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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

EDITORIAL 15.03.10

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month march 15, edition 000455, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul 

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  3. 'BURQA BAN'



























It is truly amazing that there should be an orchestrated clamour for the resignation of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi simply because he has been 'summoned' by the Special Investigation Team set up by the Supreme Court to look into certain cases arising out of the violent incidents that followed the attack on Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002 at Godhra by a Muslim mob in which 59 Hindu passengers — most of them kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya — were burned alive. The demand, essentially voiced by the Congress and other 'secular' parties, that Mr Modi should step down from office before meeting the SIT is not only absurd but motivated to vitiate the atmosphere. Sadly, sections of the media, eager to demonstrate their loyalty to the regime of the day, have joined the chorus. One newspaper has gone to the extent of suggesting that being 'summoned' by the SIT amounts to being 'indicted', without of course explaining this strange interpretation of a legal term! The propagandists are clearly unmindful of the facts: The widow of a victim of the violence that followed the Godhra carnage has levelled untenable allegations against Mr Modi, his then ministerial colleagues and officials which the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has chosen to probe. According to these allegations, Mr Modi, his Ministers and officials "conspired to allow the massacre of Muslims" and that they "instructed" the police not to respond to requests for help. The widow's anguish is understandable, but that does not mean her allegations are the Gospel truth. The charges are patently baseless, not least because there is nothing by way of credible evidence to prop them up. Anybody can claim that telephone calls went unattended, that Mr Modi was indifferent, and that the police refused to help victims. But by no stretch of the imagination, no matter how fevered it may be, can such rant be equated with indictment. To be fair, the SIT has clarified that it merely wants to "hear Mr Modi's version of the story".

It has been eight years since some places in Gujarat — and, it merits reiteration, not the entire State — were hit by violence in which both Muslims and Hindus (apart from those who perished in the Sabarmati Express arson) were killed. This wasn't the first instance of communal strife in India, nor will it be the last: Witness the ongoing riots in Bareilly where Muslim mobs have been on the rampage despite non-stop curfew for nearly a fortnight. To Gujarat's credit — as also to Mr Modi's — the people of that State, Hindus and Muslims, have moved ahead with their lives and are unwilling to be held hostage to memories of a regrettable sequence of events. Gujarat has emerged as a model State for good governance, inclusive development, industrialisation, and political and social stability. Mr Modi is widely regarded as a charismatic leader across the country; he has won two successive Assembly elections with huge margins, defying anti-incumbency. Yet, there are some who find merit in constantly harping on the past instead of looking at the future. They are not driven by the noble urge to secure justice for the victims of the 2002 violence, but the sinister intent to demonise Mr Modi. This is cynical politics at its worst; it exposes the farcical nature of 'securlarism' preached by frauds and charlatans masquerading as human rights activists. The time has come to call their bluff.






There is no denying that the French have a way about things and that they are proud of it. It is something that you either get or you don't, or, as the French would put it, either you are French or you are not. Perhaps this explains the reason why the French see their culture and lifestyle as so unique. Just as well because you would certainly need to think like a Frenchman (or woman) to get your head around the marital intricacies — if at all they can be called that — of President Nicolas Sarkozy and his famous former supermodel wife Carla Bruni. Reportedly, the French first couple's marriage is going through a stormy phase with rumours surfacing of the President and his wife both having extra-marital affairs. While it has been alleged that Ms Bruni has fallen for musician Benjamin Biolay, the President, so it has been said, is working overtime with his Ecology Minister Chantal Jouanno. Of course it could all be just rumours and Ms Bruni could have genuinely been spending some 'creative time' with her singer 'friend' on the beaches of Thailand before being sent for by her caring husband — he even hired a private plane to bring her home. On the other hand, the reason why Mr Sarkozy is spending so much time in his Ecology Ministry could be that he is genuinely concerned about the environment and global warming. And shame on those gossip-mongers for wanting to snoop on the private lives of France's first couple. Except, it has to be admitted, Ms Bruni has been quite public about her feelings. In an interview with Sky News, which saw her delicately side-step certain direct questions, she was very candid about her views on her marriage to Mr Sarkozy. How can you not expect the rumour mills to work overtime when the French first lady says, "I guess marriage should be forever but who knows what will happen?" And her claim, "My husband would never have an affair", is now being read by many as a statement reflecting pride and notion of high values rather than one confirming fidelity. All this goes to show how political the entire affair has become — very French.


But the French don't seem to mind. In fact, talk to any man or woman in France and he or she will tell you that what happens behind the closed doors of the private chambers of the Elysee Palace is the President's personal business. And if the rumours are indeed true, it won't be the first time that a French politician — or a President — is found to have a colourful private life. Nor are Mr Sarkozy and Ms Bruni inexperienced in that department. Good for us; nothing like starting Monday morning with a dose of gossip about the not-so-private lives of the French.



            THE PIONEER




The Congress, the BJP and the Left, along with several regional parties, have helped the women's reservation Bill to go through the Rajya Sabha. I have little doubt that it will go through the Lok Sabha as well as these important issues are never determined by numbers but by sentiment behind the legislation. It is unfortunate that the SP and the RJD have proved to be obstacles to the passage of the Bill. The BSP has done little better. But it is the Trinamool Congress's attitude towards the Bill that has been most disappointing. The party's stand on the issue shows that its only aim is to defeat the Left in West Bengal. It does not have any long-term vision and hence could prove to be a liability to the Government.

The legislation may take a decade to be fully operational, but it is a step in the right direction. It is a good thing if there is debate and discussion on the intricacies of the Bill. But it cannot be denied that with the tabling of the Women's Reservation Bill and its passage through the Rajya Sabha, history has been created. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also needs to be commended for being gracious and thanking the Opposition for their support of the Bill.

Every major political act cannot be viewed in isolation and, as I have written on several occasions, the trends of the future will emerge well before 2014. If we look at the larger picture then the Congress under Ms Sonia Gandhi has continued to gain. And with an acceptable succession plan in place, the party van be said to be in a strong position. Meanwhile, the BJP is showing signs of consolidation as an effective Opposition under new party president Nitin Gadkari. Regional forces have a difficult choice but there may still be space for a Third Front in Indian politics.

The Left, on the other hand, is looking at a bleak future and this is because it continues to cling to an ideology which has little relevance in this day and age. The Leftists have learnt little from the Communist movement in China and Russia and the economic reforms they have initiated.

The RJD and the SP are experiencing a definite shrink in their vote-base in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. This is the main reason behind their opposition to the Women's Reservation Bill and their sudden pro-minority fervour.

The battle for the Women's Reservation Bill will now move to the Lok Sabha and in theory there is a tricky situation developing with the SP and the RJD seriously contemplating withdrawing support to the Government and the BSP threatening to follow suit. They will try and bargain for a settlement. Meanwhile, the BJP and the Left's support cannot be taken for granted either. But there is little doubt that Ms Sonia Gandhi and the Congress have created a favorable public image for themselves by calling the bluff of the Mandal brigade. Nonetheless, the Rajya Sabha episode exposed poor co-ordination on part of the Congress, both with its allies and the Opposition. There are far too many political accidents taking place and complacency or arrogance in politics comes with a heavy cost.

The political reality is that the Congress's tally of 200 seats can well extend to the magic figure of 272. The BJP, with some internal stability creeping in, can also protect its share of 100 seats. But the political parties in severe trouble are the SP, the RJD and the LJP. It would make political sense for them to form a single political front with the Left as they held close to 130 seats in the Lok Sabha in 2004. Though this figure has significantly come down, things can get much worse if they don't come together.

The BSP has literally been static and has made little progress in the States. It may well consider local combinations to add to its vote percentage. I think we will see new alliances coming up in north India and several credible leaders like Mr Naveen Patnaik, Mr Nitish Kumar, Ms J Jayalalithaa, Mr Chandrababu Naidu, and even Ms Mamata Banerjee have to think about their future.

Political churning is a constant phenomenon. But it is in the midst of all this turmoil that Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has pursued his mission of creating a culture of meritocracy within his party with great zeal. His efforts in the Youth Congress and the NSUI have had a great degree of success and may well provide the decisive edge that the Congress needs to win back the initiative after two decades of coalition governance.

As mentioned earlier, the BJP is also in recovery mode under Mr Nitin Gadkari. This is clearly visible in the way Mr Arun Jaitly in the Rajya Sabha and Ms Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha are challenging the ruling party with ability and competence. The BJP's stand on the Shiv Sena in Mumbai and now on the Women Reservation's Bill indicates that the party is paying attention to public opinion. The party has backed this up with the credible performances of its Chief Minister's in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh with Karnataka being the only weakness. Nonetheless, the future of the BJP will depend on the party's ability to understand the compulsions of coalition politics and its efficiency in delivering an acceptable political agenda.

Political events are moving at a fast pace and the Bihar Assembly election will seriously test the stability of the JD(U)-BJP alliance in the State. It will also determine the future of the RJD and the LJP as well as gauge the progress made by the Congress.

The Trinamool Congress and the BSP have taken a political stand on the Women's Reservation Bill. This will have to be re-examined after the Bihar verdict. And before the West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, we may get to see decisive changes in political alignments for 2014.







The urban landscape of the country, marked by mindless, unplanned, grotesque development, is getting uglier by the day. All the big cities are bursting at their seams. This prosperity for less than 10 per cent of the people has robbed the middle-class of its peace and tranquility. It is a fact that for the teeming millions living below the poverty line and the middle-class, growth means exploitation at the hands of the rich and mighty.

The quality of life of the nation as a whole deteriorates if development is not tempered with equitable distribution of wealth and natural resources. This explains the paradox of as many as two Indians making it to the list of the ten richest people in the world while more populous China, with a decidedly more vibrate economy, does not have even one billionaire in there. The reason is simple. Notwithstanding the pathetic condition of human rights in China, the Chinese have a more equitable distribution of national wealth.

A GDP growth rate of 7.5 per cent after an economic slowdown might sound good. But this is highly deceptive. It does not explain why the prices of essential goods have been going through the roof, rendering life extremely miserable for the common man. The middle-class, educated youth is under a lot of stress as employment across the board is still sluggish.

There can be no denying that India is facing a huge dilemma in terms of development. The lop-sided economic growth of the last few decades which, among other things, saw the agriculture sector take a nose-dive, has been a recipe for disaster. There is a direct co-relation between this and the Maoist insurgency plaguing the country.

We should counter these maladies by vigorously reversing this pattern of lop-sided development and concentrating on the agriculture sector. This in turn would require the introducing if farm reforms in a sustainable manner. The overall focus should be on sustainable development and promoting labour-intensive green industries. The culturally-induced old resentments about crass consumerism should not be abandoned.








The ongoing debate on how to deal with Maoists and their insurgency often leads to an amazing revelation of how little most people at home and abroad know about the Left extremists. Views are also coloured by predetermined notions. Given below are some frequently asked questions about the Maoists, their violent movement and what they stand for, as well as the policy options to deal with them:

Q: Who are the Maoists in India nowadays?

A: The Maoists are the cadre of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), who are fighting against the state in the tribal areas of central India — mainly in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal. They also have some activity in Maharashtra and Bihar. It is essentially a movement of Maoist ideologues for the capture of political power through the barrel of the gun by exploiting the economic grievances of the poor tribals of central India.

Q: How did they appear? Do they keep the same ideology from the Cold War?

A: It is a movement inspired by the ideology of Mao Zedong. They believe in Mao's tactics of capture of political power through a rural revolt of poor and exploited peasants and landless workers. Among the foreign ideological influences on them are those of the Chinese Communist Party under Mao, the Shining Path of Peru and the Maoists of Nepal. Even though the Chinese Communists discarded much of Maoist ideology after his death, his followers in India continue to follow them. They look upon the present leaders of China as revisionists.

Q: What is their relation with the mainstream Communist Parties?

A: They do not agree with the ideology of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and other Leftist parties which are against violence and which believe in acquiring political power by contesting in elections. The Maoists are fighting against the present Government of the CPI (Marxist) in West Bengal which came to power through elections.

Q: What are the main objectives of the group?

A: The aim is to capture political power through a rural insurgency of the rural poor in order to work for the uplift of the poor people. It is essentially a movement of the rural poor and the backward tribals. It has no popular support in the urban areas and from the industrial workers.

Q: Are Maoists and Naxalites one and the same?

A: The Maoists' violent struggle originally started in the 1960s in a village called Naxalbari in West Bengal. They used to be called Naxalites. They have now spread to other areas outside West Bengal and call themselves Maoists. Yes, the Naxalites and the Maoists are one and the same.

Q: Can we compare them to radical Islamist groups?

A: One cannot. Jihadi terrorism is an urban movement. The Maoist movement is a rural insurgency. The Jihadi terrorism is a religious movement against non-Muslims. The Maoist movement has nothing to do with religion. The Maoists don't believe in religion. The Maoist movement is a movement of the rural have-nots. The Maoists are Indian citizens. It is an indigenous insurgent movement. The jihadis are a mix of radicalised Muslims from India and Pakistan. They are trained in Pakistan by its Inter-Services Intelligence with the help of Pakistani Jihadi organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. The Jihadi movement is a global movement. The Maoist movement is not.

Q: Are the Maoists more dangerous than Al Qaeda? If yes, why?

A: Al Qaeda is a terrorist organisation with a global political and religious agenda. The Maoists are an insurgent organisation with a purely Indian and social class agenda. Al Qaeda believes in indiscriminate killing of civilians. The Maoists believe in targeted killing of civilians. Apart from the security forces, the Maoists kill only those civilians whom they look upon as class enemies such as landlords and forest contractors. Al Qaeda has till now not posed a threat to India's internal security because it has practically no support in the Indian Muslim community. The Maoists pose a serious threat to India's internal security because they have considerable support from the rural poor in the tribal areas of central India.

Q: How should the Government deal with Maoists?

A: The Government has to follow a two-pronged policy. It has to undertake a crash programme for the economic and social development of the poor tribals in central India and take legal action against landlords and forest contractors and Government officials exploiting and harassing the poor tribals. At the same time, it has to take action against the armed cadre of the Maoists and their leaders. It should not succumb to violence. It should show a caring attitude to the poor tribals.

Q: Do Maoists have links with groups in others countries?

A: They have ideological ties of solidarity with Maoists in countries such as Nepal and the Philippines. They don't have operational links.

Q: Should the Government talk to the Maoists?

A: The Government is prepared to hold talks with them on their grievances if they give up the use of violence for achieving their objectives and surrender their arms. They are not prepared to do so.

The writer, a former senior official with R&AW, is a noted security expert.







There's been much nonsense written about an Israeli Government's announcement that 1,600 apartments would be built in east Jerusalem. The timing was stupid, of course, since US Vice-President Joe Biden was in town and didn't like the idea. Moreover, to have such an announcement just when indirect talks were about to start between Israel and the Palestinian Authority doesn't make Israel look helpful.

But that's about it. The action, if not the timing, was neither a provocation, the establishment of a 'new settlement,' or proof that Israel doesn't want peace.

Anyone who knows Israel well understands this is what is called locally a 'fashla,' a stupid mess-up as often happens with the Government. Israel combines the candour of a First World country with the bureaucratic incompetence of a Third World one. The relevant office acted with a rosh ketan (narrow vision) and neither considered the impact nor consulted those dealing with foreign policy. They were just thrilled to keep their constituency happy by announcing more housing.

The area in question is not some 'new settlement' but a neighbourhood about five blocks from the pre-1967 border. The Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) Jews who live there have the highest birth rate in Israel and thus desperately need new apartments. At most, what this announcement shows is that Israel doesn't want or intend to give up all of east Jerusalem as part of a peace agreement. That's not exactly news.

Would it be better for Israel's international position if the announcement had not been made? Yes. Because it allows the Obama Administration (which needs excuses for its own failure to succeed at peace-making) and the PA and Arab states (which need some rationale for their own policies) to blame Israel.

But does it really change the course of a peace process going nowhere due to Palestinian intransigence on the real issues? Or does it make the PA and Arab states, which are supposedly salivating for a peace deal, to change their minds and not make peace? In both cases, the answer is 'No'.

So the timing of the announcement was stupid but it was neither deliberate sabotage nor proof of disinterest in peace.

Let's consider the actual background of these recent events. Israel has announced since 1993, when the Oslo Agreement was signed, that it would continue building on existing settlements. The PLO accepted this framework and during the next 16 years the issue of construction on settlements never had any effect on the negotiations.

In January 2009, the PA stopped negotiations because Hamas attacked Israel from the Gaza Strip and Israel defended itself. Of course, Hamas is also the PA's enemy and the PA would be delighted if Israel destroyed that group. But for public relations' purposes, the PA had to pretend inter-Palestinian solidarity.

A few weeks later, the new US President, Mr Barack Obama, demanded that all construction on settlements stop. Israel eventually agreed but announced it would keep building in east Jerusalem. The United States accepted that arrangement and even praised Israel's policy as a major concession.

But the PA still refused to return to negotiations. Was it because the construction offended it so deeply? No, because Fatah's radical leaders don't want to make a peace deal since they believe they can win total victory and destroy Israel. At the same time, the more moderate ones are too weak to make a deal because of Hamas and their own radicals.

In September 2009, Mr Obama announced that within two months there would be full and final peace negotiations in Washington. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "yes"; PA leader Mahmoud Abbas said "no."

Finally, after more than six additional months of effort, the PA deigned to talk, but only indirectly. Wait a minute! Supposedly,

Israel doesn't want a deal and the Palestinians are desperate for one since, in Mr Obama's words, their situation is "intolerable." So why is reality the other way around? There must be something wrong with that explanation.

Just as Mr Obama unintentionally set back negotiations by demanding a full freeze, he and Mr Biden have now done the same thing for indirect talks. But isn't it Israel's fault in the latter case for a stupid bureaucratic case of bad timing? Absolutely, yes.

Yet US handling of the issue turned an annoying problem into an even worse problem for itself. Yet why aren't Western countries and media saying that the PA's refusal to negotiate for 15 months shows that it doesn't want peace?

After all, according to the commonly held view of the conflict, they should be demanding immediate direct negotiations to reach a comprehensive peace and a Palestinian state.

Instead, however, Mr Abbas seized the opportunity of the apartment-building announcement to declare he wouldn't talk. Is he indignant? Is he upset? Does he feel betrayed? No, he's delighted to have an excuse to do what he wants: Not negotiate with Israel.

And so Mr Abbas gets to close down talks, keep his winnings, and blame it on Israel. While Mr Abbas and the PA don't agree with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on much, they do agree on one point: They (wrongly) think the West is abandoning Israel. So why shouldn't they reject peace and try to destroy weakened Israel (in Ahmadinejad's case) or merely wait until the West gives the Palestinians a state on a silver platter with no concessions on their part (Mr Abbas's case)?

-- The writer is director of the GLORIA Center and editor of the MERIA Journal.  








In Punjab we have a telling bewailing commentary by old folks when unfortunately a young bride becomes a widow soon after marriage, "Poor girl, a tragedy has struck her even when mehendi has not yet dried up". I am sadly reminded of this by the uncertainty looming over the fate of women's reservation Bill, which is facing the danger of postponement, soon after it was justly celebrated by all right-thinking women and men as a step towards the fight for gender justice.

The passage of the Bill by the Rajya Sabha has generated extraordinary confidence amongst 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 danger of passing the Budget or risk in weakening of outside party support. There seems hardly any justification for this gloomy view. Let me remind all of the steadfast insistence of Jawaharlal Nehru, Jayaprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia in insisting on passing the Hindu Marriage Act, 1952 notwithstanding the fact that the country was going through tumultuous times and in spite of the vociferous powerful opposition from stalwarts like Rajendra Prasad, the President, and some of his colleagues. It is in times like these that the real mettle of leadership is tested. Fortunately, a last minute corrective action by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, (notwithstanding the shaky advise of their advisers) in insisting on passing the Bill in the Rajya Sabha was the real knock-out blow to the opponents of the Bill.

Of course, this was made much easier by the support extended by the BJP and the Left parties. That support is still available. Notwithstanding the bullying bluster of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav, these die-hard obscurantists cannot muster any strength nor make a cleavage in the support given by the BJP and the Left on this issue. May I respectfully remind Yadav trio to freshen up their Lohia readings — the mentor had clearly opined that reservation for woman was an instrument in social engineering — he never suggested splitting the strength of woman quota by further splitting them in sub-quotas.

Another fear put forward is that a no-confidence motion by 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, 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. I know the hike in fuel price 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 Lenins slogan of "two steps forward and one step backward," say by suspending fuel hike price in the present and taking up this issue in the next session. It may look 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 between the Congress, the BJP and the Left parties.

Let us not forget that half the State Assemblies have still to approve the Bill before it can become law. If the enthusiasm generated is not made use of in this very session I am afraid it may run out to become an empty rhetoric and the danger of the Bill being caught up in mutual mudslinging with uncertain prospects and might give a near fatal blow to the passing of Bill as 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 very substantial numbers of OBCs in the Lok Sabha. It is 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 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.

In my view, the provision of a sub-quota for OBC women runs the risk of being held as un-constitutional. Reservation of seats is guaranteed only for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes 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.

-- The writer, a former Chief Justice of High Court of Delhi, headed the committee set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to study the status of Muslims in India







Like any other normal woman Dr Ratooba Shaheen tied nuptial knot with a well-settled Ishtiaq Hussain four years ago. But immediately after the wedding in September 2005, Hussain left for Riyadh. Little did she know that her dream marriage would go sour. She was harassed for dowry by her in-laws in the absence of her husband. Her case finds mention in the Annual Report 2008-09 of the State Commission for Women. "They demanded a plot of land, Alto Maruti vehicle and two gold jewellery sets. I couldn't fulfil this demand and was thrown out of the house," the report quoted her saying.

All her attempts to contact her husband, who worked as an electrical engineer in Riyadh, came to naught. The report added that her certificates had been taken by her husband to Saudi Arabia so she could get her a job there. But neither did her husband return her documents nor did he come back.

Amongst the cases received by the State Commission for Women, there have been some related to non-resident Indians accused of maltreating their wives, on various counts ranging from torture, harassment, re-marriage, divorce, maintenance, transfer of property to children, child support money enhancement, desertion and cheating.

Dr Sameena Gul, who got married in July 2003, was physically tortured by her husband Dr Mohammad Afzal-u-din and in-laws for dowry. Finally, she filed a complaint with the commission in November 2006.

The commission first offered counselling to the couple to which Dr Afzal-u-din was unresponsive. Later during sessions, he proclaimed that the reason he could not live with his wife is because she was unable to bear a child. He then abruptly left for Saudi Arabia without any intimation to his wife or the medical department where he was working. With the help of authorities in Saudi Arabia, the commission caught up with him and summoned him back. On coming back he pronounced talaq thrice but Dr Sameena has not yet received her divorce papers. Her fate hangs in balance.

Moninder Kour is yet another woman from Jammu who suffered harassment at the hands of her in-laws. But all hell broke loose when she discovered that her husband Gurnam Singh, who lived in Australia, was already married. Though the commission has sent repeated summons, accused did not turn up. Today her case too hangs in balance.

The functioning of the existing State Commission for Women is restrained as it has limited jurisdiction and cases are referred to the National Commission for Women and Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, New Delhi. Cases are not dealt with and settled speedily.

Sakeena Bano, married Mushtaq Ahmad Suda, settled in Germany, in July 2007 was eagerly waiting to join her husband and was enthusiastically taking German lessons. But her world came crashing down when she approached the German Embassy for a visa and learnt that Suda was already married. She turned to the commission and filed a complaint in January 2009. This case, as per the norm, was forwarded to National Commission for Women in New Delhi with a suggestion that the case be taken up with the German Embassy to first trace Sakeena's husband whose whereabouts remain unknown yet.

These cases are the just the tip of iceberg. There are scores of cases that go unreported due to societal inhibitions and family pressures.

During 2008-2009, of the 126 cases dealt by the State Commission for Women related to various forms of violence against women, only 15 cases have been resolved. Ever since its inception in 2000, more than 1,600 cases have been registered by the commission. Out of 1,693 registered cases, 1,260 have been from Kashmir and 433 from Jammu. The newly appointed chairperson of the commission, Ms Shamima Firdous, is of the opinion that stringent laws are needed to end these atrocities against women.








Even though Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin's India trip lasted just about 22 hours, it was no quick stopover. New Delhi and Moscow have signed a host of agreements, crucially in the area of civil nuclear cooperation and defence. The two countries have signed deals that will pave the way for Russian-designed nuclear reactors to be constructed in India and have also committed themselves to greater cooperation in gas, oil and hydrocarbons trade. Put together, these moves will help India meet its growing energy needs. In keeping with the long-standing tradition of defence cooperation, New Delhi and Moscow have also signed deals that will help India procure new generation fighter jets, which are bound to lend ballast to our air force. And finally, there is a closure for the contentious Gorshkov deal as well.

Even as the leaders of the two countries hammered out trade and technology deals, they also focused on the situation in Afghanistan, in which both India and Russia have a critical stake. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in the joint statement, said that New Delhi and Moscow ''agreed to intensify our consultations on Afghanistan and the challenges posed by terrorism and extremism in our region''. Significantly, both leaders expressed concern over moves by the international community to engage the 'good Taliban' a move that Pakistan backs and India resists.

The Russians, who know a thing or two about Afghanistan, might not be on the same page as India on all aspects of the Afghan issue especially the question of the duration of US presence in the war-torn region but broadly the objectives and concerns of the two countries vis-a-vis the Af-Pak situation are in sync. Putin also backed the Indian position on the threat to the region posed by terror groups operating from Pakistan and asserted that Moscow will not enter into any defence deal with Islamabad ''because of our Indian friends' concerns''.

During the Cold War era, the Soviet Union and India came closer as a counterweight to the Sino-US equation. But in a new world order where China's heft outweighs Russia's, the balance of power globally, and in this region has seen a paradigm shift. Each country in this quartet is now pursuing foreign policies that are informed by self-interest. It is in this context that India and Russia must give their old ties a makeover. While pursuing independent global equations, New Delhi and Moscow must work in concert to further their common interests and concerns in the Asian region.







The Committee on Public Undertakings report examining the Air India-Indian Airlines merger is merely the latest iteration of criticisms that have been levelled at the undertaking right from its inception. These are well known: the merger was poorly handled; there was a failure to operationalise policy decisions efficiently; and few attempts were made to bring about a synergy between the core strengths of the two airlines. Perhaps the fact that a parliamentary committee has now delivered this verdict will finally bring about some remedial action, but it seems unlikely given the sluggishness so far in dealing with the merged entity's decline.

The committee does not go far enough with its recommendations. For one, merely saying that all losses caused by the merger should be recouped seems like a pipe dream given the airline's current financial situation. But more importantly, it misses the point entirely when it recommends improved efficiency norms, the need for a corporate work culture, more accountability and the like. These measures, if implemented correctly doubtful in itself may temporarily check the rot, but they are unlikely to eradicate it. What is needed is not the government attempting to develop a faux private sector administration model, but the real deal. There is no reason at all for the public sector to involve itself in the aviation sector, particularly given its high-risk nature. The committee has approached the problem from the wrong angle. It is not a question of how to improve government management of the airline; it is how to best go about divestment.








Following the conclusion of the first foreign secretary level talks between India and Pakistan since their termination after the horrific events of 26/11 it may be useful to reassess some of the most fundamental premises of its foreign policy towards Pakistan. Can India really hope to reach a meaningful accord with Pakistan as long as the military remains primus inter pares in Pakistan? The answer unfortunately must be resoundingly negative. Unless the military's role is pared to the legitimate task of defending the country's national borders the possibilities of any viable rapprochement with Pakistan will remain downright elusive. No civilian regime in Pakistan will be in a position to make what political scientists refer to as credible commitments namely those that are likely to be upheld.

The reasons are not difficult to identify. Since the first military coup in 1958, the Pakistani state has been a militarised one. The generals who run the country have suppressed the constitution, dallied with the religious right, and sponsored the jihadis who have now turned against them. But their chief source of legitimacy has been the 'India threat'. Over the years, despite multiple attempts at negotiations no breakthroughs occurred in Indo-Pakistani relations. Instead the military establishment lost little opportunity to exploit the shortcomings of India's federal structures, notably in Kashmir. When an indigenous uprising broke out in December 1989 the military and most notably, the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate lost little time in entering the fray to transform the fundamental features of the insurgency. It was made to metamorphose from a largely spontaneous rebellion into a well-funded, carefully orchestrated and religiously motivated extortion racket.

This strategy has kept the army in place over the decades, allowed them to penetrate the state by occupying plum positions in the bureaucracy, and enabled them to feed off the economy by commandeering vast tracts of land and running corporate enterprises in the guise of 'welfare' organisations.

To be sure, the army has not rejected a compromise with India out of hand. The repeated crises that followed the nuclearisation of the subcontinent made it clear that Pakistan could extract leverage from its possession of the bomb, but the outcome would have to be negotiated. Seizing all of Kashmir was no longer possible. Under General Pervez Musharraf, the military was willing to drop the old demand for a plebiscite and enter into a bargain. Both Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have expressly confirmed that they came close to such a deal in 2007. The expected agreement could not have been made without the Pakistan army being on board. But with the democratic surge in Pakistan and the consequent fading of Musharraf's star, the prospect of a breakthrough vanished.

It could not have been a coincidence that precisely at the time the deal fell apart, incidents of Pakistani forces firing on Indian troops along the Line of Control increased in frequency. Cross-border flows of terrorists also increased. Indian civilian works in Afghanistan became a serious issue for Pakistan, and the Indian embassy in Kabul was bombed. Why did the India-Pakistan relationship shift so quickly from a near rapprochement to accelerating tension? The answer lies in the shifting domestic balance of power in Pakistan. From a position of unchallenged authority remember the welcome civil society gave Musharraf in the wake of his 1999 coup the army was now reviled as a usurper that denied the legitimate aspirations of the Pakistani people, presiding over a corrupt system characterised by weak government, economic stagnation and rising extremist violence.

At present, the turbulence of Pakistani politics leaves the army in a state of uncertainty as to its future. So long as this situation continues, the army will cling to its sole remaining justification for retaining its predominance over the body politic - the putative threat from India. Any prospect of a deal with the Pakistani state requires the army's imprimatur. It can do so either with the confidence that it is comfortably in control; or it can do so with the acknowledgement that its rightful place is in the barracks and not in the corridors of power. Currently, the Pakistan army is deeply uncertain of the former, and unwilling to accept the prospect of the latter. It is no surprise that the symptoms of 2007 have reappeared: witness the renewed bouts of firing along the LoC and the deadly attack on Indian civilians in Kabul last month.

The only prospect of long-term peace lies in curtailing the bloated role of the military in Pakistan's politics. For far too long the military establishment has aggrandised a position in the country's ruling dispensation well beyond any normal role. If Indo-Pakistani peace is indeed a priority for the global community in the emergent world order a concerted international effort will have to be mounted to demilitarising Pakistan. Such a goal, though seemingly fanciful, is nevertheless a vital policy imperative and a viable goal. Stable peace will not come to South Asia in the absence of the diminution of the political prowess of the Pakistani military. A host of other states even in regions ridden with conflict have managed to make this transition. The time for such change now needs to come to South Asia.

( Ganguly currently holds the Ngee Ann Kongsi Chair in International Relations and Basrur is a senior fellow in the South Asian Studies Programme at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)







M P Ganesh, currently the CEO of the Karnataka State Cricket Association, is a former hockey Olympian and earlier executive director, Sports Authority of India. He captained India at the Amsterdam World Cup in 1973 where the team finished second and coached the Indian team in the 1980s. R Edwin Sudhir spoke to Ganesh about the lessons of World Cup 2010:

Has the World Cup 2010 in New Delhi revived interest among Indians in the game?

There's definitely some interest generated among the people. This was evident in the inaugural match in which India beat Pakistan. Even later, despite our dismal performance, people still followed the matches keenly. However, this can't last long as we can't expect people to sustain this interest if the national team doesn't play well and win.

What are the lessons from this tournament?

We flattered to deceive with the win against Pakistan. Experts saw in that match itself that our level of physical fitness was not very high, our basic skills were nothing to write home about and we knew we wouldn't do well against superior teams. We were proved right. We should have prepared better for the tournament, instead of having to firefight all kinds of problems. We failed on several fronts selection, training, practice and choice of coach. We need to look at younger, fitter players from the junior ranks.

Experience does matter but not at the cost of fitness. We chose to go to Canada for practice matches that was a wrong choice. What could we have possibly gained from this? Why don't we have an Indian coach who understands our ethos better? By all means have foreign coaches but only for specialised tasks, and give him specific goals with clear timelines and accountability.

What should be done to get young people to play hockey?

There's no dearth of talent at the school and junior level. It's up to the administration to identify good players, train them intensively and give them opportunities to play against better teams. Maybe we should review the sports hostel system, which keeps all these talented players in one place. Why not allow them to be in their respective schools, which may in turn inspire other children around them? Eventually, we'll have a bigger base of good players to pick from.

What can we learn from other countries?

A lot. For instance, a South Korean coach studied at the Sports Authority of India, Patiala, went back to his country and trained several coaches there. Look at Korea's performance now. Why can't we do the same? We should ensure our coaches are accountable for the team's performance. Club hockey throws up talent and gives players a chance to compete against the best teams. We need to encourage this. Why not learn from cricket? After all, it's through the Karnataka Premier League that players like Mithun got a chance to showcase their talent and then got a call for the national camp. It's the system, not the individual, which should run the organisation. We should have transparency in the way associations function and that will mean the public will have confidence in those who manage the organisations.








Amongst the barrage of macabre, depressing, vapid information that generally stares back at me at the start of a day, a very interesting piece of news caught my eye: "Rabbit milk to help treat heart patients". With a title like that, it was hard not to read on. The report went on to explain that scientists have concluded that rabbit milk possesses immense medicinal value that would aid heart patients in combating their cardiovascular woes. Consequently, an exponential rise in the number of rabbit farms was also predicted. The implications of this piece of information boggled my mind.

Imagine walking up to your nearest 'Bunny Dairy' or 'Mother Bunny' and buying packets of hare milk for daily consumption. Cafes would start asking customers, "Would you prefer ordinary milk or bunny milk with your coffee?" And if there's milk, can ice-cream be far behind? Rabbit milk ice-creams. Imagine that. If you thought it was difficult picking an ice-cream flavour now, wait till you have to pick the milk as well before you even get to the flavour. The obvious marketing strategy would be to promote the rabbit milk ice-cream as 'heart-friendly ice-cream'.

It is also interesting to wonder what the cows of the world think about this scenario. It's true they never considered goats, buffaloes or other animals to be any serious competition. In the back of their bovine minds, cows know that humans will fiddle around with other milk just to get a change of taste or bring in a little variety but at the end of the day cow milk would reign supreme. However, considering man's obsession with a healthy heart, rabbit milk could easily challenge cow milk. On the other hand, maybe cows would welcome this revelation considering how exhausting they must be getting milked all the time. I bet most of them feel totally used. That's why one of the meanings of the word 'milk' is 'to exploit'. If i were a cow i would definitely object to being methodically milked by strange men without any sort of preamble.

The other question that flitted across my mind was how difficult it was going to be to milk rabbits. Now, the one advantage of cows is that they are not known to be the fastest animals around. So i would presume it's relatively easy to milk them. But milking a rabbit would be a totally different ball game. Unless there's some sort of mechanical device that would hold the rabbits in place, only Ussain Bolt and Tyson Gay would be able to successfully collect their milk.

In fact, if rabbit milk turns out to be as big a deal as scientists believe, it might even be reflected in our popular culture. Elmer Fudd would no longer be chasing Bugs Bunny with a gun, but in fact with an empty milk bottle. The Duracell bunnies wouldn't last half as long. The Easter Bunny would stop leaving chocolates and eggs and instead leave packets of milk. Even Playboy, considered to be the embodiment of sexiness all across the world, would lose a bit of its oomph if its logo, the Playboy bunny, were associated with something as maternal as milk. Ironically, Playboy bunnies are known more to cause heart attacks than cure them.

Having said all that, it would be a medical breakthrough if rabbit milk delivers on all its promises. It's an oft-repeated statement that the cure to every disease is there in nature itself. Perhaps, the cure to diseases like cancer, AIDS and diabetes is around us. Nature is so abundant that thousands of scientists would have to work hundreds of years before they can figure out the benefits of things around us. So next time you visit the zoo, don't forget to take your milking gloves and an empty bottle.








Age has not diminished nor custom staled his infinite variety to put his foot in his mouth, to mangle Shakespeare's Cleopatra. Yes, we are talking of Prince Philip whose ability to say it like it is comes as a breath of fresh air in these ennui-inducing politically correct days. The latest? When a sea cadet said that she worked as a barmaid in a nightclub, old Phil asked her if it was a strip club. When the poor girl said it was not, he said that it was a bit too cold anyway.


Unlike the other boring royals, his eldest son, the not too Bonnie Prince Charlie being one, Prince Philip does not shy away from racial, ethnic or even personal slurs. From asking Australian aborigines whether they were still throwing spears, to telling a little boy that his dream of flying in a spacecraft would not take off since he was too fat, the Prince has clearly missed his calling as the royal Art Buchwald of our times. When he called the Chinese slitty-eyed, we were amused. But when he said that a wonky fuse box must have been made by an Indian, we erupted in a pillar of flame. Did the royal think that we were still under the yoke of the British, we thundered.


But let's face it, while Diana brought a welcome glamour to the dowdy House of Windsor, the Prince has provided the entertainment quotient. If the British taxpayers are shelling out so many shekels for the royals, they are entitled a few laughs at the all too common failings of the Queen's bunch. This penchant to speak his mind must be due to years of having to say all the right things six steps behind his stately spouse. While we may be rolling in the aisles at the Prince saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, many who have put royalty on a pedestal may express the sentiment God save the Queen.








The owners of the eight Indian Premier League (IPL) teams are on to a paying proposition as the third season of Indian cricket's glitziest extravaganza gets underway. This is through the simple expedient of asking the Sony-World Sports Group combine to fork out more for telecast rights. The Rs 720 crore a year the Board of Control for Cricket in India renegotiated with the television network last year should see the teams home. Over and above this, aggressive expansion of revenue streams from the internet, in-stadium advertising, foreign television networks, team sponsorships and merchandising has managed to double the enterprise valuation of every team.


This is clever management and is sure to boost the prospects of the sport as this version of the game takes root. This is quite a turn up for the books after the first two years when things looked a little wobbly. Now flush with funds, the IPL is scoring more than its share of boundaries. Critically, Sony, in turn, is making money from the IPL this season. Last year its prospects were clouded by an economic downturn that had frozen advertising budgets across India, notwithstanding the extra airtime inventory created around matches. Sony has the biggest chips riding on the IPL. It is committed to feeding Rs 7,500 crore into the kitty over 10 years, which will be shared by the cricket board and the teams, frontloaded in favour of the franchisees. The teams, however, cannot hope to survive if the broadcaster keeps bleeding. This is tele-cricket, as the face-off with the government over security brought out in stark detail. The tournament can be played without a single spectator in the stands only because it is reaching 70 million Indian satellite television households. None of the franchisees can expect to do well if the broadcaster is not in robust health.


The evolving template of IPL fund-raising becomes more viable when the matches are played on home grounds. An advertisement-driven show can create a larger buzz, for instance by moving the entire caboodle to South Africa overnight, but it cannot come close to generating the hysteria on display in the home stadiums of local teams. This format of cricket needs both. In its third iteration, IPL seems firmly set on the path carved out by global brands like the English football Premier League in terms of the business model adopted by the teams and the broadcaster. It is difficult to lose money if you tap into national hysteria. One just has to see the hyper buzz on the stands to understand the value addition of this sentiment. The IPL certainly reinforces this view.








