media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month march 18, edition 000458, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- CHANGE TRACKS ON PDS
- CALLING PAKISTAN'S BLUFF
- DEALING WITH THE ARABS - G PARTHASARATHY
- DYING A SLOW, PAINFUL DEATH - RANJIT KUMAR PAUL
- WOMENOMICS REVOLUTION - SHAILAJA CHANDRA
- CRIMINAL STREAK - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
- US RELUCTANT TO REMOVE N-WEAPONS FROM EUROPE - ROBERT BURNS
- GADKARI'S TEAM FALLS SHORT OF EXPECTATIONS
- ONLY IN THIS REPUBLIC
- CONGRESS IS SHAKEN AND STIRRED - BY MANOJ JOSHI
- QUANTUM LEAP - DINESH C. SHARMA
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- STRAIGHT TALK
- LOTUS SUTRA
- ROADBLOCKS TO PEACE - ASHLEY J TELLIS
- IT'S AN ACHIEVABLE GOAL
- BELIEVE IT AT YOUR OWN PERIL
- IS NOTHING SECRET NO MORE? - BACHI KARKARIA
- OURTAKE - A LEGAL SHIELD FOR HIM & HER
- GREEN IS MEAN
- 'WHO SAYS I'VE STOPPED ACTING?' - RACHANA DUBEY
- LABOUR'S LOVE LOST - HARSH MANDER
- BACK TO BEGINNINGS
- VISA POWER
- DIGGING FOR REFORM
- RATES OF LITTLE RETURN - ILA PATNAIK
- LEADING BY EXAMPLE - ROHINIPANDE
- VIEW FROM THE RIGHT - SUMAN K JHA
- HYGIENE BEGINS AT HOME - SARITHA RAI
- SETTLING SCORES
- KERCHIEFS AND COLOURS - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
- DON'T MAKE IT A LIABILITY
- PERVERSE DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM
- WHAT LEAKS OUT BECAUSE OF EXEMPTIONS - SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA
- WHAT FOREIGN UNIVERSITIES BILL CAN'T DO - YOGINDER K ALAGH
- ASTRA VERSUS SUN - VIVEKA ROYCHOWDHRY
- NEW-LOOK TEAM GADKARI
- LEFT-GREEN REVIVAL IN FRANCE
- LABOUR PARTY? WHAT LABOUR PARTY? - ARVIND SIVARAMAKRISHNAN
- A CELEBRATION OF THE "PUTIN DECADE" IN BILATERAL RELATIONS - VLADIMIR RADYUHIN
- A BIT AT A TIME, PRIVACY VANISHES ONLINE - STEVE LOHR
- LEADERS' LAVISHNESS AND 'LIFESTYLE AUDITS' - BARRY BEARAK
- MANAGING INFLATION
- ATS BUNGLE
- NEW WORLD DISORDER - R JAGANNATHAN
- MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
- A PLEASE-ALL BJP LIST
- TIME FOR PROACTIVE DIPLOMACY - BY G. PARTHASARATHY
- SHE AND ME - BY J.L. GUPTA
- POLITICS OVER PACKAGE - BY PINKI SHARMA
- TIGER BANKS ON GOLF TO BANISH MISTRESSES - BY JAMES CORRIGAN
- MOVIES MAKE AND BREAK COUPLES - BY GEOFFREY MACNAB
- ARE YOU LOSING YOUR TONGUE?
- PAYING THE PIPER
- GUARANTEEING UNEMPLOYMENT
- REVISITING THE TOBIN TAX - Y VENUGOPAL REDDY
- LET'S HEAR IT FOR BRAZIL - LATHA JISHNU
- ENTITLEMENT AND PREJUDICE - KANIKA DATTA
- CARBON FORESTRY - NITIN DESAI
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- FISCAL CORRECTION WILL HELP COOL PRICES
- FEW POLICY OPTIONS ON INFLATION
- THE MAYAWATI GARLAND
- LEARN TO KNOW THE NOW & TURN WISER - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- THIS WILL RESURRECT BRITISH AGENDA OF DIVIDING THE NATION ON CASTE LINES - ADITYA MUKHERJEE
- TEACHERS FROM OPPRESSED SECTIONS WOULD HELP CHANGE STEREOTYPES - SANJAYA KUMAR BOHIDARV-P
- LET FOREIGN BANKS INTO RURAL AREAS
- BANKING FOR ALL' MOST PRESSING AGENDA FOR GOVERNMENT - DHEERAJ TIWARI & G GANAPATHY SUBRAMANIAM
- 'INFLATION TARGETING CAN WAIT' - SANGITA MEHTA & GAYATRI NAYAK
- 'WE ARE ATTRACTED TO FRUGAL MINDSET OF INDIAN PROFESSIONALS'
- EMERGING MARKETS' GROWTH STORY IS FOR REAL: MIRAE ASSET'S CHADHA
- INDIAN MARKET WILL TEACH US A LOT - RATNA BHUSHAN
- GADKARI TEAM'S RSS STAMP: WHAT'S NEW?
- KARZAI'S REAL CONCERNS - BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN
- FIGHT OVER A BIG PLAN TO STABILISE WEST ASIA
- THE LAW OF THE MARSHALS
- LET PANDITS RETURN - BY NITISH SENGUPTA
- YOGA CAN UNLOCK YOUR PAST LIFE - BY YOGI ASHWINI
- TEAM GADKARI
- PEOPLE'S POWER
- GLORY DIDN'T BECKON
- A TALK WITH MR PUTIN - BY SALMAN HAIDAR
- THE WRONG PATH TO REFORMS - PARTHASARATHI CHAKRABORTY
- CAN ETHIOPIA'S WIVES EVER BREAK FREE? - JOHANN HARI
- MONEYED GLORY
- BLOOD RITES
- STRATEGIES OF COOPERATION - KANWAL SIBAL
- COUNTRY COMES FIRST - NEHA SAHAY
- HOME IS WHERE THE HURT IS
- AN EYE ON THE COAST
- WATER WARS
- PLAYING FOR PROFIT
- POLARISED BANGKOK
- SAUDI ARABIA IN FOCUS - BY HARSH V PANT
- BODY COUNT OF SLAIN JOURNOS - BY IGNACIO GOMEZ
- BEGGING FOR AN ANSWER - BY C V ARAVIND
- IDF VS. DEMOCRACY AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH
- U.S.'S TOUGH LOVE IS THE KIND ISRAEL NEEDS - BY GIDEON LEVY
- PROBLEM WITH EAST JERUSALEM? NOT ENOUGH CONSTRUCTION
- AT LONG LAST, WALKING TALL - BY NERI LIVNEH
- THE CHANGING FACE OF RACISM - BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- HONEST FOOD LABELS
- OUT OF THE DARKNESS - BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
- MR. OBAMA AND NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND
- A POLITICALLY FEASIBLE JET
- WHERE BAD NEWS IS NO NEWS - BY ADAOBI TRICIA NWAUBANI
- FOR ISRAEL AND AMERICA, A DISAGREEMENT, NOT A CRISIS - BY MICHAEL B. OREN
- SEX SCANDALS TO LEARN BY - BY GAIL COLLINS
- NUCLEAR NEEDS
- THE DARING DSP
- GOOD NEWS
- FROM BUST TO BOOM - ABID HASAN
- A HISTORIC STEP - PRAFUL BIDWAI
- THE STRATEGIC DIALOGUE - IKRAM SEHGAL
- AND NOW THE 'HANDSHAKE' ISSUE - FAROOQ SULEHRIA
- A FEW GOOD MEN - ANJUM NIAZ
- THE PAKISTAN REPORT CARD - FASI ZAKA
- KEEP NFC SPIRIT ALIVE
- RECOVERY OF SAHEL
- PAK-IRAN GAS PIPELINE AGREEMENT
- KARZAI'S VISIT TO PAKISTAN - BURHANUDDIN HASAN
- INDIAN DEFENCE BUDGET AND POVERTY - MAMOONA ALI KAZMI
- FOREIGN POLICY NEEDS REVIEW - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- IS US-TALIBAN DIALOGUE LIKELY? - TAHIR ALI
- ISLAMISM: WHY THE WEST GETS IT WRONG - ROGER HARDY
- WATER TRANSPORT STRIKE
- SAFE WATER
- FIGHT BACK!
- MUHITH DECRIES HIGH INTEREST RATES - SYLVIA MORTOZA
- HASINA'S CHINA VISIT AND ITS FUTURE IMPACT - ANU MAHMUD
- A CRISIS OF UNDERSTANDING - ROBERT J. SHILLER
- NOTHING TO HIDE? LET'S SEE THE BROADBAND REPORT
- STILL NOT HAPPY, JULIA
- WELCOME TO CONTROVERSY
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- WHAT DOES ABBOTT REALLY WANT?
- A COSTLY DEADLOCK IN THAILAND
- WHY THE RUSH TO EASE WATER RESTRICTIONS?
- IT'S THE LIVING WHO HONOUR THE FALLEN
- IN PRAISE OF DEMOCRACY CLUB
- IRAQ: THE EXIT LOOMS
- UNEMPLOYMENT: SKIRTING DISASTER
THE KOREA HERALD
- EFFORTS IN VAIN
- GOING GLOBAL
- SIMPLE MECHANISM TO SAVE THE EURO - DANIEL GROS
- CHINA ARROGANT? THAT'S NOT THE POINT
THE JAKARTA POST
- THAI ORANGE
- RELIGIOUS ORTHODOXY AND THE BLASPHEMY LAW - AHMAD NAJIB BURHANI
- WHAT THE HOUSE HAS MISSED - AKHMAD RIZAL SHIDIQ
THE JAPAN TIMES
- CHINA'S HOLLOW CONSTITUTION - BY FRANK CHING
- WISHFUL THINKING FUELS KREMLIN'S TEMPTATION - BY DOMINIQUE MOISI
- ISRAEL'S UNPRODUCTIVE 'INSULT'
- AFGHANISTAN LOST WITHOUT BETTER GOVERNANCE - BY JAMIE F. METZL
- NEW REAL ESTATE ELEPHANTS
- US' DECEIT ON HUMAN RIGHTS - BY ZHANG WEI (CHINA DAILY)
- STOP, THINK BEFORE GOING GLOBAL - BY YANG NING (CHINA DAILY)
- LOW ON CARBON, HIGH ON DEVELOPMENT - BY ARTHUR HANSON (CHINA DAILY)
- BAN GOING BALLISTIC
- POLITICIZING THE MILITARY AND MILITARIZING THE POLITICAL
- THE TROUBLE WITH THE TNA
- ' THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE WAY OF CONDUCTING ELECTION CAMPAIGNS' - VEN. ATURELIYE RATANA THERA - BY DILINI ALGAMA
CHANGE TRACKS ON PDS
PRESENT SYSTEM IS CORRUPT, INEFFICIENT
That our Public Distribution System is in a shambles is a well-known fact. Therefore, the findings of a one-man committee appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate the state and health of the PDS are hardly surprising. The committee has found nation-wide, glaring irregularities in the system, ranging from non-issuance of rations cards to intended beneficiaries to rampant corruption and diversion of a major chunk of subsidised foodgrains. It has also found that in the majority of cases where people do manage to get a ration card, they do so on the strength of political connections. Further, the committee has uncovered large-scale errors in the list of beneficiaries in several States as well as evidence of political pressure being put on officials in the appointment of 'Fair Price Shop' dealers. All of this has ensured that half of the country's poor who need subsidised food the most to stay alive do not have ration cards, let alone access to their welfare benefits.
The PDS was set up as a major component of our food security programme in the context of a shortage economy when we had to import foodgrains from abroad. But over the years, the system took on additional responsibilities such as fighting hoarding and blackmarketing. Later still, it became a convenient tool for ad-hoc fixing of agricultural prices through the minimum support price mechanism. Hence, from time to time the PDS has tried to address several political concerns in addition to its primary responsibility, but never has it experienced serious reforms to make it more effective. The entire system has been politically exploited to the hilt. For example, it has been politically expedient for State Governments to use the subject of issuance of ration cards to Below Poverty Line and Above Poverty Line families as a vote-gathering tool. This has not only excluded a large number of people from being part of the PDS net but also legitimised the stay of millions of illegal immigrants in this country. Indeed, this relic of the licence-permit-quota raj is in desperate need of a thorough overhaul. It is criminal to continue with a food security mechanism that has failed to achieve its basic objective and is losing the Government huge resources.
There are essentially two ways in which one can remedy the situation. First, the entire PDS model can be scrapped in favour of an effective food coupon or direct subsidy system wherein the intended beneficiaries would receive coupons or cash to purchase a certain quantity of foodgrains every month from the open market or designated shops. This is something that the Chief Economic Adviser has also espoused in this year's Economic Survey. The strength of this proposal lies in the fact that it completely cuts out the middleman in the distribution system, thereby, drastically reducing the rampant siphoning of foodgrains that takes place. The end result is a clean, efficient food subsidy mechanism that directly benefits those targeted. On the other hand, if we choose to continue with the PDS, there needs to be a complete revamp of the system with special focus on transparency and monitoring. In this regard, the possibility of effectively empowering panchayati raj institutions to oversee the functioning of PDS can be looked into. But the key ingredient that is required to put such reforms in motion is determination. If this is not present in sufficient amount, the PDS will continue to be a burden on the exchequer.
CALLING PAKISTAN'S BLUFF
IT'S ABOUT ISLAMISM, NOT JAMMU & KASHMIR
During a recent hearing on 'Bad Company: Lashkar e-Tayyeba and the growing ambition of Islamist militancy in Pakistan', organised by the sub-committee on South Asia of the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, among the most powerful committees on the Hill, senior officials, well-known experts and scholars like Mr Marvin Weinbaum, Ms Lisa Curtis, Mr Ashley J Tellis and Mr Shuja Nawaz explained in great detail why popular ideas about the growth of Islamist radicalism in Pakistan are entirely misplaced. Pakistan's decrepit, limp-wristed political establishment and the all-powerful military-jihadi complex would want the world to believe that but for India's refusal to part with Jammu & Kashmir, peace would have reigned supreme in that country and the world would have been spared the horror of repeated mass slaughter by militant Islam's foot soldiers. Strangely, the West (more so the US) blinded by its perverse love for Pakistan and driven by the desire to dominate South Asian affairs, which is largely aimed at containing India, has chosen to believe this bunkum based on manufactured grievance rather than contest it with plainspeak. Hence the duplicity that has been witnessed over the past six decades at international fora and organisations, including the UN, where India has been blamed, either directly or indirectly, for not doing enough to shore up the waning authority of the Pakistani Government. The expectations are as laughable as the Pakistani Army's bogus claim that it cannot wage war against terrorists with full force since it cannot pull out troops from along the border and Line of Control as it fears a surprise attack by India! Despite severe provocations, India has never attacked Pakistan; it has always been the other way round. Sadly, American scholars and think-tanks have seconded this view, thereby justifying Pakistan's criminal use of jihadis, beginning with the so-called tribal invasion of Jammu & Kashmir in 1947, in pursuing its policy of bleeding India through a 'thousand cuts'.
Seen against this backdrop, it's nice to hear Americans telling their Congressmen that the time has come to junk conventional wisdom of the past and look at the problem of Pakistani jihad, waged by organisations like the LeT, not through the prism of the so-called dispute over Jammu & Kashmir but as integral to the violent project of establishing an Islamist caliphate in Pakistan and beyond. The depositions made to the Congressional sub-committee make interesting reading. More importantly, they strengthen India's position and should be used while arguing our case. But will the UPA Government be able to summon the courage to stand up to Pakistan and its sponsors in the West? Or will it continue to capitulate to please Islamabad and Washington, DC?
DEALING WITH THE ARABS
Ministers and officials are required to be seen and not heard, except when specifically authorised to speak publicly while accompanying the Prime Minister on official visits abroad. It is a pity that Mr Shashi Tharoor chose to pontificate on substantive issues even before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Saudi Arabia's monarch, King Abdullah, in Riyadh, stirring up avoidable controversy during this important bilateral visit.
Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producer in the world, located in a turbulent region from where two-thirds of the world's oil supplies come. Around 1.8 million Indians live in Saudi Arabia and contribute to the $ 55 billion that Indian expatriates remit annually. Moreover, Saudi Arabia has agreed to a strategic partnership with India which will cover not only enhanced oil supplies but also promote closer ties in areas ranging from defence and space technology to investment in our petrochemical sector, apart from exchange of information on terrorism and money-laundering.
The India-Saudi Arabia summit took place amid new tensions and rivalries in the Gulf region, arising from the deep suspicions that have characterised Persian-Arab rivalries over the centuries. The American invasion of Iraq and the replacement of a Sunni minority Government by a majority Shia-led coalition under Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki have added a new element of bitter Shia-Sunni antagonism to existing Persian-Arab differences.
The Shia majority Government in Iraq complains of Saudi attempts to destabilise it by backing the Sunni-dominated Baath Party found by Saddam Hussein. It has also complained of the attitude of its other Arab Sunni neighbours, Egypt and Jordan. Iran alleges mistreatment of its Haj pilgrims and support for its Opposition by Saudi Arabia.
In Northern Yemen, Saudi Arabian and Yemeni forces are battling an insurgency by Yemen's Houthi Shias, evidently backed by Iran. Under pressure from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Arabsat has discontinued facilities for Iran's Arabic language news and television networks beamed to Arab countries. Fearing Iran, the six-nation Arab Gulf Cooperation Council is allied to the US, which is determined to contain Iran's regime.
Exacerbating these tensions are concerns arising from Iran's nuclear ambitions. Despite Iranian denials, its nuclear programme is evidently designed to give it a nuclear weapons capability and keep its nuclear options open. Given the hostility of the Iranian regime to Israel, fomented by intemperate statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Israel should be "wiped off the map", Israel has threatened to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.
For the past five months, the US, backed by the UK, France and Germany, has endeavoured to get the UN Security Council to impose "crippling sanctions" on Iran through measures like banning the sale of refined petroleum products to that country. They have also proposed sanctions that would cover Iran's Central Bank and a number of firms and individuals linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, apart from its shipping, insurance and banking industries. Faced with opposition from Russia and China, the US would inevitably be forced to water down its proposals. Moreover, within the Security Council countries like Brazil and Turkey have made it clear that they do not favour "crippling sanctions" against Iran.
It is not just Israel and the US that are concerned at Iran's nuclear ambitions. Saudi Arabia and Iran's other Arab GCC neighbours do not relish the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Moreover, unlike Iran, Saudi Arabia has taken a constructive approach towards a peace settlement in West Asia, which would guarantee Israel's right to exist in security, side by side with a viable Palestinian state.
Given this background, Mr Manmohan Singh and King Abdullah had no difficulty in agreeing on the need for a 'two-state solution' to the West Asian impasse an issue on which India and Iran have little common ground. While Arab States may make pro forma noises about India's relations with Israel, the reality is that most of them, including Saudi Arabia, have either overt or covert links with the Jewish state.
But, the issue of Iran's nuclear programme will not go away and New Delhi will have to keep a close eye on possibilities of Saudi Arabia and others seeking a nuclear umbrella from their Sunni ally, Pakistan. Saudi Arabia's Defence Minister Prince Sultan has visited Pakistan's nuclear facilities in Kahuta and the redoubtable AQ Khan has been effusively welcomed in the past in Riyadh.
There has to be a measure of realism in India's relations with major powers in the Gulf region. Despite the best intentions of King Abdullah, concerns do remain about funding of Wahaabi oriented radical Islamic organisations across South Asia by Saudi 'charities' and the kingdom has not exactly shown understanding of Indian sensitivities by stewarding OIC moves on Jammu & Kashmir.
Moreover, while India and Saudi Arabia have expressed support for the values enshrined in the Constitution of Afghanistan, it has to be remembered that the kingdom had backed the Taliban and changed its position only because Mullah Omar remained closely allied to Osama bin Laden. One should not presume that Saudi Arabia will remain averse to a return of the Taliban if Mullah Omar is marginalised and the Taliban's links with Osama bin Laden terminated.
Given the anxiety of Nato countries in Afghanistan to strike a deal with the Taliban, it is imperative that New Delhi retains close ties with Tehran, which shares its aversion for any return of Taliban extremism to Kabul. Finally, Iraq is aiming to increase its oil production from two million barrels per day to 12 million barrels per day in coming years, with Karbala and Najaf re-emerging as major centres of influence in Shia Islam. We have been less than pro-active in building relations with the post-Saddam dispensation in Iraq.
New Delhi no longer has the luxury of remaining aloof from these developments in its western neighbourhood, as it will be compelled to take positions on these issues when it becomes a non-permanent member of the Security Council later this year. India can position itself to play a more pro-active role in the oil-rich Gulf region by more imaginative diplomacy in coming years. Much more can and should be done for increasing our investment and participation in the exploration, production and utilisation of the oil and gas resources in our western neighbourhood.
DYING A SLOW, PAINFUL DEATH
RANJIT KUMAR PAUL
Each year, February 21 is considered to be a special day by Bangladeshi Bengalis. It was on this day in 1952 that students of Dhaka University became martyrs trying to get their mother language, Bangla, recognised as an official language of what was then Pakistan with its eastern and western provinces. Indeed, it was this language movement that eventually transformed into the Bangladesh liberation movement that led to the creation of a new state. But February 21, or Ekushey February, assumes a greater appeal in light of the fact that the day has been declared as International Mother Language Day by Unesco. Thus, while Bengalis, especially those in Bangladesh, have a special reason to be proud of their mother tongue on this day, others too ought to feel proud of their respective mother languages on February 21.
The Bangladeshi High Commission in New Delhi celebrates Ekushey February with great enthusiasm. This year was no exception. After the inaugural address by the honourable High Commissioner, which was followed by a speech on the importance of mother languages by a Unesco representative, the cultural programme saw Bangladeshi artistes enthrall the audience with their melodious folk songs and poetry recitations. Their Indian counterparts too did their bit to make the evening a truly memorable one. While Bangladeshis continue to give due importance to their mother language, Bengalis in West Bengal are lagging behind in this respect. It is sad that a large number of Bengali youth today are either on the verge of forgetting their mother language or are completely apathetic to Bengali culture and literature. They have no grasp of the importance of learning one's mother tongue.
This is the case not just with Bengalis but those from other ethnic communities as well. The problem has been exacerbated due to the migration of people from rural areas to urban centres in search of jobs. Plus, with our economy becoming increasingly globalised, all vernacular languages are taking a backseat to English.
Unless there is a genuine effort on our part to pass on the rich heritage of our vernacular languages to our children, our mother tongues will surely die a slow death.
AFFLUENT COUNTRIES HAVE RECOGNISED THE POWER OF PROFESSIONAL WOMEN WHO ARE NOW INCREASINGLY PLAYING AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN SHAPING THEIR ECONOMIES. SADLY, DESPITE THE CLEAR ADVANTAGES, INDIA'S TOP CORPORATES, ARE NOT YET READY TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE 'WOMENOMICS REVOLUTION'
A day after International Women's Day, women's empowerment received a huge boost with the passage of the women's reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. But, apart from rejoicing over future political representation, little was done to celebrate Indian women's present achievements which are by no means small. Today, thousands of professional women are occupying decision-making positions in the corporate sector, in senior bureaucracy, in IT, in the media, as engineers, doctors and lawyers. Affluent countries having already recognised the power of professional women have begun forecasting Indian women's (spending) power by drawing a parallel with Western developments.
Aviva Wittenberg Cox is the author of Women Mean Business which was named the business book of the year. Last week she was the keynote speaker on gender equality at a workshop organised by OECD in Paris. I listened to her as she presented fact upon fact which has begun to make business sense in Europe and the US. According to independent research as well as surveys and data collected by Goldman Sachs, Mackenzie and her organisation '20-first' which works with companies around the world, BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China )women will become an increasing force on account of their spending power.
In the US women now make 80 per cent of the consumer goods purchasing decisions; they were responsible for starting the majority of new business initiatives in Canada; in the UK they are expected to own more than 3/5ths of all personal wealth by 2025. More than half the university graduates in Europe and North America are women and the majority of the eight million jobs created in the European Union since 2000 have been filled by women. Since 2007, more than half the managers and professional staff in the US are women. No wonder then that top consulting and investment banks have been busy identifying companies that can benefit from increased female disposable income. According to Goldman Sachs, the Indian middle-class will throw up millions of new consumers with expanded purchasing power. And within that women's purses are going to become increasingly significant as they become economically more successful.
With greater influence, and an 'edge' of a different kind, women are also destined to rise higher as members of the board of management of companies whatever be their current representation. Studies in Canada have shown that women board members contribute immensely because they pay a lot more attention to important areas like audit and risk oversight. They take into account the needs of a wider variety of stakeholders. They are prepared to go into the details of management and organisational performance. They have been more responsible than men for insisting on conflict of interest guidelines as well as performance evaluations. Makes for good corporate sense.
But according to Aviva Wittenberg Cox, despite these attributes, the boardroom may not be the best way of judging gender balance in decision-making. According to her, it is relatively easy to appoint a woman or two onto a corporate board but it is very difficult to actually groom women to exercise power. Boards are oversight bodies which do not operate the levers that actually run the company. Cox has, therefore, demanded more representation for women on what she called the executive committees, which she identifies as those members of senior management that report directly to the chief executive officer. But according to her, even within the executive committees there are those occupying 'line' or 'staff' roles with the former having direct responsibility for profit and loss decisions-to be distinguished from those that function in staff areas like HR, communications or legal-with no responsibility for operational judgements.
Seen in that light, she has exposed how India's top companies, despite clear advantages are yet not ready to take advantage of the "Womenomics" revolution. A survey of the top 10 ET500 companies undertaken by her organisation, using published data, showed that Indian Oil Corporation had one woman on the executive committee as a line manager and ICICI bank also had just one. The rest of the top industries, Reliance, Tata Steel, Bharat Petroleum Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation, State Bank of India, Oil and Natural gas Corporation, Tata Motors and Hindalco Industries had zero women on their executive committees, responsible for line responsibility.
At the 54th session of the Commission on the Status of Women held on March 5 at Geneva, India's permanent representative harked back to the mother goddess of the Indus Valley civilisation and the special place that women have occupied in the Indian psyche since times immemorial. Followed by a resolve to provide literacy, education and health to bridge the gender divide, he ended with a quote from Manusmriti:
"Yartra naryastu pujyante ramante tatra devataha."
(Where women are worshipped, there the gods reside.)
Instead of worshipping women as goddesses, perhaps a mention of the expanding Indian middle-class and women's achievements within that might have better signified the prospects that lie ahead whether women get worshipped on merit or on the potential of their purse. As India grapples with improving women's health, literacy and education, the possibility of gender equalisation within the middle-class is definitely cause for celebration.
KILLING OF STRAY DOGS REFLECTS THE ULTIMATE FORM OF SADISM
What is there in common among some Maoists committed to a violent overthrow of the existing state, some bureaucrats sworn to uphold the Constitution of India and the rule of law, and some presidents of Residents' Welfare Organisations? The answer is simple: The killing of stray dogs or the ordering of their killing which is prohibited by law. The Animal Birth Control (Dog) Rules 2001, promulgated under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960, only allow for the removal of stray dogs for neutering and vaccination against rabies and their subsequent return to where they had been taken from. The Guidelines for Dog Population Management, issued in 1990 by the World Health Organisation and the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and several other WHO reports, make it clear that this is the only scientific way of reducing the population of stray dogs.
The logic of the animal birth control programme is that dogs, being territorial, prevent other dogs from entering their domains. Neutered and vaccinated stray dogs prevent un-neutered and un-vaccinated dogs from other areas from entering their territories. Hence, having neutered dogs in one area, those administering the ABC programme can move into another and repeat the performance. In this manner, an entire city, State or country is covered and the number of stray dogs declines steeply as each of them lives out its biological span of life. Then why the killing?
In the case of Maoists, it is a part of their war against the state. The barking of stray and pet dogs warns police pickets and villagers of their presence; surprise attacks are foiled and arrests facilitated. They are not alone in this. Terrorists in Punjab and those sent across the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir by Pakistani terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Hizbul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammad, had asked locals to kill all dogs in their respective villages. Significantly, Mr Swaranjit Sen, when he was the Director-General of Police in Andhra Pradesh, had asked all police stations to adopt local stray dogs who would alert them to the approach of Maoists at night.
To Maoists, the killing of stray and pet dogs is a part of the collateral damages of war, which affects innocent people as well. There is a measure of truth in this. According to a report, a herd of 80 elephants is in dire straits in south Bengal as their return to their habitat is prevented by the presence of Maoists and security forces in the forests through which they have to pass. In All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque gives a heart-rending account of the agony of horses wounded in World War First. The issue with Maoists is the deeper one of violence as an instrument of capturing power, which is unjustified in a country where parliamentary institutions for peaceful change in Governments exist and where even revolutionary changes in socio-economic relations can be wrought through constitutional amendments. As the results of the French, the Bolshevik and Chinese revolutions indicate, revolutions devour their children and seldom achieve their goals.
The problem with civil servants, particularly heads of municipalities who are aware of the law but still order the killing of stray do, is different. They display an utter contempt for the Constitution and an arrogance whose effects are felt in arbitrary and savage actions in other fields as well. If this makes them unsuited to holding high offices involving the exercise of a significant measure of power, their actions and the demand for killing of stray dogs by heads of RWA, also displays a genocidal streak. In his seminal work, Fear of Freedom, Erich Fromm shows how sadism reflects a desire to overcome one's own feeling of insecurity through domination over others. The most complete form of domination is over life itself which is realized through an act of killing. Genocide is the most grotesque expression of sadism. Since a call for the mass killing of a religious community or an ethnic group will immediately fetch mass opprobrium, a substitute is sought in the killing or ordering the killing of stray dogs. Hence we return to the question: Can people calling for it be entrusted with offices of power?
US RELUCTANT TO REMOVE N-WEAPONS FROM EUROPE
INSTEAD OF TAKING A DECISION WASHINGTON HAS PUT THE BALL IN NATO'S COURT, WRITES ROBERT BURNS
The US is taking a go-slow approach on one of the touchiest and least discussed national security issues: Whether to remove the last remaining Cold War-era US nuclear weapons in Europe.
Some officials in Germany and other US allies in Europe are advocating a withdrawal, citing President Barack Obama's call last year for a nuclear-free world. But the US is putting off an early decision, preferring to consult within Nato, starting at a meeting of Foreign Ministers in April that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to attend, according to several Obama Administration officials.
The officials discussed the matter on condition of anonymity because details are secret and the administration is in the midst of an internal review of the role and purpose of the US nuclear arsenal. The estimated 200 weapons in Europe are a fraction of that total.
Results of the review, originally due to Congress in December, have been delayed repeatedly and now aren't expected before April.
The study, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, is expected to call for a reduced role for nuclear weapons in US national security strategy, as reflected in the substantial reductions being negotiated with Russia in a replacement for the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START.
That negotiation does not apply to the US nuclear weapons in Europe, which are categorised as "nonstrategic" because they are short-range bombs designed to be launched by fighter jets based in Europe including by Nato members' jets.
Mr Ivo Daalder, the US Ambassador to Nato, said on February 23 that the review "will not make any decisions that preclude any option with respect to nuclear weapons and Nato."
The START negotiations aim to reduce US and Russian long-range nuclear weapons, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles carried on submarines. Talks have bogged down for months. The White House said Mr Obama on Saturday had an "encouraging" telephone conversation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about prospects for an early end to the arms negotiations.
The bombs in Europe are a sensitive subject because they reflect a long-standing US military and political commitment to the defence of its European allies, who have relied on the US nuclear "umbrella" as an alternative to developing their own nuclear weapons.
Washington has a similar commitment to Asian allies, including Japan and South Korea, but it has maintained that role with US-based long-range nuclear weapons. Asia-based US nuclear arms were withdrawn in the early-1990s by President George HW Bush.
The US Government as a matter of policy will not confirm the location of US nuclear weapons, but it is well known that the sites in Europe are in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey. The US has had nuclear arms in Europe since the 1950s.
Mr Hans M Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, which advocates nuclear arms control, believes the administration is inclined to remove the nuclear weapons from Europe but wants to take a cautious approach.
"The Obama Administration came in with a strong pledge to mend ties with the allies, and so the last thing it wants to be seen to do is to make a decision over the heads of the allies," he said in an interview on Sunday. "The US would move these weapons tomorrow if this were just its own decision."
GADKARI'S TEAM FALLS SHORT OF EXPECTATIONS
THE list of new Bharatiya Janata Party National Executive Committee members announced on Tuesday has not quite set the Yamuna afire. It might be somebody's case that the BJP president, Mr Nitin Gadkari, was hamstrung by the need to farm out posts on the basis of quotas to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh apparatchiks, women and Muslims, for instance. But the mix of the old and the new does not quite come together in a manner that would suggest that the party has put behind it its recent travails.
Many felt the quality of the new team would define Mr Gadkari's tenure. His rise to the top, mandated by the RSS, had been preceded by a period of some instability in the party and heartburn for many leading partymen. During this time the so- called D4 or Delhi Four Ms Sushma Swaraj, Mr Arun Jaitley, Mr Anant Kumar and Mr M. Venkaiah Naidu had been crudely put out of the reckoning for the BJP chief's post. The apparent argument was that the party was headed for a new, dynamic leadership, a blend of youth and experience that would generate new ideas for a rapidly changing world. Yet, there are many gaps, notably in accommodating chief ministers like Narendra Modi and B. S. Yeddyurappa.
Even so, it would be worthwhile to ask why Mr Varun Gandhi, best known for making incendiary speeches in Pilibhit in the run- up to the last Lok Sabha polls, should be a party secretary? Or, how Ms Hema Malini is qualified to be a vice- president, Ms Smriti Irani, the secretary and Ms Kirron Kher, a national executive member? Or what makes laughter show judge Mr Navjot Singh Sidhu eligible to be party secretary ? Is the BJP so keen to gain from their star power that it wants to repay them by giving them party positions? This is certainly not the way the main Opposition party should be planning its future strategy.
There are people in the list with a proven track record and perhaps we are being harsh in focusing on the celebrity brigade. Mr Gadkari has thrown the gauntlet at the Congress party's feet by ensuring that one- third of his office bearers are women. But the proof of the pudding will be in its eating and that will come with the Bihar Assembly polls later this year and, of course, the 2014 parliamentary elections.
ONLY IN THIS REPUBLIC
WE have got to grant it to ourselves
When it comes to ingenuity aimed at beating the system and making an extra buck, there is nothing like the Indian mind. And when that mind rests on the shoulders of a man donning a uniform the results can be anything ranging from the bizarre to the sinister.
As a MAIL TODAY report has revealed, the Government Railway Police ( GRP) at railway stations in Delhi have been ' renting out' their uniform to crooks who don it to fleece money from people on various pretexts. And since Indians more often than not flout rules there's decent money to be made here both for the crooks as well as the cops. The cops reportedly charge Rs 200 an hour for their uniform while the petty criminals make anything between Rs 200 and Rs 500 a day.
As is usually the case, senior railway officials are in denial. And their reasoning is a comment on another aspect of the system: they say there is no reason for petty criminals to borrow uniforms from cops because they are freely available in the market along with belts, badges et al will someone tell us why this is so? As far as the railways are concerned, the revelation comes on top of our earlier reports that vendors bribe officials to get " lucrative" trains on platforms of their choice and private parcel contractors get trains delayed in order to load their consignments.
Compared to some other recent charges of malfeasance against the police, renting out uniforms could be termed a minor delinquency. On Tuesday, the Delhi High Court ordered compensation to be paid to the kin of a man who was killed by a policeman with his service rifle. Earlier this week, Haryana's Special Task Force was disbanded after eight of its members, including its chief, were charged with dacoity and extortion. With cops like these, who needs criminals?
CONGRESS IS SHAKEN AND STIRRED
BY MANOJ JOSHI
UPAGOVERNMENT NEEDS TO GET ITS ACT TOGETHER
WHAT A difference a week makes in politics! Last Tuesday, the Congress was reveling in its victory in pushing the women's reservation Bill through the Rajya Sabha.
Commentators were extolling the strategic genius of Sonia Gandhi for the ' historic' move that was going to forever transform Indian politics. A week later, things look somewhat different. In a double whammy, the government has been forced to put off the women's Bill for the time being, as well as defer the tabling of the Nuclear Liabilities Bill, a measure close to the heart of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The coalition that appeared solid a year ago looks shaken, if not shaky.
With the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Samajwadi Party withdrawing support from the United Progressive Alliance, newspapers and magazines have been once again counting the numbers in the Lok Sabha. Given their ideology and the existing parliamentary arithmetic, no party or combination of parties, appears to be able to replace the UPA. But the very articulation of this issue, a year after the UPA was brought back to power with a near- majority bespeaks of the serious flaws in the political management of the coalition and the competence of the government.
Take the Nuclear Liability Bill. The entire episode: the decision to table it, the absence of 35 Congress MPs despite a whip at the time of tabling, and its sudden withdrawal, has hamhandedness written all over it. It would have been a good idea for the government to have circulated a draft of the bill, explained its provisions, encouraged some debate and discussion, built up political support and then finalised it. Instead, it used the stealth approach and the provisions of the Bill that we are talking about are those leaked by environmental groups.
Everyone knows that in India, the judicial system does not give the kind of humongous damages that can bankrupt a company or an individual.
On Tuesday, for example, the Delhi High Court awarded a compensation of Rs 7 lakh to the family of a truck driver who was shot dead by a policeman in a fit of rage.
There is no rationale, therefore for capping liability in India. But there is one for the United States, and the aim of the Bill seems to be to prevent Indians affected by an accident from suing companies in the US. The simple issue here is that if the US companies wish to limit their liabilities in the United States, they should get the US Congress to pass the necessary law. Why ask the Indian Parliament? Of course, the bigger question is as to why the Manmohan Singh government has gone out of its way to help US suppliers. The government would be correct in its desire to offer all potential suppliers a level playing field in India, but surely, passing what appears to be a legislation that could go against the interests of Indian nationals on some future date, is not the way to go about it.
The women's Bill, too, looks somewhat different. Leave aside the patriarchal objections of the Yadavs, there are other important grounds why the Bill causes unease. Primary among these is the manner in which it will alter a basic element of our Parliamentary democracy the relationship between the member of parliament and his or her constituency.
The principle of rotating constituencies would ensure that one- third of the Lok Sabha would know that they cannot be re- elected from the same seat. This would be a disincentive towards working for the interests of their constituency and its constituents. The other pernicious impact of this would be to shift the balance of power even more towards the " High Command." As it is, the Congress has an over- centralised political culture, and by loosening the MP's hold on his constituency, it will make him more dependent on the goodwill of the " coterie" in New Delhi.
There has been a perfectly good idea floating around that parties be shamed into having women constitute one- third of the list of the candidates they put up for elections. On the other hand, the parties could introduce the proportional representation system in which one- third of the party list of those elected will be women. Mixing systems, such as is being effected by the women's reservation Bill in its present form could degrade our political system.
There is, of course, the basic objection to quotas as such. The persistence of quotas has affected India's educational system and the public sector. What was once seen as a temporary measure has become a populist tool. There is no doubt that quotas helped create the critical mass of Dalit government employees who helped Kanshi Ram give birth to the DS- 4 and then the Bahujan Samaj party. But his protégé Mayawati has done more for Dalit empowerment than all the populist efforts of the Congress party. The reason is that quotas in themselves are seen as a kind of a grant from society at large and do little to enhance the self- esteem of the recipient.
On the other hand, Mayawati and the Dalits in BSP do not owe their position and achievement to anyone but themselves and what could be more liberating than this? India needs some way of addressing the important issue of nuclear liability and breaking the pernicious hold of patriarchy in our politics and social life. This may require legislation, or it may not. But both do require a more intense and honest process than we have seen so far. The problem is the political culture of the Congress party which veers from populism on one hand, to implementing important policies through stealth. The whole point of a democracy is the ability to take a plurality of voters along with you on any given issue. In the era of coalitions, building pluralities and majorities is not easy. First, opinions and views on an issue can vary. Second, and more important, our political parties are devoid of any morality. There are parties which take one posture on an issue while in office and can take the opposite view when in opposition. No one said that governing India was easy.
The Congress party has to stop deluding itself that it has a twothirds majority in Parliament. It does not even have a majority. In this situation, it has no choice but to engage coalition partners, the opposition and the public, to build up support for its policies.
This said, we need to celebrate the debate and discussion that the women's Bill and nuclear liability legislation have brought about.
Mature deliberation and intense argument will actually strengthen the policy goals of transforming the lives of women and providing for nuclear liability. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Ms Sonia Gandhi are, quite laudably, people in a hurry.
But they should heed the hoarding which reads " speed kills", and learn the fine art of defensive driving the only kind that works on Indian roads.
DINESH C. SHARMA
REASON A CASUALTY IN THIS AGE OF BABAS
THE Securities and Exchange Board of India ( SEBI), which regulates stock markets in the country, recently issued a press release advising investors not to be guided by " astrological predictions on share prices and market movements". The warning comes in the wake of the recent trend of television astrologers advising investors when to buy or sell shares and which sectors to invest in all depending on the date, time and ' position of stars' when the investor was born.
A Noida school recently held a strange career counseling session.
It was conducted not by a professional counselor but by an astrologer who told students which career they should opt for based on their ' rashi', leaving the young minds completely confused. These two episodes may appear isolated but they are actually part of a larger trend a new wave of godmen, and a multi- billion rupee astrobusiness whose varied products include astrology, vastu, hypnotism, tantra medicine, Reiki healing, aura energy scanning and so on. Old- style palmists are passé. New style, laptop holding, English- speaking, jeans- and- T shirt donning " astro- scientists" are in.
Why are we witnessing this upsurge? I posed this question to Sanal Edamaruku, who is perhaps India's best known rationalist at present and heads the Indian Rationalist Association.
Rising superstitions and irrationality, in his view, are perhaps a byproduct of our fastpaced development. " Strong people try to keep pace with developments and use the opportunities that come their way, opening doors for their mental and personal growth.
But weak people feel terribly insecure, fastening their traditional and irrational seatbelts and suddenly becoming more superstitious than ever before", reasons Edamaruku.
Similar results were seen in experiments with human subjects done by Adam Galinsky, a professor of ethics and decision at Kellogg School of Management, making him conclude that " the less control people have over their lives, the more likely they are to try and regain control through mental gymnastics". This is true in times of economic crises. But the mushrooming of corporate- style temples and the emergence of new gods for middle class Indians in the post- 2000 period shows that prosperity also breeds superstitions and religiosity.
The exponential rise of godmen and irrationality ironically propelled by new technologies of broadband internet and satellite television has made the job of rationalists more hectic. For over two decades, Edamaruku has been debunking godmen from Saibaba to village level tantriks and their miracles, explaining to people the simple science behind such tricks. ( He has challenged Baba Ramdev too).
Earlier, he would move from village to village demonstrating how miracles are " performed"; now he is moving from one television studio to another. Last year, Edamaruku participated in 225 television debates and shows. This way, he says, the rationalist movement is reaching out to millions of people.
But the pace at which babas with their so- called miracles or ' healing touch' are multiplying, India needs an army of Edamarukus.
One levy you missed in the Budget
ONE budgetary provision that did not get the attention it deserved relates to imposition of ' clean energy tax' on coal production. The new levy is recognition of the " polluter pays" principle which India has been touting at international climate change negotiations.
The revenue earned from this new tax will go to the National Clean Energy Fund ( NCEF) established last year to sponsor research and innovative clean energy technologies.
The new levy will be Rs 50 per tonne of coal produced in India as well as imported coal. It may look a small step, but is going to rake in good money for the new fund. Coal production in India is estimated to be 610 million tonnes during 2010- 2011.
The new tax would mean a revenue of Rs 3000 crore annually, according to The Energy and Resources Institute ( TERI).
This would form a substantial corpus to begin with for clean energy initiatives that NCEF will take up, some of which were outlined in the eight missions identified in the National Action Plan on Climate Change announced in 2009. The exact plan for how the fund would ultimately be utilised has not yet been unveiled. It is also not yet clear if the cost of producing power in coal- fired stations would go up and if this could be passed on to consumers.
Coal accounts for over 53 percent of power produced in India.
