was a set-up. The 100th anniversary of Women's Day, and our policy-makers want to see their picture on the front page of the New York Times, or better still, the cover of The Economist. It was easier in the olden days when all people wanted was to "see my smiling" face on the cover of the Rolling Stone. (Youngsters, check Google for the Dr Hook song). Thankfully, a Lok Sabha test awaits, so there is time.
From the introduction of the birth control Bill some 50 years ago to today, the world has come a long way. The remarkably-changing world order, where women are playing the same role as men used to. Much has been accomplished, and while it is politically and femininely correct to say that much remains, that isn't so. Yes, some distance remains, but that does not give a licence to men, and institutions, to pass absurd legislation. Especially if a simple solution is in sight.
In typical Indian Constitution style (time to rewrite the Constitution with more than 100 amendments in a short space of 60 years, none of us know what is the basic law, and what is man's interpretation, and what is his re-interpretation), the Bill relies on quotas, read that for extreme lack of intelligence. It is so so India of the licence raj; set quantities. So, the Bill says that one-third of all legislative positions in the country will be reserved for women candidates only. These legislative positions will be in all forms of government, from the Lok Sabha to the village panchayats, where it already exists. Sounds simple and straightforward. The mistake is to assume that India, a country of 1.1 billion people, is a village. If it works in a village, it is bound to work at an all-India level. That is just not stupid, it is irresponsibly stupid.
As the men-quaking dust has settled, the cracks are beginning to appear. First, at the national level, how are the women constituencies to be chosen? Are they to be frozen in time, as the reserved seats for the SC/ST candidates are, or are they to rotate? The latter, because there isn't any quintessential woman constituency. So, how are the women's seats to be chosen? Oh, didn't you know, by lottery. But, and amidst the mandatory references, and obsequious genuflections to all the vision and service the Nehru-Gandhi family has done for India, and is continuing to do so, we are told that the party is open to suggestions.
So, the Bill is as follows. One-third of the total constituencies will be chosen by lottery for women only. The lottery will mysteriously not touch certain constituencies, unless there is a national random TV drawing of the samples. The sitting candidate from the anointed constituency, man or woman, will have to go fish. But the Constitution requires residency, so are we going to change that part of the Constitution also? Why not, we have amended it more often than most people change their toothbrush.
Isn't there a simpler way for achieving the worthwhile goal of equality? There is. Any recognised political party has to field in whatever election Lok Sabha or municipal dog-catcher at least one-third women. End of policy. As simple as it can get. Now, let us think of the implications. There can be an all-woman party, but there cannot be an all-man party. It can be the case that all the elected officials are women, it cannot be the case that all the elected officials are men. Far better, and far more equal, to give extra benefits to women today for equality tomorrow. By subscribing to laws like the women's Bill, all of us, women and men, are signing on to something that couldn't, shouldn't and wouldn't happen.
So, why are the women not demanding, signing up, for this deal? Surely, if a constitutional amendment can be made, requiring clearance by both Houses and ratification by 14 states, a simple agreement can be reached to field one-third women candidates. Because the women are smart, and the men dumb. With this law, women are guaranteed with 33 per cent seats in Parliament, a three-fold increase, and an increase guaranteed to stay forever. Oh, yes, there is the proviso that Parliament will look at the quota situation again in 10 years, but recall that reservations for SC/ST were meant to be reviewed every 10 years; instead, we have got quota after quota, with no end in sight. A sure 33 per cent by law, rather than a hard-fought battle against the male order of only 10 per cent at present? It's a deal, say the smart women.
But maybe they are being too, too clever. They should know the Indian male who has kept them at a lower status than most countries in the world, including Bangladesh and Pakistan. The clever, chauvinist, cheating Indian male has most likely given them the Rajya Sabha bait. The law is unlikely to get passed in the Lok Sabha. The smarter men are likely to triumph. By not going for the simpler, fairer solution, the Indian women, and women all across the world, and humanity, are the loser.
The author is Chairman of Oxus Investments, an merging market advisory and fund management firm. Please visit www.oxusinvestments.com for an archive of articles et al; comments welcome at: surjit.bhalla@oxusinvestments
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SERVICE SECTOR M&AS CALL FOR NEW SKILLS
Fortis Healthcare's $685 million acquisition of a 23.9% stake in the Singapore-based Parkway Holdings, one of Asia's largest healthcare service providers, marks a new trend for service sector cross-border mergers and acquisitions. Welcome as these are, they also call for extra care. The Fortis deal comes on the heels of Bharti Airtel's $10.7 billion bid for the African operations of Kuwait-based Zain.
On the face of it, the two deals have little in common. But together, the two deals are an affirmation of India's emerging strength in the global services arena, apart from the IT sector where Indian companies have long been seen as a force to reckon with. With a large and skilled labour force, services should be our forte. Consequently , the acquisitions (the due diligence process is still on in the case of Zain) mark a new maturing of Indian service-sector companies and are an inevitable outcome of our services-led growth story.
Although services now contribute close to 60% of India's GDP, as against 23% coming from manufacturing, big ticket cross-border M&As have, somehow, been the preserve of manufacturing companies: Tata Steel took over Corus, Tata Motors, Jaguar; Hindalco, Novelis and so on. But service sector companies, barring IT companies, were conspicuous by their absence in the M&A space. Not any longer! Fortis and Bharti have shown the way.
However, we must add a word of caution. At the best of times cross-border M&As are tough to pull off and M&As in the services sector, tougher still. Unlike manufacturing, the delivery of services is a much more personalised activity where issues like culture are hugely important.
Thus, while it may be possible to replicate manufacturing techniques with minimal tweaking in different geographical locations, the same cannot be said about delivery of services. It is a much more nuanced activity. It would therefore , be naïve to imagine that the low cost model of service delivery that Indian companies have perfected can simply be transplanted to other countries and be expected to fetch as good results. The short point, of course, is that greater managerial ingenuity is called for.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INFRASTRUCTURE GETS A BOOST
The government's proposal to let financial institutions guarantee bonds issued by infrastructure providers is welcome as it would enable them to raise cheaper funds and boost investment in infrastructure projects. It would also encourage long-term investors including pension funds and insurance firms to put more money in infrastructure bond offerings, giving a fillip to the corporate bond market.
A guarantee by state-owned India Infrastructure Finance Company (IIFCL) would, however, add to the contingent liabilities of the Centre. Due diligence is, therefore, a must and the IIFCL should provide guarantees only to bond-issuers whose projects are found to be commercially viable. This would call for a rigorous appraisal of the project as is done for a bank loan. In the past, the RBI had rejected a proposal of the State Bank of India to provide guarantee to Tata Motors for its debenture issue, saying the company should raise money on the strength of its own rating. However, new special purpose vehicles floated by infrastructure firms do not have ratings.
These SPVs cannot access competitive funds. Banks are also unable to provide them long-term capital as they raise deposits that have an average maturity of only 3-5 years. The government's proposal makes eminent sense as it would help break the log-jam in infrastructure financing. In parallel, banks can also be allowed to raise long-term, tax-free bonds to help them provide loans for infrastructure projects at competitive rates. Private contributors, domestic and foreign, should also be innovatively incentivised to bridge the demand supply mismatch in infrastructure.
Better infrastructure would lower business costs in India and enhance GDP growth. However, building infrastructure needs more than finances. Road projects, for instance, have been marred by poor surveys, missed deadlines and cost over-runs. Delivery has to be assessed not in terms of award of the contract, but on the basis of kilometers built. User charges, whether for roads, power or water, must be realised.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BREATHE CONSCIOUSLY AND LIVE MINDFULLY
VITHAL C NADKARNI
In the Stranger, Albert Camus, the Algeria-born French Nobel laureate, narrates the story of man who is condemned to be executed in a few days. As he sits in his cell on death row, the prisoner notices a small patch of sky through the skylight.
Suddenly, he seems to feel the deep touch of the present moment, of life itself. He vows to spend his remaining days in mindfulness, in full appreciation of every moment that's inexorably slipping away towards his sentence . He sticks to his resolve for the remaining days.
At last, just three hours are left for his execution when a priest comes into his cell to receive the prisoner's confession and to administer the last rites. But the man only wants to be alone. He tries one way after another to get the priest to leave and when he finally succeeds, he mutters to himself that the priest lived like a dead man. ("Il vit comme un mort"). He sees that the one trying to save him was less alive than the one about to be hanged.
Camus's story came to Thich Nhat Hahn's mind when he took a taxi in New York. The noted Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master saw that the taxi driver was not at all happy. "He was not in the present moment . There was no peace or joy in him, no capacity of being alive while doing the work of driving. And he expressed it in the way he drove," Nhat Hahn writes in his classic manual on mindfulness, Touching Peace. "Many of us do the same. We rush about, but we are not at one with what we are doing; we are not at peace. Our body is here, but our mind is somewhere else in the past or the future, possessed by anger, frustration, or dreams. We are not really alive; we are like ghosts. If our beautiful child were to come and offer us a smile, we would miss him completely, and he would miss us. What a pity!"
The antidote to this tragic situation lies in getting off your autopilot, to live mindfully. For "our true home is in the present moment," Nhat Hahn advises. "To live in the present moment is the miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the Green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available right now." He then prescribes a series of exercises for living mindfully, beginning with conscious breathing. This leads to love being directed towards ourselves and to the world.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BSNL BOARD HAS NOT APPROVED VRS PLAN: KULDEEP GOYAL
JOJI THOMAS PHILIP
Erstwhile state monopoly BSNL's decline as a telecom service provider has few parallels in history. It slipped behind its fleet-footed private sector rivals to lose market share and revenues at an alarming speed. BSNL chairman and managing director Kuldeep Goyal is spearheading an effort to reverse the decline in fortunes by emulating private telcos. The company is set to dump its equipment procurement process to adopt the 'managed capacity' model where network is outsourced to vendors, which constantly changes network configuration to meet capacity requirements. Mr Goyal explains in detail how he will script a turnaround for BSNL, which is expected to post the first annual loss in its history, in an exclusive interaction. Excerpts:
Now that BSNL's board has cancelled its controversial 93-million lines tender, what is the way forward?
We are changing our procurement strategy completely. We are looking at a 'managed capacity' model and this will be based on the traffic which is measured on a per Erlang basis. Our future orders for equipment will no longer be based on number of GSM lines. The new strategy will see us work out our mobile network capacity requirements on a quarterly basis and vendors will be given contracts to install this. This is the model being followed by private operators. We are now studying how companies like Airtel are executing it.
Will the new model do away with all the controversies associated with BSNL tenders?
Now, vendors will design our network first they will study our networks, find out which of the clusters have capacity constraints and then identify the equipment that is required to be added. So, if there is surplus equipment in a cluster, they would like to roll it over to another area. For the first time, designing, planning, implementation of our mobile networks will be done by the vendor. Right now, our employees do all these functions. So far, we were giving blanket orders to install certain number of lines at a particular location/town here what happens is that in some places, the capacity gets used up faster than our estimates and we then have constraints. On the other hand, in other places, the growth in mobile connections may be lower than our calculations, leaving us with surplus capacity. We were giving orders for say a 12-month period, and could not make changes in between. In a managed capacity model, capacity is added or reduced every quarter.
How will your new tenders be? How will you address your equipment needs during this period? There is a lot of speculation that BSNL has already run out of mobile capacity in most parts of the country. Also, even if you have spare capacity now, will it not run out by the time you implement the new model?
Yes, the new tenders will no longer be about lines. Once we study this model and understand it, we will float RFPs for equipment purchase under the managed capacity model. Currently, we have a capacity of around 20 million GSM lines which are under installation in the South zone. These lines are being provided by Huawei, while in the West, they are being supplied by Alcatel Lucent. There is also come capacity left in the North and East zones. We have 8.5 million free lines in the South, 7.7 million in the West and 1.5 million each in the North and East. We have some some margins in our existing orders that we have placed with these vendors and therefore may be able to place additional orders with them. In the west and south zones, we will not require additional capacity for the next one year. In the North and East, we will require additional capacity within the next six months and we are considering several options to meet it. We are yet to decide if we want to place additional orders under phase V of our 2007 tenders.
The government has banned you from procuring equipment from Chinese firms in most regions of the country. Does this impact BSNL?
I cannot comment on government decisions, but if any rules are there they should be common for all the operators. They cannot be applicable only to state-owned companies as that does not serve the purpose. If security is a concern, it should be for all the networks of all operators.
Your financials have been falling rapidly. The Prime Minister's Office as well as the Department of Telecom have expressed concerns over this.
BSNL is not making losses. Even in the last fiscal, we had profits of around Rs 575 crore. This year, we are going to take a massive hit of around Rs 4,800 crore because of a salary revision. This salary revision is effective from 2007. These arrears have to be paid in the current fiscal. We have already disbursed around Rs 1,000 crore as of last year, so there will be an additional liability of Rs 3,800 crore this fiscal. This year's financials will, therefore, be impacted. In the next year, the situation will improve. This is a temporary phase. In the case of mobile revenues, BSNL is doing better than private operators. The mobile revenues for the industry have come down by 5-6% in the current fiscal in the quarter ending June 2009, industry revenues were down by 4.55% while in the quarter ended September it was down by 1 %. But our revenues from mobile services have not fallen. Overall revenues have fallen because of our wireline revenues.
Is it possible that for the first time, BSNL will register losses this fiscal?
This year, that is a possibility. This is because of this new liability of having to pay three-year salary arrears due to the revision.
Was the board pressurised into accepting Pitroda panel report?
There was no pressure on us. The board has given its views on this report to the government and has asked it to take a final call on it. Most recommendations of this panel are related to the growth of the company and the board has no objections to it. While the Pirtoda panel recommended a 30% divestment, the board has only said that it is okay with a stake sale. We have not said that 30% should be sold, but rather have asked the government to work out the exact quantum. On the issue of VRS, the BSNL board is of the view that 60,000 people will retire in the next five years. So, the headcount will come down by this number within a five-year period. Let me also clarify, the board has not approved any move to offer VRS to 100,000 employees. The BSNL board also agrees with the Pitroda committee report that private talent be brought in and marked linked salaries be offered to these executives.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'ONCE BOREDOM SETS IT, YOUR FILM IS DEAD'
Oringsham Sound Studio as an address hardly evokes any signs of recognition in anyone outside the film industry; so trying to locate it is likefinding a needle in a haystack, nestled as it is within a large building complex, in a quiet lane in North Mumbai. But it boasts of neighbours like Yashraj Studios. Mahesh Manjrekar has been engrossed in the last leg of the dubbing for his bi-lingual directorial venture Lalbaug Parel, Rs 70,000-per sq ft, Zali Mumbai Sonyachi, as it is called in Marathi or City of Gold: Mumbai 1982 Zali Mumbai Soniyachi as its Hindi version is called. For now, of course, his attention is focused on why the brochure of the film's back cover cannot accommodate the entire credits which will roll on the screen. Due credit, feels the director, writer, actor, producer and theatre person, is a must and all must get equal measure.
A quarter of a century after the famous Mumbai mill strike, Manjrekar is ready with a magnum opus which tells the tale of Mumbai and its mill workers in MM's unique way no preaching from podiums yet thought-provoking, entertainment but without the pace of a race.
Thirteen years after Jayanti Pawar wrote his much enacted and applauded Marathi play Adhantar, Manjrekar and Pawar along with a posse of 65 actors are ready with a celluloid tale longer than nine yards. Almost all those who have worked on this film have come together to connect to the yarn and spin, of the once blaring sirens of the mills and numerous chimneys which spewed smoke. The mills have turned into malls and a square foot of space here costs Rs 70,000 in as Manjrekar calls it the City of Gold. The maverick writer director who woke up to reach school with the mill sirens as his alarm, tells Nandini Raghavendra how this tale is as much his as Mumbai's.
Writer, director, actor, producer, theatre and films... what describes you the best?
On first thoughts, director but then I think maybe writer-director on a 50:50 basis. I am an extremely bad producer as I am bad with money not other people's money, only my own! I am an intelligent actor. Not good, but I know how to save my skin. Though all directors may not be writers, but they definitely need to be good storytellers and it is how each one tells his/her story which is important and what makes them different. Of course, if he is also the writer, it's a huge plus point. There are people who have messed up an absolutely good story and then there are those who have told a mediocre story in a very interesting way.
Take the example of Cheeni Kum and Nishabd (usually I am reluctant to take names, though). You see an older man falling in love with a younger woman in both, Amitabh Bachchan but CK held you in the way that Nishabd did not.
Now, consider Raju Hirani. If I was narrated the two Munnabhai or 3 Idiots stories in a line, I would probably say that they were okay. But it is in the way Hirani inserts emotion, laughter and other small emotive contributions to make the stories interesting and tell them in his own way, which makes them so unique. So maybe I would give more weight to a writer, say 60 versus a director 40. In fact, I feel, writers are the most ignored lot, which is a shocking truth.
Relationships, emotions, women, learning disabilities, cricket, education and law & order you have dealt with wide-ranging subjects. What excites or inspires you as a writer/director?
Either you are a story teller or you are not. These are not things you can learn. I have not gone to any institute or school, nor have I learnt film-making. But I remember that I wrote my first script when I was in the sixth or seventh class, which I would add to every night. I always saw my story I never ever penned it down.
Looking back, it was an extremely ordinary, mediocre story about how a boy meets a girl but I remember it vividly. I did not know then I would get into films nor had any idea about what a director's job was. I always believed that the writer was the boss. Even when I got into theatre and wrote my first play in 1988, Kewal Tujhya Sathi, I wrote the lead with the intention to launch myself as an actor. On hindsight, it was a mediocre script but I knew I could write. I often feel embarrassed at some of the stuff I did, some which I should never have done and some which were before their time like Asititva would have had a bigger audience today or even Tera Mera Sath Rahe about two brothers one of whom is affected by cerebral palsy. Today when I see a TZP, I feel I wrote it much better, understanding child psychology. Ehsaas was another film before its time, while Shri Lalu Prasad Yadav should not have been done at all. Vastaav and Kurukshretra, I feel, are fine though I would have treated Kuruskshretra differently, maybe more maturely, with more depth. The policemen who are the protagonists are a neglected lot and we tend to see them in black and white. We see that they are corrupt and they take bribes. But I defy anyone to run a house on a salary of Rs 8,000 per month. I feel we should improve their basic standard of living and education.
You show an understanding of women throughout your films which is rare.
