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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

EDITORIAL 17.03.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month march 17, edition 000457, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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
































  6. 25 years after perestroika - mary dejevsky

































The Opposition has done well to force the Government into not introducing the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill and hustling it through Parliament. The Bill, as it has been drafted, is a sinister piece of legislation which seeks to limit the liability of foreign builders of nuclear reactors, in the event of an accident caused by errors on their part, to a ridiculously low level — in fact, it is a pittance compared to the billions of dollars they will reap in profits. That the Government should want to cap the liability of foreign builders of nuclear reactors at a piffling $ 109 million reflects both the low value the Congress attaches to the lives of Indian citizens and the extent to which the Prime Minister is willing to go to please the US Administration which has been pushing for the Bill to be passed so that American firms are ensured virtual immunity. The proposed law must be rejected on three counts. First, it is loaded in favour of private American firms, namely Westinghouse and General Electric, which stand to gain the most. Since legally binding liability has to be underwritten by insurers, once again it is American insurance firms that will benefit from the Government of India's largesse. Second, since the actual liability, which will devolve upon the state operator of the proposed nuclear power plants, in the event of a disaster will run into billions of dollars, tax-payers will be made to bear the burden which should rightly be borne by the foreign builders. Strangely, this concession is being made despite the fact that in the US, the law provides for more than $ 10.5 billion in liability payouts for each disaster; anything above this amount is borne by the American Government. So, in a sense, the proposed liability law is clearly designed to favour US nuclear reactor builders and insurance companies. Third, as has been pointed out by experts, by capping liability at such an insignificant level, the Government is compromising on security and safety. No builder will be deterred from cutting corners or shortchanging the Government and the people of this country if the liability is negligible.

It would not be incorrect to draw parallels between the unseemly haste and secrecy with which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh entered into the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with the US, conceding each and every term dictated by the Americans, and the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill that he now wants Parliament to approve: If the nuclear deal was drafted keeping American interests and benefits in mind, so has the liability Bill been crafted to pander to US business houses. This is patently unacceptable. The Prime Minister must not forget that Indians do not see their country as a client state of America; that he is accountable to the people of this country and not the US Administration. If he insists on persisting with his please-America-at-India's-cost policy, the Opposition must thwart this craven sellout: This nation is not up for grabs. The Opposition should not agree to anything less than a complete overhaul of the Bill so that it complies with international standards of liability; the minimum benchmark should be that established in America for Americans. Anything less than this must be rejected lock, stock and barrel.






Even though it lasted for 22 hours, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's recent trip to India was not lacking in substance. The visit saw the signing of a slew of agreements, mainly in the defence and nuclear energy segments. The Russian nuclear offer is especially noteworthy. According to a deal signed between the two countries, Russia will be building as many as 16 nuclear power plants in India to meet the latter's burgeoning energy requirements. This comes in the wake of a deal signed last year that guarantees Russian supply of nuclear fuel to Indian reactors even in the event of the latter conducting a nuclear weapon's test. Thus, when the two agreements are looked at in totality, along with Russia's already-stated commitment to greater bilateral cooperation in the trade in gas and oil, there is no denying that Moscow's energy package is far more appealing and far-sighted than the India-US Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. Certain nitty-gritties in the latter, especially those relating to the issue of reprocessing of spent fuel, remain to be worked out, even though it has already been a few years since the deal was first signed. The reason why the deal with the Americans is yet to reach critical mass while nuclear negotiations with Russia have been more promising is because India and the US have come closer in recent years more due to the compulsions of the world we live in rather than any genuine notions of friendship. Whereas the dynamics of the India-Russia bilateral relationship are based on the solid foundation of trust and mutual respect. This is why American overtures towards India, whether they are in trade, defence or global strategic cooperation, can never match the special bond that New Delhi and Moscow share.

Rounding off Mr Putin's visit, the two sides also signed a $ 7 billion defence deal that will see India get a fleet of MiG 29K fighters. Once again highlighting the deep trust between the two sides, Russia has also offered to develop its fifth generation strike fighter aircraft in collaboration with our very own Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. This will not only ensure that we acquire the super fighter for the Indian Air Force — something that is already a given — but also provide our defence scientists and engineers with expertise of cutting-edge defence technology that will no doubt further the cause of defence research and development in India. It is also praiseworthy that with Mr Putin's visit all pending issues regarding the final pricing and delivery of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier have been settled. All of this goes to show that India and Russia are far from fair-weather friends. We are equal partners in a world where genuine friends are hard to come by.



            THE PIONEER




The picture of Afghanistan that has emerged after the London Conference in January is that both reintegration of and reconciliation with the Taliban are key ingredients of the US-led coalition exit strategy. The West has realised that the Taliban cannot be defeated as long as Pakistan continues to provide succour and sanctuary to the Taliban — its strategic asset for its long-term interests.

Despite this, Pakistan has reinforced it position as the frontline state by being accepted as the lead facilitator in reconciliation with the Taliban. Pakistan's Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha have scored a major victory in getting the US to recognise Islamabad's "legitimate strategic quest for strategic depth". The one-year extension to Lt Gen Pasha who was to retire next month will ensure continuity and facilitate his promotion as the next Army Chief in case Gen Kayani does not get an extension.

While reintegration — buying off the pragmatist lower level Taliban — will be easier than reconciling with their radicalised leaders who have a strong support among Pushtoons on both sides of the Durand Line, Gen Kayani and Gen Pasha have promised to deliver a package deal to be worked out with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

President Karzai who favours reintegration has been accused of dragging his feet over reconciliation which he believes will undermine his position as elected President. He realises some form of power-sharing is inevitable for an inclusive Government. A loya jirgah planned for April 29 in Kabul will give its blessings for reintegration and reconciliation followed by the Kabul Conference in May to concretise plans for delivering on provisions of the London Conference to cover security, good governance and development. Parliamentary elections due in August, if held, are bound to deflect from Operation Mushtaraq which has made modest gains in the Helmand Province.

The military surge which is the key driver to reintegration and reconciliation could have proved more effective had the Pakistani Army cooperated by sealing exit routes for escaping Taliban. Compensating for this lacuna, the US has employed regular drone attacks against Taliban sanctuaries inside Pakistan. Gen Stanley McChrystal's plan to negotiate with the Taliban from a position of strength has holes which Pakistan will not plug.

Coalition forces have captured Marjah, the poppy capital of the Taliban which provided them with $ 2 million every month. Logically the next target is Kandahar, the Taliban heartland. If it is taken in the next few months, it would put the Taliban under extreme pressure and facilitate one if not both reintegration and reconciliation. The devastating multiple suicide attacks in Kandahar last week were a warning to coalition forces against stirring the hornet's nest.

By acknowledging Pakistan's pivotal role in peace and stability in Afghanistan, and downgrading India's importance, Mr Karzai has made a dramatic turnaround from the days he refused to shake hands with President Pervez Musharraf. On a visit to Islamabad last week he described India "as a close friend of Afghanistan but Pakistan is a brother of Afghanistan. Pakistan is a twin brother. We are conjoined twins. There is no separation". He has realised that without the Generals in Pakistan, there can be no reconciliation with the Taliban. Further in Islamabad he emphasised Afghanistan's neutrality and stressed he did not want proxy wars between India and Pakistan and the US and Iran.

After the London Conference, both the US-led coalition and Afghanistan have put all their eggs in the Pakistani basket. What is not clear is US intention: Cut and run or stay the course beyond 2012. For the present it seems mid-2011 is only the time line for thinning out to commence and not any upstick of forces. A process of handing-taking over will start, based on a flexible transition timetable, commensurate with political and military capacity-building as well as development. In other words, a sequential transfer of authority to the Afghan Government, including ownership of the peace process.

Shaping up are two scenarios: A Karzai-led inclusive Government; a Taliban-led or dominated regime. Pakistan's flag flies higher than India's in Afghanistan. India's stature has diminished due to a number of reasons: Rejection of its passionate advocacy that talking to Taliban is like frying snowflakes; not being consulted on AfPak; not invited to the Istanbul Conference and being sidelined at the London Conference. The final blow was the deadly third targeted attack last month against Indian interests in Kabul in which, among others, three Army Majors teaching English to the Afghan Army were killed.

The ISI-sponsored strike revealed the growing vulnerability of Indian assets and New Delhi's failure to protect them. Though initially mixed messages emanated from North and South Blocks about our resolve and staying power, in the end several hundred additional commandoes have been despatched to bolster our defences. Periodic polls conducted among Afghans by ABC, BBC and ARD have given India and Indian workers the highest popularity rating for their contribution to development and reconstruction.

The skilful use of just soft power without pitching for any military role especially in training of Afghanistan's security forces ignored ground reality and reduced India's relevance. New Delhi failed to work through Washington, Kabul and London to raise its work profile in Afghanistan. Worse, without India indulging in dirty tricks, Pakistan has succeeded in accusing it of meddling in Balochistan from Afghanistan. New Delhi should have initiated dialogue with Pakistan over Afghanistan in the Musharraf era. Now it will refuse to do so.

India's big handicap (and also saving grace) is not having contiguous borders with Afghanistan. Despite the apparent setback, India must dig in. it should continue with its development work which is bound to cost more and be more proactive in military training. Mr Karzai has not yet accepted Gen Kayani's offer of training the Afghan Army, whose Chief, Gen Bismillah Khan, is keen to send platoon to battalion size units for training in India. But India has preferred to maintain a low profile.

There is no deadline for the vacation of foreign troops. This is US-led Nato's first out-of-area expeditionary operation with an eye on China and Central Asian resources. India needs to reestablish contact with Pushtoons as New Delhi is seen through the prism of the erstwhile Northern Alliance. Although a regional compact was not discussed in London, India should intensify coordination with regional players and explore backchannel conversations with the Taliban.







So what if the women's reservation Bill has been passed by the Rajya Sabha despite several adjournments and unruly behaviour by some of the Upper House members. For the change that the Bill seeks to bring about in society is a far cry from the ground reality. Therefore, it is more likely that the legislation will be misused by male politicians to further their vested interests by appointing female proxies in the reserved seats.

The implementation of reservation for women in local bodies and panchayats might have increased the number of women in governance to one million, but they are still obliged to be at the beck and call of their de facto masters. With the successful implementation of 33 per cent reservation for the women in Parliament and State legislatures, more and more competent women candidates will be required to contest elections. But I am doubtful whether honest political participation of women will be possible, given the inherent disadvantages they face in our political and cultural milieu.

Despite several schemes for women empowerment, India, along with China, accounts for more than 85 million of nearly 100 million missing women in Asia, as stated by the UNDP. These women are subjected to discriminatory treatment in healthcare, nutrition access or pure neglect. The National Family Health Survey (2005-2006) states that a mere 34 per cent of girls between the age group of 15 to 17 years are fortunate enough to attend school as opposed to 49 per cent of boys. And less said about women's employment the better. There has been only a 10 per cent increase in women's employment between 1992 and 2006. Amid such circumstances, what kind of empowerment can be achieved by reserving 33 per cent seats in legislatures? If a woman somehow manages to overcome the plethora of hurdles that society has built for her, she is 'strongly advised' to soft-peddle on issues of discrimination.

The women's reservation Bill might increase women's participation in politics. But it will hardly lead to women's empowerment. For this, more efforts, not help, are needed from women legislators to bring about transparency in the Government's women's empowerment schemes.









Long years ago, the Big Three, declared that India had entered an era of coalition politics. Each of the Big Three — the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and of course the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front — scrambled to acquire partners.

These partners served one primary purpose — winning from constituencies that the others could not. They were force multipliers and independent actors all rolled into one package. Though there was some talk of these partners reflecting the diversity of people and opinion and concerns and aspirations that the Big Three could not capture because of their size, history and character, that was only a badly constructed second thought.

The bizarre coordination now evident over big and small issues is a reflection of the peculiar nature of coalition politics that evolved for entirely negative reasons. The effect is policy being held hostage to interests that are entirely parochial, producing a strange network of tunnels that criss-cross or run parallel. The tunnels do not lead forward and onward to a new and axiomatically higher level of political discourse.

In other words, it is entirely possible for the women's reservation Bill to receive support from the triumvirate of the Congress, the BJP and the Left even as it is vehemently opposed by bit players like the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Janata Dal United, the Trinamool Congress and the Lok Janashakti. It is entirely possible for the peculiar alignment that has emerged over land acquisition with regional parties on the one side and the 'national' parties on the other. It is entirely possible for every political party to gang up on the Congress over the price rise and the increase in excise rates of petrol, diesel and other petroleum goods.

It is, therefore, entirely permissible for the Trinamool Congress to side with the CPI(M) over the Nuclear Liability Bill and therefore align itself to the BJP as well. These alignments are not based on principled politics, but on the political compulsions of parochial interests.

This new politics of alignment is different from the earlier era of coalitions, when there was one or more point of convergence and coherence, be it the negative idea of anti-Congress or anti-BJP politics. The new regional players or even the old ones who have evolved over time are different because their objective is to cobble together support that assists them in winning more seats in their particular corner. Therefore the Yadav brigade mobilised against the women's reservation Bill because it helped them to project themselves as sympathetic to the Muslim minority and the OBC category. The larger issue of enabling the participation of women did not matter, for in their calculation, that received unexpected support from the Trinamool Congress, community-based votes were far more significant than gender-based decisions.

Alignments and partnerships therefore operate on the basis of in a sense buying up fragments of interests, however conflicting these may be. These fragments of interests are evolving in terms of identifying themselves as interests because the new breed of parochial parties has spawned a market for them. In West Bengal where religious and OBC politics had no presence, the emergence of the Trinamool Congress has produced the surprising effect of creating new constituencies, for instance that of the Matua community. The self-assertion of OBC Muslims in West Bengal has also emerged out of the Trinamool Congress need to create new discontents, anxieties and interests that can then be represented under its banner.

Unlike alignments and coalitions earlier, the fragments that are now becoming pronounced and asserting themselves are flexible. So long as their purpose is served, the principles on which the political partnership is based do not matter. The Marathi manoos idea has splintered with several representatives jostling within the same space, from the Shiv Sena to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to the Nationalist Congress and even the Congress.

By digging tunnels into the body politic, parochial parties are undermining the idea of India. Within regions there is a subset of regionalisms; within castes there are sub-castes. Therefore it is unimportant as to which party is secular, has a history of supporting, defending and providing the sense of much needed security to minorities; what matters is who will offer the best deal to make a particular segment of the larger community more significant than others competing within the same space.

Therefore diamond traders can constitute themselves into two groups pro-Narendra Modi and anti-Narendra Modi. The sugar lobby can split offering varying degrees of support to the Congress and the NCP.

The market in support is growing in response to a demand from bit players desperately in search of fragments of influence that will serve as voter constituencies in the increasingly competitive election process. The trade in favours is producing a hybrid politics that is neither principled nor strictly political in the old-fashioned sense of the word. There are no grand ideas, no universal principles, no inalienable doctrines, beliefs, loyalties. Everything is contingent and conditional. Even the parochial is unstable, fluid and changeable, so long as it serves to attach and retain voter constituencies based on ever multiplying ideas of difference.







The terror bombing at the German Bakery in Pune last month has once again brought the issue of terrorism into sharp focus. After the bombing, security agencies and the media did the predictable thing and handed down their judgements swiftly. Unfortunately, the so-called 'war on terror' is being fought by the Government without any political will or planning. Moreover, no analysis has been made of the circumstances that breed terrorism. Such a lack of understanding has resulted in the weakening of our fight against this menace.

Our intellectuals are divided along ideological lines and, in an immature manner, attempt to analyse the issue of

terrorism without pondering over its genesis. It is high time we take terrorism seriously and analyse it by rising above party or ideological barriers.

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon. It is as old a concept as our ancient empires. The oldest known organisation that may be called a terrorist organisation is that of the zealots of Judea who were infamous for assassinating members of the Roman occupation forces in the first century AD. From the days of Roman Empire to the 17th century, terrorism has been used as a means of settling feud. Contemporary terrorism began in 1968 when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked an El Al passenger aircraft en route from Tel Aviv to Rome. No doubt, the most shocking act of terrorism till date has been the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. India too has witnessed some horrific terrorist attacks like the attack on Parliament House in 2002 and the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.

It is interesting to note that even though terrorism has become a global phenomenon, it has no internationally recognised definition. A study of the Jeffrey Records (December 1, 2003, P.6) for the US Army quoted a source (Schmid and Jangman, 1988) that counted as many as 109 definition of terrorism. The Record says, "Terrorism expert Walter Laqueur also has counted over 100 definitions" and concludes that the "only general characteristic agreed upon is that terrorism involves violence and the threat of violence". But there are instances where violence has been used like the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat in 2002, and the Shiv Sena's brutish anti-north Indian campaign, but we shy away from categorising these as terrorism. Further, Angus Martin in a paper to Australian Parliament on December 12, 2002 noted that, "The international community has never succeeded in developing an acceptable, comprehensive definition of terrorism". So when we have no authentic definition of terrorism, how can we effectively tackle the problem and enact laws to counter it?

As citizens of a civilised, peace-loving nation, we have a responsibility to evolve an effective strategy against all shades of terrorism. We must send out a clear message that terrorism of any kind will not be tolerated and the perpetrators will not be given any quarter under the Indian law. Terrorism affects all of us, so we should all be involved in countering it. In this process, civil society and religious leaders should take the lead.

We must not forget that a large number of terrorist groups have flourished due to local or regional grievances. An important fact which is often overlooked in the war against terrorism is that the problem exists in those socio-political set-ups where human rights are frequently violated. Experience tells us that disproportionate use of force and arbitrary suppression by Governments increase the support-base of terrorists. State terrorism should also be strongly confronted by those who believe in the ideals of democracy. For, if we condone state terrorism, we lose the moral right to oppose individual terrorism.

It has become a common practice to condone some terrorist acts and over-reaction in case of others. This has made the situation more complicated. Investigating agencies have also developed a tendency to have pre-conceived notions about terrorism. We are increasingly overlooking the fact that non-Muslims can also be involved in terrorism. For example, elements associated with extremist Hindu groups are said to have been involved in the bombings in Nanded and Kanpur. Then there is Maoist terrorism, something that is on the rise in the country. Hence, terrorism is not the monopoly of any one community. The Government should have the political will to deal with terrorism in a non-selective manner. We must properly define terrorism and go after all those who are pursuing terrorist activities in the name of nationalism and religion, irrespective of their ideologies.

--The writer is on the staff at Aligarh Muslim University.







New BJP national president Nitin Gadkari's latest gesture for the need for accommodation of Dalits and Muslims in the party, though an unbelievable news, nevertheless, is not without an element of optimism for India's two largest excluded groups. Exactly a decade ago, the BJP missed to seize the golden initiative taken by Dalit leader and then party president Bangaru Laxman, who raised an olive branch with a similar spirit that projected a change of heart in the party vis-à-vis Muslims in popular imagination. However, the Tehelka sting operation, came as a heaven sent opportunity for the upper caste dominant organisation to bundle out the Dalit and revert back to its original agenda.

It is evident that of late, with the Madhya Pradesh experiment in view and also the growing development orientations of the new generations, reason has seemingly dawned on the party leadership to come out of the sectarian-syndrome, which they seem to be convinced, is inimical for any political outfit to emerge successful in electoral battle in a pluralistic society like India.

In electoral politics, pragmatism coupled with accommodative spirit is always a successful strategy and the success story of the Congress during Jawaharlal Nehru's time is a testimony. In fact, the appropriation of sectarian tendencies that ensued the Congress governance essentially led to a displacement of its support bases —Muslims and Dalits — pushing the party into political wilderness. Ms Mayawati demonstrated her political sagacity and captured Lucknow emulating the consensus model, in a new garb called social engineering even at a heavy cost of totally abandoning the fundamentals of the BSP laid down by Kanshi Ram and the Mandal philosophy.

Political parties are conscious that Muslims and Dalits in electoral calculations are not to be glossed over and BJP's quest to enthuse them into its fold is nothing wrong. The pertinent question that remains is, given its age old anti-Muslim bias and open Muslim bashing in the recent past that caused serious wounds on the common Muslim psyche, how the party is going to undo the damage? Equally important is the commitment and sincerity of the new leader and the quantum of support he can muster from the party cadre who are overshadowed by BJP's partners such as the Shiv Sena in his endeavour to re-structure the organisation.

Better late than never, the idea deserves a welcome not only to insulate Indian society from the perpetual conflict syndrome but also for the BJP to rediscover itself as a secular political face. As such Muslims should desist both from biased rejection or unquestioned acceptance of Mr Gadkari's offer.

The Congress after paying a heavy price eventually rectified the blunder it committed in unleashing terror on the entire Sikh community. Will the BJP undertake a soul-searching exercise on Gujarat, accept its commissions and do justice to the victims?

It is high time that the BJP ventures beyond the fragmentation paradigm to view things in a social solidarity frame recognising human rights and distributive justice as its ideal. Such a broad-based vision will bring the organisation at the centrestage of secular democratic politics. As a beginning, the party need to ensure proportional reservation for Muslims and Dalits both in organisational positions as well as in the distribution of tickets in elections, enhance Dalit-minorities engagement, broaden its base to evolve and anew a culture dear to Atal Bihari Vajpayee which, unfortunately, he could not materialise.

Co-existence of mosques, temples and other religious places of worship are not uncommon in India. As a matter of fact, such arrangements have provided strength to India's cultural heritage of assimilation and synthesis. Ayodhya could as well be a 21st century addition to the continuity of that heritage. The Muslims should not have reservations if any amicable formula emerges in resolving the unnecessarily contentious issue that had only fuelled communal hatred all these years.

It is not temple or mosque, neither Mohammed Ali Jinnah nor Pakistan and its terrorism that forms priority, what is at stake is solidarity, development, prosperity, health, employment and education. The recent Assembly elections in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar and Lok Sabha polls are ample proofs to track the direction of popular mood. The great urdu poet Ghalib said:

Dekhiye paatey hain asshaq buto'n se kya faizEk Brahman ne kaha hai ki ye saal achcha hai (Let us see what beneficence the aspirants/lovers get from gods. One Brahman has said (forecasted) that this is a good year.)

(The writer is Director, Dr KR Narayanan Centre for Dalit & Minorities Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)






Blessed by the bounty of nature, Jharkhand is a State with immense possibilities in agricultural production not only in the conventional sense of farming but the yields of its forests. It is the largest producer of vegetables in the country registering a surplus of 40 per cent. The environmental conditions in the State lend themselves extremely well to the growth of lentils like arhar, chana, kulthi, nuts, mustard, beans, til, tisi and etc. Fruits like plums, papayas, amla, mangoes and guavas are grown. Amongst vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes, brinjals and cauliflowers find pride of place in farms and markets.

However, the question arises: Why is the State not prospering on the strength of its incredible range and quantity of agricultural yield and forest produce? The answer is: In the absence of processing, packaging and marketing, much of the farmer's produce goes to waste.

The Centre has mooted a programme under the Food Processing Ministry for setting up a Mega Food Park in the State which would open up the opportunity for marketing, processing and packaging. But this has not happened yet.

However, Adivasis are adept at doing this without the use of chemical fertilisers. There is a host of such produce, all of which is grown abundantly but awaits the touch of agro-industries to convert it into products that could find shelf-space in towns and cities not only within the State but also across the country. Lobia, for instance, which is produced locally in the hilly ranges of the State could be processed and converted into the delectable and popular 'nutri-nuggets'.

Dr Shrikant Singh, scientist, Krushi Science Centre, said, "With the help from a self-help group, women from the Santhal Paragana are making 'bari' with Lobia seeds. There is huge demand for 'bari' in the market. Food processing has a huge potential here." The Santhal Paragana is home to a large tribal population which not only cultivates land but also lives off forest produce.

The local community has a unique distilling process to make wine from Mahua flowers that begin to fall in the summers. It can also be processed to make beer and that too without any chemical substances. Moreover, these are not harmful for health. Farmers use Mahua laddoos and khalli as fertilisers while other parts of it are used in the field.

It is quite the 'wonder' tree and the Adivasis know its qualities too well and are making the best use of it. But this tree is also waiting to be discovered by modern technologies which can take it to another level. Products derived from it could be varied and lead to profit-making enterprises that would in return bring an additional income for the Adivasis.

And there are many who can gauge this potential. Mr AK Saha, agricultural scientist, Birsa Agricultural University, Ranchi, said, "Jharkhand produces a huge amount of vegetables which makes the agro-industries a natural choice."

In a similar vein, Dr Seema Singh, an agricultural scientist at Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Dumka said that farmers producing vegetables are not even getting the amount they spend on it. In the absence of marketing expertise, their produce remains in the fields.

She also endorses the opinion that if farmers are trained, their economical conditions could improve.

It is a pity that in spite of expert opinions, no action has been taken in this direction. In all probability, a small step can set off of a quantum growth process in the sector which has been heavily endorsed by the Union Budget. And in Jharkhand, the time is ripe for reforms in this sector.







THE Maharally organised in Lucknow to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Bahujan Samaj Party has drawn a predictable response from detractors of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.


Knives are out for her for misusing government machinery to ensure that the rally was a success. The garland of Rs 1,000 denomination currency notes with which she was felicitated has, in particular, sent the Opposition into a tizzy.


Without necessarily condoning anything, there is need to understand the context in which Ms Mayawati's seemingly megalomaniacal political behaviour is based.


Like it or not, she is a Dalit icon whose rise from humble origins to the seat of power is some sort of a fairy tale for the tens of millions of downtrodden people who have suffered social ostracisation and economic deprivation for centuries.


A garland costing crores may seem gauche and hugely over the top to highbrow intellectuals in cities. But for the poor Dalit who has contributed his or her mite towards it, it could well be an act of assertion, signifying their intention and ability to pull themselves up through their own effort.


In government, Ms Mayawati and her BSP are often seen as being particularly avaricious administrators. But her detractors are hardly role models of integrity. Non- Dalit parties, be they upper or other backward class dominated, have been guilty of dozens of scams and scandals of every hue. If anything, the UP chief minister is only more upfront about her wealth. While she pays tax in crores and get garlanded with currency notes, fund collectors of other parties operate in the shadows and reportedly collect sums that would make the BSP war- chest pale into insignificance.


Ms Mayawati also has a point when she defends the construction of parks and memorials for Dalit icons, including herself, in Uttar Pradesh. She gets flayed for wasteful expenditure but what about the hundreds of statues, parks and memorials that have been erected in honour of members of the Nehru- Gandhi family across the length and breadth of the country? Surely this country has other icons and stalwarts whose names could adorn airports and roads? Nothing in this should be seen as overlooking the obvious wrongs of money politics, populism and sycophancy. But surely any critique of Ms Mayawati deserves to be placed in the perspective of the political ethos of the country.







THE United Progressive Alliance government has deservedly gotten egg all over its face for deferring the nuclear liability Bill.


The whole exercise can be faulted on two grounds. First, despite issuing a three- line whip making attendance in the Lok Sabha compulsory, the Congress party found that as many as 35 of its members were not in the house at the time when the Bill was scheduled for tabling. With the Opposition united and the 19- member Trinamool Congress group, a UPA constituent, appearing to waffle, the die was cast. The Congress party must rid itself of the delusion that it has a two- thirds majority in the house; indeed, it has only 208 members in the 544- member house, well short of even a simple majority.


The second, and more germane, issue is that of the legislation itself. A country which has been visited by one of the worst industrial accidents in the world cannot take matters of civil liability of nuclear accidents easily. The Rs 500 crore cap that has been proposed in the deferred Bill is laughable, and could actually act as an incentive for companies to pass off shoddy work and equipment to this country. India needs nuclear reactors, but it also needs a sensible law that will act as an incentive to foreign companies to observe the best practices relating to the safe operation of nuclear reactors in this country.


Indeed, the time has come for the government to develop a law of torts that can be used by the common citizen to claim monetary damages from companies, municipalities and even the government itself, for faulty services or civil wrongs.


The threat of paying out damages would do more for promoting safe practices and justice in all areas of our life, than any government regulation.







LIGHTS, camera, freeze! Who is that hugging Sushma Swaraj? Sadhvi Rithambara? Uma Bharati? No, it's Brinda Karat! Can this be true? Some might call it a posture, or a Kodak moment, but it was more than that. With one happy embrace Brinda Karat and Sushma Swaraj proved the 3 Yadavas wrong.


The Women's Reservation Bill has clearly united " behens" ( sisters) and morphed them from being just " bahus and betis " ( daughters- in- law and daughters). But will these sisters- in- each- other's- arms stay together when this Bill seeks wider ratification? Rajya Sabha is peopled by nominees; they've all been washed in Listerine. Patriarchy will show up now in the Lok Sabha and in State Legislatures, and it won't be just from RJD and SP quarters.




True, the provision for reserving seats for women in Panchayats had a relatively easy passage in 1992. But we are now talking Parliament and not of some hot and dusty gathering under a banyan tree. Those who said Aye to the Panchayat bill may not necessarily say Aye again to the reservations for women in Parliament.


Take Lalu Prasad Yadav, for example. He actually favoured raising the quota for women in Panchayats to a whopping 50 per cent, but gags at the idea of introducing a similar measure in Parliament.


Why does patriarchy find women sarpanches non- threatening, but baulks at the suggestion of woman parliamentarians? This is because Panchayats don't matter that much.


They do not make policy nor do they control vast sums of money. Panchayats only get to handle left- over items that even a dirty white collar state functionary would find infra dig.


As there is little power and pelf attached to areas allocated to Panchayats, it is just the kind of place where bahus and betis can be safe in the afternoon. It is roughly the equivalent of encouraging women to be school teachers in more literate homes. These are number two jobs; they mean no harm, and mean little business either. The presence of women sarpanches has hardly made a difference to the quality of rural life, not even to the way Primary Schools and Health Centres function. These are motherhood areas, yet, by all accounts, women haven't put too much weight on them.


This shows up in our dismal standing on a variety of Human Development Indicators. Out of 134 countries surveyed in 2009 to measure Gender Gap globally, Indian women rank a low 127 for economic participation and a heart sinking 131 for health. It is difficult to fall any lower. Unsurprisingly, India holds the last place among BRIC countries on this scale.


Neither has women's participation in Panchayats effectively chipped away at patriarchy in the villages.


There are indeed a few stellar cases where some women sarpanches have excelled; but the total story is different.


According to a survey conducted by AC Nielsen ORG Marg in 2008, only 15 per cent of women were reelected once their seats were dereserved.


In another study conducted in the same year, as many as 89 per cent of women Panchayat members interviewed did not want to contest a second term. It was just too much of a bother. The result: patriarchy wins.


Then take the phenomenon of the Sarpanch Pati . As the phrase suggests, this title is popularly given to a man whose wife is officially the elected Panchayat member. Yet even District Magistrates acknowledge his authority and extra- constitutional position. On a number of occasions the Sarpanch Pati strides into an official meeting without a wife in sight. Obviously, in wide swathes across India even the most minimal tokenism is not required.


Yes, there is the long run. In the fullness of time women could well leverage their positions as sarpanches and force the state and society to do their bidding. But if that ever happens, it will be well after Lalu, Mulayam and Sharad have become happy cherubs in another world. In the meantime they can sleep well for their wives and daughters- in- law, their bahus and betis , can ramp up for the Panchayat walk only with their permission.




Why should it then worry them if the same women get into Parliament? Yadav, Yadav and Yadav know that once their bahus and betis get to that level of office they would bond in there like behens . The picture of Brinda Karat and Sushma Swaraj must figure in many of their nightmares.


Unlike a petty sarpanch who can just about mend and make do, a parliamentarian takes policy decisions on major matters. Further, while sarpanches handle just a meagre sum of money, and must depend, even for this small change, on grants in aid from an inconsistent state, a Member of Parliament deliberates on the allocation of crores.


In other words, a woman sarpanch does not challenge male political domination as a woman parliamentarian might. A parliamentarian is a professional politician in a way that a sarpanch is not, nor meant to be. A woman sarpanch can remain a bahu and beti first and an elected official later.


In Parliament it is different. This is where ideologies flourish and professional politicians are bred, often far away from home. Most Parliamentarians contest from constituencies which are nowhere near the places they were born in, or even married into. Why, sometimes even the language of the state they represent is not their own mother tongue.




Under these conditions, even a docile bahu in Parliament would be far from her " saas" and from all those who pushed her down to the ranks of a lesser kin. Objectively, this would sever, or at least, weaken traditional ties and create more modern ones in their place. She would now stand with her sisters from distant regions, soon travel to foreign shores, and become a member of various committees.


Before long, even her husband will have to come to her to pull him out of jail, or debt.


So, the transformation from bahu / beti to behens is fraught with worry even for those who welcomed women's

reservation in Panchayats.


But there is still something about this Bill that sticks in the throat.


Reservations for women in Panchayats have done little to raise the status of village women and children; reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have scarcely touched the lives of the discriminated poor in rural India; reservations for OBCs in IITs and IIMs make no sense to an impoverished Kurmi or Koeri in backward UP. In fact, the word reservation immediately conjures up images of vested interests and strong arm politics.


What assurance do we have that the women's reservation Bill will be different? Will this also be a veil, like other reservations, behind which a few prosper on the bent backs of many? Also what assurance do we have that a woman once in Parliament will be more sensitive than the men in the House? What if this woman behaves like a man?


The writer is Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi








MASTER painter Maqbul Fida Husain had always enjoyed a special place in the hearts of Hyderabadis. People still remember Husain making a sudden appearance in an Irani café, sitting at a corner table besides an auto rickshaw driver sipping " chai," or taking a stroll along the banks of Hussainsagar lake on a quiet evening, watching the sun set in the backdrop of the Birla Temple.


The historic city has been his sasuraal ( in- laws' place) — his wife Fazila, whom he married way back in 1941, was from a Bohra Muslim family in Hussaini Alam area of Hyderabad.


And he had also declared once that he was adopting Hyderabad as his own. At one stage, there were reports that Husain would make Hyderabad his permanent residence after he was hounded out by Hindu fundamentalists from Mumbai. But somehow, he chose to move to the Gulf for good.


That Husain has taken the citizenship of Qatar and surrendered his Indian passport has deeply hurt his friends and art lovers in Hyderabad.


Noted social worker and art lover Anju Poddar said whenever Husain came to Hyderabad, he would stay in her house for a week or two. " He is a scholar and has a lot of depth in literature and painting. It is very sad that he chose to stay back in Qatar and surrendered his Indian citizenship," she said.


Husain's old time friend Kesavarao Jadhav wondered why the master painter had chosen Qatar of all places to lead the rest of his life in. " India and particularly, Hyderabad, had given him so much love and affection. The protests and threats against him would not have lasted long. He got scared unnecessarily and ran away," he felt. Jadhav also thought Husain's drawings depicting Indian goddesses in bad taste. " In my view, they were bad paintings," he pointed out.


His unique museum ' Cinema Ghar,' at Road No. 12, Banjara Hills, once buzzed with hundreds of art lovers from all parts of the country every day. It is considered to be one of the best Husain museums in the world, with rare collections that depict various phases of his artistic career. For the last two years, Cinema Ghar has been locked. The imposing building constructed on nearly an acre of land on picturesque rocky terrain, is now being viewed like any other real estate property. The land, bought by Husain more than three decades ago, is now prime property, with its market value supposedly more than Rs 30 crore.


Husain's son Mustafa Husain, who used to look after the museum, moved to Dubai along with his family, after the master painter fled the country in 2006 following a string of controversies over his " nude paintings." " Yeah, it has been closed. We are planning to renovate the museum and give it a new shape. It will be opened after renovation," said Mustafa from Dubai, when contacted over phone. However, there are no signs of any renovation being done till date.


Mustafa feigned ignorance on whether his father would ever come back to Hyderabad, or for that matter to India. " I cannot answer this question. You should ask him. I never interfere in my father's life," he declared.



CHIEF Minister K Rosaiah has created history of sorts by presenting the state budget for as many as 16 times. As a Congress MLA suggested, this should be entered into the Limca Book of Records, if not the Guinness Book.

However, there is a special significance to this year's budget presented by Rosaiah: he had done it in the capacity of chief minister, whereas on all the previous 15 occasions, he was only a finance minister. And he is feeling the difference now. In the past, he used to accommodate the various fancy schemes announced by the chief minister and make budgetary allocations. And as the chief minister would have to bear the brunt of a resource crunch at the end of the financial year, Rosaiah stayed cool.


This time, it was not so easy for him. Known for his tight- fisted nature, Rosaiah could not make budgetary allocations to various sectors indiscriminately, as he knew that he would have to take the blame, if he cannot provide funds. At the same time, he could not ignore the populist schemes introduced by his predecessor Y S Rajasekhara Reddy which had helped the Congress come to power for the second time. This is tightrope walking indeed!



FOR THE last 14 years, Nandamuri Lakshmi Parvathi, the widow of former chief minister and Telugu Desam Party founder- president N T Rama Rao, has almost been in exile. The children of NTR treated her like an outcast, refusing to acknowledge her even as their " step- mother." She made several attempts to continue in politics and even tried to join the Congress, but all her attempts were in vain.


But last week, Lakshmi Parvathi was in for a pleasant surprise when she received a call from NTR's son Nandamuri Balakrishna.


He turned up at her residence the next day and had a one- on- one meeting for over an hour. And both of them came out smiling. Balakrishna told the media hat he had come to meet " Amma" ( mother) and express his affection for her. A visibly excited Lakshmi Parvathi said she was happy that the family was getting united again and she was being accepted by NTR's family.


The sudden development had raised many eyebrows in political circles. People still remember how NTR's family members necked out Lakshmi Parvathi during his funeral procession in January 1996 and how Balakrishna filed an affidavit in the High Court declaring that she was not legally married to his father. Naturally, they were intrigued why NTR's family members had become soft towards her all of a sudden.


Inquiries revealed that Balakrishna had gone to Lakshmi Parvathi to settle a long pending dispute over a multi- crore property owned by NTR adjacent to her residence in Banjara Hills. Balakrishna wanted to develop the property into an NTR museum, but his dispute with Lakshmi Parvathi had come in the way of the project's progress.


Finally, on the advice of his lawyers, he decided to reach a compromise with her. He agreed to pay necessary compensation to her, so that the museum could become a reality.


For her part, Lakshmi Parvathi wanted that she be given due recognition in the family as NTR's wife. Money really makes many things work!








Indian students are a step closer to gaining access to foreign universities on home ground. The cabinet has approved a Bill allowing overseas players to open campuses in India. While the Left with its allergy to anything 'foreign' is likely to object, it'll be in everyone's interest that the Bill gets passed. For one thing, HRD minister Kapil Sibal rightly predicts the next big revolution after telecom can happen if investment-friendly policymaking transforms India into a hub of accessible, top quality higher education. For another, a quantum jump in FDI in academia is what India needs as a nation with the world's largest student population as well as biggest contingent of outbound scholars after China.

Many reputed foreign institutions, including heavyweights from the US, UK and Australia, see promise in India's growing youth bulge, sizeable English-speaking and knowledge-hungry population and booming middle class. It'll be foolish not to roll the red carpet. Entry of foreign entities will inevitably impact the performance of domestic education providers. With global standards of teaching and infrastructure on offer, every institution will need to compete to attract students with improved pedagogy, internationally accepted courses and upgraded facilities. This can only benefit the sector as a whole. But domestic institutions, including government-run ones, will be justified in demanding a level playing field. Which means less government interference and control.

Overall, "brain gain" will result. If students can access high-grade educational services and acquire the much-sought-after 'foreign degree' at home, they'd have less reason to ship out. The government rightly wagers that the policy could help stem the exodus abroad. But India won't just get to retain its best brains to a greater extent. It'll also see qualitative change in faculty, with competitive paychecks galvanising Indian academia, currently earning among the world's lowest average salaries.

Plus we'll get to attract more foreign students as well as trim the flight of foreign exchange - which can run into billions of dollars - in the form of students' expenses. However, strict restrictions shouldn't be placed on repatriation of profits by foreign universities, as is envisaged. The okay to homeward routing of money from allied activities like consultancy may not be enough to lure top-ranking overseas players. They may change course towards more liberal destinations like China. We still need to incentivise the really big global names to move beyond evincing interest and market surveys. Let's avoid policies that have the effect of discouraging the best education providers from setting up shop.







The jamboree in Lucknow to mark the silver jubilee of the founding of the Bahujan Samaj Party was a reflection of the contradictions that have shadowed the party since its inception. Here's a party that was set up to represent the poor and the oppressed. But every show of strength organised by the party is turned into a vulgar spectacle of sycophancy and money power. A beaming Mayawati holding a garland of 1,000-rupee notes is a sight that mocks at the poverty of thousands of dedicated cadres. That she's not the only one to resort to such ostentatious exhibitionism is no reason to justify it. It belies the ideals of emancipation that the party has striven to uphold.

The BSP is a remarkable success story of Indian politics. In a relatively short span of 25 years, the party expanded across the country and gained office in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India. One factor that facilitated the growth is the strategy to expand beyond its core constituency, the Dalits. BSP founder Kanshi Ram talked about representing the bahujan samaj, consisted of lower castes and other underprivileged groups. Under Mayawati, the party embraced the idea of sarvajan samaj. This facilitated a tactical political alliance with upper caste communities, particularly Brahmins who were demonised by Kanshi Ram. Mayawati needs to expand the idea of sarvajan samaj to include more social groups and cement the alliance with a solid governance agenda to build the party in UP and elsewhere. The BSP's plan for consolidation and expansion is likely to pit the party against the Congress. Not surprisingly, she identified the Congress as her long-term rival at the Lucknow meet.







One of the phenomenal events of this round of globalisation is the economic ascent of China. In 2009, China became the second largest economy in the world in nominal dollar terms. Although the American economy is still three times the size of the Chinese economy today, a reasonable prediction shows that China will overtake the United States to become the world's largest economy by 2025 at the latest.

However, China is not alone in the quest for a better life. Three other big developing countries, India, Brazil and South Africa, are joining the ranks. Sharing the same destiny and same agenda, these four countries have begun to coordinate in international diplomacy, like what happened in the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009.

Global imbalances, whereby some countries run high current account surpluses while other countries run high current account deficits, have resulted in excessive liquidities flowing from the surplus countries to the deficit countries. Many believe that this has been one of the causes of the global financial crisis.

Inflexible exchange rate regimes in some surplus countries, particularly China, are often blamed for creating global imbalances; the more extreme opinions also believe that China's inflexible exchange rate regime is the root cause of unemployment in developed countries and slow recovery in developing countries. But historical evidence shows that exchange rate regimes had little to do with global imbalances. Germany and Japan both have a floating regime, but both countries run very large surpluses. In particular, Japan has remained a strong exporter despite the Plaza Accord that forced the yen to float and revaluate. China's own experience since 2005 also rejects the claim. Between 2005 and 2008, the renminbi (RMB) appreciated by about 20 per cent, but China's trade and current account surpluses both surged.

The claim that a weak RMB (Chinese yuan) hurts China's trade competitors has some merits. But one has to realise two things. One is that RMB is only pegged to the US dollar and floats against other currencies together with the dollar. If RMB's value is artificially low today, then there are periods when it is artificially high. For example, RMB was not devalued in the Asian financial crisis while most Asian currencies were devalued at the time. The other thing to consider is that there are costs attached with a fixed exchange rate regime that other countries may not want to bear. For example, liquidities are flowing to emerging markets including China; a flexible exchange rate regime discourages the movement by revaluation of the home currency and avoids asset bubbles, but a fixed exchange rate regime cannot do it.

Then when we turn to China, we have to ask the question: why does China insist on pegging its currency to the dollar? The cause is not mercantilism aiming at boosting Chinese exports, as most commentators believe. Most experts and government officials inside China have realised that heavy reliance on exports is creating serious problems in the Chinese economy. The only explanation is political, that is, Chinese policymakers do not want to yield to the demand from other countries to avoid the domestic accusation of "being weak" towards foreign countries.

However, even if a flexible exchange rate regime on the part of China will offer some short-term help to the rest of the world, China's role perhaps has been exaggerated. The problem facing us is not to correct the imbalances, but to neutralise their negative consequences. To do that, we have to realise that either side of the imbalances is incapable of finishing the business on its own. We have to find global solutions.

One of the solutions is to create non-country-specific financial assets and make them sufficiently profitable for the surplus countries to invest in. The IMF's special drawing rights (SDR) can be such an asset. Most of the world is still very poor and desperately needs investment. If arrangements are done in the right way, investing in developing countries can be profitable and the surplus countries will be willing to contribute. In this respect, the IMF can work with the World Bank to enlarge and strengthen both institutions' current operations to accommodate more contributions from the surplus countries.

The recent round of IMF's recapitalisation is a good start and should be continued. China and other Eastern Asian countries' efforts to create a regional fund in Asia is another good example. There are two advantages of this proposal. One is that excessive liquidities will be rechannelled from chasing asset prices to investing in the real economy, thus reducing the risk of another financial crisis. The other is that the developing countries receiving investment will be able to improve their manufacturing capacities.

In this regard, China's involvement in infrastructure-building and direct investment in Africa should be welcomed. But that is not enough because most Chinese firms, especially those that are investing in Africa's manufacturing sector, are small and inexperienced. International investment agencies can play a bigger role.


( The writer is deputy director, China Centre for Economic Research.)






With the National Health Bill, 2009 still open to public debate, Assam - with the country's highest maternal mortality rate and an infant mortality rate higher than the national average - was first off the block in tabling a right to health Bill in the state assembly. State health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tells Prabin Kalita that with the central government taking the health sector more seriously than ever, it is the right time for states to act:

What led you to take the plunge?

The implementation of the right to health requires a huge amount of money. When the Centre is pumping in more funds through successful schemes like NRHM (National Rural Health Mission) and other health schemes and with the financial position in my state better than before, i thought we should go for it now - or we might not be able to do it at all in future.

How much would you require, annually?