There is no denying the fact that Mamata Banerjee, founder leader of the Trinamool Congress, and the Congress under Sonia Gandhi, no longer make the happy family that they seemingly did during the Lok Sabha polls last year. Her party's two members in the Rajya Sabha stayed away from the House when it voted in favour of the Women's Reservation Bill. Earlier she had been cheerily supporting it but blew her top as she saw the CPI(M) supporting it too. After joining the UPA government last year, she has been moodily cross with the UPA for virtually every policy initiative of the government that either did not carry her hallmark or had no device specially made to put the CPI(M) through a wringer. It ranged from finding a way to weed out the Maoists, having a nuclear power plant in West Bengal, and the fuel price rise, to making the Railway Budget bristle with popular sops.


There is not much point in criticising Mamata's tunnel vision — that of seeing nothing except the CPI(M) in West Bengal in her crosshairs — because that alone (not to speak of the CPI(M)'s abominable governance record) has made her party, with 19 Lok Sabha members, the largest ally of the Congress in the UPA-ll. Her views are undoubtedly shaped by her electorate in West Bengal, most of whom put the task of sweeping the CPI(M) out of power in the state's 2011 election above anything else — be it empowering the disempowered, or the issues of national security. Nor can the CPI(M) be credited with taking a panoramic view of events. It is doubtful if the CPI(M)'s Brinda Karat would have hugged BJP's Sushma Swaraj after the passage of the Bill if it hadn't thrown up the alluring prospect of driving a wedge between Mamata and the Congress. The CPI(M) and Mamata may be sworn enemies but they share the same majoritarian view of democracy, which is exclusive, competitive and adversarial.


The present trouble with Mamata is in a way an offshoot of the problem of transition of the two major parties, the Congress and the BJP, from the old-fashioned majoritarianism that restricts the ruling party's allegiance to the 'majority,' to the more enlightened consensus democracy, which extends its reach to 'as many people as possible'. The Congress and BJP came close to it in 2008 during the voting on the India-US civil nuclear agreement as there was hardly any honest disagreement between them, but BJP missed the opportunity as it succumbed to the contrary pull of majoritarians in its ranks. This time around, responding to a law that promises momentous changes in the way the business of politics is conducted, the two parties have shown admirable courage in working out a consensus in the superior traditions of democracy now evolving in many countries of the West — through multi-party decisions, proportional representation, occasional judicial review of Constitution (as opposed to hiding behind its 'basic structure'), etc. The CPI(M) stood on the winning side as a stratagem perhaps as it knew its enemy would doggedly refuse to share a platform with it.


It is arguably easier for the Congress and BJP to move gradually towards consensus democracy as it is quite some time now that the two have been bagging just about 60 per cent of the Lower House seats. Being caught in a multi-party situation, it was a foregone conclusion that they'd show bilateral flexibility at some stage. But the CPI(M) has been drunk so long on the 'vodka of vote' — there are huge stretches in West Bengal even today where nobody would dare put up a Trinamool poster on a tree — that it has made its rising adversary so blindly combative.


Mamata is usually not invited to state government functions. Nor do the Railways invite the CPI(M) leaders to its functions if it can be helped. The respective secretaries of Mamata and Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee plan out their bosses' movements in advance to avoid their meeting. If they still cross each other, they do not exchange even glances, not to speak of smiles. And now picket fences are drawn between CPI(M) and Trinamool supporters in every sphere, with the latter gathering strength by the day. In offices, courts and college unions, this exodus has been cryptically named 'transformation' — parivartan.


But, however edgy Mamata may be as a coalition partner, it will be wrong for the Congress to even weigh the possibility of dumping her and embracing the Left Front with its 24 MPs, for neither is the CPI(M), the core of the Front, less mulish in its actions, its intransigence on the nuclear deal issue being a recent example, nor, if one is looking for a pragmatic argument, has the Left Front got a slim chance of its eighth consecutive victory in West Bengal in 2011. Its party is over, literally. Besides, much of Mamata's public actions are histrionics aimed at the state election, with little long-term repercussions. What indeed makes sense is to somehow advance the election and thus shorten the present government's discomfiture. If she wins, she'll surely buy a one-way Rajdhani Express ticket. If she loses, a possibility the odds don't seem to favour, she'll still travel to Bengal one way as the loser hasn't much future after the no-holds-barred contest.


Sumit Mitra is a Kolkata-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.








As the implications of the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha become clearer, anxiety appears to be replacing the initial confusion among MPs. Most are worried whether they will be able to return to Parliament. Many are blaming the Congress president's advisers for making the party and its government vulnerable. The issue, it is felt, could have been handled better and there should have been no express need to push matters in the midst of the Budget session.


Sonia Gandhi may have saved some of her party's prestige by ensuring that the Bill went through in the Rajya Sabha. Had she not stepped in, the half-hearted manner in which the issue was handled on Day One in the House by some of her colleagues would have led to the Congress further losing face. Her proactive stance on Tuesday when the fate of the Bill hung in a delicate balance bailed her party out of the mess created by her advisers. But her intervention also took away the focus from her aides whose arbitrary advice could have jeopardised the UPA government since the Budget hurdle is yet to be overcome.


Ms Gandhi has come to the rescue of her party many times and on this occasion she contained the initial damage to a large degree. But she must be wary of those whose counsel has led to one setback after the other following the installation of the UPA's new edition in May last year.


There are many instances but the Sharm-el-Sheikh joint statement, the Telangana blunder and now the introduction of the controversial bill in the middle of the Budget session are particular causes for worry. There are other issues too like out-of-turn statements and actions by ministers who should have been dropped for their indiscretions and the failure of her party managers to do proper political management in and outside Parliament.

In some ways, the plight of the Congress in recent months has been similar to that of our hockey team whose performance in the recent World Cup left everyone disappointed. Like the hockey team, which notched up a win against Pakistan in its opening tie but later faltered in every department, the country's Grand Old Party too is out of form. The hockey team never attempted to clear the ball in its own striking circle till a goal was scored against it. Similarly, the party advisers are creating problems and then trying to involve the Congress president in bailing them out.


It has to be understood that if the Congress is in power at the Centre or in the states, it is only due to Ms Gandhi's untiring efforts and commitment to secularism and issues of social justice. Whenever she has gone by her instinct, she has been proved right. But some of her aides have tried to complicate things on many occasions in order to emphasise their importance. Therefore, she must have a close look at those who advise her and take her decisions accordingly. There are many in her party who allege that there is a nexus between some of her aides and some Opposition leaders.


Even Ms Gandhi's adversaries will not doubt her sincerity in pursuing the issues close to her heart. But in politics, timing is very important. Many things can be achieved if executed at the right time without the need to take risks.

The bill is a landmark initiative but it may not necessarily yield political dividends immediately. Remember, Rajiv Gandhi had lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 but the Congress lost in 1989. This Bill too can have wide repercussions. But it is important for the UPA to run the government in order to see through many of its promises and not lose to communal or casteist forces by a self-goal. Between us.








A campaign has been mounted against the civil nuclear liability bill, which allows India to buy nuclear reactors from the United States, even before it is introduced in the Parliament, probably this week. Meanwhile, the umbrella agreement on civil nuclear cooperation signed with Russia during Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's visit to the capital last week has been acclaimed as a great triumph even though no one outside a small circle in the South Block has actually seen it. Taken together the two facts — the minute and hostile political scrutiny of the agreements with the US and the blind public acceptance of the Russian deals — certainly tell us something about the built-in prejudices in our foreign policy discourse.


The political bias in favour of Moscow and against Washington is a legacy from the history of India's external engagement — a relatively solid and stable one with Russia and the unending roller coaster ride with America. The way Moscow and Washington do atomic business is also a factor that defines our divergent nuclear diplomacy towards these two great powers. In Russia, the executive is supreme and our potential nuclear suppliers are all state-owned firms. In the US, the executive's freedom of foreign action is severely constrained by a powerful legislature, which is a co-equal branch of the government of the US. Unlike in Russia, nuclear commerce of the US is over-regulated by the Congress. On top of this, the nuclear vendors from the US are all private commercial firms.


That these structural differences make it easier to negotiate nuclear agreements with Moscow than Washington

is not in doubt. Equally uncontestable, however, is the fact that India needs both Washington and Moscow to advance its strategic interests. The US holds the key to sustaining a supportive international legal environment for India's pursuit of high technology programmes. And Russia has always led the curve on the sophistication of the strategic transfers to India. What India needs, then, is a bit of a corrective in its nuclear engagement with both Moscow and Washington. India could do with more transparency in the agreements signed with Russia. If the terms of nuclear cooperation being offered by Moscow are better than those from Washington, as is widely and probably correctly assumed, why is Delhi not releasing the Russian agreements for public perusal? With the US, we need a little less political suspicion and a few more lawyers who can better cope with and extract the best from the archaic legalisms of American nuclear policy.








Since 1992, as many as four elections have been held for more than an estimated two million seats in more than 220,000 local government bodies; and one-third of those have been in seats reserved for women. There's now a rich body of data for those who want to figure out the pitfalls and promise of a post-Women's Reservation Bill world.


As an inquiry in The Sunday Express detailed, much of the direct empowerment in specific cases can depend on the nature of the relationship between the woman elected to office and her husband. (In some areas, "sarpanchpati" has become a pseudo-official post.) But empowerment can come in many ways. It is now well-established, for example, that a panchayat with a female head will invest in different public goods — water supply rather than informal education. That may be because women, who value such public goods more highly, are more likely to participate in the decision-making process if it's presided over by another woman. Other work has shown, startlingly, that a sarpanch from a political family is actually less likely in reserved panchayats, contradicting the easy assumption that most such women sarpanches are biwi-betis. And here is ground for concern: several studies have shown that panchayats reserved for women do worse in targeting subsidies at those below the poverty line, or towards scheduled castes and tribes, with greater leakage in such schemes.


But most important, in survey after survey, election after election, study after study, one stark fact: men don't trust women leaders to start off with, viewing them as ineffective. But that negative bias weakens when they see them govern. And that means women become electable even if the constituency is de-reserved. In municipal elections in Bengal, only 30 per cent of women from a reserved ward didn't contest once the ward was de-reserved. And in Mumbai, a woman is five times more likely to win a "general" ward if it had been previously reserved. So the one-third should not, as some fear, be seen as a ceiling on representation — but as a floor.







US Vice President Joe Biden's trip was meant to firmly reiterate the Unites States' unwillingness to miss another opportunity to get the Middle East peace process restarted. Almost 16 years of direct talks having led nowhere, with talks suspended since Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip, these indirect "proximity talks" are now necessary. Biden's visit had followed the script till Wednesday, when he gave vent to the Obama administration's anger at Israel's decision to sanction 1600 Jewish homes in East Jerusalem. In the history of ill-timed, undiplomatic announcements, this could have a chapter to itself.


Also part of Biden's agenda was a reaffirmation of US support for Israel. That came immediately. However, that relations between Israel and its most powerful, and "only" ally have hit a bump was laid bare when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and used uncharacteristically harsh language to express Obama's displeasure. Netanyahu may claim that he was "blindsided", since the interior ministry, which made the announcement, is run by his rightwing, religious coalition partner, Shas. However, the Americans are buying neither that argument nor the one about bureaucratic mis-timing.


The settlements, which Netanyahu had frozen under US pressure — but not in East Jerusalem, and then again with the "natural growth" qualifier — aggravate Palestinian cynicism about Israel's desire to ever withdraw from the West Bank. Historically, Palestinians have never "missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity". Israeli intransigence may have caught up. Yet, there never was a better moment for peace: Mahmoud Abbas still leads the Palestinians, Hamas is not firing rockets from Gaza, the Palestinian economy is recovering, Israel and the Arab world are converging in their concerns about a potentially nuclear Iran. There's still hope that the indirect talks will not collapse. Unfortunately, except the US, nobody seems ready to seize the day.








There is a constitutional revolution underway. It has long been in the making. But its full logic is unfolding now. This new type of regime it will beget defies classification. It cannot be captured by the categories bequeathed by those who understood different regime types: Plato or Polybius, Aristotle or Kautilya, Montesquieu or Madison. This new regime is not a monarchy, aristocracy, republic or a democracy. It has its distinct identity, values and institutional frame. Behold all, the rise of Quotocracy! Experience the bliss that is this new dawn.


The principles behind quotocracy need to be carefully understood. It arises out of a democracy and often gets confused with it. But make no mistake. Quotocracy is distinct. A democracy values choice. Voters are free to elect whoever they wish. In a quotocracy, voters by turn are obliged to vote for someone with particular ascriptive characteristics. In a democracy, a general will is possible. In principle people can reason in terms that take all relevant reasons into consideration and are good for all. In a quotocracy, by definition there are only particular reasons and interests: men for men, women for women, caste for caste. A general will is a conceptual impossibility.


Montesquieu said each regime has a principle that sustains its best form. In despotism it is fear, in aristocracy it is honour, in republics it is virtue. Quotocracy has its own principle: victimhood. No quotocracy can be sustained without it. The currency of new claims is the narrative of hurt. The axis of competition is also victimhood: those who do not get that status are left most aggrieved. The identification of each new victim group escalates the race for identifying the next.


Democracies occasionally make exceptions to redress gross injustice. In a quotocracy, the exception is the norm. OBCs want quotas for themselves, but not for women. Women want for themselves, but not for OBCs. And no one wants for Muslims. Some say, "Why do women need quotas? Why don't parties give tickets?" But in a quotocracy this question is not legitimate. However, those who deny the legitimacy of this question use this same argument when the demand for sub-quotas is made. "Why not give OBC women tickets under the quota?" But don't confuse this with hypocrisy. Hypocrisy can exist only in a democracy, when ideals do not match reality. In a quotocracy, exception is the norm.


Democracies have ideological contention: between left and right, liberty and equality, secular and religious. Quotocracy has consensus: all divisions between left, right and centre are dissolved by quota. And those who oppose quotas are accused of treason. In a way there is justice to this charge. After all, in quotocracy, opposing quota is like subverting a regime. Quotocracy creates a new distinction between public and private. Privately you may oppose quota, but you politically act on that belief at your own peril.


Quotocracy has its own conception of justice. It is not equality, or capability or fitness or fairness. It is simple arithmetic: 33 here, 22 there, 50 for the rest. And since arithmetic can be complicated there is no point doing fractions and subdivisions. Simple quota is just what justice is. In a democracy, where you came from should matter less than where you are going. It seeks to make de jure rights and privileges we have less and less dependent upon our identity. A quotocracy is the reverse. It makes de jure rights dependent upon identity. A democracy prizes individuality (not to be confused with its bad cousin, individualism). Quotocracy prizes group think. You are your group. Democracy values self-identification. You should be whatever you wish to or choose to be or name yourself. Quotocracy is premised upon ascription. You are what the state certificate says you are: SC/ ST or OBC. You can be this and no other. Democracy is suspicious giving the state power to construct identities. Quotocracy creates new identities by using state power to create incentives.


A quotocracy has a new separation of powers. OBCs get reservation in jobs and education but don't deserve it in politics. Women can get it in Lok Sabha but not Rajya Sabha. Women get reservation in politics but don't get it in jobs. In a quotocracy, legislation and administration are also confused. Panchayats are equated with supreme law making bodies forgetting that they have different functions.


Quotocracy also has its own logic of mystification. Tocqueville said that in a democracy the myth of formal equality can disguise substantive inequality. In a quotocracy, the fact that select individuals from some communities are empowered is considered as empowering the community. And this mystification is justified as a compensation for democracy's mystification. Since in a democracy there is a gap between formal and substantive equality, in a quotocracy we can empower elites within communities with impunity and call it empowerment for all.


Democracy strives for deliberation. For quotocracy getting numbers right is paramount. Democracy is bound by constitutionalism. It is hemmed in by a diversity of values. Quotocracy makes constitutionalism subordinate to itself. So what if some states exceed 50 per cent and the courts for fear are unable to pronounce a verdict. Quotocracy redefines the scale of values: excellence is a ruse for domination, self-reliance a tactic for injustice and so forth.


Democracy thrives on historical traditions associated with its founding. A quotocracy thrives on historical amnesia. The British used two tactics: divide and rule. And they said that we were infants because we could not think outside of caste and community. We were incapable of self-government. Quotocracy likes divide and rule. And it also thinks we are incapable of self-government. Our identities need to be boxed. Our founders worked hard to combat ascriptive identities. They rejected two-nation theories, separate electorates, narcissism of partial groups, communal representation, caste censuses. The logic of quotocracy is to bring them back. Democracy seeks to unite despite differences. Quotocracy seeks to divide despite commonalities.


But democracy and quotocracy have this in common: they are never complete. They are always a work in progress. Democracy has to continually dissolve hierarchy. Quotocracy has to continually create new quotas. In a democracy, all animals are equal but some more equal than others. In a quotocracy, some deprived groups will get their deprivations recognised more than others.


Quotocracy is truly revolutionary. Make no mistake about it. It is deeper than most revolutions because it needs a new moral vocabulary. And it needs a new political science to understand it. Prepare for the Age of Quotocracy.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi








The Women's Reservation Bill, passed by the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, will next have to be passed by the Lok Sabha and then obtain the assent of the president. Eventually it will achieve the status of an act of Parliament. However, the new act will come into force only when the Central government announces such a date in the official gazettes. But it is far from certain when (and even whether) this will happen. Many acts that were passed by Parliament have not, indeed, been implemented.


For example, the Delhi Rent Act, which was passed in 1995. An important piece of legislation, it would have led to a substantial shift in power away from tenants towards landlords in the capital. Many tenants, who had for years enjoyed the benefits of rent control, would have had to pay much higher rents. But even 15 years on, the government has still not issued a crucial notification in the official gazette which would have brought it into effect. Think about this: under the Constitution, Parliament has the sole power to enact laws; Parliament has expressed its will that such a law should prevail in Delhi. But that will has become little more than words on paper.


There are other examples: the National Environment Tribunal Act, for one, passed in the same year as the Delhi Rent Act, to set up a dedicated environmental tribunal in the country and impose tighter standards on polluters. Status? No notification yet. The offshore areas Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act passed in 2002 to regulate mining off India's coastline. Status? No notification issued even after seven-and-a-half years.


The issue here is an important, but often overlooked, clause tucked away in many acts. Through this clause, Parliament essentially "delegates" the power to bring an act into force to the government. This is often a practical necessity. Parliament may pass a law but a number of other steps need to be taken before that law can be implemented effectively. For instance, an act may require the setting up of a tribunal; for which office space needs to be discovered, and judges have to be found to staff, along with their support staff. All this takes time, and that is what the clause is intended to do — give the government time to sort out the practical problems involved in implementing a law effectively, and then, when it is ready, to issue the notification. It was never intended to be used to delay the implementation of a law, and in some cases (like the Delhi Rent Act) to effectively thwart Parliament's will.


Yet in a number of cases this is what has happened. In a study of over 190 acts passed between 1995 and 2008, we found that around 10 had not been brought into force at all as of mid-2009. Seventeen other acts had been only partially brought into force — only parts have been notified.


In some cases there were good reasons for the delay. For instance, parts of the Competition Act, passed in 2002, were subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court, and had to be amended by the government (in 2007). Because of this, large parts of the act were not notified for a long time. In other cases, though, reasons for delay are less clear-cut. The Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board Act was passed in 2006 to regulate the distribution of oil and gas. All parts of that act have been notified, except Section 16. On the floor of Parliament, the petroleum minister said that the delay was because the "existing text of the same does not reflect the intent of the statute."


Surely, it should not be the decision of the government to decide whether the text of a new law


reflects the intent of the statute. If the executive has a problem with the law as it exists, it can propose an amendment in Parliament. But it hardly has the right to decide that existing laws need not be notified because the text "does not reflect the intent of the statute." Parliament has the prerogative of amending laws, and the higher judiciary.


What is the role of the judiciary in all this? In a major judgment in 1981, (A.K. Roy vs Union of India), a five judge bench of the Supreme Court expressed its unhappiness with the practice of delaying notifications, but stopped short of ordering the government to issue the notification. It said that since Parliament had delegated this power to the executive, it was up to Parliament to exercise its oversight, and hold the executive to task. That judgment was upheld in subsequent cases, including one brought against the government on the Delhi Rent Act.


In short, then, Parliament's job does not end when it passes legislation. It must continue to exercise its powers to ensure that the laws it passes don't fall down at the very first hurdle.


The writer is with PRS Legislative Research








Even before the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill was introduced in Parliament, it had become a subject of intense debate in the media and the analyst circle, much of it hostile to the bill. The hostility against the bill was on two counts. One, political — primarily on the ground that it was formulated and is being enacted on the wishes/dictates of the US government/business and two, economic — that it was working against market forces by generously subsidising the nuclear operators and their suppliers. This article will deal with the former aspect of the criticism.


There are currently 30 countries that operate civil nuclear power, with 436 nuclear power plants (NPP). Of these 30 countries, 28 countries covering the operation of 416 NPPs, have some sort of nuclear liability act in force in their territory either as a result of adherence to some international liability regime (either the IAEA's Vienna Convention for Nuclear Damage of 1963 or the OECD's Paris Convention on Third Party Nuclear Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy, 1960), or through enacting a national liability law. Twenty two of the 28 countries are party to one of the two international conventions. The others, including Canada, China, Japan, Republic of Korea and South Africa have national laws on nuclear liability.


Only two countries operating 20 NPPS between them — India (18) and Pakistan (two) — are neither members of any international convention nor have any national legislation. Of these two, it is only India has the plans and opportunity to substantially increase the share of nuclear power in their domestic energy scenario. There is no provision in the Indian Atomic Energy Act, 1962 about either nuclear liability or compensation for nuclear damage due to nuclear accident or incident. Nor are there any other laws that deal with nuclear liability.


It was in this context that the new law has been proposed and also on the necessity of joining an appropriate international liability regime. What the Indian government has proposed in this bill is in line with the best current international practice for a country protecting its nationals against nuclear damage as a result of nuclear accident or incident. It has nothing to do with any US pressure on India to enact such a bill, although it is fact that the US, along with other Western nuclear suppliers, including France, have been urging India to enact such a legislation in line with the international practice followed by the other 28 countries.


Having established that the Indian bill is not out of context in the international environment, let us examine the charge that it favours the US by attempting to protect US reactor suppliers from claims of liability and compensation. First of all, the bill has no specific reference to any particular country supplier. Its provisions are applicable to suppliers from all countries. The question to be addressed is: is the Indian act any different from either the international conventions or any of the national laws of the six countries that do not subscribe to any international conventions?


The two international conventions have the following characteristics:


1) They channel the liability exclusively to the operators of the nuclear facilities;


2) The liability of the operator is strict and absolute. The operator is held responsible irrespective of fault except for few reasons such as "acts of war, insurrection" etc.


3) Liability of the operator may be limited or unlimited depending on the convention followed or national legislation.


As for countries that follow only national laws, they too follow the international conventions by following the above three requirements.


In Canada, the licensees have absolute and exclusive responsibility and suppliers of goods and services are given absolute discharge of liability (Articles 10 and 11 of the Canadian act). China's nuclear liability regime was issued in 1986 as an "interim" measure in connection with the French-designed Daya Bay nuclear power plant. It contains most of the elements of the international nuclear liability conventions (e.g. channeling of absolute nuclear liability to the plant operator and exclusive court jurisdiction). Japan too follows a similar practice (Art. 3(1) and 4(1) of the Japanese "Act of Compensation for Nuclear Damage, 1961") Republic of Korea too follows the same convention (Art. 3(1), 3(3) and 3(5) of the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage). Republic of South Africa has a similar legislation challenging absolute liability on the operator (Art. 30(1) of the National Nuclear Regulator Act, 1999.)


The Price-Anderson Act of US is slightly different. While it imposes economic channeling of liability to the nuclear facility operator, suppliers to nuclear facilities subject to the act can be legally liable for damages. But even that liability is "channeled" to the facility operator and to the financial protection and/or government indemnity that the operator maintains. Hence in US, the supplier is insured under the nuclear liability facility form policy written by the American Nuclear Insurers and purchased by the facility operator. Thus although the supplier is legally liable, he is not required in any manner to compensate the operator.


Both the international conventions and the various national laws give the operator a right of recourse where such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing. This could be an avenue for an operator to recover his/her liability under certain circumstances. The Indian bill, too, provides for such recourse.


Hence the Indian bill is no way more lenient towards either the operator or the supplier than any of the conventions or national laws, except in respect of the operators' liability which varies across different countries — in some countries it is more than what is envisaged in the Indian bill, in others it is less.


Thus the proposed Indian bill on nuclear liability is (1) in no way more lenient than the practice followed in any of the other 28 countries that operate NPPS and have nuclear liability laws (except Pakistan); (2) is no more lenient towards suppliers, including US suppliers, than any of the other 28 countries.


Therefore, opposition to the bill on the grounds that it favours the US is absolutely without foundation.


The writer is visiting fellow at IDSA and National Maritime Foundation







I am a big Joe Biden fan. The vice president is an indefatigable defender of US interests abroad. So it pains me to say that on his recent trip to Israel, when Bibi Netanyahu's government rubbed his nose in some new housing plans for contested East Jerusalem, the vice president missed a chance to send a powerful public signal. He should have gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left the following scribbled note behind: "Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don't let friends drive drunk. And right now, you're driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality. Call us when you're serious. We need to focus on building our country."


I think that would have sent a very useful message. First, what the Israelis did played right into a question a lot of people are asking about the Obama team: how tough are these guys? The last thing the president needs is to look like America's most dependent ally can push him around.


And second, Israel needs a wake-up call. Continuing to build settlements in the West Bank, and even housing in disputed East Jerusalem, is sheer madness. Yasir Arafat accepted that Jewish suburbs there would be under Israeli sovereignty in any peace deal that would also make Arab parts of East Jerusalem the Palestinian capital. Israel's planned housing expansion now raises questions about whether Israel will ever be willing to concede a Palestinian capital in Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem.


Israel has already bitten off plenty of the West Bank. If it wants to remain a Jewish democracy, its only priority now should be striking a deal with the Palestinians that would allow it to swap those settlement blocs in the West Bank occupied by Jews for an equal amount of land from Israel for the Palestinians and then reap the benefits — economic and security — of ending the conflict.


Unfortunately, that is not what happened last week. For nine months now, America's Middle East special envoy, George Mitchell, has been trying to find a way to get any kind of peace talks going between Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians don't trust Netanyahu, and Netanyahu has serious doubts as to whether the divided Palestinian leadership can deliver.


Nevertheless, Mitchell was eventually able to persuade the two sides to agree on "proximity talks" — the Palestinians would sit in Ramallah and the Israelis in Jerusalem and Mitchell would shuttle between them. After a decade of direct talks, this is how far things have fallen. Mitchell's and Netanyahu's aides struck an informal deal: if America got talks going, there would be no announcements of buildings in East Jerusalem, nothing to embarrass the Palestinians and force them to walk. Netanyahu agreed, US officials say, but made clear he couldn't commit to anything publicly. So what happened? Biden arrived the day after the proximity talks started and out came an announcement from Israel's Interior Ministry that Israel had just approved plans for 1,600 new housing units in Arab East Jerusalem.


Netanyahu said he was blindsided. It's probably true in the narrow sense. The move seems to have been part of a competition between two of Netanyahu's right-wing Sephardi ministers from the religious Shas Party over who can be the greater champion of building homes for Sephardi orthodox Jews in East Jerusalem. It is a measure of how much Israel takes our support for granted and how out of touch the Israeli religious right is with America's strategic needs.


Biden was quoted as telling his Israeli interlocutors: "What you are doing here undermines the security of our

troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and endangers regional peace."


This whole fracas also distracts us from the potential of this moment: only a right-wing prime minister, like Netanyahu, can make a deal over the West Bank; Netanyahu's actual policies on the ground there have helped Palestinians grow their economy and put in place their own rebuilt security force, which is working with the Israeli Army to prevent terrorism; Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are as genuine and serious about working toward a solution as any Israel can hope to find; Hamas has halted its attacks on Israel from Gaza; with the Sunni Arabs obsessed over the Iran threat, their willingness to work with Israel has never been higher, and the best way to isolate Iran is to take the Palestinian conflict card out of Tehran's hand.


In sum, there may be a real opportunity here — if Netanyahu chooses to seize it. The Israeli leader needs to make up his mind whether he wants to make history or once again be a footnote to it.









At the party following the Laureus awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi last week, I popped a quick question at Edwin Moses, chairman of the academy and unarguably the greatest 400m hurdler in the history of track and field: what makes for a champion nation?


Moses was as succinct with his words as he used to be precise in the measure of his strides as record-breaking hurdler. "A good ecosystem," he said.


The jargon might seem akin to say, what is being used in the current tug-of-war between Jairam Ramesh and Sharad Pawar over BT brinjal, but what Moses was emphasising was a viable and beneficial system which consistently produces champions in sports: even if by implication, he was saying that India lacks such a thing.


If I have to attempt a brief definition, a healthy ecosystem is one in which its several constituents live either in symbiosis or in competition, but always in such balance that the entire model is self-sustaining, the fittest survive and there is widespread excellence. If one or more of the constituents are absent, become rogue or dysfunctional, the ecosystem is imperilled. Moreover, how the constituents sit with each other is the key, much like a jigsaw puzzle where the right fit is as important as having all the pieces.


Let us consider hockey, once India's pride, now the country's eternal lament. Why should a sport with such a strong legacy, which has reasonable support from the government, is fairly high profile in everyday life and has a substantial base of players across the country, languish as it does? Sponsors and broadcasters are shy of supporting the game today because the national team has had limited success at the international level. Which brings us back to the crux of the matter: why is the team not doing well?


Even cursory scrutiny throws up the lacunae in the system. From infrastructure to coaching methods to transparency in selection to general welfare, there are such serious shortcomings that it is a surprise that hockey in India is still alive. But in its present condition it is no better than a drunken man lurching along; someone who has seen glorious days but does not quite know what to do to make the present worthwhile.


The need for astroturfs cannot be overstated; India has fewer than small countries like Holland and Germany. If you live with obsolete infrastructure, you produce outdated hockey. Modern coaching methods, in sync with advanced sports medicine, diet management, psychologists, proper equipment and a less intrusive administration become essentials. Nurturing young talent and creating a well-lubricated feeder pipeline of players to the national level are crucial too. Marketing the sport creatively, generating revenues that can be ploughed back into making the sport attractive and lucrative then become critical.


But perhaps nothing is more important than establishing a culture which bolsters the self-respect of players. It is shameful that till two months ago, players had to beg for rewards for tournaments won two or more years ago! I would hasten to add here that India did quite well in the recently concluded World Cup in finishing eighth when they didn't really belong in this elite league. But that was despite the establishment, not because of it — raising the hypothesis of what might be if everything was right.


In many ways, hockey is symptomatic of sports in India, cricket being a glorious exception. The comparison with hockey became stark because the IPL almost overlapped with World Cup hockey. There are many issues on which the IPL can be faulted, but to give the devil its due, it is a robust enterprise: gripping for spectators, hugely rewarding for players and profit-making almost from its inception. Almost everything in the IPL's universe seems to be in place — including its fair share of controversies! In a different format and ethos, the Ashes contest has a wonderful ecosystem in place, of which both Australia and England feed profitably without compromising cricket's rich tradition.


There are several matters in which the Indian cricket administration has been blinkered or drunk with its own power, but overall, a sound system has been put in place in the past decade or so, and the benefits of that have been manifest over the past few years. The Test team is now ranked number one in the world, the ODI ranking is one notch lower, the BCCI is the richest and the most powerful, and there is a base of high quality players emerging from all over the country.


This has not happened overnight. Investment has been made in infrastructure, academies, talent scouting, modern coaching, etc. There is a momentum and an ambition to the whole process that aims to deliver good results, if not excellence, consistently. True, there are internecine and external pressures on the system; so much of Indian politics is played out within the BCCI, but the sport thrives, as do the players and the paraphernalia which make up the industry.


The absence of government control seems to be a strong reason why cricket succeeds where so many other sports in India struggle. In the US, for instance, there is no sports ministry, only the President's Council for Health and Fitness which looks at promoting sports, but almost entirely through private enterprise. But Chinese sport, by contrast, is entirely government driven. Almost $45 billion were spent on the 2008 Olympics from government coffers, but China also bagged an unprecedented heap of medals.


So which direction should India swing? I believe that public-private partnership, rather than either of the extremes is the answer for the present. Government control over sport needs to be loosened substantially to give momentum and thrust. Federations and associations need to work at self-sustenance and delivering excellence by inviting private participation, especially in creating infrastructure. The government should facilitate this while keeping a vigil to thwart private greed or any other nefarious activities.


Given the rate of our economic growth and the huge percentage of young people, India is on the cusp of a sports revolution. But for that, a sports culture needs to emerge. This won't happen unless a vibrant eco-system is in place.


The writer is a senior sports journalist.







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, 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 maximised 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," brimming with enterprising workers.


The Empire State Building was constructed at a breakneck pace — 410 days — in order to beat the Chrysler Building for the title of tallest building in the world. When it 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; 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.


Because the Burj Khalifa has arrived as the global economy lies smouldering 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 worshipped 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.








If recent signals from the finance ministry are an indicator, then a future Financial Stability and Development Council (FSDC), will likely be a non-statutory body, not constructed under an Act of Parliament. Such an outcome has its pros and cons. If indeed the FSDC is to be headed by the finance minister (and effectively run by finance ministry bureaucrats), then it is perhaps best that the council does not turn into a super-regulator. The most fundamental principle of sound regulation remains independence from political interference. And most of our regulators, across different sectors, have done well courtesy that independence. Of course, there remains the concern about an important issue or two falling in between regulatory silos, so some coordination is necessary. A non-statutory FSDC headed by the finance minister can play this role and help sort out turf battles between different regulators. But it won't have the power to override the independent decisions of sectoral regulators. Critics will argue that this is simply a new version of the already existing High Level Coordination Committee on Capital and Financial Markets (HLCC), which hasn't really been able to live up to its billing. The reason for that is simple enough—it is headed by RBI, which is also a sectoral regulator (of banks) and therefore incapable of being a neutral arbiter of inter-regulatory disputes. Putting the FM at the head of a new coordination body will overcome this problem.


But all of that will stop short of creating a powerful 'super regulator' with statutory powers. There have been suggestions that RBI should be assigned this role, as that would wave away the problem of political interference in regulation. But that is a bad idea as long as RBI continues to remain a sectoral regulator. It might, however, be a very good idea if RBI were to be persuaded to give up its banking regulatory role—as we have argued on a number of occasions in these columns this role poses a direct conflict of interest with RBI's other roles as the monetary policy setting authority and manager of government debt. Ideally, RBI should give up both its regulatory role and its debt management roles. That would place it in a perfect situation to take on the role of a statutory super regulator, just like in the UK. Recent evidence though suggests that RBI may be unwilling to trim down its many functions. In which case a non-statutory FSDC headed by the FM may be the best mechanism to coordinate without actually having to be super-regulator.







Much of the excitement about Forbes' annual list of the world's richest billionaires centers on those who occupy ranks in the top ten. Unsurprisingly, the buzz this year has been around Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim who edged Bill Gates out of the number one slot. Also, four of the world's top ten billionaires are nationals of emerging economies; two Indians, one Mexican and one Brazilian. A decade ago there wasn't even one national from a Bric country in the top ten. Beyond just the numbers and rankings on the list, there is therefore a larger story about the strong rise of globally competitive entrepreneurship from emerging economies. But perhaps the most telling story is told by the regional distribution of the 1,000-odd dollar billionaires in the world. Some 400 of them or 40% of the total still originate in one country—the US. Europe and Asia-Pacific run up close to each other with about 250 each. Africa and the Middle East contain only around 100, many of those oil billionaires from the Middle East.


If dollar billionaires are an indicator of successful entrepreneurship, then the US still has much to cheer about despite the financial crisis. Much credit has gone to governments for rescuing the world from a second great depression, but once governments withdraw—and they will sooner rather than later—it will once again be back to entrepreneurs to lead the process of economic growth. Which is why it is far too early to write off the US as a significant economic power, or to say that the balance of economic power has decisively shifted to India, China and other emerging economies. But what the statistics do reveal is that Asia has caught up with Europe, at least on entrepreneurship. This has as much to do with Europe's decline as with Asia's rise. Europe's economic system, at least in its richest member countries, hasn't always been encouraging of entrepreneurship—Europe (except the UK) is still an over-regulated, government-dominated (in terms of spending) economic system. And signs of its fragility have been well exposed in Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain, all of which are reeling under high government debt and not enough productive free market enterprise. Politics in most European countries, including France and Germany, has been reluctant to embrace freer markets and entrepreneurship. This gives emerging economies an incredible opportunity to leapfrog at least one part of the developed world. But India and China still need to do a lot more to get the state out of the business of business and let entrepreneurship flourish to full potential.








One of the longer run consequences of the financial crisis has been the reversal of roles between the North and the South. Time was when the North lectured the South about fiscal profligacy and IMF would be at the door imposing dire conditionalities. Now we have the spectre of the IMF coming to the rescue of members of the European Union. Hungary has been given aid and Estonia was in trouble. Iceland's economy is technically bankrupt because some private banks did business in the UK and the Netherlands which collapsed and their liabilities have to be met out of Iceland's paltry reserves. Iceland's citizens refuse to bear the costs. Now some modality will have to be worked out by which the creditor countries give it some leeway to pay and no doubt the IMF will help out.


These troubles due to banks which escaped regulatory supervision in either the host country or the home country. Hungary and Iceland were potential members of the Euro so foreign capital flooded in on the promise of a sound currency. The European Union is both the problem and the solution. When the Maastricht Treaty was signed EU committed itself to a tough monetary regime. The Euro was established in 1999 and many countries joined it. The entry conditions were strict in terms of debt-GDP ratio and each country had to sign the Stability and Growth Pact which limited the budget deficit to under 3 %.


This was done to make sure that Germany which had the soundest and strongest currency, the Deutschemark, would agree to be part of the system. What went wrong was that in their enthusiasm to get many members, the stringent entry conditions were not enforced rigorously. Italy was a dubious qualifier since its debts were out of control. Somehow it managed to window dress its accounts. But many others, Greece especially, had even less reason to be accepted.


Things were fine, since in its first eight years the Eurozone did quite well. There was growth and fiscal stability. Then the recession hit and it was clear that the strict deficit limits had to be relaxed. The ECB agreed to run a mild monetary policy and even help out by buying in the debt of the member governments. But it became clear that there were weaker countries—Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain (PIGS)—which were all in a fragile state. The Eurozone required that they maintain the quality of their public debt at a high standard. But the PIGS were not trusted by the market to be able to service their debt. The rate of interest they had to pay was above the rate at which Germany could borrow.


The 'spread' was highest in the case of Greece. When the election brought in a new Socialist government , the dam burst. It became obvious that Greece had understated its debt position at the time of entering the Euro and ever since. Goldman Sachs seems to have helped the Greek government make its numbers look better by offering some sophisticated swaps trading future revenue for current debt reduction. It now faces US Congressional investigation.


Greece needs some special help from its fellow Eurozone members but the Treaties—Maastricht 1992 and Lisbon 2009—make it impossible for the individual governments to do a bailout. German citizens are unwilling to foot the bill for Greek profligacy. Indeed, any such innovation which lends German resources to Greece may violate the German Constitution itself.


The Eurozone which was the proud achievement of the EU is now in trouble. It was designed with no facility for emergency situations. Yet the members are reluctant to let IMF help Greece out. They fear that once the IMG gets in, the reputation of the Euro will suffer and discipline collapse. Greece needs to cut its budget deficit drastically—by up to five percentage point immediately from a high level of 12 % plus. There are strikes and protests from the public sector workers who will be affected. Rampant tax evasion is a way of life in Greece as is corruption. The Greek government despite its best efforts is caught in a cleft stick.