My mother is a very strong woman, my father was an alcoholic. The only reason we are there today is because of my mother. Maybe, subconsciously this has affected my work. Women are stronger, they face a crisis better than men who crumble easily. My daughter's birth also saw me observe women more closely.
Though there are all kinds of women, 90% of the women I have come across are very strong characters, ones who will survive against all odds. In one of my first jobs, I used bore wells with hand pumps (something I enjoyed doing) and for the same, to get government contracts, we would travel to the remotest village which faced acute scarcity of water. There, I observed that it was the women, who were in absolute control of their households. They were all uneducated but they were also a big influence in my characterisations. In fact, a film I am working on, White, which is much more evolved than even Astitva and Vaastav put together. My aim is to entertain and be thought-provoking because the youth forms a huge part of the audience through the mutliplexes. At the end of it, if what you thought important is not seen by all, what is the use?
Lalbaug Lower Parel, Rs 70,000 per sq ft has not been an easy film...
Yes, it not a film you can live with everyday, it was difficult. When, Pawar (a mill worker's son and journalist) first came with the film script, it had 170-180 odd scenes in which he had poured his heart out, it was a brilliant story but we sat and trimmed it to 90 scenes. We added a lot of characters as well.
The entire team of this movie believed that the next generation needs to know the real story behind the birth of a city now known to them as the city of opportunities, Mumbai. What better way than bringing the voices that made the real Mumbai come together and narrate the truth? The film is based on the trials and tribulations that mill workers in Mumbai faced during the 1980s, I knew it was a film which needed a budget and scale and we have stayed with the script for four years. Two producers came and went, some wanted stars which would have defeated the purpose itself but Pawar's patience was admirable. With Dar Motion Pictures, I found someone who believed in the film as much as I did. So, maybe, the four years have been worth the wait.
I have grown up in Wadala, where cricket was the only source of entertainment, where a ball was bought with contributions from all and the bat could be made up of anything, sometimes tied together with a string. It was not a costly game and the boys were very good at it. I remember waking up for school with the mill siren at 7 am. In the night, if you went out, you had to come back before 11 pm or after 11.30 pm because the mill shift would end and the trains would get crowded. So, the mills have been a part and parcel of Mumbai's life. In fact, the dabbawallas carrying the aluminium tiffin boxes is an image which had stayed with me since childhood.
What gives you the confidence in the commercial potential of a film subject of this kind?
I have ensured that a certain pace is maintained so that people are hooked onto the story and not bored, because once boredom sets it, your film is dead, but it is not like the Abbas-Mastan type of pace. Lalbaug Parel uses a lot of actors from parallel cinema and theatre also, who I had to direct not to keep the same long pauses because that is when you can lose your audience. Today, an intelligent Marathi audience has actually come out of the woodwork, there is a huge word-of-mouth publicity which has given rise to a loyal growing audience and it has come out in hordes. The plexes have played a huge part in this. This audience is tired of stars, has spending power and is prepared to see sensible cinema. So a good film may not get a great opening, but it will definitely sustain. A Wednesday is a perfect example of this kind of film and I respect and love it. At the end of the day, your film has to be seen by all. Imagine a TZP, Chak De, Khosla ka Ghosla or Dev D in the '80s. Today, they are all doing so well.
'02 RIOTS: MODI, AT LAST, TO FACE PROBE
Eight years on, it is clear that the ghost of the hair-raising violence committed against the Muslim minority in Gujarat is still not dead. The Special Investigation Team, constituted by the Supreme Court to conduct a fresh examination of several important cases, has issued a summons to chief minister Narendra Modi to appear before it on March 21. This is an awkward reminder that system cleansing remains a work in progress. While society has sought to come to terms with the monstrous events of 2002 in a variety of ways, there is no judicial closure yet to the happenings that shook the country and raised questions in the international arena. The world had been taken aback because there was nothing in India's social system, political structures, or belief paradigms that would have prepared it for the shaming episodes that were witnessed over a period of several months. It is well known that the conduct of Mr Modi's government, and those of its leading functionaries in the police and the state administration, in those fateful days has been a subject of strictures by the Supreme Court. However, the examination of the chief minister himself under the orders of the highest court in the land marks a new low. Leading functionaries in India have been hauled up before the law for a variety of reasons, but none has suffered the ignominy of being personally investigated in a case of mass murder. It is this which imbues the prospective investigation of Mr Modi with extraordinary significance. No head of government in a democracy has been in such a position before. It has to be clearly understood, of course, that investigation is only a stage in the judicial process. It would be wrong to pronounce the chief minister guilty in a juridical sense at this stage, although it would be hard for the man at the helm to shake off charges of moral culpability. Such had been the scale of barbarity witnessed in Gujarat in those days that then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajapyee, who is from the same party as the chief minister, has been revealed to have desired his removal but was unable to effect this on account of political opposition within his party. Mr Modi, along with dozens of others, is under scrutiny in the case of the murder in cold blood of 60-odd individuals at Gulberg Society, a residential complex in Baroda. The most well known of these was a former Congress MP, Ehsan Jafri, whose widow Zakia Jafri has persevered in her efforts to bring the guilty to book. Moved by her plea, the Supreme Court ordered the SIT to investigate the chief minister. The evidence that the SIT gathers will naturally be evaluated by a trial judge before anything can be said about Mr Modi's role in this particular case. There can be little doubt, however, that if he is shown in an adverse light in the proceedings, he will be in no position to continue as chief minister or hold any constitutional position. If guilt sticks, the chief minister will naturally receive appropriate punishment under the law. How soon the case can be wound up even under fast-track procedures is anybody's guess. But political opponents of the Chief Minister may be expected to try and drive him from office if there is the slightest judicial opening.
LEARNING TO READ
BY FARRUKH DHONDY
"The break of day the broken day
The fall of night the fallen night
No such thing as a single ray
Behold the undivided light..."
From Crumbs by Bachchoo
Living in London after my university days and beginning to write and sell the occasional article to newspapers and magazines, I was introduced to a sunken Sri Lankan whose name I won't mention, for fear of libel lest he be still alive, who said I would be better off "syndicating" what I wrote. (Very much alive at the time, this patron kept a coffin with a truncated mattress in it instead of a bed in his single room). I didn't know what "syndicate" meant but he kindly took me and three of my articles as samples to an agency called Forum World Features (FWF) in Lincoln's Inn Fields. He introduced me to the editor who read my pieces on the spot, signed me up to contribute articles once a week and said he'd pay me £25 a go. At the time it seemed like winning the national lottery.
There was the added ego boost of receiving through the post a cyclostyled bundle of articles with mine almost always towards the top of the stapled pile and statements as to which international papers had picked the articles up for publication.
The Vietnam War was the cause celebre of the Left in Britain and I inevitably, with socialist and Marxist leanings and commitment, began to write about the campaign against America's military presence in southeast Asia and to even argue for a Viet Cong victory. The purely descriptive articles about the campaign passed muster and were published readily, but as the tone and substance of the articles got increasingly more rhetorical, they came back with rejection slips. Soon it became clear, even when I wrote about subjects other than the anti-war movement, that my relationship with FWF was at an end.
Years later, having made something of a career in writing, the British newspapers unearthed a curious story.
Forum World Features had been the creation and instrument of a United States government intelligence agency.
Each issue contained subtle propaganda articles by writers of the agency and, by selling itself as an independent supplier of features, it had managed to infiltrate the editorial pages of publications all over the world. So my articles were not enthusiastically embraced as great writing or vital journalism, they were bought to provide a cover of independence and Left-sounding views for the insidious substance the US agency wanted to disseminate. My articles and those of others perhaps were used as red-herring journalism.
I suppose it was the closest I got to working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
FWF was not alone in being financed and sponsored by such an agency. Years before FWF, a very popular literary-political magazine called Encounter had become, in my college days and on campuses all over the world, compulsory reading. It was edited by Stephen Spender and Melvyn J. Lasky. My friends and I awaited and read it diligently. It was where I first encountered the work of Harold Pinter, John Wain, V.S. Naipaul and very many others. It was crisply edited and designed and I doubt if it crossed any reader's mind that its very style and authority were being used as cover for some specially targeted articles and opinions which the CIA wanted disseminated. If there were such articles, they seemed to be part of the political mix of information and not in any sense blatantly propagandist.
It emerged years later that the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which owned Encounter, was an offshoot of the CIA and was launched as part of the intellectual artillery of the Cold War.
Encounter was distinctly highbrow and became a habit and a prop of intellectual pretension. The other publications that came into our house were magazines called Woman's Own, Woman and Home and the Reader's Digest whose demise, after all these years, was announced this week.
I don't think any of these was owned or financed by the US or other government's agencies. The women's mags dealt in the main with recipes, knitting and possibly with fashion. I only remember getting the impression that British architecture seemed uniformly to be what I now know to be fifties' lower-middle class suburban housing. The Readers' Digest on the other hand was distinctly and proudly low brow. I read it diligently at the time, not knowing that "brows" existed, much less how to distinguish between their comparative elevations.
It seemed to contain regular attacks on the Soviet Union with articles about how children were encouraged and even paid to spy on their parents for hints of counter-revolutionary activity. I don't think the articles achieved the object of filling me with fear and loathing for the Soviet way of life. Instead I can remember wondering which of my relatives I would denounce if the Communist system ever came to India and denouncing became lucrative.
There were regular features such as "Humour in Uniform" which I took to be a hangover from the World War II and a regular quiz called "How to Increase Your Word Power" which offered you recondite words and a choice of likely definitions. It was the first page to which I turned when the magazine, to which my aunts subscribed, came through the post.
It was around the years when Encounter was being published that I must have picked up the fact that there were distinctions to be made in the quality of literature. I don't quite know where this incipient critical notion came from. I was certainly not taught it.
In those Reader's Digest days or years, I read any and everything and but had no way or even need to distinguish between reading Thomas Hardy, say, and reading Earl Stanley Gardner. I was certainly aware that Jane Austen wrote in a very different style from the cowboy novels of Max brand or Luke Short, but the question of which was better prose and why never entered the discourse.
But then the change came, perhaps with the advent of more demanding magazines such as Time which took everything seriously and Encounter which was responsible for introducing, for the first time to me, through its reviews of books, the critical approach to reading.
It was only then that I began to be grateful to the Reader's Digest for giving me a genre of publication to look down on.
BY DC CORRESPONDENT
NO RAM FOR TOP COP
Not many tears are being shed for the controversial cop, Mr P.S.R.Anjaneyulu, who had to go on leave after the High Court pulled him up for caning students and journalists in the Osmania University. According to sources, the OU incident is being seen as a blessing in disguise by many senior cops who were not comfortable working with Mr Anjaneyulu. This included the city commissioner, Mr A.K. Khan. They had also apparently forced the decision to go on leave. But friends of Mr Anjaneyulu say that the cop took the decision himself since his mentor, a senior police officer, was also out of favour and could not help him at this crucial hour. "With no Ram around, Anjaneyulu must have felt the fires of Lanka would engulf him," quipped the friend.
All grist to channel mills
The panchayat raj minister, Mr Botsa Satyanarayana, and the previous holder of the post, Mr J.C. Diwakar Reddy, were suddenly in huge demand. Mr Satyanarayana, who earlier favoured united Andhra Pradesh has suddenly changed tack and has come out with a statement favouring bifurcation of the state. Thanks to this, TV channels of the state were after him, requesting him to take part in one discussion or the other. With over 10 channels vying with each other to get him, Mr Satyanarayana decided to draw lots everyday and pick one. He even communicated this to the channels. However, with other incidents attracting their interest, the channels soon forgot Mr Satyanarayana. Similarly, Mr Diwakar Reddy's statement favouring Rayal-Telangana state also attracted some interest initially, only to get eclipsed by other incidents.
STINGY WITH COLOURS ALSO
It may be that the post you hold will have a bearing on your personality after a while. The finance principal secretary, Mr G. Sudhir, is a classic instance. And it took the Governor, Mr E.S.L. Narasimhan, to notice this. The other day the Governor hosted a colourful party on the lawns of Raj Bhavan to celebrate Holi. The idea was to send a message of cheer, happiness and togetherness to the trouble-hit state. Politicos as well as babus made a beeline to the Raj Bhavan and some officials tried their best to catch the eye of the Governor. But the shy and soft-spoken Mr Sudhir merely applied a pinch of colour on the Governor, who then joked that administrative head of finances in the state was stingy even when it came to colours.
BAD TIMES FOR BUREAUCRATS IN THE STATE
IAS officers of the state are a harried lot these days. More than 20 IAS officers from different departments rush to the Assembly early in the morning to assist the ministers. Nearly 50 grade-I officers from state cadre accompany them to provide them required information in a jiffy. However, with continuous disturbances and frequent adjournments, not even two or three questions are being taken up in a day, forcing the IAS officers to be in attendance the following day too. Two babus from the energy department had to go to the House for six days until their question was finally answered. "Sometimes we have to come at 6.30 am without even having a bath," said an official. Probably they rue the days when they decided to join the civil service.
INDIA'S BIG 'MAHILA MOMENT'
JAI JAWAN! JAI KISAAN! JAI MAHILA!
Ji haan. What Soniaji wants, Soniaji gets! God is also great, ji! He likes Sonia. What a bhet! That too one day after International Women's Day. Am I thrilled to bits? Nope. I have never been pro-reservations. And that cuts across the board. I don't believe in subsidies and quotas. But my far worthier sisters say, I am being silly about this. Super sensitive and even selfish. Theek hai. I guess we should be rejoicing, and eventually I too may get co-opted. But till such time, I'm keeping the bubbly on hold. My biggest and main concern is that the bill does not remain a naam ke vaastey grand gesture, in the same tradition as our Jai Jawan! Jai Kisaan! programmes which sounded terrific as slogans and won elections for the then leaders... but left those poor jawans and kisaans exactly where they were where they still are.
I am in distant Dubai, attending the Emirates Writers' Festival, and it seems slightly surrealistic to be talking about the women of India being on a collective high, especially to the ladies here, who look away uncomfortably and change the subject when the topic of womens' rights comes up. A lovely woman who has written her first book based on a true story of a 13-year-old local girl who'd been married off to a much, much older, much, much married man, lowers her voice to confess, "We have to be careful what we say and who we say it to. I would have preferred to write a stronger book, but I also knew it wouldn't get published". A poet seated at the same table nods his head sympathetically, but says nothing. His own poems on exile are filled with yearning for a different life. But even poets know when to hold their tongue.
Later, the same evening, I listen to Martin Amis, the star of this festival, talk about dealing with age. He discusses vanity and fear, insecurity and loathing. I wonder whether his talented wife is in the audience listening to him, and where she fits in, especially when he reads a passage from his latest book The Pregnant Widow.
My mind is only half here. It has been a tumultuous two days in India. We'd like to believe the world was wearing blinkers and not watching the disgraceful Rajya Sabha drama the shame and chaos those demeaning demonstrations of protest from so-called netas. I cringed at the images and wondered whether Lalu Prasad Yadav is so used to dealing with cows that he can't tell the difference between his farm animals and us! As for Mulayam Singh Yadav, what is it they say about taking the man out of his mohalla but not the mohalla out of him? Hours of unbearable suspense later came the historic voice vote. Strangely enough, the world remained somewhat impassive and indifferent to India's "Mahila Moment". When the topic did come up over dinner here in Dubai (in a vague and distracted way), a few British journos said something like, "Splendid! Splendid! Jolly good show". That response depressed me still further.
Earlier in the week I had attended a panel discussion on the subject and come away disheartened by the shallow and superficial reactions from some of the participants who seemed to believe all it takes to alter the destiny of our women is a piece of legislation. A magic wand waved by India's fairy Godmother Sonia Gandhi and, voila, we'll all be singing, "Aall eez well". I wish I could share their optimism. I wish I could believe India will witness dramatic change on account of a percentage in Parliament that is meant to take care of its most neglected resource women.
"Songs of Sorrow, Songs of Joy" was the poignant title of an exhibition featuring the works of several women artists. The driving force behind the show (which was a fund raiser for SPARROW, a valuable archival centre), is the committed and dynamic Dr Laxmi who is trying to preserve the oral and visual histories of women. At the elegantly presented function on the lawns of the jewel-like Bhauji Lad Museum, Dr Laxmi spoke about the house sparrow in India which faces imminent extinction and when she mentioned how it was possible for that sparrow to create a ball of rice out of each painstakingly picked grain, it said it all. Through that single image it was possible to predict the future of our women. Even as Dr Laxmi and the artists present celebrated the successful start of the initiative which had managed to raise over Rs 1,000,000 via a raffle, the rowdy, disruptive scenes that had interrupted the smooth passage of the bill a few hours earlier were being played and replayed on news channels across India. We were left to console ourselves that with any luck, perhaps 10 years down the line, Songs of Joy would outnumber Songs of Sorrow, at least for those women who would directly benefit from the bill. But despite our feelings of hope and cheer on that mellow evening, perhaps most of us knew in our heart of hearts that it would be foolish to over-invest in the instant magic promised by this breakthrough legislation.
About the same time as we were coming to grips with the euphoria of the moment, history was also being created at the Oscar's ceremony, with the first woman ever to win the most coveted statuette (the award for Best Director). And oddly enough, I thought to myself, "Why the hell are we making such a big deal out of this? Doesn't that say something? Something not terribly impressive? If we need to draw attention to the winner's gender, and make it into a battle of the sexes, we are guilty of continuing the stereotype of segregating winners and losers, not on the basis of merit, but according to the male-female divide. This is astonishingly passé, even embarrassingly old fashioned. Ms Bigelow's win had nothing to do with her being a woman. At least one hopes so. For if it did, it would be yet another strike against feminism in its more evolved avatar ooops, wrong word!
Back home in India, Mr Lalu Yadav is still waiting for the cows to come home.
Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com 
MEET THE BACHCHANS
BY KISHWAR DESAI
So as London's Asian Film Festival comes to an end this Sunday, I can still clearly remember moments when I feared for my life! And when I wished I knew a bit of Kung fu or karate to fend off the hordes of ardent fans who were especially determined to grab a moment with the Bachchans. The most threatening was one bunch of very aggressive, Swarovski-studded women in their chiffons and mid-thirties. At one stage I almost got beaten up by them when I tried to stop them from storming the room where the Bachchans were seated before the event.