Initial estimates suggest about Rs 7,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore. And the right to health Bill does not limit itself to just health and family welfare departments, but to a host of departments like public health engineering and social welfare, among others, whose fund allocation would be taken into account. This year alone, the NRHM allocation for Assam has been hiked from Rs 600 crore to Rs 1,000 crore and i strongly believe that when we have taken such a big step, the Centre will not hesitate to assist us .

What, at present, is the ground reality in the health sector?

The government and the private sector are doing their bit to provide health care, but there is no direction. At present, when we talk of health, we ignore core issues like essential nutritious food, safe drinking water, proper sanitation or even basic housing. Unless there is good housing, safe water to drink and appropriate sewerage to ensure proper sanitation or access to nutritious food, there is no health and well-being in the true sense. The health department has always been kept in isolation - limited only to doctors and hospitals.

The high point of the Bill is the mandatory health impact assessment by any new development project coming up in the state. We have had only environment impact studies so far, but we have always completely overlooked the impact industries have on the health of citizens.

Are you apprehensive of any obstacles while implementing the right to health?

There are bound to be obstacles. I feel there would be obstacles from bureaucracy and administrators because of the clause of fixing responsibility and accountability in the Bill for repeated outbreaks or recurrence of communicable diseases in one particular area. The bureaucracy is also likely to oppose legislation on the grounds that providing funds would now be mandatory.

But is the state's health infrastructure in place?

Four years back, i would have said no. Today we are in a better position. The Bill makes it binding on the government to attain the Indian Public Health Standards for both government and private health institutes.


How will you financially help the poor to enjoy their right to health?

Health insurance is an individual right and the government, too, has a responsibility. We are working on some kind of a premium-sharing model. The government might take over the premium entirely or share a percentage of it.






Why does India continue to sell itself so cheaply to the West, particularly to the US? A case in point is the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill which the Congress-led UPA government is seeking to enact, in the face of strong opposition not only from the BJP and the Left but also from within its own ranks. Briefly, the Bill caps the damages paid to victims of a nuclear plant mishap at a total of Rs 2,800 crore, of which the private or public sector entity operating the plant will be liable for Rs 500 crore and the central government would stand good for the balance. The foreign company supplying the nuclear machinery or material will be free of all liability. India must pass this Bill before foreign suppliers, from the US and elsewhere, can sell the nuclear equipment this country urgently needs if it is to meet its goal of increasing its nuclear generation 10 times over the next 25 years. The nuclear liability Bill will activate the so-called Indo-US nuclear deal in defence of which the prime minister almost resigned during the UPA government's previous tenure.


But even ardent champions of the Indo-US nuclear pact - which goes beyond nuclear issues and could help to establish India as a key partner of the US in regional and global affairs - are baulking at the limitation of liability, which former Indian attorney general Soli Sorabjee has described as 'discriminatory', unconstitutional and opposed to the 'polluter pays' principle prescribed by the Supreme Court. In short, there should be no cap on the damages paid to those who suffer as the result of a nuclear leak or other malfunction, nor should foreign suppliers be let off the hook in terms of liability in case an accident occurs.

Remember the Bhopal gas tragedy - perhaps the worst industrial disaster in the world - which in the 26 years since its occurrence seems to have been consigned to national amnesia? Barring some NGOs and victims' associations, everyone else appears to have misplaced in memory a toxic gas leak that reportedly took a toll of some 20,000 lives and caused severe bodily damage to almost 6,00,000 others. The culpable party, the Indian subsidiary of US-based Union Carbide, eventually paid a pittance - according to one calculation a scandalous Rs 12,410 per victim, compared with Rs 15 lakh to Rs 18 lakh given to the families of those who died in Delhi's Uphaar Cinema fire - by way of compensation to the affected, many of whom continue to suffer disease and severe disabilities to this day.


Suppose an Indian company had done a Bhopal in the US? Would that company - which was responsible for the deaths of many thousands of American citizens - have been allowed by the US authorities to get off as lightly as Union Carbide has done? Would an Indian company's CEO manage to escape the law, as did Union Carbide's boss, Warren Anderson, allegedly with the connivance of a senior Indian politician?

Why do we allow Indian lives to be made so cheap in comparison to American lives, or the lives of others who belong to what calls itself the 'developed world'? Isn't an integral part of its development the fact that it values the lives and security of its own citizens, unlike we in India who reveal our lack of development by criminally undervaluing the lives and safety of our people?

If we cannot learn to respect the right to life and health of our citizens we cannot expect others to respect this right, or to respect us. We need to remember this when the nuclear liability Bill is debated, not just in Parliament but also - and equally importantly - outside it.


And while we're at it, will the sarkar please send a belated supplementary Bill to the constituent of America Inc responsible for Bhopal? Better 26 years late than never.








Whoever said that Indian arts and craft are static was obviously barking up the wrong tree. Each day brings new innovations, the latest being that of inventive garland-making. Now, this art is not exactly new to India. From the simple greeting of a visitor or a person celebrating a special occasion with a necklace of flowers, even coins, the garland of today requires considerable imagination and dexterity.


It has long been a custom in the South to garland politicians. The late MGR, a slightly-built man used to be all but invisible under the gigantic, anaconda-like flower garland which would be put on his personage. The said garland would require at least a dozen party workers to cart off so we can only imagine the Herculean feat that went into standing up under its weight. An equally petite North Indian politician has inspired a different — and may we add far more valuable — type of commemorative garland. At a rally on Monday, BSP supremo Mayawati found herself at the receiving end of a mammoth garland made of currency notes. Party workers had the good sense to hold the garland over her instead of injuring her by actually putting it round her neck. What amazed us is the labour that must have gone into the making of this uber garland. Currency garlands are par for the course in North Indian weddings, but Mayawati has taken them to a new numerical level.


The other question is how the party workers were able to prevent people from nicking the odd note while no one was looking. This garland is sure to inspire creators to greater heights. And we could teach western politicos that there is more to public life than standing around in a three-piece suit yammering about the cost of living. Instead, we'd like to see, say Messrs Obama and Brown putting their money where their mouths are by displaying it on their necks.








Foreign investment in higher education affects the 160,000 Indians who go abroad every year to study less than the 14 million who study at home. It affects even more those nine kids who don't make it to college for every one that does. A typical Indian university caters to 2.3 million people, a typical college to 104,000. Every second college student is taught in a private institution, yet the country's capacity to train what, in a decade from now, will be the world's largest labour pool is niggardly. Planners hope to put 6 million more students through college in the five years to 2012, even then India's enrolment ratio in higher education will be a third less than that of the rest of Asia.


Our public spending on higher education per student is $400. China spends $2,728, Russia $1,024 and Brazil $3,986. We are looking to the market to plug our skills gap — already private institutions make up 60 per cent of the country's higher education capacity. A logical extension of this line of thinking is to allow foreign players in. The opportunity lost in the four years since the UPA tried to open higher education to foreign universities will not be in vain if it manages to push the legislation through now. A market approach to higher education, of course, runs the risk of being unregulated in the absence of government capacity. A decreasing share of State funding for higher studies can be targeted by private and often expensive providers. The trick is to ensure the value of qualifications offered and their acceptance by the labour market.


In the past, we have had fly-by-night operators coming here offering students foreign degrees at considerable cost. Many later turned out to be worthless. The fact that so many flocked to these substandard institutes is also a testimony to the paucity of seats in quality Indian institutions. The unrealistic cut-off levels restrict entry to many top drawer universities, something the entry of foreign ones could help remedy. Harvard may not be interested immediately, but lesser known universities could find a new area for inorganic growth in India. The 160,00 who by dint of their merit or the thickness of the fathers' wallets go seeking a world-class education do not exhaust the supply of Indian students. The evolving role of the State as a regulator of higher education is more or less captured in the legislation that has been drafted, but as is the wont in India, policing issues remain.








A little man from Corsica once cast a tall shadow over Europe. And among his oft-repeated nuggets of wisdom is the one about 'graveyards, generals, and indispensables'. Its essence being that the graveyards of Europe are crowded with all those who thought themselves to be indispensable generals. This has, by far, been his most enduring contribution to the psychology of military incompetence.


The latest chapter in this saga is the extension given to Director General (DG) of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha. Rumours had long pointed to its impending announcement, as they do for the current Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. But these are concerned with — connected to — a military that by any stretch of imagination can be called thoroughly professional. And imagination has been thoroughly stretched in justifying and explaining this extension.


The first one was about continuity and how this extension to Lt-Gen Pasha would provide that. It's a curious concoction about continuity because the nature of military evolution is all about the collective rather than the individual. It is about the primacy of the institution over the individual. Which then suggests that it is indeed institutions that provide continuity rather than individuals. The 'continuity' twist given to this extension is as bizarre as it is specious.


Then there was another one about his importance at this 'critical moment in ongoing military operations' that the Pakistan Army was waging against the Taliban. This one really takes the cake for its deception. In a professional military, as is the Pakistan Army, operations are babies, as they say, of the director general of military operations and conducted through the various formation commanders, with attached units engaged in combat. This is the simplest military hierarchy that exists. If there was the case of other inputs then there is the director general, military intelligence to provide that, through his various field units. The 'critical moment' explanation, then, undermines the efficacy of his peers in general headquarters. Any move that makes a general officer indispensable over his peers sets a bad example. It places a question mark on their usefulness for these operations. Which obviously is not the case.


That breakthrough was provided by a North Atlantic writer who claimed that this extension was "hailed by western powers as well". Which then begs the question about the management of Pakistan's affairs. For long, local and foreign writers have commented that the bane of Pakistan's political evolution has been its lack of institutional development. Institutions critical to its emergence as a functioning vibrant State, and society, have not been allowed to develop.


Other than the emergence of the Pakistan Army as the centre of gravity in the country, no civilian institutions have grown to the stature required. It is rather a case of developing individuals over institutions. The primacy of power and authority has always allowed to be individualistic rather than institutional. This has been the analysis of all specialists, domestic or foreign, and concerned types.


The latest extension case of Lt-Gen Pasha provides the same continuity of practice that has bedevilled Pakistan since its birth. The importance of the individual has once again superseded that of the institution. The motive that pushed this extension is really what begs greater attention. It is clear that interests other than that of the institution, or solely of Pakistan, have prevailed in this case. Which then points at who controls the destiny of the country. The people certainly don't, as is evident from their inability to create institutions. The interests that have extended the services of the DG (ISI) are, thus, not popular but parochial. And as such they cannot deliver what is owed to the people.


Manvendra Singh is Editor, Defence & Security Alert


The views expressed by the author are personal








Suppose you ate at a restaurant and contracted food poisoning. Would you complain to the restaurant and its chefs? Or would you directly find fault with the butcher who supplied rotten meat to the restaurant, and the grocer who supplied it rotten vegetables?


Obviously, you would do the former, and leave it to the restaurant to resolve later whatever grouses it has with its suppliers of equipment and raw materials.


The principal objection of the BJP and the Left to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, is as inane as this. They want the vendors who supply equipment, components, raw materials, etc. to the operator of the nuclear power plant to be held directly liable to compensate the victims of nuclear accidents.


There is no doubt that India needs a law to govern compensation to be paid to the victims of nuclear accidents. India is the only major country — already operating as many as 18 nuclear power plants — which is not a member of either the 1963 Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), or the 1960 Paris Convention on Third Party Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy of the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).


In fact, India's Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) proposed the passage of such a Liability Bill as long ago as 2000, and it has since formulated several drafts.


This is because there is no provision in the 1962 Indian Atomic Energy Act — or indeed in any other Indian Act — about liability for nuclear accidents.


Indeed, the liability cap of an Indian operator at Rs 500 crore per incident is well above those of several other countries. China has a liability cap of Rs 205 crore, Canada of Rs 335 crore, and France is about the same at Rs 575 crore.


The arguments of the Left parties are based on a faulty understanding of the US's Price Anderson Act. In the US, all nuclear power plants are operated by the private sector, unlike in India, France and Russia where they are all operated by government companies. In the US, all the operators and equipment suppliers have pooled together to form a fund with a corpus of $10 billion. Compensation to the victims of a nuclear accident will be paid out of this fund according to a complex formula. The US government has no obligation whatsoever to compensate the victims of a nuclear accident. The Left parties are falsely claiming that the US has a liability cap of $10 billion. Payments out of this corpus for any one particular accident would be far far less than $10 billion.


It is not that suppliers of faulty equipment can get away scot-free. Clause 17 of the Bill permits the operator of the nuclear power plant to sue the equipment vendor for damages. This goes well beyond the provisions of IAEA's model law. In particular, clause 17(b) of the Bill grants the Indian operator a 'Right of Recourse' against "wilful acts or gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services, or of his employee".


Indeed, the present Bill, which was pulled out last minute from being presented in the Lok Sabha on Monday, adheres to international best practices and is far better than the national laws of many advanced nuclear countries.


In addition to wanting vendors of equipment and raw materials to be directly liable, the BJP and the Left parties are also criticising the Rs 500 crore limit on the liability of the operator (Clause 6.2) as being far too low, and the supplementary liability of the Indian government beyond the operator's liability of Rs 500 crore up to 300 million Special Drawing Rights (SDR), that is Rs 2,087 crore according to current exchange rates (Clauses 6.1 and 7a) as passing on the burden to the Indian taxpayer. They are also criticising the 10-year limit for claiming damages (clause 18) as being too short, arguing that several instances of biological damage show up only after several years.


But all these objections are contrary to both the Vienna and Paris Conventions, signed by over 80 countries. According to the IAEA, both the Vienna and Paris Conventions are based on the civil law concept and share the following main principles:


* Liability is channeled exclusively to the operators of the nuclear installations;


* Liability of the operator is absolute, i.e. the operator is held liable irrespective of fault;


* Liability is limited in amount. Under the Vienna Convention, it may be limited to not less than US $5 million, but an upper ceiling is not fixed. The Paris Convention sets a maximum liability of 15 million SDR;


* Liability is limited in time. Compensation rights are extinguished under both Conventions if an action is not brought within ten years from the date of the nuclear incident;


* The operator must maintain insurance of other financial security for an amount corresponding to his liability; if such security is insufficient, the Installation State is obliged to make up the difference up to the limit of the operator's liability;


* Jurisdiction over actions lies exclusively with the courts of the contracting party in whose territory the nuclear incident occurred;


* Non-discrimination of victims on the grounds of nationality, domicile or residence;


In fact, the present Bill cuts short prolonged litigation by making the operator directly and immediately liable to pay compensation, without waiting to determine which piece of equipment from which specific vendor was defective. In a situation where an operator integrates thousands of pieces of equipment from myriad suppliers, it would not be easy to determine whose equipment was at fault.


A specific criticism of the Left parties is that the Bill is designed to favour American equipment vendors such as General Electric and Westinghouse. But the Bill does not mention suppliers from any particular country — its provisions are applicable to suppliers from all countries. Indeed, the Bill will benefit Indian vendors of nuclear equipment such as Larsen & Toubro, Walchand, Tatas, GMR and Lanco.


Essentially the Bill meets all international norms, and the objections of the BJP and the Left parties against it are not valid.


Ravi Visvesvaraya Prasad heads a group on C4ISRT (Command, Control, Communications and Computers Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting) in South Asia.







n g p n October 2009, the Centre declared the endangered Ganetic river dolphin as the national aquatic animal. This dolhin is found in the Brahmaputra, Ganga, Meghna and Karnaphuli river systems of South Asia. The dolphin is at the apex of the aquatic food chain and is an indicator of the health of the rivers it inhabits.


A Working Group has recently been constituted to prepare an action plan for the conservation of the Gangetic dolphin in the Ganga. While this is a positive development, the question conservationists in the Northeast is have one question: what about a conservation plan for the Gangetic river dolphin in the Brahmaputra river basin? The Brahmaputra river basin is one of the most important habitats for long-term conservation of the endangered species.


Apart from the existing threats that include poaching and water pollution, an emerging threat to the dolphin in the Northeast is from large dams. One hundred and sixty eight large projects planned in this ecologically sensitive region will involve a major plumbing of the Brahmaputra river basin. The Yangtze river dolphin in China, the Indus river dolphin in Pakistan and the Gangetic river dolphin in the Ganga have been affected by dams and barrages. Case specific impact assessment studies on the dolphin and its habitat are necessary before granting green clearances.


However, the Centre has failed to do this until now. The 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Project on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border was granted environmen- tal clearance without a downstream impact study. Terms of Reference for the Environment Impact Assessment studies prescribed by the MoEF to mega-hydel projects in the lower reaches of major rivers in the Brahmaputra river basin such as the Siang and Lohit ask for studies to be restricted to only 10 km downstream and do not include a study of impacts on the dolphin and its habitat.


On February 12, the MoEF granted clearance to the 1,750 MW Demwe Lower project on the Lohit river without a study of impact on the Gangetic river dolphin, despite the issue being brought to its notice by wildlife biologists from the Northeast. Is it too much to expect the environment ministry to halt this farcical environmental decision-making in the International Year of Biodiversity?


The writer is a member of Kalpavriksh The views expressed by the author are personal


I n g p n October 2009, the Centre declared the endangered Ganetic river dolphin as the national aquatic animal. This dolhin is found in the Brahmaputra, Ganga, Meghna and Karnaphuli river systems of South Asia. The dolphin is at the apex of the aquatic food chain and is an indicator of the health of the rivers it inhabits.

A Working Group has recently been constituted to prepare an action plan for the conservation of the Gangetic dolphin in the Ganga. While this is a positive development, the question conservationists in the Northeast is have one question: what about a conservation plan for the Gangetic river dolphin in the Brahmaputra river basin? The Brahmaputra river basin is one of the most important habitats for long-term conservation of the endangered species.

Apart from the existing threats that include poaching and water pollution, an emerging threat to the dolphin in the Northeast is from large dams. One hundred and sixty eight large projects planned in this ecologically sensitive region will involve a major plumbing of the Brahmaputra river basin. The Yangtze river dolphin in China, the Indus river dolphin in Pakistan and the Gangetic river dolphin in the Ganga have been affected by dams and barrages. Case specific impact assessment studies on the dolphin and its habitat are necessary before granting green clearances.

However, the Centre has failed to do this until now. The 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Project on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border was granted environmen- tal clearance without a downstream impact study. Terms of Reference for the Environment Impact Assessment studies prescribed by the MoEF to mega-hydel projects in the lower reaches of major rivers in the Brahmaputra river basin such as the Siang and Lohit ask for studies to be restricted to only 10 km downstream and do not include a study of impacts on the dolphin and its habitat.

On February 12, the MoEF granted clearance to the 1,750 MW Demwe Lower project on the Lohit river without a study of impact on the Gangetic river dolphin, despite the issue being brought to its notice by wildlife biologists from the Northeast. Is it too much to expect the environment ministry to halt this farcical environmental decision-making in the International Year of Biodiversity?

The writer is a member of Kalpavriksh The views expressed by the author are personal

n g p n October 2009, the Centre declared the endangered Ganetic river dolphin as the national aquatic animal. This dolhin is found in the Brahmaputra, Ganga, Meghna and Karnaphuli river systems of South Asia. The dolphin is at the apex of the aquatic food chain and is an indicator of the health of the rivers it inhabits.


A Working Group has recently been constituted to prepare an action plan for the conservation of the Gangetic dolphin in the Ganga. While this is a positive development, the question conservationists in the Northeast is have one question: what about a conservation plan for the Gangetic river dolphin in the Brahmaputra river basin? The Brahmaputra river basin is one of the most important habitats for long-term conservation of the endangered species.


Apart from the existing threats that include poaching and water pollution, an emerging threat to the dolphin in the Northeast is from large dams. One hundred and sixty eight large projects planned in this ecologically sensitive region will involve a major plumbing of the Brahmaputra river basin. The Yangtze river dolphin in China, the Indus river dolphin in Pakistan and the Gangetic river dolphin in the Ganga have been affected by dams and barrages. Case specific impact assessment studies on the dolphin and its habitat are necessary before granting green clearances.


However, the Centre has failed to do this until now. The 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Project on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border was granted environmen- tal clearance without a downstream impact study. Terms of Reference for the Environment Impact Assessment studies prescribed by the MoEF to mega-hydel projects in the lower reaches of major rivers in the Brahmaputra river basin such as the Siang and Lohit ask for studies to be restricted to only 10 km downstream and do not include a study of impacts on the dolphin and its habitat.


On February 12, the MoEF granted clearance to the 1,750 MW Demwe Lower project on the Lohit river without a study of impact on the Gangetic river dolphin, despite the issue being brought to its notice by wildlife biologists from the Northeast. Is it too much to expect the environment ministry to halt this farcical environmental decision-making in the International Year of Biodiversity?


The writer is a member of Kalpavriksh The views expressed by the author are personal



I n g p n October 2009, the Centre declared the endangered Ganetic river dolphin as the national aquatic animal. This dolhin is found in the Brahmaputra, Ganga, Meghna and Karnaphuli river systems of South Asia. The dolphin is at the apex of the aquatic food chain and is an indicator of the health of the rivers it inhabits.

A Working Group has recently been constituted to prepare an action plan for the conservation of the Gangetic dolphin in the Ganga. While this is a positive development, the question conservationists in the Northeast is have one question: what about a conservation plan for the Gangetic river dolphin in the Brahmaputra river basin? The Brahmaputra river basin is one of the most important habitats for long-term conservation of the endangered species.

Apart from the existing threats that include poaching and water pollution, an emerging threat to the dolphin in the Northeast is from large dams. One hundred and sixty eight large projects planned in this ecologically sensitive region will involve a major plumbing of the Brahmaputra river basin. The Yangtze river dolphin in China, the Indus river dolphin in Pakistan and the Gangetic river dolphin in the Ganga have been affected by dams and barrages. Case specific impact assessment studies on the dolphin and its habitat are necessary before granting green clearances.

However, the Centre has failed to do this until now. The 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Project on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border was granted environmen- tal clearance without a downstream impact study. Terms of Reference for the Environment Impact Assessment studies prescribed by the MoEF to mega-hydel projects in the lower reaches of major rivers in the Brahmaputra river basin such as the Siang and Lohit ask for studies to be restricted to only 10 km downstream and do not include a study of impacts on the dolphin and its habitat.

On February 12, the MoEF granted clearance to the 1,750 MW Demwe Lower project on the Lohit river without a study of impact on the Gangetic river dolphin, despite the issue being brought to its notice by wildlife biologists from the Northeast. Is it too much to expect the environment ministry to halt this farcical environmental decision-making in the International Year of Biodiversity?

The writer is a member of Kalpavriksh The views expressed by the author are personal






After years of being stalled by political opposition and legal quagmire, the cabinet has approved the bill that will inaugurate a new path for international education providers to open up campuses in India. The clunky title — the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations, Maintenance of Quality and Prevention of Commercialisation) Bill — is some indication of all the anxieties that surround it.


There are already hundreds of educational collaborations between Indian institutions and foreign ones, mostly in high-return areas like business and technical education. Concentrated in a few regions, these initiatives have an ambiguous track record. However, the hunger for respectable educational options is manifest in today's India. Currently, Indian students are the largest contingent in American universities, their numbers having steadily swelled in the last two decades. These students contribute significantly to the US economy, and many of them stay back and assimilate into the country with stunning success, depriving India of much homegrown talent. The Foreign Educational Providers Bill is partly an attempt to stem that migratory wave. Certainly, it focuses on a thin and affluent slice of the schooling market — but that slice is also part of the entire continuum of higher education needs. It might persuade a section of migrating students to stay here, it might provide a new option for another segment of students who seek educational cachet and signalling benefits from a fancy foreign school. It might also improve academic staffing, which is critical — by allowing faculty to move more flexibly within India and from abroad. Either way, it is a valuable new array of choices in a country that is reeling under a quality and quantity deficit. As the prime minister ruefully noted, only 7 per cent of India's 18-24-year-olds enter higher education (compared to 21 per cent in Germany and 34 per cent in the US, which in any case have an array of vocational options as well).


While the bill has been sold with visions of glittering Ivy League institutions, there have been concerns that its terms are too restrictive and will only facilitate degree mills rather than encouraging research. Those are valid fears — and as with the entire saga of higher education in India, these experiments will only be as good as the governance they get.








The deferral by the government of the introduction of the nuclear liability bill to the Lok Sabha is both an embarrassment and a warning. An embarrassment, because it is a conspicuous failure of both floor management and coalition building; and a warning, because it lays out how far the government is from being able to push through reform on which there may already be the chance of multi-party agreement on the necessary legislation.


The merits of the bill apart, the question of why the government has not made a more persuasive case for it prior to its introduction is a political one. There has been insufficient engagement with the bill's critics either outside Parliament or those within Parliament, whether or not their opposition to the bill is born of deeply held ideology, as it is with the Left parties. This goes beyond the simple point that introducing a contentious bill when many of your own MPs aren't present is an obvious mishandling of parliamentary affairs. The point is that the provisions of the bill should be made completely clear to the parties in question; if necessary, as was argued by this newspaper during the discussion over the Indo-US nuclear deal, the leaders of parties could be briefed on the details in confidence. But allowing disagreement to fester


in ignorance is a self-defeating strategy. In the absence of a clear majority, the government cannot afford to be picky about where the votes come from — and it must actively go out and look for them. Hopefully when the nuclear liability bill is reintroduced, as it must be, the UPA will have learnt from this experience.


The history of the nuclear deal is instructive. As was made clear by some prominent voices associated with the BJP at that time and shortly afterwards, the Congress had not done enough to reach out to parties in the opposition, such as the BJP, that shared to some extent the government's view on the broad strategic direction of India's foreign policy. But the UPA doesn't seem to have learnt either from that unnecessarily long-drawn-out affair, or from the more recent agreement between the Congress and many major opposition parties on the Women's Reservation Bill. However secure this government's five-year term might appear today, it is nevertheless true that 207 is not 272. And five years of reform — on the insurance bill, for example — will require the building of coalitions beyond the narrow borders of the UPA.








Following the general elections last year, the Indian voter was hailed for rejecting communal and disruptive forces. Finally, the minorities (that is, Muslims) thought that a holistic understanding of their socio-economic plight was in the offing, something that might mark the end of apparently unceasing apathy. In the heartland, in particular, it appeared that Muslims would look again at the Congress party, perhaps burying the Babri ghost after two decades.


Meanwhile, various Muslim outfits were led by first the Sachar Committee report and then the Ranganath Mishra report to revive the demand for quotas. Seminars, debates and rallies; every relevant and irrelevant so-called representative jockeyed for prominence within the community. Those leading the Muslim quota charge were the much-chastened Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan, with Bihar assembly elections looming closer. True to form, Mulayam Singh Yadav's response was lukewarm, inviting the allegation that his now elitist Yadav brethren are loath to share the OBC quota pie with their Muslim neighbours. Since the BJP and its relevance has diminished greatly, the fear factor amidst the minorities that the Yadav duo effectively capitalised on for two decades has dwindled in importance. When coupled with the Congress's UP strategy, the Mandalites' revival strategy is further diluted.


The Women's Reservation Bill in its present form must have looked like a golden opportunity to the Mandalites to use the Muslim card once again, refurbishing and cleaning their equivalent of Aladdin's magic lamp. But look under the Yadavs-Paswan troika's surface, to their tenure, and much of what they are now claiming will unravel.


Remember: since 1990, the poverty gap between the Yadavs and Kurmis and the Muslims has enlarged dramatically, as is evident in the Sachar report. Having monopolised the benefits of reservations in jobs and education; having repeatedly cornered sizable government patronage, including tenders and infrastructure contracts; this now upwardly mobile class once again needs the newly tenuous Muslim vote to propel them back into political relevance. We may agree or disagree with the strong-arm "marshalling" of the anti-women's bill parties' seven foot soldiers in Parliament, but their muted response and apathy to minority empowerment in real terms has been clearly visible for a long time now.


Yes, we have heard much about the fact that, of the 7906 MPs elected since independence, only 14 have been Muslim women. Yet 10 or 20 extra Muslim women in future Lok Sabhas will not change the ground reality of the community in any tangible manner unless they come from a genuinely underprivileged background, and their parties allow them to raise burning issues. It won't create jobs, education opportunities or enhanced security, which is what most Indian Muslims desperately want. Most Muslim MPs, with a few exceptions, have a floundering record if one looks at the kind of questions raised by them in Parliament about real issues of the community.


Regardless of the attempts of the freshly empowered "Muslim" groups, the idea of an all-India minority political formation has never blossomed and probably never will. So it is imperative that centrist and left formations promote gender aspirations, as recommended by the Gill Commission. But that's like asking for the moon. For the Lohiaite socialists, Rabri Devi and Dimple Yadav and other such kith and kin will always take precedence. Gender justice and charity both begin at home. And the Left should remember that the percentage of Muslims in the West Bengal assembly stands at around 4 per cent while they make up 27 per cent of that state's population.

One thing is puzzling. England, with a population of 6 crore, has 533 MPs. So why does India, with 110 crore, have only 542 MPs? An additional 33 per cent seats in Parliament and the state assemblies could have been reserved for women, without the convulsions we've seen over this bill, which have led to an embittered set of parliamentary parties. Fearful of what the future holds for the male-dominated politics, without the compulsion of the party whip the results of voting on the Women's Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha and 14 assemblies would be astounding. That would only serve as an excuse for further procrastination on progressive reform.


The writer is chairman of the editorial board at the Kanpur-based Urdu newspaper 'Daily Siyasat Jadid'








 By getting the Women's Reservation Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha despite considerable opposition from the ranks of its own supporters, the UPA government has once again shown that when it wants to get things done, it can. The last time the Congress-led UPA showed similar resolve was in the more fractious vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha over the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008. Of course, while getting the nuclear deal done was a gamble that the government took with less than a year to go in office, the women's bill is a gamble that the government has taken less than a year into its second five-year term.


One then certainly hopes that the successful passage of the women's bill is a sign of future strength in the UPA, and not weakness. (In this regard, the government's floor management on the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill will be seen as a key test.) And that after game-changing legislation on foreign policy and social empowerment, the UPA will finally come round to fast-tracking legislation and policy that hold the key to elevating India to a game-changing path of double-digit growth.


The Congress party, however, never comfortable with the idea of economic reform at its core, would like to believe that the economy will autopilot itself back to 9 per cent growth (and even further to double digits) without any decisive policy reform measures. And that 9 per cent growth will generate enough revenue to fund the government's ambitious spending programmes. After all, that is what happened in the course of the UPA's first term in office until the global crisis hit. Unfortunately, that boom scenario is not likely to repeat itself any time soon and if the UPA does not overcome its lethargy on economic policy reform very soon, there may even be trouble.


There is now a lurking danger of misunderstanding the post-crisis recovery process. The government would like us to believe that we are firmly out of the woods, and while the worst is certainly over, two significant risks remain. First, there is the persistent problem in food inflation, something that will ironically only get exacerbated if the global recovery happens very quickly. Commodity prices (which feed directly into food prices) are already booming, but that most significant commodity of all for us in India, oil, is still in a reasonable price band ($70 per barrel). If, however, oil prices shoot up (they had after all gone all the way up to $147 a barrel in the summer of 2008) on the back of a faster recovery in the US and Europe, we'll have a twin problem of inflation and in the absence of oil sector deregulation, a busted fiscal deficit. Remember, the more the government borrows to fund its deficit, the less it leaves available for productive private investment.


A second, alternative, global scenario is of a double dip recession. That assumes that the current spurt in stock markets and commodity prices is a bubble and once the West (the US in particular) starts hiking interest rates and phasing out fiscal stimulus, there will be a second slowdown. And since a significant portion of our GDP comes from exports — add to that investment from abroad — there will be a spill-over effect.


Needless to say, we cannot control external events whichever way they turn out. That is why it is important to get our domestic policies right so that we can ride over the uncertainties that will continue to plague the global economy at least until 2011, maybe even beyond. For the moment, all the government's calculations, particularly on its own deficit, are based on external events unravelling suitably (moderate oil prices, no double dip recession in the West, no bursting of a bubble). That's risky.


The UPA, committed as it is to redistribution, is unlikely to cut down on its spending programmes. That makes it absolutely necessary to sustain high growth, no matter what happens outside India.

Because, as this crisis has shown in no uncertain terms, countries with big spending governments that rely disproportionately on borrowing (not revenues) to finance their spending, and do little to enhance the productivity and growth of their economies, can end up in big trouble. That is exactly the state of the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) countries — when external events turned against them, they were found out, driving on empty.


Sections of the Congress party and UPA probably admire the big spending welfare states of Europe. But a combination of big spending governments, bloated public sectors, labour market rigidities, generous state benefits, and often a suspicion of private enterprise (familiar enough in the Indian context too) are precisely what have led to an economic decline in Europe (to a point of dire crisis for the PIGS) over the last few decades. Even the more prosperous countries in continental Europe (France in particular, but also Germany) have struggled to reverse structural rigidities that are eroding their competitiveness vis-à-vis other parts of the world.


India is, of course, poised to be one of the countries that can grab the space that will be created by Europe's continuing decline — and indeed the US's relative decline, especially if the left wing of the Democratic Party ends up taking that country in the wrong direction. But we cannot do it with an unreconstructed economic model that resembles a decaying Europe.


We need to be moving in the opposite direction and quickly. Since we are still a poor country, it is perfectly reasonable to spend on social safety nets. But that's not the same as protecting a tiny segment of organised labour at considerable cost to a big majority on the outside and the economy as a whole. It's also not the same as the government sinking money into unreformed and bloated PSUs like Air India and BSNL that are unlikely to ever become profitable unless they are freed from government control. It is certainly not the same as giving subsidies to middle class consumers of petrol and diesel. And why not allow FDI in retail if that will help eliminate countless commission-earning and price-inflating intermediaries between farm and consumer, giving a better deal to all — kirana stores too will prosper as numerous studies have shown.


Are the Congress and UPA now willing to take calculated risks to fast-track this reform agenda, an agenda that will give a significant boost to productivity, growth and employment irrespective of what happens elsewhere in the world?


The writer is a senior editor at 'The Financial Express'








Like clockwork, news of amendments to the Right to Information Act (RTI) makes its way to newspaper headlines. It started with the issue of "vexatious" and "frivolous" applications, and whether discussion notes (file notings) ought to be made public. Now, it has moved on to the latest controversy, sparked by the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) seeking to exempt itself from the purview of the act. For the moment, the official government line is that amendments are on hold till public consultations are undertaken. Whether or not these consultations take place, the proposed amendments have serious ramifications for the RTI and for efforts to institute norms of transparency and accountability in our institutions of governance, and must thus be debated.


Let's consider the latest controversy first. The question over whether the office of the CJI ought to fall within the purview of the RTI came to a head recently when the Supreme Court's secretary general moved the apex court to appeal against the Delhi high court verdict declaring the CJI a "public authority". The irony of the apex court appealing to itself is inescapable but this move also throws up important questions about the scope and powers of the RTI.


The act states that any authority established by the Constitution, Parliament, state legislatures or by government notifications and orders is a public authority. The fundamental principle here is that public institutions — institutions that draw on public funds and that are endowed with the power to make decisions that directly impact citizens' lives — have to be answerable for their conduct. On this view, the office of the CJI, as upheld by the Delhi high court, is a public authority.


The Supreme Court disagrees. According to reports, the appeal argues that placing the office of the CJI within the ambit of the RTI compromises judicial independence. Judges discharge unique constitutional functions making it necessary not to subject them to "litigative public debate". While the constitutional merits of this argument ought to be the subject of a broader public debate, one reason why this argument may not hold much weight in India is that the judiciary no longer performs its traditional role. In fact, and by its own argument, because of government inaction and ineffectiveness, the Supreme Court has begun to shape policy through public interest litigation and in this process, has forayed into legislative and executive functions. Given that judges are no longer discharging "unique" functions but play a broader role in governance, shouldn't they be subject to the same norms that apply to the rest of the system? Whatever the technicalities, the move for exemption undermines the credibility of the apex court and this is a serious concern.


Related is the issue of what constitutes "public information". The argument for the proposed amendment to exempt discussion notes or file notings is that it curbs discretion and hampers decision making and by implication ought not to be made public. The same argument has been used by the courts against information requests for details on appointment procedures. The validity of the argument is questionable. On first principles, any information essential to understanding how public functionaries exercise power and authority in public interest is public information, and decision making processes are an important element of this. No doubt, when it comes to tricky issues like appointments there is a need to strike a balance between discretion and transparency. But in an environment where government posts starting at the block level are being bought and sold, striking this balance in favour of transparency is the only solution.


Finally, there is the question of the nature of applications. If there is one thing that the RTI has achieved, it is the introduction of two new words in our governance vocabulary — 'vexatious' and 'frivolous'. At any given opportunity, government argues that the RTI has resulted in an overflow of vexatious and frivolous requests for information that overburden officials and undermine the value of RTI. Yet, there is little real empirical or anecdotal evidence to support this claim. Rather than amend the law, what we need is a systematic analysis of the applications received by public authorities to determine the extent to which these are in fact vexatious and frivolous. The irony is that that information on applications is extremely hard to get — in fact you need to file an RTI to access copies of applications.


These regular calls for amendments have served one purpose — that of obfuscating the real challenges that the RTI faces. Recent studies on the RTI have highlighted problems such as difficulties in filing applications, delays in appeal processes, the absence of record management systems and the failure of public authorities to comply with the mandate (Section 4) to proactively disclose information. The official line is that amendments will serve to strengthen the RTI. This is clearly not the case. Rather than push for amendments, the prime minister and his government would do well to focus on addressing the implementation challenges and in so, doing make good on his commitment to bring in an era of accountable governance.


The writer is with theAccountability Initiative, Centre for Policy Research.








Invite Kayani

Amidst the approaching endgame in Afghanistan, Pakistan's diplomacy is in overdrive. It is being led by none other than Gen. Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff.


That the army's General Headqaurters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi controls Pakistan's key national security accounts — Afghanistan, nuclear weapons, the United States, China and India — is well known. But it is not often that an army chief openly conducts diplomacy when a civilian government in charge, even if notionally. When he was in command, Pervez Musharraf wore all hats — army chief, chief executive and presiden. When functioning with (but never under) the civilian governments, Pakistan's army chiefs tend to control key policy decisions from behind the scenes.


Given the high stakes in the Afghan endgame, Kayani has no time for such subtlety. Nor would it be wrong to say that the current civilian dispensation in Islamabad does not inspire either fear or respect in Rawalpindi.


Washington once used to commend his 'professionalism' as a soldier and a commitment to take the army back into the barracks after Musharraf, but Kayani now does all the heavy political lifting on Afghanistan. The Obama administration negotiates with him directly. All American visitors to Pakistan these days spend quality time with Kayani while doing the protocol with the civilian establishment.


Kayani's shadow will loom also large over the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue next week, where the army is expected to lay out its demands for further cooperation with the United States in Afghanistan. When he went to Pakistan last week, Afghan president Hamid Karzai had talks with Kayani, who has positioned himself as the principal interlocutor between the different factions of the Taliban in Pakistan and the rest of the world.


As Karzai seeks a political solution to the civil war in Afghanistan, he now has no choice but to deal with the Pakistan army that had been so hostile to him all these years. Days before Karzai's Pakistan trip, Kayani was in Kabul calling on the president and visiting the headquarters of the international forces in Afghanistan.


If Kayani has become so central to the decision-making on India and Afghanistan, does it not make sense for Delhi to reach out directly to the GHQ? Why does New Delhi not extend an invitation to the Pakistan army chief to visit India?


New Delhi's conservatives will say Kayani will never accept such an invitation; New Delhi, however, loses nothing with an offer to host him and honestly address whatever concerns his army has about India's military doctrine and its many fears about India's presence in Afghanistan.


Punjab's plea


Besides his new hat as Pakistan's most important external interlocutor, Kayani has to bear the traditional burden of disciplining the politicians who often come under the army's foot and complicate its grand strategy towards Afghanistan, the United States and India.


Within hours after appealing to the Taliban to "spare" his province from terrorism, the chief minister of West Punjab (the most populous province of Pakistan), Shahbaz Sharif was summoned to the GHQ probably for a dressing down.


After the horrible multiple bombings in Lahore last week, Sharif declared that his party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), shares a common cause with the Taliban in opposing Musharraf's divisive policies and in resisting the political dictation from the United States. Therefore, Sharif urged that the Taliban must leave Punjab alone. Sharif had to quickly backtrack as the implications of his proposal for a separate peace between Punjab and the Taliban began to sink in. Meanwhile the GHQ had every reason to frown at Sharif's remarks which were playing into the hands of the Taliban. The main political objective of the Lahore attack was to get the terrorised civilian population to press the army to stop the military campaign against the Pakistani Taliban.


Saran's wrap


The role of Shyam Saran, the former foreign secretary and prime minister's special envoy until the weekend, in

the remaking India's foreign policy is widely acknowledged.


Less known, however, is Saran's extraordinary effort in getting Delhi to end its prolonged neglect of the nation's borderlands. Saran's relentless pursuit — first from the Foreign Office and then from the PMO — resulted in many decisions to modernise India's decaying military and commercial infrastructure. This column doffs its cap to Saran for persuading Delhi to think strategically about its frontiers and for reviving the Great Game tradition that once thrived in Kolkata and Delhi and defined the geopolitics of India's neighbourhood.








Due credit

At a time when political parties that supported the Women's Reservation Bill are scrambling to claim maximum credit for its passage in the Rajya Sabha, how can the CPI fall behind? For it was the parliamentary panel headed by CPI's late leader Gita Mukherjee that had formulated the 33 per cent quota for women way back in 1996.


The latest issue of CPI's weekly mouthpiece New Age contains several pieces on the women's bill and Mukherjee's contribution finds a prominent mention in all of these, which argue that it was the CPI's women's wing that had first taken up the issue of reservation. A front-page article in New Age by CPI leader Annie Raja recounts the agitations waged by the party's women's wing over the years demanding 33 per cent reservation for women. "Gitadi is no more but her dreams have started blossoming into reality", says another author.


Trashing Trinamool

The Women's Reservation Bill also gave the comrades yet another chance to attack the Trinamool Congress on account of Mamata Banerjee's surprising turnaround. In the lead editorial in People's Democracy, the CPM asserts that the Trinamool has emerged as a party that opposes reservations for women.


In line with its strategy to never miss a chance to highlight the differences between the Congress and the Trinamool, the editorial argues that this is not the first occasion Banerjee has come in direct conflict with the UPA.

"On the issue of combating the Maoist violence, which the prime minister has repeatedly declared as the gravest challenge to India's internal security, the Trinamool Congress has openly opposed the operations of the joint security forces, thus objectively patronising the Maoists," it says. Banerjee's objective, according to the CPM, is to use the "atmosphere of terror and violence" for her political and electoral advantage in West Bengal.


Maoists on backfoot

The Centre and the CPM have more or less been on the same page when it comes to tackling Naxalism. Now both the government and the CPM believe that Maoists are on the defensive and are hence offering the olive branch.


While the Union home ministry says the security offensive has done the trick, an article in People's Democracy claims the "widening of people's resistance" to the "left sectarian incursion" has put the self-styled "Maoists" on the defensive. "The Bengal unit of the CPM believes that the sectarians are meeting with such resistance in several areas of Midnapore West, Bankura and Purulia." Political resistance, more than protest, is the order of the day in the laal mati areas of Bengal, it says. Adding to it is the arrest of top Maoist leaders by the Bengal police.

"Kishanji aka Koteswara Rao has stopped appearing before the television channels. He has started to cosy up to the Union home minister by putting forth his personal cell phone and facsimile number on the scroll of very many TV channels, with no response from the Union government, on the surface that is," the article says. "The writing on the wall has been there for some time of late. The noxious game of the left sectarians of kidnapping villagers and minor officials and the calling for what these thugs term an 'exchange of prisoners,' has finally come to deserving and shamed halt," it asserts.








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, utilising 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 organise.


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.








The steady pickup in wholesale price index for the sixth consecutive month to 9.89% in February 2010 would mean that inflation levels in March would sharply exceed RBI's baseline projection of 8.5%. So, this will now further increase pressures for corrective steps to bring down inflationary expectations. But any sharp change in the monetary stance of the central bank can deter the incipient recovery and RBI would be best advised to carry on with its guarded approach, as the most recent numbers show that it is the supply constraints that continue to play the dominant role in steering price movements. Though food prices have decelerated from the peak 20.04% in December 2009, it has stuck to the 17%-plus range over the last two months on account of new constraints.


So, while improved supplies have helped push down the increase in rice prices to half the peak levels and that of wheat prices to three-fourths of the top line growth, the sharp cyclical swings in prices of other essentials like vegetables have ensured that food prices remain sticky. So, despite some limited corrections, the food articles continue to punch much higher than their weight, contributing more than a quarter of the increase in the overall WPI, though it only accounts for a 15.4% share in the WPI. The situation is similar in the case of fuel products, where rising mineral oil prices have pushed up the contribution of fuel products to the overall increase in WPI to 14.7%, which is marginally higher than its weight.


But the most important concern for RBI will be about the risk of a spillover of inflationary pressures to the manufacturing sector, where price increases have touched a new high of 7.4%. But the central bank should take comfort in the fact that most of this is accounted for by food products and price increases in the fastest growing manufacturing sectors, like machinery & equipment and transport goods are still relatively benign. Easing supply constraints still remains the best bet for tackling inflation. This is also reflected in the trends in other sectors like cement and steel. Cement prices have declined for the third successive month, with growth of cement production steadily accelerating to a high of 12.4% in January 2010, while price increases in steel have remained below the 3% mark as output growth touches record levels of 16.2%.