The old IMF solution would have been to devalue and agree to a fiscal discipline schedule in return for an injection of aid. But the Eurozone does not allow devaluation by individual countries and does not want Greece to drop out of the Eurozone. It is an exclusive club which only the rich can join. Greece has been found to have pretended to be richer than it truly was. Like some Lucknawi Nawab fallen on hard times, it will now have to suffer penury to keep up the pretences of aristocracy. Political strife and fiscal bankruptcy are unpleasant choices.There is no clear end to the Greek tragedy.


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer








The Union Budget has given a signal that the government is not averse to having more private sector banks in the country. The reason ostensibly is to spread the reach of banking and usher in more competition. The introduction of new private banks did bring in technology and better quality of service; and the logic of competition forced public sector banks to follow suit. This has been the good part of the story.


There is also the other side to this story which needs to be kept in mind. One may recollect that of the original 7 private banks, only three have survived, which are institution-driven. Three have sold out to other banks, while one was taken over by a public sector bank. Therefore, the history of new banks doing well and surviving has been a mixed one. One is not too sure if the promoters are after valuation or out to create value for the system. Banking today could be seen as a steady business which also gives high valuation in the market. There could be an incentive to finally sell out to the highest bidder in due course. Here, RBI would need to take a commitment from the promoter that there could be no exit route under normal circumstances for a fixed period of time.


The other issue really is the physical infrastructure. RBI has been reiterating its stance on the need to obviate the creation of duplicity in infrastructure in the banking infrastructure such as ATMs. The concept of shared ATMs has gained currency in the country. The creation of new banks would necessarily have to address this issue. Similarly the question of having branches in areas which are already heavily 'banked' may not add value. If the aim is to spread to new areas, the same could be permitted for the existing ones.


The more obvious issue that has to be addressed is the one relating to promoters' background. There would be a conflict of interest in case the promoter has a business which depends on finance. Corporate houses so far have been kept out of the ambit, which is likely to change in the new scheme of things. While regulation should ensure that such conflict of interest does not arise as there could be rules on the dos and don'ts of banking, the broader issue really is of the risk in non-banking activity spilling over to the banking sector. This would need to be separated clearly, especially in the light of the recent financial crisis, where spillover of risk from one business segment to the other had hastened the process of decline. The NBFC business, which is relatively more risky would have to address this question when converting to or floating a bank.


At the ideological level the question to be raised is whether there is really need for more banks. Two issues emerge. The first is whether there is a lacuna in provision of banking facilities. The answer here is no, because the network is large and mere additions of new banks which would focus on urban centres on grounds of viability, will not address the issue for the un-banked people. Further, the reasons for a large section of people being out of the system are not the absence of adequate banks but one of access on account of their creditworthiness. Small borrowers can be addressed through micro-finance institutions and not more banks.


The other issue is whether more banks will add to competition. Banking is largely regulated by RBI with all interest rates of products being monitored. Further, when banks had freedom in pricing of services, there were instances of profit-seeking by some banks, which forced the Ombudsman to reinforce control over these rates and also usher in transparency. Often it is felt that there is not much difference between banks, as the menu of products and services are almost identical. In such a scenario, the addition of say another 2 or 3 banks is unlikely to change the canvas.


While a free society should allow more players to enter, the entry and regulatory costs are high. With restrictions on banking operations within the present circumference, getting in more players may not achieve the goal. Instead, our thoughts should get centralised on making the existing banks stronger, especially in terms of capital, which can be organic or inorganic through the M&A route. The other set of institutions such as RRBs, micro-finance institutions, cooperative banking and NBFCs should be made more vibrant, because these are the institutions that are actually operating in areas which require more banking or quasi-banking facilities.


Even if we do allow new private banks, it should be more on the principle of liberalisation, rather than the mistaken belief that they would even remotely do what the present structures are striving for.


The author is chief economist of NCDEX Ltd. These are his personal views







Fortis Healthcare's purchase of 24% stake in Singapore's hospital chain Parkway Holdings signals the confidence of India's healthcare providers as well as the sector's still to be realised promise. Fortis admitted it seeks to get access to sophisticated and highly rewarding stem cell therapy and organ transplant technologies from the deal. Sector watchers say corporate hospitals' income is increasing at 13%-20%, compared to about 15% growth seen among pharmaceutical companies. Unlike the pharma sector, there is no price control in healthcare. Partly because of the healthcare sector's potential and partly due to the need for integrating the business, many pharmaceutical companies have ventured into or have stepped up their investments in the healthcare sector.


It is interesting to note that the overseas purchase of Fortis Healthcare follows the divestment of the 34.8% stake that Malvinder and Shivinder Singh brothers had in Ranbaxy. The growth opportunity in healthcare is tremendous considering the fact that only a small fraction of the population has access to quality healthcare. The country has only 1.5 beds for 1,000 people, much lower than the average of three to four beds per 1,000 people in other developing countries like Brazil, China, and Thailand. Rich nations have four to eight beds per 1,000 people. The increased allocation for healthcare in the next fiscal accounts for 0.32% of the total economic output of the country, way below the double-digit public health spending in developed economies. In such a scenario, if private healthcare industry has to measure up to the needs of the public, it should be able to pump in huge investments. The government is reluctant to give it the infrastructure status because its borrowing needs may crowd out those of other eligible sectors. To increase the consumer base, healthcare needs to be affordable. Health insurance is the way out, but the political consensus to raise foreign ownership ceiling in insurance companies from 26% to 49% is still elusive. To realise the promise of the health sector, a comprehensive approach covering all the allied sectors is needed.








It is too soon even to second-guess the outcome of the Copenhagen climate summit. The re-set goal is to produce an 'operationally binding political agreement' on how and under what terms the actions needed to prevent dangerous global warming will be distributed globally, across 192 countries. The hope is that such an arrangement, which needs to be a major advance on the Kyoto protocol within the parameters set by the United Nations Framework Convention on Clima te Change (UNFCCC), will eventually lead to a fair, just, and workable legal instrument. Unfortunately, the signs and indications from the first few days of Copenhagen have not been auspicious.


What needs to be done was succinctly presented in the common editorial published on December 7 by 56 newspapers, including The Hindu, in 45 countries. To reiterate its key argument: Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone. The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided.


It stands to reason that the key principle that should guide the settlement must be the UNFCCC formulation of "common and differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities." The majority of developing nations continue to push for a legally binding agreement in which the developed nations would lead with drastic emission reductions (25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020) and significant efforts to provide financial assistance (well above the $10 billion a year that is on offer) and technology transfer to the developing nations. But the prospects of such an agreement do not seem bright at all. There is frustration over the experience of the past two years, when developed nations focussed substantially on shifting an unjust share of the global mitigation burden to the developing countries. The major developing economies have sought to meet, at least partially, the legitimate concerns of developed nations. Several, including India, have announced voluntary mitigation actions with quantified targets in the form of significant deviations from business-as-usual growth rates in emissions or as reductions in the emission intensity of their economies.


There are however indications that the developed nations, instead of reaching across the trust divide, are contemplating the imposition, through political arm-twisting, of a solution that safeguards their key interests while overriding developing country concerns. Faced with an impasse in the negotiations, the developed nations, in a move initiated by the United States, have begun working towards an operationally binding political agreement that has the potential to be converted into a legally binding agreement at an unspecified future date. Promoted ostensibly as a means to ensure some kind of positive outcome at Copenhagen, the move has also been justified by arguments that global climate action need not await the ratification of U.S. commitments by their domestic legislative process. Media leaks of the contours of such an agreement, known to be promoted by the Danish Prime Minister, suggest that the idea is to saddle developing countries with legally binding obligations through conditionalities on climate finance and to leave developed nations with no comparable legal commitments. The parallel process, also initiated by the host nation, to ensure the presence of a large number of world leaders at Copenhagen in the final ministerial phase has come under a cloud. Given the prospect of no agreed text emerging from the hard-nosed negotiations, the stage would be set for the introduction of new texts at the political level. Such a move, based on formulations that have not been vetted by experienced negotiators or discussed in broad consultations, could set the stage for the extraction of substantial concessions to the detriment of developing country interests.

The major developing economies have done well to anticipate such a biased outcome while adopting a forward-looking attitude themselves. The draft text agreed to by China, Brazil, India, South Africa, and other developing nations gives them a reasonably strong negotiating hand. India, which in the Bush years used to be comfortable about bringing up the rear in the international debate and action on climate change, went through a phase of confusion during the run-up to Copenhagen. The policy disarray that framed the government's announcement of a projected cut in emission intensity by 2020 suggested political unpreparedness and uncertainty. Crucially, sections of the government did not seem to grasp the fact that if there was 'flexibility' in the emission reduction targets for developed countries, the burden of mitigation action on developing countries would increase significantly and inequitably. In the climate arena, it is coordinated, not unilateral, action that holds the key to the realisation of the global common good. Smaller nations do and can influence the course of the negotiations but a great deal will depend on the kind of role the U.S., the European Union, China, and India end up playing in the negotiations and the high-level political parleys. President Obama especially needs to walk his climate talk with a new multilateral vision. Whatever be the Copenhagen outcome, India's climate policy must do what a country with the world's second largest population needs to do: reorient itself towards a green path of economic growth in a much more earnest, ambitious, and internally equitable way than the National Action Plan on Climate Change envisages.









As a victim of terrorism, much of which has emanated from across the border in Pakistan, it is hardly surprising that India should confuse diplomatic strategy with counter-terrorism strategy and believe that "toughness" on the external front hardens the country internally and insulates us from terrorist attacks.


For the better part of a decade, India's politicians and pundits have bought into the fallacy that diplomacy and security policy are one and the same thing, effectively handing the terrorists who would harm us a double bonus. Our complacency-induced vulnerability allows them to strike fairly easily; and our predictable tendency to suspend diplomatic engagement with Pakistan and rattle our sabres every time there is a major incident gives them an added incentive to target us.


When the Parliament complex in New Delhi was attacked by terrorists in December 2001, the erstwhile government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee responded by mobilising the army and downgrading diplomatic, commercial and people-to-people relations with Pakistan. This coercive diplomacy initially yielded results, as Pervez Musharraf banned the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba and placed their leaders under house arrest. But the longer India persisted with its hard line diplomatic tack, the more meagre were the returns. And eventually they became negative. The prospect of triggering an Indo-Pakistan war encouraged the terrorists to up the ante with an attack on the army cantonment at Kaluchak. Western chanceries began to issue travel advisories urging their citizens to steer clear of India because of the danger of conflict with Pakistan. Eventually, the international pressure that ought to have been applied on Islamabad ended up being redirected towards Delhi. The situation only began to change when Mr. Vajpayee recognised the limits of coercion and turned towards engagement. The Siachen and Line of Control ceasefires of 2003 were concrete achievements of this period that have stood the test of time. And then came the Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting of January 2004, which led to the resumption of the composite dialogue.


While there is no denying the political significance of General Musharraf's commitment of not allowing terrorists to use the Pakistani territory to stage attacks against India, the Indian strategic community erred in believing that what was an obvious diplomatic achievement was also a gain on the counter-terrorism front. As far as homeland security was concerned, in fact, such an assurance was meaningless because the measures India needed to take to protect itself ought to have been based on the worst case scenario of Pakistan not delivering on its promises. In the event, no special measures were taken.


If the government's hard line diplomacy allowed a sense of complacency to creep in on the counter-terrorism front from 2001 to 2004, our belief in Gen. Musharraf's good intentions from 2004 to 2006 further strengthened that tendency. Most importantly, our policymakers did not foresee the consequences that the metastasis of terrorism in Pakistan from 2006 onwards would have as groups once nurtured by the Inter-Services Intelligence started targeting Pakistani cities and institutions, including the army. The fact that the territorial United States has not been attacked by terrorists since 9/11 has led some analysts to conclude that this is because America struck back militarily, taking the war to the terrorists, as it were, rather than allowing them to retain the initiative. Israel's tendency to lash out at the Gaza strip or Lebanon also finds favour with some armchair Indian strategists who dream of "surgical strikes" against terrorists based in Pakistan. While U.S. military action has certainly disrupted the al-Qaeda's ability to mount the kind of operation it did in 2001, American territory has remained protected because of geography and a professional, well-functioning police force and intelligence gathering system. India, unfortunately, has none of these advantages.


If the country continued to remain vulnerable to Pakistan-based terrorists even after the December 2001 attack on Parliament, it was because none of the systemic improvements needed to ensure better intelligence gathering, border and coastal security, investigative and forensic skills was even considered, let alone implemented. Armed with the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the traditional permissiveness towards third-degree methods, effective counter-terrorism came to mean rounding up the usual suspects, getting them to confess to crimes they may or may not have committed, planting stories in the media about how major incidents were averted in the nick of time by our clever intelligence "sleuths," and organising the odd fake encounter for that added touch of authenticity. Needless to say, none of this actually strengthened our national capacity to deal with the threat of terrorism, native or foreign.


India's vulnerability to terrorism was proved once again last November in Mumbai, when 10 terrorists arrived in rubber dinghies and staged a devastating series of attacks at a railway station, hospital, café, Jewish cultural centre and two five-star hotels. We now know this particular operation was at least two years in the making and involved numerous reconnaissance trips to the city and its harbour by Lashkar operatives. One of these alleged operatives, David Headley, is now in the custody of the American police and has been formally charged with being a part of the terrorist conspiracy.


There is nothing surprising or extraordinary about the fact that the Mumbai police and the Intelligence Bureau were unaware of Headley's movements and agenda. What is shocking is the fact that no one bothered to examine the registers of not just the Taj Mahal and the Trident hotels going back a few years but also other hotels that might have been potential targets in order to try and discover whether the LeT had sent operatives on a recce mission. Prima facie, any guest who provided a false name or address ought to have been treated as an accomplice. But this kind of basic police work wasn't done. Here, again our investigative efforts fell into a depressingly familiar pattern. With Ajmal 'Kasab' being apprehended and the Pakistani origins of the attackers and conspirators firmly established, the powers that be presumably saw little sense in using the police and the IB to see whether the Mumbai plot involved a wider set of conspirators. Our counter-terrorism strategy boiled down to a single-point agenda: demanding that Pakistan act against the LeT and its odious chief, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed.


That demand is a valid one and there is no harm in India pressing it. Similarly, no one can fault the Indian government for demanding that Pakistan swiftly prosecute and convict those LeT men whom it has already indicted for their involvement in the Mumbai attacks. Even if the big fish have not been caught there, the prosecution of small fry can also affect the ability of LeT and its backers to mount operations. Where the Indian strategy has gone wrong, tragically wrong, is in treating diplomacy as a sign of weakness and assuming that any form of engagement would be tantamount to making concessions to the Pakistani military establishment. Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeatedly emphasising the need for remaining engaged, there has been no visible progress on the bilateral front. Earlier, Indian officials let it be known that they were waiting for the trial in Pakistan to begin; now some are saying, on background, that India will wait for the LeT men to be convicted before considering the resumption of any form of dialogue. Next, we may insist that all appeals the convicted men file are dismissed, or that they be hanged before we are ready to talk.


At the time of the Sharm el-Shaikh summit in July, there was hardly any international sympathy for India's position that dialogue had to await meaningful action by Pakistan on the terrorism front. Today, when some of the suspects are on trial and jihadi terrorists are massacring innocent people in Lahore, Peshawar, Rawalpindi and other cities and towns almost daily, the world and Pakistani civil society are asking themselves what kind of a callous place India is for not trying to help its neighbour deal with a common enemy. This diplomatic vacuum also provides excellent fodder for the deranged conspiracy theorists in Pakistan, who say India is behind the series of bomb blasts there.


As India examines its options, it must take as a given that the Pakistani military continues to harbour hostile intentions. And of course that the ISI continues to have links with the LeT, the Afghan Taliban and other groups. The correct Indian response should be a better counter-terrorist strategy. Not talking to Pakistan's civilian government is hardly effective counter-terrorism. Nor is it effective diplomacy.









Mira Sinha Bhattacharjea was one of the world's leading scholars on China, a political scientist who skirted the minefield that her subject's often fraught relations with India laid before her peers with integrity, wit and an objectivity of consideration rare in the field of Sinology.


Taking to academia at a time when India was recovering from its traumatic war with China in 1962 and emotions ran high, Mira Sinha, as she was known prior to her marriage to veteran journalist Ajit Bhattacharjea, was capable of being objective even in the most trying of circumstances. And though it may be tempting to conclude that with her passing, an era of balance in Indian analyses of China has come to an end, the tradition of scholarship she pioneered has more than a few adherents within academia, the media and also government, thanks in large measure to the work of the Institute of Chinese Studies which she helped to found.


Born in 1930 and selected for the elite Indian Foreign Service in 1955, Mira Sinha's first posting was to the Indian Embassy in Beijing. She worked there for nearly four years when she fell victim to a bizarre government rule of those times that forced women officers to quit if they got married. She resigned from the IFS – the service to which her first husband also belonged – and soon began teaching post-graduate courses on Chinese politics at Delhi University.


In a conversation with The Hindu, one of her students, former foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, recalled the trying circumstances under which she set up the Department of Chinese Studies at Delhi University in the 1960s. Sinophobia was at its peak "There were four of us in one batch and there were more teachers than students. But she persevered and even at times when Sino-Indian ties went through tremendous emotional upheaval, she retained her capability of being objective. To do so consistently is a tribute to her calmness, grace and dignity."


A founder member of the China Study Group and the Institute of Chinese Studies, of which she was the first director, Mira Sinha Bhattarchjea was consulting editor of the journal, China Report. After retiring from Delhi University in 1995, she continued as an emeritus fellow of the ICS. She was the author of numerous scholarly papers, a book, 'China, the world, and India', and co-editor of 'Security and Science in China and India' along with Manoranjan Mohanty and Giri Deshingkar. Besides China, Mira was also a scholar of Gandhi and was working on a major work on the Mahatma at the time of her death.


She would often warn of the dangers of viewing China through the British colonial construct. "Why stick to the 19th century concept that we must always be at loggerheads with our neighbours and that we need some sort of buffer state? If we don't change our attitude, we will just become the tools of the Americans," she wrote. She was a regular contributor to Frontline over the years.


Never one to discount the boundary dispute, she also took a swipe at the boundary-centric news reports covering high level Sino-India summits to the exclusion of everything else. "No matter how the outcome of the recent visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is assessed, it would be difficult to deny that the centrepiece of the summit was the festering boundary problem. In fact, judging by the substance and thrust of the three political documents signed, this appears to have been the real purpose of this visit, as indeed it seems to have been of every prime ministerial meeting since 1954," she wrote in Frontline in 2005.


With the border dispute still being sorted out, Mira believed that the "economic prospect" would play an important diversionary role and would help "advance the process forward on this most knotted problem of boundary settlement."


In perhaps the only clear headed analysis of how the boundary talks have made progress including what amounted to a no-war pact, she pointed out the achievements so far — a stated and shared agreement on the nature of the problem, reaching a single comprehensive settlement covering the entire stretch, wrapping this up in a package that should shape the form and nature of the future relationship and an agreement not to use force by any means, which can be interpreted as amounting to a no-war pact. Both sides have also largely demilitarised the borders and set in place a border management system to encourage easy cross-border movement of goods and people.


Mira Sinha recognised the strong national emotions over the border dispute but felt the time had come to change the images and fears of the 'other' in the public mind. She incisively examined even the blandest of statements and pointed out the "unexpected bonus" from the agreement to open an additional point for border trade via Nathu La in Sikkim. "This agreement appears to be politically innocent but actually has great political significance. It masks the diplomatic achievement of the seemingly impossible. It is being interpreted as a confirmation of the existing realities, namely, that Sikkim is part of India as Tibet is of China though both will continue to assert that this is not so. That is the way of diplomacy and there is no way of simplifying this," she wrote.


During her last visit to the ICS, when the media was generating hysteria over the alleged increase in the number of Chinese "incursions", she expressed dismay over the "madness of looking at things by the hour," reminiscences Dr. Alka Acharya. "Her passing away has dealt a blow to the voice of sanity on India-China relations."


(Mira Sinha Bhattacharjea died in New Delhi on December 13 after a brief illness. She is survived by her husband, Ajit Bhattacharjea, and her daughter, Namita Unnikrishnan.)







Paul A. Samuelson, the first American Nobel laureate in economics and the foremost academic economist of the 20th century, died Sunday at his home in Belmont, Mass. He was 94.


His death was announced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which Samuelson helped build into one of the world's great centres of graduate education in economics.


In receiving the Nobel Prize in 1970, Samuelson was credited with transforming his discipline from one that ruminates about economic issues to one that solves problems, answering questions about cause and effect with mathematical rigor and clarity.


When economists "sit down with a piece of paper to calculate or analyze something, you would have to say that no one was more important in providing the tools they use and the ideas that they employ than Paul Samuelson," said Robert M. Solow, a fellow Nobel laureate and colleague of Samuelson's at MIT.


Samuelson attracted a brilliant roster of economists to teach or study at the university, among them Solow as well as others who would go on to become Nobel laureates like George A. Akerlof, Robert F. Engle III, Lawrence R. Klein, Paul Krugman, Franco Modigliani, Robert C. Merton and Joseph E. Stiglitz.


Samuelson wrote one of the most widely used college textbooks in the history of American education. The book, Economics, first published in 1948, was the nation's best-selling textbook for nearly 30 years. Translated into 20 languages, it was selling 50,000 copies a year a half century after it first appeared.


"I don't care who writes a nation's laws — or crafts its advanced treatises — if I can write its economics textbooks," Samuelson said.


His textbook taught college students how to think about economics. His technical work — especially his discipline-shattering Ph.D. thesis, immodestly titled "The Foundations of Economic Analysis" — taught professional economists how to ply their trade. Between the two books, Samuelson redefined modern economics.


The textbook introduced generations of students to the revolutionary ideas of John Maynard Keynes, the British economist who in the 1930s developed the theory that modern market economies could become trapped in depression and would then need a strong push from government spending or tax cuts, in addition to lenient monetary policy, to restore them. Many economics students would never again rest comfortably with the 19th-century view that private markets would cure unemployment without need of government intervention.


That lesson was reinforced in 2008, when the international economy slipped into the steepest downturn since the Great Depression, when Keynesian economics was born. When the Depression began, governments stood pat or made matters worse by trying to balance fiscal budgets and erecting trade barriers. But 80 years later, having absorbed the Keynesian teaching of Samuelson and his followers, most industrialised countries took corrective action, raising government spending, cutting taxes, keeping exports and imports flowing and driving short-term interest rates to near zero.


Samuelson explained Keynesian economics to American presidents, world leaders, members of Congress and the Federal Reserve Board, not to mention other economists. He was a consultant to the U.S. Treasury, the Bureau of the Budget and the President's Council of Economic Advisers.


His most influential student was John F. Kennedy, whose first 40-minute class with Samuelson, after the 1960 election, was conducted on a rock by the beach at the family compound at Hyannis Port, Mass. Before class, there was lunch with politicians and Cambridge intellectuals aboard a yacht offshore. "I had expected a scrumptious meal," Samuelson said. "We had franks and beans."


After the 1960 election, he told the young president-elect that the nation was heading into a recession and that Kennedy should push through a tax cut to head it off. Kennedy was shocked.


"I've just campaigned on a platform of fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets and here you are telling me that the first thing I should do in office is to cut taxes?" Samuelson recalled, quoting the president.


Kennedy eventually accepted the professor's advice and signalled his willingness to cut taxes, but he was assassinated before he could take action. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, carried out the plan, however, and the economy bounced back.


Samuelson provided a mathematical structure to study the effect of trade on different groups of consumers and workers. In a famous theorem, known as Stolper-Samuelson, he and a co-author showed that competition from imports of clothes and similar goods from underdeveloped countries, where producers rely on unskilled workers, could drive down the wages of low-paid workers in industrialised countries.


The theorem provided the intellectual scaffold for opponents of free trade. And late in his career, Samuelson set off an intellectual commotion by pointing out that the economy of a country like the United States could be hurt if productivity rose among the economies with which it traded.


Advocate of open trade


Yet Samuelson, like most academic economists, remained an advocate of open trade. Trade, he taught, raises average living standards enough to allow the workers and consumers who benefit to compensate those who suffer, and still have some extra income left over. Protectionism would not help, but higher productivity would.


Paul Anthony Samuelson was born May 15, 1915 in Gary, Ind., the son of Frank Samuelson, a pharmacist, and the former Ella Lipton. His family, he said, was "made up of upwardly mobile Jewish immigrants from Poland who had prospered considerably in World War I, because Gary was a brand-new steel town when my family went there."


But after his father lost much of his money in the years after the war, the family moved to Chicago. Young Paul attended Hyde Park High School, where as a freshman he began studying the stock market. At one point, he helped his algebra teacher select stocks to buy in the boom of the 1920s.


"Hupp Motors and other losers," he remembered in an interview in 1996. "Proof of the fallibility of systems," he said.


He left high school at age 16 to enter the University of Chicago. "I was born as an economist on Jan. 2, 1932," he said. That was the day he heard his first college lecture, on Thomas Malthus, the 18th-century British economist who studied the relation between poverty and population growth. Hooked, he began taking economics courses.

After receiving his bachelor's degree from Chicago in 1935, he went to Harvard, where he was attracted to the ideas of the Harvard professor Alvin Hansen, the leading exponent of Keynesian theory in America.


Among Samuelson's fellow students at Harvard was Marion Crawford. They married in 1938. Samuelson earned his master's degree from Harvard in 1936 and a Ph.D. in 1941. He wrote his thesis from 1937 to 1940 as a member of the prestigious Harvard Society of Junior Fellows. In 1940, Harvard offered him an instructorship, which he accepted, but a month later MIT invited him to become an assistant professor.


Harvard made no attempt to keep him, even though he had by then developed an international following. Solow said of the Harvard economics department at the time: "You could be disqualified for a job if you were either smart or Jewish or Keynesian. So what chance did this smart, Jewish, Keynesian have?"


During World War II, Samuelson worked in MIT's Radiation Laboratory, developing computers for tracking aircraft, and was a consultant for the War Production Board. After the war, having resumed teaching, he and his wife started a family. When she became pregnant the fourth time, she gave birth to triplets, all boys.


Marion Samuelson died in 1978. Samuelson is survived by his second wife, Risha Clay Samuelson; six children from his first marriage: Jane Raybould, Margaret Crawford-Samuelson, William and the triplet sons, Robert, John and Paul; and 15 grandchildren. Samuelson is also survived by a brother, Robert Summers, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Pennsylvania and father of Lawrence H. Summers, director of President Barack Obama's National Economic Council and former secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton and former president of Harvard. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service









There is a temptation, which is forgivable, on the part of some analysts to look at Russia through the sentimental haze of India-Soviet Union equations of the Cold War era. Many of them are critical of India's new-found fondness for the United States in matters of defence and technology.


They are partly justified in their misgivings about India putting most of its eggs in the American basket. The alternative does not lie in returning to old and trusted friends like the former Soviet Union, which is now Russia. Times have changed.


The Soviet Union has disappeared. Russia is struggling — so far unsuccessfully — to retrieve some of its lost clout in the international arena. Its economy is not exactly vibrant and its experiment with democracy continues to be choppy.


Last Friday, we had former-president-now-prime-minister Vladimir Putin in Delhi signing useful civil nuclear power and defence deals. Putin is both a strong nationalist and a statist and he is able to win elections because that is what the people of Russia are clinging to in these uncertain and troubled times. India will have to learn to look at Russia without the blinkers of the past, assess the new realities and forge fresh ties.


Russia remains a dependable and useful source for defence supplies despite the hiccups over the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. Its offer to build nuclear power reactors is reassuring because the deals with American private nuclear power companies are going to be a long-drawn-out affair.


However, Russia is not exactly the technology leader that it was for some time in the 1950s and 1960s. To be sure, India does not have much of a choice because no other country is so ready to share its knowhow like Russia. It is the same in the case of the aircraft carrier. No other country is willing to give it to India. There are compulsions to hang on with the Russians.


Putin's observation that Russia does not have defence deals with Pakistan, however, needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Islamabad does not have to shop for arms with Moscow because the Americans are playing Santa to Pakistani generals as part of the strategy in waging the crucial war in Afghanistan.


It is true that Russia has concerns in Afghanistan but like India it is not in a strong enough position to influence the course of events in that country. The Russians are realistic and India should be too.







The Delhi high court's decision directing the Indian armed forces to grant permanent commissions to women is a significant step to further empowerment of women.


There is no need to connect this decision to the current turbulent passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in Parliament. The armed forces have remained India's most gender-insensitive and discriminatory part of the system. The high court has made it clear that this inequality is not acceptable.


Currently, women can get short-term commissions of no longer than 14 years, and are not entitled to pension and other retirement benefits.


The armed forces have come up with various arguments to justify their position but most of them have more to do with denial of equal rights to women than with cogent arguments about why women in the forces are not entitled to the same terms of employment and benefits as men.


As one of the judges of the high court bench, justice SK Kaul, pointed out: "Once a decision is taken on a policy initiative that there are areas where women can be employed… there cannot be discrimination on grounds of gender in terms of opportunities."


The current judgment came after several retired women officers moved court asking for equal benefits. The verdict has its limitations and applies only to women who were recruited before 2006. The court also turned down an appeal to allow women in combat roles, although it pointed out that some countries do allow this and mentioned that social and culturalissues have to be considered.


It may seem as if the larger battle is yet to be won, but it must also be considered that getting the armed forces to drop their patriarchal past is not easy. Senior officers have resisted any move to give women larger roles in the forces, citing pregnancy and the uneasiness of their male colleagues as the primary reasons. The armed forces' justifications are sadly just that — attempts to prolong a historic wrong.


The government, it is felt, is unlikely to challenge the court's decision and changes in the armed forces are now a given. The next step has to be improved access at all levels, so that women are free to choose any profession they would like to follow — just as men are.


To state that women are unable or incapable of fulfilling larger roles in the forces is to take us back decades in the fight against gender discrimination. The Delhi high court has given the government one more chance to uphold the Constitution.







In Mumbai, you cannot travel on top of a train any more.Western Railways has decided that it will not run a train if even one person is found sitting on the roof.


 Excellent.How could anyone object?The railways are concerned that people will get electrocuted as they have switched from 1,500 volt DC to 25,000 volt AC current for the suburban electric trains.


But people hang on to the roofs of trains not because they enjoy the cool air.They do so because there is no place in the compartments below.Or they just cannot afford to buy a ticket.


Despite all this, Mumbai's suburban rail network — one of only four major cities in the country to boast of one — has a great deal going for it.In fact, until the 1960s, Mumbaikars were spoiled for choice of public transport — trams, buses, taxis and the trains.You did not need a car.Indeed, it was difficult to own a car unless you had a good deal of money.Everyone used public transport, unless they were rich, or in government.


A sensible government would have invested five decades back to enhance all modes of public transport, given that they benefit the majority. Nothing of the kind has happened.Instead investment has facilitated the movement of private motorised vehicles — two- and four-wheelers.


Meanwhile, the aam aadmi, unable to access the roofs of trains, continues to figure out a way to squeeze into railway compartments that lack even breathing space.


The crisis faces not just Mumbai.Every big city in India is facing similar choices — how do you provide the majority of urban
residents safe, affordable, and clean forms of transport?By doing so, you also save our cities from becoming the most polluted in the world, a dubious distinction that they have already earned. In India's three largest cities, levels of suspended particulate matter (SPM) and respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) are three to four times higher than acceptable levels set by the World Health Organization.


The principal cause of this is vehicular emissions. The growth of motorised vehicles in India at 10% per year is higher than the growth of the GDP.While the population in India's six major metros grew 1.9 times between 1981 and 2001, the vehicle population grew 7.75 times. Over one-third of the total number of motorised vehicles in India are in our metropolitan cities, where only 11% of the population lives.Delhi alone accounts for 7% of all motor vehicles.


Vehicular emissions increase when the speed of vehicles slows down.In most cities, including Delhi and Mumbai, peak-hour speeds are down to 5-10 km per hour, resulting in a five-fold increase in all pollutants.


If the foul air does not kill you, crossing a road will. In 2001, more than 80,000 people were killed in road accidents in India and the rate of fatalities is growing at just under 5% per year. Half the traffic fatalities in Delhi are of pedestrians, 10% of bicyclists, 21% of motorcyclists and 3% of car occupants. In Mumbai, 80% of traffic fatalities are of pedestrians.


The mortality rate in India in road accidents is 8.7 per 100,000 as compared to 5.6 in the UK, 5.4 in Sweden, 5 in the Netherlands and 6.7 in Japan.If you take the ratio of mortality per 10,000 vehicles, India's rate jumps to 14 as compared to under 2 in the industrialised countries.


Road fatalities and air quality will improve if there is better public transport. This is not rocket science.Yet, in every big city, new investment is geared towards facilitating movement of private motorised vehicles.


The new schemes announced for Mumbai, for instance — two more sea links, an expressway and an elevated road — costing thousands of crores of rupees, will help only a fraction of the population. And while people and offices have moved to the north and east of the city, the planners are working out ways to transport people to the south of the city — which hosts mainly government offices.


Perhaps this explains why successive governments pay only lip service to public transport. In Mumbai, politicians, bureaucrats and top corporates live and work in south Mumbai.In other cities, too, they live close to their offices.They do not need public transport.


Unlike the West, where the rich moved to the suburbs as cities grew, in India the poor are pushed out while the rich occupy prime real estate in the centre of cities.The poor commute.Their concerns do not dictate development policy.Indian cities exemplify that tragic reality.







Early in life, we Indians learn without being taught that one need not ask for directions when in search of a urinal.


Be it schools and colleges, hospitals, government buildings, commercial complexes or the courts, the strong, wafting stink from some corner will on its own guide you to answer nature's call.


Whether you would want to go there is an altogether different question. Part of the answer lies with the high number of urban Indian women who commonly avoid public loos — even the ones in their offices — and suffer from ailments caused by the unhealthy retention of urine. Even in companies with a large female workforce, the situation isn't much better.


It is not an exaggeration that a clean public toilet in India would actually take you by surprise. What exists is what we commonly and collectively accept as the norm. There is something in the Indian psyche that seems to suggest that the toilet is meant to be "a dirty place" and, therefore, let it remain so.


The polite foreigner, drawn to "incredible India" by the promise of tourism or business opportunities, won't articulate the reality out of sheer decency. But think of the tales he'll be telling home when it comes to toilets in India.


More than six decades ago, Mahatma Gandhi and his disciple Vinoba Bhave took pride in cleaning toilets because they felt humiliated and ashamed by this ugly blindspot among their countrymen. Gandhi was particularly pained by the custom of night-soil carriers who existed by the millions and he wanted to bring dignity to the lives of entire castes that engaged in this means of livelihood, generation after generation.


Sixty years after India's independence, that crusade has been continuing through the single-minded efforts of Bindeshwar Pathak and his Sulabh Sanitation Movement.


Inspired by Gandhi, Pathak has not only developed the low-cost, safe and hygienic toilet units for rural masses but his 3,000-plus pay-and-use Sulabh Shauchalayas in towns and cities point to a model that deserves to be expanded across India.


Almost two decades ago, the famous industrialist, SL Kirloskar, who established Hotel Blue Diamond in Pune and had an office there, had once spoken informally of how he personally supervised the toilet blocks in the hotel.


One of his initiatives, he said, was to introduce perfumed naphthalene balls in the urinals.


The unbearable stench inside the Pune district court complex didn't seem to bother anyone — including the clerks, judges, advocates and litigants — till this newspaper approached the administrative in-chargefor a quote on the subject. The stink reduced overnight.


The 'toilet test' has never failed this writer in any part of India, right up to Delhi's South Block, where union cabinet ministers have their offices. One of the many visits during a stint in Delhi has remained memorable to this writer because the familiar stink was unmistakable even in the highest seat of the nation's government — it was emanating from some section occupied by lower-rung babus and clerks.


The 'test' thankfully failed during an assignment to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.


Stinking public toilets ought to trouble our conscience and we ought to realise that our national shame cannot be addressed by lone crusaders. Least of all, by lower-rung managers for whom the matter is of least importance.


To some extent, this blindspot in the national psyche is getting addressed in a minuscule way in corporate offices, in many malls, multiplexes and at prominent airports too.


Most public places in urban centres have, however, emained untouched. What we need is a pan-India mindset change starting at the schools — with the principals and teachers first. In all other places, be they public or private, nothing less than personal intervention by seniors and institution heads will help
rectify the prevailing situation.










India and Russia remain as close friends as they have always been despite the fact that the post-Cold War world scenario has changed considerably. They have some common concerns and terrorism is one of them. This was highlighted during Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's two-day visit to New Delhi that concluded on Friday. They have similar views on terrorism which could be noticed when Mr Putin said that there was no lessening of the threat to peace in South Asia and the rest of the world from the terrorists operating from the Af-Pak region irrespective of the military drive against them. Like India, Russia does not feel comfortable with the idea of inducting some of the Taliban factions in the Afghanistan government on any pretext. He also expressed concern at the continuing activities of the Pakistan-based terrorist groups.


Of all the agreements signed between India and Russia in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr Putin, two are of special significance. One is the agreement on cooperation for nuclear energy generation for peaceful purposes and the other relates to the purchase of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier. India's efforts to generate substantial nuclear power will get a major boost with Russia agreeing to build at least 16 nuclear reactors in the coming few years. Russia has been among the first few countries which offered to help India with nuclear fuel and high technology after the conclusion of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, which led to the powerful Nuclear Suppliers Group allowing nuclear trade with India.


The Gorshkov deal has been possible with India agreeing to buy the refurbished aircraft carrier for as much as $2.33 billion, which is much higher than what was the initial price quoted. But, then, Russia will also be supplying 29 MiG 29K fighter planes for the Indian Navy. These accords were signed besides a number of other defence-related agreements to strengthen their strategic relations. India and Russia, as traditional friends, can play a more effective role on the world stage if they continue to cooperate with each other in every area possible. 







The Delhi High Court set the ball rolling for gender equality in the Army and the Air Force when it upheld the petition filed by 50 retired and serving women officers who were denied Permanent Commission. The historic ruling, however, came with the caveat that it would be applicable to all women officers recruited before May, 2006, when the government changed its policy of offering PC to Short Service Commissioned officers across the gender divide. However, now that the door has been opened, it appears only a matter of time before women are granted their due. 


The Division Bench comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Mool Chand Garg rightly observed that the women officers were not asking for charity but wanted enforcement of their constitutional right. If male officers can be granted Permanent Commission while performing the same tasks, the court observed, there is no reason why equally capable women cannot be granted Permanent Commission. The court significantly rejected the submission that it had no jurisdiction over the matter and that Permanent Commission could not be granted with retrospective effect and to retired officers as well.


Most of the women who had approached the court for relief were recruited in the legal and education branches of the two Services. Denying Permanent Commission to them makes little sense. It is strange that the Services should on the one hand lament the shortage of officers while on the other they appear unwilling to utilise trained and experienced women officers who are available and who have served for 14 to 15 years. The armed forces have stubbornly been resisting offering Permanent Commission to women. An inter-services study, quoted extensively in the media, had arrived at the conclusion that time was not yet ripe to offer women Permanent Commission. It had placed reliance on the perception that women routinely seek preferential treatment like soft postings and frequent leave besides often bypassing the chain of command. These are, however, issues for which male supervisors must be held responsible and they cannot be held as a ground to deny women an equal opportunity.


It is regrettable indeed that the judiciary had to intervene to end gender discrimination in the Services. It will be even more regrettable if, as some reports in the media suggest, the two Services decide to appeal against the order to the Supreme Court. 








Free power for farmers in Punjab has been a sop that has played havoc not only with the health of the PSEB but also with the supply of electricity. Things are so bad in some places that farmers themselves demand that they should get regular supply even if it comes at a cost. But free power has become such an emotive issue that most leaders find it difficult to withdraw the facility. Even the Punjab government has been forced to take this "bold" step because its financial condition has become precarious. Around 10.8 lakh agricultural consumers will get power bills in April and they will be charged with effect from January 21. The move is in keeping with the decision of the Resource Mobilisation Committee comprising Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal and Local Bodies Minister Manoranjan Kalia.