So the whole thing became a bit of a game of hide and seek, as they were whisked in and out of various entrances and exits to confuse the aggressive desi damsels who wanted unfettered access to them. But the first family of Indian cinema was both elegant and graceful and everyone kept exclaiming how different they are compared to any other filmi parivaars.
There was a well-researched Q&A with Abhishek Bachchan by Francine Stock at Bafta (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), interspersed with clips from his movies. It was definitely a proud moment for Indian cinema, as Amitabh, Aishwarya and Jaya watched from the audience. Jaya Bachchan received her Lifetime Achievement Award from Tongues on Fire (London's Asian Film Festival), also at Bafta, and got a standing ovation. Needless to say it was a packed house.
Abhishek proved he could make us laugh and cry as a skilled raconteur, both during his interview and in his
masterclass for acting.
One of the funniest moments was his description of how a particular sequence was shot during the making of
the film Guru. Remember the scene when the entire family of the screen character Guru (played by Abhishek) comes to see him off at the railway station, as he leaves to make his fortune in the big bad city?
In the original script Aishwarya (playing his screen wife) was not supposed to accompany him on the journey. But at the station, during the filming on the set, Abhishek reasoned with director Mani Ratnam, asking him, "How could anyone, in his right mind, leave a girl who looked like Aishwarya behind?" Gazing at the gloriously lovely Ash, Mani immediately decided to change his mind and the script, on the spot.
So now Aishwarya was to hop onto the train along with Abhishek. Instantly, therefore, the dialogues had to be hurriedly improvised. However, the scene was being shot with a hired antique train, rented only for two hours and the train driver had decided to leave (with his train) as his time period for which the train was hired got over. And, therefore, a whole new frantic element appeared in the filming.
The scene had to be shot while the train had already started moving away. And in the confusion Aishwarya, in her role as a traditional wife, started touching the feet of her "filmi" family. So now there was even more tension. Not only was the train chugging happily away, Abhishek had to ensure that somehow Aishwarya would stop saying goodbye to the "family" so that he could pull her onto the train because the determined train driver would not slow down. And Abhishek had to do all that while remaining in character of Guru without spoiling the shot and remembering his dialogues. Somehow in that confusion the scene was shot as he put it almost like a comedy sequence. But, of course, on screen, with the final edit and the addition of Aishwarya's close ups (shot later), it looks completely smooth and slick and serious.
In his masterclass, similarly, (attended by a huge number of aspiring actors based in London) Abhishek was able to give an insight into how an actor prepares in India. To his credit he was frank about his early days of failure. He also shared instances of some of his most difficult scenes, and how he had mastered certain emotions eg, sorrow. But he was sensitive enough to admit that sometimes major emotional upheavals can take their toll on an actor and can even lead to a complete breakdown. He recounted another incident while shooting for the movie Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna where in a particularly complex scene he has to confront the fact that his "screen" father is dead. The problem with this scene was that, in the film, the role of the father was being played by Amitabh. And as Abhishek acted out the scene on the set, reality and reel life blurred completely. The enormity of the situation sunk into Abhishek's mind, he could not stop his tears. And everyone else started crying too, including Karan Johar who had recently lost his own father. And listening to this, I have to say, I wiped away a tear as well.
It was quite obvious where the acting genes have come from or at least 50 per cent of them Jaya Bachchan. Even though Jaya is notoriously media shy and hardly ever gives interviews, she was there for us at the Nehru Centre and when I spoke to her about her life and times, she was honest, funny and warm in her replies. So we covered her cinema, her famous family and even her politics. It was wonderful that an actress of her calibre has been performing for more than 40 years and has remained completely rooted. In fact, for the last few films she has done she did not charge any fee at all, doing them more for the challenge and the fact that she was playing an interesting role. Both in Jayabrato Chatterjee's film Lovesongs, and in Rubaiyat Hossain's Meherjaan, she plays a woman confronted with her past loves and relationships. Meherjaan is a Bangladeshi film made by a 26-year-old as-yet-unknown woman director. I can think of no better example which gives me hope about the future of Asian cinema because it has people like Jaya Bachchan who stand on no formality. In fact, she was disarming and came with me and my husband, without any fuss and bother, to the various festival venues.
It also goes to her credit that even after receiving the lifetime achievement award she said that her greatest achievement was Abhishek. There was also a collective "ooooooh" no doubt from all the parents in the audience when Abhishek said he had dedicated his acting to his parents. The affection between mother and son is quite palpable, especially when Jaya admitted in another interview that Abhishek still sends her flowers on Valentine's Day
But the most interesting moment was when Jaya told us that actually the best actor in the family had not yet made her screen debut. It turns out that her daughter Shweta is possibly the most talented actor among them. Wow! I am sure some directors are already pouncing for their phones to dial Shweta. Now can you imagine a film with all five of them in it...?
- Kishwar Desai is the chairperson of Tongues on Fire, London's only Asian Film Festival. She can be contacted at email@example.com 
BY ROGER COHEN
I actually got nostalgic for US air travel. I did. It felt weird, like pining for root-canal treatment, and it happened right here in the city of Michelangelo.
Don't get me wrong. I love Italy. I lived here for a while and learned how beauty is the consolation of every past empire. I learned how style can be deployed as a shield against disappointment. I learned that change can be overrated.
Florence Airport doesn't seem to have changed much since my uncle, Captain Bert Cohen of the 6th South African Armoured Division, hitched a ride here in 1944 after battling up Italy with the US Army. On leave, he went onto the runway and stuck out his thumb. A pilot offered a ride to "bomb the Brenner". He opted to go to Naples.
Makeshift is how I'd describe the feel of the "airport", as if a few boxy pre-fabricated units were offloaded from a truck a few decades ago and thrown together.
The temporary has fossilised. This happens in Italy. Things have a way of not getting done. When I lived in Rome in the 1980s, there was much talk of a Naples subway. A tunnel was bored 12 metres into a hillside for a few gazillion lire. It never went much further.
In the US, culture of achievement, efficiency and logic are prized. In the Italian culture of aesthetics, the artful scam has its place. America acts in the belief that life is linear and leads to the realisation of goals. Italy idles in the belief that life is circular and objectives an illusory distraction from pleasure.
I reached Florence Airport at around 6 am. Florentines are smart. At some point, perhaps 1984, one of them must have said: "Hey, we live in a tourist town. First impressions matter. There's this new thing called a jet bridge. Let's build a few so that planes can actually park at the terminal!"
But the thing about change is it's disruptive. If you have jet bridges, what about the guys employed to drive buses a distance of seven meters out to the planes?
I call this Italy's "Straits of Messina Phenomenon". When I lived in Rome there was also much discussion about building a bridge to connect Sicily to the mainland. Plans were drawn up. But then what would have happened to the guys who operate the ferries? End of story. Creative churn, America's staple diet (unless you're too big to fail), is not the Italian way. Sensual stasis is.
I made my way through Florence Airport to discover that it has a (strict) one-piece-of-hand-luggage, belts-off, shoes-on, toiletries-out, laptop-out, watch-off approach to security. I've wondered about this. You'd think security would be a one-size-fits-all thing. If the objective is shared, shouldn't the methods be? We got loaded onto a bus after a modest delay. There we stood. The temperature was sub-zero. An engine was chugging but not delivering heat. After a half-hour, we were informed of a "small technical problem" and returned to the terminal.
Twenty minutes later, a beaming agent "Tutto a posto!" "Everything resolved!" led us back onto the bus. Same routine: People were losing sensation in their toes before the announcement of a second "small technical problem".
Back to the terminal; then back to the bus a third time. Same routine (deep chill yielding to frostbite), before cancellation and delivery by bus (it moves!) to "Arrivals" 10 metres away, to collect bags and return to the check-in hall where a scene from the Inferno awaited, crowds eddying like frenzied ants dislodged from their path.
I've noticed God is making a comeback. It's not just all the craziness in West Asia. Soccer players now look to the heavens when they score goals. Come on! A touchdown prompts skyward glances. This didn't use to happen. It would have been considered loony. My theory is it must have something to do with air travel. Survivors of it feel compelled to search out a savior. As Walter Kirn writes of airlines in his novel Up in The Air, "How do they keep their lies straight in this business? They must use deception software, some suite of programmes that synchronises their falsehoods system-wide".
It must have been when I boarded the bus a fourth time that a voice rose within me: Deliver me, please all is forgiven from this nightmare to the rude, anxious, attitude-rich, line-ridden hell of US air travel!
Still, I'm ambivalent about Italian modernisation. No sooner was I airborne than my thoughts turned to a meal at the Trattoria del Carmine, where nothing had changed since 1973, the "ribollita" was a restorative wonder, the fettuccine with wild-boar ragout just as succulent as I recalled.
Perhaps you can't keep food like that and get jet bridges. Life's a trade-off. Italy long ago made its choices. As the bumper sticker says, "Don't drive faster than your guardian angel can fly".
TINY SLICE OF SKY
The deed is about to be done. Reserved seats for women have climbed from buses up to the Rajya Sabha; time will show whether they will spread further. There may be differences between buses and the Parliament, but the reservation of 33 per cent of seats for women in legislative bodies is fascinating enough by itself. Just the arithmetic, for instance. In ardent political speeches, the ignorant public is repeatedly told that women are half the sky. So the logic behind the one-third quota remains quite impenetrable. The nation has also been told that the quota is to encourage more women to join politics and induce them into positions of decision-making. Certainly the Parliament could do with more of a feminine touch. But who decided that one-third is the perfect fraction to modulate the virility in parliamentary policy-making that flawless seasoning, that nonpareil icing? Puzzling this one out may be as intricate as working out why women have to be encouraged to join politics with a one-third reward. Are they two-thirds less able than men?
The way anti-reservation arguments are countered is delightfully self-contradictory. One-third of seats have been reserved for women in local bodies for years now, and many women are doing excellently. So why stick to one-third? If reservation is the State's gift, what keeps it so stingy? Only some women are used as fronts by the politically minded males in their households. Naturally. Women are not a homogeneous lump, any more than minority communities are. Some can fight their circumstances, some cannot. The difference only proves that empowerment cannot be rammed down anyone's throat; it needs laying the ground through education and exposure, through social opportunities often cut short by minor marriage, labour, psychologically crippling violence both physical and mental, and an ambience of devaluation sometimes crowned with the killing of unborn daughters. But the State's conscience is clear: there are laws against all these horrors, just as there may soon be reserved seats for women in legislative bodies. Two and two make empowerment, surely?
But only for one-third. This 14-year-long drama has merely acted out India's basic inability to see women as equal. Now the greatest mischief is about to happen making inequality official. Yet no woman, given the same opportunities as men, will ever need a quota to get where she wants. That is also cause for insecurity. If the number of seats for women is not limited to one-third, maybe they will take over Parliament one day. A woman sitting in a 'general' seat in a bus is told, directly or indirectly, to go to the seat 'reserved' for her. What more can she want than this unfair gender 'privilege'? Will the same thing happen in legislative bodies? More sinister, female foeticide and neglect of the female child have already skewed the sex ratio in the country. Perhaps these will now be legitimized to make sure that the one-third reservation becomes practically and arithmetically rational.
SPORTS AND THE NATION
- IN SPITE OF NEWSPAPER CONVENTION, SPORTS AND POLITICS DO MIX
POLITICS AND PLAY - RAMACHANDRA GUHA
The newspaper's front page conventionally deals with politics and economics; the last page, with lighter subjects such as sport. This division reflects two views, or prejudices, or assumptions; that readers like to begin with issues of import, and that sport and politics do not or should not mix. Fortunately, a quick flip of the paper allows those who prefer play to power to read the back page first. Less happily, there are times when matters of sport do also become matters of serious politics, as most recently in the opposition by a group of bigots to Shah Rukh Khan's remarks concerning the exclusion of Pakistani players from the Indian Premier League.
This division between sport and politics reaches beyond the fleeting world of the newspaper (where today's edition becomes tomorrow's shopping bag) to the more permanent and enduring world of books. Thus, biographies of prime ministers and presidents very rarely speak to their subjects' interests outside politics. Meanwhile, books on sport tend to detach sporting triumph and failure from the social context in which they operate.
Last month, in Chennai airport, I picked up a book, John Carlin's Playing the Enemy, which deals with the interpenetration of sport and politics in modern South Africa. Last week, in Bangalore, I saw Invictus, a film inspired by this book, produced by Clint Eastwood and starring (among others) Morgan Freeman. The film is barely watchable, but the book is the work of a skilled and very sensitive writer. Its subject is the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which featured an unlikely winner the hosts, South Africa and a still more unlikely reconciliation between radical blacks and conservative whites.
In apartheid South Africa, rugby was the game of the Afrikaner elite. Tough, rough, and sometimes brutal, it appealed to a ruling race schooled in war and proud of its masculinity. The English-speaking whites barely tolerated rugby (preferring the more genteel game of cricket), whereas the black majority hated it. They saw rugby, rightly, as a symbol of white domination and a bulwark of the exclusivist and anti-human policies of the apartheid State. In the 1960s and 1970s, whenever the South African rugby team (known as the Springboks) played a visiting side, it was the foreigners whom black Africans supported.
It was against this background that Nelson Mandela was freed in 1991, after 27 years in prison. Mandela himself preferred boxing to any other sport, yet he quickly saw that the Rugby World Cup could help heal the wounds between the races. In 1994, Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Soon afterwards, he befriended the apolitical Springbok captain, François Pienaar, and persuaded him to act as a fellow ambassador of racial harmony. In the months before the World Cup, he met the players several times, and impressed upon them their historic mission. On the day of the final, which featured the hosts against the tournament favourites, New Zealand, Mandela appeared at the stadium dressed not in presidential regalia but in a green Springbok jersey. Inspired by their leader, the South Africans played out of their skins to win the championship.
Playing the Enemy tells this uplifting tale through the personal biographies of Mandela and Pienaar, of course,
but also of a particularly reactionary Afrikaner general (who came to admire his black president), and a black militant from the townships, who grew up hating rugby but ended an enthusiastic supporter of the Springboks. The story has passion, emotion, drama, and (most importantly) a happy ending. One can see why it was made into a Hollywood movie.
Altogether darker and less cheering is another sporting story from South Africa, this told in Christopher Nicholson's Papwa Sewgolum: From Pariah to Legend. Sewsunker (Papwa) Sewgolum was an Indian South African who in boyhood acquired a fascination for the very white and very upper-class game of golf. Self-taught, he played with a unique grip right hand above left and practised with clubs made out of branches he had hacked and re-shaped himself. After winning a string of Indians-only tournaments, he acquired a white patron, who sent him to play in Europe. He repaid the trust by winning the Dutch Open in 1959 and 1960. These victories came despite a serious handicap the unavailability, in the Continent, of food a Hindu could eat with relish. Papwa did not like pork and beef, and in general preferred vegetable curries to meat. On tour abroad he thus lived mostly on biscuits and bananas.
Sewgolum's biographer writes that bananas, the ancient fruit of mankind, were used in past times by seafarers for their nutritional value and to stop diarrhoea. Papwa was not aware of this history; nor did he know that he was inaugurating a now near-ubiquitous trend. Nicholson thus remarks that "little did Papwa realise that his choice of food would become the preferred solid of many sports fanatics". That is to say, behind the image of Roger Federer having a bite of a banana at Wimbledon lies the now forgotten figure of an obscure and impecunious brown golfer.
After Sewgolum won the Natal Open in 1963 and 1965, the South African government decided that there could be no more mixed tournaments in the country. In 1967, Sewgolum was, however, allowed to tour India. He came sixth in an international tournament in Calcutta, his game affected by the heat. Still, his game was impressive enough for the Royal Calcutta Golf Club to offer him a job as the club's professional. Papwa was tempted, but finally refused, because his wife did not want to move to a new country, and because he was himself scared that his own inability to read or write would be exposed in the conduct of his professional duties.
Sewgolum died as he was raised, in poverty and obscurity. It is befitting that the person who has now recorded his story is a white judge in post-apartheid South Africa. Since the tale is marked as much by tragedy as by heroism, it is not likely to be made into a film. But it is a powerful reminder of the truth that, despite the conventions of the daily newspaper, sport and politics do often mix, sometimes to less than salutary effect.
FACING THE TRUTH
''SUMMONS SHOULD BE AN EMBARRASSMENT FOR MODI.''
The summons issued by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi for questioning in connection with the murder of a Congress MP, Ahsan Jafri, and 62 others in the Gulburg society massacre of 2002 marks an important stage in the investigation by the supreme court-appointed group into the post-Godhra communal carnage. Though there have been charges about Modi's role in the anti-Muslim killings, he has not yet been questioned on any of them. The slain MP's wife, Zakia Jafri, has accused Modi and many others, including his cabinet colleagues and senior police officials, of complicity in the killings. She has stated that Modi had ignored the telephonic call from her husband for help when the rioting mob was near their house. Even unbiased police officers in the state have put on record their view that there is enough evidence to prosecute Modi and many others in the state machinery for their direct and indirect role in the riots. But the ineffective investigations by the state police and the unhelpful attitude of the state judiciary had ensured that there was no progress and therefore the supreme court set up the SIT two years ago to reinvestigate the cases.
The SIT's summons should be a cause for embarrassment but Modi has made political capital out of the riots and the accusations against him. He is the first chief minister to be questioned in a criminal case but his instinct would be to exploit the dubious distinction. For those who have trust in the rule of law, the SIT's action is a positive step forward. It is for the team to take the investigation forward to the final stage. The summons is only a first step and the investigation has to go a long way from here. The SIT has to submit its final report on the Gulburg society massacre to the supreme court by April 30. It should help in fixing responsibility for one of the worst communal pogroms in the country.
Unfortunately there are apprehensions about the working of the SIT too, as seen by the recent resignations of special public prosecutor R K Shah and his deputy Nayana Bhatt, who hinted that some SIT members may be trying to protect police officers who were facing charges in the Gulburg case. The SIT chief and the court have to ensure that the investigations are not derailed in any way.
CYCLE OF VIOLENCE
''RELIGIOUS DIVIDE IS BEHI-ND NIGERIAN VIOLENCE.''
Nigeria is being torn apart by violence between Christians and Muslims. Hundreds of Christians have been killed over the past week in violent attacks that are believed to be in retaliation to fighting earlier this year when over 300 Muslims were killed. The epicentre of the current bloodletting is the city of Jos, located in central Nigeria. Violence between religious groups is not new to Nigeria. More than 1,000 people lost their lives in religious riots in 2001 and roughly the same number perished in 2004. The communal bloodshed that has consumed the country since January this year is merely the latest episode in a longstanding cycle of violence and counter-violence. Nigeria's population is equally divided between Christians and Muslims, with Christians dominating the southern part of the country and Muslims the north. The recent riots have occurred in towns that lie in central Nigeria, ie along the religious faultline.