The Union Cabinet has cleared the tabling of the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, 2010. Something similar also happened in 2007, in the tenure of UPA-1. But the Left's opposition kept an earlier version of the Bill from being tabled. The Left is still digging in its heels in protest, raising the bogey of commercialisation and privatisation. But these words have lost their power to raise a panic and are now comfortably synonymous with the delivery of quality, competition and competence. This time around, given an altered numbers game in Parliament, UPA-2 can push forward what its previous avatar couldn't. Minister Kapil Sibal has spoken of the Bill in the most glowing terms, calling it everything from a milestone that will enhance choices and benchmark quality to a catalyst for something even larger than the telecom revolution. All said and done, we can't disagree with the minister's optimistic worldview. Anyone who truly knows anything about the Indian growth story knows that a substantive chunk of it has been powered by well-educated engineers, managers and programmers. Yet, there are few sectors where such talent is in abundance. Whether it is the Knowledge Commission or the Yashpal Committee, experts have repeatedly emphasised the need to expand higher education. Given that this expansion is ultimately geared to meet the demands of a globalised economy, common sense dictates that it should take place within the framework of global collaboration. Welcoming foreign varsities is, therefore, a logical step in this direction.


As our columnist today argues, if our priority is competition then the colour of competition (foreign versus domestic) shouldn't matter. Next, consider the scale of growing demand. As of now, only 12% of school-leavers in the country go to college. The target for 2020 is 30%. Consider the lakhs of Indian students who travel abroad for higher studies every year. Consider that top international universities have expressed interest in entering the Indian market once the regulatory environment becomes friendlier to them. Consider that even the best of Indian institutions are still not using technology to deliver education in ways that are becoming de rigueur elsewhere. As Sam Pitorda said at a recent Idea Exchange with The Express Group, the whole concept of education has to change in light of the information revolution. When content is available on the Internet and delivery is through multiple media, teachers have to transition into mentors. Big changes are here and coming. To be protectionist in education, when the same philosophy has been abandoned in second-level sectors, is a fool's game.








The Cabinet has cleared the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, 2010. The UPA-2 announced big-bang 100-day agendas and only three elements remain—education, legal reform and direct taxes code. Since 1991, reforms in every sector (to the extent that they have happened) have been driven by competition and choice. That's been good for producers (it improved efficiency) and consumers. Of course, inefficient producers suffered and even closed down. But what's wrong with that? There is no reason why this message of competition, choice and efficiency shouldn't apply to education, too, including higher education. Let us forget about the deemed (or doomed) university issue for the moment. We have more than 20,000 colleges and almost 370 universities. This business of affiliating universities makes cross-country comparisons difficult. It is also true that the gross enrolment ratio in higher education (there are some methodological issues in estimation) at around 10% is low and should increase. But that is in the future. As of today, these colleges and universities should have no problems in catering to the enrolment of 14 million. In that macro sense, there is excess capacity. There is slack in the system. Why should there be suicides because of failure to obtain admission into institutions of higher education?


Why should better students head off to the US or Britain and inferior ones to Australia and New Zealand (and get beaten up there)? An estimated 1,20,000 students go abroad every year. Why does faculty disappear abroad? Why do Indian institutions of higher education prefer to set up shop abroad? Why do third-rate foreign universities set up shop in India, using a grey area of the law? The answer is obvious. We have a problem with higher education, with quality dished out by several of those colleges and universities, with regulation that actually amounts to licensing and control, leading to rent-seeking. The solution is simple. We need competition, and the colour of competition (foreign versus domestic) shouldn't matter, as it hasn't in other sectors. There is a minor tactical issue that is a bit of a red herring. Why should we open up unilaterally? Shouldn't we open up through service sector negotiations under WTO and obtain some market access in other countries as quid pro quo? Despite a slight element of truth in this argument, higher education is in too much of a mess to postpone reforms because of some expected quid pro quo. However, one shouldn't expect that Cabinet clearance of a Bill amounts to reform.


That's only a first step. This Bill now has to become legislation through Parliament and one doesn't know what will get watered down. A lot is also contingent on who the regulator will be. While applications for entry are no longer open-ended and approvals have to be granted (or refused) within eight months, UGC doesn't inspire confidence and its successor is uncertain. Some parts of the jigsaw are in other Bills floating around—unfair practices, an educational tribunal and accreditation. There is no dearth of recommendations (the National Knowledge Commission's is only one) on what the reform infrastructure should be. Indeed, ideally, one would have liked education and higher education to become profit-making and even tap the capital market. However, that would have been too much for India to take. Consequently, the Bill doesn't allow profit-making in education proper, in the sense that profits have to be ploughed back. Profits are allowed in consultancy (and can be repatriated), and there will be allegations that siphoning off occurs. Siphoning off and circumvention are inevitable if one bans anything. If there aren't profits to be made, why is the domestic Indian private sector falling over backwards to enter higher education? There, too, there is circumvention.


But as one said, this Bill isn't legislation yet. As in other sectors, there will be arguments about level playing fields. There will be arguments that Indian institutions of higher education must be allowed to adjust and reform first. They aren't ready for competition. When Kapil Sibal floated his 100-day agenda, such arguments were voiced in public by Jairam Ramesh, who occasionally projects himself as reform-minded. All that has happened is obstructionist elements haven't thrived within Cabinet. But the broader debate remains. The average Indian college teacher is paid for little work, has zero accountability and earns post-retirement benefits with a secure tenure. Why should he/she welcome competition, even if he/she doesn't travel by Air India or use MTNL/BSNL phones? There will be arguments that poor students will suffer since foreign entrants will charge high fees (there are rejoinders to this argument, but that's not the point). Add to that the prospect of good faculty being poached. Existing operators with shady tie-ups will join the fray since foreign universities will no longer need them. None of this is meant to imply that Cabinet clearance of the Bill is unwelcome. But there is still a long haul.


The author is a noted economist








Now that the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) issue has closed and been priced, it seems the better way out for the government would have been to simply enter into some kind of off-market agreement with Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) to sell the shares. Why make the pretence of having a follow-on issue? All that the government needed to do was place the shares with LIC, which could then have gradually offloaded the shares into the market. Because ultimately, LIC has ended with the biggest chunk of the NMDC stock at the cut-off price of Rs 300 and that's what it will have to do.


If the government had any intention of making the stock more liquid, that purpose has been defeated. Before the follow-on issue, the government owned some 98.4% of the company, now it will own some 96%.


The price of the NMDC stock, which was hovering at around Rs 556 in mid-January, is now down to Rs 345. That's a drop of close to 40% at a time when the market has managed to hold out and actually gained marginally in value and is evidence of how illiquidity can hurt a stock. Of course, the price of a stock does come off before fresh shares are issued but in the case of NMDC the fall has been sharper because it is so illiquid. Typically, LIC doesn't sell below cost and it will need to offload its holding only in small doses because the moment the market gets a whiff that the insurer is going to sell, the bears will get into action. But that's not the way it should have been. Once again, the government chose to price the NMDC issue expensively—where analysts came with a valuation on an Enterprise Value/Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortisation (EV/EBITDA) basis of Rs 285, after attributing a 50% premium to global peers, government chose to price the issue at Rs 300-350.


Therefore, unlike in the REC issue, where foreign institutional investors (FIIs) such as Halbis and New Vernon showed up, albeit at the last minute, and the quota for big investors was subscribed over five times, it was a virtual no show from FIIs for the NMDC issue. And that's despite the fact that this time around it wasn't a French auction like it was with the Rs 8,286 crore NTPC follow-on issue, where qualified institutional buyers (QIB) couldn't withdraw a bid or lower the price at which they had placed the original bid.


While it's true the government needs money to meet the disinvestment target, it cannot ask for valuations that are way beyond the fair value. But, clearly, the government isn't in a mood to give up even a single penny and doesn't want to leave too much on the table for investors. Until LIC runs out of money, it will continue to get as much as it wants but what after that? LIC had also written out a fairly big cheque for NTPC. The government has a disinvestment target of Rs 40,000 crore for 2010-11. If the markets remain in good shape the government will manage to mop up the money. So far, luck has been on the government's side with FIIs having brought in close to $2 billion since the Budget was announced, but if the markets turn choppy for whatever reason, it might not be that easy.


Even the NTPC issue, which was more or less reasonably priced, didn't tempt the small investors. A 5% discount to the ruling price simply wasn't good enough in this kind of volatile environment. Indeed, the retail investor has hardly participated in the rally from 8,700 in October 2008, post the break-out of the financial crisis, to 17,000 in September 2009, which is a move of 95% in a span of less than a year, because the volatility was simply too scary.


As for NMDC, the valuation was way above what analysts believed was right. But the government doesn't really seem to be looking for broad-based shareholding; it simply wants money and doesn't seem to be too concerned about who's buying the shares. As has been pointed out, privatisation in the UK under Margaret Thatcher helped to increase the equity base significantly. Since government companies are relatively safe bets in terms of corporate governance (and they also reward shareholders with reasonably good dividends), retail investors would be keen to buy PSU stocks. But only if they're priced attractively enough. Of course, the tendency among retail investors, and some institutions, too, has been to flip the stock post listing over time, but that's also because investors aren't confident that the stock will appreciate because promoters price their shares so aggressively, leaving little on the table. The government seems to be doing pretty much the same.







Facebook, the world's largest social networking site, has chosen to set up its first Asian centre in Hyderabad—India's city of pearls and home to numerous multinational IT companies. The social networking giant, who celebrated its sixth anniversary last month, intends to set up an operations and support centre in India to better serve its 400 million-plus customers, of which India alone accounts for 8 million. The announcement came less than a week after the company announced it would open a new centre in Austin, US. The Hyderabad centre would house online advertising and developer support teams and provide round-the-clock, multi-lingual support to the site's users and advertisers globally. With this, it joins other giants like Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Dell and IBM that have already set up shop.


Social networking services have grown at lightening speed leading to a dramatic improvement in people's ability to communicate with one another. According to a report by Gartner, social networking services will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20% of business users by 2014. It also predicts that by 2012, over 50% of enterprises will have activity streams that include microblogging.


Facebook, currently valued at $11.5 billion, has grown at a rapid pace in a comparatively short duration. Its users post about 55 million updates everyday and share more than 3.5 billion pieces of content every week on the site. The site has also managed to move way beyond its 'just American' tag—currently, 70% of Facebook users are outside the US and are accessing the service in more than 70 languages. According to Hitwise, Facebook also became for the very first time the most visited Web site in the US for the entire last week, surpassing the Internet giant Google.


The network giant has played on its diversity card this time, stating that a phenomenal increase in its Indian users' network is the reason behind setting up of its Hyderabad centre. However, it seems that the main motive behind this is to tap the skilled Indian workforce that provides quality services at relatively cheaper wages. Whatever may be the motive behind such a move, this is an apt opportunity for Facebook to begin a new chapter in the era of global interconnectedness.








A recent decision by the equity markets regulator, SEBI, has wide ranging implications for the capital market and its investors. From May 1, all those who want to apply for shares in a public issue must produce 100 per cent of the money as margin. Hitherto, qualified institutional bidders (QIB) were required to bring in just a tenth of the bid amount, while retail investors, in contrast, were required to provide for the full extent of application money. This practice was justified on the basis of some tenuous logic: retail applicants can furnish the full amount because the average size of an application is not very large, and there are banks and other agencies to provide finance, if need be. On the other hand, institutional investors are reckoned to be better credit risk. They would not ordinarily have any difficulty in bringing in the allotment money to the full extent required. This practice of allowing large investors to make "leveraged" bids is in keeping with a policy stance that moved away from the fairly even-handed treatment of all investors in the primary market that characterised capital market regulation during the early years of SEBI. The justification in allowing the QIBs to bid for large chunks of shares, while putting up only a fraction of the required amounts, is that they can participate in multiple offerings as well as submit bids for several times their requirements with a limited outlay.


What has been left unsaid of course is that the large institutional bids create an artificial premium for the particular offering. That along with the deliberately well-publicised reports of a massive oversubscription on day one would induce small investors, including fence sitters, to apply. The only way to strike at this pernicious market practice is to place all investors on the same footing as far as initial applications to a share issue are concerned. The argument that large investors suffer an opportunity cost in terms of lost interest and should therefore be allowed to bid with a small margin does not wash. Retail investors too suffer a similar fate. Besides, SEBI has asked for faster allotment procedures to be in place soon. The regulator can consider extending the ASBA (application supported by blocked amount) procedure, now being popularised for retail investors, to the institutional segment as well. Under this, applicants to a share issue authorise their banks to block funds equivalent to the application money. Since it is only at allotment time the funds are released, there is no interest loss. Though belated, the latest regulatory action to check information asymmetry and the spread of misleading, potentially price-distorting information is welcome.







Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently appeared before the Iraq Inquiry (the Chilcot inquiry) in London. Unlike Tony Blair, he did not enter by the back door to evade protesters; unlike his predecessor, he expressed regret for the deaths of Iraqi civilians. As The Observer's chief political correspondent, Andrew Rawnsley, notes, Mr. Brown had no objection in principle to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. To Chilcot, he defended the action, saying it amounted to the right decision for the right reasons, which he contended were Iraq's "serial" violations of 14 U.N. resolutions. He added that he had gone by the intelligence given to him at the time. He theorised that democracy could not be created overnight "at the barrel of a gun," thereby distancing himself from neoconservative ideologues who claimed they were bringing democracy to Iraq. New Labour's unpopular helmsman, who faces a general election within weeks, evidently wanted to limit the damage to his reputation. But his responses to Chilcot raise questions about the domestic element in the invasion decision. That included fears that the Tories could hurt the government by claiming it was soft on terrorism; these fears were baseless considering that British voters had given Labour a majority of 167 seats in the 2001 general election.


It is bad enough that party-political concerns were among the reasons for the invasion, and even worse that Mr. Brown evaded more important issues. First, none of the U.N. resolutions at the time legitimated the invasion. Secondly, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Thirdly, it had no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Furthermore, the British security services had voiced reservations on the so-called intelligence on Iraq's alleged store of WMDs, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had expressed doubts about the legality of an invasion. In addition, Mr. Brown confirmed that he was unaware of Mr. Blair's letters to George W. Bush explicitly committing the U.K. to war; that he had not seen relevant FCO papers prepared in 2002; and that he did not know of Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith's initial legal doubts about an invasion. This ignorance might help Mr. Brown to avoid taking responsibility for his part in the invasion, but that is not his greatest failure. The U.S. has confirmed that it could not have invaded Iraq without British support. The British government could certainly not have participated without the support of the powerful Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Brown's opposition would have put an end to the proposed monstrous crime. His failure to oppose it will define his political career.









The memory most of us associate with the media of the last decade is that of unfettered growth, when the lists of India's most-read dailies and most-watched television programmes comprised only vernacular-based products. MPs began waving copies of Hindi dailies in Parliament, demanding action on issues raised in them. The mighty Microsoft was working furiously to attain compatibility with India's vernaculars, and Google was urging major Hindi dailies to allow it to put their content online. It all seemed to point to the dawn of a more democratic and more reader-centric era in the Indian media.


But almost 10 years into it, enlightenment remains elusive. Many of the increasingly market-driven dailies are diluting editorial authority and their marketing teams are seeking to carve out newer and cleverer ways of inserting paid-for advertising disguised as news. What has happened? How did patterns of political and corporate corruption that India's free press exposed and attacked for over half-a-century, suddenly become a shared future?


By now it is clear that the media and the socio-economic setting in which they operate are two different things. A certain adversarial relationship between the media, on the one hand, and political parties and corporates, on the other, was once seen by media practitioners as a basic rule of their turf and one was expected to verify everything handed in by any source other than one's own. But as the media business proliferated, this rigour has lost its intensity. It would be too deterministic to say that Indians are programmed to initiate systemic corruption, but there is ample historical evidence to show that instances of secret deals between politicians and media owners to scratch each other's back have not been rare.


The violent revival of age-old caste, communal and, most recently, gender-based divides would surely qualify

as the sociological equivalents of a tectonic upheaval in a supposedly modern socialist republic. Today, most of the major media houses are happily inviting outside capital. Some owners have become editors. Many editors have opted for partnerships. With this, relations between media practitioners and their erstwhile adversaries have begun to assume the character of a Great Game, enjoyable but non-life threatening. Even the language of reporting reflects this: editorials on coalition politics talk of falling dominoes, theorists frequently build Test cricket models of party politics, observers of caste-based coalitions talk almost admiringly of the intricate games of chess being played in State capitals. Implicit in all this, however, is an assumption that the playing field will always remain level, and that no matter how intense the mutual suspicion between the press and the ruling parties, neither side would ever think of hurling the chess pieces out of the window and walking off after ripping up the board.


It has taken the seismic jolts and the ugly eruption of the paid news phenomenon to make the media world realise how deep the rot has spread and how it can no longer take for granted the stability of time-tested journalistic systems. Like the earthquakes that hit Indonesia or, more recently, Haiti, the paid-news syndrome has a long subterranean past. It originated along an old and deep fault line that has run under the entire media system between the twin tectonic plates of economic globalisation and political fragmentation. The pressures generated by frequent friction between the two had been building up for decades: ultimately they threaten just about every branch of the media. The vernacular media being the least secured among them, their infrastructure is simply the first to crack up.


Restraining corruption, as unleashing it, requires both capabilities and resolve. This was hard during the days of

one-party rule with a protected mixed economy. In the age of liberalisation, with so many groups competing for a fast-opening Indian market, regional media houses that have, or are about to, go public, will face their own Catch 22 situations. Should they stay small and risk being pushed out by the multi-edition T. Rex versions from the Hindi belt? Or should they also mutate and multiply and join the gang? If they survive as regional players, someday they may be in a position to counter the decline in journalistic morals that has been ushered in by the mega-media houses. But like the old Soviet Union, even then they will accomplish this only by ceasing to be what they are.


For the time being we will be better served by some sort of tectonic thinking. Since the simultaneous pursuit of both democracy and larger market shares results in straddling a fault line, it would be foolish not to prepare for frequent seismic jolts of varying intensity. For this we will need to go back to the legal system and demand a redefinition of the ownership of news in the print line. In all media outfits today, advertisement rate cards are being created, agencies are being solicited, and various kinds of group advertising are being handled entirely by the marketing managers. Under such circumstances, how can the editor alone be held responsible for the questionable advertisements appearing in the newspaper? Advertisements, as we all know by now, are now sent into the production system through an SAP (software) dummy without so much as a by-your-leave to the Editorial Department. At the time of assembling the day's newspaper, all that Editorial knows on any given day is how much space is marked out for advertisements on each page. To complicate matters further, multi-edition vernacular dailies have a different local versus national advertisement ratio for each up-country edition, which the area unit manager organises through the seasons. His or her promotions and annual bonus depend on the volumes that are delivered, never mind if he or she sometimes bullies the stringers and local correspondents into soliciting advertisements through their local 'connections.' Given this situation, it is time the media reinforced the bleachers by demanding that the name of the Advertisement Manager and/or the area unit manager be included with that of the resident editor and the publisher in the print line for each of the regional editions.


No one denies the need for better advertisement revenues today. However, it should be conceded that this need is sharpened to a large extent by the artificially lowered cover prices of many newspapers and the hefty commissions paid to vendors who deliver them. Here the big publishing houses with deep pockets tilt the field easily in their favour and drive out the small local players. Since the consumers of the dailies in the vernacular are typically paying more money than the readers of English language papers, and still get fewer pages, media establishments must create and enforce inviolable advertisement-editorial ratios, ideally around the principle of 70 per cent editorial matter to 30 per cent advertisements. The keyline at the top of each advertisement, the fonts used for the text and the general layout must show clearly that it is a sponsored advertisement, not part of editorial matter.


Another under-reported fact is that the upcountry editions of most Hindi dailies are run largely by clusters of "stringers" and "super-stringers." They are not accredited journalists and most of them receive a pittance as allowance or, in some cases, just an identity card establishing their bona fides as the representative of a particular daily. However, most of them are compensated by a hefty commission to solicit local advertising on behalf of the area manager. Since the regional pages are transmitted electronically at the last minute to the print location closest to the area concerned, so all local news could be mopped up, they arrive at the editorial desk with just minutes to go for the edition to be sent to press. This opens the floodgates to paid news in some of the least editorially policed editions, local or national, especially at election-time. The role and recruitment patterns of stringers, therefore, merits close scrutiny; clear guidelines need to be issued to media houses.


In order to ensure the health of the media, there is an urgent need to balance the priorities. The prerequisite for this is developing a perception of the whole, and a greater feel for the actual dynamics of the media industry: the essential relationship between the editorial and marketing teams, between the editor and the professional chief executive officer, between the lowly rural stringer and the modem operator, between the field reporters and the editorial desk.

Recent deliberations about censorship and a code of ethics for journalists reveal that political behaviour towards the media has been changing. There is a gradual but irreversible trend towards self-governance and away from authority by imposition. Given this fact, it is not altogether impossible that the tectonic force of democracy may begin to counter that of the globalised markets in the future.


Mrinal Pande is a senior Hindi journalist and writer.)








Nirupama Rao, Indian Foreign Secretary, on Tuesday described the United States Bureau of Industry and Security's (BIS) Entities list "anachronistic" saying, "It is anomalous that a body like the Indian Space Research Organisation, which is developing several collaborations with National and Aeronautical and Space Administration, should continue to be on the list."


Co-chairing the 7th meeting of the India-U.S. High Technology Cooperation Group (HTCG) along with Daniel Hill, Acting Under Secretary for Industry and Security, Ms Rao exhorted attending delegates from the U.S. Department of Commerce to reconsider control restrictions for U.S. exports to India. She also addressed the Entities List issue at another speaking engagement at the Woodrow Wilson Centre later in the day.


The BIS's Export Administration Regulations contain a list of names of foreign businesses, research institutions, government and private organisations and individuals that are subject to specific license requirements for the export, re-export and transfer of specified items.


At present the list includes ISRO, Bharat Dynamics Limited and Department of Atomic Energy entities such as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Indira Gandhi Atomic Research Centre, Indian Rare Earths and most nuclear reactors (including power plants) not under IAEA safeguards.


Arguing that the earlier trend of restrictions being reduced had been halted, Ms. Rao said that among the early results of the HTCG were the removal of a number of Indian organisations from the Entity List by 2005, de-licensing of certain categories of dual-use items and institution of a presumption of approval policy in other categories. "This process of easing of controls seems to have slowed down; we need to address this issue," she emphasised.


Indian record "exemplary"


There would appear to be significant support for this view from the private sector, notably Indian industrial lobbies with a presence in the U.S.. For example Ms Ranjana Khanna of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) said, "We appreciate that further liberalisation of export controls needs to be accompanied by the responsible use of high technology items and preventing its diversion to unintended uses… India's record has been exemplary in this area."


Yet Ms Rao did admit she was reassured by the U.S. government's announcement of its intention to overhaul their Export Control policy and hoped to see the enhancement of trade in such goods and technologies between our two countries and removal of remaining Indian organisations from the Entity List. "We hope that your response and the outcome of your review would be such that it would reflect — and reaffirm the strategic nature of our partnership," she said.


She may have some cause for relief — overall, total exports of advanced technology products exported from the

U.S. to India have increased from $1.3 billion in 2003 to over $4 billion in 2009, despite the backdrop of the global economic slowdown.

Progress would also appear imminent with the civil nuclear agreement between India and the U.S.. Regarding the deal Ms Rao said, "Once the 123 Agreement is implemented, a structured bilateral interaction with the Industry on both sides could take forward the process." Even in the interim period there has been a steady and direct interaction between U.S. nuclear industry and NPCIL, with two MoUs already signed with GE Hitachi and Westinghouse, she said.


View from the U.S.


Responding to some of the concerns regarding export controls voiced by the Indian side Deputy Secretary of State Dennis Hightower said (via a representative) that while it was critical that the U.S. increased trade, it would simultaneously maintain its strong commitment to national security.


While he pointed out that in 2009 the U.S. exported $16 billion of goods and services to India and only three percent of these exports required a license from the Department of Commerce, he however acknowledged that "As trade in high technology grows our export control system will have to change to keep pace."


Deputy Assistant to the President Michael Froman also commented on the Indian questions about excessive controls highlighting the fact that ten years ago 24 per cent of U.S. exports to India required individual licenses from the Department of Commerce while today only 0.3 percent of U.S. exports to India require individual licenses.


Further, he added, the licensing process and time for India now is down to 28 days, a decrease from 31 days in 2008 and less than the worldwide average of 35 days. Mr. Froman also said in 2009 BIS reviewed 985 export and re-export licenses for India, valued at approximately $334m, for which the denial rate was about 2.1 per cent.


Arguing that "Many of the U.S. high-technology items are eligible for export to India under licenses that are not available to many other countries, including China," he said that they had to however be mindful of the diverse threats from state actors, transnational groups and even individual actors.


Suggesting that the U.S. was seeking a balance between expanding trade and not compromising on national security Mr. Froman said, "To address these challenges the U.S. is conducting a fundamental review of its export controls system." The U.S. needed a dynamic export control system that "focuses on a core set of technologies that are critical to our national security while further unleashing the innovative power of U.S. industry to compete for sales in less sensitive items around the globe," he said.


Creating jobs through trade


Ms. Rao bolstered the case for U.S. trade with India by stressing, in her presentation, the possibility of creating more jobs in the U.S. by deepening high-tech trade between the two countries. She cited several examples of job-creating trade agreements including the signing of the End Use Monitoring Arrangement and Technology Safeguards Agreement for Space application last year. Additionally regarding Air India's order for 68 Boeing aircraft, she said, "I am given to understand that each US aircraft means 10,000 jobs across 50 states of the country."


Ms. Rao also mentioned that there was potential for growth in the defence industry, as India diversified its sources for defence systems for its military as well as counter terrorism requirements – even through the route of permitting private sector participation in defence production.


She further sought to dispel concerns "lingering" over India's intellectual property protection regime, saying "The Indian IP regime is completely TRIPS-compliant… A major programme of modernisation of the infrastructure of Intellectual Property Offices of India costing about 40 million dollars was implemented during the 10th Five Year Plan."







Redemption at last for India's male politicians after they finally gave up their opposition to the proposed parliamentary quota for women but their British peers, it is alleged, remain stuck in what a feminist academic termed the "1950s mindset" in their approach to women.


According to critics, widespread sexism in Westminster — reflected in the use of terms such as "Blair babes" to refer to the influx of Labour women MPs under Tony Blair in 1997, and "Cameron's cuties" to describe Tory women MPs — is one of the reasons why women are so reluctant to enter parliament. Indeed, last summer, a long-serving woman minister resigned after accusing Prime Minister Gordon Brown of treating his female colleagues as "window-dressing."


Currently, a debate is raging over the way male politicians use their wives as "props" to promote their own careers after the Tory leader David Cameron wheeled out his glamorous wife, Samantha, to pep up his wobbling campaign to be Britain's next prime minister.


Speaking with what The Times compared to the "gusto of a cabaret-show MC whetting the audience's appetite for a burlesque dancer," Mr. Cameron described her as his "secret weapon" in the battle royal ahead and warned: "Britain, get ready!"


Mrs. Cameron's job in the coming weeks will be to sell the "softer" side of her husband to a sceptical electorate , especially women voters, who remain unimpressed despite his image-makers' efforts to project him as a "Mr. Nice Guy." They even got him to invite TV cameras into the family kitchen to show him making breakfast for the kids and washing coffee mugs.


So, how's Mrs. Cameron going to change public perceptions? She gave us a flavour of it when in a heavily-trailed interview on Sunday —her first as a politician's wife — she talked up her husband's "human" failings portraying him as a "normal" person who despite his "posh" background was no different from your average Joe next door.


So, we learned, that — like most men — Mr. Cameron was lousy at doing the dishes and a nightmare in the kitchen.


"He loves cooking but he makes a terrible mess," she said adding, for emphasis, that like "any husband" he was "definitely not perfect and ...has lots of very irritating habits."


Here is some more proof of his "normality'' in her own words: "He is not very good at picking up his own clothes. He's a terrible channel flicker. I have to be quite firm about him not fiddling with his phone and his Blackberry too much ...[and] like most men he likes watching Westerns and all of the three Godfather films, sort of again and again and again."


And , boy, doesn't she love him for being so ordinarily "human!"A "fantastic dad," and an "incredibly strong, kind and supportive" husband.


There is fury in women's circles that someone like her — an independently rich and high-powered

businesswoman — should allow herself to be "manipulated" thus. Her friends are said to be surprised at her transformation from a one-time bohemian who apparently voted Green when she was young into her hubby's political appendage.


But there is also some sympathy for political spouses — and as one writer said: "You can't blame the wives; they're clearly under spin doctors' orders."


David Cameron and his wife Samantha. - PHOTO: AFP


A defensive Mr. Cameron, however, insisted that it was his wife's own idea to help him with his campaign. He said she told him: "Tell me what I can do to help. I want to get out there."


If, so, she must have been "inspired" by the Prime Minister's wife, Sarah, who did much to shore up her husband's flagging leadership with an emotional appeal to the Labour Party conference two years ago famously introducing him as "my husband, my hero" who might be a bit "messy" but was a genuine article.


"What you see is what you get with him'', she assured the party. The trick worked so well that she repeated it the following year, though to less effect.


As with Mrs. Cameron now, Mrs. Brown's intervention, too, was spun to the public as a voluntary gesture by a loyal spouse keen to stand by her besieged man.


"It is all so 1950s stuff when politicians flaunted their doting wives at election time," said the head of a woman's online group as women columnists lined up to attack Mr. Brown and Mr. Cameron for "parading" their wives before TV cameras instead of talking about policies.


"Talk to us about politics, not your lovely home," read a headline in The Observer while on the Right The Sunday Telegraph appealed to the two leaders to "leave out the better halves."


Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has said that he has no plans to follow the Brown-Cameron strategy. But, of course, who is he to say "no" if Mrs. Clegg herself decides to take the plunge? After all that's what Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Cameron allegedly did.








Disguised as Indians, they poured out of the Old South Meeting House and headed down Hutchinson Street for Griffin's Wharf. At a packed meeting to condemn the Tea Act, Samuel Adams declared "they had now done all that they could for the salvation of their country." And this was the excuse the patriots needed as they smashed their way through the East India Company chests, dumping some 40 kg of tea worth nearly £10,000 into Boston harbour.


Today, the Tea Party patriots come dressed in George Washington outfits and Joker masks, with posters accusing President Obama of socialism, communism, even Nazism. This remarkable political insurgency, which mushrooms by the month and has both Democrats and Republicans terrified for their congressional seats, regards itself as the true heir to the republic's ideals. Thomas Jefferson's adage, that "the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of tyrants," is a favoured banner.


And, to be fair to the Tea Party ideologues, they are being faithful to the principles of 1773: both as tax-dodgers and demagogues. For behind all the lofty talk of no taxation without representation, the Boston tea party hid some grubby material truths.


Few in the early 1770s regarded a split from Britain as either possible or preferable. In fact, the American colonies — and New England in particular — had done well out of the British Empire on the back of shipbuilding, whaling and war. Chief among the new merchant class was John Hancock, whose family firm had been built on provisioning the British army and Royal Navy. The capture of Canada — the campaigns against the French and the Spanish — ensured huge military profits for Boston businesses.


But it was when — in the aftermath of the seven years war — the government asked America to start paying its way, that trouble began. By the 1760s the British Treasury was massively in debt, with the costs of empire falling disproportionately on English taxpayers. Not unreasonably George Greville, the prime minister, wanted the prosperous colonies to accept more of the financial burden. New taxes on foreign imports were introduced together with a professionalised customs administration. Unfortunately these levies hit Boston hard as it faced a postwar slump. What was more, the big merchants relied extensively on tax—dodging and smuggling for their riches. Cargo ships laden with molasses from the West Indies, wines from Madeira, coffee from the East Indies, textiles and indigo — all slipped into Boston harbour in the dead of night with no duties paid. Even as the New England colonists urged London to hammer Louis XIV and protect them from French encirclement, they refused to face up to their fiscal responsibilities. Time and again, Britain indulged their wants. The Townshend Duties on foreign imports were reversed, the Stamp Act taxing newspaper and pamphlets was dropped, but it would not give in on the 1773 Tea Act. The legislation was designed to shore up the finances of the East India Company, carve out the Boston harbour crooks, and deliver cheap tea to the colonies. All of which posed an unacceptable threat to the Boston Brahmins. Far from being a spontaneous outpouring of liberty, the "tea party" was brewed up by wealthy merchants worried their secret deals on tea imports were about to be exposed.


And so today, once more, wealthy corporate interests are winding up an angry populace — amid an economic slump — with spurious talk of freedom. Having enjoyed the benefits of their own empire for the last 50 years and pocketed tax cuts during the Iraq war, the 21st-century Tea Party movement is now grumbling about paying for power.


The differences

Of course, there are some differences. Today the Tea Party is a suburban, rather than urban, phenomenon; its Fox News philosophers lack something of the depth of Hancock, Adams and Benjamin Franklin. But the parallels are noteworthy: in its use of marches and street theatre it echoes the tarring-and-feathering mob politics that once governed Boston harbour. So, too, its impressive use of new media. The pamphlets and cartoons of 18th-century New England are now replaced by blogs, cable television and internet radio. Also its religiosity: out of the Boston tea party emerged a "solemn league and covenant", drawing on America's Protestant pre-history and committing its members to collective action against the British. In vogue among modern Tea Party members is the line from the Declaration of Independence: "We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honour."


What turned the Boston tea party into the American Revolution was the British response — with the Coercive Acts radicalising opinion across the 13 colonies. Wisely, President Obama has not antagonised his Tea Party opponents; he has chosen instead to give them enough rope to hang themselves.


But with disillusion growing and the November mid-terms looming, his prospects don't look promising. What Obama needs to know is that if he is being set up for the role of Thomas Hutchinson — the last British governor of Massachusetts — in this historical morality play, what remains of the British empire is ready to offer him asylum. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









The UPA government has been tying itself up in knots on the nuclear issue, especially with regard to the India-US civil nuclear deal. Prime minister Manmohan Singh and his colleagues in government and in the Congress Party have been putting up a brave front that Indian moves on the nuclear power front are not US-specific and that India is open to do nuclear deals with others as well.


But every move seems to be a direct, or an indirect, nod to Washington. It was not surprising then that the Nuclear Liability Bill, which was to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday, had to be deferred as the BJP, the principal opposition party, and the CPI-M refused to oblige.


The tactical retreat exposes the vulnerability of the UPA. Its comfortable position in the aftermath of last summer's Lok Sabha election seems to have melted away because of the fractious fallout of the Women's Reservation Bill that was passed in the Rajya Sabha last week. Its allies, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal have turned hostile. But there is more at stake than the treacherous numbers game in parliament.


There is no doubt that if India plans to expand its nuclear power generation in a big way there is need for legislation on liability. What is both surprising and intriguing is that the liability is with the operator. The company that supplies the components of the reactor is left out. Government has not made clear whether private operators — Indian or foreign — will be allowed into the sector.


The opposition criticism that the government is soft on private multinational companies, especially American ones, by capping the liability at Rs 500 crore will hold good only in the case of private operators. For this to happen, the Atomic Energy Act will have to be amended. Today, it is the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) that is the sole operator and it is NPCIL that will have to pay out compensation in case of an accident. Government will pay the additional amount up to Rs2,100 crore.


Critics ought to be cornering the government not on the measly liability figure of Rs500 crore payable by an operator but on the issue of keeping out suppliers altogether. It is common sense that in civil aviation as well as in defence deals suppliers are answerable for the quality of wares they sell and there are liability clauses. Why then should suppliers of nuclear reactors be given an exemption?







BJP president Nitin Gadkari cannot be faulted for not trying to be inclusive. The national team he has announced on Tuesday has 11 vice-presidents, 12 general secretaries and 15 national secretaries, which includes old and new Hindutva firebrands like Vinay Katiyar (vice president) and Varun Gandhi (national secretary), and political heavyweights like Vasundhara Raje (general secretary).


Hema Malini (vice-president), Smriti Irani (national secretary) and Navjot Singh Sidhu (national secretary) provide the celebrity quotient. If nothing else, Gadkari's choice has turned heads and set people talking. He has created, in advertising parlance, the buzz. It may not, however, be sufficient to propel the party into a future mode which is what BJP needs to do to get to the next level.


There seems to be paucity of political talent and not enough people who have worked at the state and grassroots levels have been pulled into the national team. This is a problem not just with the BJP but with other major political parties as well. For long, the BJP has prided itself on the fact that it is a party where
talent was the ticket to success. Celebrity status and family connections seem to be gaining ground here as well.


Hema Malini has carried herself with dignity but she did not display any political spark in the past. Along with

Smriti Irani, she brings in the glamour factor, something that need not be scoffed at. But there is little of experience and judgment that she can bring to the party's national parleys. Cricketer Sidhu is indeed a popular figure, at least in the circle of couch potatoes. But his political skills remain untested. It is true that in the present day it is not enough to have faceless, dedicated party workers. You need the crowd-pullers as well, people who are seen and heard. Celebrities have their own value.


The inclusion of Varun Gandhi is sure to raise eyebrows, and it betrays BJP's agonising dilemma. The Gandhi label seems to have been the overwhelming factor in favour of Varun apart from the fact that he won his spurs through controversial anti-Muslim rhetoric during the 2009 Lok Sabha election campaign. The choice of Varun shows that the party is not unwilling to play its own Nehru-Gandhi card, with all its delightful ironies.


These are mere details and asides. The real problems and challenges remain to be tackled.







The passage of the Women's Bill in the Rajya Sabha did more than put an end to a log jam of almost a decade and a half. It brought to the fore a stark but critical fact. The strongest opposition lay in the Ganga basin states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.


There was a similar contrast two decades ago. Then there was a strong upper caste backlash in north India against identifying caste as unit for positive discrimination. Now the roles were reversed and some of the key actors of that denouement switched roles. Those who found a creamy layer essential to accept caste based job reservations saw gender as above all other divides. Conversely, key Mandal and Dalit leaders opposed privileging gender without attention to caste as sub set.


This pattern requires serious analysis. The picture of Brinda Karat of the CPM and Sushma Swaraj of the BJP hugging each other had to do with more than women's solidarity. It is true both had fought long and hard for the passage of the Bill, often against a phalanx of powerful male political leaders.


But it is significant that neither party is fully at ease with the politics of caste based mobilisation. The CPM may have a substantial backward class presence in south western India but was a latecomer to the politics of caste assertion in the north. The BJP found itself checkmated most so in UP by the rise to power of the backwards and then of the Dalit groups. Both parties in their upper echelons and more so the Marxists have a distinct upper caste flavour.


Congress as always is a study in ambiguity. But to the extent it hopes to undercut the rise of the Mandal and Dalit parties in north India, it may be a bit late in the day. It is striking how Nitish Kumar has been moving towards backing such a bill since the summer of 2009. His political base was expanded by increasing women's reservation in panchayats to 50%. Mayawati too has laid great emphasis on women's empowerment and welfare in her fourth stint as chief minister.


The north-south contrast may well reflect the long term achievements of social and cultural reforms in west and south India.


It included a strong emphasis among other things on the education and empowerment of women. India's first woman medical doctor and legislator was Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy in the Madras Presidency. It is notable that she was a from an agricultural community, not the priestly or service castes. Similarly, in the 1920s, EV Ramaswamy Naicker wrote of birth control as the right of every woman. Sans this, he felt she would be a baby production machine unable to realise her full human potential.


Even earlier in 1848, the radical social reformer Jyotiba Phule set up a home for Brahmin widows. The idea of caste-based social change encompassed the emancipation of women in general and the upper caste women in particular.


While there is no doubt that societies in peninsular India are gender biased, there is also a major contrast with north especially the north-west India. The further south one goes, the higher is the age of marriage for women and the smaller the size of the family.


This will also explain how the first parties to champion women's reservation were in the south. NT Rama Rao brought in 9% reservation in the panchayats in Andhra Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa has built a strong social base among women voters over most of the last three decades.


The contrast with north India is stark. This is especially so in the former permanent settlement regions of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In the north, the assertion of the Mandal classes took place much later coming to fructification only by 1989-90. Land reforms had broken the power of the old landed elites and enabled the rise of a new peasant class, which had the numbers and the rural reach to emerge as a political force. But in general the OBCs of north India were enfranchised late in the day: only in 1952 and after.


Few if any had the literacy and property to qualify as voters under the Raj, a very different picture from their south Indian counterparts. In the process it was the male head of the household who got the title to the land and the male offspring who had unequal access to schooling. This is changing and faster than many realise. It probably underlines Sonia Gandhi's quip to Lalu Yadav that he ought to ask the seven women in his household what they thought of the Women's Bill.


It is still unclear how the ruling coalition will bring round opponents in the Lok Sabha. While it may have the numbers for the Bill, straining relations with the 47 strong bloc of OBC and Dalit party opponents may make Congress a lot weaker. Unless it initiates a serious dialogue to assuage their sense of exclusion, the success of women's reservation may deepen other cracks in the polity.







There is, of course, much to commend about the Indian cabinet decision on Monday to permit foreign universities to set up campuses in India. It shows up, at one level, a Human Resource Development minister capable of thinking big on a project that can truly unlock human resource potential in India.


And even if Kapil Sibal's reformist ideas aren't always immaculately conceptualised, he at least has a forward-looking, progressive vision, unlike some of his predecessors who were either obsessed with rewriting history books from a Hindutva perspective or keen to drag down premium academic brands and debase them in the name of social equity.


That said, however, the breathless media narrative about the imminent establishment of Ivy League campuses in India paints a wholly unrealistic picture of what we can expect from this initiative. The names of Yale, Harvard and Oxbridge have been bandied about cheerily as if they were branded goods we can pick up off the overladen shelves of higher-education supermalls. Reality, however, could be a lot more sobering: it's unlikely we'll see these Mega Brands of tertiary education set up shop in India anytime soon. Or ever.


It's true, of course, that foreign universities, including Ivy League schools, want to expand their global footprint; and India's rise and its growing middle class investing in higher education offer a compelling narrative. Many Ivy League administrators have even made exploratory trips to India. Yet, the dilemmas that these institutions face whenever they've contemplated establishing 'branch campuses' overseas, with institutional and programme mobility, is of quality assurance on academic standards — and the financial sustainability of providing an education equivalent to what they offer back home.


On those counts, it will take them years to be convinced of the policy regime they will operate under in India. The brand equity of Ivy League universities is built over generations, if not over centuries; the easiest way to squander it would be to blunder in.


Oxford officials have said outright, after the Indian cabinet decision on Monday, that they will not be setting up full degree programmes in India in the foreseeable future. And Yale president Richard Levin, for all his flattering words about India as a "leading power", is on record that the institution won't offer degrees overseas unless it could staff courses with a faculty and an educational ecosystem of the same quality and distinction as at home. So, let's go easy on those Ivy League dreams, please!


All this is not to say that Sibal's initiative will be fruitless. At the first level, we might see lesser order

institutions keen to elevate their international profile — and make some money; we could see other kinds of collaborative efforts, including more twinning programmes, where an Indian curriculum is approved by a foreign university, with facility for transfer of academic credits.


Even more interesting are the opportunities that could open up in the continuing and 'life-long' education space, and the variety of courses that could be on offer. For instance, in China, which is the second biggest host of 'branch campuses' (after the UAE), the New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers a certificate programme in real-estate finance (which probably underlies the current property boom in China!) and an executive programme for publishing industry professionals. Who's to say we won't see offbeat courses in India on, for instance, comedy writing for TV or philanthropy or grief counselling.


What Sibal's proposal will not do, though, is limit the number of faux students travelling to Australia for

vocational courses — and ending up getting bashed there. Many of them go Down Under for a shot at permanent residency, and that's not something a foreign university setting up a campus in India can offer.










With the BJP and the Left parties coming together to hem it in, the UPA government is in a bind. After burning its fingers on the Women's Reservation Bill, it has grown wiser, and as a protective mechanism, swallowed the humiliation of deferring the introduction of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill in the Lok Sabha on Monday. It very well knew that it was skating on thin ice and decided to put off the contentious Bill for another day. It was an unprecedented step but the government just did not have the numbers. In a way, the fault lay with its floor managers too. While the Opposition came out in strength, many of the Congress MPs were conspicuous by their absence.


With the battle lines drawn along political lines, it would be very difficult for the government to get the requisite numbers, but the fact remains that India's nuclear power programme cannot proceed along desired lines in the absence of a legal mechanism under which victims of a nuclear accident can claim financial compensation from an operator, who also knows how much his maximum financial liability is. The Bill fixes it at Rs 500 crore. If the damage is more, the additional money has to be provided for by the government up to about Rs 2,200 crore. The liability amounts in some other countries (converted in Indian rupees approximately) are China Rs 202 crore, Canada Rs 331 crore and France Rs 575 crore.


The Opposition alleges that the government is rushing the Bill to please American companies. However, even France and Russia have been insisting on such liability legislation. Of the 30 countries currently operating civil nuclear power, as many as 28 have such an act already in force. Only India and Pakistan are neither members of any international convention nor have any national legislation. Nuclear power is crucial for India. Instead of viewing the scenario with political blinkers on, parties should come to a judgement with national interest in mind. 








A Prithvi missile strayed off course after it went aloft and as a result, another missile that was supposed to intercept it was not launched. This setback to the ballistic missile defence (BMD) shield programme is a small one, since what failed to perform was the target missile, not the interceptor. India's BMD system was tested for the first time in November 2006, when a Prithvi II ballistic missile was successfully intercepted at an altitude of 50 km. Only the USA, Russia and Israel had demonstrated this capability till that time. China announced its success in January this year.


Ever since Nazi Germany targeted London with the V-1 and V-2 rockets near the end of World War II, nation-states have sought to defend themselves against such attacks by creating anti-ballistic missiles (ABM) and interception systems to find and destroy enemy targets. The result is systems like the USA's Patriot Advanced Capability-3, Russia's ABM-3 and Israel's Arrow-2 BMD. Of course, they have never been tested in battle conditions. Although late entrants into the ABM sector, Indian scientists and engineers have taken impressive strides in both designing missiles and in developing the Long Range Tracking Radar, the latter with help from Israel.