The decision to make farmers pay for the electricity will, hopefully, not only improve the financial condition of the PSEB but would also help prevent the alarming decline of water table in the state. Careless running of tube wells had led to the situation where farmers had to sink the tube wells deeper and deeper to draw water. The government's repeated pleas to desist from extensive farming of paddy had also been falling on deaf ears.


Interestingly, the bills to be paid by the farmers to the PSEB are to be reimbursed by the government to a large extent. Now that the government has decided to bill farmers for power, it has also steeled itself not to roll back the hike in power tariff on commercial, industrial and domestic consumers. After the Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission had ordered an 8.4 per cent rise last year for different consumer sections, the BJP had demanded the benefit of subsidised power for consumers other than farmers. The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal had given some assurances also in this regard. Now it seems unlikely that those will be honoured.
















Simply because some people repeatedly and with apparent conviction state that the Foreign Secretary-level talks were resumed by India under American pressure does not make it a fact. India had taken the initiative for the talks firstly because the Prime Minister is genuinely committed to going more than the proverbial extra mile to give Pakistan an opportunity to be satisfied about our desire for friendly relations, and, secondly, because the refusal to talk was being counter-productive in diplomatic terms.


The talks, no doubt, served an important diplomatic purpose. Our side went into the talks without any illusion on expectations of a breakthrough on issues of concern to us. It would be safe to assume that the Pakistan side had a similar assessment of the prospects of success or otherwise from their perspective. Thus, neither side was really disappointed with the way the talks went.


In the ultimate analysis, it came down to public relations part of it, with each side giving its own interpretation of what had transpired. The Indian Foreign Secretary was restrained in her Press briefing. For once, Pakistan made a hash of it this time. The Indian media, which usually fawns over every Pakistani visitor, was not willing to buy the Pakistani line as touted by the Pakistan Foreign Secretary. The fact that he met the Kashmiri separatist leaders also evoked negative reaction in India, though why our government allowed them to meet Mr Bashir is another matter.


Having demonstrated its goodwill and fulfilled its diplomatic duty, the government should not be in a hurry to repeat the exercise. Media reports indicate that the meeting was suggested by us and agreed to reluctantly, and as a gesture of goodwill on Pakistan's part. The Indian public would feel humiliated if we were to desire or agree to another round of talks in view of the shrill rhetoric in Pakistan during the past few days on water and the co-opting by the regime of Hafiz Saeed in his hate campaign, going to the extent of calling for a war against India. The artificial deadline of the SAARC meeting in early April should not be allowed to influence the decision.


Following the London conference of Afghanistan and Pakistan's totally understandable sense of triumphalism, we should expect even more strident rhetoric from Pakistan as witnessed by their Interior Minister invoking Balochistan. We should be grateful to Mr Karzai for being so candid during his visit to his "brothers" in Pakistan, and for making clear where India stands in his calculations. He has also helpfully revealed that he holds India equally responsible for using Afghan territory for waging proxy war against Pakistan.


Of course, "statesman-like" analysts and others would say that we must not overreact to what Mr Karzai has said, etc. That would be in line with our refusal to face realities and continuing with our illusions. The London conference and its aftermath should remove the cobwebs in our thinking, since it is now established that Pakistan is the "indispensable" player in Afghanistan.


India's problem is that while we do know who wields effective power in Pakistan, we cannot get to them. Engaging the civilian leaders might be unavoidable for the sake of form and protocol, but even they know that it is not going to be of any help in solving anything. The US Secretary of State, the British Foreign Secretary and others spend hours in meetings with General Kayani. But there simply is no tradition of our leaders discussing serious issues with Pakistan's military, except, of course, when they come into the open and assume the office of President. Equally, there is no precedent of our military meeting their Pakistani counterparts except, perhaps, socially over a glass of scotch, the preferred drink of the military in the subcontinent. This dilemma causes absence of any real or effective dialogue between the two countries.


The other aspect of the problem is: what should we talk about? The answer is obvious. We shall talk of what is of utmost concern to us today, namely terrorism, and they will talk about Kashmir. We must not let them bring in water except in the context of the Indus water mechanisms. The tendency to be defensive about any reference to Kashmir is difficult to understand. Our sensitivity to the mere mention of the "K" word by anyone has reached a point where all it takes for a foreign visitor to earn our gratitude is to avoid mentioning it! General Musharraf became a hero in India when he said that he will not invoke the UN resolutions on Kashmir.


We need to bring some maturity in our approach to the Kashmir question insofar as its being mentioned by either Pakistani or other foreign personalities is concerned. It is strange that the aggressor should put the aggressed on the back foot! By displaying the knee-jerk reaction every time Pakistan mentions Kashmir, we are only encouraging them to do so, since nothing would please their ego more than showing us in a negative light.


Negotiating with General Musharraf on Kashmir made some sense since he was both the de facto and de jure boss of Pakistan. If media reports are to be believed, an 80 per cent agreement had been reached until General Musharraf ran into problems with his judiciary. However, one should be a bit cautious about this channel. It is clear that if at all any deal is reached in these back-channel negotiations, it will certainly mean a net gain for Pakistan. Even if the mechanisms being talked about were only consultative, they will, legally, confer on Pakistan a right — a right they have longed to acquire for long — to have a say in the affairs of the valley. It will be an open invitation to the ISI to spread its net far and wide not only in Kashmir but also in the rest of India.


It is difficult to assess if Pakistan's military will have any reservation about engaging in discussions with Indian civilian leaders, but our leaders certainly will. What then is the wayout, if any? Can we think of the unthinkable and start a new "back channel" with the Pakistan military? Will even that lead to any useful outcome, given the Pakistan military's paranoia about India? The situation does not lend itself to answer, let alone easy ones.








FINALLY arrives the Ides of March. It instantly reminds me of the headmaster of Lawrence School, Praveen Vasisht, who rarely misses an opportunity to contact each of his students, before their embarking for a prolonged winter break in December, year after year. As a typical Shakespearean soothsayer, he exhorts the budding Sanawarians to beware of Ides of March, and marshal all their energies for the ensuing final examinations, lest they are trapped and defeated like Julius Caesar.


As I stood next to my son and daughter, preparing to leave for home, there descended the mystic soothsayer-incarnate, inspiring them to maintain their academic rhythm and to "never give in" to wayward temptations, nor to fall prey to sloppiness. How the relevance of Ides of March has changed over the centuries, I kept wondering.


The Ides of March owes its genesis to a Latin phrase, Idus Martias, which was originally used for the 15th day of March, May, July and October. In modern times, it is best known as the day when Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. It, however, acquired acceptance down the lane as a symbol of caution, with Shakespeare using the coinage to beware Julius Caesar of Ides of March.


The term Idus etymologically means "half division" of a month. It is also referred to as the "day of full moon", considered auspicious by the Romans. A toga run is still organised on this day, at the same venue where Caesar was felled, with men wearing flowing ornamental garments. An annual spring event of horses is also organised around the same weekend. Beyond the Pacific, even in the US, an annual dinner is held commemorating the historic day because it is also the day when General Washington quelled a mutiny, way back in 1783.


While Ides of March, synonymous for 15th day of March in the Roman calendar, used to be a gala day, dedicated to Mars, it has lost its festivity over the years, courtesy the ever-increasing weight of satchels the poor students have to lug like mules. While a massive military parade was usually held then to venerate the annual event, the children can now be seen "parading" to money-minting tutors, trying to swallow more than what they can chew.


They find themselves lost in the tides of Ides, braving annual examination, seeking admission in institutes of their choice and bidding good-bye to parents in quest of pastures away from home. Even the parents are forced to "parade", seeking admission for their young babies in schools of repute.


Countless novels and plays have been woven on the historicity of the day. Even Mother Nature acknowledges the import of the day as the harbinger of spring, with trees wearing new lush-green foliage and colourful roses blooming all over. The weather starts turning warm thereafter, heralding the onset of harvesting of wheat.


When Ides of March comes, can Baisakhi be far behind? Since it also coincides with our budget time, the Ides of March provides us an opportunity to script a new epoch with care.








Haryana's khap panchayats have been in the news since the dawn of the 25th century for wrong reasons. The frequent instances of violation of human rights by them have been often reported in national and international media. Their nefarious activities are a blot on the fair name of Haryana which has a proud record in the field of economic development.


Though Haryana was constituted on November 1, 1966, it has become one of the most developed states of the Indian Union within a short span. Earlier, it had remained a backward region of Punjab owing to its continual neglect by the ruling elite of that state. Consequently, Haryana has failed to check the khaps' menace. Significantly, The Tribune has been playing an important role by highlighting their violation of human rights through its news reports, editorials and features.


Examples galore, the khap panchayats have been violating human rights of the individuals. This is evident from some of their ridiculous decisions. Preventing the marriages of boys and girls of the same clan (gotra) on the ground that the intra-gotra marriages are prohibited under the customs of the Jats as they are presumed to be brothers and sisters. Therefore, the khap panchayats do not accept the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act which only prohibits marriages among the siblings.


They sometimes prohibit the marriages of the boys and girls from different gotras in their villages even from the outside villages if the members of their gotras happen to live there on the plea that there exists bhaichara (brotherhood) among these.


They even do not allow marriages in the same village even if they happen to belong to different gotras on the pretext that it is against the custom of accepting all the inmates of the village as brothers and sisters.


The violations of the norms have led the khaps to expel the couples and their families from the villages, force them to sell their land and property, humiliating the fathers of the bride and the bridegroom in the public by forcing shoes in their mouths. They can also impose a fine on the violation of these norms and order economic and social boycott of those families.


They have even ordered the execution of the couples or the bridegrooms. Such orders have often been implemented in spite of getting security on the directions of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and even in the presence of the police.


There has been an instance in which a khap panchayat ordered the burning of the houses of the Scheduled Castes at Gohana because a criminal belonging to a Balmiki family had murdered a Jat youth. They also prevent the police from taking action against those accused of atrocities on the Scheduled Castes. This happened in Jhajjar when some Scheduled Caste persons were murdered on the misunderstanding that they had slaughtered cows. This also happened after the carnage at Gohana.


This raises the question: why do the khaps indulge in such blatant violation of human rights? They do so for preserving their outdated traditions and customs which are now being violated often by those boys and girls under the influence of modernisation, their education and on account of films and TV serials.


They consider the violations of gotra norms as a threat to their caste identity of which they are very proud of. This, they feel, has already been threatened by the breakdown of the Jajmani system that has liberated the Scheduled Castes and the Backward Castes from the bondage of the landowning castes.


They also feel compelled to resort to such behaviour as the enactment of the Constitution (Seventy-Third Amendment) Act, 1992, has eroded their authority by creating panchayati raj institutions having reservation of one-third membership and offices for women and one-fifth for the Scheduled Castes since the 1995 panchayat elections. Hence they do not want to lose any opportunity of asserting their authority.


The neo-feudal mindset of the khap leaders has made it difficult for them to tolerate the affluence that a small section of the Scheduled Castes and the Backward Castes has been able to achieve by taking advantage of reservation and political linkages and through their entry into the non-traditional occupations. They fear that they will not only become their equals but also their superiors and hence they try to assert their authority through such decisions.


Another reason for the khap leaders' assertion is the threat to their authority by educated boys and girls, decline of their hold on younger members in their families and the challenge to their authority by the elected representatives of the panchayati raj institutions. The violation of the gotra norms and instances of the conflict between the landowning castes and the Scheduled Castes are opportunities for them to restore their self-esteem.


Sometimes, their decisions are also influenced by ulterior motives. People use the khaps for settling personal scores, their family feuds, their defeat in the panchayat elections and to give vent to their jealousy with the prosperity of the better off families and also by their desire to grab their land and property by expelling such families from the village.


All this proves that the khap panchayats have been violating human rights of the individuals from their own caste and clan as also of others for various reasons. There is a need for devising appropriate strategies for rooting out this menace. It requires great political will on the part of the state government.


The panchayati raj institutions too will have to be strengthened because the khap panchayats' strength lies in the weakness of democracy at the grassroots. This also needs active intervention by the civil society. Worthy in this context is the bold initiative of Mr Shamsher Singh Surjewala, a veteran Congress leader. Let us hope that leaders of other political parties will follow the lead taken by him.


The writer, formerly Professor of Political Science, Kurukshetra University, is presently Consultant, Haryana Institute of Rural Development, Nilokheri (Karnal)








Please not, Mrs Cameron! Or Samantha, or Sam, as you perhaps would like us to call you. This is shaping up as the most vapid and dispiriting election party leaders struggle unsuccessfully to make sense of the grave crises facing the nation while abusing their opponents.


But if there's one thing that could make it worse still it would be a match-up of the spouses. Sarah Brown has already been enlisted to describe her hubby in excruciating terms, "I know he's not a saint. He's messy. He's noisy," but still, "he wakes up every morning and goes to bed every evening, thinking about the things that matter", and in turn Samantha Cameron is being wheeled on.


"You're going to see a lot more of her," her husband threatens, "so Britain get ready!" She herself has told us that she "can honestly say that I don't think in all that time he has ever let me down" (a claim almost no normal consort of any kind would make in honesty).


Apart from being vulgar, trivial, degrading and altogether naff, this parade of other halves illustrates what Auden used to say: the trouble with nowadays is that people have forgotten the difference between their friends and strangers. In the process, as those politicians seem not to have realised, they have completely forfeited any right to privacy.


This abnegation had begun with the husbands. In one television interview, Cameron was asked by Jonathan Ross, "Did you or did you not have a wank thinking 'Margaret Thatcher'?"


In fact our politicians did not formerly face such questions, or endure such ordeals, and they now have no one but themselves to blame. Nor were their wives once enlisted in this horrible business, Sarah Brown was in the audience for that interview, and their new role is, to say the least, an ironical reflection on what we are supposed to think of as the triumph of feminism.


Far from parading their spouses, prime ministers often kept them out of the way. Mrs Disraeli was an amiable featherhead (she could "never remember which came first, the Greeks or the Romans"); Mrs Lloyd George was a put-upon lady who sat at home in Wales while her husband lived almost openly with his secretary-cum-mistress in Downing Street, although that would later be poignantly reversed in the case of the Macmillans: Lady Dorothy's decades-long liaison with Robert Boothby was known to all Harold's colleagues.


As the excellent biography by Mary Soames, her daughter, has shown, Clementine Churchill was a most formidable woman in her own right. But she played small part in public life — an exception, and another irony, was her wartime work for Red Cross Aid to Russia, popularly known as "Mrs Churchill's Fund" and confined herself to giving her husband private support and good, frank advice in private.


Nearer our time, Denis Thatcher was in his way an admirable prime ministerial consort. He occasionally played up to the part Private Eye had written for him, replying when asked what he did with his time, "Well, when I'm not pissed, I play a lot of golf", but otherwise stuck to his father's maxim: "It's better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt."


If there's a real culprit it is, as so often, Tony Blair. He left Downing Street with a tirade against the "feral media", which must rank very high in the annals of brass neck or chutzpah. For the past 12 years it had often looked as if the only purpose of New Labour was to manipulate that media.He and his gruesome wife like to denounce an intrusive press, while asking for the privacy or their family life to be respected.


But then, look back at all the photo-ops of Tony and his boys playing football, and every other way in which he exploited his image as husband and father. Not long ago a celebrated novelist complained to me about the media, and the way they forgot their own supposedly rigid policy of not publishing recognisable images of children. I reminded him of the occasion on which a smirking Blair had come out into Downing Street to announce the birth of his youngest child.


When Cherie Blair had a miscarriage, no one but family and friends need have known, had not Alastair Campbell leaked the news to take the heat off another story. Politicians simply deserve everything they get. They have not only forgotten the difference between friends and strangers. If they are going to invade their own privacy in such grotesquely intimate fashion, they should expect no mercy at all.


Although the present party leaders may not be quite as bad as that, they are very much mistaken in thinking that we want to be taken into their domestic lives. Why, many more displays of cloying conjugal affection, and the British electorate will be pining for a national leader like Sarkozy or Berlusconi.n


— By arrangement with The Independent








The new BJP President is a talented man, hailing from Mumbai. Obviously, he has a soft corner for Bollywood. At the BJP meet at Indore, Nitin Gadkari tried to create a new harmony among everyone present by starting a sort of 'Antakshri' on the stage. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and some ministers also sang.


Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani are both big Bollywood fans. Atalji is a great poet and has written many books on poetry, but Advani started writing his biographies which created controversies. Bollywood lyrics at the conclave has not gone well with many in the party. The new president, everyone now thinks, is quite clueless about the sentiments of the Aam Admi.


Apparently, his song was well chosen keeping in mind his origins and his unknown destination – Zindagi, Kaisi hai paheli haaye, kabhi to hansaaye, kabhi yeh rulaaye (from the Hindi blockbuster Anand).


No one ever expected Mr Gadkari to take over as the BJP National President. Obviously, this is a paheli not only for him but for others too. While he is laughing all the way, the other senior leaders who were in line for the post are crying.


Whatever else happened at the Indore conclave, Gadkari's singing along with his colleagues overshadowed all other resolutions passed. This is a new sing-song twist to mind-storming conclaves.


Modi pulling Bollywood stars


Amitabh Bachchan became the ambassador for Gujarat some time back. Of course, we have Rekha who has followed him there. Can she be far behind? May be, he thinks his own charisma is fading. Now, the grapevine is Rekha will be walking the ramp to promote Patan Patola saris. It seems Modi is also pulling all Bollywood biggies to promote his state.


Patola are traditional double ikat silk produced in Gujarat. Patan is the only place in India where these expensive saris are produced. However, the designing of Patola saris is a dying art and the artisans are hoping that Rekha will once more make them fashionable.


Modi has roped in Lata Mangeshkar to sing Jai Jai Garvi Gujarat when the state celebrates 50 years of its formation on May 1. Other celebrities will also appear in the video version that will be modelled on Mile Sur Mera Tumhara.


Gehlot sets an example


Mostly all well-off families of India invite ministers to opulent weddings to show their influence. Mixing politicians and bureaucrats is the big thing. But a Chief Minister is the icing on the cake. However, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot made it clear recently that he was not amused by all this.


He is the first Chief Minister who, while addressing a gathering of Gandhians in Jaipur, said how upset and ashamed he felt when people came to his house with wedding cards which cost Rs 2000 each. They also spend Rs 1000 a plate in the feast "when we have no money to help poor". After all, it was Gehlot who allowed only 11 baraatis in his own wedding and also held a simple marriage function for his daughter.


If he attended such weddings, he would also become as shameless as those who conduct them, he said. We can be pretty sure that nobody will be sending him wedding invites for a while. All other politicians should follow suit. It is always the leaders who can set examples. And Gehlot has always led a simple life and yet performed well.









The annual budget of the Government of India has become an occasion for media hype and endless commentaries by experts in public finance. The pink papers and the 24x7 news channels act as drum beaters in this annual ritual.

This year's budget has also been presented with the usual hoopla. Corporate India has by and large welcomed it. The stock market rallied after the budget was presented.

The finance minister claimed in his speech, "This budget belongs to the aam aadmi. It belongs to the farmer, the agriculturist, the entrepreneur and the investor." But is this claim valid? A perceptive analyst who specialises in analysing problems of agriculture has gone on record stating that "This is a budget crafted for and perhaps not by the farmer but the corporate farmer and agribusiness."

The one basic fact about our country is that even though in terms of the GDP, services may be contributing more than agriculture or manufacturing, when it    comes to employment it is in agriculture that a large part of our population is employed. From time to time there are also disturbing reports of suicides by agriculturists. The continuing migration of people from rural areas to the cities further underlines the poor prospects of agriculture as a profession.

Nevertheless it is the millions of the toiling farmers who wrought the green revolution. But all that seems to be old history today. We still lag behind China in agricultural productivity. What is worse, even though we produce more food grains and perhaps the largest quantity of fruits and vegetables, due to lack of proper infrastructure 10 per cent of our food grains and nearly 40 per cent of our fruits and vegetables are lost. This loss is due to the lack of proper infrastructure and supply chain facilities like cold storages as well as restrictions in marketing dictated by our government policies.

At the same time some corporate houses are entering agribusiness and especially organised retail in a big way.


We still do not have a thriving agribusiness as in the West.

Another sad reality is that there is a vast gap between the price for agricultural produce received by the farmer and the price paid by the consumer. This margin is exploited by the middlemen. One advantage of the corporatisation will be the improvement in productivity of the supply chain and reduction in the loss between the farm gate and the consumer. But will the farmer get a better price for his produce?

   In the dairy sector, Amul wrought the white revolution using the co-operatives as the main instrument to ensure not only improvement in productivity but realisation of a better price by the producer.

   Even if the criticism that this year's budget has favoured agribusiness or the corporate farmer, from an objective point of view is it bad for the country? What is the experience in the rest of the world about agribusiness? Has the interest of the primary producer been neglected? The very fact that the private sector operates on the principle of enlightened self-interest must act as a guarantee to ensure that the interests of the producers are not neglected.

Even if the government is accused of encouraging agribusiness cannot the government fine tune the policies to remove the element of exploitation?

That brings us to the basic question. Agribusiness is a part of the corporate sector. Is India Inc. against the Indian people? Unless there is objective evidence that India Inc goes against a national interest even when one finds that the budget encourages agribusiness, can it be considered as something undesirable or objectionable?

We have had the traditional form of agricultural production for generations. Technologies like hybrid seeds and modern agricultural practices helped in the green revolution. Why not give a chance to corporatisation of agriculture as another way forward? After all practically in all the developed countries the population dependent on agriculture is less than 10 per cent unlike us where still 60 per cent find employment in that sector.
The time has come for a fresh look at agribusiness. If the budget helps the agribusiness so much the better. We must hope that the FM's gamble pays off.









Indian industry seems to be on a roll. The index of industrial production (IIP) for January 2010 grew by 16.7 per cent over last year, fuelled by 17.9 per cent growth in the manufacturing index (its principal component) and a robust 14.2 per cent growth in mining. This follows growth of 17.6 per cent in December 2009. While the January print is certainly impressive, there were some early indications that the December momentum would sustain in January. The January core sector index that includes sectors like oil and gas, electricity, steel and cement (and is released before the IIP) grew by a solid 9.4 per cent as did non-oil imports, known to correlate well with industrial activity. The purchase managers' index (PMI), another "leading indicator" for industrial production that is based on a survey of manufacturing firms, had also perked up in January.

 While the January data seems to confirm yet again that the industrial recovery is well-entrenched, a word of caution would not be entirely out of order. The capital goods component of the index grew at a spectacular 56 per cent in January and was a major contributor to the buoyancy in the aggregate index. This, prima facie, would indicate a recovery in investments in the economy. However, this is not corroborated by other data, particularly credit growth that still remains weak. Bankers keep complaining that while companies have ambitious capital expansion plans, they are still wary of drawing down their sanctioned limits to execute these plans. Thus, it is somewhat difficult to fathom this apparent robustness in capital goods production that the IIP suggests. One possible explanation is that the traction in capital goods is driven by its curiously-titled component "transport equipment and parts" that stands for truck and bus production. Truck sales have been strong for a few months and the demand for buses seems to have picked on the back of allocations made to states under the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission. However, unless there is a more "genuine" recovery in investment driven by a rising capex cycle, the ability of industrial growth to sustain its current momentum is uncertain. The other worrying bit is the decline in consumer non-durables, the day to day consumption items of households, by 3.1 per cent. This is keeping with the trend of soft growth in this category for the past few months and suggests that disposable incomes are under pressure possibly due to high food prices. The data for January has consequence for monetary policy as well. The IIP is likely to be a critical input in RBI's interest rate decision and the current configuration of high growth and elevated inflation would warrant tighter monetary policy. Thus, it is likely that interest rates will begin to rise even before capacity expansion has even begun to look up. Besides, the IIP measures production growth, not profitability. Thus, even with strong growth in sales volumes, a combination of rising interest rates and high input costs that inflation entails could dent company profits going forward. The stock market remained remarkably indifferent to the IIP release and actually sold off a tad. Is the prospect of higher borrowing costs and shrinking margins playing on its mind?






While RBI readies to start issuing new banking licences and looking at criterion like increasing the net worth requirements, it would do well to look back at the Bank of Rajasthan case and see if it has learnt any lessons from it. And these involve looking at the history of those allowed to run banks where thousands of crores and more of public deposits are at stake. With the Bank of Rajasthan's extraordinary general meeting last week resulting in P K Tayal, the bank's largest shareholder, not getting re-elected as a director, RBI's immediate worries may be over; but the details of whether Tayal, in fact, used his position to influence the bank's lending will be known only after the special audit report by Deloitte Haskins and Sells is out by the end of the month — the bank, it turns out, didn't even have credit committees to clear large loans, according to an interview given by its managing director and chief executive officer. That things had been going wrong at the bank, of course, is something RBI has suspected for some time and that is why, last November, the central bank appointed the new chief executive and managing director. Last week, acting upon a reference from RBI, stock market regulator Sebi found that, while professing to have reduced his shareholdings in the bank (from 44.2 per cent in June 2007 to 28.6 per cent in December 2009) in line with RBI directions, Tayal had actually increased his shareholdings to 55 per cent. This was done by transferring funds from Tayal group companies to the Yadav group of companies — the latter bought the bank's shares and later transferred them to firms located in Silvassa at addresses which were the offices or manufacturing facilities of various Tayal group companies.

 Two sets of issues come up. First, if this had been going on for a while, why is it that no RBI audit caught this? Two, this is not the first time Tayal has been the subject of serious investigations by the authorities. In 1996, for instance, the income tax authorities had alleged a group company had inflated bills of textile machinery by Rs 145 crore — when an audit was done at the behest of a financial institution, IFCI, the auditor said the company had said the vouchers for this amount had been destroyed in a fire and that some data relating to two Tayal companies had got corrupted in the computer. In 1998, the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau had found evidence of share transactions of the type Sebi has now discovered and pointed out the funds for these share transactions were provided by siphoning off money from group companies. All of this was known to RBI but instead of probing deeper, it just went by the book — when the matter was referred to the Department of Company Affairs, it fined the group Rs 58,000 (!) in keeping with the provisions of law and ended the matter. So, from RBI's point of view, there was no pending case against Tayal. Given the facts of the Tayal case, and the manner in which investigations either drag on, get closed for political reasons or get settled with minor fines, RBI needs to take a larger view of the history of the groups being considered for banking licences, and also remember the principles that defined bank nationalisation in 1969, including delinking of industrial and finance capital.

(Disclosure: Kotak Mahindra Bank is a significant stakeholder in Business Standard)







On February 26, even before the dust had settled in Parliament, media headlines screamed: "46 per cent of outlays for infrastructure." Based on this headline, commentators, for the next few days, mouthed the common refrain that this Budget was truly weighted towards infrastructure development, and that it marked an epochal shift. Was it?

While the dust was settling, Bidisha Ganguly, economic research head, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), made a quick dive for relevant statistics and came up with a few home truths. There evidently is no epochal shift on the 46 per cent of Plan allocation. Infrastructure allocations had touched a high of 48.6 per cent in 2005-06.

But yes, there has been a staggering increase of Rs 0.87 lakh crore for infrastructure, from Rs 0.86 lakh crore in 2007-08 (the first year of the 11th Five Year Plan) to Rs 1.73 lakh crore in 2010-11. This clearly underscores the UPA government's commitment to put its money where its mouth is. To understand the scale, note that this increase of Rs 0.87 lakh crore is equal to what is currently earmarked for paying salaries and other current expenses of the three armed forces of India.

Rural development and infrastructure have clearly been the thrust areas of the UPA's governance plank. The steep rise in allocations for infrastructure in recent years is clear.



(Rs lakh crore)

As % of 

2001 - 02



2002 - 03



2003 - 04



2004 - 05



2005 - 06



2006 - 07



2007 - 08



2008 - 09



2009 - 10



2010 - 11



A few perspectives on this are in order:

Perspective one: The total size of the Union Budget is Rs 11.09 lakh crore. The infrastructure allocation is thus 16 per cent of the Union Budget.

Perspective two: The Union Budget is split between non-Plan and Plan expenditures. An amount of Rs 7.36 lakh crore has been allocated towards the non-Plan expenditure and Rs 3.73 lakh crore are allocated towards the Plan expenditure. Infrastructure development falls into the Plan expenditure category.

Perspective three: Of the Rs 3.73 lakh crore of Plan expenditure, the infrastructure allocation is Rs 1.73 lakh crore. This is the 46 per cent of Plan allocation that is being applauded.

The question then is: What is this Rs 1.73 lakh crore, or 46 per cent, composed of. 


(Rs crore)





Central Plan Outlay (Budget Support)
on Infrastructure (including others)





Ministry of Civil Aviation





Ministry of Communication and IT





Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation





Ministry of Power





Ministry of Road Transport and Highways





Department of Rural Development





Department of Drinking Water Supply





Ministry of Urban Development










Central Assistance for States and UTs 
on Infrastructure (including others)





MPs Local Area Development Scheme





Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme 
and other water source programmes





Roads & Bridges





Backward Region Grant Fund










Annual capital allowance for other project





Total spending on infrastructure





Some conclusions are in order.

One: At some stage, a certain amount of hair-splitting is indeed required to determine how much of the allocations actually goes into creation of infrastructure assets. For that, we will have to wait till the government gets its act together on collecting and disseminating statistics on gross capital formation in infrastructure. Currently, there exists a certain amount of confusion because "revenue expenditure" and "capital formation" often get blurred in the statistics. For example, the allocation of Rs 40,100 crore for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) in the Rural Development Section, does not all go towards creating infrastructure. But this is the way the finance ministry currently "defines" infrastructure!

Two: The break-up of the outlay across different heads of expenditure provides some interesting insights:  

·  Civil Aviation has jumped from a paltry Rs 200 crore to a huge Rs 2,000 crore. No doubt, the bulk of it is for bailing out Air India, and hopefully, some is left over for modernisation of airports. 


·  The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy sees a 40 per cent increase in allocation from a steady Rs 620 crore earlier to Rs 1,000 crore now. 


·  The power and the road ministries get 15 per cent and 16 per cent increase, respectively. 


·  The shipping ministry has seen allocations stagnate around the Rs 600-crore level. Clearly, we need more aggression in this sector. 


·  The Ministry of Urban Development gets a 76 per cent increase, whereas Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) is left at the same level as last year. 


·  At the state level, irrigation gets a boost with an increase of Rs 1,800 crore (18 per cent). 

·  The Bundelkhand region gets a whopping Rs 1,200 crore for drought-mitigation.

Three: As per the 11th Plan, the nation needs $500 billion (Rs 22.5 lakh crore), or $100 billion per annum. This translates into a requirement of Rs 4.5 lakh crore per annum. Of this Rs 4.5 lakh crore, the Union Budget is able to subscribe to Rs 1.73 lakh crore, or roughly 38 per cent. Well, that is very much in order, considering 30 per cent is slated to come from public private partnerships (PPP), and the balance of 32 per cent from states and off-Budget resources.

Thus, while infrastructure outlays account for 15 per cent of the overall Budget and 46 per cent of Plan outlay, it is roughly 38 per cent of what the nation needs every year to support the Eleventh Plan vision. To this extent, the government needs our whole-hearted appreciation for internal consistency, and requires us to stand firmly for the infrastructure-building imperative.

The infrastructure story is hopefully feeding into the India (gradually) shining story.

Vinayak Chatterjee is the chairman of Feedback Ventures. He is also the chairman of CII's National Council on Infrastructure. The views expressed are personal








During my childhood, my parents never bought Japanese toys — though these toys used to be cheap, their quality was very poor. What a contrast to the reputation for quality the Japanese gained in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, in the 1980s, Japanese manufacturing efficiency and quality left large segments of western industry, from automobiles to consumer electronics, unable to compete, giving birth to "Japanophobia". And, one of the major drivers of the manufacturing revolution was Toyota, the automobile manufacturer which became the world's largest auto maker last year, from when it started 60 years ago: "The Toyota Way" became a synonym for quality and efficiency, an icon for a nation obsessed with craftsmanship and quality.

 The recall of something like eight million cars in the last few months has clearly damaged Toyota's reputation for quality. (In the past, American manufacturers have also recalled cars in even bigger numbers.) Have Toyota's quality standards been diluted, or has modern manufacturing become too complex for the human mind to grasp and manage? One is inclined towards the latter explanation, if only because of the problems and delays faced by other sophisticated manufacturing companies: Boeing and Europe's Airbus Industrie, for example, have faced large and costly delays in launching new aircraft.

But to come back to complexity, Kenichi Ohmae, the management guru, recently wrote that an average Toyota has about 24,000 inputs and outputs, with 70 computer chips processing the information and sending it to other chips to operate the engine control — just imagine the sheer complexity of the needed software. Ohmae pinpoints the problem: "What the company is missing is the human factor — a single person who has a comprehensive understanding of the details of the engine and how the parts interact and work as a whole." One also wonders whether highly complex, global supply chains also contribute to the problem. How one longs for the days when streetc-orner car mechanics used to repair any fault!

Governance of modern societies is also having its own complexity problems: It seems the reason why the Boston bomber could not be apprehended by the US security personnel despite several advance warnings, is that the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) is so inundated with data that, despite all the computing power, it is incapable of timely interpretation. At a more mundane level, the American-simplified personal tax code runs to hundreds of pages — as do many other legislations!

But whatever the complexity problems of manufacturing industry and governments, they are dwarfed by the financial sector — the way "the best and the brightest" in financial services (rating companies, banks, regulators, etc) overlooked the risks in complex collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) is clearly a manifestation of this. True, greed also contributed to the mess, but so, surely, did the complexity: Andrew Haldane of the Bank of England has estimated that the CDO documentation alone ran to a billion pages!

Complexity means that the human mind is incapable of having a mental image of the answers — and becomes totally dependent on what comes out of the "Black Box", with sometimes disastrous results. As an example of complexity, consider the following description of an article on option pricing in a recent issue of Asia Risk: "Cross-asset quadratic Gaussian models have been limited in the scale of their implementation by the difficulty in ensuring the correct drift conditions to omit arbitrage. Here… shows how to exploit the symmetries of the functional form to solve this, and implements the model to price cliquets in the presence of significant skew in the smile." I am sure it is a fascinating intellectual exercise but I am still struggling to understand what earthly purpose, other than to fill the pockets of the structurers, such complex derivatives fulfil. Do the quants understand that prices are determined by liquidity and animal spirits, and not by mathematical models using 'n' Greeks? Have obscure complexity, and not simplicity, commonsense and lucidity become synonymous with modernity, knowledge and sophistication?

But why go so far? The situation is not very different in our own country. Narayanan Vaghul, one of the wisest and most brilliant bankers of my generation, told me once that he could not understand half the things that were being presented to the ICICI Board, which he chaired, for approval. One also wonders whether regulatory requirements are not adding to the complexity of financial services, and hence the ability of the human mind to grasp and decide upon the issues. Bank board agendas often run to a couple of thousand pages, and offer documents for public issues run to hundreds of pages. (Does any board member/intending investor actually read them?)

I recently decided to sell a few shares I own. The process of opening a demat account with a depository and a trading account with a broker has taken me more than two months, and it is still not over. I have perhaps signed a few dozen different forms each requiring 20+ signatures. [Incidentally, I have not read any of them, nor, I suspect, have the depository participant (DP)/broker employees I dealt with]. The assumption seems to be that the number of signatures and the length of the form are a concrete manifestation of "due diligence".  







Government policy towards school education is schizophrenic. While on the one hand, it is working on rules to set up, to begin with, 2,500 public private partnership schools as a means to see how it can increase private sector involvement in providing education to the underprivileged (economically or socially) in a bigger way; on the other, it is all set to virtually nationalise elementary education in the country through the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. If that sounds like a huge overreaction, read on.

 The manner in which the government will nationalise private school education is two-fold. First, all private schools have to reserve a fourth of their seats for "children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups in the neighbourhood and provide free and compulsory elementary education till its completion". That is, private schools will now have to deal with SC/ST/OBC/poor and any other reservation the government can think of — and all these criteria can be "specified by the appropriate government, by notification" and changed from time to time. As for the payment for sequestering of a fourth of their capacity, schools will be paid rates thought fit by the government — this could be what the government spends per child in its own schools or some other formula. All those planning to expand their schools, like education provider Educomp and school chains like Delhi Public School, would be well advised to reconsider their plans since the Act will lower earning levels significantly. More important, private schools will now be answerable to various government departments, from the minority affairs ministry to the schedule caste commission and more — apart from, of course, the education bureaucracy which will monitor whether children belonging to "disadvantaged groups" or "weaker sections" are being admitted in adequate numbers.

There are other gems in the Act which make you wonder how schools are to be run — "no child admitted in a school shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education"; "medium of instructions shall, as far as practicable, be in the child's mother tongue" (that's something both Ashok Chavan and Raj Thackeray should welcome!); "no teacher shall engage himself or herself in private tuition or private teaching activity", etc.

If this isn't bad enough, there's another section which says that in the future, only "recognised" private schools will be allowed to impart education — existing unrecognised schools will have three to five years to get this certificate. To be "recognised", the school has to meet certain infrastructure norms, it has to have a minimum teacher-to-pupil ratio and its teachers must have certain basic educational qualifications. In principle, this sounds the correct thing to do, but if this results in these schools closing down (or paying hefty bribes to school inspectors to survive), that sort of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? There are no firm numbers on private schools and estimates vary from 25 per cent in rural areas (according to Pratham's annual Aser report) to 40-50 per cent in cities like Delhi by others.

The schedule of the Act has some basic norms on the teacher-pupil ratio (two for schools with 60 children, five for 121 to 200 children and so on) and says there should be at least one classroom for every teacher. Each state, however, is free to set its own norms — the Punjab one, for instance, says elementary schools have an area of at least 750 sq metre (1,000 sq metre for matriculation and 1,500 sq metre for senior secondary), each classroom has to be 200 sq feet and should be at least 10 feet wide, the door passage must not be less than 3x6 feet, the laboratory must not be less than 225 sq feet and the library should be 250 sq feet. There can be little doubt bigger classrooms are better, but can the schools afford them? And shouldn't the focus be on testing for education outcomes than on simply listing physical infrastructure? In any case, since no private school forces parents to enroll their children at gun point, it is obvious they are providing some education that existing government schools aren't. Education minister Kapil Sibal doesn't believe unrecognised private schools teach anything, but why doesn't he get his own testing done on a regular basis or, more important, just focus on improving the government schools? Unrecognised private schools that don't teach will then die a natural death.

There's more. It is common knowledge that unrecognised private schools pay a fraction of what the government does to teachers, and they make do with teachers who aren't as qualified as those in government schools. According to the Act, "the salary and allowances payable to, and the terms and conditions of service of, teachers shall be such as may be prescribed" — the Model Rules issued along with the Act spell this out in greater detail. Not surprising then that when Sibal told a group of educators that there was nothing in the Act which said private schools had to pay government salaries, there was a stunned silence in the room.

Postscript: While Sibal is categorical that foreign/private colleges will not have to reserve seats for SC/ST/OBC since they haven't been set up with government money, he has little compunction in asking private schools to reserve seats for these groups! Though several private schools are threatening to go to court, I wouldn't worry too much about this — when telecom firm STel went to court and won its case against the government's arbitrary allocation of licences to a handful of chosen firms, the government simply asked it to stop operations in the places it had licences. So, the company wrote a note saying it never wanted any more licences anyway and the government used this to try and convince the Supreme Court not to rule on the matter! Basically, no one can take on the government when it resorts to strong-arm tactics.







Gender makes for strange bedfellows! Yesterday's political untouchables have become today's huggables! So, Ms Brinda Karat, the Marxist, happily holds the hands of Ms Sushma Swaraj of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Gender rights have demonstrated the ability to unite what other principles have long separated, and divide what pragmatism has long united. Thus, in the same TV frame in which the two ladies were all smiles, the sullen Ms Mamata Banerjee was trying to free herself from the Congress party's embrace.

