Google Analytics

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

EDITORIAL 16.03.10

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at:


media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month march 16, edition 000456, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



























  2. THE BSP AT 25







































For the past fortnight, Bareilly has been in tumult. A section of the city's Muslim leadership has been bent upon provocation and violence. On March 2, it began the trouble by organising a religious procession through predominantly Hindu neighbourhoods and resorted to threatening gestures and slogans. Since then, despite a tepid attempt by the district administration to restore order, wild mobs have been attacking Hindu-owned shops in this Uttar Pradesh town. They have put in place a virtual economic blockade of the Hindu community with essential supplies, even milk for little children, being blocked. The response of the political establishment has been extraordinarily recreant. The Congress has been at sixes and sevens trying to explain it away as an attempt by the BSP Government to encourage Muslim fanaticism, stir up a Hindu counter-reaction and thereby benefit the BJP! If that theory is not convoluted enough, there are the BSP and the SP, keen that a BJP fact-finding mission be denied entry into Bareilly and ready to shed crocodile tears for Muslims but unwilling to do anything meaningful. The role of the media is even more shameful. With some exceptions, the murderous throngs of Bareilly have been virtually blacked out. One-sided arson, loot and mayhem, a scary display of the Direct Action Day mindset, is being presented as a clash between two groups! The radicalisation of a new generation of Muslims in the heartland of India and its seemingly easy embrace of jihadi fanaticism is going intellectually uncontested and unchallenged by India's so-called social and political elite. This is the larger tragedy that, in a sense, dwarfs the sad saga of the little girls and boys of Bareilly, huddled in a corner, shivering on hearing the blood-curdling chants on the streets outside, their parents desperately rationing food and milk.

There is a greater implication to the violence in Bareilly. In recent weeks, particularly after the Telangana crisis, there has been much talk of a trifurcation or even further break-up of Uttar Pradesh. Various formulations have been thrown up. These include a territory in western Uttar Pradesh that is being loosely called 'Harit Pradesh' and is an expansion of the earlier proposal for 'Rohilkhand'. Senior politicians, ranging from Ms Mayawati to Mr Ajit Singh, have supported this cartographic exercise. Others have pointed out that, unless suitably designed and gerrymandered, a State of this nature in the current western Uttar Pradesh will upset the religious balance. It will provide ammunition to the sort of militant clerics who have fomented the violence in Bareilly. Viewed from this perspective, this past fortnight's events have been a warning.

For the moment, it is essential that the besieged citizens of Bareilly be rescued from the menacing militia that more or less hold them hostage. This is not a time for name-calling and for the Congress and the BSP to score points. A crackdown on the ringleaders and the restoration of what in the old days used to be called the majesty of the law are essential in Bareilly. A city that was a byword for religious tension in the 1980s and even early-1990s cannot be forced into that nightmare again. For the Congress, which is attempting to win back mainstream Hindu support in Uttar Pradesh after a lull of two decades, Bareilly offers a test case. If it succumbs again to Muslim blackmail, its claims of a new, enlightened politics will be held up to ridicule.






To suggest that politics in Thailand is becoming increasingly convoluted would be an over-simplification. But as thousands of red-shirted protesters gather in Bangkok to try and persuade the Government to dissolve Parliament and hold fresh elections, it would be fair to say that Thai politics has reached a critical point. What makes the latest round of protests by the red-shirted supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — who was forced to go into self-imposed exile after a military coup against his Government in 2006— different from the previous ones is that this is probably the last time that the demonstrations will be peaceful. For, as opposed to their rivals, the yellow shirts, the red shirts have genuine financial constraints in carrying on their political agitation. This is because most of the rank and file of the red shirt movement — officially called the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship — comprise poor rural folk who struggle hard to eke out a living. It is because Mr Shinawatra had done a lot for them in terms of providing affordable healthcare and financing small businesses when he was in power that they are still willing to stake their livelihood and make their way to Bangkok with their meagre resources in order to make their voices heard. But as the Thai capital is drowned in a sea of red, the red shirts are facing a cruel dilemma. As opposed to their well-heeled yellow shirt nemeses who make up the urban elite of Thai society, the red shirts can ill-afford to continue their agitation indefinitely. Nonetheless, even if the movement loses steam over financial constraints, it would be naïve to believe that the deep divisions in Thai society will disappear. For, at the heart of the political crisis is the feeling of neglect that Thailand's rural masses feel, something that has exacerbated since their beloved Thaksin was removed from power by the military and the yellow shirts. Unless the present Government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is seen putting in place mechanisms to provide inclusive governance, things might take a dangerous turn.

Barring some instances of violence, most of the demonstrations, either by the red shirts or the yellow shirts, have steered clear of turning into complete mayhem. It is true that airports have been blocked, police vehicles damaged and even an Asean summit aborted due to the protesters. But overall the authorities have been able to control the demonstrations. But with their resources stretched, there is a distinct possibility that the red shirts, as is the case in such circumstances, might lose their determination to keep their struggle peaceful and within the law. And with Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej, the only unifying force in the country, yet to fully recover from his ill-health, Thailand's future is more tense and uncertain than it has ever been.



            THE PIONEER




The Congress's sphinx-like supremo, who made passage of the women's reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha on International Women's Day a matter of personal prestige, is not known for cogent analysis and articulation on any issue. This has not dissuaded acolytes from informing us, via a servile media, of the issues "close to madam's heart". Last time it was the disastrous India-US nuclear deal, the nuisance clauses of which are only beginning to unravel. That alone should have warned the BJP and Left parties from following Mr Sonia Gandhi's agenda for women's empowerment.

But so addicted is our political class to slogans in lieu of hard thinking, that the concerned parties did not even examine the said legislation, and jumped in feet first, enforcing compliance by issuing whips after the March 8 shutdown of Parliament. Now, with murmurs of dissent rising, particularly after the disgraceful manner in which the legislation was passed on March 9 after marshals evicted obstructing members, it would be wise for the BJP to rethink its commitment to the Bill.

But first, BJP leaders Ms Sushma Swaraj (Lok Sabha) and Mr Arun Jaitley (Rajya Sabha) must answer why they agreed to pass the legislation in such a tearing hurry when marshals were used to evict members. What was the BJP's compulsion to abet Ms Gandhi's personal agenda?

The women's Bill negates one of the basic features of the Constitution — the right to equality, irrespective of gender or religion, a fact further enshrined by the Supreme Court in the Keshavananda Bharati case. The Congress-led UPA 1.0 gobbled up non-discrimination on grounds of religion by establishing an exclusive Ministry of Minority Affairs, declaring that Muslims have the first right to national resources, and setting up several schemes and institutions to cater exclusively for minorities (read Muslims).

The BJP is now compounding its sins of omission and commission by supporting a blatantly un-constitutional legislation for political reservations on grounds of gender. Parliament has no authority to amend a basic feature of the Constitution, and the legislation can be struck down by the Supreme Court. Why are political parties opening themselves to such humiliation?

Another pertinent question is the mystical figure of 33 per cent. How was this arrived at when it is known that women must logically comprise over 50 per cent of a nation's demography (unless this is seriously disturbed by issues like female infanticide or foeticide)? Common sense suggests that far from empowering women, the legislation actually caps their power and representation, as it will be impossible for women to exceed 33 per cent seats whenever they are ready to come to Parliament in larger numbers. This is not a small issue.

It will be even worse if the UPA is forced to compromise and dilute women's reservation to say, 20 per cent, as has been mooted in some quarters. This token reservation will need to be passed afresh in the Rajya Sabha, bringing us back to square one — why was the legislation moved and passed in the Upper House without due debate and consultation at the national level and within political parties?

The women's reservation Bill is totally devoid of merit. Its greatest advocates are women who have risen in their respective parties by patronage, have no meaningful public contribution, and want to ensure that their parties do not sideline them. Indian citizens need competent representatives, not gender; eunuchs have won Assembly elections because of this quest for leaders who deliver.

More pertinently, if the BJP agrees to change the Constitution for one group, on what grounds will it refuse extension of the reservation pie to Muslims, as envisaged by the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (Ranganath Mishra Commission)? And what if Ms Gandhi is rushing the women's Bill precisely because she knows the minority quota is impossible, and intends to use the women's quota as a de facto Muslim quota?

This means that once 33 per cent quota for women is law, the Congress can give tickets only to Muslim women and win, say, 25 per cent of the seats. These women will form a communal block in Parliament and the State Assemblies, and work for a Muslim agenda. Does the BJP have a counter to this mischief? Once this happens, the supposed opposition of Maulana Saidur Rehman Azmi Nadvi of Nadwatul Ulema to women's reservation will vanish.

Actually, the sub-caste quotas demanded by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav would mitigate this danger, as it would keep their Hindu vote-bank intact. The BJP, having ceased to think in the Hindu interest a long time ago, has not thought of any safeguard for Hindu voters.

This is not to suggest that we accept sub-quotas for Dalit, OBC or Muslim women. Quotas fragment societal unity; Indians now want a sharp reversal of the quota regime. Reservations have been found to promote mediocrity, and are now hurting even their intended beneficiaries who suffer at the hands of the creamy layer within their ranks. It has proved politically impossible to tackle the creamy layer; what will we do if women's reservation ends up as the Muslim women's reservation?

It is now up to the Congress to introduce the Bill in the Lok Sabha and get it through. The Congress is nervous as the Budget has to be passed and voices of resistance have begun to be aired in the BJP — some say former president Rajnath Singh is instigating the revolt cum re-think. Be that as it may, given the dangerous trajectory of UPA 2.0, it may be in the BJP's best interests to use the Budget Session to bring down the Government and throw out its divisive agenda, lock stock and barrel.

This would have the additional merit of effectively downsizing the Gandhi family and ending the well propagated myth that Mr Rahul Gandhi is the future Prime Minister. The Congress simply cannot win the present number of seats again in the event of an early election, not with the current price rise! A fresh election will give Mr Nitin Gadkari a chance to reassert Hindutva as the BJP's ideology and political manifesto.

(The views expressed by the writer in this article are not necessarily shared by this newspaper.)








When the news of Prof Gargi Dutt passing away reached me, it was a rude personal shock, for this distinguished China scholar, wife of yet another China expert Prof VP Dutt, was not just my professor who introduced and kindred my interest in Chinese studies, but I also shared the distinction of being her last PhD student from Jawaharlal Nehru University, even after her retirement from the institution. Her passing away, coming close on the heels of the unfortunate demise of Prof Meira Sinha Bhattacharya and earlier that of Prof Giri Deshinkar, both stalwarts of Chinese studies in India, is an irreparable loss to the fraternity of China scholars in the country.

Very few husband wife couples share the same profession. The striking examples that comes to mind are those of celebrated husband-wife teams of Marie and Pierre Curie, and Sidney and Beatric Webb, the Fabian socialists. Like these celebrated couples, Prof VP Dutt and Gargi Dutt in India infused Chinese studies with new energy. While Prof VP Dutt founded and nurtured the Chinese studies programme in Delhi University, Prof Gargi Dutt did the same at Jawaharlal Nehru University. They together have contributed immensely to the popularisation of Chinese studies in India.

At a time when China was a forbidden subject for Western scholars, both Prof VP Dutt and Gargi Dutt wrote authoritative books on China which have even been prescribed by Western universities. The most important of them was Rural Communes in China by Gargi Dutt, which was published in 1967. It continues to be a pioneering work in the academic fraternity the world over. Gargi Dutt had also worked with renowned China scholar John K Fairbank.

Together with her husband she authored the book China's Cultural Revolution. This book, published in the wake of the cultural revolution in China in the late 1960s, was widely acclaimed. Gargi Dutt belonged to the quaint generation of Sinologists who were reclusive but rendered great guidance to their students. Besides being a passionate scholar, Gargi Dutt was a kind and considerate person who was highly respected by her students.








From the Parliament House attack and the Mumbai terror attacks to the recent Pune bombing, the Government of India has often been surprised by its failure to anticipate the internal security threat effectively. The Government and its security apparatus, especially the police being the first responders to any internal security challenge, now constantly live under the shadow of this fear of being surprised again in the future.

The truism about the military — it must be prepared to fight the next war, not the last one — now also applies to the police. It must be prepared to meet the challenges of the future. However, the debate in this country, for fathomable reasons, is geared only towards preparing the police forces to meet the historical and current challenges to internal security. Since taking over as the Union Home Minister, Mr P Chidambaram has been lauded for heralding systemic reforms under his watch. A lot of media attention, simultaneously, has been focussed on police reforms, which have not materialised so far despite intervention of the Supreme Court. Even if these changes were to miraculously happen today, in the absence of any prospective planning, they will only have a palliative effect on the problem.

The challenges of the future will be indistinguishable from current challenges and demand a radically different policing capacity. Developing such capacity takes time: To plan, to recruit, to equip, to train, to develop infrastructure and at times, to even amend legislation. The Government can afford to spend little time brooding over the current situation. To begin with, a time-bound, comprehensive research of the factors that will affect policing in the country in the future needs to be accomplished by a team of reputed academicians and professionals under the aegis of the Bureau of Police Research and Development. The FBI Academy in the United States was offering a 'Futuristics in Law Enforcement' course way back in 1982, whereas BPRD, established with a charter for future research, hasn't produced any significant work on the subject.

The study on prospective challenges for the police must focus on these factors: Environmental changes, technological progress and organisational problems.

The environmental landscape in India is rapidly changing — with an intrusive media, higher educational standards, demographic changes, rapid urbanisation, rabid politicisation of socio-political movements, seemingly greater social tolerance to violent expression of public discontent, and myriad external and internal security threats. The old colonial rural policing model in vogue today is unsuited to respond to these rapid socio-cultural and politico-economic changes. Consider the fact that by 2026, the Registrar General of India estimates that 536 million Indians ie 38 per cent of population will be living in the cities; 74 per cent of Tamil Nadu, 61 per cent of Maharashtra, 53 per cent of Punjab and Gujarat and half of Karnataka would be urbanised by then. If the manning, equipping, training and doctrine of policing in the States are not attuned to these migratory trends, that policing incapacity is bound to further exacerbate social and political tensions caused by urban immigration.


The 26/11 Mumbai terror attack is a telling example of the manner in which criminals and terrorists have started using technology with deadly effect. Although technology assisted crimes cost the world economy more than $ 1.6 trillion last year, India is yet to be really hit — a few sporadic incidents apart — by the tsunami of technology assisted crimes. But this is liable to change in the future as technology continues to occupy a bigger space in our daily lives. However, the knowledge of technology in Indian police forces remains abysmally poor with no institutionalised mechanism to study technological developments and their impact on policing.

Organisational challenges in the police emanate from unclear objectives and colonial militaristic command structure that throttle development, growth and initiative, semi-literate and ill-trained personnel — class 10th pass constables and head constables form 90 per cent of the police force — antiquated weapons and equipment, and outdated processes. In fact, the police manuals used by State police forces were drafted more than 100 years back to deal with the problems of that era. There is no process to review actions taken and results achieved, and to provide feedback to develop and use the best practices.

It is true that the grossly inadequate number of policemen — with only 127 policemen for a lakh of population here compared to over 400 in developed countries — have left police with little time and consideration for improvement. States are now dedicating a large amount of efforts and resources to expand their police forces. However, putting more police into an ineffective and corrupt system could end up producing more ineffective and corrupt police. The system has to be reformed concurrently, or this expansion may end up doing more harm than good.

Any systemic reform, however, has to be also geared towards preparing the police for the challenges of the future. It is for this reason alone that all modern police forces have resident futurists on their rolls. Police in India also has no choice but to follow their lead. It must anticipate the future, if it has to evolve into a modern force suited for a modern India.

The wirter is former Director-General of Police, Andhra Pradesh.







There are notable differences between Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, and Mr Umaru Yar'Adua, the current President (more or less) of Nigeria. For one thing, Mr Yar'Adua did not found the League of Nations or win the Nobel Peace Prize, whereas Wilson did.

For another, Woodrow Wilson was the President of Princeton University before he entered politics, whereas Mr Umaru 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, Woodrow 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 in to see him. In effect, it was she who acted as the country's chief executive.

More recently, last November, Mr Yar'Adua unexpectedly left Nigeria for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia — and didn't come back. 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, in a hospital bed and virtually incommunicado, while the business of Government was paralysed in Africa's biggest country.

Finally, last month, the Nigerian Senate declared that Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan should become the Acting President and carry out Mr Yar'Adua's duties until such time as he might recover. Soon afterwards Mr 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 Mr 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. Even Mr Jonathan has been turned away repeatedly.

Mr Yar'Adua's return, however incapacitated he may be, has severely undermined Mr Jonathan's ability to take major decisions. He may be the Acting President, but he cannot actually act. And so the paralysis in Nigeria deepens.

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. Mr Yar'Adua is a Muslim; Mr 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 retaliation for a similar mass killing of Muslims in January — and the tit-for-tat massacres actually go back for many years.

But neither at the national or at the village level is this struggle really about religious differences. The desperate attempt to keep a (probably comatose) Umaru Yar'Adua in power is happening because replacing him in mid-term with Mr Jonathan violates a gentleman's agreement in the ruling party that Muslim and Christian leaders should alternate in power so that everybody who matters gets a fair turn at the trough.

Similarly, the massacres in Plateau state, which lies on the border between northern, Muslim Nigeria and the southern, Christian half of the country, 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.

A struggle for power at the top, a struggle for land at the bottom, both defined as Muslims vs Christians: It sounds like a formula for breaking Nigeria in two. But it will probably never happen so long as Nigerian politics remains a conspiracy of the rich against the poor.

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.

 The writer is an independent journalist based in London.







That Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's foreign policy is completely focussed on Pakistan is an understatement. During his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, he said that "there is no alternative to talks with Pakistan". However, while dealing with Pakistan, India has to also deal and negotiate with the United States and Afghanistan. India's foreign policy towards Pakistan cannot be concretised without integrating its policy towards Afghanistan and taking into account the position of the US in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In fact, Indian foreign-policy-makers will do well to learn some lessons from the Pakistanis in this department. Pakistan's main foreign-policy focus is India, and to pursue its anti-India goal Pakistan has succeeded in engaging its friends like the US and China to broadened its options. Just a couple of days before the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan met in New Delhi on February 25, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, during his visit to China, offered a "blank cheque" to the Chinese to mediate in India-Pakistan disputes. Islamabad has always been keen on involving a powerful third-party in the India-Pakistan dialogue process, especially on Kashmir. Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, after the meeting with his Indian counterpart, stated that the "Kashmir dispute is the core issue between two countries" while Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao retorted that the "export of terrorism from Pakistan's territory to India is the core issue between the two neighbours".

The meeting between the two Foreign Secretaries was highlighted by differences and disagreements. Ms Rao, echoing the Prime Minister's stand, said that there is a 'national consensus' on talks but 'limitations' have been imposed due to the trust deficit between the two countries. Where are the meeting points? As Mr Bashir returned to Islamabad, Pakistan-backed Taliban targeted Indians in Kabul. The Pakistani Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence, two agencies that actively control the Taliban, have repeatedly attacked Indians in Afghanistan with the aim of forcing New Delhi to roll-back its development work in that country. In response to the Kabul attack, the Government rushed National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon to Afghanistan to assure the 4,000 Indians there that they were fully safe. The Government has also claimed that the people of Afghanistan are pro-India because of our assistance to them in rebuilding their country. This is a very facile argument because India is completely defenceless in Afghanistan, and the existence of a pro-India public opinion is an unconvincing justification for Indians to continue working in a hostile environment. It is not without reason that Mr Menon, on his return from Afghanistan, informed the Prime Minister that the Indian Embassy staff in Kabul are not safe.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai does not enjoy any legitimacy in his own country and is in power on the strength of the support he gets from the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. Further, Mr Karzai, during his visit to Pakistan on March 11, clearly announced that India was a friend but Pakistan was a conjoined twin of Afghanistan. Not only this, he also said that he does not want a proxy war between India and Pakistan in his country. The US-supported puppet regime of President Karzai recognises the compulsions of Afghanistan's geographical proximity to Pakistan. It is also well aware that Pakistan is a close ally of the US in the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Thus, it recognises the need for a balancing act.

The Americans are openly supportive of Pakistan in its fight against the jihadis on its soil. It is a different matter that Islamabad has been able to successfully sell the bogus concept of 'good' and 'bad' Taliban to the Americans. The fact is Pakistan has managed to convince the US into giving it arms which it will be more than happy to divert towards it anti-India operations. Hence, at the end of the day, the Karzai regime, the Americans and the Taliban militants are all promoting Pakistan's role in Afghanistan, leaving India in a tizzy.






Women in Ladakh seem to have taken it upon themselves to change the socio-cultural and political landscape of this traditionally patriarchal society. Ama Tsogspa or women's alliance is a movement of housewives, mostly illiterate, which led a spirited campaign against plastic in Ladakh in 1998 compelling the local Government to officially ban it. Going beyond the campaign, women took up cudgels against alcoholism in 2006. They even undertook several raids to recover hidden supplies of illicit liquors and destroyed them in full public view.

Organising themselves into groups, they have taken up causes which according to Ms Stanzin Dolma, the president of Ama Tsogspa Choglamsar are threatening the society. Starting with a small group, Ama Tsogpa now covers virtually all 111 villages in Leh and extends to the icy Zanskar region and areas in Kargil district. "We have over 5,000 members spread across entire Ladakh, including Leh, Zanskar and some areas of Kargil," says Rinchen Dolker, general secretary. Ama Tsogspa is a reflection of the changing face of Ladakh and its women. However, the political representation of women is woefully inadequate.

The highest policy level body - the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council - does not have a single elected women Councillor. In Panchayati Raj, of the 639 elected Panches only 37 are women and not a single woman is Sarpanch. The only woman who was an MP from Ladakh was probably because of her royal lineage. No woman has ever represented Ladakh as MLA or MLC. Out of 30 Councillors there are only two nominated women.

"It gets very difficult at times to put across our demands. Men can relieve themselves in open but we cannot. The Hill Council pays no heed to our strong demand for public convenience at different places," says Ms Dolma, a nominated Panch from Likir village. She raised this issue in a meeting of various representatives on Vision Document 2020 prepared by the Hill Council.

Despite several challenges, many SHGs have come into existence under a guideline provided by the Centre's Watershed Development Project. In Saspotse village one of the mother-SHGs formed in 2001, facilitated by the Ladakh Development Organisation, has helped in forming a chain of several groups engaged in small enterprise activities. Today there are 500 odd SHG groups in the entire district selling agricultural produce like peas, barley, hay, vegetables and handicrafts like pashmina shawls and carpets. The collective saving generated through micro-credits run into crores besides a growing awareness and access to Government schemes.

"SHG has greatly benefited us, we have learnt to speak for our demands with concerned departments and it gives us a new confidence," says Ms Yangchan Dolma, deputy chairperson of SHG Federation at Saspol village. As a body, it is able to leverage funds from the Hill Council. For an individual SHG the task was difficult.

The writing on the wall is clear. There has been recognition of all these developments at different levels of governance and policy. The Ladakh Buddhist Association, a leading socio-cultural organisation has opened a women wing though access to the highest decision-making process is denied.

Moreover, during electioneering last year, some political parties held separate meetings with women - an indication if not an assurance of their growing influence in the region.

Ms Spalzes Angmo, former nominated Councillor, who has recently been appointed as member of National Minority Commission, is pushing for setting up of women's development department in the region. It is undeniable that change is critical to survive and these women are the agents of change in the region.







THE arrest of two Mumbai residents Abdul Latif and Riyaz Ali on the suspicion of planning a major terrorist strike indicates a somewhat disturbing pattern in the counter- terrorist activities of the police force. The two were allegedly planning an attack on the headquarters of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, the Mangaldas Cloth Market and the Thakkar Mall.


According to reports, the arrest was carried out on the basis of telephone calls made between the two and a person called " Chacha" or Uncle in Karachi. Ever since the Mumbai attack of November 2008, terrorists and their handlers are aware that Indian security agencies can intercept telephone conversations, whether they are made through the telecommunications network, internet, or satellite phones. Yet the plan for an attack, allegedly deadlier than 26/ 11, was being made over open telephone lines.


After 26/ 11 there is a great deal of pressure on the police. But there is a danger of acting prematurely, or conflating small- time operators or even innocents for dreaded terrorists.


The Anti- Terrorism Squad chief K. P. Raghuvanshi's claim that the attack was similar to 26/ 11 does not quite hold water.


Planning for that attack took more than two years and required the services of dozens of top- flight operators, including David Coleman Headley.


Mr Latif and Mr Ali appear to be people of a modest background and the ATS has provided no evidence other than an allegation relating to phone intercepts.


Indeed, it is difficult to see how such a major conspiracy could have been hatched by just two persons. The police may yet arrest more people and provide more evidence in the coming days. But in that case, wasn't it premature to have announced their arrest before the investigations had been completed? There are reports that the Union Home Ministry is upset by Mr Raghuvanshi's revelations because it has compromised a larger operation to expose the extent of the conspiracy.


The Indian police need some basic lessons in handling such investigations. They could learn a thing or two from the professional manner in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation has built up the case against David Coleman Headley and Mohammed Tawahhur Rana. There have been no leaks on the side; all the information has come through legal charge- sheets which are also made available to the accused and the media.







MEDICINES are the only category of consumer products where the consumer or the user makes a purchase based on the advice of a third party —– doctor or a prescriber.


That's why drug companies shower doctors with gifts and freebies in order to promote their products. Such unethical marketing practices have been going on for a long time, but have become uglier in the past few years with multinational drug companies with deep pockets resorting to bribing doctors with costly gifts and even foreign tours.


When the Medical Council of India ( MCI) amended its code of ethics and imposed a blanket ban on doctors receiving gifts or accepting the hospitality of drug companies it came as a welcome move. But within months of announcing the code, MCI has made a U- turn and done away with the blanket ban. Instead it has defined acceptable gifts as those whose value is less than Rs 1000. Doctors will be penalised only if the gift's value exceeds this amount.


So it will be perfectly fine for a doctor to receive several gifts worth Rs 999 in a month or a year, as no time limit for calculating the value of gifts has been fixed.


While individual doctors won't be able to accept travel and hospitality expenses from drug companies to attend conferences, there will be no bar on drug companies paying the organisers to sponsor a certain number of doctors. It would seem that the drug industry has a hand in making the MCI code friendlier to itself.


Given the past record of allegations of corruption against the MCI and its boss Ketan Desai, the amendments have not come as a surprise. What is needed is a legally binding ban on drug companies giving gifts, and doctors receiving them. It is too serious a matter to be left to industry or medical bodies— both of which have a vested interest in continuing with the present system.







MY last column defending M. F. Husain invoked predictable responses.


There were those that branded this writer as a secular fundamentalist, believing that using a term they think is pejorative is an alternative to an informed discussion.


Others questioned my knowledge of Indian traditions, including my knowledge of Sanskrit and other Indian languages. In this instance, neither do they know what I know or how much I know, but I too remain in the dark about their legitimacy to question my competence.


There were those who blamed my ' westernised' education for my views.


I do not know what schools they went to, nor do I know what schools their children go to, but I hope they get a better deal than their parents have got or I have.


Strangely enough, the name- callers do not provide a single instance of a reasoned argument that rises above sentiments, platitudes and clichés.


Some of those who agreed with me also did so for the wrong reasons. But there are several ways in which the critics and those who praise are joined together in a strange kind of alliance. On the surface, they share common attributes: inability to listen, lack of an inherent capacity to alter a well- entrenched view, and, most of all the democratic civility that ought to be granted to dissenters.


Why is this so? The primary reason for this is that many in India partake of a shared myth. This myth transcends political ideologies or affiliations. It binds people together and produces strange bedfellows. They share in the belief that there is a unified idea of Hinduism. Further, they believe that Hinduism is inherently tolerant, mild, inward- looking, non- threatening and other- worldly. From these assumptions arises another myth: India is secular and democratic because of Hindu society. In this vast sea of presumptions and subsumptions, the truth is lost somewhere in the rhetoric it generates.




It proposes as crude an evolutionary schema as the eventual emergence of butterflies from caterpillars.


These myths are beyond discussion and fall into the realm of faith and piety. While delineating these myths, it is not being remotely suggested that they are not true or that they are patently untrue. What is being suggested is that those who hold on to these myths in a non- discursive fashion rob the very tradition that they purportedly seek so enthusiastically to defend the luxury of self- reflection.


It is this unquestioning attitude that makes Justice Liberhan indict the sangh parivar for demolishing the Babri Masjid on the one hand and argue on the other hand that ' Hindu society is a well rooted and established patient society since time immemorial… The basis of secularism is the tradition of acceptance of complex, multilingual, multi- ethnic and multi religious diversity as demonstrated in the historical process of thousands of years'. It is this attitude that provides the foundation for every one of those who repeat the well- worn platitude of Hinduism being a way of life and not a religion. Even if one were to entertain this banality, one would be constrained to ask a simple question: whose way of life? Is it the way of life suggested over the centuries by Brahmins and the upper castes? Is it the way of life proposed by godmen of various hues and colours? Is it the model followed by the RSS, the VHP and the Bajarang Dal?




This brings us to the question of religion itself. The efforts to define religion in India from the nineteenth century onwards, and, in particular, Hinduism as a religion, have been extensively commented upon by serious historians and scholars. What is pertinent here is that in order to construct as broad as possible a definition of religion, everything other than doctrines and dogmas were subsumed under the rubric of religion.


Influential nineteenth century definitions of religion persuaded us that religion was neither in texts, nor in doctrines nor in dogmas, but in serving the poor, wiping the tears of every hungry and naked individual and promoting fellow- feeling and brotherhood among people.


The problem with this kind of omnibus definition, however, is that it fudges the distinction between religion, and, let us say, an NGO working towards feeding people or alleviating poverty. Brotherhood, fellow- feeling and solidarity is also promoted by football clubs and cricketing associations.


The unintended result of this conflation of all ordinary life with religion has, over the years, resulted in the sanctification and deification of almost every facet of public life in the name of religion and religion- driven cynicism. It also meant an end to any serious theological debates within society, where, on the one hand, the politicians and nationalists appropriated the space vacated by theologians; the nationalist bullies with a bent towards religious politics sought to freeze a single definition of both religion and Hinduism as religion.


But it also generated the parallel process of totalising religious categories within the public realm, largely because of the fuzzy and overarching definition of religion. Both these contradictions still exist and flourish side by side in contemporary India even today.


Finally, the legacy of the nineteenth century in characterising India as spiritual and other- worldly, and the West as this- worldly has had serious repercussions. If one does not take government propaganda seriously, and does not reduce progress and development to mere statistics of growth, or the ascendancy of the stock market, then, there is not much that independent India has to show for original ideas or even economic power. In the absence of anything more tangible to defend, an inflamed nationalist rhetoric replaces reality.



Books, paintings and cinema seem to hurt sentiments more than conspicuous poverty, a moribund public

education system, a health service that has collapsed decades ago and, to top it all, rampant corruption. No sentiments get hurt when a corruption scandal breaks out.Is one to believe that religion sanctions corruption? No sentiment gets hurt when a large number of government schools go without the most minimum of facilities. Is one to believe that despite our lip service to the goddess of learning our sentiments are secure from being hurt despite this sorry state of affairs? Why is it that these sentiments get hurt only when Husain paints Saraswati? One day the Indian people will have to give up their share in partaking of this myth of what they have come to believe religion is, and more specifically, what they have come to believe of Hinduism as religion. Till such time, our own home- grown version of the Taliban will have its sway. Amidst all this cacophony, the ' secular fundamentalists' are anyway a minority, deliberately discredited in democratic India, and ready equally to be eliminated in a Talibanised version of the nation.


The writer teaches politics in University of Hyderabad









KOLKATA is a strange city. It is a city of contradictions. It accepts almost everything — insult, years of neglect, filth and poverty — with a shrug. When the roads are choked, the average Bengali in the overcrowded bus, sweating profusely, will curse and stop at that. When his favourite trips to the market become irregular because of soaring prices, he will grit his teeth and blame the "political thugs." But he will do nothing more. Kolkata accepts pain and gruel "as part of life," unless of course its patience is made to cross the threshold. Then it erupts like a volcano. But its patience is immense.


Because deep in his mind he knows, he is convinced rather, that this city is better than any other in the country — culturally and morally. The city understands art, loves music and books and trusts nothing unless discussed in tea stalls. And women are safe in this city. Therein lies Kolkata's pride.


When a former Prime Minister described Kolkata as a dead city, it merely shrugged and went on with life. So, the recent study on 'liveability' across 37 cities in the country —conducted by the Confederation of Indian Industry and Institute for Competitiveness — which ranked Kolkata as the worst among the five metros, has failed to stir a soul in this city.


The study took pains to point out that the quality of life of residents is tied up with their access to infrastructure, food, clean air, affordable housing, gainful employment and enough green space. By these standards, Kolkata was ranked below Delhi, Mumbai, Bangaluru and Chennai.


But Kolkata merely shrugged at these suggestions.


The subject was not even discussed either by government agencies or within civil society.


The local media simply mentioned it on its graveyard pages and forgot about it.


The study even challenged one of the myths that the city always took as true — that it is the safest city and an oasis of peace in the country. Kolkata was ranked 14th — even after Patna — in the safety category as far as the crime rate, road accidents and cyber crime were concerned.


Yet another myth — that Kolkata is a " cheap city" — was busted as well. In terms of finding an accommodation, Kolkata ranked as low as 32nd under the " housing options" category. In education — another area of Bengali pride — Kolkata ranked 16th in " education level distribution" — a sub- parameter which tracked enrolment in higher studies. In the health sector, Kolkata was placed 24th for the availability of hospital beds and doctors.


So what? The city and its residents give a damn!


Left not to let go of rural base without fight


PROLONGED agitation in the rural areas and finally distribution of surplus land from the landlords to the landless had consolidated the Left Front's power base in the state. Though the urban voter had often dithered, the farmers had always voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Left for over 30 years. It happened even as late as the 2006 assembly elections. But the Left government's forcible acquisition of the same land in recent years, particularly in Singur and Nandigram, rapidly eroded this support base.


To win back the farmers' support before the 2011 assembly polls, the Left Front has now decided to give ownership rights even to people who have encroached upon private land in the villages.


The West Bengal Acquisition of Homestead Land for Agricultural Labourers, Artisans and Fishermen Act of 1975 will be amended for the purpose in the current session of the assembly itself.


The owners will surely resist the move and this will give the Left yet another opportunity to launch a fight for the cause of the rural poor and recover its lost base. The land owners will be given compensation, which will be 10 times the tax paid by them to the government for their land.



DURING its three day operation in Belpahari last week— an area under the command of Maoists till recently — the CRPF had organised several health camps to win back the confidence of the villagers.


Doctors belonging to the paramilitary force were, however, shocked to discover the extent of malnutrition, resulting diseases and lack of even basic medical facilities in the area and began to have an idea as to why a section of people were sympathetic to the Maoists' armed revolt.


The CRPF doctors found that 60- 70 per cent of children coming to the camps suffered from acute anemia and malnutrition.


Nearly 80 per cent of women were anemic.


About 40 per cent of the aged people were suffering from cataract and were nearly blind.


In large parts of Bhulabheda and Simulpal in Belpahari, where the camps were held, most of the children had not been immunised.


Child marriage and child pregnancy were rampant, the doctors were horrified to find.


Many villagers told the CRPF doctors that they earned less than Rs 20 a day in the lean period. Most said they wholly depended on quacks for treatment of illnesses. Many said they could not see doctors because they had no money.



HE IS a prominent Trinamool Congress leader of Bankura. He was the former chairman of Bankura municipality. Now he is a member of the advisory committee of South Eastern Railways.


Yet Shanti Singh had illegally acquired about 1.5 acres of land belonging to the Railways. He also claims to be the owner of another eight bighas of land adjoining the Bankura Damodar River Valley Railways ( BDR) station.


Notwithstanding his status, the Railways have now demolished the boundary wall of the 1.5 acre plot of land.


Singh has denied having occupied land which did not belong to him. It was a conspiracy by a section of railway inspectors to take away a property belonging to his mother, he said.


Railway advocate Kunal Ghosh, however, has said that though Singh's mother had been recorded as owner of the plot of land in 1965 " by mistake" the error had been rectified long ago by the state's land and land reforms department. Singh, however, refused to part with the land.








There appears to be a disconnect between the Obama administration and Washington legislators. The US decision to incorporate the 'good Taliban, bad Taliban' theme into its official Afghanistan strategy and Islamabad pitching itself as an essential middleman for winning over the former has led to a closer synergy between the US and Pakistan. Predictably, this has caused heartburn in New Delhi and a perception of US reluctance to pressure Pakistan on terrorists targeting India. However, to judge by a US congressional hearing last week, American legislators are not buying Islamabad's sales pitch.

The consensus that emerged between the lawmakers and analysts that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was still supported by the Pakistani military and intelligence and that the Obama administration needed to take a harder line with Islamabad on the issue points to the changing nature of terrorism in the region. It is no longer possible to separate terrorist organisations into different compartments, as the Obama administration still attempts at times. The growing linkages between them mean that they are now a loose conglomeration with overlapping support networks and ideological motivations. The approach to dealing with them, therefore, must be holistic as well.

Recent reports of the two men arrested in Mumbai for planning terrorist strikes and the trail leading back from them to Karachi lend credence to the idea that terrorist organisations operating in South Asia can no longer be treated as strictly individual units. The free rein given to the LeT and its leader Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan, together with Islamabad's reluctance to dismantle the terror infrastructure aimed at India, are the biggest impediments to peace between India and Pakistan. This in turn affects the Afghanistan dynamic, as Islamabad commits few resources to the fight against the Afghan Taliban citing a threat from India. Little wonder that US lawmakers took such a strong stand on the LeT. It's a terrorist organisation not only directly inimical to US interests in Afghanistan and elsewhere, it also affects them indirectly by coming in the way of India-Pakistan amity.

It is highly unlikely that the Obama administration is unaware of these linkages. But it seems to be trying the old Washington game of cutting Islamabad some slack in order to win cooperation and tightening the leash as occasional warning of the consequences of being recalcitrant. Going by past evidence and reports of continuing ties between Pakistani state actors and the LeT, this sort of coaxing is unlikely to work. It is time for Washington to take a clear line with Islamabad.







To address the widespread practice of doctors accepting kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies, the Medical Council of India (MCI) has proposed punishment ranging from fines to doctors losing their licences. The MCI has done away with a blanket ban it announced in December 2009 on doctors accepting so-called gifts from major drug companies, in favour of a more nuanced punishment structure. Since big pharma attempts to influence doctors to push their products, accepting any hospitality or gift from people associated with the healthcare industry amounts to a violation of the ethical code of conduct. These guidelines are welcome, and necessary to ensure that doctors do not abuse the trust of their patients. In threatening doctors with permanent removal of their names from the medical registry for serious violations, the stakes have been set high.

But implementation will be a challenge. The regulation will have to be strictly enforced if it is to act as a deterrent. There are more than 7.5 lakh doctors registered with the MCI. The council will need state medical councils to support it in order to effectively monitor doctors. But that is easier said than done, as there is friction between several state medical councils and the MCI. A possible solution is for the MCI to encourage doctors' bodies like the Indian Medical Association to keep tabs on their members. Another is to simultaneously attack the problem from the supplier side by drafting legislation to prevent drug companies from unethically marketing their products to medical practitioners. The US, for instance, has strict laws to prevent pharma majors from offering unethical inducements to doctors to market their products, which has resulted in companies such as Pfizer being slapped with record fines.








Washington: So, the man widely regarded as India's greatest contemporary artist is no longer an Indian. He is a Qatari. Why on earth did we let that happen? Ah, therein hangs a tale of two contrasting and fiercely contested views of the idea of India.

A letter circulating on the web angrily presents one of those views. It is addressed to an editor of an English language newspaper, and is harshly critical of the stand taken by the paper in urging the return of Maqbool Fida Husain to India. Interestingly, it is not written by a Hindu fanatic; the writer is a Christian woman, Hilda Raja, who once taught at a Chennai college and now lives in Vadodara. She argues her case well.

First, she says, Husain has become a citizen of Qatar, which is not known to respect freedom of expression or democracy. She challenges the artist living there to paint a picture of Mohammed, one that is fully clothed unlike his nude portrayals of Hindu goddesses. She asks why no one protested in India when Salman Rushdie's book, The Satanic Verses, was banned or why Taslima Nasreen continues to be "hunted and hounded". Don't they deserve freedom of expression? Why do the media not condemn Islamic intolerance but is ever ready to blame the sangh parivar?

Next she wonders why Husain's artistic freedom "seems to run unfettered in an expression of sexual perversion only when he envisages Hindu gods and goddesses". It is Husain's business to enjoy "painting his sexual perversion", she allows. "But why use Saraswati and Sita for his perverted expressions?" She goes on to note that Husain painted Indira Gandhi during the Emergency in the 1970s as Durga and had supported the suspension of freedom for artists and writers. It seems to her that "elite secularists" and the media use a soft secularism to judge Muslim wrongdoings.

Well, here's the other viewpoint. First, the point about Qatar is a smart one but quite irrelevant. Those of us feeling just as infuriated as Hilda Raja, from a diametrically opposing angle, about Husain's inability to return to India, are not exactly engaged in a debate about the quality of freedom in Qatar. Frankly, we don't care. We are angry at the inability of our own democratic culture to protect the right of an artist to express himself in any way he likes. And, yes, many of us did protest the ban on Rushdie and have taken clear stands against the harassment of Taslima. Actually reading the opinion pages of several newspapers on these issues can clarify matters.

Second, what is so 'perverted' about Husain's drawing mythological figures in the nude? Renowned critics in India and abroad have almost unanimously come out in support of Husain's depictions of Saraswati and Durga as fine examples of artistic imagination. Why should we those of us who feel frustrated at the Indian state's repeated caving in to the whims of religious fanatics accept any definition of perversion by persons who may have an uninformed understanding of liberty or suffer far too much from a sexually repressive culture to recognise real perversion?

Here's a fundamental issue: In a genuine democracy, it is perversion to demand that your viewpoint be accepted at the exclusion of all others. You as a religiously sensitive individual have every right to protest, write letters to the editor, stage demonstrations, cry yourself hoarse against nudity in art; but you have no right to force my voice to be silent or make it impossible for me to write or paint at will. If you don't like what i write or draw, the solution is easy. Simply don't read or see it.

Which brings up the ever so delicate matter of religious sensitivity. In a secular democracy, we irreligiously sensitive people need space for expressing ourselves. The Indian Constitution officially gives us that space; unfortunately, going by the weak-kneed responses of various governments, state and central, the feelings of the religiously minded invariably trump our secular sensitivities. We feel enraged that despite our constitutionally sanctioned freedoms we always have to stand down to those who may be feeling hurt because of one religious complaint or the other.

Some of us would like to shout from a rooftop: a pox on all houses of organised religion! They have brought much misery, death and destruction to humanity. But, that's about it; we would just like to shout. Or write or paint or demonstrate. We don't want to force anyone to our viewpoint by ransacking galleries or burning works of art or physically threatening those who disagree with us, Hindu or Muslim.

Controversies over artistic expression take place in all democracies. That's why they are called democracies. In the United States, for example, many Christian groups were upset about Martin Scorcese's 1988 movie The Last Temptation of Christ. They demonstrated, peacefully, outside several theatres in the country. Those who wanted to see the movie could go in and watch it. All the state authorities did was to provide police protection at theatres, for both demonstrators and movie-viewers.