BMD systems are both costly and technologically very complex. However, security requirements make investment in such safeguards essential. The DRDO has already rescheduled another test. Many missiles, both within the 50 km atmospheric range and outside it, will need to be tested and interception rates of nearly 100 per cent will have to be achieved before the system becomes truly operational. A good BMD system is vital for our national security and setbacks should be taken in our stride, as long as they are analysed properly and become lessons for the future.








The Himachal Pradesh budget for 2010-11 has hiked the VAT by 1 per cent and levied an entry tax on goods for hydroelectric projects. The Prem Kumar Dhumal government has, however, left foodgrains and edible oils untouched, saving the poor from the heat of the rising food prices. The bus fare increase became unavoidable after the Centre had pushed up the oil prices. When a government raises the tax burden on the people it is legitimate to ask: What has it done to curb its wasteful expenditure and shed administrative flab? Where does it propose to spend the taxpayers' money?


Judged on these questions, the state government stands on slippery ground. It has not cut the employee strength. No administrative reforms have been undertaken. There is no proposal to get rid of unviable PSUs. The state finances have got unsettled by a stiff hike in the salary and pension bill. In the past successive BJP and Congress governments had resisted tax hikes and relied on debt to meet their financial commitments. Two years ago the state debt stood at Rs 22,930 crore. This time Mr Dhumal's budget has buried the latest debt figure but put the annual interest liability at Rs 2,236 crore, which is astronomical for a small hill state.


On top of it, the state's share of the Central taxes will get slashed according to the allocation formula set by the 13th Finance Commission. The BJP leadership is quick to blame the Centre for its fiscal woes and the price rise, but won't own its share of fiscal irresponsibility. The political leadership is on the boil over the non-extension of the Central tax holiday package for industries expiring on March 31. The BJP government may draw political mileage out of it but won't accept its failure to develop adequate infrastructure to attract and retain new industries. The government must set its fiscal house in order, spend on development and improve the delivery system to justify the additional tax dose on people.
















What began last year as a tactical adjustment against the Indo-US nuclear deal by the Left and the BJP has now developed into a virtually full-fledged alliance, though still on an informal basis. However, the sight of Ms Sushma Swaraj and Mr Gurudas Dasgupta, the latter in a red sweater to underline his ideological colour, standing shoulder to shoulder outside Parliament after walking out in protest against the fuel price hike suggested that the comrades and the saffronites will be on the same side of the fence in the foreseeable future. One could see again when the Bill for the reservation of seats for women in Parliament and the state legislatures was passed by the Rajya Sabha.


There is little doubt that the present basis of their partnership is more durable than the earlier one. The tie-up on the nuclear deal was an improvised affair considering that the clinching of the deal itself took a long time during which the Congress and the communists tried to resolve their differences even if the latter were not wholly insincere. The comrades may have even been hopeful about settling the matter to their satisfaction since Mrs Sonia Gandhi was apparently not in favour of the deal initially as she hinted by saying at a conclave organised by The Telegraph that the Left's objections had some validity. In the end, it was Mr Rahul Gandhi's support for the measure which brought the Congress round.


The BJP, on its part, was unsure why it was against a step which it would have gladly taken if it was in power. The party also knew that its main group of supporters, the urban middle class, was for the deal. Yet, a perverse interpretation of its oppositional role made it go against its own instincts. In contrast, its present stand is more logical even if it reflects the standard view of myopic politicians that the prices of all consumer items should be kept stable for years and years even if the government has to subsidise the producers.


Since the Left is of the same view, there is every chance of its cooperation with the BJP in the name of aam admi continuing for some time. The possibility of parties like the RJD, the Samajwadi Party and the BSP jumping on to the anti-fuel hike bandwagon makes the motley combination look quite formidable. Even if the petrol and diesel prices are modified, these parties are bound to find other issues to speak in one voice. Except for the RJD, which has never acted in concert with the BJP before, all the others have had overt and covert links with the party of the temple movement.


While the BSP was an ally of the BJP when they were in power in UP, the Samajwadi Party had struck a deal with the BJP to deny the Congress a chance to form a government in 1999 by frustrating Mrs Sonia Gandhi's claim to have secured the support of 272 MPs. The Left's ties with the saffron outfit goes back to 1967 when the CPI was a part of the Samyukta Vidhayak Dals in the Hindi heartland which included the Jan Sangh.


The Left's view on such arrangements was that even if the SVDs were representatives of the same ruling class which also backed the Congress, their positive aspect was that they were against the Congress, the main enemy. This distinction can be regarded as the basis of the inveterate anti-Congressism which has guided the comrades virtually throughout their history. An unavoidable corollary of this attitude was that the communists had no option but to come to terms with "communal" parties like the Jan Sangh. To explain this policy of supping with the devil, the CPI said that while it should expose their "narrow sectional outlook", it should also approach them "from time to time and issue to issue" while taking into account the "nature, extent and mass appeal of these organisations".


The Left also considered it possible to wean away the supporters of these parties to its side by bringing "these masses into democratic struggles". Clearly, the comrades were living in a dream world, overestimating their own influence and underestimating those on the right side of the spectrum. According to historian Bipan Chandra, the Left sought to explain its proximity to the communal outfits by pointing to the Italian Communist Party's links with the Catholic organisations although the Indian comrades were "ignoring the difference between a religion-based conservative party in a single-religion society and a communal party which was not religion-based but was based on communalism and, therefore, on antagonism towards the followers of other religions".


In the Left's view, the stand that the communal parties "should not be touched with a pair of tongs" was tantamount to making "a present of the masses behind them to the Congress party". It is evident from this uncompromising anti-Congressism that the Left considered the Congress as "the most reactionary political force in India", to quote Bipan Chandra again. However, the stridency of this line can be explained by the fact that the Congress loomed over the Indian scene like a colossus, and had done so in all the years before Independence, with the result that it seemed irremovable. All the other parties, whether of the communists or the socialists or the "narrow sectional" outfits, were pygmies compared to the Congress and saw no possibility of ever replacing it, especially at the Centre.


Hence the desperate cobbling together of all the parties from the left to the right of the political spectrum as was evident, first, in the SVDs and then in the Left Fronts of West Bengal and Kerala. At the Central level, the Janata Party of 1977 and the Janata Dal of 1989 were examples of such cynical cohabitation. A significant fallout of this obsessive pursuit of anti-Congressism was the gains the BJP made from the early nineties. This was a development which the Left apparently did not anticipate. The BJP, too, probably did not expect its rising fortunes and might have realised only after the two successive general election defeats that it had overreached itself. But there is little doubt that it has outrun the Left by far.


While the BJP is in power in eight states — in six of them on its own — the communists are not sure whether they can hold on to West Bengal, their strongest bastion. Any advantage, therefore, from the teaming up of the BJP and the Left will accrue to the former. It is this danger of the communists helping a "communal" party to grow which belatedly dawned on leaders like Jyoti Basu and Harkishen Singh Surjeet, persuading them to move closer to the Congress.


It is the same fear which made Basu advise Prakash Karat and other hardliners against withdrawing support from the Manmohan Singh government even if they opposed the nuclear deal. The reason was that Basu and Surjeet regarded communalism as a greater threat than the Congress's supposedly reactionary character, which was why both of them favoured Basu becoming the Prime Minister in 1996 with the Congress support. This was a rejection of Namboodiripad's equation of the two with his description of the BJP as the "plague" and the Congress as "cholera".


The Left's present stance, however, is a return to its earlier view that the communal parties should not be considered untouchable. Although the Congress is no longer the colossus that it used to be, its recent gains are evidently due to the realisation among the voters that neither the BJP nor the Left represents the future. While the BJP wants to return to a mythical Hindu India, the communists are sinking under the weight of their dead ideology. For all their opportunistic calculations, their partnership is a case of the blind leading the blind.








How, why, and for what purpose do we read a book? Do we read a book for pleasure, entertainment, and relaxation? Or do we read for acquiring knowledge to improve and refine the quality of life. We may turn and toss over all sorts of authors, and not find anything in them. The vastness of human knowledge chills us with despair.


In our college days, an English teacher, one of the best of his type, learned and fluent in expression, told us that nothing matters in life except what one has stocked in brain. I did not like the word "stock", as it sounded somewhat commercial, nor did I think that knowledge only matters because beyond knowledge, there are many things intangible that matter much to enrich life.


In our village Viran Dattan, which lies sulking on the Indo-Pak border, Mehta Bhim Singh, an old man of 80, was respected for his wide learning and affable manners. He was fond of reading Urdu and Persian literature. Whenever he saw a book in someone's hand, he would seize it and start looking into it, shuffling its pages quickly, and after a few moments, return it to the owner of the book. His quick reaction indicated that the book was not to his taste or liking.


Of course, reading is related to time, mood and occasion. Some read books for their professional advancement. The poet Mohammed Iqbal expected the readers of books to be serious minded enough to derive the maximum benefit by application and devotion. He wanted the readers to be the master of books, not their slaves. He regarded the acquisition and assimilation of knowledge as the key to all improvements and the regeneration of society.


Karl Marx was a voracious reader of books. He worked vigorously for years in the British Museum and produced his masterpiece Das Kapital. He incorporated in his book not only what he derived from several authors, but also imported his reflections drawn from his participation in the contemporary revolutionary activities.


When I start reading a serious historical work of a specialised nature, I first look at the bibliography to assess the nature and extent of the source material the author has used. To put it differently, to see the base on which the work rests. But, fair enough, to judge the quality of work only on the basis of the bibliography would be unsound as numerous works of striking originality have been produced without the conventional apparatus of bibliographies, notes, and footnotes. Originality in any creative activity consists not in the collection and compilation of source material but in its analysis and flying sparks of path- breaking inventions.


In our undergraduate days, Siraj ud Din's Essays: Ancient and Modern was prescribed as a textbook for our course. We read in the book Francis Bacon's essay entitled "Of Studies". Bacon took all knowledge to be his province. His reading was various and extensive. In his essay, he wrote: "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested". There is an interaction between the author and the reader. Too much reading is a weariness of the spirit unless the reader is engaged in books with critical discrimination and interrogates the author. Both the author and the reader work on the same wavelength and on equal terms. Learning is not enough: beyond learning, there are flights of imagination and human experiences, which provide insight into the vicissitudes of life's manifold complex problems. Einstein wrote, "Imagination is more important than learning".








People in the country's North-East seem to have woken up to a new enemy. Following the Indian Standard Time ( IST), they are convinced, has been their bane. It has made them less productive, deprived them of precious family time, has given rise to both physical and psychological disorders and led to a breakdown of values.


The IST, which they are forced to follow, compels them to have breakfast when it is actually close to noon by local time, lunch in mid-afternoon and dinner close to midnight.


They are serious. Spearheaded by Jahnu Barua, who is better known as an acclaimed film director and screenplay writer than as a former scientist with ISRO ( Indian Space Research Organisation), they have produced research findings to show that the North-East has used Rs 94,000 crore worth of extra electricity, which could have been saved, since Independence because of their compulsion to follow the IST.


Following Barua's campaign, the Assam Assembly has taken up the issue and the state government has called

for a meeting of experts in April before taking it up with New Delhi.


The country's political establishment is in the habit of fighting fire and not preventing one. But in this case at least, the wise men in New Delhi would do well to address the issue before it becomes more emotive and disinformation begins to prevail over an informed public opinion. Barua certainly has a point when he says that while the region cannot change its geography or history, it should be allowed to have a little more sunshine.


India and China are the only two large countries which persist with a single time zone. Australia has three time zones, Brazil has four, the United States and Canada six each while Russia has as many as eleven.

Scientifically, the sun rises an hour later after every 15 degrees of longitude. There being 28 degrees longitude between India's east-west span, the sun rises in Kohima virtually two hours before it does over the Rann of Kutch.


China covers a range of 75 degrees longitude and indeed in western China the sun may not rise until 10 am whereas eastern China by then would have received four hours of sunlight.


Both the countries, however, had more than one time zone. While China had five time zones till 1949, India too had different time zones till 1905 with Calcutta, Madras and Bombay presidencies following their own time. The Andaman and Nicobar islands followed the Port Blair Mean Time. All that changed when 82.5 degree E longitude was chosen as the central meridian for India. China too switched to a single time zone in 1949.


Simplicity, administrative convenience and the need for unity obviously were the prime considerations in both the countries. Both countries happen to be large, diverse and had illiteracy and poverty to contend with. With a large section of the population engaged in the cultivation of land, people were not really concerned with the official time. They were more preoccupied with the cycle of the sun and the needs of the crops they grew.


But with the growth of travel, trade, business and commerce, the need for time differentials is felt more acutely. In his article in The Tribune on this very subject, Sanjoy Hazarika provided an illuminating example. A flight takes off from Guwahati at 10 am and lands at New Delhi at 12.26 pm after nearly two and a half hours. But if New Delhi time is two hours behind Guwahati, then the flight would land at New Delhi at 10.26 am local time, providing passengers longer time to do business in the national capital.


Time differentials enable places where the sun rises first to use daylight hours more productively and reduce the use of energy in the evening. To cite another example, when the sun sets at 6 pm in New Delhi, it had actually set an hour and a half earlier in Kohima. If offices there are to remain open till 6 pm, then they do use up electricity which they would save if there had been a time difference between the two places.


Even a parliamentary standing committee on energy had recommended multiple time zones for India so as to stagger office and school timings by one to two hours. This would have spread out peak-hour demand for electricity and reduced pressure on electricity grids.


But the government has been steadfast in its refusal to consider multiple time zones. The thinking possibly is that if China can make do with one time zone covering Hong Kong, Tibet and Beijing, why should India complicate matters by going in for more?


One unstated reason is perhaps the thinking that a separate time zone for the north-eastern states would

somehow give a fillip to separatists. A deviation from the Indian Standard Time could be divisive and strengthen the case for a separate identity for India's North-East. But then does the rest of India really lose anything if the north-eastern states gain a few hours ?


The Union government had, in fact, set up an expert committee to study the issue in the year 2001. The committee submitted its report three years later but recommended the continuation of a single-time zone or the Indian Standard Time ( IST) throughout the country.


But now with Bangladesh opting for Daylight Saving Time ( DST), the clamour to break away from the IST has

intensified in the North-East and with good reason. There is no scientific basis to oppose the demand, which essentially seeks to harmonise time with the rising and setting sun. Although the demand had been opposed in the past on primarily three grounds, these need to be reviewed.


Critics who argue that in a largely illiterate and large country like India, more than one time zone would lead to confusion, forget that the IST itself is barely one hundred years old. The country is certainly not more illiterate than it was at the turn of the last century.


What is more, in the North-East, there is already what is known as 'Tea Garden Time' or Bagaan Time, which is one hour ahead of the IST to enable tea-garden labourers to start early and use daylight better.


Bangladesh put the fat on the fire when it opted for the Daylight Saving Time (DST) last year. Earlier Bangladesh Time was half an hour ahead of the IST. But today it is one and a half hours ahead of the Indian Standard Time although Bangladesh lies to the west of India's North-East and the clock there, therefore, should have been behind the north-eastern states.


There is, thus, a strong case for shedding the security-centric approach to the North-East and adopt a more people-friendly policy. Acknowledging the need for a separate time-zone will, hopefully, break the ice.








It seems like only yesterday and, at the same time, like a hundred years. In fact, it is a quarter of a century since Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – and set in train the changes that brought the end of both the system and the country.


For many Russians, though, the accession of 54-year-old Gorbachev after a string of old and sick men is a muted, even bitter, anniversary. Celebrated throughout the Western world as a liberator, Gorbachev is widely reviled in his homeland for destroying Soviet power.


Vladimir Putin only articulated what many of his compatriots also felt, when he described the Soviet Union's collapse as "one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century". It will take many years for that judgement to be revised across the great Eurasian land mass, if it ever is.


But it is not only the people of the once-feared Soviet Union who are labouring under an illusion about the legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev. So is Gorbachev himself and, for quite different reasons, the outside world where the last Soviet leader is still lionised and – rightly – protected.


In an article to commemorate this anniversary, Gorbachev allowed himself one of his periodic critiques of today's Russia. With Putin, unnamed, but clearly in his sights, he regretted what he saw as Russia's failure to embark on serious modernisation and the way the democratic process had, in his words, "lost momentum" or, "in more ways than one, been rolled back". He also suggested that the reform plans of Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's successor in the Kremlin, had stalled because he was scared of civil society.


Now you can agree or disagree with Gorbachev here: much remains to be played out. But there is less room for divergence on Gorbachev's view of his years in power. He still believes that he could have brought democracy to the Soviet Union, if only he had set about reforming the Communist Party sooner; if only misguided and malevolent individuals had not set out to thwart him; if only the coup-plotters of August 1991 had stayed their hand. Even 25 years on, Gorbachev maintains that evolutionary change, through his twin projects of glasnost and perestroika, was feasible and the Soviet Union could have stayed intact.


This is not quite how I remember it, as a witness to the country's death throes as a correspondent in Moscow. Gorbachev came across always as just one move behind history. There is no shame in that: would any leader have kept pace, given that communism throughout Europe was already dead and food shops throughout Russia were empty? Was it not rather that even incremental reform was too much for the system to bear?


The most compelling reason for favouring this view – aside from the small fact of the Soviet collapse – is that the contest triggered by perestroika was in the end about Russia as much as communism. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a victory for Russia, and for Russians' frustrated sense of national identity.


Boris Yeltsin's trump card was that he presented himself not just as communist apostate, but as champion and leader of Russia. Steeped in the internationalism of communist orthodoxy, Gorbachev had no national card to play.


The anniversary of Gorbachev's accession may help to mark, belatedly, the passage of time. It means that no citizen of the former Soviet Union under 30 has any first-hand memory of life under communism; no one under 40 has had their career dictated by the regime.


Those in their mid-40s – among them Medvedev, but not, it is worth noting, Putin – were students when

perestroika began. Tossed around by the chaos of the 1990s, they benefited from the stability Putin imposed as

they settled down to family life.


A generation unscarred by Soviet communism is the legacy Gorbachev bequeathed – through strength or weakness is still not clear. And it is a worthy one, even if it is not the peaceful evolution of the Soviet Union he still laments.


 By arrangement with The Independent








A soldier blinded by a grenade in Iraq today described how his life has been transformed by ground-breaking technology that enables him to "see" with his tongue. Lance Corporal Craig Lundberg, 24, from Walton, Liverpool, can read words, identify shapes and walk unaided thanks to the BrainPort device, despite being totally blind.


The Liverpool fan, who plays blind football for England, lost his sight after being struck by a rocket propelled grenade while serving in Basra in 2007.


He was faced with the prospect of relying on a guide dog or cane for the rest of his life. But he was chosen by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to be the first person to trial a pioneering device - the BrainPort, which could revolutionise treatment for the blind.


The BrainPort converts visual images into a series of electrical pulses which are sent to the tongue. The different strength of the tingles can be read or interpreted so the user can mentally visualise their surroundings and navigate around objects.


The device is a tiny video camera attached to a pair of sunglasses which are linked to a plastic "lolly pop" which the user places on their tongue to read the electrical pulses.


L/Cpl Lundberg explained: "It feels like licking a nine volt battery or like popping candy. The camera sends signals down onto the lolly pop and onto your tongue. You can then determine what they mean and transfer it to shapes. You get lines and shapes of things. It sees in black and white so you get a two-dimensional image on your tongue – it's a bit like a pins and needles sensation.


"It's only a prototype, but the potential to change my life is massive. It's got a lot of potential to advance things for blind people. One of the things it has enabled me to do is pick up objects straight away. I can reach out and pick them up when before I would be fumbling around to feel for them. "There is no way I'm getting rid of my guide dog Hugo, though - I love him.


"This is another mobility device, it's not the be-all and end-all of my disability."


The MoD said it expected to pay the US around £18,000 for the device and training to enable the trial to take place.


 By arrangement with The Independent









What is it that women want? The question comes in different tones and registers – irritated, exasperated, indignant and supercilious. It is asked by men of a certain persuasion, blind to the fact that the fight against the ills that women inherit before, at and after birth, is still being fought.

The question springs from a belief that women have got what they demanded. Laws regarding rape and dowry have been amended, a law against domestic violence introduced. We have a woman President, Speaker of the House, Leader of the Opposition and president of the oldest political party. So, women's bags appear to be stuffed with more goodies than they could reasonably expect. .

But laws never did have the power to change long-entrenched power structures and practices. Nor do a few women at the top alter the ground reality of women's exploitation. Add to this the combined effect of liberalisation, globalisation and their backlash, fundamentalism, and you have an environment in which women are choosing to be exploited.

For this reason, Women's Day in the city is no longer an occasion for protest, but a day to celebrate values that stand against divisions based on religion, caste and gender which underpin all forms of oppression.
In an hour-long concert that formed the centre-piece of Khayal Trust's Women's Day programme on the 7th morning, pluralism was upheld without being stated. We heard four voices from three gharanas, singing eight forms of music in four languages, set to seven different taals. Pooja Bakre sang an ashtapadi in Sanskrit, followed by an abhang in Marathi. Meenal Deshpande sang a Hori in Braj bhasha and a Baul tappa in Bengali. Soma Sen sang a Rabindra Sageet and a folk song in Bengali. Neela Bhagwat, who had conceived the programme and composed the music, sang an ashtapadi in Sanskrit and a poem in Marathi. Linking these forms, voices, languages and singing styles was the theme of the concert – Radha in her many forms.

Seen against the established hierarchies of music that gharana singers subscribe to, this concert was effectively saying that all music is music, just as all human beings are human beings. The singers' voices were strong, the singing lively and the response enthusiastic.

If a nit must be picked, then I don't subscribe to the idea of Radha being projected as a representative of women. She is, essentially, not even a woman but an ardent devotee, totally submerged in her love of her god.

Jhelum Paranjape's dancing feet were more grounded. Her programme Savitri vadate (Savitri speaks) that same evening, brought to the stage the rarely heard poetry and letters of Savitribai Phule, who was an equal partner in her husband Jotiba's lifelong work for the education and emancipation of women. Savitribai's voice was rendered by Suhita Thatte, while Jhelum Paranjape embodied her spirit. .

It was not a programme that fore-fronted dance. The dancers moved gently, only occasionally bursting into full-fledged dance. Two scenes, one at the beginning, one at the end, were particularly significant. The marriage scene was accompanied by mangalashtakas composed by Jotiba himself. The verses spoke of the ideal relationship between man and woman, where they supported one another as equal partners. Paranjape's walk as she moved towards the antarpaat beyond which her husband too would take his place, was dignity and grace itself.

The second scene had no movement – only Thatte reciting Savitribai's powerful poem, Can we call you human?, her voice moving from indignation to sorrow.

Says Savitribai, "The woman works, this parasite only devours/It is not so amongst animals and birds/Can we call you human?" The last verse goes, "He feels no grief at being enslaved/Barely even knows what humanity means/Can we call you human?"


So there's the answer. What women want is a world in which everybody is seen, first and foremost, as a human being. Too idealistic? Yes. But what's wrong with ideals?








It has been said before but is worth repeating. The India-Russia bilateral relationship is like a good, stable marriage — lots of substance, not much excitement! The India-US relationship used to be the exact opposite, like a stormy affair, lots of excitement, very little substance. Things are changing. There is much greater substance to the India-US relationship today — at all the three levels that matter in a bilateral relationship: people-to-people (P-2-P), business-to-business (B-2-B) and government-to-government. The recent visit of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin showed very clearly that the government-to-government relationship is robust and doing well, but there is still not enough of a P-2-P and a B-2-B relationship worth talking about. Things are improving a bit on the B-2-B front, as reported from time to time in the columns of this newspaper, with more Indian companies doing business in Russia and the other way round. Here too, if things have to take off, Russia must have a more liberal business visa policy, and it must create mechanisms that help Indian businessmen deal with Russia's oligarchs and business mafia.

 The only important P-2-P stuff seems to be happening in Goa, where a Russian tourist ghetto of sorts has been created. But the two countries need to do more on a wider front than is the case today. As an economy that is endowed with resources and technology but not enough people, Russia should have a more liberal immigration policy and it should encourage Indians to invest there. The defence relationship remains, however, the mainstay of the bilateral relationship. It has been revived by the Indian decision to buy the aircraft carrier Gorshkov. Russia remains a trusted and reliable strategic partner. Apart from defence, it has also helped India in other fields such as nuclear energy and space. But the elites in Moscow and Mumbai need to take a closer look at each other and at potential opportunities for a closer relationship if the magic of the old days has to be revived.

The regular interaction between Mr Putin and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reintroduced personal warmth into this equation at the highest level, echoing the days of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. But India and Russia have far too many shared interests and complementarities for this relationship to continue to be defined largely by high-level visits and defence deals. A new generation of Indians and Russians must interact with each other so that old stereotypes symbolised by Raj Kapoor songs and cheap Soviet books are replaced by more contemporary and forward-looking metaphors.







The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) is reportedly considering two changes to the takeover code which, unfortunately, will not improve the lot of the independent or small investor. The first is to make it mandatory for the boards of target companies to advise shareholders on how to weigh competing bids. This happens in well-regulated markets but is not obligatory in India. Ideally, if a board, with its knowledge of the company it runs, offers impartial advice in a fiduciary capacity on which is the best suitor for the company, then that will indeed be helpful to small shareholders who have neither the acumen nor the resources to get expert advice. On the other hand, people who run a company cannot be impartial about it, particularly when the induction of a new shareholder will be of enormous significance to them. The Indian reality is that even independent directors are hardly ever so and the ability of controlling shareholders' nominees to put on an independent hat is very uncertain. So, this is a good theoretical idea which, in reality, is unlikely to deliver much.

 While independent board advice on competing bids may not actually be forthcoming, the attempt to mandate it is unlikely to do any harm. That cannot be said of the other proposal — to raise the trigger, form the present 15 per cent to 25 per cent, at which a substantial acquirer has to make an open offer to all shareholders. It is true that Indian promoters today have a much higher stake in the companies they control, compared to the situation that prevailed when the takeover code came into play. Therefore, it will be logical for Indian rules to move towards global practices where controlling stakes are higher. But two arguments militate against the proposal. The open offer is for the good of small shareholders — to ensure that they also get the control premium that an acquirer is willing to pay to those who control a target company. Any dilution of it, delaying its onset by as much as 10 percentge points on a base of 15, will go against the interest of the small shareholder and be helpful only to promoters. Though, typically, controlling stakes today exceed 25 per cent (every promoter tries to ensure a stake in excess of that to prevent a special resolution from being bulldozed through), in some cases they don't. Thus, if the new trigger is introduced, there will be greater space for controlling interest to change hands and control premium to be paid without the small shareholder coming into the picture at all.

It is disingenuous to argue that the proposed change seeks to bring Indian regulations in line with global practices, because in this matter, there is no one global practice, with European and US rules differing widely. On the other hand, it is necessary for Sebi to live down its past record of tilting the takeover code heavily in favour of promoters and against independent shareholders. This was justified initially on the ground that past regulations prevented Indian promoters from building up large stakes and so they needed time to build stake and security without having to worry about takeover threats. It is high time the takeover code tilted in favour of the small shareholder. That will both boost the equity cult and create an efficient market for managements.






The electronics industry in India offers an enormous opportunity. This is for three reasons. It is a laggard, so has lots to make up; India's domestic market is and will be burgeoning, offering scope to tell the rest of the world "you can come in provided…"; and it has the most valuable asset that enables the highest value addition — intellectual capabilities and skills.

 Against this, it has well-known handicaps: poor infrastructure; misconceived policies; and, what is not often realised, a wrong attitude on the part of the industry too. The industry, which first lived under import controls, has in the last two decades cried over tariff anomalies, high financial costs, and lack of government financial support. The best deal that it got out of the government so far, the national semi-conductor policy, is yet to take off as not a single government incentive payout has taken place under it till now.

But it is not as if there are no green shoots. Take Nokia manufacturing cellphones for India and elsewhere out of India, take Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu which is now a successful electronics manufacturing cluster, and take home-grown electronics manufacturing firms like Moserbaer and Tejas Networks.

The conventional way of looking at the whole scenario has been to pose the questions: How can the success in services, symbolised by Infosys and Bharti Telecom, be replicated in manufacturing; how can we get a few semiconductor fabs to get going in manufacturing. This highlights the big mistake so far, looking at the two worlds of services and manufacturing separately.

The future lies in looking at the total value chain — from conception to design to manufacture to marketing to sales to branding — and seeing how the maximum value can be captured. The Holy Grail is not semiconductor fabs like Taiwan's but Apple. The electronics manufacturing services company that actually makes the products for Apple probably has a bill of materials of $90 and sells the item to Apple for $100, which the consumer eventually buys for $240-280.

There is a niche Indian company too successfully operating in a similar manner. Tejas Networks makes and sells boxes (optical network equipment with its name on it) which all telecom networks need. It thinks them up, designs them, gets a contract manufacturer to make them, then sells them in India under its own brand name and unlabelled to global network OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). It can't say who they are but you get a clue when it says "we've had a bad year because one of our OEMs, a global biggie, collapsed" (you know it must be Nortel) and goes on and on about Cisco being the most respected globally in the field.

This is not all. While Tejas sells its stuff, both branded and unbranded, Ittiam Systems does the entire design for both software and hardware, called reference design in electronics parlance, for state-of-the-art products in wireless, multimedia and video for good names in East Asia and the US, for them to tweak a little and put their labels on and sell. Sasken develops mobile applications and Wipro has, of course, long had the world's largest product design services.

Where does India go from here? An industry leader outlines the stages in the country's technological journey. First was the period of reverse engineering till the early 80s. We copied others' machines and made do. Then came the Rajiv Gandhi era of technology imports, lock, stock and barrel, within tariff walls, which was a bonanza for those who got the technology import licences. Then came the long journey of developing design and capabilities, roughly coinciding with the rise of software and currently maturing into a strong capability in semiconductor and engineering design.

It will be obvious that India has most of the elements of the value chain except two. It does not have manufacturing, the semiconductor fabs or contract manufacturing services, and it does not have firms that see the market and conceptualise what it wants, then get somebody to do the reference design, then tweak it to the final product and, most importantly, create a brand and a buzz to sweep the world. It does not have a Sony which gave the world the Walkman and, of course, it does not have an Apple which has successfully created the iPod and iPhone.

What must the government do? It has to dangle the access to the Indian market — the second most-important growth centre in the world economy looking into the future — and ask MNCs to set up manufacturing here, the way Nokia was asked to do. And the government has to reserve a part of its procurement to Indian manufactures, supplied by MNCs in India if need be.

The need to manufacture in India will create jobs (electronics assembly is very labour-intensive) and also, over time, direct minds to develop products for India. That will take care of the low-value, high-employment end. The other end, high value, is already an Indian advantage through capabilities like semiconductor design. So, the game plan has to be to develop a manufacturing ecosystem here; doesn't matter who owns it. Then the industry will grow a Samsung or two on its own.  







In the first half of the first decade of the new millennium, India's emergence as a major political and economic power became an acknowledged reality worldwide. It was able to shed its nuclear "outlier" status to be accepted as a de facto nuclear weapon state with full access to international nuclear energy commerce. Indo-US relations achieved an unprecedented density across the board. Even China, usually seen as an adversary, sought a strategic and cooperative partnership with India. A permanent seat in the UN Security Council seemed within reach.

There were positive trends in our own troubled neighbourhood. Relations with Pakistan achieved remarkable improvement with long outstanding issues being addressed in a new spirit of realism. In Nepal, there was promise of a democratic transition with India, for once, on the right side of history. While Bangladesh continued to cause concern, relations with Bhutan, engaged in its own democratic transition, reached unprecedented levels of mutual trust and extended cooperation. The growing integration of Indian and Sri Lankan economies, under the historic Free Trade Agreement, helped keep political relations in balance despite the tensions generated by ethnic turmoil in the island country. By 2006, India enjoyed a regional and global environment supportive of its developmental objectives. Its strategic autonomy had unmistakably expanded.

However, since then, India's external environment began to change in a clearly adverse direction. Domestic turmoil in Pakistan and resurgence of cross-border terrorism brought the bilateral peace process to an uncertain pause. In Nepal, the Maoists and political parties failed to consolidate multi-party democracy. The Indo-US nuclear agreement ran into political opposition at home and relations with China appeared to shift to a more adversarial pitch. While the nuclear agreement eventually did go through by the end of 2008, it was a lonely positive. The current picture remains grim but there may be some opportunities appearing on the horizon as we enter the decade 2010-2020.

India's vulnerabilities in the next decade will be centred mainly in its neighbourhood. While the Indian subcontinent is a single geopolitical unit, it is fractured into several states, each with its own dynamics. As the largest country in the region, India's security concerns have always encompassed and will continue to encompass the entire subcontinent. This dictates a strategy that neutralises vulnerabilities inherent in these political divisions, specifically ensuring that India's neighbours do not become platforms for hostile activities against it by current or potential adversaries. Otherwise, India's ability to overcome an adverse, or leverage a potentially favourable, global environment will confront severe constraints.

The management of our neighbourhood should enjoy the highest priority in the next decade. Episodic engagement and crisis-management must yield place to a long-term focus on the following elements:

  • The economic integration of South Asia, with a willingness to implement significant and, if necessary, unilateral trade and economic liberalisation measures favouring our neighbours. This will give them a stake in India's growth and propriety.


  • Improving and upgrading connectivity among all countries of the region, through roads, rail, air and electronic links. Without this infrastructure in place, regional economic integration will remain a chimera; and,


  • Significantly expanded cultural diplomacy to leverage the strong and enduring cultural and linguistic affinities we share with our neighbours.

Our engagement with our extended neighbourhood in the Gulf, Central Asia and South-East Asia must be built on the solid foundation of our subcontinental policy. With Russia, emerging convergences on the geopolitical front should take us beyond the largely military hardware relationship we currently have.

What is the outlook for the global environment in the next decade? What are our strengths and likely vulnerabilities?

India's rising profile as a major emerging economy with significant strategic capabilities makes it an increasingly indispensable partner in the construction of emerging security and economic architectures both in Asia and the world, and in dealing with cross-cutting issues such as terrorism, climate change, global trade and finance.

The resilience its economy has shown in the wake of the continuing global economic and financial crisis positions India somewhat better than China, since India's growth is mostly domestic demand-driven and not linked to an artificially-maintained low exchange rate. In a landscape of several rising powers, India's rise is likely to be more sustainable than other largely export-driven economies.

Nevertheless, our task is complicated by the fact that the geopolitical environment continues to be in a state of flux. Its eventual denouement remains unpredictable. During 2009, there were worries in this country over a possible Sino-US or a G-2 condominium. The anxiety today is about the impact of rising tensions between them. A polarised international landscape will constrain India as much as would a collusive arrangement between major powers. India will need to manage its relations with major powers in a subtle and sophisticated manner, leveraging its "swing" status wherever possible, engaging with all, but aligning with none.

But this contemporary non-alignment does not allow India to sit out the great issues of our time and seek comfort in a policy of interminable fence-sitting. This is like being dealt a hand in the geopolitical card game but refusing to play.

This tendency is partly the result of becoming a premature power. India's relative power globally has outstripped the indices of personal and social well-being, unlike in the established industrialised powers, where they have historically moved in sync. We will need to overcome the ambivalence this creates and embrace a more proactive regional and global role in line with our national power. A seat at the high table should be sought not as an end in itself but as an opportunity to negotiate arrangements conducive to our economic and social development, and the overall welfare of our people. That should be for our agenda for the next decade.

(The author was India's Foreign Secretary and until recently the Prime Minister's Special Envoy)





While the cap on liability is lower than in several other countries, few producers, including those in India, will supply nuclear power equipment without such a Bill - raising the caps is an obvious solution. G balachandran
Visiting Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses

Liability caps can be raised without affecting the Bill. Local suppliers will be the worst hit if there is no liability cap

It is useful to keep in mind that the proposed Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill is in line with the principles followed by 28 of the 29 other nations that operate civil nuclear power plants (NPPs), including China and Russia — the sole exception is Pakistan which has no nuclear liability bill and, as of now, no prospects of significantly increasing its civil nuclear programme.

If you ignore the ideological campaign (that it will help only US firms) against the Bill, the main reasons for opposition are: It limits the liability of the operator to Rs 500 crore and that for all the damage to 300 million SDR (Rs 2,100-2,300 crore); the public will have to bear substantial costs of damage and it exonerates suppliers of equipment from liability charges.

Well, the operator limit and total financial liability limit are subject to future amendments to the Bill. Other countries, too, had frequently changed both these limits. So, the first two points of opposition can be resolved with informed debate with inputs from industry, insurers, nuclear industry experts and public interest groups. These will not require any modification to the principles of the Bill.

What of the charge that the Indian public will bear the major share of the liability under the Bill? This is true where the operator's liability will be less than the full financial liability for damages. But will the interests of the Indian public be better protected without a Bill, as is the situation today? No. All NPPs are operated by public sector units today. So, in case of a nuclear mishap, it will be the government, and hence the public, that will have to bear the liability charges.

Would any private operator in India enter civil nuclear power production without a liability Bill, especially with unlimited liability? Probably not. One, it is difficult to envision any Indian insurer willing to issue unlimited liability coverage for a reasonable premium, which will effectively mean bankruptcy for the private operator in case of a very serious accident, even though such an event is unlikely. Two, the public sector units operating NPPs will be exempt from taking such an insurance cover which effectively ensures the government, and hence the public, is subsiding these operators while imposing additional costs on private operators. As a result, the Indian private sector is unlikely to enter into civil nuclear power area with consequent costs on the efficiency of NPPs in India.

What about the charge that the Bill exonerates the equipment suppliers from liability damages? True. It does so but without any geographical restrictions. It equally protects Indian, US and all other foreign suppliers. Would making the supplier also liable, in certain cases, be in public interest? It is debatable.

First, take the case of French and Russian suppliers. The French have repeatedly said that they require a liability Bill. Indeed the Chinese put in place their liability regime in March 1986, only to address the concerns of foreign suppliers — mainly the French, who were to work on the construction of the second Chinese NPP at Daya Bay. Notwithstanding the noises made by the critics about the French willing to supply equipment without a nuclear liability Bill, no responsible French official or nuclear supplier, such as Areva, for example, has ever made such a claim.

What about Russia? Russia is a signatory to the Vienna Convention — it makes the operator solely responsible for liability damage. The only exception, as per the Convention, is when the operator has recourse only when this is expressly provided for by a contract in writing. That being the case, and in the absence of anything in the public domain to the contrary, it is uncertain if the Russian supplier would agree to nuclear damage liability in India in the absence of such a specific condition being part of the India-Russia agreement on Koodankulum. It would be interesting to know if the Koodankulum contract specifically addresses the issue of supplier liability. If it does not go beyond the standard warranty clauses, then a claim against the Russian supplier will be infructuous. Thus it is most likely that even under current conditions, the Indian public will have no recourse against a foreign supplier. On the other hand since 18 of the 24 reactors currently operated by NPCIL are totally indigenous, the Indian suppliers will be liable under the existing Indian laws. It is surprising that the Indian nuclear industry has so far remained silent on this subject given that it is this industry that will be the most affected by the absence of such a Bill. But that should not be surprising given the total inadequacy of the Indian industry and their chambers to respond effectively to any public issue other than excise and income taxes.

Hence, in sum, the absence of the Bill will (i) not in any manner benefit the Indian public; (ii) effectively kill any chance of Indian private sector participation in Indian nuclear future programmes; and (iii) gravely damage the Indian nuclear supplier industry.

The author is also Visiting Fellow, National Maritime Foundation

Karuna Raina

Energy campaigner*, Greenpeace India

Countries like the US have huge liability cover — the Bill fails to ensure insurance cover for all potential damage

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill can be assessed on the basis of two concepts that would play a major role in a properly constructed policy framework: Precautionary principle and full accounting of costs (which includes the "polluter pays" principle). The Bill is in disjuncture with both of them.

The Bill does not require India's nuclear industry and the government to publish and disclose information relevant to nuclear risk and nuclear insurance. The risk of operating a nuclear plant is always downplayed in India, mainly because of the non-independence of the regulatory board. Over the years, many facilities under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) have had accidents of varying magnitude and rather than independently looking into them, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (read, DAE) tries to downplay them, whether it has been the November 2009 tritated heavy water drinking incident in Kaiga or the collapse of the inner containment dome of Kaiga on May 13, 1994 — when 130 tonnes of concrete just fell from the top of containment! This Bill nowhere guarantees full insurance coverage of off-site and on-site damages that are provided for each nuclear power plant (NPP) and other nuclear installations, premiums paid for this coverage or reinsurance arrangements.

What this regime envisages is a three-tier compensation, where in the first tier is the operator's liability: The liability of the operator is limited to Rs 500 crore, for which it would take an insurance cover. The second tier is when government steps in; the amount has been capped at 300 million SDRs (Rs 2,300 crore). The third tier is the funds that we will get once we sign the international convention, Convention for Supplementary Compensation ($450 million). However, CSC is contentious and it is not legally enforceable — though CSC was signed in 1997, even a decade later, it has not entered force. The CSC fund cannot be accessed till it is ratified by five countries with a minimum 400,000 units of installed nuclear capacity. As of now, only four countries have ratified it and the total nuclear power capacity of those countries is 100,000 units — that's a shortage of 300,000 units. And even if it becomes legally enforceable, the US can go to the Dispute Settlement Mechanism (DSM) of CSC — so if there is an incident involving the US, it can easily deny funds under this mechanism and that too legally.

Since the government has been trying to argue that the Bill is in synchronisation with international best practices, why doesn't it follow the US where the insurance provides about $11 billion of coverage for damage to third parties? The US also has a system of economic channelling — victims can initiate civil lawsuits against the operator as well as any of the other parties involved (suppliers, designers, etc.) in line with ordinary tort law. However, the operator, whose insurance needs to cover the other parties' third party liability as well (i.e. an "omnibus coverage" or "umbrella insurance"), ultimately needs to indemnify these parties. The result is similar to legal channelling in that the operator bears the financial liability burden of the nuclear accident vis-à-vis third parties. However, economic channelling leaves the legal reality unscathed and does not set ordinary tort law aside, whereas legal channelling distorts the underlying legal construction and sidesteps ordinary tort law. The functioning of economic channelling is best illustrated by the Three Mile Island accident of 1979, where all defendants — the operator, the designer and the constructor of the plant — were represented by a single law firm. In Germany, there is no limit on an NPP operators' liability for damage to third parties. Also, the Bill does not ensure risk costs of operating each NPP as cost of production. Studies around the world show that the off-site health cost could exceed this amount and the victims cannot even get compensation, since the burden of proof lies on them. The risk cost far exceeds the insurance premium. There is no other way of accounting risk cost as production cost. Thus most of the risk cost has been borne by public and, therefore, is a huge subsidy to the nuclear industry. It has been almost 40 years of nuclear power in India — if the industry cannot thrive competitively, then there are serious questions to be answered.

The economics of nuclear power does not add up if its subsidies are cut. The government in India has given subsidies in myriad forms to the nuclear industry, in the form of the ownership of subsidised nuclear fuel chain facilities, government-funded nuclear decommissioning and waste management. Given this context and the role of the Bill in subsidising nuclear power in India and giving profits to foreign firms, the government and the proponents should acknowledge that the Bill provides a subsidy, and, they, therefore, need to justify that subsidy and provide a robust reasoning for it.

*Energy campaigner with a focus on nuclear energy






Among the many tributaries flowing into the sea of corruption, the main one is sale of property. Cheating in this field can be guessed from just one instance, in which the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau found that 149,000 square yards of land in Mumbai was sold for a paltry sum of Rs 33 lakh, going by the stamp duty paid. In one case decided by the Supreme Court last year, the valuation of the property belonging to a sick unit sold in auction was not accepted by the stamp authorities. The property was declared to be undervalued and the purchaser was directed to pay the difference in the stamp duty plus penal interest. Since both the seller and the buyer collude with the connivance of artful middlemen, the problem is rarely brought before a court of law. It is rare that a lawsuit of the type that was decided last week by the Supreme Court in the State of Haryana vs Manoj Kumar case, winds its way to the apex court.

In this case, a commercial property in Delhi's industrial satellite town of Faridabad was sold, according to the declaration for stamp duty, for Rs 1.95 lakh. According to the market value fixed by the collector, usually called the "circle rate", the value worked out to more than Rs 33 lakh. The collector did not accept the stamp duty offered and asked the buyer to pay the difference. This led to litigation in which the buyer won in the Punjab and Haryana High Court but lost in the Supreme Court.

The high court, while dismissing the argument of the collector, stated that the "genuineness of the sale price has to be presumed". The Supreme Court said: "If the genuineness of the sale price entered into by the buyer and the seller cannot be questioned, in majority of cases it is unlikely that the state would ever receive the stamp duty according to the circle rate or the collector rate." It is a matter of common knowledge that usually the circle rate is lower than the prevalent market rate. But to ensure registration of sale deeds at least at the circle rates, state governments issue notifications updating the rates.

Such review is beneficial as the stamp duty rates are supposed to be very high. In order to boost the revenue, state governments are tempted to impose high rates of stamp duty. But very often, the higher the rate, the craftier the evaders. Moreover, poor implementation of law leads to less revenue for the states. There is a school of thought that if the stamp duty is reduced to a rational level, revenue recovery will improve in the long run. In fact, this was the experience of Maharashtra, Delhi and some other states.

A year ago, the Supreme Court deprecated another source of corruption and generation of black money in sale of properties. This is the use of power of attorney (POA). In the Suraj Lamp & Industries vs State of Haryana case, the court pointed out that this vicious practice is spreading across the country, the epicentre being the national capital itself. By this widespread device, the so-called buyer gets most of the substantial rights to the property by creating a POA that is notarised but not registered. It is not a public document, and only the parties to the deed know about it.