TAXES SOUND WAY TO CURB UNHEALTHY FOOD HABITS
TAXATION may be a good tool to effect behavioural changes when it comes to unhealthy habits. A new study has found that adults tend to eat less pizza and drink less cola as the price of these items increases, and their body weight and overall calorie intake also appear to decrease.
A 20- year study of dietary habits of 5,115 young adults beginning in 1985 has revealed that a 10- percent increase in prices is linked with a 7- percent decrease in the amount of calories consumed from colas and a 12- percent decrease in the amount of calories consumed from pizza. A onedollar increase in prices was associated with a lower overall daily calorie intake, lower body weight and an improved insulin resistance score.
The public health message is clear: foods high in calories, saturated fat or added sugar should be subject to added taxes, while healthier foods should be subsidised. Right now, India is doing the opposite.
Heard of a ' biological bypass'?
A NEW method of growing arteries could lead to a " biological bypass" or a non- invasive way to treat coronary artery disease.
Coronary arteries get blocked with plaque, leading to a decrease in the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart. Over time this blockage can lead to heart attack, while severe blockages in multiple major vessels may require coronary artery bypass graft surgery.
Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine have reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation preliminary success of a new method to grow new arteries in mice and zebrafish. Instead of using a growth factor proteins that stimulate the growth of cells to grow new arteries as done by scientists in the past with no success, Yale researchers simulated arterial formation by switching on and off two signaling pathways.
This, they say, opens up the possibility of developing a new class of medication to grow new arteries.
The next step is to test this finding in a human clinical trial.
' WOMEN NEEDN'T FEAR LOW ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION'
THE effect of alcohol on health always has people interested. Recently a group of Indian researchers, however, had some bad news for drinkers in India. It seems the beneficial effects of alcohol consumption on one's heart as demonstrated in Western populations vanish when it comes to Indian men.
Alcohol does not provide any protective benefit to the hearts of Indian men but increases the risk of heart disease.
However, for women drinkers there was good news in a recent issue of Journal of American Medical
Association . It seems normal- weight women who drink a ' light to moderate' amount of alcohol appear to gain less weight and have a lower risk of becoming overweight and obese than non- drinkers.
However, researchers caution that more studies need to be done before making any recommendation about alcohol use, given the other problems related with drinking alcohol.
In any case, Indian ladies, please note that the study was done on American women. So, who knows, like the
study on the impact of alcohol on the hearts of Indian men, it may turn out later that alcohol is indeed bad for the waistlines of Indian women.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Much of the rhetoric on the civil nuclear liability Bill has only confused the issue. The Left and the BJP have used emotive trigger words to drum up opposition to the Bill, sidestepping logic entirely in the process. Thus, we have the Left raising the spectre of Hiroshima and accusing the government of attempting to push through the Bill for the benefit of American companies. These arguments are guaranteed to appeal to certain sections in a country where there are still residues of reflexive anti-Americanism. Similarly, the BJP accuses the government of selling out the common man by setting the liability cap too low, when it is in fact on par with international levels. To compound the problem, the Congress has been less than effective in clarifying the rationale behind the Bill.
Cutting through the bombast, the Bill doesn't offer US companies any advantage over competitors. The Bill's first draft dates back to 2000, long before the India-US nuclear deal. Other supplier countries such as Russia and France have been pushing for liability legislation as well. As it stands, India and Pakistan are the two countries which currently operate civilian nuclear power plants but haven't incorporated either of the two means of addressing compensation - domestic legislation or the two international conventions regarding the issue.
As for the Bill's particulars, it is in keeping with best practices worldwide. Focusing on operator liability creates a one-stop compensation process that is far more beneficial to claimants than a long-winded litigation process involving dozens if not hundreds of suppliers. And the Bill doesn't prohibit the operator binding the supplier with contractual obligations. In fact, it specifically provides for it. Neither does it prevent additional litigation in Indian courts against the operator and the supplier. And with the government now contemplating grading the liability cap according to a nuclear plant's installed capacity, the complaints about inadequate compensation could soon be a moot point.
The government has failed to show clarity and forcefulness in articulating its defence of the Bill. National security advisor Shivshankar Menon's briefing of Congress MPs should have taken place earlier, for one. It is time to get it right. Necessary legislation will be impaired if government fails to prepare the ground while the opposition merely obfuscates. With the prime minister's ambitious vision regarding the country's installed power capacity and the harmful consequences of coal-fired power plants, the opportunity costs of lagging behind in nuclear power are too high.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The new national executive of the BJP doesn't offer any surprises. It's gone with the tide and reserved one-third of its seats for women. An amendment to the party constitution, introduced during Rajnath Singh's presidency, made the step necessary. The BJP has been one of the champions of the women's reservation Bill and it is only apt that the party found space for women in leadership positions. One criticism that could be made of new party chief Nitin Gadkari's executive is that it may be high on the glamour quotient but low on leaders with political experience. Barring a few like Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje, many women leaders have come into politics from the entertainment industry. A reason for this could be that the BJP has historically been a club of men. The RSS, BJP's ideological fountainhead, is a male-centric outfit.
The BJP, of course, has to adapt to changed circumstances. Rather than wait for a new generation of leaders to emerge from the lower rungs, the party has preferred to pitchfork women who have already acquired a public profile in other areas to leadership positions. This can only be a short-term strategy. The appointment of Varun Gandhi as a secretary is interesting in the context of UP. His hate speech during the 2009 general election campaign polarised voters in the state. However, the polarisation worked against the BJP. With UP headed for elections in 2012, Varun's rise in the party sends out the signal that the BJP doesn't intend to moderate its political pitch in the state.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
ROADBLOCKS TO PEACE
ASHLEY J TELLIS
Washington: As the search for stability in Afghanistan intensifies, the threat of violence and a wider conflagration is growing. In an effort to secure a dominant position in Afghanistan and blunt India's rise, Pakistan has mobilised militants and terrorists on both sides of its borders. While the Afghan Taliban fighting US and NATO forces continue to enjoy Pakistan's support, Islamabad has exchanged its previous policy of supporting anti-Indian insurgencies with that of supporting terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which mounted the deadly assault on Mumbai in 2008.
The disruption of the India-Pakistan peace process, which has remained frozen since the Mumbai attack, is due principally to Pakistan's unwillingness to bring to justice the Lashkar leadership, which has enjoyed the support of the country's powerful intelligence organisation Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). After almost two decades of punting, many Pakistanis today academics, policy analysts, and even officials concede that fomenting insurgencies within India has been a main component of Pakistan's national strategy. But that late admission comes long after Pakistan's military establishment moved to replace its failed strategy of encouraging insurgencies with the more lethal device of unleashing terrorism.
From 1996, these attacks were deliberately extended at ISI's behest throughout India and of all the myriad terrorist organisations involved, none enjoyed greater state support than the LeT, which has now sprung to international attention because of the bloodbath in Mumbai in November 2008. But the group has been active in South Asia since 1987, first in Afghanistan and thereafter in India.
Of all the terrorist groups ISI has sponsored over the years, LeT has been especially favoured because its dominant Punjabi composition matched the primary ethnicity of the Pakistani army and ISI; and its puritanical Salafism undergirded its willingness to engage in risky military operations throughout India. Many in ISI are deeply sympathetic to LeT's vision of recovering "lost Muslim lands" in Asia and Europe and resurrecting a universal Islamic Caliphate through the instrument of jihad.
Although Pakistani propaganda often asserts that LeT is a Kashmiri organisation moved by the Kashmiri cause, it is nothing of the kind. The 3,000-odd foot soldiers who man its fighting ranks are drawn primarily from the Pakistani Punjab. Indian intelligence today estimates that LeT maintains some kind of presence in 21 countries worldwide with the intention of supporting or participating in what its leader Hafeez Saeed has called the perpetual "jihad against the infidels". Consequently, LeT's operations in and around India, which often receive the most attention, are only part of a large pastiche that has taken LeT operatives and soldiers as far afield as Australia, Canada, Chechnya, China, Eritrea, Kosovo, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and even the US.
Given the organisation's vast presence, its prolific capacity to raise funds worldwide, and its ability to conduct militant activities at great distances from its home base, LeT has become ISI's preferred instrument for its ongoing covert war with India. This includes the campaign that Pakistan is currently waging against the Indian presence in Afghanistan and against US counterinsurgency efforts in that country. Active LeT operations in Pakistan's northwestern border areas involve close collaboration with al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, and Jamiat al-Dawa al-Quran wal-Sunna. Thanks to these activities and others worldwide, Washington has now reached the conclusion that LeT represents a threat to America's national interests second only to al-Qaeda.
Based on this judgment, President Barack Obama has told Pakistan's president Asif Zardari that targeting LeT would be one of his key conditions for a renewed US strategic partnership with Pakistan. Thus far, however, the Pakistani military, which still rules Pakistan even though it does not formally govern, has been non-responsive, preferring instead to emphasise the threat India supposedly poses to Pakistan thereby implicitly justifying ISI's continued reliance on terrorism while demanding further US assistance. The military's dismissal of Obama's injunctions regarding LeT are driven at least partly by its belief that all US warnings are little other than special pleading on the behalf of India.
Since assaulting India has become a quite satisfying end in itself, the Pakistani establishment has no incentive whatsoever to interdict this group. To the degree that ISI has attempted to control LeT, it is mainly to prevent excessive embarrassment to its sponsors or serious crises leading to war. But outside of these aims, the Pakistani military has no interest in dismantling any terrorist assets that it believes serve it well.
Military leaders in Rawalpindi have thus not only failed to understand that American concerns about LeT derive fundamentally from its own growing conviction that the group's activities worldwide make it a direct threat to the US, but they also continue to harbour the illusion that their current strategy of unleashing terrorism will enervate India, push it out of Afghanistan, and weaken US stabilisation efforts there. Such a strategy is designed to make Islamabad the kingmaker in determining Kabul's future. This too promises to become one more in the long line of cruel illusions that has gripped Pakistan since its founding.
( The writer is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 2010 Yale Centre for the Study of Globalisation.)
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IT'S AN ACHIEVABLE GOAL
Those betting on India's growth story are upping their bets on its continuing to flourish. According to The Economist, India is poised to take over from China as the world's fastest growing economy by 2018. Now, that's one bit of news that should give our government, economic planners and managers more reason to recommit themselves to the growth project currently underway.
Naysayers will no doubt dismiss this projection as an exercise in kite flying, given just how far ahead China is of India and the often ham-handed approach to economic development adopted by our administrators. There is no denying that India has a long way to go before it acquires the kind of economic heft China enjoys today. This, however, does not preclude the fact that India's success story so far is for real and that it is quite possible for us to prove such projections right.
This assertion is not based on just empty rhetoric and dreamy-eyed illusions. China has enjoyed a spectacular rate of growth over almost three decades now, which is bound to plateau once a critical threshold of economic empowerment is achieved. In contrast, India's growth story is still very young, having started at a very low base, and can only gather steam going forward. This again explains why it is plausible for India to become the fastest growing economy by 2018. To ensure this, we need more reforms, quickly at that, and there is a need for greater focus and sense of purpose in our economic planning.
If India can reform its economy and ease infrastructural bottlenecks, demographics will favour it as it will have a larger ratio of younger, working-age people, while China will age prematurely because of the one-child policy it has followed for long. Widespread fears of a real estate bubble in China suggest that the Chinese miracle may have run its course, while the Indian one could be just beginning.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BELIEVE IT AT YOUR OWN PERIL
We've heard it before. India is going to be the fastest growing economy; India will be among the top economic powerhouses; so on and so forth. Now the Economist has got into the act by proclaiming that India will overtake China as the fastest growing economy in the near future.
We should believe that at our own peril. Irrespective of the numbers, the plain fact is that China is still streets ahead of India in nearly everything. From infrastructure to skilled manpower to ease of doing business, China has comfortably bested India over the past few decades. And there is no reason to believe that this will change in the next 10 years.
Indeed, a case could be made that the Indian growth story will face plenty of obstacles in the near future. In the short run, inflation is going to be a major issue. With food prices having spiralled out of control, inflation is eating into the incomes of most Indians acting as a dampener on consumer spending and growth. But the more serious problem is India's inability to push through reforms in key areas. We have just seen how the government has been unable to make its case on the civil nuclear liability Bill which is essential for meeting India's growing energy needs. Part of the problem in carrying out reform lies in the government's inability to carry its allies on most major decisions. And then there is pig-headedness of opposition parties who believe in putting up roadblocks for the sake of it. Moreover, several large industrial projects across India are held up due to various reasons, the primary one being the inability to acquire land.
While India might be the poster boy of democracy in the developing world, the country's fractious politics is doing its best to hinder growth. So let's take projections of India catching up with China with a large-ish pinch of salt.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IS NOTHING SECRET NO MORE?
Paranoid? That's me. You would be too, if every time you opened your mailbox you found that you were being 'followed'. My Inbox runneth over with people i don't know from Adam or Eve. People of indeterminate sex, religious dispensation or genome map. Good-bye, Big Brother Who Is Watching. Beware, Brother/Sister/ ISI 'Uncle' Who Is Following.
But, hey, you're not supposed to get all antsy by thinking of them as stalkers. The correct label, I am informed, is 'followers'. Which changes the game entirely. Instead of making me squirm like a suspect, it should make me feel like a pre-scandal godman.
As you might have guessed, I have floated into Twitterspace. Actually, i was shamed into it by Jitesh, just as I had been inveigled into Facebook several months earlier by Nina. 'How can you be so not with-it, so uncool? they had respectively sniffed, pressing exactly the right button the one near the hallowed temples on either side of my swollen head. They sat me down in front of the screen and initiated me into this futuristic freemasonry with the help of secret codes in curvy lettering.
Identity was created, password given, and passed. No need for any 'Aap Qatar mein hain' ; I had instant citizenship of a new state. Or status, in the case of Facebook, which I could keep changing without needing the stamp of an MP, JP or any other pee who makes you wait in a Q.
Multiple citizenships, the freedom to move freely out of one and into another with no inquiries ordered, no loyalty tests demanded, no media brouhaha made. Wow! But it was too much. With Nina's back turned, I quietly phased out Facebook, and enjoyed my freedom from the social coil. Till Jitesh pushed me in again with the ultimatum of 'Tweet or be damned'.
'Listen, I'm not a protestor against Iranian election fraud, or a dissenter in the cause of the week. I'm not even Shashi The Rue', I had cried. But my resistance was worn down, and the victory was Jit's. You see, he had whispered the surefire magic mantra, 'You must, everyone wants to know what you have to say.' Massochism is a turn on.
Why did I succumb when for years I had stuck to my guns to shoot at site? I had refused to tag myself on to the strangers who had first come calling on my email, and later spurned the manifest power of Orkut. I had let other Classmates find their Reunion. And left bebo to Saif. I don't know why my iron won't turned into will in the case of Facebook and Twitter.
All I know is that it inexplicably, inexorably has. My trembling fingers itch for the fix, and will not be stilled till I have punched in my one-minute wit and wisdom. Yes, I bask in the delusion that my 'following' waits with bated breath for my 140-character haiku of electronic creativity. But I have yet to attain that state of immaculate misconception which will finally allow me to deliver trite banalities without a cringe or even a twinge. I have yet to divulge to my followers when and how I brush my teeth. When I have the obscene millions of TOI readership, why do I hanker after the following of a handful or even hundred that Twitter offers? Is it the ultimate, personal reality show? Is it the greater interactivity/intimacy or the instant gratification? Or is it simply the relief from a conventional shackle. Journalism orders you, 'When in doubt, leave out.' Twitter seductively whispers, 'When in doubt, shout. In fact, let it all hang out.'
OURTAKE - A LEGAL SHIELD FOR HIM & HER
A NEW LAW MAY SOON MAKE SEXUAL OFFENCES GENDER-NEUTRAL. IT'S NEVER TOO LATE TO CHANGE
Justice maybe a long time coming, but the heartening thing is that the law in India is constantly evolving to plug loopholes and correct imbalances. The latest is a draft bill that the home ministry is working on to broaden the terms of sexual crimes and make its provisions gender-neutral. The word rape is sought to be replaced with the term sexual assault in order that different forms of sexual abuse come under its umbrella. This is impor- tant in two specific contexts. One, the courts have decrimi- nalised homosexuality, which while being a positive step also brings rape among same sex partners under the purview of the law. The other is that there will be redressal for the boy child in cases of molestation. A study by the ministry of women and child development shows that more boys suffer sexual abuse than girls and that one out of two children have suffered some form of molestation usually between the ages of 9 to 12. In the case of boys, only proven sodomy is an offence so far and does not take into account other forms of sexual offences or harassment. Already, the law has evolved mecha- nisms to lessen the trauma of child victims, providing them the means to have hearings at home. The same goes for women victims of sexual crimes.
So far, the definition of sexual crimes, particularly rape, has been in the context of women and the girl child. This seems to have led to a quantum increase in crimes against the boy child. In Delhi alone, a government study showed that far greater number of boys were abused than girls. This suggests that the boy child has little protection and that offenders have taken advantage of the gaps in the law. So far, the law has not taken other forms of sexual abuse, including verbal, seriously enough. This has encouraged offenders to get away with all manners of abuse short of rape. The next step is to sensitise the police, the first port of call for a victim, of the changes in the law and the need to treat all forms of sexual abuse serious- ly and in a gender-neutral manner.
The judicial system today is such that the victim is dou- bly traumatised, first by the perpetrator and then by the legal system. The earlier proposal to dispose of sexual crime trials in two to three months is yet to kick in. This could go a long way towards encouraging people to come forward and report such crimes. The legislation may take time to show results.
But at least the government is taking proactive steps to draft a non-discriminatory framework on sexual assault.
Justice maybe a long time coming, but the heartening thing is that the law in India is constantly evolving to plug loopholes and correct imbalances. The latest is a draft bill that the home ministry is working on to broaden the terms of sexual crimes and make its provisions gender-neutral. The word rape is sought to be replaced with the term sexual assault in order that different forms of sexual abuse come under its umbrella. This is impor- tant in two specific contexts. One, the courts have decrimi- nalised homosexuality, which while being a positive step also brings rape among same sex partners under the purview of the law. The other is that there will be redressal for the boy child in cases of molestation. A study by the ministry of women and child development shows that more boys suffer sexual abuse than girls and that one out of two children have suffered some form of molestation usually between the ages of 9 to 12. In the case of boys, only proven sodomy is an offence so far and does not take into account other forms of sexual offences or harassment. Already, the law has evolved mecha- nisms to lessen the trauma of child victims, providing them the means to have hearings at home. The same goes for women victims of sexual crimes.
So far, the definition of sexual crimes, particularly rape, has been in the context of women and the girl child. This seems to have led to a quantum increase in crimes against the boy child. In Delhi alone, a government study showed that far greater number of boys were abused than girls. This suggests that the boy child has little protection and that offenders have taken advantage of the gaps in the law. So far, the law has not taken other forms of sexual abuse, including verbal, seriously enough. This has encouraged offenders to get away with all manners of abuse short of rape. The next step is to sensitise the police, the first port of call for a victim, of the changes in the law and the need to treat all forms of sexual abuse serious- ly and in a gender-neutral manner.
The judicial system today is such that the victim is dou- bly traumatised, first by the perpetrator and then by the legal system. The earlier proposal to dispose of sexual crime trials in two to three months is yet to kick in. This could go a long way towards encouraging people to come forward and report such crimes. The legislation may take time to show results.
But at least the government is taking proactive steps to draft a non-discriminatory framework on sexual assault.
GREEN IS MEAN
The fight between 'earth savers' and 'earth changers' is warming up for another round of high drama. This time, the 'earth changers', who believe that science is the answer to all the world's problems, have made a decisive attack. Two Canadian researchers have found that people who wear the 'halo of green consumerism' the 'earth savers' are less likely to be kind to others and more likely to cheat and steal. "Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviours," they found. They also found that when their study group of green consumers was given the chance to boost their money by cheating on a computer game (yes, that's how they judge your moral standards these days) and then given the opportunity to lie about it, they did, while the conventional consumers did not.
Going green has become a fad. They are many who have joined the bandwagon and now spend huge sums on free-range chicken and pesticide-free cabbage. Not to mention organic tea. But how on the earth can they become better people by wolfing down all these politically correct victuals? As far as we know, these are chemical-free food items but not infused with moral mantras that will swing into action the moment they enter human bodies and change our genetic codes.
Moral balancing a milder word for hypocrisy is hardly new, it's as old as the hills. Who isn't guilty of it at some point of time or the other? Didn't some study show that the ones who considered themselves to be more virtuous tended to be more selfish? The green consumer is just like any one of us. Only, if we may say very softly, they have some extra cash to spend on such things. Now what will the counter-attack be? Ah, that's easy to guess: non-green people are aggressive, brutish and selfish after all, they don't care about anyone else. See, no difference at all.
'WHO SAYS I'VE STOPPED ACTING?'
Jackie Shroff, who plays Sai Baba in Maalik Ek, admits that he had to be pursued for six months to play the role.
Reportedly, the film was supposed to be released in 2008. It couldn't have been. I kept the producer-director, Deepak Balraj Vij, hanging for six months. The film only went on the floors in mid-2009. So, how could it have released in 2008?What took you so long to make up your mind?
I wasn't convinced how I would look as Baba. I agreed only because I felt that Baba was calling out to me. To play the part, I changed my lifestyle and food habits. I went to work on my body. After I got into the get-up, I had people touching my feet and asking for my blessings in the village where we were shooting. It was a humbling experience.The industry is apprehensive about you pulling off the character given your party boy image.
I don't drink! I never did. I did this film because I felt Baba's spiritual force. I agree I'm usually dressed in western clothes and have a flamboyant appearance. But you'll be surprised when you see me in the film. I look completely different. I didn't know how to sing but for this film, I have become a playback singer. I have a song with kids. Baba loved children.
Have your children seen the film?
No, they haven't but I want them to. They're going to be my greatest critics.
You've stopped taking on films. Why?
Who says that? I'm shooting everyday of the month. Right now, I'm starting on the sequel of Bhoot Unkle. I'm also doing World War 3 and Dilip Shankar's next film. Subhash Ghai wants to launch your son Tiger in a remake of Hero. Comment.I've been hearing this rumour for a while now. My son is interested in playing basketball and taking it up professionally. He wants to act too but only two years later. So long as he stays away from drugs and drink, I'm okay with his choice of profession.
What is your daughter, Krishna, up to?
She's studying. And has absolutely no interest in acting. It was rumoured that you had sold off your stake in Sony TV. No way! I'm still the promoter of the company. I don't know where all this talk comes from. I have never commented because I don't feel the need to do so. It is also being said that your marriage with Ayesha is on the rocks. (Laughs) I don't think she and I need to prove our love to each other in the media. We're together and will always be together. I still see the same warmth and affection in her eyes for me that I did when we were dating.
Have you been following the career of your friend and co-actor Anil Kapoor over the last four-five years?
Yes, I always follow his work. We've worked together in so many films. We were youngsters when we met and now we are the fathers of grown-up children. He was excellent in Slumdog Millionaire. I think he's going great guns.
Has his production company offered you any role?
No, because Anil knows what kind of work I will and can do. Unless he has something meaty and really worthwhile for me, he won't buzz me. The day he calls, I'd be there.
Don't you want to make your own films like him?
Yes, documentaries and public service films. But I don't know when that will happen.
'Jackie will do a good job'
When I was offered Sai Baba's role 32 years ago, I didn't know anything about him. Neither did I have faith in him. Manoj Kumar and Pandurang Dixit approached the project very objectively.
When we started, we had no expectations from anyone. Shirdi Ke Saibaba was produced by a charitable organisation, not the Shirdi trust. We didn't even screen the film for the trust.
As part of my homework, I met Dixitji's parents and several other old people who had met Baba and knew him well. Dixitji's parents had lived for three months with Baba and he had blessed them.
I even watched a black-and- white film, made by Dixitji in Marathi back in 1955 on Baba. That, with a lot of inputs on my looks and mannerisms, turned me from Sudhir Dalvi to Sai Baba on screen.
The portrayal of the character was so convincing that I had people falling at my feet, believing that I was Baba. I didn't get work for over a year because of that film but I didn't really mind.
From whatever I have read and understood about Sai Baba after emulating him twice, I think he was more than just a godly figure.
He was India's greatest social reformer who tried to bring two warring faiths together. He laid the foundation of national integration at a time when the society was fragmented.
I've seen a lot of actors play Sai Baba and have felt that most of them were quite convincing in their portrayal. I've been hearing for a while that Jackie Shroff is playing the Sufi saint in a film. I'm sure he has done his homework well and will will do a good job in passing on Baba's message to the present generation.
'I didn't make this film for monetary gains'
It's rumoured that producer-director Deepak Balraj Vij's Maalik Ek, toplining Jackie Shroff as Sai Baba, has been funded by the Sai Baba Trust of Shirdi. When asked, Vij denies this and says that the organisation was not involved in any way with the project.
"They guided me the last time I attempted a film on Baba. This time, when I was doing a different take on the life of the Sufi saint, they provided me with their inputs. That apart, they were never involved in the production," he adds.
Vij, who made a film on Sai Baba in 2005, says that he was warned against making Maalik Ek. "Some of my well-wishers had told me that a film like this won't work in today's times. Someone even asked me why I was attempting a film on Sai Baba again. I told them that no one has ever explored that side of Sai Baba that sang with children and spent time frolicking with them," says Vij.
He points out that Baba did a whole lot of other things as well. "I did a lot of research and worked really hard to get Jackie (Shroff) in shape for the film. It was a risk casting him but the experience has been worth it," he asserts.
Ask him how confident he is of recouping his investment and Vij says, "I didn't make this film for monetary gains. It's my way of educating the younger audience. I see them following their parents to Shirdi but knowing nothing about Baba."
LABOUR'S LOVE LOST
For the preparation of the Commonwealth Games 2010, around Rs 17,400 crore have been spent on Delhi by the government over the past three years. The over-used word deployed by public leaders and officials to describe the city, which they hope will emerge from these exertions, is 'world-class'. But forgotten are the men and women whose toil will make this 'world-class' city possible. At its peak in 2008-09, an estimated 100,000 workers congregated in Delhi from several of India's proverbial backwaters: Bihar, Jharkhand, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Studies by the Commonwealth Games: Citizens for Workers, Women and Children (CWG-CWC) and People's Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) testify to widespread violation of workers' legal rights. The government awards tenders of its mega projects to major international companies that, in turn, sub-contract them to large national building agencies. These, in turn, sub-contract to smaller contractors, who typically depend on labour contractors. These local contractors recruit mostly impoverished young men to work for short periods and at low wages. The companies prefer to employ migrant workers over local workers to safeguard against the workers claiming their legal rights.
We visited many unkempt labour camps and found workers and their families surviving mostly in makeshift homes. They spoke to us about the freezing winter cold and unbearable summer heat against which these temporary hutments provide no protection. Many are packed into dormitories, which are claustrophobic in the heat. An average 114 people use a single toilet. There's no drainage. Flies, mosquitoes and snakes are in abundance. Many sites have no crèches and even less run schools. No sites had health posts run by doctors.
It would cost contractors less than 1 per cent of the project costs to fulfil their legal obligation of providing a decent camp to workers and their families. But they are unwilling to invest, and no government official compels them to abide by the law of the land.
Violation of the law was also found at work-sites. Workers often lacked even the elementary safety equipment like helmets, shoes and masks. The minimum wages prescribed by the law is Rs 151 per day for unskilled workers. But they were being paid an average of Rs 114 per day. Many work extra hours but almost none reported receiving double wage payment as prescribed by the law.
The law requires construction workers and inter-state migrant workers to be registered for them to be eligible
for social security and other benefits. But few are actually registered. In the event of an accident, injury, fatality or any other claim, it becomes easy for employers to escape their legal responsibilities.
The nature of construction work is that it's short-term. So workers and their families are unprotected. To remedy this, the Building and Other Construction Workers' Act was passed in 1996. It requires all workers to be registered, and imposes a cess on employers. The cess is to enable workers to receive scholarships for their children; insurance against health and in the case of accidents or deaths; retirement and disability pensions; and house-building loans.
In Delhi, cess worth Rs 350 crore has been collected from builders. But out of the estimated 8 lakh construction workers in the city, only around 2,000 are actually found on live registers. It's incredible that until January 2010, only one worker had received an accident claim from this cess, and 100 children had received scholarships. Three crèches have been established.
Large sums of money are available with the Delhi government for the welfare of construction workers and their families. But no political leader or government official seems interested in enabling the workers to lead more secured and dignified lives. The fact that the law obliges them to do so seems irrelevant to those who are charged with enforcing the law of the land.
Harsh Mander is Director, Centre for Equity Studies
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
BACK TO BEGINNINGS
The announcement from Tiger Woods, that he will return to golf at the Masters in April, was perhaps inevitable. After the bruising experience of having his private affairs unravel in public so unexpectedly and so fast, his retreat into rehab has been edgy with speculation about his potential restoration to the sport. In a hyper-choreographed yet emotionally fraught public appearance in February, he left no doubt his return would be a measure of his recovery. And that he was anxious to begin recovery.
Woods' return to competition is unlike any other in sport. And the manner in which he makes it will illumine golf's unique image and also his, in being its greatest star and also someone who single-handedly changed golf. His absence from the game is not on account of injury (like Monica Seles), doping tests (Shane Warne), or contemplated retirement (Imran Khan). He is certainly not the first sportsperson to be hit by scandal and that it almost destroyed his career is perhaps a reflection of the way in which Woods portrayed himself as extraordinarily perfect. Righting that image, therefore, may be key to reconnecting to his endorsements. In Woods' case, this image beyond the course is important, because he actually grew the interest in golf. Till Woods, the golf-watching public was different from that of other sports, they were essentially people who played golf. He infused the competition with so much more.
That is why the choice of the Augusta Masters is telling. Augusta gives its competitors more privacy, which Woods is evidently in need of. But with its conservative membership rules, victory at Augusta also made Woods' career so suggestive of social progress. In 1997, the course set him off on a fairytale career. Now, can it help him triumph over his nightmarish moment of reckoning?
The visa restrictions on foreign nationals travelling to or through India implemented late last year were shortsighted and lazy. And the diplomatic outcry was a testament to the thoughtlessness of such hasty, unidirectional, statist reactions. Under mounting complaints, the government, as reported in this newspaper on Wednesday, is considering alternatives to the infamous two-month moratorium on the re-entry of multiple-entry tourist visa holders. But it appears to be exiting one blind alley only to enter the next one. The "trip-based system" under consideration may allow a multi-entry tourist three trips within the period of her visa's validity.
For certain, this does away with the two-month cooling-off that has already harassed many not merely regular tourists but also corporate- and policy-types, writers and academics. None of this has helped a growth-ambitious India's image abroad. But capping the number of trips changes very little on the ground. It's still inadequate, and having to apply for a fresh visa after exhausting the three-trip quota would defeat the very purpose of a multi-entry visa.
The government hopes, as it had done with the two-month absurdity, that this will enable effective monitoring and detect visa misuse. India is within its rights to tighten its visa regime in the omnipresent context of terror. But how will security for us, and convenience for "genuine tourists", be ensured by fixating on an arbitrary number three and assuming that will do the trick? Anybody who enters the country with mischievous intent, riding piggy-back on a multi-entry visa, can surely cause damage on the first, second or third trip? S/he can even wait out or get a new visa.
Thus automatic, misdirected and non-discriminating measures solve nothing. There should instead be investment of thought, resources and labour in discretionary entry-point stopping and post-entry surveillance. Since present documentation is immensely scientific and detailed, and since India is set to upgrade its screening systems, that will be a more practicable and effective solution. Visas are not a magic portal that, if barred, will stop danger from surprising us ever again.
DIGGING FOR REFORM
This newspaper's ongoing analysis of the grip that the Reddy brothers of Bellary have over that mineral-rich district the local administration of which has been reduced to rubber stamps and, by extension, on the politics of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, has revealed how sordid are the by-products of laziness in addressing India's most unreformed sector. Mining is not simply an essential component of India's plans for the future, which will necessarily include massively ramping up infrastructure, and the increased demand for raw material that comes with that; the sector also stands at the intersection of some of the most fraught questions in India's development. Not just the power of money in politics, and of crony capitalism as on display in Bellary but of Centre-state relations, and internal security more generally.
India's laws regulating mining were enacted in the '50s. Their overhaul has been promised for years now; and yet a draft is not available, though it is said one will be introduced in this session of Parliament. Reports on the nature of the proposed law have been disquieting: most recently, that the government will only be able to auction mining rights for unprospected areas if there are "no pending applications" depriving the state of revenue, and once again setting up a system where cronyism is rewarded. This is not the sort of reform that is needed. What is needed is a system which incentivises prospecting, or the discovery of new resources; which ensures competitive bidding, and the consequent maximisation of state revenue; and in which a fair, sustained proportion of that revenue is available to those whose homes or livelihoods are displaced by the project. Those property rights must be respected; allowing instances like what was reported in The Financial Express on Wednesday, that French cement company Lafarge mortgaged tribal land in Meghalaya as security for a loan, will slow down reform and the sector's growth. Above all, complete transparency is essential; the state should remove itself from the process except as the conductor of auctions and as a regulator with a light touch. (An independent environmental assessment agency is essential for this project.)
As the Reddy brothers' story shows, comprehensive reform will always run up against entrenched interests in states that have amassed enormous political clout. But although mining is supposed to be largely regulated from states, the constitutional sanction for that regulation clearly lays out that Parliament can intervene if it is "expedient in the national interest". If cleaning up India's murkiest and now, arguably India's most politically fraught sector isn't in the national interest, what is?
RATES OF LITTLE RETURN
The sharp rise in inflation to 10 per cent is a cause for concern. Headline inflation will get worse for a few weeks and then it will decline. Policy-makers have to keep that in mind before raising interest rates. The RBI's policy mix is mostly on the right track.
Inflation remains a worry as the consumer price index (CPI) is continuing to rise. On a month-on-month, seasonally adjusted basis, the CPI for industrial workers rose at an annualised rate of 20 per cent in January. It suggests that when the year-on-year data comes out, which is what we usually look at in India, the numbers will be worse.
At the same time, the prognosis for inflation is largely positive.
After a sharp increase in food prices from June to December 2009, food inflation, measured on a month-on-month basis with seasonal adjustment, has dropped to nearly zero. When volatile fluctuations of food and fuel prices are removed from the reckoning, we are left with WPI manufacturing, which is hovering around 5 per cent.
Inflation watching in India is done largely using year-on-year inflation. This picks up current developments on inflation with a lag of roughly six months. Hence, even though the latest information (month-on-month, seasonally adjusted) is showing an improvement for the coming six months, the year-on-year information is going to show high inflation. This will put pressure on the RBI to raise interest rates.
The RBI is a highly non-transparent central bank. Its communication does not reveal the full picture, and considerable analysis is required to unearth what is going on. In recent months, the RBI has apparently done little (other than raising the cash reserve ratio in January). At the same time, a deeper analysis shows a significant monetary tightening that has been taking place without announcement.
Money supply growth is an important indicator of monetary conditions. This has come down from levels of more than 21 per cent in July 2009 to nearly 16 per cent in February 2010. Traditionally, reserve money grew because the RBI was focused on the exchange rate and was continually buying dollars. From March 26, 2007 onwards, the RBI's behaviour on the currency market has shifted towards greater exchange rate flexibility. In the last year, the RBI's purchase of foreign exchange has dropped to near-zero levels. Under this flexible exchange rate regime, the rupee has appreciated from
Rs 50 to Rs 45.50. This shift in the RBI's behaviour has reduced the pace of injection of rupees into the economy. Another element of the story is low demand for credit, giving slow growth in non-food credit. Putting these elements together, money supply growth has slowed sharply over six months.
In addition to domestic monetary conditions, the major determinants of inflation in an open economy are exchange rates and world prices. With an improvement in the US economy, global prices are picking up. If the exchange rate remains broadly unchanged, the rise in world prices will be passed through to a rise in domestic prices in India. A rupee depreciation would have the same effect. The 5 per cent inflation rate in WPI manufacturing reflects this combination of world prices and exchange rate movements.Despite the deceleration in month-on-month inflation in the last two months, and the coming harvest which might lower food prices further, the RBI will need a sophisticated approach to inflation. It will primarily have to look at world prices and be concerned about potential rupee depreciation. When faced with inflationary pressure, policies which strengthen the rupee will help.
One channel for this is hiking interest rates. When the domestic interest rate is raised, more capital comes into the country, resulting in a rupee appreciation. The second option is to liberalise capital controls. Removing the barriers against foreign investment in the rupee denominated bond market would kill many birds with one stone: it would combat inflation, along with providing better financing for domestic industry and infrastructure projects.
In summary, there are two important mistakes in the Indian inflation discourse. The first is the use of year-on-year inflation measurement, which yields information about inflation pressures in the economy with a lag of roughly six months. The second is the notion that the RBI can influence inflation by raising rates. What mainstream central banks worldwide can do given a well-functioning bond market and banking system is not feasible for the RBI given the crippled bond market and banking system. Mechanically raising rates when inflation goes up is not particularly useful, given the malfunctioning monetary policy transmission.
A more nuanced approach, reflecting an empirical understanding of relationships visible in Indian data, is required. The RBI's communication on this subject needs to improve, combining a better analytical framework and an honest treatment of its trading activities on the currency market. Thus, for example, if the RBI chooses not to raise interest rates, as they are unlikely to have a direct impact on inflation, it should say so clearly, and explain why, describe how a quiet tightening has been taking place and what policy options are being chosen and why. Not doing so results, in general, in a situation like the present one where expectations of rate hikes build up, and the RBI comes under pressure from various quarters on its conduct of monetary policy.
Opposition parties have been raising a storm over inflation. The government and the RBI do not have adequate levers in their hands to control inflation. The most important instrument, the short-term interest rate that has worked in many other countries, does not work in India due to a lack of financial sector reforms. This inflation episode serves to highlight the problem caused by difficulties in the monetary policy transmission mechanism. The RBI and the government should actively focus on building financial markets and increasing financial inclusion that would make short-term interest rates an effective instrument of monetary policy.
The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public
Finance and Policy, Delhi
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
If the Women's Reservation Bill becomes law, then 181 out of 543 national legislators and 1370 out the 4109 state legislators will be women, significantly altering the (paltry) number of elected women in the world.
However, the bill faces strong political opposition. A common concern is that gender quotas will mainly benefit rich upper caste women and crowd out the representation afforded to other groups, especially Muslims and poor Hindus. A related concern is that powerful men might field their wives or daughters as their political proxies and expect them to do their bidding.
If these were real dangers, they would certainly give pause. If quotas for women reduce representation for the poor and religious minorities, we might want to try a different system and it is not clear that electing rich women whose every move is controlled by their husbands would help the cause of poor women, or even women in general. But is there any truth to these claims?
Fortunately, we have reliable evidence on both of these questions. India introduced reservation for women at the panchayat level in 1993. We have been evaluating the results of this policy, with Raghabendra Chattopadhyay of IIM Calcutta and others, for over 10 years.
Reservation of the pradhan position improves female representation across the board. In two districts, Birbhum in West Bengal, and Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh, we found that female village leaders are as likely as male village leaders to come from the three historically disadvantaged groups of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes. In Birbhum, we see no difference in the representation of Muslims among male and female leaders. In Sitapur, while female reservation reduced male Muslim representation it increased the likelihood that Muslim women would be pradhans. It is simply not true that reservation for women benefits upper caste women at the expense of other under-represented groups.
Moreover, the data clearly show that women leaders are not their husbands' shadows. In Birbhum only 17 per cent of female leaders report having a spouse who was previously a panchayat leader. We find that female leaders take different political decisions to their male counterparts, decisions which better reflect the preferences of women. In particular, at the local level, they invest significantly more in water wells than men do wells which benefit women much more than men. Electing more women would really make a difference. Our findings strongly contradict the anecdote that nearly every male politician in India is ready to tell that he met a woman leader in a village, and her husband was calling all the shots.
What these anecdotes reflect, more than women's supposed lack of autonomy, is the prejudice they face. When we asked villagers to evaluate the same political speech, read either by a man or by a woman, we found that those who heard the woman were less likely either to consider the politician to be competent or to agree with the policies she was endorsing.
However, villagers learn from experience: those who have actually been exposed to a female leader, thanks to reservation, betray no biases against women. Further, in villages that were previously reserved for women, women are now more likely to stand for, and win elections. Women are capable leaders, but face strong barriers to being elected, in part due to discrimination. As a result, women's interests are not adequately taken into account in policy making, and the nation loses out on half of its political talent pool. Reservation can help address this.
Today, India has the chance to set a powerful example for the world. Even in countries where women's rights have been an issue for decades, there's still a hum of prejudice in the background and representation of women in the top echelons of administration (from politics to the boardroom) remains extremely low. Giving capable women access to the powerful public positions that they deserve, and ensuring that their abilities are seen, is the best way to ensure that society learns to vote for women, or promote them, according to their talents, rather than common prejudice.
Duflo teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Pande teaches at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
VIEW FROM THE RIGHT
SUMAN K JHA
The RSS organ Organiser has come out with a special new-year issue. The editorial says that the ordinary Indian "feels let down by the political class". "Those who have been elected by them (the voters) are not speaking up for them... Non-political social action for justice seems the only way out. It is for each of us to do our bit to make our society more sensitive, more assertive, and restore the value of each and every life sharing this planet," argues R. Balashankar.
Veteran journalist M.V. Kamath, who has authored a biography of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, and whose opinion is valued in the BJP and the wider Sangh Parivar, is all praise for Nitin Gadkari even as he asks the BJP to "focus on change". Kamath says that the BJP must focus on four issues "how to raise agricultural production and keep the peasant from migrating to urban centres"; "how to provide jobs to Gen Next"; "how to reduce corruption"; and "how to go beyond Hindutva to a way of life that is nation-embracing and appealing to all people of whatever caste, creed, religion and community." Kamath says that "Gadkari is breaking away from the old moorings, which is just as well". Arguing that the "young are not interested in ideologies; what they are looking for are well-paid jobs and the party must see how best this can be accomplished", Kamath asks Gadkari to "break away from the past and project (the BJP) as a forward-looking party". "Village self sufficiency is a Gandhian concept to which some fresh thought needs to be given." Kamath says.
Rage against the machine
The latest issue of the RSS mouthpiece carries excerpts from the BJP's long-time resident psephologist G.V.L. Narasimha Rao's book, titled Democracy at risk! Can we trust our EVMs which argues that electronic voting machines are not foolproof. Some experts from foreign universities have also been quoted in the book to support the argument. Rao, who has not been included in the recently recast BJP national executive, but is attached to the BJP-ruled MP government, hopes to keep up his anti-EVM campaign.
A former editor of Panchajanya (the RSS mouthpiece in Hindi), Girish Chandra Sharma, wants to know why so few people know about K.B. Hedgewar, the man who founded the RSS, "when the organisation itself is not only known in India , but also abroad". Sharma, reflecting the wider RSS viewpoint, argues that "history tells us that it is a sad experience that the ideals laid down by great thinkers and scholars which were propagated during their lifetime are totally reversed after their departure."
After "water activism" figured in some of BJP's recent seminars and (also in an exhibition on groups doing social service at the BJP's recent Indore conclave) Arabinda Ghose, a long-time contributor to Organiser argues that "water should be transferred from the state to concurrent list".
He lists various inter-state disputes centred on water to argue his case, and says that "it is more than 60 years that we have attained Independence and it is time politicians and the people at large start considering certain matters from the national point of view, and accept the proposals to transfer water from the state list to the concurrent list."
HYGIENE BEGINS AT HOME
For a man, Arunachalam Muruganantham did the atypical. In a country where males balk at the very words "feminine hygiene", the 47-year old rural school dropout from Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu, invented a machine that makes low-cost sanitary napkins. Yet today, some years after his machine has been tried and proven, his story may well take a typical turn. That of a promising Indian rural innovator whose dream fails because of lack of government or corporate backing.
This week, Muruganantham returned home from Delhi where he, as a 2009 national innovation award winner, participated in a display at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Among the visitors at his stall were the president of India, technocrat Sam Pitroda and Hollywood director James Cameron and his wife.