When an artist of the calibre of Husain renounces his citizenship of India, some of us proud Indians are entitled to weep. Because we too can be sensitive. But we would fight to defend the right to freedom of expression of those who laugh at our tears.

The writer is a former executive editor of this paper






The prime minister reportedly wants a review of the draft direct tax code (DTC) proposal to put all long-term savings instruments under the exempt-exempt-tax (EET) ambit. He's right. Under EET, investment and interest aren't taxed but maturity proceeds are. At present, EET applies to the new pension scheme (NPS), especially designed for the unorganised sector. But with just about 3,800 accounts so far, NPS isn't shining. Even its tier-2 option funds can be withdrawn any time hasn't fired well. One big reason is that the scheme isn't tax-free on withdrawal while government-run employee provident fund and public provident fund are.

True, a scheme like NPS allows subscriber choice on an investment mix, including government bonds and equity. Nevertheless, in a country without adequate social security, it would hurt people to have their retirement savings taxed as income. Where NPS is concerned, the government has sought to soften resistance by promising Rs 1,000 for every new account of savings below Rs 12,000. However, NPS's experience so far indicates that savers - especially those taxed on income through their productive lives - may think twice about other schemes brought under EET. The prospect of trimmed retirement benefits may, in fact, disincentivise savings.

Savings instruments are meant to help save on tax. EET doesn't reduce tax liability, it merely facilitates postponed payment. Ostensibly, this is to discourage pullout of retirement savings at one go, nudging people towards annuity schemes. But surely individuals don't need government to play nanny about what they should do with savings. The finance ministry should not only rethink the EET plan for all schemes, it could also listen to the pension fund regulator about reviewing NPS. This scheme can create a social security net for millions of low-income individuals, even as it turns the informal sector's 'dead capital' into productive capital. It's in everyone's interest it takes off.








The proposed direct tax code is the right step towards rationalisation of taxes and savings schemes. To tamper with it at this stage is to blunt its objective. The issue in question is whether savings schemes like provident fund should be taxed. The answer is yes. The present exempt-exempt-exempt (EEE) mode is irrational. This allows an investor to seek exemption when he invests, reinvests and when he closes the scheme. International practice is to tax the investment at some point. The preferred norm is EET (exempt-exempt-tax), whereby the investment is usually taxed on maturity. The new pension scheme follows this norm. But there are few takers for the NPS since many pension plans and savings schemes that follow the EEE model continue to exist. The latter must go in the interest of rationalising norms for similar schemes. The rationalisation must follow international practices.

The principle behind taxation is to tax income if it falls in the tax bracket. Whether the income is retirement savings or proceeds from sale of property doesn't matter. In India, the investor is allowed to seek tax exemption on the principal when the investment is made within a certain limit. He can't insist that such investment must not be taxed at any point, including when the money is withdrawn for reinvestment or consumption.

The argument that the Indian experience is unique because the state here doesn't provide social security is also flawed. Indian state does provide for services like a public distribution system for food grains, public schooling and hospitals. Yes, the quality of these services is nothing to crow about. They must be improved. Funds needed for this purpose have to be raised by rationalising the tax system. Our system is far too complicated with its web of exemptions. The direct tax code is a step towards rationalising it.







This is a dire diatribe against a tribe that is driving me crazy bad drivers. The way Delhi drivers bend the rules drives me around the bend. Some think that the yellow line down the centre of the road is just a suggestion to stay on their side, and choose to accept or ignore it, based on their whims. Others seem sincerely to believe that keeping two wheels in each lane is one of the rules of the road. I am also driven to distraction by them talking on their cellphones while driving. When they come out in droves at night with their lights on high beam it just makes me blow a fuse. The boneheads on the roads don't seem to understand that what begins with breaking rules ends with broken bones. Hopefully they will tyre, er, tire of accidents serving as crash courses in road rules and realise that all that speeding leads to is cards wishing you a speedy recovery. It seems like Delhi drivers don't even strive to drive well; they are totally apathetic about their pathetic driving skills. The mindset of Delhi drivers is captured perfectly by the following lines from A E Housman: The laws of God, the laws of man,/ He may keep that will and can;/ Not i: let God and man decree/ Laws for themselves and not for me.

The worst behaved are bus drivers with their murderous intentions and their ample means to carry them out. They drive a hard bargain; either get out of their way, or you may not live to see another day. Wary pedestrians scatter left and right from the path of oncoming buses and cling to pavements as their only hope for survival. Motorcyclists, on the other hand, seem to enjoy tempting fate by swaying tantalisingly just out of reach, which seems to me, in the words of Joseph Conrad, ''the outrageous flauntings of folly in the face of a danger it is unable to comprehend''. Their faith in their own invulnerability is inexplicable; if it were me, i would go out of my way to steer clear of buses. Tonnes of hurtling metal would test most people's mettle if they saw it bearing down on them in their rearview mirror. Upon reflection, anyone with any sense would realise that they were at the mercy of the mercurial moods of a bus driver.

The barons of Delhi roads, bus drivers, are quite 'bus'iness-like in their carnage; they mow people down and then leap out of their vehicles and run off in search of greener (less mowed) pastures, namely, other bus companies with even laxer background checks. Vehicles that pose less danger to motorcyclists are small, compact cars, which can turn almost as flexibly as a motorcycle and can therefore swerve to avoid them. Driving schools ought to extol the virtues of Maruti Zens and the Art of Motorcyclist Maintenance.

In Delhi, it seems, you can be car-less or careless, but not both, or you might not live to regret it. The government needs to dispel the idea, with good policies and good policing, that obeying traffic laws is optional. The change won't be automatic; bad habits tend to stick, so bringing about a shift in people's attitudes would require that the government gear up for a major reform of its own lackadaisical enforcement. Good drivers also need to reach a critical mass and drive home the point that rash and irrational driving is unacceptable.

Hopefully, if you were indulging in any hazardous driving habits you've had a change of heart, or in other words that your cardiology, er, car ideology has changed a little and the next time a little voice will pipe up inside your head and dissuade you. Perhaps Delhi drivers will not turn out to be a truly unruly bunch but instead understand the expedience of obedience of traffic laws.







Actress Mila Kunis speaks about her forthcoming Gary Oldman, Denzel Washington starrer.


What drew you to this film, why did you want to be a part of it?

It was the directors, the Hughes Brothers, and  the cast, Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman. It would've been pretty stupid to say no. The story was great and the character was great. It was an amazing opportunity to work with people that I respect and can learn from.

Do you and Denzel work differently?

We're very different.

It's one of those things that I can't explain. Everyone works differently. I've yet to work with an actor who has the same way of going about their character. It has never been the same. It's as different as two people can get.

And you shot the film in chronological order?

As much as possible.

It was done towards Denzel's character. I think it was important for his character to have a specific progress in the film. I think, the best way to shoot a film is chronologically.

Your ensemble in the film was weird but hot in a way. What did you like about it or keep?

I kept none of it. It was so dirty they had to burn it an effigy when we wrapped production. There was nothing fake dirty about this movie. All the wind, all the dirt was real.

The film has a potential for a sequel with your going back.

This would be a very weird movie to have a sequel, let's be honest. With the purpose of the film, I don't foresee it happening and I haven't heard anything. So I'm going to say no. I don't think there should be a sequel. I think the purpose of the story ends. It's done.








The hysteria that normally accompanies any move to bring about political accountability has been refreshingly absent following the Special Investigation Team's (SIT) summons to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to depose before it. This is the first time ever that the CM of any state has been asked to appear before an SIT. The SIT step is in response to charges against Mr Modi and his administration by Zakia Jaffrey whose husband and former Congress MP Ehsan Jaffrey was murdered in the Gulberg housing society during the cataclysmic riots of 2002. Mr Modi has signalled his compliance and the new BJP President Nitin Gadkari has taken the stand that the law must take its course.


The law has indeed taken a tortuous course in the Gujarat case with various rulings indicting the administration being overturned by lower courts. Now that the action has moved to the Supreme Court, we are hopefully moving closer to a conclusion. The SIT seems intent on completing its task in a professional manner, heeding neither pressure from the establishment nor from activists who have been at loggerheads ever since those fateful events took place. In all the mudslinging, we have still not fixed accountability for the violence in which over 1,500 people died. That there was complicity, at least from sections of Mr Modi's administration, is established. The SIT has made it clear that it has prima facie cases against then minister Maya Kodnani and various VHP leaders. It has also left no one in doubt that the events were not a spontaneous reaction after the Godhra train arson, but very much ordered to a pattern.


Mr Modi is in a difficult situation. If he professes ignorance of the reasons for and perpetrators of the violence, his administration could be held accountable for negligence. However, given the maturity with which the situation has been handled so far, it must be hoped that the SIT hearings will give Mr Modi a platform to answer many questions which are still hanging in the air. The 2002 riots proved to be one of the most divisive and painful in independent India and threatened the very secular ethos of the country. So, unlike the investigations into past riots, it becomes imperative that the issue is resolved in order that both Gujarat and India can move forward. Mr Modi has crafted the economic success story of Gujarat. Today everyone wants a stake in the growth of the state. Mr Modi has eventual ambitions for a greater role at the Centre. In this context, it makes sense to wipe the slate clean and bring a closure to a painful chapter in our history.








President Barack Obama gets much credit for changing America's image in the world — he was probably awarded the Nobel Prize for doing so. But if you asked even devoted fans to cite a specific foreign-policy achievement, they would probably hesitate. "It's too soon for that," they would say. But, in fact, there is a place where Obama's foreign policy is working, and one that is crucial to US national security — Pakistan.


There has been a spate of good news coming out of that complicated country, which has long promised to take action against Islamic militants but rarely done so. (The reason: Pakistan has used many of these same militants to destabilise its traditional foe, India, and to gain influence in Afghanistan.) Over the past few months, the Pakistani military has engaged in serious and successful operations in the militant havens of Swat, Malakand, South Waziristan, and Bajaur. Some of these areas are badlands where no Pakistani government has been able to establish its writ, so the achievement is all the more important. The Pakistanis have also ramped up their intelligence-sharing with the US. This latter process led to the arrest a month ago of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban, among other Taliban figures.


Some caveats: most of the Taliban who have been captured are small fish, and the Pakistani military has a history of 'catching and releasing' terrorists so that they can impress Americans but still maintain their ties with the militants. But there does seem to be a shift in Pakistani behaviour. Why it's taken place and how it might continue is a case study in the nature and limits of foreign-policy successes.


First, the Obama administration defined the problem correctly. Senior administration officials stopped referring to America's efforts in Afghanistan and instead spoke constantly of 'Af-Pak', to emphasise the notion that success in Afghanistan depended on actions taken in Pakistan. This dismayed the Pakistanis but they got the message. They were on notice to show they were part of the solution, not the problem.


Second, the administration used both sticks and carrots. For his first State dinner, Obama pointedly invited Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — clearly not Pakistan's first choice. Obama made clear that America would continue to pursue the special relationship forged with India under the Bush administration, including a far-reaching deal on nuclear cooperation. But at the same time, the White House insisted it wanted a deep, long-term, and positive relationship with Pakistan. Senators John Kerry and Dick Lugar put together the largest non-military package of US assistance for the country ever. Aid to the Pakistani military is also growing rapidly.


Third, it put in time and effort. The administration has adopted what Central Command's General David Petraeus calls a "whole of government" approach to Pakistan. All elements of US power and diplomacy have been deployed. Pakistan has received more than 25 visits by senior administration officials in the past year, all pushing the Pakistani military to deliver on commitments to fight the militants.


Finally, as always, luck and timing have played a key role. The militants in Pakistan, like those associated with al-Qaeda almost everywhere, went too far, brutally killing civilians, shutting down girls' schools, and creating an atmosphere of medievalism. Pakistan's public, which had tended to downplay the problem of terrorism, now saw it as 'Pakistan's war'. The army, reading the street, felt it had to show results.


These results are still tentative. Pakistan's military retains its obsession with India — how else to justify a vast budget in a small, poor nation? It has still not acted seriously against any of the major militant groups active against Afghanistan, India, or the United States. The Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani group, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, and many smaller groups all operate with impunity within Pakistan. But the Pakistani military is doing more than it has before, and that counts as success in the world of foreign policy.


Such success will endure only if the Obama administration keeps at it. There are some who believe that Pakistan has changed its basic strategy and now understands that it should cut its ties to these groups altogether. Strangely, this naïve view is held by the US military, whose top brass have spent so many hours with their counterparts in Islamabad that they've gone native. It's up to Obama and his team to remind the generals that pressing Pakistan is a lot like running on a treadmill. If you stop, you move backward, and, most likely, you fall down.

Fareed Zakaria is the Editor of Newsweek and the author of The Post-American World The views expressed by the author are personal. 


© Washington Post News Service








There is little or no doubt that the idea of direct cash transfers to India's poorest has some heavy hitters behind it now. Besides the now famous second chapter of the Economic Survey and definite hints (and some statements that were more than hints) from Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, several state leaders have spoken up in favour of it. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has more than once said that transfers would be a more effective method than any reformed public distribution system. This might well be the case, though the discussion is certainly still ongoing. And wholesale reform — or even, perhaps, replacement — of the PDS is certainly overdue. But the suggestion that has been reported as emerging from the Centre for a "food security fund" for each state might not be the way to go about it.


The idea is that each state will have its own fund; if any family below the poverty line — a BPL family — doesn't receive the quota of foodgrain the legislation will say it should, then it can demand that its state government give it cash instead. This continues the process of watering down what started off in the manifesto, too ambitiously perhaps, as a justiciable right. And, if implemented, it will be part of a complex set of mechanisms for sharing responsibility between the Centre and the states once the act comes into force. But the claim that many in favour of transfers have been making, that given the choice between the PDS and a system of transfers, people will prefer transfers, is simply not going to be put to the test here: this is not a contest, since the transfers will kick in only if the PDS apparently fails. And, thus, it is being set up to fail in certain places.


After all, the PDS is not currently a failure everywhere. In the southern states, in particular, it is largely free of leakage, and considerably more efficient. Any reform that ignores this will be doomed to founder, especially as states' consent will be needed. Nor will this piecemeal approach help answer another central question that voucher advocates must address: in a food deficit area, will more cash with consumers help — or only drive up prices? Or do we believe that the rural economy has modernised beyond that being a concern? Either way, this is one area where what looks like a step towards reform may not be. The idea behind food security was a comprehensive remapping of an individual's entitlements. Anything short of that will be a failure.








It is an understatement to say that Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal was left an unadulterated mess by his predecessors, Arjun Singh and Murli Manohar Joshi. He had some plans of reform as he took office, the rest he has been thinking up as he encounters problems in their entirety. Even as the HRD ministry is looking to change the contours of education in India, the plan to scrap the discretionary quota allowed to the ministry, MPs and others — to recommend more than 1,200 students for admission to Kendriya Vidyalayas spread across the country — is welcome.


Indeed, this discretionary quota was one of the first founts of trouble for Sibal. Immediately after taking over, he was flooded with requests for admissions, leading him to discover — apart from his predecessor's controversial last-minute appointments — that Arjun Singh had used up 1,000 of the 1,200 KV seats in his last days in office. After having to refuse requests routed even through the PMO, this year, the ministry has not entertained any, deciding instead to scrap the provision. Arjun Singh had revived the mechanism after Joshi's reintroduction of it had been struck down by the Delhi high court. Of course, Singh raised the HRD minister's discretionary quota to 1,200 from Joshi's 1,000, albeit placing such admissions in the hands of a three-member committee.


Some MPs may feel relieved at not having requests breathing down their necks, some may construe the flood of requests as testament to the quality of KV education, some may thus call for the number of KVs (981, with 10-lakh students admitted in the last academic session itself) to be added to. KVs matter because they were designed for the wards of transferable Central government employees. Whether that affirms the quality of education or not, discretionary quotas tend to play into chains of patronage and corruption. New criteria to replace the quota system are under consideration; these are supposed to allow deserving cases to pass while ensuring equity in the process. Revision of the KV admissions process was in fact overdue. It is hoped that the alternative will turn out to be wholesome nourishment and not merely an antidote.







When you have lost your argument, resort to arithmetic. In an amazing calculation disclosed by Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, this is the prospect: within 15 years, 99 per cent of all seats in the Lok Sabha will have been captured by women. How? In the first round of rotational reservation, women will stake claim to 33 per cent of the seats. In the second rotation, that is at the subsequent general election, a different set of 33 per cent of the seats will be reserved for them. But the incumbents of the first lot, Yadav argues, will be loath to give up their constituencies to men, resulting in 66 per cent of seats going to women. And so it will go into the third round, taking the figure up to 99 per cent.


The patriarchy fuelling this desperate measure to whip up opposition to the Women's Reservation Bill is so staggering that you can just thank the love of whole numbers implicit in this exercise. Were the framers of the bill to have taken a third to mean 33.3 per cent, the SP chief would not even have the consolation of seeing a future for male MPs in 1 per cent of Lok Sabha constituencies.


But mathematics is the least of the problems with Yadav's claim. It is the undisguised patriarchy that is telling — and this is precisely why coercive measures are being sought by legislation, to help women overcome entrenched orthodoxy. And in his outrageousness, he highlights an unfortunate aspect of the entire debate on the bill. Its supporters have had to battle so hard against a mostly silent but powerful chauvinism that arguments for better ways to righting the gender equation have been hushed.








Mercy, Oh Allah! Forgive us all our sins! Indian Muslims must be guilty of committing the gravest of them for why else would You, the Most Benevolent and the Most Merciful, punish us so: saddling us with such Ulema-e-Karaam (Respected Scholars) who embarrass, bring disgrace upon the entire ummah and subject Islam to ridicule every time they open their mouth? They are at it again.


What do I tell my 14-year-old son, Jibran, who asks, "Dad, why are your beardos such weirdos?" My beardos, my weirdos! He leaves me speechless since both reason and logic are on his side. "How can these maulanas applaud my mom as a mujahid (jihadi) fighting for justice and yet insist that Muslim women must stay locked up in their home? Isn't this hypocrisy, double-standard?"


What can one say in defence of our Respected Ulema for whom the President of India, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the leader of the Congress (the party is in power thanks to her) could not belong to sharif gharana (respectable families) as they don't stay quietly at home?


Since remaining silent is no option, I start by telling my son to look east and west in our immediate neighbourhood. In the national elections held in Bangladesh and Pakistan around two years ago, the ulema parties received a resounding "no" from an overwhelmingly Muslim electorate. For years, in election after election, the only two contenders for the top political job in Bangladesh have both been women: Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Begum Khaleda Zia. Had she not been assassinated just before the polls, Benazir Bhutto would most likely have been at the helm, for the third time, in Pakistan.


A Muslim woman's place is in her home, not the House of the People, the maulanas say. We'll rather send you home, seems to be the repeated response of Muslim women and men from both Bangladesh and Pakistan. Our own seekers of the "Muslim vote bank" haven't figured it out yet, but a little reflection will show that when it comes to the vote, Indian Muslims too couldn't care less about what the maulana sahebs say.


Not just South Asia and Indonesia (Remember President Megawati Sukarnoputri?). The times, they are a changin' in the Arab world too. By regional standards it's happening fast, and guess what, even some prominent clerics are beginning to chant, "Hello change!"


Do I hear you growling, Respected Ulema, protesting that you are concerned with the "true message of Islam", not with what wretched Muslims do? Let's talk Islam then. In the very first moment of Islam's birth was the Divine Injunction, "Iqra" (read). Though I have a long way to go, I have read up a bit. So perhaps we can begin with a simple question.


Muslims believe that in case of Prophet Mohammed the proposition should read: "My life is His (Allah's)

message". Right?


Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, the daughter of a very successful businessman, not only inherited the father's vast fortune but proved to be a very successful businesswoman herself. A person of impeccable character she also earned for herself the titles, Ameerat-Quraish (Princess of Quraish), al-Tahira (the Pure One), Khadija Al-Kubra (Khadija the great). Which man would not dream of marrying such a woman? But for Bibi Khadijah (then 40 years old) none but the best man would do. So she waited. Right?


Enter Muhammad ibn Abdullah in her life. Prophethood would come to him 15 years later. But at age 25 he too had earned honorifics for himself: Al-Sadiq (the truthful) and Al-Amin (the trustworthy). What began as an employer-employee relationship soon developed into a relationship of mutual respect and love. The one to propose was the very confident, eminent, woman achiever. By all accounts it was a very happy, long-lasting, monogamous relationship that lasted till the death of Hazrat Khadijah 24 years later. Right?


Fifteen years into the marriage, when the Messenger received the first Divine Message in a cave, he was badly shaken, deeply disturbed, not knowing what was happening to him. He reached home trembling and in turmoil, to find Hazrat Khadija stand by him like a rock, greeting him with comforting words, "Joyful tidings dost thou bring! Allah will not suffer thee to fall to shame. Hast thou not been loving to thy kinsfolk, kind to thy neighbours, charitable to the poor, hospitable to the stranger, faithful to thy word, and ever a defender of the truth?" The world's first Muslim to declare faith in Prophet Mohammed even as he himself struggled to decipher the meaning of his first encounter with Archangel Gabriel was a woman. Right?


Years later, the Prophet's third wife, Hazrat Aisha, once asked him if Khadijah had been the only woman worthy of his love. His reply: "She believed in me when no one else did; she accepted Islam when people rejected me; and she helped and comforted me when there was no one else to lend me a helping hand." (Ibn Kathir). No reference to her cooking, sweeping, stitching. Right?


In short, the Prophet's first and only wife for 24 years was not some woman who stayed home and looked after her husband and children. The highly accomplished Hazrat Khadija was his sole soul-mate, intellectual partner and emotional sheet anchor during the most turbulent years of his life.


The Traditions of the Prophet (Hadith) also report instances from his later life when at critical moments he sought and acted on the good advice of his other wives. If in the life and example of the Prophet, Allah's Message is embedded, from where did you get the idea that Islam wants women to stay locked up in their homes, Respected Ulema?


While you grapple with this one, here is some more food for thought. Do you know that Mumbai's Urdu Inquilab (third highest circulation among Urdu dailies in the country) had a front page editorial by its owner Tariq Ansari on March 11, whole-heartedly supporting the Women's Reservation Bill passed by the Rajya Sabha? Or that, all four editions of the Urdu daily Sahafat on March 13 had a front page edit by its editor, Hasan Kamaal, ridiculing all your objections?


Why is it that it's mostly Muslim men like you and the Yadav trio who are unhappy with the bill? Why is it that some Muslim women and men I know are even thinking of an all-India delegation to meet Sonia Gandhi, Brinda Karat and Sushma Swaraj with garlands? Gender solidarity, maybe?


The writer is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy








It was a short visit — just 22 hours long — but it packed quite a punch. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's trip to New Delhi ended up in more than a dozen agreements worth about $10 billion being signed between the two states. India and Russia not only renewed their age-old partnership but tried to give a new dynamism to a relationship that many in both countries argue has been drifting for some years now. The rise of China is the new reality that both are trying to come to grips with; this will shape future ties. 


After the Cold War, both India and Russia struggled for several years to define their relations with other global players. The rules of international politics were in a state of flux and the terms of economic interaction between nations were being reset. As India rose in the global inter-state hierarchy, many in India continued to rely on Russia for railing against the "unipolar world order". The most visible manifestation of this tendency was an attempt to carve a Russia-China-India "strategic triangle". The proposal originally came from then Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov during his visit to India in 1998; he argued such an arrangement would be a force for greater regional and international stability. But as every state in the triangle needed the US to further its own interests, this project could not move beyond platitudinous rhetoric. 


And now with China emerging as the most likely challenger of a US that might be close to decline, Russia and India are struggling with the implications of a possible Chinese hegemony over the Asian strategic landscape. It is this geopolitical imperative that is forcing Delhi and Moscow to ramp up their partnership — hence the rapidity with which the two states are trying to revise their relationship. 


Defence, of course, remains central to Indo-Russian relations. During Putin's trip, significant defence deals were signed that included a new $2.34 billion contract for the refit of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier; a $1.2 billion deal to procure 29 additional MiG 29-K naval fighter aircraft; and an agreement for an additional 40 Su-30MKI fighters for the Indian Air Force. Though there is disquiet among the Indian armed forces about the Russian behaviour over Gorshkov, it is also clear that Russia is the only state that is willing to share technology at the strategic level of aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines with India. And as Putin reminded his Indian audience, Russia is probably the only major global power that has not sold defence technology to Pakistan. Civilian nuclear energy cooperation also gathered momentum with a comprehensive nuclear deal between India and Russia and a pact to build two power plants in Tamil Nadu. Russia is already constructing four nuclear reactors in India and this nuclear pact will lead to more than a dozen Russian nuclear power plants in India.


The most challenging aspect of Indo-Russian relations today is, perhaps, the upgrading of bilateral economic and trade relations. Bilateral trade stands at about $8 billion after years of persistent decline; it has only recently picked up. Putin has promised greater access to Indian investment in high-tech sectors where Russia needs help.


Infotech and finance lead the sectors of interest for Indian companies in Russia — aside from greater access to Russian oil and natural gas, the investment in the Sakhalin projects being just the beginning. 


Most significant in the regional context was Putin's assertion that the security situation in Afghanistan "did impact the security" of India and Russia. The two states have planned to cooperate more closely in future on Afghanistan. This comes at a time when Indian disenchantment with the West on Af-Pak is at an all-time high, and it is looking at alternative policies to secure its interests. The US, which has actively discouraged India from assuming a higher profile in Afghanistan for fear of offending Pakistan, has simultaneously failed to get Pakistan to take Indian concerns more seriously. More damagingly, the Obama administration has systematically ignored India in crafting its Af-Pak policy. This has led to a rapid deterioration in the Indian security environment with New Delhi having little or no strategic space to manoeuvre. To preserve its interests in such a strategic milieu, India is re-assessing its options. Reaching out to Moscow is just the first step. 


There are few examples of a relationship between countries that has been as stable as the one between India and Russia. Despite the momentous changes in the international environment since 1992, there remains a continued convergence of interests. The challenge for the two now is to provide a new direction to their relationship at a time when the rise of China threatens to up-end the regional and global balance of power. 


  The writer teaches at King's College, London







With Delhi hosting the Commonwealth Games, this is a crucial year for M S Gill, Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports. In an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24x7's Walk the Talk, Gill, a former Chief Election Commissioner, talks about hockey's second innings, getting ready for the Commonwealth Games and the need to spend more on sports


Shekhar Gupta: My guest this week is a real all-rounder in more ways than one, who is also our Youth Affairs and Sports Minister—M S Gill. The problem conversing with you is how to describe you. To call you just the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports is a bit of an injustice.

M S Gill: Well, yes, I served a long time in the civil services, in Punjab, Delhi...


Shekhar Gupta: I read your book on Lahaul when I was a student and you wrote that when you were a fresh IAS officer.

M S Gill: I was Deputy Commissioner in Jalandhar when I drafted it. And in the old Punjab, when there was no Himachal and no Haryana, I went as Deputy Commissioner in 1961 to Lahaul-Spiti, which had been newly created by Kairon (former Punjab chief minister Pratap Singh Kairon) to take care of the border where trouble had started in 1958. Yes, so I went there, I lived in those valleys. We used to walk over the Rohtang, there were no helicopters, no health cover, nothing.


Shekhar Gupta: So, adventure has been a part of your life.

M S Gill: Yes, I am the first IAS officer, and perhaps the last unfortunately, who went to train at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute at Darjeeling. I trained with Tenzing Norgay. That's my richest memory of life really.


Shekhar Gupta: What did the Prime Minister tell you when he gave you this job?

M S Gill: Well, get the Games done (Commonwealth Games). Because they were assigned in 2003 and I took over April 6, 2008. In the intervening years, there had been four ministers and there were these large stadiums—hockey, shooting, cycling—which had not even been started. So, frankly, my job was to get everything ready in time.


Shekhar Gupta: Was the PM worried when he spoke with you?

M S Gill: Yes, he was concerned. And he will remain concerned. It's like an Indian wedding. Till the girl has got into the car and left with her husband, I will remain concerned and I think the same applies to the PM.


Shekhar Gupta: Was that a crisis phase for the Games?

M S Gill: There is no crisis. I think the Government of India can handle anything.


Shekhar Gupta: Was there any infighting, were there any doubts, was the usual Indian tamasha on?

M S Gill: Those are the things other people should answer, not me. Because where I come from, my head is screwed in such a way that I can look this way but I can't look that way. So I am looking to the job I was asked to do and I am trying to fulfill it and I believe I will do it.


Shekhar Gupta: What was the biggest surprise—pleasant and unpleasant—when you took charge?

M S Gill: Well, first, the stadiums. Second, the crisis was that the Games Village, and somehow I can't see why, was put on the other side of the Yamuna, and the athletes are supposed to come to the stadium right across the river and through the town five times a day to practice. And there was no decision on how to bring them there. What were they going to do? Frankly, I bullied my way through and we took a decision which is now being worked on but even now it'll take them till June. You go and see the construction. It's very complex. And we will all worry till it's done.


Shekhar Gupta: This is the Commonwealth Games. But let's talk about games as such—the state of sports in India. You know cricket is autonomous, because it produces its own money and it carries on. To some extent, tennis also, lawn tennis pretty much pays for itself. Almost everything else is run by this sort of funny federations, which get money from some place.

M S Gill: From us mostly. It's Government of India money, public money.


Shekhar Gupta: And yet, where is the accountability, what do they deliver?

M S Gill: A lot of things have happened since last year and I have certainly acted. You see, the RTI Act is a historic legislation that is having a tremendous impact. I am amazed that now cabinet papers, ministry papers, the highest documents and now even the Supreme Court is being brought under it. It's positive for democracy. Well, a case came up last year before the Delhi HC but the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was under the impression that they were not supposed to give an answer. But we said loud and clear that everybody has to be answerable. We applied this rule not just on the IOA and the organising committee for the Commonwealth Games, but on all federations. So, there are these corrections.


Shekhar Gupta: Tell me about some of the surprises you discovered when you looked at the federations, because we know most of them are a mess.

M S Gill: No, I was not surprised because I have a history of being linked with sports and even with federations. But another thing that has come up now is that you can't be president of a federation for 20 years, 25 years, 30 years. It's not a life presidency, this is not North Korea.


Shekhar Gupta: So are you going to pass a regulation that there should be no more than two terms for the president of a federation?

M S Gill: That regulation was passed long ago.


Shekhar Gupta: But it has not been followed.

M S Gill: It was stopped by a minister. Please don't make me name anyone.


Shekhar Gupta: But that 'minister' must have been chairman of a federation for hundreds of years.

M S Gill: No, it was just a minister saying that we don't need to follow these regulations. Well, now in the case of the Rifle Association, a judgment was given which directed the current office bearers to go and they had to step aside. And as usual, we stood by the court and we'll carry the regulation further.


Shekhar Gupta: So do we take it that all federations will now have to follow this?

M S Gill: It has to be done and it will be done.


Shekhar Gupta: Tell us a little bit more about your conversations with the International Hockey Federation (FIH) chairman because he now controls hockey in the whole world and the FIH is a very powerful body now.

M S Gill: First, elections (to the Federation) have to be held at the earliest. But as I have said in the past and he (FIH chief Leandro Negre) and I both agree, elections will have to be held in the manner that they are acceptable to India. They have to be done and we will push for it. I've also told him some other things. I told him, I watched this tournament and I saw that it has lifted hockey here.


Shekhar Gupta: It is a second innings for hockey in India. Genuine, buying public going to watch a hockey match is such a pleasant surprise.

M S Gill: Yes, I am very happy. And the fact that they (the Indian team) have come eighth does not worry me. My attitude is: did you train hard? Did you play united?


Shekhar Gupta: Hockey has changed from the time when I played hockey in school. Now nobody plays hockey in schools.

M S Gill: Yes, it's different. But my attitude is different. I want the players to do their best, train hard and play united. I can't ask for more if you have done your best. You lose to somebody better. You'll win too. But I've also told Negre that in this tournament I saw that the entire management and all the referees were non-Asian.


Shekhar Gupta: In the FIH?

M S Gill: Yes, and I said this attitude has to change because I read somewhere that more than 50 per cent of their income comes from India.


Shekhar Gupta: Even now.

M S Gill: Yes, and Holland is second. They may be better than us but we are, like in cricket, the money pot.


Shekhar Gupta: So we have the same power in hockey that we have in cricket.

M S Gill: They must take care of us. It can't be that none of our people are part of the management in Delhi.


Shekhar Gupta: In fact, right from Rene Frank's days in the FIH, it has become very European.

M S Gill: But Negre has taken note. I am a blunt man and I have made my point clear.


Shekhar Gupta: But you see this hockey performance as an improvement?

M S Gill: Oh, yes. What I saw, and what you too have written, is that the crowds came and they were happy to cheer any team. And they saw good hockey.


Shekhar Gupta: I think this is a big leg up for hockey.

M S Gill: You see, first the stadium is intimate. Anyone even with Rs 100-ticket gets a close view of the magic going on. Then TV is able to show it in slow motion.


Shekhar Gupta: Nearly 200 goals in a tournament. But also a tribute to the people who changed the rules because it has become a much faster game—much less whistling. And astroturf, so it's become all weather, although it puts us at a disadvantage.

M S Gill: It does but I've said this to Negre and to others, that you have made the rules, these are rules that I did not know. I have learnt them in this tournament. And as for turfs—Holland has 400 turfs for 5 million people. Australia, I read yesterday, also has 400 for 30 million people. For our billion people, if I can get 50, I will keep pushing.


Shekhar Gupta: We have two for 14 million people in Delhi.

M S Gill: Yes, kids have never seen these. How do you expect them to win?


Shekhar Gupta: Do you expect to find the money to increase the number?

M S Gill: Well, we have to keep on pushing, but this is a problem. I've said I have to follow your rules now and beat you at your rules. Otherwise why do you make us play on turf which is meant for a wet country?


Shekhar Gupta: If ten state governments want to lay down astroturf, will the Sports Ministry find money to help them?

M S Gill: No, I can't find the money for them. They have to spend too and some of them are spending. I give what I can from as much as I can get. I will fight to get more money. Sport needs much more money. We are the youngest country in the world. These 35 to 40 per cent young Indians need sports for leadership, for health, for everything. And therefore the budget must increase.


Shekhar Gupta: For your self-esteem.

M S Gill: Yes, for your self-esteem. Even your industry wants gold medals for its self-esteem.


Shekhar Gupta: Tell us your own highlights from this tournament. You watched some matches.

M S Gill: Well, I think the India-Pakistan match was great. For one, even the Europeans want to see India and Pakistan play because it lifts the occasion and the atmosphere. Second, despite whatever is happening elsewhere, when Pakistan's national anthem was played, the whole stadium stood up like they were standing before the Indian President. That's a great mature country showing respect. And the match was clean and fun. Pakistan's top players and their ex-captain came to me and said 'aaj aap bahut behtar the to aap jeete hain, fir kya hua? (You played better and you won, so what'). I said, 'haan bhai, aap bhi jeete the, agli dafaa aap jeet jaoge (You had won earlier and you can win the next time').


Shekhar Gupta: So I think this spirit has to be rewarded now at least with the revival of the India-Pakistan series?

M S Gill: Let's see. I have read that they are thinking of something. When they come to me, I'll certainly look at it in that spirit.


Shekhar Gupta: And do you think it'll be a good idea? Because what do you do with the stadium now?

M S Gill: I have to find ways to use this stadium for top tournaments. That is what will lift hockey. Even Negre is very keen to have an event in India every year. By the way, a second thought. I told Negre, if you had held the league matches in Chandigarh, you would have minted money. People would have paid Rs 2,000 for a ticket.


Shekhar Gupta: What's your next challenge? Because Commonwealth Games will be over now.

M S Gill: There is always something to do in life. I have all sorts of challenges. I am an MP from Punjab. I get Rs 2 crore a year. I have worked in the Gurdaspur-Amritsar belt, which is so deprived. I said I will spend this money only on education, rural education, above all, girls' education. I built two hostels for 500 girls in Tarantaran and Goindwal so that girls from 10 miles away can stay there and go to college. So, there's always plenty to do.


Shekhar Gupta: And what's there to do in sports now? Are you going to focus on hockey or boxing or...?

M S Gill: There's a long agenda and there are many more things to do to encourage Indian sports.


Shekhar Gupta: There's a stereotype about all sports, that more officials go on tournaments than sportsmen and they bring back more embarrassment than glory. Can we change that?

M S Gill: I have done a few things to change that but I'm still thinking of how I can improve conditions for sportsmen, make sure the selection process is fair to every Indian.


Shekhar Gupta: And you can use the leverage of government money to get associations to fall in line.

M S Gill: Absolutely, because if they are going to use public money, the ministry is answerable to Parliament and to you and so they are answerable as well.


Transcribed by Avantika Sharma








The government seems to have gone completely cold on accepting the recommendations of the Kirit Parikh Committee report proposing the deregulation of oil prices. This will have obvious consequences for the fiscal deficit and for the profitability of oil-marketing companies as long as oil prices hover above the $60 per barrel mark. In fact, oil prices are already comfortably over this threshold and are likely to remain so as the global economic recovery gathers pace. And this will also have consequences for a stakeholder who is often left out of the discourse on oil price deregulation—the retail investor who has invested in the stocks of oil-marketing PSUs. As reported by FE on Monday, this is not an insignificant group—IOC has more than 2 lakh retail investors, BPCL has just under 80,000 retail investors and HPCL has just under 90,000 retail investors. And they are all suffering on account of the government's continued perversion of the oil-pricing regime. Interestingly, the investors who did put their money in IOC, BPCL and HPCL stocks would normally have expected to reap good returns given the revenue growth registered by the three oil PSUs. For example, HPCL's sales have multiplied by an impressive 11 times between 1992-93 and 2008-09. But its share price has only gone up by 4.9% in the same period. That is largely because government policies on administered prices have been knocking off the bottom line of all the three companies.







As The Indian Express reported yesterday, the mines ministry is planning to hand out licences for minerals other than coal to those 'first in the queue'. Such a provision will be part of the new legislation that is expected to replace the outdated Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act 1957, a development that has been on the anvil for some time now. But this provision goes against the Hoda Committee's recommendations, wherein competitive bidding for direct prospecting licences was promoted, with the caveat that a value adder be preferred over non-value adder. Recent scandals spreading all the way from Jharkhand to Karnataka have shown that the states' power to grant mining licences, in its current form, is wide open to abuse and needs structural correction. Auctioning of mineral fields has clearly emerged as a desired mechanism for introducing transparency in an arbitrary selection process. Experts have pointed out that even the high-profile dispute over Krishna-Godavari basin gas has seen no allegations of government favourtism in the allocation of gas fields for exploration and development because these fields were bid for in an open auction. At the other extreme, the 'first in the queue' mechanism has consistently been controversial, even when it comes to very different sectors like telecom. So, in the face of all the evidence in favour of auctioning of mineral deposits and similar resources, why is the government considering a mechanism that is notorious for encouraging rent-seeking?


Mining is particularly prone to Centre vs state troubles. To take the Karnataka example again—where the Union environment minister and the state CM have been at loggerheads—it's pretty obvious that any new legislation will have to find ways of accommodating the Centre's and states' points of view. But the auction process can accommodate special recognition for value addition within given states. The Indian Express also reported that those who win the 'first in the queue' licence will have the right to transfer it. While the 'first in the queue' principle ought to be junked, the transfer principle can be given more serious thought. If we look at bidding processes that have worked, transfer options seem to be the right way of doing things as far as encouraging private sector participation is concerned—provided the original price discovery mechanism (preferably through auctions) is solid and credible. In fact, one of the reasons why many exploration companies have shied away from India is because our current laws do not allow mining concessions to be transferred from one company to another. So, the transfer aspect of the new mining legislation may attract global majors.








Two kinds of reasons drive the need for better regulatory coordination in finance. The first is the Indian problem of having a large number of financial regulators. This requires coordination mechanisms to avoid difficulties and to get things done. The second is the problem of financial stability, which requires an institutionalised analytical and coordination mechanism. Better coordination is consistent with the twin goals of avoiding politicisation of monetary policy and of political interference in supervisory functions.


The best case study of financial stability thinking in India was the liquidity crisis, which mutual funds encountered in late 2008. This was a cross-cutting problem that involved RBI, Sebi, banks and mutual funds. The essence of understanding this financial stability problem, and resolving it, lay in pulling all four parties together and hammering out a solution.


This problem-solving was led by the then finance minister, P Chidambaram. It required effort on his part in understanding an intricate problem and pushing various agencies to come together with a reasonable solution. Now that the crisis is behind us, we need to ask ourselves: can a better institutional mechanism be set up? When a comparable financial stability situation crops up in the future, can we rely more on the institutional structure and less on individuals?


The ministry of finance must play a lead role in this crisis-management component of regulatory coordination, because only finmin can authorise the use of taxpayer resources in putting together a rescue. This is not to advocate the wanton use of public money in solving difficulties in finance. But we must recognise that the occasional use of public resources (in a fully transparent manner) is a critical ingredient of the financial stability function, and only finmin can authorise fiscal actions.


Before a crisis erupts, some group of civil servants needs to constantly scan the entire financial system and understand where the land mines are. This involves issues such as the problems of FMPs, the interest rate risk of Indian banks, the currency exposure of Indian corporations, etc. In each of these areas, India's 'silo system' involves each regulator looking myopically at its own toes, and covering up for its own failures. The essence of financial stability thinking lies in having an analytical team that understands the frontiers of finance, looks at Indian finance as a whole, and is immune to the turf battles of the agencies.


The FSDC must help defuse the regulatory conflicts, overlaps and blind spots of India's system of multiple regulators. A well known example is the fund management products which are sold both by Sebi-regulated mutual funds and by IRDA-regulated insurance companies. Sebi does more on consumer protection and soundness, so market share has shifted to insurance companies.


This is about conflicts and also about cross-cutting problems. Financial stability is clearly a cross-cutting problem, but there are many others. The top 20 financial conglomerates in India are doing business in all silos, but nobody in the government has a full picture of each of them: FSDC must develop a college of supervisors mechanism through which RBI, Sebi, etc are able to know the full picture of, say, HDFC. India's long history of failure on the corporate bond market reflects the fact that the project requires actions by myriad agencies. The FSDC must play a role in project management here, coordinating a work plan that is spread across multiple regulators.


Does this involve treading on independence? The autonomy of regulators is a means, and not an end. Two kinds of independence are worth protecting. The first is the immunity of monetary policy from election compulsions. Central banks have been given independence, the world over, so that one narrow function (the setting of short-term interest rates) is freed from election influence. The case for independence does not extend beyond this narrow function, which is why the role and function of independent central banks worldwide has been greatly curtailed.


The second class of issues where political interference is a problem is in individual transactions or investigations. As an example, we would not want the finmin to interfere in RBI or Sebi's actions on the Bank of Rajasthan.


The FSDC should be constructed carefully so as to protect these two dimensions of independence. In everything else the normal processes of debate, policy reform and inter-agency coordination of a democracy must operate. Getting a debt market going requires pushing all government agencies to behave differently, which would be a good thing. When FMPs were in crisis, Chidambaram's impromptu FSDC asked RBI and Sebi to behave differently, which was a good thing. FSDC must put greater pressure on agencies to behave differently in the interests of financial stability and development, or else it is not worth doing.