The Supreme Court gave some examples of people who misuse POAs: (a) Vendors with imperfect title who cannot or do not want to execute registered deeds of conveyance; (b) purchasers who want to invest undisclosed income in immovable properties without any public record of the transactions; (c) purchasers who want to avoid the payment of stamp duty and registration charges. Persons who deal in real estate resort to these methods to avoid multiple stamp duties/registration fees so as to increase their profit margin.

The court has kept this case pending to evolve a foolproof procedure for property transactions. After one hearing, in which the judges heard the lawyers describe the mind-boggling ways employed to cheat the revenue departments, the case got a long adjournment. One consequence of the court intervention is that the Delhi government has begun building a database on the titles to the properties. A small step since the medieval sultans did it, but potentially a giant leap towards curbing illegal transactions.







It is a rather curious mix, our ready veneration of sundry godmen and the equally-prompt readiness to push them off their pedestals when we find that they, well, aren't so godly after all. Perhaps we haven't yet got to the stage where we can quite accept that men and matters spiritual can really have anything to do with the material world.

Or, rather, we feel a greater sense of betrayal when that supposedly personalised link to the spirit-realm turns out to have baser moorings. A bit unlike other parts of the world, where godmen or cults openly make a virtue out of, what for us, are vices. No experiments, for us, sorry. Thus the scorn heaped upon the one who was recently supposedly taped frolicking with an actress.

His excuses that he was in some sort of trance or merely 'experimenting' with stuff didn't quite wash. We like our trances to be more unearthly, thank you. But that does posit the curious phenomenon of our preoccupation with such godmen . Perhaps the search for deliverance, some sort of sense of agency.

Sure, there are any number of genuine worthies, people who really can be what they say they are. But then, the whole thing is also open to abuse. Just consider the number of such people over the years who have come crashing to the ground, or are behind bars now.

But deliverance is at hand: a spiritual/health guru who wants to expand our horizons and jump into the fray to improve the lot of the nation. In a possible first of its kind, a well-known yoga guru has just announced his intention to form a political party. Which, given his stress on physical exercise, might give a new twist to his stated intention of 'cleansing' the wider body politic.

Well, nothing wrong with that per se, as with his calls to crack down on fake religious gurus. This would certainly at least make a difference from our usual spectrum of left-centre-right politics. More like a 'save the nation, hold your breath' kind of situation . The age of the political asana might be upon us.







In the long-term interest of internal security, survival of an endangered primitive tribe and justice and fairness , the government should withhold clearance to the bauxite mining project spread over Orissa's Kalahandi (South) and Rayagada forest divisions, proposed by minerals major Vedanta.

The core issue is violent disruption of a tribal people's life for the sake of mineral extraction in a manner that would mock the ruling ideology of inclusive growth, and give legitimacy to the Maoists. Maoists represent themselves as the only champions of India's dispossessed and exploited rural masses, especially the scheduled tribes.

The state has identified Maoists as India's primary internal security threat, and launched an offensive , labelled Operation Green Hunt, against them. Its premise is that Maoists obstruct the reach of the uplifting arms of the state as they delve deep into rural India's swamps of underdevelopment. If only the Maoists would step aside, in peace or at the point of a bayonet, the state would take care of the poor.

This claim would be blown to smithereens if the state were to facilitate a classic case of development that impoverishes a defenceless populace, perhaps to extinction. Vedanta's treatment of the Dongria Konds, who live on and off the land sought to be mined, has led many ethics-sensitive large investors in Britain to exit the company. A fact-finding team of the ministry of environment and forests has come up with findings that discourage further progress in the project.

India can progress with some of its bauxite continuing to lie underground for some more time. India cannot progress with a growing internal security threat, fed by the state's failure to live up to its commitment to the common people. One of the UPA government's major legislative achievements, in its previous term, was the Forest Rights Act, whose sincere implementation would deprive Maoists of a crucial support base.

The law is being subverted all over the country, for want of political mobilisation in its support. The Lanjigarh bauxite mining project, if it goes through, would be yet more subversion of a key instrumentality of inclusive growth.







Acheer and a yawn for the proposed Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations , Maintenance of Quality and Prevention of Commercialisation ) Bill. To any extent that it expands and enhances India's higher education sector, it deserves to be welcomed.

But such a law is unlikely to open the floodgates for foreign providers of quality education. The reality is that 'for-profit' describes hardly any of the world's best institutions of higher learning. In any case, the Bill stipulates that all profits would have to be ploughed back into the Indian venture and not repatriated.

Only secondrate outfits not allergic to some accounting innovation that allows them to circumvent this ban are likely to invest in Indian campuses. But even these would offer competition to our own citadels of scholarship, such as they are, and alleviate the present, severe scarcity of educational opportunities and so are welcome.

However, these changes are likely to fall short, by far, of the transformation that our higher education sector cries out for. That only 15% of our graduates are fit to be employed is a measure of the challenge that lies at all levels of the education sector (the school kid, after all, is the father of the college youth). And meeting that challenge by our own efforts is part of the process of organic growth that societies undergo , en route to excellence.

One consequence of the state's failure to provide quality education in quantity has been a steep rise in the cost of education. Those who can afford to bear the cost do not mind, such is the premium Indians place on education. But inequality of opportunity would worsen if a talented student were to fail to pursue higher education, only because he/she could not afford the cost.

This should not happen. The government should greatly expand the number of scholarships on offer. Student loans must be cheap, easy and available with no collateral other than the creative potential of the youth getting educated. The inique identification programme should make it simple for lenders and the state to track any borrower's future finances and ensure repayment of student loans.








Organised retail today accounts for less than 5% of India's retail business, but is bound to grow, forcing choices on the government, and upon itself. China's experience and those of other Asian countries that recently modernised their retail sector can provide valuable insight on what choices make sense.

Serving local consumer tastes in China with over 1.3 billion people poses a similar challenge in India, with its 1.15 billion people. Chinese regulations, at both the central and local levels, had created confusion and difficulty for retailers trying to open new businesses or acquire established ones.

India's regulatory patchwork frequently impedes the efficient flow of products and needs to be coordinated across states and local jurisdictions. Finally , the Chinese transportation infrastructure varies across the country's vast expanse. They are modern and highly efficient , especially in urban and coastal areas, and organised retail is most successful here.

India needs better transportation and cold-chain supply-chain infrastructure across the country.
Loosening foreign entry into the retail sector should be based on a strategic quid pro quo: the profit potential of India's large retail market for retail operations knowhow and investment that are critical to modernising and improving the efficiency of Indian retail.

Taiwan opened up its retail sector to foreigners in the 1980s without creating aregulatory environment for the emergence of a strong retail sector. Predictably, foreign companies dominate Taiwanese retail today. In contrast, Japan's distribution networks and regulatory environment have been inhospitable to foreign retailers and the Japanese pay today for this absence of competition with some of the highest retail prices in the world.

South Korea and China managed the process of foreign entry more gradually, initially encouraging joint ventures between domestic and foreign retailers before looser regulations on FDI in retail were brought in. Both countries now have the benefit of a vibrant domestic retail sector, and the competition between domestic and foreign retailers has yielded low prices and good service.

India is already following China's example , initially encouraging joint ventures between domestic and foreign retailers before allowing 100% FDI in organised multi-brand retail. This gradual opening up should preserve a vibrant domestic retail sector in the long term, and provide India with a solid foundation of domestic expertise and human capital. For long-term success, organised retailers should pursue a few key strategies.

First, build capabilities and backend logistics infrastructure. Domestic firms should partner with established foreign firms to capitalise on combining foreign retail knowhow with domestic market knowledge. This is happening already. UK-based Tesco is working with the Tatas ; US-based Wal-Mart with Bharti, etc. Over time, these joint ventures will dissolve but both the domestic and foreign firms will have the capabilities to establish successful retail businesses independently .

While the government is rapidly investing in transportation infrastructure , organised retailers should either invest in their own supply-chain infrastructure or promote intermediaries that develop and invest in cutting-edge supply-chain infrastructure.

Second , learn local and regional preferences in developing the merchandising mix. 'One size fits all' is not a winning strategy, as Subhiksha, till recently one of India's retail success stories, learnt the hard way through bankruptcy when it expanded rapidly into the north from its south Indian roots with little local market knowledge. Merchandising correctly in a diverse country such as India takes time, trial and error, and is critical for success.

Third, to deal with the kirana challenge , organised retailers should actively engage customers and local political leaders, to demonstrate the value of their retail enterprise, especially in the context of political challenges from kirana lobbyists.

For example, Bharti has created a retail academy to train thousands of people in Punjab. Creating thousands of jobs over time develops a political constituency of employees.

But the kirana challenge is not just political , it is also competitive. Given the high customer loyalty to these micro-local outlets, helping kiranas become more efficient while allowing them to effectively serve their clients can be both politically expedient and profitable. One way to address this situation is for organised retailers to engage in 'co-opetition' : to make customers out of their smaller retail rivals.

We already see this taking form in India with cash-and-carry stores that essentially serve as wholesalers to kiranas and other local establishments, as well as to individual shoppers. Tesco-Tata , Bharti-Wal-Mart and Metro have all created cash-and-carry formats.

In fact, the government has recognised the political benefits of co-opetition by allowing 100% FDI in the cash-and-carry format.

A competitive organised retail sector would be a boon for the Indian consumer because the industry will be forced to continuously improve on products, service and price, letting India be in the vanguard of retail innovation.

Such tough competition can produce strong domestic retailers who themselves may expand overseas. Perhaps, more importantly, the presence of foreign retailers would create a huge opportunity for Indian farmers, food processors and other manufacturers.

Foreign retailers that have positive experience with domestic suppliers sourcing for the Indian market are also likely to source from Indian suppliers for their global operations. Consider this: if a $300-billion American behemoth like Wal-Mart sourced even 10% of its products from India, the potential for Indian farmers and manufacturers is huge. The export potential may even dwarf the direct benefits from organised retail.

(The author is professor of marketing at Yale School of Management)








Like Jen, the protagonist in her memoir Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert was a plucky blond American woman in her 30s with no children and no major financial worries. As the book opens, she was going through a messy divorce, followed by a stormy rebound love affair.

Awash in tears in the middle of the night on the floor of the bathroom, she began to pray for guidance, "You know — like, to God." God answered. He told her to go back to bed. She embarks instead on a year-long pilgrimage to Italy, India and Indonesia!

"I wanted to explore one aspect of myself set against the backdrop of each country, in a place that has traditionally done that one thing very well," Gilbert writes. "I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy , the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two."

As she studied Italian and searched for the world's best pizza with new-found friends, Gilbert was still stalked by depression and loneliness which she casts as 'Pinkerton Detectives' — depression , the wise guy, and loneliness , 'the more sensitive cop' .

They frisk her, "empty my pockets of any joy I had been carrying" and relentlessly interrogate her about why she thinks she deserves a vacation, considering what a mess she's made of her life.

After literally eating herself out of depression, she came back to the US for Christmas holidays and went to an Indian ashram for yoga and meditation; then onwards to Bali, to be with a seemingly ageless medicine man. It seems he had read her palm before her trip began and predicted that Gilbert would have more good luck than anyone he'd ever met and that she would live a long time, have many friends and experiences.

Her only problem in life was "You worry too much!" In real life, Gilbert's story turned out to be exactly like the wise man's prophecy : the memoir based on her odyssey became a megabestseller and she went on to acquire acult following as an author.

Now she had a new worry about her best days being already behind her! People constantly began to ask her if she felt she was doomed as a creative writer. What if she could never replicate the phenomenal success of her last book? Again Gilbert met her inner demons head-on and got a clean' answer: If you don't grab an idea or a poem when it flies by, then it will go looking for another muse, she says in a TED talk. The lesson was: grab an idea, or know that it will be fleeting.








SEBI's move to prescribe 100% margin for QIBs is not surprising . It is a logical extension of the phased approach to create a level playing field across different categories of investors . When book-building was introduced in public issues, there were no margin requirements for QIBs.

The minimum 10% margin requirement was introduced in September 2005, along with scrapping of the discretionary allotment for QIBs.

Under SEBI regulations, QIBs are treated differently from other investors. Signals from QIBs, in terms of appetite and pricing, are cues for decisionmaking by retail and non-institutional investors . So, the QIB book must reflect genuine demand. Today, a part of the QIB demand reflected in oversubscribed issues may not be genuine as of them leverage on the 10% margin requirement and make more applications to maximise allotment.

With SEBI looking to reduce the timeframe for allotment, post-book closure and introduction of application supported by blocked amount (Asba), the compulsions of differential standards between QIBs and other investor categories lose relevance.

Fears of the move impacting the success of public issues are not entirely justified. In the short term, there could be some effect on the QIB appetite and levels of oversubscription from QIBs that are looking for immediate listing gains. As such, oversubscription, driven by non-serious demand , is only a psychological measure of an issue's success, rather than a barometer of its future price performance.

So, a drop in the level of oversubscription should not be a concern. What may cause anxiety is a possible shift of some QIB bids to the later part of bid periods, resulting in build-up of uncertainty during the initial period. However, long-term investment decisions of QIBs would not be affected by the margin size. The quality of demand books created in public issues will improve with this change. With a full margin, there would be virtually no underwriting risk for the underwriting syndicate.

(Gautam Gupte is the Director of Ambit Corporate Finance, Views are personal)








The SEBI decision that requires all investors including qualified institutional buyers (QIBs) to bring in the entire application money as a margin in public securities offerings is a welcome measure. This is a small step in cleaning up the price discovery process under Indian securities laws; many more are due.

Not requiring QIBs to commit funds when they quote a price for a stock being issued led to an uneven playing field. Issuers were able to claim oversubscription within minutes of the book opening , leading to inflated demand for the offering . A QIB today need not put in money for its application and could, therefore, bid for a multiple of what it actually wants and give a sense of high demand for the offering.

The perceived oversubscription leads to others bidding a multiple of what they really want, because they would only get proportionate shares. Each bid — inexpensive because one does not need to put the money where the mouth is — fuels the next; and retail investors herd towards the issuer.

There was also a settlement risk for issuers and the QIBs alike — if adverse market conditions were to induce the QIBs to change their mind, the offering would effectively have to be called off, leading to undesirable consequences for the market. The QIBs too do not have to worry about the risk of being out of funds while waiting for allotment. They could use the applications supported by blocked amounts facility , whereby their funds would be earmarked and blocked but they would not have to actually part with funds till very close to the allotment of shares.

Further reform is overdue in other areas. In book-building for securities issuances as well as in reverse book-building for delisting , there is no bar on withdrawing a bid from rebidding. Till date, there has not been a single known usage of SEBI's enormous powers to act against abusive price discovery in the primary market. 'Purveying information not believed to be true' seems to be an allegation reserved exclusively for the secondary market.
(Somasekhar S is a Partner at J Sagar Associates)








The micro-finance sector claims a repayent rate of more than 95% and loan loss of less than 1%. But with more and more players getting into micro-credit , concerns are beginning to be voiced over unsound practices such as multiple lending to the same borrower . Jayshree Vyas, chairperson of Sadhan , an association of community development finance institutions with 234 members spread across the country, speaks to ET about the sector. Excerpts:

Micro credit has grown at a fast rate in recent years. Is some of it built on unsound practices?

Microfinance is growing at a very fast rate of about 74% annually. On the one hand, we are happy about it. But it is also a matter of concern as we want to ensure that growth doesn't negatively affect the quality of services provided to members.

When you are dealing with the poor, you have to build a relationship and maintain it. We have to understand their pattern of income and the crisis that they have to face in life. Unless you are in a close relationship with them, micro finance may not serve its purpose. They may use it for nonproductive purpose.

Is the pressure from investors affecting how microfinance is working in the country?

There are many types of organisations within the movement. It is only in case of private companies such as NBFCs where the whole issue of investors comes. Investors want good returns, which can happen when money comes back and they charge high interest rates. But one has to be transparent.

If one is charging 40% interest rate then it should be charged upfront instead of breaking it up and charging it under various subheads . If the repayment rate is good, then it is fine. But if coercion is used then there is a problem. You have to have investors who are not only interested in getting good returns , but also making an impact. This is a major thing that bothers us.

Isn't it a good if the number of companies providing microfinance goes up?

Greater competition is good. But, if there are too many companies coming and providing micro-finance , there are chances of multiple lending. If there is too much credit available, there is a greater risk of people using it for other purposes.

Is there a case for closer regulation?

NBFCs are already regulated by the RBI. There has to be greater self-regulation . There is a need for a code of conduct which would cover issues such as interest rates, transparency, avoidance of coercive methods for collecting money, carrying out credit need assessment, linking with financial literacy and introducing social audits . We, at Sa-dhan , are working on such a code.

One needs to assess how micro-financing is impacting the poor and whether it is really improving their situation and helping them build assets. These could become pre-conditions for investors or lenders. We can put moral pressure on companies to perform in a responsible through a code of conduct. There could be penalties imposed such as debarring a company from being a member of Sadhan if it consistently performs badly.
Are microfinance loans being used for consumption & non-productive uses?

To some extent, it is. To avoid this, things have to be done systematically. Initially when you give loans, the poor do use it for consumption purposes because money is fungible. Eventually, not only credit, but other services like savings and insurance, need to be offered looking at life cycle needs, together with financial education. We have to explain to them why do we need to use loans for productive purpose rather than non-productive purpose and one has to avoid getting into the debt trap. A close watch needs to be kept on where the money is being used. RBI and the government are also promoting financial literacy.

Wouldn't it be better to capinterest rates?

Microfinance companies have to deal with high operations cost. You cannot generalise there or have a rigid base as it varies from place to place.








NEW DELHI: Don Faul , director of global online operations at Facebook, just landed in India on Tuesday and he is already scouting for CVs for the post of the company's India head. The world's largest online social network is also planning to hire local language specialists, IT security heads, and online sales managers for its India office, to be set up at Hyderabad. ET caught up with Mr Faul for a quick look at what's on his mind. Excerpts:

How big will the Hyderabad team be? Do you also plan to outsource product engineering from US to India?
We will start small. Currently, we are looking for a person who can set up an India team and scale it up. The required skill sets obviously include strong insights into consumer internet experience. We also need the person to be intensely passionate about Facebook. The person should strengthen relations with our advertisers and partners in India and support those in North America and Western Europe out of here. We plan to close the hiring process in a few weeks. Our product engineering will continue to be based in Palo Alto.

What are Facebook's plans to monetise the growing number of Indian users and advertisers?

Active Indian user base for Facebook in India has already reached 8 million. We have several tie-ups in India in the travel, hospitality, fi-nance, and entertainment spaces. For instance, Facebook has tied up with Mahindra Homestays, which helps travellers find rooms in homes. It uses Facebook to identify young, mobile travellers. Facebook members get a 15% discount if they are fans of the Mahindra Homestays Page. The Taj Hotel Group is using Facebook to get customer feedback and gain insights about how people feel about their hotels. Last month, Facebook tied up with, where users in India were able to share their views on the proposals for the Union Budget. More such tie-ups to engage users are on the way.

How is Facebook planning to reward and monetise its Indian developer base?

We have a large and growing developer base in India. Last year in July, we launched a developer contest in India in two categories — Facebook Apps and Facebook Connect Integrations. Many popular Facebook applications are being created out of India. One popular one is Grabbler, a local Indian word game. Green Mango is another, which helps to connect people who work in unorganised sectors such as electricians and domestic help. Muziboo, an audio sharing platform for musicians and podcasters help people upload their self-composed music. The developer community is very strong in India. Developers have started to monetise Facebook's applications.


Any bets on the Indian Premier League?

Yes, sure. Global Cricket Ventures (Indian Premier League's licensing partner for mobile and online media content) is launching three web and mobile applications using Facebook Connect. Facebook Connect is a set of application programming interface for developers that lets website owners connect users' Facebook login with their existing login scheme. The IPL app will enable people to create their own cricket teams and even allow people to buy IPL players, of course virtually.


What is Facebook's strategy around vernacular language support?

The India office will provide language support globally as well as locally. As of now, more than 70 translations are available on the website, including Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. We plan to increase our coverage to more Indian languages.

What is Facebook's view on filtering or control over Internet? Face-book itself has been blocked often in many countries like China, Iran, Syria...

Sorry, I can't comment on that.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and dalit icon, Ms Mayawati is a neo-Buddhist by all appearances. But her routine actions appear to diverge sharply from the Master's thoughts and actions. Prince Siddhartha became a wandering mendicant, giving up all worldly possessions, in order to attain enlightenment; Ms Mayawati looks to be travelling the road in the opposite direction. She did not start out with much, it is said, but a strikingly successful political journey has kept her cocooned in power and sloshing in wealth that is of very recent origin. Perhaps the chief minister should not be judged by whether she is a good Buddhist or not. That may be too much to ask. But the question she must ask herself is whether she is displaying characteristics of being a good citizen of a democracy. Her ardent followers too are not asking that question yet, but it can't be before long that they will. And that is when she will be told by those who claim to worship her now that a good political leader cannot be as deficient a citizen as Ms Mayawati has shown herself to be. What seized the Bahujan Samaj Party supremo to be persuaded to wear a garland at a recent Lucknow public rally made of currency notes of Rs 1,000 denomination is not clear. But it is more than evident that what she wore was enough to have been shared by 50,000 of the poorest in that rally, if distributed equally in the form of Rs 1,000 rupee notes. But the BSP leader is known to project hubris, not charity, generosity, or either a reformist or revolutionary vision although she presumes to speak for the oppressed dalit. The entire nation was stunned to see the smirk on the face of a senior police officer who thought he had got away after molesting a teenaged girl who took her life. The shock was no less great in seeing Ms Mayawati in all her finery and self-congratulatory smile while being weighed down by the burden of monies that did not go to the people. When Parliament erupted in protest on Tuesday over the brazen display of the power of money unlikely to have flowed from legitimate channels, it was echoing a sense of betrayal at the hands of a leading public figure of the country in whom the people of India's biggest state have placed so much trust. It is not that this country is not full of politicians of a questionable background, and it is not the case that many of those who rose in Parliament to express concern are themselves upholders of public virtue. But it is plainly the case that we have crossed a new low. Ms Mayawati has ostensibly set out to set right the wrongs of millennia, and to raise the status of the dalits. If she was looking for inspiration from within that broad social community, she might have thought of emulating the example of B.R. Ambedkar, a man who struggled, who shone, and who did not compromise on public morals and notions of the public good. Alas, the BSP leader who swears by his name has chosen to follow instead the worst examples from among the caste Hindus, the traditional oppressors of the dalits. This neither feels right nor smells right. The dalits, like the non-dalits who voted for the BSP, can do with better leaders and better role models.








DESPITE the subsequent worry and suspense over the prospect of its passage through the Lok Sabha, the adoption by the Rajya Sabha of the Women's Reservation Bill was undoubtedly a landmark in Indian history. In all other fields, including service in the armed forces, Indian women have made their mark. But 63 years after Independence their number in the nation's Parliament remains dismally low — 59 out of 544 in the Lok Sabha and 18 out of 228 in the Upper House. When the measure to rectify this crosses the first hurdle after a struggle lasting 14 years, it surely is an occasion to applaud even if on March 9 the euphoria was perhaps overdone.


Meanwhile, in the Lok Sabha those opposed to the bill have redoubled their efforts to block it by hook or by crook. They cannot hope to defeat it, of course, because not only the ruling coalition but also the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left are backing it. On the other hand, inveterate foes of the Bill — led by the Yadav trio, consisting of Mr Mulayam Singh of Samajwadi Party (SP), Mr Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Mr Sharad Yadav of the ironically divided Janata Dal (United) — feel heartened for several reasons. First, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is scared of its ample majority being rendered wafer-thin in case the SP and the RJD carry out their threat to withdraw support to it. Secondly, there are murmurs of dissent within the UPA. The railway minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, made no secret of her support to the demand for a "quota within the quota" for Muslim women. Mr Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party has publicly assured the Yadav threesome that the Bill can be diluted. How the cookie would crumble is too soon to say. The only certainty at present is that the bill would be brought to the Lok Sabha only in May after the Budget has been passed.


However, my purpose here is not to discuss the future of the Women's Reservation Bill but to express the deepest anxiety about the future of Parliament. Its prestige and authority have already been eroded grievously because of constant disruption of its proceedings, day after day, session after session, year after year with utter impunity. There have been interludes when Parliament has been made totally dysfunctional. After the 2004 general elections, for instance, the BJP had petulantly boycotted a whole session. The Budget of a billion-plus people, totalling about Rs 100,000 crores had to be passed without a single minute's discussion. Of the occasions when a handful of unruly members have paralysed the apex legislature it is impossible to keep count. The horror of horrors is that nobody has done anything about it. Last week's events have sadly demolished all hopes that first-ever strict disciplinary action taken against unspeakably obstreperous members in the Rajya Sabha would become a precedent for the future and might slowly undo the massive damage to parliamentary norms and democratic decencies.


On March 8, which was also International Women's Day and therefore an appropriate date to pass the Women's Reservation Bill, there was business as usual in the Rajya Sabha, which is to say that half-a-dozen of rowdies prevented the House from conducting any business at all. The next day, however, things began to look up, but only after two adjournments caused by the determined disrupters. Seven troublemakers were suspended for the rest of the session. When the wrongdoers refused to budge and some of them surrounded the Chairman, Dr Hamid Ansari, vandalised his desk and even threatened him personally, for the first time marshals were mobilised and the suspended seven were thrown out. This was the right thing to do, and indeed it should have been done in both Houses much earlier. Those who applauded the wise, if belated, action to enforce discipline and hoped that it would be replicated whenever necessary were in for a big and almost instant disappointment.


No sooner had the two Houses assembled on the morning of March 10 that loud demands for the immediate revocation of the suspension of the shameless seven began in both. According to convention, neither House discusses what happens in the other. But who cares? Since then those suspended members who have tendered an apology to the vice-president have been forgiven. Some others are still refusing to apologise for their disgraceful behaviour (which was the original stand of all seven). On top of it, all concerned have made it clear that no matter what happens when the bill is brought before the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha script would not be repeated there. What else is it if not a carte blanche to those hell-bent on obstructing the Women's Reservation Bill by the time-honoured technique of holding the House to ransom? Those addicted to this method cannot but be elated.


It also means that the government intends to put the bill, amended or otherwise, to vote in the Lok Sabha amidst all the din and disturbance, without any debate, which surely is not the best way to amend the Constitution, even if many other bills and resolution have been so adopted in the past. Initially, this was the strategy in the Rajya Sabha, too. But the BJP and the Left Front insisted that the vote must be preceded by a debate.


Some opponents of the use of marshals to discipline the habitual disrupters of Parliament have used the curious argument that there were only seven recalcitrant members in the Rajya Sabha while the number of their counterparts was likely to be 50 or even more. By this logic the Indian state must never use force against law-breakers wherever their number is substantial. (It can, of course, be argued that, as in Parliament, so across the country, this doctrine is already being followed.)


Parliaments of other nations — Japanese Diet, Italian Chambers of Deputies, and even Israel's Knesset — have bundled out, when necessary, a much larger number of their rowdies. There is no other way to preserve the dignity and efficacy of a democratic institution. The kind of permissiveness being perpetuated here had enabled Adolf Hitler to take over the German Reichstag and overthrow the Weimar Republic.








NEW YORK, united states

I'm tempted to see the US vice-president, Mr Joe Biden's visit to Israel as a parable: Nice guy wanders into mess and truth is revealed.


We've had, for example, the Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, clarifying the fact that "Israel and the US have mutual interests, but we will act according to the vital interests of the state of Israel".


Of course, the United States, too, has "vital interests". They include reaching a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine for which the physical space erodes daily as Israeli settlements in the West Bank expand.


Peace is a vital American interest for many reasons, including its inalienable commitment to Israel's long-term security, but the most pressing is that the conflict is a jihadist recruitment tool that feeds the wars in which young Americans die.


This is not rocket science. Yet over the past decade the United States has been facilitating the costly settlements enterprise by pouring $28.9 billion into Israel. America's strategic goal of Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side in security has been undermined by its own blank-check diplomacy.


Well, goodbye to all that — maybe. Something shifted when Biden ("You need not be a Jew to be a Zionist") was thanked for his unstinting support of Israel with a snub: The announcement that another 1,600 apartments for Jews will be built in east Jerusalem, a pure provocation when restarting peace talks is the core US aim.


The US President, Mr Barack Obama, was furious. In a top-down administration like this one, you don't get the secretary of state, Ms Hillary Clinton, lambasting Netanyahu for 43 minutes and David Axelrod, a senior White House adviser, speaking of "an affront" and "an insult" and a "very, very destructive" step if America's measured leader is not immeasurably incensed. That truth is also worth knowing.


Mr Obama has reason to be angry.


Mr Netanyahu, betraying the growing Israeli taste for the status quo, torn between Rightist instincts and coalition partners on the one hand and his ego's sensitivity to the peacemaker's halo and history books on the other, has been toying with Obama.


A year ago, in March 2009, I wrote that, "Obama's new policies of West Asian diplomacy and engagement" would involve "a probable cooling of US-Israeli relations". I believed that Israel had misread or underestimated a core strategic shift of the Obama presidency: away from the with-us-or-against-us rhetoric of the war on terror toward a rapprochement with the Muslim world as the basis for isolating terrorists.


Well, here's the cooling. You can't have rapprochement with Muslims while condoning the steady Israeli appropriation of the physical space for Palestine. You can't have that rapprochement if US policy is susceptible to the whims of Shas, the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party in Mr Netanyahu's coalition that runs the interior ministry and announced the Biden-baiting measure.


The Israeli Right, whether religious or secular, has no interest in a two-state peace. I had lunch the other day with Mr Ron Nachman, the mayor of Ariel, one of the largest West Bank settlements. He told me breezily that there "can be no Palestinian state", and that "Israel and Jordan should divide the land". I liked his frankness. It clarifies things.


It's time for equal frankness from Mr Netanyahu. Do "the vital interests of the state of Israel" include continued building in east Jerusalem and the steady takeover of the West Bank, or does his embrace of the airy phrase, "two states for two peoples", have more than camouflage meaning?


Mr Netanyahu's apology is not enough. The United States is asking for "specific actions". I'd say at a minimum that would include the annulment of the 1,600-apartments plan. Israel, always ready to mock Palestinian disarray, might also ensure that its leader knows what members of his own government are doing.


This is a watershed moment. Palestinian violence, Palestinian anti-Semitic incitement and jihadist infiltration of the Palestinian national movement all undermine peace efforts. They are unacceptable; Mr Biden was right to "ironclad" the US commitment to Israeli security. But it's past time that Palestinian failings cease to serve as an excuse for Israel's remorseless, cynical scattering of the Palestinian people into enclaves that make a farce of statehood. That is "an affront" to America.


In this sense, Mr Biden's foray has been salutary. It brought US "vital interests" to the surface. It challenged Israel's ostrich-like burrowing into polices that, over time, will make one divided, undemocratic state more likely than "two states for two peoples". It asked again the question posed recently by Mr David Shulman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: Are Israelis, cocooned, still able "to see, to imagine, and to acknowledge the suffering of other human beings, including those aspects of their suffering for which we are directly responsible?"


The mass-market daily Maariv had a front-page post-Biden cartoon of Mr Obama cooking Mr Netanyahu in a pot. It was supposed to illustrate a relationship "in flames". But the image — a black man cooking a white man over an open fire — also said something about the way Israel views its critics.


Israel is wrong to mock its constructive critics. They alone can usher the country from the one-state dead end — a vital Israeli interest.








The United Progressive Alliance government deferred the introduction of the controversial Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, (CLNDB) in the Lok Sabha on Monday. The aim of this bill is to meet specific American concerns which have arisen post Bhopal gas tragedy, by providing immunity to American nuclear plant suppliers from any victim-related litigation in the event of a major nuclear disaster. The bill transfers the liability, or compensation, to the Indian taxpayer instead. This proposal is risky for several reasons, including the fact that it provides the nuclear reactor manufacturers the option to maximise profits by reducing building and safety standards without fear of prosecution. 


Since Russia and France will supply reactors to India from their government-owned companies, this bill is really meant to cater to the United States where nuclear plants are not only owned and maintained by private companies like Westinghouse and General Electric, but it is the private "operator" and not the private "reactor supplier" who is held accountable for payment (through insurance) in case of a nuclear accident. No American "reactor supplier" would be willing to build nuclear plants in India unless the CLNDB is passed.


The bill is crucial to the operationalisation of the Indo-US nuclear deal, but India is under no international obligation to pass this bill which, in reality, attempts to convert the liability of a foreign reactor supplier (FRS) into a rather pathetic compensation, to be paid by the Indian taxpayer.


Though the bill is America-centric, if passed it will apply equally to reactors supplied by France and Russia for which presumably different, and as yet unpublicised, conditions would have been put in the contracts.


Post the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, various efforts to create international standards for liability and compensation in case of nuclear accidents have failed. No globally acceptable norms apply to any of the 440 reactors that are in operation worldwide. India, if it passes the bill, will be the first country to voluntary commit "nuclear hara-kiri".


It is accepted that nothing man-made is 100 per cent "accident proof", but after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster (where the operating procedure was short circuited and laid-down norms bypassed, so as to meet an artificial deadline), all civilian reactors have to meet stringent safety norms laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). These norms, if strictly complied with, will almost rule out "operator failure" as the likely cause of a major nuclear emergency since a system of mechanical and electronic safety interlocks would ensure that the laid-down operating procedures are followed for reactor start up, operations and shut down.


In modern, civilian, IAEA-compliant Light Water Reactors (LWRs) it is most likely that major nuclear emergencies occur due to material failure for which the FRS should be held liable.


Here it may be worth noting that the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear disaster entailed $1 billion for cleaning up operations that lasted 14 years. At today's prices a similar disaster may require about $5 to $10 billion for "clean up". It is, therefore, no coincidence that in US the equivalent law (Price-Anderson Act) to our proposed CLNDB lays down about $10 billion as the maximum liability. Indeed, critics of the Price-Anderson Act have been demanding that the liability be doubled to $20 billion. In Germany, the liability for a nuclear accident is "limitless" and FRS are required to deposit a security of $3.5 billion per plant.


The clauses in the proposed bill are listed below. All of them appear to work against India's national interest:

* The FRS, even if "guilty" of a nuclear accident, will be immune from any victim-initiated civil suit or criminal proceedings in India or abroad. This America-inspired proposal appears to be a fallout of the Bhopal gas disaster.


* The liability of the FRS has been converted into a paltry, indirect compensation. The Government of India as owner of the reactors will operate the reactors through its "operator", i.e. the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL). In the event of a nuclear accident, the maximum liability of the government and NPCIL has been pegged at "the rupee equivalent of 300 million special drawing rights (SDRs)", or Rs 2,087 crores ($458 million). The NPCIL is liable for up to Rs 500 crores ($109 million), and it can "attempt to recover this amount from the FRS, provided this aspect has been entered in each contract". The government is liable for damages between Rs 500 crores ($109 million) and Rs 2,087 crores ($458 million) only.


* Indian courts will have no role to play since all nuclear damage claims will be dealt with by a "Nuclear Damage Claims Commissioner" whose verdict will be "final", and cannot be appealed in any court.


* All compensation claims will be "time barred" after 10 years, i.e. they cannot be claimed after 10 years.
To conclude, I must state that I was a supporter of the Indo-US nuclear deal, but I am totally opposed to the proposed Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill in its present form since it accepts that Indian life is "cheap" and also seeks to make the Indian taxpayer liable (albeit indirectly, through hefty insurance premiums, while expensive nuclear power will be state-subsidised and not earn any profits) for any nuclear accident compensation payments. And worse is the bigger risk — once immune to any legal action, the FRS may try to maximise its profits by building reactors below the stringent norms laid down by the IAEA, thereby increasing the risk of a major nuclear accident.


If such a bill has to be passed, it needs to be modified as follows:


* The FRS needs to be somehow brought in transparently, directly or indirectly, into the "liability and compensation" loop, while the Indian taxpayer must be kept out of this loop.

* The term "major nuclear accident" would need to be clearly and legally defined, to prevent frivolous claims.
* The maximum liability and compensation amount for major nuclear accidents can initially be set at $1.5 billion in 2010, with a provision to revise it upwards in every individual contract signed at intervals of 10 years, starting with 2020.

* To prevent time-consuming litigation in Indian courts, a provision must be made to enable a petitioner to challenge, in a special "nuclear court", the verdict of the Indian "Nuclear Damage Claims Commissioner". The verdict of this "nuclear court" would be final, and should be given within two years of filing the appeal.


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








In the last week of March 2010, United States President Barack Obama is scheduled to make his first official visit to the country of his childhood, Indonesia. Even as the visit unfolds with personal and childhood memories, it signals two significant issues — first, that US foreign policy under the Obama administration has been critically rethinking relations with Southeast Asia in general and Indonesia in particular. Second, the policy on both fronts today has evolved after taking into consideration an assessment of the gains which China has made within this region. In the absence of the US presence in this region since the end of the Cold War, China's influence has been significant. This shift in US policy towards this region is now more poised and nuanced. The forthcoming visit will look at bilateral relations with Indonesia and also with the region at large.


For Southeast Asia, the influence of the major players has always been a critical determinant. The region has wanted to keep the major powers involved because this factor has always balanced out regional security considerations. Geographically wedged between regional giants, Southeast Asia has always seen larger players competing and complementing each other for influence. As a result, America's lack of involvement in the region has been critical. And this was endorsed strongly by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton when she made the comment that the "United States is back". In fact, this vaccum has, in recent times, been filled by China, the growth of which has been viewed both as an advantage and a cause for concern.


It is with this background that the US' re-engagement with Indonesia needs to be examined. The symbolism behind Mr Obama's visit is significant — first it signals to the Muslim world at large that the concepts of Islam and democracy are compatible. The US has been urging Indonesia to push ahead with its democratic reforms and decentralisation process, and with this visit it is sending a clear sign that the US position on democratic Islamic states is one of inclusion and partnership. Given the fact that Southeast Asia has been viewed as a Muslim majority region, Mr Obama's visit is crucial in sending out the message that the US will continue to support democracy and liberal political values in the Muslim world.


Another important aspect of the visit is that it is being viewed as a comprehensive partnership that will include both economic and defence related issues. While the visit will involve educational exchange and economic cooperation, its major focus will be defence. One of the areas that will be significant is military relations — the need to re-establish military-to-military contact between the US and Indonesia will be a high priority.


Military ties with Indonesia began as early as the 1950s when the focus of US engagement was to fight

Communism. In the early years, Indonesia and several countries in the region received military assistance and training in counter-insurgency measures. The 1965 coup and massacre of Partai Kommunis Indonesia (PKI) were viewed as important. During the Suharto years, the military was the only machinery that kept administrative control and national security as its clear agenda, in true spirit of the dwifungsi (dual function) concept.


However, under the Suharto administration, the excesses of the Indonesian military in armed conflicts led to gross human rights violations. After the militia-led violence unleashed upon East Timor in the aftermath of the 1999 referendum, training to a special force, Kopassus, and military ties were revoked. Mr Obama's visit seems to indicate that a relook at the training given to the Kopassus will be a step to push the military ties once again.


In was only after the 2001 World Trade Centre attack that a rethink on military ties with Indonesia was considered. Immediately after 9/11, Megawati Sukarnoputri, then President of Indonesia, made her first official visit to the US and soon military assistance was restarted with the intention of addressing issues of terrorism within Indonesia. This tied in with the Bush administration's identification of the region as a second front in the war on terror. Moreover, the indication that Indonesia was a critical ally in the war against terrorism became more serious given its own experience of the Bali bombings of 2002. Subsequent attacks in the capital, between 2003 and 2009, have challenged the Yodhoyono administration, signalling the need for closer cooperation in an all-encompassing way.


Another factor that triggers US reengagement are issues of sea piracy in the Malacca Strait. Already the US has close ties with Singapore in this regard and both Indonesia and Malaysia will be important partners for patrolling the strait which remains the most vital trading route in the region. In fact China and the US have been vying for a leadership role in securing the Malacca Strait. India too is one of the countries whose naval expertise will remain vital in the region on this issue. In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami there has also been increased cooperation in disaster management and relief work among these countries.


Interestingly, under the Obama administration the US has established its first diplomatic relation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) — with an ambassador-rank official designated to the Asean headquarters in Jakarta. Even while America's relations with both Thailand and the Philippines have slowly witnessed a reversal, its ties with Indonesia are growing in a realignment of regional configurations. The US probably is the foremost country in terms of Indonesia's foreign policy calculations. For Indonesia this renewed interaction is likely to bring the much-needed regional recognition.


Indonesia, one of the founding members of Asean, was badly impacted by the Asian financial crisis of 1997, followed by the overthrow of the Suharto regime. The decade since its democratisation has seen the country being ravaged by natural disaster, separatist conflict and sectarian and religious violence. However, what remains significant is that the political consolidation of democracy has been steady. It is today, once again, being touted as a regional power, the emergence of which will help strengthen the region in view of China's growing influence. Given these factors, the US will be looking at a comprehensive partnership with Indonesia, both bilaterally as well as an option to reinforce the regional dynamics that will offset China's role. For Obama, choosing Indonesia is both a personal and a political choice.


Dr Shankari Sundararaman is anassociate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU








Picture this: It is about 11.30 am and you are late — both for your work as well as for sending the report your boss had asked you to. In fact, it should have been ready last week. Your assistant has once again failed to finish it on time. You storm into his or her cabin, your face turns red with controlled anger, trying to paste a smile on your tight lips you ask, "Is that report ready?"


Just four loaded words! But they carry all the past: your strained relationship with your assistant, his/her failures, incompetence, your frustration and so on. Your assistant's already confused mind is thrown in a whirlpool and s/he stands up looking more stupid. Fuming, you leave the cabin, light a cigarette, trying to puff your anger out. You crush the cigarette under your feet, wishing it were your assistant or the boss, or maybe both.


This is a common scenario in our offices, homes and in any situation where humans interact with each other. The tension between people keeps mounting and one day it erupts into a heart attack or any other stress-related disease.


Can't there be another, more creative way of tackling situations like this? Yes, some Osho insights would help you look at this kind of interaction with fresh eyes. Consider this:


Separate the person from the task


A person is a big phenomenon, says Osho, and the task s/he is expected to do is a very small expression of his/her energy. If you cannot get the result you want, it is time you look at your ways of communication. Take the person out for coffee, or for a smoke, and talk about everything else except that particular task. Talk about his family, his children , find out his likes and dislikes, share your own. By this time the other person will be so overwhelmed that he himself will say, "Sorry, I am late but I promise to finish the report today".


Have a dialogue with people


While you are talking with people try to see if it is a debate or a dialogue. Usually a discussion turns into a debate because everybody is trying to prove that he/she is right. When two people go on trying to prove that they are right, dialogue is not possible. Dialogue means trying to understand the other with an open mind. Dialogue is a rare phenomenon and it is beautiful because both are enriched through the dialogue. Dialogue is not posing against each other, but taking each other's hand, moving together towards the truth, helping each other to find the way. It is togetherness, cooperation, a harmonious effort to find the truth.
The mind always wants to prove that it is higher than the other, the heart wants to connect with the other, share its love. So a dialogue can only happen through the heart.


Take responsibility


The basis of all conflict is: "I am right, you are wrong". You can change this frame of mind. If there is a conflict, take responsibility for your contribution to the conflict. Try to look at what have you said that may have irritated the other, in what tone, what was your hidden motive, etc.
If you go on taking responsibility, every relationship will be a learning experience and you will be immensely creative in each one of them. Think of it as a magical opportunity of expanding yourself, a possibility of being flexible, coming up with new solutions, and then you will not harbour the idea of right and wrong.


— Amrit Sadhana is in the managementteam of Osho International Meditation Resort,Pune. She facilitates meditation workshopsaround the country and abroad.









'WISE men learn from the mistakes of others, fools from their own" ~ UPA-II seems determined to disprove the second part of that adage. It simply did not learn. After having to back off from presenting the much-hyped though controversial Women's Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha, it has done even worse in respect of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill. It listed the Bill (its merits/demerits are entirely another issue) on the agenda paper, then decided not to introduce it. It feared that a united Opposition could block it at that initial stage, a fear enhanced by the fact that some 35 of its own members were absent, indeed ignoring the Whip to be present. That Monday mornings never see the House full is something that has not sunk in, at least not to the minister for parliamentary affairs and his aides. The Speaker rightly ruled out Sushma Swaraj's demand ~ she ever uses an elephant gun to shoot an ant ~ for a vote, holding that since the Bill had not been introduced there was no question of the House approving its withdrawal. However, an embarrassed silence was the response from the Treasury benches to LK Advani's call for the government to explain why it had second thoughts, developed cold feet. Underscoring that embarrassment was a realisation that after losing the backing of the Yadav trio on the Women's Reservation Bill (they have, at least, been upfront while others nurse grave doubts but keep their lips zipped) the UPA's majority in the Lok Sabha is too slender for comfort when financial legislation is in the offing and the support of the Trinamul is "iffy". Of course a majority in the Rajya Sabha cannot be mustered without securing the support of some Opposition members. 

All the explanations and excuses from ministers and party spokesmen do not wash. What was the point of offering a meeting of the National Security Adviser with the leader of the Opposition after positions had hardened? If there was an iota of sincerity to the desire for consensus, consultations should have been held before listing the Bill, to avoid a repeat of the Women's Bill bungling. There is another commonality to the goof-up: timing. The desire was to pass the Women's Bill on the Centenary of International Women's Day, the Nuclear Liability Bill before the Prime Minister went to the USA. It was sheer arrogance to assume that Parliament would "play ball".