Instead of being on a high, Muruganantham is crestfallen. A recent health ministry announcement says that the government intends to support women's hygiene by launching an annual scheme where it would buy millions of rupees worth of sanitary napkins and sell them to poor and rural women at highly subsidised prices.
But in India the sanitary napkin market is controlled by Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson and Kimberly-Clark. Instead of subsidising multinationals and their products, priced at ten times or more than his product, Muruganantham wishes that the government would popularise his machine. "Women across India could access the low-cost hygiene products without draining scarce government resources," he said.
Muruganantham's invention churns 1000 sanitary napkins out daily, each costing a rupee. (In the shops, MNC products are Rs 100 for eight.) The machine itself costs Rs.1.25 lakh. (Muruganantham spent years researching and developing the machine. It was only after years of false starts that he realised that the padding used in the sanitary napkins shouldn't be cotton but pinewood pulp.) Already, self-help women's groups are operating 200 of these machines across India and reaping some tidy profits.
Affordability apart, in rural India where sanitation facilities for women are appalling, the napkin machine can bring about a quiet transformation.
A rural women's group in Maharashtra's Sholapur bought a machine under a World Bank water and sanitation project which is a great success; they sell the napkins at Rs. 2 each. "It has liberated poor rural women from unhygienic practices during their menstrual periods and improved girls' attendance in neighbourhood schools," says Mahadeo Jogband, a gender specialist in the government of Maharashtra's water and sanitation department. The department now plans to buy more to install in every district.
Only 7 per cent of Indian women use sanitary napkins. In rural India, the usage is less than half that; most women use cloth rags and silently suffer discomfort and frequent infections. It is a market where women watch television commercials for hygiene products without even realising what the commercial is selling.
Muruganantham says he does not nurse any lofty ambition about displacing multinationals from India. He only hopes to step in to markets where women find their sanitary products unaffordable. Enquiries are coming from Nepal and Bangladesh; some students from MIT are evaluating the machine and its products for the African market.
Still, he does not want to be a businessman, only the technology provider. Muruganantham hopes for a rural movement where rural women's groups own and operate the machines and that would bring behavioural change, hygiene and employment to their doorstep.
"I would love to grab the potential business from a multinational and give it to poor, rural women," he says. In India, more often than not, it is the other way around
So, Barack Obama can lose his temper without a teleprompter. And we have the supremely aggravating Bibi Netanyahu to thank for that.
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 winner to make good on his vaunted Cairo promise to resolve the Palestinian issue.
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, but also dealing with a miasma of horrible problems at home. And Israel insults the 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 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." Goldberg told me: "it's not entirely clear to me that the Shas Party knows who Joe Biden is or cares...What most right-wing Israelis don't understand is that even American Jews, especially the nearly 80 per cent 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 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 Israel, many citizens and columnists are embarrassed by Netanyahu's behaviour. 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 realise 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 neighbouring adversary from getting a nuclear weapon and cherishing the relationship with America rather than zoning and earmarks.
The Iranians must be laughing at the Americans and Israelis arguing about who insulted whom, while they are busy screwing their nuclear bombs together.
KERCHIEFS AND COLOURS
You don't have to be Acharya Indu Prakash (Bhavishyavani, India TV) to have foreseen the compromise struck between the IPL and TV news channels for more news coverage of the tournament. It just made business sense. Or that Navjot Singh Sidhu would be back as a double-paced commentator: who else can match Mandira Bedi's way with clothes (Extraa Innings, Sony Max)? Sidhu appeared, one evening, with a blue kerchief knotted around his neck, revealing just enough chest to keep us interested.
We thought the zoozoos would return with Vodafone as the IPL sponsor. They're darling and find everything funnier than it looks to us. We were also sure Balika Vadhu's Anandi would survive the bullet wound in the middle of her forehead because it would have been politically incorrect to kill a girl child on air when the country is talking female empowerment. And anyone who has heard Baba Ramdev go from talking about the all-round benefits of yoga on one channel to raging against corruption, aerated drinks and other foul brews in India's melting pot on many (seen him on at least 6 channels including DD), knew that one day he would join politics.
What we did not bargain for was that more than a fortnight after Holi, TV characters would still be coloured in its hues (Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, Star Plus): what do they play with permanent dyes?
Nor did we expect Balika Vadhu (Colors) to stage such a bloody scene when Anandi is shot by the boss goon. Her face was suffused in red paint (or was it Holi colour?) as she fell to what looked like certain death. It was awful. We take FTV off the air for revealing too much flesh; why not channels with blood on their faces?
The serial has clearly run out of ideas if it has to resort to the crude ruse of pretending to kill off its protagonist to win back the viewers. Running was the operative part of last week's episodes. First the goons are on the run from the police, who with Anandi's family run after them; next, everyone is running around helplessly not knowing what to do; then they're running down the hospital corridor, where they run out of breath and conversation. And finally, the flight carrying the medical specialist who is to operate on Anandi is running two hours late, just to generate enough tension to take us into the next week with the entire family pasted to the windows conveniently placed in the ICU so that they can look at Anandi battling death, and assume grief-stricken expressions.
When Balika Vadhu began, we lauded it for being so different from the K-serials. Now, but for its social theme, it is increasingly like them. The weeping faces, the stock close-ups, the depressing music, the special effects which saw everyone go from colour to black and white (why?) and the "drama" of deathbed scenes are straight out of Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki.
Last week was an unexpectedly good one for watching sports: after a great hockey World Cup, marvelous on Ten Sports, there was the Commonwealth Boxing Championships on DD Sports, Formula 1 racing on Star Sports, IPL and cricket legend Gary Sobers in conversation with Bishen Singh Bedi on NewsX a real treat.
We did expect plenty of commercial breaks during the IPL matches. We just didn't expect them between balls in the same over. We expected sponsors galore and, boy oh boy, have we got them. Watch the highlights package: the fours are sponsored by one company, the sixes by another, the biggest six by a third, the wickets are sponsored by a fourth. The cheerleaders during the Deccan Chargers-Chennai Super Kings encounter had their own sponsor. Since the players are already sponsored, all that's left is for every ball to be a sponsored ball with a label on it. And what about Sidhu's kerchief? Any takers?
DON'T MAKE IT A LIABILITY
It's nuclear déjà vu. PM Manmohan Singh had staked his reputation as much as his government on signing the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the US in 2008. Today, the Left is once again up in arms as the government seeks to introduce the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010. Before we get into the pros and cons of the Bill itself, the question that must be addressed is whether adequate effort has been put into making a persuasive case for it. Before we get into the Opposition's arguments, we must investigate whether the Bill's provisions have been satisfactorily explained even to Congress party members. This doesn't seem to be the case. On Monday, despite a whip issued by the parliamentary affairs minister the day beforealbeit for passing an archaeological sites ordinance35 Congress MPs were missing when the legislation was to be tabled. So the tabling never came to pass. On Tuesday, the national security advisor Shivshankar Menon was delegated to give a group of Congress MPs a crash course on the Bill. Union ministers like Kapil Sibal and Prithviraj Chavan, as well as spokespersons Manish Tewari and Jayanti Natarajan, attended the briefing. A similar 'class' is now lined up for UPA partners that are sceptical of the Bill, like Trinamool Congress. If such briefings had taken place before Monday, the Bill might be at a more evolved stage today.
The Left's allegation that the Bill is just intended to promote US firms is extremely disingenuous. To mention just two other countries from which India is seeking nuclear equipment and technologies at present, both French and Russian companies have been insisting on liability legislation, even if they are not explicitly prohibited from investing in a country without liability legislation like US firms are. A French government official told The Indian Express recently, "It is absolutely necessary that India has the liability legislation in place for compensation in case of accidents. How can Areva or any other company go ahead without clear guidelines about compensation?" As for liability limits, those questioning the Rs 500-crore limit proposed in the Bill should consider three things. One, the government is expected to provide additional monies that may be more than four times the amount. Two, comparable liability caps in China and Canada are Rs 202 crore and Rs 331 crore, respectively. Most importantly, as rare as nuclear accidents are, the Bill is the first instance of offering guaranteed financial compensationwithout requiring victims to run from pillar to post.
PERVERSE DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM
A Supreme Court-appointed panel headed by former apex court judge DP Wadhwa has indicted the public distribution system (PDS) for being 'inefficient and corrupt'. While this is hardly surprisingwe have argued the same in these columns in the pastit does once again bring to the fore the need to revamp the whole system, especially in the context of rising food prices and huge food stocks. Food subsidies paid by the central government have more than doubled over the last four years to Rs 56,000 crore in 2009-10, but governments at the Centre and in the states have yet to take any major steps to improve delivery and reduce leakages from this massive assistance. Government audits have time and again found that there is significant potential for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the PDS. What is most disturbing about the failure of the PDS is its inability to reach out to the really impoverished.
The best evidence of the poor reach of PDS and its inefficient targeting was brought out by a recent report of the National Sample Survey Organisation. The report notes that though the country can boast that ration cards have been delivered to two-thirds of urban households and four-fifths of rural households, the extent of distribution varies substantially across the states. For instance, almost a third of the rural households in poor states like Orissa and Chhattisgarh have yet to get a ration card, and the scenario is worse in urban households in states like Bihar and Assam where more than half the households have yet to get one. And the most damning indictment was the fact that more than half the rural households possessing less than 0.01 hectares of land had no ration card at all while 77-86% of households with larger landed assets held a ration card of some type. This clearly shows that the current PDS system has failed to reach the needy. But having a ration card is only one part of the story, and the more dismal one is the share of PDS grains in actual consumption. The numbers on this show that for the country as a whole, the share of PDS rice in total rice consumption of urban and rural households was in the 11.2-13.2% range while in the case of wheat it was still a lower 3.8-7.3%. The Economic Survey suggested a more practical approach to subsidies through direct cash transfers to the poor who can then buy food at market prices. At least that will remove the inefficiency and waste in the PDS, as it exists today.
WHAT LEAKS OUT BECAUSE OF EXEMPTIONS
Given the concerns of ballooning budget deficits, one aspect of government expenditures not visibly commensurate with its importance is the slew of tax exemptions. This is not just a matter of a direct hit on the deficit; the broader effects on economic behaviour and investment are likely to have large multiplier effects.
The set of concessions, exemptions and incentives are known as 'tax expenditures', a term coined by the US Treasury in the sixties. At first glance, this sounds like an oxymoron; taxes are revenues. The increasing use of this terminology, though, reflects a view that tax breaks should be viewed as a form of spending. Like direct expenditures, foregone tax revenues crowd out other spending and require higher tax rates than otherwise necessary. Done right, tax incentives can advance social objectives, both institutional and individual. Otherwise, they end up squandering resources. There is voluminous public discussion on the benefits and required rationalisation of direct expenditures, but comparatively little, at least that I have seen, of the 'tax expenditures'.
India is one of the very few emerging markets that actually provide estimates of the magnitude of tax exemptions, including a 'Statement of Revenue Foregone' in its Budget. But the extent of these revenue losses needs to be studied a bit more carefully, beyond the scope of the numbers in the statement. For one, these estimates are 'static', that is, they assume there would be no change in economic behaviour if they were eliminated. These numbers are estimated as the revenue gained by eliminating a particular provision. This implies that 'tax expenditures' might be much larger, given the secondary and tertiary economic effects. In addition, the cost of a direct expenditure programme would probably be lower since it produces secondary income that would also be subject to tax. All of this makes a cost-benefit analysis of exemptions difficult.
The statement itself acknowledges that 'the estimates are based on short-term impact analysis' and that 'the interactive impact of tax incentives could be very different from the revenue foregone calculated'. A paper by Leonard Burman and others recently showed that in the US the interactions among tax expenditures could be quite significant. Switching between exemption schemes like TEE or EET are, under certain assumptions, economically equivalent, but the time pattern of revenue losses are very different.
After recording these concerns, some basic trends emerge from the statement. First, the 'tax expenditures' are significant. Revenues foregone in FY10 were 1.9% of GDP, almost a third of the 6.7% fiscal deficit. Without the exemptions, the fiscal deficit would have been 4.8%. At Rs 1.16 lakh crore, the revenues foregone in 2009-10 have increased 56% since 2006-07, although they have remained relatively stable in relation to the GDP. Exemptions to corporates account for over two-thirds of these tax breaks. Was it worth it?
The efficacy of exemptions for fostering certain economic objectives is not evident. At first glance, deduction of export profits of software and technology parks and export-oriented units (EOUs) seem to have yielded results. They account for 18% and 10%, respectively, of corporate revenue exemptions. Given that the share of EOUs in total exports has nearly doubled from 11% in 2005-06 to 20% in 2008-09 and the benefits of software and ITeS in fostering employment and services exports, in terms of primary impact, these might actually be defensible.
In particular, the distributional impacts of these tax expenditures need to be understood more comprehensively, building on the corpus currently available from statutory bodies like the 13th Finance Commission and think-tanks like NIPFP. Personal income tax exemptions, for instance, mostly on account of investments (Section 80C), are designed inter alia to boost retirement savings and increase insurance cover. Whether they are actually catalysing long-term savings behaviour or being treated simply as tax savings vehicles is not clear.
Amongst corporates, the distributional advantage for larger corporates is more evident. The effective tax rate (ETR) for companies with profits before tax (PBT) greater than Rs 500 crore is 22%; for those less than Rs 1 crore it is 26%. For various PBT slabs in between, the ETR falls monotonically. The ratio of taxable income to PBT, looking at another angle, for the latter companies (PBT less than Rs 1 crore) is 80%, compared to 67% for the entire sample. This indicates less deviance from PBT for smaller companies. The reason, probably, is the higher tax concessions either available or being availed of by larger companies. The ETR for public sector companies is 27%, compared with 22% for those in the private sector.
Major tax structure changes have been proposed. The GST and the direct taxes code seek to streamline many of the convoluted and labyrinthine tax measures, both in tax structures and of exemptions. An understanding of the effects of changes in the exemption structures has presumably been an important input into their design.
The author is vice-president, business and economic research, Axis Bank. These are his personal views
WHAT FOREIGN UNIVERSITIES BILL CAN'T DO
YOGINDER K ALAGH
The commoditisation of higher education has many advantages and perhaps raises some questions for mean economist who gets his pension from a national research and teaching institute set up in collaboration with a state government and with a hefty corpus collected by the last of the Ahmedabad Jagat Sheth types. I used to joke with the late HM Patel that I never forgave him for making me a professor at the age of 28, and while I worked in every senior capacity in Delhi, I never resigned my professorship and went back to my office in Ahmedabad. I did so because the men who funded my retreat were only interested in good education and research and had no other views apart from judging outcomes.
The interesting part of the current debate is that there is no discussion of what good education is all about. The focus is on the needs of parents who very legitimately want to send their children abroad. Senior civil servants, high profile politicians who left teaching decades ago and entrepreneurs and geeks who know everything also want foreign education. This is good because it is the purchasing power that matters. And those who don't know their customers suffer.
Knowing the market is important not just for making money in education as some benighted deemed universities are finding out, but more important to respond creatively to network with the current and emerging needs.
But there is also a supply side, and good education emerges from the cultural values of a society and also from support of those with a long vision. I keep on parroting this to a non-existent audience: whenever a good educationist has come to us from any good university in the world, he or she has said things to that effect, and to be fair we give them a hearing, but we forget it.
There are two characteristics of good education. It is a long haul business, so if I start today, I may have to wait for five to ten years before the product comes out. Second, it is not a standard assembly line product like a sausage. You can't sit on a teacher when he reads, writes or lectures, so you may judge him or her only by outcomes.
So, you need a vision and you need accountability and autonomy. The accountability is, of course, of teachers and karamcharis, but also of educational administrators and the babus and netas who now, alas, administer them. Sukhdeo Thorat was asking for that accountability with his charter of reforms, internal grading, financial responsibility, semester systems and so on, but he paid the price for also asking for the autonomy of the actors, for everybody else who matters apart from teachers knows the answers. In this system foreign universities can play a cutting-edge role. They will bring in best practices, but we will find out that good professors will not come simply because we have passed a Bill. In fact, in a training process where we paid through the nose for the best universities, we found that even the paid for promised big names didn't come.
Universities all over the world are globalising, so a foot in the expanding market of India is good, but in the so-called missions, it is the business types who call the shots with an NRI professor or retired dean tagging along to give respectability. Our negotiating skills will be tested when we take this business seriously. I am, of course, assuming that we will screen out the charlatans and the crooks. Otherwise we will repeat the story of the national institute that accommodated a 'highly recommended' Malaysian franchisee of a prestigious economics school, only to have the fellow make them spend a few lakhs on facilities and disappear.
The only real way we can make the best in the world bond with us is to make Indian academia professionally exciting to them. That means reform at home. It means encouraging the best and the brightest. It means giving autonomy to institutions of higher learning at home and making them achieve mutually accepted goals. It means letting the best here pair up with the best abroad in research and teaching. It means rewarding them if they perform and punishing them when they don't.
Nobody is talking of this. A university teacher of arts is suspended without due process, his student is arrested and not allowed to complete his exam and his results are still not declared after three years. A defeated politician is made chancellor of a university for a lifetime. We will have to build firewalls to stop all this before we can use the best elsewhere.
The author is a former Union minister
ASTRA VERSUS SUN
The tug-of-war over Nexium starts once again. This time, AstraZeneca has filed two separate cases against Sun Pharma to block a Para IV filing on Nexium, its best-selling drug. Para IV filings have become an intrinsic part of the patent litigation strategy of generic companies. A January report by RBC Capital Markets, Analysing Litigation Success Rates, shows that patent challenges continue to rise, with a record 65 new first-to-file lawsuits in 2009, up from 51 the previous year and more than double the number just three years ago. The report analyses over 370 court rulings since the beginning of the decade to establish litigation success rates by company, court and judge.
The analysts concluded that while patent challenges by generics are extremely common, winning is not. Over the last decade, the generic drug industry had an overall success rate of 48% for cases that went to trial. However, the success rate increases to 76% when settlements are included, meaning over half of all cases are settled or dropped.
The report also highlights trends. Three districts were responsible for nearly 70% of court decisionsNew Jersey (35%), Delaware (21%) and the Southern District of New York (12%). The bad news for generics is that the combined historical success rate in these three districts is just 36%, which most likely explains the 52% settlement rate there. The most pro-generic courts include the Central District of California, the Eastern District of New York, Minnesota and the Eastern District of Missouri, which have never ruled against a generic. However, just over half of the cases in these three courts get settled or dismissed.
Industry observers have already begun to guess the outcome of AstraZeneca's move against Sun Pharma. Consider that AstraZeneca has filed from Detroit, Michigan, and Trenton, New Jersey, one of the three districts with a low success rate. This may tip the balance in favour of an out-of-court settlement.
Then again, the legal scorecard summary of the report throws up an interesting fact. Sun Pharma's US subsidiary Caraco is the only Indian company to have not one but two at-risk launches (in January 2008 Caraco settled on Protonix and in March 2008 the company settled on Ethyol). In fact, the report points to an emerging trend: settlements soon after launch, like Sun Pharma's second at-risk settlement on Ethyol.
All eyes are on the two companies. Who will blink first?
NEW-LOOK TEAM GADKARI
Even as the Women's Reservation Bill struggles to stay the course, the Nitin Gadkari-led Bharatiya Janata Party has demonstrated exemplary support to the cause of female empowerment by allocating close to a third of its party posts to women. This is a message as much to the Bill's biggest and loudest champion the Congress party as to the obstructionist Yadav troika of Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad, and Sharad Yadav. Although the Congress was the first to decide in principle that women should get a critical share of party posts, Congresswomen continue to be a largely invisible lot. In allocating generous space to women at various levels in the party hierarchy, the BJP has shown that gender justice need not become hostage to legislative battles. Team Gadkari also scores in bringing a blend of experience and youth to the table. Old hands expectedly dominate the party's parliamentary board while a fair sprinkling of young people, drawn from diverse social backgrounds, have made it to the lower echelons of power.
When Mr. Gadkari beat competition from a range of heavyweight insiders to become the BJP chief, not many thought him capable of finding his way in the factional minefield that the BJP has become in recent years. The new incumbent was inexperienced in realpolitik, and moreover, the shadow of Jhandewalan loomed large over his appointment. In the event, Mr. Gadkari has proved that he has a better grip of politics and party affairs than most of the veterans. The confidence has begun to show especially in Parliament where Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj have emerged as formidable team leaders. It was at Mr. Jaitley's instance that the Women's Reservation Bill came to be debated before being put to vote in the Rajya Sabha. His speech in support of the Bill reflected bipartisanship of a kind sorely lacking in Indian political discourse. More importantly without prejudice to what this newspaper thinks about the BJP's disintegrative political programme and ideology it came across recently as a sober party capable of making its point skilfully, without resorting to drama and bad behaviour. There is also a flip side to the new thrust. Team Gadkari includes the disagreeable and intemperate Varun Gandhi, who has been rewarded with the prize post of party secretary. The accommodation of the young man from a famous lineage, whose vitriol against Muslims fetched him a prison stay during the 2009 general election, is a concession to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. As long as the BJP remains a child of the shadowy RSS, it will not be able to resist the temptation to play communal politics which has proved to be its undoing again and again.
LEFT-GREEN REVIVAL IN FRANCE
The first round of the elections for the 26 French regional assemblies, which took place on March 14, has resulted in a thumping win for the Socialist Party (PS), led by Martine Aubry, over the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative party. The UMP trails in almost all 22 regions of metropolitan France, namely the mainland plus Corsica. Interior Ministry figures show the PS as having gained 29.5 per cent of the vote, well ahead of the UMP's 26.2 per cent and the environmentalist Europe Ecologie's 12.5 per cent. The campaign was marred by acrimony and racist and sexist diatribes as Mr. Sarkozy's colleagues followed his lead (in previous elections) with tough positions on crime, immigration, and the national identity. Yet that strategy has been rejected by habitual conservative voters. It has even failed to attract support from Jean-Marie Le Pen's hard-right anti-immigrant National Front (FN), which tallied 11.55 per cent. The second round takes place on March 21; despite some confusion over the announcements, the PS and Europe Ecologie have announced that their party lists will be combined in all but three regions.
As the regional elections constitute the last major ballot before the next presidential election, due in 2012, they are being seen as a national referendum on Mr. Sarkozy. That the results show immense dissatisfaction and even dislike for him and the UMP is not in doubt. Unemployment, at 10 per cent, is France's highest for a decade; businesses are closing, and farm incomes are diminishing, which is very serious in a culture proud of its regional agriculture. About a million French citizens are expected to slide further into poverty as their unemployment benefit runs out and they are transferred to other categories of state benefits. As for the economy, the French central bank's growth prediction is 0.4 per cent for the first quarter of 2010. Dissatisfaction with the President's policies is, however, only part of the voters' message. Many analysts see the low turnout, 46.35 per cent, as a symptom of a deep discontent with the nature of contemporary politics. This may partly account for the strong National Front performance. But the PS and Europe Ecologie have realised that they are the parties that can do most with the first-round results; the former can win back large numbers of Left-inclined voters, and the latter can use their strong showing to initiate a new political agenda, this time as substantial members of a Left-green bloc. The stakes are high. The French Left and its associates have been given their best opportunity for a long time.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
LABOUR PARTY? WHAT LABOUR PARTY?
EXCELLENT INSIDE SOURCES ILLUMINATE A FASCINATING STORY OF ELECTORAL TRIUMPH, ILLEGAL WAR, AND INTERNAL CHAOS.
For Labour Party supporters, bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. On May 1, 1997, the British electorate all but crushed the ruling Conservative Party, which had held office for 18 years and had become what one major newspaper called the most venal and mendacious British government of the preceding century. Seven Tory Cabinet Ministers lost their seats, no Tory won in Scotland or Wales, and large parts of the southern English Tory heartlands fell to Labour.
This Labour victory, unlike the Party's sweeping win in 1945, was not based on the promise of a country genuinely for ordinary people, with hugely expanded public institutions and a first-class public health service. Instead, it resulted from voters' bitter resentment towards a Tory party which stood for finance capital, greed, and little else, and which had gone deeply against the grain of a modern social democracy by privatising major public bodies, selling them off cheaply in a process which was openly called theft. At the next election, in 2001, Labour won another huge majority, despite serious problems. These included the leaders' obsession with tabloid headlines, with spin amounting to mendacity, and a contempt for institutions which included traducing the parliamentary oversight function by bullying Labour MPs to reveal select committees' questions in advance. Other problems occurred over the leaders' cravenness to big business, which caused several episodes of sleaze or near-sleaze, such as the flirtations with the Hinduja brothers, who may have been trying to evade prosecution in India. On the credit side, major constitutional promises had been honoured. Labour had created the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, had incorporated most of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law, and had had an unexpected triumph with the U.S.-brokered peace agreement in Northern Ireland. For ordinary voters, there was a prospect of substantial attempts to redeem two decades of Tory underfunding in the public services. Labour were set to continue winning elections, an unaccustomed position for them.
In a fast-paced book, Andrew Rawnsley, the chief political correspondent of The Observer, covers the next nine years of government by Labour, or, as it called itself until even its leaders realised that the emperor's clothes had fallen off, New Labour (Andrew Rawnsley, The End of the Party; the rise and fall of New Labour, London: Viking Penguin, 2010). The defining issue is the Iraq invasion. Using excellent inside sources, Rawnsley shows how Prime Minister Tony Blair committed the United Kingdom to aiding the U.S. in war. Mr. Blair did not provide the Cabinet with all the documents he himself used, rejected a last-minute chance offered by George W. Bush to withdraw, and then lied to the electorate, to Parliament, and to his Cabinet that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and was an immediate threat to the United Kingdom if not the whole world.
Mr. Rawnsley also shows how Mr. Blair was used by Mr. Bush, who was even more cunning than Mr. Blair. Mr. Blair thought that he was the only leader who could restrain Mr. Bush and his messianic neocons, and that he could build a bridge between the U.S. and Europe; but that was soon "sawn away at both ends of the Atlantic," and Mr. Blair had no influence on the U.S., which also drove a very hard bargain with the U.K. over steel tariffs. Mr. Blair, however, has not changed; he recently told the Iraq Inquiry in London that invading Iraq was the right thing to do, and that Iran is now posing the same kind of threat as Iraq had allegedly done.
The failure of institutions of the British state the Cabinet and civil service, and above all Parliament to stop the Iraq war crime is only tangentially indicated by Mr. Rawnsley. In 1997, the Labour Party had been demoralised by four successive election defeats and was terrified of an overwhelmingly right-wing written press. The simple-majority electoral system had divided the consistent 60 per cent opposition to the Tories, thereby delivering Tory governments for about 70 years in the preceding century, and the Labour MP Bernie Grant reputedly said, "We've had the stuffing knocked out of us." Mr. Blair and the cabal around him had set their sights on winning above all, but once in government continued to behave like an opposition. Furthermore, to the dismay of supporters at every level, they intensified one Tory policy after another.
As the Labour Party's membership and highly-federalised structure withered and as the trade unions which had founded the Party and are still its main funders distanced themselves from the main policies, the leaders' personalities became decisive factors. Mr. Rawnsley shows how their inevitable flaws made for a series of débâcles. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, was progressively more embittered over Mr. Blair's repeated reneging on promises to stand down so that Mr. Brown could take over. Even in New Labour's first term, Mr. Brown controlled the domestic landscape by controlling the budget, and thereafter the relation between Mr. Blair and Mr. Brown reminded insiders of a marriage in serious trouble. Mr. Blair, never good at personal confrontations or detail, knew he needed Mr. Brown; Mr. Brown, never as good with people as Mr. Blair and far better on major economic issues than at making the rapid and varied decisions which confront a Prime Minister, knew he needed Mr. Blair. Yet he destroyed Mr. Blair's plan to take the U.K. into the European Single Currency and possibly ended any foreseeable prospect of an informed British debate on the European Union. Paranoid manoeuvrings, spinnings and counter-spinnings, and raging rows occurred all the time, but both protagonists always retreated before the government disintegrated.Another person to dominate much of Mr. Blair's time in office was the former tabloid journalist Alastair Campbell, whose past included a "drink-fuelled psychotic breakdown." Mr. Campbell's world was constituted by tabloid headlines, and his loyalty to Mr. Blair was absolute. He had enormous power in Mr. Blair's entourage, and insiders wondered whether Mr. Blair or Mr. Campbell was the boss. Mr. Campbell finally left some months after Mr. Blair chaired the inner-circle meeting where the decision was made to leak the name of the former U.N. weapons inspector David Kelly, who had told a BBC journalist that the infamous Iraq dossier had been "sexed up"; the leak resulted in Dr. Kelly's apparent suicide after ferocious publicity and a parliamentary committee grilling.
More recently, the Blair-Brown transition and Mr. Brown's domestic struggles which contrast with his authority and decisiveness on the international stage when the world financial crisis started in 2007 and 2008 reveal a government in near-chaos, without a single coherent idea, and unaware of how the voters feel about the destruction of their jobs, their pensions, and their children's futures, not to mention how they feel about unregulated bankers who have been saved by nearly a trillion pounds of taxpayers' money. Yet Mr. Rawnsley says little about substantive policy, about Labour's unseen achievements in doing a great deal, quietly so as not to wake the tabloids, for the substantial numbers of children in poverty after 18 Tory years. He says nothing about the money put into the public services routinely used by all but a tiny fraction of the public an important omission, because vast amounts of the money went only into creating a target-obsessed managerialist régime in which former bus-company bosses run major hospitals, in which finance officers tell surgeons which operations to perform, and in which dozens of inspectorates intimidate dedicated front-line staff. Mr. Rawnsley also omits the unrestrained use of the Private Finance Initiative for capital projects, whereby the state indemnifies private corporations against all manner of documented waste, incompetence, and failure, and he says nothing about New Labour's introduction of reams of repressive legislation, some of which has been badly abused by central and local government.Mr. Rawnsley is nevertheless always absorbing, and he closes with (New) Labour in tatters over the MPs' expenses scandal but before Tory troubles started over the tax status of their own deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft. The public-service cuts Tories love are also yet to bite; British universities alone face cuts of £600 million in the next two years. At the time of writing, opinion polls point to a hung Parliament, and even a possible Labour win. The most venal, mendacious, and repressive British government in over a century could be rescued by an electorate they have treated with contempt. Seldom can the Labour Party have deserved it less. Labour Party? What Labour Party?
A CELEBRATION OF THE "PUTIN DECADE" IN BILATERAL RELATIONS
THERE ARE SIMPLY NO OTHER TWO BIG NATIONS IN THE WORLD THAT HAVE ENJOYED SO CLOSE AND INVARIABLY FRIENDLY RELATIONS FOR SUCH A LONG TIME AS INDIA AND RUSSIA.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's visit to India last week became a celebration of the "Putin Decade" in bilateral relations. It was Mr. Putin's fifth visit to India since 2000, when he became the Russian President, and the first since he stepped down and shifted to the post of Prime Minister two years ago. Notwithstanding the change in Mr. Putin's official status both sides were at pains to make it a president-level visit. This served to emphasise Mr. Putin's role in rebuilding close ties with India after a period of drift in the 1990s.
Speaking at a video conference in New Delhi Mr. Putin stressed that India had been Russia's strategic partner "for decades" by virtue of "near complete concurrence of our geopolitical interests."
Convergence of interests has indeed defined relations between India and Russia for the past 60-odd years. There are simply no other two big nations in the world that have enjoyed so close and invariably friendly relations for such a long time as India and Russia. After the end of the Cold War, when interstate relations were stripped of ideological coats, it took India and Russia time to realise that their shared interests did not depend on the changing global scenarios or on the vagaries of their interaction with other countries.
In the first post-Soviet decade when Russia courted the U.S. in a naive hope of winning a place in the sun in the western world, then President Boris Yeltsin had all but written off Soviet-era special relationship with India as a vestige of the Cold War confrontation. The harsh realisation that geopolitical rivalries with the West did not end with the Cold War dawned on Russian elites towards the end of the 1990s.
Within months of assuming presidency in May 2000 Mr. Putin paid his first visit to India to sign the historic Declaration on Strategic Partnership reconstituting relations between the two nations as geopolitical allies.
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh noted in his statement for the press after talks with Mr. Putin:
"Prime Minister Putin has been the architect of the strategic partnership between India and Russia, and we owe a deep sense of gratitude to him for bringing our two countries so close to each other."
Ever since Mr. Putin's first visit to India Moscow has never swerved from the path of building close strategic ties with India. India today is Russia's most trusted defence partner in the world, including the former Soviet space. Russia is the only country that is prepared to share with India cutting-edge strategic technologies in the construction of military aircraft, ships and missiles.
Much has been said about the acrimony between Delhi and Moscow over the Russian demand for an upward price revision for the Gorshkov overhaul. But the blame for the dispute, which was finally settled during Mr. Putin's visit, should not be placed at the Russian door only. Indian officials must also bear responsibility for signing the original contract on the basis of only a superficial technical inspection of the warship that failed to correctly assess the full volume of the work required.
The U.S. of course has loomed largest on the radar screens of both India and Russia in the 2000s but Moscow has not allowed its ups and downs with Washington to impact ties with New Delhi. During George W. Bush' presidency, when Russian-American relations sank to a post-Cold War low, Russia streamlined and expanded its defence ties with India, shared expertise in building nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, and secured for India observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Today, when Russia's ties with the U.S. are on the rise thanks to President Barack Obama's policy of "reset", Moscow is imparting new dynamism to all-round cooperation with New Delhi. And, as Mr. Putin pointedly reminded to his hosts in New Delhi, Russia has never sold any weapons to Pakistan (despite repeated requests) out of respect for India's concerns.
India's record has not been so consistent. When the Bush administration warmed up to India and signed the landmark nuclear deal, Delhi shifted its goalposts. It signed up with the U.S., Japan and Australia to set up a quadripartite grouping prompting Moscow's concerns about "counter-productive" attempts to set up closed defence alliances. India noticeably lost interest in the SCO, confining its participation to economic issues only, and broke ranks with Russia and China on Iran's nuclear programme. Finally, Delhi shocked Moscow by backing away at the last moment from signing an agreement for the supply of four additional reactors for the Kudankulam plant, presumably out of fears to provoke U.S. displeasure. The 2007 Indo-Russian summit in Moscow where the accord was to be sealed became the frostiest bilateral interaction in years.
Raft of defence deals
Mr. Putin's visit put these problems in the past. Coming barely three months after the annual Indo-Russian summit in Moscow, the visit underscored Russia's desire to take bilateral ties to new highs. The two sides signed of a raft of defence deals to the tune of $4 billion. Russia agreed to provide exclusive access for India to military uses of the GLONASS global positioning system, indispensable for precision targeting of guided missiles. India will partner Russia in the development and manufacture of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft, the most ambitious joint project yet that will enhance India's aircraft-building capabilities and guarantee air superiority for its Air Force for decades to come. In two months India will take delivery of a Russian-built nuclear attack submarine that will give the Indian Navy invaluable experience in operating in future indigenously built nuclear submarines of similar design.
By 2013 Russia will hand over to India the retrofitted Admiral Gorshkov/INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier complete with MiG-29K deck fighters. Another batch of the same planes will provide air power to India's indigenous aircraft carrier that is under construction. In the next few months India and Russia are to sign a contract for the purchase of additional 40 Su-30MKI long-range multi-role fighters, bringing the total number of these aircraft with the Indian Air Force to 230. Also in the pipeline is a joint venture to build a medium-haul military transport aircraft (MTA).
Impressive as the defence deals are they pale in comparison with a breakthrough in the field of nuclear energy. The agreements reached during Mr. Putin's visit pave the way to the supply of up to 16 Russian nuclear reactors to India. More importantly, they provide for technology transfers and progressive indigenisation of supplies for the reactors. Unlike the U.S. Russia did not demand that India pass special legislation to limit the liabilities resulting from possible nuclear accidents. The nuclear accords with Russia should help India resolve remaining problems with operationalising the nuclear pact with the U.S. and fend off possible pressure at the Washington Summit on Nuclear Security next month and the NPT Review Conference soon thereafter.
One big difference
There is no doubt that India needs both Moscow and Washington to advance its strategic interests. And both Russia and the U.S. are eager to expand cooperation with India to advance their own interests. There is one big difference: U.S. interests in the region, for example, vis-à-vis China or Afghanistan, may not coincide with India's, whereas Russian interests do, as Mr. Putin emphasised last week in New Delhi. Russia is not trying to build up India as a bulwark against China and is just as concerned as India about the U.S.-Pakistan plan for re-Talibanisation of Afghanistan.
It is to be hoped that India's renewed focus on Russia is not motivated by New Delhi's current problems with the U.S. or any other country. The Putin Decade should provide conclusive proof that Indo-Russian partnership has enduring value and is not to be neglected in chasing other friendships. Mr. Singh's description of relations with Russia as a "key pillar of our foreign policy" inspires optimism.
A BIT AT A TIME, PRIVACY VANISHES ONLINE
SEEMINGLY INNOCUOUS BITS OF SELF-REVELATION CAN INCREASINGLY BE COLLECTED AND REASSEMBLED BY COMPUTERS TO HELP CREATE A COMPLETE PICTURE OF A PERSON'S IDENTITY.
If a stranger came up to you on the street, would you give him your name, Social Security number and e-mail address?Probably not.
Yet people often dole out all kinds of personal information on the Internet that allows such identifying data to be deduced. Services like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr are oceans of personal minutia birthday greetings sent and received, school and work gossip, photos of family vacations, movies watched and books read.
Computer scientists and policy experts say that such small, seemingly innocuous bits of self-revelation can increasingly be collected and reassembled by computers to help create a complete picture of a person's identity, sometimes down to the Social Security number.
"Technology has rendered the conventional definition of personally identifiable information obsolete," said Maneesha Mithal, associate director of the Federal Trade Commission's privacy division. "You can find out who an individual is without it."
In a class project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that received some attention last year, Carter Jernigan and Behram Mistree analysed more than 4,000 Facebook profiles of MIT students, including links among online friends. The pair created software that predicted, with 78 per cent accuracy, whether a profile belonged to a gay male. The technique was verified using a group of students who had freely identified themselves as gay.
So far, this type of powerful data mining, which relies on sophisticated statistical correlations to build individual dossiers, is mostly in the realm of university researchers, not identity thieves and marketers.
But the FTC is worried that laws and regulations to protect privacy have not kept up with changing technology, and the agency is convening on Wednesday the third of three workshops on the issue. Its concerns are hardly far-fetched. Last fall, Netflix awarded $1 million to a team of statisticians and computer scientists who won a three-year contest to analyse the movie rental history of 500,000 subscribers and improve the predictive accuracy of Netflix's recommendation software by at least 10 per cent.
On Friday, Netflix said that it was shelving plans for a second contest bowing to privacy concerns raised by the FTC and a private litigant. In 2008, a pair of researchers at the University of Texas showed that the customer data released for that first contest, despite being stripped of names and other direct identifying information, could often be "de-anonymised" by statistically analysing an individual's distinctive pattern of movie ratings and recommendations.
In social networks, people can increase their defences against identification by adopting tight privacy controls on information in personal profiles. Yet an individual's actions, researchers say, are rarely enough to protect privacy in the interconnected world of the Internet. You may not disclose personal information, but your online friends and colleagues may do it for you, referring to your school or employer, gender, location and interests. Patterns of social communication, researchers say, are revealing.
"Personal privacy is no longer an individual thing," said Harold Abelson, the computer science professor at MIT. "In today's online world, what your mother told you is true, only more so: people really can judge you by your friends.''
When collected together, the pool of information about each individual can form a distinctive ``social signature,'' researchers say.
The power of computers to identify people from social patterns alone was demonstrated last year in a study by the same pair of researchers that cracked Netflix's anonymous database: Vitaly Shmatikov, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Texas, and Arvind Narayanan, who is now a postgraduate researcher at Stanford University.
By examining correlations between various online accounts, the scientists showed that they could identify more than 30 per cent of the users of both Twitter, the microblogging service, and Flickr, an online photo-sharing service, even though the accounts had been stripped of identifying information like account names and e-mail addresses.
"When you link these large data sets together, a small slice of our behaviour and the structure of our social networks can be identifying," Shmatikov said.
A person's pattern of online communications, he explained, can be assembled into a distinctive social graph, almost like a digitalage fingerprint. In research, the computer-generated predictions are then verified against a data set that includes identifiers.
Even more unnerving to privacy advocates is the work of two researchers from Carnegie Mellon University. In a paper published last year, Alessandro Acquisti and Ralph Gross reported that they could accurately predict the full, nine-digit Social Security numbers for 8.5 per cent of the people born in the United States between 1989 and 2003 nearly 5 million individuals.
Social Security numbers are especially prized by identity thieves because they are used both as identifiers and to authenticate banking, credit card and other transactions.
The Carnegie Mellon researchers used publicly available information from many sources, including profiles on social networks, to narrow their search for two pieces of data crucial to identifying people birthdates and city or state of birth. That helped them figure out the first three digits of each Social Security number, which the government had assigned by location. The remaining six digits had been assigned through methods the government didn't disclose, although they were related to when the person applied for the number. The researchers used projections about those applications as well as other data, such as the Social Security numbers of dead people, and then ran repeated cycles of statistical correlation and inference to partly re-engineer the government's number-assignment system.
To be sure, the work by Acquisti and Gross suggests a potential, not actual, risk. But unpublished research by the two men explores how criminals could use similar techniques and clusters of compromised computers, called botnets, for large-scale identity-theft schemes.
More generally, privacy advocates worry that the new frontiers of data collection, brokering and mining are largely unregulated. Such sophisticated data analysis could open a door to "online redlining," the offering of products and services like bank loans and health care to some consumers and not others based on statistical inferences and predictions about individuals and their behaviour.
The FTC and Congress are weighing a range of steps, from tighter industry requirements to alert consumers about data collection and use to the creation of a "do not track" list, similar to the federal "do not call" list, that would try to stop online monitoring of Internet users who opt out.
But Jon Kleinberg, a professor of computer science at Cornell University who studies social networks, is sceptical that rules will have much impact, given the powerful social pressure to share information online. His advice: "When you're doing stuff online, you should behave as if you're doing it in public because increasingly, it is." ©2010 New York Times News Service
LEADERS' LAVISHNESS AND 'LIFESTYLE AUDITS'
FOR YEARS, PEOPLE HAVE NOTICED A MISMATCH BETWEEN THE INCOME AND THE OUTGO OF MANY WITHIN THE GOVERNING AFRICAN NATIONAL CONGRESS.
Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, has 20 children, three wives and a fiancee. Recently, the matter of how he supports this large and widely dispersed family has been vigorously questioned.
Indeed, the finances of everyone in government are suddenly viewed with a scepticism that often drifts into contempt. Zwelinzima Vavi, a labour leader and longtime ally of Zuma's, is calling for "lifestyle audits" of all senior officials to surmise who is on the take and just how much they are taking.
For years, people have noticed a mismatch between the income and the outgo of many within the governing African National Congress. The ANC is the party of Nelson Mandela, the organisation that liberated the country from apartheid, the home of many heroes now struggling to get rich.
In his novel Black Diamond, Zakes Mda, one of the nation's leading writers, wryly observed, "In this brave new world, accumulation of personal wealth is dressed up in militarism, as if capitalism is the continuation of the guerrilla warfare that was fought during apartheid."
The catalyst for the current demand for accounting is not Zuma but rather the second most quoted member of the ANC, the leader of its youth league, Julius Malema. A virtual unknown two years ago, Malema, 29, is a young man seemingly unwise beyond his years.
His ANC comrades could perhaps tolerate his abuse of political opponents, enjoying how he denounced them as Satanists or demeaned the women as too ugly to marry. He recently insulted the country's Afrikaner minority by leading students in the old struggle chant, 'Kill the farmer, kill the Boer." In a nation where the police say 861 white farmers have been killed since 2001, some deemed this sing-along insensitive to say the least.
But Malema has also turned his tongue on veteran ANC stalwarts, particularly leaders of the party's alliance partners, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, calling them reactionaries. He said the Communists presented themselves as champions of the working class while "they spend most of their time drinking red wine."
Malema is popular in the townships, where most young people delight in the entertainment value of his scalding wit. But he is increasingly despised within his own party's hierarchy and now claims that several ANC leaders are out to "smear" him. This hardly seems implausible.