The author is an economist with interests in finance, pensions and macroeconomics








According to a news report in The Indian Express on Monday, the ministry of mines is planning to hand over mineral prospecting licences other than coal to those 'first in the queue' along with the right to sell off the licences at a premium. If this turns out to be the case, then it seems to indicate that the government has learnt no lessons from the telecom tangle. By now the government ought to have realised that, for precious natural resources, auctions are better than discretionary giveaways.


Mineral production is a big business whose annual turnover stood at Rs 1,15,981 crore in 2008-09. But while a large part of the allocation of mining leases, especially oil and gas, has moved to an auction basis with the government working out profit-sharing contracts with the bidders, the allocation of metallic mineral mines, whose total output was valued at Rs 29,189 crore and the non-metallic mineral mines with output of Rs 13,728 crore, largely continue to be governed by administrative processes.


Historically, administrative process has been the preferred route for granting mining leases in India. This was mainly because the demand for mining rights from private investors was limited and there was hardly any competition for cornering mineral rights. This method also had the added advantage of flexibility, which enabled governments to modify the decision criteria to suit policy goals.


But burgeoning demand and growing competition for scarce mineral resources has forced governments the world over to discard the use of administrative process for allocating mining leases. This is not only because the processes were too slow and cumbersome but also because they lacked in transparency, which led to assigning rights far below market value and often even for free.


And the country has paid a huge price for such arbitrary practices. The numbers show that despite the booming market for minerals, the number of mines in India has stagnated or even fallen. The number of reporting mines, excluding those of atomic minerals, petroleum, natural gas and minor minerals, went down from 3,005 in 2006-07 to 2,854 in 2007-08 and then increased marginally to 2,954 in 2008-09. While the number of coal mines (including lignite) has remained stagnant at around 569 in the last three years, the number of non-metallic mineral mines has declined from 1,796 in 2006-07 to 1,694 in 2008-09. The only consolation is that the number of metallic mines has crawled up slowly from 639 to 691 during this period. India's opaque mining licensing system has clearly deterred both private and foreign investors.


India's lacklustre show on the mining front is in stark contrast to the development in China, which has opted for bid and auction mechanisms. Numbers show that in 2008 alone China transferred 542 exploration rights through bid and auction, which brought in revenues of 6.319 billion renminbi and another 7,696 mining rights were transferred through bid and auction, which added another 4.034 billion renminbi to the revenues. This indicates that the potential for mobilising resource from auction of mineral rights in India can at least match that from the telecom sector, if not beat it.


China was also able to sign 149 mining contracts with foreign investors, which brought in $573 million in 2008. In comparison, though India was able to attract foreign investments worth $461 million into the mining sector in 2007-08, it dropped sharply to $92 million in the first six months of 2008-09. But despite the poor record on attracting private investors into the mining sector, government efforts to correct the market distortions have been half-hearted. And the attempt to shift from the auction-based system, which has been preferred by the Hoda Committee that looked at the problems in the mining sector, to the 'first in the queue' basis, is a retrograde step for many reasons.


The 'first in the queue' is more like a lottery system, which works quickly and cheaply but leads to inefficient outcomes as the government is free to choose the designated queuing mechanism to favour particular players as happened in the case of telecom. And giving the resource away on a 'first in the queue' basis also has implications on revenues, as free allocations are a substantial loss to the public exchequer. This is especially true in the Indian context where the royalties paid by the mining companies to the state government have been so low, with total receipts just Rs 2,103 crore in 2007-08, that instead of contributing any surplus to the state finances, the amounts collected would be insufficient to pay even for the cost of restoring the ecological balance or the cost of building related infrastructure in the mining areas. Though the royalty rates have been revised up in August 2009, the actual gains that trickle down to the states are yet to be known. One more thing to think about.







Public sector oil-marketing companies (OMCs) may find themselves too financially crippled to implement expansion plans if the government fails to take a decision on the deregulation of oil prices. OMCs have aggressively expanded their retail network as part of their growth strategy. This has led to manifold increase in their revenues. However, because of the government's policy to regulate retail prices of key petroleum products, the OMCs have seen a drastic erosion in profitability.


The private players are already wary of investing in the sector because of the government's policy to control retail petroleum prices. As a fall-out of petroleum price control, shares of oil PSUs are stagnating at the exchanges. If the government does not decontrol petroleum prices soon, the OMCs might see deep erosion in their valuations as well. In that case, the government would be a big loser because it remains the largest shareholder of these companies.


The government dismantled the APM regime in 2002. But it continues to intervene in the determination of retail price of key petroleum products, as political consensus over price deregulation is elusive. The government's dillydallying on petroleum price decontrol might also seriously impact its credibility among private investors. The government has planned to raise resources through divestment route to narrow its fiscal deficit. If investors keep away, the government's divestment plans might falter.


The government has been compensating the OMCs' under-recoveries on domestic LPG and PDS kerosene in cash or oil bonds. However, it has hardly ever paid on time. This creates serious cash-flow problems for the OMCs. To meet their capital expenditure requirements, these companies have to depend on market borrowing. However, heavy market borrowing also increases interest burden for these companies, impacting their net profit margins.


The government had raised expectations of petroleum price decontrol by setting up a high-powered committee under the chairmanship of Kirit Parikh. The committee came out with bold recommendations. However, the government has failed to lay out a roadmap for the implementation of the recommendations. The Budget 2010-11 only says that the recommendations would be taken up for discussion in due course.








The civil nuclear liability bill is a deeply flawed piece of legislation that the government has done well to develop cold feet about. Broadly speaking, the law proposes to channel all legal liability stemming from a nuclear accident in India on to the nuclear power plant operator concerned. In turn, the operator's own individual liability is limited to Rs.500 crore regardless of the scale of the accident or of his own negligence. For any damages in excess of that amount, the bill makes the government liable up to a further level of 300 million Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), approximately Rs.2100 crore-2300 crore. Once India accedes to the IAEA's Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC), Indian victims could draw upon an international fund to the maximum amount of another 300 million SDRs. The first problem with the bill is the unconscionably low level of compensation envisaged by this three-tier system of payments. Assuming that every promised cent comes in, the maximum amount victims of a catastrophic nuclear accident could hope to receive would only be just about twice the $470 million the Indian government settled on for the Bhopal gas disaster way back in 1989. Secondly, there is a serious problem with the very concept of channelling liability since this lets the designers and suppliers of crucial equipment off the hook. The Indian bill allows for a right of recourse against suppliers, but with operator liability capped so low this provides no comfort at all.


The fatal flaw is the bill's perspective. The aim of any reasonable nuclear liability law should be to provide adequate and speedy compensation to the victims of a nuclear accident. It must be to use the concept of tortuous liability to incentivise the adoption of best safety practices by all those involved in the nuclear supply chain, be they equipment or raw material suppliers, transporters, or power plant operators. The cap on liability is tantamount to an unwarranted and counter-productive subsidy for the nuclear power industry. Moreover, under the guise of providing quick compensation, the victims have been deprived of any agency in the process. Their ability to move even an Indian court of law in the event of inadequate compensation would be severely compromised, a fatal infirmity with the bill given that many of the damages a nuclear accident might cause may not manifest themselves within the 10-year period stipulated in the law for filing claims. The government says that in the absence of such a law, U.S. equipment suppliers will not be able to provide India components like reactors. But then Russia and France, as suppliers, do not face any such problem. The issue with U.S. suppliers cannot be resolved by selling out the interests of the people of India — and the government must stiffen its spine to make this absolutely clear.







Despite mortar attacks and bombings, mainly in Baghdad and mostly by Sunni Islamists, which killed 38 people and wounded 110 more, the Iraqi general election took place as planned on March 7. About a million security personnel were deployed. The turnout was about 62 per cent. The electorate of 19 million, including 1.4 million outside the country, had the opportunity to elect a 325-seat Council of Representatives from 18 provinces. Under the law, a quarter of Council seats must be held by women, and the Council serves a four-year term. The campaign front-runner was the State of Law coalition led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party. The coalition faced strong competition from former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's secular-nationalist Iraqiya List, and from the Iraqi National Alliance, a Shia-majority grouping. For their part, the provinces that fall within, or partly within, the autonomous northern region of Kurdistan saw a challenge mounted by the Kurdish Gorran (Change) party against the Kurdistania Alliance, which comprises President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party.


Counting has been delayed by technical problems and by the complicated nature of the ballot. The shape of the government may not emerge for several weeks. But initial results reveal significant political issues. Mr. Maliki's group leads narrowly, with strong support in Baghdad and five other provinces, including Basra in the south-east. The Iraqiya List leads in another five, including Sunni-majority Anbar to the west and the part-Kurdish province of Kirkuk. Mr. Maliki has already commenced talks with the Kurdistania Alliance leaders, who have trounced their Gorran rivals and are potential kingmakers. Predictably, Iraq's neighbours are watching closely. Iran, which has an admirably pragmatic attitude to this, wants Iraq to be stable and free of ethnic conflict, but neither Iran nor Turkey, with their significant Kurdish minorities, will want the demand for a Kurdish state revived. Saudi Arabia, which is nervous of potential Shia strength in Iraq, and Syria, which has a substantial Shia minority, also have a stake in post-election developments. For the region, and above all for the 31 million Iraqis, everything will depend on Mr. Maliki's and Mr. Allawi's capacity to prove the claim that they are primarily Iraqi nationalists.










Fourteen years and one small victory later, the Women's Reservation Bill has again begun to look iffy. In all this time, a lot many things could have been done independent of the fate of the Bill.


Those in the forefront of demanding greater political representation for women, such as women leaders of mainstream parties, could have made a beginning by amending their own party constitutions to allow a fairer share of party ticket to women. Those opposing the Bill on the ground that it overlooks the interests of women from the Other Backward Classes and minorities could have shown their commitment by fielding a significant number of women from these categories in successive elections.


Look at the shameful statistics. The Bill aims at placing one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and the State legislatures at the disposal of women. That is 181 in the Lok Sabha alone. Yet in the May 2009 Lok Sabha election, the Congress and the BJP, the two biggest champions of the Bill, fielded 43 and 44 women respectively. That is less than 10 per cent of the Lower House's strength of 544. And that is not even one-fourth of the one-third mark. The Congress is led by Sonia Gandhi, unarguably India's single most powerful politician. Partypersons hold her in worshipful reverence, granting her exclusive right over all party affairs. The BJP's Sushma Swaraj packs a punch, has always been in a decision-making role, and is currently leader of the Opposition in the Lower House. Was it beyond the means of these two leaders to ensure that women got their fair share during ticket distribution?


The naysayers, comprising largely the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Bahujan Samaj Party and sections of the Janata Dal (U), stand equally exposed. In 2009, the following was the share of their women contestants. BSP:28; SP:15; JD(U): 3; and RJD: 2. Since these parties claim to represent the interests of the OBCs, Dalits and the minorities, it should be safe to assume that they would have chosen at least some among the women contestants from these categories. But in such pitiably woeful numbers?


Male MPs from these parties have brought Parliament to a halt demanding justice for OBC-Dalit-minority women. They have resorted to violence, and have been bundled out by marshals, all to make the point that the Bill is weighted against socially disadvantaged women. Yet given a chance to exercise their own free will, their parties showed contempt for these women by being unacceptably miserly in awarding them ticket.


If the Bill is to be saved, both sides need to show flexibility and accommodation. The SP, the BSP and the RJD ought to know that post-Mandal, parliamentary representation has shifted dramatically in favour of the subaltern classes. Women MPs and MLAs can defy this trend in the short run but the same forces that brought the OBC men in large numbers into Parliament and the Assemblies will, over time, inevitably tilt the balance of woman power towards the more socially disadvantaged.


Nonetheless, assume for a moment that the OBC, Dalit and Muslim-centred SP, BSP and RJD genuinely fear a wholesale takeover of the reserved seats by city-bred, 'upper' caste-'upper' class women. The way to deal with this doubt is to quash it. The Congress and the BJP could announce that they intend to allocate a large share of the reserved seats to women from the subaltern strata. They could go a step further and say women chiefs from the panchayats, representing underprivileged women from all castes and communities, will be given a share of the reserved seats in the Assemblies while Parliament, in turn, will source a section of its women candidates for the reserved seats from the Assemblies.


The logic of competitive populism will ensure that all parties follow suit. The last thing the social justice parties will want is the mainstream parties running away with their agenda. However, for some inexplicable reason, none of the proponents of the Bill has held out this assurance. A recent television interview saw Ms Gandhi adroitly skip this question. The Congress chief's attention was drawn to the growing battle cry for a "quota within quota." She posed a counter question: "Who is stopping them from giving the ticket to OBC and Muslim women?" She could have instead said: "We will field OBC and Muslim women in large numbers. We will show that their claims are hollow." Had she done that she would have effectively silenced the Bill's opponents.


For the opponents, a "quota within quota" is a fig leaf whose real purpose is to halt the Bill and prevent women from getting their due. Their case flounders at a very basic level. It stretches credulity that political parties will willingly throw away a critical number of seats — 181 of 544 in the Lok Sabha and 1,370 of 4,109 in 28 State Assemblies — by assigning them all to one kind of women, ignoring the social (caste, class, religion) composition of the electorate.


This is absurd. Even a rookie reporter will take care to be armed with caste statistics when visiting constituencies during an election. In teastalls and other mandatory stops for journalists, conversations compulsorily revolve round the local jatiya samikaran (caste composition). Parties, candidates and voters all know that caste and religion trump all other criteria in candidate selection. To suggest that an urban-bred, upper crust woman with no experience in grass-roots politics can be parachuted into a predominately rural, intensely caste-conscious constituency is to betray ignorance of the social dynamics of Indian politics.


To understand the changes in the Indian political landscape, one has only to look at the caste composition of State legislators over the years. A recent book, Rise of the Plebeians edited by Christophe Jaffrelot and Sanjay Kumar brings this out. In the first Uttar Pradesh Assembly, formed in 1952, 'upper' caste MLAs formed 58 per cent of the House strength. OBC MLAs accounted for only 9 per cent.


With the rise of social justice parties, the stranglehold of the 'upper' castes began to loosen. This was reflected in the composition of the U.P. Assembly. In 1969, 'upper' caste MLAs formed 44 per cent — a decline of 14 percentage points since 1952. OBC representation increased to 27 per cent — an increase of 18 percentage points compared to 1952.


The trend of 'upper' caste decline continued, reaching a spectacular peak post-Mandal, which unleashed a subaltern revolution as it were. In the 1993 Assembly election, the SP and the BSP came together in a gesture so powerful, its impact altered the course of politics forever. The BSP fielded no 'upper' caste candidate at all and only 10 per cent of the SP's nominees were drawn from the 'upper' castes. Needless to say, the results were stunning. The OBCs formed 54 per cent of the SP's MLAs and 40.6 per cent of the BSP's MLAs. 'Upper' caste representation in the House as a whole came down to 27 per cent.


It is a different matter that the two parties changed their tactic when they went their separate ways. The realisation that power can be attained only by fusing together forward and backward castes forced both of them to induct candidates from the other castes. From fielding no 'upper' castes, the BSP progressed to sarvajan politics. Today caste building is the formula in vogue in U.P., with parties raiding one another's bases in an attempt to stitch together a rainbow coalition of castes.


What this tells us is that political parties are razor-sharp in their understanding of politics. They know that to succeed they need to harness divergent social and caste interests. None of them, not the Congress and the BJP, nor the OBC-Dalit parties, will mindlessly pick candidates for one-third of the Lok Sabha and Assembly seats. Certainly not in a competitive arena where every seat counts.


Caste dynamics will work itself out, if and when the Women's Bill goes through. The real danger today is from another quarter: The influence of big money and dynasty in electoral politics. A child of a wealthy politician-parent is undeniably better placed to win elections than a man or a woman burdened by poverty and obviously without the wherewithal to contest. But there is no major male-female differential in this. Nor do dynasts come only from the forward castes. In the current Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Deepinder Hooda, Jayant Chowdhary, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and Akhilesh Yadav represent among them a diversity of castes. As do Supriya Sule, Agatha Sangma, D. Purandeswari, Jyoti Mirdha and Shruti Chowdhary.


The ranks of the elected rich are swelling.


According to a National Election Study, 68 per cent of today's women MPs are crorepatis compared to 57 per cent of male MPs. This ought to worry Ms Gandhi and Ms Swaraj. This ought to also worry all male politicians, Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad included.








During a recent playdate, one of my son's white four-year-old friends looked up from Thomas the Tank Engine and pointed out the obvious. "You're black," he told my son. As a parent, these have never felt like particularly teachable moments. Toddlers have plenty of time ahead of them to acquire anxieties, affiliations and attitudes about race. But what they see primarily at their age is not race but difference — a fact that need prompt neither denial nor panic, rebuke nor rectification, unless some derogatory meaning is attached to that difference.


When my son looks to me for a cue, my aim is not to interrogate or chide but to acknowledge and deflect. In the past, I have said: "And what colour are you?" or "And you are white". But this time new material came to mind. "That's right," I told them both. "Just like the president." This was the long-presaged moment I had been warned to prepare for. My son was born on the weekend that Barack Obama announced his candidacy. Since then, people have been telling me that his presidency would mean great things for my son. Indeed, this was one of Obama's privately stated aims. When his wife Michelle asked what he thought he could accomplish if he became president, he said: "The day I take the oath of office, the world will look at us differently. And millions of kids across this country will look at themselves differently. That alone is something." True, it is something. But when Thomas is safely back in the station and the moment is over, it is not very much. Because for all the white noise emanating from the Tea Party movement, it has been black Americans who have suffered most since Obama took office. Over the last 14 months the gap between my son's life chances and his friend's have been widening. Unemployment, which has held steady in the rest of the country, is still rising among African-Americans and stands at almost twice that of white people. For black teens, unemployment is 43.8 per cent. Meanwhile, foreclosures among African Americans are increasing almost 50 per cent faster than for whites. At this rate, my son will certainly look at himself differently after Obama's presidency — and not in a good way.


This could legitimately be the starting point for an indictment of Obama's presidency. Certainly if a Republican president were behind statistics like this, few liberals would be offering him or her the benefit of the doubt. But like most other criticisms of Obama, particularly regarding the economy, you would have to make the case that another viable contender could have produced better results in the same circumstances. He entered in a moment of freefall. Calling on him to provide a softer landing or a parachute is one thing. Demanding that he suspend the rules of gravity is another.


I think that case could be made, but it is not the argument I'm making here. The fact that the first black president is presiding over deepening racial disparities is just one of the more potent illustrations of how the relationship between identity and electoral representation has become untethered from broader social, political or economic advances and rendered purely symbolic. The corporate model of diversity, which seeks to look different and act the same, has firmly stamped its imprimatur on a kind of politics that owes more to Benetton ads than black advancement. Where we used to seek equal opportunities, we have now become satisfied with photo opportunities — a fact that satisfies some liberals, annoys most conservatives and does little, if anything, for the lives of those whose interests are ostensibly being championed.


"We have more black people in more visible and powerful positions," Angela Davis told me before Obama won the Democratic nomination. "But then we have far more black people who have been pushed down to the bottom of the ladder. When people call for diversity and link it to justice and equality, that's fine. But there's a model of diversity as the difference that makes no difference, the change that brings about no change." This is not just true for race. India's upper house last week passed a bill to reserve a third of all legislative seats for women. Given that India ranks 99th in the world for female representation, this would make a significant difference to the Indian Parliament if it becomes law. The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, described the vote as a "historic step forward toward emancipation of Indian womanhood."


Not necessarily. There is no absolute causal link between gender representation and gender equality. Six of the countries that rank in the top 20 for women's representation are also in the top 20 for per capita rapes. Meanwhile, a global gender gap index, compiled by the World Economic Forum, which assesses how countries distribute resources and opportunities between the sexes, reveals glaring discrepancies. Angola and Nepal, which stand 10th and 17th respectively in terms of representation, are 106th and 110th in terms of equality. Ireland and Sri Lanka, which rank eighth and 16th respectively for equality are 87th and 125th for representation. In 2008, two female party leaders locked horns in elections in Bangladesh, producing the second female prime minster for the country in a decade. According to the WEF, gender inequality in Bangladesh is bad (it is 94th) and getting relatively worse (in 2008 it was 90th).


This does not undermine the campaigns for more diverse political representation but should sharpen the arguments that support them. Representative democracies that exclude large sections of the population are not worthy of the adjective. Nor should the power of symbolism be underrated. Black Americans may have fared worst under Obama, but they are also the most likely to approve of his presidency. A Pew survey released in January showed the highest number of African-Americans believing they are better off now than they were five years ago — even though economically they are not.


Difference makes a difference


Moreover, in most cases difference does make a difference. While there may be no black or female experience, evidence suggests that a critical mass of certain groups can have an effect on outcomes. A 2008 study in the Columbia Law Reviewdiscovered: "When a white judge sits on a panel with at least one African-American judge, she becomes roughly 20 percentage points more likely to find" a voting rights violation. A 2005 Yale Law Journalstudy revealed not only that women judges were more likely to find for plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases than men, but that the presence of female judges increased the likelihood that men would find for the plaintiff too.


The fact that five of the 10 countries with the highest female representation are also in the top 10 for gender equality is no mere coincidence. Since the push for parliamentary parity is often part of a larger effort surrounding equal rights, greater representation is more likely to be the product of progressive social change than a precursor to it. The relationship between identity, representation and equality is neither inevitable nor irrelevant, but occasionally contradictory and always complex. It's comforting to know there are simple words of racial reassurance I can tell my son when he's three. It would be even better to imagine that he would not be in need of that kind of reassurance by the time he reaches 23. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010


( Gary Younge's book Who Are We and Why Does It Matter will be published in June.)







Fifty years ago next month, a young American astronomer named Frank Drake turned a radio telescope on a nearby star and began a systematic search for messages from an alien civilisation. It was an extraordinarily daring experiment. In those days, looking for aliens was regarded as part way between pseudoscience and lunacy.


Today the mood has dramatically shifted. Over the past few months, Seti — the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — has featured prominently at scientific meetings in both the Vatican and the Royal Society, and around the world scientists are celebrating the half-century. Astronomers now estimate there could be billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone. But the key factor that determines whether or not we are alone in the universe remains stubbornly mysterious. That factor concerns the origin of life. Without life, there will be no alien intelligence.


Drake had assumed that if a planet resembled Earth, then life of some sort was pretty much bound to arise on it eventually. That assessment was echoed by Carl Sagan, Seti's charismatic champion, who pointed out that no sooner was Earth ready for life than "up it popped." If Drake and Sagan are correct, then it's easy to imagine thousands of technological civilisations in the galaxy.


But Drake and Sagan were swimming against a huge tide of opinion from molecular biologists. Francis Crick, for example, remarked that the origin of life seemed "almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going." The problem is that even the simplest living thing is already so stupendously complex that if such an entity were to be thrown together by chance, it would be a fluke of such magnitude as to be unlikely to happen twice in the observable universe, vast though that may be.


A cosmic imperative


However, we don't know that life's origin was purely a chemical accident. Scientists are aware of all manner of self-organising processes that might have fast-tracked mindless molecules down a path of complexification leading to life. Indeed, that is the fashionable view. The biologist Christian de Duve expresses it splendidly with the evocative slogan that "life is a cosmic imperative."


Unfortunately, there are few grounds for this new-found optimism. Scientists have no agreed theory of the origin of life — plenty of scenarios, conjectures and just-so stories, but nothing with solid experimental support. Life may emerge from unremarkable chemical sludge with a high degree of probability; but then again, it may not. We haven't a clue either way. And while we are completely in the dark about precisely what it takes for life to start up, putting an estimate on the numbers of alien civilisations is pointless.


There might be a way to solve this problem at a stroke. No planet is more Earth-like than Earth itself, so if life really does pop up readily in Earth-like conditions, then surely it should have arisen many times right here on our home planet? And how do we know it didn't? The truth is, nobody has looked.


Biologists think all familiar forms of life on Earth are inter-related and descended from a common ancestor. Evidence comes from the universal nature of biochemistry, and also from gene sequencing, which enables organisms to be positioned on a single tree of life. If we found a life form with a seriously weird biochemical makeup, it could point to a second genesis.


The vast majority of terrestrial species are in fact microbes, and scientists have only begun scratching the surface of the microbial realm. It is entirely possible that examples of life as we don't know it have so far been overlooked.


If there is a second sample of life on Earth, it could constitute a sort of shadow biosphere, perhaps restricted to obscure pockets, or possibly spread all around us, interpenetrating the familiar biosphere. In the latter case, "alien" microbes might be intermingled with our own microbial relatives. They could be literally under our noses. Identifying the aliens presents a challenge, but a few scientists are finally starting to look.


If we do discover more than one type of life on Earth, we can be fairly certain that the universe is teeming with it, for it would be inconceivable that life started twice here but never on all the other Earth-like planets. And once life gets going, there is least a chance that intelligence will evolve. Who knows, beings far across the galaxy may even now be wondering whether or not they are alone in the vastness of the cosmos, and trying in some way to attract our attention. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010


( Paul Davies is author of The Eerie Silence and director of the Beyond Centre at Arizona State University.)







Parents have struggled for years to encourage children to go to bed on time. In Scotland, however, all the family should be enjoying sweet dreams in the future, as pupils are to be given lessons in how to sleep. The charity Sleep Scotland is providing classes free of charge in a pilot scheme at three schools in Glasgow in an attempt to tackle problems caused by a lack of sleep.


Glasgow city council estimates that as many as one in four teenagers are not getting the appropriate nine hours of slumber a night, and said there was "increasing evidence" suggesting a link between lack of sleep and obesity, lower academic achievement and depression. Jane Anstell, the director and founder of Sleep Scotland, said lack of sleep among U.K. teenagers was a "huge problem".


"We started off working with kids with special needs with sleep problems," she said. "And basically in my teenage clinic I felt I'd got a lot of kids who maybe didn't have ADHD or Asperger's — they had total sleep deprivation." Ansell said the classes could help improve teenagers' behaviour. Nikki Cameron, a sleep counsellor at Sleep Scotland, put together an outline for the lessons and offered them to the council using funding from Children in Need. Here are Sleep Scotland's top tips for better sleep:


— Make sure you have a substantial main meal at a regular teatime.


— Restrict homework, exercise and computer games to the early evening.


— The hour before bedtime should be for relaxing and bathing, and should include no stimulating activities.


— Switch off the computer, mobile and television before having a bath. Try listening to music, radio, or read a book.


— Avoid chocolate, caffeine, additives, alcohol and nicotine before bedtime. Have have a warm milky drink instead.


— Your bedroom should be quiet and dark; make sure it is a media—free zone.


— Keep to a regular bedtime.


— In order to have a good sleeping pattern it is important to be consistent. This also includes having a set waking time. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010






Official data show that some 4 million jobs disappeared in the European Union last year, when countries were struggling to emerge from recession. The EU statistical agency Eurostat said on Monday that EU employment numbers dropped 1.8 per cent from 2008 and that 221.1 million people were working in the region in the last three months of the year. In the 16 nations that use the euro, some 2.72 million jobs vanished as employment fell 1.8 per cent from the previous year.


Some 144 million were employed in the fourth quarter. Eurostat says the highest number of job losses were in the manufacturng industry, construction and trade, transport and communication services. Agriculture and public administration, health and education added jobs. — AP









There is good news from the badlands of Bihar. The state, known for its poverty and anarchy, seems to be back on rails. It is no more a basket case from the backward and sick states of north India's cow-belt. It is turning into a decent example of improved governance, which, in turn, is providing a stimulus for economic growth.  figures from the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) and the Bihar state economic survey for 2009-10 show that the state gross domestic product (SGDP) between 2004-05 and 2008-09 has clocked an enviable double digit growth rate of 11.03% on the heels of Gujarat's 11.05%. This should set ideologues of the right and left wrangling over the virtues of their respective ideologies, though the real reasons may lie elsewhere.


Clearly, chief minister Nitish Kumar seems to have made a difference, something that could cause much worry to his beleaguered political rival and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad Yadav. The soft-spoken Nitish has worked quietly — he does not have the talent for Lalu-type political histrionics — to effect changes and the success is reflected in the economic figures.


The World Bank has noted with satisfaction that public expenditure in social sector segments like education and health has grown and that this is a factor in the improved economic performance of the state. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India (Assocham) has, in a 2009 report, expressed the confidence that the state's GDP could double over the next decade from Rs1,05,148 crore to Rs2,64,781 crore. Both the organisations concur that the economic positives are derived from good governance.


In neighbouring Orissa, well-intentioned Naveen Patnaik has not been able to score too high on both social and economic scales the way Nitish has done though Orissa too has shown an impressive growth rate of 8.74% over the last five years.


Of course, it is much too early for Nitish and others to rest on their laurels. There is much ground to cover, especially on the industrial front. There is the real danger that these gains could disappear in a jiffy. The Bihar lesson is that good politics is needed for good economics. Providing good governance and improved law and order is not such a hopeless task as it had seemed a few years ago.







The Bahujan Samaj Party's decision to paint Lucknow blue (the party's colour) on Monday — the 25th anniversary of the party's founding and also, coincidentally, founder Kanshi Ram's birthday — is cause for both celebration and consternation. Celebration, because the one thing Mayawati has certainly done is given Dalits a sense of pride and identity.


There is also consternation because enormous sums —from Rs20 crore to Rs200 crore — are being talked about as the true cost of the jamboree. Even assuming the sums are being exaggerated, this is not the kind of money a poor state like Uttar Pradesh should be spending on a birthday party.


There is nothing wrong with the celebration itself, for no one has done more to augment Dalit pride and self-confidence as Mayawati — apart from Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram. She has, very cleverly, used herself as an example of how Dalits can make good in a hostile environment. To become chief minister four times on her own terms is no mean achievement. Many did not understand that her statue-building spree was part of the exercise to boost Dalit pride.


But this is where her challenge really begins. However inspiring her efforts to bring confidence to the downtrodden, she will ultimately be judged by how she delivers on the economic and human development front. The fact remains that she has failed substantially when it comes to these deliverables. UP remains backward on most human development factors and, sadly, Mayawati's government has done little to change this reality.


The contrast to her neighbour Bihar is stark, where the Nitish Kumar government has worked hard to bring change to the state. This is what makes the BSP's Lucknow rally something of a criminal waste of money. It is also an attempt to deflect attention from the real failures of her government. As her opponents have pointed out, the ongoing riots in Bareilly need more attention from a chief minister than addressing a political rally.


Sadly, past record shows that Mayawati has not managed to fully grasp that shift in political winds. Voters — including the ones in her state, and the castes that traditionally vote for her party — are looking for leaders who deliver real results and not just an esoteric sense of empowerment. They want less politics, and more governance.


In the 26th year of the BSP, Mayawati will serve her Dalit cause better if she now concentrates on development, social upliftment and improving the basic indices of human life rather than getting bogged down in rhetoric and symbolism.







Many accusations have been hurled at MF Husain, especially in the recent past. The latest one suggests that he has done something reprehensible by accepting Qatar citizenship. This would be laughable if it weren't so outrageous. All you have to do is to look at what's happened in the last 15 years.


Yes, it's been that long: for a decade and half, India's one time icon has been hounded by Hindu right wing organisations for one reason or another. His museum in Ahmedabad had been vandalised, cases have been launched against him for 'obscenity' in every possible part of the country (at the last count the numberwas 900) and galleries which wanted to exhibit his work have been threatened. So much so that even the India Art Summit in Delhi had to withdraw his canvases.


In short it has been made impossible for him to work in this country. What is he expected to do? Fight for his right to work in a country which refuses to protect him, and that too when he is 95? Some people have even criticized him for taking the citizenship of a non-democratic country. What would they have him do? Apply for asylum in a Western democracy? We should be grateful that he has been patriotic enough to spare our country that embarrassment.


Instead of criticising Husain, we should be looking at the core of the problem: Is there a tenable case against Maqbool Fida Husain? The answer can only be a swift 'no'. This is not based on the freedom of expression argument, because we all know that freedom of expression is not absolute especially in a volatile, heterogeneous society like ours.


There's no case first of all because Husain's 'nudes' are strictly not nudes. As art critic Ranjit Hoskote points out in an essay on the painter, "he is not so much a painter as he is a single - minded celebrant of the line ….Colour has served him chiefly as an infill between his bold linear patterns, a connective glue smeared over his graphic strut work."


Husain's line — that strong, confident slash of the brush which is the essence of his work — is what you see in his painting of Saraswati. In this there isn't even any infilling of colour; the flesh tones and voluptuous curves that would be the essence of a nude are entirely absent. This Saraswati isn't a nude at all; it's only an outline of a female form with no sensuous body parts, not hinting even remotely at eroticism.


As it happens, even if Husain had drawn a real nude, he would have only continued the tradition of artistic representation of our goddesses set centuries ago. For example there is the naked depiction of Saraswati in Mathura which dates to around 2nd century AD. Or the depiction of the goddess Lajja Gauri's supine form in a birth-giving position. In a little known museum in Kerala, I was quite startled to see wall paintings showing Shiva with Parvati, his hand playfully on her bare breast. There were other paintings showing the birth of Rama and Lakshman, the mothers in squatting position and painted in graphic detail. Startling yes, vulgar or erotic decidedly no.


None of this is surprising. As art historian Rashmi Poddar points out, the origin of these is the Yakshi figure, the Nature Spirits who were the forerunners of our goddesses. In a predominantly agrarian society fertility and fecundity were worshipped and the mother figure with large breasts and broad hips represented fecundity in a near literal form. You could say that the right wing defenders of "purity" have forgotten our heritage; you could say it but you can't simply because they didn't know it in the first place.


Their idea of what our goddesses should look like comes from calendar art and the oleographs of Raja Ravi

Verma which are not even a hundred years old. That is our heritage? Not only that, their inspiration doesn't even come from our roots. As Hoskote points out, Raja Ravi Verma "modelled his Sitas and Draupadis on the over blown Graeco-Roman women beloved of Victorian history painters like Alma-Tadema".


As to the often asked question why Husain didn't paint figures from Islam, the answer is simple: Islam is an ascetic religion with severe strictures on the depiction of Allah or even of a perfect human form, whereas Hinduism is a joyful religion with its profusion of gods and goddesses for all occasions and its huge treasure trove of myths and stories. Which Indian artist would want to miss out on that as a source of inspiration?


This would apply especially to someone like Husain who is a barefoot painter in more ways than one: his work has always been instinctive rather than thoughtful, an extroverted and exuberant celebration of life rather than an introspective, ruminative meditation on existence.


ForMaqbool Fida Husain to be cut off from his country towards the end of his life is tragic; for India, to allow it to happen is nothing less than shameful.






Sitting here in the foothills of the Himalayas, the mind does tend to get full of clichés about man, nature, beauty and so on. As always, reality checks are never far away. So my mother, a retired teacher, asks me to help paraphrase a poem to help a 12-year-old boy she's helping with his school work.


The "poem", grandly taught under 'literature' is not a poem at all, as it turns out. It is a song from the Hollywood musical, The Sound of Music. As a student of Eng Lit., I am at first appalled, then amused. One look at the song, 'The hills are alive', and I'm back to being appalled. This 'poem' has been presumably been carefully selected for students across India by some well-meaning educationists. Since the chapters in this 'literature' text include excerpts from Isaac Asimov and Arthur Conan Doyle, the lives of APJ Abdul Kalam and Subrahmanyan Chandrashekhar it might also be assumed that the thinkers involved felt that 'traditional literature' that is, stories, were too obscure or difficult or culturally removed from the children of India, whereas all this stuff was mind-expanding and knowledge-creating.


I would argue that story-telling and therefore listening is one of the oldest human arts and plays a vital role in our lives — it fires our imagination, it gives us ideas on how to live through the practicalities of our lives, it stirs and thrills us and also provides entertainment. Literature is not an obstacle to be overcome, but a wonderful journey to be cherished.


But then I go back to the hills are alive. I am in Uttarakhand, and undoubtedly, the hills are alive. But in this small mountainous state, English is not yet a major language spoken and understood widely outside a small elite group. Cultural contexts are important here and the village children, even if they study in English medium CBSE schools, need help when it comes to the intricacies of language.


Does the dumbing down in choosing 'The hills are alive' over, say, William Wordsworth's 'I wandered lonely as a cloud' make life easier, in terms of literary content, use of language, thought distillation and cultural context? Wordsworth's poem is about, as he says, "emotions recollected in tranquillity". The song from sound of music uses phrases about larks singing and brooks tripping, but is about a novice nun trying to cope with living in a nunnery. If you know that she leaves it, becomes governess to the Von Trapp family, falls in love with the father and then escapes the Nazis, then you might — arguably — enjoy the song.


Without all that, it is gobbledygook and lazy writing. It's not a classic by any stretch of the imagination. And even for children who live in the hills, larks, brooks and church chimes make little sense.


Our HRD minister, Kapil Sibal, seems on a welcome mission to reform our education system. He has talked of common boards, common syllabi and now wants to take on rural education. Distance education through the internet is one way, he seems to feel. But taking a cursory look at our textbooks and the response from students, one cannot help feeling that the malaise runs deeper.


To use this literature text as an example — why not look for good translations of Indian stories if you think that English texts are too obscure? By what argument do the lives of Kalam and Chandrashekhar count as literature. Or for that matter, the works of Conan Doyle and Asimov, great admirers of them as one must be? If you do not introduce children to great writing, how will they gain an appreciation for the arts? One understands that it's a tough call but it seems that in an attempt to make life easier, we have taken the easy way out.


This is only an example. But hopefully it illustrates that if Sibal wants to improve education in rural India, he needs to work at it with teachers and with schools, rather than just with politicians and PhDs who live in cities. The hills, as far as I can tell, are alive with the sound of confusion.










chen Hafiz Saeed, the key plotter of the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai, in the first week of February vowed to seize Kashmir by force on the occasion of the so-called Kashmir Solidarity Day, observed in Pakistan, he was not alone in indulging in this dangerous rhetoric. He leads the vast terrorist network Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a front organisation of the banned Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). The LeT, banned only in name, has a "substantial global network", stretching from the Philippines to the UK, with as many as 2000 offices in Pakistan's villages and towns, as New York Democrat Gary Ackerman revealed before a US Congressional hearing last week. He did not hesitate in asserting that the LeT had been "maintaining ties with the Pakistan military". But over the years the LeT has become so powerful that no agency in Pakistan can effectively control it, not even the ISI.


The fast spreading tentacles of the LeT pose a serious threat to peace in India as 20 of its 320 targets are located in this country. What is more disturbing is that its activities are unlikely to end even if India and Pakistan succeed in finding a solution to the Kashmir question, as studies by Mr Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment and Mr Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantis Council point out. The LeT has a larger aim of establishing an independent Islamic state in South Asia. Its target remains mainly India. What happened on 26/11 in Mumbai and the arrest of two suspected bomb planters in India's commercial capital on Sunday can be cited as the proof of how it has been working against this country. Last month JuD deputy chief Abdur Rehman Makki had the audacity to threaten attacks on a number of Indian cities, leading to Delhi, Kanpur and Indore being put on high alert.


Now the question is: why is the world not acting effectively against the LeT? Why is Pakistan not being forced to take Hafiz Saeed in custody and launch a massive crackdown against this highly dangerous terrorist outfit? Is the world waiting for the LeT to do something bigger as Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaida did on 9/11, bringing down the twin World Trade Center towers of New York? The LeT must be destroyed before it is too late. 









THE Union Government's decision to replace the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination with the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) is welcome because it will test candidates on their analytical abilities rather than their capacity to memorise. Significantly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has been playing a notable role in administrative reforms, has approved the Union Public Service Commission's proposal for an aptitude test. The rationale behind the new method of examination is to assess to what extent the candidates for services like the IAS, IFS and IPS have the aptitude and motivation to do something good for the country rather than ending up as square pegs in round holes. Though the bureaucracy has strengthened the democratic polity, there is often tardiness and failure on its part to deal with situations. In the absence of enterprise, initiative and commitment on the part of some recruits, especially when they become Deputy Commissioners or Superintendents of Police, the cutting edge of administration suffers from negativity, insensitivity and irresponsiveness.


Over the years, many panels, including the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2005) have advocated laying greater emphasis on the candidates' aptitude than on their knowledge of the subject, arguing that specialists or experts in any particular subject like political science or economics may not necessarily be good civil servants. Though the UPSC is yet to prepare the modalities for the aptitude test, the proposal for the preliminary examination is to have two objective type papers that are common to candidates of all disciplines. While the General Studies paper might be suitably changed, the Aptitude Test paper may assess the candidates' quantitative aptitude, verbal and non-verbal reasoning and awareness of administration.


The aptitude test will be introduced in the 2011 Preliminary examination. The second and third stages — Main and Interview respectively — will remain the same till an expert committee submits its report on the entire system. The new system will provide a level-playing field and equity as all candidates will have to attempt common papers unlike the existing format. While efforts to attract the right people for the right positions in the civil services are welcome, what matters most is the sincerity of officers in delivering the goods and making a perceptible change in the quality of life. 








THE Punjab and Haryana High Court has rightly pulled up the Haryana government for challenging the court rulings on one pretext or the other, thereby prolonging litigation, wasting the taxpayers' money and compromising justice. In an important judgement recently, Justice Rajesh Bindal has directed the state Chief Secretary to probe a 22-year-old incident pertaining to the "loss" allegedly suffered by the government because of a job executed by the respondent — a sub-divisional officer at Jind. The government had recovered Rs 17,878 from the officer concerned for the work executed in 1987-90. Though two courts have examined the suit properly and comprehensively and dismissed it twice, the government has been challenging the rulings. The High Court has taken serious note of it and has come down heavily on the government for wasting the time and money of both the court and the government.


Unfortunately, Haryana is not alone in prolonging litigation. Punjab, too, is guilty of it. One may recall how the High Court had pulled up the Punjab government in 2004 for using litigation as a weapon to harass its staff and scuttle justice. In Vijay Kumar versus State of Punjab, the High Court had not only ordered the reinstatement of the dismissed employee but also awarded consequential benefits to the widow of the other sacked employee who died while fighting against injustice.


There is no doubt that the government is the biggest litigant today. The problem is particularly acute in Punjab and Haryana due to the large number of law officers in both states — 125 in Punjab and 100 in Haryana. These officers, appointed mostly on political patronage, hold various ranks such as Additional Advocate General, Senior Deputy AG, Deputy AG and Assistant AG. Surely, while the governments' rationale of having such a huge contingent at a whopping cost to the state exchequer is questionable, the issue in question is that these officers do not seem to realise that law should be used as an instrument of redress rather than an instrument of witch-hunt, harassment and injustice. Litigation is baneful for both the government and the people. And the sooner the powers that be understand this, the better it will be for the country. 
















THE Supreme Court judgement that constitutional courts can order a CBI investigation into a serious cognisable offence without the consent of the state government concerned is a landmark ruling. The verdict given by a Constitution Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice R.V. Raveendran, Justice D.K. Jain, Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice J.M. Panchal addresses one of the most contentious issues that followed the Nandigram police firing when the Calcutta High Court ordered a CBI probe without consulting the state government.


A close look at the judgement suggests that the apex court's rationale behind the ruling was to protect the citizens' fundamental rights at any cost. The doctrine of separation of powers cannot curtail the power of judicial review of constitutional courts (i.e. the Supreme Court and the High Courts) in situations where civil liberties and fundamental rights were being violated, the Bench ruled.


The power of judicial review, vested in the Supreme Court and the High Courts under Articles 32 and 226 respectively, is an integral part of the Constitution, constituting part of its basic structure. Thus, the power of the apex court and the High Courts to test the constitutional validity of legislations "can never be ousted or abridged", the Bench observed.