THE Middle East is in a flux. The Israeli Prime Minister's pledge to increase the number of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem is clearly intended to woo his Right-wing allies. It runs counter to his frequent commitment to a two-state solution. Beyond his domestic compulsions and in the wider international context, Benjamin Netanhayu' assertion has served to sour Israel's relations with the USA, a vital construct in that part of the world. He seems intent on having his bread buttered on both sides ~ a two-state formula and yet more Jewish settlements in a contentious region. The announcement has been humiliating to America as much as the Palestinians, and is bound to torpedo the peace process. It is just as well, therefore, that Hillary Clinton saw through the bluff during her weekend interaction with the Israeli PM. The Obama administration has been prompt and swift in making it implicit that Israel has crossed the "red line" with its pledge to erect thousands of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. In terms of diplomacy, the Israeli announcement couldn't have been more tactlessly timed ~ when the US Vice-President, Joe Biden, was visiting the Middle East on a mission to resume the Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. Netanhayu is said to have ordered an inquiry into how the announcement was made during Biden's visit, but the move is unlikely to control the damage. The fact that he is loath to alienate the Right-wing lobby has been the major  impediment to the negotiations on which President Obama has invested his power and prestige. 

Israel's somewhat haughty expression of belligerence is unlikely to endear Netanhayu just yet to the American Republicans either, if that indeed is his long-term strategy. Despite the fact that Barack Obama's ratings have plummeted to 46 per cent, the Israeli PM may be deluding himself if he gambles on whether the present occupant of the White House will turn out to be a one-time President. The risk of wooing the Right-wing domestic constituency by ignoring President Obama is substantial. He is being prematurely speculative if he is confident that a pro-Israel Republican President will take over in 2012. Historically, Israel's equation with America has been remarkably bipartisan in character; the country has never backed either the Democrats or the Republicans. The nature of that critical relationship will change dramatically through Netanhayu's diplomatic gamble. For now, the two countries would appear to have fallen out utterly.









WE would like to believe that the case of a tribal from Orissa being conferred a national award for her achievements in mushroom farming but deserted by a husband who disapproves of the wife running into male company for the proud occasion is an aberration that is no reflection on the legislative process to ensure empowerment of women. There are grave doubts about whether the sustained campaigns that resulted in higher representation for women in panchayats and have paved the way for them to participate in decision-making at a higher level have changed the quality of life in the villages. An overwhelming emphasis has been placed on economic independence for women when the reality is that, in many cases, they are already capable of earning their own livelihood even to the extent of supporting infirm, physically challenged or plainly unworthy husbands. A more serious problem lies in social inhibitions and prejudices which have not allowed large sections of rural women to receive the education they deserved or grow as individuals despite having the talent that this national award winner could claim after being one of the 101 farmers from across the country to be selected for the honour. No new law can deal with the kind of mindset that prompted the woman's husband to frown on her achievements without a parallel effort at rural awareness. 

That the woman has discovered her worth in a district traditionally hit by famine makes her distinction all the more impressive. As sarpanch who started a self-help group, she is evidently capable of surviving as an individual. The problem still lies in the need to seek male endorsement for engagements in public life without which it would appear difficult to sustain the bonds of a family. This tribal woman carries the pride of her gender in one of the most backward regions in the country. But it would be tragic if she must also bear the misfortune of being deserted in the process of asserting her natural rights with all the uncertainties this brings for herself and her children. Sushma Swaraj and Brinda Karat may have broken down the political walls to see the women's quota Bill cross the first hurdle. But they would know that there are more difficult hurdles beyond legislative processes that must be crossed to make empowerment for women a reality.









THERE is widespread criticism of the price rise. This is understandable. Common people are hit unbearably hard by current prices. The government cannot help them too quickly. The Opposition is demanding a rollback of the fuel price hike because it will further raise prices. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, responding to Opposition demands for the rollback, said: "My financial condition does not permit me."
The crippling agony of the price rise may not last. Chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, C Rangarajan, said: "In the recent period there have been some signs of decline in food inflation… if the rabi crop is extremely good there will be a sudden decline in food inflation." But even if that happens will the government's overall financial condition improve? Not really. Pranab Mukherjee's helpless financial condition arises from causes more permanent. India's future is being strangled because its economy is trapped in the coils of a silent and deadly crisis. The Singapore-based think-tank, Economy Watch, describes it as "explosive".

Stringent discipline

This is why. There are about 500 Public Sector Units (PSUs) in India. Altogether these are worth about Rs 20 trillion. This is a little less than half of India's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). India also has a huge public debt, about 80 per cent of the GDP. But unlike the USA, 90 per cent of India's debt is owed domestically. Nevertheless it is crippling ~ more is paid to service this debt than to any other item in the budget, including defence, social sector or health care. Finance Minister Mukherjee said: "GDP means National Rural Employment Guarantee Agency (NREGA), loan waivers: without growth all this is not possible." Quicker growth necessitates the fuel price hike. That in turn will trigger a general price rise hike. That is the problem. 
However, to get out of the jam, think out of the box! There is a radical and effective solution available if the government has the guts to dare. This solution requires the government to take on sacred cows head on. Quite simply, the government must go in for total disinvestment instead of disinvesting in driblets. That would reduce the huge amount frittered in debt servicing and release funds for a mega stimulus that could create massive rural infrastructure, social services and rural employment. All the money obtained from disinvestment must of course be earmarked only for rural welfare. That would optimise the nation's most valuable asset ~ its human resource. This proposed mega stimulus would dwarf the NREGA scheme.

This stimulus must be accompanied of course by stringent discipline to curb official wasteful expenditure, as well as a reformed political culture that curtails corruption. This may seem a tall order. But a mega stimulus unleashed after total disinvestment might prove to be just the catalyst to encourage radical all-round political reform. The problem is that political opposition to this idea would prove too formidable. The vested interests favouring PSUs are exceptionally powerful and well entrenched. Even The New York Times of 25 February 2010 wrote that India's PSUs "became the backbone of political patronage, providing, for example, relatively secure and high-paying jobs to members of powerful unions. As a result, India's leaders have found it hard to let go of the companies."

However, there is one way that a government with guts could politically take on the vested interests supporting PSUs. The employees of the 500 PSUs should be given the first option to take control of their respective companies by converting these to workers' sector units. Quite simply all workers should be given share in ownership, profit and floor-level management of their companies. The government should confine itself to only effective regulation. Workers' Provident Fund should be adjusted against their controlling share of equity ownership. The units should appoint professional management from within or outside the employees' pool that would be accountable to workers. Like any multinational corporation these worker-sector units could attract foreign or domestic investment. Only if employees of a PSU are unwilling to take charge should the government auction the company to outside bidders.

Amul, Mother Dairy and some units in Kerala have demonstrated the success of workers running companies. Critics scoff that food products require skills different from other industries. The critics are wrong. It is not a question of skills. It is a question of attitude. Ownership will create an equally strong vested interest in the progress of the company among workers as it exists among traditional capitalists. Only, workers most likely will be more sensitive to social concerns. And strikes would become redundant in their companies.

Royal mess

IS this too utopian? Why not test the idea? Right now the National Aviation Company of India Ltd (NACIL) is in a royal mess. NACIL controls both Air India and Indian Airlines. Both airlines are in the red and badly managed. Last Friday, the Committee on Public Undertakings presented in Parliament its report on NACIL. The parliamentary committee was entrusted with finding "the root cause of malaises and propose ways for revival" of PSUs. It reported: "The so-called merger (of Air India and Indian Airlines) was an ill-conceived and erroneous decision neither arrived at by the two airlines on their own accord nor mutually considered by them to be in their best interests."  It recommended that NACIL should become the holding company with two separate wings ~ "NACIL Indian Airlines with its headquarters at Delhi and NACIL Air India with its headquarters at Mumbai, each headed by a managing director."

One dares the government to gamble. Let it suggest to the pilots and all other employees to consolidate their unions and take over the future of NACIL. Let it be seen whether they succeed or fail. This scribe would put his money not only on their spectacular success, he also believes that this experiment would prove to be a game changer. It would open the door to the emergence of a nationwide workers' sector that could revolutionise democratic societies. It would usher industrial democracy. It would marry democracy and socialism that are in truth made for each other. Politically or economically, both aspire for the same goal. 

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist








Jharkhand is a paradox. It is undoubtedly rich, blessed as it is with India's largest mineral reserves, but its people are starving. The state was carved out of Bihar 10 years ago in the belief that smaller states could better administer themselves. Instead, it has become a prime example of the "resource curse" where regions rich in natural resources often achieve lower economic growth and social development than those not so well endowed. The explanation for this anomaly, at least in the case of Jharkhand, is the neglect of human resources in the belief that nature's bounty is sufficient to compensate.


Jharkhand holds 40 per cent of the nation's mineral wealth. It contributes to over 40 per cent of India's coal production and one-fifth of iron ore production. But even so it's desperately poor. With a succession of rotten governments (seven in nine years), a growing Naxalite insurgency and falling living standards, things are going downhill in Jharkhand. 

Curiously, the latest Gross Domestic Production (GDP) figures projected by Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) show Jharkhand's growth at an average of 8.45 per cent per decade. "The social indicators tell the real story," says Ramesh Saran, a leading economist in Ranchi. 

Rural areas account for around 70 per cent of the total population of Jharkhand. They are home to the poorest people in the country after Orissa. Eighty two per cent of the state's rural population lives below the poverty line (BPL), according to the central government-appointed NC Sexena committee report. Although this report was rejected by the Planning Commission, most economists believe it to be accurate, as it was based on data from the National Sample Survey (NSS). "If the Planning Commission can take the NSS data for all the other activities, then why can't they take it for this purpose?" asks Jayati Ghosh, a professor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and a leading economist in Delhi.

The Public Distribution System (PDS), on which the poorest depend upon, is a den of corruption. Huge irregularities have been reported in the PDS and people have to wait for months to get their rations, says Harivansh, editor of Prabhat Khabar, a leading Hindi daily in the state.

"I was appalled to learn that none of the PDS shops in the State have had sugar to supply card holders for the past seven years," revealed K. Shankar Narayanan, former Governor of Jharkhand, at a press conference a few months back. He had been in charge of the state during the President's rule.

Harivansh estimates that 47 people have died from starvation in the last one year. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Hunger Index report 2009, ranks Jharkhand the second worst in the country, next only to Madhya Pradesh which falls in the "extremely alarming" category The worst sufferers are always children. Harivansh describes in his article, a discussion in the state legislative assembly to say Rs 745.56 crore is spent on anganwadis (a government-sponsored child and mother care centre) in the last nine years to provide children and pregnant mothers 300 calories and 10 gram protein 300 days a year. Yet 57 per cent of the state's children are malnourished. This is 14 per cent above the national average. More than 70 per cent of the children are anaemic and 60 per cent of the children are severely underweight.

Another disturbing fact is that almost two- thirds of rural households do not have access to safe drinking water. Also, more than 90 per cent of them do not have access to toilets within their premises, says a report published by United Nation's World Food Programme and MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in February 2009.

"All the development schemes like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, watershed programs are in terrible shape and people have no employment. So they are forced to migrate to cities for work," says Jean Dreze, professor of Delhi School of Economics and one of the chief architects of NREG Act.
The Development Commissioner, S.K Chowdhary, concedes that although allotted funds for development schemes by the government have increased from R. 2,000 crore in 2000 to Rs. 8,000 crore 2009, the government has been unable to use more than 50 per cent of the funds. "Actually less that 30 per cent of the funds allotted reach the people. In tribal dominated districts, it is even less," says an official who held a high position in the Madhu Koda government, who requested anonymity.

Several politicians, bureaucrats and other officers have been indicted for embezzling crores of rupees. Chief Secretaries during Governor Syed Sibtey Razi's term are under CBI investigation. Unsurprisingly, the wealthiest in the state are the ministers and MLAs. Their salaries have increased six times in the last nine years and are the highest among elected officials in the country.

However, basic governance is in shambles. Ten years after statehood, Jharkhand has yet to hold panchayat elections. "Issues discussed in the assembly are mostly irrelevant and have nothing to do with the people," says Harivansh.

The bureaucracy has also been blamed for incompetence. "The state has the worst politics in the country because of which even the bureaucrats have become completely autocratic," says Inder Singh Namdhari, an independent MP and former speaker of Jharkhand Assembly.

Yashwant Sinha, former finance minister of India and one of senior most leaders of the BJP in the state echoes Mr Namdhari. "Jharkhand has been a victim of bad governance and corrupt bureaucracy. Therefore, Jharkhand has been in a very bad plight," he says.

As all economic policies are resource oriented, they benefit very few. Although, Jharkhand claims 8.45 per cent GDP growth, it has a marginal impact on the lives of the people.

There are over 20 central public sector units (PSUs) operating in the state, most of which are engaged in mining and production of coal, iron ore, steel and various minerals. Major private companies like the Tata Group also operate in some districts.

Three PSUs, Central Coalfields, Bharat Coking Coal and Eastern Coalfields, together contributed around Rs. 2,000 crore as royalty, as well as the stowing tax to the state in the year 2009-2010. Most of the mining and manufacturing companies are profitable because of the increase in the prices since 2004. They are the major contributors of the GDP and pay huge royalty to the state every year, explains Ms Ghosh from JNU. But the fruits of it are limited to merely 15 per cent of the population. The irony is that even this 15 per cent are not the people of Jharkhand, but are migrants who come as engineers and technicians.

State GDP has also received a boost from new infrastructure, which followed the creation of the state. "It's a one-time spending and since Jharkhand is a new state, the process is still on," says Prem Shankar Jha, columnist. The services sector is expanding, he points out, but has a limited scope to drive growth as it's confined to only urban areas and employs about 15 per cent of the population.

"This is sad that the government's concentration is mainly on mining and as a result the sectors like agriculture or horticulture are totally ignored," says Sudhir Pal, journalist and member of an NGO called Manthan Yuva Sansthan. According to the Reserve Bank of India handbook for 2008-09, the area under irrigation in Jharkhand has increased from 8 per cent in 2000-01 to 8.3 per cent in the last decade. As a result, agriculture has stagnated. The growing despair and inequality has led to unrest amongst the people and has fuelled the Naxalite insurgency.

When Jharkhand was still a part of Bihar, the Naxalite's influence was limited to seven districts. Now, the red corridor in Jharkhand extends to all 24 districts. They have gained unprecedented influence amongst tribals who constitute 26 per cent of the population. "This can be seen when they give a bandh call and the state just halts," says Harivansh. 

The Naxalites have effectively stalled all 72 memoranda of understandings (MOUs) worth Rs. 1.19 lakh crore signed by the state. Since these projects were to displace more than 5,000 villages, it helped consolidate their rural support. "People support Naxals because of the wrong policies of the government. Some projects have displaced lakhs of people over the years against their wishes. They support the Naxals without realizing that the Naxals do not have any alternative either," says the senior official in the Koda administration.
"Lack of infrastructure, bad governance, high-income disparity and general neglect of the people has fueled Naxal activities in the state," says Mr Namdhari. Inevitably, there has emerged a strong nexus between the politicians and the Naxals, he adds.

This was all too evident during the elections. "They take money for supporting the candidates. There are only a handful of candidates who are able to win without their help," says Mr Sharan. They have terrorised the region and paralyzed the state. According to a Jharkhand government report, Naxals have killed more than 400 officials, including two superintendents of police, in the last three years. They extort levies on all development projects. It varies from 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the total investment.

The collapse of investment, law and order and almost any semblance of governance are collectively taking their toll on Jharkhand. Smaller states could be the answer to the deficit in development programmes. But if the first ten years of Jharkhand are anything to go by, a competent administration is a more important requirement.


The writer is a student at the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media, Bangalore





25 years after perestroika

A generation unscarred by soviet communism is the legacy gorbachev bequeathed – through strength or weakness is still not clear, says mary dejevsky


It seems like only yesterday and, at the same time, like a hundred years. In fact, it is a quarter of a century since Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – and set in train the changes that brought the end of both the system and the country.
For many Russians, though, the accession of 54-year-old Gorbachev after a string of old and sick men is a muted, even bitter, anniversary. Celebrated throughout the Western world as a liberator, Gorbachev is widely reviled in his homeland for destroying Soviet power. Vladimir Putin only articulated what many of his compatriots also felt, when he described the Soviet Union's collapse as "one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century". It will take many years for that judgement to be revised across the great Eurasian land mass, if it ever is.

But it is not only the people of the once-feared Soviet Union who are labouring under an illusion about the legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev. So is Gorbachev himself and, for quite different reasons, the outside world where the last Soviet leader is still lionised and – rightly – protected.

In an article to commemorate this anniversary, Gorbachev allowed himself one of his periodic critiques of today's Russia. With Putin, unnamed, but clearly in his sights, he regretted what he saw as Russia's failure to embark on serious modernisation and the way the democratic process had, in his words, "lost momentum" or, "in more ways than one, been rolled back". He also suggested that the reform plans of Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's successor in the Kremlin, had stalled because he was scared of civil society.

Now you can agree or disagree with Gorbachev here: much remains to be played out. But there is less room for divergence on Gorbachev's view of his years in power. He still believes that he could have brought democracy to the Soviet Union, if only he had set about reforming the Communist Party sooner; if only misguided and malevolent individuals had not set out to thwart him; if only the coup-plotters of August 1991 had stayed their hand. Even 25 years on, Gorbachev maintains that evolutionary change, through his twin projects of glasnost and perestroika, was feasible and the Soviet Union could have stayed intact.

This is not quite how I remember it, as a witness to the country's death throes as a correspondent in Moscow. Gorbachev came across always as just one move behind history. There is no shame in that: would any leader have kept pace, given that communism throughout Europe was already dead and food shops throughout Russia were empty? Was it not rather that even incremental reform was too much for the system to bear?

The most compelling reason for favouring this view – aside from the small fact of the Soviet collapse – is that the contest triggered by perestroika was in the end about Russia as much as communism. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a victory for Russia, and for Russians' frustrated sense of national identity. Boris Yeltsin's trump card was that he presented himself not just as communist apostate, but as champion and leader of Russia. Steeped in the internationalism of communist orthodoxy, Gorbachev had no national card to play.

How far the rise of Russia contributed to, even caused, the demise of the Soviet Union, tends to be forgotten. While Russians have settled more or less happily into being Russian again, the outside world has found it harder to adjust. Post-Soviet Russia is seen all too often not just as the legal successor-state to the Soviet Union, but as its reincarnation. No wonder there have been so many misunderstandings since 1992.

The anniversary of Gorbachev's accession may help to mark, belatedly, the passage of time. It means that no citizen of the former Soviet Union under 30 has any first-hand memory of life under communism; no one under 40 has had their career dictated by the regime. Those in their mid-40s – among them Medvedev, but not, it is worth noting, Putin – were students when perestroika began. Tossed around by the chaos of the 1990s, they benefited from the stability Putin imposed as they settled down to family life.

A generation unscarred by Soviet communism is the legacy Gorbachev bequeathed – through strength or weakness is still not clear. And it is a worthy one, even if it is not the peaceful evolution of the Soviet Union he still laments.


The Independent



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There should be no compromise with quality when it comes to education. It is heartening that the cabinet also thinks so, although a legislation allowing the entry of foreign educational institutions into India may not be the best way of enhancing quality. The ostensible reason behind this move is no doubt noble. In a global context, Indian higher education has to catch up with exacting standards of excellence. However, the idea of excellence is itself a novelty in a country that is yet to address its dismal literacy record. With the unfinished business of primary education weighing heavy on it, India needs to be extra careful about its plans to refurbish the higher education sector. A necessary precondition for any sensible thinking on higher education is to get rid of the idea that 'foreign' equals 'excellence'. India is an untapped minefield of merit — thousands of brilliant students and researchers are unable to pursue their interests due to lack of infrastructure and funds. It would be worthwhile to ponder why India still lags behind in higher education in spite of a great many talents. Moreover, it may be a sign of openness to allow foreign universities to set shop in India, but how freely would these institutions be allowed to function? The struggle for autonomy is an abiding theme in the history of Indian higher education. The human resource development ministry is used to wielding its iron will over home-grown institutions, as red tape and bureaucracy continue to ruin systems of delivery and accountability. If the draft bill is anything to go by, the issue of regulation seems to remain as messily unsorted as it used to be.


It is only reasonable that any foreign university that wants to build a campus in India should undergo certain checks and balances. There cannot be any quarrel with the State refusing permission on grounds of national security or sovereignty, which should never be undermined. It is also well and good that a regulatory authority — the proposed National Commission for Higher Education and Research — would follow a checklist of clauses before giving institutions the go-ahead sign. But to allow the NCHER the power to exempt universities of its choice from scrutiny is to queer the pitch instead of creating a level playing field. Special provisions leave the door open for corruption to sneak in. India really does not need to be riddled with any more vices.








The success of a new deal for Darjeeling can show if politics is really the art of the possible. True, the Centre's and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's plans for a settlement of the long-standing issue of the status of the hills differ on many counts. It is easy to assume that the West Bengal government too will differ on several points in both the plans. But reducing the areas of disagreement and finding common ground is precisely the challenge for the negotiators. What ultimately matters is the political will to not let the problems derail the search for solutions. The most encouraging signal from the two plans is that the GJM seems to have relented on its demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. Bimal Gurung, the GJM leader, knows that a division of West Bengal would be unacceptable to not only the government and most political parties in the state but also to the Centre, which faces such demands in Telangana and elsewhere in the country. New Delhi has to tread cautiously even on issues such as granting legislative, judicial and law-enforcing powers to the proposed body in Darjeeling. The negotiators have to strike a balance between fulfilling the political aspirations of the people of Darjeeling and the anti-partition sentiments of those in the rest of West Bengal. It is not an easy task but statehood stirs tough challenges for all negotiators.


For the long-suffering people of Darjeeling though, the fine print about the territorial jurisdiction or the powers of the proposed administrative body may be rather irrelevant. Whether the body exercises power over 54 subjects or is under the direct control of the state governor may have nothing to do with the common people's concerns. The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council that was born of the tripartite agreement among the Centre, the West Bengal government and Subash Ghisingh of the Gorkha National Liberation Front in 1988 had enough powers to make a difference to the lives of the people. If it failed to do so, it was primarily because of Mr Ghisingh's autocratic ways and the state government's abject surrender to him. The people of Darjeeling have suffered long spells of violence and political instability during the last two decades. It is time their own leaders and the governments in New Delhi and Calcutta gave them an honourable deal. Realism, not rhetoric, is the need of the hour.









Camouflage, sometimes bordering on deception, has been a part of diplomacy since the earliest record of diplomats among mankind in Mesopotamia in 3,000 BC. There was a time when the United States of America, with its infinite resources, mastered the art of deception as an instrument of its foreign policy.


A high point of such diplomacy was the secret trip made by Henry Kissinger to China through Pakistan to facilitate Richard Nixon's historic opening to Beijing under Mao Zedong. Since then, smaller men have attempted poor copies of such deception, as in the case of Colin Powell who went to New Delhi in 2004 professing America's friendship only to fly to Islamabad a day later and gift General Pervez Musharraf the status of Washington's major non-Nato ally.


Whenever India attempted camouflage as an instrument of its external affairs, these efforts have ended, more often than not, in disastrous consequences. One such attempt was a 'secret' meeting in London in April 1994 between Indian and US officials for a non-proliferation initiative in South Asia. The meeting was exposed when a woman Indian foreign service officer, who now holds a very senior position in the government, carelessly walked into a party at the Indian high commission in London in very casual clothes. An alert reporter, who knew that the lady officer ought not to be in the United Kingdom unless something special was going on, immediately contacted his editor in New Delhi, who ferreted out details of the secret talks in London for the next day's newspaper. The uproar that ensued made sure that it was the end of P.V. Narasimha Rao's non-proliferation initiative.


More recently, when he was foreign secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon went on a 'secret' trip to Madrid to meet the Bush administration's point man on the Indo-US nuclear deal, Nicholas Burns. That was when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee, the United Progressive Alliance's nominee for negotiations with the left parties on retaining their support for Singh, were telling Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that India would not approach the International Atomic Energy Agency for a Safeguards Agreement, which would have taken the nuclear deal forward in Washington. Menon met Burns in secret to assure him otherwise.


But Menon did not take anyone in his ministry into confidence or hand over responsibilities during his travel to Spain. When some senior officials in South Block found out, they felt let down. They leaked what was happening. It was this camouflage, which alerted Karat that the UPA was double-dealing the CPI(M), and the countdown for withdrawing support to Singh began.


This week, the foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao, engaged in her brand of camouflage diplomacy in Washington, but she appears to have got away with it. Rao is in Washington ostensibly for a meeting of the Indo-US High Technology Cooperation Group, but her real reasons for visiting the US at this time are entirely different. The HTCG was important in Indo-US engagement when it was formed in 2002, when a range of sanctions against India were in force and the country was finding it next to impossible to obtain dual-use civilian-defence items from America — even a Cray computer for the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.


Because the Group was already up and running, it helped India steer through a crucial phase of the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership when it was launched in January 2004. The NSSP was the precursor of the nuclear deal, bilateral cooperation in space and high technology trade. But the HTCG meetings are no longer of any great policy interest to India. In fact, they now primarily benefit US commercial interests, but New Delhi goes along with its meetings simply because the mechanism exists. The foreign secretary said as much when she told the Group's industry-to-industry session on Monday that the "US industry has brought up policy constraints in this forum that have, in their perception, hampered their high technology exports to India."


The last time an HTCG meeting brought any policy benefit for India was at its fifth meeting in February 2007, when Menon secured a commitment from the US that its high-technology exports to India that still need licences will be in line with the requirements of America's closest allies: Israel and the UK.


The real objective of Rao's visit to Washington was to serve notice on the Obama administration that the way things are going in Indo-US relations, it can no longer be business as usual unlike during the UPA government's first five-year term. This she did in her own understated style, without being offensive or moralistic as New Delhi's visiting envoys to Washington — including some previous foreign secretaries — can be.


It was not lost on the Americans that Rao emplaned for Washington a day after the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, left New Delhi for home. Putin's was a brief working visit. Yet, despite the complete absence of trappings of a State dinner or a State visit — designations used by the Obama administration to pander India's ego — Putin's one-day stay in New Delhi produced results that far outstripped what the Obama administration has been able or willing to work out with India during its 14 months in office.


The Americans are aware after what Rao has been telling them this week that unless they change their ways of dealing with Singh's government, Barack Obama's forthcoming State visit to India will be a pale shadow of Putin's working visit last week. It ought to make those from Obama's administration at the HTCG meetings — who are engaged in a comprehensive reform of US export control systems through its "National Export Initiative" — sit up and note that while Indian companies are still on their "Entity List" for restricted dealings, Putin, for instance, agreed not only to let India use Russia's famous "Glonass" global positioning system for military purposes but also signed a joint-venture deal to produce the navigation equipment.


Rao did not mince words when she told the HTCG that "it is anomalous that a body like the Indian Space Research Organisation, which is developing several collaborations with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, should continue to be on this list." When Obama's defence secretary met A.K. Antony in January, the defence minister told Robert Gates that while the US wants India to buy its defence equipment, three units of the Defence Research and Development Organisation and the defence ministry-owned Bharat Electronics Limited and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited are still under US sanctions. Putin, on the other hand, had no hesitation in tying up with India for jointly developing a fifth-generation fighter plane or for the supply of MiG-29s worth $1.5 billion.


Rao put on a brave front when she said in public that "we are in the process of operationalizing the (Indo-US nuclear) agreement through close coordination between our two governments". But the fact is that at yet another recent round of talks on reprocessing arrangements under the deal, the inclination of US negotiators was to raise new problems that will need one or more rounds. Putin, on the other hand, agreed to the construction of at least 16 atomic power plants without making the heads of India's nuclear sector jump through more hoops, US-style. The government's decision on Monday not to go ahead with the civil liability for nuclear damage bill was the right signal to Washington even as the foreign secretary was discussing the issue with the Americans.


It was on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran — which Rao recently visited — that she did the most plain-speaking with her US interlocutors. She may have convinced the White House and the state department that if the US looks at Afghanistan through unifocal Pakistani lenses at this critical juncture, other countries such as India, Iran, China and Russia, which have interests in Kabul, will fight that trend with some degree of coordination. But the problem is that the Obama administration is in a bind. The swagger among Pakistanis that they have had their way in Afghanistan is proof that the US has surrendered beyond redemption to Rawalpindi's army general headquarters on Kabul.


Rao's honest report back to New Delhi ought to be that while India is assiduously courted by the Obama administration, it is not respected unlike China, Russia, or even Saudi Arabia for that matter. That situation will change only if the UPA government resolves to stand up for itself a little more without worrying about what "they" will think in Washington. But it is a report that the Prime Minister's Office may not want to hear.








Time, wrote W.H. Auden in a splendid elegy on the death of W.B. Yeats in 1939, "worships language and forgives everyone by whom it lives; pardons cowardice, conceit, lays its honours at their feet. Time, that with this strange excuse pardoned Kipling and his views, and will pardon Paul Claudel, pardons him [Yeats] for writing well." And others too, Auden could have added, for speaking well.


Kipling was an imperialist, Claudel an aggressively Catholic French poet (and diplomat), Yeats a romantic Irish one. Auden, who was on the left, thought all three mistaken. Lamentably, he later cut these lines from the poem, his own views having shifted toward theirs. That, I suppose, was why. Or, just possibly, did he recognize that the lines could apply to himself?


In the 1930s, he had written eloquently against fascism and Nazism. Yet when war against Hitler arrived, he was in America — and there he stayed. Not for him to get down in the mud and actually fight for his country, as so many lesser men had to. Being a fairly simple-minded patriot, I find that hard to forgive. But I'd forgive anything to the writer of the poem that begins, "Lay your sleeping head, my love..."


For Auden was right. The world will excuse almost anyone who uses language brilliantly. Kipling's views, seen from our time, can be forgiven on other grounds; he merely shared typical British attitudes of his day. But if you don't find that excuse enough, as many Indians very reasonably don't, read him. Few minor poets — he didn't claim to be more — have written so well. Few storytellers have told their tales better. Few journalists have reported with such detail and colour, in such English.


Claudel is a closed book to me, and I can't see that Yeats needed forgiveness. But many masters of language have, and have been given it. Churchill's reactionary views, his towering ego and his twisting of facts in his favour have largely been forgotten in Britain, or at least forgiven, not just for his wartime leadership but also for the sonorous rhetoric he brought to it.


Two of the 20th century's wittiest novelists, Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, were shameless snobs. When both contributed, with well-paid articles, to the 1950's brouhaha about "U" speech — that of Britain's upper classes, hence the U — I penned a snarky little verse against them in a student magazine: "How nice to be a snobocrat, and make some money too. Tante Nancy," (she was an addict of France) "Uncle Evelyn, I wish that I were U". But their books will endure, as few works of humour do, when their snobbery is forgotten.


English is not alone in this. The French novelist Céline was a rabid anti-semite, but in French eyes a significant writer. The Norwegian Nobel prize-winner, Knut Hamsun, outspokenly admired the Quisling regime foisted on his country by the occupying Nazis during World War II; he presented his Nobel medal to Goebbels. Yet today's Norwegians have forgiven him. Pablo Neruda, the Chilean communist poet, in his later years enjoyed a lifestyle as "communist", three houses included, as that of any Soviet apparatchik. But few hold that against his poetry.


Further back, who today gives a damn for Shelley's role in his first wife's suicide? Or Byron's very probable

incest? Virtue and genius aren't often found together. That's true in other fields, of course. Einstein was a heartless womanizer. Know-all Bertrand Russell had the emotional sensitivity of a log. Many an admired statesman has had not just feet of clay but also legs, usually up to the groin, like John Kennedy. But who cares?


Yet the fine use of language — which can mean plain language, like Orwell's — seems able to win pardon for the user's faults even more than do other abilities. Why? Maybe because language is the way we humans communicate, the root of all our social skills.











The cancellation of the visit by American envoy George Mitchell, who has been delegated to renew the diplomatic negotiations, embodies the slippery slope facing Israel during the past week. Even before completing the first year of his second term in office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has managed to foment crises in two key strategic areas: the peace process with the Palestinians and relations with the United States.

The affair of the building plans for Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, which cast a pall on U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visited, pushed back the two-state solution. At the same time, the unnecessary snub of a friendly guest became a deep rift in the dialogue between the Israeli government and the White House.

In order to rescue the proximity talks and resolve the crisis in relations with the United States, the Obama administration has made three demands of Netanyahu: cancelling the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee's decision to approve for presentation building plans for Ramat Shlomo, a "significant" gesture to the Palestinians and a public statement that the indirect talks will deal with all the core issues, including Jerusalem.


Obviously, the United States expects Israel to maintain the status quo in East Jerusalem and refrain from establishing new facts on this sensitive ground. The American demands are reasonable and fair. The procedure for approving the Ramat Shlomo building plan will take five years or more; it will not come to fruition in the coming months. Netanyahu can transfer lands in Area C to the Palestinians, release prisoners and lift roadblocks.

Israeli agreement to discuss all the core issues, including Jerusalem, derives from the Oslo Accords and the road map, to which the government is committed. Even without the heavy cloud hovering over relations with the United States, an Israeli government that is really and truly interested in ending the conflict must act to strengthen the status of the Palestinian partner, avoid provocative decisions and renew talks on the core issues from the point they stopped a year and half ago.

Instead of fanning the flames with irresponsible declarations about the continuation of construction in East Jerusalem, the prime minister would do well to say yes to the American demands. Stagnation in the diplomatic process, in the shadow of a deepening crisis with our greatest ally, is a strategic threat Israel can by no means afford.








Like boxers who heard the bell, like rhinos during the mating season, that's what the sparring between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu has come to resemble. Adrenalin pumping in the veins, eyes seeing red, and in their ears the cries of their supporters: "Knock his teeth out," "Let him have it," "Where's the blood?" The only thing missing is good sense.

Since the days they took office, the prime minister and the U.S. president have behaved like heroes in a Greek tragedy, bound by fate and waiting for the inevitable confrontation. Netanyahu saw in Obama and his aides a group of leftists who want to overthrow him and bring about "regime change" in Israel. Obama saw in Netanyahu a liar and subversive who is rallying the support of the Jewish lobby to foil U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The only surprise was that the two have managed to restrain themselves for a year before the exchange of diplomatic blows.

Now they are fighting over honor. "We are not willing to be suckers," was how Netanyahu once summed up his political worldview. "Insult," "humiliation," is what senior administration officials cried after Israel announced that 1,600 new housing units would be put up in Ramat Shlomo - a declaration made during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel. On both sides they are talking in terms of life and death: Netanyahu's backers charge Obama with sentencing Israel to death via the Iranian nuclear program and "Auschwitz borders" from which rockets would be fired onto Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion International Airport. For their part, the Americans warn that Israel's desire for settlements is endangering their soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.



The cheerleading only encourages the rivals not to give in. Obama was congratulated by The New York Times for his firm stance against Bibi and the settlements. Finally he has shown that he's a man, he was told. The right in Israel has called on Netanyahu to stand tall for the nation and throw the two-state solution into the garbage once and for all, making clear to the evil Americans that Israel will put a million Jewish settlers in the settlements. That is why you were elected, he is being reminded, not to surrender to Hussein Obama. Netanyahu agreed, went back to his ideological hearth and declared that construction in East Jerusalem will continue and settlement expansion in the West Bank will resume in the summer.

It's too bad that Netanyahu and Obama didn't stop and think about the implications of their actions. Let's assume Netanyahu overcomes American pressure and steps up construction in the territories. He will be applauded on the right and his rule will be secure for another two years, or maybe three, with the given coalition, but how would this folly serve Israel's national interest? It would only lead to deepened international isolation, foil a settlement with the Palestinians and waste billions.

Obama's gamble is even more risky. The Americans assume that the minute he stops to take a breath, Netanyahu will recall Israel's great dependence on the United States and give in to the ultimatum, as in past crises. Even the fabled David Ben-Gurion, who declared the existence of Israel's third kingdom at the end of the Sinai Campaign in 1956, caved in two days later and agreed to withdraw from the peninsula. The combined threat of Dwight Eisenhower and the Soviet leaders was enough to reverse Ben-Gurion's promise that "we will not stand idly by when we are under attack - especially when the attack is unjustified."

Netanyahu is not Ben-Gurion. He has a weaker personality and his rule depends on Eli Yishai and Avigdor Lieberman, who are extremists. But herein lies the danger of isolating Israel: Netanyahu may brace himself behind his existential fears, assume that Obama has come to terms with the Iranian bomb and send the air force on a preemptive strike on Iran. If the United States kicks Israel, we can ignore their calls not to hit Natanz. Thus a relatively minor dispute over the construction of a new neighborhood in Jerusalem may ignite a regional war.

The severity of the danger requires that this crisis be contained quickly. Someone needs to tell Obama not to push Israel into a corner and to remind Netanyahu what the true balance of power is. The Americans may be polite, and it's not nice that they remembered to oppose Israeli construction in East Jerusalem after they turned a blind eye for 42 years. But the American rhino is bigger and more powerful, and if he really becomes angry, the shock of his blow may be too painful to bear.






The president of Brazil, who visited Israel this week, defines himself as a negotiator and not as an ideologue. "I was born into the politics of dialogue, I became president of this country through dialogue and I have conducted my entire presidency by means of dialogue," he told Haaretz. Speaking about the planned indirect talks with the Palestinians, he noted: "The importance of talks between third- and fourth-rank officials [does not hold] even 1 percent of the importance of tete-a-tete talks between leaders. Politics is mainly contact. People have to look at each other, sense each other. A leader has to look into the eyes of his interlocutor."

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has the support of 80 percent of the people in his country, which he has rehabilitated and improved amazingly during the seven years of his two terms in office. He apparently knows something about leadership.

Dialogue and negotiations are the opposite of war, victory and occupation, and looking into your partner's eyes means openness, willingness and basic trust. Regrettably, no leader in Israel today possesses any of these. We have no leader who will look Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the eye and see there an equal partner, a desire for peace, sincerity or integrity.


The reason is a basic concept in psychology called "inner reality." Anyone who has been in therapy knows how this works: With our human limitations, we have an inner picture of the world, the principles of which are determined very early in life, mainly by circumstances and the parents who raised us. Into these patterns, which are imprinted in us, we pour the element of reality. Prof. Dan Ariely, author of the book "Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions," explains how the mind builds an expectation and then the expectation fulfills itself using our reality. That is, it's not that we believe what we see, we simply always see what we have believed from the outset.

Our leaders, who have been "taking turns" with one another for more than 15 years now, have a picture of the world in which the Arabs are fundamentally inferior and want to throw us into the sea; we are in an existential danger and the whole world is against us. Each has his own reasons. Two of them have spent most of their adult lives living by the sword, one was an old-school, labor-movement, security-minded Zionist, and two are scions of very right-wing families. One of them also has a father who believes that the Holocaust has not ended.

Thus, no matter how deeply Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, President Shimon Peres or former prime minister Ariel Sharon in his day look into the eyes of a Palestinian leader, all they see is a security threat, an existential threat and a loser.

It's not by chance that they take turns. They belong to the same exclusive club: very privileged white males from well-connected families. The ideological differences among them are a question of nuance. Only two have been different: opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who comes from the same background but as a woman is already in a somewhat different position, and Labor MK Amir Peretz.

Peretz is their diametric opposite: a Mizrahi - someone with family origins in the Muslim countries. He grew up in a transit camp, has been a labor leader and someone who lives in a town in the outskirts of the country. When he was appointed defense minister, they chose not to remember that he had been seriously wounded as a munitions captain in the paratroopers. Instead, they preferred to jeer at him for that photo of him looking into binoculars with the lens caps on.

But it's this picture, of a person for whom looking through binoculars is not taken for granted, that embodies a different option: a person who has not spent his life looking through crosshairs, who grew up among Arabs in Morocco and is not patronizing to them, who knows up close the position of impoverished inferiority.

It's precisely a person like this looking into the eyes of a Palestinian leader who can find a true common language. But Peretz's background also creates in the inner reality a glass ceiling that's very hard to break from inside, and God is our witness that no one was glad to break it for him from the outside.









The news broke this week that the cabinet has authorized a national plan to reverse Israeli brain drain, at a cost of NIS 1.3 billion. The plan includes setting up 30 university excellence centers, focusing on predefined fields of research and recruiting top Israeli researchers from both outside and inside the country. Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar described the plan as an "energy shot to the higher education system and research in Israel."

There are good grounds to doubt Sa'ar's interpretation and offer one based on the fact that far cheaper and more effective energy would be achieved simply by increasing research budgets and creating more jobs in Israel's existing research universities. Evidence supporting the alternative interpretation can be found in the cabinet's plan, which does not give university academics any form of supervision over the proposed centers.

In November 1996, Ari Shavit conducted a long interview in Haaretz with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that in Israel "we have academic and media institutions that are committed to uniform thinking, to the prevailing 'unithinking,' and they simply replicate themselves, producing more and more generations of young people with the same monochromatic line of thought."


Netanyahu vowed that "I intend to change this. I intend to help form a fund ... that would set up a string of institutions that would not be under the government's control but would create a genuine competition of ideas in Israel .... They would provide some kind of answer to the superficial, standard way of thinking, some kind of correction to the current monopolar condition of Israel's cultural reality."

Even students with mediocre verbal skills would easily understand that this "uniform thinking" in academic institutions that Netanyahu mentioned is merely opposition to the government's policies, as well as critical statements and articles about his decisions as prime minister. People in academia did indeed sometimes voice or write such things. After reading that interview, any child would realize that a more fitting interpretation of the cabinet's decision is as follows: The decision is merely another step in a long line of steps by cabinets headed by the same prime minister toward realizing his vision of "answering the superficial, standard way of thinking."

The prime minister's associates would do well to bring to his attention that the NIS 1.3 billion investment is completely unnecessary at present. It's true that in many countries academics and university students represent a hub of political and social agitation, and in many cases opposition to the government. This is the situation in Iran, communist China, Tibet and Argentina, and at critical times also in France, Germany and the United States. To a certain extent, Israeli universities were like that as well when remnants of political, social, independent and rational thought still inhabited their corridors, back in the days of the first Netanyahu cabinet.

Perhaps someone should explain to the prime minister that he was mistaken back then when he said academic institutions "simply replicate themselves." If there ever was "uniform thinking" in academic institutions of which he did not approve, it has since completed a 180-degree turn. Maybe some embers of that spirit of free thought are still to be found in Israeli universities, but the prime minister can relax. "Israel's cultural reality" has almost completely shifted in the direction he favors. There is no need now to invest NIS 1.3 billion in rendering a dying breed extinct








In the next frame of this cartoon, Benjamin Netanyahu will find himself running in thin air, then a moment later fall into the abyss. It's a frame we've seen before, one that always brings a smile in cartoons. But not in life.

The prime minister is warning that if he's ousted, Barack Obama will go down with him. That won't happen - the constitution holds the U.S. president in the Oval Office for a full four years. Netanyahu, by contrast, is held in office by ministers Ehud Barak, Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai. And it's best not to be in their hands when they smell the blood of the weak.

The scene doesn't have to stop there. Netanyahu would do well to read his favorite book, John F. Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage," before bed. At the last minute he could change not only his life, but the course of history itself, by recognizing that Obama doesn't want to throw him under the proverbial bus, that Hillary Clinton is not out to settle scores over how he wronged her husband and that overall, maybe the world is no longer all that anti-Semitic, certainly not against us.


It is we who didn't realize the sun had set over the occupation. Even our best friends, who for years saved us from UN Security Council vetoes, believe that Israel must quit the territories and withdraw to the western side of the separation fence - a secure and widely recognized border - with or without an agreement. This is the conclusion one reaches with a fair reading of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, the Bill Clinton parameters and the letters exchanged between George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon.

Netanyahu must get the message that Menachem Begin, Sharon and Ehud Olmert - his predecessors on the right - all came to understand, that the scenery looks entirely different once you're in power. Then he will understand that only the radical Palestinians and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad don't want to divide the land. It's good for them that Israel is turning into an updated version of an apartheid state. Israel haters everywhere understand well that the community of nations won't allow the rebirth of the Afrikaners' South Africa, one forcing on the world a single state between the river and the sea. This would be a single democratic state in which everyone has a vote, and when the ballots open, Ahmed Tibi will be elected prime minister.

This is a scary prospect, more than Qassam rockets and far more than a second "Hamastan." It would be the end of a Jewish democratic Israel. Netanyahu can jolt the steering wheel at the last second and change the end of this film - to return to the vision of Theodor Herzl and create a Jewish national home in recognized, defensible borders. He will not only receive a Nobel Peace Prize, but enter history as a second David Ben-Gurion.

What must he do? Create a third Netanyahu government, distance himself from the ideas of Tzipi Hotovely and other lawmakers in her camp, and join up with Tzipi Livni. Livni could be given half the steering wheel, with a joint Livni-Netanyahu government set up to divide the land and end the occupation. Half and half in the cabinet, fifty-fifty in government - the new administration would be one-quarter bigger than the current one. Lieberman would be released to do as he wishes and Yishai simply released.

And what about Barak? Let him remain defense minister. It's good for Israel and good for ending the occupation. Barak is, after all, experienced in unilateral withdrawals. He did a great job in Lebanon and would do the same in the West Bank.


What are the odds of this actually happening? Only Netanyahu knows. Only he can decide whether to save Israel or let it continue to fall. Only Netanyahu - not Obama.





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




The drumbeat of complaints in Washington about China's manipulation of its currency — and the deafening silence pretty much everywhere else — might lead one to think that this is just an American problem. It isn't.


China's decision to base its economic growth on exporting deliberately undervalued goods is threatening economies around the world. It is fueling huge trade deficits in the United States and Europe. Even worse, it is crowding out exports from other developing countries, threatening their hopes of recovery.


After treading lightly on the subject of China, President Obama vowed last month to "get much tougher" about China's cheap currency. On Monday, 130 members of Congress sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, demanding that the Obama administration designate China as a currency manipulator in a report due to Congress next month. On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill aimed to force the administration's hand. This would ease the way to imposing retaliatory trade barriers against Chinese goods.