 Politics is, of course, the art of the possible but what seemed impossible barely a year ago, the coming together of the Right and the Left, was achieved with consummate artistry in this Budget session of Parliament. Rising petrol prices ignited new political passions that then found unreserved expression on the Women's Reservation Bill. In this era of multipolarity, the end of BJP's "untouchability" opens up new possibilities.

That apart, all the non-Congress parties had one thing on mind when they adopted their varying postures on the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. They wanted to teach the Congress party a simple lesson in political arithmetic: that 206 is less than 272!

Allies and opponents alike have been uncomfortable with the post-election hubris of the Congress party and its leadership. While the Congress party claimed victory and its president Sonia Gandhi called women journalists into the hallowed premises of her home and office to take credit, the fact remained that it was the coming together of Ms Swaraj and Ms Karat that gave Ms Gandhi a reason to smile!

Why was Ms Karat willing to hold Ms Swaraj's hands a year before elections in West Bengal and Kerala? Because the BJP is not a factor in either state? Because the Marxist communist party (CPM) thinks it will gain from women voters what it may lose among the Muslim minority? What explains the political realignments in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, apart from the supposed self-confidence of the Congress party that is willing to jettison allies without numbers?

Last week has raised more questions about Indian politics than it has answered. Was it merely Congress party President Sonia Gandhi's whim and whip that turned the coalition kaleidoscope or are the underlying political tectonic plates shifting? Some answer may come out of how different parties deal with this Bill in the Lok Sabha.

Why is politics back in command in an essentially non-political year? In a Budget session, most expected the King to be in the counting-house, counting out his money, and the Queen to be in her parlour eating bread and honey. So, how come the nursery rhyme got changed and everyone was singing ring-a-ring-a roses?!

If the Karat-Swaraj tango was not just a one-session stand but a shape of things to come, should we expect to see a re-alignment of the first (National Democratic Alliance), second (United Progressive Alliance) and third fronts? Surely, it is too early in the tenure of this government for anyone to even speculate along such lines. Congress party strategists would have calculated, and correctly so, that with a solid base of 206 members in the Lok Sabha, the party can withstand any attempt to destabilise the present government, despite some of the self goals it has scored.

The outcome of the Bihar assembly elections later this year will not make any difference to the government in Delhi. The possibility of a Sharad Pawar- Bal Thackeray government in Mumbai appears remote, and it would be a crown of thorns for Mr Pawar. He has let it be known that he will not destabilise a Manmohan Singh government in Delhi. Nor will Ms Banerjee. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress party holds all the cards even if it has shied away from using them.

It is precisely because the government is so stable that there are so many trying to destabilise it! Keep the government off balance a bit so that it doesn't get too bold! That is what the Pakistanis like to do with India. Keep it off balance! That is what the Americans do with all other major powers. Keep them all off balance. Coalition partners don't like self-confident governments.

Those who lament that the politics of UPA-II's first year in office has produced a less assertive government than in UPA-I base their argument on this perspective. This would partly explain this year's Budget being good but not good enough. A bolder Budget, in terms of fiscal stabilisation and economic reform, was expected by those who thought an electorally re-empowered Congress party with no major elections in sight would use the opportunity to do things it has not so far.

It remains to be seen if the Congress party will reach out to the BJP and the Left on economic, foreign policy and national security issues in the same way it has on the Women's Reservation Bill. It is unlikely to, also because the Left and the BJP may not be willing to play ball on other policy issues as they did on this Bill.

Moreover, both the Left and the BJP may get more aggressive in months to come having noted that the Congress party's allies are uncomfortable with the ruling party's new assertiveness.

The Congress party, like the United States, still dreams of those heady days of political unipolarity, when kitchen cabinets cooked policy. Despite running a successful coalition, thanks to the wisdom and patience of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Congress party is finding it difficult to come to terms with the multipolarity of Indian politics.

Every one of the other political parties has, therefore, a stake in reminding the Congress party that politics in India remains multipolar and we are still in the "era of coalitions".








As much as 10 million tonnes (MT) of wheat, half of the Food Corporation of India's (FCI) stock of the grain, is stored in the open and runs the risk of getting spoilt. The government is expected to procure another 24 MT of a record estimated 82 MT wheat output that will start arriving in the markets in April. Mountains of grain will be built and rot, even as food prices stay stubbornly up.

An article by Mr Ashok Khemka in this newspaper (ET, March 11) highlighted the problem and urged the government to liquidate the 10 MT of wheat stored in the open, before fresh procurement begins. We strongly endorse the recommendation. The buffer stocks of cereals are way too large — for wheat, five times the norm, and for rice, at 24 MT, twice the requirement.

The Economic Survey 2009-10 had suggested grain should be released in small batches to a large number of traders at prices significantly below the market price, but sufficiently above the procurement price. If the selling price is close to the procurement price, traders might just buy from the FCI and sell it back to the FCI, pushing grain off the market so that retail prices would stay high. It is high time the government revamped its entire system of food management.

Private trade must be permitted and encouraged to play a much larger role in the procurement, storage and distribution of grain. The government must distinguish between the minimum support price and the procurement price, and stop blanket procurement of whatever is offered . It must procure only to meet its buffer stocking norm. And it must keep retail prices in check, selling directly to consumers through the 4.5 lakh outlets of the public distribution system, and offloading a series of frequent, unpredictable and geographically-dispersed quantities to the retail and wholesale trade at below-market prices.

In the meantime, the government must start revamping the distribution of consumption subsidy. Food coupons or cash transfers to women members of the target households, as discussed in the Survey, could be explored. At any rate, we must quickly put an end to food mountains that rot or feed the rodents even as food prices soar.







The government told Parliament the other day that groundwater in more than a third of the districts is unfit for drinking due to high levels of iron, fluoride and arsenic . The era of seemingly endless reliance on groundwater for both drinking water and irrigation is well nigh over as an increasing number of aquifers reach unsustainable levels of exploitation.

Fortunately, community-led management of groundwater resources, such as the Andhra Pradesh farmer-managed groundwater systems project (Fams), is emerging as a dependable institutional tool for participatory hydrological monitoring and crop water budgeting.

This merits the close attention of the Centre and the states. Hard-rock aquifers, such as those in peninsular India, have low storage — they fill quickly during the monsoon and also deplete quickly with use. But Fams, implemented in seven drought-prone districts in Andhra, has led to rationalisation of water use by a combination of crop diversification and water-saving irrigation methods.

Follow-up surveys reveal reduction in the area under high-water-use crops, with 50% reduction from baseline figures over two years, in some instances. It's important to note that farmers have not "sacrificed profitability" to reduce water use. The results show that farmers, in fact, have consistently improved profitability, with the net value of output nearly doubling during the project period.

India is by far the largest groundwater user in the world, with more than 60% of irrigated farming and 85% drinking water supplies dependent on the resource. And the key objective of Fams, a UN Food and Agriculture Organization project, is to enable groundwater-using farmers with the necessary data, skills and knowledge to manage groundwater resources sustainably.

The objective is to figure out the state of the aquifer and the gap between what is available and what is desired in the aquifer community. Given that two-thirds of our aquifers are of the hard-rock variety, each generally confined to 5-10 habitations, it would make eminent sense to scale up Fams pan-India .







The government told Parliament the other day that groundwater in more than a third of the districts is unfit for drinking due to high levels of iron, fluoride and arsenic . The era of seemingly endless reliance on groundwater for both drinking water and irrigation is well nigh over as an increasing number of aquifers reach unsustainable levels of exploitation.

Fortunately, community-led management of groundwater resources, such as the Andhra Pradesh farmer-managed groundwater systems project (Fams), is emerging as a dependable institutional tool for participatory hydrological monitoring and crop water budgeting.

This merits the close attention of the Centre and the states. Hard-rock aquifers, such as those in peninsular India, have low storage — they fill quickly during the monsoon and also deplete quickly with use. But Fams, implemented in seven drought-prone districts in Andhra, has led to rationalisation of water use by a combination of crop diversification and water-saving irrigation methods.

Follow-up surveys reveal reduction in the area under high-water-use crops, with 50% reduction from baseline figures over two years, in some instances. It's important to note that farmers have not "sacrificed profitability" to reduce water use. The results show that farmers, in fact, have consistently improved profitability, with the net value of output nearly doubling during the project period.

India is by far the largest groundwater user in the world, with more than 60% of irrigated farming and 85% drinking water supplies dependent on the resource. And the key objective of Fams, a UN Food and Agriculture Organization project, is to enable groundwater-using farmers with the necessary data, skills and knowledge to manage groundwater resources sustainably.

The objective is to figure out the state of the aquifer and the gap between what is available and what is desired in the aquifer community. Given that two-thirds of our aquifers are of the hard-rock variety, each generally confined to 5-10 habitations, it would make eminent sense to scale up Fams pan-India .







Salt, or the lack of it — as was amply proved by Mahatma Gandhi exactly 80 years ago this week — can stir up quite a storm. Any measure to curtail it spells trouble, no matter what the reason. Clearly a certain assembly man in New York has not heard of Dandi and hence this March has proposed a Bill that seeks a ban on salt in restaurant dishes in his city, bolstered with a fine of $1,000 fine on violators.

There was a clear absence of altruism behind the successive punitive levies on salt by the British colonial rulers in India, but the Brooklyn politician has insisted that health reasons back his call for a crackdown on the condiment. He claims that reducing the salt content in food can save up to one lakh lives.

The assemblyman has, however, put in provisos for diners to take their lives into their own hands — much like parking lots that do not take responsibility for any loss or damage for the cars left there — and add their own salt fix from the killer cellars on the tables. Though he may have set in motion a curtailing initiative that could lead to salt becoming contraband and being hawked surreptitiously in seedy street corners, the assemblyman has to be commended for his public spirit.

But New Yorkers would still run the risk of getting murdered , run over, drowned or frozen to death, or come a cropper by lighting up in public areas or by ignoring calorie information on menucards so thoughtfully pioneered by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His concession to restaurants that could soon be mourning both the loss of flavour and customer favour, is that they could opt for voluntary reductions of 25% spread over five years.

If the formula works for carbon emission, why not for sodium attrition? Incidentally, motivated by the prevalence of hypertension — not surprising in a city that famously never sleeps — the mayor has also been mulling a tax on fizzy drinks to trim his citizens, if not the budget. What could be the next public health initiative? Ban vehicular transport so that people walk more? Hopefully, Indian mayors will not get similar philanthropic ideas.









MUMBAI: Affluent investors had a couple of rare debt offerings to save on income tax this year. After a brief interval, the Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC) mopped up close to Rs 2,000 crore by issuing tax-free railway bonds. This tax season also witnessed placement of two 54-EC capital gains bond issues by REC and NHAI, which together raised around Rs 2,300 crore.

The two 'mega bond' issues have attracted money from affluent investors who otherwise invested in mutual fund tax savers and ULIPs to save tax, according to wealth managers. The tax-free railway bonds got fully placed — collecting a little over Rs 1,900 crore — in just about three hours' time, according to distributors. IRFC has pegged the coupon rate on bonds between 6.5% and 7.25% a year depending on the tenure (5-year, 7-year and 10-year-term available) of the tranche.

"The railway bond was a private placement issue, distributed among high net worth investors and a few corporates having large long-term cash surpluses," said Ashish Agarwal, executive director, AK Capital, the manager to the issue.

"More money came into the 10-year bucket. Investors don't have worries investing for longer term, as these are tradable bonds listed on exchanges," Mr Agarwal added. According to wealth managers, the bonds are also used as collateral to raise money from the market.

IRFC has started the borrowing programme to fund its rolling-stock acquisition plans and meet rail modernisation expenditure. There are complaints that the railway bond issue was not advertised among retail investors in a big way. "Though the minimum investment limit was Rs 10,000, the issues were not given to retail investors. Most wealth managers were accepting investments of over Rs 2-3 lakh," said a Mumbai-based independent finance analyst.

Tax-saving 54-EC capital gains bond issue by REC and NHAI also got a strong response from affluent investors. According to January figures, REC collected about Rs 500 crore, while NHAI raised over Rs 1,800 crore by way of capital gains bond issues. The issue had failed to attract buyers last year — issued towards the last months of the fiscal — as a result of the slump in real estate sector.

In '08-09, NHAI had raised Rs 1,630 crore against a target of Rs 3,000 crore. In '07-08 and '06-07, it had collected Rs 305 crore and Rs 1,500 crore, respectively, according to distributors' logsheets. Falling real estate prices had brought down investments in capital bonds by about 30% during '08-09, wealth managers said.

"Popularity is rising gradually for capital gains bonds. It will be even better next year, when property owners sell their asset at higher prices, assuming real estate price hold steady over the next one year," said Harish Sabharwal, chief operating officer, Bajaj Capital.

Under income-tax laws, one can save on payment of capital gains tax if the amount is used for repurchase of property within a 12-month period. Alternatively, capital gains tax can be avoided by investing in capital gains bonds. These bonds bear a coupon rate in the range of 6.15 and 6.25%.







MUMBAI: India Inc's advance tax figures for the January-March quarter and global markets will influence the market direction in the week ahead. As investors seek reasons to justify existing stock valuations, advance tax data will give investors an idea of companies' profits in the quarter that will be formally announced in April.

The current market undertone is nervous, with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) expected to raise rates at the policy review meeting on April 20, as inflation is showing no signs of mellowing. Investors are concerned that steeper rate hikes or moves to suck out more money from banks would push up borrowing costs for consumers and companies and derail chances of the economy's revival. Some feel such concerns are exaggerated.

"Investors continue to generally misinterpret the broader policy framework and the likely course of policy moves in India," said Macquarie's economist Rajeev Malik in a report. "Investors remain worried about shifting macro-risks in India, despite the majority of actual economic outcomes being better than expected," he added.

Last week, the government said industrial output in January grew at 16.7% from last year, in line with
market expectations. Investors expect the partial rollback of fiscal stimulus package in the Union Budget along
with likely rate hikes to slow industrial output in the coming months.

In the US, investors will watch industrial production, housing and consumer inflation data for February over this week, as their outcome could partly determine the monetary policy stance of the US Federal Reserve. Back home, technical analysts expect the Nifty to trade in the 5100-5200 range in the next few sessions. The index closed at 5137 on Friday. The Open Interest build-up in 5000 March Put options of about 1.2 crore units suggests that traders expect the index to find support at 5000.

"The general impression is that the 5000 level is a good support, but it doesn't seem so, if one were to go by the IVs (of 5000 Puts) at just around 19-20," said Siddarth Bhamre, head-derivatives, Angel Broking.







Nifty March futures opened week on a positive note at 5133.60 levels and traded within a small range (5092-5168.80) throughout the week and closed at 5144.70 levels with 1.12% gains. Short-covering was seen on Thursday and Friday, where Nifty March futures closed on a positive note and Open Interest (OI) was down by 3.46% and 0.55%, respectively. Nifty March futures closed on premium for the past consecutive three trading days, which shows that the market is positive.

PCR volume has been trading at a 2-week low at 0.89, which shows activities on the Call side have been more aggressive. On Friday, a short build-up was seen in 5200 and 5100 Calls, with 25% and 16% increase in OI. On the other hand, short build-up was seen in 5100 Put with 1.25% increase in OI and long unwinding was seen in 5000 Calls with 0.25% decrease in OI. Technically, the Nifty also has got an important support zone in the 5000-5050 range.

India VIX has been trading at two months low at 19.73 levels, which shows the market is expecting low volatility and low fear at current levels, which is positive for the market.

The market is expecting some resistance at 5200 levels with respect to Nifty March Call-Put options and PCR volume data, and the same time, the market is also expecting an important support in the 5000-5100 range with respect to India VIX and Nifty's technical levels. Therefore, a range-bound scenario may be continuing and a decisive price strength may be seen only above 5200 levels.

According to international indices, Dow Jones has been showing strength and trading above 10600 levels, which is positive for markets in Asia and Europe. Also, the Nifty is trying to reach its technical target at 5225 from 4940 breakout levels. The overall picture shows a range-bound to bullish scenario in all international equity markets. Increase in Open Interest and a positive price movement i.e. long build-up were seen in Jindal Saw and Crompton Stocks.

Puneet Kinra, Sr Tech Analyst (Equity Research), Bonanza Portfolio








MUMBAI: Affluent investors had a couple of rare debt offerings to save on income tax this year. After a brief interval, the Indian Railway Finance Corporation (IRFC) mopped up close to Rs 2,000 crore by issuing tax-free railway bonds. This tax season also witnessed placement of two 54-EC capital gains bond issues by REC and NHAI, which together raised around Rs 2,300 crore.

The two 'mega bond' issues have attracted money from affluent investors who otherwise invested in mutual fund tax savers and ULIPs to save tax, according to wealth managers. The tax-free railway bonds got fully placed — collecting a little over Rs 1,900 crore — in just about three hours' time, according to distributors. IRFC has pegged the coupon rate on bonds between 6.5% and 7.25% a year depending on the tenure (5-year, 7-year and 10-year-term available) of the tranche.

"The railway bond was a private placement issue, distributed among high net worth investors and a few corporates having large long-term cash surpluses," said Ashish Agarwal, executive director, AK Capital, the manager to the issue.

"More money came into the 10-year bucket. Investors don't have worries investing for longer term, as these are tradable bonds listed on exchanges," Mr Agarwal added. According to wealth managers, the bonds are also used as collateral to raise money from the market.

IRFC has started the borrowing programme to fund its rolling-stock acquisition plans and meet rail modernisation expenditure. There are complaints that the railway bond issue was not advertised among retail investors in a big way. "Though the minimum investment limit was Rs 10,000, the issues were not given to retail investors. Most wealth managers were accepting investments of over Rs 2-3 lakh," said a Mumbai-based independent finance analyst.

Tax-saving 54-EC capital gains bond issue by REC and NHAI also got a strong response from affluent investors. According to January figures, REC collected about Rs 500 crore, while NHAI raised over Rs 1,800 crore by way of capital gains bond issues. The issue had failed to attract buyers last year — issued towards the last months of the fiscal — as a result of the slump in real estate sector.

In '08-09, NHAI had raised Rs 1,630 crore against a target of Rs 3,000 crore. In '07-08 and '06-07, it had collected Rs 305 crore and Rs 1,500 crore, respectively, according to distributors' logsheets. Falling real estate prices had brought down investments in capital bonds by about 30% during '08-09, wealth managers said.

"Popularity is rising gradually for capital gains bonds. It will be even better next year, when property owners sell their asset at higher prices, assuming real estate price hold steady over the next one year," said Harish Sabharwal, chief operating officer, Bajaj Capital.

Under income-tax laws, one can save on payment of capital gains tax if the amount is used for repurchase of property within a 12-month period. Alternatively, capital gains tax can be avoided by investing in capital gains bonds. These bonds bear a coupon rate in the range of 6.15 and 6.25%.








Ever since finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee announced in his Budget speech that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) might be open to granting banking licences to new private sector players, markets have been agog with excitement.

Yet it is not as though the FM's statement per se signals any change in status quo. The RBI has never formally declared it will not entertain fresh applications for banks licences . Nor has it ever suggested there would be any dilution of its existing criteria on the subject. On the contrary! As the RBI's Deputy Governor was quick to clarify in a press conference soon after the Budget, 'The basic principles of ownership and govenance remain unchanged. They are sacrosanct . All the principles of ownership and governance will be taken into account while evolving the new guidelines' .

She also repeated a phrase, beloved of banking sector regulators the world over in the context of ownership and control of banks: 'fit and proper' . According to existing guidelines, important shareholders, defined as holding five per cent and above, the CEO and directors must be 'fit and proper' in the eyes of the central bank.

To some this may smack of high-handedness , another example of the RBI's autocratic ways, especially when there is really no way of defining what is 'fit and proper' . But India is no different from other countries in this. The reality is banking is a licensed activity everywhere in the world. Even in a lightly regulated market like the US neither GE nor Wal-mart has been given a branch banking licence. And it is not for want of trying!

Indeed one of the key tenets of the RBI's policy that it shares with many other regulators is that new banks should not be promoted by large industrial houses. While individual companies, directly or indirectly connected with large industrial houses, may be permitted to take a stake up to a maximum of 10%, they will not be allowed controlling interest in the bank.

There is a reason for this. Past experience , not only in India but also elsewhere, shows that when industrial houses control banks the outcome is never a happy one from the public perspective. Here it must be pointed out that the term 'industrial house' must be interpreted in the broader sense of corporate house regardless of whether it is engaged in manufacturing or services.

True the RBI does have safeguards like the 10% ceiling on voting rights, group exposure , concentration ratios and so on. But as the controversy over the Tayals of Bank of Rajasthan using front companies to transfer shares shows, subterfuges are possible , especially in the Indian context where governance structures are weak and benami companies not an exception.

So there is no case for re-visiting the ban on banks being owned directly or indirectly by industrial houses. The same would apply to non-bank finance companies controlled directly or indirectly by corporates
What about the other two categories – institutions and professionals? Of the two, there is no doubt banks promoted by institutions have fared better. But this does not mean that institutions will automatically qualify for a banking licence. The same 'fit and proper' criterion would come into play.

Of course the RBI would also need to lay down more objective criteria such as the minimum capital,promoter's share etc. But while doing so it will need to keep in mind the objectives underlying the issue of fresh licences. The Budget speech suggests there are two: One to ensure the banking system grows in size and sophistication to meet the needs of a modern society; and two, to extend the geographical coverage of banks and improve access to banking services.

The first is tenable (though post the crisis many would argue that too much sophistication could be as bad, if not worse, than too little!) , the second is not. Private sector banks, as experience has shown, go where the money is and unfortunately, this is not in the rural, unbanked areas of Jharkhand or Chattissgarh.

Clearly the only case for having more private sector banks is that they bring in more competition and ensure access to better and more sophisticated banking products. The question is how can the licencing authority ensure it strikes the right balance so that it is seen as the best judge rather than as opaque and arbitrary? Remember, despite its conservative approach, the RBI has made its share of mistakes – of the initial crop of new private sector banks that were given licences , less than a handful survive in their original form. So how can the RBI ensure entry into the banking sector is limited to only the right kind of players?

It's not going to be easy, given the stakes involved and the kind of furious lobbying that will inevitably follow the Budget announcement . The best institutional safeguard would be to make matters as transparent as possible and then entrust decisionmaking to a committee comprising competent professionals of proven integrity.








Indian equities are unlikely to repeat the 2009-10 performance any time soon, as the market is fairly valued at current levels, says Prasun Gajri, chief investment officer (CIO), HDFC Standard Life Insurance. In an interview with Apurv Gupta, Mr Gajri, who manages assets worth Rs 19,400 crore, says he is bullish on the domestic economy, but anticipates negative surprises in world markets as stimulus packages are gradually being withdrawn. Excerpts:

How do you expect Indian equities to perform in the foreseeable future? What will be your investment strategy hereon?

The Indian market has given extraordinary returns in the current fiscal. But it's unlikely to repeat the performance anytime soon. However, we continue to believe in the India growth story and are therefore quite bullish as far as equities as an asset class are concerned. The key factors contributing to the economic growth are in good shape and while there could be hiccups on the way, the broad direction is positive. We prefer to play the domestic themes.

We are structurally bullish on both domestic consumption as well as investment themes and our portfolio is aligned accordingly. We are not yet comfortable with global economy. We believe that more negative surprises can emerge globally.

Which are the key triggers you see driving the stock market performance in the near term? Which sectors will benefit from the Budget proposals over the medium term?

Near-term triggers are primarily related to inflation levels, expected monetary tightening by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and movement in interest rates. Besides, the paper supply from the government and global events will continue to impact the market. The Budget is pro-consumption, as it puts more money in the hands of individuals and doesn't completely reverse the fiscal stimulus.

What are your key concerns about the market?

Given our investment horizon, we are not worried about the market. We believe at current valuations of around 17 times (estimated) FY11 earnings, the market is fairly valued. However, there are some headwinds the market has to negotiate with. How interest rates shape up is something to watch out for. While the market expects RBI to tighten rates, the pace and the extent of tightening may surprise negatively.

Also, global market cues will be crucial and we believe that negative cues will surface from various parts of the world, periodically. One needs to see how these will impact inflows into emerging markets. Then, there are crude prices gradually inching up again. What the market may have overlooked is that the government has provided only Rs 3,000-crore subsidy for this purpose, and any rise in oil prices can impact fiscal deficit targets. Finally, one has to be cognisant of the large disinvestment programme. If inflows tighten, it may not be an easy task to execute the disinvestment programme in FY11.

What is your outlook on earnings for the current quarter? Do you expect any earnings upgrades, going forward?
Broadly, earnings will be in line with market expectations. There could be some impact of
rising input prices on margins and also of inflation on consumption patterns. But we don't expect these issues to dominate in this quarter. At the same time, we are not expecting significant positive surprises either. We feel that we are done with earnings upgrades, for now. The next cycle of upgrades is likely to be after the corporate capex kicks in fully in the second half of FY11.

How do you expect RBI to respond to inflationary pressures in the April policy review?
The IIP data point to a strong recovery. Inflation has been moving up and is likely to be around double-digit levels soon. While there is merit in the argument that inflation has been driven by supply-side constraints, we feel that the demand element has been picking up as well.

The fact that IIP growth is strong and inflation is still rising makes us believe that RBI will be forced to take action. Also, globally, inflation fears are increasing in some countries and policy tightening is already under way. Stimulus is getting withdrawn gradually across economies. Given this context, it is almost certain that RBI will tighten. We expect a 50-basis-point hike in the April policy review.









At a time when several consumer technology brands were feeling the heat of the recession, Japanese imaging major Canon came out full trumps in India. In 2009 it became the leading brand in India in terms of market share in six product segments—laser printer, scanner, photo printer, digital SLR camera, digital copier multi-function device and laser multi-function printer. Not only that, Canon India has emerged as the fastest growing unit globally. Canon India's senior vice-president, Alok Bharadwaj , who heads the sales and marketing functions, shared with Writankar Mukherjee the company's growth plans and his perspective on the digicam market in India. Excerpts.

Canon India was not impacted by the slowdown. How did that happen?

We experienced upbeat consumer sentiments during 2009, which resulted in our topline for camera business growing by 32%. Even as the market for copier and IT peripherals such as printers declined by 15% in 2009, Canon's IT peripheral business grew by nearly 66%.

To counter the industry trend, we infused Rs 100 crore in our capital base so that we could offer opex based or 'pay per use' service for large enterprises. We also launched 100 products across categories, several new marketing initiatives and strengthened service capabilities. All these initiatives paid rich dividends in terms of our market share.

This year, we are aiming for 30% growth and have plans to grow our revenue from Rs 840 crore to Rs 1,100 crore. We are putting plans to maintain this level of sustainable growth for the next few years, so that by 2014 we touch the Rs 3,000-crore mark.

How much do you invest in marketing? Will there be an increase?

For the last three years, we have been investing Rs 80 crore annually in marketing. This year, we have increased the budget to Rs 110 crore to make most of the end of slowdown. And it has already started paying. In the first two months of this year, we grew our topline by 50%. We have decided to invest 10% of our revenue in the growth of brand for the next few years.

Will you focus only on advertising with your brand ambassador Sachin Tendulkar or do you plan to grow below-the-line activities as well?

Last year, we shifted a lot of marketing funds to below-the-line marketing activities. This includes involvement with trade partners and sales people where we worked with the staff of over 380 distributors and 4,000 dealers to ensure that there is good last-mile communication with the consumers in the store. We also undertook a lot of customer connect initiatives so that they touch and feel our technology. This year, we will roll out four vans—Canon Image Express—which will tour 32 cities for a week each and will showcase and sell our products. In fact, after roping in Sachin in 2007, we have seen visible changes in two areas—brand popularity and higher acceptance of the Canon brand despite its premium positioning. There are also BTL activities that we have done with Sachin.

Do you think mobile phones could cannibalise digicam sales?

Photography fulfills four main compelling desires. Firstly, it helps to relive memory and hence there is a need to buy a digicam while going for holidays, festivals or family occasions. Secondly, photography is emerging as a fine art and expression of creativity. Thirdly, photographs can tell a story and in some cases, the speed of photograph becomes important like capturing sports. The above three desires cant be fulfilled by a mobile phone camera. However, the fourth need, where photography is required to complete a communication with images, a cellphone camera is capable enough. Hence, I don't think a mobile phone camera can cannibalise digital camera sales. On the contrary, it is doing positive for us by creating a need for good photography.

By - Alok Bharadwaj, Senior VP, Canon India










Steel Authority India (SAIL) chairman Sushil Kumar Roongta is a sports enthusiast whose energy levels are the envy of executives much younger to him. Currently, he is busy leading the modernisation and expansion efforts at the country's largest steelmaker. Mr Roongta shares his views on wide-ranging topics such as steel prices, challenge from Chinese imports and SAIL's expansion plans in a free-wheeling interview with ET. Excerpts:

Steel prices have started moving up in India and globally and are set to rise further in anticipation of a rise in prices of iron ore and coking coal. Is Sail looking at increasing prices?

There is certainly a case for upward revision in steel prices, considering the expected hike in price of raw materials. Coking coal and iron ore contracts are likely to be on a higher side next fiscal and, as a result, steel prices may increase by $100-$150 per tonne. We are waiting for the settlement of coking coal and iron ore contracts because it will be a major determinant of April-June quarter prices. There are reports that some of the Japanese steel makers have settled quarterly contracts for the next fiscal at prices almost 50% higher than the current year's prices. But, there's no room for price increase on account of supply shortage as there's enough steel capacity in the domestic market. Steel demand has recovered in the wake of economic recovery and so has the supply.

India's finished steel consumption registered close to 8% growth during April-December 2009, indicating a sharp turnaround in the economic activity. Do you think the growth rate is sustainable?

Steel market is looking up not only in India, but also in the US and Europe that were severely impacted by the economic downturn. The worst is over for the steel sector globally. In India, the metal demand grew at 10-14% in the first half of 2008, but dipped sharply in the second half due to the global economic and financial meltdown. Steel demand started recovering in April, 2009, and has till date been relatively better in India than the global demand trend. In the current fiscal, steel industry is likely to grow at 9% and attain 12% growth in the next fiscal owing to robust demand from automotive, infrastructure and consumer durable sectors. Steel demand will continue to rise as the government has proposed to invest Rs 1,73,000 crore in infrastructure in 2010-11, which will increase demand for steel and cement.

Do you still see a threat from China?

Stimulus measures taken by the Chinese government last year has helped its steel industry come out of the slowdown. Global steel demand was led by China in 2009 and domestic consumption is expected to remain strong in the country in the coming years. While a large part of steel produced in China is being consumed domestically, the possibility of China becoming a net exporter is not ruled out considering the fact that many steel mills in the country are adding capacity.

Since it's not possible to sustain such high levels of consumption growth, China, the world's largest producer and consumer of steel, may end up exporting larger quantities of surplus steel to countries like India. However, the situation is more or less under control as there's enough steel available in the domestic market.

Are the capacity addition targets set by SAIL achievable? What fresh investments will the company make in the next financial year?

India is set to emerge as the second largest producer and consumer of steel in the next 10 years. Sail is, therefore, focusing on domestic expansion to meet the emerging demand. Sail is confident of achieving 23 million tonne production capacity target by 2012. We would invest about Rs 60,000 crore in modernisation and expansion programmes. Next fiscal may see SAIL bringing in one million tonne of additional produce in the domestic steel market.

We have also got into a strategic alliance with Korean stainless steel major Posco and are evaluating a couple of business propositions with them. However, in regard to critical inputs especially coking coal, Sail would certainly acquire mines abroad as a move towards long term raw material security. We have also invited expressions of interest to select a joint venture partner for the special economic zone at Salem.

Sail would soon tap the market with its follow on public offer. What route will this market offering take?

The ministry of steel has already conveyed in principle approval of the department of disinvestment for a FPO and disinvestment of the government's equity through the piggy-back route. This is to be done in two tranches. The first-phase of the FPO, which will happen in the next financial year, will see the government divesting 5% of its equity and Sail issuing the same quantum of fresh equity. The same exercise would be followed in the second phase.

The exact timings of the issue will be decided by the government. The public offer shall also consist of 10% FPO and the proceeds of the FPO shall be utilised by Sail for investment in projects, thus lowering its reliance on debt.

What is the update on Chiria mines ?

We have received in-principle environment and forest clearance for the mines. The Jharkhand government has agreed that out of Chiria-Gua, mining leases for 1 billion tonne would be renewed and discussions will be continued with regard to remaining 1 billion. We have got an 'in principle' approval for renewal of largest of these leases i.e. the Budhaburu lease. While we have commenced mining in some of the mines, the full-fledged mining will begin in the next four years subject to renewal of all the leases.

Sail will certainly consider the option of creating additional greenfiled capacities in Jharkhand to get full access to Chiria-Gua mines. We propose to set up a 10-12 million tonne integrated steel plant at the location, but nothing concrete has been decided on the same so far. We are also looking for coking coal reserves abroad and are in talks with overseas players from whom we would be able to source major coking coal requirements.









Banking Codes & Standards Board of India (BCSBI) is an independent and autonomous banking industry watchdog that ensures consumers of banking services get what they are promised. Created by RBI in 2006, BCSBI has already made a mark in its endeavour. It has developed two separate codes of banks' commitment — one is for general customers and another for micro and small entrepreneurs (MSE). Its latest experiment on running a credit counselling centre in Mumbai has proved to be a success too and it has decided to lay a lot more emphasis on this aspect of customer relationship. Atmadip Ray got in touch with BCSBI new chief executive officer BM Mittal to get an overview on BCSBI's emerging role in improving bank-customer relationship.

It's interesting that BCSBI has started running credit counselling centres. Do you think running such a role is best suited for an independent entity like BCSBI, rather than counselling centres run by commercial banks?

Certainly. BCSBI has been set up by RBI in collaboration with banks as an autonomous institution. At present, 88 banks are its members. BCSBI, as such, would be able to effectively take up cases of distressed customers of all these banks. Moreover, BCSBI is also in a position to set up a dialogue with its members in order to provide suitable guidance and assistance to such customers.

How is the experience so far in terms of running credit counselling centre in Mumbai? Has it been taken well by bank customers? Do you plan to open more credit counselling centres across the country?
The experience had been quite encouraging and the number of references received are growing at a fast pace. Based on the response received for the Mumbai centre, BCSBI intends to open Credit Counselling Cells at other centres also.

BCSBI has developed two separate banking codes of commitment — one is for general customers and the other for micro and small borrowers. Do you envisage more such steps for any other borrower segments?
Two codes have been developed by BCSBI to take care of the needs of customers at the bottom of pyramid of the society. In case a need is felt in the future for any customer segment left uncovered by these Codes, the same will be addressed at an appropriate time.

There has been some degree of doubt in the minds of bank customers on whether the role played by BCSBI and Banking Ombudsmen overlap to some extent. Would you explain the basic difference between BCSBI and the Banking Ombudsman scheme?

The scheme of Banking Ombudsman takes care of the grievances of each customer. This scheme does not envisage identification and resolution of systemic issues. While on the other hand, BCSBI looks into the systemic issues, which cause the grievances of many customers. We take up such systemic issues with respective banks for corrective action. BCSBI has evolved comprehensive codes and standards for fair treatment of customers of banks (individuals and MSEs). Violations of the provisions of these codes are taken cognisance by the Banking Ombudsmen while deciding the cases referred to them.

Which are the customer-centric areas of banks that you think still suffer from systemic flaws? And what are the remedies to that?

While the codes evolved by BCSBI take care of major systemic issues, the gaps lie in implementation at the branch level. Wherever a deficiency in the system/procedure followed by a member bank is noticed by us, the same is taken up with the respective bank for rectification.

We understand that BCSBI has recently conducted two surveys on customer service. What are the findings like?

It was observed that there was a perceptible improvement in many areas of customer service, viz, dissemination of the codes; display of information including that for redressal of grievances; adherence to timeframe for collection of outstation cheques; acknowledgement of loan applications, etc. But there is lot to be done.









As an outsider in the troubled automobile business, Alan Mulally has done pretty well for himself. Ford Motor Company's president and CEO talks to ET about his vision, the role India will play in the larger Ford strategy and how difficult it was to make a hundred-year-old company dance to a new tune. Excerpts:

Ford has just launched the Figo, its first small car. Does this mean going ahead the Figo will have more siblings because you can't win the small car race with one model?

We are really excited with the reception the Figo is receiving. This is a crucial product for us. Clearly, this is another proof point for everybody of our commitment to the Indian customers. So, we will see more and more Ford products here. As for a sibling...that will come as fast as we can bring them in.

The Figo is based on the Fiesta platform but what about a brand new platform for India like the ones being developed by Honda and Toyota, also new entrants in the small car market?

I think so. Going forward, we are going to see more and more of our global platforms, which allow us to use our scale and our knowledge from around the world, and bring all of that value and that scale to our Indian customers.

Ford is not a small car maker traditionally. When did you take a call that you needed to crack the Indian market badly enough to get into the small car business?

When I was asked to join Ford from Boeing a couple of years ago, we came to the conclusion very quickly that where we wanted to take Ford was that it would have a complete family of vehicles which serve every major market round the world with best in class performance. At that point we started working on the Figo, using a global platform and it's gratifying to see that strategy working so well. We are clearly focused on the Blue Oval...the Ford brand is still recognisable around the world. People appreciate it, they value it.

How crucial is the Indian market to Ford vis-à-vis say China?

India is a really important market for us. We love being here. We have got great operations here. We can continue bringing more and more of our Ford products to the Indian customers. If you look at the overall market in the Asia Pacific, India and China will be the fastest growing market for us going forward.

When we look at both India and China, we see a family of vehicles...I think you will see small and medium-sized vehicles, also cars and utilities because there is such a great demand for different types of vehicles for different needs and the good thing about Ford is that we have the capability to offer a family of vehicles to our customers.

As for India, it has a tremendous operations force. It will be one of our hubs. We have got tremendous manufacturing capability here. All the units of the business are pretty well-designed and integrated with our entire global production system. So, India will continue to take on more importance in Ford worldwide.

So will you put your money where your mouth is and announce some big bang investments for India?

Well, clearly we have made a tremendous commitment to the Indian market, Indian customers and our manufacturing this year. As we go forward, clearly our plan is to expand the business for the good of all of us.

Will Ford use India's frugal engineering expertise in its global operations?

Absolutely. Our new Figo is a perfect example of that. What we have learnt from the customers in India and our manufacturing capability in this country, we are now applying across the world and India will continue to be a key part of the entire Ford strategy globally. Our Ford production system is already globalised and all of these dynamite Indian engineers are deeply embedded in that system and they deeply influence all of our designs and will do so even more in future.

Ford has sold Jaguar Land Rover to Tata Motors. Will the powertrain and component arrangements between Ford and JLR continue into perpetuity or will Ford dissociate itself after a while?

Jaguar Land Rover are tremendous brands and we are very pleased with the direction they are taking under the Tatas. While we loved them, we needed to focus on the Ford brand. We appreciate our relationship with the Tatas and have no plans of changing it. We have a working relationship with them and we are very pleased with our business relationship with the Tatas.

What's the update on Volvo Cars? The buzz is that the deal with Geely is stuck and investment bankers are looking for alternative suitors and have approached M&M, your old partners in India, Where we are with Volvo has not changed. We are in negotiations and the negotiations are proceeding. Volvo has a great brand and our anticipation is that the new owners will build on that brand worldwide.

After you came in, Ford divested brands like the Aston Martin, Jaguar Land Rover and now Volvo Cars. Was it difficult? Did you face resistence from the company saying these are holy grails and shouldn't be touched?
Not at all. We decided we were going to be world class at FORD and that means a complete family of vehicles— small, medium, large cars, intelligent trucks... every one of them best in class in quality, fuel efficiency, safety, really smart design and offering. great value. So, that's the reason we divested those other brands, not because we didn't love those brands. They were great brands and have found wonderful homes now but our focus is to grow the Ford brand worldwide. So it was liberating really. It enabled all the technology, the creativity, the innovation to focus on the Ford brand.