For a long time, people have wondered how a young man with an impoverished past has collected enough cash to own a fine home in the Johannesburg suburbs. Malema serves Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky and Moet & Chandon champagne at his parties. He wears Gucci suits and a Breitling watch. He walks through poor communities in designer jeans.
In a single weekend last month, three major newspapers published exposés about Malema, asserting that he has amassed a fortune through government contracts steered to businesses in which he owns an interest.
According to The City Press, one company, SGL Engineering Projects, which listed Malema as a director, won $20 million in contracts from municipalities in Malema's home province. The company's earnings have multiplied in just the past two years, even though its work has often been found shoddy, news reports said.
These simultaneous revelations may have been a case of coincidental sleuthing or perhaps closely timed leaks from well-informed enemies.
Under pressure to respond, Malema, speaking through his attorney, said that in 2008 he resigned his directorships in all companies. He insisted that he was unaware that he currently held a position in SGL.
Zuma has routinely supported his pugnacious acolyte, and this time was no different. "I'm not sure Malema has no right to business, on what basis I don't know," the president said.
But blood was in the water, and soon the call for lifestyle audits stretched into the presidency itself. Zuma said such invasive accounting was unnecessary, arguing that by law government officials already were obligated to disclose their business interests, gifts and assets.
The president was correct about that. In fact, by law he was supposed to report the details of his finances within 60 days of assuming office. He was inaugurated 10 months ago but had yet to comply with the ethics code.
On March 10, a week after the news media finally awakened to Zuma's non-compliance and after even some political allies had joined political adversaries in their disapproval the president submitted an accounting of his holdings, though the extent of that disclosure has yet to become public.
As to how he supports all those dependents, part of the answer emerged on Tuesday when Collins Chabane, a minister within the presidency, said the government provided more than $2 million a year for "spousal" support. The examples he gave were for expenses relating to the duties of Zuma's wives in their capacities as first ladies, such as secretaries, air travel, cell phones and computers. No details were given regarding government support for the president's children.
The payment of Zuma's bills has been an issue before. In 2005, a close friend and financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was found guilty of bribing Zuma in return for help in various business deals. The moneybags were open for items big and small: vacations, medical bills, even the allowance for Zuma's children. The trial judge said the two had a "mutually beneficial symbiosis."
Zuma was later charged with 16 counts of fraud, corruption and racketeering. He avoided a trial when prosecutors dismissed the case because of misconduct within their ranks, just weeks before he was sworn in as president.
Shaik, sentenced to 15 years, spent only 28 months in jail before being freed on medical parole in March 2009. At the time, he was said to be near death, though he has since been observed driving around Durban in his BMW X6.
That is not the automobile Malema prefers. He sits behind the wheel of a black C63 MercedesBenz AMG. ©2010 New York Times News Service
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was forthright in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday about inflation being an issue of concern. There is general fear at the back of everyone's minds that inflation could spoil the economic rebound party. Food inflation is still hovering at the high levels of near 18% and general inflation is touching 10%. But inflation does not seem to be the menace that it was for the Indian economy about 20 to 30 years ago. There is greater preparedness to both absorb inflationary pressures and the ability to take reasonably effective counter-measures.
The expectation is that food prices will come down considerably in the next few months as the rabi crop reaches themarkets, and that general inflation could stabilise once the oil price increase is absorbed. But as the economy is moving into top gear with the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) rising by over 16% for January the Reserve Bank of India will have to tweak interest rates and introduce other measures to cool things down to avoid adding fuel to the inflationary fire. This is the technical part of the story and it could turn out either way.
The more crucial aspect is the management of perceptions about inflation. That is why Mukherjee's candour should help the UPA government to survive the inflation-inflicted bruises. There is no denying that high food prices are pinching the poor and the middle classes and government is expected to do something about it. Explanations and rationalisations will not pass muster with the common man who has to balance the monthly household budget. The middle class can grumble and bear with the pressure of inflation but the poor still remain vulnerable.
Government cannot be seen to be helpless in the face of inflation because the expectation however naïve is that it must do something about it. At the moment, apart from Mukherjee, most others in government seem to be indifferent to the general stress and distress caused by inflation. Opposition parties are firing all their guns on the issue and rightly so. It would be a big mistake if government were to believe that inflation is a passing phenomenon and all that needs to be done is to sit out the bad times.
On balance, it is hopes of recovery of healthy growth rates predicted by government, planning commission and International Monetary Fund (IMF) that are stronger than fears of inflation. That is good news in difficult times.
Once again the Maharashtra police has demonstrated its talent for putting its collective foot in its mouth. Last Saturday's announcement by the Anti-Terrorism Squad that it had not only caught two suspected terrorists but that these two had links to Pakistan and were about to bomb ONGC oil tanks,the Thakkar mall in Borivli and other vital installations has angered the Centre. The Union ministry of home affairs has ordered an inquiry into the "leak" of information to the media and demanded action against the officer involved. The Centre is also annoyed that it was kept out of the loop by the Maharashtra government, while "sensitive" information was being released to the media. This incident highlights yet again the inefficiency and factionalism which rules the Maharashtra police and the inability of home minister RR Patil to fix its deep and serious problems. The ATS has through its short life been known more for its grand pronouncements rather than any major breakthroughs and here also has shown that it is incapable of balancing its inherent desire for publicity with the interests of the nation.
In some senses, the Pune blasts at German Bakery earlier this year, the confusion over the attackers, and the lack of intelligence inputs from the central agencies to support the contentions made by the Maharashtra police may have triggered this desire to register a "victory" in the public eye. Yet, if the Mumbai terror attacks made anything clear it is that no local police force is equipped to tackle a major terrorist attack without help from the Centre and from intelligence agencies. The ATS itself suffered greatly during the 2008 attacks when it lost its leader Hemant Karkare.Charge was then handed back to current chief KP Raghuvanshi, who, interestingly, held the post before it was given to Karkare.
Many officers within the force are both media and politician-savvy and they know how to sound right in both quarters. This is no mean skill but has been developed it seems at the expense of real policing. It also seems incredible that the Maharashtra police is unable to fathom that terrorism is a major threat that this country faces and cannot be used as a ploy by ambitious or desperate police officers to try and score points over one another. The overhaul of the Maharashtra police is already long overdue. The state home ministry must now see whether its answer to the Centre can also trigger a cleanup.
NEW WORLD DISORDER
The world is entering a new period of acute instability from which there is no immediate escape. Five tectonic forces will influence the emerging world order, and India will probably be the balancing factor in giving it the right direction.
The first change is the shrinking of America and the west. America's economy is in deep trouble and the only way it can rise from the ashes of the financial meltdown is to lower its consumption and export more. America's problem is that it is consuming more than it produces, and it meets the gap between income and expenditure by borrowing largely from China. If Americans don't consume less, their economic mess will get worse. If they do consume less, the world (largely China) will feel the heat.
Whichever way you look at it, America will have to decline economically and with it will come down its ability to impose Pax Americana. America has to scale down its overconsuming military to improve its economic situation.
Britain is in a mess similar to the US, and western Europe is a sclerotic economy with high unemployment and an innate inability to adjust to changing economic winds. The prognosis for the west, and especially America, is a prolonged Japan-like deflation where the economy is largely stagnant
The second change is the peaking of the Chinese growth engine and its militarisation. China's economic might grew the same way the Russians' and Asian tigers' did: by using up larger and larger amounts of capital. This is like running on steroids. It cannot continue forever. The Chinese engine has been chugging away since 1980, and it has to seize some time. The crisis in its main export market (US) could provide one such trigger. China's export model was always less sustainable than that of the Asian tigers because of its sheer size. The world can absorb the exports surpluses of small tigers, but China is T-Rex. Which is why its growth will peak as America downsizes, and Europe stagnates. In the next five years, Chinese growth rates will start falling as capital investment rates hit unsustainable levels and export demand starts flagging. To keep internal discontent from leading to chaos, China will militarise faster than ever both to terrorise its own people and the world around it.
The third force is the rise of Islamic fundamentalism often with fascist overtones, as evident in the unending growth of terrorism. A decade after 9/11, the terror threat to the world has multiplied rather than reduced, thanks to the existence of undemocratic regimes in much of the Middle East. The lack of democracy aids the forces of fundamentalism in two ways: the regimes in power use Islam to cow down the masses; the masses then get radicalised because they get pushed to the periphery of politics. This phenomenon in the Islamic world is creating parallel fascist forces in the form of Christian fundamentalism in the US, and our own intolerant version of Hindutva.
The fourth factor is the rise of Africa. Africa is the last frontier of civilisation and one half of it is ruled by vile men from the badlands of genocidal Sudan to the autocratic tribalism of Mugabe's Zimbabwe. As the repository of many vital natural resources, the world will be fighting its more bitter wars here with China leading the way. It could also be China's waterloo.
The fifth force is the rise of India mildly secular, imperfectly democratic, and with a messy economic focus that is neither capitalistic nor socialistic. It is from the messiness of Indian ideas that the world could stumble into a new order after a few decades because it is done with "isms". There is no capitalism worth hanging on to, and communism is anyway discredited. The world is searching for a new type of pragmatism that is driven by reality. Which is where India comes in.
India's economic policies are not driven by any particular idea, but by what is possible. They thus veer in one direction for a while and then lurch to the other when the public mood changes. The final synthesis is usually the result of trial and error and therefore more enduring.
Take, for example, economic reforms over the last 10 years. The NDA government tried to hasten public sector disinvestment, but faced a backlash as it was moving too fast. The UPA slowed things down and started a spending spree in the name of the aam aadmi. When this spending reached its limits, and when government coffers started looking empty, selling public sector assets returned and with less political opposition.
It is impossible to predict how the five vectors will interact and reach a new equilibrium, but one thing is clear: the rise of India is the most positive force among them all. It is up to us to play the balancing role right.
PUNJAB STUCK IN FISCAL MESS
In his fourth budget, presented on Tuesday, Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal has missed another chance to raise resources, cut administrative extravagance and arrest Punjab's fiscal deterioration. Driven by politics of populism, the Akali-BJP government frequently relies on debt to meet fiscal commitments. Punjab's debt has risen to a staggering Rs 64,924 crore now and will touch Rs 71,000 crore next year. A budget is often a child of political convenience. The Akali Dal looks after the interests of the rural voters and the BJP of the urban population. Each resists taxes on its supporters.
Though Punjab is heavily taxed petrol here is the costliest in the region the tax load violates the principle of "each paying according to his capacity and need". The Finance Minister could have shifted part of the burden to those who have profited the most in recent years the owners of luxury hotels and marriage palaces, transporters and property dealers. The Finance Minister has hiked the electricity duty by 3 per cent to get Rs 270 crore for the depleted treasury. But why he has lowered the entertainment duty from 125 per cent to 25 per cent to favour multiplexes and theatres defies logic. The reduction of stamp duty in case of transfer of property to women may be a good gesture but not very desirable from the captain of a shuddering ship.
There are five things Mr Manpreet Badal should have done to improve Punjab's finances and accelerate growth. One, he should have confined the power subsidy to farmers owning not more than five acres. Still better, by making every consumer pay, the subsidy bill for power of Rs 3,120 crore could have been diverted to power generation. Paying a little extra may not annoy the people and the industry as much as the frequent power disruptions. Since the Punjab State Electricity Board is fiscally as much on the precipice as the state government and there is no money to buy enough power to meet the growing demand, prolonged power cuts in summer are inevitable. Lack of power has slowed Punjab's industrial and agricultural growth apart from making people sweat it out every summer. To be fair, though they are encouraging private-public partnerships to boost power production, regular coal supplies will have to be ensured for the three upcoming thermal plants.
Two, the government should improve tax recovery. Though the introduction of the VAT has increased the state's tax revenue, evasion is still widespread and Mr Manpreet Badal is aware of it as he is on record having said that one multinational food joint pays more taxes to the government than the entire industry of Ludhiana.
Three, the government has seldom made a serious effort to sell its stakes in public sector units like Punjab Alkalies and PunCom to raise revenue. The Centre is vigorously pursuing disinvestment in PSUs to get additional cash and is also advising the states to follow suit. Yet after the disastrous Punjab Tractors stake sale during a sluggish market, the Punjab government has been hesitant to return to disinvestment. There are many loss-making boards and corporations which are not being wound up but have been kept alive to appoint Akali leaders as their chairpersons. In desperation to meet its financial demands, the government acts as a greedy property dealer, acquiring land from farmers at less-than-market rates and selling plots at exorbitant rates to urbanites. Large chunks of government land are being disposed of to raise money.
Four, despite the deterioration in its finances, the government has not initiated any austerity drive. Punjab politicians, regardless of their political colour, are notorious for extravagance. The Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister annually spend close to Rs 10 crore on helicopter fuel even though one can go from one corner of the state to another in four-five hours by car. A whole battalion of parliamentary secretaries has been deployed to please ruling politicians who could not be adjusted as ministers since the law limits their number. The bloated and top-heavy bureaucracy and police are a drag on the exchequer as also VIP security.
Finally, the Punjab government has not made any effort to make good use of Central funds available through various schemes. Since schemes require part contribution by the state, funds lapse for want of the state share. Despite having a rural vote bank the Akali leadership has failed to spend adequately on rural development. Funds for villages' uplift have remained under-utilised. Though the Badals are trying hard to manage a difficult financial situation and demanding a higher share of the Central taxes, they will have to learn to use public money in a responsible way, avoid wasteful expenditure and work for the state's, and not just their own, growth.
A PLEASE-ALL BJP LIST
GADKARI STICKS TO THE EASY WAY OUT
The BJP is indeed at the crossroads with a crucial unresolved dilemma on whether, under the new Nitin Gadkari dispensation, it would swerve to a harden line or become more accommodative on its Hindutva plank. In that context, the reconstitution of the party's organizational forums which was expected to reveal his mind has flattered to deceive. The running thread in the new appointments is to balance protégés of the old guard of L.K. Advani and Rajnath Singh and of the RSS with some new faces whose ideological moorings are not as strong and as well-defined. The RSS, for instance, has been partially compensated with its nominees Ramlal and Thawarchand Gehlot finding place in the national executive. The Sangh perhaps also had a hand in the exclusion of Shahnawaz Khan who has been relegated to the position of one of the six spokespersons. But two RSS favourites Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie both of them ideologues, have been left out of the national executive.
The kingpin of yesteryears, L.K. Advani, has managed to have his way with his proteges Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu, Ananth Kumar, Arun Jaitley and Vasundhara Raje accommodated in the all-powerful parliamentary board. Former party president Rajnath Singh has also been kept in good humour with Vijay Goel, Thawarchand Gehlot and Arjun Munda finding a place in the team. Significantly, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has managed only a token presence of his supporters. Women have reason to be happy with the one-third representation they have got, but Sushma Swaraj is the lone woman in the crucial parliamentary board. Their representation is essentially among secretaries whose role at the policy-making level will be marginal.
All in all, the BJP list falls below expectations of change. While it is heartening that youth and women have been given greater representation, it is a please-all list with accent on caution in keeping all pressure groups in good humour. How much this will contribute to pulling the BJP out of the morass in which it finds itself is anybody's guess. The party's ideological dilemma, meanwhile, shows no signs of resolution.
TIME FOR PROACTIVE DIPLOMACY
BY G. PARTHASARATHY
As a matter of form and practice, ministers and officials are required to be seen and not heard, except when specifically authorised to speak publicly while accompanying the Prime Minister on official visits abroad. It is a pity that Mr Shashi Tharoor chose to pontificate on substantive issues even before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had met Saudi Monarch King Abdullah in Riyadh, stirring up an avoidable controversy during a visit of immense geostrategic importance to India.
Saudi Arabia is, after all, the largest oil producer in the world, located in a turbulent region, where around two-thirds of the world's oil supplies come from. Around 1.8 million Indians live in Saudi Arabia and contribute to the $55 billion that Indian expatriates remit annually to their country. Moreover, Saudi Arabia has agreed to join India in a strategic partnership which would cover not only enhanced oil supplies for India, but also promote closer ties in areas ranging from defence and space technology to investment in India's petrochemical sector, apart from the exchange of information on terrorism and money laundering.
The India-Saudi Arabia summit took place amidst new tensions in the Gulf region, arising from the deep suspicions that have characterised the Persian-Arab rivalries over the centuries. The American invasion of Iraq and the replacement of a Sunni-minority government by a majority Shia-led coalition under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have added a new element of bitter Shia-Sunni antagonisms to the existing Persian-Arab differences. The Shia-dominated regime in Iraq complains bitterly of Saudi attempts to destabilise it by backing the elements linked to the Sunni-dominated Baath Party, founded by Saddam Hussein. It has also complained of the attitude of its other Arab Sunni neighbours Egypt and Jordan.
Iran alleges mistreatment of its Haj pilgrims and support for its opposition groups by Saudi Arabia. In Northern Yemen, Saudi Arabian and Yemeni forces are battling an insurgency by Yemen's Houthi Shias, evidently backed by Iran. Under pressure from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the "Arabsat" has discontinued facilities for Iran's Arabic language news and television networks, beamed to the Arab world. Fearful of Iran, the six-nation Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is closely allied to the United States, determined to contain Iran's regime.
Entering into this cauldron of civilisational and sectarian rivalries are tensions arising from Iran's nuclear ambitions. Despite Iranian denials, its nuclear programme is, at the very least, designed to give the country a nuclear weapons capability and keep its nuclear options open. Given the Iranian regime's hostility towards Israel, exacerbated by intemperate statements by President Ahmedinejad that Israel should be "wiped out" of the map, Tel Aviv has threatened to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. For the past five months, the US, backed by the UK, France and Germany, has endeavoured to get the Security Council to impose "crippling sanctions" on Iran through measures like banning the sale of refined petroleum products to Iran. They have also proposed sanctions that would cover Iran's Central Bank and a number of firms and individuals linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, apart from shipping, insurance and banking industries.
Faced with opposition from Russia and China, the Americans would inevitably be forced to water down their proposals and postpone the February deadline they had set for imposing sanctions to May. Within the Security Council, countries like Brazil and Turkey have also made it clear that they do not favour the American fervour for "crippling sanctions" against Iran.
It is not just Israel and the US that are concerned at Iran's nuclear ambitions. Saudi Arabia and Iran's Arab GCC neighbours do not relish the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Moreover, unlike Iran, Saudi Arabia has taken a constructive approach towards a peace settlement in the West Asia, which would guarantee Israel's right to exist in security, side by side with a viable Palestinian state. Given this background, Dr. Manmohan Singh and King Abdullah had no difficulty in agreeing on the need for a "two-state solution" to the West Asian impasse an issue on which India and Iran have little common ground.
While Arab states may make pro forma noises about India's relations with Israel, the reality is that most Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, have either overt or covert links with the Jewish state. But the issue of Iran's nuclear programme will not go away and New Delhi will have to keep a close watch on the possibilities of Saudi Arabia and others seeking a nuclear umbrella from their Sunni ally, Pakistan. Saudi Defence Minister Prince Sultan has visited Pakistan's nuclear facilities in Kahuta and Dr A.Q. Khan has been effusively welcomed in the past in Riyadh.
There has to be a measure of realism in India's relations with major powers in the Gulf region. Despite the best intentions of King Abdullah, concerns do remain about the funding of Wahabi radical Islamic organisations across South Asia by Saudi "charities", and the kingdom has not exactly shown understanding for Indian sensitivities by stewarding the Organisation of Islamic Conference moves on Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, while India and Saudi Arabia expressed support for the values enshrined in the Constitution of Afghanistan, it has to be remembered that the kingdom had backed the Taliban and changed its position only because Mullah Omar remained closely allied to Osama bin Laden.
One should not presume that Saudi Arabia will remain averse to a return of the Taliban if Mullah Omar is marginalised and the Taliban links with Osama bin Laden terminated. Given the anxiety of NATO countries in Afghanistan to strike a deal with the Taliban, it is imperative for New Delhi to retain close ties with Tehran, which shares its aversion for the return of Taliban extremism to Kabul. Moreover, Iraq is aiming to increase its oil production from 2 million barrels per day (bpd) to 12 million bpd in the coming few years, with Karbala and Najaf re-emerging as major centres of influence in Shia Islam. We have been less than proactive in building relations with the post-Saddam dispensation in Iraq.
New Delhi no longer has the luxury of remaining aloof from these developments in its western neighbourhood, as it will be compelled to take positions on these issues when it becomes a non-permanent member of the Security Council later this year. India can position itself to play a pro-active role in the oil-rich Gulf region by more imaginative diplomacy in the future. Much more can and should be done for increasing our investment and participation in the exploration, production and utilisation of the oil and gas resources in our western neighbourhood.
SHE AND ME
BY J.L. GUPTA
It was a hot day and her aunt's house. She was with her parents. And I too was not alone. We had met briefly under the watchful eyes of elders. Even seen a movie together. Finally, about a year later, we were tied in wedlock. Since then, almost 45 years have imperceptibly passed. We have climbed the ladder of life. Gradually graduated as grandparents. Now, the grand children are entering the teens. And happily, as I look back, I say a silent prayer. Thank the Lord for His blessings.
Love is an ideal. Marriage is a reality. "Chain of wedlock is heavy. It needs two to carry it". And no two beings are alike. They differ. We also do. In a variety of ways. I like blue. She prefers pink. I like roughage in food. She looks for food in roughage. I never remember anniversaries or birthdays. She never forgets any. Sometimes, I like to splurge. She believes that economy is a source of revenue. I have been "naughty". She totally disciplined. Initially, we found faults in each other. Slowly, we learnt to live with each other.
She has used her university degrees usefully. Put education to a perfectly practical purpose. The knowledge of chemistry still helps her to cook. Geography to know the four walls of the house and her surroundings. Economics to avoid extravagance. The family has been her whole world. She has willingly borne the burden of daily chores. She has been our audience. A faithful friend. A caring nurse. A sweetheart. The loving looks, perfect purity and tenderness have been her assets. Happiness of the family has been her sole pleasure.
She has silently suffered the wear and tear. Not surprisingly, today she has twinges in her hinges. There is a continuous conflict between the willpower and waistline. Still, love is her livery. Smile is the sole "wrinkle" on her face. She has really made life worth living. For all of us. Her immediate as well as extended family.
We still have words. But usually, I do not get to use mine. "Haar maani" has been the secret of our harmony. And I always have the last word I apologise. On her part, she has spent 45 years to change my habits. So, she cannot say that I am not the one she had once met. Or that she had married a man and not a mouse.
But please imagine If the cat and mouse lie together, can the mouse sleep? Thanks to this totally domesticated cat, I do! Like a log of wood. But only when she is with me.
POLITICS OVER PACKAGE
HP INDUSTRY SHOULD KEEP OFF CRUTCHES
BY PINKI SHARMA
Liberalisation has spurred India towards becoming a developed nation. However, the Indian economy is marred by grave regional disparities. Because of this the fruits of development are not reaching all people equitably. If these disparities are not remedied immediately, then they may result in undesirable social and economic consequences.
There are two arguments for public policy for regional equality. The equity argument which states that all citizens are entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunity regardless of where they live and the efficiency argument according to which below average productivity in certain regions represents an under-utilisation of resources.
Serious regional imbalances resulted during planned development despite balanced regional development being endorsed as one of the principal objectives of economic planning as it was completely ignored by our planners and licensing authorities.
The latest economic survey reveals that Himachal Pradesh has been able to attract only 0.52 per cent of the total investment in the industrial sector in the country since 1952. Around 99 per cent of the investment is in small-scale units.
However, Himachal Pradesh has achieved a high level of human development even with low level of economic development. The backward economic structure is indicated by the low share of industries in the SGDP of Himachal Pradesh that has increased from 1.1% in 1950-51 to 9.4% in 1990-91 and further to 10.7% in 2007-08. This reflects a low level of industrialisation in Himachal Pradesh.
Since the planning era, efforts have been made to influence firms' location decisions by devising incentive policies. The main objective of these incentives, concessions and subsidies has been to encourage investment in the backward states to make or to enable the units to become more competitive and to establish them at the initial infant stages.
For a hill state like Himachal Pradesh, where the cost of production is high due to a difficult terrain and inadequate industrial infrastructure, these subsidies are justified to offset the locational disadvantages and to make the prices and the products competitive with the goods produced by units set up in the neighbouring states.
The coordination with which both the Congress and the BJP are working to ensure the extension of the Special Industrial Package to 2013, is indeed welcome. However, it is unfortunate that the Punjab Government has recently moved the Supreme Court challenging the federal government's fiscal sops for industrial development in the neighbouring states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It contended that the discriminatory fiscal incentives had led to an exodus of industries from Punjab. On same logic Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are also opposing these fiscal incentives.
However, the grant of industrial package to Himachal Pradesh is justified as there is no appreciable flight of industries from any of the neighbouring states. The fact is that several leading industrial houses from all over India have set up new units in Himachal Pradesh to derive benefits from the tax holiday. Moreover, the Centre has already extended the package for Jammu & Kashmir and the north-eastern states.
It must be realised that under the Green Revolution the scarce resources were channelled by the Government of India in selected areas, predominantly Punjab and Haryana. Even today the benefits of massive public funds spent on agricultural and food subsidies are mostly cornered by the farmers in Punjab and Haryana. Moreover, Punjab and Haryana have always received the highest per capita plan outlays. Has any state objected to this anomaly?
The special package has made a positive impact on the industrial growth of the state and withdrawal of these benefits may adversely impact the process of economic development. According to the Economic Survey, Himachal Pradesh 2008-09, there are 401 medium and large industries and about 35,427 small scale industries with a total investment of about Rs 7737.73 crore working in the state. These industries provide employment to about 2.24 lakh persons.
But if we analyse the data received from the government by various NGOs through the RTI Act, it would be revealed that only a small percentage of these jobs have gone to bona fide Himachalis which is a gross contravention of the HP Industrial Policy.
Over a period of time, it has been realised that fiscal incentives have invariably led to the creation of inefficient and uncompetitive industry, which may not be able to sustain itself in the long run.
The positive impact of the special package is concentrated in a few border areas. Most of the industrial units set up in the state are merely screw-driver industries which are indulging in assembly and packaging of products actually manufactured in other states. Their only motive is to avail the fiscal incentives. If the industrial package is not extended, these industrial units would be the first to fly out of the state.
Most of these units, basically located in Parwanoo, Baddi and Nalagarh, are running in leased and rented complexes because they seem to have no intention of permanently working in the state. When a school or college is required to have the ownership of land and building for seeking affiliation, then why a similar condition cannot be imposed on these industrial units for availing the benefits of fiscal incentives? Simultaneously, there is a need to enforce some minimum value addition criteria for availing fiscal incentives to ensure sustainable industrialisation of the state.
In addition, with changes and modifications being introduced in the taxation policy and reforms initiatives like the introduction of VAT and GST, incentives to industry need to be looked at afresh. Thus it is imperative that we move towards a policy of gradual phasing out of subsidies. Such initiatives coupled with an increased stress on the provision of quality infrastructure will help create conducive environment for industrial growth and attract both foreign and domestic investments.
Infrastructure improvement can play a key role in efforts to encourage investment in Himachal Pradesh. Reduction in trade and transport cost, by affecting the balance between dispersion and agglomeration forces can decisively affect the spatial location of economic activities. Transport infrastructure should increasingly be used as a regional policy instrument. Himachal Pradesh should learn from the experiences of Japan and Switzerland, which have overcome physical geographical constraints and handicaps of mountainous terrain to become developed nations.
The state government, industrialists and the general public must realise and understand that the special Industrial Package and other incentives and subsidies cannot be continued forever. Therefore, all efforts must be made to reduce the dependence on such fiscal sops. The Special Industrial Package, if extended, should not be considered an achievement but taken as an opportunity for concerted action and political and administrative determination for taking some hard decisions.
The writer is the Principal, Trivenee School of Excellence, Paonta Sahib, HP
BY JAMES CORRIGAN
Of all the staggering Tiger Woods victories, none would compare to the fifth Green Jacket he plans to don on 11 April. The time he won his first major a record 15 shots? Pah. How about the time he won a major on one leg? Nothing but a walk n well, hobble, in the park.
Believe it, the Masters of 2010 would eclipse all of the above n and do so totally. When the 34-year-old tees it up at Augusta in 22 days, he will not have played competitively in almost five months. No Masters champion has ever prevailed when making the tournament his curtain-raiser for the year.
Yet if only the hurdles facing Woods were that straight-forward. He will not only have to shake off the rust and make history, but also withstand the scrutiny of the world. Not even the controlled environs of Augusta will protect him from that intense pressure.
To say this will be the most watched golf event in the sport's history is less a prediction and more a statement of fact. The president of CBS, the US network which has just landed the televisual equivalent of the lottery, declared it would be "the biggest media event other than the Obama inauguration in the past 10 or 15 years". Maybe Sean McManus went over the top, but his hyperbole was perhaps forgivable. After all, it is hard to imagine any other sporting superstar being able to stop the globe by reading out a mea culpa statement like Woods did last month.
Since that crash into a fire hydrant last November, the revelations of his extra-marital affairs have transported Woods from the Jock mags to the scandal sheets, from the locker rooms to the kitchens, from the sports stations to the comic halls. From being the most revered sportsman on the planet, he became the most ridiculed of men. How will he handle that new vulnerability when he returns to the arena in which he is supposed to be impervious? That is the question which should command the attention as much as the shape of his game itself. If only.
After all the waiting and speculating, so shall start the recriminating: Woods was clearly insincere in that "tear-provoking" performance last month; Woods has dared to turn the Masters into "The Tiger Woods Show"; it should be all about Augusta, instead it will be about the character who in Roman circles might well have been renamed "Disgusta"; far from "viewing this tournament with great respect" (as Woods put it in yesterday's announcement) he is showing the Masters no respect whatsoever; Woods is doing so because he cannot handle the flak he would receive off the normal fan and because of questions he would take from the more inquisitive sections of the media.
That was the reaction in golfing circles last night, and even his blindest apologist might find it hard to argue.
Woods also stated that "the majors have been the special focus in my career". If so, why is he electing not to play an event beforehand? Nobody can genuinely believe that skipping next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational assists Woods in his preparations to win a 15th major.
Indeed, his first few days in Georgia might be very uncomfortable. And then the golf will start. Heckling is not acceptable at the Masters and any "patrons" heard making disparaging remarks will be removed forthwith, never to re-enter. The focus will be solely on his golf. And that is how he wants it. Woods knows that if he wins, the road to redemption will shrink to the size of Magnolia Lane. His sporting prowess will banish the mistresses to the margins, the sponsors will return in droves and the game of golf will hail the superstar whose startling re-emergence will doubtless replenish their emptying coffers. First and foremost, Woods will be the game's best-ever player again.
By arrangement with The Independent
MOVIES MAKE AND BREAK COUPLES
BY GEOFFREY MACNAB
Kate Winslet and her husband, Sam Mendes, worked together on Revolutionary Road. The 2008 film, for which Winslet won a Golden Globe, offers a very dark account of a marriage in 1950s America coming apart at the seams. The seemingly devoted husband (Leonardo DiCaprio) and wife (Winslet) realise that they're not quite as compatible as they had thought. A deadening sense of disappointment and anticlimax clouds their lives together as they contemplate the life they once dreamed of having.
In the film's aftermath, the Mendes/Winslet marriage itself reportedly began to fray. This, though, is far from the first instance of a couple working together and then drifting apart. Movies make and break couples. In the hothouse atmosphere of a film set, tensions are exposed and emotions unleashed that can't always be suppressed once the cameras stop rolling.
When Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman split up after 10 years together in early 2001, it was claimed by their publicists that their respective work commitments had prevented them spending time together. However, it wasn't so long before their split that Cruise and Kidman had been working alongside one another over many months in intense circumstances for Stanley Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut, released in 2001. This adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's Dream Story was itself a claustrophobic psycho-drama about a marriage coming under intense strain.
There was a ferocious intensity in the performances that Ingrid Bergman gave in films like Stromboli and Voyage to Italy for Roberto Rossellini. She had scandalised Hollywood by starting an affair with Rossellini while married to another man. She subsequently married Rossellini, but they divorced in 1957. Combining their private and professional lives was clearly more than their marriage could withstand.
"Drama and film are incontrovertibly two professions that are immensely erotically charged," the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman said in an interview late in his life. He talked of the "incredibly pleasurable tensions" that the quest for perfection shared by him and his actors could cause. The tensions may have been pleasurable, but they were potentially destructive, too. As is well chronicled, Bergman had several affairs with his collaborators.
Sometimes, movies have helped keep couples together. During her marriage to Jean-Luc Godard in the 1960s, actress Anna Karina used to feel far more stable when they were working on a movie. It was in the lulls between films that cracks began to appear.
Godard would tell her he was off to buy a packet of cigarettes n and then would vanish for weeks on end. The filmmaker went abroad on mini-pilgrimages to meet famous writers and directors without telling Karina where he was going. "I'd sit and wait in front of the phone. At that time, there were no answering machines," the actress recalled. By contrast, when they were on set together, she at least knew exactly where he was.
Gena Rowlands gave some searing performances in her husband John Cassavetes' films, invariably playing women on the edge. Whatever emotional turbulence characterised films like Opening Night and Gloria, it didn't seem to spill into domestic life.
In the heyday of the studio era, Hollywood specialised in stories that brought together the man and the woman by the end of the final reel. And what happened on-screen was often reflected behind the cameras. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton began an affair during the making of Cleopatra that would eventually lead to their marrying, not once but twice. When they hurled insults at each other in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, they brought a venom to their roles that only a couple who know each other intimately could hope to match.
Movie stars or filmmakers getting divorced is hardly a shock. It comes with the territory. Lana Turner, for example, ran through seven husbands. ("There is something ridiculous about a woman who takes seven husbands, as if she had rummaged through the drawers of masculinity and come up with seven dwarfs," John Updike wrote of her.)
By arrangement with The Independent
ARE YOU LOSING YOUR TONGUE?
GEORGE ORWELL WARNED AGAINST USING READYMADE PHRASES, WHICH ALLOW THE USER TO AVOID ANY SERIOUS THINKING, ANY MATCHING OF WORD TO MEANING AND PURPOSE
Recently, I've read a number of accounts of languages dying out, or in danger of dying out, of forgotten voices that various groups are trying to bring back to the attention of the public. A moving account of the death of Boa Sr, who was 85, and the last speaker of Bo in the Andamans appeared in The Independent Online, and on several other sites. They all quote Prof Anvita Abbi of JNU who runs the Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamans (Voga) Web site, who said, "After the death of her parents Boa was the last Bo speaker for 30 to 40 years." But she was not just a linguistic phenomenon. "She was often very lonely and had to learn an Andamanese version of Hindi in order to communicate with people. But throughout her life she had a very good sense of humour and her smile and full-throated laughter were infectious."
Languages in the Andamans, a linguistically diverse area, are thought to have originated in Africa and are about 70,000 years old. But the islands have faced familiar problems: outsiders have brought new diseases, and there is a serious problem with alcohol abuse. One group, the Sentinilese, we are told by the Independent, want no contact with the outside world at all. One of the members of the tribe "was famously photographed aiming a bow and arrow at an emergency helicopter," after the tsunami. The Indian Government policy is to make no further contact with them.
But the death of the last speaker of a language isn't the only way to lose one's language. George Orwell, in his classic essay Politics and the English Language (1946), was already warning against allowing the use of language to decay. The phrase "collateral damage" was not yet in use, but he warned against euphemisms used by politicians to hide bitter truths. He warned against readymade phrases, put together like a pre-fabricated house, which allowed the user to avoid any serious thinking, any matching of word to meaning and purpose.
Orwell writes, "A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."
Supermodel Erin Wasson, quoted in The Independent a few days ago, talking about her interest in "homeless chic" is a perfect example of what Orwell was talking about. She says, "When I see the homeless, like, I'm like, 'Oh my God, they're pulling out, like, crazy looks and they, like, pull shit out of like, garbage cans."
Of course, this form of speech catches on very quickly here. If something is a "tad" overdone abroad, it becomes a tad overdone here almost overnight. If someone is "arm candy" abroad, men and women suddenly become arm candy here, unless he/she is "the significant other."
Orwell says the decline of language is reversible. I'm going to break one of his rules (and mine) here and use a cliché. Where there's a will there's a way. There are plenty of ways, but no will, I'm afraid. A friend once asked me if my rants against language abuse have any effect. The short answer is, of course not. Perhaps I should employ the kind of busybody who, after the ban on smoking, patrolled streets to nab people who were smoking. Anyone caught speaking or writing sloppily will have to do a hundred push-ups.
PAYING THE PIPER
PAID NEWS AND ELECTORAL MALPRACTICE
It is heartening for this newspaper to see all major political parties lend their support to the campaign against paid news launched by the Editors' Guild of India. Paid news is a phenomenon that attracted public attention last year during the elections when it came to light that some political parties and candidates had paid news organisations not for advertising time or space but for news time or space, and got published or aired news favourable to them. While it is true that there are many among both political parties and the media guilty of encouraging this unwholesome phenomenon of paid news, the fact also is that there is a sizeable section of upright opinion both among politicians and journalists who resent and abhor this practice. Hence, increasing the circle of dissenters is important to outlawing the practice. At a recent meeting of representatives of the media and political parties, it was suggested that the law should be amended to make the phenomenon of paid news an electoral malpractice attracting the severest punishment of the guilty being debarred from holding public office. Equally, the guilty media organisation should also receive an equally onerous punishment. While such penal actions may become necessary to reverse this phenomenon, it can also be arrested with the help of public opinion. The very fact that paid news has become a subject of widespread discussion and general condemnation is good in itself. This will, without doubt, discourage borderline cases from committing the crime, even if diehard sinners are unlikely to be deterred by it. In ensuring that the media upholds the highest principles of honesty, integrity and transparency, social boycott can be as effective as governmental fiat. In fact, any legal bar can easily encourage corruption of other sorts, offering rental incomes to an assortment of door-keepers and law-makers.
Some years ago, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) proposed a code of conduct for business journalists. Representatives of the media resisted such "external" interference in the media and claimed that news organisations have adequate internal checks and balances and self-imposed codes of conduct that would punish, if not prevent, such misuse of freedom of the press. Experience shows that all media organisations do not enforce such codes of conduct with equal gusto. The laggards get away with murder. Even so, the best guarantee against misuse of media freedom is professional transparency, organisational accountability and strict implementation of consensually arrived at professional codes of conduct. Once a governmental organisation is given the freedom to impose such a code on the media, it is not difficult to imagine how politicians in power can misuse authority. The phenomenon of paid news should perhaps be made an electoral offence. But long before the government acts on that suggestion, professional media organisations can do more by shaming in public known offenders both politicians and mediapersons who actively encourage such unprofessional conduct.
MNREGS WAGES CANNOT BE THE MINIMUM WAGE
It is true that, at 119 crore person-days, the employment created this year by the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS), the government's flagship programme, is tiny, a fraction of one percentage point of the total employment in the country. But a more meaningful way of looking at its potential impact, however, is to see that around half the country's workforce has registered for a job under it (21.5 crore individuals have registered for MNREGS job cards so far this year, and 9.7 crore have got them, out of the total workforce of around 45 crore). In other words, in just three years, the programme has come a long way. Indeed, while there are no all-India figures, there are enough reports of a shortage of labour for agriculture in several key states in the harvesting season. This, in turn, has led to wage rates in the country going up. In other words, what various minimum-wage statutes and the large bureaucracy that mans them haven't been able to achieve, the MNREGS has achieved in a relatively short period of time.
The success of the scheme, however, is also its main weakness. What was started as a social security scheme to provide employment in times of need has now morphed into a full-fledged employment programme that is in danger of supplanting the labour market it was meant to supplement. To begin with, the government changed the definition of those entitled to a job under the scheme from just one member per household to any adult member theoretically, this at least doubled the number of potential beneficiaries. The daily wage rates offered, ranging from Rs 84 to Rs 99 this year, are also far in excess of the wages for casual employees across the country while a higher MNREGS wage is a good thing from the point of view of what it does for wage levels, it distorts the market. So, in a situation where employers do not pay the minimum wages in rural areas (typically, wage levels rise during harvest and sowing seasons), a typical family may prefer the option of registering for the government scheme at a higher wage. What this will do to employment is anyone's guess and depends on whether workers choose to use the government jobs, which are available for only 100 days a year, to supplement or supplant their current work patterns all of this underscores the need for India to get real-time employment data. This can only get worse with the passage of time. For one, there is the demand to increase wage rates further Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is on record, in his Budget speech last year, to provide a real wage (indexed to inflation, that is) of Rs 100 per day as an "entitlement". In other words, as time goes by, MNREGS is taking on the form of an entitlement and not as a payment for a minimum amount of work done. If the government is keen to ensure it does not hamper genuine job creation, it needs to rethink the MNREGS and the wage levels under it. Also, if rural workers are going to get a direct cash transfer, or close to it, the government may wish to rethink other programmes, such as the Right to Food one, that are also aimed at ensuring a higher standard of living for people in these areas
Y VENUGOPAL REDDY: REVISITING THE TOBIN TAX
IT HAS IMMENSE POTENTIAL WHEN USED ALONG WITH COMPLEMENTARY POLICIES SUCH AS COUNTER-CYCLICAL AND MACRO-PRUDENTIAL MEASURES
Y VENUGOPAL REDDY
The global financial crisis has reopened the debate on the relevance and effectiveness of a Tobin tax on global capital flows. It is now argued that the ill effects of volatility and the risks of volatility are inherent to all financial markets and not currency markets alone. Lord Turner of the UK noted that several parts of the financial sector growth are in excess of socially desirable levels. Some developing countries have found it necessary to moderate capital flows through use of several instruments, of which a Tobin tax is one of the measures undertaken.
The main arguments of those who oppose taxes, such as the Tobin tax, are based on non-feasibility and sometimes acceptance, even as a temporary measure to get over the crisis. It is sometimes argued that measures such as the Tobin tax are not effective over the long run, but may be useful in the context of a crisis. The objective of the Tobin tax is clearly to prevent the eruption of volatility and, therefore, to argue that it should not be taken up before the event is somewhat surprising.
It will be useful to briefly review the experience in regard to such taxes, or measures that have the effect of such a tax. A quick review of the literature available on the subject leads to some very general observations: (a) The experience of Thailand has not been very positive in terms of realising the objectives. However, it may be argued that adequate determination of public policy to implement the measures to curtail inflows including a tax was not evident. In any case, the possible volatility in the absence of such measures is difficult to assess. (b) In Columbia, the capital controls reduced external borrowings, but the overall impact is not clear. (c) In Chile, there has been a reduction of short-term flows and some injunction of stability, and to that extent, the taxes may be considered partially effective. However, quasi-fiscal losses, lower investment and growth cannot be ruled out. (d) In Malaysia, the intended results were obtained on all fronts. It is noteworthy that there was a display of determination of public policy in intervention and coordination of several policies. (e) In Brazil, it is still early to draw conclusions, but the tax appears to have achieved some of its intended results, according to the Institute of International Finance. (f) Both China and India have taken recourse to several measures that have had the effect of the Tobin tax in some ways. The empirical evidence in terms of stability and longer-term growth is noteworthy.
While it is difficult to generalise, cross- country analysis made so far seems to indicate that capital account management, in particular measures like the Tobin tax, has the effect of dampening of flows in the short run. There is some change in the composition of flows towards the longer term. The non-financial direct investment is relatively unaffected. The longer-term implications on growth are not easy to assess. Often, these measures had been undertaken in the context of a crisis, and it is difficult to judge the position if these actions had not been taken. In brief, there is no evidence of serious downside risks of capital account management and recourse to the Tobin tax.
It may be useful to review, in this context, the variety of taxes on transactions in financial sector that are in place at the moment. These taxes vary between different countries. An examination of these taxes would show that distortionary effects of such taxes on efficiency of financial sector or profitability of financial sector should not be assumed. Stamp duties are outdated, but they are not inconceivable. In many countries, there are financial transaction taxes (including on repos, swaps, etc.), and there are also turnover taxes on financial institutions. There are value-added taxes on the financial sector. Taxes on bank debits and credits are not uncommon. In brief, such taxes, similar to the Tobin tax, are in vogue in a wide variety of national jurisdictions including China, Philippines, Argentina and Israel. There are also proposals for withholding taxes of all profit capital inflows.