So far, China has been defiant. On Sunday, after the close of the annual National People's Congress, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao rejected American complaints as "a kind of trade protectionism" and made clear that he had no plan to do anything differently.


Since 2003, China's central bank has been purchasing huge amounts of dollars to keep the value of its currency, the renminbi, artificially low against the dollar. China backed away somewhat in 2005, allowing its currency to appreciate slowly from 8.25 renminbi to the dollar to about 6.83 renminbi by 2008. As the global recession hit, China slammed on the brakes in order to protect its exports. The renminbi has remained at about 6.83 since then, and the pain has been felt in countries as far apart as Mexico and India.


Beijing's intervention is a textbook example of the beggar-thy-neighbor competitive devaluation forbidden by the International Monetary Fund's charter.


The challenge now is how to persuade China to at least moderate its strategy without unleashing something even more destructive. As the decibel level has risen in Washington, Chinese officials have implicitly warned that they could retaliate by dumping Treasury bills from their central bank's $2.4 trillion cache.


This would be risky for both countries. The move would weaken the dollar and lessen the value of China's holdings. The United States might weather a sell-off or even benefit from the drop in the dollar's value, but any precipitous move could further disrupt the skittish financial markets. And Beijing has other potential weapons, like tariffs and quotas. There is no guarantee of rationality in these showdowns. The fallout from a trade war would be felt around the world.


It makes a lot more sense to address the problem in a multilateral setting, where China couldn't portray itself as a weak, righteous fighter holding out against arbitrary American power. Retaliation, or even the threat, would carry more legitimacy if it were part of a multilateral agreement and done on a world stage.


One way would be to press the I.M.F. to officially pronounce on whether China is breaking the rules and manipulating its exchange rate. That is part of the fund's job, though it has preferred not to pick the fight. China would find it far harder to reject an I.M.F. determination than any American criticism. It could open the door for other aggrieved trading nations to eventually seek legal redress at the World Trade Organization.


Even before that, it would help if some other countries — certainly those in the European Union, but perhaps aspiring players including India and South Korea — started publicly making the case that the cheap renminbi is hurting them, too.


The world's battered economy is certainly in no shape to keep absorbing China's exports, subsidized through a cheap currency policy. The more countries that say this, the more likely Beijing will consider changing course — and the less likely this disagreement will escalate into a fight that no one can win.






The effort to restore Florida's Everglades has been revived thanks to the efforts of President Obama and Florida's Republican governor, Charlie Crist. The Obama administration has committed more than $300 million in new money, and construction on important projects — including lifting a section of the Tamiami Trail to bring freshwater to the Everglades — is under way.


Last week, the state agency that oversees the restoration voted unanimously to press forward with Mr. Crist's controversial — but potentially game-changing — $536 million deal to buy 73,000 acres of land from the United States Sugar Corporation. The land would eventually be taken out of agricultural production, removing a major source of pollution, and converted into reservoirs and artificial marshes to store and clean water for later release into the Everglades during the dry season.


The agency — the South Florida Water Management District — had been under mounting pressure to kill the deal. Florida Crystals, another big and politically connected sugar company, lobbied ferociously against the deal with its rival. Some environmentalists complained that Mr. Crist paid too much and that the cost of the deal would crowd out other restoration projects.


But some of those projects — a string of underground storage wells, for instance — made little sense to begin with and none are as important as the land deal. The payout to United States Sugar and some other aspects of the deal seem excessive. But the agency can negotiate the price downward or cancel the arrangement if United States Sugar refuses to bargain or if the economy keeps tanking and the deal becomes unaffordable.


What the taxpayers need to remember is that this is a very good deal for the environment. Without an ample supply of clean, fresh water, the Everglades will never be restored to anything approaching their former vitality.


There is no shortage of rainfall in Florida. What's in short supply is places to store it during the rainy season when Lake Okeechobee overflows, places from which the water can be released when it is needed during the dry season to nourish wildlife, prevent catastrophic fire and provide clean water to Florida Bay.


Far more will have to happen to restore the water flows that once sustained the Everglades. But the United States Sugar lands are a critically important first step.






Taking a taxi in New York City is nearly always an adventure. Sometimes the driver is the best tour guide in the city. Sometimes not. Now comes evidence that thousands of unscrupulous cabbies have been cheating passengers — to the tune of $8 million over two years — by pushing a button that automatically doubled the fares.


The only good news here is that modern technology uncovered the scam, and more technology, which is on the way, could help stop it.


The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission reported that over the last two years, about 3,000 of the city's roughly 48,000 cabbies repeatedly — 100 times or more — overcharged riders in the city by secretly switching to the higher suburban rate. The maneuver added an average of $4 to $5 to the meter on 1.8 million rides.


One driver, whose license has been revoked, overcharged 574 passengers during a single month. The commission also found that as many 35,500 drivers padded their fares at least once.


Matthew Daus, the commissioner, says that the global positioning system installed two years ago in all city cabs helped uncover the violations. Taxi headquarters can track where a cab picks up and drops off a customer and how much the fare costs. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents cabbies, says the global positioning technology and the new meters can't be trusted. Drivers add that it's too easy to push the wrong button by accident, an excuse that is hard to fathom if it kept happening.


The commission promises short- and long-term fixes. In a few weeks, a notice will appear on the passenger's television screen whenever the driver is charging the suburban fare. Eventually, smart meters connected to the GPS devices will shift automatically when the taxi crosses the city line into the suburbs.


In the meantime, a tip for the rider: If the meter says Zone 1, you're getting the city fare. Zone 4 is for trips into the suburbs. If the meter is wrong, you can argue with the driver. Or call 311. Or, next time, try the bus.






On this day of all days in the Irish-American calendar, when ethnic pride swells, let's raise a toast: Here's to the Irish, and here's to the rest of us. May we never forget where we came from. Nearly all of us were Mexicans once. That is: the new immigrants, poor and reviled, propelled by hope and hunger into America's prickly embrace.


What brings this juxtaposition to mind is "San Patricio," a new album from Paddy Moloney of the great Irish traditionalist band the Chieftains. It commemorates a historical footnote: the San Patricio battalion of Irish-immigrant soldiers who deserted the United States Army and fought for Mexico in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. They picked the losing side, were captured, executed or branded as traitors, and then forgotten, except by Mexicans.


Mr. Moloney, a musician of restless curiosity, saw it as a tale of tragedy and loss, but also a chance for creative collision. "If the Irish were there, there would most certainly have been music," he says. The same goes for the Mexicans. He invited Irish, Mexican and American musicians to play and sing, to see what would happen.


What happened was not all dolorous lamentation, though there is some of that. The rest is joy, thoroughly Mexican yet utterly Irish, carried aloft by tin whistles, skin drums, pipes, harps, guitars and stomping feet. It's a mix you've never heard, but eerily familiar. Listen to the classic "Canción Mixteca," sung in Spanish by the Mexican supergroup Los Tigres del Norte, accompanied by accordion, bajo sexto, tin whistle and uilleann pipes.


"How far I am from the land where I was born! Immense longing invades my thoughts, and when I see myself as alone and sad as a leaf in the wind, I want to cry. I want to die of sorrow."


That old song, woven into the Mexican soul, is as Irish as it gets. And it's an American song, too. We are all people who have lost our land in one sad way and found another. Whether we lament and celebrate in a pub or cantina, whether our tricolor flag has a cactus on it or not, we are closer to one another than we remember.








So, Barack Obama can lose his temper without a teleprompter. And we have the supremely aggravating Bibi Netanyahu to thank for that.


On St. Patrick's Day, of all days, we wouldn't want to think that our president did not know how to pick his donnybrooks.


The American government did unfortunately apologize to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, who got mad when a State Department spokesman correctly observed that the Libyan leader doesn't always make sense. But in the case of a defiant Israel, the White House has not yet retreated into its usual compromising crouch.


Obama is so unpopular in Israel that he has nothing to lose by smacking our ally for its egregious treatment of

the vice president. Joe Biden, the great champion of Israel, was humiliated when Israel used the occasion of his visit to defy America and announce a plan for 1,600 more homes in the disputed East Jerusalem area.


Israeli conservatives figured the American Eagle was toothless given that Obama had already backed down once on settlements. But the president has a lot to gain with Arabs disillusioned by the failure of the pre-emptive Nobel Prize winner to make good on his vaunted Cairo promise to resolve the Palestinian issue.


Besides, there is no love lost between the Israeli prime minister and Obama's aides, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod — ever since Bibi obnoxiously labeled them "self-hating Jews" last summer.


The president and his inner circle are appalled at Israel's self-absorption and its failure to notice that America is not only protecting Israel from Iran, fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also dealing with a miasma of horrible problems at home. And Israel insults the Obama administration over a domestic zoning issue that has nothing to do with its security?


"That's not how you treat your best friend," said one Obama official.


During the campaign, Obama told The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg that "being a friend to Israel is partly to hold up a mirror and tell the truth," to save them from themselves when they mindlessly let settlement gluttony scuttle any chance of peace.


After it was reported two weeks ago that Israel planned 600 other homes in East Jerusalem, Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, warned me that Israel's ultra-conservative religious groups were "killing every option that comes out that has peace in its objective."


For the fundamentalist rabbis who run Israel's working-class, ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Shas Party, the new houses represent earmarks. But it's one thing to put earmarks in the budget and another to foment a crisis between Israel and its benefactor over them.


"It's not entirely clear to me that the Shas Party knows who Joe Biden is or cares," Jeffrey Goldberg told me.


"They have very narrow theological interests that don't conform to the theological interests of American Jews," he continued. "The high-tech entrepreneurs of Tel Aviv relate to the Shas Party about as well as the Jews of the Upper West Side relate to the Tea Party. The Shas Party is not overly attuned to the American-Israel relationship or the peace process."


Goldberg also points out that "what most right-wing Israelis don't understand is that even American Jews — especially the nearly 80 percent who voted for Obama — disaggregate what is in the best interest of Israel from what is in the best interest of the settlers."


Obama knows that Jews no longer speak with one voice. That gives him enough room to keep the heat on Netanyahu. But the president's smackdown also obscures the fact that the administration has no real strategy for peace and no impressive team below Hillary and Biden pushing for peace.


Arab leaders groused to me that Obama has gotten so weighed down by problems at home that he has lost the thread of his promises abroad.


In his Atlantic blog, Goldberg suggests that Obama's ulterior motive is to drive out the ultra-conservatives and force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take Tzipi Livni's Kadima Party into his government, thus creating a "stable, centrist coalition" that could work for peace.


Netanyahu is taking his time-out in an Israel where many citizens and columnists are embarrassed by his behavior. Yet Post-Biden, the government is acting petulant and is inviting construction on more new homes in northeast Jerusalem. Perhaps Bibi will have the good sense to realize the Biden insult was a bit more than "regrettable," as he tepidly put it. He may remember that the two most important things to Israel should be a security doctrine that prevents a neighboring adversary from getting a nuclear weapon and cherishing the relationship with America — rather than zoning and earmarks.


The Iranian mullahs must be laughing at the Americans and Israelis arguing about who insulted whom, while they are busy screwing their nuclear bombs together.







Underlying the latest U.S.-Israel spat over settlements is the deeper — real — problem: There are five key actors in the Israeli-Palestinian equation today. Two of them — the Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and the alliance of Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah — have clear strategies. These two are actually opposed, but one of them will shape Israeli-Palestinian relations in the coming years; indeed, their showdown is nearing. I hope Fayyad wins. It would be good for Israel, America and the moderate Arabs. But those three need their own strategy to make it happen.


Fayyad is the most interesting new force on the Arab political stage. A former World Bank economist, he is pursuing the exact opposite strategy from Yasir Arafat. Arafat espoused a blend of violence and politics; his plan was to first gain international recognition for a Palestinian state and then build its institutions. Fayyad calls for the opposite — for a nonviolent struggle, for building noncorrupt transparent institutions and effective police and paramilitary units, which even the Israeli Army says are doing a good job; and then, once they are all up and running, declare a Palestinian state in the West Bank by 2011.


The strategy of Fayyad — and his boss, President Mahmoud Abbas — is gaining momentum and is in "direct conflict with the network of resistance: Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas," said Gidi Grinstein, the president of the Reut Institute, one of the premier Israeli policy research centers.


Iran's strategy, explains Grinstein, is simple: Destroy Israel through a combination of asymmetric warfare — like Hezbollah's war from South Lebanon and Hamas's from Gaza; delegitimize Israel by accusing it of war crimes when it combats Hamas and Hezbollah, who fight while nested among civilians; "religiousize" the conflict by making it Muslims versus Jews, focusing on symbols like Jerusalem; and, finally, suck Israel into "imperial overstretch," e.g., keep Israel occupying the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, which Iran & Co. believe will lead to "Israel's implosion."


Therefore, today, Fayyadism, which aims to replace the Israeli occupation of the West Bank with an independent Palestinian state, is the biggest threat to Iran's strategy. So the smart thing right now would be for the other three parties to have a clear strategy to back Fayyadism. If only. ...


Ever since Israel occupied the West Bank and its Palestinian population in 1967, Israelis have faced a dilemma: Do they want a Jewish state, a democratic state and state in all of the land of Israel (Israel plus the West Bank)? In this world, they can have only two out of three. Israel can be Jewish and democratic, but not if it keeps the West Bank, because the Palestinians there plus all the Israeli Arabs will eventually outnumber the Jews. It can be Jewish and keep the West Bank, but then it can't be democratic; Arabs will be the majority. It can be democratic and keep the West Bank, but then it can't be Jewish.


I am certain that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu understands this, which is why he has accepted the principle of a two-state solution. But his government is an impossible mix of moderate Labor Party and hard-line religious and nationalist ideologues who actually believe Israel doesn't have to choose two out of three but can have all three if it just hangs tough.


As a result, Bibi's government can't ignore the U.S. and Fayyad, but neither can it move decisively to help. The columnist Nahum Barnea of the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot compared Netanyahu "to one of those elderly drivers who straddle two lanes for fear of making a mistake, making the drivers trailing after them crazy and cause accidents. When he signals left, he turns right. When he signals right, he continues straight ahead."

Most of the pro-U.S. Arab states lack both vision and courage, so that leaves the Obama team to promote Fayyadism, which is a big idea but faces a huge structural challenge. In 2006-2007, the Palestinian political system fractured between Hamas-controlled Gaza and a West Bank controlled by Fatah, led by Abbas and Fayyad. So, today, the Palestinian Parliament may not have the unity or legitimacy to endorse any agreement with Israel. Therefore, America must figure out how to bring about a West Bank Palestinian state next to Israel in this context. It will have to happen in phases, with the first phase being establishing a Palestinian state with "provisional borders" — covering roughly all of the West Bank minus the current Israeli settlement blocs — while postponing refugees, Jerusalem and final borders to the second phase.


President Obama was 100 percent right to call out Israel on its settlement expansion, which undermines the opportunities inherent in this moment. But he also needs his own clear strategy to exploit the opportunities inherent in this moment — and that has been lacking up to now from his foreign policy team. If we are going to fight with Israel — or better yet, work with it — let's do so over a big U.S. strategy that we think can shape a more stable Middle East.







WHY should we celebrate the Irish?


No doubt, several reasons could be proffered. But for me one answer stands out. Long, long ago the Irish pulled off a remarkable feat: They saved the books of the Western world and left them as gifts for all humanity.


True enough, the Irish were unlikely candidates for the job. Upon their entrance into Western history in the fifth century, they were the most barbaric of barbarians, practitioners of human sacrifice, cattle rustlers, traders in human beings (the children they captured along the Atlantic edge of Europe), insane warriors who entered battle stark naked. And yet it was the Irish who were around to pick up the pieces when the Roman Empire collapsed in the West under the increasing assaults of Germanic tribes.


It is hard to overstate the momentousness of that collapse. By the early sixth century, Western Europe had become largely illiterate, its teachers dead, its students on the run, its libraries turned into kindling. Ireland, however, had just settled down, thanks to a tough old bird named Patrick, a Roman citizen raised in the province of Britain who had been grabbed by Irish slavers when he was a teenager. It was after his escape that Patrick resolved to seek priestly ordination and return to Ireland to preach the Gospel.


The glories of Christianity — particularly its books — fascinated the Irish. They came to love the Roman alphabet that Patrick and his successors taught them, as well the precious illuminated manuscripts that he presented to them. There was indeed nothing in their intellectual heritage to block their receptivity to the Christian faith.

There was also nothing in their heritage to draw them to master the intricacies of the Greco-Roman tradition. This turned out to be a stroke of luck, for the ancient Irish never embraced classical cynicism or the gloomy Greco-Roman sense of fatedness.


Instead, they remained in many ways remarkably unjaded, full of wonder at the unexpectedness of human life. "Well, the heart's a wonder," says Pegeen Mike in John Millington Synge's comedy "The Playboy of the Western World." It was a sentiment first articulated by Patrick's converts, who put down their weapons and took up their pens. They copied out the great Greco-Roman books, many of which they didn't really understand, thus saving in its purest form most of the classical library.


The Irish fanned out across Europe, salvaging books wherever they could, making copies, reassembling libraries and teaching the newly settled barbarians of the continent to read and write.


But they did more than this: they managed to infuse the emerging medieval world with a playfulness previously unknown. In the margins of the books they copied, the Irish scribes drew little pictures, thickets of plants, flowers, birds and animals. Human faces occasionally peek through the tangle, faces of childlike delight and awe. If you were a scribe copying out some especially ponderous philosophical Greek, the margin in which you could reflect on your own world served as a source of "refreshment, light and peace," to quote the ancient Latin liturgy. These scribal doodles eventually became elaborate design elements, leading the way to Irish masterpieces like the Book of Kells.


The scribes also contributed jokes, poems and commentary to the works they replicated, saving for us a world of fresh insights. One scribe, tortured by the difficult Greek he was copying, wrote: "There's an end to that — and seven curses with it!" Another complained of a previous scribe's sloppiness: "It is easy to spot Gabrial's work here." A third, at the bottom of a tear-stained page, tells us how upset he was by the death of Hector on the Plain of Troy. In these comments, sharp and sweet by turns, we come in contact with the sources of Irish literary humor and hear uncanny echoes of Swift, Wilde, Shaw, Joyce, Beckett.


One scribe leaves us a charming poem about his cat, who hunts mice through the night while the scribe hunts words. Another, presumably a female scribe, describes a young man in four brief lines:


He's a heart,


He's an acorn from an oak tree,


He's young.


Kiss him!


A third scribe (for they were not all monks and nuns) wonders who will sleep tonight with "blond Aideen." (It's quite certain someone will.)


The quotations above are English translations from the Irish, the first vernacular language of Europe to be written down. In this way, the Irish initiated what would eventually become the great torrent of European national literatures.


We have many reasons to be grateful to St. Patrick and his fierce and playful Irishmen and Irishwomen. So on this St. Patrick's Day, remember them as they would wish to be remembered. Read a book.


Thomas Cahill is the author of "How the Irish Saved Civilization."


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Cambridge, Mass.

ON Monday, Senator Christopher Dodd unveiled his proposal to reform the nation's financial regulatory system, including a new agency to protect consumers from predatory practices like teaser mortgages and misleading credit card contracts.


It's a great idea, save for a fatal flaw. As a sop to Republicans, Senator Dodd's plan lodges the agency in the very organization that dropped the ball in America's consumer finance crisis: the Federal Reserve.


The Fed has a long and largely undistinguished history of consumer protection. During the 1970s, officials at the Fed opposed the Community Reinvestment Act, which attacked home lending discrimination, and the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, which compelled banks to reveal their lending patterns.


When these became law, the Fed limply enforced them; it gave the same treatment to the Home Ownership Equity Protection Act, passed in 1994.


The Fed also sat on the sidelines during the housing bubble. Many Fed officials supported the explosion in subprime lending, and they seemed to look the other way as foreclosures soared in the latter half of 2006.


Even at the height of the crisis, Fed governors rarely mentioned consumer protection. Indeed, it wasn't until two Democratic representatives, William Delahunt of Delaware and Brad Miller of North Carolina, proposed an independent consumer agency on March 10, 2009, that the Fed began to talk the talk of consumer protection; it's probably no coincidence that the first public mention of consumer protection regulation by Fed officials in the entire aftermath of the financial crisis came on March 19, 2009, when a Fed governor, Daniel Tarullo, spoke about it at a hearing.


At this point, the Fed, and in particular its chairman, Ben Bernanke, seemed to find religion. Last July, it proposed rule revisions that would simplify the fine print on mortgages and highlight risky features of a loan. Two months later, it said that credit cards should be subject to similar regulatory reform, and Mr. Bernanke followed in October with a proposal for a council of risk regulators that would also oversee consumer issues.


It wasn't all talk: according to its own data, the Fed's enforcement actions against banks and lenders also began increasing over the past year, particularly after Congress took up the idea of an independent regulator. From a post-crisis average of eight announced enforcement actions per month, the Fed doubled its announcements to 16 actions per month once an independent agency was proposed.


But this new seriousness doesn't mean the Fed is the right place for a consumer protection agency. For one, the Fed is above all concerned with inflation and other systemic risks to the economy; given a conflict between avoiding threats to the economy and consumer protection, is it reasonable or fair to expect it to choose the latter?


And, conflicts of interest aside, the Fed has yet to show it can truly protect consumers. Regulation is often a cat-and-mouse game in which officials must constantly anticipate how banks and lenders will respond to the government's rules and activities and adapt regulation in turn. Reactive "regulation for show," as we've seen from the Fed since March 2009, is not enough.


Senator Dodd's proposal attempts to seal off the agency within the Fed, giving it rulemaking authority subject to the veto of a council of regulators. But independence will be impossible to enforce in practice, since nothing in the bill would prevent the Fed from lobbying the council or other regulators reviewing the bureau's rules — and Mr. Bernanke and his colleagues would surely carry a lot of weight.


Embedding consumer protection in the Fed could be worse than imperfect. By giving the imprimatur of a consumer protection office to an agency that has long resisted consumer protection, Congress risks creating a false sense of security among policymakers and the public. The Fed's politically reactive posture is the exact opposite of the sustained care that consumer financial protection demands.


Daniel Carpenter is a professor of government and director of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard.



******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS




Where corruption starts at the top there is usually a unified 'chain of command' downwards that ensures its longevity and durability, and we have a fine example offered by the awarding of contracts by the National Highway Authority (NHA) and the National Logistics Cell (NLC) without having to go through a formal tendering process. An investigation by this newspaper reveals that 22 development projects worth over Rs100 billion have been awarded to four organisations, two of them run by the military and two foreign-run, without the invitation of national or international tenders, and in direct contravention of the Public Procurement Rules. There is a distinct irony in this, as the Public Procurement Rules were created during the Musharraf regime specifically to limit the discretionary powers of any official or agency to grant contracts without inviting public tender. Having brought the PPRs into being, the then-president promptly stood them on their head by suggesting to government organisations that they award contracts to military-run construction companies sans tender.

A smokescreen to cover the trickery was devised whereby the move was sanctioned as private contractors were corrupt and hand-in-glove with corrupt bureaucrats – leading to allegations of potential corruption being used as a cover for actual corruption, which if nothing else displays a flair for creativity. Fast-forward to 2010, and an unnamed senior official of the NHA confirmed the without-tender awards, justifying them by saying that a Chinese company 'arranged' a $417 million loan, and an Italian company took a contract in settlement of a past dispute with the NHA. There may be some merit in the argument that the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) had the capacity to deliver on contracts in hostile or difficult terrain or where the law-and-order situation was unstable, but the fact remains that the PPRs were bypassed, and there are allegations of murky dealings and rake-offs and the FWO 'sub-letting' parts of the contract to its favoured partners. Corruption started at the top, filtered downwards through civilian and military structures as part of an opaque process with multiple beneficiaries, and today stands institutionalised and seemingly unassailable. Rules, so the saying goes, were made to be broken – a saying that might as well be incorporated in our constitution.













The Punjab chief minister's unusual appeal to the Taliban, asking them to spare Punjab has, quite predictably stirred up a storm. Shahbaz has had to offer up an explanation and, according to reports, has received a rebuke from the army chief during an unscheduled meeting. It seems apparent that Shahbaz's explanation of the media contorting his comments has not convinced too many. Certainly he has blundered. His unusually and exceptionally inappropriate remarks suggesting that Punjab was opposed to drone attacks against Taliban targets and that they should thus avoid targeting the province lays down a narrow, rather ugly, parochial vision. We need to build a sense of unity that causes people in Punjab to be left disturbed when there is a blast in Peshawar or Karachi or Mingora. The fact is that this is not currently the case. Over the years we have become more and more split and divided as a nation. Events in Sindh no longer bother those living in other provinces. A blast in Kohat causes nothing more than a few raised eyebrows in cities further away. There has been little concern over the fate of those missing from Balochistan in other parts of the country.

This state of affairs needs to change. It is the duty of key decision-makers to pave the way towards greater harmony and a sense of nationhood. Mian Shahbaz Sharif has spoken thoughtlessly and rather insensitively. He needs to ensure the same mistake is not made again as this can cause a great deal of damage. Punjab needs to set the example that all the smaller provinces can follow. It must play a part in developing national unity. All of us, as citizens of one country with common interests and a common future, should have a broad approach that sees the nation and all its territory as a whole.






Reports that the ministry of information technology has been asked to draft a proposal for a ban on the import of used computers and IT accessories - apparently at the direction of the president himself – are cause for concern. There are about 14 million computers in the country of which about 60 per cent are used or old, 24 per cent bought as new from international manufacturers and 16 per cent locally constructed from parts either new or used. If the ban were to be imposed no trader would be able to sell used or secondhand computers in the marketplace, with an estimated fourfold increase in the price. Computer manufacturers claim that we (and other countries) have become a dumping ground for first-world cast-offs that are energy inefficient. Those opposed to the ban say that we have an increasing computer penetration because of the availability of cheap used machines, a rising use of relatively inexpensive internet connections and a boost to the economy through ISPs, vendors of computers and peripherals, and the advertising industry.

The Pakistan Computer Association has strongly objected to the proposal saying it will benefit the multinationals, price computers out of the reach of poor students and affect the livelihoods of thousands of vendors across the country. Education generally, and especially in the poorer sectors of the population would suffer at a time when computers are finally gaining a classroom foothold. Also, the rapid spread of internet connectivity which is driven by the availability of cheap used computers could come to a grinding halt. What we really need is for one of the big manufacturers such as Intel to set up shop here in order that good quality affordable computers can be manufactured in-country. Locally manufactured machines could then find their way into the secondhand market and the need to import used machines would diminish over time. We lag far behind other developing nations in terms of computer and internet penetration and we do not need any further impediment to the progress we are already making. A bad move – think again, ministry of information technology.







2008 was a year of revenge. Democracy struck back in two places to take its revenge. It struck in America to crush the race "barrier" and Americans elected the first non-white president in US history. Barack Hussein Obama was elected president in place of George W Bush, who in eight years of his presidency had played havoc with the world.

Democracy also struck in Pakistan with elections in February 2008 after two years of stormy civil and judicial strife ousting a dictator and the ignominy of his eight-year rule. The revenge it took in Pakistan was different from the one it took in America. In Pakistan, it shattered the dreams of the Pakistani people who were looking for change but the change never came to their country.

Neither parliament nor the government inspires any hope or confidence in the common man. The people stand disillusioned. They had been struggling for democracy for nearly a decade and soon realised they had no choice in the February 2008 elections.

In America, Obama's election as president was a miracle indeed. But he won the election not because he was black or because he had a "will" in his bag. He got elected because he was a younger, fresher, smarter and more energetic candidate with no prior political baggage. There was a feeling among the American people that for the first time since John F Kennedy they had a different kind of leader whose presence in the White House not only gave it a new facelift but also symbolised hope for change.

There was another reason for this miracle to happen. America was fed up with the Bush legacy and wanted a clear break from those eight years of domestic failure and external belligerence. On its part, Pakistan too was fed up with the Mush legacy and voted for a clear break from those eight years of domestic misfortunes and external disasters. The people of Pakistan also had a feeling that after long time, they were electing a different kind of leadership which they thought had no parallel in "ingenuities" among the political ranks in the country.

The people of Pakistan also thought their new civilian masters having suffered protracted spells of military rule might have learnt lessons not to repeat their past mistakes. Woefully, the people were mistaken. Their new rulers came with a vengeance. With Benazir Bhutto's tragic assassination, the people were left with a democracy that gave them no choice. Even worse, it brought them neither relief nor hope for change.

The democracy parallel between the US and Pakistan ends here. President Obama was at least sincere when he promised to do and undo many things. In this last one year of his presidency, he has at least been trying to deal with his domestic and external challenges by grappling them with combinations of different strategies. With mid-term elections approaching, Obama and his Democratic Party are up for an early verdict on their performance, and there is a long checklist for the American people to judge on his performance.

In Pakistan, elections are not an occasion to judge the rulers on their performance. They are a means to come to power by hook or by crook and by the same old feudalistic antics. With the passage of time, our people are forgetting what they had voted for in 2008. They now do have an elected civilian leadership brought to power with an overwhelming majority and a clear mandate for change in the country. It was a vote of no confidence against Musharraf and for an end to dictatorship.

The people don't see any change or difference from what they had gone through during the Musharraf era. The democracy dividend continues to elude them. President Zardari made many promises and solemn pledges that he never kept. But who cares? His prime minister makes no promises at all. He believes in saying things that can be interpreted in many ways and can also be conveniently disowned with finesse. He wears a new designer suit every day. Yet, as chief executive, he gives the impression of being totally helpless, if not clueless.

The only thing this government can be credited with is the consistency with which it is harbouring Musharraf's dictatorial legacy, the notorious 17th Amendment. We have been hearing it will go soon but one can never be sure of anything in this setup. There is a parliamentary committee that has been busy all this time to see how this Amendment could be sugar-coated with democracy under the label of the 18th Amendment. We are masters in devising constitutional aberrations.

It is over two years since this political system has been in place. Its performance has been dismal. No miracles were expected but at least some vision and direction should have been made visible in the actions and policies of the government during this period. The larger issues of terrorism, poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, will no doubt take decades, if not longer, to be addressed. But at least, a sincere effort could have been made to alleviate the daily hardships of the common people.

Next week, we celebrate yet another anniversary of what we call Pakistan Day in commemoration of the adoption of the historic Pakistan Resolution in Lahore seventy years ago. Those of us who belong to the first generation that saw and experienced the formative phase of Pakistan and its creation as a dream of its founding fathers are indeed guilt-ridden at the thought of what Quaid-e-Azam had envisioned this country to be and where we actually stand today as a nation and as a state.

We are no longer an independent, peace-loving democratic country that our Quaid had left for us as the fortress of our pride and dignity as a self-respecting nation. Today, regretfully, Pakistan's name raises instant fear and concern among the nations of the world. Terrorism is our sole identity now. We are described as the "most dangerous" and "most violent" nation on earth. We are also considered the "most insecure and most unsafe" country in the world. Ours is the only country where Muslims are killing Muslims. We have become a suicidal nation and are killing ourselves.

Poor governance is our national hallmark. There is no law and order in the country. With our continued domestic political instability and the precarious extremism-led violence, we remain unable to harness the unique asset of our geographical location for our economic growth. Our economy is in a shambles with no trust or credibility among world's lenders and investors. The common man is suffering worst-ever hardships. Public discontent is brewing and may soon reach a point where the people may start thinking nostalgically of olden times.

Meanwhile, the plunderers, profiteers, and the looters, murderer and the killers could not have a safer haven anywhere else in the world. No other country is familiar with the practice of forgiving as a matter of rule the elite loan-defaulters and the known highly placed plunderers of the national exchequer. The culture of "power and privilege" is thriving on patronage, graft, bribery, extortion, nepotism, cronyism, influence-peddling, fraud and embezzlement.

Had the Quaid lived longer, he would have only been embarrassed to see how miserably his successors had failed to live up to his vision of Pakistan, and to protect and preserve its sovereignty independence and territorial integrity. He would have instantly suffocated to death at the sight of his nation left only as a mutilated and disjointed mass of people with no national unity or dignity. It is a country looted and plundered by its own people and public dignitaries. It is a nation with no sense of direction.

The Quaid's soul must be agonising over this deplorable scene. After all, there is nothing left of what Quaid-e-Azam had hoped his Pakistan will one day be as "one of the greatest nations of the world." And see what they are doing with the Quaid's portrait. It is only a table piece now that accompanies our dignitaries as excess baggage to be taken out of the bag and displayed only as a showpiece on the side table.

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: shamshad1941@







Today, Pakistan, for the very first time in its history, is blessed with an independent judiciary. The superior judiciary, in recent years, has taken numerous initiatives to provide justice to the ordinary, hapless people of Pakistan, especially, through suo moto notices issued by the chief justice of Pakistan on various important issues. Still, a lot has to be done, especially in the presence of some controversial laws that result in terrible miseries to the law abiding people of Pakistan.

The Qanun-e-Shahadat 1984 is one such law that demands immediate attention at the executive, legislative and judicial levels. We all are well-aware of the fact that Pakistan has introduced legislation regarding IT-related crimes in the recent past to regulate the use of information technology. Through the said legislation, the government aims to control high-tech crimes such as cyber terrorism, criminal access to data, data damaging, electronic fraud, electronic forgery, misuse of electronic systems or electronic devices, unauthorised access to codes, misuse of encryption, misuse of codes and cyber stalking. Though the step was a good one, it turned out to be a step too little too late due to the flawed Qanun-e-Shahadat Act of 1984 that needs immediate consideration as the misuse of this law has become commonplace nowadays.

It's among the cardinal virtues of every civilised society that no person should be subjected to mental torture or injury in business, person or reputation on the basis of private conversations made and recorded by or through the tape recorder or any other electronic device for the purpose of extracting evidence to fulfill one's evil designs, which tantamount to blackmailing.

The experts argue that private, professional or commercial conversations recorded by electronic devices should not be allowed for the purpose of proving an allegation or the same shall remain hanging like the sword of Damocles on the adversary and inflict injury on reputation till the time the taped conversations are disproved. Moreover, the admissibility of tape-recorded conversations in evidence under the Qanun-e-Shahadat Ordinance 1984 is against the Quran and Sunnah, as the right to privacy has been guaranteed to every citizen under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

It's a known fact that any sort of recording can be easily dubbed by a parodist nowadays. The admissibility of such recording by a court before its credibility or authenticity is disproved continues to cause injury to the affected party during the trial period which cannot be redressed subsequently. Therefore, tape-recorded conversations, especially those related to private and personal matters such as between husband and wife, lawyer and client, doctor and patient or between relatives etc. should not be made admissible in evidence, under the Law of Evidence.

Similarly, the admissibility of tape-recorded conversations between private parties or persons not related to state-affairs opens the floodgates for blackmailing people. It not only destabilises the social structure of a society, but also promotes immorality, extortion, terrorisation, scandalisation, forced marriages and sometimes it can lead to sensationalization of issues. Therefore, it is prudent to immediately introduce proper amendment to the Qanun-e-Shahadat Ordinance, 1984, with a view to save innocent people from such gruesome blackmailing tactics.

Such controversial laws continue to haunt people, as they are used as a tool of blackmailing. The faulty Articles 46-A and 164 of the said law ought to be discussed in parliament and a bill must be presented to remove these flaws. The legal experts, after analysing the misuse of the lacunae in the law, have rightly demanded that private, commercial or professional conversations between people, if recorded by electronic devices or tape recorder, should not be used as incriminating evidence, so that such conversations which are privileged, stand protected from the miscreants of the society.

The writer is senior vice-president of the PML-Q.







The draft bill to make the Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS) an independent body, scheduled to be presented in the next parliamentary session assumes great importance. The bill uses grant of autonomy as an instrument to create a new agency -- Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) -- by restructuring and reorganising the three existing data collection organisations. The rationale and design for this approach has been published in a paper titled "Challenges in data collection in a developing country: the Pakistan experiences as a way forward" in the Statistical Journal of the International Association for Official Statistics (IAOS) and has been authored by a former secretary of the statistics division.

Legislation in this area is of tremendous significance, which is why the context, connotations, limitations, implications and imperatives related to this bill must be understood. Before a few points in relation to these aspects are discussed, it must be appreciated that official statistics are one source of data in a national information system. The overall purpose of this system is to generate and communicate evidence for planning and monitoring the issues related to decision-making.

There are two constraints in relation to the use of evidence in relation to state policy and strategy in Pakistan. The first is paucity of usable evidence whereas the second impediment is the culture of decision-making based on conventions, personal interests, anecdotal evidences, and/or political expediencies. While the determinants of the second constraint are embedded in a complex interplay of governance and over-arching political factors, the first constraint can be overcome to a large extent by strengthening the institutional pillars of the national information system, of which a statistical agency is a part.

Based on information in the public domain, it is evident that the bill has some useful clauses. For example, merging the FBS with the Agriculture Census Organisation and Population Census Organisation can help reduce the recurrent costs and eliminate duplication. User's council mandated through the legislation can be an inclusive approach, whereas the focus on capacity building, career planning of professional staff, upgrading of skills, and the creation of a fund is, at the least, a needed recognition of the importance of these dimensions. However, the extent to which the current resource realities will enable progress in this direction remains to be seen.

In addition to what is being addressed through the bill, some other considerations also merit attention in relation to the new agency. The first point relates to the mandate of the PBS. There are many other state agencies other than the three that are being merged, which engage in data collection through instruments that are duplicative. There are other sources of information in the procurement, public expenditure tracking and e-governance channels within the state system that can provide useful evidence. Moreover, there are other sources of valuable information within the data systems of the industry, businesses, private providers, social enterprises, distribution and retail networks, which largely remain untapped as the sources of information. The new agency must be mandated and empowered for better data collection, collation and coordination so that consolidation of ad hoc and standalone data systems are enabled.

Secondly, the purpose of a statistical agency in a resource constrained country should not solely be to collate data but also to consolidate information, perform triangulations and interpret and analyse data, and ensure its timely relay to the right decision makers. The existing capacity constraints are important with respect to all these desired roles; these gaps will be further widened as has been illustrated in the IOAS paper. Therefore, appropriate competencies, skills, and capacities are a must to ensure quality in the data systems. The capacity and quality constraints within the PBS also assume importance since the capacity of ministries and government departments in terms of data analysis is particularly weak and it does not seem plausible to invest in standalone programmes within their domains given the current resource constraints. Appropriate capacity is also needed to remedy the existing information discrepancies within the state system. The shortcomings of the methodology adopted to document the size of Pakistan's economy is particularly illustrative in this regard. It is only through appropriate capacity that a transformational change can be brought to address the prevailing gap in the current information systems.

The capacity imperative is also driven by the need to ensure compliance with international standards and maintain data quality to enable international comparisons in today's globalised world. Previously, investments were made in a training institute allied to the FBS, which can be used as an institutional entry point to step up capacity building efforts within the PBS. Two of the bilateral donors have a particular interest in strengthening capacity and have committed resources for this purpose. Their role should be strategically harnessed for capacity strengthening within the FBS. However, in tandem, safeguards must be built against brain drain through appropriate retention policies.

Thirdly, the role of technology must be brought to bear and should be fully leveraged in developing and maintaining a national information system. Pakistan's telecommunication network in general, and mobile telecommunication network in particular, has enhanced significantly in the past decade and has a wide coverage, but is not being fully capitalised. Similarly, very few organisations have IT enabled systems for collecting data and the potential within innovative solutions, like modified versions of low-end mobile telephones and palmtops to collect data from the field remains untapped. The state agencies usually make optimal investments in the IT infrastructure for collection, aggregation, and analysis of data and to enhance connectivity within data systems. Similarly, the use of free and open source software remains untapped. The new data agency must make the right linkages with the ministry of IT and other government agencies that have IT enabled systems to capitalise on the existing infrastructure so that information can be used for generating evidence in a timely manner. In a globalised world appropriate use of technology can also enable real time surveillance in many areas, for example, price surveillance for procurements and disease surveillance for timely action. These are now becoming imperatives in a global village within which Pakistan must learn to survive.

Lastly, the institutional design of the envisaged PBS from the point of view of its governance arrangement merits attention. The FBS is currently under control of the government and there are many sad stories of data tampering the details of which I do not want to get into. The ethos of statecraft dictates that any evidence generation agency should be free from the controls of those who can have a vested interest in maneuvering data and information. Therefore, an independent autonomous design is envisaged as a safeguard against influence. The bill structures autonomy in principle. However, past experiences of 'autonomous' agencies show that grant of autonomy is often incomplete in terms of administrative and financial controls and that the government often tends to keep loopholes active, which enable it to exercise influence when needed. If this manner of 'autonomy' is structured again, the whole purpose of the bill will be defeated. The new agency must also take a policy decision to place all the raw data files in the public domain. This can be one of the most important measures to guard against data tampering.

With the right leadership and technical capacity, the needed transformation in the working of PBS can be enabled. However, beyond the bill and PBS, the state machinery must garner an unyielding political and institutional commitment to base decisions on evidence and institutionalise rational accountability of the decision-making process.

The writer is president of the NGO thinktank, Heartfile. Email:







Roti, kapra and makaan is the slogan of one of our major political parties. It played a big role in their majority win in the 1970 elections in West Pakistan. We, as a naïve nation, swallow all kinds of hollow slogans and promises. This slogan has its roots in India where it became so popular that Manoj Kumar made it the title of one of his films. This film was so successful that it celebrated its golden jubilee. The communists in India were the first to realise the appeal of these "magic" words and soon West Bengal became its stronghold. It appealed to many in Pakistan because it promised the poor a means of subsistence. These three items – roti, kapra and makaan – are the basic essential needs of the poor. Politicians soon realised the importance and appeal of these words and made it a part of their party manifesto. Since it contained a promise to meet the needs of the poor, the party managed to win votes. Like so many other promises, this one saw the light of day, but days, weeks, even years, passed without its realisation. Meanwhile, the poor became poorer and the rich became richer.

In Bhopal there was a cobbler known as Jagjeewan Ram. He rose to become India's deputy prime minister and minister of defence. (His daughter, Mira Kumari, is now speaker of the Lower House.) He later became so rich that when a parliamentarian asked him why his son, Suresh Bhai, had not paid Rs240-million income tax, he casually replied that Suresh might have forgotten about it. If Rs240 million means nothing, one may well image his wealth!

Similar miracles have taken place in our country. Leaders from poor backgrounds have become billionaires, almost overnight, owning foreign currency accounts and properties abroad. The common people are not clueless. They know all about it but look on helplessly, unable to utter a word for fear of repercussions.

When the slogan was made part of one party's manifesto, we saw it written everywhere. Roti is the first important item of the three. Its simple meaning is bread, but in a wider sense it encompasses all edibles – grain, vegetables, oil, ghee, meat, sugar, etc.

Allama Iqbal (RA) who was miles away from communism in his convictions, could not resist saying:

Jis khet se dehqan ko mayassar nahin roti;

Us khet ke har khosha-e gandum ko jalado.

Even the staunchest supporters of socialism would hesitate to utter such words.

Raja Mehdi Ali Khan said in his famous verse:

Diwana admi ko banati hain rotian;

Khud nachti hain sabko nachati hain rotian.A common joke circulating at the time of the popularity of this slogan was that someone asked Mr Bhutto how much two plus two was. Came the prompt reply – four rotian

Moeen Ahsan Jazbi of Bhopal, upon the insistence of Jigar, often recited this verse:Jab jeb men paise hotey hain, jab pet men roti hoti hai;

Us waqt yeh zarra heera hai, us waqt yeh shabnam moti hai.He used to taunt Josh that this was also a form of socialism.

In the olden days the well-to-do provided free food to the poor. Fortunately, many people still maintain this custom as it is considered to be a good deed for which one receives the blessings of Allah Almighty.

During the regime of Gen Musharraf the country suffered wheat/flour shortages because Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had allowed the export of wheat at cheap rates. It then had to be imported at much higher rates. The present government has managed to put even the previous government to shame. We see not only a shortage of wheat, but also of sugar and other edibles, as well as exorbitant price hikes of almost all commodities, putting many items beyond the means of the common man. As if that were not enough, increased rates and long hours of load shedding make electricity nothing more than a dream for many. We have not forgotten the scenes of poor men, women and children being beaten with shoes, sticks and fists while trying to buy (not loot) sugar and flour in the scorching heat during Ramazan. Some even died.

The second item in the slogan is cloth, encompassing all clothing. In ancient times people used large leaves. Later on, they made clothing from hides and, with the advent of handlooms, they started using woven cloth. In present times we see this trend culminating in large textile mills. Sahir Luthianwi had this to say:

Milen isi liye resham ka dher banti hain Ke dukhtaran-e-watan taar-taar ko tarsen.

Nowadays, with rampant consumerism, the rich have too many clothes and the poor have hardly enough to cover themselves with. Thanks to the Lunda Bazars, poor people can now buy imported second-hand clothing of reasonable quality to mitigate the hardships of winter. Perhaps the day will come when even that is beyond their means and they will once again resort to natural products, as in the following verse:

Tan ki uriyani se behter hi nahin koi libasYeh wo jamah hai nahin jis ka kuchh ulta-sidha.Even in death we need a piece of cloth:Jaey ga jab yahan se kuchh bhi pas na hoga;Do gaz kafan ka tukra tera libas hoga.

Rather than hollow slogans and utilising the names (reputations) of past leaders, the current rulers should take appropriate practical measures to alleviate the suffering of the poor who are in a bad state due to unemployment, load shedding and the high cost of living.

Last, but definitely not least, is the important issue of having a place to live, whether it be hut, house, villa or palace. For the poor the bare essential is to have a roof over their heads. For them it is a never-ending struggle. Many poets have called the sky "the blue canopy" and depicted it as harsh. However, the poet, Atish Lakhnavi, who called it a blessing for the poor, has this to say:Khuda daraz kare umr charkh-e nili kiKe ham aseerun ki turbat pe shamiana hua.