The roots of the rivalry are not in religion, but can be traced to socio-economic and political issues. In Jos, where Muslims are looked upon as outsiders they are reportedly excluded from government jobs. But they dominate local business. So relations between the two communities are hostile. The violence is said to be a struggle for fertile land and other resources in the central belt. Religious identities are being mobilised by powerful sections to further their interests. Nigeria's inept and corrupt authorities have done little to halt the violence. Under international pressure to act, they have rather belatedly arrested around 60 people. It is believed that the violence is aided and abetted by the local administration. Many officials have reportedly taken sides and in fact, instigated the killings. But few of them figure among those who have been arrested.
Extremists on both sides of the religious divide are dominating the discourse and directing the agenda in Nigeria. They need to be countered by moderates. A section of Nigeria's parliamentarians is proposing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to end the distrust that has fuelled the violence for years. This is an idea that should be taken forward. Reconciliation with those who have carried out acts of savagery might seem impossible at the moment but it is the only way that Nigerians can break the cycle of violence and put their lives back on track.
FAR FROM DONE
THE BILL SAILING THROUGH THE RAJYA SABHA WAS ALMOST A COUP, WHICH HAS LEFT BOTH THE VICTORS AND THE VANQUISHED DAZED.
BY RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA
The most enduring images of the euphoric scenes outside parliament House after the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill was the cacophonous celebration among women MPs cutting across party lines and the spontaneous, warm clinch that BJP's Sushma Swaraj and CPM's Brinda Karat got into. The two gregarious women with saucer-like bindis from the two extremes of Indian polity forgot their ideological differences for that moment, symbolising the emotional bonding that the bill has produced among women parliamentarians.
Though the passing of the contentious bill by the Rajya Sabha has been variously described as 'historic' and 'epoch-making,' the celebrations may be rather premature. The bill, earmarking 33 per cent of the seats in parliament and state Assembiles for women, has been pending since 1996, and Rajya Sabha's nod perhaps marks the crossing of only one-third of the hurdle. The bigger and more difficult battle lies in the Lok Sabha where the bill has repeatedly stumbled and it could again be a case of so near and yet so far.
The bill sailing through the House of Elders was almost a coup, which has left both the victors and the vanquished dazed. When the bill was brought up on the occasion of centenary of International Women's Day on March 8, the timing seemed to be perfect.
The buzz over the world's biggest democracy also joining around 50 other countries in taking a giant step towards women's emancipation was overwhelming. But, the reality soon hit the members as a handful of the SP, the RJD and JD(U) MPs created enough ruckus to stall the proceedings, even trying to snatch the bill from the hands of the chairman of Rajya Sabha, Hamid Ansari.
If more members who secretly opposed the bill did not join the rowdy elements, it was because they were bound by party discipline. They would have gone home satisfied that a handful had done the job for them. But, the next day, the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and her advisers came up with a brilliant strategy that left the 'nay-sayers' stunned.
The government introduced the bill, after Ansari marshalled out the trouble-makers, and even indicated that it was ready to get it passed without discussion. The principal opposition, the BJP, though publicly committed to the bill, now feared that the Congress might walk away with all the laurels. The BJP insisted that there should a discussion and when it was allowed, its leader Arun Jaitley, to his credit, made all the right noises, just as the leaders of other supporting parties.
The televised drama, watched by the whole country, had a spectacular end, as the bill was carried 191-1, with the opponents abstaining from voting. It was, no doubt, a historic moment in India's parliamentary history and the elated but normally reticent Sonia Gandhi offered 'exclusive' interviews to television channels, gloating over the triumph.
If the voting in the Rajya Sabha seemingly indicated a broad consensus among major political parties, the veneer of consensuality even within the major supporting groups came asunder within the next 24 hours. Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress. which has 19 MPs in the Lok Sabha, is already a dissenter which stayed away from voting in Rajya Sabha, while the Congress and the BJP are in turmoil as many members have come out with strong reservations over the bill or the manner in which it was pushed through.
Now, apart from saying that suspension of the dissenters was 'undemocratic' and should never be resorted to in the Lok Sabha, the familiar cry for "consultation with all concerned" and arriving at 'consensus' has taken centre stage. The government too has apparently decided to go slow and concentrate on its financial business, which has to be finished before the month end.
The haitus between now and third week of May when the Lok Sabha may take up discussion on the bill, will be used by various political parties to re-assess their positions. The SP and the RJD, which insist on quota within quota, have indicated that they will not hesitate to withdraw 'outside support' to the government and the mercurial BSP may follow suit.
The UPA is short of the magic number of 273 in the Lok Sabha and having completed less than half of its term, will think hard whether women's reservation issue is worth losing the government over. The BJP will also be worried that the Congress may take most of the credit, leaving its support base further depleted.
Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh's shrill pitch that the women's bill in the present form is anti-OBCs and Muslims has had some impact on both the UPA and what's left of NDA. Suddenly, they are worried about their vote banks. After stalling parliament's proceedings for four days, the Yadavs relented only after extracting an assurance from the government that fresh consultations will be held before the bill is made into law.
Talks have already begun about 'scaling down' the quota from 33 to 20 per cent and the possibility of a quota within quota would be explored. If that happens it will be back to square one as far as women's reservation is concerned.
It will be interesting to see whether Sonia Gandhi succumbs to pressures from her partymen and leaves the bill in a limbo or musters enough courage to push it through, irrespective of the consequences it would have on the government.
THE POLITICS ALL IN THE GANDHI FAMILY
WHATEVER RESERVATIONS I HAVE TO DYNASTIC SUCCESSION AND RULING FAMILIES IN DIFFERENT STATES, I KEEP TO MYSELF.
BY KUSHWANT SINGH
The common people accept both as a party of Indian tradition so we have the Abdullahs, Badals, Chauthalas, Yadavs, Pawars, Reddys, Naidus and Karunanidhis, generation after generation, ruling states. We also have the Nehru-Gandhis in power in the Centre: the combination of names makes them invulnerable.
Our choices are limited to one faction or the other. Or members of another ruling family.
Sonia Gandhi and Maneka are regarded as 'outsiders' Sonia because she was born Italian Catholic, Maneka because she was Sikh. Sonia has thoroughly Indianised herself and ignores the ill-mannered barbs about her alien origin. She feels the pulse of people under her deft fingers. She has wisely entrusted the administration of the country to a trustworthy, able and honest man, Manmohan Singh. The country is doing reasonably well: it could have done better.
The reason why it continues to remain in power is that the Congress, which it represents, trounced the opposition parties in the last General Election. The Congress is guided by Sonia's son, Rahul who is the new star risen on the horizon.
Maneka Gandhi chose to become a pawn in the hands of the Advani-led BJP: he made her a minister to keep one faction of the Nehru-Gandhi family on his side. She in turn nurtured her son, Varun, in politics. Both mother and son are MPs. As the BJP's fortunes went into deep decline, so did their importance. Varun added to the misfortunes of the party by making a rabidly anti-Muslim speech and forfeited the little support they had given to the BJP. Both mother and son have marginalised themselves by their own follies.
Rahul Gandhi's star is in the ascendant. And for good reason. He measures his words before uttering them and never makes personal attacks on other politicians. He is bold and invades bastions that leaders like Mayawati regarded as their fiefdoms.
And most recently he stormed into the citadel of the anti-national, separatist Shiv Sena by meeting people in the streets of Mumbai. He is the first Indian politician to call the bluff of bullies like Bal Thackeray, his son Udhav and nephew, Raj. He has left all the three fuming, and won national acclaim for his daring patriotic move. Long may he live.
When it was first published in Bengali in 1967, it was banned for obscenity. When the ban was lifted, it became a best seller in Bengali. Its author Budhadva Bose (1908-74) was editor of 'Kavita', author of many collections of poetry and fiction. The very year his novel was banned, the Sahitya Akademi gave him an award for his verse-play 'Tapasvi-o-Tarangani'. He was honoured with a Padma Bhushan in 1972 and a posthumous Rabindra Puruskar in 1974. Clinton B Seeleey, professor of Bengali literature at the University of Chicago, has now translated his so-called obscene novel into English. 'It Rained All Night' is a highly readable novella. Far from being obscene, it is an honest portrayal of man-woman relationship before, within and without marriage.
The characters in the novel are bhadralok educated middle-class with wide interests. Like most Bengalis they enjoy meeting at 'addas' for 'gup-shup' over relays of cups of tea.
Most 'addas' are for males-only meetings without any female participation. However, in 'It Rained All Night', they take place in the home of Noyangshu Mukherji, a college lecturer turned box-wallah. He is modern in his outlook and insists that his pretty wife Maloti be present at his 'addas'. The highlights of these gatherings are recitations from Gurudev Rabindra Nath's poems and Rabindra Sangeet. Maloti finds them somewhat boring and her husband an indifferent lover. They have a daughter but not much else in common. On the other hand there is Jayanto, a handsome journalist who is more down to earth and attracted to Maloti. He occasionally drops in when her husband is in his office just for a chat.
Then come the rains. Ii pours non-stop all day and all night. Roads turn into canals. Lanes are waist-deep. The pace of life slows down to a halt. On top of that, there are power cuts and the city is plunged into darkness. So what can Kolkatan bhadralok do when they can't go out, can't read or watch TV except go to bed? One such night, Noyangshu Mukherji is held up in office and unable to get home. Jayanto finds himself with Maloti and cannot get back to his flat. Suddenly the lights go off. The two sit for a while in candle-light. They get into the same bed for the night. Maloti finds it far more invigorating than the occasional routine sex with her husband.
The reason why
Rahul complained to his mother: "Mama, I can't marry anyone 'cause of you."
Sonia Gandhi: "Why beta? What have I done?"
Rahul Gandhi: "Wherever I go people shout: "Sonia ko bahumat do."
(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, New Delhi)
IN RETIREMENT, ONE TAKES PLEASURE IN SEEMINGLY ORDINARY, YET JOYOUS EVENTS.
BY MAYA JAYAPAL
I live in an apartment block at the end of a leafy cul-de-sac. So we play host to several avian friends. One of them is a crow whose attention is shared by my downstairs neighbour. She gets the lion's share, because he discovered her first.
He would come at specific times and caw until she took note of him. Sometimes when he follows her along the balcony which runs alongside the living and guest rooms, cawing all the time. Just wanting, like children or family or good friends, company.
When she left for a couple of weeks, he transferred his affections to me. At the appointed times, usually when I was having my second cup of coffee or at lunch time, he would appear on the balcony. The moment he saw me, he would look at me, head cocked, and start cawing, gently at first, then going staccato and loud until I gave him his biscuits. But the moment my neighbour returned, he disappeared from my balcony. However, after appeasing her for a couple of days, he started appearing again on my balcony. He knew we had lunch at 12.30 and that she had lunch later. Apparently after partaking of my goodies, he would appear there at 2.30.
Crows and ravens are supposed to be harbingers of death and disaster and another friend once heard this mighty cawing from her balcony. When she went to investigate, she saw a whole line of crows sitting facing her flat and cawing loudly! Naturally she was ready for the worst. Imagine her delight when the next week, a court case which had been prolonged suddenly got resolved in her favour. So now she looks upon the crows with favour, as messengers, but not necessarily of doom!
The other birds, equally ubiquitous in India are the pigeons. Two of them sit on the window sill outside my husband's bathroom and watch him curiously while he bathes. Initially he felt a little embarrassed, but the other day I found him in a one-sided conversation with the birds. They were looking at him with ruby eyes glinting, their jewelled green and purple necks glimmering in the shaft of sunlight. He has got used to them and was a little upset when they did not turn up on time one day! In the landscape of our retirement, we take pleasure in these seemingly ordinary yet joyous events.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
PICK YOUR SIDE
After spending months searching for a bipartisan consensus on financial regulatory reform, Senator Christopher Dodd, chairman of the banking committee, is expected to unveil his own bill on Monday, without one Republican supporter.
Consensus on a good bill would have been a refreshing change. Given all of the lobbying money the banks have spent to stymie reform, it was never very likely. From what we hear, Mr. Dodd had just as hard a time with some of the Democrats on his committee.
What Mr. Dodd needs to do is to introduce the toughest and smartest legislation he can to revamp the financial system and protect American consumers. And he and President Obama need to twist the arms of Democratic committee members to bring the strongest possible bill to the Senate floor.
Their rallying cry couldn't be any clearer: Whose side are you on? The banks or the American people?
The American people need a bill that strictly regulates all derivatives the complex, and often speculative instruments that caused so much trouble here and abroad. It must establish a mechanism for downsizing too-big-to-fail banks, and create a credible procedure by which the government can seize and dismantle financial firms that pose a threat to the system. It must instruct regulators to impose safeguards, like higher capital requirements and limits on borrowing, to curtail risk-taking before it runs amok.
And any legislation worth its salt must have at its core a strong Consumer Financial Protection Agency. That agency needs to be an independent body, with broad power to police the financial system for unfair, abusive and otherwise unsound lending in mortgages, credit cards, auto loans and other forms of debt.
Lenders adamantly oppose a new agency, in part because their dodgiest offerings like subprime mortgages of yesteryear or short-term "payday loans" are often their most profitable.
An effective consumer agency would cover banks and nonbanks ensuring that banks can't "shop" for a more lenient regulator for consumer oversight, and that nonbanks are finally subject to routine supervision.
It should be no surprise to hear that efforts to kill or maim this new agency have been fierce. After intense lobbying, the House passed a reform bill that sets up an independent agency, but with loopholes, including a restriction on states' ability to enforce their own stricter consumer laws, in addition to federal rules.
On the Senate side, industry has pressed hard to undercut the new agency's independence, and thereby its power. Lawmakers have responded with proposals to house the agency in the Federal Reserve or the Treasury. Other damaging proposals would limit the agency's ability to write and enforce rules or would give other regulators veto power over its decisions. That would make it at best, an advisory body, and at worst, a sham.
The banks won't stop fighting on Capitol Hill. But Mr. Dodd and the White House can win this one with the American people who are still paying the price for weak regulation and the lenders' greedy excesses.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SOMETHING WORSE THAN INACTION
The Obama administration has always had a backup plan in case Congress failed to pass a broad climate change bill. The Environmental Protection Agency would use its Clean Air Act authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Regulation, or the threat of it, would goad Congress to act or provide a backstop if it did not.
The House passed a bill last year seeking an economywide cap on emissions, but there has been no progress in the Senate. Now some senators seem determined to undercut the E.P.A.'s regulatory authority. These include not only Republicans who panic at any regulation, but also Democrats who say they worry about climate change but insist that the executive branch stand aside until Congress gets around to dealing with it.
The most destructive idea is a "resolution of disapproval" concocted by Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska. It would reject the E.P.A.'s recent scientific finding that greenhouse gases are a danger to public health and welfare, effectively repudiating the agency's authority granted to it by the Supreme Court to regulate these gases. As a practical matter, it would also stop last year's widely applauded agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.
Ms. Murkowski has temporarily set aside her amendment while the Senate mulls a seemingly more benign bill from Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat. His bill does not tamper with the new rules on vehicle emissions or deny the E.P.A.'s legal authority to regulate greenhouse gases. But it would severely narrow the agency's reach by blocking it from proposing, or even doing much work on, regulations on emissions from stationary sources like power plants, for two years while Congress worked on broader legislation.
Industrial emissions account for a third of this country's greenhouses gases, and freezing the government's ability to regulate them makes no sense. There is no guarantee that Congress will produce a broad bill. And even if it does, what is the harm in requiring power plants and other industrial facilities to make near-term improvements in efficiency, or switch to less-polluting fuels?
These senators seem to have bought the hype, spun by industry, that the E.P.A. will run amok. This is not the way we read the intentions of the E.P.A. administrator, Lisa Jackson, who has promised that whatever regulations she proposes will be gradual, cost-effective and affect only the largest facilities.
Nor is it the way we read Congress's responsibility to the country. That is to address the very real danger of climate change, not deny the government the tools it needs and legally has to fight it.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
On Thursday, President Obama held meetings on immigration reform with immigrant advocates and labor and religious leaders, with Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham, and with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He came out reiterating his "unwavering" commitment to comprehensive immigration reform.
We've heard that before; what we'd rather know is when the bill is coming, what it will look like and what he is going to do to get it passed. Enough with the talk.
People who met with Mr. Obama asked the same thing. His response: Get some Republicans on board, then we'll discuss it. The fate of immigration reform, then, hangs on its ability to win Republican votes. In today's Washington, that's enough to make anyone want to reach for the plug and pull it.
Fixing immigration was supposed to be different from all the other dead-end Congressional trench battles, because of one thing: bipartisan support. There was always a lot for Republicans to like: conservative arguments that reform is good for business, reunites families, bolsters national security and pleases Latino voters.
Only a couple of years ago, negotiations over a huge reform bill brought in Republican senators like John McCain, Mel Martinez, Sam Brownback, Jon Kyl and Mr. Graham. That list has withered away. Some are gone from the Senate; others are just gone.
Only Mr. Graham remains. He and Mr. Schumer are working on a grand bill that may or may not emerge this year from the hypothetical realm. But with midterm elections looming, and the Obama administration just sitting there except with deportations, which are rushing along the odds for an immigration bill look grim.
Unless Republicans come around, Mr. Obama pulls some political capital from his depleted account, or Mr. Schumer and Mr. Graham pull off some legislative magic, we may be headed for another stalemate. That's the worst ending: each side blaming the other, trying to extract political gain from an abject legislative failure.
There is one possible game changer: an immigration march in Washington planned for March 21, designed as a last-ditch try to put reform on the agenda. Nothing like 100,000 angry, frustrated, impatient marchers, representing millions of voters, to focus the Congressional and presidential mind, if it's not too late.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
'A CULTURE OF CORRUPTION'
So far, there have been six guilty pleas in Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigation of the real and potential abuses surrounding New York's $129 billion public pension investments. The most important and revealing of these came Wednesday, when David Loglisci, the former chief investment officer of the pension fund, admitted flatly that he had violated state securities law.
The written statement Mr. Loglisci issued after his guilty plea provided compelling and frightening evidence of how deeply New York's pay-to-play culture had undermined the public interest.