Under Article 245 of the Constitution, all legislative powers of Parliament or the state legislatures are expressly made subject to other provisions of the Constitution, including the rights conferred in Part III of the Constitution. If any of these rights are violated, the constitutional courts not only declare a law as unconstitutional but also enforce fundamental rights by issuing directions or writs in the nature of mandamus, certiorari, habeas corpus, prohibition or quo warranto.


Interestingly, the Bench referred to the then Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud's ruling in the Minerva Mills case, who, speaking for the majority, observed that Articles 14 (right to equality) and 19 (fundamental rights) confer rights which are elementary for the proper and effective functioning of democracy. He said if the two Articles are "put out of operation", Article 32 will be "drained out of its lifeblood".


The Bench rejected the West Bengal government's contention that clipping the state's power of clearance for a CBI probe will violate the federal structure. On the contrary, it ruled that the Constitution protects the federal structure by ensuring that courts act as guardians and interpreters of the Constitution and provide remedy under Articles 32 and 226, whenever there is any "attempted violation." It emphasised that the restriction on Parliament or state legislatures by the Constitution and curbs on the executive by Parliament under an enactment do not amount to a restriction on the judiciary's power under Articles 32 and 226.


Equally significant is the observation that when the Delhi Police Special Establishment Act, 1948, itself provides that subject to the state's consent, the CBI can take up investigation in relation to the crime which was otherwise within the state police's jurisdiction, the court can also exercise its power of judicial review and direct the CBI to take up the investigation within the state's jurisdiction. While the High Court's power under Article 226 cannot be abridged or curtailed by Section 6 of the Delhi Police Special Establishment Act, the restriction imposed by this section on the Union's powers cannot be read as restriction on the constitutional courts' powers, the Bench observed.


Significantly, the Bench has prescribed some riders to constitutional courts in the exercise of the "extraordinary power" of ordering a CBI probe without the state governments' consent. It ruled that the courts must use the power "sparingly, cautiously and in exceptional circumstances"; when it becomes necessary to provide credibility and instil confidence in investigations; when the incident may have national and international ramifications; and when it is necessary for doing complete justice and enforcing fundamental rights.


The Supreme Court was convinced that without these "self-imposed restrictions" on the exercise of powers by constitutional courts, the CBI would be flooded with cases and thus may find it difficult to investigate them properly and, in the process, "lose its credibility and purpose".


At the same time, the court said that no "inflexible guidelines" could be laid down on when such power should be exercised. In other words, it decided on a general principle of law but left individual cases to Benches hearing them. It said the High Courts would have to weigh evidence before deciding if a case could be made out for a CBI probe.


Though the apex court has given its considered opinion on an important issue, the crux of the problem remains: how independent and autonomous is the CBI? For, the country's premier investigating agency is considered more as the handmaiden of the Centre rather than an impartial body inspiring confidence. The CBI seems reluctant to probe allegations of corruption against the big fish. Its flip-flops in Bofors, Hawala, Taj Corridor and several other cases speaks volumes about its efficiency. That it is susceptible to pressures from the Centre can be proved by its questionable role in the Taj Corridor case, involving Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati. Both the NDA and the UPA-I governments used it to tame Ms Mayawati for her party's crucial support to their respective governments.


In February 2009, the Supreme Court pulled up the CBI for "acting at the behest" of the Centre in the disproportionate assets case against former UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and his relatives. It questioned the CBI's rationale in seeking the Union Law Ministry's "opinion" about withdrawal of its earlier application seeking to file the report on inquiry to the court. "Why did you file the interim application on the opinion of the Central government? It is incomprehensible", the Bench observed.


Successive governments at the Centre have kept mum on the Supreme Court's 1997 order recommending more autonomy to the CBI. It had also mandated the creation of a prosecution agency similar to that of the United Kingdom's Director of Prosecutions to fix responsibility on individual officers in cases where poor investigation leads to acquittals.


The CBI's increasing politicisation needs to be checked to restore the common man's faith in fair investigation. The ideal solution would be to render complete autonomy to it on the lines of the Election Commission of India. As a first step, the Director's primacy in the institution needs to be restored. At present, he is just an invitee (and not a full-fledged member) to the Central Vigilance Commission Board that selects IPS officers for senior positions in the CBI from states.


The Director's appointment and service conditions as also of other officers should be completely freed of the executive control. And they must be selected by a collegium comprising the Vice-President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha. A similar mechanism should be evolved for the state investigating agencies also.


Worthy of mention in this context is the National Human Rights Commission's submission in the Supreme Court emphasising the need for selecting top officers based on merit and experience rather than their political suitability. Policing and investigation will command credibility only when these agencies are treated essentially as instruments of law and not as the Centre's tools.


The Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Working of the CBI (March 2008) has recommended that the CBI Director should be given the same status as that of his counterparts heading similar international organisations such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States. He should be given suitable powers and discretion to take on-the-spot decisions regarding vital proposals for improvement of infrastructure, methods of investigation, etc. His present sanction limit of Rs 30,000 is a pittance and he is hardly able to do justice to his work.


Over the years, the CBI's workload has increased by leaps and bounds. Too many special courts have come up in states in addition to the increasing pressure on the agency's offices in New Delhi and other zones. Yet, there has been no augmentation of its staff, infrastructure and resources. Implementation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee's March 2008 recommendation for strengthening the CBI in terms of resources and legal mandate brooks no delay.








ON March 15, the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party organised a huge rally in Lucknow to commemorate 25 years of the party. No one had foreseen that 25 years down the road this party started by Dalit visionary Kanshi Ram would become a formidable force to reckon with.


The BSP is now one of the seven national parties and the third largest one claiming 10 per cent of the vote share, has 21 seats in the Lok Sabha, six seats in the Rajya Sabha, 227 seats in the UP Vidhan Sabha of 404 and 56 MLCs in the 100-member Vidhan Parishad.


More important, the BSP has refused to play the power game by the established rules of the well-entrenched political elite. It has shown the courage of throwing the political rulebook out of the window. Sample this:


During the 1999 motion of confidence, the BSP was instrumental in bringing down the 13-month Atal Behari Vajpayee government. The five-member BSP had declared to abstain from voting describing both the BJP and the Congress as '"anti-Dalit". In the last minute, it startled everyone by voting against the government, tilting the balance in favour of the Opposition.


The party led by its leading light Mayawati has assumed power on four occasions in Uttar Pradesh, thrice with the help of the BJP. Every BSP-BJP government has left the BSP stronger in terms of more seats in the Assembly and left the BJP further diminished in numbers.


In 1996, the BSP fought elections in alliance with Congress but formed a government with the BJP's support. In 1984, no one could have predicted that the BSP would reinvent itself down the years to suit its strategic interest of capturing power.


The party's predecessor, the Dalit Shishit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti, had aptly described what Bahujan Samaj stood for through its evocative slogan, Thakur Brahmin Bania Chod, baki sab hain DS4'. The other signature slogan raised in the mid-80s described the party's attitude towards the non-bahujan samaj — Tilak, tarazu and talwar,isko maro joota char.


However, now the party officially stands for 'Sarvjan hitay, sarvjan sukhay'. By 2006-07, keeping the exigencies of parliamentary politics in mind, the party firmly led by Chief Minister Mayawati had started experimenting with a new social engineering formula of wooing the same upper castes against which the BSP social movement had first been mobilised.


By returning to power in UP in 2007 with the support of upper castes, mainly Brahmins, the BSP rewrote history by becoming the first elected government in almost two decades to assume office on its own. More significantly, the BSP had metamorphosed to become another party altogether. While it is still called 'Bahujan', its political agenda ostensibly was 'sarvjan', the poor amongst the upper castes now held virtually the same status as Dalits, the OBCs and minorities in the public welfare programmes.


Another slogan was revised to accommodate the upper castes, mainly Brahmins to give them more than their fair share – be it seats in the Vidhan Sabha or Lok Sabha elections or even berths in the ministry. (For example, the Brahmins were allotted 25 per cent of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2009).


The slogan 'Jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni bhagidari' (Every one's share according to one's numbers) was modified to suit the shifting philosophy of the party. The slogan now became 'Jiski jitni hai taiyari, uski utni bhagidari'. (Every one's share according to one's preparation).


However, if 2007 election made the party scale new heights, the 2009 Lok Sabha election brought it back to the ground with a huge thud. The political scenario in the country, after the Left withdrew support from the UPA government, had suddenly catapulted BSP president Mayawati to the national scene. The Left front projected her as its prime ministerial candidate in case the UPA government was defeated on the floor of the House.


This mindset virtually dictated every decision of the party in the run-up to the general election 2009. It decided to take plunge in a big way in national politics by contesting most of the 543 Lok Sabha seats in the country without any pre-poll alliance and present itself as a viable political alternative at the national level. It saw itself emerging at least as the kingmaker, if not the Prime Minister, of the Third Front government.


For this BSP supremo Mayawati did not take a day's break for 52 days. Every morning she set out for a remote corner of the country addressing rallies during the day and returning to Lucknow by night. But the returns she got for all her hard work were a shocker — 21 seats. Of this, 20 were in UP and one lone seat of Rewa in Madhya Pradesh. Mayawati's 'sarvjan' BSP had been reduced to the third position in UP winning just 20 seats.


Once a party identified with the Dalit resurgence could return only two of the 17 Dalits (11.76 per cent) that it had fielded from as many reserved seats. Obviously, the Dalits fielded by the BSP did not get any help from the other communities there confirming that Mayawati's social engineering has proved to be more of a figment of her imagination and rhetoric for her public meetings.


The Lok Sabha results have resulted in some serious introspection within the party. As a first step, Mayawati scrapped all the bhaichara (caste) committees formed to enforce the concept of social engineering. At every forum, she pro-actively reiterates her Dalit identity. While the high profile Brahmins in her party and ministry have not been removed, their role has definitely been downsized.


Mayawati has learnt it the hard way that if the BSP is to remain a significant player in national politics, she can ill-afford to neglect her core constituency — the Dalits.


Her commitment to construct various parks and memorials to commemorate the Dalit icons in history even at the cost of her government can only be understood in this perspective.








ISN'T it interesting that it's taken vulnerable corporate balance sheets to really get big businesses thinking carefully about how to make life better Adland's cynics had expected the recession to put a brake on all those fluffy marketing initiatives designed to tell consumers how green and caring the world's biggest brands really are. But what's actually happened is that "giving something back" has become a new marketing battleground.


The marketing industry calls it corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR is an ugly little tag that belies a rather wonderful thing: big companies using some of the profits they earn to make our world a better place to live in.


From planting trees to funding grass-roots sport, you'll struggle to find a big business these days that doesn't proudly display its CSR policy alongside its corporate mission statement and financial results.


Only last week the mobile phone company O2 announced it would be giving kids payouts of (pounds sterling) 300 to fund projects that will improve their social environment, such as creating community gardens, fighting knife crime and launching sports clubs. It's called Think Big and there's a (pounds sterling) 5m fund for good causes — more if the idea is a success.


Now, is that your cynical muscle I see twitching? Surely you don't think O2s just trying to better rival Orange's excellent Rockcorps initiative which asks young people to give four hours of their time to a community project in return for exclusive gig tickets, or a cunning ploy to lock-in young consumers.


Ronan Dunne, O2's chief, knows what you're all thinking. "I don't expect to sell a single additional phone on the back of this," he insists. "What I do want people to say is that O2 is a company they want to do business with." The fact is, Think Big is a shrewd way of attracting and keeping young customers and an utterly laudable investment in local communities. If O2 earns new customers out of it, all the better — that way it's even more likely to persevere.


Of course there's nothing new about big business philanthropy. Cadbury has been doing it for nearly 200 years and built its business around campaigning against slavery, for better housing and sanitation and a more environmentally sensitive approach to industrial development.


But CSR does particularly suit the digital age, when big companies and the way they conduct their business are so utterly exposed to interrogation by consumers. Consumers are increasingly choosing to spend their money with those companies they know will divert some of it back into making a positive contribution to the environment or society.


And modern marketing is now absolutely about building relationships with customers. At best those relationships move beyond the buyer/seller paradigm into a more holistic partnership with consumers, where the brand acts as a facilitator of useful products and services that society might not otherwise be able to provide.


What's also interesting is that careful advertisers are now expecting their ad agencies to embrace CSR every bit as enthusiastically. When one of the world's biggest media agencies, MPG, recently made 50 redundancies in the US, the socialist/anarchist group Industrial Workers of the World rose up to protest.
But it wasn't MPG but one of MPG's clients, the department store chain Kmart, which found itself under attack. IWW protesters brandished banners proclaiming "Shame on Kmart. Drop MPG" outside Kmart's offices.


In a climate when big businesses are ever more fearful of upsetting anybody at all, this sort of protest means that clients are beginning to demand that their suppliers n ad agencies included n are as ethical and community-minded as possible.


Quite right. At a time when the ad industry is trying to defend itself on issues such as alcohol commercials and advertising to children, a little bit more social responsibility is rather overdue.


By arrangement with The Independent








The happenings in the country's largest public sector telecom company BSNL have had market analysts sit up and monitor the situation closely.


There is a growing feeling that the state-owned telecom operator may soon go the Indian Airlines-Air India way and end up with huge losses, despite being in profit once.


In the absence of proper planning and clearances from the government, it has not only lost its place of pride in the world's fastest growing telecom market but is also finding itself unable to put in place its expansion plans.


Analysts feel that if a "rescue BSNL" operation is not launched soon, the telecom behemoth may soon end losing its present subscriber base also.


The latest example of its confused policy is the pulling of the public sector operator from the race of acquiring a majority stake in Zambia Telecommunications, or Zamtel.


Punjab policy upheld


The Supreme Court judges often caution the press against drawing inferences from their queries to litigants during hearings. They say that they put questions to have their doubts clarified and sometimes the queries may appear to be going in favour of a particular litigant. But this is not necessarily indicative of the opinion formed by the judges.


This is exactly what happened in a recent case involving those who tried to get residential plots in Mohali industrial area. The Bench put several questions to the counsel for the Punjab government and the State Industrial Export Corporation during the hearing. The claimants to the plots would have felt that the case was headed in their favour. But when the verdict was pronounced last week, the Bench upheld the state's policy of restricting housing in industrial areas. Of course, the Bench did not change its view that the PSIEC had allotted the plots in haste without waiting for the state's approval for change in land use.


Toothpick does the trick


The Press Club in Delhi has a small computer room attached to it for nearly two years to help journalists perform their duties. Earlier, the club management had hired an employee to run the computer room and charge a nominal amount from journalists for using the facility. But since the earning was not much, the club management decided to do away with the services of this employee and run the computer room on voluntary contributions from journalists.

A small plastic box was kept in the computer room for voluntary contributions by members. Some members did put Rs 10, Rs 20 and Rs 50 currency notes in the box.


However, one fine morning, the club management, much to its surprise, noticed that some enterprising individual, using toothpicks, had taken out the money from the box.

Contributed by Girja Shankar Kaura, R. Sedhuraman and Ashok Tuteja








In the middle of a busy work day, as I sit down to write this column on the IPL, I'm at a complete loss for words. Somehow, the Indian Premier League, described so often as the country's biggest sporting extravaganza, loses all its sheen when it is only about the sport. So with no slaps, no arrests, no fictional dressing-room gossip, there isn't really too much to talk about, apart from a flurry of sixes that none of us will remember for more than a day or two. Still, wherever I go these days, two questions are asked by misguided friends and acquaintances who seem to believe my links with the cricket world make me privy to insider information. First, they want my so-called expert opinion on who will win the matches that day (largely because many of them have started dabbling in the satta bazaar). Second, they ask if the IPL is fixed.

My answer depends on what kind of mood I'm in. At my most mischievous, I indulge their fantasies about money being exchanged before every over and instructions being given to the players before every ball, like the lines in a movie script. What surprises me every time is how almost no one is shocked despite my wildly impractical yarns. When I tell them later that I was kidding, they're almost disappointed.

The truth is that the IPL doesn't need to be fixed. As a concept, it has already garbled cricket so completely that no other corruption is required. Fake IPL Player, the mystery blogger we're all familiar with, had touched upon this theory in a genuinely profound post last year, highlighting how a five-day game had first been crunched into 20 overs, the commentators had been put on payrolls, the media had been lured by advertising revenue, and the fans had been bombarded with such relentless propaganda that the flow of money was guaranteed. When the whole system is engineered to fill your coffers, what's the need for dishonesty? So just log on to your twitter accounts and buy into the excitement.

The point to understand is that while the IPL may be a new idea, a brainchild of Lalit Modi who never lets us forget it, as a concept it is no more than the representation of capitalist economy as it exists today – where certain individuals, in this case the franchise owners, have the opportunity to exploit a designated market exclusively.


The fight last year between Modi and N Srinivisan – the BCCI secretary and ironically the owner of the Chennai team – over the sacking and re-hiring of IMG was an interesting study of how the IPL's franchises have started considering themselves as stake-holders who can take the Board to task if they feel it is not providing them quality service. Soon, IPL teams will become bonafide units in larger establishments. The next possible step, considering how high the stakes are in other forms of cricket in India, will be an attempt to take control of the sport as a whole.

But, for now, these are notional problems that the IPL has succeeded in keeping its followers far away from. A hug from Preity Zinta, a wave from Shah Rukh Khan, and a few lusty blows from Yousuf Pathan on his way to the tournament's fastest century manage to keep the impending power struggle hidden behind the glitz and the glamour.

The biggest reason for the IPL's success comes from the fact that it is only a 45-day event. Stretch it over a longer period of time and its sense of drama is sure to wear off because it is neither the greatest test of skill, nor the most unpredictable of cricketing formats. The cricket may not be fixed, sure, but the IPL exists in an ideal, unreal, doctored environment rather than in a genuine free market.








The Medical Council of India (MCI) has taken a further step in improving ethical standards in the medical professional by quantifying punishments (after banning gift taking in the first place) for doctors who break the new rules of conduct. It is now necessary to take the matter forward as a long distance still needs to be traversed before a reasonably comprehensive set of rules are there to cover all angles and stakeholders. One of the less important issues raised is that no time dimension has been indicated while allowing receiving of gifts up to Rs 1,000, that is a person can keep receiving an endless stream of gifts not exceeding the limit in any given time period. While the foregoing can be easily clarified and a possible loophole closed, there are two more serious issues that need urgent addressing.

 One is, while the regulatory body for doctors, the MCI, is doing its job, what about the regulator for the pharmaceuticals and medical devices industry? To crack down on gifts it is necessary to ban not just gift taking but giving too. Therefore, the MCI has written to the health ministry to take up the issue with all stakeholders. Pharma companies come under the Department of Chemicals, which is a part of the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers. Clearly, pharma companies have to both declare the gifts they have made in any given period and simultaneously be placed under severe restrictions on offering gifts. This may be easier to enforce than regulations for doctors as there are far fewer pharma companies than doctors. For example, US companies are prevented by law from offering bribes to get business around the world.

But the biggest issue is how will the regulations be enforced? Who will be the policeman? The MCI has till now, for all practical purposes, been a toothless regulator, which acts only when there's a complaint and that too by forming a committee of doctors to examine a complaint against another doctor. A small army of inspectors will be needed to enforce the regulation and address complaints, and careful thought has to be given to structuring this set-up as it should not become another self-serving bureaucracy. A key issue is whether the regulation will be undertaken at the Central or state level. Given the record of most state governments in enforcing drug quality, leaving the matter to the states does not arouse much hope. But there should be no illusion that framing rules and appointing policemen alone will do the job. If gifts and junkets are effectively monitored and countered, the business model for the pharmaceutical industry will have to change. Right now, medicines are marketed by medical representatives who visit practitioners and provide them with both literature and inducements. If the pharmaceutical industry is serious about the matter, then there should soon be an intensive discussion within it on how to market itself in an inducement-free regime. Then again, what happens to doctors receiving a payback for referring patients for tests, scans and the like. Receiving "cash" is banned but what about "fees" for "services" (referring patients) rendered? This is an important part of the present corrupt regime in which patients have to undergo unnecessary tests or scans but not specifically banned even now. So, yes, some progress has been made but there is still a long way to go.







If spending years, even decades, on getting court verdicts is not bad enough, the government just added a brand-new dimension to the travails of companies trying to do business in the country. Depending on whether you want to be charitable to the government, you could call it arm-twisting — blackmail, however, is a more honest way of describing it. While most lacked the courage to take on the government after it played favourites in the award of telecom licences in 2008, STel (a joint venture between the Sivasankaran group and Bahrain Telecom) went to the Delhi High Court arguing it had been hurt by the arbitrary cut-off dates announced by the telecom ministry under A Raja. The company had applied for licences for 16 telecom circles on September 28, 2007, well before the last date of application (October 1, 2007); on January 10, 2008, however, the telecom ministry said only those firms that had applied before September 25, 2007, would be considered. The Delhi High Court quashed the January 10, 2008 circular and said the government had to consider STel's application — by the same token, the government would have to consider the applications of all the 46 companies that had applied for the licences instead of just the nine that Raja had favoured by his arbitrary cut-off. Since this put the government in a huge spot, it challenged the decision before a division bench of the same court, but that too ruled in favour of STel. The government then went in appeal to the Supreme Court. A few days before the case was to be heard, however, the government told STel to stop operations (it had licences in a few states like Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa) on security grounds. STel then wrote a letter to the ministry, presumably under pressure, saying it didn't want the licences given the fierce competition — and the government used this letter to ask the apex court to quash the high court verdict! The apex court admonished STel for writing the letter but refused to quash the high court decision.

 While this means STel and other companies that were aggrieved by the blatant favouritism shown by the government can now go and demand they also get mobile phone licences and spectrum (which the government doesn't have), the matter cannot be allowed to rest here. For one, given how the government behaved with STel, it is unlikely that firm, or anyone else, will have the guts to ask the government to give them their due. This is where the prime minister has to draw the line and ensure that the telecom ministry does not resort to such dubious tactics. There appears to be a rising incidence of whimsicality and arbitrariness in government actions with respect to the corporate sector in India. Some ministers seem to think that being "pro-business", and that too selectively so, amounts to being "pro-reform". Economic reform entails reducing the space for arbitrary decision-making and ensuring transparency in policy. Playing favourites is what the licence-permit raj was all about. Some Rajas just wont give up!








Disinvestment of government equity in public sector undertakings (PSUs) began in 1991. The government of P V Narasimha Rao justified the logic of that move by arguing that the efficiency of PSUs would improve once they were listed on the stock exchanges.  

The disinvestment policy got a big boost under the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004), when strategic sales of PSUs took place for the first time. These pertained to about a dozen cases of privatisation.

However, the government under Manmohan Singh, that was formed in 2004, slowed down the disinvestment process, thanks to the pressure the Left parties put on the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). But in his second tenure as prime minister, Manmohan Singh has speeded up the disinvestment process, citing a slightly different logic.

The UPA government has argued that the process of disinvestment permits the people of India to own shares in PSUs. In other words, disinvestment facilitates a new kind of inclusion by allowing the ordinary people of this country to own shares in listed PSUs.

This was a new theoretical construct to justify disinvestment. Earlier, it used to be argued that the President of India holds the shares of PSUs on behalf of the people of this country. Disinvestment under the UPA government was thus creating a new class of people who held shares in listed PSUs, in addition to millions of other Indians who owned all the shares of government-held PSUs, albeit indirectly through the President of India!

Inspired by this philosophy, disinvestment got a big fillip this financial year. Sale of shares in PSUs will help the government garner about Rs 25,000 crore, nearly half of the Rs 55,952 crore that different governments raised through disinvestment of shares in over 45 PSUs between 1991-92 and 2008-09. So, in the last 19 years of disinvestment, the government would mobilise over Rs 80,000 crore. If you include what is proposed to be mobilised next year, the government's total resources collected through disinvestment in a period of 20 years would be over Rs 1,20,000 crore.

Yet, it is hard to argue that disinvestment of government equity in PSUs has helped improve their efficiency in every respect. Most companies continue to function under the administrative control of the government and cannot take decisions without keeping in mind the government's political concerns. For instance, no oil PSU can raise petroleum product prices even though it may incur losses, just because the government has not allowed them to do so.

Indeed, in sectors such as telecommunications and civil aviation, the state of the PSUs has only deteriorated over the years. Take the telecommunications sector first.  The financial condition of Indian Telecom Industries (ITI), which was once considered to be a premier telecom equipment manufacturer in the country, has worsened in the last few years requiring capital infusion from the government. Now, the government expects ITI to be restructured in a manner that it ceases to be a drag on government finances. 

Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited, which used to run telephone services in Delhi and Mumbai, no longer enjoys the kind of market share it used to enjoy even ten years ago. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited is in a worse situation, as its efforts to place orders for new equipment and offload even ten per cent share in the market are being stymied by a variety of forces.

In the civil aviation sector also, the financial condition of the National Aviation Company of India Limited (NACIL) has deteriorated over the years. Even the merger of the erstwhile Air India and Indian Airlines into a single entity, NACIL, has not helped.

It is true that the PSUs in both the telecommunications and civil aviation sectors have suffered also because of stiff competition they had to face from the private sector. While their operational autonomy was stifled by the government (and disinvestment was of little help), their private sector competitors managed to increase their market share and improve financial performance. If PSUs are still doing well, it is largely in areas where there is not much of a competition from the private sector. The financial sector is perhaps the only exception. PSU banks have done remarkably well even though they have been constrained by government ownership and have faced competition from private sector banks admirably so far.

The problem is the government has used PSUs as a milching cow in the last two decades, without taking adequate steps to bring about effective changes in the manner in which they function. Disinvestment was thought of as a solution but its manner of execution failed to achieve the objectives of imparting operational autonomy to them. Over and above that, the government began cutting its financial allocations for the PSUs. In 1991-92, PSUs (excluding railways) were expected to raise as much as 78 per cent of their total outlay through internal resources and bonds. This year, that ratio has gone up to 91 per cent. That alone should tell you a lot about the government's approach to PSUs in the last two decades.






If you track Facebook, Twitter and the arcane world of author sites, you'll find more ghosts there than in the average cemetery. The hulks of sites circa the early 2000s, with their unlovely designs and basic TimesNewRoman fonts, speak of books that have long since tumbled off the bestseller lists.

 Closer to our time, Facebook is littered with invitations to book launches, book discussion groups, and about-the-author sites — most of them have the lifespan of fireflies. Authors come and go on Twitter, the social media site where you post your life in 140-character "tweets". Some leave Twitter after being tweetburned — being indiscreet on the Internet is like getting drunk at a book launch, embarrassing fodder for the gossips — or discover that it takes more than a random weekly update to draw in fans.

In the previous generation of writers, the big filter was the media. If you worked your interviews well, gave good soundbites and made the correct literary festival appearances, that was enough. For the generation of writers working today, the ones who learn to manage their online presence have an edge over their peers. Most authors do the basics: get the website up, start a blog, get onto one of the big social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. But learning how to survive on the Internet is a different matter. Here's a look at three different approaches:

Margaret Atwood: Like Salman Rushdie and a few other writers who grew up long before the Net did, Atwood remained a fascinated observer of life online for a while. Back in 2006, Atwood invented the LongPen: a device that allows authors to sign books in faraway locations using a stylus and the Internet.

In 2009, she became one of the first authors of her generation to join the likes of Harlan Coben and Neil Gaiman on Twitter. With over 30,000 followers, her Twitter feed is both popular and eminently useful. She will send greetings to "Delhi students" after one tweets her, link to book readings and chat with readers about everything from her book The Edible Woman to Twestivals (Twitter festivals). Atwood seems to have found the perfect balance between tweeting and sticking to her extremely busy writer's schedule.

Richard Dawkins: Like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, Richard Dawkins was an early Netevangelist. His site, RichardDawkins.Net, operates like a cross between a blog and a forum, and for years was a wonderful space in which to follow the Darwin debates, or the clashing of swords between atheists and true believers. Very recently, Dawkins hit the headlines when he announced that he now needed to take over comments moderation from the previous forum moderator, after receiving increasingly abusive responses. (One comment referred to him as "a suppurating rat's rectum inside a dead skunk".)

His decision kicked off a brief storm and accusations of censorship, but that outcry is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of free speech — and the nature of the Internet. Most of the good blogs and forums are moderated, to keep out Spam, and also to keep out internet trolls — abusive, often anonymous, commentators who are often responsible for the degeneration of a good argument into an exchange of insults.

Most serious netizens take the view that their forum, blog or website is an extension of their homes: you're welcome to join in the discussion, but if you're abusive, expect to be kicked out. As blogger Great Bong (Arnab Ray) put it at the launch of his book May I Heb Your Attention Pliss, "Don't take a dump in my drawing room." Dawkins hopes that comments moderation will allow for a healthier and less pointlessly vicious exchange of views, and since he has one of the great science writing forums, we'll watch that space with interest.

Laila Lalami: In the online literary world, Lalami became famous as the blogger Moorish Girl long before she started her career as a young and promising writer. Her blog demonstrates the best way to use a blog to further your work: instead of seeing it as an advertisement for the book ("Yet another great review for my work!! How cool is that!!!"), blog for fun, share your passions, and share your life. Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman does this to great effect on his blog, sharing work, his relationship with his cats, and the secrets of bee-keeping with thousands of fans.

What's lovely about Moorish Girl as a blog is that it has kept pace with Lalami's growth as a writer. As her writing schedule demands more time, her posts have focused less on literary links, and more on the writing life — it's a fascinating way to chart the emergence and growth of a writer, and it keeps her fans loyal.

Three different approaches, on three different forums — Twitter, a discussion board and a blog — but at the heart of them is something elementally simple. Dawkins, Atwood and Lalami — the century's greatest science writer, one of our literary mavens, and a rising novelist, respectively — really like the Net, and feel at home online. It's the only way to build a genuine fan-base on the Web.






What does a website say about a company? What for that matter does a balance sheet say? If, like me, you have been a business journalist for many years, your first and lasting impressions are formed from these two things. There are others — the reception area, speed of response, how well people keep time, how prepared they are before an interview and so on. But these come after you have done your homework on a company. And a large part of the homework, especially on listed companies, is on their profit and loss accounts and balance sheets. So, what a company reveals and how it presents these is critical.

 For many years, I used to find the (formerly) Zee Telefilms' annual report baffling. My training as a commerce student and an MBA did not help much. These were scores of subsidiaries floating all over the place and it was impossible to understand basic stuff.

By and by the company too must have realised it. Zee now has one of the easiest annual reports in the business to read. By Indian media industry standards, its website is a business journalist's delight with everything neatly organised and catalogued in the investors' section. Most numbers that you might seek on revenue break-ups, by streams or geographies, are easily available.

The other company with a crisp, easy-to-read annual report and balance sheet is (surprise! surprise!!) Balaji Telefilms. Ekta Kapoor's company has been long harangued for its programming. But on the corporate side, Balaji is not just one of the most profitable production companies, it is also the most transparent one. Its annual report is a reliable source of how the programming business works. That is because it gives revenue and cost break-ups by hours and in languages of programming. This makes analysing the business easier and fun.

One of the most complicated balance sheets, and several of my investment banker friends vouch for this, is the Network18/TV18 one. Some years ago, I remember asking CEO Haresh Chawla why the group had such a complicated balance sheet. Chawla immediately drew a chart of the corporate structure on a sheet of paper and explained it to me. It helped my work then. However, the group has clearly realised something because its 2008-09 statement of accounts is an easier read.

In many cases, media company balance sheets are designed to give as little information as possible. Go to the websites of some of the top listed companies, several don't even have an investors' section. In others, it is next to impossible to find it. TV Today's financial information is clubbed with news sections as "Niveshak Soochana" on the website of its flagship channel Aaj Tak.

Why don't media companies work harder at having annual reports and balance sheets that are well arranged, easy to read and comprehensible. The reasons are not hard to guess.

Media companies, historically, have never been analysed, at least not in India. The whole notion of raising capital from outside and being answerable to investors is just over a decade old. In 1993, as a raw reporter, I remember struggling to get any numbers — on revenues or costs for films. It was impossible. Everything was a guestimate that someone was kind enough to give you.

Funnily enough, it is the film and software production firms, part of the most-fragmented and disorganised segment, that were at the forefront of the "raising money, becoming more transparent" movement. Adlabs, Mukta Arts, Cinevistaas and Balaji were among the first to list. Then came a lot of broadcasting companies and then the newspaper guys.

Part of it, of course, has to do with policy and stage of evolution. But mostly it has to do with industry culture. The publishing business, for instance, is old, closed and very reliant on owner publishers with big egos. IT or biotech companies, on the other hand, were funded by venture capital or private equity very early on and soon professional managements took over. So, there was none of the baggage that media companies have.

Most media companies in India have just about realised what it means to have investors. As they outgrow their growth pangs, expect better written and presented annual reports, a la Zee and Balaji.







In the world of economics and finance, revolutions occur rarely and are often detected only in hindsight. But what happened on February 19 can safely be called the end of an era in global finance.

 On that day, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published a policy note that reversed its long-held position on capital controls. Taxes and other restrictions on capital inflows, IMF's economists wrote, can be helpful, and they constitute a "legitimate part" of policy-makers' toolkit.

Rediscovering the common sense that had strangely eluded the IMF for two decades, the report noted, "logic suggests that appropriately designed controls on capital inflows could usefully complement" other policies. As late as November of last year, IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn had thrown cold water on Brazil's efforts to stem inflows of speculative "hot money", and said that he would not recommend such controls "as a standard prescription".

So, February's policy note is a stunning reversal — as close as an institution can come to recanting without saying, "Sorry, we messed up." But it parallels a general shift in economists' opinion. It is telling, for example, that Simon Johnson, IMF's chief economist during 2007-2008, has turned into one of the most ardent supporters of strict controls on domestic and international finance.

The IMF policy note makes clear that controls on cross-border financial flows can be not only desirable, but also effective. This is important, because the traditional argument of last resort against capital controls has been that they could not be made to stick. Financial markets would always outsmart policy-makers.

Even if true, evading the controls requires incurring additional costs to move funds in and out of a country — which is precisely what the controls aim to achieve. Otherwise, why would investors and speculators cry bloody murder whenever capital controls are mentioned as a possibility? If they really couldn't care less, then they shouldn't care at all.

One justification for capital controls is to prevent inflows of hot money from boosting the value of the home currency excessively, thereby undermining competitiveness. Another is to reduce vulnerability to sudden changes in financial-market sentiment, which can wreak havoc with domestic growth and employment. To its credit, the IMF not only acknowledges this, but it also provides evidence that developing countries with capital controls were hit less badly by the fallout from the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.

IMF's change of heart is important, but it needs to be followed by further action. We currently don't know much about designing capital-control regimes. The taboo that has attached to capital controls has discouraged practical, policy-oriented work that would help governments manage capital flows directly. There is some empirical research on the consequences of capital controls in countries such as Chile, Colombia and Malaysia, but very little systematic research on the appropriate menu of options. The IMF can help fill the gap.

Emerging markets have resorted to a variety of instruments to limit private-sector borrowing abroad: taxes, unremunerated reserve requirements, quantitative restrictions, and verbal persuasion. In view of the sophisticated nature of financial markets, the devil is often in the details — and what works in one setting is unlikely to work well in others.

For example, Taiwan's use of administrative measures that rely heavily on close monitoring of flows may be inappropriate in settings where bureaucratic capacity is more limited. Similarly, Chilean-style unremunerated reserve requirements may be easier to evade in countries with extensive trading in sophisticated derivatives.

With the stigma on capital controls gone, the IMF should now get to work on developing guidelines on what kind of controls work best and under what circumstances. The IMF provides countries with technical assistance in a wide range of areas: monetary policy, bank regulation, and fiscal consolidation. It is time to add managing the capital account to this list.

With this battle won, the next worthy goal is a global financial transaction tax. Set at a very low level — 0.05 per cent is a commonly-mentioned rate — such a tax would raise hundreds of billions of dollars for global public goods while discouraging short-term speculative activities in financial markets.

Support for a global financial transaction tax is growing. A group of NGOs have rechristened it the "Robin Hood tax", and have launched a global campaign to promote it, complete with a deliciously biting video clip featuring British actor Bill Nighy ( Significantly, the European Union has thrown its weight behind the tax and has urged the IMF to pursue it. The only major holdout is the United States, where Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has made his distaste for the proposal clear.

What made finance so lethal in the past was the combination of economists' ideas with the political power of banks. The bad news is that big banks retain significant political power. The good news is that the intellectual climate has shifted decisively against them. Shorn of support from economists, the financial industry will have a much harder time preventing the fetish of free finance from being tossed into the dustbin of history.

The author is Professor of Political Economy at Harvard University's John F Kennedy School of Government. His latest book is One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalisation, Institutions, and Economic Growth







Two trends are becoming amply clear since the third quarter policy review by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in January. One, the economic growth upturn is becoming stronger and more broad-based. Two, non-food drivers of inflation will become more palpable as full-year economic growth hits the near-term 8-8.5 per cent realisable potential growth rate. Both factors argue for RBI to shift, in its April policy review, to the next choice of instruments — policy interest rates.

It is striking that several government advisors and ministers correctly play up the strength of the economic upturn, but — incorrectly and somewhat self-servingly — play down the inflation risk, especially outside the short-term food supply shock. The politically-motivated hikes in minimum support prices in the run-up to last year's general election and the government's mishandling of the supply response to the drought only exacerbated the effect of the poor monsoon on food inflation. Higher minimum support prices did favourably impact rural consumption, but higher food inflation appears to be the price all have paid for that rural resilience and for more political stability.

RBI has done an exceptional job of cushioning the hit to the economy from the global credit crisis, and in managing the early phase of the economic recovery. It needs to continue to maintain its credibility, and thus move to the next phase of monetary tightening in order to avoid any unnecessarily rushed or exaggerated tightening later on.

The evolving trajectory of industrial production suggests that GDP growth will likely adjust upwards to be at least 8-8.5 per cent year-on-year (y-o-y) in the January-March quarter, after being below trend at 6 per cent y-o-y in the October-December quarter. However, this should already be factored into RBI's revised GDP growth forecast of 7.5 per cent for FY10 that was announced in January. Thus, the strong tone of industrial activity should not prompt any action before the next scheduled meeting on April 20 where the annual policy for 2010-11 will be announced.

More importantly, the industrial rebound is showing welcome signs of becoming more broad-based. The capital goods sub-sector is picking up momentum and complementing the surge in consumer durables, especially automobiles. It is highly unlikely that automobile sales will maintain the pace that they have posted in the last few months, but industrial recovery becoming more balanced is exactly what policy makers would want to see.

It is somewhat amusing to watch several Indian industrialists thumping their chests about how great the growth outlook is but quickly warning that the stimulus measures should not be withdrawn. They can be dismissed as being self-serving; the underlying growth dynamics were strong enough for the government to have withdrawn more of its stimulus measures in the Budget. Admittedly, risks persist, but policy is rarely based on low probability outcomes.

Food inflation is showing some early signs of rolling over and is poised to fall further, but non-food components will become more important, even as headline wholesale price index (WPI) inflation comes off later on. It is important to appreciate that the economy still suffers from being supply-constrained and has several supply bottlenecks that, as aggregate demand rebounds, could cause higher inflation via a demand-supply imbalance. Thus, managing aggregate demand via monetary policy becomes more relevant. But, that is a somewhat new field for Indian policy makers outside RBI as they have traditionally only focused on dealing with supply issues, although even here the government left a lot to be desired for the way it managed the supply response to the drought.

Several investors and analysts have been misreading RBI, despite its better guidance and greater clarity in communication. The majority has been expecting an early and strong response by RBI, but it has not followed that script (rightly, in my view). There are three main reasons for misreading RBI's response function: Focus mainly on headline WPI inflation, rather than the underlying details; not enough appreciation for the constraint imposed by the sizeable government borrowing that RBI has to facilitate; and lack of sufficient realisation that RBI is not an inflation-targeter (yet another right call by RBI), and that it has other objectives as well that influence its monetary policy decisions.

From a structural angle, the level of interest rates in India remains high relative to foreign interest rates. This owes mainly to the slow pace of reforms by the government that enhances the longevity of prevailing price rigidities. But RBI not raising rates to deal with the evolving economic cycle is not the way forward.

Instead, the government needs to undertake more reforms and eliminate rigidities that will lower trend inflation, which, in turn, will further boost sustainable trend economic growth via a structural decline in local interest rates. Thus, the solution to lower sustainable inflation is with the government, not with RBI.

The Budget moves to partially reverse the fiscal stimulus measures will add to inflation as a one-time effect, as would the tax on petrol, diesel and refined products. However, these relative price adjustments are a one-off, and should not prompt RBI to normalise monetary policy significantly more rapidly than what it was planning to do owing to the pick-up aggregate. There is a critical difference between a higher inflation rate owing to a one-off adjustment that affects the price index and higher inflation rate that signals an increase in underlying inflationary pressure.

So, what should RBI do on April 20? Most likely, a 25 basis points (bps) hike in policy rates should come through. Since RBI now plans to avoid inter-meeting moves (unless there are extreme circumstances), there could be a possibility of a small hike in cash reserve ratio (CRR). The underlying dynamics do not justify a 50 bps rate hike, in my humble opinion.

Bonds are generally a poor investment in a growing economy, and in India, the main borrower, i.e. the government, is the most price-insensitive. The yield curve in India is so steep that it makes investors dizzy. Still, a 10-year yield has more height to cover, as, unless RBI has some trick up its sleeve, the net issuance of securities in FY11 will be higher than that in FY10, even though net borrowing will be lower. Further, nearly 70 per cent of the full-year borrowing will probably be in the first half (the first-half borrowing calendar will be announced later this month).

The bottom line is that RBI should stick to a handle-with-care monetary exit, and avoid a "sledgehammer" approach. It is time for transition to using policy rates for monetary management that will complement CRR moves, if needed. Delayed action will unnecessarily risk moves of bigger magnitudes over a shorter period of time that could cause heartburn that can — and should — be avoided.

The author is head of India and Asean economics at Macquarie Capital Securities, Singapore. The views expressed are personal








Food inflation remains extraordinarily high at 17.79%. The government emphasises supply problems caused by last year's drought, But a bigger and less reversible problem is government-led inflation through big increases in the Minimum Support Prices (MSP). The MSP for wheat and paddy rose only modestly between 2002-03 and 2005-06 , from Rs 620 to Rs 650/ quintal and from Rs 530 to Rs 570/quintal respecticely.

But after that the MSP shot up to touch Rs 1,100 for wheat and Rs 950 for paddy in 2009-10 . This has been infinitely more inflationary than any drought. Now, world prices of grain went through the roof in 2008, following the diversion of large acreage across the world from food to bio-fuels . The government felt obliged to raise MSPs for Indian farmers too, arguing that Indian prices were still well below global rates.

However, world prices can fall dramatically, and this is not true of MSP, which no politician wants to ever reduce. Today, the wheat MSP is more than 20% below the Chicago price. India's rice price is still competitive globally, but this owes much to free farm power for this most water-intensive of all grains. The MSP of wheat was, thankfully, increased only marginally in 2009-10 , but that of paddy shot up from Rs 850 to Rs 950/quintal.

Between 1965 and 1997, overall inflation in India averaged 8-9 % per year, and big hikes in MSP were compatible with this overall rate. But now we aim to bring inflation down to 4%, which implies dramatically controlling MSPs too. Indeed, world prices of cereals have fallen in real terms for two centuries, and we are now in danger of forcing up farm prices completely out of line with global ones. We may end up like Korea and Japan, which catered to small farmers by constantly pushing up rice prices until they were hundreds of percent higher than world prices.