It is essential to address the issue of excessive reliance on market mechanisms and, in particular, the excessive growth of financial sector. Hence, there is considerable merit in countries insisting on keeping the option of levying taxes on all financial transactions as a matter of public policy. Such a tax may ideally cover several financial markets and, in particular, currency markets. A tax regime in position even with nominal rates would be advisable so that the financial markets are aware of the instrument at the command of public policy and willingness to use it. The experience in regard to benign neglect of asset bubbles in the recent crisis and preference to counter-cyclical policies provides logic for putting in place mechanisms similar to the Tobin tax on a continuous basis.
The measurable downside of such taxes appears to be negligible. While it is held that the Tobin tax may be ineffective, it has never been the case that it has toxic potential such as financial innovations. It is true that revenue is uncertain, and it is also true that international agreement on such taxes and distribution of such revenues are difficult, but difficulties have not deterred cooperation in many initiatives. The case for the Tobin tax is well established now to meet the objectives set by Professor Tobin, and revenue is an additional attraction. It cannot be the case that the Tobin tax by itself would be effective, but it has immense potential when the instrument is used along with complementary policies, in particular, counter-cyclical and macro-prudential measures.
A review of the existing taxes in some jurisdictions would point to the feasibility of such taxes at the national level. International coordination for levy of such taxes must be pursued vigorously, but national-level initiatives for the Tobin tax as part of measures to achieve financial stability by individual countries also has much to commend for itself. It is undeniable that globally-coordinated action will enhance the effectiveness of policies at the national level.
Extracts from a talk delivered by the former RBI Governor in Brussels on March 15.
The full version is available at:
LET'S HEAR IT FOR BRAZIL
BRAZIL PLANS TO BREAK IP RIGHTS ON AMERICAN DRUGS, MUSIC, SOFTWARE AND MOVIES AS RETALIATION FOR ITS COTTON SUBSIDIES
At a recent UNDP consultation on access to affordable medicines, I was struck by the presentation made by Juliana Borges Vallini, a young woman from Brazil. Vallini is head of intellectual property (IP) for the Ministry of Health's programme on HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, and her job is to ensure that the ministry has access to the most affordable drugs needed to treat Brazilians suffering from either of these conditions. Health is a fundamental right in Brazil and the country guarantees universal access to treatment. In 2008, it spent as much as $640 million just for treating its 190,000 AIDS patients.
Indian delegates could only look on in envy as she explained how Brazil went about ensuring healthcare "as a citizen's right and the duty of the state to provide it". Affordable drugs are key to this programme and the country has not baulked at tough patent battles with the global pharmaceutical giants in an effort to get them to reduce the steep prices for life-saving medicines. Quite often, the mere threat of breaking the patents on the drugs has worked for Brazil as it has with Thailand.
The one time that Brazil did break the patent was in 2007 when it issued a compulsory licence an option provided by the World Trade Organisation's (WTO's) agreement on IP rights or TRIPS as it is called for Efavirenz, which is used to treat HIV/AIDS. Initially, the compulsory licence was used to import the drug from Indian generic firms but later the country's own public sector manufacturer PharManguinhus took up production of the drug. Brazil has a well thought out strategy that deploys all the options available to developing countries to ensure access to medicines for the poor. It has used compulsory licensing and the competition law, and Vallini revealed that she works closely with the judiciary to explain the implications of IP rights on the country's public health policy. Negotiation, however, is the primary tool it uses because Brazil is not against IP rights per se.
The same clarity and firmness of purpose are evident in the way Brazil has handled its trade dispute with the US over its illegal cotton subsidies. Its decision last week to apply sharply jacked up tariffs on 102 American products along with the plans to retaliate against US intellectual property rights, has the world riveted. The eight-year-old dispute centres on the illegal cotton subsidies given by the US government to its cotton farmers to protect them against price downturns and after the long drawn out case, Brazil was awarded the right to apply up to $829 million in higher tariffs and cross retaliation by a WTO arbitration panel the first time the WTO had allowed a country to take retaliatory measures in sectors other than in the one that had been caused injury.
Last week, as the Chamber of Foreign Trade of Brazil (Camex) released a list of 102 products that will be slapped with surtaxes totalling $591 million, it was clear that Brazil meant business. It will also collect another $238 million from the services sector and IP rights that US companies hold. What is interesting for everyone and this column in particular is how the cross retaliation will work. The measures announced by Brasilia boil down to a simple fact: Pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and chemicals apart from Hollywood films, American software, music and books will lose their IP protection. A range of options will be used against American IP owners from reducing the term of IP protection to licensing technology without the authorisation of the right-holder (with or without remuneration); suspending a patent holder's exclusive right of importation; and assessing taxes on royalty payments.
What is remarkable is that Brazil has taken its time to retaliate although provocation has been severe. The US has been dismissive of the trade row, and even last week it had spoken slightingly of the issue when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a press conference that "I feel like I have walked into a movie that has been going on for years". That film may have started jump now since Brazil has changed the script rather dramatically.
This is not the first time that Brazil has taken a swipe at IP law as laid down by the rich nations. An early warrior in this unequal fight was Gilberto Gil, a composer-singer who was minister of culture from 2003-2008. He joined up with Lawrence Lessig, the Stanford University professor and online-rights activist to promote Creative Commons which offers an alternative to the highly restrictive terms of copyright.
Is the Ministry of Commerce which formulates India's trade and IP policy learning anything at all from its friend and partner in the IBSA alliance? Delhi has been kowtowing to US business pressures on a host of IP issues that have serious implications for critical sectors like agriculture and biotechnology. You don't need to show bravado but there should be clear thinking on what is in a country's best interests. The last has been largely missing in India's policy making.
KANIKA DATTA: ENTITLEMENT AND PREJUDICE
THE STUBBORN-NESS OF THE CONGRESS PARTY HIGH COMMAND IN FORCING WOMEN'SBILL TO BE TABLED IN PARLIAMENT IS LIKELY TO END UP REINFORCING MALE CHAUVINISM
Nearly a century ago, one Emily Wilding Davison unfurled the purple, white and green colours of the Suffragette flag and then threw herself under the galloping hooves of the King's horse at the Epsom Derby. She died of her injuries four days later without recovering consciousness. The jockey, Herbert Jones, who suffered concussion and shoulder injuries in the collision, saw his career go downhill from there on. He committed suicide in 1951, having said several times that he had always been haunted by Davison's face.
One notable point about that famous 1913 Epsom Derby was the reaction of the (then male-dominated) media. Most newspapers gushed over the "most wonderful derby" because it was won by a 100 to 1 runner. Davison's act appears as an afterthought "King's horse injured" merits higher placement as a strap-line under the headline.
Davison was one of the more unruly elements of a somewhat radical movement lobbying for women's right to vote and, ironically, the Epsom incident was one in a string of dramatic gestures to get the cause noticed (throwing metal bombs, chaining herself to railings in public places were among the others). Tragically, the general reaction to her suicidal protest ultimately did the cause more harm than good.
The overall feeling you get reading the archives of those times is that the often lawless method of protest by this women's franchise lobby weakened a perfectly-legitimate agenda and strengthened the prevailing male prejudice that women were a damn nuisance, incapable of responsible behaviour. King George V's diary entry for the day grumbles about his ill-luck at the races and doesn't even mention her. Queen Mary's letter of condolence to their jockey was to describe Davison as a "brutal lunatic woman". Even Davison's mother scolded her daughter for this "dreadful act" in a letter she never got to read. Indeed, at the time, the term Suffragettes had a slightly negative connotation on a par with "nigger" or "homo".
No one will deny that the Suffragette movement kept alive the issue of women's franchise in the public discourse. But it is worth remembering that the path to universal franchise in Britain was paved as much by the sterling role women played during World War I when their men were dying in the trenches (proving that, far from being troublesome, women were capable of useful contributions to the economy). Then too, the initial recognition in 1918 was grudging, allowing only women over 30 the right to vote in Parliamentary elections. Britain introduced universal franchise in 1928, fully 15 years after Davison's death.
In some ways, Davison's Epsom adventure has a fortunately less fatal parallel in last week's drama over the Women's Reservation Bill. The disruptions in Parliament and the multi-partisan quid pro quo that the UPA's floor managers forged to get it passed in the Rajya Sabha and tabled in the Lok Sabha have evoked almost similar reactions of all-round exasperation that is likely to detract from the intent of the Bill.
Given the huge administrative complications that the legislation is bound to cause once it is finally notified reserving 30 per cent of the seats by rotation alone will be a subject of fierce controversy it would be all too easy for men to resent this quite unnecessary privilege for women.
More to the point, the Bill runs the danger of weakening the more serious cause of gender equality that it seeks to achieve. This is the biggest danger if the Bill is passed. Several prominent women in corporate India qualified their approval of the Bill by saying it makes sense only if it forces through legislation that strengthens women's rights. But as this newspaper has argued, reserving seats in Parliament is no guarantor of gender equality. The danger, instead, is that it could eventually create a wrongful sense of entitlement where it is least needed.
In societies like India's, there is certainly a case for affirmative action to rebalance social prejudices. The question is how it is applied. Reserving seats in primary and secondary schools for poor girl children or subsidising their education and health care through direct cash transfers would be a far more enlightened way of balancing the gender bias than reserving seats in Parliament or jobs in corporations. Armed with education and access to reasonable health care, women would be in a far stronger position to play a meaningful role in society and, indeed, to protect their rights.
Instead, we are already hearing more voices demanding reservations for women in corporate boards. A more ill-thought suggestion is hard to find. Corporate boards determine a company's success, so it needs to be staffed by people who are able, irrespective of their gender. The same logic applies to Parliament, a law-making body in which the premium should be theoretically at least on ability rather than gender. But the stubborn-ness of the Congress party high command in forcing the Bill to be tabled in Parliament is likely to end up reinforcing male chauvinism.
NITIN DESAI: CARBON FORESTRY
FORESTERS SHOULD NOT SUCCUMB TO THE TEMPTATIONS OF EASY MONEY FOR CARBON SEQUESTRATION
The threat of climate change is now overwhelming the dialogue on forest policy. Forests, like other ecosystems, will be affected by temperature increase. But the dimension that is receiving much more attention is their role as a store for carbon. Forests hold more carbon than the atmosphere, and the interchange of carbon between the two is a major element in the climate debate. Forest loss accounted for 20 per cent of carbon emissions, according to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and reducing this is seen as a low-cost way of mitigating the threat of climate change.
These climate concerns will lead to greatly-expanded international funding for forestry. It is under discussion in UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) under the heading Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), and the World Bank has already established two windows for climate-related forestry projects.
We see the beginnings of this shift in the NAPCC (National Action Plan on Climate Change) mission on Green India. The Ministry of Environment and Forests is getting into the act and according to a recent study put out by it, the carbon sequestered in India's forests rose by about 138 mt of CO2 equivalent per year between 1995 and 2005, and "neutralised" about 9 per cent of our year 2000 level of CO2 emissions.
A measure of caution is required in shifting the focus of forestry just to carbon sequestration. It could be as distorting as the earlier focus on production forestry. Consider the experience of India with "scientific forestry" set up after the British brought in three German foresters to establish the forest department and the forest institute in Dehra Dun. Sustainable working plans were prepared for the forests which were brought under government control and removals were calibrated to match annual increments in forest stock. But this did not prevent large-scale forest loss with surviving dense forests found only in inaccessible areas.
An even bigger distortion was the alienation of forest communities that were treated as interlopers. Moreover, since sustainability was defined in terms of maintenance of growing stock, there was also a monomaniacal obsession with replanting quicker-growing species with little regard to other ecological consequences. Thus, the replacement of broad-leaved oaks with pines in the Himalayas altered the water retention capacity of forests for the worse.
Forests are part of a wider ecosystem and deliver services that are far more than forest products even from the perspective of climate change. For instance, forests play a role in hydrology and could be an important element in coping with the impact of climate change on precipitation and river flows.
Forests are not empty land. There are 173,000 villages in or near forests. For people in these villages, forests are a source of livelihood and cultural value. For them, diversity matters as they have a use for many species, some for food, some for liquor, some as host plants for silk worms and so on. Their goal is a sustainable livelihood based on forest resources, not growing stock or carbon sequestration.
Over the past few decades, we have seen a healthy shift in forest policy with a stronger emphasis on conservation, including a ban on logging in many places, on biodiversity and wildlife protection, and on community rights with the spread of joint forest management. My fear is that the large sums of international money that will become available as part of the climate change mitigation effort will undo many of these gains.
The focus on growing stock led to the destruction of biodiversity as fast-growing and commercially-attractive species replaced native trees. Will the emphasis on the role of forests in climate change lead to an excessive focus on species that are most efficient in carbon capture? Will this be sufficiently restrained by pious language about sustainable development?
The promotion of "scientific" forestry led to the shift of control to large forest departments and the marginalisation of forest communities. It also opened up forests to large companies. Will this also happen with carbon sequestration forestry projects as international donors may find it easier to work with large public and private organisations rather than with small local communities?
The major difficulty in forest development has always been the fact that those who bear the cost of forest protection and management cannot monetise the value of the preserved forest to others. The ecosystem services of forests in the form of water regulation, biodiversity, landscape quality and so on are not readily marketable. In this situation, foresters are tempted by the smell of money for at least one ecosystem service, that of carbon sequestration.
Carbon funding for forestry is going to come. There is no point in fighting this. What we have to do is to make this one-dimensional funding objective consistent with other goals for forestry policy and with decentralisation and empowerment of forest communities. Hence I would propose that carbon funding for forestry should include a biodiversity bonus, a water regulation bonus, and a community rights bonus. Thus, all such funding, whether it is channelled through a carbon credit mechanism or through straightforward public funding, should give more for carbon sequestration if this is done in a manner that conserves biodiversity and protects wildlife, that maintains or improves the water regulation properties of the forest and that shares management responsibility and returns with local forest communities.
Calculating these bonuses does pose measurement problems and will require a great deal of creativity. But even the calculation of the quantity of carbon sequestered by different types of species in varying growing conditions poses similar measurement problems. A bigger issue is the willingness of carbon credit buyers to pay the bonuses. If they are commercial entities buying these as offsets for their own obligations, then they may well refuse to pay extra for goals that are of no monetary value to them. But if the funding is from public sources, as proposed by some potential donors, then this is a less serious problem. Maybe this is a good reason for keeping carbon funding for forestry outside the commercial framework of carbon credit markets.
One final thought what happens to our forests will depend not just on the forest policy but also on the way in which mining, energy, agriculture and human settlement policies contain the pressure on forest lands, and carbon funding for forestry will have little impact on these other areas of the policy.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FISCAL CORRECTION WILL HELP COOL PRICES
Advance tax payments of big companies are up 20% for the current fiscal year, despite muted numbers for the fourth advance instalment. This adds further strength to the view that the economic recovery is fairly firm. Reports suggest the top 100 companies in the Mumbai region paid only 3.63% more by March 15, but then the average has been dragged down by lower payout by banking companies.
On the whole, corporate India, particularly its manufacturing segment, looks set to report another stellar quarterly performance, if tax payments of individual companies are taken as an indicator . Further, there is enough evidence of a strong industrial revival all around. The index of industrial production (IIP) for January climbed 16.7%, from a year ago, boosted mostly by the 17.9% expansion of the manufacturing sector.
And more significantly, machinery and equipment, metal products and parts contributed to this growth, along with transport equipment. Infrastructure sectors too did their bit. The index of core sectors showed that cement and steel grew 12.4% and 16.2%, respectively , indicating that construction activity has gathered pace.
Much of this growth was led by expansionary fiscal and monetary policies. But the gradual withdrawal of the tax cuts, beginning April, should not pose any threat to growth, especially as confidence has been rising among businesses and consumers.
The renewed vigour in the economy, however, need not mean that the Centre would indeed meet its revised (RE) targets for tax collection. In all likelihood, receipts from corporation tax revenues of the Centre will be lower than the revised estimate of Rs 2,55,076 crore. Till January end, the collection was Rs 1,75,014 crore and in the last two months, the tax department needs to collect Rs 80,000 crore to meet the RE target.
Likewise, collections on personal income taxes may fall short of the RE target of Rs 1,25,021 crore. A shortfall on the indirect taxes collection, particularly excise duty, also cannot be ruled out. Clearly, there is a strong case for compressing expenditure, particularly in wasteful subsidies. The economy can do without a larger fiscal deficit when inflation is rising and growth is strong.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FEW POLICY OPTIONS ON INFLATION
The sharp pickup in the annual rate of inflation based on the wholesale price index from 8.56% in January to a 16-month high of 9.99% in February 2010 is a matter of concern. There is growing evidence that inflation is no longer confined to primary articles and has spread to the two other main groups fuel, power, light and lubricants and manufactured products.
Thus, while the index for food articles declined by 0.1% over the previous month, that for manufactured articles rose by 0.6% and the fuel group index rose by 1.5%. Within the manufactured category, food products, especially sugar, account for a major part of the increase. But, more ominously , prices of items like rubber and rubber products, chemicals and chemical products, basic metals, iron and steel are also up.
While this is in tandem with global trends (the latest Economist commodity price index shows metals up 90% over the year and non-food agriculturals up 91%), that is small consolation. Inflation hurts the poor hardest; they do not have the reserves to tide over periods of high inflation. So double-digit consumerprice inflation of the kind we have witnessed for months leaves them with little alternative but to cut down on intake , women and children being the worst sufferers.
With each revision in the provisional numbers being relentlessly upward the November 2009 one was revised from 4.78% to 5.55%, the December one from 7.31% to 8.10% chances are the February numbers now being reported are an underestimate. That is not good news for any government, even if the next general elections are a long way off.
The problem is, unlike in agriculture where better delivery mechanisms could have provided some respite, once inflation has spread to other sectors there is no alternative to monetary tightening . Unfortunately, monetary policy acts with a long and indeterminate lag.
Along with some monetary tightening, the government needs also to act on fiscal discipline and removing artificial barriers to efficient prices, such as higher than warranted import duties, political opposition to organised retail, the obsolete Agricultural Prices and Marketing Committees Act, etc.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE MAYAWATI GARLAND
The comedian, Mehmood, could well have anticipated UP chief minister Mayawati's giant garland of Rs 1,000 notes. In the movie Sabse bada Rupaiya, released in 1976, he emoted a song, Na bibi na bachha/Na baap bada na maiya/The whole thing is that ke bhaiya/Sabse bada Rupaiya.
Mehmood was lamenting what he saw as the importance given to money over human relationships and values. That was roughly the time when, in the US, country singer Johnny Cash sang, No, I'm not bound and I never will be/To a wrinkled, crinkled, wadded dollar bill. Cash was, of course, singing in the time of the hippies who were known as flower-children.
However, another way of looking at Monday's mass-celebration in Lucknow of the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Bahujan Samaj Party is that it marks not just the coming of age of the BSP but of the rupee! What the BSP terms as a gift from partyworkers to their president would have been worth much more, if the garland had been strung together not with 1,000-rupee notes but with $100 notes.
And instead of weighing their leader against mundane commodities like gold, the BSP has demonstrated its commitment to the Indian currency.
The Mayawati garland could even herald a new tradition . Indian marriages are traditionally celebrated with the placing of a floral garland round the neck of the bride by the groom and vice versa. Any gifts for the groom's family from the bride's parents change hands discreetly, to avoid attracting the provisions of the Anti-Dowry Act.
But now, after Mayawati's garland, brides could place garlands made not of flowers but of currency notes round the neck of the groom, even if critics say it would be like fixing a price-tag to the erstwhile bachelor.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
LEARN TO KNOW THE NOW & TURN WISER
VITHAL C NADKARNI
When Barbara Ehrenreich was diagnosed with breast cancer she did what any veteran of the women's health movement would do: she started researching , looking especially for support and information from other women who had the disease. The journalist who began as PhD researcher in cell biology says she found a lot.
"Yes, I found useful tips and information," she adds. "But I found something else shocking : a whole culture had grown up around breast cancer and it certainly did not contain the sisterhood I was searching for."
Ehrenreich, who is also known for her earlier expose of welfare reform Nickel and Dimed: On (not) getting by in America, describes the subculture of breast cancer as being "very pink and femme and frilly all about pink ribbons, pink rhinestone pins, pink T-shirts and of course a lot about cosmetics , all very commercialised."
But the worst of it, for her, was the perkiness and "the relentless cheerfulness of the breast cancer culture" . Equally distressing was the notion of suffering being essentially good for you; that the survivor would turn a better person for it more feminine, more spiritual someone better that a 'mere cancer-free' person.
One health channel went so far as to describe breast cancer as "a form of spiritual upward mobility : something that a woman should be happy to experience." Was this cheeriness a result of a defensive reaction to what was undoubtedly an extremely traumatic experience? If so, why wasn't it seen in other ailments such as diabetes, TB or heart disease ? Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer alludes to a reverse phenomenon of transformed victimhood. She has been championing the idea of mindfulness and its impact on disease outcomes.
In her lectures about her book Counterclockwise people sometimes ask whether the idea that we have more control over our illnesses than most of us realise inevitably leads to blaming the victim. "Their reasoning must be that if we can control either the severity of our symptoms or the entire disease process, than those who suffer are suffering by their own hands since they did nothing to help themselves," Langer comments in her blog.
But such an understanding couldn't be further from the truth, she adds. For blaming (as well as praising) entails going back into the past, away from the present. One becomes smart and wiser by learning to know the now.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THIS WILL RESURRECT BRITISH AGENDA OF DIVIDING THE NATION ON CASTE LINES
Almost all universities in the country have implemented reservation in faculty positions for SC/ST and handicapped at the entry level, i.e., for lecturers. However, the UGC has now started pressurising central universities to reserve faculty positions for SC/ST/handicapped at all levels, i.e., lecturer, reader and professor , and for OBC at the lecturer level.
This when no such law has been passed unlike the Act passed by Parliament in 2006 that makes reservation of 27% seats for OBC students mandatory nor did the education ministry order the UGC to do so. Delhi University has resisted the UGC effort and Jawaharlal Nehru University is reconsidering the issue.
If good public universities are forced to compromise on attracting the best, by shrinking the basket from which they choose to a reserved category, when the world is moving towards recruiting globally, then over time, they will no longer remain the best. When this happens, the well-to-do will move to expensive foreign and private universities that don't face such restrictions.
The poor will be left high and dry with a competitive decent education in the cheap government system denied to them. This is what has largely happened already to school education.
This argument that the move to reserve faculty positions at the highest level in the name of social justice will actually render the poor and disadvantaged into the chief victims was made forcefully by four eminent former vice-chancellors of JNU, P N Srivastava, M S Agwani, Y K Alagh and Asis Datta, and several equally-eminent professors emeritus like Bipan Chandra, Yogendra Singh, T K Oommen and Tapas Majumdar, in the context of the current proposal to reserve faculty positions at the highest level in JNU.
The Supreme Court too has repeatedly reiterated that any reservation at higher levels such as for professors or in areas of super-specialty is undesirable.
Resurrecting the British colonial agenda of dividing the people on communal and caste lines through reservation and marrying it with the neo-liberal agenda of allowing the government education system to collapse while the private and the foreign educational institutions are brought in, leaves the disadvantaged sections of all communities, including the reserved communities , completely out of the reckoning.
Faculty reservation in public universities may be good for the career prospects of the narrow elite among the reserved categories, but will go against the interest of the vast masses of those categories who do not even have access to primary education , leave alone decent higher education. Justice Sawant, in the famous Indra Sawhney case, eloquently argued a similar position.
(Aditya Mukherjee, Director, Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study, JNU)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TEACHERS FROM OPPRESSED SECTIONS WOULD HELP CHANGE STEREOTYPES
SANJAYA KUMAR BOHIDARV-P
Opposition to reservation for Scheduled Caste (SC) and scheduled tribe (ST) candidates in teaching faculty positions has much in common with widespread general opposition to reservations per se. The same argument of merit and excellence is adduced by anti-reservationists in all fields.
Even those who believe that social exclusion, deprivation and discrimination are better addressed through radical affirmative action and that mandated quota system is limiting, wrongly posit affirmative action against reservation.
They get appropriated by rank upper caste chauvinists and strengthen the opportunist political elite that restricts the struggle against caste inequities to narrow reservationism. The need for reservation will remain perpetual without radical affirmative action to empower the deprived.
There are, in fact, good reasons for SC and ST quotas in teaching positions. School or university education is not just about imparting skills, it is also about getting socialised into a particular way of life with its own attendant system of values. Having teachers from the traditionally-oppressed sections of society would go a long way in changing traditional stereotypes on caste-occupation linkages and cultural prejudices that go with them.
There are some who argue that it is okay to have quotas even in faculty positions, but only if they are limited to the junior faculty: let there be reservations for lecturers but not for readers and professors . This argument is flawed. The junior faculty members are also engaged in teaching and research . If reserving teaching positions for the traditionally-deprived would hurt the quality of the education , the harm would be done by allowing reservations even at the level of junior faculty.
The reality is: to be eligible to teach at the college level, a person has to pass a National Eligibility Test, conducted by the University Grants Commission. Moreover, each university has a process of selection where the ability of the candidates is judged. The quality of the teachers would, thus, be a function of how good this eligibility test and selection process are, not of the teachers' caste.
Further, professors are entrusted with a greater role in administration and policy-making , and direction of research and teaching. Hence, it will be enriching for educational institutions to have socially-diverse representation.
That it is often difficult to fill reserved posts because of a paucity of eligible candidates from the reserved groups doesn't become an argument against reservation. Where inadequate faculty strength hurts the academic process, administrative arrangements allow creation of additional positions till suitable candidates are identified from among the intended beneficiaries of quotas.
A separate strand in the opposition to reservation in faculty positions points out that the arguments for reservation for dalits cannot be extended to other backward castes (OBC). The OBC category indeed comprises highly-differentiated social groups ranging from near-dalits to rather prosperous communities. Instead of arguing for reservation for all OBCs and for none, appropriate economic and social identification should be sought.
Reservations actually raise the levels of merit and quality over the long run, because they broaden the talent pool for merit and quality, from a narrow section of society to its entirety. Unaided by a radical affirmative action, the timeframe from such broadening will be inordinately long.
(Sanjaya Kumar Bohidarv-P , Democratic Teachers' Front, Delhi University)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
LET FOREIGN BANKS INTO RURAL AREAS
Pranab Mukherjee's mention of additional banking licences to private players in his recent budget created a buzz. It is hard to understand why. There is a policy for private bank licensing in place and anybody is free to apply.
Perhaps the expectation was that the policy would be diluted. The RBI has been quick to clarify that governance norms would not be diluted in awarding bank licenses. At the same time, it has indicated that a committee would be appointed to look into international practices for licensing of private players, including corporate houses.
The message is clear. The RBI will proceed cautiously, as always, but is open to new ideas. The time is indeed ripe for considering new ideas. The Indian banking system has fared well over the past decade and in the recent financial crisis. It is among the best capitalised and profitable in the world today. We can make changes in policy in the confidence that we operate from a position of strength.
The challenge in bank regulation, underlined by the financial crisis, is to strike a balance between stability and innovation. It is a balance that can and must change over time. We have mastered a trick or two when it comes to financial stability. We can now attempt some tinkering at the margin aimed at fostering innovation.
But we must be clear as to what innovation must achieve. It cannot be innovation for innovation's sake complex financial products that serve no loftier social purpose than to produce bonuses for bankers. The only worthwhile financial innovation in recent years, Paul Volcker has remarked acerbically, is the ATM. Financial innovation must be dovetailed to the needs of the economy.
We know what our economy needs. It needs financial deepening and financial inclusion. It is possible to have financial deepening, a bigger banking system, without inclusion. That is not what we want. We want deepening that is married to inclusion. It follows that changes in bank licensing policy must focus on innovation that can meet the overriding objective of financial inclusion.
The existing players are in no position to come up with new business models for greater inclusion. Public sector banks (PSBs) were responsible for the expansion in geographical coverage that happened after nationalisation. But that effort has run out of steam long since.
Through most of the nineties and the early noughties, the focus on commercial performance meant that PSBs cut back on their initiatives in rural areas. In recent years, they have succeeded in pushing more credit into agriculture but much of this is indirect lending.
PSBs today lack the human resource capability to innovate. Many of them will see a decimation of top management in the next two or three years. Large numbers of staff are being recruited at the lower levels and it will take a while to bring them up to speed. PSBs have their work cut out for them simply in managing what they have on their plate. Regional rural banks and cooperatives are in disarray.
Private banks lack the incentives to venture forth there is so much opportunity in the areas in which they operate currently. They may go into tier -2 cities but the small depositor and small borrower in lower tiers do not make commercial sense to them.
We need a fresh set of players who can design business models for financial inclusion. There are two sets of players who are, in principle, capable of this feat: foreign banks and a new crop of private banks. Concerns about foreign bank entry relate to regulation and reciprocity . There is a way to address both these concerns: licensing foreign banks exclusively for rural areas.
The entry of foreign banks into rural areas would not undermine PSBs and domestic private banks as the latter are not big players in those areas. Cross-border exposure would not be an issue or can be prohibited. Foreign banks should be permitted into rural areas only through well-capitalised subsidiaries. Thus, important regulatory concerns can be taken care of. Reciprocity would not be such a big concern because we would not be opening up the bigger portion of our market to foreign banks.
The market itself is poised to be become a lot more attractive. Commercial banks have stayed away from small loans (loans up to Rs 2 lakh) thanks to regulated lending rates for these. Under the new Base Rate regime proposed by RBI, small loan rates will be deregulated. This changes the nature of the game. There is an opportunity for those who can manage the risks that go with small loans.
We could add some incentives. In phase I, entry into rural areas. In phase II, acquisitions of regional rural banks. In phase III, access to the main market.
Will foreign banks be interested? Well, they are certainly keen to enter the Indian market. We would be saying to them: why don't you enter where you could make a difference? (We could say the same to existing foreign banks keen to expand). The onus would be on foreign banks to innovate in the rural market.
It will require them to combine local talent and IT in creative ways. It is a serious bottom-of-the pyramid challenge. If it works, it can translate into enormous payoffs worldwide- and in India itself. Aren't foreign firms in manufacturing attempting precisely that?
It was foreign banks who showed the way in retail credit and cash management services many years ago. Domestic private banks learnt from them and then PSBs. If this story were repeated in financial inclusion, it would be a huge achievement.
What about new domestic players? Corporate houses may not be interested if the cap of 10% on private ownership in a bank stays. We could consider raising the cap to 15-20 % for strictly rural banks. But we may need more stringent governance norms, say, a minimum number of directors to be appointed by shareholders other than the promoter.
Differentiated bank licenses licences for specific activities obtain elsewhere and the RBI had mooted this idea in 2007. Licensing foreign banks and domestic banks exclusively for rural areas could be the spark that India's somewhat stodgy banking system needs today. It could ignite just the sort of financial innovation we need innovation aimed at achieving financial inclusion.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BANKING FOR ALL' MOST PRESSING AGENDA FOR GOVERNMENT
DHEERAJ TIWARI & G GANAPATHY SUBRAMANIAM
Indian banking system showed great resilience to withstand the global financial meltdown that saw some of the largest global lenders biting the dust. But they seem unable to press ahead towards the government's goal of greater financial inclusion due to the stringent capital requirements set by RBI. Financial services secretary R Gopalan says banks can issue shares to raise capital so that they can lend more. He enlists the numerous problems faced by the country's banks in an interaction with ET. Excerpts:
How does the proposal to give new banking licences square with the need for consolidation in the sector?
We are talking about two different concepts here. First, RBI is working on the guidelines for new banking licences and the details have not been finalised yet. However, more banks means a larger banking footprint, essential in terms of core services and also financial inclusion. It would also translate into more competition among banks and better services for the customer. As far as financial inclusion is concerned, we expect new banks to play a role similar to existing ones. Consolidation does not mean dampening competition. We are looking at a bunch of strong banks with nation-wide footprint. They should compete with smaller banks, some of which could have a strong presence in certain regions. Delivering better services to customers through tight competition is the main idea.
What is your view on consolidation among the public sector banks?
The idea has to be driven by the industry. We are not going to push the banks, or even nudge them. We will consider consolidation proposals if it is going to result in stronger banks. One should understand that any merger between two corporate entities should be based on sound financial and strategic reasons. Right now, there has been no such proposal from any PSU bank. While the banks concerned have to do the necessary due diligence, we'll be ready to provide any help that they would require.
What is the most pressing financial sector agenda before the government?
We are an underbanked nation. More people should be enabled to avail banking services. Financial inclusion will be good business for banks as volumes go up. Our regulatory systems are effective and the banking sector has good human resources. Indian banks have the capability to become global leaders. Established western banks may be very large in size and even if our banks do not grow so big, they have the capability to become multinationals on their own strength. For insurance services, there is a very large market in India. Growth in the insurance sector would be tremendous.
Is the government ready to reduce its holding in public sector banks? Can we expect some public offers from state-run banks?
Yes, why not? But the government will continue to have a majority stake in all PSU banks. If the market conditions are good, banks can go to the market and raise money and in the process government stake may come down. However, headroom would be kept for future requirements as well, apart from the clear policy that government stake in PSU banks will not come down below 51%. The way to go is expansion of capital through IPOs and FPOs. But the only purpose of any such divestment is to meet their capital requirements. The government does not wish to sell stake in PSU banks to raise money.
There has been a demand from various sectors to tweak the prudential norms for increased lending, specially to the power sector....
Norms relating to classification are being handled by RBI. But one should understand that banks have public deposits and the provisioning norms cannot to be tweaked to favour any sector in particular to put the banks at risk. Besides, there are various other schemes, and ways that are being worked out to increase lending and meet the credit requirements of infrastructure sectors. While it is true that there are constraints for lending, these norms are important from the point of view of the health of banks.
Is there a case for increased lending from insurance sector as envisaged in the Economic Survey?
Yes, there is logic in this argument. However, insurance regulator IRDA is the competent authority to take a call. If lending is enhanced while complying with all sectoral norms and guidelines, surely the insurance industry can play a larger role in funding infrastructure requirements.
Has the financial services department looked at introduction of Islamic banking?
It is an interesting concept. There are, however, some systemic issues such as how a bank can operate without interest rates. There are other factors like the absence of Statutory Liquidity Reserve (SLR) and Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR). However, no view has been taken on this concept till now.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'INFLATION TARGETING CAN WAIT'
SANGITA MEHTA & GAYATRI NAYAK
Professor Dilip Nachane, member of the technical advisory committee of monetary policy, feels that a lax fiscal policy is in conflict with a tight monetary policy. Nachane, currently the director of the RBI-sponsored Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, also advises the central bank on managing inflation expectations. He spoke to ET on various challenges to monetary policy.
What will be the challenge of the huge size of the government's borrowing plan on the conduct of monetary policy?
The quantum of borrowing is high and keeps growing by the day. However, these borrowings can be absorbed without raising rate. The main issue seems to be that increased market borrowing is likely to result in steeper yield curve since long-term yields will be more sensitive to the quantum of government borrowing than short-term interest rates. The quantum of borrowing and conduct of monetary policy is very much inter-connected and to that extent, the lax fiscal policy is in tension with a tight monetary policy. It makes the conduct of monetary policy much more complex.
Will the proposed base rate (replacing the benchmark prime lending rate) be more effective in the transmission of policy rate in the credit market?
It is definitely true that the response of market interest rate, especially on bank loans is extremely sluggish, thereby lengthening the lag in monetary transmission and making monetary policy not less effective. From this point of view, the base rate may serve as a useful weapon and could possibly remove some of the sluggishness.
What is your view on inflation targeting as formal monetary policy target?
I have always argued that it (inflation targeting) is an idea whose time has yet to come in India. The Raghuram Rajan committee report made a strong pitch for inflation targeting. But unfolding of later events in light of global financial crisis indicated the limitation of inflation targeting for emerging markets like India.
Monetary policy today needs to contend with not only inflation, but output stabilisation as well as financial stability and insulating the financial system from systemic risks that are likely to arise from exchange rate shocks as well as financial conglomerates.
What are the data lacunae in the Indian context that policy makers need to address?
It was expected that post-liberalisation, the data lacunae in the Indian financial system would be rapidly overcome. The Rangarajan Committee offered valuable input to address this lacuna. The establishment of the National Statistical Commission is a valuable operational step in that direction. However, important data gaps still persist, especially in areas of high frequency data on GDP as well as its components. We also need up-to-date data on labour market in the organised and unorganised sector. From the view of the monetary policy, the greatest lacuna possibly is the absence of reliable series of potential output which can help monetary authority to correctly assess the cyclical state of the economy.
Will RBI look at raising rates, given the high IIP (index of industrial production) numbers?
Going purely by IIP numbers, to judge the cyclical state of the economy is fraught with danger when services account for more than half of the GDP. Hence, it would be difficult to say whether the recent sanguine IIP numbers really make out a case for a rate hike. It may be more useful to keep a careful watch on what is happening in the real estate market and food inflation. These in my opinion would be a more reliable guide for the future course of the monetary policy.
Do you see a case for capital controls as many in the policy making circles feel?
I am very much against capital account convertibility and it has few takers today in the international community. Capital controls which were once considered heretic by IMF are back in favour. I have been a consistent critic of full capital account convertibility in India long before such criticism became intellectually fashionable. I have argued for a 'trip wire speed bump' approach for capital controls whereby certain controls on short-term capital control are activated automatically at certain trigger points.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'WE ARE ATTRACTED TO FRUGAL MINDSET OF INDIAN PROFESSIONALS'
CHENNAI | MUMBAI | NEW DELHI: Renault-Nissan, which has been stitching partnerships in India, will take a call on its global alliance with Suzuki in view of the Japanese carmaker's new relationship with Volkswagen. In an exclusive chat with ET & ET NOW, Renault-Nissan honcho Carlos Ghosn says its existing contract would be honoured even as he seeks to downplay the significance of the entry of archrival German carmaker Volkswagen.
You have a global relationship with Suzuki (Pixo) and contract manufacturing relationship with Maruti (sourcing Pixo and badging it as A-Star for India). Do you plan to extend your contract (expiring in 2011) with Suzuki?
Existing contract will be honoured. That's for sure (till 2011). We have to sit together and see whether there is any room from both sides to continue. We can do with them or with other companies. Whether independent company is a good strategy or any other mindset has to be evaluated.
Your archrival VW coming...
It is part of the industry for anyone to forge alliances with anyone else. One has to face the consequence of the decision made.
You have three partners in India... While you met the Ashok Leyland team, you have not met Anand Mahindra or Rajiv Bajaj...
We are not political people... we are business people. I don't meet people because I have to, but on the basis of need. Finally, at each stage, be it any partner, it all boils down to whether there is any project on the table and anything to show.
The 'A' segment of cars is a buzzing 'Nano' kind of category. Do you see yourself creating a market by introducing products to leverage this opportunity?
We are concentrating on low-cost car. Instead of multiplying other projects, our objective is to focus on the current project on hand.
Will the new small car developed in India not be taken to other markets?
We make the product depending on the final decision. But as regards meeting regulation, it is very unlikely that the same product will match the needs of different markets. We try to squeeze specification to the minimum level. While we do not make identical products, they will bear similarity to suit the markets.
Ashok Leyland is a very active partner with whom you have already begun preliminary talks for a small car. Is there a fundamental shift in roping partners strategy for India?
Not at all. They represent a very small percentage of participation in the Indian market and our ambition is to be much bigger in India and contribute to the market development. We are looking at every single opportunity to enrich our product offering, particularly in the segments that are typical for Indian market. We cannot bring a product that is already developed, but we need to bring a product that is specific to India.
You have talked about the Indian learning experience that you would like to replicate for emerging markets. With Bajaj strong in the 2-wheelers and ALL in the CV space, would you consider entering these segments?
We are not at all interested into moving into two- or three-wheeler categories. We are also in LCV (light-commercial vehicle) with Ashok Leyland. It is more a mindset of frugal product line, frugal engineering, frugal manufacturing. We are keen to use little resources to get products that are adequate for Indian market. Mindset, know-how and the way of doing things interests us.
When you feel that you are suitably Indian, will you go it alone?
Our aim is to close the gap existing between Indian and major global makers, particularly in terms of frugal engineering. It is a give and take. We are not confining our learning to India, but we are learning so that the quality and frugal engineering are beneficial for other markets.
Have you figured out investment required for the ULC for which you have an MoU with Bajaj?
There is no update on this. Without our partners, we will not be able to make the products competitive. We are looking for a learning experience through our partners, which will help us to reduce cost and investments... so as to make the car viable.
You have been conscious about your less than 1% share in India and your larger goal of taking it to 10%.
It will take some time before we achieve it. Even 10% is a figure taken as an average global performance in say Japan, Europe, US and China. The success that we have got in these markets is something we have to do in many markets. For growing in the Indian market, we need to develop the brand, network and capacity. India is a complex market.
If we are to mature and the day we become Indian, the day Nissan and Renault have an extensive understanding of India, maybe then we can say we don't need so many partners. We are the fourth-largest carmaker with a 10% market share. In order to move from 1 to 10, we need the help of partners.
You achieve that, would you go it alone?
It is not the question of going it alone. We have enough knowledge and learning. We have to just humbly recognise the need to bring in partners who will guide us in a particular field.
What about your discussion with Daimler for a possible global alliance?
How frugal is India as compared to other locations?
India is not the cheapest country in the world. What India offers is a low-cost market model. The Indian mindset has frugality embedded. Not all countries are like this. The attractiveness for us is not the low cost, instead Indian engineers, marketers and product planners that have frugality in their mindset. I had a meeting with a partner. He came with his engineer for the product.
I brought my engineer for the product. When I posed the question of investment quantum to both, I was shocked by the difference. What my Indian partner promised to do it with one, my engineer tells me we need five to complete this project. The difference is huge. It is a completely different approach. That's why we think Indian engineering and product planning is such an important thing. We want this spirit to conquest other markets.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
EMERGING MARKETS' GROWTH STORY IS FOR REAL: MIRAE ASSET'S CHADHA
The financial sector has underperformed since last July and there are signs that the next leg-up will come from this sector, says Rahul Chadha, head of India equities at Mirae Asset Investment Management in a chat with ET NOW.
You manage around $1.5 billion in an India-dedicated fund. What is the overall view that you are taking on the region?
We have been fully invested in the past six months, because our view is that though valuations are not inexpensive, there is no extreme overvaluation at around 16.5 times forward earnings. There is a clear opportunity within the market in certain sectors and that is what has played out in the past six months. Certain sectors and stocks have played out better than the rest of the market.
What is your time and return horizon? What have you bought since you are fully invested?
We always ask our investors to come with a perspective of at least 2-3 years, because in the near term, the market can be choppy. Tomorrow, if you have any global sovereign crisis or something else, the market can quickly correct by 15-20%. But let's realise that the emerging markets growth story is a real story. For instance, in the past one year, investors in our funds in Korean bonds would have made gains of nearly 150-160% across funds.
We feel that since valuations are not cheap, you will see a time correction. So, we expect the market to be range-bound till mid-June. And as inflation tapers off, it will peak off in early May or June. And as people draw more comfort from FY12 earnings, we expect the market to take the next leg-up from there. In terms of sectors, we are positive on financials. The sector has underperformed since last July but we are clearly behind the inflation harm. Apart from that, autos and pharma are the other interesting sectors.
If you were to review your portfolio at the moment, what would you get out of?
We have been booking some gains in commodities. The belief is that commodities, in general, and steel, in particular, may look slightly vulnerable, if we have some kind of a slowdown in China next year. Look at the steel intensity of that economy that's nearly twice that of the US and other developed economies.
So, steel is one specific space where we are booking some gains. In terms of increasing exposure, real estate is one space we have virtually very little exposure. So, we are gradually building our exposure into real estate. PSU banks have underperformed, and on every dip, we are looking to add to our positions in these banks.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDIAN MARKET WILL TEACH US A LOT
Danone India GM Jochen Ebert is a company old-timer, his 20 years at the world's largest fresh dairy maker dotted with stints across Germany, Spain, France and the Middle East. Mr Ebert is spearheading Danone's dairy business in India at a critical time when the wholly-owned offshoot is looking at acquisitions, investing nearly Rs 300 crore in the next few years and stepping up focus on affordable nutrition. Mr Ebert speaks exclusively to Ratna Bhushan about the India game plan in his first detailed interaction with the Indian media post a protracted battle with the Wadias over Britannia that ended last year with the $21-billion company's exit. Excerpts:
Last year, Danone received the government's permission for independent forays in dairy, packaged water, baby foods and medical nutrition. Which category will top the agenda?