Acknowledging that he had breached his fiduciary duties by giving investment opportunities to political favorites, Mr. Loglisci left little mystery about the forces at work inside former Comptroller Alan Hevesi's shop.
"Investment decisions were made in part according to political benefit for the comptroller, rather than exclusively in the best interests of the people," he wrote. "The political motivations for investment selection were chronic and institutionalized throughout the office, creating a culture of corruption at the highest levels."
Mr. Loglisci's plea is another forceful reminder that as sole trustee of the pension fund, New York's comptroller has far too much power over a huge pool of money that is supposed to be managed for the benefit of state workers and retirees.
New York is one of only three states that give the comptroller sole authority over how the state pension fund is invested. And since the comptroller is an elected official, the office comes equipped with ever-present temptations. The current comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, has added some safeguards and has limited the amount of contributions he will accept from potential investors, but that is not enough.
The United States Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York State Legislature should clean up this pay-to-play culture once and for all. The S.E.C. has been considering a rule that would prohibit donors to comptrollers' campaigns from doing business with pension funds for two years. The proposal drew hundreds of letters of protest from investment firms, bankers and others. The commission should stand firm.
New York's lawmakers should make the comptroller answerable to an independent board of investment advisers. Other states have such boards. New York is clearly out of step.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
DON'T TICKLE ME, BRO!
BY CHARLES M. BLOW
Welcome to Ticklegate.
This week the sexual harassment allegations against former Representative Eric Massa, and his death spiral of defenses and admissions, including groping and tickle fights, have expanded many Americans' sexual lexicons far beyond the bounds of comfort.
In the process, they have provided quite a bit of fodder for late-night comics and water-cooler snickerers. So much so, that it can be easy to lose sight of the serious subject at the heart of this case: sexual harassment, and, in particular, male-to-male sexual harassment, an area in which claims have grown dramatically.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the percentage of its sexual harassment filings that are made by men has doubled over the last two decades. And, although the agency does not compile data on the gender of those being accused, anecdotal evidence suggests that most of those filings are for male-to-male harassment.
While it is heartening to realize that more men seem to be comfortable speaking up, the Massa case illustrates to what degree their attempts at disclosure can be squeezed between two seemingly oppositional pillars of American masculinity: homoerotic ritualizing and homophobic trivializing.
We saw an extreme example of the homoerotic rituals last year when contractors in Afghanistan got in trouble for their naked shenanigans. This behavior is even more widespread, if less severe, in fraternal groups and sports culture. This normalizes impropriety in a haven of horseplay.
It is not surprising then that Massa has already attempted to excuse his raunchy behavior by pointing to the Navy's sexually charged "Crossing the Line" ceremonies. The ceremonies, which mark the first time sailors cross the equator, can include everything from cross-dressing to simulated sex.
On the other side, even among the most egalitarian progressives, is a somewhat subtle homophobia, which is cloaked in comedy and treats these allegations as somehow more depraved and freakish because of their same-sex subtext. For some, it is an extra shroud of shame that they feel free to mock and that diminishes the seriousness of the claims, and may deter others from making them. (As an experiment, imagine the objects of Massa's attention as young women. Most of the humor drains away in a hurry.) Even former Representative Mark Foley, whose case is being endlessly compared to Massa's, told me on Friday that these male cases need equal treatment: "It cuts both ways."
If brotherly bonds must be forged in mostly male work environments (and it is not at all clear to me that they must), then everyone involved must recognize and respect limits far short of where they currently stand. And when someone claims that the lines have been crossed, we as a society, must take those claims more seriously. It's all fun and games until someone gets tickled.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BIG BROTHER IN BLUE
BY BOB HERBERT
The speaker of the New York City Council and the head of the Council's Public Safety Committee are calling on Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to get rid of his huge, noxious database of completely innocent New Yorkers who are stopped, questioned and often frisked by the police.
The stops themselves are an outrage and a continuing affront to black and Hispanic New Yorkers, who are the ones most frequently singled-out by the police for this public humiliation. But Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Member Peter Vallone Jr., the committee's chairman, are focusing on the computerized files that the Police Department is keeping on people who are stopped but found to have done nothing at all wrong.
This is not a small problem. The cops are making more than a half-million of these stops every year. A vast majority of the people targeted close to 90 percent are completely innocent. They are not arrested. They are not given a summons. After enduring a mortifying public encounter with the police which frequently requires the targets to sprawl face down on the sidewalk or spread themselves against a wall or over the hood of a car to be searched they are sent on their way.
What they've left behind, however, if they've shown their identification to the cops or answered any questions, is a permanent record of the encounter, which is promptly entered into the department's staggeringly huge computerized files. Why the Police Department should be keeping files on innocent people is a question with no legitimate answer. This is Big Brother in Blue, with Commissioner Kelly collecting more information than J. Edgar Hoover could ever have imagined compiling.
Ms. Quinn and Mr. Vallone believe it should stop. In a letter this week to Commissioner Kelly, they said that his intent to keep a permanent record of all the information gathered during the stops "raises significant privacy right concerns and suggests that these innocent people are more likely to be targeted in future criminal investigations."
They bluntly urged the commissioner "to end this policy."
In an interview on Friday, Ms. Quinn told me: "They should stop keeping the database on people who are not charged, who are not summonsed, and people who may be charged and then go through the judicial system and are found not guilty."
She said the idea that a permanent database would be kept on people who "basically just got asked some questions" by the police is "extraordinary."
Ms. Quinn does not oppose the tactic of stopping and frisking people, but said, "I have concerns that we have become overly aggressive in our use of it." She said additional guidelines or regulations are needed. "I wouldn't eliminate it from the Police Department toolbox," she said, "but I would like to find a way to better monitor it and limit its use."
It should be drastically limited. More than 575,000 stops were made last year, a record. But in 504,594 of those stops, the individuals had done absolutely nothing wrong. They had not violated any law but nevertheless were put through the anxiety and humiliation of a public encounter with the police.
From 2004 through 2009, according to Police Department statistics, an astounding 2,798,461 stops were made. In 2,467,150 of those encounters 88.2 percent the people were completely innocent of any wrongdoing.
Groups like the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York Civil Liberties Union are fighting this wholesale mistreatment of innocent New Yorkers by the police. Blacks and Hispanics, and especially those who are young and those who are poor, are disproportionately singled-out for this peculiar form of police harassment. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelly and other top leaders in this town would never tolerate this kind of systematic abuse of middle-class or wealthy, white New Yorkers.
The overwhelming majority of the stops yield no law-enforcement benefit whatsoever. An analysis of the stops in the first three quarters of 2009 showed that contraband, which usually means drugs, was found on just 1.6 percent of the blacks who were stopped, 1.5 percent of the Hispanics, and 2.2 percent of the whites (who are stopped far less often than the other groups).
The weapons yield was even lower. Weapons were found on just 1.1 percent of the blacks stopped, 1.4 percent of the Hispanics, and 1.7 percent of the whites.
The reasons given by the cops for deciding which unfortunate New Yorkers will be stopped are beyond bogus. A "furtive movement" is the most popular. Walking down the street in broad daylight qualifies. And then there is always the bulge in the pocket. A cellphone, maybe. Or an iPod.
The truth and many police officers will tell you this privately is that the stops are often made first and the justification is dreamed up later.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE AGE OF CONCRETE
BY BLAINE BROWNELL
COME April, the first tenants may finally be able to move into Dubai's Burj Khalifa, now the tallest building in the world. Despite a series of setbacks since its ostensible opening two months ago, including the closing of the observation deck, the tower has already prompted an exuberant proliferation of record-breaking statistics: it soars more than half a mile high, stands twice the height of the Empire State Building, boasts views that reach 60 miles, etc. But all the hoopla misses two other symbolic milestones that should enliven the history books. Namely, the Burj Khalifa is primarily residential and its structural frame is reinforced concrete.
Why are these two facts so important? The pursuit of maximum altitude is a major technological undertaking, requiring extraordinary economic investment, significant innovations in materials and a high tolerance for risk; as we survey the monuments of architectural history, tall structures provide remarkable insights about the aspirations of the societies that created them.
Think back to the Middle Ages. The soaring cathedrals of Notre-Dame de Paris and Chartres were awe-inspiring landmarks in stone. Gothic churches maximized the structural capacity of available materials, transforming heavy rock into delicate, lofted skeletons enclosing voluminous spaces. Pilgrims to these edifices would no doubt have been awed by their apparent defiance of gravity, and moved by the breathtaking spiritual power conveyed by the churches' vast, light-pierced interiors.
Under construction from 1192 to 1311, Lincoln Cathedral in England was considered the first building to exceed the height of the Great Pyramid at Giza. After the partial destruction of the previous cathedral by an earthquake in 1185, the bishop of Lincoln, St. Hugh, had ordered a colossal rebuilding of the structure in local oolitic limestone, making full use of recent engineering innovations like flying buttresses and pointed arches.
The cathedral's master builder also experimented heavily with ribbed vaulting; so-called crazy vaults were extended upward like delicate palm fronds at a dizzying height. This architecture was perfectly matched to its use, with stone transfigured into filigree that enclosed a sublime sanctuary. It was the world's tallest building for two and a half centuries, until its central spire collapsed in 1549.
Now jump to the threshold of the 20th century. With the complementary technological developments of the steel frame and elevator, the ability to stack floor plates at heights inconceivable in stone constituted an explosive return on land investment.
For the first time, the tallest buildings in town were no longer churches. The skyscrapers that shot up in Chicago and New York were "cathedrals of commerce," abounding in office space and brimming with enterprising workers.
The Empire State Building was constructed at a breakneck pace 410 days in order to beat the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street for the title of tallest building in the world. When the skyscraper opened in 1931, it was a sensational and unprecedented marriage of steel and commerce, and it would retain its title as tallest for four decades. Its two million square feet of office space still accommodate about 21,000 employees working for 1,000 companies; the tower has its own ZIP code.
So what of the marvel recently constructed in the Middle East?
From a technological standpoint, it's profoundly impressive that a reinforced concrete frame has outperformed the steel of Taipei 101 the previous record holder for height by 1,050 feet. This achievement suggests a new era in structural engineering: the compressive strength of concrete has tripled in the last four decades, allowing concrete structures to be thinner, lighter and far, far taller.
Also notable is the fact that the world's tallest building is dedicated entirely to opulent residences and various retail, entertainment and commercial functions. The Burj Khalifa amounts to a kind of vertical city for the affluent.
Because the Burj Khalifa has arrived as the global economy lies smoldering in ruins, it's tempting to view it as an exceptional antique, the product of a culture that's already disappeared. But new highs in architecture don't always coincide with the health of the market the Empire State Building was, of course, built during the Depression. And great innovations in materials and structures have the power to endure, regardless of the circumstances under which they were born.
If one society worshiped God in stone, and another venerated enterprise in steel, it must say something that we have now been able to reach so high with our most common building material: concrete.
Blaine Brownell, the author of "Transmaterial: A Catalog of Materials that Redefine our Physical Environment," is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture.
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
Just as we think the militants have perfected the art of murder and can do no better, they prove us wrong. The intricately orchestrated twin suicide blasts in the cantonment area of Lahore Friday afternoon, followed by repeated explosions at night in the Iqbal Town area, were obviously planned -- and then executed -- to perfection. The bombers struck the cantonment area within 10 or 15 seconds of each other, ensuring they took the maximum toll with the second strike hitting those who had come to help the ones felled by the first bomber. According to media reports, the target was a convoy of military vehicles. But most of the casualties were bound to be civilians as the attack took place in a crowded bazaar, just before Friday prayers. TV images showed women and children among those being carried away. As these lines are being written at least 45 people are reported dead and over 100 injured. The ISPR says five soldiers are dead and ten injured. In some ways the exact figure is immaterial. Rather like a bunch of eager fans watching a cricket game, we have become somewhat obsessed with statistics and numbers. After each blast we immediately ask how many have died. The fact though is that any death is one too many; any bomb attack a terrible act.
The attack in Lahore was the second within a week. It took place in one of the most highly protected security zones in the city. We are told, as in previous terrorist outrages, that CCTV cameras have captured the images of the bombers and that these will be released to the public. But this is rather pointless, given the loss of life and the suffering already inflicted. Security must be aimed at preventing bombings. So far it has proved almost impossible to put in place a plan to do so. But ways will have to be found. Obviously, the terrorists have every intention of continuing their deadly campaign. They have not yet been vanquished and it is premature to make claims of this. The recent acts of violence in Lahore, Peshawar and Mansehra suggest we are still not safe at all. In what appears to be a knee-jerk response the commissioner of Lahore has blamed India for the bomb blasts. He must offer up whatever evidence he has. Logic dictates though that, like the spate of terrorism we have suffered for months, the latest attack too was carried out by pro-Taliban forces targeting the military. The enemy is here and has struck again and again and our only hope of survival lies in driving the monster out before it is too late to do so. Somehow we have to stop this horror. The stains of blood that have coloured countless streets must fade away forever. Until this happens we, as a nation, will know no peace.
I. THE NEWS
There is continued confusion over the whereabouts of the five-year-old British boy kidnapped from Gujjar Khan a few days ago. Reports that surfaced in the UK stated that he had been freed; the Punjab law minister echoed this news only to later retract his comments. In effect, there is no way of knowing what has happened or if the police have any clue at all as to the location of the child's abductors. What the case has done is throw some light on the attitude of the authorities. The interior minister in his comments had said that abductors should refrain from such acts as they harm the national image. Are we to infer from this that the minister is suggesting that it is quite all right to abduct Pakistani children, but foreign nationals should be spared?
We have also had all kinds of comments from provincial ministers and others insisting that the boy will be retrieved soon. The low credibility of the government makes it impossible to say if this is based on any information or mere wishful thinking. Clearly we need a highly trained police force to deal with such cases. Given the rapidly worsening law and order situation it has become imperative that a national strategy be developed in this respect. Today, gangs of criminals, capable of using extremely sophisticated means to achieve their goals, operate in many places. We need to find a means to combat them, to improve relations between citizens and the police and by doing so increase our ability to combat crime of all kinds.
I. THE NEWS
Five persons were killed in Karachi on Thursday in separate attacks on two leaders of religious parties. Saeed Ahmed Jalalpuri of the Aalami Majlis-e-Tahaffuz-e-Khatm-e-Nabuwat, his teenaged son and two associates were gunned down in one attack. Earlier in the day, Maulana Ghafoor Nadeem of the defunct Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan was injured and his son killed by gunmen. There is no way of saying if the attacks on the two men both leaders of hard-line religious parties were in any way linked. There was also no clue as to who may have carried out the attacks. The killings, however, immediately triggered panic in Karachi, a city that has in recent months seen a cascade of sectarian-based violence. There is no way of knowing if this is a continuation of the trend. The tendency in Karachi for violence to flare up swiftly after such incidents also caused alarm, with fears that unrest could spread. There is conjecture that these were revenge killings. But it is also not impossible that their nature was more personal with enmity of some kind involved.
Whatever the motive behind them, the killings highlight the dangers of keeping alive the culture of hatred in society. This hatred has already taken a heavy toll. We have over the years seen many murders, often carried out to settle scores. It is unfortunate that despite this banned groups such as the SSP continue to operate. Most have simply altered their names. This defeats the entire purpose of the action against them. It is also true that beyond the ban, very little has been done to eradicate hatred which continues to be perpetuated in many ways. The various kinds of violence we see in our cities are tied together. Elements in Karachi have in the past exploited shooting incidents of the kind we saw on Thursday. We need then to focus on addressing all these various dimensions of unrest in a holistic fashion. It is important that outlawed outfits are not allowed to operate. However, it is just as important that those shooting down individuals on the street be brought to book. There is a desperate need to improve law and order and ensure that the calm required in our cities and towns can prevail without repeated interruption.
I. THE NEWS
A CASE OF TWO PAKISTANS
Just when the perception was gaining ground that the state was finally getting a handle on the existential threat from terrorism, Lahorites have received repeated rude shocks. On Monday a suicide bomber blew up an explosive-laden vehicle outside a "safe-house" located in Model Town, an affluent residential locality, killing 12, including a woman in a nearby house. This was to be followed four days later on Friday with an even more bloody suicide attack in the cantonment area of Lahore, which claimed at least forty-five lives, and four more explosions on the night of the same day in another Lahore area.
This is the first attack of its kind in the province this year, but second within two years in the same locality targeting an investigating agency. Despite protestations to the contrary, it says volume about the scant respect our elected leaderships have for the life and property of the ordinary citizen.
The devastating attack came just a week after Maj-Gen Tariq Khan, one of the most experienced commanders in the war against terrorism, boasted to a correspondent of The London Times that because of the kind of hits the TTP has taken (in recent weeks), it is no longer significant. He said in the same interview: "It (the TTP) has ended as a cohesive force. It doesn't exist anymore as an umbrella organisation that can influence militancy anywhere." The general might be right in the strategic sense, but so far as the long arm of the terrorist network is concerned, it retains the capacity to inflict collateral damage on the hapless common man, as it amply demonstrated in Lahore the other day.
The incident is not the first of its kind in a residential area of Lahore. Twice in the past two years the FIA building on Hameed Nizami Road was targeted by a suicide squad of the TTP, and last year the ISI headquarters and the Civil Lines Police Station located on Shahrah-e-Fatima Jinnah was struck in a daredevil attack. Instead of simply relocating such offices, which are prime targets of the terrorists, the authorities simply closed the busy commercial thoroughfare to traffic. The road was reopened by an order of the Lahore High Court, but only after the ISI had rebuilt its provincial headquarters into a fortress immune from further terrorist attacks.
That the intelligence agencies' offices and their so-called safe-houses are located in residential areas despite their posing a clear danger to people's lives shows utter disregard for the safety of the common man. Residents living in the vicinity of the Monday blast in Lahore confided to the media that the facility had been there for the past three years and blindfolded persons were often brought there. Security in the form of barriers, checkpoints and policing is stifling for the whole neighbourhood.
Adding insult to injury for the citizen is the manner in which our so-called VIPs move around in vast state-provided fleets of SUVs and police and security escorts. The ailment not only afflicts politicians, government and police functionaries, officers of law including judges of the superior courts but also many opposition figures. It has become a status symbol for many to demonstrate their importance in society in direct proportion to the size and quality of their security detail.