The right approach is to not to give farmers ever-rising prices and subsidies but to facilitate their shift of out agriculture through massive provision of rural infrastructure and liberalised labour laws that encourage the hiring of workers. This will allow the average farm size to quadruple. That will be a better longterm source of farm prosperity than high MSPs.







The massive rally in Lucknow to mark its 25th anniversary highlights both the remarkable gains the BSP has made and the criticisms that have attended its brand of Dalit politics. When the late Kanshi Ram founded it as a political formation of and for the Dalits, he'd scarcely have imagined the BSP, as one of India's youngest political outfits, would so rapidly become a major force, storming to power in the caste badlands of an electorally heavyweight state, giving the major parties jitters in some other states, with the aim of one day forming a government at the Centre.

Then again, the unabashedly cynical way the BSP, particularly under Mayawati, has been pursuing that goal, with political opportunism centred around unstable caste alliances, has led critics to query if the party has been able to envisage and deliver a sustainable agenda of Dalit empowerment. There is no denying the new, and welcome, sense of assertion Dalit politics has generated in sections with a history of suffering horrific caste oppression. But it is a moot point whether the BSP's strategy of gaining political power as an end in itself has, social engineering apart, enabled the emergence of a progressive, more inclusive politics.

To be fair, that sort of identity management is hardly the BSPs preserve. Just as the allegations of corruption, failure of governance, or wasteful expenditures — like on memorial parks/statues and rallies — are not solely aimed at it. That is a wider malaise of which the BSP too happens to be a part. And it is here that its greatest failing lies.

A party that could have envisioned a wider, radical political transformative project has, in effect, ended up replicating the processes of virtually every other political party. And that is perhaps why, despite the gains, the party hasn't been able to effect the socioeconomic transformation that would strike at the root of the occupation-caste link. And Mayawati's authoritarian, quasi personality-cult way of functioning might yet stunt or mutate the BSP's politics even more.







The three Yadav leaders may be the face of gender incorrectness these days, but their opponents are hardly entitled to cast the first stone. We nonchalantly say Mr & Mrs (and write it too, on invitation cards), shamelessly put Jack before Jill even when it comes narrating how they fell down, let Romeo precede Juliet and

pithetically stick the beauteous Princess Diana behind her royal husband.

Brazenly, we even mention men first in official letters — Dear Sir/Madam. That apparently proves misogyny is manifest and widespread, according to a study on the persistence of the male-name-first convention conducted by the University of Sussex, that was bolstered by two tests that verified the men-first mindset .

As if it was not enough that volunteers, when asked to write possible names for an imaginary "traditional" couple, more often put the man's name first (though not if the couple was "non-conventional" , of course), a second test showed that sexism still lurks where we least expect it — not in dark alleys but in the cyber universe.

An internet search of common English name combinations showed that 79% put the man's name first, prompting the gender-sensitive leader of the study team to conclude that the "sexist grammar of the 16th century" was being perpetuated in the 21st century.

Looking farther afield than Western cultures would bring up such time-honoured pairings as Shiva-Parvati or Salim-Anarkali . These may appear to support the theory that men always, well, precede women. But if Indians do toe the English line when it comes to usages, it must be ascribed to a colonial rather than sexist hangover.

For, there is much evidence in India to the contrary too, from Radha-Krishna and Lakshmi-Narayan to Laila-Majnu and Heer-Ranjha , to more recent examples such as Priyanka-Robert and Shilpa-Raj . It's time, clearly , to give certain English conventions the heave-ho !







After the scenes of marshals removing rampaging RJD-SP members from the Rajya Sabha over the women's reservation Bill, it's over to the Lok Sabha. And a tactical 'Mandal-Kamandal tango' saw the SP/RJD opposing the Bill on 'ideological grounds' and BJP 'objecting to the use of marshals' . It seems that without using marshals there will be no scope for getting the Lok Sabha in order, without which there's little scope to discuss and pass the Bill.

As the BJP charged the UPA with imposing marshal law, Congress veterans spoke of an older 'marshal law' episode and role-reversal in Parliament. They recollect how Indira Gandhi, after she won the Chikmagalur by-poll in 1978, was expelled from the Lok Sabha and sent to jail by the Janata Party regime through a breach of privileges motion moved by then PM Morarji Desai. The then Speaker, egged on by Janata Party floor managers belonging to the Jan Sangh (earlier incarnation of the BJP) and Socialist Party (launching pad of Lalu and Mulayam) also summoned marshals to remove Indira Gandhi from the House.

The only difference was that Indira turned the tables on her rivals and finally Janata Party mangers had to plead with her to help them control the explosive post-expulsion situation both inside and outside Parliament. The iron lady then left the House to head to jail late in the night, triumphantly. Perhaps L K Advani, then I&B minister, could provide more eyewitness details ....

Whiff of change

Change is in the air at 24, Akbar Road, with a little bird saying the leadership has finally started working on the AICC and PCC reshuffle. While the main focus of partymen will be changes at the party HQ, the high command is keen to make some critical moves in some states. Karnataka PCC is set to get a new leader, marking a generational shift; the Delhi PCC could also get a strategic facelift, aimed at projecting a new face after the Sheila Dikshit era.

While the new PCC/CLP leadership in Gujarat is already in place, the high command will signal a new approach in 'Modi-land' , which also happens to be the home state of Ahmed Patel, the political secretary of the party president. Though Ahmed bhai prefers to play in the shadows, the Congress in his state might soon start batting on the front foot against the aggressive saffron brigade. Watch out.

No saints here

The Kerala Congress leadership deciding to renew the Rajya Sabha term of Union defence minister A K Antony was a foregone conclusion. But what was unexpected was the embarrassing scene that preceded Antony's renomination. Given Antony's stature and standing with the high command, it was taken for granted that the entire Congress-led UDF would rally for his renomination even if it meant ally, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) giving up its claim for the vacant seat.

But then, IUML refused to play ball, saying the Congress high command better bring Antony back to RS from outside Kerala. Finally, PCC chief Ramesh Chennithala and CLP leader Oomman Chandy (Antony reportedly shares an uneasy relationship with the duo) had to negotiate with the IUML and take the matter to the AICC's Delhi court before IUML made way for Antony's safe passage. Rumours are the episode was designed to show to all that Antony does not quite have a natural acceptability within the Congress coalition in his poll-bound home-state . Point taken.








MUMBAI: Most institutional investors, who put money in recent public offers, have either lost a packet or made insignificant gains on listing. But quite a few fund managers, who chose to invest in companies by subscribing to their qualified institutional placements (QIPs) have reasons to cheer. Their bets have yielded smart returns, after the allotment of shares. Investment bankers say this augurs well for prospective issuers planning to raise funds through QIPs.

Leading the pack of major gainers among fund raisers in the QIP market is Emami quoting at a hefty 94% premium over the price at which the placement was made to institutional investors. United Spirits, Orbit Corp, HCC and Dewan Housing are a few other notable examples recording gains between 40% and 55%.

According to investment bankers, QIP offers good scope for price discovery, which makes it one of the efficient ways of raising funds. Besides, improved fundamentals could have also helped keep the sentiment positive towards these companies, they feel. "Unlike initial public offerings, price discovery is easier in case of the existing companies looking to raise funds through the QIP route.


Their track record and trading history are known to investors which helps in pricing the shares around the level acceptable to them," said Abhay Bhalerao, director, Equirus Capital, a Mumbai-based investment banking firm. He also said there could be a fundamental reason why shares of some companies are quoting at a decent premium over the QIP price.

QIP has been a major success among companies and investors, as 49 such offers mobilised nearly $7 billion in 2009. Construction and real estate companies dominated the market with a contribution of $2.5 billion by 16 issues, followed by the banking and finance space which saw six companies raise more than $1 billion, according to analysis done by leading investment banking firm Edelweiss Securities.

This year may see more companies taking the QIP route, given the successful completion of many such offers in 2009. A few companies, in fact, have already firmed up plans to enter the market to meet their fund requirements. India Cements, for instance, has finalised the issue of shares worth Rs 296 crore to qualified institutional buyers at a price of Rs 120.2 per share. The stock closed 1% up at Rs 121.5 on Monday. Kalpataru Power Transmission, JBF Inds, Alok Industries and Edserv Softsystems are a few other companies planning to raise funds through QIP issues.

Unlike QIPs, institutional investors in recent IPOs have been unlucky, as most of the shares are currently quoting at a discount to the offer price. Most of the last year's major offerings have been languishing near or even below the respective offer prices, despite many of them receiving a good response from institutional investors.

"Retail investors still seem to shy away from public issues. The market crash of 2008 still appears to play in the minds of this category of investors," said Edelweiss Securities in its recent report on global and domestic fund-raising through IPOs and other sources. Hathway Cable and Datacom, DB Realty, Godrej Properties, NHPC and Indiabulls Power are a few companies whose stocks are quoting at a discount to the offer price in the current market.








MUMBAI: Portfolio clean-up ' is fast becoming the buzzword for wealth managers who are trying to acquire more clients, as the financial year draws to a close. An alternative nomenclature to portfolio rebalancing, a clean-up involves weeding out investments that are a drag on portfolios. Loss-making structured notes, illiquid stocks, shaky private equity investments, excess insurance products are the victims of the purge by wealth managers.

According to experts, 'portfolio clean-up' is a first step that most managers initiate while accepting the mandate to manage a high net worth individual (HNI) portfolio. Most of the times, and more so in present times, a majority of HNI portfolios are loaded with 'push' products (investment products that are sold by distributors for higher commission) that don't really meet investors' long-term needs.

A typical portfolio above Rs 50 lakh and below Rs 2 crore will have a slew of unit-linked insurance plans (Ulips), a random selection of stocks — more skewed towards mid-caps than large-caps and low-yielding fixed income. Wealth portfolios above Rs 2 crore generally have low-limit structured products (written by weak issuers), chunky private equity fund holdings and real estate investments. The portfolios of super HNIs — above Rs 50 crore — are relatively clean as far as the stock selection goes. But for an overload for "sticky" structured notes, a large chunk of real estate investments, a swathe of small-ticket PMS investments and some random investments in companies and private equity funds.

Under 'portfolio clean-up', the wealth manager redeems or reduces loss-making investments and increases portfolio returns by investing in assets with reasonable risk-reward co-ordinates. "The idea is to have a full review of financials, reduce exposure to 'low-return' asset class, sell illiquid assets and then reinvest money to reach a set goal," said Rajesh Saluja, CEO, ASK Wealth Advisors.

According to experts, a portfolio review or clean-up should be a regular affair and not an event-based. Ideally, this exercise should be carried out annually. This reduces the instances of 'sticky', illiquid assets accumulating over a longer time-frame. "By definition, 'sticky' assets are hard to weed out. Hence, portfolio review or clean-up will be most relevant to selling off select equities (which are relatively liquid), tweak MF portfolios or churn instruments (could be to redeem a PMS and invest in ETFs); the same strategy applies for bonds and cash instruments," said Hrishi Parandekar, CEO, Karvy Private Wealth.

In the case of structured products, wealth managers have limited options to turn around investments. Holding on till maturity, selling underlying debentures to the issuer or a mutual fund at discount rates or pledging the investments to take a loan and then reinvesting in 'high return, low risk' asset classes are some of the steps adopted by wealth managers while cleaning up portfolios laden with structured notes. There are many HNIs who have invested in funds floated by loss-making real estate companies as well.

"We know the ways to find buyers for PE/RE portfolios which are partly subscribed to, or found ways to liquidate structured notes even before their maturity at reasonable losses. Obviously, good advice needs to be followed up with better execution," Mr Parandekar added.








MUMBAI: India's volatility index, VIX — a measure of investors' perception about the risk of sharp swings based on options prices — is trading at its lowest level since inception in April 2008. In theory, this means investors' fears about sharp market movements are low, but market participants are concerned if this is a lull before a storm.

"VIX may not fall from here and looks like it has bottomed out as volatility will rise, as we near the earnings season. Investors will realign their portfolios based on the financial numbers, causing volatility and a subsequent jump in VIX from these low levels," says Jitendra Panda, senior vice-president, business associate group, Motilal Oswal Securities. "There are some major events like earnings and RBI policy among others lined up next month and the VIX could react to them," he said.


VIX has dropped to 19-20% — the lowest since it was launched in April 2008 (data is available since November 2007) from 26-27%, post Union Budget on February 26. The India VIX fell below 20 last Friday to 19.73 on Friday, its lowest since inception.

VIX and the prices of underlying financial assets move in opposite directions. The lower prices that traders pay to buy protection against volatility using NSE's Nifty options, get reflected in lower VIX levels, which at this point of time suggest traders may be getting complacent.

India's VIX rose to its highest of 85.13 in November 2008, after the global financial crisis that triggered the Lehman bankruptcy and precipitated the slide in equity markets world-wide.

Chicago Board Option Exchange's VIX (CBOE VIX), which measures the implied volatility of S&P 500 options, touched a nine-month low when it fell below 17 in the first half of January this year. Currently, it is trading at around 17.58, slightly above its January lows.

Key indices have been moving in a narrow range for the past several weeks in the absence of any major triggers, either locally or globally. The Nifty has been mostly hovering in the range of 4800 and 5200 since October after gaining over 100% since the lows of March 2009. The VIX has mirrored its inverse relationship with the market movement all this while.

"Implied volatility always reverts to its mean," says Savio Shetty, institutional derivative analyst at Prabhudas Lilladher. "So we feel that markets could see some major moves in the coming weeks. One has to be cautious as people become too complacent. We are suggesting our clients to buy options and adopt straddles and strangle strategy," he says.

Mr Shetty adds that the range for the VIX has gone down to multi-year lows in line with volatility index of other major global markets. This has resulted in option premium going down.

Though volatility may rise next month, analysts said it would not be a reflection of any panic, unless there are negative surprises in global markets.







It'll be shot in the arm for growth of education sector This is a welcome development. The Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010, will not just provide greater access to quality education closer home for Indian students, but will also help pave way for greater autonomy to premier educational institutes in the country. This bill, if passed, has the potential to create the same impact on India's higher education sector as the ecomomic liberalisation & deregulation in the nineties had on India's industrial sector.

The move will provide the much-needed shot in the arm for the growth of education sector in the country. If top-rung global B-schools like Harvard, Stanford, Kellogg and Columbia set up campuses in India, they will go a long way in taking quality education to a larger number of students. In India, the top 15 premier institutes can accommodate only 5,000 of the lakhs of students (more than 2.15 lakh this year) who take the Common Admission Test (CAT) annually.

With foreign universities coming in, the large outflow of students travelling to the US and Europe in search of quality education will be curtailed. Students can access quality education at the fraction of the cost. Yes, some foreign institutes may charge fees in excess of that currently being charged by the country' s premier B-schools like IIMs, but remember, students stand to benefit as they can save on their travel, lodging, boarding, and other expenses.

Greater autonomy to Indian premier institutes will be one of the logical fallout of the entry of foreign institutes into the country. The government will be bound to adopt a broader approach.

But now, in order to provide a level-playing field to Indian institutes, the government should also allow them to set up overseas campuses. Further, the government should also allow Indian institutes to have deans of foreign institutes and industrialists on their board of governors.

Foregin faculty too will have a role to play, the way foreign executives changed the Indian corporate sector. In the short-term, entry of foreign universities might lead to faculty exodus from premier institutes. The institutes that set up base in India will end up recruiting faculty from within the country as they will find it difficult to sustain large degree programmes with the help of visiting faculties. However, in the long run, these foreign universities with their lucrative salary levels will help in making "teaching" an attractive profession.

(As told to Avinash Nair)


Bill can formalise globalisation of sector Education is among the most globalised activities. Informal globalisation of education has been going on for quite sometime by way of students and teachers going abroad for studies, teaching & research. Indian students, for instance, have been going in large numbers not only to join established universities in the US and UK but also to lesser-known universities in Australia & New Zealand.

And some countries like China, South Korea, Singapore and those in the Middle-East have already permitted foreign universities to set up campuses.

The present Cabinet proposal, if approved by Parliament, will formalise the globalisation of education in India. Initially, only a few foreign universities may set up campuses in India, particularly for professional subjects, where Indian students are willing to pay a heavy price for education.

This would provide competition to Indian business schools and other professional institutions. If these universities are able to improve the quality of education at a lesser cost, it will bode well for the country's education. Also, if the move prevents Indian students from flocking to lesser-known universities abroad by spending a fortune, it would be beneficial as the cost of education will be much lower in India even if provided by a foreign university.

In the long run, if well-known universities set up campuses in India to take advantage of India's low-cost status in education, particularly in research, it will mutually benefit India and foreign countries.

India has a comparative cost advantage in research in basic sciences. Our faculties are highly qualified and also respected internationally. Unfortunately, they are unable to pursue higher standards due to lack of opportunities here. Only a handful of Indian universities are able to provide quality infrastructure of international standards in teaching and research.

Given this backdrop, the entry of quality foreign universities will indeed enhance educational opportunities in India. But if only not-so well-known universities come calling to exploit India's large student base, the purpose of globalisation will be lost for our country.

(As told to Mahima Puri)


Govt should free well-performing public institutions from controls As the Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill gets the Cabinet nod, the issue of level-playing field amongst domestic public institutions has come to the fore. In an interview to ET's Kumar Anand, IIM-Ahmedabad director Samir K Barua insists position of public institutions of repute like the IIMs should not be compromised. Excerpts:

Your first thoughts on the bill?

Permitting good academic institutions to enter the country is welcome; since that may improve the quality of education in the country.

What would be the implications for domestic academic institutions?

There should be a level-playing field, if domestic institutions are to be able to compete. This does not appear to be the case. For instance, why shouldn't quota in admissions be imposed on these institutions; I think quota should be imposed on all academic institutions, if we do believe that it is good for the nation. I am not against quota. I am just that the government should impose the same rules on all institutions.

Are there other concerns?

Public institutions have to abide by several other constraints, such as RTI Act. IIMs are queried intimately on all aspects of functioning. How would they be able to compete effectively if they can keep nothing confidential about while private institutions have to reveal nothing? The environment is completely asymmetric. Some of the restrictions faced by public institutions, like compensation structure and restrictions in dealing with poor performance actually become roadblocks in attracting and retaining talent and sacking non-performers.

What would you suggest be done?

The government should free at least the well-performing public institutions from controls. That would be one way to ensure that effective domestic competition is provided against the foreign universities.

Any other observations?

I have not read the bill in details; but based on what is reported in the media, there would be several concerns on the financial terms. Asking for a deposit (is it entry fee?) of just Rs 50 crore does not make sense. Harvard University, for example, has a corpus of $24 billion; they could easily pay $100 million to be allowed to enter India. And they should be asked to pay such amounts.

Funds thus collected by the government could be used to bolster primary education in the country. The amount should also act as deterrent for fly by night operators. While government has said that profits earned from education have to be ploughed back into education, it has left a window open by permitting these institutes/universities to take the surplus out of the country. This may lead to misuse since consulting is an extremely ill-defined term. There could be huge outflow of surplus through this mechanism.

Your views on autonomy?

The government should give greater autonomy to public institutions of higher education and free them from controls to create a level-playing field. Otherwise, the government would have sown the seeds of destruction of some of the excellent public institutions. I think there is a need to re-think on the provisions of the Bill. There should be public debate on the bill, outside parliament!








In 1985, Stephen Schwarzman and Peter Peterson launched Blackstone with $400,000 in corpus. Today, the New York-headquartered firm is one of the world's biggest private equity firms. In India, though, its progress has been slower than what befits its size. It opened shop in May 2005, and till date has less than a billion dollars to show by way of investment. But that's about to change.

In an interview with ET Now, the Blackstone co-founder says he sees his firm's investment in the country nearly tripling in the next five years. There's no doubt about Schwarzman's (63) excitement over India. In the week he spent in the country, he (and his wife) not just managed to do business, but also spot tigers in Ranthambore, catch the IPL match in Mumbai, and do the backwaters in Kerala. Excerpts from the interview:

When do you expect the US economy to start pumping at the pre-recessional levels?

I think it is a two or three-year run before the US starts feeling as comfortable as it used to.

What about the sovereign debt crisis in Europe? Do you think it's blown over or will there be surprises?

I do not anticipate a collapse because the European governments, as a group, like the concept of a Union and they like the strength that comes from a united front as expressed by the Euro.

People like Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff say China is a bubble that'll burst. Do you agree?

China has had a number of bubbles in its history. But the central bank there, governor Zhou (Xiaochuan), is a smart fellow, and they are prepared to stimulate their economy to keep creating 10 million jobs here. They are aware that real estate prices have gone higher, they are raising interest rates, and they are telling banks not to lend so much. When they want something to happen, something happens and it happens immediately. So, I'm not anticipating the sort of bubble collapse.

Talking of PE, leverage buy-outs are what the industry really thrives on. Do you see credit coming back to leveraged deals?

Credit has come back. A year ago, the leverage we would get in the West for deals would be around 3-1/2 times cash flow. Now, it is up to 5-1/2 times cash flow. The amount we could borrow a year ago for a transaction was about a billion dollars. Now, you get deals of $3-5 billion.

But excessive leverage was what caused the problem to begin with. So, does the PE industry model then need to change in some fundamental sense?

Well, you have to remember that private equity did not create the financial crisis and private equity has had actually few bankruptcies as a percent of the total transactions that they do.

The regular economy managed to bankrupt itself without much help from private equity. And so the private equity model of buying companies and improving them, which is what we do, and then selling either the company or investment is a pretty enduring model. A firm like ours has earned for its investors 17% more in terms of absolute return compared with the stock market over 24 years. If the stock market was making 5%, we have been making 22%. So, it does not sound like a particularly broken model to me.


Going forward, will the big PE firms get bigger at the cost of smaller firms?

The talented firms with high returns will do better and better. But big PE firms will not necessarily win because of their size. It is about talent and performance. Those will get more money.

The Obama administration is tightening the screws on the financial services industry. The so-called Volcker rule has most bankers worried. You have pretty strong views on that, don't you?

The whole financial regulation is not really a US issue, it is a global issue. With the exception of pretty tightly-controlled market like India or China, most international banks did quite poorly in the financial crisis. So there are national needs for reform and there is an international need for reform. The international reform is happening through the G20 and the bank for international settlements. Then, every country, besides big ones, will overlay individual rules on top of these international rules. So it is really, really complicated. If any country gets it wrong, it dramatically weakens its banking system versus somebody else's.

What everybody knows is that there needs to be reform, and there are a lot of interesting ideas, but nobody knows exactly what is going to come out. What they do know is they do not want to move before everybody else does.

If you look at the stock markets around the world, they seem to have run ahead of the actual earnings growth. Are you happy with the sort of deals you are able to get at this point?

Well, valuations in the world have popped up because stock markets have popped up, and stock markets have popped up in response to very low interest rates in the developed world. What it has meant for us is that instead of buying businesses at 5 times cash flow, it has forced the prices up a bit to 6 or 7 times the cash flow. So, we actually wish they had stayed lower for longer.

In May this year, Blackstone will complete 5 years in India. In that time, you would have invested a billion dollars. Are you happy with the progress you have made in the country?

Yeah, I really am. When we decided to go into India, we made an announcement that we were going to put a billion dollars into India, which at the time was big news apparently. I think we will accomplish that objective. We own 10 companies now. We have really good businesses that we have invested in. We have a terrific office here run by Akhil Gupta and the prospects here are extremely good. I really like India.

So it was a billion dollars in the past five years. In the next 5 years, will it be five billion dollars?

It is hard to know exactly where things will be for the next 5 years. But it is certainly possible that it will be in the 2 to 3 billion-dollar range.


Which are the sectors in India that really excite you in terms of growth potential?

The power sector is really interesting. Media, a lot of the areas in IT services, there are great pockets of growth. When you have an economy as you do here that is going to grow in all probability in the 8% zone plus or minus a 0.2 or 0.5, almost everything is going to be growing. A lot of the way to think about investing is, what is the quality of the management, how unique is the company, what is its distinctive proposition, as opposed to just areas of growth, because almost everything is growing.

What would you say have been your key learnings over the last five years?

There was this incident over Ushodaya, where Blackstone was trying to invest, but because of political compulsions had to back out. India is a bit of a complex place for outsiders and we have learned a lot in 5 years. On this particular deal, that was a political situation, which perhaps we did not fully understand. We have learnt more about how to better assess management and how to bring managerial expertise to companies here and to assess what the prospects are of success here a little better.

Politics is not something that's going to make you go slow on investments in India, right?

No, no, we are accelerating here. We really like it here and this is one of the few places in the world where you look at the fundamentals and say this place is a winner. There is no doubt about it in my mind and the momentum that India has is going to carry it forward. You have a very good government here. It is a complex system from the outside, but the senior people, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Montek Ahluwalia, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, are very accessible to those of us on the outside. I would say almost more than any other government in the world.

There is almost no leverage buyout that happens in India. But do you see that changing as companies start striking bigger deals?

There will not be any kind of avalanche of leverage buyouts in India. One reason is when you have this type of enormous growth, it needs to be financed in the way it normally gets financed and which is not through putting leverage on top of bank leverage. It normally gets financed by equity, by the retention of earnings in the company. If you put too much leverage on the companies here and they grow quickly, you will need even more money and so you will not have enough money to pay down the debt as well as invest in inventories, in research and development. You need to grow the companies. So in high-growth economies, you always have much less debt available and that is normal.


But do you see opportunities in outbound deals? For example, Bharti is looking at Zain in Africa, the Tatas bought Corus and JLR. Going forward, there might be bigger deals that happen. Do you see an opportunity for Blackstone to get involved in such deals?

Yes, I do. Before the financial crash, I was having a meeting with the head of one of your major banks here in India and he said to me that there was literally no demand for funding operations outside of India. But now, he said, one out of our three customers want bank facilities to expand or purchase assets outside of India. We also see that happening in China. And one of the great roles for a firm like ours, which is global and which knows how to do investments around the world as well as merger and acquisition, is to help companies outside of India rather and minimise the risk in doing large deals.

In China, you are raising a fund in local currency. Would you like to do something similar in India?

In China we are allowed to do that. In India, I do not know whether we are allowed to do that. If we were allowed that would be potentially of interest. (Editor's note: India does allow local fund raising by
foreign PE firms.)

You are also into philanthropy in the US. Do you plan to do anything in India?

I have not really thought about that. I am trying to think through my charity objectives. At the same time, we are doing all these things at work. I gave a $100 million to the New York Public Library, which is a really important thing for me. I am sending about a 150 kids to school now. It happens to be in the Catholic School system in New York. I am not Catholic, but it is because they have delivered the best educational product with 99% of the kids graduating from High School with more than 50% of the children being below the poverty line, 50% being minorities, more than 50% not being Catholic.

If you decide to do something in India will education be it?

I cannot tell you yet, because I have not thought that issue through yet.


Steve, you are also the kind of guy who likes the high life. Not too long ago, you threw a $3 million birthday party. Obviously, to your mind, there is no contradiction between giving away and also living it up.

Yeah, that is a good question. I lead a pretty intense life and I really enjoy my life. Most people in my position would not be working. I do not view work as work. I love building Blackstone. I love looking at investments. I love developing our younger people. I also like having a bit of fun in my life, too. For example, I sleep about five hours at night, which gives me a little more in the way of alternatives for what I do. My normal work day is 14 to 16:00 hours long. I am up very early and I go to sleep around 1 o'clock. In the morning, I am usually up no later than 6, and most of that is my work life.

So retirement is obviously not on your mind right now?

No, I think my grandfather worked till he was 89. I have so many wonderful opportunities. For example, just being here in India. My wife wanted to go to Rajasthan so we have been in Jaipur and Jodhpur, and Ranthambore, where I saw 5 tigers in three drives. So I get to see the country, experience the country. I am going down to Kerala over the weekend and it is a wonderful opportunity for me as a person to continue to grow, continue to learn.







News reports tell us that the government funding of rural development has jumped up from around Rs 27,000 crores to about Rs 75,000 crores in the last five years, and we have been reading about the rural uptick in the demand of many products. But underlying this uptick may be yet another phenomenon, the 'urbanisation of the rural mindset'.

Mr Ravi Kant while speaking at the PanIIT Alumni Conference last year, at IIT Madras, made an interesting observarion about the an Indian rural consumer. He said that the rural consumer is slowly developing an urban mindset. From the days when the rural consumer was seen to be a lot more conservative, a lot more careful with his money, the opening up of the economy, the growth in disposable income and the proliferation of media has brought about significant changes in the way a rural consumer behaves with his wallet.

These observations were reminiscent of the remarks made at Ad Asia 1990, by the late Shunu Sen, who was then the marketing director of Hindustan Lever. Speaking in glowing terms of Karsanbhai Patel (one of this year Padma awardees), Shunu observed that the rural consumer is but an Indian who is living in the rural area as designated by the census. Pointing out how Karsanbhai took an urban washing concept, of a detergent powder, to the villages, when companies like Hindustan Lever felt that rural consumer will not give up on the washing soap, Shunu observed that the rural consumer is willing to change her habits if we can make them a great value offer.

It is interesting to look at these two observations, separated by almost two decades, from a leading marketer of automobiles and a leading marketer of consumer products.

Are we seeing an urbanisation of rural mindset now? Is the rural consumer more prone to looking beyond value-for-money offers but is also willing to embrace some of the practices of their urban brethren?

What could have entailed this change and what could be the implications?

Over the last 20 years, the process of integration of rural India with urban India has been speeded up. This has been enabled by the rapid growth of mobile services across the country. The urban husband is now able to talk to his rural wife and tell her to buy a new television set for the family. The growth in roads, thanks to the Golden Quadrilateral Project, has enabled not just the voice to travel faster, but also goods and people to travel faster to rural India. Add to this the growth of television especially cable and Dish TV in rural India, you can see how 'urbanisation' of rural mindset is now a reality.

What will this urbanisation bring in its wake?


For a start, there has been a lot of smoke and thunder about Indian rural demand driving the sales of consumer products. People tend to forget that the same consumers just 10 years ago rapidly downgraded to cheaper products and brands. In category after category, soaps, shampoos, detergents, oil, biscuits etc. rural and even some urban consumers moved down to sub-popular brands. This time around we are not seeing such a rapid down trading happening in any product category in spite of a serious case of food price inflation. That is one big benefit of the urban mindset getting into rural consumers.

Rural consumers are also known to be slower at adopting new products, new technology and new brands. The urbanisation of their mindset would mean that they would be ready to upgrade their durables faster than in the past. As against changing cars/two wheeler every five years like an urban consumer, the rural consumer was quite happy changing their vehicles every seven years or longer. That may change in the coming decade.

People working in the agri-inputs sector have relied in the past on what are known as demonstration plots or experimental farms where new hybrid seeds, new farming methods are demonstrated to farmers. (In fact, Everett Roger's seminal work on new product adoption was done on hybrid seeds with American farmers.) It is possible that in the years to come, rural consumers will be willing to experiment without a full scale demonstration of the product benefit.

There are possibly many more manifestations of the urbanisation of the rural consumer minds such as value orientation, saving orientation, role of women in decision making on purchases. And more.

As Indian economy grows, it will bring in its wake many changes in the mind of the rural consumers, and marketers are well advised not to hang on to their old impressions of the rural consumers. Lest they get dubbed as rural-minded marketers.

M G Parameswaran, CEO Mumbai, Draftfcb Ulka Advertising









MUMBAI: Reliance Communications (RCOM) is targeting a fifth of India's telecom revenue market in the next three years, up from the current 12%. The telecom firm will bid for spectrum for 3G (third generation services), as well as broadband wireless access (BWA), in all the 22 circles of India. ET caught up with RCOM's wireless business CEO Syed Safawi after the company announced reaching the 100 million customer mark. Excerpts:

What is your strategy for adding the next 100 million customers?

Our portfolio is diverse. The CDMA network is our value driver in terms of the data capabilities sitting there, while GSM is our growth driver. We are witnessing a horizontal growth in GSM, led by our 35,000 sites. We are beginning to see growth in rural India, which gives us the confidence that we can go to the next 100 million in less than 1,000 days.

Is the current tariff war sustainable?

Some players can fight out this war for 18-20 months and we will be among them who will fight. The new players will find it challenging because they will be driving from the first minute. The core business is with us. We see ourselves a winner.

Do you see tariffs nosediving further?

I don't see a huge erosion in tariffs from here on unless transmission charges are reduced from 20 paise to 10 paise. If that change takes place, further customer value can be created.

Isn't revenue market share as important as subscriber market share. What are you doing to improve that?

In the past two quarters, we have gained 0.2% market share and currently have 12%. We see ourselves with one-fifth of the Indian wireless market in the next three years. One of the levers will be data and the other will be value-added services. Some of these services will come out in the next 6-8 quarters. We have a roadmap for 3G (third technology) as well as long- term evolution (LTE, the successor to 3G).

Will you bid for both 3G and BWA across India or you will be selective? How will you fund it?

We are a complete services player. We will bid pan-India for both 3G and BWA. Our current business is cash positive and we are pre-paying part of our debt. Our capex for FY11 is also down to just Rs 3,000 crore, which we can take care of through internal accruals. We are finalising details and will close funding in a few weeks.

What kind of 3G services offtake are you anticipating, and how will 3G auctions affect financials of operators?
The value of business depends on the walkaway price of spectrum. If it goes higher, then each operator will have to evaluate the business case. The real value for 3G services will come from top 110 towns and how each company will be able to extract data revenues from these towns will decide their future.


When do you see the next round of consolidation setting in?

I believe that consolidation has already started. All the operators with pan-India licenses are not rolling out at the expected speed. They are not aggressive despite the existence of infrastructure that can be shared. Consolidation is not only M&A (mergers & acquisition). If someone is not in a hurry to reach the market, then that's a way to consolidation. We may see complete closure in 18-20 months.






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Pakistan's approach to discussions with India has changed in fundamental ways since the time of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and this shows up in the context of both Kashmir and Afghanistan, and in the broad thrust of Islamabad's diplomatic efforts against this country. It is not clear to what extent this shift had been factored into India's decision to talk to Pakistan at the level of foreign secretaries last month, which carried the imprimatur of the Prime Minister. Dr Manmohan Singh apparently shares the view that for the sake of appearances Islamabad has taken a few perfunctory steps to book some Pakistani conspirators behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, but is essentially dragging its feet. Nonetheless, the PM's keenness to resume contacts — although not yet in the form of a return to the composite dialogue process disrupted after 26/11 — after the failure of his move at Sharm el-Sheikh is rooted in his high-minded view that there can never be an alternative to dialogue, and that apparently the time for it is always right. Many might differ with the latter part of this proposition, but that has not deterred the government from going ahead with the opening round of the foreign secretaries' dialogue in New Delhi last month. Such an approach can yield dividends if the interlocutor is amenable, but there has so far been little evidence of this. The home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, was constrained to note at a recent public forum that the Inter-Services Intelligence was supporting all Pakistani terrorist outfits acting against this country. When Pakistan's high commissioner Shahid Malik sought to rebut this, Mr Chidambaram urged him to offer India the voice samples of some of the 26/11 suspects so that these could be matched against electronic transcripts in this country's possession. On hearing this, Mr Malik withdrew from the impromptu debate. It transpires that the February 25 discussion between the two foreign secretaries was anything but smooth. The Pakistani side was eager to quickly escalate talks to the political level while India desired proof of positive Pakistani intentions on the 26/11 investigation before this could be contemplated. That looks like a logjam. It is far from clear when Islamabad will invite the Indian foreign secretary to continue the dialogue at that level. It would appear that it is in no hurry to do so. Pakistani analysts have observed that Islamabad holds all the aces at the current juncture, in that the United States has now come to rely on it completely to end the war in Afghanistan with the help of the Taliban who have been sheltered by Pakistan all these years. For Islamabad, being the bad boy has produced results. Thus — the thinking goes — it can sit tight about dialogue with India unless this is to take place on its own terms. For decades India has accused Pakistan of using terrorists to mould the political discussion on Kashmir. Pakistan has lately begun to throw a counter-charge: that India is using Afghan territory to launch terrorists against Pakistan in Balochistan. This is wholly contrived, but technically a tit for tat has become available to use at diplomatic forums. The issue of waters of the Indus river system has been brought into the discussion as the other new element. Terrorist outfits like LeT have been wheeled out to raise temperatures on the river waters issue and their slogan is "water or war", although it is well known that even India's share of the Indus system waters flows into Pakistan which is unable to exploit it, letting it run into the sea.








Since the dawn of its Independence, India has generally contented itself by tackling the softer crusts of the numerous social and economic problems that it has faced. The harder crusts have always been left untouched. Consequently, these problems, in substance, have continued to exist, often at the grassroots.


After exercising comparatively easier options, the country's leadership has been deluding itself by believing that it has taken all the measures that were needed. But harsh realities do not go away. They require a far more fundamental and hard approach.


Let me, in the context of the current consideration of the Women's Reservation Bill by Parliament, elaborate my proposition by analysing the position of women in the Indian society. This position, for a good part of India's history, has been unedifying.


In "ancient India", women enjoyed a position of respect and dignity. Swami Vivekananda, in a lecture delivered on January 21, 1894, in Brooklyn, United States, on the ideal of womanhood in India, had brought out this fact with solid evidence. Even Manu, who was generally conservative in his views, had underlined: "Where women are respected, there the gods delight".


Unfortunately, at a later stage a diametrically opposite view was formulated, mostly by interpolators at the behest of vested interests. The woman was assigned a position which was wholly subservient to man. The extent to which the distortion was carried out is evident from what was stipulated in Padman Purana: "There is no other god on earth for a woman other than her husband... If he flies into a passion, abuses her grossly, even beats her unjustly, she shall beg his pardon... She must, on the death of her husband, allow herself to be burnt alive on the same funeral pyre".


After some time the woman got accustomed to her position and it seemed normal to her to play a secondary, even sacrificial, role. Pain, anguish and suffering was there, but they were all accepted with a sense of resignation, and sometimes as a social and religious obligation.


The above position underwent a slight change, consequent to the renaissance of the late 19th and early 20th century. After Independence, there have been a flurry of reforms. The Constitution prohibited discrimination on ground of sex; The Hindu law has been amended and liberalised; A number of special schemes for the welfare of women have been introduced; Huge representation in the panchayati raj institutions and urban local bodies given to women. But what is the position of the common woman in India today?


A sizeable section of the Hindus still treats girl as a "child of a lesser god". Female infanticide and foeticide are

prevalent to a considerable extent and this is reflected in the national sex ratio — against every 1,000 males there are 927 females.


The pre-natal mortality rate and infant mortality rate are worst for girls. They are often malnourished and brought to hospitals later in the course of their illness than boys. The birth of a girl and failure to conceive a boy are significant risk factors for postpartum depression. The suicide rate among young women is about three times more than it is among young boys. Women and girls have lower literacy rates. Child labour among girls and unequal wages for women for similar work are common.


Likewise, on account of what are considered culturally sanctioned practices, the evil custom of child marriage persists. The state has contented itself by merely banning it, caring little about its enforcement. According to the latest report of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef), State of the World's Children (2009), "forty per cent of the world's child marriages occur in India". No wonder the latest Asia-Pacific Human Development Report 2010 of the United Nations Development Programme, Power, Voice and Rights 2010, paints a rather dismal picture of the conditions prevailing at the ground level with regard to the Indian women.


In quite a few areas of the country the disquieting custom of devadasi continues under the smoke screen of religious tradition though it has virtually lapsed into a racket of commercial exploitation of women for sex. A research study sponsored by the National Human Rights Commission has noted: "After initiation as devadasis, women migrate either to a nearby town or other far-off cities to practice prostitution".


Domestic violence is also quite common. About 45 per cent women are slapped. One case of cruelty by husband and relatives is reported every nine minutes. General crime against women, too, is widespread. There is one molestation case every 15 minutes, one rape every 29 minutes, one dowry death every 77 minutes, and one incident of sexual harassment every 53 minutes.


All this shows that the law, the Constitution, the plans and the schemes floated by the government and the stray efforts made by a few social groups cannot cure a chronic ailment rooted in attitudes fashioned out of practices that were followed for centuries in the name of social and religious obligations of women. The poison that has gone deep into the psyche can be drained only if a strong social and cultural reform movement is initiated and put in the top gear in a short time.


Such a movement, so far as the Hindus are concerned, should endeavour to recreate Upanishadic/Vedantic principles, conceived and propagated in "ancient India". These principles emanate from the belief that all life is divine, that there is an underlying unity of existence, that the Supreme Self partakes the individual self, that there is no duality and that there is "one in all and all in one". In this belief system, notions of equality and liberty are inbuilt. If man and woman are "enmeshed parts" of the same self, they cannot harm each other as this would amount to "injury of the self by the self".


Initiation of the reform movement of the kind indicated above, which would change social ethos, values and outlook, would mean tackling the hard crust of the problem. Practically no leader, be s/he in politics or social, intellectual or cultural arena, has done anything in this regard in post-1947 India. It is time that we, as a nation, realise the fundamental weakness of the approach so far followed and, along with legal and administrative measures, undertake the difficult but crucial task of eliminating deep-rooted infections which our society contracted during the long period of its degeneration.


What I have said applies to the Hindu society A similar move would have to be made by Muslim leaders as well. They should play their role in generating social and cultural values that would give meaning and substance to our goal of emancipating and empowering Indian women.


 Jagmohan is a former governor of J&K and a  former Union minister








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 US 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 US assets? Would interest rates soar? Short-term US 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 US 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 US, 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 per cent.) 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 US dealt with a similar but much less severe problem of foreign undervaluation by imposing a temporary 10 per cent 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 per cent.


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.








Foreign universities may be queuing up to open campuses in India. A few Indian Institute of Management graduates reportedly turned down international assignments in favour of lucrative, domestic offers. Some Indians are indeed coming home after successful stints overseas. But the global economy continues to draw India's young and restless  abroad. That is both good and bad. 


At a recent networking reception in Canada House in Lutyens' Delhi, Jean Charest, the Premier of Quebec, announced that foreign students who graduate from universities in his province will automatically qualify for a certificate that will make it easier and quicker to qualify for Canadian citizenship, provided they pass health and security checks. Mr Charest explained Quebec's move bluntly, "We are doing this because we have a shortage of skilled labour". 


The Prime Minister of French-speaking Quebec and the university brass who accompanied him during his visit to India are among the latest to join the  global race for international students. Other provinces in Canada have been at the game much longer following the lead of countries like Australia where selling education to foreign students is the third-largest industry, just behind coal and iron. Predictably, Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith used his  recent trip to India to repair his country's tarnished reputation following a spate of attacks on Indian students in Australia.


If Prime Ministers and foreign ministers of industrialised countries with sluggish population growth have turned salespersons, aggressively competing to attract and retain international students, it is because, frankly speaking, they have little choice. In many developed  countries, the baby boom period is over. Currently, they are confronted with the dual problems of an ageing population and consistently low fertility alongside a  debilitating shortage of skilled personnel in key sectors.


A recent article in the Montreal Gazette put it crisply: "Foreign graduates of our universities make ideal immigrants. They have Canadian education credentials. They have few integration problems because they're already familiar with Quebec. They have low settlement costs because they're already here. And they tend to find jobs relatively quickly — no welfare needed, thank you".