Danone is an experimental company and we know the Indian market will teach us a lot. I can speak for the dairy business unit under which we have launched three products chocolate smoothies or flavoured milk as people here are calling it which we have launched in Hyderabad, yogurt (dahi) and flavoured dahi, which we are launching in Pune. Three products in five months. We have to see how these work. Our products will always be affordably priced. The categories we have entered are still very small in India. Future plans will depend on consumer response.
Will Danone's operating structure in India be similar to the global one?
All our business units work completely separately whether it is fresh dairy, packaged water, medical nutrition or baby nutrition. Like in other countries, we will have independent business units in India and set up separate divisions units for different categories. It is for the independent global business units to decide when to enter India with their respective products and what they believe would be the right entry model for the market here.
Is Danone India interested in acquisitions and mergers here?
Acquisitions will play a part in Danone India's business one way or the other. It is a possibility. We are aware there are a number of local companies in India. But if you ask me if we are currently in talks with any company for a potential joint venture or buyout, the answer is no. But I must add we are constantly in touch with other players in the industry.
Danone had said it would infuse Rs 328-330 crore in India. Are those investments on track?
Yes, the investments are on track. We have certain plans but I cannot talk about them now.
In dairy, Danone India is competing with established players such as Amul, Britannia and Nestle. How will you stand apart from rivals?
Our operations are fundamentally different from the others. In the dairy sector for example, Amul and Mother Dairy are focused heavily on the plain milk business, while our focus is on value-added products. Besides, we will not launch products that are not perceived as healthy. Danone operates in a number of segments and each of these is completely focused on health.
GADKARI TEAM'S RSS STAMP: WHAT'S NEW?
After the BJP's spectacular defeat in the Lok Sabha elections of May 2009, the task before the party was to reinvent itself if it was to make a go of it in future electoral contests. So serious was the May setback deemed to be that the BJP even encountered a lively debate among its supporters whether it should renege on its ideological core of Hindutva and seek to convert itself into a normal right-of-centre political formation. Not unexpectedly, the notion was found to be preposterous in BJP circles. Without the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh underwriting its credo and party structure, the existing party organisation emasculated though it was would embark on the road to disintegration. That much was clear. So the RSS flag still flies in the hearts of the party faithful and the party's entity remains what it was in a basic sense. There has only been a turnover of personnel, as might be expected after a gut-wrenching defeat. Possibly, the changes have been somewhat more extensive than might have been the case if the party's president had changed in the normal course, with no stigma of a signal defeat to deal with. The new team of office-bearers of the BJP under Nitin Gadkari, its new chief, thus signifies no point of departure, just as it signifies no new point of arrival. The real change, of course, was the emergence of Mr Gadkari as party president. Were it not for the RSS' benediction, it is unlikely that this provincial-level party leader would have stood a chance. Previously, BJP (and earlier Jan Sangh) chiefs have been chosen from among those who have been leading office-bearers of the party at the Centre or Union Cabinet ministers. Much is needlessly being made of Mr Gadkari being a RSS man or a choice imposed by the RSS. All leading BJP figures, at the Centre or in the states, are from the RSS stable and no one has headed the party without the RSS affirming the choice. What's new, however, is that if the RSS has picked Mr Gadkari out of a pool of regional-level leaders, it will guide him at every step, including in the choice of key party personnel, if only to ensure he is not torn to shreds in factional fights by ambitious men who lost out in the leadership stakes. That guidance includes pointing the way in the matter of political and organisational tactics and strategy. Thus, if Mr Gadkari's team has a clutch of glamorous personalities, we may take it that the RSS believes that is the way to go in order to project a contemporary image of itself, one that may be more readily acceptable to new-generation Indians as compared to the tilak-wearing, fire-spewing variety. Many of the others who make up the mix will be those that the BJP's new man in Delhi will find the right chemistry with. Still others will be Jhandewala's pointmen. In two clear ways, Mr Gadkari has chosen to be traditional. The only Muslim to win the LS election on the BJP ticket, Mr Shahnawaz Husain from Bihar, has been given a relatively minor position although his state will have Assembly elections later this year. This doesn't accord with Mr Gadkari's observation in a recent interview to this newspaper that he would make a fresh bid to woo the Muslim minority, but it is consistent with the BJP's approach to keeping the Muslims marginal.
KARZAI'S REAL CONCERNS
BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN
The London conference on Afghanistan and the unfolding military operations have catalysed the political and diplomatic dimensions of the conflict. In the past few weeks there has been hectic activity by key stakeholders, including visits to Afghanistan by the British Prime Minister, Mr Gordon Brown, the Iranian President, Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the American defence secretary. However, the more interesting moves have been made by the Afghan President, Mr Hamid Karzai. Whilst the overarching picture remains somewhat unclear, it is essential that India pays close attention to the evolving situation. In the wake of the recent attack on Indian personnel in Kabul, New Delhi has made clear its long-term commitment to Afghanistan. But its capacity to "invest and endure" will depend on its ability to stay ahead of the emerging curve.
In some ways the most striking outcome of the London conference has been the resurgence of Mr Karzai. In the last 15 months, his relationship with the Obama administration has been far from smooth. The charges of widespread corruption, nepotism and incompetence; the stand-off over the elections; the persisting differences over the coalition forces' style of operation: all of these seemed to undercut Mr Karzai's standing. His newfound activism reflects other considerations too. For one thing, it is now clear that the US and its allies are groping for some political opening that will pave the way for an honourable exit. For another, the Afghan Army and police are a long way from being capable of handling the insurgency by themselves. It is against this backdrop that the Afghan President's recent initiatives need to be understood.
Following the London
conference, Mr Karzai has increasingly emphasised the need for reconciliation with sections of the insurgency that are willing to enter mainstream politics. In the prevailing context, this position is understandable. Mr Karzai is currently working on a reconciliation plan which he hopes to present at the Loya Jirga likely to be convened towards the end of April. By taking the lead on this issue, he evidently wants to ensure that the process of reconciliation does not undermine his own position.
The Karzai government is all too aware of Pakistan's eagerness to play a dominant role in this process. Owing to its links with the various Afghan insurgent groups the Taliban, the Haqqanis, Hizb-e Islami the Pakistan Army feels that it can script the endgame in Afghanistan. Given Islamabad's previous dabbling in Afghan politics, Kabul rightly wishes to minimise Pakistan's role in reconciliation. At the same time, the Afghan government knows that securing a modicum of cooperation from Pakistan would be essential.
These considerations explain the diplomatic initiatives launched by Kabul. Mr Karzai first visited Saudi Arabia, and sought its assistance in reaching out to sections of the insurgency. The Saudis, after all, were one of the three countries that had diplomatic ties with the former Taliban regime. Besides, their prestige and clout is almost unmatched in the region. Most important, drawing in the Saudis would reduce Pakistan's role in the reconciliation process. Riyadh, however, has its own concerns about the links between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The latter is regarded as a major threat by the Saudis. It remains to be seen whether the Saudis will take a more active role; but the Karzai government remains keen to work this channel.
During his subsequent visit to Pakistan, Mr Karzai sought to strike a balance between securing Pakistan's cooperation and limiting its role in Afghanistan. He was solicitous of Pakistani concerns about Indian presence in Afghanistan. He assured the Pakistanis that he would not allow his country to be used against Pakistan. He insisted that Afghanistan "does not want a proxy war between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan" a careful formulation. He went so far as to say that India was a "close friend" but Pakistan was a "brother", a conjoined twin no less. The phrasing is reminiscent of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's claim during the Sino-Indian conflict that non-aligned India was a friend but socialist China was a brother. Mr Karzai, like Mr Khrushchev, is trying to stay clear of quarrels that are not of his making.
On two important issues, though, the Afghan President's concerns were obvious. The Pakistani leaders reportedly pressed him to accept Pakistani trainers for the Afghan security forces. These offers have been aired ever since the word went around that India might get into the business of training the Afghans. But Mr Karzai politely indicated that he was not interested in letting the Pakistan Army train his forces. Further, he also voiced his scepticism about Pakistan's role in the crackdown on leaders of the Quetta Shura Taliban, the Taliban group headed by Mullah Omar.
The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and some others is widely held to be indicative of a "sea change" in the Pakistan Army's strategic outlook and of its willingness to sever ties with its protégés. Islamabad has advertised these arrests as evidence of its seriousness in going after the Afghan insurgents operating in its territory. But the details now emerging suggest that these claims are disingenuous. The arrests appear to be part of an attempt by the Quetta Shura to rid itself of individuals who were seen as increasingly unreliable. Mullah Baradar is a Popalzai: he comes from the same clan as Mr Karzai. The Mullah had been in discussions with Mr Karzai's representatives, and had reportedly given his approval to the proposed Loya Jirga. It is not surprising that the Pakistani intelligence supported the removal of Baradar and his allies. It is equally unsurprising that Islamabad is unwilling to hand them over to Kabul.
President Karzai, then, has seized the initiative but is now entering choppy waters. The outcome of his calibrated attempt at reconciliation will depend on the resilience both of his own political position and of the Afghan state. It is by buttressing these that New Delhi can best secure its interests in Afghanistan.
- Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi
FIGHT OVER A BIG PLAN TO STABILISE WEST ASIA
Underlying the latest US-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 Yasser 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 non-violent struggle, for building non-corrupt 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 centres.
Iran's strategy, explains Grinstein, is simple: Destroy Israel through a combination of asymmetric warfare like Hezbollah's war from South Lebanon and Hamas' from Gaza; delegitimise Israel by accusing it of war crimes when it combats Hamas and Hezbollah, who fight while nested among civilians; "religiousise" the conflict by making it Muslims versus Jews, focusing on symbols like Jerusalem; and, finally, suck Israel into "imperial overstretch", eg, 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 Labour 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 US 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-US 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.
US President Obama was 100 per cent 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 US strategy that we think can shape a more stable West Asia.
THE LAW OF THE MARSHALS
BY DC CORRESPONDENT
THERE IS NO OTHER WAY TO BRING ORDER
Never before in the history of our Parliament has a bill been put to vote amid so much pandemonium as was the case with the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha. Seven MPs had to be overpowered and physically lifted out of the House by marshals. There was no other way to bring order. The Chair was forced to take recourse to firm disciplinary methods on account of the wild methods of protest adopted by these MPs opposing the bill.
On many occasions, pandemonium has been caused in both Houses of Parliament and several state Assemblies. Unruly members enter the well of the House shouting slogans, and even slap and kick fellow legislators, hurl chairs and microphones, insult the Chair and cause forced adjournments. This results in loss of precious time of the House. Any parliamentarian is first of all a citizen. If legislators breach the privileges accorded to them, they would have to be disciplined like any normal citizen by the law of the land. The members who were suspended and physically removed by marshals in the Upper House on March 9 later apologised to the Chair. Why did they apologise if they did no wrong?
The unruly behaviour of colleagues from my erstwhile party can never be justified. I am fortunate that I am no more in my old party. Otherwise I would probably have been asked by my leader to do in Rajya Sabha what Kamal Akhtar did. Look at a leader like Ajit Singh. He has just four MPs in Lok Sabha and one in Rajya Sabha. But he showed better conduct than members of my old party, although he holds the same view on the Women's Reservation Bill as Mulayam Singh. In Parliament, protest does not mean violence. Unfortunately my old party does not believe in grace, dignity and good conduct.
On this issue, some may point a finger at my conduct during the Liberhan Commission discussion. Whatever I did was an attempt to save the dignity of House; otherwise, the country's highest institution of democracy would have got divided on communal lines on that day. Still, I feel I committed a mistake in the heat of the moment and lost no time in apologising to the Chair, to the House, and to the member concerned. I am deeply concerned about the falling standards of our members. We must remember that the House of Elders has esteemed representatives drawn from diverse domains. Such disruptive behaviour from them is totally uncalled for. It is demeaning to India's vibrant democracy. Members involved in the kind of commotion we saw deserve forceful eviction.
Amar Singh (Until recently a prominent leader of the Samajwadi Party)
Use of force would send wrong signals
Marshals should never be used in the House to forcibly remove members of Parliament who are sent there to present the viewpoint of the people. India is a large and diverse country and there are many shades of opinion, especially on important questions. These may be connected with regions or different social compositions. It is particularly reprehensible that physical force should have been employed by marshals to eject Rajya Sabha MPs when a very important exercise like a Constitution Amendment was in progress. It is perfectly in order for MPs to protest vociferously against government measures. The use of marshals to throw out those opposing an amendment to the Constitution means that any government can remove dissenting members by force and effect a change in the most sacred document of democracy in our country.
This is a very serious situation indeed, one that had not been visualised by our political system and the framers of our Constitution. To use force against MPs on that terrible day were as many as 100 marshals. Mostly they were from the CISF, and not the watch and ward staff of Parliament.
A government that deploys such force against MPs when Constitution amendment is under discussion and vote can go to the extent of scrapping the Constitution itself in the absence of an Opposition.
The Indian Constitution has laid down detailed procedures to be followed for an amendment to the document. The idea is to hear all voices. This is why the incident of March 9, when seven Opposition members were thrown out by force for opposing the Women's Reservation Bill, has sent out all the wrong signals. There have been more than 100 amendments to the Indian Constitution but never has such a disgraceful episode occurred in the history of our Parliament. This government broke a tradition when it brought in CISF jawans to remove dissenting MPs before the vote. Subsequently, major political parties realised the gravity of the situation. They have already made known their opposition to similar tactics being used when the same Constitution Amendment Bill comes before the Lok Sabha.
A united stand by the Opposition parties, as well as parties that are allies of the government, has made the government see our point of view. This is why it has finally agreed to opt for wider consultations on the issue of the Women's Reservation Bill before moving ahead with the key legislation. Earlier, we had even approached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and requested him not to use force in Rajya Sabha, but the government did not listen to us.
Sharad Yadav, JD(U) president
LET PANDITS RETURN
BY NITISH SENGUPTA
I support Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah's proposal to allow people from the Kashmir Valley, who moved across the border and the ceasefire line in the early days of Kashmir's accession to India, to return to their homes, so as to lead an honourable life as Indian citizens and enjoy all the rights and privileges which they do not have in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Although there are possibilities of undesirable elements also gaining entry, that can be controlled through proper intelligence, monitoring and surveillance.
But we should also request Omar Abdullah to remember the case of Kashmiri Pandits and other Hindus who were forced to flee the Valley. Most of them are still living like refugees in other parts of India. This is an appropriate moment for the Centre and the state government to remember their plight and to sympathise. The government should take energetic steps to bring them back to the Valley.
It may be recalled that contrary to the declared secularism of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah and the National Front, these unfortunate people were compelled to leave by Islamist fanatics who were temporarily beyond the control of the government of the day.
To briefly recall those unfortunate circumstances, in January 1990, in the wake of the controversy over the elections that had taken place, a few local Urdu newspapers published statements by so-called jihadi leaders calling upon all Hindus to pack up and leave the Valley, and demanding Jammu & Kashmir's secession from India and accession to Pakistan.
In the next few days, masked hoodlums ran around the Hindu localities waving AK-47 rifles, shouting anti-Indian slogans and threatening to kill all Kashmiri Hindus. Several reports of killing of Kashmiri Pandits began to trickle in and in some localities, houses owned by the Hindus were marked out. There were posters on the walls asking all Kashmiris to strictly follow the Islamic dress code, imposing ban on cinemas and video parlours.
Faced with this situation, the government of the day behaved in a shameful way. Why the then chief minister Farooq Abdullah abdicated his responsibility and went into a sulk is not understood. Meanwhile, the Centre sent a new governor, Jagmohan, to take charge forcing Farooq Abdullah and the National Conference to withdraw.
Jagmohan's government, no doubt, imposed curfew but it failed to have a proper effect. On the other hand, it prevented normalcy and facilitated the terrorists in spreading their message of terror towards the Pandits. Nearly the entire Pandit community left Srinagar and other parts of the Valley in order to save their lives expecting to return after the things were normal. Sadly that never happened.
Even after the situation was under control there was no move to bring them back. In all these years nobody has seriously bothered about the net effect of this unfortunate development that led to the "ethnic cleansing" of the Valley, making it only a homeland for the Muslims.
Time has come when the government should resettle the Kashmiri Pandits and Hindus and let them lead a honourable life. I have no doubt that the majority of the Kashmiri Muslims will welcome and support them. What is strongly needed is a signal from both the Centre and the government of Jammu and Kashmir. Hopefully Omar Abdullah will take the lead.
This should bring us to the general issue of how Kashmir, in many respects, is the acid test of India's secular identity. If it is important that all non-Hindus must be allowed to live with full dignity and rights as Indian citizens, it is equally important that Kashmir's non-Muslim population must be allowed to live in their home with same dignity and equal rights.
Among the Kashmiri Muslims, we have to separate the fanatics who are in small number from the peace-loving majority who are affectionate towards Kashmiri Hindus and Kashmiri Sikhs.
We should remember that few among the German people during the days of Hitler, were true Nazis, but they were misled by Hitler's propaganda and simply sat back and let so many odd things happen. They were deluded by the return of the German prestige internationally and were in any case too busy with their day-to-day life to care.
The peace-loving Muslims have to be on their guard against Islamic fanatics who preach things contrary to Islam. They should be guided by examples such as that of the late former President Abdul Rahman of Indonesia (who died recently), who was initially an orthodox Muslim but, as President, valued the importance of secularism and enlisted the support of not only the majority of the Indonesian Muslims but also Indonesian Hindus and Christians.
There is no doubt that if the Centre takes initiatives to restore Kashmiri Pandits, along with the migrants from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, to their hearths and homes, they will have the support from the silent majority of the Kashmiri Muslims.
- Nitish Sengupta, an academic and an author, is a former Member of Parliament and a former secretary to the Government of India
YOGA CAN UNLOCK YOUR PAST LIFE
BY YOGI ASHWINI
We have been here before. Everyone who is around us is there because some "give and take" was left, the last time we met. What's more, whatever is going to happen has happened already. Everything in this Creation was conceived millions of years ago, we, mere mortals cannot add or subtract from what exists. We can at best go back to the energy source from which we emerged our ultimate destination.
Our past, present and future is all stored in the antahkarana, which when seen clairvoyantly is a blue tube above the head. This is our connection with the Supreme. If you ask people who have had near death experiences to recount their experience, you will find them describing a tunnel with light on the other end, or talk about an brilliant, bright light. This is the description of the antahkarana.
While a normal being traverses this tube only when the soul enters and exits a body; yogis are able to negotiate it at will in states of dhyan. They can transcend time to co-exist in the past, present and future by accessing the higher states of consciousness. There are four states of the mind conscious, subconscious, unconscious and superconscious or the turaiya stage. Past life regression is a function of this fourth stage, attainable only through serious practise of yog and Sanatan Kriya.
The fads and therapies that have picked up today in the name of past life regression are nothing but a play of the subconscious. It works on the same principle as dreams. The subconscious mind keeps on storing images and information one intercepts throughout the day. In state of hypnosis one is made to visit all those stored things juxtaposed together, misinterpreted as a past life.
Revelations of past life are meant to aid the cause of Creation. Evolved beings like Rama and Krishna could access their past, present and future and hence realised their purpose of preserving the Creation as incarnations of Vishnu. We are all divine beings going through a human experience. A visit to the past life helps revive parts of the memory, which lie dormant within us.
However to access ones past lives, the antahkarana must be awakened. This calls for certain purifications at the physical and etheric levels by way of yogic and tantric practices.
One of the most effective purification techniques prescribed in the Sanatan Kriya to pay-off ones dues is charity and non-collection. Remember the purest of waters become dirty when collected and the dirtiest of waters become pure when made to flow.
Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He is the guiding light of Dhyan Foundation. He has recently written a book, Sanatan Kriya: 51 Miracles...and a haunting.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org 
REVIVAL MUST FOLLOW RESHUFFLE
Nitin Gadkari can be said to have had his way. Tuesday's unveiling of the Bharatiya Janata Party's team of 37 office-bearers and seven spokespersons suggests that the party president has been able to rein in the influence of the overbearing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. On the face of it, he has managed to balance youth power with experience. The marked representation of women is concordant with the party's affirmation of empowerment. Beyond that, the critical facet of the reshuffle must be that LK Advani's constituency within the party ~ the "Dilli Four" ~ has been protected. If the RSS had wanted Advani's influence to be limited to Parliament and not the party, its hope has been dashed. The nominees of the former party president and Opposition leader are now entrenched in the hierarchy. If Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley head the Opposition in the two Houses of Parliament, Ananth Kumar has been appointed as general secretary and Venkaiah Naidu retains his position in the party's influential parliamentary board. And despite her occasional friction with the RSS, Vasundhara Raje has been rewarded with the post of general secretary. The RSS may have had its way in ensuring that Shahnawaz Husain, a two-time winner to the Lok Sabha, was not made the general secretary. He will have to be content with the post of spokesperson, one among seven. This must be one of the surprises of the team not least because Husain was perceived by the party hierarchy as a counter-weight to such abrasive hardliners as Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi. Indeed, this was one major reason why Atal Behari Vajpayee had inducted him into the Cabinet. On balance, Varun will have to be content with the post of secretary, largely of notional value. Even the hardliner Vinay Katiyar has been shunted from the post of general secretary to the titular office of vice-president. The setback for the RSS is that Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, who had fought the Sangh's battle against Advani, featured only among the 80-odd national executive members.
Beyond a parade of personalities, the new team will have to function meaningfully. Which will call for a deft balance between the compulsions of Hindutva and the imperatives of governance. Indeed, Mr Gadkari's team must now work to refashion the BJP as the entity of governance that it once was. A huge responsibility rests on the party president. He has been able to put together a team independently; he will be expected to revive the political fortunes of a former ruling party now in the dumps.
AGAINST A PM WITHOUT A MANDATE
IT is another battle for democracy. A week after the junta in Myanmar brought the electoral system firmly under its belt, its southern neighbour, Thailand, is witnessing a robust expression of the democratic fervour. While democracy has been stifled in one country, its fragility has been exposed in another. Trends in Bangkok over the past three days point to a deadlock in governance. And the crisis deepens with Monday's rejection by the Prime Minister of the red-shirted protesters' demand for the dissolution of parliament. Abhisit Vejjajiva has also turned down the demand for fresh elections though, notably enough, he has held out the hope for a compromise. "It doesn't mean that the government and I won't listen to their ideas." But given the mood of the people and the establishment, a halfway house seems improbable. Addiction to power can be heady, and it is quite apparent that Mr Abhisit is loath to give up authority. The response of the red-shirt brigade verges on the literally bloody, even theatrical. Each of its tens of thousands of supporters have been urged to donate 20 teaspoonfuls of blood, to be splattered on Bangkok's parliament building in what the protesters have called a "battle for Thailand's democracy". They may well have been egged on by Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister now in exile in Dubai after being ousted in a coup in 2006. Such suspicions are reinforced with his reported interaction with the people through a video link last Sunday. For all the charges of corruption, Mr Thaksin has a constituency in Thailand's rural populace, whom he had won over by a series of populist measures.
Indeed, it is the manner of Mr Abhisit's assumption of power that is central to the crisis. He was appointed by parliament in 2008, and theoretically the 100,000 demonstrators are justified when they claim that he wasn't elected. Hence the demand by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship for elections and a popular mandate. It's time for Mr Abhisit, in the security of a military bunker and guarded by 40,000 troops, to realise that a fresh poll is direly imperative. His authority as Prime Minister lacks a popular mandate. Any attempt to stifle the raging movement for democracy will be a recipe for disaster.
GLORY DIDN'T BECKON
THE SUPERSTAR CALLED BECKHAM
FAR from a certainty was David Beckham's place in the England squad for the FIFA World Cup. Yet despite the IPL, Commonwealth boxing, European Champions' League etc putting a premium on column-centimetres on the sports pages of Indian newspapers, a genuine "splash" was accorded to an injury putting paid to that celebrated wing-half's dream of a record four appearances in the holy of holies of the beautiful game. For, while it is turning out for the club that provides the bread-and-butter and platform for mind-boggling endorsement fees, the donning of national colours is what serves as "jam" to the true sportsman. Beckham has had it all ~ success, money, glamour Yet the 34-year-old opted for a rigorous regime, playing in Italy during the off-season of his prime professional concern, Major League Soccer in the USA, so that he got in enough highly-competitive games to impress the England manager. The desire still raged, despite 115 national "caps", a career with the Red Devils that would be the envy of angels, stints with Real Madrid, AC Milan, and a crusading role with LA Galaxy to take soccer to the American heart. Only glimpses of his mastery, particularly of "dead ball situations" were on view when he returned to Old Trafford a week ago and received a "prodigal son" reception. When a first-time volley threatened the goal he had previously so stoically defended the fans roared as they did in the days when ManU was his "turf". Not surprisingly fans the world over ~ many of whom had only savoured his magic courtesy TV ~ agonised as a ruptured Achilles tendon shattered his aspirations of taking the pitch in the rainbow nation.
Like all superstars, Beckham's allure extended beyond performance. He was terribly good looking, as any woman would confirm, was at the forefront of fashion. And, make no mistake about it, "his' Victoria" ~ Posh Spice if you insist ~ was the pinnacle of the WAGs (wives and girlfriends) that elevate English football into a sphere of its own. It is pointless to argue who was the best ever, the point is that true superstars transcend all that limits lesser mortals. The prognosis is that Becks could yet again recover fully, but even if he decides to take it easy hereafter he will ever command a sentimental niche in footballing hearts.
A TALK WITH MR PUTIN
TOWARDS A 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP'
BY SALMAN HAIDAR
THROUGH many years of association, and having weathered many pressures and difficulties, India and Russia have established a stable and extensive friendship. The man-in-the-street in India sees Russia as a reliable friend. The line between New Delhi and Moscow is perhaps not as critical for either as it was a few years ago, for both countries can have other preoccupations that take greater priority.
Yet this has not affected their close cooperation on the many matters that continue to bring them together. Both find value in their association and seek to keep it alive and strong. Hence they decided that there should be an annual top level consultation between them to address the interests they have in common. It is this decision that takes Dr Manmohan Singh regularly to Moscow, and that brought Mr Putin to New Delhi.
Mr Putin is a towering world figure. He is widely credited with having fashioned Russia's renaissance, so that it once more plays a full part in global affairs, after a shaky period in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. This more active and assertive Russian involvement has not always been to the liking of some Western countries and they have been critical of Mr Putin on a variety of issues. But Russia has been undeterred, and its independent voice on many complex issues has made it a more valued interlocutor for many others, including India. Thus Mr Putin was a welcome visitor, and raised expectations of significant results from his visit.
A 'strategic partnership' between the two countries is the agreed framework they have adopted. In this case, the phrase has substance, as it describes a similarity of approach on global issues and a readiness to develop joint programmes of action.
Emblem of cooperation
AT one time, Russia ~ or rather, the USSR ~ was a bulwark for India at the UN and elsewhere, where pressures were being brought on India to conform to what some other countries wished it to do. There was an echo of such past events when Mr Putin was reported in the media to have mentioned to his Indian hosts that Russia had never sold arms to Pakistan. This is indeed a measure of the good understanding between India and Russia, though it is not today as central an issue as it once was. Even so, cooperation in military matters remains one of the keystones of the bilateral relationship.
The missile 'BRAHMOS' has become an emblem of this cooperation, having been developed jointly for India's specific needs. There are many other cooperation projects, like that for the refurbishment of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov to make it suitable for Indian requirements ~ a long running matter about which two more agreements were signed during the visit. Today, Russia is no longer the virtually exclusive supplier of military equipment as it used to be, but it is still at the top of the list.
The other sensitive and high tech area of cooperation is nuclear technology for civilian use. Already, there is a Russian-supplied nuclear power plant at Kudankulam. This came up despite heavy pressure on Moscow to put an end to it, notwithstanding a prior commitment to India, at a time when Western suppliers were tightening the regime governing the export of nuclear materials, and India was feeling the pressure. The picture has changed significantly in the last couple of years and India now has access to many other sources, but yet Russia remains a leading supplier of nuclear civil equipment. The Putin visit saw the signing of agreements for another two plants at Kudankulam. These will add further to the country's energy security, as will the agreements also reached during the visit on oil and natural gas. Russia is now one of the most significant sources of hydrocarbons, being the largest exporter of natural gas and the second largest of oil. As India's economy grows and its energy needs expand, it will no doubt need to turn increasingly to Russia for supplies.
Apart from the purely bilateral aspects of their relationship, the two leaders are reported to have discussed the regional situation, where they have many shared concerns. Among these, the situation in Afghanistan is especially prominent, for both India and Russia are within reach of extremist and terrorist activity from that quarter. Thus the two leaders decided to strengthen their cooperation to meet the challenge. Russia retains a security role in some of the Central Asian Republics abutting on Afghanistan, so its nationals can be directly exposed to violence from there. It has also been subjected to a dangerous and long-running revolt in Chechnya which has had an impact too in neighbouring regions. Fighters from Chechnya have been recruited to the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan where they are feared as tough and uncompromising combatants.
OVER a broader field, the two countries have developed cooperation in forums aimed at stabilising the security of the vast Asian region. Russia is now very active in the Shanghai Security Organisation (SCO). This is a Chinese initiative into which Russia has been drawn very substantially. India was initially less than fully engaged in this body, which was somewhat restricted in scope, but the SCO has opened up its activities and now draws in a wider Asian participation. It is a response to the realisation that security problems are interlinked and require coordinated efforts to bring them under control. India's Prime Minister attended the last SCO Summit, as did other Asian leaders who had not participated in previous meetings. Several recent outbreaks of violent activity by non-state actors in different parts of the continent underline the need for the governments to frame an effective response.
Beyond these immediate concerns, there is talk of an Asian Union in the future. This draws on the experience of Europe where the European Union has shown the way, and looks to a grand partnership of Asian countries. Being much larger in area and population, and currently growing more rapidly than other parts of the world, such a structure in Asia, if it materialises, could bid fair to eclipse other regional organisations elsewhere. Russia is a vast country that straddles Europe and Asia, so it is drawn into regional developments in both these continents. Traditionally, it has been European in its orientation and associations, and while that may remain, its closer association with Asia is already taking place and is likely to accelerate: that is where its great reservoirs of natural resources like hydrocarbons are located. With such thoughts and prospects in mind, India has been keen to see Russia expand its strategic role in the Asia of today. Closer contact between the leadership of the two countries is part of this process.
The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary
THE WRONG PATH TO REFORMS
REFORMS IN HIGHER EDUCATION ARE IMPERATIVE BUT IT SHOULD NOT HAPPEN BY RINGING THE DEATH KNELL OF UGC, AICTE AND OTHER EXISTING REGULATORY AUTHORITIES AND BY ESTABLISHING A NEW SUPER-REGULATORY AUTHORITY LIKE NCHER, SAYS PARTHASARATHI CHAKRABORTY
THE committee headed by Professor Yash Pal, former Chairman of the UGC, strongly favoured the setting up of a National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) , which would be an apex body in our country so far as imparting quality education and reform is concerned. In their report to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the committee suggested the scrapping of existing higher education regulatory/monitoring bodies and creation of a super-regulatory authority. This would eventually pave the way for a National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER).
The committee also suggested that regulatory bodies like UGC, AICTE, NCTE, distance education council and similar organizations be abolished and replaced by the NCHER under an Act of Parliament. The 43-page report, that is, Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education, has been prepared after much consultation, exchange of views and ideas with teachers, students, academics and research scholars and awaits the approval of the Union government. According to Professor Yash Pal: "Our education system has become compartmentalized over the years. We have tried to bridge the gap between institutions and disciplines''. The committee also recommended that the position of chairperson of the proposed commission be analogous to that of election commissioners.
The most remarkable recommendation of the committee is the abolition of deemed university status. It has proposed that deemed universities be either converted into full-fledged universities or scrapped, depending on their academic and administrative performance. Further, all existing deemed universities must submit to new accreditation norms within three years, failing which they ought to lose their present status. The report states that there has been misuse of the UGC Act that frames the guidelines for according deemed university status. "In the last five years, 36 institutions, excluding RECs, have been notified as deemed universities, raising concerns that a majority of these institutes are not established with any educational purpose". During the period 1956-1990, only 29 institutions were granted deemed university status, whereas 63 institutes have been recognised as deemed universities in the last 15 years.
The committee said the Medical Council and Bar Council of India and similar other bodies should be confined to administrative matters, with universities taking up their academic responsibilities. It criticised the UPA government for its decision to set up IIMs and IITs mindlessly. The report, however, emphasized that the existing IITs and IIMs should be encouraged to expand their domain and diversify the field of research to work as full-fledged universities. It expressed grave concern on the proliferation of management and degree colleges which impart poor quality education and lack proper infrastructure.
It said about 1,500 reputed colleges should be identified for conferring on them the status of universities. A GRE-like test should be evolved for admissions and the test should be held more than once a year. Of the seven members of the proposed NCHER, one should be a distinguished personality from industry. The chairperson and members need to be selected by a committee headed by the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, and the Leader of Opposition. The NCHER will have five divisions dealing with accreditation management, funding, development etc. Sam Pitroda, chairman of the Knowledge Commission is in favour for an independent regulatory authority for higher education.
The higher education system of India is vast, diversified and intricate with 413 universities and more than 20,000 colleges. The salary of teachers and research scholars which has been revised is indeed substantial. Criticising the report, the UGC chairman Sukhadeo Thorat has reiterated that efforts should be made to identify and plug the existing loopholes in the system and reform seems to be imperative rather than scrapping it. The AICTE chairman, R A Yadav, stated that the Yash Pal Committee should go into the details of functioning of the existing regulatory body before suggesting dismantling it.
It is true that higher education in India, as it is perceived today, is in a dismal state. There is an in-built imbalance within the framework of the system and some are appalling. But the Yash Pal committee report is likely to raise more questions than answers. There seems to be two distinct organs of higher education. One is the academic and research component, the other is efficient administration. The total binocular vision could be achieved by nurturing these components. Academic excellence depends largely on recruitment of qualified teachers and efficient management. Managing the universities is a supreme challenge, beyond the grasp of most people. The educational management scenario of India is dismal right from elementary education to university level. Barring a few exceptions like JNU, IIS, IIMs and IITs, most of the universities are the worst managed institutes in the country. Academics with profound knowledge in their respective fields but with little or no management skill chaired administrative posts, with disastrous consequences. Even two decades ago, when Prof Yash Pal was chairman of UGC, no significant efforts were made to strengthen university administration, manpower planning and training.
The quality of higher education depends on quality of teachers. The selection procedure of most universities is not transparent. This system should be abolished. The candidate should be invited to give a lecture in presence of faculty members, students and scholars like IIMs and IITs in an open environment for assessment. Indiscriminate allocation of research grants without studying the merits should be done away with. If we do not have qualified teachers in our higher educational establishments, the quality of research will be poor. Most of the research activities in Indian universities are below the world standard. The activities of university academic staff colleges should be reviewed.
It is surprising that the Yash Pal committee report mentioned the existence of the Higher Education Council of West Bengal, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. As far as West Bengal is concerned, the higher education scenario is vitiated and politicised. There is organised anarchy at the behest of the CPI-M. Higher education in the state is in a mess. Appointments from an ordinary peon to the vice-chancellor are made on the basis of loyalty to the CPI-M and not on the basis of academic achievements. In higher education administration, no professional management skills are required; mediocrity reigns over excellence.
Reforms in higher education are imperative. But it should not happen by ringing the death knell of UGC, AICTE and other existing regulatory authorities and by establishing a new super-regulatory authority like NCHER. It would be better to improve the academic environment by inducting qualified teachers and professional management personnel in higher education, depoliticising it and forming a powerful body to keep a close watch on the present regulatory authorities.
The writer is a former Reader in Chemistry, Presidency College, Kolkata, and was associated with the University Grants Commission
CAN ETHIOPIA'S WIVES EVER BREAK FREE?
THE NATIONAL COMMITTEE ON TRADITIONAL PRACTICES OF ETHIOPIA FOUND THAT 69 PER CENT OF MARRIAGES BEGIN WITH THE TRIPLE-WHAMMY OF ABDUCTION, RAPE, AND A FORCED SIGNATURE, SAYS JOHANN HARI
Every woman remembers her wedding day with a tear in her eye but, here in Ethiopia, the tears are different, and darker, and do not stop. Nurame Abedo is sitting in her hut high in the clouds, remembering the day she became a wife. She lives hundreds of miles into the countryside. For 40 years, she didn't talk about her wedding, or how it came to happen. If she tried, she was beaten by her captor, who said good women never speak of such things. So she tells her story slowly, haltingly, her sentences punctuated by sudden high-pitched laughs that seem to erupt involuntarily from her gut.
Nurame was in her bed when she was woken by an angry mêlée. In her family's hut there were grown men, 10 or more, all in their 30s, all standing over her father, shouting. They reached for her. At night here, where there is no electricity, perfect darkness falls, and everything becomes a shadow-play of barely visible flickers. But even though she was eight years old, she suspected at once what was happening. She had heard whispers that, when a girl is considered ready for marriage, a man will seize her, and rape her, and then she must serve him for the rest of her life. "That was the culture," she says. But it wasn't her culture: like all the other little girls, she didn't want it. "I started screaming and tried to run out of the hut," she says. "I hid in the trees but one of the men found me."
She was taken back to his home, held down in front of his family, raped, and taken to be married the next morning. Dazed, she signed the papers, and waited for a moment when she could flee.
After three days, he finally left her alone in the hut. She ran for miles barefoot back to her family, wanting to return to her life, and to her childhood. She hurried through the door, weeping with joy. "But my father told me that now I had had sex with him, nobody else would want me and I had to go back to him and be a good wife," she says. "My mother was very sad but she said it was true. I went back. Soon after that I was pregnant, and what could I do? Hah! Now many years have passed and I have six children. Life is hard for a woman. Hah!" She is crumpled now, her walk halting, her face creased.
Nurame has a distant sense of another life, one she will never lead now. "If it hadn't happened to me ... I would have been educated and got my own work and lived my own life. I wish to God that had happened." Her laugh erupts again, like a muffled scream. "My husband is a good man. He does not beat me now. I love him. He is a very good man." She gives a big gap-toothed smile of apparent sincerity.
All the old women I meet insist on this upbeat ending, in almost identical language, after recounting their tales of rape. "It is only hard for the first five years," one of them tells me, quite seriously. I think of Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian girl held in a cellar for eight years, and who now grieves for her captor who killed himself. She has bought the house he imprisoned her in and reportedly sits in his cellar, alone.
In Ethiopia, Nurame's story happens every day. In 2003 the last year for which statistics are available the National Committee on Traditional Practices of Ethiopia found that 69 per cent of marriages begin like this, with the triple-whammy of abduction, rape, and a forced signature.
These stories have been sealed away for millennia, behind masks of pain and repression, but sometimes there are moments when history suddenly accelerates and this is one of them. Across the fields and huts of this country, a mass rebellion of abductee-brides has broken out over the past decade. Ethiopian women have started to refuse to watch their sisters disappear into servitude. They are fighting back and now they are asking for our help.
"Yes, I kidnapped several of my wives," says the tall, thin market trader, in a bland matter-of-fact tone. Abebe Anebo is a wiry 45-year-old man, with sunken eyes that are partially concealed in the shade of a grubby white baseball cap. He makes his living selling pots crafted from the earth by his seven captive-brides and his 25 children. He is returning from market when I meet him, leaving tracks in the muck. It has been raining for days, and the land seems to have erupted with wild green foliage and molten mud everywhere. Everyone is slipping and sliding. Like many men here, he sees nothing wrong with kidnapping a woman indeed, he claims it is a sign of love.
"I used to see her in the market where I sell pots," he says fondly of the first woman he took. "She was beautiful. I never talked to her, but I loved her. One Monday I called my friends and we picked her up and took her to the car and away with us." What did she do? "She cried but once she was in the car she shut up. I knew her family and I wanted to be part of it it's a good family. I told her cousin I was going to take her and he said it was fine." He says it as though he is describing buying a tin of beans.
I try to match his casual tone as I ask 'Did you rape her?' He laughs. It is not an embarrassed laugh, but an anticipatory guffaw, and he leans towards me, like he is about to offer a punchline. "I got her to sleep in the hut between me and the fire. The fire was very hot. In the end she had to come closer to me!" With that he cracks up, and all the men standing around laugh with him. I repeat the question 'So did you rape her?' "Yes, I did, obviously," he says, as though I am grouchily missing the gag.
What was married life like? "Once she was abducted, she fell into line. She lived her life. She made pots. She did what she had to. A man is like honey, honey to a woman once she has honey, she is happy." She died in an accident a few years ago, he says. At a wedding, somebody shot a pistol in the air in celebration, and the bullet came back to earth and hit her between the eyes. Fortunately, he had seized a second wife, so he wasn't left alone.
But he grieves for that wife because she was a good worker. "Women are our factories. They work for their husbands. They cultivate land, they make pots, they treat animal skins... A woman should obey. If I tell one of my wives to do something, she does it." Why should she? "That's life. Even if I became a cripple, she would obey me. She is a woman. They like it."
But if women want it, why abduct them? Why not just ask? He is finding these questions grating now. He looks to the other men and smirks a little, then looks back at me. "This is how we did it! I thought it was normal. Our ancestors did it, our grandfathers did it, our fathers did it. My mother was kidnapped by my father." He admits that, yes, his mother sometimes cursed this fact, but that is just proof of her generally lazy and ungrateful nature. "She had a wealthy family, so when she was with them she was very lazy, and very proud that she didn't have to work. When my father took her she had to work, and she was always bitter and angry about that. She just had to get on with it though." How would he feel if one of his daughters was abducted? "I'd pity the poor man who took her!" he says.
He says, with a solemn look: "I think abduction is illegal now. It's bad, you shouldn't do it. It's wrong." He says this with great solemnity, as if describing the death of a loved one. I'm confused: you just said a minute ago that women like it. He shouts: "Nowadays men have to be different! If I kidnap a woman now I'll probably be punished!"
What is replacing abduction? The younger women say they want to choose their own husbands, with a firm, decisive nod. But when I ask the men, they disagree. "I will decide whom [my daughter] marries, and I will expect a high bridal price because my daughter is beautiful 50 cows," one father tells me.
In theory, the Ethiopian government supports moves to eradicate bridal abduction: they know the country cannot develop if half its population is terrorised and not free. But a new law threatens to wipe out the progress that has been made.
The show of power sometimes has a mad edge, and that madness can teeter over into the dark pit of black laughter. Not even the creator of the Mad Hatter could have thought up a scene where the chief minister of a state addresses a rally on the 25th anniversary of her party's foundation with a huge swarm of bees swirling around her, just after she has smugly accepted an enormous garland made of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes. The chief components of the scene belong to such incredibly different planes of experience that the scene itself could have been pure fancy. But everything is possible in Mayavati-land, just as, only a few years ago, everything was possible in Lalu-land. Perhaps the funniest part of the bee-story was Ms Mayavati's determined, if inwardly nervous, persistence with the programme, and her supporters' paeans to her for her courage. But even bees baulked at stinging the chief minister, although she has, even more uproariously, accused unknown enemies of trying to attack her and disrupt her party's celebrations by unleashing bees. Her highest administrative officers are still looking for the culprit.
The bees must have been frustrated to find that the huge garland was made of money, not flowers. Herein lies the darker side of the comedy. Apart from the mind-boggling crudeness of the gesture although the actual threading together of the notes must have required extraordinary skill the question of where so much money came from is inescapable. Although the Lok Sabha was repeatedly disrupted with this question and the income tax department has claimed to be looking into the matter, the Bahujan Samaj Party has defiantly gifted its leader with another money garland on Wednesday. The party claims that the leader's admirers in Lucknow contributed to make up the first garland, while BSP supporters from Karnataka are making a similar claim. Related questions regarding the fund sources of the BSP's Rs 200-crore anniversary celebrations are also being raised. That such merrymaking is possible while the communal tensions in Bareilly remain unresolved is an index of the depths to which the political culture of Uttar Pradesh, as of India, has descended. In a way, Ms Mayavati is doing the right thing. She is dropping pretence. Flaunting money before the nation is an honest display of the way Indian politics is run.