Ford had become a house of brands. You can imagine how confusing it was for everybody to work on all those brands. So when I came on board, we developed this laser focus on the Ford brand. It was liberating as everybody across our operations pulled together to be part of the One Ford plan.

So in a sense you went back to basics— something your founder Henry Ford would approve of...

Henry Ford is such an inspiration. His relentless focus on the consumer and providing safe and decent transportation, operate in every country where we sell our vehicles... can actually work for Ford. And back in 1924, he actually said, 'Ford will open highways to all mankind.' That's what we want to do now in markets where we are present. We have to get back to profitability and have more products lined up for emerging markets... It's a nice balance, really.That's why it's so much fun to be introducing the Figo here in India.






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




In India, women suffer enough in the home, in their workplaces, and in public spaces outside the home. For all the enlightenment that modern education is supposed to bring, the socially-dominant men are still quite far from according equality to women when it comes to habits of mind and the basic way of doing things, though lip-service is routinely paid to the idea of equality before the law. But it is hard to believe that the government — not an individual — should be in violation of this precept and not even perceive that it is in serious error. No other inference is possible in the light of the recent Delhi high court judgment directing the government to offer permanent commissions to women officers of a certain category in the Air Force and the Army, and the initial reaction of the two defence services which are said to be contemplating an appeal before the Supreme Court. Women officers who entered service in the Short Service Commission (SSC) category were assured at the time of recruitment that they would be eligible for Permanent Commission (PC) after five years provided there were vacancies and their ability was not in doubt. The same stipulation held for men. However, the official promise was not kept in respect of women while it was for the men. Male officers thus moved from SSC to PC if they met the requirements and desired to move, but in the case of women their SSC tenure was extended and they were refused PC. A clutch of such women officers went to court charging the military with gender discrimination. They have won their point. The high court has ordered their placement as PC officers with full financial and other benefits with retrospective effect. Odd as this may seem, the reaction of the counsel for the defence forces suggests that they do not really understand the reasoning of the court. Perhaps they should be asked to ponder what might have happened if it is the women who had been made PC officers on meeting the eligibility and vacancy criteria, and the men asked to take a hike. Since all women officers aspiring to earn a PC were treated in the same manner and differently from the men, the fact of gender discrimination is clear enough. But the point needs to be made that some of the women officers in question faced double discrimination. They were denied PC and the men competing against them received it even when the latter were found inferior in work performance. There is an aspect to this other than that of discrimination, namely, that disservice was done to the Air Force and the Army by choosing an officer of inferior ability over one with a superior record. It should be clearly understood that the entire discussion is in respect of non-combatant duties in the officer cadre in the military. (So far the armed forces in India do not offer service in combat arms for women.) Giving effect to the judgment of the high court is thus being made out to be a difficult task. The Air Force and the Army should have expressed this difficulty before the bench in the hope that a practical solution would emerge without sacrificing gender justice. But they chose to argue something else. Confounding common sense, the point they made was that the women officers had no case as they had been sent packing under an executive decision. This is laughable as it implies that the government can take any decision it likes, and that government decisions cannot be wrong.








Fourteen years of struggle followed by 62 years of deprivation, inequality and finally, the Constitution amendment mandating 33 per cent seats to be reserved for women in the Lok Sabha and the state Assemblies was passed by the Rajya Sabha amid high drama. There can be no doubt that it was the will of one woman, the AICC president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and the commitment of one man, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, which finally brought into reality the dreams and aspirations of crores of Indian women. This is a legislation which will change the political landscape of India and shake up social and political hierarchy beyond the wildest reaches of our imagination. If 181 women or 33 per cent of the Lok Sabha consists of women from the approximately 10 per cent which has never been crossed since the time of Independence, our polity will change beyond recognition and the change will certainly be in the best interests of democracy.


The protagonists of the Bill have frequently declared that what is sought is not really 33 per cent seats reserved for women but the dereservation of 90 per cent seats which are being held by men since the time of Independence. As those who have been a part of the political struggle for the passage of this legislation, the grave disquiet expressed by those who oppose the Bill is very familiar to us. Needless to say that approximately 150 men who will lose their seats and those others who will not get a chance to contest from their constituencies after rotation have a genuine grievance. However, it has to be understood that no measure of social justice or empowerment can ever be implemented without pain or a cost and, unfortunately, this entails that there are some who will have to live with the consequences for a short time.


Those who oppose the Bill, attack it for not providing for reservation within reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) women and for minorities. Some vocal opponents even claim that dalit women have been left out, something which clearly demonstrates that they have not read the Bill, which specifically provided quota within quota for dalits and Scheduled Tribes (ST) as mandated by the Constitution of India and out of the seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and STs. Significantly, till date there exists no reservation for the OBCs and minorities in the general pool and even more importantly no demand has ever come from these sections that seats in the general pool (including men) be reserved for these categories. This demand comes only in the context of the Women's Reservation Bill. Even today no demand is being made to reserve seats for men belonging to the OBC or minorities. One of the reasons for this could be that the OBCs are very well represented in the Lok Sabha at this time and the other reason could be that until this moment there exists no national list of the OBCs for whom reservation may be made if such clauses were to be incorporated. To create, verify, reconcile differences in different states and produce a national list of OBCs is bound to take several years and, being fully aware of this, those who actually oppose reservation for women take up the cry for an OBC quota within the Women's Reservation Bill with the sole intention of delaying or scuttling the Bill itself.

Clearly, therefore, this is not a really felt need but a demand made in order to delay and ultimately subvert the Women's Reservation Bill. It has been frequently reiterated by those who support the Bill that it is open to the government and legislature to bring in OBC and other quotas once they have been done in the general pool and have received due constitutional sanction, which does not exist at present. However, this should not be a reason to delay the present Bill reserving 33 per cent seats for women.


These and other arguments have done the rounds for 14 years and all stakeholders are aware of all the possible arguments and counter-arguments. Those who support the Bill support it and those who oppose it oppose it. Once things had come to this, the only possible alternative left was to bring the Bill to vote in Parliament. The Congress Party has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to the reservation of seats for women and was the first party to reserve seats in the party hierarchy for women. Thus Sonia Gandhi, Dr Singh and the Congress Party kept their tryst with Indian women and brought the Bill to vote in the Rajya Sabha.


The Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Bahujan Samaj Party opposed the Bill. The SP members and some RJD members established a new low of parliamentary behaviour by attacking the vice-president of India, Mr Hamid Ansari, inside the House. The government tried its best to uphold the best parliamentary traditions and restore order in the House. Meanwhile, the main Opposition began to question the bonafides of the government and the commitment of the Congress Party to bring the Bill to vote. They kept insisting in internal meetings and in public that action should be taken against the erring members. Finally the government moved a motion to suspend the unruly MPs and the main Opposition parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Left parties, voted for the suspension of the member. In spite of the tension and the unruly scenes the Opposition parties insisted upon a full debate trying perhaps to keep the government on its toes in the charged atmosphere. The debate happened and the Bill was passed despite all the challenges and the obstacles.


The next challenge for the Bill lies in the Lok Sabha where the BJP has already declared without any provocation that it will not tolerate the use of marshals to remove unruly members. Was this done to incentivise Lok Sabha members to disturb and disrupt the House? In view of the public dissent against the Bill expressed by several BJP members, one wonders about the will and commitment in the BJP to pass the Bill in the Lok Sabha. The Congress has amply demonstrated its sincerity and commitment. It now remains for the Opposition to show the nation its commitment regarding the Bill.


- Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own








On March 8, there was a gathering of languages, some 320 of them at Baroda. These languages had come together not only to protest but to create a celebration of language, to state that language is and that was enough. The discussions suggested that language can be a basis for democracy.


The history of language has been the history of its dominant metaphors. Two images, in particular have dominated the linguistic narratives of Western thought. Both were obsessive dreams of order — The Babel and the Panopticon.


The Babel is the biblical myth of a society condemned to anarchy, disorder and misunderstanding. It is a litany of the disorder that diversity creates. It is the feeling that too many languages and dialects make society impossible. Babel epitomises the curse of diversity, of language as noise.


The biblical idea of diversity as disorder is carried over by the colonial regime. Standardisation becomes a tool of imperialism. Confronted by the anarchy of languages, Macaulay and Trevalyn summon the idea of Babel and saw the imposition English as a resolution of the anarchy of "native languages". To create an official filariat, mimicking the British was the dream of colonial rule.


The Babel sets the stage for the Panopticon. It is the vision of the all seeing eye created by Benthamite philosophy. The panopticon was visualised as a supervisory organisation where the authority of the eye creates a surveillance system, a vision of order which controls marginals, poor, the orphans, and the madman forcing them into the logic of industrial discipline. The modern school, the factory and the prison, all smell of the logic of the panopticon.


Panopticonising languages begin with grammars. Earlier language was a lived expressive reality before grammar standardised it in a printed form. Vernacular lost out to the printed word and reading in a loud voice became suspect. People conversant with vernacular literature were seen as those who did not read or write. The battle between oral and written civilisations has been the greatest class war in history. The transition from vernacular to an officially taught mother tongue was a cultural destruction whose story still remains to be fully told.


The war against subsistence and the war against vernacular have much in common. It is a war against knowledge as dialect. In fact, as Mahasweta Devi once hinted, corruption is the ransom an oral society paid to the society of the text. Writing about bonded labor, she said in an oral society, a word was a bond. But when the tribal entered the written world, the word as bond became a world of bondage as demonstrated by bonded labour.


Modern democracy perpetuated the idea of print and the nation virtually creating a war between the oral and the literate, denying to the former their perceptions of reality. As a textual world denies democracy citizenship to the world of dialects and creates an informal economy of language as widespread as the informal world of the economy. Vernacular lives, vernacular livelihoods and vernacular languages were openly or tacitly ignored in modern democracies. This is the genocidal imperative present in the creation myth of democracy.


The march of the languages is the new dandi march against the imperialism of the official, the standardised, the artificial and the genocidal, of democracy as a mask disfiguring the face of a more authentic citizenship.


The constitution which creates citizenship is full of missing persons and their dialects. The loss of persons is met with the emphasis on the individual.


Every man is a ganglion of connections. When an individual is embedded in a context of meanings, he cannot be read as an atom. This way he loses valency. Human Rights become an add-on to an individual who has lost personhood. When democracy ignores language, citizenship becomes a compensatory act of add-ons.


If democracy is a negotiation of difference, often located in dialects and the dialects of difference, standardisation becomes a monstrosity, a violation of play. In a playful sense, translation is fundamental to an act of democracy. In recognizing difference, I translate, therefore we are. Difference is sustained while meaning is communicated. Translation becomes an ethical ontological act and multilingualism is often an essential for democracy. It is not voice alone that is critical; it is man as a multiplicity of voices. Truth to be "true" has to be sounded in two languages. Between translation and hospitality a more ebullient theory of democracy is born.


Diversity is now no longer a problem but in a linguistic sense, an ontic condition for democracy. Fraternity as a celebration of dialects and difference anchors liberty and equality. Democracy needs to reclaim its dialects and vernaculars to reinvent itself. The current dance of languages is a notice of that intention. We offer no slogans, no contracts, and no promises, only a "sentence" in all its power, simplicity and beauty: Language is and that is enough.


- Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist







Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's disdain for colour is well known. Apparently, to curry favour with her, the state police is now taking the colour game to abnormal proportions.


Four students of the prestigious Sainik School in Lucknow landed at the government reformatory for juvenile delinquents merely because they had put some gulal on a poster of the chief minister.


Overenthusiastic cops slapped criminal charges on the four boys, dashing their hopes of a career in the defence forces. The police claim that the boys were defacing the chief minister's poster by painting black colour on it. The boys and their classmates, however say that they merely threw red gulal on the posters because they wanted to play Holi with Ms Mayawati.


Whatever be the truth, the boys were put behind bars and missed their board examinations that began on March 4.

However, when the chief minister learnt of it, she reprimanded the cops for putting the students behind bars for a silly mistake and asked that they be released immediately. Apparently the cops made Mayaji see red.


Old habits die hard

Some habits die hard. Though it has been more than a year since P. Chidambaram took over as home minister, for a top banker he is still his boss.


"Honourable finance minister..." thus began State Bank of India (SBI) chairman O.P. Bhatt his address while referring to Mr Chidambaram at a recent a function where the banker received the J.R.D. Tata Corporate Leadership Award. As the audience and those on the dais, including Mr Chidambaram, burst into laughter, Mr Bhatt realised his mistake and sought an apology saying, "Old habits die hard. He was my previous boss, the best boss I have ever had".


Star-struck Marxists
Going by the way the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led government in Kerala has been braving criticism and recruiting brand ambassadors it seems to be in an advanced stage of being star struck. First, the government made Malayalam superstar Mohanlal the brand ambassador for Khadi, outraging Gandhians, leaders of the Sarvodaya Sangh as well as famous writer Sukumar Azhikode who pointed out that Mohanlal had appeared in a whisky advertisement with the punchline, "What are you doing this evening?" It was an insult to Khadi (and Mahatma Gandhi) that such a person had been roped in to promote the fabric of freedom, they said.
But the Left Democratic Front government did not budge and stuck to its decision.


Next, tourism minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan wrote a letter to megastar Amitabh Bachchan, requesting him to become the brand ambassador of Kerala Tourism. Big B happily agreed. This time it was Youth Congress men who were up in arms, pointing out that Big B was also promoting Narendra Modi's Gujarat and ought to be shunned by the Marxists, who were inveterate Modi-baiters. But the state government has not fallen for the bait and is going all out to woo Mr Bachchan.


A humble snack for Mamata
Ten days ago Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and the railway minister Mamata Banerjee attended a programme together in Kolkata. Both of them were in a remarkably cheerful mood and later flew together to Delhi in a special aircraft.


Ms Banerjee, however, reached Dum Dum airport an hour before Mr Mukherjee. At the VVIP lounge, while she was waiting for him, snacks were served to her. One look at the spread — fish cutlets, confectionaries et al —and her mood turned sour. "I do not like this fancy stuff. I prefer muri (murmuralu) and tele bhaja (potato and brinjal pakoras)," she said.


While airport and customs officials were still scratching their heads, one adventurous police officer said that he would arrange it. In five minutes he produced a plateful of piping hot tele bhaja and a big bowl of muri. Ms Banerjee thanked him and smilingly relished her favourite evening snack.


A pleasant encounter

Amidst all the acrimony which saw the suspension of the entire Opposition from the Haryana Vidhan Sabha this week, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and his arch political rival and former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal had an unintended albeit friendly encounter. Accompanied by senior Cabinet minister and loyalist Randeep Surjewale, Mr Hooda arrived in the Assembly pressroom to justify the suspensions. But even as the Chief Minister was clarifying his government's position, Mr Chautala made a discreet entry and quietly stood amidst the crowd of reporters. After a while, Mr Hooda noticed him and rather graciously offered Mr Chautala a seat, which was declined with unbelievable politeness.


An amiable repartee ensued in which Mr Chautala laughingly promised to say the "exact opposite" of all that Mr Hooda was telling the press. Eventually, both leaders exited the room after sharing tea and snacks.


All for a dream house

The former Speaker of Orissa and Rajya Sabha MP, Kishore Chandra Mohanty, boasts of his new address in New Delhi which was once the home of yesteryear


Dream Girl, Hema Malini.

All the visitors to 502, North Avenue, are reminded of its importance by Mr Mohanty.
If sources are to be believed, the Biju Janata Dal heavyweight even sacrificed his privileges to get this particular quarter.
As a former Speaker he is entitled to a bungalow. But Mr Mohanty, a die-hard Hema fan, reportedly opted for the three-bedroom house forgoing a spacious mansion.

He even waited for a few months for the quarter to be vacated by the film star whose term in Rajya Sabha expired on August 26 last year.


The workings of star-struck leaders is beyond our understanding.


Mother, father, baby, Bill

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was hoping to receive kudos for passing the Women's Reservation Bill in Rajya Sabha, instead had to face the ire from within the party. Some party MPs were unhappy that it was the Congress which was taking all the credit for the passage of the bill when it was the BJP which had supported the bill from day one. The party had to even call a meeting of its MPs to mollify them. When a journalist asked a senior BJP leader and party's parliamentary board member what his reaction was to Congress hogging the limelight for the passage of the bill, the leader instead asked the journalist, "When a baby is born, who do you think should take the credit — the father or the mother?"


Get a lawyer, judge

Usually, court hearings are drab. But sometimes when petitioners try to personally to argue their cases, they turn witty, even funny. Especially when agonised judges try to explain the nitty-gritty of law to the layman arguing the case. Justice Vikramjit Sen of the Delhi High Court recently narrated his experience in dealing with such a situation. When a petitioner continued making his pointless arguments, the judge advised him to take the assistance of a lawyer so that he could put his case in the right perspective. Instead of listening to the judge's advice, the litigant shot back, "Why should I take the help of the lawyer? It is better you take the help of the lawyer to understand my case."


Justice Sen was aghast and had no option but to continue to listen to the petitioner's argument silently.








A week before the Indo-Pak hockey match I started getting worked up. In the past Pakistan had beaten India more often than India had beaten Pakistan.


By all reckoning hockey is now sport number one and for some years we were world champions. Things changed after Pakistan broke away from India and became our most formidable challenger.


The other nations like Australia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Germany and England became contenders for the top spot. My anxiety over the Indo-Pak outcome in the first round of the Commonwealth Games was natural. I tried to watch on TV but failed to get the right channel. I spent a restless night wondering what had happened. I also feared that next day being Holi, there may be no papers and I may have to watch TV morning news or ring up someone to find out — maybe Harjeet Kaur — because the Pakistan team was staying in her hotel Le Meridien.


However, on Holi the paper arrived at 6.30 am. And there it was: India had scored a convincing 4-1 victory over Pakistan. A huge shabaash escaped my lips. My tension was gone. There could be no better way of celebrating the festival of colours.


I found myself counting the number of Singhs on the Indian side. And my heart filled with pride. Was I turning communal in the late years? Perish the thought. I am not even a good Sikh.


I recalled my reaction was the same with other games. I got more interested in cricket when Bishen Singh Bedi became captain of the team. I went out of the my way to befriend him. He turned out to be an excellent raconteur of bawdy jokes. When Harbhajan Singh bagged a lot of wickets, I said: "O shabaash putter — well done son." When he did not, I said: "Phitey moonh — shame on you." It was the same when young Bindra won the first of Olympic gold medal for India. I told everyone: "You know he is a Sikh." And golf: Jeev Milkha Singh, Atwal, Randhava, Gagan Bhullar — all mona sardars — are India's top golfers.
Is community consciousness the same as being communal? By no means. Whenever the demand for a separate Sikh state was raised, I opposed it as strongly as I could. I told Khalistanis: "Oye khoteo — you donkeys — don't you know you are meant to preserve this country not break it up." I wonder what would be left of India if it had no Sikhs. It would even lose most of its sense of humor accumulated over the years.


As for personal relations, I can count the number of my Sikh friends on my finger tips. I have many more Hindu and Christian friends. I feel closer to my Muslim friends who outnumber all other put together, because I have more in common with them, chiefly the love for Urdu poetry. But I never hesitate from boasting "Where would India be without the Sikhs to keep its banner flying?"


Post script: When India got a thrashing from Australia and Spain, I said, "Laanat hovey" — which is the same as phitey moonh.


Light under the Bushel


Some weeks ago I received a few cards with paintings on them. I found them very attractive and wondered who had made them.


Two days later a letter without address or telephone number arrived. From it I gathered that they had been painted and sent by Amarjit, wife of my cousin (maasi's son) Mohanjit who died a couple of years ago.


I had known him since he was a four-year-old boy as I had rented an annexe of his father's house as an office when I was a practising lawyer in Lahore. After the Partition we drifted apart. And after the deaths of our respective parents we hardly saw anything of each other. But I do remember Mohanjit's wife telling me that when she felt sad, she wrote poetry.


She had many tragedies in her family. First her father, whose trust was betrayed by his business partner, took his own life. Then two of her daughters died in the US: One murdered by her own husband and the other in a car accident.


Amarjit sought solace in religion, poetry and paintings. She did not receive any formal training in any of them but managed to excel in whatever she undertook. After her husband's death she changed her name to Amar Mohanjit.


So far she has not bothered to hold an exhibition of her work which has been only published in some Punjabi journals. I hope to persuade her to organise an exhibition, as I am sure, she will be a sell-out. As the saying goes: One must not hide one's light under a bushel.


Meaning what?


Prem, an Osho disciple, turned up one evening without an appointment. She sent in her visiting card. It had no name on it, only a picture of Osho.


With it was a New Year's greeting card. It had a message which I failed to decipher. See if you can understand it. It read: "The true nature is your eternal nature. You cannot have it and not have it, it is not something that comes and goes — it is you." How can it come and go? It is your BEING. It is your very foundation: It cannot BE sometimes and NOT BE sometimes; it is always there


(Osho — And the flowers showered).








It was the general practice of Jesus, like the tradition of Indian "gurus", to engage in question and answers with his listeners during his journeys. On one such occasion when Jesus was in conversation with the so-called teachers of the law, as it is narrated in the Gospel of Matthew, "Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, 'Master, which is the great commandment in the law?' Jesus said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets'". (Mt. 22: 36-40).


It is important to note here that while Jesus rightly gave the first priority to God followed by the neighbour, in both the cases, the underlying word in the commandment is "Love". Though one can go into a long thesis on the subject of "Loving God", let us look at the issue of "love of neighbour". The commandment to love one's neighbour was nothing new as it was also mentioned in the book of Leviticus in the the Old Testament. What is revolutionary about Jesus' teaching is that he went beyond the love of neighbour when he said: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy, but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you'". (Mt 5: 43-44)


In our day-to-day life, we often find people who engage in bickering and are jealous of their neighbours. Sometimes they are busy backbiting their own friends. The number of people who truly love their neighbours are few. But Jesus asks people to do something even more radical, something I have found so very difficult to emulate in my own life and that is "to love my enemy, to bless those who curse me and to pray for those who persecute me". That indeed is a tall order at the first instance.


Jesus clearly tries to raise the bar of human behaviour from one ordinary level to another, giving ample opportunity for people to work on their spiritual growth, though the bar almost appears unachievable. But then Jesus did work towards making our human society as best as it possibly could become. He, therefore, compares his listeners to tax collectors by putting forward the argument, "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors (tax collectors were the most hated category of people as they used to extract a lot of undue taxes from ordinary people) do so?" (Mt. 5: 46)


Knowing human nature, Jesus' emphasis on the love of neighbour was so important that just before the Last Supper he told his disciples: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another". (John 13: 34). In yet another chapter he repeats the appeal twice, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends (John 15: 12-13)", and again in verse 17, "These things I command you, that you love one another".


Difficult as it might appear that we pray for those who persecute us and love even our enemies, things might become easier if we first start with genuinely loving God who will help us both to love our neighbour and eventually also to love our enemies.

— Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India.







A Nobel Prize-winning entity is under a cloud and it has only itself to blame. The procedures of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be scrutinised by an international council of science academies, constituted by the UN and comprising 15 nations, including India. Clearly, the IPCC has been brought under the scanner after the recent alarmist projection that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, a prediction that was bereft of scientific evidence. It served only to make the waters murkier when climate change and global warming have become contentious issues the world over. It bears recall that the IPCC had its back to the wall in the face of the worldwide outcry; its chairman, Rajendra Pachauri's defence of the grim foreboding was as contrived as it was unconvincing. One could argue that the UN was left with no option but to commission an independent scrutiny of  the IPCC's operations, with the express purpose of "strengthening the quality of its reports". Not to put too fine a point on it, the very credibility of the IPCC reports have now been thrown open to question. Indeed, the presentation on the Himalayan glaciers ran counter to its basic objectives, pre-eminently to examine scientific evidence on climate change and draft reports that can enable governments formulate policy. Both the report and Pachauri's defence seemed to be in the realm of subjective reflection. Governments can't react on  the basis of unreliable documents. 

 One must give it to Mr Pachauri that he has now obliquely admitted to the goof-up, indeed acknowledging that "we recognise that we can improve". He has matched last Thursday's announcement of the inquiry with the promise that "we intend to take every action to ensure that our reports are as robust as possible". The inquiry will focus on the entire procedure of drafting reports, most importantly the use of "non-peer reviewed literature". It is precisely this category of scientific documentation that is said to have formed the basis of the erroneous projection on the Himalayan glaciers. Misleading facts and figures have even influenced the IPCC reports on sea level predictions. It is fervently to be hoped that the Inter Academy Council will be able drastically to revamp the functioning of the IPCC before 2013-14, when the fifth assessment report is scheduled to be published. At stake is the very worth of the Nobel Peace prize of 2007 that the IPCC shared with the former US Vice-President, Al Gore.







VEHEMENT is the indignation-laced protest from the government at any bracketing of India and Pakistan, yet its own actions often tell a different tale. The apex court has just come down heavily on the non-repatriation of prisoners of Pakistani origin because reciprocal action was awaited. Observing that the right to life and liberty were basic to a democratic system, it held that keeping a person in detention for even a day beyond the sentence period was illegal. The Bench (coram: Katju and Lodha; JJ) stressed that the rule of law was not dependent on any other country's action. The petition before the court sought the release of 16 persons who had served their "time" in various jails, whose documentation was in order, but were still in custody. The court took exception to the government's stand that it was awaiting Pakistan's ordering the release of as many Indians from its jails so that a prisoner-exchange was effected. "If Pakistan does not do something right, does it mean we should follow them?" their Lordships queried. And they proceeded to reject the argument that the exchange of prisoners was a diplomatic process that required cooperation at both ends. The ruling does have major implications and could end the sick practice of fishermen who strayed across the maritime boundary in pursuit of their livelihood spending long periods in detention, at least in Indian jails. The manner in which they are released in highly publicised  "goodwill gestures" on eve of bilateral talks confirms that simple folk are less than pawns in diplomatic power play, and makes a mockery of all the boasting about a culturally-rich subcontinent.  
 The judicial order may pertain to prisoners but the message has other connotations too. In decrying the tit-for-tat line, the onus has been placed on India to take the lead in ensuring that human values are placed on an elevated pedestal and not compromised in the cross-fire of a thorny relationship. Magnanimity must guide Indian action ~ regardless of whether the judiciary in Pakistan takes a similar line. India claims to be the "bigger" country but, pitifully "smallness" is often evident in government functioning. Magnanimity when dealing with matters pertaining to individuals could prove a powerful, humane, confidence-building measure.








IT was unseemly, to use the language of understatement. Last Wednesday's session of the West Bengal Assembly, billed as a condolence meeting in memory of Jyoti Basu, degenerated to another bout of legislative shadow-boxing. Of solemnity there was little; of important speeches recalling his role as the Leader of the Opposition, as Deputy Chief Minister and then as CM, there were none. One would have imagined that for once, both sides would conduct themselves with due seriousness, if not grace and civility. The meeting ought to have been focussed on an assessment of the man. Far from it. Indeed, Basu seemed to be  incidental as both the Treasury and Opposition benches went off at a tangent to settle scores, the jaw-jaw far removed from the central figure whose passing they had assembled to mourn. It is of lesser moment whether the West Bengal Human Rights Commission was the brainchild of Basu, as the Chief Minister claimed, or whether it was formed after "prolonged demonstrations" by Mamata Banerjee, as the Opposition leader countered. Both Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Partha Chattopadhyay appeared to forget that it was a session devoted to pay tribute to Basu, not a routine debate on the home department's budget. Still less is it relevant whether the party heeded Basu's advice after he stepped down as chief minister. Suffice it to register that the Politburo periodically shifted base to Kolkata in view of Basu's age and illness. Still more crucially, his opinion was sought at every turn after Singur and Nandigram flared up. But these are contrived digressions at a condolence meeting. Indeed, the Trinamul Congress seemed intent on scoring perceived debating points. Even Mr Bhattacharjee's claim that he had learnt the ropes from Basu was contradicted by the Opposition leader merely for the sake of a contradiction. Trinamul's presentation turned out to be a study in contrast between the former CM and the present incumbent. Thus while Basu interacted at the level of the Chief Secretary and the Home Secretary, Bhattacharjee often seeks feedback even from thana OCs. Whose style of functioning was the Opposition carping at? No one denies that Basu was ever so conscious of the level at which he interacted. Yet the short point must be that there can be no class distinction in the conduct of administration. It remained for the Left Front chief whip to confirm that it was a puerile debate masquerading as an obituary reference to Basu when he contended that the Opposition leader "has spoken in accordance with his party's culture". Rest in peace.









HOW keen is our government on the voluntary disclosure of information to its citizens? The Right To Information Act specifies that the government has to provide answers to queries that the citizen demands. However, it  does not stipulate that the government has to disclose information on its own. Yet the term "proactive disclosure" has become an accepted term in contemporary understanding of good governance. In other words, one of the qualities of good governance is that the government is friendly towards the citizen and voluntarily discloses information about its activities. After all, the citizen has the right to know what the government is doing and how well they are able to discharge their duties.
In recent times, thanks to the improvement in information technology, websites have become an important means of sharing information. Through a website the government can easily inform its citizens of what it is doing, of the benefits the citizen can get and how well the government is functioning.

In order to get an idea of  how well the government of West Bengal is sharing information with its citizens, I recently visited the websites of each of the 58 departments that the government has. To objectively evaluate "proactive disclosure", I devised a scoring method based on progressively higher levels of disclosure. At the first level  only the names of the ministers and the secretary is available. In other words, at this level, the citizen finds almost no information but the address and telephone number at which he can write or call. This level is extremely unfriendly. The department is not interested in sharing information with the citizen.

Citizens & benefits

AT the second level, the department ~ apart from providing the names of the minister and secretary ~ mentions what it does and what kind of benefits the citizens can expect from the department. This level indicates that the department is at least trying to share with the citizen what it does.  

The third level includes the previous two plus the annual administrative report for 2008-09. This means the department is sharing information on what it does and also presenting a systematic account of its activities over the last one year. This is, of course, the version of the department but nonetheless it gives the citizen an idea of not only what it does but also how well it is able to do it.

An annual administrative report is supposed to be a public document and it is the department's responsibility to share it with the public. Even the remarkably secretive colonial government regularly published annual reports which are now being used by historians. I have taken the report for 2008-09 as the indicator as this shows how prompt and efficient the department is in terms of sharing its annual administrative report.

Finally, the fourth and highest level is the one at which the department discloses all of the above-mentioned. In addition, it also discloses the evaluation of the department's work by an external agency. In other words, the department has shown interest in getting itself evaluated by an outside agency and is willing to share that evaluation with the public.
On the basis of this set of indicators I went through the websites of 58 departments of the Government of West Bengal.
There are two departments that betray  total reluctance to share any kind of information with the citizen apart from the names of the minister and the secretary. These departments are agricultural marketing and Hill affairs. At the other end of the spectrum there is only one department that provides information on what it does, produces its own annual report on time and also shares certain evaluation reports by external agencies ~ panchayats and rural development department. Along with P&RD, two other departments have shown interest in disclosing their annual report along with basic information on what they do. These two are development and planning and health and family welfare.


Annual report

IT is rather shocking to discover that only three departments have at the end of February 2010 presented their annual report for 2008-09. While there are a few departments which have shown older annual reports, the overwhelming majority have not bothered to show any annual report at all. In other words, 53 out of 58 departments are not willing to share any information with the citizen on their performance, either in the form of internal annual report or in the form of external evaluation. This is shocking. It means that the Government of West Bengal is faring worse than the colonial government in terms of sharing information with the public.

Some of the most important departments and indeed all the departments handled by Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee have not disclosed their annual reports for 2008-09.

What is the explanation? One problem of course could be that of skill. It is sometimes difficult to find people who are capable of writing annual reports, still less upload data on the web. However, since the government of West Bengal is now regularly hiring professionals on a contractual basis and also appointing consultants, it is not acceptable that the departments are not able to identify  suitably skilled personnel. West Bengal is not short of professionals who can write or improve the content of the websites. 

This leaves only one obvious explanation. The departments have a lot to hide from the public. If someone argues that this is not the case then perhaps legislation can be introduced to make it compulsory for all departments to publish their annual reports  on schedule and share evaluation reports with the public every two years. This will reveal how well the departments are functioning.







Taxmen have traditionally been known to be arbitrary and brutal, and their victims have always considered it fair to hoodwink them and, if that is not possible, to run away from them. That is what rich Indians did when India was infested with socialism. That era passed two decades ago; today, it is doubtful if wealthy people keep much money abroad. But the government is always a couple of decades behind the events; it has, together with G20, decided to join a crusade against tax havens. There is another way of getting the rich without having to pursue them to remote islands: it is to tax what they cannot run away with, namely, their property. Traditionally, property taxes have been the prerogative of local authorities, since they are difficult for the rich to avoid. But that also makes municipalities a plaything of the rich. It is easier to rig elections in a city than in a province or a country; the rich make sure their slaves are elected, or buy those who have been elected, and keep property taxes low.


Rates of property tax depend on the base; the higher the base, the lower the rates that can raise a certain required revenue. Hence it would be rational to levy tax on the market price of property; as property prices rise, revenue will go up without any change in rates, and the local authority will get the money it needs to keep its city fit for the rich. But rising rates can be uncomfortable for those who are not getting rich. They are often the majority; they manage to keep rates low. That is good for the rich, but not so good for the municipal corporations.

The long boom in India has sent property prices skyrocketing. It creates an opportunity for corporations which none of them has utilized; they are either dominated by or afraid of the not-so-rich who do not want their taxes going up. But there is a way if only they would have the courage to adopt it. It is to revise property tax rates every year without aiming for overly high revenues. It would be equitable to keep property tax rates proportional to property values. Property sales are also more frequent in areas where prices are rising fastest; new owners are less likely to resist a rise in taxes than old ones. Hence annual revaluation is likely to face less resistance than a sudden hike in taxes. Revenue too should be raised, but no more than the income of a city's residents, so that the share of income they pay remains more or less the same. If municipal authorities exercise restraint in their revenue demands, and spend the revenue on the most felt needs of urban residents, there is no reason why they should not benefit from the property boom that is going on.








More than the fear of terror attacks, it is the intense tropical sun that seems to be playing havoc with the minds of those concerned with the security of Bhopal. It is anyone's guess why the authorities have singled out women riding two-wheelers with their faces covered as being the most suspicious entities in the entire city. Apparently, they look like potential terrorists. Does this mean that men on two-wheelers who hide behind scarves are less dangerous, and therefore exempt from the ban? What about those faceless millions who drive on or roam around the streets, with or without veils, each of whom may well be involved in some form of activity that could shatter public safety? In fact, by trying to emulate a similar embargo, put by a police order in Pune after the German bakery blast last month, the administration in Bhopal has ignored any useful lesson it could have learnt from the episode. It seems far more eager instead to internalize the mistakes of the past and perpetuate them.


In a country teeming with a billion diverse souls, the possibilities of imagining up a dreaded enemy are infinite. The State is likely to go round the bend if it even begins to embark on such a Herculean job. Which is precisely why it is useless to come up with random rules and regulations that only disrupt the rights of the citizens. Instead of gaining the people's trust, the State succeeds in deepening public resentment when it tries to wield its iron will too hard. In a democracy, such an idea, in any case, should not be encouraged. But then, the powers that be may not be as silly as they appear to be. A seemingly thoughtless act is often full of hidden possibilities. By marking out women, the State will no doubt find it a good deal easier to enforce gender segregation, prevent elopements and marriages against parental will. A draconian measure like this is likely to find favour in a highly conservative society, and will probably do much good to the drooping image of the Bharatiya Janata Party. But such a primitive mentality is unlikely to win the approval of the nation in the long run.









I want to tell you today about a well-researched report on the migration question that has just been produced. While delineating the future contours of a policy-making base on migration through engagements within the academia, a plan had been mooted by the ministry of overseas Indian affairs for starting the publication of an annual migration report. This was to be on the basis of ongoing research along the lines preferred by the annual world development or human development reports. It was suggested that each such annual volume may focus on a particular theme. It is in keeping with this idea that the first in the series, India Migration Report 2009, has been produced under the general editorship of Binod Khadria, professor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. The first year's theme is understandably comprehensive: "Past, Present and the Future Outlook" on Indian migration.


Perhaps as far back in history as the times of the ascendancy of Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilizations in Mediterranean Europe — or even earlier times — Indians went on foreign voyages or travelled along the famous land routes joining India and Central Asia. On these journeys, the principal European markets had once depended and thrived. We went to them and they came to us. Almost unknowingly, cultural interfaces between the East and the West grew or were explored. We jointly created cultures that would thrive through the ages. The Gandhara and other civilizations in Asia came into existence and created art and cultures that lasted for centuries despite occasional ravages by fanatical marauders. That inheritance was treasured even when the original actors had long since left the scene. In some parts of the world, the task of intermingling of civilizations was left mainly to the seasonal curiosity of the casual tourist. But there always were more important interactions, with the conquistadors, between traders and with scholars who had gone abroad and occasionally had stayed back.


I have begun by saying all this because I had been recently listening to the Greek minister for — I think — tourism, addressing an external affairs ministry seminar on the subject of the growing importance of tourism between countries. I happened to be chairing that session.


The minister from Greece did not seem to care much about the Gandhara sculpture and architecture, not to speak of Greece's own share in that famous joint venture. Imagine my discomfort when the minister told me he was most gratified to meet one in far-off India who thought so highly of ancient Greece's cultural links. He perhaps expected governments to stick to current realities and encourage academics to do the same.


It was the Ptolemaic dynasty, historians tell us, that had initiated Graeco-Roman maritime trade contact with India, using the Red Sea ports. The historian, Strabo, interestingly, once noted a vast increase in trade following the Roman annexation of Egypt. His account indicates that the hazards of the Indian monsoon were well known in Athens, Rome and Alexandria. These place-names are still familiar to the modern world. Unfortunately, those of the three or four Indian ports also mentioned by the old Roman and Greek historians are not discernible, at least to me. I very much wonder if even our historians would be able to identify these places with certainty because even the port sites might not have remained. But this does not mean trade between India and the hub of the European civilization was not as important and as flourishing then as it is today.


The sea-trade routes of old had to be cleverly devised to make them cost-effective and also protected from both the pirates of the sea and the havocs of nature in the season the monsoon winds and rains came. Similarly, the famous trade routes by land — the spice route and the silk route — had to be as carefully maintained and properly guarded against marauders on roads spreading from what is modern Afghanistan through Central Asia. The sea and land trade routes were used then, as in modern times, for transporting physical capital and merchandise. But they must have been carrying human capital too. Indian enclaves were present in Alexandria. Christian and Jewish settlers from Rome lived in India in settlements during and even after the fall of the Roman Empire.


I had once seen an Egyptian mummy lying in its coffin. Parts of the body seemed covered in a delicate fabric that I was told came from India. That mummy probably was a few thousand years old. The covering fabric looked suspiciously like fine cotton that could well have come all the way from East India where the famous muslin would one day become world-renowned. I would not be surprised if some Indian merchants or even technicians were around when the mummy's dressing was being put on. The use of Indian products might well have needed accompanying experts. Perhaps some of the Indian settlers living in Alexandria and elsewhere in the Old World were only welcome high-quality manpower. They would have been among the original non-resident Indians who had endowed themselves with India-made human capital but were stationed abroad for servicing their country's wares when needed.


The path into the future for researchers has many steps to tread. Migration of people from India, particularly over the last two centuries, led them to many parts of the world, which now constitute a sizable minority community in many countries. The presence of Indian migrants in more than a hundred countries and their contributions in social, cultural, economic and political spheres have made them important not only in their adopted countries but for India as well. It is only towards the closing two decades of the 20th century that migration has started catching greater attention from policymakers, the academia and civil society. There are a small number of academics involved in pursuing research at different universities and institutions in the country and a few civil society organizations voicing their concern about international migration. Nonetheless, these are still scattered and need further consolidation.