Frequent traffic blocks to facilitate "VIP movement" not only results in delays and collateral traffic congestion, it creates resentment among those who have to wait in long traffic jams. It is indeed a humiliating experience to see our VIPs' motorcade moving at almost supersonic speed while a policeman is blocking you and your vehicle's way. Another innovation which has been added to VIP culture is in the form of a vehicle leading the VIP motorcade, warning motorists to clear the way for speedy movement. The Punjab chief minister's senior advisor, Zulfiqar Khosa, moves in this fashion. The other day the Sardar from Dera Ghazi Khan scolded a journalist for addressing him as "sahib" rather than as "sardar."
Punjab chief minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif has warned the Lahore traffic police, in his trademark admonishing style, to improve the traffic system in the city. Perhaps he is not aware that between him and Prime Minister Gilani, both living in DHA Lahore, the residents of the locality have to suffer delays and inconvenience, precisely owing to their movements.
The federal government is spending huge amounts on the import of bullet-proof vehicles for ministers and government functionaries. Former prime minister Shaukat Aziz, who ordered a number of purpose-built bullet-proof Mercedes Jeeps not only for his own use but also for some key ministers, started the trend. Now with the security threat heightened, virtually every federal minister is demanding a bullet-proof vehicle from the government. Interior Minister Rehman Malik, whose job description is protection of citizens' security, has distinguished himself for his detailed and well-equipped security escort in Islamabad.
At a time when the country's economy under an IMF programme is in the doldrums, the VIPs' regal perks and privileges are not confined to the ground. Moving around in luxury jets at state expense in the name of improving efficiency and better security has become the norm rather than the exception. Apart from the president and the prime minister, the governors and chief ministers of the provinces and heads of defence institutions and intelligence agencies enjoy the luxury of having planes at their disposal.
During the tenure of Mr Aziz, who was ostentatiously fond of private jets from his Citibank days, the federal government went on an ordering spree of modern aircrafts and helicopters. The fleet now includes two Gulfstream jets G4 and G45, purchased at a price of 65 million dollars, and five brand-new Agusta helicopters, purchased for 15 million dollars apiece. Qatar Airways, in exchange for some lucrative routes, donated a luxury-fitted Airbus 310 to the-then prime minister's fleet. Too expensive to fly, it is rarely used, and is idle on the ground.
The Punjab government bought a Beachcraft three years ago for six million dollars. There is a tug of war between the governor and the chief minister over who has primacy over its use. The Sindh government, not to be left behind, bought a Learjet two years ago for 12 million dollars. The Balochistan government owns a five-year-old Learjet, while the NWFP has distinguished itself for owning an old turbofan.
It is only in a poor country like Pakistan that the concept of leaders flying about in assigned private planes at the taxpayers' expense is in vogue. Singapore and Sri Lanka rely on time-sharing and charter to economise. Even the Queen of England, despite owning an old royal jet, relies on charter or scheduled airline for air travel.
According to a source well versed in commercial and private aviation, Pakistan is second only to the USA and Saudi Arabia, with the possible exception of India, for having the largest fleet of passenger jets in the public sector, all at the taxpayer's expense.
Notwithstanding the need for foolproof security measures for our leaders in these turbulent times, the common man feels increasingly alienated when the state fails to take even a modicum of safety measures for the people. According to media reports, both the federal and provincial governments plainly refused to entertain repeated written requests from provincial and federal intelligence agencies to move their offices from residential areas in Lahore.
Ironically, lack of funds was cited as the reason. On the other hand, the exchequer is spending billions on bullet-proof vehicles, helicopters, airplanes and elite security forces to protect the VIPs. The pertinent question to ask is: are there two Pakistans? One for the rich and the famous and the other for the wretched common man, who in any case cannot make two ends meet!
It is sickening to note that while the people of Punjab are under constant threat from terrorism, our provincial leaders are too busy settling political and personal scores on the behest of their masters. The recent exchange of harsh statements in the media between Governor Salmman Taseer and provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah, followed by an exchange of equally rude letters between the governor and the chief minister, are totally out of sync. It is time the higher leaderships of both the PPP and the PML-N put their proxies on a tight leash, instead of patting them on the back.
I. THE NEWS
MECHANISM OF CHANGE
What we have is not democracy but only its pale reflection thrown up by the NRO. The stability some wish to preserve is the calm of the graveyard imposed by foreign powers to achieve their own objectives. If real democracy is to be resuscitated, a deep-rooted change is unavoidable. But is such a change likely and how will it come? Mr Ayaz Amir in his article (March 5), quoting Faiz Ahmed Faiz, makes the point that nothing much will change. Given the prevalent state of complacency among the people, one can see how he might have arrived at that conclusion. However, it is one thing to say that the prospects of change are dim, but quite another to embrace the status quo as a fait accompli and be reconciled to the view that change is unnecessary. That amounts to a fateful resignation to continue stewing in this vat of stagnation without any prospect, or even desire, for improvement. That is unacceptable.
It is true that the soothsaying pundits, from politicians to journalists to armchair philosophers, have had to continuously revise their schedules for the much-yearned end to the horror show unfolding before our eyes. Their real fault is not that they got the schedule wrong, but that they based their projections on the mistaken assumptions that truth, honour and principles still hold some value in this country and that people would consider it an unalloyed aberration to be ruled by those with tainted pasts, who stand accused of heinous crimes and who, instead of clearing their names, take refuge behind immunity and use their powers to tamper with evidence against them.
Is the working class really dead and the students too confused, as Mr Amir contends in his article, to ignite any meaningful change? If they are not, they are certainly doing a good job of playing possum. Their total apathy and redirection of focus from national interests and common good to narrow selfish goals and objectives, giving those in positions of authority carte blanche to do as they please, is the prime cause of the country's slide down the slippery slope to ruin. A television channel recently aired video clips of police officers beating people, causing outrage all over the country. But how conveniently everyone ignores the fact that many of these beatings were carried out in public places with throngs of morbid onlookers standing by as idle spectators. Let the police attempt something similar in public in New York or Paris and see what happens.
Shahid Afridi is caught munching on a cricket ball but is greeted back after serving his paltry ban with placards saying "we missed you". Younis Khan mercilessly drags an over-enthusiastic supporter to the dressing room in the middle of a cricket match and gives him a thrashing, but he remains a national hero. Zardari's security arrangements obstruct a woman in labour from getting to a hospital in time and she ends up giving birth in a rickshaw. But instead of being incensed, the child's father says the baby was a blessing because it brought them five lac rupees from the government coffers (what a wonderfully effective anesthetic money is for honour!) and they name the child Asif. With a nation such as this, what do those in power need to fear? Why should they not indulge in record-breaking corruption when the people will swallow anything and do nothing about it?
The opposition too is bound by foreign sponsored deals and have its own interests to attend to. As for the judiciary, it can only go so far. It can convict but cannot be the executioner. Nor should we rush to light the torch of triumph for the much-heralded constitutional amendment package, even if it is passed. The rot permeates from the Aiwan-e-Sadar downwards. The whole system is hostage to one man's ego. Even sans powers, Zardari will continue to exercise overbearing influence over this government as long as the Peoples Party bows to him in the interest of expediency. Gilani will not suddenly sprout wings and learn to fly with the repeal of the 17th Amendment and Article 58-2(B). What initiative has he shown thus far in matters that were not affected by these draconian laws?
A significantly altered international atmosphere characterised by political correctness notwithstanding, this being Pakistan, military intervention in its varying shades and hues can never be wholly ruled out. Yes, the troops have their hands full in the northern areas, but do not discount the crucial significance of the fact that they claim to be victors in this war, unlike 1971 when they stood defeated. If it took a defeated army no more than a few years to muscle its way back into power, what can impede a victorious army from rolling into the corridors of power in much lesser time? The reluctance on the part of the foreign powers to condone military adventurism can be dealt with. But, firstly, there is no certainty that the army would step into politics in a full-fledged coup. It could just as well affect change yet stay behind the scenes. Secondly, even if it were to take control of the government, the foreign powers, who are more concerned with their own objectives than anything else, can be convinced that their interests are better served by such a change.
Besides, Richard Holbrooke has already announced that economic and energy uplift was now the US priority vis-à-vis Pakistan. The United States has a history of using its allies to achieve its objectives and then dumping them. It remains to be seen how much sleep is being lost over our economic and energy crises in Washington DC, but it looks like we are in the process of being dumped again. This is proved by the fact that whereas Holbrook might feel confident that the Taliban have been hit hard enough not to pose an immediate threat to America anymore, he remains unconcerned by the danger the militants still pose for Pakistan for fighting America's proxy war. America seems to be losing interest in Pakistan, in which case the local political scene will go through a significant overhaul.
Mr Amir says that this government's survival may be bad for those who are frothing at the mouth for its collapse but is good for democracy and parliament. I will never understand how democracy and parliament, or even Pakistan's image around the world for that matter, are served by being led by those with tainted reputations who stand accused in criminal cases at home and abroad. If calling for national cleansing and jettisoning bad blood amounts to frothing at the mouth, then the sooner the whole nation starts frothing at the mouth the better.
The writer is vice-chairman of Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.
I. THE NEWS
TOWARDS WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT
The touchstone of the morality of a nation or a society is the way it treats its women. Women are a vital segment of any society. Without their unhindered participation in all spheres of national life, no nation can march towards its cherished goals of economic, political and moral progress or aspire to earn a respectable place in the comity of nations. That perhaps is the yardstick by which the difference between the developed and the developing nations is assessed.
Viewed in the backdrop of this, the recent signing of the 'Protection of Women from Harassment at Workplace Bill 2009' by President Zardari has taken Pakistan one notch up on the moral plank in addition to all other accompanying benefits. The president speaking on the occasion rightly summed up the vision of the PPP government about the status of women in Pakistan in these words: "We have to create a Pakistan where the coming generations, my daughters, can be proud of the fact that they live as equals. We will make sure that those who wish to harm the ideology of the Quaid-i-Azam, which was for equality for men and women, shall not succeed."
In a society which still continues to be haunted by the demon of obscurantism, the new legislation marks the beginning of a pragmatic and forward looking approach closer to the emerging social realities. With the growing number of women joining or aspiring to join the workforce in different spheres of national life, the problem of harassment of women in the workplace had also assumed alarming proportions. According to a survey conducted by an NGO, 80 per cent of working women in Pakistan at one time or another have faced this ordeal.
The issue was continuously being highlighted by women rights groups, NGOs working for improving the status of women, women legislators and members of the civil society. The PPP government which has an abiding commitment to the true emancipation of women could not remain oblivious to this snow-balling social phenomenon which infringed upon the dignity, self-respect and self-esteem of women and which also violated their human rights and acted as a deterrent towards their entering the workforce as men's equals. Coming on the heels of the announcement by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for the setting up of the office of Ombudsman for Women and an amendment in Section 509 A of the Pakistan Penal Code that defines sexual harassment, the new legislation lays a solid foundation for ensuring a harassment-free working environment for women.
This new legislative measure provides an excellent mechanism to deal with the issue. It puts the onus on the management of the organisations employing women to adopt a code of conduct and also to constitute a three-member inquiry committee, duly notified, to deal with harassment complaints. Their failure to comply with the legislation entails punitive action and financial penalties. The victims of sexual harassment can also seek redress of their complaints from the Ombudsman for Women, if they are not satisfied with the internal proceedings of the concerned organisation.
The legislation is a significant initiative on many counts. Firstly, it will encourage the already working women -- who have been enduring the humiliation of sexual harassment in the absence of appropriate legal support --- to spurn and resist unwanted approaches by their workmates or bosses and do their jobs with unruffled confidence. Secondly, it will also help mitigate the biggest hurdle in the way of women who were reluctant to join the workforce due to this phenomenon. Thirdly, it will greatly help in changing the mindset of sexual harassers of women. The legislation could act as a catalyst in nudging the process of a social and economic change. Women constitute nearly 51 per cent of our population and their uninhibited participation in economic activities can also give impetus to the efforts to eliminate poverty
The signing of the bill by the president, in the presence of the UN representatives, women rights activists, women parliamentarians, members of the civil society, federal and state ministers and other stakeholders indicates the uniqueness of this piece of legislation and the importance that the PPP government attaches to the issues related to the emancipation of Pakistani women. It also was an appropriate occasion to show to the world how we treat our women. It is encouraging to note that most of the NGOs and human rights organisations whose representatives attended the ceremony did acknowledge the commitment of the government in this regard and hailed the legislation as a historic move by the PPP government in regard to the protection of the rights of women. In fact it would not be an exaggeration to say that in the history of Pakistan, no other piece of legislation has provided protection to the workingwomen from sexual harassment.
The PPP government has also been working on another very important and sensitive issue, that of domestic violence. For years the issue of domestic violence has been a source of public concern, but no previous governments dared to touch it. The adoption of The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act 2008 in line with the National Policy of Empowerment of Women is yet another significant achievement of the present PPP government which supports a zero tolerance policy for violence against women. The courage shown by the government in bringing this nagging problem out of the private domain provides irrefutable testimony to an unswerving commitment of the government to deal with issues related to women. It also reinforces its credentials as an emancipator of the women.
Other steps that the PPP government has taken for the empowerment and redemption of equal status for women in society, in line with the vision of Shaheed Muhtarma Benazir Bhutto, include granting of complete administrative and financial autonomy to the National Commission on Status of Women and fixation of a 10 per cent quota for women in government jobs in addition to the initiation of the process to review all the discriminatory laws against women, declaring women as beneficiaries of the Benazir Income Support Scheme as well as of free distribution of state lands to female heads of households in the command areas of the dams to be built in the country.
The PPP endeavours for the emancipation of women in fact represent the continuation of the struggle launched by the stalwarts like Muhtarma Fatima Jinnah and Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan with which my late grandmother Begum Qamar Ispahani also had the privilege to be associated. Unfortunately, that process was severely disrupted due to the extremist ideology of Zia that resulted in promulgation of a number of discriminatory laws against women. The world however is witness to the fact that Shaheed Muhtarma Benazir Bhutto stood strong and unbowed and kept the flame of liberal thought alive. By doing so she helped protect Pakistan from the designs of the dictator, which were to change this nation into a theocratic state. Muhtarma's struggle kept the torch of democracy, enlightenment and human rights aloft against all odds. Through her shahadat (martyrdom) she has imparted eternity to her vision about democracy and human rights in Pakistan. Inspired by Muhtarma's vision, we continue to struggle for the empowerment of women.
Farahnaz Ispahani is a member of the National Assembly (MNA) and media advisor to the co-chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)
The writer is an MNA and member of the PPP media team. Email: fispahani@gmail. com
I. THE NEWS
DEVELOPMENT UNDER ATTACK
DR MASOODA BANO
The steady increase in militancy in Pakistan since Sept 11 has led to national losses of many different kinds. The loss of lives is of course the first and the most irreplaceable loss. Closely tied to it is the disruption of the regular economic and political process. When there is uncertainty in the environment the market transactions become slow; foreign investors become particularly difficult to attract. The political process also becomes corrupted; an uncertain environment allows the leaders of the country to justify their lack of performance on the development front by stressing the need to prioritise their attention on curtailing militancy. The biggest victim of the war on terror in Pakistan and the heightened militancy is the development process.
For the government of today there is little pressure left to really prioritise the development issues. The issue of education reforms receives less and less attention not just from the government but also from the development agencies operating in Pakistan. The donors have been increasing aid flows to Pakistan because of its role in the war on terror but they have not been very stringent in ensuring that the aid is utilised for the promised sector, or is efficiently spent. The reason for it has been obvious -- i.e., the donors have tried to use aid money to act as a carrot for the Pakistani government to pursue more military operations against the militants. Thus, release of aid funds for any sector, including the education sector, and its monitoring have been highly influenced by whether or not the sitting government in Pakistan promises to accelerate its anti-militancy programme. This in turn has allowed Pakistani governments to be less accountable in the actual utilisation of the money. As for the donor the actual utilisation of money has become a secondary consideration. This is of course not a healthy development.
In addition to reducing the accountability pressure on the government to deliver on the development front, the other closely tied loss linked to the growing militancy in Pakistan is that of a shrinking array of the development actors. The international NGOs and the donor agencies might have their vested agendas, many of them indeed can utilise their funds more efficiently, and they might be promoting western-centric values. But even if these concerns have some legitimacy, it is also a fact that these agencies bring additional financial and technical support to the country.
Here it is important to draw a distinction between the lending and aid agencies. Institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank give loans, which more often than not actually end up adding a burden on the poor because when these loans are misspent the burden is not shared by the lending institutions. Therefore, if a country was to get marked off their list it might actually be a blessing in disguise. However, the UN agencies and bilateral donors bring additional financial and technical support to the country through aid. This is a different phenomenon because here in general there is no accumulation of debt towards the giver. The aid that is coming simply comes as an additional support. This means that even if the project is not very efficient, at least some benefits trickle down to the recipient country without the country incurring a loan or any liability. Even if the results of these projects are not miraculous at least some technical skills get developed and some poor families end up gaining some support.
The sad part is that Pakistan is losing more of these aid programmes, rather than the lending programmes. The UN has rolled back its programme in Pakistan quite dramatically since December 2009. Most development agencies work through providing foreign consultants to build technical capacity in the given sector, such as finance specialists, education economists, etc. Due to heightened insecurity, it is becoming very difficult for these agencies to post foreign consultants in Pakistan. Thus, even if the aid project gets approved, often there are endless delays in its delivery.
The attack on the field office of World Vision, an international NGO, in Oghi area on Wednesday, which resulted in the death of five local staff members, is thus again a sad development as it will make the donor community and NGOs become even more cautious, most likely resulting in further scaling back their operations. Pakistan today is stuck in a vicious cycle, where failure to deal with militancy is slowly collapsing all other structures. But the irony is that the creation of this militancy itself is partially a result of the failure of the state and donors to deliver on the development promises of the past three decades.
The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University. Email: mb294@hotmail .com
I. THE NEWS
HOBNOBBING WITH TERROR
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
What are the irresistible compulsions of power politics that forced the PML-N to jump into bed with the proscribed Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and its head Muhammad Ahmad Ludhianvi to win the provincial assembly seat in Jhang this week? Is this simply a case of reprehensible electoral politics with the PML-N stooping low to mix with hate-mongers in order to defeat the PPP in a heated election contest?