If for nothing else, the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva in Thailand will go down in history for its tolerance of political agitation, even the ones targeting it. Despite the ferocity of the current spate of pro-democracy protests in Thailand, the government has shown remarkable calm in handling the crisis. One of the toughest of the tests was the blood protest on March 16 that saw the Red Shirt agitators of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship smear blood on the prime minister's residence in a bizarre ritual that was expected to paralyse the government with fear. The Red Shirts, who have earlier hurled plastic bags of rotting fish on symbols of power besides creating massive law-and-order problems, are fighting for the reinstatement of the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, to power. He had won the last elections in 2007 by a landslide before charges of corruption saw him flee the country, and he remains immensely popular, particularly among the poor who yearn to go back to his era of debt-relief and cheap loans. The recent round of agitation was set off by a court ruling that said $1.4 billion worth of Mr Shinawatra's frozen assets would become State property.
It should be plain as daylight to the political establishment in Thailand that the billionaire exile remains a potent political force. Yet, the Vejjajiva government has not only allowed Mr Shinawatra's lines of communication with his supporters to remain unhindered, but has also held up recurrent political agitation as a sign of Thailand's vibrant democracy. But that is a red herring, for there can be little doubt that politics in Thailand continues to remain under the iron grip of the army and the traditional elite, both of which owe allegiance to the monarchy. Mr Vejjajiva, who came to power in a silent coup in 2008, is himself a beneficiary of this order of things which is unlikely to change unless a truly free and fair election takes place. Mr Shinawatra, from Cambodia (which granted him political asylum), and the Red Shirts, no matter how troublesome, lack the power to force that on the clique controlling power in Thailand. Meanwhile, if Mr Vejjajiva succeeds in the endurance game, and gives timely sops to the poor, there is every chance that he will be able to stave off the eventuality of an electoral upset for some time more.
STRATEGIES OF COOPERATION
RUSSIA AND INDIA'S COMMON INTERESTS YIELD DIFFERING RESPONSES
The visit of the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, to India on March 12 provides the occasion to look at some of the geo-strategic issues facing India and Russia.
For India, Russia's resurgence will create a greater balance in global affairs. Russia's decline has facilitated China's rise, which is against India's strategic interests. The consequence of American/European policies to strategically contain Russia through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and European Union expansion into former Soviet space is the strengthening of a formidable rival to their own power in an increasingly assertive, nationalist, militarily stronger and demographically huge China. A potential United States of America-China diarchy would be at the expense of large and autonomous countries like India and Russia.
However, Russia's strategic thinking about China is not quite clear. At one level, it appears that Russia has drawn closer to China strategically in order to counter Western pressures. It has been arming China. Russia-China energy deals, while making good commercial sense, have a strategic implication, and contrast with Russia's failure to respond to pressing Indian demands to participate in energy projects beyond Sakhalin-1. Russia's promotion of the trilateral RIC (Russia, India, China) and the quadrilateral BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) dialogues suggest efforts to form diverse partnerships with China to resist Western domination. The Russia-China cooperation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, coupled with the denial of full membership to India, limits our engagement with Central Asia. India and Russia do not have a common vision of China. It is unlikely that they will be able to develop one on the essentials even as both countries continue to engage China, as they should.
Japan's economic stature has declined; China looms large in its neighbourhood, eroding its self-confidence and reinforcing in practical terms its reliance on the US for its defence even as the developing US-China relationship makes that arrangement more uncertain. Japan can permanently neutralize any threat from China by going nuclear, just as Pakistan has insured itself against any perceived Indian threat, but that would require a transformation of thinking in the country on nuclear weapons, not to mention the implications of such a step for the non-proliferation treaty. Japan should have reason to deepen its strategic ties with India; some steps are being taken in this direction, but Japan has to be clearer in its thinking and choices. Russia-Japan differences on the Kurile islands exclude any trilateral understanding involving India on jointly addressing emerging threats.
In developing a stronger India-Russia partnership in a multipolar environment, India's transformed ties with the US would be a factor. These are bound to deepen economically, even if politically they might be accident-prone, given the US's uncongenial policies in our neighbourhood. The modern sectors of the Indian economy and its most dynamic players are tied to US/Western markets, whereas India-Russia economic ties remain limited. Their rapid expansion appears unlikely.
China is expanding strategically in India's neighbourhood. It is entrenched in Pakistan; it has penetrated Myanmar; it is expanding its profile in Nepal, and is well installed in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It is seeking to put an infrastructure in place to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean. It is the dominant economic player in Central Asia. It is investing huge sums to exploit Afghanistan's natural resources. It has greatly expanded its presence in Iran. How does Russia see this reality? If the improved Russia-China ties would prevent Russia, for larger geo-political and strategic considerations, from engaging India on its China problem, India would need to invest more in the potential of the US-China equation souring at some time and throwing up further common ground for developing some joint India-US-Japan hedging strategies for the future.
The latest developments in Afghanistan are very disquieting for India. The US electoral calendar, its financial crisis, the loss of support for the war domestically and from the allies are elements behind the Western exit strategy. The policy of reintegration and reconciliation with the Taliban carries the danger of handing over power to the Taliban eventually and rewarding Pakistan with the strategic depth it wants in Afghanistan. The latter will be rationalized as a way to stabilize Pakistan and use it as an insurance cover against any anti-Western activities by the Taliban. India and Russia should be worried at the strategic depth that the Wahabbist ideology will acquire in the region, threatening Central Asia and India.
What could be the joint response of India and Russia? Russia has given additional transit rights to Nato forces through its territory for their operations in Afghanistan, as it sees some advantage to itself in the US combat against extremist forces that could destabilize Central Asia and eventually southern Russia. Internationally, Russia is focusing on drug trafficking and not on the Taliban. The scope for restoring the understanding between India, Russia and Iran seems less today than in the past because all three countries support the legitimate government of President Hamid Karzai. The Central Asians are not active in Afghan discussions despite the danger to them of a Taliban takeover. A Russian initiative is needed to chart a hedging strategy involving India, Iran and the Central Asian States. China, though worried by extremist spillover from Afghanistan into Sinkiang, is unlikely to allow any strategy to develop that the Pakistan government is opposed to.
Pakistan, in the belief that it is now playing a winning hand in Afghanistan, has stepped up its diplomatic confrontation with India. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is now publicly offering to mediate between the US/Nato and the Taliban on condition that India's presence in Afghanistan is rolled back and Pakistan's need for a soft strategic depth in Afghanistan is accepted as an insurance against the Indian threat. Russia has shown reluctance to wade into India-Pakistan issues publicly. Its statement after the Mumbai terrorist mayhem, expressing concern about the South Asian nuclearized environment, was unhelpful. While it condemns terrorist attacks against India, it avoids mentioning the involvement of Pakistan-based terror groups in such attacks. It seems reluctant to create any misunderstanding with the US on India-Pakistan issues as it does not want to create an impression that it is in any way encouraging a tougher Indian response to Pakistani provocations. It also wants to keep its lines to Pakistan open.
To sum up: India and Russia are well placed to work together constructively in the emerging multipolar world order. There is no inherent conflict of interest between the two countries. But Russia's larger strategic needs require an approach towards China that we may not fully subscribe to even as we see the necessity of engaging China ourselves. India's changed ties with the US and lack of dynamism in India-Russia economic ties are factors that would put limits on a common India-Russia global strategy. Russia should facilitate greater Indian involvement in Central Asia. In Afghanistan we have to fashion a common strategy to prevent the return to power of the Taliban. Russia needs to be more open with India on Pakistan which is the source of serious problems for India and, through its disruptive ambitions in Afghanistan encouraged by the US, to Russia too.
The author is former foreign secretary of India email@example.com
COUNTRY COMES FIRST
It was a spontaneous remark, expressing gratitude to her parents for having helped her reach her dream. When 18-year-old Chinese speed-skater, Zhou Yang, won her first gold at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver last month, she said, "It is my dream. I can give my family a better life now that I've won this gold medal. My mom used to knit sweaters for other people, and the living condition of my family was not good. Now my mom can enjoy a better life."
Zhou was a dark horse who ended up winning two golds at her Olympic debut. Back in her hometown, the authorities announced a 1,000-square-foot apartment for her, and named her one of the "Ten Outstanding women of Changchun''. But the man in charge of her career, the vice-minister for sports and the vice-president of the Olympic Committee, found the star athlete lacking in patriotism. "There's nothing wrong with thanking your parents, but first you should thank your country. You've got to put the country first, and not simply thank your parents alone," said Yu Zaiqing, at the annual delegates' session of the Communist Party in Beijing, adding that he would bring up the question of "enhancing the moral education of athletes'' in the session.
Then onwards began a nightmare for Zhou Yang's parents. The media demanded they explain their daughter's words, even asking whether they had done everything for her just to make a killing from her success. What should have been a period of glory for Zhou and her parents ended with Zhou's mother sobbing in front of television cameras and Zhou issuing a "correct" reaction after the Games. "What I really want to say is thanks. I thank the country for providing us with excellent conditions, for giving us the excellent conditions for our Olympic campaign. And I thank everyone who supported us, I thank our coaches, I thank the staff, and I thank my mom and dad.''
The minister who reprimanded Zhou is 59 years old and joined the Communist Party at the peak of the Cultural Revolution when Mao was still alive and everyone sang praises to the Chairman every day. Sports in China is still a government-controlled field, where promising kids are groomed from childhood and have their careers controlled by the State. Taken together, these two factors explain Yu Zaiqing's ungracious remarks.
But while Zhou's mother must also have grown up singing paeans to Chairman Mao and the motherland, she put up a spirited defence of her daughter despite the reporters' haranguing her. "What Chinese person does not love their country? We raise our children to bring glory to the country! The leaders' quibbles are they really necessary? After bringing so much honour to the country, what does such a little thing matter?''
She and her husband were "plain folks" who hadn't taught Zhou to "talk tall", she said. She described her daughter as a shy girl, whose life was training, sleeping, eating, one who had even spent many New Years away from her family, training. Said Zhou's father, "The girl is still young. She spoke from her heart. Of course, the parents come first! Of course, after the parents bringing her up, everything else is for the country. Ultimately, she won glory for China!"
Spotted by a coach when she was eight, Zhou earned only a 500-yuan stipend. Her honest words have won her support across the country. On the Chinese version of Wikipedia, the minister's entry has been changed by angry netizens to read: "Yu Zaiqing, male ... no mother and no father, raised by the Communist Party." An opinion piece in the official China Youth Daily asked, "How can somebody love their country if they don't even love their parents?''
HOME IS WHERE THE HURT IS
Society finds it convenient to blame public institutions for teenage suicides, but the real picture is far more complex, writes Devi Kar
Each time a school boy or girl commits suicide, there is a hush for a while followed by a buzz that lasts longer. Each time we are awash with an overwhelming sense of guilt along with feelings of shock and grief, and then, invariably, anger. Today we are trying to cope with a startling new social phenomenon of young people choosing death over life at a time when life has barely begun for them.
The statistics in the United States of America were easily available. "For each (young) person who dies by suicide (a "completed suicide") there are an estimated 50 to 100 suicide attempts. When people under age eighteen are asked if they have ever seriously attempted suicide, at least one out of twenty say that they have." The figures in India, and especially in West Bengal (940 in 2008), are alarming too.
Psychologists and experts agree that the causes for the increasing incidence of teenage suicide are complex and are related to several factors, including genetic disposition, pressure to perform in diverse areas, lack of self-esteem and a disturbed family life. Sexual awakening and sexuality concerns further complicate matters. It is generally accepted that the cause that is usually attributed or speculated about with regard to each case of suicide such as a scolding or a dismal examination result is in fact just the trigger.
For years, educationists and mental health experts have been trying to address the issues of anxiety and stress in children, especially in relation to school work and examinations. New "student-friendly" examination reforms are being introduced and soon much to the dismay of many the concept of passing and failing may cease to exist. In spite of these efforts, the pressures on youngsters to achieve keep mounting. Young people today are required to be competent all-rounders. That is, in addition to academics, they are expected to excel or outperform others in all kinds of extra- and co-curricular activities such as sports, public speaking, dramatics, dance, music, quizzing and so on. As a result, these activities are no longer enjoyed for their own sake and can hardly serve as avenues of relaxation.
The sudden rise of prosperity levels and advent of a dramatic technological revolution have generated, in a disturbing manner, a whole set of social pressures and complications. It is an accepted fact that children today are growing up in the midst of images of violence if not actual violence. But these make for another long and complicated story.
No doubt we need to be concerned about these pressures. But associated with these is a rising phenomenon that is extremely disturbing. In the wake of reports of suicide and of children inflicting self-injury, parents are becoming dangerously diffident about disciplining their children. They are unable to be firm with their children, they openly declare, because "they may go and do something drastic". Some children have confided that they take full advantage of the situation and resort to "emotional blackmail" to get their way. A fall-out of this is that parents are increasingly relying on school authorities to discipline their children who have become used to calling the shots at home.
Another parenting trend that is emerging in this confusing state of affairs is an over-protective attitude. Parents tend to rationalize and defend their children's behaviour and are ever ready to blame a teacher for some remark that may have offended the child. Just as teachers have to be sensitive to children's feelings, it is also important for children to learn to be emotionally stable and take criticism, praise, an occasional scolding or public applause in their stride. They must learn to accept that there will always be others who are better than them, just as there are some who are worse. It is hard, but it is imperative that parents allow their children to face disappointments and not rush to compensate in other ways. This is a sure way of damaging the learning process. It is indeed vital for every child to learn to respond to setbacks in a healthy and robust manner. In their zeal to protect their children in every way, parents end up contributing to their fragility.
Whenever we hear about a miserable child, a depressed child or a suicidal one, it is inevitably the school that comes under the scanner. And then comes the spate of reports and rumours about harsh teachers, dismal examination results, the fear of failure and broken friendships. Often corporal punishment meted out in school is singled out as the most significant cause of suicide. Strangely, the home front and other complexities in the child's life are completely overlooked. Sometimes one hears of terrible beatings and other forms of abuse that are suffered at home and it is next to impossible to control these because children in turn protect their parents loyally, and society finds it convenient to blame public institutions.
What is a saving grace in these testing times is that there are still many parents who take a sensible and practical approach in dealing with their wards. They want to be advised about appropriate parenting, and certainly more parents are seeking professional help to resolve problems. What is sad, however, is the loss of easy camaraderie between teachers and students. Teachers say that they have to measure and weigh their words far too carefully these days in case they are accused of being insensitive. Gone are the days when teachers could use the most colourful expressions to make a point and students would take them in good humour and joke about them for years after. What is sadder still is that parents have stopped being parents in the fullest sense of the term. And what is tragic is that we are losing our children in more senses than one.
The author is principal, Modern High School for Girls, Calcutta
AN EYE ON THE COAST
Given the present security concerns, the Indian navy must acquire a balanced fleet
Admiral Noman Bashir, brother of the Pakistani foreign secretary, Salman Bashir, who was in New Delhi to hold talks with India, recently said, "The Indian navy's current force structure and future expansion plans reflect its hegemonic mindset to further flex its muscles and become a 'blue water' navy."
Yes, India must have 'blue water' navy; but that is not a reflection of its "hegemonic mindset to further flex its muscles...." Bashir, despite being the navy chief, displayed a lamentable lack of knowledge and understanding of the naval situation in Asia.
Compared to Pakistan's 567 nautical mile Arabian Sea coastline, India has a 4,104 nautical mile coastline with the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal. That makes India's coastline, approximately, 7.23 times bigger than Pakistan's. India, therefore, cannot afford to have a tiny navy with archaic machines to protect its territorial waters.
The differences in role, operation, tactical doctrine and deployment of these two naval forces need to be analysed carefully. According to Jane's World Navies 2009, the Pakistani navy's tactical doctrine includes, among other things, "aggressive deployment of submarines to destroy Indian navy's major surface combatants". In naval parlance, the Pakistani naval doctrine emphasizes "fleet-in-being"(guerrilla-warfare). Islamabad's submarine assets would be a major factor in a combat with the Indian navy as the enemy carrier group would be extremely vulnerable to underwater operations within a limited combat radius. Understandably, therefore, the overall operational task of the Indian navy is daunting. However, India's self-imposed diplomatic and defensive restraint does not allow its navy to go beyond limited sea-denial capability.
Theoretically, however, the Indian navy has the ability to undertake a two-fold role: sea control and sea denial, say up to 1,500 nautical miles from its operational base. Sea control is essentially about cooperation with littoral and other friendly navies. For sea denial, however, submarine and anti-submarine capabilities would be essential to counter any hostile manoeuvre by non-littoral fighting ships. Being larger and more populous, India has its own share of problems, given the hostile environment. It is imperative that the Indian navy pre-empts hostile guerrillas in sea and secures the shore.
The Indian navy's vision of a "force architecture centred around 140 to 145 vessels by 2020", of which "more than half will be ocean-going and the remainder assigned to coastal duties", makes a lot of sense. The only caveat should be to have more indigenous warships on the naval inventory. With the growing threat of piracy, the rapid modernization of the Chinese navy and Islamabad's fleet-in-being acquisitions, it is now time for some restructuring in the Indian navy. A balanced naval force, consisting of missile destroyers, frigates and corvettes, based on at least two aircraft carrier battle groups, supplemented by submarines and aviation assets equipped with long-range, precision-guided weapons capable of anti-ship and land-attack missions, is compulsory.
Admiral Bashir would perhaps be better off managing Pakistan's coastline instead of eyeing India's shoreline.
PLAYING FOR PROFIT
"STRANGELY, MONSANTO IS DENOUNCING ITS OWN PRODUCT."
A new controversy that has arisen about Bt cotton in Gujarat has exposed how commercial considerations can influence claims about the efficacy of genetically modified (GM) seed varieties. Generally companies that develop and market GM seeds champion the strengths and merits of the seeds and defend them fiercely. But Monsanto, the multinational company that has developed the Bt cotton variety Bollgard, has now made a public announcement that the pink bollworm pest it was supposed to resist had developed immunity to the killer gene in the GM seed. The company says this has been observed in four districts in Gujarat. Interestingly, the Central Institute for Cotton Research, a government body, has denied the company's claim and stated that it is not based on observations for a period long enough to form a conclusion and that faulty testing methodologies had been used to arrive at it. The situation is strange because a company is finding fault with its own product and a government agency is defending that product.
But the mystery is solved when it is realised that the company is trying to discourage the use of the Bollgard variety which does not yield big profits because of competition and low prices. Instead it is trying to promote a second generation variety that is sold at a high price and which has no great competition. It is all right for a company to promote its latest product. But it is wrong to denounce an earlier product of its own, on the basis of unsubstantiated findings, just to promote its business and increase profits. Monsanto's announcement on the Bollgard variety's failure creates confusion because the various claims about GM seeds, including their ability to resist pests, are still fiercely contested. Its claim adds strength to the criticism about GM seeds.
That also shows that the multinational companies which do research on transgenic crops and develop seeds misrepresent data for the sake of better business. It strongly underlines the need for independent assessment and verification of their claims. GM technology is important for the development of agriculture. But there is the need for transparency about the scientific findings. More indigenous research in the public sector, which is not driven by commercial motives, will help in the development of a variety of GM products and in better evaluation of the claims made by private companies. The public and the farmers should go by the findings of such reliable research.
"THAKSIN STILL ENJOYS HUGE POPULARITY IN THAILAND."
The conflict between Thailand's Red and Yellow Shirts that seemed to have died down for a while has erupted once again with the Red Shirts ie supporters of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra taking to the streets of Bangkok. For almost a week now, around 1,00,000 Red Shirts their formal name is the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship have marched in demonstrations demanding the resignation of prime minister Abhisit Vejajjiva and fresh elections. Thailand has been in a state of acute political turmoil for several years now. Back in 2006, the Yellow Shirts or the Peoples Alliance for Democracy launched mass protests to oust Thaksin, then Thailand's Prime Minister. A few months later, Thaksin was ousted in a military coup but he stood vindicated a year later when his allies won general elections. The verdict was not accepted by the Yellow Shirts who persisted with protests to force the government to step down. They succeeded when the Thaksin-allied government fell in November 2008. While Abhisit has been in power since then, the Red Shirts have not accepted the legitimacy of his government and have been protesting to oust it.
The deep political polarisation in Thailand is worrying. On the face of it, the conflict is one between Thaksin supporters and the rest of the population. Indeed, Thaksin is the key personality around whom the confrontation revolves. Although he lives in exile, his political influence in Thailand is considerable, evident from the large number of people showing up at the Red Shirt rallies. But this is not just about Thaksin. The polarisation reflects an urban-rural divide too. Thaksin has enjoyed huge popularity among rural Thais as his policies while prime minister improved their living conditions.
More importantly this seems to be a conflict between the forces of democracy and those opposed to it. The hand of the military was evident in Abhisits rise to power. It would be more appropriate to describe the polarisation as one between a loose grouping of royalists, the military, businessmen and the urban middle class on the one hand and rural Thais, students and democrats on the other. The military is backing the former and it will not hesitate to use extreme force to protect its interests. Should the protests persist, Thailand could descend into bloodshed.
SAUDI ARABIA IN FOCUS
BILATERAL TRADE BETWEEN INDIA AND THE GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL WILL RISE ABOVE $25 BILLION THIS YEAR.
BY HARSH V PANT
Prime minister Manmohan Singh visited Saudi Arabia earlier this month after a long gap of 28 years and promptly elevated the Indo-Saudi relationship to a 'strategic partnership.' In the last few years India's policy toward the Gulf region has often been viewed through the prism of India-Iran relations. The international community and the West in particular has been obsessed with New Delhi's ties with Tehran and has tended to ignore India's much more substantive engagement with the Arab Gulf states. Notwithstanding all the hype surrounding India's ties with Iran, they remain largely under-developed even as the significant stakes that India has in the Arab Gulf often go unnoticed.
With his visit to Saudi Arabia, the prime minister has re-emphasised that when it comes to the Gulf, Iran will not be the focus of Indian foreign policy.
India managed to finalise not just an extradition treaty with the Saudis, but also an Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Prisoners. These would allow India to rescue its citizens under death sentences in Saudi Arabia. Equally significant is the Saudi commitment to double the crude oil supply to India and forge an energy partnership with India. The Saudis have also indicated that they would be willing to use their leverage on Pakistan to cease its policy of using violent extremism as an instrument of its foreign policy against India.
The Saudi King had visited India in 2006 with much fanfare. It was also a signal to the broader Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) community to build stronger partnership with India. India's engagements with the GCC states have gathered momentum in the last few years even though India-Iran ties have continued to hog all the limelight. India's desire to secure energy supplies as well as to consolidate economic and trade relations and the 'look east' policy of the Gulf States has allowed the two to carve a much more substantive relationship than in the past.
While India is not a Muslim-majority country, it still hosts the second-largest Muslim population in the world, a constituency that remains interested in Saudi Arabia as the site of the holy shrines at Mecca and Medina. Indians are the largest expatriate community in the GCC states, numbering around 4 to 5 million. Indian expatriate labour constitutes around 30 per cent of the total population of the UAE and they have significant presence in Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar.
The economic dimension of India's Gulf policy has become more pronounced in recent years. As a group, the GCC is India's second largest trading partner. It is the largest single origin of imports into India and the second largest destination for exports from India. Bilateral trade between India and the GCC is expected to rise above $25 billion this year.
The global financial meltdown and recessionary trends in the US and Europe is prompting India to turn to Gulf states sitting on huge resources looking for investment opportunities. India is hoping that major GCC states such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman would participate in India's planned expansion of infrastructure. The Gulf states meanwhile are interested in human resource from India to develop sectors as varied as information technology, construction, transportation and services.
With an economy that is projected to grow at a rate of 7-8 per cent over the next two decades, meeting its rapidly increasing demand for energy in one the biggest challenges facing India. Burgeoning population, coupled with rapid economic growth and industrialisation has propelled India into becoming the world's fifth largest energy consumer in the world.
Energy is clearly the driving force in Gulf-India relations. Riyadh is the chief supplier of oil to India's booming economy, and India is now the fourth largest recipient of Saudi oil after China, the US, and Japan. India's crude il imports from the Saudi kingdom will likely double in the next 20 years.
India's trade and energy security is inextricably linked to the security of the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el-Mandeb. With this in mind, Indian Navy is regularly visiting Gulf ports and training with regional states. In recent years, the Indian Navy has made port calls and undertaken a series of naval exercises with a number of Gulf states thereby lending its hand to Indian diplomacy in expanding India's reach in the region.
India is cultivating close security ties with major GCC countries such as the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain with the focus shifting from naval ship visits and training exchange programmes to possible joint development and manufacture of sophisticated military hardware.
Tehran's nuclear drive and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's aggressive rhetoric is raising anxiety in the Gulf about a resurgent Iran. During his visit Manmohan Singh joined the Saudi King in asking Tehran 'to remove regional and international doubts about its nuclear weapons programme.'
As the regional balance of power between Arabia and Persia threatens to unravel, Singh's visit to the region has underlined India's desire to see the extant balance of power in the region stabilises. Given India's growing stakes in the Gulf, it is not surprising why this should be the case.
BODY COUNT OF SLAIN JOURNOS
FROM 1978 TO 2001, MAJOR NEWSPAPERS OF BOGOTA REPORTED THE ASSASSINATION OF 164 JOURNALISTS.
BY IGNACIO GOMEZ
On February 16, while addressing representatives of the the Foundation for the Freedom of the Press of Colombia and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) of New York, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe cited his own government as the only one that had succeeded in reducing to near zero the number of journalists assassinated per year and concluded that this feat made him one of the leading defenders of the freedom of the press in his nation's history.
The premise is less questionable than the conclusion: in the previous year, the 'only' killing was of Jose Everardo Aguilar, for doing his job; in 2002, the first year of Uribe's presidency, six colleagues met the same fate.
But the murder of journalists, as dramatic as it may be, is not a good measure of the freedom of the press. As put by 'New York Daily News' columnist Juan Gonzalez, the reason for the lack of journalist killings may be that enemies of the public interest no longer need to kill them to intimidate them.
A good start
The ability to work as a journalist without fear of being assassinated is a good starting point. Colombians look with envy at the record of Argentina. In 1997, when Alfredo Yabran, a corrupt businessman and influence peddler, felt that his connections in government would allow him to murder a journalist with impunity, journalists began to wear buttons of the immolated photographer, Jose Luis Cabezas, and the word justice. Four months after the first anniversary of the journalist's death, Yabran shot himself after being charged with the crime.
In Argentina, which underwent decades of military repression, today civil society and journalists are engaged in an ongoing discussion of the meaning of freedom of the press: guarantees of its independence, free access to information of public interest, the unrestricted distribution of official government statements and releases, etcetera. In Colombia, these are secondary issues.
Between 1978 and 2001, the major newspapers of Bogota reported the assassination of 164 journalists. This number raised the average recorded by the CPJ since it began keeping statistics in 1992, when there were 72. The question is whether these 200-plus killings were enough to create the situation that Gonzalez describes, or whether Colombia is capable of restoring an atmosphere of peace in which journalism can be freely practised without the deaths (obviously) but also with a government that encourages criticism and understands that it is a tool for overcoming for the eventual errors of politicians.
In Colombia, too, a number of 'Operation Cabezas' have been carried out. All of the country's journalists published a blank column in commemoration of the 1986 killing of journalist Guillermo Cano, after whom UNESCO named its World Press Freedom Prize. On another occasion, more than three million people filled the streets of Bogota to honour Jaime Garzon in 1999. And yet no one has ever been brought to justice for ordering or abetting the assassination of a journalist.
The Colombian government credits its success to its protection programme, which provides escorts, bulletproof vests, armoured cars, and communications teams for at-risk journalists, of whom there are now 81 in the country. This programme is the legacy of the government of Andres Pastrana (1998-2002) and a response to international donors' linkage of aid to Colombia of which Uribe has enjoyed more than any other president in Colombian history to measures to protect journalists.
At the end of 2002, the first year of the Uribe presidency, 560 high-profile journalists lost their jobs when the media outlets they worked for closed or downsized as a consequence of the economic crisis and the press crisis of that period.
Speaking of freedom of the press, the void left by the 2003 crisis was filled not by new media but rather by presidential television services, which allowed the government to create its own image without the involvement of the media in a mode that is now the norm in neopopulist Latin America.
The freedom of the press organisations visiting President Uribe were addressing his major concern: that certain members of his cabinet are under investigation for their possible relation to a network of government agents who were spying on journalists and on various political figures.
The 81 protected journalists are happy to enter into this category of 'non-assassinated journalists', but they do not feel safer now than when they could take public transportation to work and hold interviews in the street without the presence of bodyguards.
BEGGING FOR AN ANSWER
EVEN BEGGARS SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE A PROPER LIVELIHOOD.
BY C V ARAVIND
The central relief committee of the state social welfare department is observing the beggary eradication month (BEM) from February 22 to March 21. All those found begging in Bangalore city, have been rounded up.
The committee has already drawn flak as it was found that some of those picked up were not beggars but victims of mistaken identity. One wonders as to what prompted the government to suddenly wake up to this social menace and decide that it was time to rehabilitate all those sustaining themselves on alms and getting the goat of the general public for harassing them no end at signals and bus stops.
The government's propaganda machinery has gone overboard in highlighting the initiatives to eradicate beggary in the state and also make Bangalore a beggar-free city. The effort, if it succeeds, would be laudable especially if the beggars are provided with training in various vocations and rehabilitated in toto.
However, one wonders if the government's efforts in this direction will come to an abrupt end once the BEM draws to a close.
The dictum 'Beggars cannot be choosers' indicates that the beggars themselves will have little choice in cooperating with the government for they will be picked up just like stray dogs.
Begging like the oldest profession, prostitution is indeed as old as the hills. Even with free and compulsory education, the progeny of beggars are rarely sent to schools. They take to the profession as soon as they are able to stand and walk. Worse still, they are exploited even as infants.
It is a pity that the government as well as NGOs have not been able to rehabilitate, if not beggars, at least the children.
The problem is not simple. The government's initiatives like the BEM might only end up like skimming the surface. Those who have not been trapped by the government would continue to beg. But the faces that will continue to haunt you for long will be those of the little boys and girls in their tattered clothes, with hunger knotting their stomachs and with no future in store.
To bring sunshine into their lives is an endeavour that should engage the attention of not just the government and NGOs but each and every one of us. Beggars too deserve a choice and have a right to a proper livelihood.
IDF VS. DEMOCRACY AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH
The Israel Defense Forces decision to declare the Palestinian villages Bil'in and Na'alin closed military zones on Fridays for the next six months is a serious anti-democratic move. The order issued by the GOC Central Command implementing this restriction is an act against the freedom to demonstrate.
The fact that the army issued such a sweeping order, and that it is supposed to be in effect for such a long period, requires an immediate petition to the High Court of Justice asking it to block this dangerous and damaging move, which lacks any justification. The freedom to demonstrate is a basic right and an extension of freedom of expression.
In recent years, the two villages have come to symbolize the struggle against the separation fence that separates the villagers from their lands. The struggle is legitimate. It contributed substantially to the High Court order to alter the route of the fence near Bil'in, a decision that the IDF has yet to implement - which is also a blatant anti-democratic failing.
The residents of the villages and their supporters - Jews, Arabs and foreign activists - must be given the right to protest and fight for their rights.
During the years of demonstrations in the two villages, 23 demonstrators have been killed, half of them minors; no Israeli soldiers have been killed.
The demonstrations themselves have mostly been non-violent, and it was the IDF and Border Police that often exercised excessive and unnecessary force. In spite of the inconvenience, the IDF must permit this protest. The alternative could be terrorism.
The IDF decision is grave from another perspective as well: There has never been such a radical move against rightist demonstrations or settlers in the territories. While settlers run amok, burning fields and uprooting trees, damaging property and spreading terror as part of their criminal "price tag" policy, the IDF and the police stand idly by. When the left wants to protest and demonstrate, the IDF declares the area to be a closed military zone.
In this the IDF harms not only one of the basic values of democratic rule, the freedom to demonstrate, but also discriminates in its policy, granting excessive liberty to lawless settlers while being heavy-handed with leftist protesters.
The IDF order is therefore a revolting and ridiculous act, and the defense minister, who commands the IDF, must take immediate action to void it.
U.S.'S TOUGH LOVE IS THE KIND ISRAEL NEEDS
BY GIDEON LEVY
Israel - addicted to the occupation, and showing symptoms of overdose and accumulated damage - has finally found a savior to rescue it from its plight. Israel's redeemer hasn't just stood idly by for 40 years, but has even facilitated the habit. However, it seems that change may at last be in the air.
It's still too early to celebrate sobriety, and successful rehabilitation is by no means certain. This is a long, painful process, and the addict and its savior have yet to show adequate determination. The user is still dependent, kicking and screaming so much that the friend is likely to surrender in despair, to simply give in to pressure, having lost both interest and patience in the rehabilitation. But the measures taken by the Obama administration over the past few days prove that change is possible. Now the loyal friend must be encouraged not to give up, not to quit until the junkie is clean.
"Now they're coming?" Aluf Benn wrote of the Americans last week. Indeed, they could and should have come earlier. That applies not just to all the previous administrations, none of which did enough to end the occupation, but also to the Obama administration itself. So promising at first, the administration began on the left foot - that is, the right foot, at the heel of the Jewish and Israeli right, which continues to believe that an alliance with Israel is an alliance with the occupation, that friendship between two nations means giving Israel carte blanche to cause as much trouble as it likes. Those same people believe friendship means continuing the flow of massive aid without conditions, that it means not only funding the occupation but also cleaning up after its perpetrators by providing firm diplomatic support, and that friendship must be blind and automatic - to the point that it seems like Israel is the superpower and America is under its protection.
The facts are clear: Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights. Israel does not truly intend to pursue peace, because life here seems to be good even without it. The continuation of the occupation doesn't just endanger Israel's future, it also poses the greatest risk to world peace, serving as a pretext for Israel's most dangerous enemies.
No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent and condescending Israel of today. That's why this difficult, thankless task has fallen on the shoulders of an ally, as only it has the power to get things started. No agreement will come out of another endless series of futile diplomatic trips or peace plans to which no one intends to adhere. We have tried this enough in the past, and all for naught. This is the time to come up with a rehabilitation program for Israel. The entire world, and ultimately Israel too, will applaud Barack Obama if he succeeds.
Expressing offense at "poor timing" and giving Israel's prime minister the cold shoulder are not enough. This is the time for action, comprehensive and unwavering. America must now decide where it is heading and where it aims to lead Israel, the Middle East and the world. At issue is not just the future of 1,600 homes in Ramat Shlomo, but that of Israel itself. What is required is not merely extending the settlement construction freeze - whether or not it includes the occupied areas of Jerusalem - but applying pressure on Israel to begin withdrawing to its own borders. The means at Washington's disposal - including assistance on security and economic issues, the campaign against Iran's nuclear program and diplomatic support of Israel - can all be conditioned on an end to the occupation.
America must now decide whether it's for us or against us. Will it make do with easing the sting of the insult to the vice president? Will it continue to give in to its powerful Jewish lobby? Will it keep passing itself off as a friend while acting as a foe? Or are we really playing by different rules now? Yes, it's likely to hurt Israel, and even many Americans, but this is the opportunity. There will be no other.
PROBLEM WITH EAST JERUSALEM? NOT ENOUGH CONSTRUCTION
The day before yesterday, with the flames of the third intifada at their height, the anxious organizer called and asked if I had a suggestion for a substitute.
You don't want me? I asked, offended. Of course we do, he replied, but the media is making it seem like Jerusalem and the territories are burning and it's not worth it to risk your life just for a lecture.
I shuddered. Only yesterday, when the police announced that even the Temple Mount was open to visitors, did I venture out of my home. I can imagine the surprise and dismay of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's admirers in the White House, the Tel Aviv newsrooms and the TV studios in Givatayim and Neveh Ilan that the third(!) intifada, for which they had so yearned, played itself out like that.
However, never fear: In these places reality doesn't jolt the conception that intifadas break out only because of Israel's rejection of peace and its provocations (the accuracy of which was proven beyond a doubt back in the days of Yasser Arafat).
That conception will only grow stronger. In the next few days, the countdown will begin for the fourth intifada.
For months there have been whisperings that we are on the brink of an explosion, always couched in the menacing Palestinian terminology, "intifada," and always with the admonition: The ball is in Israel's court.
Of course it can be averted, but only if Israel "does (or doesn't do) something" - freezes, restricts, prevents, restrains itself, doesn't surprise, doesn't move, doesn't act, doesn't pave, doesn't build, doesn't inaugurate.
There's no doubt those "drunk drivers" at the head of our state are the ones who initiated the conflagration that has spread from Jerusalem throughout the Middle East. The flames are reaching Pakistan as well, and are set to engulf American troops.
Here it is again, the flat, detached, linear world outlook of the American administration and the people who have Obama's ear in his golfing coterie.
The upshot: an anti-Israel agenda that is firm, but lacking understanding and depth. One of its principles is that Netanyahu understands only force. It seems the Obama administration does not want to hold a true dialogue with Israel but to dictate where its borders will be and where it can build in its capital city.
It was not peace, but rather opposition for its own sake that motivated Joe Biden's irrational conduct and Hillary Clinton's statements, which were presumably okayed by the White House.
For long months George Mitchell has been working the lines that lead to the resumption of talks. That whole time the Americans and the Palestinians knew Israel would not stop building in Jerusalem. And had there not been a row, proximity talks would have begun as the prelude to comprehensive negotiations.
Along came Biden, Clinton, David Axelrod and others who, aided by Israelis yearning to see Netanyahu brought down, destroyed all the preparations made in the preceding months.
If their chief aim was the continuation of the talks, they would have held back, certainly in public, in the face of the clumsiness of the District Planning and Building Committee. Because now, after they have proclaimed that it is forbidden to build in Jerusalem, what Palestinian leader would dare to talk to Israel, even if only a school was being built in Gilo, and not a neighborhood in Ramat Shlomo?
At a time like this, especially with Jerusalem in the mix, it would be natural for Israelis, or at least the Jewish majority, to rally around Netanyahu if only because of the Americans' brutality or the affront to the prime minister's honor behind the kind of snafu that can and does happen in any bureaucracy.
But it's not like that in Israel. Here, a great many people, including some who don't oppose building in the capital, joined with the Americans to assist them in humiliating their country and throwing their prime minister off balance.
There is one important lesson that Israel never learns: If there is a master plan to build tens of thousands of apartments in Jerusalem and thereby assure that the absolute Jewish majority in the city be preserved for generations, it is the entire plan that should be approved, all at the same time. Whether 1,600 or 50,000 apartments are slated to be built, the condemnation and threats from within and the self-righteousness, panic and criticism from within, will be exactly the same. Instead of drawing such intense fire every year or two, it can all be concentrated into one anticipated blast, and the building of Jerusalem will continue after the condemnatory dust settles, as it always does.
AT LONG LAST, WALKING TALL
BY NERI LIVNEH
Precisely on International Women's Day the rumor spread that you're involved in an affair with a young and unknown - here at least - rock singer, while your husband of two years, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, is having an affair with his deputy ecology minister, who's also a karate champion. No doubt about it, that Nicolas is turned on by striking females.
Right away, I wanted to declare you my role model, or supermodel of international womanhood, but then a few questions came up. First, who started, Nicolas or you? If it was him, I can only admire you for paying that philanderer back in kind. We are thoroughly sick of all these women telling the media they are standing by their treacherous mates.
On the other hand, if you were the first to cheat, I could declare you the new role model for the post-feminist age, a title that I first considered giving you as soon as it was reported that you planned to marry a man significantly shorter than you. Nobody knows as well as I do that you need guts, highly trained neck muscles and strong knees to decide to go around in flats with your head bowed and legs bent wisely alongside a man jumping like a kangaroo to look taller. (As has also happened to ordinary mortals like Nicole Kidman and myself.) Or in your case, to walk perfectly tall, though in flats, alongside a man wearing platform shoes.
At long last, someone like us, the vertically challenged, the victims who must never cease apologizing to dwarves with giant egos for our magnificent genes (just ask Josephine the emperor's wife). A leader has blazed the trail. "You want to play the tall girls' field," you told Nicolas. "As far as I'm concerned, you can go grow tall yourself."
I admire you, Carla, because you are beautiful, as the photos of you show, despite the rumors that your intense life has made you age prematurely. If only all of us, women 10 years your junior, could look like you in your imaginary old age. I envy the wisdom you displayed in getting born to rich folks and growing up with two famous singers, as well as your luck at having been born Italian and living in France. There's also your ability to exhaust every iota of your beauty and talent to enjoy every moment egotistically - so very unlike Jewish women. And I envy your wealth, independence and freedom to choose for yourself the most thrilling lovers imaginable.
You are restoring to France the model of the femme fatale that seemed to have gone out of fashion even there in recent decades. But you are, after all, a new kind of femme fatale. You don't depend on any of your lovers. To one of them, the publisher Jean-Paul Enthoven, you gave a grandchild, fathered by his son the philosopher Raphael Enthoven. He and his son's divorcee, the daughter of the philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, have written books about you. In your lifetime you have become a literary figure, no less famous than Madame Recamier.
This, however, is exactly where my problem with you begins. Out of all that post-feminism you have become the mirror image of the male chauvinist pig. Naughty, naughty, naughty. You serial man-eater. But between us, what's better? To be righteous, like us, or to have fun like you?
THE CHANGING FACE OF RACISM
BY SEFI RACHLEVSKY
The most prominent example of a country that refused to allow Jews to marry non-Jews was Germany, when it enacted the Nuremberg Laws. While Israel makes sure it doesn't disengage entirely from the rest of the world by recognizing marriages outside its borders, marriages between Jews and non-Jews here are forbidden. Now, in an effort to address the "problem" of those who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return but are refused status as Jews by the state, these people will have the option of entering a state-sanctioned covenant with their spouse, but only if the spouse is also classified as a non-Jew.
It's as if there were never a guarantee in the Declaration of Independence that assured Israelis "complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex."
The most outspoken opponent of Israel's becoming both a Jewish and democratic state was Rabbi Meir Kahane. The effort "to solve his problem" only pushed the country further into the abyss. To prevent his re-election to the Knesset, lawmakers launched an initiative to disqualify party lists that opposed democracy in Israel. This is a reasonable idea for a democracy that does not yield to those who seek to destroy it from within.
Yet as a compromise between Labor, Likud and the religious parties, an addendum to the law banned any party that opposed Israel's standing as a Jewish state. Thus a new standard was reached via the tortuous, Israeli route. In principle, no party can run for the Knesset because it's clear that if most citizens want a state that is not tethered to Judaism, that's their basic right.
Since then, the combination of "Jewish and democratic" has taken root in Israel and its laws. The phrase "Jewish" does not refer to the Jewish people in the same vein as it was applied in the Declaration of Independence and the UN Partition Plan calling for a Jewish state and an Arab state.
Rather, it refers specifically to the Jewish religion, an entirely different matter than what the Zionist revolution had in mind. As such, Israel is disconnecting itself from the modern world by virtue of the 42-year-old reality of racist apartheid in the territories of Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem - areas in which Jews are citizens and their non-Jewish neighbors are not. Denial of citizenship to non-Jews also contravenes the halakhic principle of ger toshav, which afforded special status to gentiles in the Kingdom of Israel.
The dilemma of a state that is bound by ancient ties to a certain nation while promising "full equality of rights" for all its citizens is not unique to Israel. Many other nation-states such as France have experienced similar conundrums. The concept of the dominance of one religion within a single national entity was also not an Israeli invention. Catholicism traditionally played a much larger role in the identities of people living in Italy, Spain, France and Ireland. Having been drawn into the religious-racial-nationalist black hole, Israel now joins the Iranian-Afghan galaxy.
From Sheikh Jarrah to the bones discovered during the expansion of Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, from the so-called Nakba Law to the war on evolution being waged by the Education Ministry's chief scientist, from the foreign minister to the interior minister - Israeli democracy is losing its status as "a present absentee." The state still has a hand mirror that reveals the face of a young Dorian Gray. Yet in reality its racist defilement is changing its look.