The epicentre of the global  talent hunt is Asia — China and India far exceed any other nation in terms of student mobility. In the long-term, developed countries could possibly reduce their need for immigrants through massive investments in education, and retraining of their existing workforce. This is will cost money.


The cheaper and short-term solution, clearly, lies with developing nations like India and China which have become reservoirs of a young, skilled workforce.


The United States education sector — especially science and technology departments — are desperately searching for students, especially Indians and Chinese. Indians made up the largest number of international  students in the US for more than eight consecutive years and the lead persists even during the current economic recession. Chinese and Indian university graduates won the most scholarships to study for a Master's degree in the European Union in 2009. One in 10 of all the "Erasmus Mundus" Master's scholarships offered — 188 out of a total of 1,833 — were won by Chinese graduates for the academic year 2009-10. Indian students came second with 118 scholarship winners.


Can the jobs of the future in the developed world be filled only by sons (and daughters) of the soil? The answer depends on who you speak to. But clearly, the education sector and industry in those countries are not taking risks.


Ironically, the hunt for the best and the brightest of the developing world is happening at a time when rich countries are tightening their visa rules for the rest. "It is not surprising at all. It makes economic sense for them to bring in the cream of the students from the developing world, train them and allow them to work temporarily. This helps the individual migrants and destination countries  who retain their competitive edge", says Prof Binod Khadria, project director, International Migration and Diaspora Studies Project at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.


"India is a major source country for student migration and the number is increasing every year", states the India Migration  Report 2009, edited by Mr Khadria. 


The global talent-hunt goes beyond students. For example, today, alongside the Philippines, India is a source country for well-trained and English-speaking nurses. The increased demand for nurses in developed countries has spawned the growth of private recruitment agencies which export Indian nurses.


Global mobility is good for individual migrants. But is it good for the sending country? One could argue that the country also benefits through remittances, technology transfer as well as "brain gain" in instances where the migrant comes home  after working abroad for some time. But global mobility has given rise to a situation that is infinitely more complex than what appears on the surface.  


"Presently, there is a tendency to focus on the immediate and short-term benefits arising to the country from emigration of its workers and students", states the report. However, the labour market projections within India already show a shortage in most categories of high-skill human capital — scientists, engineers, doctors, managers, IT professionals, teachers, nurses and so on.


Emigration is adding to that shortage. If this trend continues, the shortage of skilled personnel in the country would mount, further leading to the decline in the average productivity of labour as a whole, the report notes.


One area that needs immediate attention is the information gap, says Mr Kadria. There is a severe lacuna of good data to feed into policy-making on migration to maximise its positive effects and minimise the negative ones.


A few telling indicators: despite being a major source country, India still does not have enough information on women migrants, on remittance flows in general, and how that money is being used. It would help to know, for instance, what proportion of the money that is  sent back is used in real estate  and what proportion is ploughed into education and health that can boost national capacity and yield long-term returns.


- Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at [1]








There is a section that is currently arguing that the world economy will bounce back after the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, that the "green shoots" of recovery are for real and that the sharp fall in industrial activity, trade and investment was largely a trans-Atlantic phenomenon that originated from and primarily impacted developed countries in the United States, western Europe and Japan. There is reason to believe that none of these propositions are correct.


On the contrary, large parts of the planet are still in the grip of recession, the recovery is slow and the world is unlikely to return to the jobs scenario that prevailed in late-2007 in a hurry. According to the annual "global employment trends" report of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) presented on January 26, 2010, the number of jobless people worldwide reached nearly 212 million in 2009 following an "unprecedented" increase in the number of unemployed persons by 34 million compared to 2007. Based on forecasts made by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the ILO estimates that global unemployment is likely to remain high through 2010.


The report says that while coordinated stimulus measures have averted a potentially far greater social and economic catastrophe, millions of women and men around the world are still without a job, unemployment benefits or any viable form of social protection. The ILO estimates that the share of workers in "vulnerable employment" worldwide is estimated to reach over 1.5 billion, equivalent to over half (50.6 per cent) of the world's labour force, this number having gone up by as much as 110 million between 2008 and 2009. The southeast Asian and Pacific region includes many economies that are highly dependent on foreign trade and investment flows. The number of workers in vulnerable employment in this region is estimated to have increased by close to five million since 2008; the regional unemployment rate has risen to 5.6 per cent in 2009, up 0.2 percentage points in comparison to 2007 and is expected to remain steady in 2010. The WTO stated that 2009 saw a 10 per cent fall in world trade, the steepest decline since such statistics were compiled. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development data indicates a 15 per cent drop in the volume of world trade last year and this is expected to rebound by only five per cent this year.


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator








THE scientists who have studied about the social behaviour of animals and insects have spoken of inter-attraction. Living beings are like bees, termites and ants. They feel wonderful being together. They are social animals; they want to be with each other, they feel more secure, they feel happier being together. You cannot keep a bee alone or isolated because after a few hours, a few days, it will dry up. Without the beehive, a bee cannot be a bee anymore. A practitioner who is without a sangha cannot continue his or her practice. That is something we feel very strongly. Our practice is nourished and grows deeply only in the context of the sangha, and that is why each of us feels that we should be a sangha builder. Because it is with the sangha that we feel more solidity, security, joy and happiness.


So as practitioners we want to be with each other, something that is the equivalent of inter-attraction. We are motivated by the same desire to practise for our transformation, for our healing, and for transformation and healing in the world. We know that a solitary ant cannot do much. But when we put 100 ants together, they behave as a new organism and you begin to see them operating as an organism, with intelligence, with thinking and with planning. A solitary ant has only a few neurons strung together by fibres. If we look at her we don't see intelligence manifesting, we don't see thinking, we don't see ideas. But when the ants get together, something begins to manifest. If you observe an anthill with thousands and thousands of ants working together, you can see clearly the intelligence, the ideas, the thinking, and also the talent. Human beings are also a kind of social animal. When we observe the bees or the ants, we have the impression that we can learn something from them. Scientists have used the word "super organism" to describe the life, the reality of these communities of social insects: "super organism". Why? Because while each individual bee or ant can live his or her life as individuals, they always live the life of the community, of the organism. They live together at the same time as a cell, as a tissue of the same body. And interestingly enough we observe, when we observe them, that there are no egoistic acts, there is no jealousy, there is no anger, there is no discrimination. Every individual works naturally for the well-being of the whole community, and the ant and the bee do not dream much of the future. They are there living the present moment and doing whatever they need to do for the well-being of the whole community. We know an anthill can last for many, many years, maybe 60 years or more, but the life of the ant is only for one month or so. In one month an entire generation of ants vanishes; every day they die at the rate of three or four per cent, and yet they don't think of the future. They don't think whether they will be there when the anthill is finished and they don't care whether at some distance another hill is being built. When we observe the bees, the termites and the ants, we see that they are perfect in the way they lead their daily lives. They do not have egotistic acts. Everything they do is for the good and well-being of the whole community. Therefore, there is no jealousy, there is no fear, there is no discrimination.


— Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most respected Zen masters in the world today. For information in India about Thich Nhat Hanh's Mindfulness Meditation, email [1] or visit [2]









There is an uncanny coincidence between the union environment minister's disclosure that a mining giant has violated tribal rights in Orissa and the "biggest surrender" of 16 Maoists in the state's Gajapati district. Jairam Ramesh's statement on the Rs 50,000-crore mining project in Niyamgiri serves to underscore the fundamental malaise that shall persist even after Saturday's trumpeted surrender. And these relate to the three parameters that the ministerial committee had examined in course of its survey of the Vedanta project ~ tribal rights, forest rules and wildlife conservation. Such basic entitlements of the subaltern have been violated and violated with impunity over time; governments as much as the private sector are culpable and it would be less than fair to blame a single entity. Barely four years ago, as many as 14 tribals ~ up in arms against displacement by a steel plant in Kalinganagar ~ were killed in firing. An aluminium project in the state has been stalled for the past 20 years. In Niyamgiri, which straddles the tribal hotbed of Rayagad and Kalahandi, the worst affected are the Dongria Konds, an endangered primitive tribe, now numbering barely 7,000. A claim to the forest resources has been a fairly justified demand along the Red Corridor. This is a segment in which the government has a crucial role to play. Yet at the site of the Vedanta plant, the process of determination and settlement of rights was never undertaken. In a way, Orissa's forest department has admitted to its own lapse when the committee dwells on extensive deforestation. If there has been no violation of wildlife rules, it could be because the area is not a habitat. 

It would be presumptuous on the part of the administration to reckon that the Maoists who surrendered, including a Class 8 student, were disillusioned with the ideological underpinning. Still less that they panicked at the initial volleys of Operation Green Hunt. Nearer the truth is the fact they were Maoist front-runners and couriers who fell out with the hierarchy when denied of their dues. It would be presumptuous too on the part of the Orissa government to imagine that they will readily be drawn into the mainstream. The state, as indeed West Bengal and Jharkhand, must address the fundamental causes of tribal/Maoist disaffection.  Minister Ramesh may have singled out a particular mining complex in Orissa; it is merely a symptom of the overwhelmimg malaise ~ the extensive denial of tribal rights in all the states along the Red Corridor.







CONSIDERABLE sifting of the legalese and careful interpretation is necessary to take a call on whether the impact of the Delhi High Court's verdict on women officers in the military actually merits the "politically correct" (populist?), anti-gender bias language in which it was delivered. In short, does it benefit a limited number, or does it authoritatively declare that henceforth permanent commissions are on the table? What is dangerous is linking the verdict with the legislature's processing the Women's Reservation Bill: their implications are vastly different. Perhaps the only commonality is that both their "origins" were rooted in tokenism, much playing to the galleries but little "thinking through". This is not to suggest that women officers have only a bit-part to play. Given the persisting shortages, theirs is a strong case for permanent commissions, enabling them to attain the upper echelons, indeed expanding the range of their activities. Short of direct physical combat they could be involved in operations to gain the experience required for "staff" appointments ~ military science and the art of warfare is no male preserve. More women officers would free up men for the "demanding duties" they trumpet, yet so many display a preference for desk jobs. It is, however, "basic" that male officers accept women as equals: neither toys to be played with nor dolls to be pampered. 
 What is critical is abandoning the ad hoc manner in which the role of women in the forces has been trifled/tinkered with. Decisions must not be taken on the whims of a chief, a government's wanting to project a pro-woman image, shrill demands from activists; or stray judicial verdicts. It is imperative that a high-level expert committee takes a comprehensive view, evaluates past experience. The committee could comprise the Services' own personnel specialists, women who have risen high in the corporate world (isn't running an army essentially a management affair?), top women civil servants, and women holding key appointments in the military's medical services who have an in-house perspective ~ those espousing the "cause" on TV and on the streets, hardly qualify. The evaluation and far-reaching recommendations must be unemotional, cold-blooded, pragmatic. Some women may feel comfortable in a reserved seat in the nation's highest forum ~ it would be grossly unfair to a woman attaining "flag rank" if anything other than professional competence was seen as propelling her to such responsible office.









IT has long been confirmed that drivers of public buses in Kolkata have no respect for the law and that the government has been a helpless spectator while hundreds have lost their lives on account of negligence or rash driving. A ruling party that is beholden to transport unions is hardly in a position to take corrective action and proof of this was available when a proposal to book drivers under a new amendment in case of accidents was scuttled under pressure. To all this has now been added the nightmare of an inevitable public outrage that is presumably directed against errant drivers but in fact assumes different colours that reveal the horror of one set of offenders targeting another. If the tragedy of a 70-year-old woman being run over when the driver was on the run from local hooligans was bad enough on Sunday, it was worse when the accident became an excuse for arson and loot. Civic sense in Kolkata has always been far from exemplary because there is no one to enforce basic laws on hygiene and protection of the environment, not to speak of road sense. Lawlessness is a more serious menace that can only be tackled if the police have both the competence and freedom to perform. In the incident in south Kolkata in which local rowdies burned buses at random and robbed unsuspecting bystanders of their possessions, the police was at the receiving end of the mob when it should have had a mechanism to cope with what is fairly predictable. 

Posting a large contingent after the damage has been done is no consolation. Nor does the performance of people's representatives inspire confidence. No party has come forward to condemn either the rash driving or the mischief that followed in unambiguous terms. Protection of vested interests that include people looking for opportunities to thrive on chaos is evidently more important than public safety. Solemn promises have been made by those who claim to possess the people's trust but history reveals that no lessons have been learnt. The ultimate tragedy is that the Sunday nightmare may be treated as another aberration to be dumped for more vital concerns when elections are round the corner.









Delhi University is presently undergoing one of its most critical existential crises in recent memory. The issue being closely debated is whether or not the entire university should adopt the semester system. Many departments have already adopted this  system at the post-graduate level.  In most instances, it appears to be working reasonably well. 

The idea now is to introduce the semester system at the under-graduate level. There are more than 80 colleges affiliated to the University of Delhi where under-graduate teaching is carried out. The implications of this will materially affect the lives and careers of generations of students in India's pre-eminent university.
Possibly the strongest motivation for introducing the semester system as well as a university-wide uniform calendar is to enable students to choose inter-disciplinary courses. The desirability of "inter-disciplinarity" was one of the central themes emphasised by the Yashpal Committee which submitted its report to the HRD minister, Kapil Sibal in June 2009. 

The present under-graduate programme allows students to have inter-disciplinary instruction only in a very limited way. A student doing the BA Honours programme in, say, History, has the option of choosing a concurrent subject which could be, for example, Economics or Political Science.  Students in the B.A. Programme stream have to choose two subjects, in addition to some foundation, application and language courses.

Only in theory

A truly inter-disciplinary under-graduate liberal arts education must allow a student to choose from a wide range of disciplines. Of course a student enrolled in the Honours programme must legitimately be required to do some minimum number of core courses in the subject, as decided upon by the experts in the field.  But having fulfilled that requirement, a student should be left free to opt for the balance of courses from as diverse a range of courses that she or he fancies. 

The case for inter-disciplinarity at the post-graduate level is arguably stronger.  Indeed, most of the modern-day cutting edge research in the natural as well as the social sciences is almost routinely inter-disciplinary. 

What does the semester system have to do with inter-disciplinarity? In an ideal world, nothing.  But realistically, if one wants to give it a serious try, then a semester system running to a uniform academic calendar would seem to be a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition for enabling inter-disciplinarity.  One knows of some premier universities in India that run to a semester system where inter-disciplinary courses exist only in theory.  It is rarely encouraged and indeed even frowned upon by many self-appointed guardians of academic standards. 

Possibly the strongest argument against the semester system at the under-graduate level in Delhi University is the enormity of the examination process.  The university in its 88- year-old history has had an anonymous system for the evaluation of scripts. The process is rather cumbersome and it is not without its faults, but there is much to commend it.

It takes almost two to three weeks for all scripts to be centrally collected in the Exam Branch and fictitious roll numbers allotted.  The scripts are then bundled into packets and sent out to the homes of the examiners.  It takes two to three months for results to be declared. 

In recent years, the university has tried to experiment with a system of centralised evaluation where all scripts are collected at one venue and the correction work done by faculty members who gather at such centres.  Often the really good faculty is unwilling to be subjected to the assembly line format of such an evaluation process.  Through an inevitable Gresham's law, the inept and cavalier drive out the good and the serious examiners. 

Major casualties

IF semesters have to be brought in, one possible way out could be to decentralise the examinations onto the colleges.  With this autonomy accorded to colleges, the system could be made to run to schedule.  But there would be two major casualties. The academic standards can no longer be ensured, and the basic character of Delhi University would be lost forever.

There could possibly be another solution, and that would be to run the teaching on a semester pattern, but to have the exams at the end of the academic year, i.e. examinations for two semesters to be held together in April. This hybrid idea is not altogether original. It has been tried out before. This is the only way one can retain the basic structure of Delhi University and yet have scope for inter-disciplinary course offerings.
With year-end exams, students would have the much-needed academic space in which to organise their learning activities without significantly sacrificing their cultural or co-curricular interests which would likely be a casualty under the semester system.

It is our contention here that a routine semester system with end-semester exams would be a recipe for disaster.  There is much good still in Delhi University and one must not rush to dismantle everything just for the sake of pushing one's pet projects.


The writer teaches at the Delhi School of Economics







Amartya Sen is right in thinking that the quality of university education or research can never be improved without good primary or secondary education, says Ardhendu ChatterjeeTaking the cue from the second Pratichi survey report and the HRD minister Kapil Sibal's recommendation on reforms in the wrong spirit, West Bengal's minister for primary and secondary education, Partha Dey, has said that the state government would do away with pass-fail system for children aged 14 and below. So we must be ready to witness a further deterioration in primary and secondary education. Time was when Bengal occupied the unique position of being the country's think-tank that drew the eulogy "What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow" from Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Unfortunately, the present scenario suggests what India thinks today, West Bengal thinks tomorrow.

The Pratichi (India) Trust, set up by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen in its two surveys throws some light on what ails elementary education in West Bengal and offers some suggestions as to what should be done to strengthen the foundation of the country's educational edifice and sensitize people to the needs of removing social inequality. "The Pratichi Education Report II, Primary Education in West Bengal: Changes and Challenges", mentions some revealing findings, both positive and negative.

Professor Sen, a visionary like former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, is also a down-to-earth sort of academic who knows what is best for the country. So his emphasis on quality primary education should be construed rightly. It is not an exercise on the part of an "ineffectual angel beating in the void his luminous wings in vain". He is right in thinking that the quality of university education or research can never be improved without good primary or secondary education.

Let's consider the positives first. Although things have changed very little since the first survey was done in the same schools in 2001-02, the report finds that attendance, the success of the mid-day meal system, parents' satisfaction with teaching quality and their children's schooling and the ability of children to read and write have "noticeably increased" over the last eight years in our state.

True, despite occasional hiccups with and public resentment over the quality of mid-day meals, few will denigrate the positive developments in respect of attendance of children following the introduction of the mid-day meal system. A recent World Bank and WPF report too appreciates the role of free meals in providing a stimulus to higher enrolment rate and improved attendance among the poorest and most vulnerable children. But on the question of quality of teaching and learning, many, including this writer, who respect Professor Sen as one of the best minds in the country, would beg to differ.

It's wrong to think that parents were satisfied with teaching quality and their children's performance in schools when teaching was not by choice but by chance. Merit and quality became the first casualty during the past three decades to accommodate loyalists of Left parties. Even people in their forties received such a favour. So parents have all along been scared of people masquerading as teachers because they have right connections and get political pampering when in crisis. Also, we have seen the rise of another new crop of teachers who would outshine Mr Creakle in Dickens's David Copperfield in cruelty. The print and electronic media have been reporting incidents of children being mercilessly beaten or abused by them. How did they get away?
Until recently, primary teachers used to contest assembly and local body elections. Thanks to this policy, a new breed of politician-teachers and teacher-politicians took the centrestage. Good sense eventually prevailed over the Left policy planners. They have reversed their policy but primary and secondary teachers still engage in different activities other than teaching, mostly personal and political. Poor teaching leads to poor learning. In rural areas, parents are left with no alternative but to send their wards to government-sponsored schools but in urban and semi-urban areas these schools now hardly attract any students except those who hail from very poor families. Middle class and lower middle class people, not to speak of the affluent classes, now repose trust in private English medium schools. The Trust's report is silent on this.

Expectedly, curriculum overload and homework remains the soft underbelly of primary education in the report. But is not the curriculum in state primary schools lighter than that in CBSE or ICSE schools? Promotion on the basis of performance in weekly, monthly, half-yearly and annual tests is still a popular practice with ICSE and private English medium CBSE schools If children in state government schools are prescribed a lighter curriculum, they would definitely lag behind.


The writer is assistant professor in English, Durgapur Institute of Advanced Technology and Management, Rajbandh          








I was two years younger than my brother.  We were studying in classes five and seven but were similar in appearance. Even our heights matched and it was precisely this that led me into trouble  Our school in the district organised a charity show in aid of a school located about 20 km away. Our headmaster, whom we always referred as Head Sir, a renowned teacher having received appreciation from President, took the initiative to organise the show. Some said that it was his "jatra party'' since most of the participants were from the school. But if Head Sir was the nayak of the "jatra party'', Pramathababu was the director in charge. He was our history teacher and attended school in a military tunic since he had served in the army. He always carried a baton like the police officers we see in films and used it on his students.

As I said, our lookalike aspect led me into trouble. One of the plays to be staged was on the  Ramayana dealing primarily with Seeta and her going back to mother earth at the end. All of us knew that her sons Lov and Kush were twins and Pramathababu had already found a lookalike pair in us. I was instructed to act as one of the brothers. My brother was already an accepted actor in one-act plays. I was awestruck when I watched him rehearsing as the dying young lieutenant of Masterda Surja Sen. I was so impressed that for the next seven days I did not quarrel with him. I protested but had to agree. My brother assured me that he would help.
After many days of rehearsal, Pramathababu was to act as Ramchandra and a senior boy would play Seeta. D Day arrived and we reached the school. It had been  declared a holiday. The first part of the programme was musical and a renowned singer enthralled the audience with Hemanta classics like Palki Chale, Runner and Gayer Badhu. Then the play started. It was successful as evident from the reaction of the audience and two medals were announced for Pramathababu. Then came the climax. Seeta Ma had gone back to mother earth. Ramchandra was seeking forgiveness and requesting her to come back. It was a tearful scene with Pramathababu covering the entire stage with his monologue, tears rolling down his cheeks. Lov and Kush, the two brothers, standing in the corner, were to faint.

 My brother fell on the stage floor promptly but I remained standing. I was actually spellbound by Pramathababu's acting. With his make-up, a crown on his head, armlets and other ornaments, silk dhoti with the upper part of the body almost bare, he did appear to me as the real Ramchandra. I was wondering how this man, our teacher in history with no sympathy for his students in the classroom, could convert himself on the stage.
The prompter whispered several times for me to fall.  Suddenly I felt a pull. It was an awkward fall. I twisted my right ankle very badly and that was the end of my acting career. Pramathababu did get the medal
Many years later during Durga Puja I visited the small town. At a puja pandal I found our Pramathababu, quite old now, reciting Ma Chandi mostly from memory with eyes closed and tears rolling down his cheeks. I stood still and for a fleeting moment my mind went back to that school play.







The UN environmental agency named Sachin Tendulkar as a Goodwill Ambassador, according to a press release issued in New York. The agency said that Tendulkar will use his massive global popularity to raise awareness and harness support for environmental action in India and around the world.
"I have played and enjoyed my cricket across the planet. Now it's also time to do something for the planet, which is our only home," he said. "Being part of the effort to save the planet is an immense undertaking but it is a challenge I am ready to undertake. Working with UNEP and cricket fans across the globe, I am in good company. Together we can do it."

Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, voiced confidence that Tendulkar's "character, personal integrity, intellect and profile will catalyze widespread environmental action."

The UN is celebrating 2010 as International Year of Biodiversity. Tendulkar will work with the agency to boost the global and grassroots response to the loss of animal and plant diversity worldwide, UNEP stated. Tendulkar has assisted in UNICEF campaign in India on the importance of personal hygiene.

Attacks in Pakistan: The Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, condemned a series of attacks in Pakistan in recent days which have claimed dozens of lives, including those of aid workers assisting most vulnerable, in a statement issued by his spokesman Martin Nesirky in New York. The statement noted that suicide bomb attacks targeted an army convoy in Lahore claimed dozens of lives and injured over 100 people.

Ban "reiterates that no cause can justify such inhuman and indiscriminate acts of violence," the statement added. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the attacks on aid workers in Pakistan are on the rise. Some staff of the organization Plan International were murdered by armed attackers. In addition, 12 UN staff members were killed and 12 injured in four separate violent incidents since January 2009, including a suicide attack on the main office in Islamabad of the WFP last October that killed five people.
Laws in Myanmar: Mr Ban Ki-moon warned that the new electoral laws unveiled by authorities in Myanmar do not meet UN expectations of what is required for an inclusive political process in the country, according to a statement issued by his spokesman in New York. UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement that the UN is carefully studying the laws as they are being published by the Government in preparation for planned national elections later this year.

According to media reports, the new laws relate to the registration of political parties and prohibit anyone with a criminal conviction from being a member of an official party, the statement noted. "The indications available so far suggest that they do not measure up to our expectations of what is needed for an inclusive political process," Mr. Ban said. "The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the Myanmar authorities to ensure such an inclusive political process leading to fair, transparent and credible elections in which all citizens of Myanmar, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, can freely participate."

Mr. Ban earlier expressed his disappointment that Ms. Suu Kyi's appeal against her house arrest was rejected and reiterated his call for her release.

Myanmar is getting ready for its first elections in over 20 years as part of a Government-designed timetable towards greater democratisation.

Israeli settlements: Mr Ban Ki-moon has called Israel to stop the construction of settlements and has condemned the announcement of building 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, in a statement issued by his spokesman in New York.  "He reiterates that settlements are illegal under international law," according to a statement by his spokesman Martin Nesirky on Tuesday night.

"Furthermore, he underscores that settlement activity is contrary to Israel's obligations under the Roadmap, and undermines any movement towards a viable peace process," it added.

The Interior Ministry of Israel announced that it has approved plans to build 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, the statement noted.

Violence against women: Mr Ban Ki-moon stressed that violence against women devastates individuals and societies alike, called for united action to demand accountability, end impunity and support the victims of this global scourge. "Whether it is domestic violence, sex trafficking, so-called 'honour' crimes or female genital cutting, violence against women and girls continues to be a horrific and all-too common crime," Mr. Ban said in remarks to a panel in New York.

He noted that in addition to causing personal suffering, violence against women undermines development, generates instability, and makes peace in society much harder to achieve. "We all need to unite to demand accountability for the violations of the rights of women and girls. We all need to take concrete steps to end impunity. We must listen to and support the victims. We must address the roots of violence against women by eradicating discrimination and changing the mindsets that perpetuate it," the Secretary-General said.
"Health disaster'': Head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Mr  Antonio Maria Costa, warned that failure to harness drugs could unleash a "health disaster" in the developing world, as he underscored that poor nations lack the necessary treatment facilities and law enforcement capacities to rein in narcotics. "This seems to have been forgotten by people in rich countries called for a loosening of drug controls," Mr. Costa told the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

CND is the UN's central policy-making body in drug-related matters, allows Member States to analyze the global drug situation and monitor the implementation of the three global drug control pacts, including the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Mr. Costa noted that East Africa is witnessing increased heroin use, while cocaine is one the rise in West Africa and synthetic drugs in the Middle East and South-East Asia.
Health is paramount in drug control, he said. While the drug addiction is a treatable condition, inequality within and among nations marginalizes the poor who cannot access treatment. "While rich addicts go to posh clinics, poor addicts are being pushed into the gutters or to jail," he emphasized.

Gender gaps: A UNDP report released stated that the Asia and the Pacific have not duplicated their economic success in the realm of gender equality, as it found that discrimination and neglect are threatening the very survival of women in the region.

"Empowering women is vital for achieving development goals overall and for boosting economic growth and sustainable development," said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, who unveiled the publication in New Delhi. The report 2010 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report found that the women suffer from some of the lowest rates of political representation, employment and property ownership in the world. Their lack of participation is also retarded economic growth.

Miss Clark pointed out that nearly half the adult women in South Asia are illiterate, a greater proportion than in any other region in the world. She said that women in South Asia can also expect to live five fewer years than the world average of 71 years. It noted that agricultural jobs account for over 40 per cent in East Asia and 65 per cent in South Asia for women only seven per cent of farms in these areas are controlled by women.
The launch of the report, entitled Power, Voice and Rights: A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific, coincided with International Women's Day. It found that half of South Asia's countries and over 60 per cent of those in the Pacific have no laws in place against domestic violence.

Anjali Sharma








Increasing costs and abysmal inefficiency usually combine to make healthcare systems in India a very dismal affair. The people of Assam should, therefore, derive some comfort from their government's move to make healthcare a "fundamental right". The Assam public health bill, 2010, which the government moved in the state assembly last week, is no magic wand that will set the system right overnight. But its provisions do two important things. They make the people legally entitled to healthcare, and they bind the government to its commitment on this score. The bill makes it legally obligatory for all providers of healthcare — government hospitals as well as private nursing homes — to offer free treatment to emergency patients for the first 24 hours after admission. Patients who cannot afford treatment in private nursing homes can be shifted later to a government hospital. The bill also proposes that every patient will have the right to have his or her medical records of at least two years preceding the last date on which the service was used. And it provides for the setting up of public health boards at the state and district levels in order to monitor the working of the new system.


However, the absence of good laws was never the crux of the healthcare fiasco in Assam or elsewhere in the country. The lack of funds is also not the real issue in most cases. The main problem is the government's inability and unwillingness to ensure that its own employees do the work for which they are paid. Hospitals obviously cannot be of any use to patients if doctors do not attend work or if the basic infrastructure is lacking. The bill in Assam has some grey areas. What exactly is a medical "emergency", and who will define it? And it cannot do the people's healthcare right any good if an intimidating government forces private hospitals to go out of business. Getting the bill passed in the state legislature should be the least of the Assam government's worries. The Opposition has little room for doubting the bill's good intentions. But the government has so much to do before the people can have a realistic chance of enjoying their new "right". In a state that has a dense forest cover and plenty of hilly terrains, reaching the hospitals, where one exists, is often a major challenge for the people. It cannot be a nice feeling for any people to have a "right" and not be able to use it.








There is something hollow at the heart of education in India. It has been a long time, almost 10 years in fact, since the Supreme Court outlawed corporal punishment in schools. That was the first step, after a series of complaints about the injury and even death of children caused by punishment in schools made such a declaration inevitable. No remarkable change was noticed in the following years, except perhaps in the district of Idukki in Kerala which organized its institutions in 2008 with the aim of wiping out corporal punishment in schools within one year. Most other states, among them West Bengal, made a few noises and slacked off, even neglecting to notify schools of the Supreme Court's statement. A report indicated that 85 per cent of children who got beaten up or physically punished in some other way went to government schools in the state. Now the Calcutta High Court has ruled that if a child dies as a result of physical punishment, the teacher responsible should be charged with murder, and not with negligence or culpable homicide not amounting to murder, as is the convention.


The logic behind the court's ruling is clear: no teacher who causes the death of a child can be let off with just two years' imprisonment. The ruling is also a way of emphasizing the gravity of the crime — apparently even that is needed — and of creating a deterrent. What is astounding, however, is that the courts alone seem bothered about how teachers treat children in schools. Is this the courts' job? Yet the most disturbing questions can be raised about the level of education of the educators: who are these teachers who continue with their violence unashamed? The system that produces and assesses them and lets them pass needs to be examined first. Something has gone terribly wrong in the concept of teaching; otherwise state governments, child welfare boards, local administrations and school management committees would not have remained so apathetic about ensuring the limits of punishment. A country in which a court actually has to announce that teachers who kill children should be charged with nothing less than murder cannot be said to have emerged from barbaric darkness. The recent talk of children's rights is nothing more than a fashionable tic. Rights have to do with civilization and humanity. Adults who casually hurt the small and the powerless can have no inkling of either.









The meeting of the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries at the end of February ended with nothing of great significance — except for the fact that it happened at all. There was a general sense, virtually across the political and strategic spectrum, that the meeting was a failure. Nehruvian internationalists, who set great store by negotiations, thought it did not go far enough. Globalizing liberals, who favour diplomatic flexibility and creative diplomacy in a world they consider driven by economics rather than politics, felt that neither side showed much nimbleness. And hardcore realists, for whom power and force (or the threat of force) are the staples of international life, shook their heads over the apparent pusillanimity of the Indian government, which found itself talking to Pakistan when it should have been brandishing a sword.


How shall one think about India-Pakistan relations? Which position is right? Should one negotiate regardless of terrorism, as the prime minister seemed to suggest in his statement in Parliament where he defended the government's decision to talk to Islamabad? Should one set aside historic positions on the nature of negotiations between India and Pakistan, as suggested by liberals, and look for truly out-of-the-box solutions, perhaps with a particular focus on economics and energy, but, most importantly, with the help of the United States of America and anyone else who could intercede with Pakistan to good effect (China? Saudi Arabia?)? Or is the only way to deal with Pakistan through the deployment of military and economic power sufficient to overawe Islamabad? And if that is not enough, should New Delhi, as argued further by realists, consider the threat or use of force against militants or against the Pakistani armed forces to bring about an end to terrorism?


All three positions have their limitations. Internationalists want negotiations for ever until agreement is reached. But negotiations about what? India has historically wanted a composite dialogue, which deals with all outstanding issues, from security and Kashmir to trade and people-to-people relations. Every agreement with Pakistan, including the Tashkent Accord of 1966, the Simla Accord of 1972, and the Lahore Accord of 1999, has incorporated India's preference for a composite negotiation. Pakistan, by contrast, has always wanted to limit the scope of negotiations. Kashmir has been the singular agenda of the Pakistanis, even though they have repeatedly agreed, in cold print, to a composite dialogue.


Suddenly, however, the two countries have reversed their preferences. India now wants the agenda restricted to terrorism, and Pakistan wants a composite dialogue. In the wake of 26/11, both positions are understandable. The issue for the internationalists, though, is the following: how can the two make progress when they are once again in disagreement over the basic structure of negotiations? Is it worthwhile to hold meetings when they differ so profoundly on the fundamentals of any discussions?


The liberals are not surprised by the impasse in negotiations. They want both countries, but especially their own, to be more flexible and creative given the globalizing world that we live in. For them, Pakistan is a relatively minor issue in that world. Technology, investment, and trade are the key to national resilience and power, and, ultimately, therefore to security. India must modernize in a rapid, transformative sense, led by the market, if it is to catch up first with China and then the developed countries. It must grow at 10 per cent per annum or more, if it is also to stave off internal rebellion — by separatists, by Naxalites, and by other disaffected groups. Territorial attachments, over, say, Kashmir, are relics of an old politics. India must be prepared to be flexible over the dispute and other issues with Pakistan, keeping in mind the larger goal of economic modernization. Liberals think that flexibility is both cause and effect: flexibility with Pakistan would allow India to forge ahead economically and politically; forging ahead economically and politically would allow India to make Pakistan an offer on Kashmir it could not refuse since India's market, goods, and capital would bring prosperity to Pakistan as well.


The problem with the liberal argument is that, within India, the attachment to territory is enormous. Any attempt to compromise in any substantial way over Kashmiri territory would lead to an enormous political reaction, one that the Indian government may not be able to control. Also, Pakistan has other options economically, particularly the greatest locomotive of global growth — China. Islamabad and Pakistani elites are convinced that they don't need India economically.


The realists have appeal because if coercion is the way forward with Pakistan, their policies do not depend on Pakistan's cooperation (except its surrender). According to realists, India must unilaterally build up its national power — military and economic — and must use that power to bear down on Pakistan. At the limit, New Delhi must be willing to use force. Its armed forces must plan to use a variety of punitive strikes that could hurt Pakistan. Thus, India might bomb militant camps, use commandos to raid Pakistani territory, and, if necessary, send large, rapid-action forces as deep as 50-80 kilometres into Pakistan to get Islamabad to come to a final and lasting agreement on Kashmir and terrorism.


This unilateral method of dealing with Pakistan is attractive because it is unilateral — but it is also extremely dangerous, for at least three reasons. First, it is not clear that India's conventional forces have the edge to win these kinds of military engagements. Second, China might choose to intervene. Third, Pakistan might use its nuclear weapons. Some realists don't worry about nuclear weapons since they think that if Pakistan were ever to use them, India would retaliate so massively as to "solve" the Pakistan problem once and for all. The problem with this view is that one has to consider the role of China, which has a much stronger nuclear force than India. Those who answer that China will be checked by the Russians or the Americans (or both) must be sure that these two powers will come to India's aid and risk global confrontation when it is New Delhi that would have escalated the conflict with Pakistan.


If all this was not problematic enough, it is worth adding another complication, which, increasingly, is the most knotty problem of all perhaps — the rising tide of Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The extremists don't care about negotiations with India; nor do they support the kind of modernization that liberals dream about; and as for war and nuclear confrontation, some of them harbour such an apocalyptic view of the world that they might even applaud an India-Pakistan armageddon. Neither Delhi nor Islamabad has an answer to the call of the militants.


Perhaps this is another way of saying that we are looking at the wrong problem, which is no longer India-Pakistan but rather Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh plus Iran, China, Central Asia, and Russia. The unit of analysis has quite simply changed. And the foreign- secretaries talk about bilateral issues is working within the wrong matrix altogether. Nothing less than a comprehensive regional working through of several interconnected problems will suffice at this stage. An unprecedentedly complex and challenging sudoku? Yes, but probably inescapable.


The author teaches at Oxford University








To return from a neighbouring country and read the newspapers of the past four days is enough to make you ill. To read about Lalu Prasad swearing to pull down the United Progressive Alliance government and Prakash Karat committing to do the same, although for different reasons, was much like entering an auditorium to witness a tragic farce. Both gentlemen, politicians with a fast waning presence, declaiming in high voices, came across as desperate thespians in search of a screenplay. And what a sad day for democratic politics in India. Instead of demanding a long and serious meeting with the prime minister to work out a consensus on issues, they were indulging in the failed politics of the past decade. India has changed and the new Indian voters, rural and urban, are led by a set of aspirations that these two men have not even attempted to hear, let alone comprehend.


In sharp contrast to the recent horrific happenings in the Rajya Sabha, dignity and graciousness marked the behaviour of the ministers and bureaucrats of Bhutan even when they disagreed with one another. Despite the fact that Bhutan is an infant democracy, the members of parliament in that Himalayan kingdom are well-read and extremely well-informed. They approach every issue with requisite seriousness and commitment, and there is no acrimony in debate and discussion. They have an intelligence level that is truly salutary. It was embarrassing for me that the proceedings of the Rajya Sabha — which were rowdy and unacceptable in civilized society — had been seen by one and all in Bhutan.


Look forward

In South Asia, India may constitute the largest landmass, but Indians have effortlessly managed to reduce themselves to a caricature. In this volatile region, we have abdicated our rightful position, from where we could have been the catalyst for calming and uniting the area, to make the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation a combination of nations that could become a formidable power. Instead, we have, with our machinations, compelled our partner countries to respect us less and less with every passing moment.


In April, all the Saarc heads of State will gather for regional deliberations in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. They will be given a most memorable reception. Bhutan's king and the many first-time elected parliamentarians will be impeccable hosts. This meeting, if carefully orchestrated bearing in mind the importance of each participating nation in the larger family of South Asia, could send a strong signal of cohesion to other alien powers operating in this part of the world. In fact, if Saarc means real business in the realm of realpolitik, it should invite Myanmar and Afghanistan into its circle and play a substantial role in the larger world.


Will the present Saarc countries be able to come to a consensus and create a common visa like the Schengen visa? Or will the same old predictable argument be used — that such a visa would result in misuse? Today, the existing laws are misused in so far as they are not enforced properly — which makes the outcome far worse than if there were freer movement. Interactions among people are also necessary to lessen the 'militancy and illegalities' that happen across borders. Will Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lead the group and bring about real change, generate true trust and respect among all our South Asian neighbours?


There will be no real peace in the region if all the players do not play the game. The only way to isolate the manipulations of 'foreign' players that are totally out of sync with the realities, aspirations and cultural truths of the area, is to forge a unity of purpose.







A visit to a government home in Berhampore makes Uddalak Mukherjee wonder whether society itself is responsible for keeping vulnerable children invisible


I have often wondered what happens to children after they are sent to government homes. Different categories of vulnerable children — orphans and the disabled, drug-offenders and children in trouble with the law, destitutes and beggars — find shelter in such institutions within the ambit of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. Most of the rescued children are sent to government homes in compliance with the directives of a district magistrate, or members of child welfare committees or the judiciary. Not much is known after that, unless the children — now officially known as 'inmates'— run away from the institution. (As recently as March 12, 16 girls scaled a high wall and fled a government home in Midnapore.) It is as if the State — supposedly the custodian and protector of these vulnerable children — drapes a screen over the lives of those who remain inside.


Recently, I travelled to Berhampore to discover the world that lies hidden behind the screen. My destination was Ananda Ashram, a government home for male delinquents and juveniles, under the aegis of the directorate of social welfare. A tall, grey boundary wall surrounds Ananda Ashram. The path that leads inside is filled with equally difficult, but invisible, obstacles.


Journalists are seldom provided easy access to institutions under the State's care. This despite the fact that the law does not debar any citizen from visiting children's homes. It is evident that the State permits selective entry — a district magistrate or judge or CWC member, each one of these posts representing State authority in one form or another, has far greater, and easier, access to government homes than the media or NGOs not affiliated to the State. This inaccessibility has eroded the trust between the representatives of the State on the one hand and of civil society on the other, thereby undermining the possibility of greater collaboration to better the lives of the children.


In Berhampore, Vijay Bharti, the sympathetic additional district magistrate of Murshidabad, facilitated my entry into Ananda Ashram. After signing the register, and crossing two gates, I was on my way to the supervisor's room when I chanced upon one of the inmates. The young boy stood silently, his eyes fixed on the main entrance that had been left open momentarily, revealing a portion of the street outside.


The supervisor was young and nervous, but was keen to share what he knew. Ananda Ashram has 130 inmates living in three large dormitories at present. But there is space to accommodate 20 more children. The institution, built in 1962, was initially meant as a shelter for non-delinquent children. In 1995, after the name-change, it incorporated a section to house inmates who, according to the proposed Integrated Child Protection Scheme, are in conflict with the law. On the day of my visit, 23 such boarders were present in the 'special cell': a dark, cavernous room secured with a lock, and under constant supervision of three guards. Of the 23, 16 children were from Bangladesh.


Once inside, the lives of most of the inmates are carefully re-arranged. The day begins early with a breakfast of chhola (chickpeas), muri (puffed rice) and gur (jaggery). For lunch, the boys are served rice with fish (three times a week), eggs and chicken (once every week), but dinner is a vegetarian affair. The food allowance for each child is Rs 750 per month. Although this is a slight improvement from the earlier figure of Rs 600, it is not enough to provide three wholesome meals to the children every day. A primary school, comprising two teachers, one crafts master and 40 inmates, is located inside. The older boys are sent to other educational institutions in Berhampore. Recreational facilities are available, but Ananda Ashram lacks a large playground. The medical facilities are adequate, as are the funds. (How are the funds 'adequate', given the paltry food allowance, I wondered.) Apparently, the staff try and provide a "family atmosphere", and have succeeded in sending back about 25 boys to their families in the last few years.


Having discovered that we attended the same college, the supervisor relaxed and grew more communicative. Soon, we were discussing the many problems that plague him and the children. He told me that there are vacancies (one each) for the posts of teacher, sweeper and cook. The pharmacist, an efficient man, doubles as an office-help. But of much greater import was the absence of trained counsellors and psychiatrists. I was told that many of the children, having been exposed to terrible deprivation, cruelties and loneliness, were suffering from depression. For the occasional visitor, it is easy to be taken in by the suffering of these children. But it is important to remember that some of them have violent dispositions, and complex inner lives. Many of them perceive the Home as nothing more than an extension of a prison, and hate the idea of having to follow rules. Others, like seven-year-old Shamu Mishra from Uttar Pradesh, often concoct fantastic stories that make it difficult for the benefactors to get to the truth behind their dismal lives. Of equal concern is the fact that the crowded Ananda Ashram shelters juvenile offenders along with those who do not have a criminal background. The reform and integration of the children in conflict with law remain a challenge for the authorities.