Is this a reflection of the PML-N's political ideology that has traditionally pandered to the politics of the religious right that nurtures bigotry, intolerance, hate, obscurantism and paranoia to garner public support? Does it not raise serious questions about the ability and willingness of this mainstream party to attack the menace of terrorism that is rooted in an ideology of religion-inspired intolerance and violence that organisations such as the SSP and Jamaat-ud-Daawa stand for?
It is hard to determine what is worst: that Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah chose to campaign for the PML-N candidate in PP-82 along with the SSP head, that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif threw his support behind this informal alliance between the PML-N and the SSP, that the PML-N candidate won with the SSP's support, or that the PML-N leadership exhibits an utter inability to comprehend and acknowledge the gravity of this misstep.
The joint campaign of Rana Sanaullah and Ahmad Ludhianvi -- when viewed together with (i) the fact that Shaikh Yaqoob who won during the last election from the Jhang area on a PML-Q ticket (by virtue of his informal alliance with the SSP) later defected and joined the PML-N, and (ii) the decision of the Punjab government to allow another banned organization, Jamaat-ud-Daawa, to convene public rallies and give sermons on Kashmir Day -- raises alarming legal, political, ideological and security-related concerns.
Pakistan already suffers from an inadequate legal framework to grapple with the scourge of terrorism. Successive governments have failed to take effective measures to confront the ideology of religion-inspired violence that lies at the heart of our problem of terror, and the organisations and so-called madrasas that preach this ideology of hate and intolerance. Some changes were introduced within the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) in 2002, which have created a mechanism to ban terrorist organisations, monitor the activities of their members, acquire control over their funds, and ensure that the message of such organisations is not disseminated to the public. But such mechanism has proved insufficient and ineffectual.
But instead of strengthening this moth-eaten legal framework that doesn't produce adequate penal consequences for banned terrorist organisations and their members, the Punjab law minister has rendered this entire framework meaningless by electing to participate in an election campaign alongside the SSP chief and then stubbornly defending this reprehensible act.
Let us first revisit the facts and the related law. One, the SSP has been notified as a proscribed organisation under Section 11B of the ATA and its name is included in Schedule 1 that lists such banned organizations. Two, Ahmad Ludhianvi, the alleged head of the SSP, has been notified as a member of a terrorism organisation under Section 11E of the ATA by virtue of the inclusion of his name in Schedule 4. Three, under Section 11EE of the ATA, the federal and the provincial governments have to determine the checks to be imposed on the day-to-day activities of the individuals so listed under Schedule 4, depending on the danger they pose to the society; and in this regard Rana Sanaullah has a key role on behalf of the Punjab government. And, four, promoting a banned organisation, its message or its members by any means is in itself an offence under Section 11W of the ATA that can result in a five-year jail term.
By seeking the support of Ahmad Ludhianvi in the PP-82 by-election and by campaigning and addressing public rallies alongside this notified member of a terrorist organisation in full public eye, the Punjab law minister has (i) brought the SSP into mainstream politics, and (ii) indirectly legitimised and promoted the SSP's ideology and message.
Who, then, will file a criminal complaint against the law minister under Section 11W of the ATA for disseminating the message of a banned terrorist organisation? Will the law enforcement agencies dare prevent Ahmad Ludhianvi from spreading his message, now that the law minister has himself taken him to the bully pulpit? And more disturbingly, how will Rana Sanaullah objectively determine the level of threat posed by the SSP and Ahmad Ludhianvi for purposes of restraining and regulating his public exposure and activities for purposes of Section 11EE of the ATA?
The justification proffered by the Punjab law minister for his tango with Ahmad Ludhianvi has been threefold. One, he had been allowed by the PCO Lahore High Court to contest elections in 2008 (he lost but bagged over 40,000 votes), which somehow gives him a clean chit of health for all purposes. Two, all other parties, including the PPP, woo proscribed organisations and their members during elections. And, three, members of banned organisations should be brought into mainstream politics as a way to cure their terrorist propensities.
The problem with these explanations is that they defy law (and reason). The PML-N, and Rana Sanaullah, publicly decried and rejected the PCO courts and their decisions. How can they now use one such a decision as certification of Ahmad Ludhianvi's character and integrity? And if other parties indulge in rotten acts, is that reason enough for the PML-N to jump into the muck?
Further, if Rana Sanaullah wishes to bring terror suspects into mainstream politics, should he not try and introduce amendments in the law to offer some kind of amnesty scheme for those who acknowledge their horrid acts and promise to desist in the future? How can a law minister whimsically decide to simply disregard the law and wipe off the stigma attached to a notified terror suspect such as Ahmad Ludhianvi, especially when he publicly justifies the SSP's ideology and activities and his association with the organisation? After Rana Sanaullah's public embrace of Ahmad Ludhianvi, should Schedule 4 of the ATA simply not be scrapped?
Other than the legal implications of the Punjab law minister's indiscretion, this ugly episode raises searching questions about the PML-N's politics and ideology. Do considerations of electoral success justify all kinds of compromises? Will ends continue to justify means for the PML-N that otherwise makes loud noises about introducing politics of issues and principles to Pakistan? But more disturbing than the question of ethics is that of ideology and its implications on the fight against religion-inspired violence and terror.
There can be at least two divergent visions for the future of our country that can be pursued by political parties. The first is that we need to reform our polity urgently: within the political arena we need to foster an electoral culture that focuses on issues, and not alliances based on bigoted sectarian, tribal and ethnic identities; as a society we must shun obscurantism and intolerance preached and practiced in the name of religion; and as a state we must develop an effective security policy that is grounded in our indigenous economic and military strength and promotes our strategic interests without relying on jihadists and mercenaries.
The other is that we will continue business as usual. Politics will continue to be defined by opportunism, where winning by any means, fair and foul, will be the norm. Our social ethic will remain rooted in hypocrisy and we will allow self-appointed protectors of our faith to inspire intolerance and hatred, and consequently divide us further. And as a state, we will continue to breed and protect jihadists, while putting them on various national terror lists to pay lip service to the concerns of the international community till the temporary focus on terrorism subsides.
Unfortunately, the electoral strategy of the PML-N vis-à-vis the Jhang by-election and its larger approach towards militant organisations still thriving in Punjab betrays obliviousness to our urgent need to rehabilitate our state and society.
I. THE NEWS
Governor Salmaan Taseer says the whole system will implode were Asif Zardari to go. "Nawaz Sharif too will suffer collateral damage. The economy will take a nosedive because US will withdraw aid to Pakistan. Hillary Clinton told me that her biggest selling point to the US Congress was undiluted democracy in Pakistan, with the press being free and a multi-ethnic functioning parliament in place. She has told the khakis not to derail democracy, otherwise America will slap sanctions."
The bottom line: Asif Zardari will not only complete his term but will be in the saddle until 2018! "Why should he step down?" Taseer asks me in an interview at his Islamabad home. "Some media people, you included, like to manufacture stories of his exit. He's the head of the largest political party in Pakistan; he's the one who spoke of 'Pakistan khappay,' he's the one keeping the federation together."
The 17th Amendment will go by the end of this month. "The president has told me himself," says Taseer. "He has the support of his coalition partners, except the PML-N, who keep coming up with new demands."
Asked will the president become a mere figurehead with all the powers vested in the prime minister, Taseer dismisses my question. "The 58 (2) (b) is already defunct. The president is not going to dissolve the National Assembly. As for the 'appointments and disappointments' (Taseer's coinage) of judges and army chief, the president is not interested. Mr Zardari derives his power from being the head of PPP. The prime minister is never going to be more powerful than the president because he cannot move without the party and its chairman."
Hush! There's a tacit agreement between the two: while the president plays the bad cop, Gilani plays the good cop!
Just as Zardari's exit is but a dream, Salmaan Taseer's departure as Punjab governor is but a fantasy. Taseer categorically states that the Swiss cases are closed forever. So we should forget about them. As for the Sharifs' demand that the Punjab governor should quit, he gives out a laugh.
What is most endearing about Taseer is his spirited audacity, that uncurbed usage of words which typify Taseer. Since school days (yes, one's known him for half-a-century), 'Billo' as he was called because of his green eyes, gravitated in his own swagger. He has changed little since then. As a chartered accountant, he accumulated his wealth through hard work; not corruption. He drives his own car without hooters, tooters and footers. He lives in his own house, not the Governor's House in Lahore.
Today Taseer is Zardari's biggest acolyte. He watches over him like a hawk, preventing the Sharifs from encroaching into the PPP domain. "The president can only remove me; no one else," says Taseer. Naturally, why would AZ move him when he has one of the loudest and most loyal spokesmen in Pakistan's biggest province?
Taseer's psychological warfare against the chief minister is proving unnerving not for the Sharifs but for the province.
"They ran a torture cell under the guise of an FIA investigative unit in Model Town which was recently bombed. Rogue operators like Maj (r) Mushtaq and Rana Maqbool, the former IG police, Sindh, notorious for AZ's tongue slashing incident, and now a Grade-22 secretary prosecutions, were running a parallel intelligence outfit outside the purview of ISI and IB."
Taseer's nitpicking against the Sharifs is unending. "Look at the kind of people being voted into the assemblies on PML-N tickets. They belong to qabza groups, are accused of molesting women, are fraudsters and barbaric law- breakers they are the dregs of the earth! Daily we hear their MPA or MNA featuring in the press for breaking the law."
Isn't Asif Ali Zardari too breaking the law, employing jailbirds, bank defaulters, outlaws, villains, NAB convicts to sensitive posts? Two wrongs don't make a right.
Email: anjumniaz@rocketmail. com
PAKISTAN'S ROLE IN THE REGION RECOGNIZED
BARRING his evasive stance on the ticklish question of India's growing influence in Afghanistan to the detriment of Pakistan, President Hamid Karzai, during his visit to Pakistan, gave a clear message that he understands Pakistan's deeper interest and role in the region. He has acknowledged that there can't be peace and stability in the region without taking Pakistan on board on strategic moves in the area.
There are reasons to believe that both Pakistan and Afghanistan are moving in the right direction in forging cooperation in fighting the menace of terrorism as well as boosting trade and commerce. In fact, the kind of reception accorded to President Hamid Karzai on his arrival at Chaklala airbase itself was reflective of Pakistan's keen desire to build a robust relationship with Afghanistan. And during his various engagements including talks with the President, the Prime Minister, the Army Chief and interaction with media, President Karzai was no more complaining and instead acknowledged the crucial role of Pakistan in stabilizing the region. He also held out an assurance that Islamabad will have a role in his Government's plan for reconciliation and reintegration of Taliban to end fighting in the neighbouring country. Pakistan has suffered hugely because of the problem of extremism and terrorism and the ongoing war against terror but the latest developments are a clear pointer that the leadership of the country was fully alive to the strategic interests of the nation and making every endeavour to safeguard them. Earlier too, at the London Conference, Pakistan made the international community realise that the dream of durable peace in the region would remain elusive without recognizing Pakistan's legitimate concerns and interests. Similar message was conveyed by Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani during his address to the NATO commanders in Brussels where he told the military leadership of important regional and global players that the world should not bypass Pakistan in any move to seek peace in Afghanistan. President Karzai's visit has once again proved that all stakeholders are now appreciative of the Pakistani point of view on the issue and this augurs well for regional peace. We hope that with the passage of time, President Hamid Karzai would also realize Pakistani anguish over Indian bid to get a nod for training of Afghan soldiers and would instead accept Pakistani offer.
CRUSHING RISE IN INFLATION
THE claim of the Government about steps to contain inflation notwithstanding, the latest data collected by the Federal Bureau of Statistics shows that the inflation based on Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by 11.08% during July-February 2009-10, as compared to the correspondent of the last financial year. The Wholesale Price Index (WPI) and Sensitive Price Indicator (SPI) also grew by 11.84% and 8.66% respectively during the period.
The continued rise in inflation bears testimony to the fact that the economic managers and political leadership of the country were least bothered about the real issues confronting the masses. Resolution of major issues and irritants like NFC award, rights of Balochistan, net hydel profit for the NWFP and greater autonomy for Gilgit-Baltistan are indeed welcome developments but people are more concerned about price-hike and unemployment than anything else. Regrettably, instead of resolving the problem, the Government has become part of it by resorting to frequent upward revisions in the prices of petroleum products and power and gas rates, as a result of which goods and services have become costlier for the common man. It seems that the Government, faced with financial crunch, is using prices of petroleum products and energy tariff to boost its revenues but in the process the plight of the poor and the middle class has lost sight of the rulers. Apart from the policies of the Federal Government that have triggered inflation, the Provincial Governments too are to be blamed for anti-consumer approach. The recent decision of the Punjab Government to allow up to 47% increase, the biggest one in the history of the Province, in transport fares has millions below the poverty line, as the cost of travelling and transportation of goods has multiplied. It is also regrettable that there are no relief measures in sight to mitigate the sufferings of the people especially the fixed income groups. The report of the Pay and Pension Commission, which was originally due in December, was delayed till March and implementation of the recommendation is likely in the new financial year. It is really a cause for heart burning that salaries of some departments were increased during the year while others were left to wait for the next year. During the last two years, people have been asked repeatedly to make sacrifices but it is time the Government comes out with relief package for them.
HOCKEY STARS SNUFF OUT
THE nation is rightly in a gloomy mood over dismal performance of the country's hockey team in the World Cup. It was really shocking that four-time champions finished 12th and that too because there was no other team below the line. What a shame!
Victory or defeat is part of the game and it is true that the outcome needed to be accepted in sportsman spirit but the poor show of a team in the country's national game should be a cause for concern and a time to ponder over what is happening in the realm of sports. The debacle symptomized all-round deterioration in different fields but those at the helm of affairs are least bothered. If we look back, over two decades ago our hockey team had celebrity status and most members occupied centre stage in the collective fan following. Pakistan hockey has a glorious past that to this day remains unmatched by any other hockey-playing nation in the world. They won the World Hockey Cup in four of 11 attempts, the Champions Trophy three times and the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup on three occasions. Not only this, Pakistan have won three gold, three silver and two bronze medals for field hockey in the Olympics. Pakistan hockey achieved its pinnacle in the mid 80s but since then it has been a downhill process. Decline has been caused by lack of proper attention, politicization, deficient physical infrastructure, running of Pakistan Hockey Federation by unprofessional individuals and misuse of funds. Experts say that Pakistani hockey officials lack the necessary training required to guide the talent in the right direction. Hockey is no longer a part-time game but a sport that requires total and unconditional commitment both inside and outside the ground. It requires years of planning and use of complicated equipment to train the players. The recent shock should serve as an eye-opener and steps should be taken to regain the lost glory in hockey.
WE'RE NOT A DEMOCRACY
Without general elections, with out unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Rosa Luxemburg. The 'hot topic' of today is democracy, which is best described as "government by the people, in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system." In the words of Abraham Lincoln, democracy is a government, "of the people, by the people and for the people." The pillars of democracy are sovereignty of the people, government based upon consent of the governed, minority rights, majority rule, guarantee of basic rights, equality before the law, free and fair elections, constitutional limits on government, social, economic and political pluralism, and due process of law and values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise. The citizens of a democratic society share in its benefits and its burdens; and the success of the democratic system rests upon the shoulders of its citizens no one else. Without the lifeblood of citizen action, democracy begins to weaken.
A government gains its legitimacy after having won a mandate, from the people to govern. Citizens elect officials to make political decisions, formulate laws and administer programs for the public good. How the mandate is won is crucial to the quality of that legitimacy. Elections that lack legitimacy breed instability and a corrupt environment. A nation can only truly be "of the people, by the people and for the people" when the people are allowed at choose their future leaders, by exercising their free will. Going to the ballot box is the decisive part of democracy; when the people reject their representatives their chances of bouncing back is diminished; only those who have lived up to the expectations of the people and served their interests are voted in. Leaders, who are sent through the back door, resurface and live to fight another day but those rejected by the ballot, find it difficult to resurface again.
The pressure from within society to remove dominant players such as old elites and dynasties, feudal lords and religious quacks, can only be vented, when free and fair elections are conducted. When the final verdict is out, so are the unpopular and unwanted elements and the results are acknowledged with readiness. Free and fair elections play an important role in nation building. The continuance of democracy and holding free and fair elections contributes towards preserving peace and minimizes the risk if internal conflict.
Democratic institutions protect the rights of all citizens and the government is only one element coexisting, in a social fabric of many and varied institutions, political parties, organizations and associations. This diversity is called pluralism. When private organizations, operate in a democratic society, they exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens of a democracy and try to influence policy decisions, debate issues, support competent candidates and play a mediating role between individuals and institutions. Democratic laws and institutions protect the rights of all citizens; they can explore the possibilities of freedom and the responsibilities of self-governmentfree of government control. When the powers of the government are by law defined and sharply limited, private organizations are free to hold the government accountable for its actions.
Democracy itself guarantees nothing. It offers instead the opportunity to succeed as well as the risk of failure. Democracy's rise and fall in Pakistan has been because successive governments never possessed the ability, to conduct free and fair elections consequently the same old faces and the old mind set kept cropping up. They never knew how to take the principles of the past and to apply them to the practices of a new age and a changing society. The result was obviously bad governance. Democracy no doubt is important; but what good is democracy without good governance, which manifests good management, good performance and good stewardship of public money, good public engagement and ultimately good outcomes. To bring about positive outcomes leadership, direction and control are essential. The frontline staff is motivated to deliver when good leadership is in place.
Governance describes the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). Hereby, public institutions conduct public affairs, manage public resources and guarantee the realization of human rights. Good governance accomplishes this in a manner essentially free of abuse and corruption and with due regard for the rule of law. Bad governance is being regarded as one of the root causes of all evil within societies and good governance, the only answer to the present and future needs of society. Good governance encourages public trust and participation, that enables services to improve; bad governance fosters the low morale and adversarial relationships, that lead to poor performance or even ultimately to dysfunctional organizations. Very few counties and societies have come close to achieving good governance, in its totality however actions must be taken to work towards this ideal with the aim of making it a reality and to ensure sustainable human development and also because major donors and international financial institutions are increasingly basing their aid and loans on the condition, that reforms that ensure good governance are undertaken.
Good governance is participatory, consensus oriented, responsive, transparent, accountable, efficient, effective, equitable and inclusive and above all follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption, bribery, nepotism, black marketing and other social evils are minimized; the views of minorities are taken into account; that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. The cornerstone of good governance is participation of both men and women; participation could be either direct or through legitimate intermediate institutions or representatives; participation also means freedom of association and expression on the one hand and an organized civil society on the other hand. Government is one of the actors in governance others include influential land lords, associations, cooperatives, NGOs, religious leaders, research institutes, finance institutions, political parties, the military, media, lobbyists, international donors, multi-national corporations etc. All these actors influence the process of decision and are grouped together as civil society (except government and the military) Formal government structures are one means, by which decisions are arrived at and implemented.