While he meant it as a shade, a canopy, on the grave, nowadays it is all that many poor people have under which to sleep.

Futpath pe sojate hain akhbar bichcha karMazdur kabhi neend ki goli nahin khatey.

Despite progress, modernisation and available facilities, many people are still found spending nights under most uncomfortable circumstances. The poor are poorer than before and have less food, clothing or shelter than the so-called developed age warrants. Think of the periods of Hazrat Umar (RA) and Hazrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz (RA). At that time there were no poor people and no beggars living off zakat. There were no aeroplanes, large ships, railways, cars, trucks, telephones, mobile phones, computers, fax machines, etc., but the quality of life was far better. People from Madina to Samarkand and in North Africa were taken care of and peace and security reigned.

The reason may be sought in the fact that the rulers were God-fearing, humble people who prayed to Allah Almighty to guide them on the right path. Nowadays, rulers live in palaces and have lost touch with the common man. They hold extravagant dinners and travel abroad frequently, all costing huge amounts to the national exchequer, rather than utilising these funds for developmental purposes. They seem to have forgotten the saying that those who build palaces don't have long to live in them. The old slogan of roti, kapra, makaan has been replaced by a new slogan – juta, lathi and thappar.







The writer is a research fellow at the Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge, and teaches courses on globalization, religion and politics of South Asia.

"Why are Pakistanis so prone to conspiracy theories?" a colleague at Cambridge recently asked. He was referring to recent debates about the presence of Blackwater in Pakistan. A version of this question is echoed by the liberal intelligentsia of Pakistan. The local version emphasises the focus on Blackwater within the rhetoric of a segment of society, notably the Islamists. A common refrain amongst the liberal intelligentsia to the question of Blackwater presence in Pakistan is that we must look inwards, we must critique ourselves and our own creations such as the Taliban before we focus on Blackwater. Through framing any critique of Blackwater as conspiracy theory, there is some congruence between the stance of my colleague at Cambridge, who is largely unfamiliar with Pakistan, and the liberal intelligentsia: they both see this focus on Blackwater as an illogical act, as a hiding behind and of course, as an abdication of our own responsibility.

What this discourse of 'our' responsibility that 'we' need to confront hides in its language of the universal 'we' in Pakistan is the reality of an extremely fractured and polarised Pakistan. There is no unified 'we' who is responsible for the rise of the Taliban, no unanimous 'we' that supported the intrusion of neo-liberal economic policies in everyday life so that about half of Pakistan is now living below the poverty line, no united 'we' that decided to support either militancy or America's war for the last decade. There are many different interest groups and classes within Pakistan and some are more implicated in the destruction of Pakistan than others.

When a handful of advisers decide to sign treaties that sell our environment and our children's future to multinational companies, can we rightfully blame the many millions who were not even informed, much less consulted, about these deals? When a few generals make millions out of fighting an ambiguously defined externally mandated war, can we continue to blame the foot soldier who refuses to kill his own extended family? When some members of the ISI continue to believe that maintaining some link with the Taliban in Afghanistan will allow them 'strategic depth', can we continue to assume that the 15-year-old teenager in Swat must share responsibility and bomb his home with impunity?

Questioning the role of Blackwater and criticising those segments of our society that bear responsibility for the mess that we are in should not be considered to be mutually exclusive. It is naivety of the highest degree to assume that due to some confluence of stars the US interest in the region today coincides with that of progressive Pakistanis. But even if we assume that is the case, how precisely specific activities such as those carried out by Blackwater are to help the building of this democratic, just and secular society remains largely unclear. Are we to believe that the presence of Blackwater in Pakistan should be borne silently because it will conduce to making these ISI officers democracy-loving, committed secularists?

What is Blackwater doing in Pakistan precisely? There is no clear answer to this question forthcoming from our interior minister who has denied their presence as a holding tactic, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. The role of Blackwater in instigating sectarian violence within Iraq is no secret. We are also familiar with their role as a private contractor to the US army allowing it to bypass Geneva Conventions. Just as Gap could buy T-shirts at rock bottom prices from sweatshops claiming that the company does not bear any responsibility for what its sub-contractors do to their workers, similarly, US army officials can deny responsibility for torture, kidnapping and extra-judicial killings because they claim ignorance of, or lack of control over, their subcontractor's operations.

Of course, this separation from the US armed forces and the CIA is a line in the sand. On August 21, 2008, the New York Times reported that Blackwater performed aerial bombing on behalf of the CIA in Pakistan: "At hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan… the company's contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft, work previously performed by employees of the Central Intelligence Agency." In a feature-length interview in Vanity Fair, Erik Prince the founder and owner of Blackwater, now re-branded as Xe Inc., expressed a sense of betrayal: "I don't understand how a programme this sensitive leaks. And to 'out' me on top of it?"

However, when it is expedient Blackwater is not above claiming a close relationship with the US military. When the families of Blackwater contractors killed in Iraq sued the company for failing to protect their loved ones, Blackwater countersued the families for breaching contracts that forbids the men or their estates from filing such lawsuits. More critically, the company claimed that, since it operates as an extension of the military, it cannot be held responsible for deaths in a war zone.

Blackwater activities run the gamut of assassinations, bombings, bribery, kidnapping, torture. None of them truly conducive to building a democratic, peaceful society. It is more than irresponsible to assume that they are here doing the job for the democratic, secular citizen of Pakistan. If we are to get rid of the militants within our midst we have to do it in a sustainable way and in a manner that would ensure that a new generation of family-less children bent upon revenge is not being raised.

What this discourse of 'our' responsibility hides from view is the possibility that there is a continued nexus between the very groups that supported the rise of militancy in Pakistan and now allow the presence of Blackwater in Pakistan. What is precisely the nexus of power and interests that allows Blackwater to operate in Pakistan with impunity? We are not abdicating responsibility by asking that question but taking on the task of critical self-examination. Not all of us are equally implicated in this but some of us are. To take the question of Blackwater in Pakistan seriously is to begin to take the question of responsibility seriously.

When the Islamists raise this issue their slogan resonates with the citizen who has developed a social imaginary of continued US intervention in Pakistani politics through the control and manipulation of a small group of people. Charles Taylor, the well-known political philosopher, has defined social imaginary as distinct from social theory. Social imaginary refers to how people imagine their social surroundings in ways distinct from theoretical frameworks. Social imagination is carried in stories, images and legends. It is also more widespread and thus makes possible common practices and a shared sense of legitimacy.

The Islamists tap into this shared knowledge about the US role in Pakistan politics. The Islamists may have their own agenda but to continuously define themselves in a reactive opposition to their stances would be a fatal mistake for groups that claim a stake in progressive politics. History moves in dynamic and non-linear ways. By remaining stuck in a static definition of progressive and regressive and allying themselves ever more closely with oppressive power, the liberals may ultimately render their cause irrelevant. For those of us committed to a just and democratic Pakistan, these dogmatic liberals are as great a danger as the militants.








During his recent visit to Jerusalem, the US Vice President Joe Biden, expressed "absolute, total, unvarnished" commitment to Israel's security. Simultaneously, showing a stark disregard for the Middle-Eastern realities, he warned Iran against acquiring nuclear weapons. The US support for Israel is not limited to hollow statements only; it has translated into 39 US vetoes at the UN to shield Israel. Israel remains the largest recipient of US aid ($3 billion annually) and protecting Israel remains a major US concern.

During 1949-2003, for every dollar the US spent on an African, it spent $250 on an Israeli. Though America's support for Israel dates back to the formation of Israel, yet 99 per cent of all US aid to Israel took place after the 1967's Six-Day War when Washington recognised Israel as the Middle-Eastern Prussia. Following the 1967 blitzkrieg, US aid shot up by 450 per cent. Following the 1970-71 civil war in Jordan, when Israeli forces massacred Palestinians, US aid increased sevenfold. Israel, in this Jordanian adventure, was assisted by Pakistani troops commanded by Brigadier Ziaul Haq. After the 1973 Arab-Israel War, the US military aid increased by another 800 per cent. It quadrupled again in 1979 soon after the ratification of the Camp David Treaty that coincided with the fall of Shah Iran. Aid increased yet again soon after Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Annual aid packages for Israel have held steady in the $2-3 billion range since 1974.

The US aid recognises Israel's potential to curb revolutionary movements outside its borders. Hence, the amount of $3 billion from US tax-payers' money is spent as payment to Israel for policing US' interests in the region. And the prime US interests in the region are: oil, oil and oil. Earlier, the Zionists had to serve the British imperial interests, as after all, in the words of the British governor of Jerusalem, the new Zionist state was meant to serve as "a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism".

Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann once asked a British official why the British continued to support Zionism despite Arab opposition. Didn't it make more sense for them to keep Palestine but drop support for Zionism? "Although such an attitude may afford a temporary relief and may quiet Arabs for a short time," the official replied, "it will certainly not settle the question, as the Arabs don't want the British in Palestine, and after having their way with the Jews, they would attack the British position, as the Moslems are doing in Mesopotamia, Egypt and India." Another British official judged retrospectively that, however much Arab resentment it provoked, the British support for Zionism was a prudent policy, for it established in the midst of an "uncertain Arab world a well-to-do educated, modern community, ultimately bound to be dependent on the British Empire."

Israel, a symbiosis of Zionism and British imperialism, for its existence needed imperialist protection. To ensure this protection, it has to play the "little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism". When Uncle Sam replaced Uncle Bull in the Middle-East at the end of WWII, he knew that the Arabs did not want the US presence in the Middle-East, and after having their way with the Jews, they would attack the US position.

Hence, the US needs in an "uncertain Arab world a well-to-do educated, modern community'' that is permanently at war with her neighbours to hold them in control. An Israel that does not fight Arabs has no use for Washington. That is why an "absolute, total, unvarnished" commitment to Israel's security against stone-throwing children is necessary.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: mfsulehria@








IT is mysterious that all guns are directed towards Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif and he has become target of undue criticism on account of a statement, which, he has clarified, was quoted out of context. His remarks that Taliban should spare Punjab of their attacks is being used by his rivals to stir up controversy to damage him and his party politically.

No doubt, everyone is entitled to offer his or her comments on a situation or development but decency demands that we should not go too much on this self-destructive path. We say so because there is already dearth of mature, serious and made in Pakistan leaders and any attempt to malign or bring into disrepute towering personalities like Mian Shahbaz Sharif amounts to inflicting damage to the cause of the country. Attacks on Shahbaz by some leaders of PML (Q) were quite understandable but it was regrettable to witness attempts made by ANP leaders in the NWFP Assembly to make a mountain out of molehill. Not only that, former President Pervez Musharraf, who himself made highly controversial statements like the one that Pakistan's nuclear assets could fall to extremists if he was removed (but nothing of the sort happened during the last two years, rather these assets are more safer than before) also jumped into the bandwagon claiming that Sharifs have close contacts with Taliban. Some elements also tried to create a controversy of the sort by citing meeting of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah with a leader of a banned organisation. It seems that a deliberate malicious campaign has been launched to discredit the PML (N) and its leadership for their so-called connections with Taliban. No doubt, the Chief Minister should have avoided such remarks, if at all made in the manner he has been quoted, and rather tailored in a comparatively clear language. It is unfair to pass on judgements on the basis of one's single deviatory statement, forgetting his track record of being an impeccable leader. Shahbaz Sharif and his family members are perceived to be true Pakistanis from top to toe and they can rightly take credit for being upholders of Islamic values, culture and national identity. To say that he is only Punjab centric and has nothing to do with Pakistan is rather humiliating and insulting and must have caused a lot of anguish to the gentleman Chief Minister. Being chief executive of the province, he is naturally concerned over bomb blasts and suicide attacks for which he should not be ridiculed.







THE International Conference on Sufism and its topic provided an excellent opportunity to the Government to project soft image of Pakistan and that seemed to be the real motive for organizing the moot. The conference attracted a galaxy of writers and intellectuals from across the globe and the platform should have been used to convey the right kind of message to the world community.

It is, however, regrettable that during his address to the conference, President Asif Ali Zardari chose to concentrate mostly on his own person or that of his martyred spouse and hardly said anything to serve as food for thought for the participants or the audience in the present-day media-dominated international community. He quoted some remarks of Benazir Bhutto and claimed that he too was ready to face the death. Apart from this, he is now also referring frequently to his sister in the context of acceptance of her nomination papers as covering presidential candidate, implying that the constitutional bar on a woman to holding the coveted post stands nullified. All this is to say that such conferences are held at the State expense and are trust of the nation and therefore these should be used as a launching paid to advance the cause of the country. This objective can better be served if meticulous planning and homework are done and a well-written thoughtful speech is delivered, rather than disjointed and stray remarks that rarely make the desired impact. It is understandable that the President himself and Bhutto family have suffered a lot and rendered great sacrifices and he must still be in a state of shock but too much emphasis on personal history and grievances should be avoided. As Head of the State, Mr Zardari is supposed to inspire the nation and speak words of wisdom as well as his road map for taking Pakistan out of the present turmoil. We hope that people around him would give serious consideration to this aspect in future.







THE protest by transporters and students in Lahore on Monday in which six buses were torched and several people were injured is not just an isolated incident. Almost on a daily basis protests are being organised by different segments of society, who on most of the occasions indulge in hooliganism damaging traffic signals, vehicles and private and public property.

This is a proof of lawlessness where every one is free to take law into his hands which is very detrimental to peace and stability and the interest of the country. Though there are conflicting accounts of the Lahore protest, yet the burning of buses and the difficulty that students faced due to lack of transport to reach to their examination centres call for a deep soul searching as to the losses the people in general suffer. One report about the incident said that the trouble started when minibus and wagon unions members blocked Ferozpur Road after they were barred from operating on the road without route permits. That led to pelting of stones by the protestors on the Police which retaliated by resorting to baton charge and teargas shelling to disperse them. In our view the wagon and minibus unions had no right to operate their vehicles when they had not been given permits for the route. We have been pointing out in these columns that a tendency is emerging in the society to violate laws and no steps are being taken to strictly check this trend. One day the media is full of reports about violence by Police against innocent civilians and on the other day it is the opposite. The ultimate sufferers by incidents of violence are the ordinary people and the State of Pakistan but who cares. One shudders to think what would happen in the future if the present trend of vandalism goes unchecked. The civil reformers, particularly the teachers, lawyers and other organisations must pay attention to this serious and disturbing situation and play their role to bring an end to the tendency of "Gherao Jalao".











Is it merely one's imagination running wild or does one actually see more and more fat persons on the streets of late? One may be wrong but the latter does appear to be more likely. From a wider perspective, one may not be totally off the mark in calling the rather widespread incidence of obesity one of the more virulent side effects of globalization. One thing that one notices is that obesity is not really confined to the well-fed First World countries. A certain class in the Third World is also falling prey to this pestilence. Hence the relevance of the reference to globalization!

A cursory over-the-shoulder look at history may not be out of place. The state of being fat is certainly not of recent origin. History is replete with exploits of men (and women, no doubt) of outsize girth. Nobles over the ages, through their habit of eating rather more than their systems were in need of or their lifestyles called for, tended to develop rather generous physiques. Such individuals used their obesity to good advantage by projecting larger than life images. Throwing their weight around literally, so to speak! History notwithstanding, obesity as a widespread phenomenon, is of fairly recent origin, though. Off and on one reads of alarming news from the United States, for instance, of the phenomenal rise in the number of fat people in that country. In fact, obesity appears to be assuming epidemic proportions there. One alludes to the experience of the United States merely because the press there is highlighting the sorry plight of the obese. It would hardly be fair, of course, to confine this issue to that country alone, or even to the developed world. The malaise is more widespread than that. In the past, persons having generous paunches were euphemistically referred to as being "prosperous".

This appellation was, in a way, accurate because a person had to be prosperous to able to afford to eat as much. At the same time, an individual receiving this backhanded compliment got the subtle hint that he, or she, had better do something about it. The days of such subtlety are now long gone. While on the subject of fat individuals, one would be well advised not to generalize the matter. Fat persons fall into various categories depending on the origin of the state. Some are born fat; others achieve fatness, while fatness is thrust on some. Then there are those who are fat by design. The sumo wrestlers of Japan are a case in point. They fatten themselves up in the interest of what can be called physical stability. Science teaches that the lower your center of gravity the more stable you are. It is on this principle that the sumo wrestlers base their campaign to deliberately gain weight. By the way, what happens to them after they retire?

How and when did this obesity 'epidemic' start, then? By hindsight, it may not be all that difficult to append an approximate date. There are those who would date it to coincide it with the advent of the fast food revolution. The accompanying change in the dietary habits of people would appear to be the major reason behind the regrettable development of the average girth of several communities. Not only have people taken to eat what can only be described as junk food, they also eat it in quantities greater than their systems require or can support. The result is evident; more and more people are developing excess fat and in the wrong places.

Veering a bit from this line of reasoning, one finds that literature is full of loveable fat characters. Charles Dickens, for instance, was particularly fond of fat individuals. The jolly Cheeryble brothers are an example, or the corpulent Mr. Pickwick, or then again the portly – and jolly - Mr. Wardle. Add Joe, 'the fat boy', to the list and you have a fair idea of Dickens' soft corner for portly personages. Come to think of it, literature is littered with characters that are obese. Some are treated as grotesque, others with a measure of sympathy and even understanding. Tweedledum and Tweedledee would conveniently fit into the latter mold. Their literary compositions aside, different writers had different perspectives on the subject from a personal point of view. George Orwell, for one, exhibited a succinct view of obesity: "I'm fat, but I'm thin inside," he was fond of saying. This observation of Orwell has a much deeper significance than would appear on the surface. Has it ever struck the gentle reader that there may well be a thin man inside every fat man? Much the same as saying that there is a sculpture hidden inside every block of stone! Gives one food for thought that; does it not?

From a wider perspective, the aforesaid does open up an entirely new line of thought. For instance, there is the distinct possibility that a person can be physically fat and yet spiritually slim. Vice versa, one who is physically slim could well be fat internally. Fatness, or obesity if you will, can thus be seen as a state of mind. What is more, fatness may not be considered as synonymous with indolence. The two are distinct states with one thing in common: like fatness, indolence too is a state of mind. From what to when is one small step. But here one may be entering uncharted waters. It is well nigh impossible to pinpoint the stage when a person ceases to be slim and enters into the state of fatness. Everything is relative, really. Like beauty, obesity too lies in the eye of the beholder. Not a bad thought that to end on!








Pak-US relations have all along followed a roller coaster profile. Pres ently, these are enduring a snowballing mistrust. Both sides realize that their bilateral relations as well as associated multilateral interactions are mutually beneficial. It is in this backdrop that droves of American visitors keep landing in Islamabad. When some of them go back and testify before congressional committees, their perception of the problems being faced by Pakistan is remarkably accurate. They virtually sound as if they were hired lobbyists for Pakistan. Despite such wonderful clarity on the issues of vital concern to Pakistan, the solutions that emerge are often hopeless and hence disappointing.

Onus surely rests on American policy making process, as indeed on its statesmanship that readily get swayed by the bureaucratic interpretations of otherwise clear cut issues. Despite high sounding words like strategic partnership and strategic dialogue etc, bilateral relations are mired in a cumulative trust deficit, and are unable to go beyond the lowly orbits of routine and tactical matters. Rhetoric exists, the substance is missing. While American policy makers are often repeating the rote script that they made a grave mistake to abandon Pakistan in the eighties, and that such mistake would not be repeated, a common Pakistani feels that USA has already abandoned Pakistan amidst multidimensional crises of grave dimensions.

In Pakistan, there is a growing perception that its overly simplistic and symbiotic association with America's GWOT/ OCO related objectives is not compatible with its medium to long term national security concerns, and thus is not sustainable. In this context, difference of acuity on some of the vital issues is precariously high. For example, Drones stand thoroughly discredited as a military tool against the extremists; American ownership of these vehicles carries a phenomenal negative political baggage. From operational utility stand point, usage of such aerial vehicles is proving counterproductive. Ratio of deaths of militants and innocents is around 1:10. Such human tragedy cannot be pushed under the carpet in the garb of innocent looking terminologies like collateral damage. Public opinion in Pakistan is vehemently hostile towards usage of drones. Indian influence gathering in Afghanistan is another irritant. India has been covertly trying, albeit with American blessing, for influence paddling in Afghanistan. As a spin off, India has already acquired the capability to carry out effective covert subversive operations in Pakistani areas adjoining Afghanistan. Apparently Americans seem to be grooming India, as a part of a contingency plan, to take its role as proxy occupier of Afghanistan as and when its own stay becomes untenable. Proliferation of Indian influence is of strategic dimension that could pose a two front dilemma for Pakistan. America's role of a mere bystander in the context of clearly visible Indian splurge for destabilizing Pakistan by supporting the extremist fighters in cash and kind, especially via Afghanistan, is rather damaging in the context of enduring cooperation between Pakistan and America.Moreover, America is not doing enough to influence India with respect to resolution of vital issues. Despite President Obama's campaign days' promise, Kashmir issue continue to be dormant; and another related issue of water diversion from rivers flowing in to Pakistan through Kashmir have acquired serious dimension.

On the issue of dynamics of regional terrorism, America is overly tilted towards Indian point of view. While terrorist outfits pose a threat globally, Indian stance that Pakistan should ensure that Mumbai like incidents do not recur is absurd; yet Robert Gates fell in Indian trap during his recent visit to the region. He almost delivered a war ultimatum to Pakistan on India behalf. Fissile material management is another issue where America has abandoned Pakistan. Any fissile material regime without taking into account the existing stockpiles of fissile material puts Pakistan at a inherent and perpetual unfavourable position viz a viz India on two counts. Firstly, being a relatively late starter of nuclear programme, Pakistan's stock of fissile material is much smaller than India's. Secondly, as a result of nuclear deal with USA (Agreement 123), India has eight reactors outside IAEA safeguards, capable of producing sufficient fissile material to produce over 100 nuclear warheads per year. Hence, any arbitrary cut off date to stop the production of fissile material without addressing these inadequacies would put Pakistan at a grave security risk in the context of its maintaining a minimum credible deterrence. Another event that has aroused anti America sentiment is America's fondness for micro managing the internal affairs of Pakistan. Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act could have accrued the Americans a lot of goodwill provided it was not torpedoed by intrusive stipulations. Pakistani nation is accustomed to the strings attached to American aid bills like Glenn, Symington, Pressler and Brown amendments. However no one expected that Platt class restrictions would be imposed. Some of the terms are so intrusive that even Pakistan's city or district governments are not used to this type of invasive micro management

Kerry-Lugar document indeed shocked the people of Pakistan, because despite enormous economic hardships suffered by the nation, much awaited legislation had brought only peanuts of an aid, along with a string of humiliating conditionalities. It brought discontent to the armed forces for the reason that despite public and private praise for professional excellence in their role in combating terrorism, Kerry- Lugar legislation, while dealing with civil sector aid had incorporated uncalled for belittling comments towards the armed forces.

This fiasco created frustration at a number of places in America as well. Government and congress were let down because they expected that the bill will accrue laurels. To their perception, it was a document, par excellence, for development of long term partnership with Pakistan. One can observe a clearly discernable incremental approach by the Americans to tighten the screws around already suffocating strategic straitjacket imposed on Pakistan. They are applying all sorts of arm twisting methods to have their way; pending the payment of arrears of Coalition Support Fund is just one example. Such actions are further weakening the people level good will towards America. People of Pakistan, today stand emotionally detached from the American interpretation of terrorism, its causes, origin and the methodology to combat it.If one raises two cardinal queries regarding the Overseas Counterinsurgency Operations (OCO) and war on terrorism in the context of our region ie which is the country that is putting in maximum resource effort and which is the country helping the sustenance of extremist fighters economically; ironically, unanimous answer to both these queries would be, 'of course United States of America is performing both feats simultaneously.' This proverbial burning of candle at both ends is the fundamental fault line undermining the on going operations. The other one is a state of deliberate ambiguity in the mission statement. These contradictions are not letting the bigger picture take a recognisable format. Carrying on an insurgency is a resource intensive activity. Any such operation would soon lose its steam if finances and logistics are cut off. Extremists are thriving financially as US dollars are reaching them indirectly, though continuously, through security companies engaged for protecting American logistics convoys moving in Afghanistan. Taliban provide protective escort to American conveys through their respective area of responsibility, in exchange for protection fee ranging between 10-20% of the cost of protected consignment. This is further supplemented by percentage based extortions on drug and timber trades. Put together, booty makes a decent percentage of what Pakistan is getting through embarrassing Kerry-Lugar arrangement!

Pakistani nation has evolved remarkable consensus on two cardinal aspects of this war. Firstly, the extremists must be eliminated through a composite means, of which application of military instrument is just one small aspect. Secondly, this war is not of our making and it's blossoming within Pakistani territories is an outcome of faulty operational strategy, adopted by occupation forces in Afghanistan, in pursuit to its overseas counter insurgency operations.

Pakistan is indeed paying a prohibitive price due to its association with the faulty COIN strategy that Americans have been executing in Afghanistan. In the context of operation Rah-I-Nijat, and operation Mushtarik, some of the vital border check-posts on Afghan side, adjoining the operational areas, were abandoned by NATO led security forces, prior to commencement of these operations. ISAF/NATO operations are generally focused at causing a mass emigration of extremist elements to Pakistan than striving to eliminate them. Blanket attribution of all acts of terrorism to Al-Qaida or Taliban is no longer tenable. Multitudes of state and non state actors have entered the arena of extremism and terrorism working often cross-purposes to each other. Regional and extra regional intelligence agencies are muddying the water by focusing on destabilizing Pakistan. While all events are being merrily attributed to Al-Qaida and Taliban; other players are having a filed day. Pakistan squeezing is no longer justifiable, as armed forces of Pakistan have done a wonderful job in Swat, Malakand and are now replicating the excellent performance in South Waziristan, Bajur and other areas. Recent capture of Damadola in Bajur agency after killing over 2000 militants shows the resolve of Pakistan's armed forces, as indeed the nations, to take on the extremists head on. Sustained economic revival of our economy is dependent on US and European market access to our select textile products on zero tariff basis.

Power shortage is another acute problem that Americans could help to resolve. Facilitation for setting up of nuclear power plants, under IAEA safeguards, is an off the shelf solution; which is being foot dragged by America. A lot remains to be done, on non-military fronts, for sustainable eradication of extremism. An alternative education plan as a substitute to religious seminaries is also equally evasive. Pakistan bashing would not bring any dividends; it will only curtail American leverage. Allies must work in an atmosphere of trust and harmony for a win-win finale. If corrective actions are not taken, anti-America sentiment would continue to rise exponentially. Americans need to be responsive towards the sensitivities of Pakistan and carry it along as a trusted ally. Pakistan alone can not carry on chasing the mirage, indefinitely. Henry Kissinger once observed that in this world it is often dangerous to be an enemy of the United States, but to be a friend is fatal; or words to that effect. An all out effort should be made by the two sides to prevent these relations from becoming a yet another living example of Kissinger's prophetic utterance about friends of America.

The writer is a National Security Analyst.








Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has been recognized the most powerful and strategic weapon for transforming a traditional economy of a nation into a modern economy by accelerating the pace of growth and development. There have been many examples wherein the FDI inflows have boom red the economies of many countries. For example, China and South Korean economies have transformed their respective economies into major destinations for FDI and through FDI inflows they have emerged as faster growing economies in the world. Similarly, the Indian economy has also been trying hard to attract FDI to transform its economy into an emerging growing economy. Hence the question does arise why not Pakistan make use of FDI as a vehicle for transforming its economy into an accelerated economy in the world. The present article analyses the pattern of FDI inflows in Pakistan. The article also suggests how Pakistan could become an attractive destination for FDI in South Asia.

Pakistan is another important and strategic country in South Asia and its growth and development has far reaching implications for the Asian region in general and the South Asian region in particular. Its growth and development is become sine qua non for South Asia. This could be possible when Pakistan will transform its slow growth economy into an accelerated economy. For this resources are required. There are three major options for Pakistan to get resources for its transformation. First, to get Official Development Assistance (ODA) from donors' nations and ODA is a mercy and a country like Pakistan cannot depend on this source. Second, to borrow loans for development of the economy and loans are liability and these loans if not properly utilized for productive use, debt problem would cost the Pakistan economy. A third option, which is more logical and most convenient for Pakistan, is to financing development through export-led growth, ie, earn more forex through exports and then finance its developmental needs. Export-led growth requires resources namely investment, technology, management and marketing techniques for the attainment of global competitiveness. These inputs could come through FDI inflows. Therefore, FDI has to come to Pakistan.

Foreign business and industrial houses have confirmed their plans to continue to invest in Pakistan despite certain difficulties. These difficulties relate to an uncertain law and order situation on the back of terrorist activities in the country's western region. But, seventy-four per cent of the foreign investors already operating in Pakistan are interested in going ahead with new investments over the next two years and beyond. Pakistan is one of few countries blessed with lot of untapped coal, wind, hydro and solar energy potential and many countries are keen to help Pakistan fully exploit these resources.

In Pakistan foreign investors are permitted to hold 100% of the equity in not only industrial projects but also in the Service, Infrastructure and Social Sectors (subject to certain conditions) on repatriable basis. Moreover, no government sanction is required for setting up an industry in terms of field of activity, location and size except in case of four sectors relating to national security. Under the deregulation policy, government controls on business activity are being relaxed even further. To avoid double taxation on income earned by foreign investors, Pakistan has already concluded agreements with 51 countries that include nearly all the developed economies. As a result of these proactive policies, the FDI increased by more that 900% in the past six years. It crossed the USD 1 billion mark in FY 04 and is set to cross the USD 4 billion mark in the current fiscal year. Total FDI inflows for the first nine months of the current fiscal year stand at USD 3.86 billion which is 72% higher than the amount of USD 2.24 billion for the corresponding period of the last fiscal year. Nearly half of these FDI inflows were a result of proceeds from the sale of state enterprises while the financial services sector, telecommunications and the energy sector remained the primary recipients of the bulk of FDI.

Foreign investment and encouragement of investors is the need of the hour for the elimination of poverty and unemployment keeping this in views Pakistan aims to attract foreign investment worth five billion dollars this year, but needs to tackle reform, maximize anemic growth and stem rampant violence to clinch its ambitious target. The top three countries providing foreign direct investment (FDI) so far this fiscal year are the United States, with 347.5 million dollars, Britain, 119 million dollars and the United Arab Emirates, 121.8 million dollars. The biggest investments flowed into oil and gas, communications and information technology, and power generation. What is interesting or rather fortunate to note is that currently Pakistan is bent more towards reaping the favorable side of the FDI inflows. Though increased foreign inflows in the recent months have expanded the reserve money growth, the benefits of these inflows cannot be ignored.

Pakistan has received little export oriented FDI, limiting the role of FDI as a tool of export promotion. Besides these sectors, in other sectors, many foreign companies including Nestle, Unilever and Procter & Gamble are expanding their infrastructure in the country. The FDI can undoubtedly play an important role in the economic development of Pakistan in terms of capital formation, output growth, technological progress, exports and employment. Observing the current impacts of FDI on the economy, particularly in terms of efficiency spillovers generated by multinational corporations, it is reasonable to take FDI in Pakistan as an important vehicle for economic growth. The government has successfully introduced a wide range of incentives, congenial for local and foreign investors and has increasingly tended to turn to FDI as a source of capital, technology, managerial skills and market access needed for sustained economic development. The outward orientation in policies designed by the government to attract more FDI has been accompanied by the adoption of policies relating to privatization and deregulation of economic activity, offering unprecedented and conducive business environment to all multinational corporations.

The Board of Investment is a prime agency created by the government of Pakistan for facilitating local and foreign investors to establish business in the country. According to the BoI, there are bright prospects for FDI inflows to Pakistan. This is because the government of Pakistani has successfully created both macro and micro business environment in the country. The country has offered foreign and domestic investors a string of high profit businesses as part of its new industrial policy, which is advocating for totally opening up the economy. Prospective investors have been allowed certain essential segments required for attracting FDI inflows namely a 100 per cent ownership and equity, full repatriation of total dividends, profits, gains and remunerations, wages and fees. These concessions would go a long way in making Pakistan a favourable destination for FDI.

From the foregoing pages it is clear that Pakistan is a favourable destination for FDI inflows and the present government is fully committed to making Pakistan a most favourable destination for FDI inflows. The government of Pakistan has made concerted efforts on both the counts, ie, micro and macro environment, sine qua non for becoming favorable destination. It is hoped that in years to come Pakistan would get a reasonable volume and value of FDI, which is the necessity of the day.








Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried." And the same very sage also said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." What has the average voter in Pakistan to say about the present democracy, should not be difficult to ascertain? He is not only dismayed and disillusioned but has also started remembering fondly the era of the usurper. It must ring alarm and cause great concern to the politicians.

The main reason for the malaise to my mind is the substandard material found in the secondary and tertiary tiers of the political parties – that is the MPAs and the MNAs. The political parties seem to be dependent more upon the personalities rather than their political ideology and as such try to field the candidates accordingly overlooking the ir obvious failings to contest the elections. For example, during the recent bye elections a gentleman who had been unseated from the assembly for committing forgery – presenting a fake graduation degree – was again given the party ticket to contest now that the graduation condition had been removed by the Dogar court. Agreed, the graduation condition was un-necessary but the big question remains that had the person in question committed the act of forgery or not? If he had and was convicted by the court, does his character not stand blemished? And, should a person with a blemished character be allowed to sit in the august assembly of the honourable legislators to frame the laws for the nation to follow? What a mockery of the law framed by a person with such character failings? Similarly, a lady MPA was caught red handed by the CCTV camera of a jeweler's shop using a stolen credit card of someone else! Another legislator was allegedly accu sed of raping a helpless woman at gun point in a hotel. Yet ! another gentleman was accused of manhandling the customs staff at airport and again misbehaving with the lady parliamentarian(s).

What kind of honourable people they are and what are the constraints and compulsions faced by the party higher command to retain them. On the other front, some of the honourable legislators and legal wizards accused of naked corruption and that too in the apex court of the country have not only been retained but also elevated to higher positions. One wonders why? Where is the thing called "conduct unbecoming" and why it is not being applied? The party higher command should know that now people have started voting for the parties with programmes instead of the personalities. Had it been not so, the recent bye election results in Rawalpindi, Lahore and even other places would have been different. A relatively unknown candidate of TI got around 10,000 votes in Lahore against a stalwart of a powerful religious party and another nomin ee of one of the largest parties with the alleged backing of the provincial government. Under such circumstances 10,000 people voting for the TI candidate is a no mean achievement by any standards. People did not vote for the candidate but for Imran Khan's party - Tehreek e Insaf and its manifesto. The trend is set for the future and it is a happy augury for democracy in the country. It is, therefore, time that the political parties realized the ground realities and publicized extensively their manifestos and programmes for the welfare of the masses and not auctioned party tickets to the rich and the nouveau riche.

How can a person who invests millions first on 'buying' the party ticket and then on his electioneering campaign remain selfless and keep the interest of the masses above his own interest? It is just a plain and simple fact of life that he/she makes an investment in a very lucrative business and when elected to power not only recover s his/her initial capital but also makes profit for his/her ! coming s even generations. Unfortunately, corruption among the ruling elite has become a norm to the extent that one sitting minister counter-questioned the TV anchor on a talk show, "why, is it not our right to be corrupt?!". What he meant was if others could be corrupt then why not his party men could also be corrupt. The punch line delivered by him was too realistic that anybody not making money these days would only be a fool! If that is the sole intention of some of the politicians entering the corridors of power then would it not be wise to ban their entry into it. As a matter of fact any one having an interest should not be allowed access to power. It reminds me of a dictum from Hazrat Ali, "Do not elect a person for an office who offers himself for it.

He has an interest in it. Instead elect the best amongst you and ask him to take the office. And, if he shows unreasonable reluctance, force him even at the point of the sword, if required, to serve the people". Keeping this irrefutable truth in mind the political party command must nominate only the honest, capable and dedicated men and women, and not necessarily the feudals and the vederas to contest the future elections. I assure them that the people have woken up now and are aware of the power of their vote, they shall vote only for the party that could ameliorate their lot and put the country on the road to progress.

Only, then we will have the right kind of political leadership in the country who will strive, work selflessly and find Pakistan – a nuclear power and a nation of 180 million people - its rightful place of honour and respect in the comity of the nations, Inshallah.








As the Afghanistan war intensifies— Marjah, soon Kandahar, and the steady arrival of 30,000 new American troops — it has come to be seen as Barack Obama's war. Not so. It's become America's war. When the former opposition party — habitually anti-war for the last four decades — adopts, reaffirms and escalates a war begun by the habitually hawkish other party, partisanship falls away, and the war becomes nationalised. And legitimised.

Do you think if John McCain, let alone George W. Bush, were president, we would not see growing demonstrations protesting our continued presence in Iraq and the escalation of Afghanistan? That we wouldn't see a serious push in Congress to cut off funds? Why not? Because Obama is now commander in chief. The lack of opposition is not a matter of hypocrisy. It is a natural result of the rotation of power. When a party is in opposition, it opposes. That's its job. But when it comes to power, it must govern. Easy rhetoric is over, the press of reality becomes irresistible. By necessity, it adopts some of the policies it had once denounced. And a new national consensus is born. In this case, the anti-war party has followed the Bush endgame to a T in Iraq and has doubled down in Afghanistan. And there is no general restiveness (at least over this). The rotation of power is the finest political instrument ever invented for the consolidation of what were once radical and deeply divisive policies. The classic example is the New Deal. Republicans railed against it for 20 years.

Then Dwight Eisenhower came to power, wisely left it intact, and no serious leader since has called for its repeal. Similarly, Bill Clinton consolidated Reaganism, just as Tony Blair consolidated Thatcherism. In both cases, centre-left moderates brought their party to accept the major premises of the highly successful conservative reforms that preceded them. A similar consolidation has happened with many of the Bush anti-terror policies. In opposition, the Democrats decried warrantless wiretaps, rendition and detention without trial. But now that they are charged with protecting us from the bad guys, they've come to view these as indispensable national security measures. Some other Bush policies have been challenged by the new administration with its proposed civilian trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Miranda rights for the Christmas Day bomber and pledging to close Guantanamo as of two months ago. But even here, the governing administration is bending to reality. And if (in my view, when) Obama does send KSM back to a military tribunal, that institution will become fully legitimised, understood to be the result of practical empirical considerations rather than of a mere George W. Bush whim.

This is not to say that the rotation of power is all about consolidation. It's also about challenge. Obama may have accepted (if grudgingly) much of the post-9/11 anti-terror policy — even the wars — but he's raised a fundamental challenge to three decades of Reaganite domestic orthodoxy. This is also to the good. The Reaganite dispensation of low taxes, less regulation and reliance on markets should be challenged lest it become merely rote and dogmatic. Obama has offered a bracingly thorough attack on that dispensation with his unapologetic embrace of a social democratic agenda whose essence — more centralised government exercising its power through radical health care, energy and education reform — is the overthrow of Reaganism.

I've made clear what side I take in this debate. I'm encouraged that Obama has been defeated on cap-and-trade and is on the defensive on his health care reform. I'm somewhat more sympathetic but still uneasy about his vision of turning college education into a federal entitlement. But for all the hand-wringing about broken government, partisanship, divisiveness and gridlock, it's hard to recall a more informed, more detailed, more serious, more prolonged national debate than on health care reform.

True, the rotation of power inevitably results in stops and starts and policy zigzags. Yet for all its inefficiency, it in the end creates a near miraculous social stability by setting down layers of legitimacy every time the opposition adopts some of its predecessor's reforms — while at the same time allowing challenges to fundamental assumptions before they become fossilised. So, in the middle of the current food fight, as the plates and the tarts and the sharper cutlery fly, step back for a moment. Hail the untidiness. Hail democracy. Hail the rotation of power. Yes, even when Democrats gain office. — Chicago Tribune












THE latest Newspoll suggests voters are sending Kevin Rudd a clear signal - we liked you more when you were John Howard-lite in 2007. Back then, the Labor leader did a good job of convincing Australians he too was an economic conservative, but that Mr Howard had stopped listening to the electorate. Today it is the Prime Minister who has developed a tin ear and is missing the cues.


Let us be clear. The government remains in a very strong position with two-party-preferred vote of 52-48 and can be expected to decisively win the next election. But the past five Newspolls, dating back to January 15-17, show Mr Rudd is not cutting through with voters. A populist Opposition Leader has taken the shine off the Prime Minister's ratings, giving heart to the Coalition for the next poll.


Mr Rudd has no one to blame but himself. He has been missing in action for months when it comes to reading the mood in the electorate. The political intuition that served the "boy from Nambour" so well in 2007 appears to have deserted him. Australians gave Mr Rudd high marks for acting quickly on the global financial crisis last year, but the fallout from the insulation and school building programs funded by the stimulus risk undermining that support. The Prime Minister failed to recognise the warning signs and focused instead on issues, such as the G20 and the multilateral architecture for the Asian region, which do not resonate with voters focused on jobs, health and schools. While he was pouring billions into stimulating the economy, Australians indulged Mr Rudd's penchant for writing essays on social-democracy. It's a different matter now they see the price to be paid through debt and deficit levels.


Voters recognise a level of spin on all sides, but they appear more engaged by Tony Abbott offering clear-cut views on everything from homosexuality to Indonesia than by a Prime Minister who turns out to be less of a Queensland bloke or Gen Y Twitterer and more of a bureaucrat.


Mr Abbott's pitch, beyond his base, is to a cohort of voters whom Labor secured in 2007, many of them the so-called "Howard battlers", who in turn emerged from the Hansonites of the late 1990s. This group of Australians can relate well to a straight-talking Opposition Leader prepared to shoot from the hip and take the consequences if things go wrong. Mr Abbott has a keen sense of the anti-big government, anti-elite thinking that runs through Australian society. It was John Howard who at the 1996 election argued that he would govern "for all of us", subtly exploiting the suspicion of Paul Keating's interest in Indonesia, Aborigines and French clocks.


Mr Abbott is already dogwhistling on political correctness. His weekend claim that "welcome to country"ceremonies were often just "tokenism" was less about the ritual and more about reminding Australians that his interest in indigenous affairs does not make him a soft touch on black Australia or white guilt.


It is an appeal, however subliminal, to the million or so Australians who voted for Pauline Hanson's One Nation party at the 1998 federal election, many of whom were won back by Mr Howard at the next two polls. By 2007, Mr Rudd's appeal to "working families", bolstered by a $30 million ACTU campaign against Work Choices, convinced many of those "Howard battlers" that Labor offered more security for their jobs or the jobs of their children or grandchildren.


Faced with a social conservative in Mr Abbott, the Prime Minister must resist the temptation to move further to the Left and get back in touch with who he really is - a right-wing politician who hooked up with the Labor Left in Victoria in order to gain the leadership. He needs to build bridges back to the the Australian Workers Union in Queensland and sections of the Right that backed Kim Beazley. In short, Mr Rudd should remember Australians elected him in 2007 to be a right-wing Labor Prime Minister. This is the only hope he has of surviving the challenge to his leadership that could come his way after the election, unless he wins in a landslide.


His dalliances with intervention and protectionism must be put aside as the damaging compromises they are. Mr Rudd must know that flirting with the Left is one thing, but his salvation does not lie there. The Left will gravitate instead to his powerful rival, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, already openly touted as the next leader.


At the policy level, Labor faces challenges over insulation; the loss of public faith in the emissions trading scheme; and the increasing tensions that will emerge over asylum-seekers. Mr Rudd is correct to address the big-ticket item of hospital reform but it is unlikely to be a make or break issue for either side at the election.


Instead, the problems over insulation are annoying the self-employed tradies and unskilled workers whose livelihoods are threatened as a result of the collapse of the government's program. Insulation also plays into the volatile atmosphere around climate change, where Labor has virtually lost its advantage. Newspoll last month showed the Coalition rates 30 to Labor's 35 in terms of who would best manage the issue.


This week, Mr Abbott switched from opposing to dealing with the government on welfare, student allowances and parental leave, suggesting he has picked the public mood on these issues. The Prime Minister needs to do the same.









TONY Abbott has made the correct call in supporting the Rudd government's move to extend income management to eligible welfare recipients across the Northern Territory, regardless of race. Not that any liberal or conservative leader worth his salt had an alternative.


The worthwhile legislation reflects the common sense and pragmatism of Families and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin. A member of the ALP's Victorian Left, Ms Macklin, like many of her colleagues, has come a long way to embrace welfare reform and some of the tenets of the NT intervention, initiated under Mal Brough at the end of the Howard era. Such bipartisan support for meaningful reform, all too rare in Australian political history, is a fortunate development that opens the way for further initiatives.


Extending income management to an estimated 20,000 people in the Territory, beyond the communities in the intervention, should foster personal and family responsibility. The legislation will ensure that at least 50 per cent of payments are spent on the necessities of life - rent, fresh food and healthcare - leaving less for alcohol, cigarettes and gambling. Such "tough love" should promote health and wellbeing and encourage welfare-dependent families to seek out educational and job opportunities and become self-sufficient.


The scheme will be targeted at families and individuals who are deemed to be at risk of serious social or financial problems, including those referred by Centrelink. It will be implemented across urban, regional and remote areas of the NT, which has the highest proportion of locations classed as severely disadvantaged in the nation. As last Saturday's report in The Weekend Australian on abysmal school attendances in the Top End showed, authorities face a major task tying income management to vital breakthroughs such as parents making their children attend school regularly.


Income management trials are also under way in Western Australia and Queensland, and the Rudd government, wisely, intends to further extend its initiative beyond the NT to indigenous and non-indigenous welfare recipients who meet the relevant criteria in all states. The bipartisan support for such policy is indicative of a refreshing political maturity and a sign that Australia has moved beyond racial politics.


The problems that afflict many disadvantaged Aborigines af