But the story of Ananda Ashram is also a story of institutional limitations. Given its long and porous border with Bangladesh, Murshidabad, which ranks a poor 17 in the state Human Development Index, has emerged as a transit point for cross-border trafficking. I found it difficult to obtain the exact figures, but one of my contacts, an employee of Suprova, a local NGO that works with trafficked children, stated that as many as 36 cases had come to light in a short span of time. Given the poverty of the region and the lack of awareness in the villages, a majority of the cases go unreported. Unfortunately, most of the offenders escape with a light sentence. The crime syndicates often bribe (or force) medical officers to certify underage children as adults so that the offenders can apply for bail. Moreover, despite the solemn assurance of the JJ Act, only a few police stations have appointed a child protection officer. The police stations at Kandi, Lalbag and Berhampore are yet to appoint CPOs. In the police stations that have CPOs, the officers lack the desired training or sensitivity.


The institutional weaknesses are symbolic of the lack of political will. In accordance with the law, every district in Bengal now has a CWC and a juvenile justice board. But a total of just over 20 government homes for 18 districts is a deplorable figure. Indeed, Birbhum and East Midnapore, reportedly, have no such institutions at all. The lack of political will is accompanied by cynical political interference. In Berhampore, I heard many people allege that a Revolutionary Socialist Party leader, who serves as the chairperson of Murshidabad's CWC, is inept and, possibly, corrupt. Incidentally, Bengal's social welfare ministry, the legitimate keeper and distributor of funds, is much sought after in political circles.


In a democracy, a citizen should be held equally guilty if he were to condone the absence of political will to help vulnerable communities. This raises an uncomfortable question: do we all have a stake in colluding with the State to keep India's impoverished and exploited children invisible?


On the train back to Calcutta, I realized that I could recall most things about the trip: my meetings with the bureaucrats and NGOs, snatches of conversation with the supervisor, details of the notes I had jotted down, and even the journey to the beautiful ruins. But no matter how hard I tried, I could not quite remember the face of the boy who had stood watching the street through a gap in the door that leads to a bigger, better world.







The government of India's proposed Integrated Child Protection Scheme aims to bring together existing child protection initiatives under a single, unified programme. One of its purported goals is to supplement and strengthen the established infrastructure under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. However, my short visit to Berhampore's Ananda Ashram was enough to convince me that the State has a long way to go before it successfully meets the challenges in front of the children who need its care and protection. This is not surprising, given the State's laggardly response to its social responsibilities. But what startled me was the fact that even an enlightened piece of legislation such as the JJ Act can, at times, be inadequate, given the complicated situation. A frail-looking boy from Bangladesh helped me realize that it is often difficult to plug the gap between a law and its noble intent. Mohammad Tulu Sheikh is his name, and this is his story.


Tulu (as he is known) was not yet an adult when he and his elder brother crossed over into India illegally at Jalangi's Dhanirampur. They visited a few places, including Ajmer Sharif, and were arrested by the Border Security Force on their return journey. The tout had disappeared shortly before their arrest. The BSF sent them to Raninagar police station, which transferred them to Lalbag jail. A local court then ordered them to be lodged at the Berhampore central jail. His brother, who has been living in India for a long time, was freed as he held an 'Indian' passport. As for Tulu, he found himself in Ananda Ashram. In 2007, the Home received word to prepare for Tulu's repatriation. The papers have been readied, reminders have been sent, but Tulu continues to languish in the children's home.


Tulu is certainly an offender, but the factors at play here are intriguing. Given his minimal education and level of awareness, it is not difficult to believe him when he says that he didn't know that one needed valid documents to visit another country. He feels cheated by not only the tout but also his family. Considering the gravity of his offence and the associated security concerns, it is impossible for the law to take a lenient view. Yet, what is equally true is that he was a minor at the time of his offence, and hence not in a position to act knowledgeably. A related concern about the JJ Act is the lack of checks and balances to prevent boys and girls without criminal records from being clubbed as juveniles in conflict with law. Moreover, given the paucity of child protection officers in the police stations, the law should empower committed NGOs to ensure the safety of the children that they rescue till the minors are produced at the magistrate's office. This would have spared the victims the trauma of a night (or a few days) at a police station. Often, because of the lack of space, rescued children and hardened criminals share the same cell. The JJ Act also makes it mandatory for care institutions to grant 30 days of annual leave to children who have a home. But it hasn't accounted for the fact that upon their return, most of the children find it difficult to re-adjust to the vagaries of State care.


A child welfare committee member I spoke to assured me that recommendations are regularly sent to concerned ministries to amend weaknesses, if any, in the law. But it takes a while to smooth out the creases in the legal fabric. Meanwhile, children like Tulu, who find themselves caught between two nations, continue to wait to return to the place that they call home.


Uddalak Mukherjee Bottom of Form




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





The number and range of agreements signed between India and Russia during prime minister Vladimir Putin's two-day visit again underline the comprehensive nature of relations between the two countries. A total of 19 agreements were signed covering areas like nuclear power generation, co-operation in space, purchase of a new version of MiG 29 fighters by India and joint development of a fifth generation fighter aircraft, fertiliser industry, banking and telecom. They involve billions of dollars in mutual business. It is a cliché that India and Russia have an all-weather friendship which has grown over decades through the days of the cold war, the break-up of the Soviet Union and major changes in the international situation and the internal situations of both countries. Though there have been occasional hitches in the recent past, the relations have only deepened and expanded progressively.

One such contentious issue was resolved during Putin's visit with the agreement on the final price and delivery of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. Price escalations and repeated postponements of delivery had created apprehensions and even annoyance in India but the differences have come to an end with an agreed price of $2.34 billion and assurance of delivery by 2012. Nuclear co-operation had got an impetus when prime minister Manmohan Singh visited Moscow last year but it has received a further boost now with agreements for Russia building a series of nuclear plants in India. Russia has been competing for nuclear contracts in India. Though it was the Indo-US nuclear deal that opened the doors of India's nuclear business, it was Russia that took the best advantage of it. Deals with Russia are better for India too than those possible under the Indo-US 123 agreement as they come without conditionalities and carry better assurances on enrichment, reprocessing and fuel supply.

Defence co-operation has dominated traditional Indo-Russian ties. There is a welcome change now as the relationship is diversifying into other areas. This will make economic and trade co-operation deeper. Co-operation in areas like oil and gas has great scope for expansion. But the strong ties with Russia will give the country more room for manoeuvre. By working together with Russia on common areas of concern like political stability in the neighbourhood, climate change issues and trade negotiations India can strengthen its own interests and give itself greater autonomy in foreign policy decisions.








Defying international law and opinion, Israel is going ahead with construction of 1,600 new housing units in the settlement of Ramat Shlomo, in East Jerusalem, which was occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 242 calls on Israel to pullout of all territory occupied in the war. Israel has  been dragging its feet on withdrawing from the occupied territories. Around half-a-million Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel's occupation of the West Bank and its repeated incursions into the Gaza Strip is illegal as is its approval of new housing units at Ramat Shlomo and other settlements. In November, Israel had announced a 10-month suspension of new building in the West Bank. But it considers areas within the Jerusalem municipality as its territory and thus not subject to the restrictions.

The international community is calling on Israel to stop its settlement activity. The US, which considers itself as the 'honest broker' in the West Asian peace process too has lent its weak voice to the chorus. But Washington's position seems disingenuous. It is objecting to the timing of the announcement of the new settlements rather than the substance of the activity itself. Israel's settlement activity must be condemned because it is illegal and provocative, and not just because of its poor timing. Vice-president Joe Biden's statement lays bare Washington's unwillingness to pull up Israel. This will enable Israel to persist with its confrontationist approach.

The announcement of fresh settlements in East Jerusalem might help Netanyahu win some applause from hardline Jews. It will do little to boost the long-term interests of the Israeli people. Israel keeps complaining that its security is threatened. It can improve its security only by returning all of the occupied territories to the Palestinians. Its approach of eating into Palestinian land by building settlements in East Jerusalem and West Bank is aggressive occupation. It cannot hope to build peace through this strategy. An opportunity for resolving the conflict has opened up with the Palestinians returning to the negotiating table. Israel should grab this opportunity.






The protesters fear the EU will push or cajole India into recognising tough new intellectual property rights.


India has become 'the pharmacy of the world,' home to dozens of generic copycat drug companies that have been producing expensive medicines at dirt-cheap prices that the poorest countries can afford. Famously, Mumbai-based Cipla forced down the prices of Aids drugs some years ago with the launch of a twice a day pill, which then became the staple treatment in many sub-Saharan countries.

But Medecins sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors without Borders, which played a role in that epic turnaround, is now warning that a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and India could ensure that sort of Robin Hood episode never happens again.

The protesters fear the EU, negotiating behind closed doors, will push or cajole India into recognising tough new intellectual property rights. The winners, they conclude, will be Big Pharma, while the losers will be the impoverished sick.

Loon Gangte, president of the Delhi Network of Positive People, says, "We are marching to call on the Indian government not to trade away our lives. Lifelong treatment for people living with HIV depends on continued access to newer AIDS medicines. Because of international trade rules that India has already signed in the past, some of our newer AIDS medicines are already patented and completely unaffordable. We are protesting against India's accepting terms that would further compromise access to life-saving medicine."

This is a complicated issue, which is why it gets little attention in the mainstream press. Trade rules and agreements are tough going for any but the dedicated and the nerdy. But essentially, for some years now Big Pharma has been trying to use its influence over politicians in the US and in Europe to demand tighter rules on the Indian copycats.

Patents normally last for 20 years, so drug companies can recoup the millions they spend on R&D. They want India to observe their patents, just as Europe and the US do.

India gets cheaper drugs if the generic whizzkids can knock off copycat versions of the blockbusters. While India is middle-income and getting richer, unfortunately a tough trade agreement with the EU would probably penalise the Indian poor. But it also threatens the poorest of the poor, in Africa and other parts of Asia. Look in an African health centre and all the drugs are Indian-made. With a growing need for new and better HIV drugs in sub-Saharan countries, it may be no time to curb the Indian generic manufacturers.

Cut in funds

Meanwhile, the lobbying for more money for HIV/Aids moved seamlessly this week from London to Washington, where Dr Peter Mugyenyi, director and founder of Uganda's joint clinical research centre, gave evidence on the Hill. He says that cuts in US funds for Aids are already beginning to bite.

He is apprehensive about the future. "I'm panicking about it. That's how bad it is because I'm foreseeing the return of the catastrophic times of the 90s, when everything in Africa came to a standstill and the hospitals couldn't function and the staff fled the health service — and many of them died. They couldn't get access to treatment and had nothing to offer their patients. The patients were abandoning the health facilities and flocking to witch doctors and traditional healers who were clearly helpless."

Could we go back there? Mugyenyi says he is already seeing people with newly-diagnosed HIV turned away from clinics as the orders are given only to carry on treating those already on the drugs. The money has been frozen, he says. And yet only 4 million are on treatment and 10 million need to be — and the WHO's new guidelines say people with HIV should be treated earlier, which would perhaps double the numbers who should be getting drugs.

Chris Collins of the Foundation for Aids Research in the Huffington Post on the hearings in the House and Senate over the Aids budget, is also worried about the dwindling funds for Aids treatment.

But good news from the Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna this week. After years of blocking resolutions to encourage access to clean needles to protect drug users from HIV, the Obama administration made a break with the past.

Prof Gerry Stimson, executive director of the International Harm Reduction Association, felt that real progress was made in Vienna — some countries that in the past tried to obstruct resolutions dealing with harm reduction and human rights have backed off. The big — and welcome — development is the US position.

The fresh approach of the Obama administration to the UN and to international drug and HIV/AIDS policy is making itself felt. US officials for the first time were able to voice their support for HIV-related risk prevention measures, and for HIV prevention firmly based in human rights. Let's hope this continues to play through in the years ahead — if so we are going in the direction of a more rational global response to drug-related harm.
So all eyes are now on Russia, where 65 per cent of HIV infections come from injecting drug users, and which turns a blind eye.









At last the decks have been cleared for the long and much awaited election to the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). The election which is to be held this month after a three-year hiatus ends months of frustration for citizens who did not have a voice in the civic affairs of their City.

Like other elections, major political parties will present their manifestos that will most likely be promises galore and active Residential Welfare Associations along with NGOs in their quest to bring essential changes to governance will promote their own candidates. With a myriad of problems and formidable challenges confronting Bangalore, this election assumes significance for both citizens and political parties.

Amidst cynicism of voters and apathy of the political class, issues like illegal constructions, garbage collection, road traffic, capital value system in property tax, welfare schemes for urban poor and an orderly development of the city need to be tackled. Increasing population and inept resource management for the last several years has put a severe strain on the City's finances and infrastructure — leading to a deteriorating quality of life.

Poor tax collection has contributed to waning revenues while wasteful spending has resulted in declining productivity. Borrowings of the City has doubled in the last four years, which  needs to be restricted to avoid imposition of excessive property taxes. The upcoming election gives people an opportunity to voice their opinion and elect representatives, who would strive to solve some of these problems.

A cursory look at the most recent BBMP budget and Medium Term Fiscal Plan indicates the depth of resource crunch faced by the City. Although the BBMP budget shows revenue receipts of Rs 3,960 crore, only 30 per cent of it comes from the City's own taxes — property tax, advertising fees and other levies. The remaining 70 per cent comes from borrowings, grants from the State Finance Commission and other agencies.
With three quarters of revenues spent on administrative expenses and routine maintenance works, the City is left with very little funds for infrastructure development and social welfare schemes. The challenge for the contestants is to provide a meaningful plan for raising resources without increasing debt that can withstand rigorous public scrutiny.

Apart from the resource gap, the City faces rising urban poverty and crumbling infrastructure. Dilapidated schools, poorly run hospitals and leakages in welfare schemes have contributed to an increase in urban poverty. The City's storm water drainage system has proven inadequate to address the flooding caused by heavy rains in many areas. While the waste management system has a capacity to handle 3,500 tonnes of solid waste per day, many citizens will vouch for the fact that garbage collection has been very unsatisfactory in their neighbourhoods. With more than 300 slums that lack basic amenities, the city needs a comprehensive slum development plan to rejuvenate many of these areas.

Being the silicon valley of India, scarce use of technology in many of the administrative functions is reprehensible. Handling of public grievances is poor and inefficient. Political parties and contestants need to address these issues in their campaign.

Many of the problems confronting other cities in Karnataka are similar to those of Bangalore. Hence, the upcoming BBMP election assumes importance for major political parties. As cities like Mysore, Mangalore, Belgaum and towns in north Karnataka develop into sprawling metros, the parties should focus on developing a model that can be a useful resource to confront issues that are urban in nature and can be implemented in any of the cities.

With the state delimitation exercise and migration having tilted the power to urban voters, political parties cannot rely on rural voters alone to rule the state. They need to offer feasible solutions to many of the urban problems. Almost 50 per cent of the Assembly constituencies are currently influenced by urban voters and the challenge for major parties is to provide effective administration and good governance in municipal councils that can serve as a springboard to the state capital.

Given what is at stake, the voter turnout is crucial to determine the policies the BBMP is likely to adopt for the next five years. Apart from stressing the importance of exercising their franchise on the poll day, citizens need to scrutinise party manifestos and contestants like never before to elect representatives who will attend to their needs and not beholden to special interests.









I lay in bed listening to the soft footfalls overhead. It was two in the morning. This was not the first time I had heard them. I was scared because I knew there was nobody upstairs. Yet the pacing continued. The unbroken tread of a tortured soul.

In 2000 we were desperately hunting for a house in Sharjah. In a short span of a month's time, we had seen many houses, both flats and villas. But not a single one appealed to us. Finally, we stumbled upon a tiny, dilapidated villa, in a quiet residential section of Sharjah. No high rises here, but only sprawling Arab style villas. Hemmed in by two massive houses was this little forgotten place, straight out of a storybook. We settled for it.

About a hundred yards from our new home was a vast empty lot. Enclosed by a high wall it was covered with thorny desert brush. We later realised that it was an ancient graveyard. The first couple of months were spent in a whirl of delightful activities — doing up our home, visiting the nearby beach, having alfresco meals on the terrace — but slowly a sense of foreboding crept into our otherwise happy home.

Initially, it was the small insignificant things. But it was there, just enough to catch our attention. The pictures came crashing down from the walls, spoons fell off the tables of their own accord, vibrations were felt in the furniture and there was a  strong sweet smell pervading the rooms in an overpowering manner. Gradually, the activity increased. We could now distinctly hear heavy breathing from a particular corner of the bedroom. The raspy, laboured breathing was pronounced, when someone was alone in the room.

On several occasions, our two cats were seen crouching at the foot of the stairs. They would intently watch the stairway, and follow with their eyes the progress of something unseen, making its way down. The moment their eyes levelled with the last step, their soft growls would be transformed into full throated screams, and their fur would stand on end. We did not feel safe any longer in the house. One particular night there was an upsurge of activity. The footsteps grew louder and louder till the house seemed to fill with it. That night was spent with a friend.

There was definitely some paranormal activity going on in the house. But during our stay, it never harmed us in any way. All that the spirit wanted was to let us know of its existence. The moment we acknowledged its presence, our fear slowly vanished but the activity never really stopped.


. ***************************************







The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill on Sunday whose purpose is to delay the publication of the names of criminal suspects. Submitted by the Justice Ministry, the draft law restricts the freedom of information in an unprecedented manner.

If enacted, it would be the first time that the release of the name of a suspect prior to charges being filed would be absolutely prohibited by law for 48 hours after the suspect has been informed of the investigation.

The main beneficiaries of the secrecy granted by the law would be senior public officials such as the prime minister and other cabinet ministers, Knesset members and mayors, or senior business people and attorneys whose investigation is of public interest.


Only a court, if specifically requested, would be authorized to permit publication in the name of public interest, if the publication is essential to fighting crime, or at the suspect's request.

The bill reverses the long-established norm that permitting publication is the rule and forbidding it the exception. Until 2002 court were not authorized to prohibit the release of the names of adult suspects unless the investigation required it. That year it was stipulated that the court was authorized to ban publication until an indictment is served, to prevent "grave damage" to the suspect, among other things.

The Supreme Court ruled that caution must be taken not to impose excessive limitations on the public's right to know in real time. But the magistrate's courts, which deal with requests for such gag orders have proved to be overly eager to in restricting the freedom of information.

They do so despite the fact that releasing a suspect's name is also intended to prevent rumors and the implication of many others, in the case of a probe against an unnamed "senior minister" or "businessman."

The argument in the introduction to the bill about "erroneous" suspicions has not been proved relevant to many public figures. It is doubtful that the bill will help ordinary citizens, whose criminal investigations are usually not made public.

If the MKs have these people's interest at heart, let them stipulate in the bill that the ban would not apply to investigations against cabinet ministers, MKs and public officials, It can be assumed that in that case the legislators would be in no hurry to impose this constitutionally dubious ban, which would cause disproportionate damage to the freedom of publication.








When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declares at a cabinet meeting that the media exaggerated in describing the grave crisis with the United States and throws in a few more phrases from the "it'll all be fine" department, it is clear that he has neither learned nor forgotten anything. You didn't have to read Thomas Friedman's devastating column in The New York Times to know that there is a limit to the Americans' patience and their willingness to let us pour mud on their heads and call it rain.

If Bibi genuinely did not know, as he foolishly claims, that 1,600 more homes were being planned for East Jerusalem, he does not deserve to be prime minister. If he did know, and permitted Interior Minister Eli Yishai to announce the plan exactly during the visit of Joe Biden, who is both U.S. vice president and a friend to Israel, then there are two possibilities, each worse than the other: either stupidity or fear of the extremists in his cabinet. Either way, he is playing with fire.

It's not just the personal insult to Biden, our only friend in the White House today. It's the insult to the institution of the presidency, which no American can forgive. The presidency is sacrosanct in American democracy, and when Bibi rolls his eyes and says the incident should not have occurred and that in any event it happened in good faith and "we know how to handle such situations and shall do so calmly and responsibly," he reminds me of the guy in the joke who is looking for the "eye and ear" doctor. No such thing, he is told. "What's your problem?" And he replies, "What I hear is not what I see."


Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak sought to close a deal with the Palestinians. But Bibi's government, trapped between Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu, is trying to sweep everything that has been achieved and all the expectations of the current government under the rug. Bibi cannot begin to grasp the damage he is causing to U.S.-Israeli relations with the whole settlements issue. My guess is that he tried in vain to phone President Barack Obama. Instead he got Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who told him off in no uncertain terms. It was the first time that the settlements were linked to the future of bilateral relations.

Clinton did not use diplomatic language when she accused Bibi of undermining "trust and confidence in the peace process and in America's interests" by announcing plans to build 1,600 homes just as we came to start proximity talks with the Palestinians. The fury radiating from the White House is so great that were someone to introduce an anti-Israeli resolution in the UN Security Council the United States would join in.

Biden could have forgone his dinner with Bibi and Sara and returned home immediately. But it was important to him to rescue us from ourselves, emphasizing in his speech at Tel Aviv University that we are damaging our relations with Washington just as it is pressuring Iran to change its policies. That is, there is a connection between sanctions on Iran and the peace process with the Palestinians.

Livni was right when she attacked Bibi on Sunday for placing our national security in Yishai's hands. In retrospect it is clear how right she was to refuse to partner with Yishai in order to become prime minister without elections. America "hand" Zvi Rafiah, a great believer in America's feelings of friendship for Israel, said: "For more than 30 years I have not heard so harsh an American rebuke, and for the first time I fear for the future of our relations with the United States."

The cabinet violated two principles, that of not surprising America and of not calling our credibility into question. Had Bibi apologized immediately for Yishai's lapse and promised not to undertake any construction unilaterally, it might have been possible to weather the incident. But by attempting to do damage control and by running off to tell "the gang" that everything is fine, he further enraged the president, who has not scored many successes and who does not really like us.

Bibi's casual attitude toward his scandalous conduct calls into question his fitness to continue serving as prime minister. "When we surprise the U.S. administration we erode the confidence in the cabinet's commitment to a two-state solution," U.S. affairs expert Dan Halperin said.

Bibi has indeed remained the same old Bibi, who does not even fit the old saying that the clever man is someone who can extricate himself from a situation that the wise man would not have got himself into in the first place








Today at noon, Jerusalem will hold its breath. The second Israeli branch of Swedish fashion retailer H&M is opening at the Malha Mall. Oh what a celebration there will be, not to mention the lines. But the Jerusalem opening has no chance of overshadowing the insanity that swept Tel Aviv last Thursday.

On that day at 11 A.M., H&M's first branch opened in the Azrieli Center. Hundreds waited for hours in long lines until the sign was given. Women stormed into the store, baby carriages were trampled, muscular young men wrestled with each other, all striving for the coveted goal - skinny jeans and a floral shirt, which apparently are the latest trends. Some did not hesitate to strip off their top or pants in the middle of the store to try things on. Why waste time waiting in line for the fitting rooms? The chain's Swedish CEO paled. He had never seen such an assault before.

The entire Azrieli Center caved under the pressure. The entrance was blocked with cars trying to get in and the Ayalon Highway outside turned into one huge traffic jam. Some 100,000 people visited the mall that day, compared with 40,000 on an ordinary day. "Never has there been such a shopping hysteria in Israel," one pundit said.


What were those 15,000 people looking for on H&M's opening day? Why couldn't they wait another week? Naturally they wanted to be the first, the pioneers, the winners of the race. They wanted to be the ones who would tell their friends about their divine experience. After all, it's a social entry card - once they were there, they were "in." They touched glory. The long line did not daunt them, nor did the crowds inside. For them it was part of the enjoyment. "The whole fun is to wait hours for the opening," said Efrat from Rishon Letzion.

"I piled on as much as I could, I paid thousands of shekels, but who's counting?" added Dudi from Ashdod.

The stampede to H&M is but a symptom of the big consumption disease with which clever marketing people have infected the public. Today people don't go shopping to fulfill a need. Nobody really needs another shirt and pair of pants. They shop to be part of the right social class, because wearing an H&M shirt is to wear the "right thing," to be "in." We shop at H&M because we've been brainwashed to think that if we buy a floral shirt for NIS 99.90 we'll really look good, like the model in the ad.

It's embarrassing, but the public worships brand names. After the purchase people mention, as though by the way, how much the item cost. Regardless of how big our bank overdraft is, it's important that good society believes that money is not really a problem for us. So we went to buy a purple sweater and returned with red shoes. So what? We didn't need either of them.

The marketing people have simply driven the public crazy. They've sold them the lie that if they're in a bad mood, a new top will cheer them up. If they happen to be happy, that's certainly a good reason to go on a shopping spree.

The salesman sells illusions easily and half cynically. He says the skinny jeans fit us "perfectly" and make us young forever, even though our bellies are almost bursting over the belt. But what's NIS 249.90 for a sweet illusion?

The promotion and sales people are not selling us a shirt and pants, they're selling us "happiness," "youth" and "fitting in." And who wouldn't pay for happiness?

Yesterday was International Consumer Day. The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry spoke about the importance of the consumer protection laws and regulations it is issuing. But it's much more important to have a counterrevolution - to stop the great shopping mania and restore our sanity. To liberate us from the brand-name tyranny and break the advertisers' chains. To buy according to our real needs. To be a little more individualistic rather than herded, like a stunned mass, to the cashier's counter. To gain some self-confidence and not cave to social pressure. To find real happiness, not fake happiness in stores and malls.








So sorry! Very sorry! Very, very sorry! We apologize! This will never happen again! The prime minister, cabinet members and senior bureaucrats repeated this over and over again last week in an attempt to set right what seemed to them to have been a major blunder, one they thought had spoiled what should have been a dramatic goodwill visit by the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have been humming "I'm just a soul whose intentions are good, Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood," while he sat waiting for the arrival of Biden, who vented his anger over what he considered an insult by being deliberately late for dinner.

The government's critics in the media had a field day. According to them the decision by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee to approve plans for putting up additional houses in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, just as Biden was arriving in the country, was ruining relations between the United States and Israel and causing irreparable damage to strategic cooperation between the two countries. Listening to them, one might have thought that if some years from now historians try to determine why the U.S. administration did not take any effective action to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons, they will find that the responsibility lay on the shoulders of a minor Israeli civil servant who set the agenda of a local planning committee for that fateful day.

Since it was well known in Washington that the Netanyahu government had not frozen building activity in Jerusalem, and that therefore not only construction there was continuing but also the routine planning activities that precede construction, the blame was now being put on the "timing." Presumably, if the planning committee had held its session a few days before Biden's arrival there would not have been a problem. Or, had it met a few days after Biden's departure and he left here under the impression that planning activities had been suspended in Jerusalem, only to find out differently on his arrival in Washington, there would have been nothing to get excited about.


"Timing" is important when investing in the stock market, but it is of little relevance here. There is no substitute for the truth when dealing with friends and allies. And the truth in this case is that while the Israeli government has frozen construction in Judea and Samaria for 10 months, there has been no such freeze in any part of Jerusalem, and certainly no holdup of planning procedures. There was no need for all this groveling by Israeli spokesmen. On the subject of Jerusalem, the government of Israel and the administration in Washington simply disagree.

Throughout the U.S.-Israeli relationship there have been disagreements on certain issues. They are inevitable, even among the best of friends. But generally, the disagreements have not been taken public, but have been discussed in confidential exchanges between representatives of the two governments. U.S. President Barack Obama, however, has taken a new approach, which he signaled at his speech last June in Cairo, where he publicly called on Israel to stop settlement activity.

The rationale of this approach was presumably to accelerate the negotiations between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But what the Americans must be finding out to their chagrin is that this approach is actually making it more difficult, if not impossible, for Abbas to come to the negotiating table. Whereas in the past he negotiated with Israel while settlement activity continued, without setting prior conditions, Obama's Cairo speech left Abbas no choice but to demand the cessation of settlement activity in Judea and Samaria as a condition for entering negotiations. After all, he cannot be less Palestinian than Obama.

Now, after the statements made by Biden in Israel, followed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's public rebuke of Netanyahu, he will demand the cessation of construction in Jerusalem, and possibly even the freezing of all planning activity regarding future construction as a condition for beginning negotiations with Israel. As the saying goes, "why make it difficult, when with a little effort you can make it impossible?" This is hardly the way to advance the peace process.








Aluf Benn writes that the struggle over the future of the territories is actually a derivative of the real struggle over the character of the state, whether it is to be "Jewish or Israeli, facing the past or the future, isolation or openness." ("Jewish or Israeli?", Haaretz, March 10). He says that Benjamin Netanyahu heads a coherent nationalistic camp and that he emphasizes Jewishness and the past, while opposing him is an amorphous camp interested in bolstering democracy, emphasizing the future, and Israeliness.

Benn has succumbed here to one of the dominant elements in our public discourse, by speaking in terms of opposing factors, of quasi-binary systems, while between the apparently conflicting factors there is in fact a close connection.

On one side of the equation are the "good guys" or the "forces of light" and on the other the "bad guys" or the "forces of darkness." It is the left which is open to the future, to progress and to social justice, while Netanyahu and the "nationalist camp" tend to foster the historical link to the nation and the land, and support the Israel Defense Forces.


Moreover, Benn observes that the struggle is being waged only within the public that is neither

rab not ultra-Orthodox. It is not clear where he places modern Orthodox Zionists, because he states that despite the increase in the numbers of the former two groups, "the Israeli Jews who drive on Shabbat and do not put on phylacteries will continue to rule the country."

His attitude toward the Arabs is also not clear, because "the left is divided between political interest, which requires that it link up with the Arabs and incorporate them within Jewish society, and its wish for legitimacy which leads it to a more security-based and less democratic position."

The internal debate over the character of the state is indeed critical, and it shapes the dispute over the territories. But Benn is wrong to describe the argument in such black and white terms, because just doing that thwarts the chances that Israel will be able to formulate a clear policy that will reflect the necessity for integrating the two essential components of its identity: both Jewish and democratic, both nationalist and committed to universal human rights.

This is the way of Zionism at its best. Only this integration gives the enterprise of the State of Israel its essential nature and its raison d'etre. Only it will make the construction possible of a mainstream consensus, one that will enable the consolidation of a large and stable majority of Israeli society behind bold and difficult decisions of the elected leadership. Such a consensus necessitates maintaining both nationalism and social justice. The IDF must remain the people's army, above politics but subject to supervision of the way it and its power are used.

We must not focus only on restoring the past and ignore the rights of the people living here today, Jews and non-Jews alike, and their well-being. But at the same time, it is impossible to conceive a new nation here, one for which this country is not its historical homeland.

The State of Israel's purpose is to be the one place where Jews are a majority and can enjoy self-determination, making it possible for them to be full members of the family of nations.

It is not a question of being nationalist or democratic, of a Jewish state or a democracy, of being Jewish or Israeli. The Arab minority is also not only democratic; it is nationalist, and its national-cultural identity is different from that of the state's Jewish majority.

Therefore, Israel is Jewish and democratic, Jewish (because it has a Jewish majority and a Jewish public culture and is the realization of Jewish self-determination) and also Israeli (a country in which all citizens, and only citizens, participate in the democratic decision-making process).

It would not be right to allow any of the camps to acquire a monopoly over one of these components and to keep the other components out. By doing that we would lose the state's cohesion of values, and we would not be able to maintain either its Jewish nor its democratic character.

The writer is founding president of the Metzilah Center for Zionist, Jewish, Liberal and Humanistic Thought.




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




The latest election results in Iraq point to a heated and possibly lengthy power struggle between the Shiite coalition led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and the rival secular slate led by Ayad Allawi.


That is not a surprise, but it is still worrying. There is much unfinished business awaiting the new Parliament and prime minister, including an equitable oil law and a fair resolution of Kurdish and Sunni Arab claims to Kirkuk. And there are less than six months before all American combat troops are scheduled to withdraw. Iraqis and Americans both need a swift and legitimate transition to a new government in Baghdad.


Beyond the closeness of the race, the new results — disappointingly — show Iraqis once again voted mainly along sectarian and ethnic lines.


Mr. Maliki's slate is ahead in the largely Shiite region of southern Iraq. His main challenge there is from a rival Shiite slate whose most prominent figure is the anti-American firebrand Moktada al-Sadr. The list led by Mr. Allawi — a secular Shiite who has become the standard-bearer for many Sunnis — is doing very well among Sunni voters in central and western Iraq. Kurdish voters overwhelmingly chose Kurdish parties, although they split their vote in a way that could dilute their bargaining power but likely not their demands.


In the horse-trading to choose a prime minister, Iraq's leaders must now look beyond their sectarian and ethnic bases and show that they have the skill and the vision to govern all of Iraq.


Prime Minister Maliki showed a disturbing lack of statesmanship in the months leading up to the elections, and he will need to do better. Armed party militias must be kept on a tight leash. The Iraqi Army must remain neutral and on the sidelines.


Mr. Allawi campaigned on a national platform, but some Sunni members of his alliance are already insisting on Sunni prerogatives. He should stick with his national vision.


Mr. Maliki and Mr. Allawi have the main responsibility for bringing the bargaining to an expeditious and peaceful resolution. But Washington has a very strong interest in helping them succeed. It should urge the main contenders to commit themselves — now — to a set of agreed upon procedures for peacefully and fairly resolving disputes about the legal eligibility of candidates or specific allegations of voting fraud.


Resolving such disputes is supposed to be the job of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission. But the commission raised doubts about its own impartiality by disqualifying 55 mostly Sunni candidates for alleged Baathist sympathies on the eve of the elections. The election commission can redeem its reputation by addressing challenges in an impartial manner and seeing that the votes for those disqualified candidates — they remained on the ballot — are properly credited to the parties on which they ran. If the commission fails to do so, a truly independent appeals panel may have to be created with the main political leaders pledging in advance to abide by its decisions. Building democracy requires free and fair elections. It also requires responsible political leadership in the days after the polls close.






In a little more than a year in office, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has used his bully pulpit and a burgeoning discretionary budget to focus state governments on school reform as never before. Mr. Duncan has now promised to energize the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, which has done a poor job in recent years of enforcing federal laws that protect poor, minority and disabled students from discrimination.


If the secretary follows through, states and localities that have historically shortchanged these children — by saddling them, say, with watered-down curriculums and unqualified teachers — will be required to do better or risk losing federal education dollars.


Mr. Duncan announced his goals during a speech commemorating the 45th anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" civil rights march in Selma, Ala., during which demonstrators were bludgeoned by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Mr. Duncan compared the voting rights struggle to the effort to secure educational opportunity for poor, minority and disadvantaged children.


Mr. Duncan said that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be pleased by the racial progress that the country has made but "would have been angered to see that disadvantaged students still have less-effective teachers; that they still have fewer opportunities to take rigorous college-prep courses in high school; that black, and brown, and low-income children are still languishing in aging facilities and high schools that are little more than dropout factories. He would have been downhearted that students with disabilities still do not get the educational support they need. And he would have been dismayed to learn of schools that seem to suspend and discipline only young African-American boys."


Mr. Duncan made clear that his department wants to ensure that all students have equal access to educational opportunity as defined by things like a college-prep curriculum, advanced courses and science classes. He seems keenly interested in ending the odious, widespread practice under which poorly qualified teachers are shunted into schools serving the neediest children.


The department said that it would soon notify thousands of school districts and colleges of their responsibilities under federal equal opportunity laws. Beyond that, the department's civil rights chief, Russlynn Ali, plans this year to open investigations, known as compliance reviews, in 38 school districts across the country.


Districts that are found to be out of compliance with federal law must formally agree to correct illegal practices. If they refuse, they could be sued or stripped of federal financing.


Sticking with the civil rights plan will be difficult once districts begin whining to legislators in Washington. The secretary will need cover from the White House to succeed.






The Texas Board of Education, notorious for its past efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools, has now moved to revise the social studies curriculum to portray conservative ideas and movements in a more positive light and emphasize the role of Christianity in the nation's founding.


It was a disturbing intervention by the board's Republican majority into educational decisions best left to the teachers and scholars who have toiled for almost a year to produce the new curriculum standards.


Since January, the board has passed more than 100 amendments to the proposed standards for what will be taught in history, sociology, government and economics from elementary to high school over the next decade. On Friday, the board gave preliminary approval to the new standards by a 10-to-5 party-line vote. A final vote will be held in May, but it is unlikely to change anything substantial.


Some of the changes sound merely foolish, like replacing the word "capitalism" with the words "free-enterprise system." One board member explained that the term capitalism has negative connotations, as in "capitalist pig." Others are very worrisome, like questioning the doctrine of "separation between church and state" and dropping Thomas Jefferson, who coined the phrase, from a list of figures whose writings inspired political revolutions from the 1700s on.


From a practical standpoint, the board has inserted so many conservative figures, groups and concepts that must henceforth be studied that an already-long list of requirements may become unmanageable in the classroom time available.


Educators outside of the Lone Star State worry that Texas buys such a large number of textbooks that its requirements influence what publishers include in books that are marketed nationally. That should diminish as digital publishing makes it easier to alter textbooks from state to state. But even that is no comfort to the students in Texas. They deserve to have a curriculum chosen for its educational value, not politics or ideology.






Last December, after 13 years of lawsuits and painful negotiations, the federal government and representatives of hundreds of thousands of American Indians finally reached a settlement of claims that reached back to the 19th century. Only one more hurdle stood between the Indians and the $3.4 billion that the government agreed to pay them: Congress, which was required to sign off on the agreement.


It seemed like a formality, but Congress has yet to do so, even though a deadline looms on April 16. This is disgraceful, especially since there seems to be no serious substantive opposition to the deal. The main enemy is sloth. True, the agreement can be extended. But the Indians have waited long enough. The money is there. It's time to turn the page.


The settlement arose out of a lawsuit charging that Washington had shortchanged accounts it had held in trust since an 1887 law placed Indian lands in the hands of the federal government. The government leased the lands for mining, grazing and other purposes and returned the proceeds to the trusts.


Over time, records were lost, mishandled or destroyed, and the trusts were divided into tinier and tinier pieces as they were passed down to descendants. The $3.4 billion settlement negotiated by the Interior Department is less than the trust's estimated value.


But Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff, has noted that this is the best solution likely and at least partial atonement for years of carelessness. Many claimants are growing older, and further delays will mean more deaths among the people who never fully benefited from the trusts and who deserve to benefit from the settlement.







California has been very, very good to Toyota. It is one of the largest markets in the world for the popular Prius hybrid. Nearly 18 percent of all Toyotas sold in the U.S. are sold in California. The state has showered the company with benefits, including large-scale infrastructure improvements for its operations and millions of dollars for worker training. California is one of the key reasons that Toyota is the wealthiest carmaker on the planet.


Toyota is paying the state back with the foulest form of ingratitude.


The company is planning to shut down the assembly plant in Fremont, Calif., that makes Corollas and the Tacoma compact pickup. The plant closure will throw 4,700 experienced, highly skilled and dedicated employees onto the street during the worst job market since the Depression, and it will jeopardize nearly 20,000 other jobs around the state.


It is a cold and irresponsible act on Toyota's part, a decision that was not necessary from a business standpoint and that completely disregards the wave of human misery it is setting in motion.


The New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant (generally referred to as NUMMI) began as a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors in 1984. G.M. abandoned the venture when it collapsed into bankruptcy proceedings last year. Toyota declared that the plant was no longer viable because of the absence of G.M. and announced that it would close at the end of this month.


What has not been made clear to the public is that for many years the plant has been used primarily to produce vehicles for Toyota, not General Motors. A report prepared for a state commission that has been seeking to avert the plant closure noted that "G.M. accounted for only 10 percent of the plant's production last year and an average of 15.4 percent between 2001 and 2009."


In fact, from Jan. 1 to Feb. 27 this year, with G.M. gone, Toyota produced 61,000 sparkling new vehicles at the plant. That was more than double the 27,000 that were produced in the same period in 2009, when G.M. was part of the operation.


The report, written by Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California, Berkeley, noted that "Toyota could easily fill its production lines at NUMMI by building a higher percentage of the Corollas it sells in the U.S.," or by adding a new model to the plant — a hybrid, for example.


What we're dealing with here is the kind of corporate treachery toward workers and their local communities that has ruined countless lives over the past several decades and completely undermined the long-term prospects of the economy.


The NUMMI plant is a heck of a lot more viable than the nonstop dissembling of top Toyota executives. The company could keep the plant open and profitable if it wanted to. But, instead, it has decided to shift the production of these vehicles to Japan, Canada, Mexico and Texas.


The scale of the ingratitude is breathtaking. The U.S. is the largest market for Toyota vehicles in the world, larger even than Japan. The Corolla, one of the vehicles produced at NUMMI, is the best-selling car of all time.


Beyond sales, Toyota has reaped endless benefits not just from California, but from the U.S. government and other states as well.


The federal cash-for-clunkers program, for example, was a bonanza for Toyota. As Professor Shaiken's report put it: "The automaker ranked first in 'Cash for Clunkers' sales in summer 2009, a stimulus effort that allocated $3 billion in incentives to trade in older models for newer, more fuel-efficient ones. The Corolla proved the most popular model."


Among the infrastructure investments made by California on behalf of the NUMMI plant was the dredging of the Port of Oakland 12 years ago at a cost of $410 million. That was done to accommodate the types of cargo ships required by the plant.


It will be a crushing economic blow if Toyota, as planned, high-tails it out of Fremont. Like the rest of the nation, California is struggling with the worst employment crisis since the 1930s. The NUMMI plant closure would be the single biggest layoff in the state since the start of the Great Recession in December 2007.


Those who are trumpeting the alleged fact that the recession is over should consider that the unemployment rate in California in January (the last month for which complete statistics are available) was a mind-numbing 12.5 percent. That was the fifth worst in the nation. In eight California counties, the jobless rate — not the underemployment rate, mind you, but the official jobless rate — was higher than 20 percent. Those counties are suffering through a depression.


The human toll behind such data is of no apparent interest to the fabulously wealthy Toyota operation.







Human beings, the philosophers tell us, are social animals. We emerge into the world ready to connect with mom and dad. We go through life jibbering and jabbering with each other, grouping and regrouping. When you get a crowd of people in a room, the problem is not getting them to talk to each other; the problem is getting them to shut up.


To help us in this social world, God, nature and culture have equipped us with a spirit of sympathy. We instinctively feel a tinge of pain when we observe another in pain (at least most of us do). We instinctively mimic, even to a small extent, the mood, manners, yawns and actions of the people around us.


To help us bond and commit, we have been equipped with a suite of moral sentiments. We have an innate sense of fairness. Children from an early age have a sense that everybody should be treated fairly. We have an innate sense of duty. We admire people who sacrifice for the group. We are naturally embarrassed when we've been caught violating some social code. We blush uncontrollably.


As a result of this sympathy and these sentiments, people are usually pretty decent to one another when they relate person to person. The odd thing is that when people relate group to group, none of this applies. When a group or a nation thinks about another group or nation, there doesn't seem to be much natural sympathy, natural mimicry or a natural desire for attachment. It's as if an entirely different part of the brain has been activated, utilizing a different mode of thinking.


Group-to-group relations are more often marked by calculation, rivalry and coldness. Members of one group sometimes see members of another group as less than human: Nazi and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi, Sunni and Shiite.


Political leaders have an incentive to get their followers to use the group mode of cognition, not the person-to-person. People who are thinking in the group mode are loyal, disciplined and vicious against foes. People in the person-to-person mode are soft, unpredictable and hard to organize.