The Khadria group report has been produced by a team of experts. It is based on research taking stock of the trajectories of Indian migration we have seen in the recent past and speculating on what seems to lie ahead. The report covers several issues relating to international migration, primarily from but also to India. It covers concerns that have been on our minds for years, for example, remittances, gender, migration of health professionals and so on. At the same time, there are issues which are of more recent vintage, like terrorism, security and climate change. The report also discusses various policy perspectives across countries.


The final chapter of the report is on the outlook for migration. Research here is difficult because information on many important aspects of migration is not easily available. It is also difficult because one has to link up data collected on apparently unrelated aspects, such as stocks and flows of people moving from India to other countries and into India, remittances and their utilization, temporary and permanent migration, issues related to integration, gender, illegal migration, terrorism, security, climate change and so on. This list can be extended ad infinitum and one can be sure there will be other issues that will make the question of human migration even trickier. It was good to find that the researchers — if not governments — were fully aware of that, being unencumbered with the compulsions of current policy.








There are notable differences between Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States of America, and Umaru Yar'Adua, the current president of Nigeria. For one thing, Yar'Adua did not found the League of Nations or win the Nobel Peace Prize, whereas Wilson did. For another, Wilson was the president of Princeton University before he entered politics, whereas Yar'Adua's highest academic post was lecturer in chemistry at the College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria, Kaduna state. But there is one striking similarity between the two men.


In 1919, about halfway through his second term as president, Wilson suffered a stroke that left him paralysed on his left side and blind in his left eye. He never recovered sufficiently to resume carrying out the duties of the president — but almost nobody knew it at the time. Wilson's wife, Edith, safeguarded his position by allowing almost nobody else access to him for the last 17 months of his term. Even the vice-president and the cabinet almost never got to see him. In effect, it was she who acted as the country's chief executive.


Last November, Yar'Adua unexpectedly left Nigeria for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia — and didn't return. He had made no arrangements for the vice-president to take over his duties while he was gone, but he remained abroad for three months, and virtually incommunicado, while the business of government was paralysed in his country. Finally, last month, the Nigerian senate declared that the vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan, should become the acting president until such time as Yar'Adua might recover. Soon afterwards, Yar'Adua was flown back into Nigeria and driven to the presidential villa in the middle of the night.


Statements by his aides pointedly refer to "Vice-President" Jonathan, implying that Yar'Adua is back in charge. However, he spent his first week home in the back of an ambulance, while an intensive care facility was built inside the presidential villa. His wife, Turai, has taken control of his agenda, and is allowing almost nobody in to see him.


High stakes


What is really going on here is the latest round in the perpetual power struggle among Nigeria's ultra-rich elites. Political power matters greatly to them, since their wealth mainly derives from stealing the resources of the State, and in practice the competition is between the northern elite, who are Muslim, and the southern elite, who are Christian. Yar'Adua is a Muslim; Jonathan is a Christian.


It is a competition that has sometimes come close to tearing the country apart, and the animosities it generates play out at street level in the form of occasional massacres that seem to be religious in motivation. Last week's mass-murders of Christian villagers in Plateau state, for example, were probably in retaliation to a similar mass killing of Muslims in January. But neither at the national or the village level is this struggle really about religious differences. The desperate attempt to keep Yar'Adua in power is happening because replacing him in mid-term with Goodluck Jonathan violates a gentleman's agreement in the ruling party that Muslim and Christian leaders should alternate in power. Similarly, the massacres in Plateau state are actually due to a conflict over land between the local farmers (whose Berom ethnic group happens to be Christian) and Fulani-speaking pastoralists who happen to be Muslim.


The northern elite plays the Muslim card repeatedly to preserve its monopoly of power in the northern states, but it will never stop collaborating with the southern elite to maintain the status quo, because all the oil is in the south. The two groups compete fiercely over the division of the spoils, but if the north ever really seceded from Nigeria, the northern elite would lose its access to the oil revenues that keep it rich.



******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD





The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, which the government proposes to introduce in the Lok Sabha on Monday, gives excessive protection to manufacturers and suppliers of equipment and fails to provide for adequate compensation for victims in the event of an accident. The Bill has to be passed to bring into effect the Indo-US nuclear deal. American nuclear equipment manufacturers who eye big business in India want their liability arising from accidents to be limited and do not want to face law suits as in the aftermath of the Bhopal gas tragedy. The US government is pressing India to get the Bill passed early.


The Bill limits the civil liability of a company to about Rs 500 crore per accident, with a cap on overall compensation at Rs 2,200 crore. The government can also reduce the liability to Rs 100 crore. The amounts proposed are inadequate for fair compensation after an accident and are even less than the compensation awarded for Bhopal gas victims. Other countries which have similar legislation do not lay down such low caps on liability. Some countries even have unlimited liability. In the US it is capped at $10.2 billion. Though equipment makers can be brought to India to face law suits, the likely consequences are not deterrent enough for them. The finance ministry has itself noted that the Bill exposes the government and the Indian tax payer to substantial liabilities for the failings of private companies. There is even a view that foreign companies may be tempted to test new equipment designs in India since the liability in case of accidents is not substantial. The legal validity of the Bill is in doubt because its provisions go against the well-accepted principle that the polluter should pay. The government's claim that the law contains stringent provisions which meet international norms has been widely disputed.

The Bill has invited criticism from political parties, experts and others. The government may find it difficult to ensure its passage in parliament. It should be reviewed and its provisions improved so that there is reasonable liability for equipment companies and assurance of fair compensation to victims of accidents. India has to respect its part of the deal with the US in civil nuclear co-operation but should not give unfair concessions to American companies at the cost of Indian lives.








Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's statement in Islamabad, during a state visit, that he considers Pakistan to be a conjoined twin of his country and India a close friend, may have been made in the effusive atmosphere of the visit. But it has not sent out the best signals about the future of India's relations with Afghanistan and the relative place and importance of each country in the trilateral scheme. Karzai's symbolism implies a meaning that Afghanistan's relationship with Pakistan is closer and more real than that with India. He is on a mission to mend fences with Pakistan in the new scenario emerging after a proposed US plan to build bridges with a section of the Taliban. Pakistan's influence over the militants fighting the Karzai government and the US in Afghanistan is well-known. The new strategy will not succeed without Islamabad's co-operation and Pakistan is certain to extract a price for it.


The price is not just an increased say in the affairs of Afghanistan but also an elimination of any Indian influence there. Pakistan has always wanted Afghanistan to provide it with strategic depth in the event of a conflict with India. General Ashfaq Kayani, its army chief, recently reiterated this. This policy has only created instability and turmoil in Afghanistan and strengthened the fundamentalist forces which are a threat to both countries. Pakistan never had cordial relations with any Afghan government in the last 60 years except with the brief Taliban regime, because of its consideration of Afghanistan as its backyard. Karzai, whose government also has not had good relations with Pakistan, is aware of this but he seems to be under pressure from the US.

The statement might also create confusion in New Delhi. India has invested much in the reconstruction of Afghanistan by building infrastructure and promoting humanitarian and welfare activities. A stable and friendly Afghanistan is important for India's security also. Therefore, it cannot accept Pakistan's idea of a zero sum game in Afghanistan. The US also will find its interests jeopardised if it accepts Pakistan's total dominance of Afghanistan. Afghanistan's independence and friendship with all its neighbouring countries are important for the stability of the region and for peace.








In an odd swing of fortunes, the first legislative round of the Women's Reservation Bill has left the victors just a little shaken and the defeated mightily stirred. This was not what the script said. With all the heavyweights on the side of gender-bias correction, including the heaviest weight of all, media, the contest was meant to end in an easy victory against a set of ragbag antediluvians.

It is true that after the Rajya Sabha vote the score sheet reads Mrs Sonia Sushma Brinda Goliath 1, Mr Yadav Khan David 0. But it is the Goliath camp that has become apprehensive about its prospects in the compulsory return match in the Lok Sabha, while David is now polishing his sling with some relish. A confident Mrs Goliath was expected to organise a quick return fixture on the assumption that the David team was in disarray, but that is not how it has turned out, and a decision has been put in abeyance.

This is not to suggest that Mrs Goliath has lost nerve, or is in danger of losing the match. But it is indisputable that sudden gaps have opened up in what was thought to be formidable defence, while the giant strikers are wondering if their numerical superiority has become politically counter-productive. The triumphant self-congratulation with which they began the match and which continued till the passage of the 108th Amendment to the Constitution, has slipped into a deepening sense of unease. This is because the smiles in Delhi are not quite matched by sentiments on the ground, particularly in north India. Politicians opposed to the Bill represent the more deprived sections of Indian society: Dalits, backward classes and Muslims. The government that claims to represent the interests of the 'aam aadmi' is clearly worried that it might end up as the voice of the 'khaas aurat' (special woman).

At the heart of the wrangle lies a pertinent question: is this reservation for some women, or is it for all women? Neither men nor women are a homogenous group, nor does gender represent political identity. If women were to vote for women per se, then the present Lok Sabha would be flooded with women MPs, since every second voter is a woman. The reason why parties do not select more women candidates has nothing to do with bias; it is because women have collateral disadvantages in electoral politics that makes it more difficult for them to defeat male nominees. This is a rational justification for increasing their presence in the House through reservation. But if reservation is necessary to reduce the imbalance between men and women, then, by the same logic, it is also essential to reduce the imbalance between women and women. Wealth, caste and faith are decisive elements of this internal imbalance, and reservations within reservations make sense. Those who argue that faith-based reservations are not permitted by the Constitution forget that this is a constitutional amendment, and not an ordinary Bill. If you can amend the Constitution for one reason, you can amend it for a second as well.
A disproportionate Lok Sabha will eventually become a dysfunctional Lok Sabha, so corrections are essential. Some corrections are easy, as for instance in the rather self-defeating proposal to create a system of rotation in every general election. This would, in effect, make two-thirds of the Lok Sabha one-term MPs, destroying the compact between MP and voter by eliminating accountability. But rotation can be easily spaced out, as in the case of reserved seats for Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

There are more pernicious realities about the parliamentary system hidden in the woodwork. The most dangerous is that the Indian parliament has become the preserve of the super-rich.

The National Election Watch has unearthed extremely interesting statistics. There are 59 women in the current Lok Sabha. (This is almost twice the number of Muslims. The graph of the last six decades, incidentally, is also revealing: the number of women MPs is rising, while the number of Muslims has declined sharply. But that is not a comparison relevant to this column.) Forty of 59 women MPs, or 68 per cent, have personal assets over Rs 1 crore. The percentage of super-rich among male MPs (57 per cent) is not very different. Wealth is still primarily a male asset, and the percentage of wealthy women will come down with greater representation.
Throw in another factor, that virtually everyone hides wealth, and the percentage of gender-neutral super-rich becomes much higher. Parliament, in other words, has become an elitist club. It is virtually impossible for a person without substantial means to contest an election seriously, given the costs of a campaign. A candidate has to be either a leader or extremely lucky if his or her party meets even a quarter of real costs.

Why is no one demanding reservations for those around or below the poverty line, who constitute perhaps 40 per cent of India? Why not replace caste-based reservations with poverty-based reservations?
That would be a true revolution.









Doctor Pachauri is being flayed everyday in the media. For, his work on global warning is seriously flawed, and that our glaciers are not as threatened as his reports suggest, and that a study done by a student has been the basis of his committee's findings. And that he has vested interests in the businesses connected with carbon deposits.

My disappointment with his work is not on any of these issues but that he missed out a very important factor in global warming, the Indian flatulence factor, or the breaking wind factor which, on per capita basis, is the highest in the world. Given our billion-plus population, the combined effect of it is disaster in the making. It was our good luck that the Copenhagen meet did not bring on the table this very important issue. Was it out of diplomatic politeness or sheer lack of awareness of our deep rooted cultural habit that the international conference ignored it?

Let us admit that we are the champion farters on this globe. There is not a place in India that is free from this phenomenon. I am sure that I can clip at least five minutes from jogging timings if I did not face the combined headwind effect expelled by walkers ahead of me. I have changed parks and running routines but nothing has helped.

No place is free from this activity. The priests in the temple do it; company CEOs do it, as do the workers. Guests in the living room do it although some of them have mastered the art of muting the sound effect. You can blame this on Indian cuisines of pulses and grams but that will not wash with the international community. They will say it in our face. It is your problem. You solve it or face the penalty for carbon additions. Period.

Am I free from this habit that I am talking so much about? No. I will be the first one to plead guilty but one thing in my defence is that I am taking some medicines that give this kind of side effect. For the benefit of medicines that these medicines give me, this is the cost my fellow beings have to bear.
I believe the government has to wake up to the reality and allot funds for a massive, time-bound research to study this phenomenon and  take steps to find a remedy. If we don't do it fast, the next summit on global warming will tell us loud and clear terms — cap your gases, or else...








Come April, the first tenants may finally be able to move into Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Despite a series of setbacks since its ostensible opening two months ago, 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 maximised 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 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 accommodates about 21,000 employees working for 1,000 companies; the tower has its own ZIP code.

So what of the marvel recently constructed in West Asia?

From a technological standpoint, it's profoundly impressive that a reinforced concrete frame has outperformed the steel of Taipei 101 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 Building was built during the Depression. And great innovations 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.
The New York Times


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The Israeli prime minister apparently believed that by conducting two-track negotiations he could make things coalition-friendly: to both espouse the slogan "two states for two peoples" and sabotage the Palestinians' ability to set up their state; to both embrace Vice President Joe Biden and give the U.S. administration the finger; to both ask the administration to get Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table and put thumbtacks on his seat once he's there.

Judging by the statements of Benjamin Netanyahu and his associates, even now that the American flamethrower is aimed right at him and Israel, he still believes that everything was a misunderstanding, and if he asks nicely to be forgiven or launches an inquiry into what happened, all his transgressions will be absolved.

But giving polished rhetoric precedence over policy and making winking a strategy are endangering the existence of the State of Israel, as is the collision course with Washington on which Netanyahu has put the country. It's impossible to break American support for Israel down into sub-clauses such as mobilization against the Iranian threat, economic and military assistance, or cooperation in all spheres of life. Each of these is essential for the state's survival; they are secondary to the foundation on which the culture of American support for Israel and the Jewish people relies - support from both the administration and the people.


It would be better to get one common misconception out of the way right now: Israel is not America's strategic asset, but America is the source of Israel's strength, and it is essential to rein in the lunacy that threatens to shatter the link between the two countries.

The U.S. administration does not change its policy with sharp movements. It is more like a giant iceberg that moves so slowly that it may be too late to notice that it is already somewhere else. Washington, as Israel's best friend, is sending warning signals not only against Netanyahu's policy of building in the territories and Jerusalem, but also of the greatest danger of all: damage to American support for Israel.

The government headed by Netanyahu is now emerging as a strategic threat. It is essential to remove that threat by adopting an open and responsible policy that will include an undertaking to withdraw from the territories and a total freeze on construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We must also set a final date for the conclusion of negotiations.








Benjamin Netanyahu is absolutely right. Since 1967 no Israeli government stopped building in Jerusalem, east or west. Since the Eshkol government extended Israeli sovereignty over "Jordanian Jerusalem" and annexed the villages around the city, "United Jerusalem" became an inalienable part of the State of Israel. The prime minister is entitled to order the interior minister to delay the discussions at the Planning and Building Committee on the plans to expand a Jewish neighborhood beyond the Green Line. He can ask the mayor to delay presenting his ideas for changes at the Holy Basin. No Zionist prime minister will dare utter the words "I commit to freezing construction in Jerusalem."

Mahmoud Abbas is also absolutely right. Since 1967 no country has recognized the annexation of East Jerusalem to the State of Israel. Moreover, west and east Jerusalem do not host a single embassy. Even George W. Bush, considered a fervent Zionist, made sure every six months to sign a deferment to the 1995 legislation on moving the U.S. embassy to Israel's capital. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, there is no difference between authorizing a plan to build hundreds of homes at Ramat Shlomo and setting up a new outpost near Ofra. Broadening the Israeli presence in the King's Garden, at the foot of the Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount), harms them much more than setting up a new industrial area near Ariel (which is also taking place under the guise of a "freeze.")

Barack Obama is also right. The U.S. mediator expected that in the coming months Netanyahu would avoid altering the status quo in the territories, whose future is part of the negotiations. In Washington they realized that Netanyahu can't publicly declare a construction freeze in East Jerusalem. All they asked of Israel was not to declare publicly the expansion of construction there. Unfortunately, the Americans had hoped that Israel would not surprise them by announcing a new plan during the vice president's visit on the eve of the proximity talks.


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is justifiably thrilled. Jerusalem is the preferred arena for Iran and its regional allies to clash with the United States and its Mideast allies. Tehran could not have had a better venue or more perfect timing to expose the international community's failings. When the leaders of the Arab states meet in Tripoli, the ayatollahs will closely watch the maneuvering of the Arab League's leaders over the proposal to ratify their peace initiative, at a standstill since 2002.

Based on experience, Netanyahu can expect the issue of construction at Ramat Shlomo to die down, just as the issue of deadly car crashes dwindles with time. A day or two will pass and life (or death) goes back to normal. Washington's politicians are concerned about the congressional elections that will take place in less than eight months. The election year is an open season for the pro-Israel lobby, whose influence on both parties, including Obama's, is great. "United Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people" was always the Judgment Day weapon of the Israeli and Jewish right during its assaults on Capitol Hill.

The story of Ramat Shlomo reminds all those who truly love Jerusalem that this tough city is the cornerstone of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and between the city and the three monotheistic religions who believe that it is holy. The current crisis over the violation of the status quo in East Jerusalem underlines the risk inherent in the proposal to postpone a solution on sovereignty over this tinderbox until the end of final-status talks. As long as this powder keg remains open, some extremist and/or fool, Mayor Nir Barkat and/or the Islamic Movement's Sheikh Raed Salah will light a match.

Jerusalem will burn. If it doesn't happen tomorrow, then the day after. The crisis over the construction freeze is a last-minute cry of distress. There is no more room for proximity talks and more trips by presidential envoys, whatever their rank. This is the time for the leader of the greatest superpower to pull out the Obama plan for two states with Jerusalem as their capital.








It was in 1952 that Natan Alterman published his poem "The First Condition" in his regular commentary in verse in the newspaper Davar. In the poem, he deplored the signs of corruption and dissipation in Israel and warned that a climate was forming in which "society falls ill and takes to a sickbed."

Since then, society has not healed nor arisen from that bed. When Hanoch Bartov, this year's Israel Prize laureate in literature, spoke last week of the hedonism rampant in this country, revolving around money and the pleasures it can buy, he wasn't talking about the past. So we shouldn't take lightly the new Bank of Israel Law, which the Knesset is due to enact soon after years of deliberation.

Many people believe that the proposed law's main achievement is the establishment of a new body, the monetary committee, which will be responsible for fiscal policy, including setting interest rates. But the truth is that the most important innovation is a provision that the administrative council to be set up will need the approval of the treasury official in charge of civil service wages for every decision on giving Bank of Israel employees better pay. This will make the employees of the central bank part of the State of Israel and its public service. Until now, what should have been taken for granted was not.


The bank's current governor, Stanley Fischer, and his predecessors well understood that the excessive salaries the institution paid were perceived by the public as theft from the common purse and undermined confidence in the central bank. The governor's willingness to agree to having the wages paid by the bank subject to a treasury official paved the way for passing a law that he is eager to see on the books. An additional provision in the proposed law, inserted as a compromise, says the bank will have the right to appeal the treasury official's decisions to the prime minister, and this underscores the fact that some public servants will still be "more equal" than others.

The struggle to bring the Bank of Israel under the wing of the state began long ago. In 2006, Ozer Berkowitz, then the top Finance Ministry wage official, died in the midst of his fight against this deep-rooted anomaly. He had been a student of mine in a Tel Aviv University graduate course on public policy for managers. He told me about the struggle and his efforts to persuade the governor that there should be one wage policy for the entire public service.


That there is a prevalent, ongoing and unfair distortion has been highlighted again as top-level officials, namely cabinet members, battled to have themselves excluded from the rules that bind everyone else. With the media displaying almost total apathy, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided to oppose a bill proposed by some MKs to obligate the finance minister, with cabinet approval, to set rules on expenditures by ministers while traveling abroad on official business.

Subsequently, MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) one of the bill's initiators, declared rightly that "the cats have refused to lay off the cream." Perhaps there's consolation in the fact that never have ministers displayed such unity. Usually they disagree about almost everything. This sweeping agreement also explains the silence of almost the entire cabinet in the face of the scathing state comptroller's report last October about the profligacy of the Defense Ministry delegation (headed by Ehud Barak himself) at the Paris Air Show. In his report, the comptroller stressed that "a public servant holds public funds in trust, for the benefit of the public, and hence is under an obligation to use the funds efficiently, cautiously and sparingly." The comptroller said it was not possible to continue with a situation in which spending by the prime minister and ministers abroad was "utterly without restraint." The cabinet, however, thinks otherwise.

The comptroller's call for restrictions and limits has not been met. And the future of the private members' bill is not promising either, in view of the stance of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. It's doubtful that a majority of MKs, who are not obligated to reveal their wealth, will support this bill or the one proposed by MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor), which would make financial transparency legally binding. Backing such legislation, after all, might set things sliding down a slippery slope, eventually forcing proper norms of conduct on legislators. Meanwhile, it's the public's confidence in the legislators that's on a slippery slope. A "we-and-you" separation barrier is arising between the public and its elected officials. This is one of the dangers menacing our democratic society









It has been a while since the parties that make up the governing coalition have staged such a captivating drama in the backyard of Israeli politics. No wonder. The battalions of rebels will have a hard time stealing the show from a government that in its first year has sunk to such depths, far below the red line of the Kinneret.

No episode of someone snatching a microphone in the middle of a party central committee meeting can compare to the crisis with the Americans. No tongue-lashing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right or Defense Minister Ehud Barak's left can overshadow the government's flagrant abuse of diplomatic protocol and law enforcement. It's hard to believe that after the televised broadcast of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's press conference, Israel's best writers can produce better descriptions of Israel's foreign policy.

Yet the next Likud Central Committee meeting, which had been scheduled for Thursday but was postponed due to "unusual circumstances," is enough to issue an early tsunami warning. While the air is still filled with the stench of the Biden fiasco and the yellow card that Hillary Clinton showed Netanyahu, the Likud rebels are already urging the prime minister to renew his allegiance to construction in Judea and Samaria and declare that building will resume in September. Ministers and MKs who are patsies to no one are nothing new. But Netanyahu's maneuvers in the face of rebels who smell a crisis looming - maneuvers designed to avoid deepening the rift with the Americans - are liable to develop into a mini-drama.


Perhaps this is an uncontrollable, reflexive response by political leaders. With vital state matters to attend to, they find the time for politicking. It wasn't long ago that they won the primary, wrapped up an election campaign and formed a government, yet they have already found time to change the party constitution and the composition of party institutions, all while surrounding themselves with aides who will get them into trouble.

If only Netanyahu had not made life difficult for himself two weeks ago by trying to postpone the elections for Likud bodies by two years, contravening party bylaws, he would not find himself today in talks with the rightist fringe of his party over the language of the central committee meeting's final statement. Nor would he have been on the receiving end of a slap in the face from the Tel Aviv District Court. He would not have to prove, yet again, that he does not fold in the face of battle, requiring an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Go figure these leaders. It was they, after all, who worked diligently to democratize their parties. They initiated reforms of party committees tasked with choosing the list of candidates in the primaries. They have refrained from backroom deals, lists of preferred candidates and naked opportunism. Morning turned into evening, they were elected and cobbled together a coalition, and the new order was kaput. For why would these leaders, who sit atop the perch afforded to them by the government, put their trust in party democracy? That's quite a stretch.

Devoted members of the Labor Party fled in droves after Barak's power play, which weakened the influence of party institutions under the guise of amending the constitution. Others left after he tightened his grip on the party by appointing his man, Weizmann Shiri as Labor director-general. Shiri sounds like a studious pupil in lessons on crassness straight from the school of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Some jumped ship after Barak named Salah ("crimes and misdemeanors") Tarif as his diplomatic adviser. But mostly they left when Barak put at Netanyahu's disposal what remains of the Labor Party, an entity that has been reduced to the prime minister's personal auxiliary force.

In two weeks, when the Labor Party registration drive ends, we will learn that the party has 20,000 members. How much longer can Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman and even Shalom Simhon still claim that "Ehud really wants peace and Netanyahu has come a long way"? How much longer can Shelly Yachimovich immerse herself in the budget and not say a word about her party remaining in the coalition?

In years past, parties and political movements represented a source of authority and strength for their leaders as well as for politics and democracy in general. Not anymore.

Even the most obsessively optimistic among us are moved to acknowledge that it's hard to see how any good can come of the clash between a lack of political protocol and anarchy.








BRASILIA - Clara Ant is perhaps the most surprising person in the inner circle of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who Monday begins the first visit to Israel by a Brazilian president. An architect and daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Ant is a former Trotskyite who speaks nearly fluent Hebrew and is charming and full of humor. She serves as Lula's close adviser. Adviser for what? "What not?" she responds with a laugh.

Ant is responsible for following up presidential decisions - seeing to it that they are properly implemented. She and Lula have worked closely for 33 years. Among other issues, they joined forces to oppose the military government in Brazil, which was in power from 1964 to 1985. She was working with the architects' union at the time, and he led the metalworkers' union.

In the view of some members of the Brazilian Jewish community, she is like Esther in the court of King Ahasuerus, helping to sweeten the bitter pill of Lula's efforts to forge close relations with the Arab and Muslim world - notably, with Iran. The country's Jews "make pilgrimages" to present their problems to her; she helps them to whatever extent she can. Others see her as being captive to the rare good graces of the king, and note that she is "liable to sell out Israel's interests" if they conflict with the interests of the Brazilian leader.


While about 80 percent of Brazilians support Lula - the most popular president in the country's history - the Jews there are totally opposite in their views: While they profess to have "very close relations" with him, according to most assessments, only about 20 percent of them support him and his party.

Ant almost certainly sees this as a lack of gratitude. In her opinion, the situation of Brazil's 120,000 Jews has never been better and relations between Brazil and Israel have never been stronger. She is not prepared to talk about the dialogue with Iran in the context of the Holocaust or her family, which perished in it. It's not fair to do that, she explains. "Maybe Lula is altogether correct in his approach? Give him a chance at least," she says.

And what is that approach? From two interviews with Haaretz - one with the president himself and the other with Marco Aurelio Garcia, his foreign affairs adviser, who is thought to "pull the strings on policy toward Iran" - the components of it are apparent: Dialogue with Iran is designed to help head off radicalization of the regime in Tehran, to ensure a strong Iranian commitment not to develop nuclear weapons and to enable Brazil to monitor that commitment from up close. Furthermore, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not bilateral but regional, in Brazil's view, and it has global implications. Iran is part of the region and its relations with Hamas hold the potential to do real damage. Iran must therefore be part of the solution.

Experience in Latin America, including Cuba, proves that the use of sanctions is not effective. Sanctions constitute a first step on the path to a military offensive, which is akin to adding fuel to the fire. We know that scenario from Iraq, they say, adding that then, too, doubtful reports were presented that spurred an insane war and created an even worse situation.

Brazil is establishing its role as a regional and global power. It is on the way to becoming the world's fifth-largest economic power, and will be serving on the United Nations Security Council for the next two years. Lula himself is an important and highly regarded player both in Brazil and internationally. His policy toward Iran is designed to afford him a position of influence against the United States and the West.

Paradoxically, the president is seen in the same light with respect to his stronger ties with Israel. In October he will be stepping down, and he is looking to play an "appropriate" international role. According to one assessment, Lula hopes to replace Tony Blair as the representative to the Middle East of the Quartet (the U.S., UN, European Union and Russia). Israel cannot agree with his positions, but it also cannot ignore them.








In the name of the tens of thousands of people stuck in horrible traffic jams thanks to the visit of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to Jerusalem, I can only hope that Brazilian President Lula da Silva intends to make his pilgrimage on foot. Jerusalem is a compact, beautiful city, and from his hotel Lula can reach every landmark on foot, without imposing further on us Jerusalemites.

We remember previous visits that led nowhere but still held us up. Just as Americans can recall where they were when Kennedy was murdered, we know where we were for each traffic jam caused by a terror attack or by a VIP delegation, or, as with the visit by Barack Obama, a terror attack and a VIP delegation.

It may be that being stuck on a bus in the capital because of an honored guest is not the biggest thing one can complain about in a city perpetually on the verge of an explosion. But as well as important visitors to stymie our movements, we also have daily jams thanks to the construction of the light rail, a train that is still in the station, yet in whose honor the entire city has spent years being excavated.


As such, the greatest gesture of friendship that Lula da Silva can bestow upon us Jerusalemites is to walk. Firstly, this is a great way to meet the locals - of all ethnicities and nations. Secondly, walking is good for the health and for the environment, and thirdly, on foot one can really feel Jerusalem and the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A pleasant stroll along the walls of the Old City is a walk along the green line. It gives the pedestrian a chance to have impressed upon him exactly how impractical it is to draw a border through the center of Jerusalem, and how the green line blurs and disappears under the tracks of a train designed to bring closer the residents of Pisgat Ze'ev, the largest settlement in Jerusalem. On foot, Lula can see the separate buses for Jews and Arabs, who are occasionally, briefly, thrown together. And if he sticks around until Friday afternoon, Lula will be able to samba his way from West to East Jerusalem with the hundreds walking and dancing to Sheikh Jarrah to the tune of the drums of war.

It is safe to assume that the Brazilian president, unlike the marchers and drummers, will be allowed to reach the three Palestinian families who have been sleeping for months outside their homes, now occupied by the Jewish settlers who curse and beat and mock them. The Brazilian president has no doubt seen equally distressing images of homelessness, racism and discrimination, but perhaps a man so proud of the good relations between Jews and Arabs in his native country could spare us some words of wisdom? Maybe instead of expending so much effort on separation, building walls of hate, and superfluous Jews-only construction in a poor and unemployment-ridden city, could Lula show us how to build with recyclable materials, something at which Brazil excels, as well as direct us to a life of samba and dialogue?

The massive jams caused by Biden's visit ended with a light slap on the wrist for the timing of announcement of new construction in Ramat Shlomo. Biden, the vice president of a superpower which doles out billions to Israel, made his protest felt with his hour-and-a-half tardiness for dinner with the Netanyahus. We Jerusalemites, forever late thanks to important guests sealing off our streets and a light rail plan going nowhere fast, dream that Lula's visit will be less gridlocked and more meaningful. For if Lula's arrival can indeed signal hope for a life of peace and equality between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, then our hours trapped in interminable traffic will surely pass more delightfully.




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




After a year of national debate, a handful of House Democrats who oppose abortion may be the ones to decide whether health care reform goes forward or not.


We strongly support a woman's right to choose and are disturbed by the restrictions in both the House and Senate bills on a woman's ability to buy insurance that covers abortions. But the opportunity to provide coverage for 30 million of the uninsured — and more security for all Americans — is too important to miss.


We are puzzled and dismayed that these legislators are willing to waste that opportunity because they say the onerous anti-abortion provisions in the Senate's bill are still not onerous enough.


How did a small group get so much power? The answer has to do with the peculiarities of the legislative process and the fact that not a single Republican — for conviction or politics — is willing to vote for reform.


The most likely path forward is for the House to approve the Senate's version and for both chambers to approve amendments that would make it more palatable to House members. To get those amendments past a Republican filibuster, Senate Democrats plan to use "reconciliation." That only requires a majority vote, but it is just for budget-related issues, which means the abortion provisions can't be changed.


Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, says that unless the Senate's anti-abortion provisions are strengthened, perhaps a dozen House Democrats who voted for the House version won't vote for the Senate's bill. Before they push their party's signature domestic issue over a cliff they need to recognize how incredibly restrictive the Senate's provisions already are.


•Most of these restrictions would apply to insurance policies sold on new exchanges where individuals and small businesses could choose from an array of private plans. The Senate bill would allow any state to ban insurers on the state's exchanges from offering policies that cover abortion. In states that don't impose that ban, the exchanges would be required to offer at least one policy that excludes abortion coverage. They would not be required to offer policies that cover abortions.


The Senate bill also bans the use of federal subsidies to pay for abortion services. And it would set up a hugely complicated scheme to make sure that happens.


All people who buy a policy that covers abortions — not just those receiving tax credits to help buy insurance — would have to divide their premium payment in two: a small part (at least $1 a month) to cover the plan's projected cost of paying for abortions and a much bigger payment for the rest of the premium. The insurers would have to keep two separate accounts for the subsidized group, one to pay for abortions and one for all other care. It would be so cumbersome that it would likely discourage insurers from offering plans that cover abortion.


Those restrictions are a blatant government interference in a serious health care decision that should be made by a woman and her doctor. But for some House members they are still not enough.


They want a House provision that would not allow a woman even to use her own premium contributions to pay for abortion coverage in any plan that accepts subsidized enrollees; she would have to buy a separate rider that few insurers would likely offer.


They warn that the Senate bill does not make its restrictions permanent, but pegs them to the so-called Hyde amendment, passed each year to restrict government spending on abortions. The Hyde amendment — unfortunately — has been renewed for more than three decades and shows no signs of disappearing.


House opponents also complain that the Senate bill would appropriate billions of dollars to build and operate community health centers to serve poor patients, without an ironclad guarantee that such centers would not provide abortion services. That too denies reality. In 45 years of operation, such federally financed health centers have never provided abortions.


And they worry that the Department of Health and Human Services could include abortion on a list of

"preventive services" for women that insurers would be required to cover without any cost sharing. Abortion has never been defined as a preventive service; the provision is aimed at ensuring that women get mammograms and pap smears.


Finally, they oppose the Senate bill's provision requiring everyone enrolled in a plan that covers abortions to designate a small part of their premium to underwrite the plan's abortion coverage. Those who object can always sign up for a plan that does not cover abortions.


•Abortion is a legal and medically valid procedure that should be covered by insurance — without government interference. Legislators who support abortion rights are the only ones who have given ground in the interests of passing health care reform. Anti-abortion Democrats need to show similar statesmanship and accept the Senate's restrictive provisions. They owe it to all Americans.






Congress passed legislation last year intended to protect consumers from the credit card industry's most deceptive and unfair practices. The main provisions finally went into effect last month. But the Federal Reserve still has to write new rules intended to stop companies from bleeding customers dry with exorbitant fees for late payments, with charges for exceeding the credit limit, or with "any other penalty fee or charge." Under the statute, the Fed must write rules to ensure that these fees and charges are "reasonable and proportional."


The Fed has a long history of putting the credit card industry first and consumers far behind, and a draft of the rules released this month is disturbingly weak.


The new law has outlawed many of the practices that helped drive so many Americans into irremediable debt. Companies must now provide a 45-day notice before raising interest rates, giving the customer a fair chance to cancel the card. And except in a few cases, they are forbidden to raise rates on existing balances. They can no longer switch around due dates, confusing consumers and triggering lucrative late fees, or issue credit cards to minors without finding an adult co-signer or establishing proof that the young person can pay.


Some of the Fed's proposed rules would give consumers additional protection. Fees for exceeding the credit limit would now have to be proportional to the infraction — no more $39 fees for going $10 over your limit. The new rules would ban pernicious "inactivity fees," which charge people for not using their cards


Other draft rules are far too weak or ambiguous — clearing the way for further abuses. The proposed new rules would require card issuers who have raised interest rates since Jan. 1, 2009, to evaluate whether the reasons for those increases are still valid and to reduce the rate where appropriate. The Fed needs to make clear exactly when and under what conditions a rate reduction is in order.


The biggest flaw is that the proposed rules fail to regulate so-called "penalty interest" charges, under which interest rates can be doubled or even tripled for infractions like late payments. The Fed tries to defend this omission by arguing that the proportionality provision in the legislation does not specifically refer to penalty interest rates.


That's a convenient interpretation if you own a credit card company. But the Fed, which has broad authority in these matters, is supposed to be working on behalf of consumers. Beyond that, the statute clearly states that any and all penalty fees and charges should be "reasonable and proportional," which is to say not usurious.


In general, the credit card companies have proved that they will not respect this standard. That means the Fed will have to set clear limits on how interest penalties can be applied.







Port-au-Prince, Haiti

The unwritten rules of driving in the capital — just tap the horn, keep your cool, be polite — keep traffic moving, even in a streetscape clotted with earthquake rubble and trash and shadowed by mass death. Cars, the jitneys known as tap-taps, motorbikes, pedestrians, even dogs accept them. Only the huge United Nations and military trucks don't — exempted by gross tonnage, I guess. Same streets, different worlds.


I spent time in Haiti recently shuttling between the two. The first is the world of outside relief agencies, which

measure their work in numbers: meals served, tents pitched. Things there are moving all the time, but progress has been agonizingly slow.


In the second world, where the Haitians are, people can't afford to wait for helping hands. Life is improvised, fluid, dire, sometimes desperate but not panicked. The people seemed immune to whining. They were busy doing what needs doing.


The government has a reputation as hopeless, but at the street level, Haiti shows powerful tendencies toward self-organizing, adaptability and cooperation. My expectations of postdisaster anarchy were upended by every neighborhood I visited, every group and family I talked to, every meeting I attended.


Whatever Haitians were before, they are now juggling new jobs. They are carpenters, building cities with sticks and bent nails. They are earthmovers and deconstruction contractors, using tools no more complicated than the lever. They are entrepreneurs, planners and organizers, working together when there is no one else to help.


Two mornings a week, at about 8:30, a group gathers in a quiet parking area of a row of townhouses among mango trees in Haut-Turgeau, on a hillside above downtown. Men and women with notepads and cellphones huddle with Frantz Liautaud, a retired engineer who provided meeting space for committees from nearby refugee settlements, which have taken it on themselves to give out food and water and clear debris. When I met him, he was several steps ahead of the U.N. Give us four trucks and a legal place to dump rubble and we're in business, he said.


There is a new group of Haitians in Port-au-Prince that calls itself the Civil Society Watchdog Group ( They did their own survey of nine refugee settlements and issued a report on March 8 citing troubling lapses in security, sanitation and water distribution. Their big concern is the hundreds of millions of dollars outside groups are raising and spending on behalf of Haitians. They want transparency and accountability. They want groups to put the money trail online. I hope their plea is not ignored.


Haitian assertiveness is filling vacuums in other places, too. People are forming safety brigades to patrol deep in

the sprawling settlements where the cops and blue helmets don't go. They're cleaning up where they can. It's far from ideal, but in some places, like one small section of the huge, filthy Champ de Mars camp, it was heartening to see sidewalks tidily swept.


Other Haitians in the overbuilt capital aren't waiting for a coming hypothesized urban-removal program. They are sending themselves by the hundreds of thousands out of Port-au-Prince, taking rust-bucket boats to places like Jérémie, in the distant southwest.


The world has big plans for Haiti. Haiti has big plans for itself. All could well involve disappointment, missed opportunities, failure. But no use waiting.


"What they gonna do about Haiti? That's what I want to know."


My translator Jean Junior Osman, who goes by Junior, asked me this one afternoon as we rolled through traffic on the way to another camp. Junior lost his wife and her two daughters when their home collapsed in front of him as he stood on the street. The street is where he lives now, in a tent. He made a plywood foundation, put a tarp over it. It has a bed, lights, a generator. It's his home, his office, his life.


When Junior asked me that I was looking out at thousands of other shelters — tents, sturdy domes, flimsy shacks, the best that outside charity and homegrown ingenuity could come up with so soon after the Jan. 12 disaster. If weather predictions are right, many of them are likely to be wiped out.


I don't think Junior was expecting an answer. I think he was just marveling at the cruel mystery of it, the huge job ahead that now looks infinite, probably as big as Junior's sorrow. Haitians don't know what they are going to do about Haiti. But they're working on it.