The informal decision- making structures are kitchen cabinets or informal advisors. In urban areas organized crime syndicates such as the land mafia and in the rural areas locally powerful families or feudal lords, influence decision making which leads to corrupt practice. Good governance requires fair legal frame works, that are enforced impartially; full protection of human rights particularly those of minorities; impartial enforcement of laws that requires an independent judiciary and an impartial and incorruptible police force. When decisions are taken, their enforcement is followed by rules and regulations and transparency. Information is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement.
Accountability is a key requirement, not only for governmental institutions but also for the private sector, civil society and various organizations that must be held accountable to the public and to their institutional stakeholders. It must be remembered that accountability cannot be enforced without transparency and the rule of law. Good governance requires that institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders, within a reasonable time frame and are responsive. Need of mediation of the different interests of society, to reach a broad consensus on what is in the best interest of the whole community and how this can be achieved; it also requires a long term perspective for sustainable human development and how to achieve the goals of such development.
ISLAM ABHORS INGLORIOUS TRADITIONS
On 9th March, 2010, an anti-terrorism court in Jaffarabad sentenced four men to life imprisonment in a case of burying two women alive. They were also fined Rs. 100000 each. Sixteen other accused however were acquitted for lack of evidence. Five women were brutally tortured and buried alive in Baba Kot in Naseerabad-Jaffarabad districts on 14th July 2008. Reportedly, three of the victims had opted for court marriages of their own free will. The July 2008 incident came to light a month later ie in August 2008 when former chief justice of the Balochistan High Court Justice Amanullah Khan Yasinzai took suo motu notice of a newspaper report, which said that five women had been buried alive in Jaffarabad area. Police started an investigation on the directives of the chief justice. The Supreme Court had also taken notice of the issue; the Human Rights Commission (HRCP) and women's rights groups launched a movement demanding that the culprits be punished. If there were no protest, the court would not have taken suo motu notice and culprits would have gone unpunished.
Like many other 'honour' killings, this one had also been perpetrated with the knowledge, permission and active support of the local government head - District Nazim Sardar Fateh Umrani, and brother of the Minister of State for Housing from that area. Ironically, Senator Mir Israrullah Zehri (BNP-A) stood on the floor of the Senate and defended the burying alive of five Baloch women in the name of "Baloch customary laws and traditions". Senator Israrullah Zehri had stated that the killings were part of the tribal traditions and that no one should say anything in the Upper House about the incident. This statement was severely criticized by several other senators and also by many organizations and the media. Anyhow, the senator as a Muslim should known that Islamic injunctions are binding on all the Muslims and have primacy over tribal traditions. In Pakistan, efforts were made to bring law in accordance with Islam, and in 2004 legislations in six areas had been panned to help remove social injustices against women including manipulation of the law of inheritance, trafficking of women, forced marriages, practice of vani, marriage with Holy Quran and the divorce issue.
Historical evidence suggests that before advent of Islam, the women had no social or economic rights; hence no share in family's property; and it was in fact Islam that gave them their rightful share in the inheritance also. Article 25 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, which was exhaustively debated and unanimously passed by democratically and directly elected legislature, reads: "All citizens are equal before the law, and are entitled to equal protection by the law. And there shall be no discrimination on the basis of gender alone". In Pakistan, women have waged struggle for their rights, and the governments took measures for empowerment of women. It should however be borne in mind that empowerment of women is directly linked to the greater economic role, which is dependent on increased access to education and skill development. The fact remains that no society can be considered civilized if women are deprived of their rights, and no nation can progress if half of its working population is denied the opportunity to take part in its productive process on the basis of gender. A lot has yet to be done to restore the status of women in the light of original 1973 constitution.
The founder of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his speech at Aligarh University in 1944 had said: "The nation cannot rise to the highest glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are the victims of evil customs. It is crime against humanity that our women are shut up in the four walls of the house as prisoners." It was in response to his call that the women had actively participated in the freedom movement and creation of Pakistan; yet they were denied their due role in the nation building process, let alone sharing the decision-making process of the country. It has to be acknowledged that the women are equal partners in the development of the nation and have the right to equal opportunities in all walks of life. They must be provided opportunities that would facilitate the realization of their potential in the intellectual, professional or cultural fields, of course, within the parameters laid down by Islam. During previous government's tenure, amendments were in the Hadood Ordinance, and through Women Protection Bill women were be protected against discrimination.
Pakistan's Senate had voted in favour of a bill in December 2004 that raised the maximum penalty for "honor" killings to death. Opposition politicians walked out of the upper chamber during the vote, saying the bill does not go far enough in protecting victims, as hundreds of women are killed in this way every year in Pakistan. There is no denying the fact that a woman is an indispensable and basic unit that ensures continuation of human race; and also guarantees its survival. In Islam importance of women can be understood from the example of Hazrat Khadija who was herself a trader and Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) looked after her business. She was the first lady to embrace Islam on the first revelation on Hazrat Muhammad (SAW). Historical evidence suggests that during 'ghazawats' women used to look after the wounded, which goes to prove that women can play a prodigious role during war or if a calamity that hits the nation. But such facts are never mentioned by the scholars and ulema for ulterior motives.
It is true that in the backward areas of Pakistan, remote villages of Sindh, Punjab and tribal society of Baluchistan, the reality of woman as a piece of property or a commodity is reflected in the ways in which society continues to dispose off her body. She can be offered as a compensation for damage to life and property, and given as blood money to compensate for murder; and in some cases to settle debts. Under the cover of karo-kari, men kill innocent women to settle old vendettas, to acquire land, to secure money to pay off debts, to be freed from the obligation of paying back debts, to get rid of an unwanted woman and to have a second wife. According to tribal customs and traditions, when a man takes the life of a woman and claims he did so because she was guilty of immoral conduct, it is called an 'honour killing' and not murder. But who could judge whether she was guilty; the court or the family and jirga dominated by sardars and waderas, who have private jails in Balochistan and Sindh? If this practice is allowed to continue, it will be a sad reflection on the state by the name Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
It is unfortunate that some Muslims misinterpret Islam as a dogmatic, conservative, upholder of obscurantism and inglorious traditions, whereas many western philosophers, writers and scholars admit that Islam heralded the end of the ancient world of oppression, inequality and injustice, of pride and privileges based on distinctions of race, colour, creed and gender. It gave the message of socio-economic justice, human dignity, reason and light. Its rejection of outdated customs and traditions is enough evidence that Islam is an active and progressive religion. Those who misinterpret Islam as a dogmatic, conservative, upholder of obscurantism and inglorious traditions in fact deviate from the simple, rational and humane spirit of Islam, and thus are enemies of Islam. There, is indeed, need for a new orientation of religious outlook based on dynamism, humanism, tolerance and intellectual exhortations offered by Islamic philosophy. Equipped with fresh vision and outlook towards life and religion, Pakistan can set the course of changing its priorities, goals, and acquire intellectual, scientific and scholastic achievements.
EVALUATION OF WAR ON TERROR IN NORTHWEST
ASIF HAROON RAJA
Tehrik-e-Talban Pakistan (TTP) has suffered series of losses by way of losing its strongholds in Swat, Malakand Division, and tribal agencies of Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber and South Waziristan (SW). Operation in Bajaur and Swat in mid 2008 had weakened the TTP but their bases could not be dismantled decisively. Mamond and Charmang subdivisions in Bajaur and Peuchar and areas around it in Swat could not be seized. Rah-e-Rast operation in Swat in May 2009 pushed the well entrenched militants under Fazlullah on the back foot. Although Fazlullah is still at large, most of his lieutenants have been captured and militants in hundreds captured. 2.5 millions displaced persons started to return from September onwards and by now Swat has regained its old gloss. Death of Baitullah Mehsud on 5 August as a result of drone attack followed by war of succession caused further setbacks to TTP under new commander Hakimullah Mehsud.
Consequent to operation Rah-e-Nijat launched on October 17 in SW, over 90% of territory is under Army's effective control; only western patch along Shawal Ridges closer to Afghan border is still inhibited by runaway militants belonging to Mehsud tribe. This area is also being gradually cleared through search and sweep operations launched from Shakai-Kunnigram-Ladha areas. Unconfirmed report of death of TTP leader Hakimullah, infighting and low morale has further compounded the problems of TTP which is in disarray. Loss of Swat and SW were huge setbacks which the TTP tried to offset by unleashing stream of suicide and bomb attacks including use of explosive laden vehicles in major cities with focus on Peshawar. From September onwards, Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Kohat, Lahore in particular were hit several times but Peshawar faced the major brunt. This surge looked quite puzzling since it was generally opined that after the capture of main base in SW where all the suicide bombers were trained by Qari Hussain, this trend would peter out. It impelled the leadership to go for the head of the serpent in SW. The mother of battles was won in one month time thereby breaking the back of TTP.
However, the phenomenon of suicide attacks in major cities continued unabated. It transpired a little later that the TTP had turned Orakzai Agency into an alternative base which is close to Peshawar, Hangu, Kohat and Darra Adam Khel where TTP chapter under Afridi is active. Consequently routes from Hangu, Kohat, Kurram and Khyber Agencies were sealed. Orakzai Agency has been controlled through a focused FC operation resulting in curtailment of suicide attacks. Concurrent and relentless efforts by the Army and FC in Mohmand, Bajaur and Khyber Agencies without giving any respite to the militants have begun to pay dividends. Strongholds in Mamond and Charmng Tehsils in Bajaur and some important heights closer to border with Kunar province have also been taken over thereby disrupting cross border infiltration and supply line. Adjoining Mohmand Agency mutually supporting Malakand Division and Bajaur too has been pacified. Militant activities of TTP and Mangal Bagh led Lashkar-e-Islam in Khyber Agency have been reined in.
It was also learnt that Blackwater operatives outsourced by CIA, RAW and Mossad were also involved in acts of terror. Quite a few suicide attacks were RAW sponsored. Under extreme public pressure, the government took some measures to rein in this faceless menace. These pro-active actions helped in neutralizing violent prone areas and in checkmating the spate of suicide attacks to quite an extent. It has also led to continual surrender of militants in various parts and in closure of main HQ of Blackwater at Sihala. Although trouble spots have not been completely freed of the presence of militants, however, with the capture of main bases in Swat, Bajaur and SW, their potency has been substantially diluted. Militants are no more in a position to put up organized resistance. They can at best conduct random hit and run raids and infrequent suicide attacks. Although the US is lavishly praising Pak army's successes in war on terror and is trying to become a reliable ally, on ground it has done little to dispel suspicions and to build trust deficit. Pakistan is still rubbed to do more and is pushed to start another operation in North Waziristan (NW) to tackle Gul Bahadur and Sirajuddin led militants well knowing that Pak Army has stretched its resources to the optimum. Over $ 2 billion expenditure incurred on counter terrorism is being intentionally delayed since visas of some shady characters are not being cleared by ISI. Gen Kayani did well to make it clear to visiting US senior military officers that neither Pakistan will lower its guard on eastern front nor can it afford to stretch out any further without first consolidating its gains and fully stabilising the troubled regions.
Despite fast changing situation in Afghanistan, role of US leaders is still biased towards India. Holbrooke on his last visit to India rather than expressing his unhappiness over Indian meddlesome role in Pakistan stated that India's role was crucial to regional peace. Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned that if a single American is killed in Pakistan, the US will have the right to let US forces to enter Pakistan. In New Delhi he stated that if there was another Mumbai-style terror attack, India would be justified to attack Pakistan. It amounted to giving a carte blanche to India. US think tank pasted a news item on similar lines asserting that any "Mumbai style" attack originating from Pakistan would justify Indian retaliation. There are strong indications that the US intend to hand over training role of Afghan forces to India and letting India manage Afghan security affairs after US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Joe Biden has expressed his desire of leaving aside Afghanistan which has become unconquerable and concentrate towards Pakistan. Intensity of drone attacks has intensified to flare up North Waziristan. In recent polls held, majority of Pakistanis had negative opinion about USA and felt that it would again let down Pakistan. Overwhelming majority doesn't consider USA as friend. Irrespective of ill-intentions of USA, Pakistan is now in a position to press USA to do more and to stop drone attacks.
Gen Kayani in his briefing to NATO commanders hailing from 62 countries at Brussels highlighted the achievements and sacrifices rendered by Pak Army in war on terror. He said that in contrast to 1582 casualties suffered by NATO and allies in eight years in Afghanistan, Pak Army suffered 2273 fatalities of officers and men plus injury to 6512 in one year. He also talked of recovery of armaments in huge quantity. He spelled out some golden principles which helped in turning the tide in favour of Pak Army. These were public opinion; media support; Army's capability and resolve; and comprehensive strategy based on four different phases of clear, hold, build and transfer. I may add that officers at all levels leading from the front and sincerity of intentions and purpose were other factors contributing towards successful outcome. Based on four phases of operation, in Swat the Army is going through the third stage of build up but the process is getting hampered due to non-availability of promised funds.
In SW, the Army is still at the second stage of holding and would start building process after April but subject to receipt of funds. The Army having played its part laudably, it is now the turn of political Administration to come forward and undertake relief and rehabilitation works together with development works in real earnest. Successful completion of Rah-e-Nijat would help in curbing terrorism to a great extent, while speedy rehabilitation of displaced persons would go a long way in winning their hearts and minds.
The writer is a retired Brig and a freelance defence and security analyst
IS 9/11 INCIDENT A "BIG LIE"?
In a statement during an address to the Intelligence Ministry staff in Tehran, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dubbed the U. S. official version of the Sept. 11 attacks a "big lie". He charged that the incident was used by the U.S. as an excuse for the war on terror. The Iranian president's insinuation apart, it is necessary and morally incumbent upon the U.S. administration to probe and find out the truth. It is not only the Iranian prime minister who says so but even there are Americans who have been expressing the doubts and apprehensions that no outsiders alone could have accomplished this very tricky and highly technical job; all the more the Saudis who are far from attaining the sophisticated aviation technology and who would not defy Americans in any way.
For Al-Qaida to penetrate American aviation system, acquire all the minute details and information about the flying schedules and to bang the civilian aircrafts one after another with precision into the lofty Twin Towers, seems improbable. The names and identities of the passengers on board these aircrafts have not been fully made public. But per se, if all these odds were overcome by trainee terrorists, still this dirty job could not have been possible without aid and abetment from well informed internal sources. But on the whole the tragedy looks fishy as for as the perpetrators are concerned. The hijackers' identities have never been explicitly disclosed. It is all a hush hush affair. Muslims including Saudis fought along America against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Muslims did a remarkable job for America in Afghanistan because this is how United States defeated that hostile authoritarian state, buried Communism forever and emerged as the singular super power. The Taliban at the outset were not against America and were ready to hand over Osama and his band to America if they were convinced that Al-Qaida blew the Twin Towers. But President Bush refused to pursue the offer of negotiations from Taliban. Despite all the hostility, The Afghans and al-Qaida still would not afford to antagonize America for having a common cause against the Soviet Union. Taliban had triumphed against the local war lords and not America. The altercation over Osama embittered the relations between America and Taliban, a horrendous development that could have been avoided. It is surmised in the hindsight that Taliban could have been prevailed upon through talks by America and Saudi Arabi to hand over Osama and his other cohorts to the United States. President Bush instead chose to use military option to destroy both Taliban and Al-Qaida that led to a deadly war not yet finished.
The biggest question that is being posed is why there were no Jews inside the huge building on that fateful day of September 11, 2001? Can we point out fingers at Jewish masterminds who might have hatched this conspiracy to pit America against the Muslims? In the past ten years countless Muslims have been killed, American soldiers have died in considerable numbers; American economy has landed in dire straits with 12 trillion dollars debt. Finally two friends of yester years turned each other's implacable enemies. American social life has come under a specter of fear. Look at the airports with scanning machines and humiliating body searches for all including the Americans themselves. Who could benefit from these debilitating developments"? It's an 11 million dollar question. The answer is: not Americans, not Muslims: maybe someone sitting on the sidelines and pulling the strings clandestinely.
In the time to come or even in distant future the truth or confirmation about the tragedy as it happened would come to light. Although several cases such as the assassination of President J.F. Kennedy are still shrouded in mystery, but as the time advances and the information and investigation technology gets more credible and genuine, these mysterious and unresolved happenings stand a bright chance to be resolved.
Undoubtedly, the 9/11 tragedy is one of the stunning incidents of the 21st century that has changed the course and complexion of the interstate relations particularly the US-Muslim world relationship. It was precisely to punish the perpetrators of this heinous act, ascribed to the despicable Al-Qaida outfit that United States has been engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While the war in Afghanistan makes sense and carries justrification, the Iraq's invasion was entirely uncalled for and is devoid of any moral locus standii. The only outcome of Iraq war that cost America a trillion dollar hefty bill is the capture and hanging of ousted Saddam Hussein and the massacre of innumerable Iraqis besides a few thousand American soldiers. If Iraq embarks upon a democratic course, despite its deep ethnic and ideological divisions, the monetary and human price paid by America by default, would look justified.
Indeed America has every right to have reacted in the way it did. But if this reaction would have focused purely on al-Qaida activists besides soliciting the cooperation of the Islamic countries the bloodshed that the world has witnessed in the last decade could have been formidably spared or curtailed. But at that time an ultra right neo-conservative administration was at the helm and they were bent upon storming Iraq and Afghanistan with the mammoth army. Although initially the pretext was to unearth the weapons of mass destruction, yet these were never found. Later a visibly crude campaign was launched to establish a connection between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, indirectly implicating the Iraqi government for being an accomplice in the 9/11 act of terrorism. After 9/11 when the dust of initial furore started settling down, there were a flurry of conspiracy theories that mushroomed implying and arguing that the attackers mostly hailing from Saudi Arabia and flying the American civilian aircrafts could not have performed this extremely precarious and technically complicated feat all by themselves.
Nevertheless, in order to nail the rumours and conspiracies that abound, it would be in the interest of the fair name of America if fresh inquiry is launched to clear the fog and mystery that envelope this most horrendous event in the recent times. May be the episode of 9/11 can be rewritten with more back stage actors.