There's a scene in Anthony Trollope's political novel, "Phineas Finn," in which young Phineas, about to enter Parliament, tells a party leader that he is going to think for himself and decide issues as he sees best. The leader, Barrington Erle, looks at him with utter disgust. To Erle, anybody who thinks that way is "unstable as water and dishonest as the wind."


In the United States, leaders in the House of Representatives have done an effective job in getting their members to think in group, not person-to-person, terms. Members usually vote as party blocs. Individuals have very little power. That's why representatives are often subtle and smart as individuals, but crude and partisan as a collective. The social psychology of the House is a clan psychology, not an interpersonal psychology.


The Senate, on the other hand, has historically been home to more person-to-person thinking. This is because the Senate is smaller and because of Senate rules. Until recently, the Senate leaders couldn't just ram things through on party-line votes. Because a simple majority did not rule, and because one senator had the ability to bring the whole body to a halt, senators had an incentive, every day, to develop alliances and relationships with people in the other party.


For decades, individual senators have resisted their leaders' attempts to run the Senate like the House and destroy these relationships and these humane customs. A few years ago, when Republican leaders tried to pass judicial nominations on party-line votes, rank-and-file members like Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton spoke out forcefully against rule by simple majority.


But power trumps principle. In nearly every arena of political life, group relationships have replaced person-to-person relationships. The tempo of the Senate is now set by partisan lunches every Tuesday, whereas the body almost never meets for conversation as a whole. The Senate is now in the process of using reconciliation — rule by simple majority — to try to pass health care.


Reconciliation has been used with increasing frequency. That was bad enough. But at least for the Bush tax cuts or the prescription drug bill, there was significant bipartisan support. Now we have pure reconciliation mixed with pure partisanship.


Once partisan reconciliation is used for this bill, it will be used for everything, now and forever. The Senate will be the House. The remnants of person-to-person relationships, with their sympathy and sentiment, will be snuffed out. We will live amid the relationships of group versus group, party versus party, inhumanity versus inhumanity.


We have a political culture in which the word "reconciliation" has come to mean "bitter division." With increasing effectiveness, the system bleaches out normal behavior and the normal instincts of human sympathy.








WHILE Democrats may yet enact health care reform via a convoluted process that involves passing three separate bills, many people may wonder, "What happened to the postpartisan era?" Both President Obama's 11th-hour meeting with Republicans and the Republican leaders' demands to "start over" are recognized by Americans for what they are — political talk substituting for bipartisan legislation.


As health policy adviser for Senator Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican, while Congress considered this most critical and complicated issue, I saw firsthand how a failure to recognize the magnitude of the task, and a toxic political environment, undermined the effort to achieve reform.


Republicans rightly note that their role was minimized in four of the five Congressional committees charged with drafting the legislation. Yet many Republicans had decided even before Inauguration Day to block reform, including policies that their party had previously supported. In 2003, for example, Republicans enacted legislation that financed end-of-life counseling — yet in town halls last August they claimed a similar measure would create "death panels."


Republican cries for fiscal responsibility also ring hollow when you consider the party's record of establishing higher-cost private Medicare plans and enacting a drug benefit that wasn't paid for. The fact is that under the Republicans' watch, critical problems of escalating health costs and access to affordable coverage were largely ignored.


Yet Democratic leadership worsened the erosion of bipartisanship. With dissonant voices excluded, too many Democrats failed to recognize that most Americans, who already have health insurance, wanted the assurance of continued, affordable coverage. Health security, especially in a severe recession, should have been the central concern.


The Senate Finance Committee sought to address that concern by drafting legislation to reform health insurance, provide subsidies to those who cannot afford coverage and achieve better value for America's health care dollar. Some faulted this committee's so-called Gang of Six — the chairman, Max Baucus of Montana; two other Democrats; and three Republicans (including Senator Snowe) — for drafting its bill in a prolonged series of closed-door meetings. Yet I witnessed that group make steady progress, and maintain a level of collegiality. The senators were free to discuss options outside the spotlight of the news media. Each party could counter the excesses of the other — a balance that disappeared when Democrats later merged legislation from the two Senate committees into a single bill.


In that merging, the focus shifted to a one-sided political calculus, and away from critical questions like just how much it would cost Americans to carry the minimum amount of insurance coverage required under the emerging bill. Rather than address such concerns, the Democratic leadership, in the interest of political expediency, expanded the scope of the legislation, adding more regulation, spending and taxes. Soon health care reform, which had been achievable, became endangered.


At the same time, Democrats trying to lead health care legislation through Congress made a multitude of missteps. One of these was to fixate for months on the "public option," only to wholly discard it. Yet Senator Snowe had long offered the option of a "fallback" public plan. This would have allowed insurance market reforms to work, but would have applied the threat of intervention by a public plan to ensure that private health plans actually performed. The Congressional Budget Office confirmed that such a strategy would have pressured private insurance plans to reduce costs.


No less embarrassing was the way the majority leadership killed a bipartisan amendment to establish an F.D.A.-regulated system for importing prescription drugs. Safe importation would have produced nearly $100 billion in savings, $19.4 billion of which would have been realized by the federal government. But the amendment conflicted with the deal Democrats had made with the pharmaceutical industry.


Ultimately, Democrats decided to pass their bill with no Republican support, sacrificing bipartisanship and empowering every Democratic senator to seek inappropriate concessions. I was frustrated because I knew that last-minute deals couldn't result in a bill that would be correctly drafted, with all its costs clearly delineated, and properly considered by the Senate. The Democratic leadership insisted that a vote must be taken, that debate simply couldn't continue into January. So midnight votes commenced on legislation that few senators had read and fewer understood. Just pass it, Democrats said, and we'll fix it later.


Should they succeed in blocking reform, Republicans should take no consolation. When Congress next attempts reform, in a decade or more, health costs and the number of uninsured and underinsured will have escalated — and the likely outcome will be the single-payer system that Republicans most abhor.


Three in four Americans say the health care system needs to be overhauled, and many provisions in the pending legislation have strong support. What's more, the core of the Senate's legislation closely resembles the very bill the Republicans offered in 1993 as an alternative to the Clinton plan. This makes clear that bipartisan reform was achievable, and indicts Congress for its failure to realize that goal with broad public support.


William F. Pewen is a former senior health policy adviser for Senator Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine.


. **************************************

******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS




The water problem is becoming acute, and impacting across every part of the country. It is a problem made up of many facets: the management of water resources transnationally and specifically the Indus river system, inadequate storage and a failure to create new storage for a decade, poor maintenance and leakage and now a failure of seasonal rains to replenish stocks. It is this last that has contributed to the emergency we face today as the water levels in two of the principal dams hit 'dead' level. It is unusual for both of these dams to reach dead level simultaneously, and it underscores the fragility of our water infrastructure. Comparison with levels of a year ago tells us how different things are today. On March 13, 2009, the water level at Tarbela Dam was 1,385 feet against March 14's dead level of 1,378 feet – those seven feet being the difference between having a dam that is working for us and a dam that is not. Then, water storage at the dam was recorded at 0.37 million acre-feet, whereas on March 14 it was zero. Mangla Dam on the Jhelum River has been at dead level for over a week. Hydel power generation is reduced to a trickle, loadshedding is again widespread and prolonged, and irrigation of crops threatened with the prospect of food shortages later in the year very much a reality.

The coincidence of both dams reaching dead level together is unexpected. Typically, Tarbela is at dead level at the end of April, and Mangla in mid-March. But this year Mangla went to dead level at the beginning of March and when coupled with the current drought-like conditions this became the trigger for the perilous situation we now face. The failure of the winter rains and lower-than-expected snowfall in the Karakorams and Himalayas over the last winter mean that things are likely to get worse rather than better. The meteorologists have no good news for us either as they predict steadily rising temperatures and no sign of rain. Pressure on the power supply will increase as fans and air-conditioners are turned on and farmers will want to run their tube-well pumps. There is no 'slack' in the system – a built-in contingency reserve that can be deployed at times like this – apart from a tiny reserve stored at the Chashma Barrage. Water and its current and future management is key to our very existence, and a lack of it presents a far greater existential threat to the state than every terrorist group within our borders. Now is not the time for inter-provincial rivalries to play out across the water issue, and the choice, quite literally, may be to sink or swim.













In the aftermath of last week's bombings in Lahore there is again debate about 'the Punjabi Taliban' and whether or not they exist and what might be their motives or capacities. Some say there is 'no such thing' as the Punjabi Taliban whilst others see a possibility that southern Punjab could go the way of Swat. Attempting to steer a course between the differing and nuanced perceptions of who and what the Taliban are has always been difficult, and there has been a tendency to homogenise them into a single but untidy entity. This adds to the confusion in the public mind, particularly when individual groups such as the TTP claim authorship for a specific atrocity. Is the claim being made by a TTP member who has his natal origin in the tribal areas or in southern Punjab? Was the atrocity committed by TTP members who have migrated from Waziristan or some other tribal agency to operate in southern Punjab – and southern Punjabis having nothing to do with it?

South Punjab is no stranger to extremists. They were there long before the Taliban phenomenon took shape and they remain there now. Both Jaish-e-Mohammed and Sipah-e-Sahaba have operated in the area for many years and conducted campaigns largely directed at the minority Shia populations. Extremist organisations, banned or otherwise, have substantial assets in the area. Extremist organisations are able to hold public rallies in southern Punjab apparently without objection from the forces of law and order. Against this background it is plausible to assume that members of other extremist groups, not necessarily originating from southern Punjab, will gravitate towards their fellow travellers. There are anecdotal reports of the Taliban in the north relocating their strategic planning operations to southern Punjab, and other anecdotal reports of 'northern' Taliban using southern Punjab as a rest-and-recovery area. Could it be that these 'foreigners' are responsible for the Lahore blasts? Indeed it could, but it is equally possible that the blasts were planned and executed by men from Bahawalpur or Rahim Yar Khan or even Lahore itself. Terrorist groups commingle where they share common values and objectives, and the likelihood of there being 'northern' Taliban in southern Punjab is high, and vice versa. Extremist organisations in southern Punjab have the patronage of at least one senior establishment figure and are apparently tolerated by the police and security services. So long as that state of affairs persists then so will terrorism – whoever commits it or under whichever flag or title.






Pakistan has been wise in not dismissing the suggestion by All Parties Hurriyet Conference Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq that Saudi Arabia could play a role in resolving the Kashmir dispute. The recent visit by the Indian prime minister to the desert kingdom and his warm reception there indicate that the relations between Riyadh and New Delhi could strike a stronger note. Though this is a development Pakistan would not necessarily welcome, this could also mean more potential for the Saudis to mediate on Kashmir. The Mirwaiz is right in saying that dialogue between India and Pakistan will remain meaningless unless the issue of Kashmir is put at its forefront. While there is indeed an argument for other matters to be talked over ahead of this to build the trust and confidence that vanished after the Mumbai attacks, we know that eventually the matter of Kashmir has to be confronted head-on. The experience of the long, hostile decades since 1947 also suggests that this unfinished business from Partition is not something the two countries are likely to thrash out with much success.

Third-party mediation – so far consistently rejected by India – will inevitably be required. Saudi Arabia could play a valuable role. The links between it and Washington also mean it could ensure US cooperation and thus maximise influence on India to move towards a solution. Thousands in Kashmir are missing, countless others have been killed and almost every village has suffered as a result of action by Indian troops. Any player who can play a part to end this dispute must do so.







It was during our recent stay for a conference in Jakarta that one of the most wanted Indonesian militants, Dulmatin, was killed with two of his accomplices in a dramatic police raid. His death was hailed as a big success for the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in its fight against mostly homegrown terrorists.

The Indonesian president was so happy to learn about Dulmatin's killing that he broke the news during his speech at Parliament House in Australia, where he was on a visit. He used the word, Alhamdulillah (Thank God) to describe the success of the Indonesian police in eliminating Dulmatin. It followed the earlier killings of two other top militants, Noordin Mohammad Top and Azahari bin Husin.

With the Indonesian police providing the mug shots, Dulmatin's pictures were splashed all over Indonesia's large media. The balding man with a small beard and moustache was believed to be around 40 years old. Unlike in Pakistan where the authorities in most cases are unable to provide evidence, due to a host of reasons, that the targeted militants have indeed been slain, the Indonesians did a good job by providing proof to the media that Dulmatin along with Ridwan and Hasan Noer, believed to be his bodyguards, had been killed. The police also said the DNA test conducted on Dulmatin matched the DNA of his mother. The efficient cops were lucky that no bystander was killed in the high-risk, coordinated public raids, including the internet café in suburban Jakarta where Dulmatin was trapped.

The killings took place at a time when a three-day media seminar titled "Journalism at the Intersection of Politics, Religion and Culture" and focusing on conflicts in the East Asia region was taking place in Jakarta. Police raids on militants' hideouts and killings were being reported from the Jakarta suburb and Indonesia's western-most Aceh province just when the past and present conflicts in Maluku and South Sulawesi in Indonesia, Thailand's Malay-populated three southern provinces, the Mindanao islands in the Philippines and, farther away in Afghanistan and Pakistan, were being discussed.

New Zealand, in cooperation with the European Union and the government of Indonesia, had brought together 57 senior journalists and media experts and academics from 16 countries to reflect on the way the media was reporting and analysing the conflicts in the region.

At times, the Indonesian media's coverage of the events surrounding the killing of Dulmatin and his two guards was sensational. In particular, the TV channels were competing with each other to show the manhunt by the swarming policemen and were even telecasting graphic footage of dead bodies and the blood. And all this time, terrorism experts were offering comments and probably causing more confusion than clarifying things.

As happens so often in terrorism-related cases all over the world, Dulmatin had become a lot more important and dangerous in death and was being blamed for most of the terrorist attacks in Indonesia. In fact, he was being described as the mastermind of the October 2002 night-club suicide bombings in Indonesia's Bali tourist resort in which 202 people were killed, mostly foreign tourists with the overwhelming number from Australia.

Earlier, another Indonesian, Riduan Isamuddin, commonly known as Hambali, was mentioned as the mastermind of the Bali bombings. He is presently imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay after being delivered to the US by Thailand where he was captured in 2003. Hambali, referred to by the CIA as the "Osama bin Laden" of Southeast Asia, has now filed a petition for his release and the US authorities are conceding that they lack evidence for putting him on trial for his alleged role in the Bali bombings. Three other Indonesians, including Imam Samudra and brothers Amrozi and Mukhlas, were earlier captured and executed for their role in the Bali and other terrorist attacks. It seems the hunt for the masterminds of the Bali bombings in 2002 and 2005 isn't over yet.

Dulmatin, also known as Joko Pitoni, is of interest in the so-called Af-Pak region because he allegedly trained at an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. If that is true, he must have travelled through and stayed in Pakistan, particularly in the North-West Frontier Province and the adjoining tribal areas, because this is the route foreign militants take to cross over to Afghanistan. He should have friends and acquaintances in this area. The Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian militant group to which he belonged, is allegedly linked to Al Qaeda. Dulmatin's death thus isn't an isolated incident.

Dulmatin did everything that militants and undercover agents do to disguise their activities. He used fake IDs, had a number of names and undertook different trades to avoid detection and capture. From a car salesman to a livestock broker, he did businessmen that covered up his gun-running, recruitment and militant activities. He reportedly received bomb-making training in Afghanistan and then passed on his skills to militants to Moro separatists in southern Philippines and also to Indonesian militants in Aceh and Java.

As we have seen so often in Pakistan, splits in militants' ranks prompt some of them to join more radical splinter groups. It also reportedly happened in the case of Dulmatin and his comrades as they split from Jemaah Islamiyah to form the more extremist Tanzim al-Qodat. If the Indonesian anti-terror officials and experts are to be believed, he slipped back into Indonesia more than a year ago from the Philippines, where he had been given refuge by the Abu Sayyaf separatist group. This was obviously a lapse on the part of the Indonesian police and security forces, though they managed to finally track him down on March 9 outside Jakarta after nabbing militants in Aceh and interrogating them to find Dulmatin's whereabouts.

One praiseworthy aspect of the Indonesian strategy is the strong conviction of the country's police and security services that they are fighting terrorists and tackling the threat of terrorism for the sake of their country, and not to win cash rewards being offered by the US or other country. At a press conference in Jakarta, Indonesia's national police chief, Gen Bambang Hendarso Damuri, played down the prospects of a reward for his cops' slaying of Dulmatin by arguing that they didn't carry out the mission in the hope of getting the $10 million bounty offered by the US government for his death or capture.

This was in contrast to the reported claim made by Thai authorities to the $10 million head-money offered by the US for the capture of Hambali in Thailand in 2003. It isn't known if the reward money was paid to the Thais because a rival claim was reportedly made at the time by CIA officials operating in Thailand.

The self-respecting Indonesian stance also contrasts with Pakistan's policy under military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf, who confessed in his book that his government pocketed monetary rewards from the US for capturing and delivering wanted militants to the Americans.

There have been reports that the practice hasn't stopped even after his removal from power and that government officials have been making claims to reward money offered by the US for killing and capturing wanted Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives. This gives one the impression that some Pakistani government functionaries are hunting down the wanted men more for monetary benefit than for ridding the country of these dangerous people.

Another interesting highlight of the visit to Indonesia was to know more about the efforts to streamline religious education and teach students not only about Islam but also science and history, English and Arabic, computer skills and the martial arts. At the Pesantren Darunnajah, the Islamic boarding school established in 1974 in southern Jakarta and now having more than 2,000 male and female students, one met young boys and girls in traditional dress confident about their work and future and proud of their Islamic heritage. The privately-run management of the model pesantren, or madrassa, said they aren't linked to the large Muslim organisations Muhammadiyah or Nahdatul Ulema, but it was neutral and anxious to chalk out a moderate course for the teachers and students at the huge Pesantren Darunnajah.

Perhaps we in Pakistan too need such institutions, which focus on educating and producing good Muslims and proud citizens.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim yusufzai







Even as the American troop surge is underway in Afghanistan, sensible minds have increasingly accepted that restoring peace in Afghanistan will require negotiating peace with the Taliban. The US defence secretary has acknowledged that the Taliban are "part of the political fabric" of Afghanistan. The recent London Conference agreed to finance a programme for the reintegration of Taliban elements. President Karzai called for reconciliation with them. Pakistan has consistently advocated this.

However, there is as yet no clear vision, on any side, of the purpose, process and content of a negotiated peace with the Taliban. Four major questions need to be addressed and answered: who is peace to be negotiated with? When should negotiations take place? How should they be conducted? And what should be the terms of a settlement?

Until very recently, the US felt that only the Taliban foot soldiers, who were presumed to be fighting either for money or from fear, ought to accommodated., With Karzai's all-encompassing peace initiative, it is now increasingly accepted by the US-Nato coalition that negotiations will have to be held with all the Taliban, including leaders like Mullah Omar, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Gulbadin Hekmatyar. The two caveats now are: one, that the Taliban break their links with Al-Qaeda and, two, accept the Afghan constitution.


The McCrystal Plan envisages that negotiations would be held after the American troops surge had inflicted serious military reversals on the Taliban. The Americans' belief in this strategy may have been revived following their reported "success" in clearing Marjah and, even more, the capture of Mullah Baradar, Mullah Omar's chief of military operations, and several other Taliban leaders by Pakistani intelligence.


Apart from the military significance of these developments, they may also reveal the nature of the process through which negotiations are likely to proceed. According to reports, Mullah Baradar had opened contacts with Karzai's emissaries. His capture by the ISI could well be a signal that no negotiations with the Taliban can exclude Pakistan. Kabul's efforts to "repatriate" the captured Taliban have been blocked. In a clear signal, the Pakistani army chief has publicly highlighted Pakistan's strategic interests in Afghanistan. Indeed, Pakistan is well placed to play a key role in negotiating peace in Afghanistan, given its old ties to the Taliban leadership, including not only Mullah Omar's group but also those led by Haqqani and Hekmatyar. The captured Taliban leaders add to this leverage. Yet, despite its strategic position and vital interest in the outcome, Pakistan will confront considerable difficulties in playing the intermediary's role.

Pakistan will need, first, to ensure that negotiations with the Afghan Taliban do not compromise its priority objective of subduing the Pakistani Taliban (the TTP), who have shadowy relationships with Afghan and Indian intelligence.

Second, a clear vision of a desirable and achievable outcome will need to be formulated. While both the US and the Taliban will seek peace on their own terms, Pakistan should evolve a plan that can prove acceptable to both sides.

Third, US acceptance will have to be secured for such an outcome. There will be resistance from militarists and other lobbies in Washington. However, the recent enhanced intelligence cooperation between Pakistani and the US may indicate that a measure of understanding may well have been reached regarding the future order in Afghanistan.
Four, it will be necessary to ensure that the negotiating option is not jeopardised by competing interventions from India or other neighbouring or regional countries. India has already commenced a diplomatic campaign to frustrate a negotiated peace with the Taliban, protesting to the US, playing on Russian fears of Wahhabist revival in Central Asia and, no doubt, stoking concern in Tehran. Pakistan will need adroit diplomacy and ground action to neutralise India's spoiler role.

The parameters for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan so far set out by the US or Karzai are unlikely to be acceptable to the Taliban. While they may consider breaking their links with Al-Qaeda, it is unlikely that they will accept the present Afghan constitution, or agree to join the Karzai government, which is still dominated by Tajiks and assorted warlords. The Taliban's minimum conditions are likely to include a more representative central authority in Kabul, with adequate Taliban representation, exercise of power in the Pakhtun-majority areas of Afghanistan and, most critically, withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

Since President Obama also wants to withdraw US forces as soon as possible and the US considers the Taliban a part of the Afghan political fabric, a deal with the Taliban appears to be eminently possible, unless extraneous factors and forces intervene to prevent this.


A negotiated outcome could contain the following elements:

One, a US commitment to a withdrawal of all foreign forces, linked to a timeframe or realisation of certain benchmarks.

Two, a verifiable Taliban commitment to severance of all ties with Al-Qaeda.

Three, an agreement for the early cessation of hostilities.

Four, formation of a coalition or "national unity" government in Kabul--including nominated Taliban epresentatives--exercising decentralised control over locally governed provinces.

Five, transfer of power at the provincial and local levels to "Shuras" or Councils composed of tribal and Taliban leaders.

Six, acceptance by the Taliban of reconstruction and development projects, executed with local and, where necessary, external participation. (This can include re-imposition of Mullah Omar's old edict banning poppy cultivation and Taliban acceptance of girls' schooling.)

Seven, creation of a genuine Afghan National Army, with at least 50 per cent Pakhtun representation, including soldiers from among the ranks of the Taliba

A political settlement along these lines is not ideal--far from it. But a negotiated peace, however imperfect, is palpably preferable to the alternative: a prolonged and purposeless conflict in which the central threat from Al-Qaeda survives.

The prospects of negotiating such a settlement are likely to be better if pursued earlier rather than later. The Taliban have suffered some tactical reverses and are under threat of the impending surge. But the McCrystal plan, once implemented, will inevitably result in intensified fighting and higher casualties, including among civilians. It will make conciliation and compromise more difficult. And, if, as is quite possible, the surge does not succeed decisively, the US-Nato's negotiating leverage would be considerably reduced. The Taliban may then conclude that to win all they need to do is survive and wait for Western patience to run out.

Therefore, rather than pursue further tactical objectives, like Marjah, and the planned offensive in Kandahar, it would be advisable for the US and Nato to open early and serious contacts with the Afghan Taliban, utilising Pakistan's intercession, to evolve the broad parameters of an eventual settlement. A negotiated peace will be good for Afghanistan, for the US and its allies, and for Pakistan and the region.

The writer is a seasoned diplomat.







This is my fourth article on this subject in the last seven months. What prompted me to write yet another article on the same subject in a short span are the numbers pertaining to external debt and liabilities (EDL) and public debt released by different government agencies for the first half (July – December) of the current fiscal year. These numbers are worrisome and need to be brought to the notice of the general public.

It is well-known that high and rising debt burden constitutes a serious threat to growth and development. It is a major impediment to macroeconomic stability and thus to growth, employment generation and poverty alleviation. It is also a discouragement to foreign investment because it creates uncertainty about the government's policy and thus generates a high risk environment for doing business in the country. High and rising debt burden also puts pressure on exchange rate, thus causing sharp depreciation with attendant difficulties for price stability. This also becomes a source of discouragement for government to undertake wide-ranging structural reforms in the various sectors of the economy.

Pakistan has witnessed serious debt crisis in the 1990s and accordingly experienced deterioration in the macroeconomic environment, leading to deceleration in investment and growth and the associated rise in unemployment and poverty. The last two years have taken Pakistan back to the decade of the 1990s. Faltering of growth, persistence of large fiscal and current account deficits and sharp depreciation of exchange rate have already produced unsustainable debt burden. Accordingly, Pakistan has become heavily dependent on external financial support from the IMF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank and bilateral sources. Its excessive reliance on external financial support has compelled Pakistan to compromise on its national security.

It took six/seven years of hard work to bring the economy out of the difficulties of the 1990s. Pakistan's public debt was brought down from over 100 per cent of GDP in 1998-99 to 55 per cent by end-June 2007, the external debt reduced from 66 per cent of GDP to 28.2 per cent, debt servicing which used to be over 72 per cent of our total revenue declined to 35 per cent and debt servicing and defence spending which was over 100 per cent of total revenue was brought down to 54 per cent during the same period.

In short, the country's debt burden was reduced to one-half in just six/seven years. The reduction in debt burden released resources to be spent on people and infrastructure. Consistent with empirical evidence, the decline in debt burden led to the acceleration in economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction. Pakistan emerged as one of the four fastest growing economies in the Asian region; it created 13 million jobs and reduced the poverty by one-half during the period.

Sharp reduction in debt burden resulted in continuous improvement in credit ratings by Standard and Poor's and Moody's. Improvements in sovereign credit ratings encouraged Pakistan to enter international capital and equity markets. Whenever Pakistan floated sovereign bonds those were over-subscribed by multiples. The IMF staff wrote "the large and sustained decline in the external debt-GDP ratio was one of Pakistan's most remarkable macroeconomic achievements of recent years". Comparing Pakistan with those countries which sought exceptional assistance from the IMF, the IMF staff wrote "this level of external debt is significantly lower than those of countries that have had exceptional access arrangements from the Fund in recent years." (See 'Pakistan – Assessment of Risks to the Fund and the Fund's Liquidity Position', IMF, November 20, 2008).

In the same document, it is written that "at the 2005 Board Discussion of Pakistan's ex-post assessment, Directors highlighted the dramatic change in ownership of economic policies in Pakistan compared to earlier periods, and emphasised that steadfast implementation of sound policies and broad-based structural reforms were mainly responsible for Pakistan's economic recovery".

This was Pakistan two years ago. Today, the country is drowned under debt. The recently released numbers pertaining to debt are scary. Public debt increased from Rs7542 billion in end-June 2009 to Rs8470 billion in end-December 2009. In other words, Pakistan added Rs928 billion in public debt in just six months. Exchange rate depreciation alone contributed Rs181 billion in the rise of public debt in six months. Since end-June 2007, Pakistan has added Rs3656 billion in public debt, in which, the contribution of exchange rate depreciation is estimated at Rs1165 billion or 32 per cent. It is disturbing to note that in the last 60 years the total stock of public debt stood at Rs4814 billion and in just two and a half years, we added Rs3656 billion in public debt to stand at Rs8470 billion by end-December 2009. This is nothing but a massacre of the country's economy by the current political leadership.

External debt and liabilities stood at $55.7 billion by end-December 2009 – increased from $52.3 billion in end-June 2009. In other words, Pakistan added $3.342 billion in external debt in just six months of the year. For the information of our readers, Pakistan added $2.6 billion in external debt in seven years but in the last two and a half years, it added $15.3 billion to stand at $55.7 billion.

It pains me when political leaders misguide their own people by telling lies. It pains me even more when the so-called experts – particularly the Panel of Economists led by Dr Hafiz Pasha and Economic Advisory Group led by Shaukat Tarin misguided political leadership by distorting facts. Is this the service to the nation? Is this what patriotism is all about? Why these experts have not presented these facts which I have just narrated above? Why did the political leadership hide the facts from the people of Pakistan but told the truth to the IFIs? I leave this to the readers to judge on the basis of facts.

The writer is director general and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email:







Responding to opposition members in the NWFP Assembly recently, Bashir Bilour of the ANP asserted that Urdu was not the national language since it was not the language of the majority of Pakistan's population. He made the remarks when a member from the opposition benches questioned the validity of English as the official language and another MPA declared Urdu and Pashto as being the national and local languages, respectively.

The ANP's hue and cry over the language question is understandable with the party losing public support. The sheer weakness of the ANP is evident to its opponents. Recently, the newly formed Pakhtun Democratic Alliance and the World Pashto Congress organised a walk to observe International Language Day led by MPA Sikander Sherpao of the PPP-Sherpao. Speaking to the rally, the son of former chief minister Aftab Sherpao asked for Pashto to be declared the language of the province and strongly criticised the "so-called advocates of Pakhtun rights." He too wants to exploit the situation, because Aftab Sherpao himself can be accused of the same sins of which his son accused others.

The language controversy is rooted deep in the history and the social fabric of Pakhtun society. Since mediaeval times the ruling languages in the Pashto-speaking region have been languages such as Persian, English and Urdu. Pashto has always been limited to the rural population. It must be noted that in both Afghanistan and Pakistan the Pakhtun elites have rarely promoted Pashto. Colonial Britain replaced Persian with Urdu in India in part to break the link between Afghanistan and the border areas then under its control. So far, the policy is intact, as an integral part of the policy of those ruling the province, including the nationalists.

It was the Khudai Khidmatgar, "Red Shirt," movement led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan that in its early stages gave importance to Pashto. This was because the movement then predominantly represented that stratum of Pakhtun society which opposed colonial domination and the big feudal classes, with the rural poor and Pakhtun intelligentsia at the movement's centre. While they were part of the Red Shirt Movement, Pakhtun radicals produced rich Pashto literature, under the influence of communists and inspired by the Russian Revolution of 1917. That period can be termed as the golden age of Pashto literature.

After coming to power in the province, the policy of the government of Dr Khan Sahib was ambiguous on the language question. In 1937 Mian Jafar Khan, the minister of education, asked the NWFP Assembly to recommend to the government that "Pushto be made the medium of instruction in the primary schools in the North-West Frontier."

That was the period when the movement was losing faith in the ordinary Pakhtun and coming under the influence of the ruling elite. The movement suffered in the face of the peasants' uprising in the Ghalla Dhir, Mardan and adjacent areas. By now the Red Shirt Movement had begun to disappoint and demoralise rural Pakhtun intellectuals who were enthusiastically involved in peasants' movements.

Pakhtun nationalists have always betrayed the hopes of the Pakhtun rural poor and the intelligentsia. NAP nationalists came to power in 1972, but again Pashto was neglected and Urdu was declared as the official language of the province. Later, the ANP, which succeeded the NAP, twice came to power in NWFP for brief periods, in coalitions with the PPP and the PML-N, but Pashto was never given the importance it deserves. Never since the colonial period has Pashto gone beyond being a language to be taught on the primary level, even under the rule of Pakhtun nationalists. They never used the language as a symbol of ethnic identity. On the contrary, their politics has revolved around a name for the province, and the land and its resources.
Dr Tariq Rahman of the Quaid-e-Azam University notes that in Pakistan only the Pashto language movement decreased in intensity. This is so because the Pakhtun elite and middle classes gradually integrated into Pakistani society, as demonstrated by Dr Feroz Ahmed in his research on Pakhtun nationalism. Pakhtuns joined the armed forces, the bureaucracy and state enterprises and institutions.

One positive contribution of the Red Shirt Movement is notable regarding Pashto. Despite its many limitations, the movement, together with the Progressive Writers Association, played an important role in the revival of the Pashto language and literature.

The writer is a political activist. Email:







The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.


Have President Barack Obama's domestic preoccupations affected his foreign policy? During a year plus in office he has understandably focused much of his effort on issues and challenges at home. But has this produced any significant consequence for the conduct of US foreign policy? Do other factors including his personality also explain some of his approach to international affairs?

Given the difficult inheritance he has had to grapple with Obama's overriding priority has been domestic: to get a stalled economy moving again. Dealing with the legacy of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression has justifiably been the initial focus of his policy attention.

On his signature domestic reform issue – health care – President Obama is now approaching a make-or-break moment. In the next couple of weeks Congress will decide the fate of his legislative initiative. He has been critiqued by some for dissipating energy over a nationally divisive issue while not making adequate efforts to address the budget deficit and rising joblessness, now touching record levels. While economic recovery and cutting unemployment are what will determine Obama's political future – polls show that Americans consider these two issues as the top challenges – it is health care that he has been most passionate about.

But on this issue too he let matters drift after the initial declaration of policy intent, allowing conservative opponents to define the issue, only to reenergise the effort more recently for a final push to get the reform through Congress. This seems to have established a pattern in Obama's governance: make major announcements, deliver countless speeches, engage in prolonged debate followed by dithering and then seek to build momentum to arrive at the policy destination.

This protracted style of consultations has already earned him the title of 'seminar leader-in-chief.' In the foreign policy sphere Obama's extended internal discussions on Afghanistan and several reviews of reviews are the most striking example of this.

If Obama is able to secure health care reform it would be an important accomplishment even if the measure is watered down. But doubts about his governance style will not go away. Nor will pressing domestic issues that will continue to warrant his sustained engagement.

These relate principally to the economy but also include mounting political problems. This means dealing with the setbacks the ruling party has suffered after the electoral debacle in Massachusetts and subsequent announcements by many Democratic members of Congress that they will not seek re-election. Mid-term Congressional elections in November amid a mood of voter frustration will mean that Obama's attention will increasingly be fixed on the political landscape at home.

So far – and his presidency is still young – Obama's domestic commitments seem to have had three kinds of effects on his foreign policy.

The first is one that every leader struggles with: how to prioritise the many international issues needing attention. A foreign policy area apparently affected by President Obama's selective diplomatic engagement is the so-called special relationship with Europe. When Obama declined to attend the US-EU Summit in Madrid last May, many in Europe construed this as downgrading relations if not a snub, even as his administration was urging NATO allies to step up and contribute troops to reinforce the American surge in Afghanistan.

It may well be – given the priority he has rightly given to relations with China – that Obama has a keen sense of where the global balance of power has shifted, but this has certainly left European allies wondering where they figure in Washington's list of priorities.

Another more vital policy area where Obama has not focused consistent attention is the Middle East, especially after the expectations raised and the promising start he made by his outreach-to-Muslims speech last June in Cairo. The Palestinian- Israeli peace process has remained deadlocked for over a year.

Only last week Obama dispatched his vice-president to the region to make a renewed effort to kick-start the peace process. But he has not invested or empowered these efforts with his personal involvement or engaged directly with an issue that he gave such high priority. Obama deemed a Middle East settlement vital to America's national security. He had therefore vowed not to repeat the mistake of his predecessors by leaving the issue to be addressed later rather than sooner in his tenure.

But his administration has continued to ignore the plight of the people of Gaza. The hopes aroused by his election have increasingly given way to deep disappointment in the Muslim world.

A second aspect of Obama's approach is that while at home he has sought to pursue a liberal agenda – even if office has imposed limits on how liberal that can be – on national security and much of foreign policy he seems to have conceded to the right. What American newspaper columnists have referred to as a broad bipartisan foreign policy consensus that Obama has come to represent is another way of pointing to his inability to break from Bush-era policies. His style may be different but in substance Obama's approach reflects substantial continuity with the past.

From the failure to close the military detention facility at Guantanamo to the near certain reversal of the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and other alleged conspirators of 9/11 in civilian courts, Obama's approach is increasingly indistinguishable from that pursued by Bush. He has chosen to escalate the war in Afghanistan rather than seek a negotiated end to the conflict. He has intensified drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas. He has stepped up pressure on Iran by embarking on a fourth round of sanctions. These policies have disappointed Obama's liberal supporters but won approval from the right-wing.

He has failed to face down the Israeli government to halt its settlement policy. The issue turned Vice-President Joe Biden's recent visit into a disaster – leaving it to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to deliver a sharp rebuke o the Israeli government and describe its behaviour as insulting. Obama himself remained distanced from the twists and turns of Washington's diplomacy in the Middle East. The lack of coherent engagement and an inability to stand up to Israel's bullying tactics has contributed to Obama's diminished clout in the region.

A third area where Obama's domestic preoccupations may have had foreign policy consequences is what a prominent American columnist recently drew attention to. Writing in the Washington Post, Jackson Diel pointed to Obama's lack of interest in forging personal relations with foreign leaders. Posing the question 'where are Obama's foreign confidants?' he found there were virtually none.

Others emphasise that when Obama has needed to engage a foreign leader he has frequently left that to members of his team and often avoided working the phones himself.

The disinclination to forge any personal relationship with foreign leaders may be more a function of Obama's personality than the burden of domestic involvements. Those who know him say the cerebral president lacks the personal touch. Many point to a paradox about his leadership: a tireless campaigner and effective communicator who made inspirational speeches during the election but who has in power acted in a professorial manner.

Another paradox may yet reveal itself with time. If President Obama finds policy wins to be elusive on the domestic front he might yet turn to foreign policy to try to show some achievement. This could make him far more visible on the world stage than he has been so far. But whether his administration is able to score any meaningful foreign policy success is another matter especially when the US ability to determine outcomes abroad has waned so significantly.







The draft bill amending the 1973 Constitution will be revealed in a day or two provided consensus has been reached on the thorny issues of provincial autonomy and the renaming of NWFP. Smaller provinces, especially Balochistan, are suspicious that the federation will not ease its stranglehold on the provinces. Their suspicion is based on the fact that provincial autonomy as promised in the Constitution was never implemented. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani will perform a miracle if he succeeds in convincing them that this time the rights of the provinces will be more clearly defined in the Constitution and there will be no contravention of the Constitution.

The renaming of NWFP is a tricky issue. The ANP is adamant that the resolution passed by the NWFP Assembly renaming the province as Pakhtoonkhwa should be honoured. The solution of this issue might delay the constitutional package. It will not be a wise move by the ANP to jeopardise important matters for renaming NWFP. These important matters include provincial rights and repeal of the 17th amendment. This is the most opportune time to undo all the obnoxious amendments which have changed the parliamentary character of the Constitution.

The ANP should realise that renaming of a province is not like renaming a street. The name of the historic Murree Road has been changed often. Once it was named Reza Shah Pehlavi Road to express our gratitude to the Iranian monarch. The change was ordered by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The current name of Murree Road is Benazir Bhutto Road.

The ANP should also consider this vital point: a province renamed on the strength of a resolution can easily revert to its original or another new name through the passage of another resolution. This will lead to political strife. Therefore, it is imperative that the ANP finds a firmer route to renaming NWFP.

The ANP should be thankful to Mr Gilani for pushing the constitutional reforms to the top of his agenda. He has succeeded to a great extent in taking all the parties along so he could have the requisite votes for repealing unwanted laws. Mian Nawaz Sharif should also feel relieved that the constitutional reform package by and large would be reflecting the decisions of the Charter of Democracy signed by him and Benazir Bhutto. This camaraderie between the political parties may not last long. So it is important that political consensus is reached among all the parties for the abrogation of bad laws.

It is reported that there are misgivings on the process of the appointment of superior judges. If we look around, we find a variety of methods used for the appointment of judges. In the USA, which has the presidential system, the president nominates the federal judges and seeks the Senate's approval for their appointment. Pakistan and India follow the nomination process inherited from the British. Now Pakistan wants to change it.

The UK has made radical change in the appointments of its judges. The new arrangements transferring judicial authority away from the House of Lords and creating a Supreme Court for the UK aim to increase public confidence in the appointment process by creating greater transparency in appointments and improving competition for these positions. A selection commission will be formed when vacancies arise. This will be composed of the president and deputy president of the Supreme Court and members of the appointment bodies for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

All new judges appointed to the Supreme Court after its creation will not be members of the House of Lords; they will become justices of the Supreme Court. Pakistan could easily adopt this process of appointments without attracting criticism.

Email: mirjrahman@hotmail .com








CONTRARY to oft-repeated claims of the Government that no other front in the war on terror would be opened as the country was not in a position to start any new venture, but ground realities speak otherwise. On Sunday, air and artillery attacks were launched in Orakzai Agency, killing at least 13 militants and destruction of a number of their hideouts and camps.

The stand of the Pakistani authorities that the country cannot afford to expand the military operation was appreciated by almost all segments of the society but unfortunately, it seems that some outside forces were pushing the situation towards that end. It is widely believed that recent terrorist attacks in Lahore were aimed at motivating Pakistani authorities to review their strategy and open more fronts irrespective of the expected fall-out and implications. The use of air force in domestic operation was particularly worrisome as it has many ramifications. It is understood that the decision to resort to air attacks must have been taken after due consideration and sifting of the intelligence information about activities and presence of militants. But even then we would suggest that the use of air power in internal operations should be the last option and avoided as far as possible. We say so because the US drone attacks evoke widespread condemnation, injure sensitivities of the people and have become one of the major causes of resentment against the Government. It is also believed that the use of drones and missile attacks is counter productive and leads to further alienation of the local population in the affected areas. It goes against the concept of winning hearts and minds of the people as it involves heavy collateral damage. Drone attacks are carried out by a foreign power but use of our own air forces against our own people would evoke severe reaction and as a consequence the law enforcing agencies might lose support of the local population in the war against terror and it is understandable that the war cannot be won without active support of the people. No doubt, the air force was also used in Swat, Malakand and South Waziristan but these were part of the overall operation and air strikes were carried out to soften the targets before ground assault. However, in this case selected and isolated air strikes are being undertaken, which is not desirable.  







WE have been hearing since long about deadlines being offered by the Government functionaries especially Water and Power Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf about elimination of the menace of the load-shedding but the problem is compounding with the passage of time and there are no indications as to when the country would leave this curse behind.

According to latest reports, the electricity shortage has touched up to 2000 MW mark and load-shedding in urban areas has been extended to five hours and in rural areas to 8 hours. This is the state of affairs even after three months of the expiry of the December 2009 deadline boastfully given on dozens of occasions by the Minister. And it is understood that the situation would aggravate further as mercury goes up and consumption of electricity increases. It may also be pointed out that there is no improvement in the situation despite claims of the Government to have added over thousand megawatts to the national grid and closure of a large number of industrial units and businesses due to various reasons including law and order and shortage of power and gas. This exposes claims of the Government about presence of any viable strategy to address a problem that is not only affecting life of the individual citizens but also crippling the national economy. Unfortunately, whatever measures so far announced by the Government to tackle the issue would add to the burden of the consumers who are already paying high costs of power in the world, as the emphasis is on rental power plants and thermal units. What the country needs is focus on hydel generation, for which a capacity close to fifty thousand megawatts exists but that in turn requires firm commitment and resolve to pursue such projects putting political and parochial considerations in the dustbin. There is also great potential for development of alternative energy and a Board is also there for the purpose but we have so far not moved beyond lighting a few houses or parks through solar energy. The Government should prioritize the issue of power shortage and launch an aggressive campaign to overcome the problem.







THE two-day book exhibition organized by Department of Libraries in the Federal Capital which ended on Saturday was a welcome initiative to promote book reading culture in the country. It was heartening to note that a large number of book lovers thronged the exhibition at a time when constructive and creative activities in the society are decreasing day by day.

At this point of time when there is depression all around because of security concerns, booksellers displayed their best selling titles while people ventured to visit the exhibits. Book writing and reading had been the heritage of Muslims throughout the history. Muslim scho