Americans believe in evil, but we're uncomfortable with tragedy. We accept that there are wicked people in the world, with malice in their hearts and a devil whispering in their ears. But the idea that many debacles flow from choices made by decent, well-intentioned human beings is more difficult for us to wrap our minds around.


This is apparent in our politics, where we're swift to impute the worst of motives to anyone slightly to our left or right. It's apparent in our popular culture, thick with white hats and black hats, superheroes and supervillains. But it's most egregious where the two spheres intersect: in our political fictions, which are nearly always Manichaean, simplistic and naïve.


Consider "Green Zone," the new Matt Damon thriller that doubles as a meditation on Why We Are in Iraq. The director is Paul Greengrass, a talented Englishman whose quease-inducing "United 93" remains one of the few compelling films to emerge from 9/11. The source material is Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," a dense and nuanced account of the Iraq occupation's disastrous first year. But the film itself, a slam-bang account of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, has the same problem as nearly every other Hollywood gloss on recent political events: it refuses to stare real tragedy in the face, preferring the comforts of a "Bush lied, people died" reductionism.


The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare. You had a nation reeling from a terrorist attack and hungry for a response that would be righteous, bold and comprehensive. You had an inexperienced president trying to tackle a problem that his predecessors (one of them his own father) had left to fester since the first gulf war. You had a cause — the removal of a brutal dictator, and the spread of democracy to the Arab world — that inspired a swath of the liberal intelligentsia to play George Orwell and embrace the case for war. You had a casus belli — those weapons of mass destruction — that even many of the invasion's opponents believed to be a real danger to world peace. And you had Saddam Hussein himself, the dictator in his labyrinth, apparently convinced that pretending to have W.M.D. was the best way to keep his grip on power.


But this opening act, and all the tragedies that followed, still awaits an artist capable of wrestling with its complexities. In "Green Zone," everything is much simpler. "We" were lied to. "They" did the lying. The "we" is the audience, Matt Damon's stoic soldier and the perpetually innocent American public. The "they" is the neoconservatives, embodied by a weaselly Greg Kinnear (playing some combination of Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Bremer and Douglas Feith) and capable of any enormity in the pursuit of their objectives.


Such glib scapegoating looks particularly lame in the wake of last week's Oscar triumph for "The Hurt Locker," the first major movie to paint the Iraq War in shades of gray. But "The Hurt Locker," of course, was largely apolitical. Throw politics into the mix, and there seems to be no escaping the clichés and simplifications that mar Greengrass's movie — and Robert Redford's "Lions for Lambs," Oliver Stone's "W." and all the other attempts to bring the Bush era to cinematic life.


This isn't just a Hollywood problem. Explaining "Why Americans Can't Write Political Fiction" in a 2005 essay for the Washington Monthly, Chris Lehmann noted the long-running tendency in American letters to depict politics as the preserve of debased cynics and moral monsters. From Mark Twain's "Gilded Age" and Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men" to their more recent imitators, our novelists have never been terribly interested in the actual challenges of political life. Instead, Lehmann suggested, they usually cast the entire mess as "a great ethical contaminant and task their protagonists with escaping its many perils with both their lives and their moral compasses intact."


As it happens, this is a pretty good description of the arc of "Green Zone." But it's a lousy recipe for real art, which is supposed to be interested in the humanity of all its subjects, not just the ones who didn't work for Rumsfeld's Department of Defense.


Such radical sympathy, extended even to people who presided over grave disasters, is in short supply all across America at the moment. And Hollywood's inability to handle political complexity plays only a small part in our ongoing polarization.


But it is a part of it. Our nation might be less divided, and our debates less poisonous, if more artists were capable of showing us the ironies, ambiguities and tragedies inherent in our politics — rather than comforting us with portraits of a world divided cleanly into good and evil.







Tensions are rising over Chinese economic policy, and rightly so: China's policy of keeping its currency, the renminbi, undervalued has become a significant drag on global economic recovery. Something must be done.


To give you a sense of the problem: Widespread complaints that China was manipulating its currency — selling renminbi and buying foreign currencies, so as to keep the renminbi weak and China's exports artificially competitive — began around 2003. At that point China was adding about $10 billion a month to its reserves, and in 2003 it ran an overall surplus on its current account — a broad measure of the trade balance — of $46 billion.


Today, China is adding more than $30 billion a month to its $2.4 trillion hoard of reserves. The International Monetary Fund expects China to have a 2010 current surplus of more than $450 billion — 10 times the 2003 figure. This is the most distortionary exchange rate policy any major nation has ever followed.


And it's a policy that seriously damages the rest of the world. Most of the world's large economies are stuck in a liquidity trap — deeply depressed, but unable to generate a recovery by cutting interest rates because the relevant rates are already near zero. China, by engineering an unwarranted trade surplus, is in effect imposing an anti-stimulus on these economies, which they can't offset.


So how should we respond? First of all, the U.S. Treasury Department must stop fudging and obfuscating.


Twice a year, by law, Treasury must issue a report identifying nations that "manipulate the rate of exchange between their currency and the United States dollar for purposes of preventing effective balance of payments adjustments or gaining unfair competitive advantage in international trade." The law's intent is clear: the report should be a factual determination, not a policy statement. In practice, however, Treasury has been both unwilling to take action on the renminbi and unwilling to do what the law requires, namely explain to Congress why it isn't taking action. Instead, it has spent the past six or seven years pretending not to see the obvious.


Will the next report, due April 15, continue this tradition? Stay tuned.


If Treasury does find Chinese currency manipulation, then what? Here, we have to get past a common misunderstanding: the view that the Chinese have us over a barrel, because we don't dare provoke China into dumping its dollar assets.


What you have to ask is, What would happen if China tried to sell a large share of its U.S. assets? Would interest rates soar? Short-term U.S. interest rates wouldn't change: they're being kept near zero by the Fed, which won't raise rates until the unemployment rate comes down. Long-term rates might rise slightly, but they're mainly determined by market expectations of future short-term rates. Also, the Fed could offset any interest-rate impact of a Chinese pullback by expanding its own purchases of long-term bonds.


It's true that if China dumped its U.S. assets the value of the dollar would fall against other major currencies, such as the euro. But that would be a good thing for the United States, since it would make our goods more competitive and reduce our trade deficit. On the other hand, it would be a bad thing for China, which would suffer large losses on its dollar holdings. In short, right now America has China over a barrel, not the other way around.


So we have no reason to fear China. But what should we do?

Some still argue that we must reason gently with China, not confront it. But we've been reasoning with China for years, as its surplus ballooned, and gotten nowhere: on Sunday Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, declared — absurdly — that his nation's currency is not undervalued. (The Peterson Institute for International Economics estimates that the renminbi is undervalued by between 20 and 40 percent.) And Mr. Wen accused other nations of doing what China actually does, seeking to weaken their currencies "just for the purposes of increasing their own exports."


But if sweet reason won't work, what's the alternative? In 1971 the United States dealt with a similar but much less severe problem of foreign undervaluation by imposing a temporary 10 percent surcharge on imports, which was removed a few months later after Germany, Japan and other nations raised the dollar value of their currencies. At this point, it's hard to see China changing its policies unless faced with the threat of similar action — except that this time the surcharge would have to be much larger, say 25 percent.


I don't propose this turn to policy hardball lightly. But Chinese currency policy is adding materially to the world's economic problems at a time when those problems are already very severe. It's time to take a stand.







New Haven

PERHAPS the only thing more surprising than President Obama's decision to give an interview for "America's Most Wanted" last weekend was his apparent agreement with the program's host, John Walsh, that there should be a national DNA database with profiles of every person arrested, whether convicted or not. Many Americans feel that this proposal flies in the face of our "innocent until proven guilty" ethos, and given that African-Americans are far more likely to be arrested than whites, critics refer to such genetic collection as creating "Jim Crow's database."


In truth, however, this is an issue where both sides are partly right. The president was correct in saying that we need a more robust DNA database, available to law enforcement in every state, to "continue to tighten the grip around folks who have perpetrated these crimes." But critics have a point that genetic police work, like the sampling of arrestees, is fraught with bias. A better solution: to keep every American's DNA profile on file.


Your sensitive genetic information would be safe. A DNA profile distills a person's complex genomic information down to a set of 26 numerical values, each characterizing the length of a certain repeated sequence of "junk" DNA that differs from person to person. Although these genetic differences are biologically meaningless — they don't correlate with any observable characteristics — tabulating the number of repeats creates a unique identifier, a DNA "fingerprint."


The genetic privacy risk from such profiling is virtually nil, because these records include none of the health and biological data present in one's genome as a whole. Aside from the ability in some cases to determine whether two individuals are closely related, DNA profiles have nothing sensitive to disclose.


But for law enforcement, the profiles are hugely important: DNA samples collected from crime scenes are compared against a standing database of profiles, and matches are investigated. Obviously, the more individuals profiled in the database, the more likely a crime-scene sample can be identified, hence the president's enthusiasm to expand the nationwide repository.


The current federal law-enforcement database, the Combined DNA Index System, or Codis, was designed for profiles of convicted criminals. When it became operational in 1998, only certain classes of convicted criminals (for instance, sex offenders) were profiled. Over the past decade, the list of qualifying crimes has quietly grown (states make their own laws on collection). And last year, the F.B.I. joined more than a dozen states and moved to include DNA profiles from arrestees not yet convicted.


There are several key problems with this approach to expanding the database. First, the national DNA database is racially skewed, as blacks and Hispanics are far more likely than whites to be convicted of crimes. Creating profiles of arrestees only adds to that imbalance.


Second, several states, including California and Colorado, have embraced a controversial new technique called familial DNA search, which exploits the fact that close relatives share substantial fractions of their DNA. If efforts to find a DNA match come up empty — that is, if the perpetrator is not yet profiled in the database — the police in these states can search for partial matches between crime-scene samples and offenders in their record base. If they find a partial match, they can zero in on relatives of the profiled person as possible suspects.


This sounds elegant, and it occasionally works: in Britain, a handful of high-profile cases have been solved using familial search. But this approach is crippled by a very high false positive rate — many partial matches turn up people unrelated to the actual perpetrator. And it raises serious legal questions: how can we justify the de facto inclusion in DNA databases of criminals' family members who have been neither arrested nor convicted?


Moreover, familial search threatens to skew racial bias further still: by effectively including all close relatives of profiled individuals, the database could approach universal population coverage for certain races or groups and not others. Even if this bias is found to be legally permissible, it may still prove politically unpalatable.


A much fairer system would be to store DNA profiles for each and every one of us. This would eliminate any racial bias, negate the need for the questionable technique of familial search, and of course be a far stronger tool for law enforcement than even an arrestee database.


This universal database is tenable from a privacy perspective because of the very limited information content of DNA profiles: whereas the genome itself poses a serious privacy risk, Codis-style profiles do not.


A universal record would be a strong deterrent to first-time offenders — after all, any DNA sample left behind would be a smoking gun for the police — and would enable the police to more quickly apprehend repeat criminals. It would also help prevent wrongful convictions.


As a practical matter, universal DNA collection is fairly easy: it could be done alongside blood tests on newborns, or through painless cheek swabs as a prerequisite to obtaining a driver's license or Social Security card. Once a biological sample was obtained, its use must be limited to generating a DNA profile only, and afterward the sample would be destroyed. Access to the DNA database would remain limited to law enforcement officers investigating serious crimes.


Since every American would have a stake in keeping the data private and ensuring that only the limited content vital to law enforcement was recorded, there would be far less likelihood of government misuse than in the case of a more selective database.


Provided our privacy remains secure, there is no excuse not to use every bit of science we can in the fight against crime. The key is making sure that all Americans contribute their share.


Michael Seringhaus is a student at Yale Law School.








HERE'S an etiquette experiment for you: E-mail an invitation for a party, one month out, to 45 friends. Request an R.S.V.P. Provide a follow-up e-mail message, two weeks later, politely reminding them to get back to you.


How many will?


My experiment arose from plans for an evening of food, drink and literature, with readings by myself and two other writers, at a restaurant. Not exactly a drop-in-if-you're-around kind of thing, so I asked friends to R.S.V.P. My initial message brought in a dozen responses, and the follow-up a few more, but days before the event I had a paltry 23. Not 23 who planned to come, but 23 who had bothered to respond. Half my invitees had blown me off. Why? I wasn't peddling life insurance, after all.


Asking around, I discovered that the phenomenon is widespread. One friend of mine e-mailed invitations to a baby shower, and a third of the recipients failed to respond. Another announced a happy hour at her house and received a dozen yeses — only to find her party besieged by 35 people.


What's preventing us from executing this basic social task? Is it the medium? Do Evites somehow not feel like "real" invitations? Is it our busy lives, so overbooked and overwhelmed we've drawn up the castle gates? Don't invite me out this month, I'm ensconced! Or is it simple rudeness? Try as I might to understand, I kept feeling dissed.


What's clear is how hard the R.S.V.P. rubs against the grain of contemporary life. In requesting people to anchor a plan in the distant future of a month hence, you are demanding a kind of navigation that Americans increasingly do not practice. We prefer to remain flexy, solidifying our plans incrementally as the date approaches. Let's talk tomorrow. I'll call you when I'm on the road. Cellphones in hand, we microadjust our schedules as they unfold around us. We're like the air traffic controllers of our own lives.


It wasn't always so. A while ago I made a lunch date with an elderly couple. As the day approached with no subsequent corroboration, I felt a strange excitement. Would all three of us just show up? We did, and I realized that what I felt was a small nostalgic thrill over social arrangements that seemed straight out of Jane Austen.


But back to my party. The day before the big event, I sent a final e-mail message, thanking "the half of you who responded for helping keep the dying art of the R.S.V.P. alive." This irked missive flushed out a final 10 hangdog respondents. But there remained a gang of 12 — the dirty dozen, the truly hardcore, fanatical nonresponders — who couldn't even be shamed into


In the end, perhaps they were merely following the French literally: Respond, if you please. Left over from a time when graciousness couched demands as requests, the R.S.V.P. no longer functions. I therefore propose an update, something still French but a bit more ... frank — the R.V.O.M.:


Répondez Vite — ou Mourir!


For those friends of mine who plead a lack of high school French, allow me to translate. Respond Quickly, or Die!


Rand Richards Cooper writes the column "Dad on a Lark" for the Web site Wondertime.


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******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS




Turn over any stone that has been touched by a government body or individual and there, lurking beneath, is a plump and well-nourished scandal. The latest to emerge blinking into the light of day is the news that the 'oil mafia' managed to siphon off hundreds of billions of rupees during the reign of His Imperial Greasiness, Gen Musharraf. It is alleged (these things always are) that the population was unknowingly supplied by the oil companies with substandard diesel fuel; but true to the spirit of squeezing every last drop from the common man he was charged premium prices for the dodgy diesel. Once again it is poor old NAB that was the jam in the sandwich. NAB initiated an inquiry into the scam being operated (it is alleged) by various senior officials in the Musharraf government, the petroleum ministry and the Central Board of Revenue, but was promptly told to back off and mind its own business. And are our current rulers any more interested than their predecessors in a little forensic archaeology? Most certainly not, now be a good little NAB, jolly well turn that stone right back over to where you found it and go and make me a nice cup of tea.

A past chairman of NAB has estimated that up to Rs90 billion a year was being skimmed into assorted pockets and that of all the scandals to emerge post-Musharraf this is perhaps the biggest. This was the figure that NAB arrived at in the course of its preliminary enquiry conducted in 2006-07 which found that poor quality diesel was imported at a lower rate and then sold to the customer as a premium product. NAB investigators took samples of diesel from tankers and private vehicles and found them to be below the specification they were declared at. Some of these samples still exist and could be used to support further investigation, but this is something we are unlikely to see. Allegedly (again) the general was appraised of the situation and he decided to let sleeping dogs lie, as does the current dispensation. It is virtually beyond the mind of man to comprehend the sheer scale and reach of the corruption that eats away at us everyday. Impoverished MNAs with no immovable assets and zero tax-returns one week, and oil mafias leeching us the next – and there are plenty more stones on the beach.













Toxic waste is a global curse. The more industrialised a society becomes the more waste, much of it poisonous, it produces; and we are no exception. The disposal of all types of industrial waste, including toxic wastes, is nothing short of a national disgrace – moreover one that has led to death, injury and long-term disability. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has recently directed a well-deserved judicial boot to the posterior of the Sindh Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and ordered it to remove all toxic industrial waste from industrial areas under its purview within seven days. The bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry made particular reference to the inefficiency of SEPA, in that it had failed to prevent the death of at least one child and the injury of several others as a direct consequence of toxic waste-dumping. It was noted that SEPA had the necessary powers to take action against the owners of industrial units that are responsible for the pollution but failed to exercise them – doubtless as a result of money passing from one to another in order to ensure that SEPA's sightless eye was turned in their direction.


This is as much the fault of the wilfully irresponsible industrialists as it is the regulatory body set up to protect the rest of us; and a chronic failure to discharge any kind of social responsibility by both. The order by the bench that industry adopt 'a respectable way of doing business' by not dumping its poisonous sludges and other effluents where they are going to cause harm is, we suspect, likely to fall on deaf ears. It may also be wondered whether SEPA has the capacity to comply with the order of the Supreme Court even were it inclined to do so, as the clearance of wastes such as this is a highly-specialised process that requires the appropriate equipment. It also requires a designated space to lawfully dump the waste once it is collected which is secure and not likely to pollute the groundwater used by human populations. One of the offending factories in this case has at least paid compensation to the father of a child who died – a sum probably a lot less than the cost of properly disposing of the waste. Once again the judiciary has swung the moral compass on behalf of the rest of us, but more refreshing would be an indication that our industrialists were acting more responsibly, and that our regulatory bodies were doing what they are supposed to do rather than turning a blind eye.






 'Burqavaganza', a play by the Ajoka theatre group, has once more created a storm after the organisation attempted unexpectedly to stage it at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts in Islamabad, triggering a controversy. The play was banned in April 2007 and women MNAs from religious parties objected to its content in the National Assembly. However, Ajoka continued to stage the piece – seen as comical by some, offensive by others.

The issue goes beyond that of a single play and involves that of free expression. The point is that, as a society, we need to move towards greater tolerance. Even though we may not agree with them, all of us must be willing to hear opinion of various kinds. Cultural performances are one medium through which these can be presented. It is true that in recent years we have seen greater diversity of opinion than before. But there is still room for more. The outcry over the play has in fact made it into a far bigger issue than should be the case. Those who disagree with any opinion expressed through a work of literature, art, or through theatre have an absolute right to stay away from it. This of course is an attitude that will take time to develop. Government bodies can, however, encourage it by doing whatever is possible to promote free expression. Civilised societies after all are marked by their ability to absorb all kinds of views. We too must move towards this goal if we are to move forward as a nation.






Sophistry and illusion is what Mr Karzai peddles on his visits abroad. Politics for him is the art of dissimulation. It is not that he lies; he just does not tell the truth. His description of India as a "close, good friend" in contrast to Pakistan, which he described as a "brother," nay "conjoined, inseparable twins," may have endeared him to his Pakistani audience. But it did not explain why the two brothers opt for fratricide rather than brotherly love when it comes to settling their differences.

Or, perhaps for a change, Mr Karzai did mean what he said when he described Pakistan and Afghanistan as twins; because separating "conjoined, inseparable twins," so that both may have an independent existence, is a very difficult medical procedure leading, more often than not, to the demise of one twin or the other. And that of Pakistan, as presently constituted, has been an old Afghan demand and is what Mr Karzai in the dim recesses of his mind must dearly want.

Of late Mr Karzai has been eager to distance himself from America. His cabinet appointments and those to the Election Commission, in defiance of American opinion, reinforce such a perception. So too the welcome he afforded Ahmadenijad in Kabul last week. And the platform he provided the Iranian president to pummel the Americans, even as Robert Gates was telling his forces in Marjah why they should risk their lives to keep Mr Karzai ensconced in Kabul. All this must have irked Washington. As does Mr Karzai's outspoken willingness to talk to Mullah Omar, who has a multimillion bounty on his head.

But much of Mr Karzai's utterances are posturing. And indeed, to many at the press conference in Islamabad, his responses sounded as if he believed that half of his audience were fools and the other half hypocrites. Nevertheless, his remarks throw into relief the very contrasting approaches of Karzai and the Americans to the question of engaging with their adversaries.

To Karzai, and many in our part of the world, merely because Mullah Omar has committed or condoned unspeakable crimes does not render him beyond the pale. For the West to go on prattling about what is or is not acceptable when peace and reconciliation is the goal appears hypocritical. As Albert Camus asked, "How many crimes has (the West) committed merely because it could not endure being wrong."

Perhaps what scares the Americans more is Karzai's "reconciliation and reintegration" initiative. They fear that in his enthusiasm to reconcile with the Taliban he may end up appeasing Al Qaeda and giving the two second wind in Afghanistan. But Washington need not worry. Karzai desperately wants to keep his job; nor does he want to forfeit his life. The fact is that Obama and Karzai are stuck with each other. It's far too late for either to disown or forsake the other.

What was surprising during the visit was the importance our government attached to a leader who is, after all, an American satrap. Turning out the entire cabinet to receive him at the airport, along with the chairman of the Senate, seemed excessive. Why bother about Mr Karzai whose power does not extend beyond the porch of his presidential palace in Kabul when Pakistan has ready access to his masters? Or, was this because Mr Zardari is enamoured of Mr Karzai, who like him, is an accidental president and both have the same mentor. Or, merely that Mr Zardari, wanting to appear hospitable overdid it? The answer is none of the above.

From the very inception of his presidency Mr Zardari has made it a point to show special regard for Mr Karzai. By inviting Karzai, the only foreign leader to share his joy on the occasion of his oath-taking, he sent a powerful message to Karzai and his own establishment that he had not only discarded Musharraf's distaste of Karzai but also, more importantly, that he meant to ensure that the establishment's very manifest suspicions of the Karzai regime would no longer influence Pakistan's Afghan policy. This was probably part of the deal that allowed Benazir Bhutto to return, and Mr Zardari wants to live up to it.

Had Mr Zardari not been under such an obligation, new to the job or over-confident about his ability to bring about change, and less prone to act first and think later, he would have known better. Mr Zardari seems to have developed a fetish to become wise after the event.

He will soon discover that our establishment shares not a mite of Mr Zardari's enthusiasm for the Northern Alliance coalition that Mr Karzai leads. And when it becomes known that the awarding of contracts to Indian firms for the construction of strategic highways bordering Pakistan are exclusively due to Mr Karzai's personal intervention, and contrary to the advice of his own counsellors about riling Pakistan further, their suspicions will grow and harden.

To make matters worse, there exists in Pakistan the profound and widespread conviction that India has been targeting Pakistan from Afghanistan with the express or implied concurrence of Mr Karzai. And, frankly, it was difficult to believe, as Mr Karzai claimed, that he is ignorant of India's antics. When Mr Karzai, as he once said, can keep abreast of the going rate charged by the handlers of suicide bombers through his intelligence chief, he must surely have tapped the same source for an inkling of what India is up to in Balochistan.

Shorn of verbiage and nuance, the driving force of Indian and Pakistani foreign policy has been the maxim "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Mr Karzai, who holds an Indian degree in political science, did not need help to arrive at the conclusion that his very pronounced Indian tilt would drive Pakistan towards his adversaries, including the Afghan Taliban. It is another matter that India, ah! perfidious India, abandoned Mr Karzai and supported his rival Abdullah Abdullah in the Afghan presidential polls. But, then, that is India's wont. As the present operation driven by the US surge splutters on and months elapse before the next one targeting Kandhahar gets under way, it seems best for Pakistan to maintain a correct rather than an effusively close relationship with the Karzai regime. If we are to have any leverage with the Afghan Pakhtun, as we claim and at times boast we do, how does showing our considerable affection for the Karzai-led Tajik-dominated regime help? Moreover, it is impossible to envisage the participation of the Taliban in a Karzai-led setup, which is presumably why, as rumour has it, we are contemplating a future coalition being headed by Mustafa Shah, the son of the late King Zahir Shah. For us, Mr Karzai has no future, only a doubtful past. And, if truth be told, Afghanistan needs his services as much as Italy needs the mafia.

At the cost of appearing repetitive, one should stress that the present is the opportune time for Pakistan to forge friendly relations with all the players of the Afghan domestic scene, rather than to identify with one or the other. We, no doubt, made a decisive contribution to the outcome of the anti-Soviet jihad. But we lost the peace and, in the process, as we now discover, spawned the rise of a phenomenon that, if victorious, would be as destructive (politically, morally and ideologically to our way of life and to progressive Islam) as the Mongol hordes that swept into Mesopotamia in the early 13th Century were to Islam and Arab civilisation. Rather than focus exclusively on Karzai we should support people and processes that can unite Afghanistan. "How is it possible," the late King Zahir Shah once asked me in Italy, "that a country like Pakistan with a sophisticated state structure supports a one-eyed, uneducated and barbarous mullah?" And, were he alive today, he may well ask, "How can you support an Afghan quisling in preference to the legitimacy that my lineage offers?" One had an answer of sorts then, but would have no answer today.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:







For many decades, peace activists of Pakistan and India have known — and some recent surveys carried out by the Jang group of Pakistan and the Times group in India have confirmed — that very large majorities of the peoples of India and Pakistan ardently long for a state of permanent peace between the two countries.

I have been actively promoting peace between Pakistan and India for the last twenty-one years and can solemnly state that the peoples of the two nations would like to move freely from one country to another. If the visa restriction cannot be done away with immediately, they would like visas to be given at the border just as it is done between Nepal and India and Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The easing of the visa regime would not be doing something remote from the mind of the two governments. Only a few years back India had introduced procedures to issue visas at the Attari border. However, the scheme was abandoned because Pakistani citizens couldn't cross the border on foot without permission from the ministry of interior.

Nearly a decade ago, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif once told the Indian high commissioner at Islamabad that Pakistan would like to do away with the formality of visa between the two countries. According to the high commissioner, when he related the prime minister's wish to the foreign secretary of Pakistan, the latter's reaction was "I hope you tried to dissuade him". I also remember the Indian prime minister, late Mr Chandrashekar telling me that he had promised Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif at their meeting in Chennai (or perhaps Colombo) that if the Pakistani prime minister were to announce the end of the visa regime on reaching Pakistan, as he said he would like to do, India would do the same the next day.

It's not only the peace-desiring leaders of the two countries, but also the large majorities of the people of India and Pakistan who want freedom of means of public transport, for example, buses, cars and trucks etc. to ply from one country to another on showing international carnet, as persons do by showing the passport. They long for the freedom to buy and sell from and to the other country, the unrestricted exchange of books, newspapers, films etc. between Pakistan and India, the freedom to artists to perform in the each other's countries and the freedom to enroll, teach and carry out researches in the educational and technical institutions of the other country.

Last month, I travelled from Lahore towards Wagah via GT Road to cross the border on foot and saw the road to India being widened to an amazing width with service roads on the two sides, a green belt in the centre along with a modern drainage system. From Wagah to Amritsar I witnessed identical activity on the Indian side of the border on the same grand scale as I had seen in Pakistan. Apparently, the two countries seem to be investing tens of billions of rupees in the development of road networks and in acquiring large chunks of land on the border for building customs enclosures and other facilities for trading on a grand scale.

On the one hand we observe concrete preparations going on for normalisation of relations in not too distant a future, but on the other hand it is sad that the decision-makers in both countries seem hesitant to take any substantial steps towards implementation of their declared aim to achieve durable peace. They seem willing but remain indecisive.

The two governments do not seem to realise that if they were to concede to their people the facilities of free travel, permission to trade freely, use transport etc as described above, the Indians in Pakistan and the Pakistanis in India would be just like visitors from other countries of Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. They will be no more dangerous than the mischief-makers and terrorists of their own countries. In any case the terrorists from foreign countries do not enter the target country through visas.

Every student of Pakistan-India relations is convinced that the leaders on the two sides fully realise that for India and Pakistan to prosper peace is the only option. They cannot afford to settle their differences by going to war or by remaining belligerent on a long-term basis. They have little scope of solving their appalling internal problems and at the same time nourishing their disputes with each other. Ignoring the siege of the pressures of narrow, short term national interests, they have to cease acting like nationalist political leaders and take the plunge like the great statesmen of a great subcontinent.

The writer is a former finance minister.







No authoritarian or corrupt ruler can afford an independent judiciary. The two cannot coexist and are bound to collide. Without an independent judiciary, the Republic cannot be made to endure. But when government falls into perfidious hands, it becomes itself the instrument of counter-revolution. No wonder, all those who do not believe in the rule of law and all those who represent the forces of darkness and counter-revolution have joined hands once again to reverse the judicial revolution triggered by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The proposed constitutional mechanism for selection of judges is a thinly disguised attempt to undo the gains of the judicial revolution. Counter-revolution does not give up easily. With the restoration of the deposed judges we thought we had reached the summit and our problems were over. Alas, the ascent of one ridge simply revealed the next daunting challenge. In retrospect, it seems it was naïveté to have imagined that the restoration of judges alone would defeat the corrupt system and criminals and mafiosi who have found in our democracy the perfect Trojan Horse for preserving their power.

In Pakistan, as in all federations, the Supreme Court plays a crucial role. It is the sole and unique tribunal of the nation. The peace, prosperity, and very existence of the federation rest continually in the hands of the Supreme Court judges. Without them, the Constitution would be a dead letter; It is to them that the executive appeals to resist the encroachment of parliament; parliament to defend itself against the assaults of the executive; the federal government to make the provinces obey it; the provinces to rebuff the exaggerated pretensions of the federal government, public interest against private interest, etc. They decide whether you and I shall live or die. An awesome responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Supreme Court. Their power is immense. But they are all-powerful only so long as the people and the government consent to obey the laws.

In every period of political turmoil, men must, therefore, have confidence that the superior judiciary, the guardian of the Constitution, will be fiercely independent and will resist all attempts to subvert the Constitution. It is our misfortune that from the country's first decade, our judges tried to match their constitutional ideals and legal language to the exigencies of current politics. The superior judiciary has often functioned at the behest of authority and has been used to further the interests of the rulers against the citizens. Their judgments have often supported the government of the day. This was their chosen path through the 1950s and during the martial law period of the 1960s and 1970s. When the history of these benighted times comes to be written, it will be noted that the superior judiciary had failed the country in its hour of greatest need.

On March 20, 1996, the dark clouds on the judicial horizon lifted and the situation changed dramatically. On that fateful day, the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, delivered the landmark judgment in the Judges' Case which made the arbitrary appointment of inexperienced, ill-trained, ill-qualified persons of doubtful integrity and party loyalists to the court almost impossible. We all thought this decision was a major divide in the constitutional jurisprudence of Pakistan and in the decisional philosophy of the Supreme Court. It was hoped that it would fundamentally alter the character of the court's business, the nature of its decisions, and will help restore public confidence in its independence and objectivity.

Our euphoria did not last long. On Nov 28, 1997, the Supreme Court of Pakistan was attacked by thugs organised and led by the government. Gen Jahangir Karamat, the chief of the army staff, to whom an appeal had been made by the chief justice for protection, stood aside and watched the fun. The attack on the Supreme Court was launched in broad daylight. The Honourable Justices had to flee for life. The same day Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was forced to go on leave and then officially retired on Feb 16, 1998.

In the darkest hour in the history of our country, Fate had found the man who had the character, the will and determination to speak truth to the military dictator. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry appeared on the scene like a deus ex machina and changed the course of history. He broke with past tradition. The nexus between the Generals and the superior judiciary has snapped. Isn't it ironical that today the people of Pakistan, especially the poor, the disadvantaged and the voiceless, expect justice not from the parliament, not from the presidency, but from an unelected and unaccountable Supreme Court? This has not made the court very popular with the executive.

It follows that Supreme Court judges must not only be good citizens and men of liberal education, sterling character and unimpeachable integrity; they must also understand the spirit of the age. Their appointment is dealt with by Articles 177 and 193 of the Constitution. Article 177 (1) provides: "The Chief Justice of Pakistan shall be appointed by the President, and each of the other Judges shall be appointed by the President after consultation with the Chief Justice." The question of consultation has been dealt with extensively in the well-known Al-Jihad Trust Case, wherein the Supreme Court held that "consultation in the scheme as envisaged by the Constitution is supposed to be effective, meaningful, purposive, consensus-oriented, leaving no room for complaint of arbitrariness or unfair play. The opinion of the Chief Justice of Pakistan and Chief Justice of a High Court as to the fitness and suitability of a candidate for Judgeship is entitled to be accepted in the absence of very sound reasons to be recorded in writing by the President/Executive." This is now the accepted method of selection of Judges. A crude attempt was made to deviate from it but it failed.

Why disturb the status quo? Why circumscribe the discretion of the chief justice? What is wrong with the present method of selection of judges? It has stood the test of time and has the full support of the people. Why involve the law minister, the attorney general and the Bar Council in the selection of judges of the Superior Courts? Why involve parliament and the political parties in the selection of judges? Why politicise the judiciary? Is the proposed method for selection of judges consistent with the principle of separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution? Why not leave the matter to the discretion and good sense of the chief justice, as is the case today? Why reopen the controversy? The reason is not far to seek. Independent judiciary suits nobody in this country. It only suits the people, especially the poor and the exploited. It does not suit the tiny minority which rules this country and is virtually above the law. They want to clip the wings of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and take the country back to the bad old days when the superior judiciary functioned at the behest of authority and was used to further the interest of the rulers against the citizens.

Today there is hope for the country.

"The President may slip, without the state suffering, for his duties are limited," Tocqueville wrote in 1837. "Congress may slip without the Union perishing, for above the Congress there is the electoral body which can change its spirit by changing its members. But if ever the Supreme Court came to be composed of corrupt or rash persons, the Confederation would be threatened by anarchy or civil war". This is exactly what would happen in this country if the proposed mechanism for the selection of Judges is adopted.

The judicial revolution triggered by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is irreversible. Let there be no doubt about it. Any attempt to undo it will be resisted. The people have planted an independent judiciary in the path of our turbulent democracy. No longer would the executive be a law unto itself. Today there are many now willing to spill their blood to defend their heart-earned independent judiciary. Try to destroy the independence of judiciary, and the moment is not far off when this beautiful country will be plunged into a civil war.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:,







No authoritarian or corrupt ruler can afford an independent judiciary. The two cannot coexist and are bound to collide. Without an independent judiciary, the Republic cannot be made to endure. But when government falls into perfidious hands, it becomes itself the instrument of counter-revolution. No wonder, all those who do not believe in the rule of law and all those who represent the forces of darkness and counter-revolution have joined hands once again to reverse the judicial revolution triggered by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The proposed constitutional mechanism for selection of judges is a thinly disguised attempt to undo the gains of the judicial revolution. Counter-revolution does not give up easily. With the restoration of the deposed judges we thought we had reached the summit and our problems were over. Alas, the ascent of one ridge simply revealed the next daunting challenge. In retrospect, it seems it was naïveté to have imagined that the restoration of judges alone would defeat the corrupt system and criminals and mafiosi who have found in our democracy the perfect Trojan Horse for preserving their power.

In Pakistan, as in all federations, the Supreme Court plays a crucial role. It is the sole and unique tribunal of the nation. The peace, prosperity, and very existence of the federation rest continually in the hands of the Supreme Court judges. Without them, the Constitution would be a dead letter; It is to them that the executive appeals to resist the encroachment of parliament; parliament to defend itself against the assaults of the executive; the federal government to make the provinces obey it; the provinces to rebuff the exaggerated pretensions of the federal government, public interest against private interest, etc. They decide whether you and I shall live or die. An awesome responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Supreme Court. Their power is immense. But they are all-powerful only so long as the people and the government consent to obey the laws.

In every period of political turmoil, men must, therefore, have confidence that the superior judiciary, the guardian of the Constitution, will be fiercely independent and will resist all attempts to subvert the Constitution. It is our misfortune that from the country's first decade, our judges tried to match their constitutional ideals and legal language to the exigencies of current politics. The superior judiciary has often functioned at the behest of authority and has been used to further the interests of the rulers against the citizens. Their judgments have often supported the government of the day. This was their chosen path through the 1950s and during the martial law period of the 1960s and 1970s. When the history of these benighted times comes to be written, it will be noted that the superior judiciary had failed the country in its hour of greatest need.

On March 20, 1996, the dark clouds on the judicial horizon lifted and the situation changed dramatically. On that fateful day, the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, delivered the landmark judgment in the Judges' Case which made the arbitrary appointment of inexperienced, ill-trained, ill-qualified persons of doubtful integrity and party loyalists to the court almost impossible. We all thought this decision was a major divide in the constitutional jurisprudence of Pakistan and in the decisional philosophy of the Supreme Court. It was hoped that it would fundamentally alter the character of the court's business, the nature of its decisions, and will help restore public confidence in its independence and objectivity.

Our euphoria did not last long. On Nov 28, 1997, the Supreme Court of Pakistan was attacked by thugs organised and led by the government. Gen Jahangir Karamat, the chief of the army staff, to whom an appeal had been made by the chief justice for protection, stood aside and watched the fun. The attack on the Supreme Court was launched in broad daylight. The Honourable Justices had to flee for life. The same day Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was forced to go on leave and then officially retired on Feb 16, 1998.

In the darkest hour in the history of our country, Fate had found the man who had the character, the will and determination to speak truth to the military dictator. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry appeared on the scene like a deus ex machina and changed the course of history. He broke with past tradition. The nexus between the Generals and the superior judiciary has snapped. Isn't it ironical that today the people of Pakistan, especially the poor, the disadvantaged and the voiceless, expect justice not from the parliament, not from the presidency, but from an unelected and unaccountable Supreme Court? This has not made the court very popular with the executive.

It follows that Supreme Court judges must not only be good citizens and men of liberal education, sterling character and unimpeachable integrity; they must also understand the spirit of the age. Their appointment is dealt with by Articles 177 and 193 of the Constitution. Article 177 (1) provides: "The Chief Justice of Pakistan shall be appointed by the President, and each of the other Judges shall be appointed by the President after consultation with the Chief Justice." The question of consultation has been dealt with extensively in the well-known Al-Jihad Trust Case, wherein the Supreme Court held that "consultation in the scheme as envisaged by the Constitution is supposed to be effective, meaningful, purposive, consensus-oriented, leaving no room for complaint of arbitrariness or unfair play. The opinion of the Chief Justice of Pakistan and Chief Justice of a High Court as to the fitness and suitability of a candidate for Judgeship is entitled to be accepted in the absence of very sound reasons to be recorded in writing by the President/Executive." This is now the accepted method of selection of Judges. A crude attempt was made to deviate from it but it failed.

Why disturb the status quo? Why circumscribe the discretion of the chief justice? What is wrong with the present method of selection of judges? It has stood the test of time and has the full support of the people. Why involve the law minister, the attorney general and the Bar Council in the selection of judges of the Superior Courts? Why involve parliament and the political parties in the selection of judges? Why politicise the judiciary? Is the proposed method for selection of judges consistent with the principle of separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution? Why not leave the matter to the discretion and good sense of the chief justice, as is the case today? Why reopen the controversy? The reason is not far to seek. Independent judiciary suits nobody in this country. It only suits the people, especially the poor and the exploited. It does not suit the tiny minority which rules this country and is virtually above the law. They want to clip the wings of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and take the country back to the bad old days when the superior judiciary functioned at the behest of authority and was used to further the interest of the rulers against the citizens.

Today there is hope for the country.

"The President may slip, without the state suffering, for his duties are limited," Tocqueville wrote in 1837. "Congress may slip without the Union perishing, for above the Congress there is the electoral body which can change its spirit by changing its members. But if ever the Supreme Court came to be composed of corrupt or rash persons, the Confederation would be threatened by anarchy or civil war". This is exactly what would happen in this country if the proposed mechanism for the selection of Judges is adopted.

The judicial revolution triggered by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is irreversible. Let there be no doubt about it. Any attempt to undo it will be resisted. The people have planted an independent judiciary in the pat