"The problem of timing" does not belong to the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee. In the run-up to the clash on the Iranian front, when the state will need all the domestic and foreign support it can muster, Israel is turning itself into an entity whose democratic right to exist is self-destructing
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
HONEST FOOD LABELS
Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, has said one of her priorities is to improve the information on food package labels. Her new crackdown on dishonest nutritional claims by food manufacturers is a welcome sign that she means business.
Earlier this month, the agency made public 17 letters it had sent to food companies, accusing them of inflating nutritional claims or masking undesirable ingredients. Several products, including Gorton's Fish Fillets and Dreyer's bite-size Dibs ice cream snacks, were cited for labels boasting that they contained no trans fat, even though they had high levels of saturated fat. POM pomegranate juice was cited for misleading claims on the company's Web site, which is listed on juice bottles, that said the juice could prevent or cure disease like hypertension, diabetes and cancer.
This was not the first time Dr. Hamburg took on misleading claims. Last fall, she helped persuade the food industry to drop its Smart Choices program, which put a "better for you" symbol on products of dubious nutritional value, like Kellogg's Froot Loops.
The effort to rein in unauthorized health and nutrient claims is a refreshing departure from the laissez-faire approach under former President George W. Bush. It is part of a larger initiative that also has the F.D.A. exploring revisions of the Nutrition Facts panel on the backs and sides of packages to emphasize calorie content in realistic portion sizes, for example, as the nation confronts a serious obesity problem.
In an open letter to the entire food industry that coincided with release of the enforcement letters, Dr. Hamburg emphasized the importance of providing nutrition information that consumers can rely on. We urge the F.D.A. to follow up with permanent regulations solidifying her approach.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
OUT OF THE DARKNESS
BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
When the sun finally rises, this will be a gray day, a great slab of flint laid across the plains. But the sun is still an hour off, and the snow is salting down just east of Riverton, Wyo. My eyes are straining for sight in the void out there, looking to see what emerges first from the darkness. The answer is the blackest objects the old tires that ranchers sometimes place beside their cattle guards and the cattle themselves, black Angus stirring in a creek bottom. The cattle look as though they were bred black just so humans could find them easily in the gloom.
But mostly there are ravens, moving in singles and mated pairs, not so much gliding as fighting off the stiff north wind. They know the lights of this highway well, and I see them hopping into the ditches or flaring upward on the wind just out of my path as I hurtle by. To say the light is rising is to overspeak. I can just discern the seam between earth and sky. And in that seam, farther down the highway, I can see ravens sitting on the telephone poles as if the poles had been planted just for the convenience of their species.
The gray ahead broadens and seems to grow heavier, as if there could be no getting out from under it. And slowly color begins to emerge, what color there is mostly gray-greens and bloodless tans. Up in the mountains, the river willows would look like a tartan now. Out here on the plains, pressed beneath the sky, they seem to be blushing furiously but only by contrast with the immensity of the drabness that surrounds them. It is a mood, I know, the wan hour of morning that makes their beauty feel so hidden, so lost.
And then, too, there is the question of what emerges last as the day rises. One answer is the pronghorn. I pass a small band standing right by the fence line, and they are barely discernible, almost without dimension, as though they had been camouflaged for the light of dawn. But the last thing to emerge in the dawn stepping into visibility is a red heeler dog trotting toward me in the brush along the ditch. He looks up at my headlights as if I were lost and he was the way home. I hope dearly that he isn't lost and keep myself from turning back. The day is up now over central Wyoming, and I feel suddenly as if I'm merely microscopic, driving across the fawn-colored hide of a great beast.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MR. OBAMA AND NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND
President Obama's blueprint for reworking the No Child Left Behind Education Act of 2002 has good ideas, but it doesn't have anything close to the rigor that the word "blueprint" would suggest. Whether the president's plan will strengthen or weaken the program will depend on how the administration fleshes out the missing details and how Congress rewrites the law.
Teachers' unions, state governments and other interest groups have long wanted to water down or kill off the provision of the law that requires the states to raise student performance especially for poor and minority children in exchange for federal money. They will likely gin up their lobbying. Congress must resist.
President Obama's blueprint adheres to the principles first set by former President George W. Bush. The new proposal, however, would focus federal sanctions and monitoring heavily on the relatively small number of chronically failing schools and allow better-run schools more flexibility to fix themselves. That makes sense, but only if the latter group is not allowed to shortchange poor and minority children.
The current system designates schools as needing improvement if they miss progress targets. The Obama proposal calls for employing a new model that gives schools credit for improving student performance, even if the schools miss the targets. This, too, makes sense, as long as the improvement being rewarded is significant.
The plan introduces a new element: giving financial rewards and greater flexibility to schools and districts that show large improvements in student learning. This seems sensible, as long as lawmakers understand that both incentives (federal money) and punishments (federal sanctions) are necessary to move school systems forward.
The most exciting section of the Obama proposal deals with new strategies for getting states to measure, develop and improve the effectiveness of teachers, principals and programs in teacher-preparation.
If Congress adopts the plan, states would be required to create new, fine-grained data systems that rate teachers and principals based in significant part on the performance of their students. These ratings could be used to reward strong educators, create training programs for newcomers, and assess the effectiveness of teacher-preparation programs.
The evaluation systems could have an enormous effect on the quality of the profession and the quality of education. But right now most states lack the capacity to perform sophisticated, data-driven studies and evaluations. While Congress should require this reform, it should not set unrealistic deadlines. Some observers think it could take as long as a decade before the states develop the systems, test them for accuracy and fairness and put them in place.
The country cannot sit on its hands until then. In the meantime, Congress and the Department of Education should be pushing the states to come up with more rigorous evaluations using the tools they already have.
That means observing teachers more closely in their early years so that the less-capable ones are either trained up or weeded out. States also need to take a much closer look at the quality of teachers assigned to schools with poor and minority children the primary focus of the No Child Left Behind law. Eight years later, federal data show that these children are still disproportionately taught by inexperienced teachers who have not majored in the subjects they teach.
Better systems for gathering and evaluating information about teacher and student performance are important. But states could use the information they have now to improve schooling for this country's children.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A POLITICALLY FEASIBLE JET
There has been yet another setback in the Air Force's long, agonizing process to replace its fleet of Eisenhower-era aerial refueling planes. Northrop Grumman and its European partner, the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, dropped out of the competition this month, charging that the new contract specifications are tilted against their much larger Airbus A330 in favor of Boeing's 767.
That leaves the Pentagon with only one bid hardly a recipe to get the best tanker fleet at the best cost.
From a capabilities standpoint, we could see advantages in both planes. The Pentagon says that between the two rounds of bidding, it developed a more precise idea of what it needed. But its repeated flip-flops feed suspicions that politics and lobbying are what mattered most. Boeing's Capitol Hill supporters mainly from Washington State built a case around stars, stripes and American jobs and, by implication, against a consortium that had, gasp, a European partner.
For American taxpayers and their armed forces to get the best possible tanker fleet or other military equipment for the money, qualified European partners must be permitted to compete fairly. For the record, the Airbus tankers would have been assembled in Alabama. The nation's European allies are now understandably charging protectionism. This could cause problems down the road for the American defense industry, the biggest military exporter in the world.
The tanker tale is also one more reminder of why the Pentagon needs to clean up its procurement process and how much further it has to go, despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates's pledges of reform.
The first attempt to replace the tankers came to grief in 2004. Senator John McCain scuttled a cozy, tailor-made deal to lease Boeing jets, unearthing evidence that an Air Force official had tried to get a job at Boeing while she was handling negotiations over the lease.
The Pentagon then ordered an auction for a $40 billion contract to buy the planes. But when the Air Force decided for the Airbus, Boeing and its favorite lawmakers cried foul. The Government Accountability Office agreed with Boeing, arguing that the Air Force favored Northrop: giving it points for size although the specs didn't call for a bigger plane; giving Northrop advice along the way; and cutting it slack on several requirements.
The Air Force went back to the drawing board to craft new guidelines for the bidding. The rest is history. Both jets have pros and cons. The Airbus is bigger and can carry bigger hauls of fuel or cargo. Boeing's jets are smaller and cheaper not to be frowned at in these lean times. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to matter. The Air Force seems stuck with the politically feasible jet. It might be the best one, but it might not.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHERE BAD NEWS IS NO NEWS
BY ADAOBI TRICIA NWAUBANI
I'VE heard it said that we Nigerians are the happiest people on earth. We're also accused of being passive about issues that would stir up revolutions in other countries. For instance, it's been just over a week since ethno-religious violence left hundreds dead around Jos, a city in central Nigeria, but the slaughtering of our fellow citizens has already largely faded from our headlines and conversations. The general response to announcements by the police that they have apprehended some of the butchers is, "Oh, really?" Few people I know even care to hear what the brutes have to say for themselves.
Amnesia Nigeriana, someone called it: that tendency of Nigerians to blank out national trauma. As it happens, more than anything else, it is the reports that persist on the BBC and CNN that remind us that hundreds of innocent Nigerians, women and children, were slaughtered in their sleep that Sunday night. When I look up at the huge TV screen in the newsroom where I work, there's usually a foreign reporter with a look of high seriousness, scenes of Jos in the background.
Every time Nigeria experiences an episode of violence, we seem to go quiet while the rest of the world becomes fixated. Perhaps it's understandable that we begin to resent these foreign journalists and the constant focus on our disasters.
"These people just never carry any positive news about Nigeria," a colleague says.
"All they ever see is the bad and the ugly."
"It's just malice. They have a particular image of Africa that they want to keep portraying to the world."
My friend Ruona has a theory for why we don't react more strongly: Nigerians have to stare the carnage in the face all the time we become jaded about the violence because we're used to it while the Western news media see it with fresh eyes.
But even if we decided to make more of a big deal out of our calamities, Jos, terrible as what happened there was, would have to patiently wait its turn. While ethno-religious violence takes place in Jos, people in Ebonyi State, who speak the same language and share the same religion, are massacring one another over natural resources. Disgruntled militants in the Niger Delta are threatening to cripple the economy by vandalizing more petroleum pipelines. Politicians are assassinated regularly in the western states; the elderly fathers and mothers of prosperous children are kidnapped and held for ransom in the east. And we know it's just a matter of time before riots between Muslims and Christians break out again up north.
Even everyday hazards turn deadly. We have electricity for only a few hours per week, and countless families have been blasted into oblivion or lulled to a permanent sleep when their generators have exploded or discharged fatal fumes. Our country is one of the largest producers of crude oil in the world, yet an excruciating fuel scarcity persists, with fuel queues that people joke stretch all the way to Calcutta.
And with whom do we register our grievances? Despite reports that President Umaru Yar'Adua, who hasn't been seen in public since he left for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia last November, is brain dead, his devoted wife and a loyal cabal of his tribesmen are quite happy to rule us in his place.
We mourn for those who died in Jos, and for the survivors. We are all dismayed at the series of disasters that have befallen them. But we are careful not to overdose on agony. Even the psychologists agree that amnesia can be a defense mechanism, useful for the preservation of sanity.
Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, an editor at the Nigerian newspaper NEXT, is the author of the novel "I Do Not Come to You by Chance."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
FOR ISRAEL AND AMERICA, A DISAGREEMENT, NOT A CRISIS
BY MICHAEL B. OREN
ISRAEL and America enjoy a deep and multi-layered friendship, but even the closest allies can sometimes disagree. Such a disagreement began last week during Vice President Joseph Biden's visit to Israel, when a mid-level official in the Interior Ministry announced an interim planning phase in the expansion of Ramat Shlomo, a northern Jerusalem neighborhood. While this discord was unfortunate, it was not a historic low point in United States-Israel relations; nor did I ever say that it was, contrary to some reports.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no desire during a vice presidential visit to highlight longstanding differences between the United States and Israel on building on the other side of the 1949 armistice line that once divided Jerusalem. The prime minister repeatedly apologized for the timing of the announcement and pledged to prevent such embarrassing incidents from recurring. In reply, the Obama administration asked Israel to reaffirm its commitment to the peace process and to its bilateral relations with the United States. Israel is dedicated to both.
We should not, however, allow peace efforts, or the America-Israel alliance, to be compromised by Israel's policy on Jerusalem. That policy is not Mr. Netanyahu's alone but was also that of former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Golda Meir in fact of every Israeli government going back to the city's reunification in 1967. Consistently, Israel has held that Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital and that both Jews and Arabs have the right to build anywhere in the city.
This policy certainly applies to neighborhoods like Ramat Shlomo, which, though on land incorporated into Israel in 1967, are home to nearly half of the city's Jewish population. Isolated from Arab neighborhoods and within a couple of miles of downtown Jerusalem, these Jewish neighborhoods will surely remain a part of Israel after any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israelis across the political spectrum are opposed to restrictions on building in these neighborhoods, and even more opposed to the idea of uprooting hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens.
Though not uncontested, Israel's policy on Jerusalem did not preclude the conclusion of peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. Nor did it prevent the Palestinians from negotiating with Israel for more than 15 years after the Oslo accords of 1993. Consistently, Israelis have demonstrated remarkable flexibility as well as generosity to any Arab leader genuinely offering peace.
Indeed, while maintaining the longstanding Israeli position on Jerusalem, the Netanyahu government has unilaterally frozen new construction projects in the West Bank and has removed dozens of roadblocks to allow Palestinian transportation and commerce. The Israeli government acknowledges that the Palestinians have their own stance on Jerusalem, which they will surely raise at the negotiating table.
Unfortunately, Palestinian leaders have balked at face-to-face negotiations, insisting on new preconditions, including the annulment of Israel's Jerusalem policy. Recently they have encouraged violent demonstrations in the Old City, and have named a square in the West Bank city of Ramallah in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist who in 1978 killed 38 Israeli civilians, among them 13 children, and an American photographer, Gail Rubin. Israel expects the Palestinians to stop such incitement and to cease sponsoring attacks against Israel's legitimacy, like the deeply slanted Goldstone report on the Gaza war.
Despite these Palestinian actions, Israel wants to begin "proximity talks" indirect negotiations involving United States intermediaries which we hope will lead to a direct dialogue and a historic and permanent peace. But the only way to negotiate a peace agreement is to begin negotiations.
To achieve peace, Israel is asked to take monumental risks, including sacrificing land next to our major industrial areas and cities. Previous withdrawals, from Lebanon and Gaza, brought not peace but rather thousands of rockets raining down on our neighborhoods.
Though Israel will always ultimately rely on the courage of its own defense forces, America's commitment to Israel's security is essential to give Israelis the confidence to take risks for peace. Similarly, American-Israeli cooperation is vital to meeting the direst challenge facing both countries and the entire world: denying nuclear weapons to Iran.
Israel appreciates President Obama's commitment to a comprehensive peace that guarantees Israel's security and Jewish identity, and provides for a Palestinian state. To ensure that such a state is peaceful, Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that it must be demilitarized and that Palestinians must recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, just as Israel is asked to recognize a future Palestinian state as the nation-state of the Palestinians.
Though we may disagree with the White House at certain stages of the peace process, we must never allow such differences to obscure the purpose we share or to raise doubts about the unbreakable bonds between us.
During his visit, Vice President Biden declared that support for Israel is "a fundamental national self-interest on the part of the United States" and that America "has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel." The people of Israel, in turn, view the strengthening of their relations with the United States as a paramount national objective. Because we share fundamental values democracy, respect for individual rights and the rule of law our friendship can sustain occasional disagreements, and remain unassailably solid.
Michael B. Oren is Israel's ambassador to the United States.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SEX SCANDALS TO LEARN BY
BY GAIL COLLINS
Let's consider the story of Representative Eric Massa, a freshman Democrat from upstate New York who made headlines recently when he resigned from office amid talk about sexual harassment of male staffers.
Massa's defense was that the questionable conduct was boisterous horseplay by an old ex-Navy officer and five of his single male aides, who roomed together in one small Washington townhouse. "Not only did I grope him," he said of one of his roommates, "I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday, and it was: 'Kill the old guy.' "
Already we have extracted our first important lesson from this scandal, which is that voters are going to have to pay more attention to where their elected officials bunk while they're in the nation's capital. Remember that last year we had the Prayer House, a much larger and nicer townhouse full of conservative Christian congressmen? They were supposed to be engaged in discussions of the Bible, but, in fact, seemed to spend most of their time trying to bail each other out of adultery crises.
The extremely overworked House ethics committee is looking into charges that the Democratic leadership should have done something about Massa sooner. It might have been a warning signal when he told a reporter that rather than pay substantial salaries to a handful of aides like most members do, he preferred to hire lots and lots of people who made so little that several of them were forced to economize by living with their boss.
Massa has offered a raft of explanations for his sudden resignation, ranging from a possible cancer recurrence to a plot by the Democrats to drive him out of office because he opposed the health care reform bill. This last one instantly excited Glenn Beck, who invited Massa on his program in hopes of hearing more about the claim that a naked Rahm Emanuel poked an angry finger at him in the Congressional gym.
The Beck interview was mesmerizing. Whatever Massa did or didn't do with his aides, it was obvious that as a legislator, he is utterly loopy. His examples of political corruption consisted of Democratic leaders begging him to support the president and donors telling him that they wouldn't give him more money if he voted against the programs they care about.
To clean up the mess in Washington, Massa told Beck, voters should call their representatives and urge them to forget about the party or the president or even said voters' own personal convictions and just "do what you think is right."
Now, people, here is the problem exactly. There are quite a few members of Congress who are as out to lunch as Eric Massa, although we hope the rest of them are not career ticklers. Do we really want to see them all follow their own private drummers and go careening around from one position to another like a bunch of Frisbees?
Here we are, looking at the upcoming health care vote and mulling the virtues of bipartisan political independence. You think George Washington; I think Eric Massa.
Another star of this week's political sex scandal headlines was Rielle Hunter, the John Edwards mistress. This particular saga is less interesting than it would have been if Edwards was actually an elected official rather than a man who has spent the past six years being consistently rejected by the American voters, state by state, primary by primary.
Plus we have already learned the most important tip the story had to teach us, which is to avoid any candidate who makes his or her marriage the centerpiece of a campaign.
Nevertheless, Hunter was eager to tell her version of the affair. As soon as Edwards told a national TV audience that the only woman he had ever loved was his wife, she reported, he called to assure her that he didn't mean it.
Which, she says, she believes, since she knows he will love her "till death do us part."
If Hunter was a more credulous soul, I would have taken all this as a terrible failure on the part of the national news media. Really, the whole point of writing about one straying, lying political alpha dog after another is to alert the next generation that when a powerful pol invites you to come to his hotel room for a date, and suggests you arrive disguised as the turn-down maid, he is not going to stick with you through thick and thin.
But Hunter is 45 and has been around the block a time or three. So I think it's safe to say that she is not deluded so much as a woman intent on rearranging reality to suit her convenience.
"Before I met Johnny, I had a lot of judgment about infidelity. Now I have a deeper and greater understanding and acceptance of people's processes," she told an interviewer for GQ.
This was in happier times, before Hunter professed herself to be shocked by the magazine's pictures of her lying on a bed wearing pearls and no pants, since she was sure the photographer would be interested only in face shots.
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
As the country is engulfed once again by a wave of power cuts that are leaving some parts bereft of electricity for up to eighteen hours a day, President Asif Ali Zardari has called for the US to help us with the development of civilian nuclear technologies. Of all the myriad crises that we face it is that in the power sector (which links to the problems with water) which is the greatest threat to our continued existence. If America truly wants to see Pakistan stable and productive as well as a shedding of some of the mistrust that has grown between us, then it could do little better than helping us to resolve our perennial power deficits. The president made his plea during a meeting on Tuesday with Admiral Dennis C Blair, the director of US National Intelligence. He also pointed out that there is a real and significant cost to our fighting the war on terror that has been going on since 9/11.
It is often forgotten by those who criticise our determination to fight this fight that every bullet costs money, and that money comes primarily from our own resources. Over the last eight years it has cost us $35 billion, only a proportion of which has been reimbursed to us. We were a poor nation to start with, and find ourselves being beggared by a war that we fight on behalf of many other nations whose troops do not fight or die in the numbers that ours do. Our resources are spread thin at the best of times and we have little to spare. True, our resource management has not been of the best and we have missed opportunities, but we have also stepped up to support America when it needs it most. America now needs to do a little stepping up of its own if it is to erode the trust deficit that has grown between us. We are already a nuclear power; uncomfortable as that may be for some in the non-Muslim world, and we are not going to be disarming any time soon, neither is our neighbour. There needs to be a separation of the strands of thinking military and civilian in terms of the assistance we need to enhance our civilian nuclear assets. Nuclear power may be one of our salvations and hydropower never will be, neither power derived from alternate energy generators. We may develop coal power from local resources but with the downside of increased carbon emissions. Put your money where your mouth is, Uncle Sam, and let's see if your words of support can be turned into kilowatts of (nuclear) power.
I. THE NEWS
THE DARING DSP
The suspension of DSP Imran Babar of Lahore's Rang Mahal Police Station over his refusal to release two alleged robbers once again reinforces the perception that the police department has no place for officers devoted to duty. That the suspended police officer started facing pressure from his seniors to release the men soon after their arrests shows how well-connected criminals and the police department are. Employees of any organisation usually look up to their high-ups for redressal of their grievances, but Babar has chosen to knock on the door of the Lahore High Court, requesting a judicial inquiry into the disciplinary action being taken against him. This betrays a lack of trust in a setup of which he has been a part for about 15 years.
As if waking from a deep slumber, the police authorities are now saying that the suspended DSP has been involved in criminal activities. They say Babar was dismissed from service as an inspector on serious charges in 1999 and was reinstated in September 2001. Fraud cases were lodged against him in 2006 and 2007 and he was also booked in eight cases in Rawalpindi. Besides, they say, he was involved in registering fake cases. All these charges may or may not be true, and it is hoped the Lahore High Court will get to the bottom of the matter. But we wonder why the authorities put up with so 'corrupt' a police officer for so long. Or is it that they have sprung into action now that an officer has fallen out of favour with them by refusing to obey their orders? In either case, it's the entire police department that stands exposed once again. The latest case also throws into question the role of those bureaucrats, industrialists and politicians ruling or otherwise who bribe the police into torturing people, harassing opponents, protecting criminals and lodging fake cases. It is a shame that the crime rate has gone up over the past two years despite, or under, the democratic setup, particularly in Punjab. A massive overhaul is needed. Cases like DSP Babar's as well as those of police torture in public will keep surfacing to our collective shame if influential people continue to misuse the police force.
I. THE NEWS
The recovery of the five-year-old boy Sahil is heartening news, and we rejoice for his family at their good fortune. He is said to be in good health and with little by way of obvious damage from his thirteen-day ordeal. Reports on Wednesday of the arrest of three people in Gujrat in connection with the affair are likewise welcome, but an air of confusion and mystery still pervades the whole sorry tale. Sahil is a British citizen of Pakistani origin, and holds a British passport. He was entitled to consular support from the British which he got, as well as engaging the interest of the British police who we are told played a productive and helpful role. All well and good; but the confusion arises around whether or not a ransom was paid the UK press talk of a hundred thousand pounds being paid, possibly in Paris and the conflicting statements offered to the media by our own interior minister. It should be noted that the British government has a long-held policy of not paying, or assisting in the payment of, ransoms for kidnap victims.
Questions also arise as to the resources that were deployed in this case and which are conspicuously not deployed in cases where the victim is local as in not a holder of a British passport. It is hard to imagine that the case would have achieved such prominence were the boy the son of a middle-class farmer in one of our rural backwaters. It may have merited a few lines in local newspapers but would never have attracted the international coverage that came to Sahil's case. Sahil will hopefully arrive back in the UK in the next few days to be reunited with his family; but he will leave behind a pile of unanswered questions.
I. THE NEWS
FROM BUST TO BOOM
Pakistan is going through one of its worst economic crises. Although the government has been trying to stabilise the economy to avoid a meltdown, the situation on the ground continues to be very fragile and vulnerable. The poor and low income families face intolerable cost of living and high unemployment, while the private sector Pakistan's engine of growth seems to have lost its luster and vibrancy.
The political leaders (and the media) are exhibiting a Nero-like behaviour, bombarding the public with an overdose of 'constitutional amendments' and 'conspiracy politics' instead of giving greater priority to the real issues. A sound constitution is important, no doubt, however, it will not put food on poor people's table. A stable political system and drastic improvements in the security situation are the sine qua non for the country to move ahead. The political leadership and the media need to devote more of their energy and attention to accelerate growth necessary to create employment opportunities for the tens of millions of poor and unemployed.
Few countries have shown the kind of resilience and bouncing back that Pakistan has displayed. In its 60 years' history, Pakistan has had a decent growth rate that could be the envy of most developing countries, despite several catastrophic events the breaking up of the country, several wars, nationalisation, major shocks to the civil services and higher judiciary every time there was a military takeover or transition to civil rule, to name a few. Clearly, Pakistan's private sector has shown the ability to overcome adversities.
This article suggests several actions that the government could take to overcome the current economic despair and malaise to put the country on the right track.
Firstly, Pakistan needs a world-class team for managing key economic ministries finance, planning and commerce. One clear driver of Pakistan's boom years in the 1960s, 1980s and 2000s, of the 'shining' India in the last decade, and of many East-Asian economies, has been the outstanding quality of the economic managers and their team majority of whom were highly trained economists with international experience. Collectively and individually these economic teams embodied the five Cs clean, competent, courageous, credible and continuity which are the necessary traits for all successful, high-performing teams. All the Pakistani economic teams, during the boom years, led by Shoaib (1960s), GIK (1980s) and Shaukat Aziz (2000s), met the five Cs criteria. India has had an economic team comprising Manmohan and his boys for over a decade.
It is absolutely critical that the economic ministers and their teams have: (i) high integrity standards so that they don't use economic policy to benefit themselves and can also block policy capture by corrupt vested interests (ii) strong professional competence (iii) domestic and international credibility, and (iv) conviction and the courage to say no to bad ideas. Having an economic team with the credentials of 5Cs in place for a long period has done wonders for many countries, and can certainly do wonders for Pakistan, too.
Secondly, the prime minister must set aside at least half of his time to personally lead reforms in the following areas which are critical to accelerating pro-poor growth exports, fiscal reforms, water, energy, poverty reduction, and public administration. He should establish, and head separate cabinet committees to oversee formulation and implementation of reforms in each of the above areas. The reforms should be developed after a thorough discussion in national and provincial assemblies (perhaps each issue could be granted a special session). Extensive dissemination of the reforms in the media and the public by the prime minister and his cabinet should be ensured, for public dissemination is the outreach strategy pursued by President Obama while promoting his healthcare reforms. These committees should meet at least once a quarter, and include provincial CMs and officials, since any meaningful reforms can only take place with the full involvement of the provincial governments. The work of these committees and the personal involvement of the prime minister would give a sense of direction and hope to the citizens, private sector and government institutions.
Pakistan urgently needs an out of the box strategy to accelerate the export growth. For a country which is so dependent on imported energy and food, Pakistan will always face foreign exchange crisis every few years unless the export-import gap is narrowed. Pakistan's excessive reliance on foreign loans and donor aid has mostly resulted from the need to finance the high current account deficits. During the last decade, India's export has almost doubled to 23 per cent of the GDP (2009), while that of Pakistan's has stagnated at around 14 per cent. Consequently, India has managed to achieve stable exchange-rates and low levels of current account deficits in recent years as compared to Pakistan. As global experience suggests, (i) exports have been a major driver of growth for the majority of high-growth developing countries, and (ii) export-led growth generates far greater levels of employment as compared to an inward looking strategy. The proposed committee would oversee formulation and implementation of the export strategy. Keeping in view the example of Korea in the 1970s and 80s, this committee should meet at least once a month.
Sustaining high-growth will require fiscal reforms to: lower fiscal deficits and public debt, increase government revenues, reduce state owned enterprises' losses and wasteful expenditures, and increase resources for pro-poor public services and infrastructure. Lower deficits will reduce future public debt, lower interest rates and increase the availability of credit to the private sector. The proposed fiscal reforms committee would oversee these reforms, which should be discussed in the national and provincial assemblies since increasing tax and non-tax revenues and reducing wasteful spending can only take place with the combined efforts of both federal and provincial legislatures and governments. In addition, the prime minister could set the tone at the top by voluntarily paying taxes on his agricultural income. Once leaders pay their share of taxes, the FBR would be on much stronger grounds to go after ordinary citizens and businessmen evading taxes.
Pakistan urgently needs a comprehensive water strategy to feed the burgeoning population and to avoid internal water conflicts. The proposed cabinet committee on water would oversee implementation of the strategy which would need to be debated in the national and provincial assemblies to reach a national consensus on this divisive issue. The lack of concern shown by our leaders on this important issue has resulted in our water reservoirs running dry. Pakistan can no longer afford inaction. Building large multi-purpose dams and aggressive water conservation would be the key elements of the water sector strategy.
An energy committee is proposed to ensure that this area is given the necessary cabinet-level attention, so that Pakistan always has adequate availability of affordable energy needed for growth and poverty reduction.
Given the high levels of poverty and unemployment, it is critical to ensure effective implementation of safety net programmes and those related to meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for health and education. Overseeing these efforts would be the responsibility of the committee on poverty reduction.
No government can govern and improve the welfare of its citizens if public institutions are not functioning effectively. Up until 1960s, Pakistan's public institutions were a role-model for other developing countries. They are now dysfunctional as a result of several catastrophic shocks they suffered in the 1960s, 1970s and every time there was a transition in government. The proposed cabinet committee on public administration would oversee reforms to re-build public institutions.
Revival of the economy is critical for Pakistan's future, but there is no magic-pill that can do wonders for it. Moving from bust to boom will require the prime minister to lead from the front foot, personally overseeing implementation of reforms in the key areas, with the support of a sound economic team and cabinet committees.
The writer is a former operations adviser at the World Bank. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
A HISTORIC STEP
Fourteen years after the legislation was first tabled, the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of India's Parliament, has passed a bill which reserves one-third of all elected seats in legislatures for women. Unlike in Pakistan, there's no reservation for women in India yet.
Although the Congress, the Left and the Bharatiya Janata Party together supported the bill in a rare show of unity, it was doggedly opposed by Mulayalam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party, Laloo Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal and a section of the Janata Dal (United). The passage turned out extremely fractious thanks partly to the Congress' poor floor management. It should have consulted its allies properly. But it was keen to see the bill passed on International Women's Day (March 8).
The Congress paid dearly for this symbolism and allowed the bill's diehard opponents to transform the gender equity issue into a political one involving the government's survival.
The BJP anxious to deny the Congress credit for the bill adopted double standards. It demanded a discussion on the legislation although it was evident that the bill's opponents would prevent a serious debate. They disrupted the proceedings by creating a ruckus. Seven MPs had to be evicted by marshals. But the BJP deplored this legitimate use of force. Over 70 per cent of its MPs oppose the bill, according to its chief whip.
Whatever the Congress' and BJP's faults, the central truth is that reserving one-third of legislature seats for women is anathema to a section of India's political class, especially from the Hindi belt, and a threat to the male domination of politics.
Nine-tenths of all seats in parliament and state legislatures are effectively "reserved" for men. Many Cow Belt politicians are as hostile to women's reservations as upper-caste groups were to affirmative action for the Other Backward Classes under the Mandal Commission.
The anti-Mandal lobby argued that reservations undermine "merit". The women's bill's opponents argue that women would displace male OBC (and secondarily Muslim) MPs, and upper-caste women would dominate the women's quota. They therefore demand an OBC sub-quota.
Some of the opponents say they'd agree to a lower, 20-25 per cent quota. This may or may not be a sincere offer. In 1998, a 25-per cent "compromise" was agreed upon between the Left, Congress, RJD, SP and JD(U). But the BJP balked thanks to internal dissidents like Uma Bharti.
Most of the bill's opponents are from the socially, economically and educationally backward extended "Hindi belt" (Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand). Unlike the South, where affirmative action for the underprivileged and under-represented has long been consensually accepted without bitter contestation, this region still resists affirmative action.
Its politicians, intellectuals and other opinion-shapers must introspect on its social backwardness and its connection to their gender-discriminatory, male-supremacist, rigidly patriarchal attitudes.
The anti-bill arguments are substantively wrong. First, it's not at all likely, leave alone inevitable, that upper-caste women will dominate the women's quota. In the UP and Bihar Assemblies, they occupy less than one-third of all seats held by women. Their representation can be expected to decline in line with upper-caste presence in the Lok Sabha, which decreased from 64 per cent in 1952 to 33 per cent in 2004. The Mandalite parties can well nominate OBC women to contest the reserved seats. Indeed, they should use the reservation to strengthen the OBCs' legislature presence.
Second, the reservations bill's legitimate function is not to improve OBC, Dalit or Muslim representation, but to correct the gross under-representation of women. Historically, women MPs have constituted under 10 per cent of parliamentarians. It's only in the current Lok Sabha that their share rose to 10.8 per cent. In the Rajya Sabha, it's still 8.8 per cent. In the assemblies of 19 major states, it's only 8.5 per cent.
Rectifying such under-representation is a worthy cause in and of itself. It doesn't have to follow further affirmative action even for the poor, who doubtless deserve to be better represented.
The case for affirmative action for women arises from the absence of a level playing-field in India's unequal, hierarchical and patriarchal society and in politics. Women face discrimination at every step, indeed from the foetal stage onwards. Girls are fed less than boys, and made to work or look after younger siblings rather than go to school. Girls are told they are inferior to boys, and don't fully belong to the parents' family because they'll get married one day.
Discrimination cascades through denial of social opportunity and access to healthcare and education, discrimination in wages (which differ by 80 per cent between men and women, according to the National Sample Survey), unequal property rights, low work participation, poor access to professional education, multiple-level sexual harassment, and elaborate arrangements to keep women out of public life.
One of India's most shameful scandals is sex-selective abortion, which has brought the sex ratio down from 972 females per 1,000 males to 933 over the past century. In India, women comprise only 48.2 per cent of the population, compared to 51 per cent globally, according to the UN Development Programme's latest Asia-Pacific report. The report analyses multiple dimensions of gender discrimination and concludes that quotas for women can be "effective" and are "necessary" for political growth.
Admittedly, reservations in legislatures will not dramatically and automatically redeem systematic, pervasive discrimination. Many more changes will be needed, including social reform, public education, punishment for gender-related crimes including dowry-taking, changes in property and inheritance laws, and transfer of land titles to women. But reservations will help bring women's concerns to bear on public debate and policy-making.
Greater women's representation would sensitise policies to the gender dimensions of many social and developmental processes and political realities. Better representation will probably raise the quality of parliamentary debate, sharpen the focus on livelihood and development issues, including health, food security and education, and encourage collective, consensual approaches to complex questions.
Women legislators tend to be more diligent, less corrupt, and more responsive to their constituency than men. The bill will contribute to improving the quality of public life.
However, the bill has its flaws. The rotation of reserved constituencies every five years will disturb the territorial or geographical unit-based system of representation which is a cornerstone of democracy. That means an MP who has nurtured his constituency for years may lose it during the next term. Women using reservations would have no fixed constituency.
The flaws would be best overcome through the proportional representation (PR) system, which extends representation beyond territorial constituencies to different social groups nominated by elected parties. Proportional representation is appropriate and necessary for India, with its immense size and diversity and numerous sizeable but under- or un-represented groupse.g. people of the Northeast, or nomads who comprise 4 per cent of the population, but have no MPs representing them. But until we have comprehensive political reform leading to PR, we'll have to live with certain imperfections.
The passage of the Women's Reservation Bill might impel the SP and RJD to withdraw support and vote against the budget. But the UPA should stand firm. The bill's opponents won't earn much credit by voting mindlessly against the UPA, which still commands a majority, if only a wafer-thin one. More important, its stature has risen among half the Indian population.
The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights
activist based in Delhi. Email: prafulbidwai1 @yahoo.co.in
I. THE NEWS
THE STRATEGIC DIALOGUE
In a few days Pakistan and the US will be engaged in a strategic dialogue having far-reaching consequence for the region and its peoples. Pakistan's battlefield successes in Swat and South Waziristan changed the dynamics of the geopolitical equation from what it was less than a year ago. US vice-president Joseph Biden was the first as a US senator to recognise the rank injustice done to Pakistan over the years and the need to have a more pragmatic even-handed policy. Once President Obama took office and carried out a thorough review, US decision-makers, including Hillary Clinton, Gen James Jones, Admiral Mike Mullen and Gen Petraeusjoined by the battlefield commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McCrystalare now unanimous in recognising Pakistan's crucial role as the centre of gravity to resolve the biggest US headache at present, Afghanistan.
George W Bush's closest advisors, led by Condoleeza Rice, were heavily weighted in favour of India at the expense of Pakistan, and that too without geopolitical logic. Unfortunately, Pakistan's military dictators have historically sold Pakistan short at the negotiating table to ensure their own survival, despite the fact that they were always in a position to drive a hard bargain. That selfish failure undercut Pakistan's core national interests.
Gen Patraeus put it best the other day, that there must be recognition that each country has to go with its own national interest, and work towards convergence of interests, and narrowing the gaps. The US has its own core national interests, as has Pakistan. With a timeline limited to only up to another two years, fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan to a standstill and then exiting without leaving the vacuum will take some doing.
US abandonment of the region in the 90s resulted in the rise of the Taliban, and subsequently Al-Qaeda. Someone has to full the vacuum, maybe not as a US proxy, as is the common perception, but to ensure common national interests.
Afghanistan is a predator society and it will take decades of peace to change the existing mindset. For centuries Afghans have used their geographical crossroads location to live off the traders who passed through their territory. Necessarily Afghanistan is dependant on Pakistan for nearly everything, whether it comes from or through Pakistan. While everyone and his uncle blames Pakistan for "hosting" Taliban sanctuaries within its borders, they well know Pakistan has done all within its resources to curb this access but are mostly unable to stop two-way traffic across the Durand Line. We have suffered grievously for it, and continue to do so in more ways than one. At a recent security conference in Brussels there was stony silence when the rather unpalatable subject of the three-million-plus Afghan refugees in Pakistan today for decades was raised, as well as the astonishing fact that not one Afghan government official of note had ever visited them over the years to find out about their fate. (At least 1.6 million of these are in refugee camps, and the rest dispersed in Pakistani cities.) Eloquent about the $1.2 billion Indian aid given over the past decade, the mathematics about $2 per individual per day on food spent on the refugees by Pakistan and that it came to $2 billion per year (or $20 billion on food alone) over the past decade, was lost on the Afghans present (and others).
India's economic interests in Afghanistan cannot be denied or ignored. Access through the land route through Pakistan must be subject to the Kashmir and water issue being satisfactorily settled. However, Indians cannot rival the interests of Pakistan, which is Afghanistan's immediate neighbour. While the "strategic depth" theory is nonsense, Afghanistan's dependence on Pakistan's economy and agriculture are overwhelming facts of life to consider in the formulation of any policy to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
The Pakistani army has destroyed the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Swat and South Waziristan, and now lately their traditional route of infiltration into Pakistan through Bajaur. This has caused the dismantling of their logistics infrastructure and thecapture of many Taliban leaders, as their network has collapsed and sanctuaries exposed to interdiction. Despite his anti-Pakistan tirade, Pakistan has been supportive of Karzai in the Afghan presidential elections. During his recent visit to Pakistan we saw a born-against Karzaior is he a tremendous actor?
The truth is probably a bit of both. He seemed genuinely interested in a new relationship with Pakistan, but was loath to publicly abandon a long-standing friendship with India. This would be acceptable to Pakistan as long as India does not use Afghanistan as a platform to foment trouble in Balochistan, of which there is no doubt.
One must forgive Fareed Zakaria for his constant tirade against Pakistan, as an Indian Muslim he has to show himself to be more "loyal than the king." His intellectual dishonesty in turning the once-respected Newsweek into an anti-Pakistan propaganda machine is appalling. If that was not enough, a recent article by Selig Harrison on "Zardari's courage" was nothing but paid advertisement against the Pakistani army. Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council recently gave testimony before the US Foreign Relations Committee that while Pakistani intelligence agencies may have had links decades ago with organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) because of Kashmir, to suggest the existence of a continuing connections is baselesseven ludicrous, given the battlefield casualties Pakistan is suffering. Shuja's elder brother, the late Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua, would have been proud of him.
What a wonderful ambassador for Pakistan in the US this outstanding and credible intellectual would make! In contrast, the present incumbent is not worthy of comment. With such people representing Pakistan in a crucial country like the US, what does Pakistan expect in a strategic dialogue? Kayani should have had the good sense and propriety not to meet with Haqqani recently, Mr Haqqani is now going around claiming he got Shuja Pasha the year's extension, and has ensured Kayani's as COAS. Hopefully Kayani won't take him along into the Pentagon discussions. God knows what else he is likely to claim!
The US is supporting Pakistan generously. Unfortunately it is not enough, neither economically and certainly not in military aid. In key areas of economy, agriculture, power sector, communications and telecommunications, health, etc we require massive injection of funds. Above all, we need to be brought in from the nuclear cold to overcome our dire energy deficiencies. Vital to US success in Afghanistan, Pakistan is getting only a fraction of what it should get, comparatively others get much more for doing much less. The strategic dialogue should be a joint national security strategy session for a comprehensive review of all relevant factors encompassing mutual interests in geo-politics and economics.
The strategic dialogue is crucial for the region's stability, as well as for peace and prosperity in Pakistan. The armed forces have changed the equation with their magnificent performance on the ground. However, this could not have been possible without the democratic dispensation in Pakistan today, however ugly it is. It is important that the system must stay. The US can stay on top of the game in Afghanistan, and the region, by betting heavily on the proven successful formula, the Pakistan Army and Pakistan.
The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
AND NOW THE 'HANDSHAKE' ISSUE
The Swedish Public Employment Centre (Arbetsfrmedlingen) has been ordered to pay 60,000 Swedish kroner to a Muslim citizen, Alen Malik Crnalic.
In 2006, Crnalic applied to be a trainee welder at a company in lmhult, in southern Sweden. During the interview, Crnalic, being an "active" Muslim, refused to shake hands with the company's woman CEO. After the interview his application was turned down.
According to the CEO, the decision to reject Crnalic was not based on his way of greeting. But the CEO felt insulted by the way she was treated by Crnalic. ''I felt humiliated. He shook hands with everybody except me," she told Swedish Television. Crnalic appealed the decision to the Public Employment Centre, which rejected his appeal. He than went to the Discrimination Ombudsman and the case ended up in court. In the courtroom the scales tipped in favour of Crnalic.
The court accepted Crnalic's "right" not to shake hands with the woman for religious reasons and ruled that therefore his unemployment benefits should not have been cancelled.
Queen Sonja of Norway had an experience of confessional purity when she visited Oslo's Islamic Cultural Centre last summer. The imam refused to shake her hand. In Holland, another country where this handshake issue has made headlines, the government decided to enlighten the country's imams on Dutch values. The imams were motivated to join a course called the Netherlands and Islam: Intercultural Encounter and Integration.
On the completion of the course, Dutch integration and immigration minister Rita Verdonk went to award certificates to the course participants. When she extended her arm towards Imam Ahmad Salam for a handshake, he refused it. Ms Verdonk politely responded: ''I see we have a lot to talk about.'' She is right. Taking the imam's cue, Muslim women clerics refused to shake hands with male staff accompanying the minister. Like burqa, a handshake is fast becoming an issue. One keeps hearing about such incidents and the press keeps highlighting them.
However, such a decision by the Swedish court was unheard of before. The day this decision was announced, a visibly irritated Nalin Pegul, the head of the women's wing of the Swedish Social Democratic Party who is of Kurdish origin, was condemning it on TV channels. Ms Pegul invoked the Quran to prove that Islam does not forbid women's shaking hands with men. She pointed out that while in some Muslim cultures women do shake hands with men, in others they don't. In Pakistan, a society considered liberal compared to Afghan society, it is not common for men and women to shake hands. In Afghanistan it is.
We cannot use religion to resolve cultural issues. Shaking hands is about the social relations and cultural norms of a society. In the West it is justifiably considered an insult not to shake a woman's hand, even in the name of religion, especially in situations like the one Crnalic created. It is tantamount to reducing the woman to an inferior status. By endorsing such actions, the Swedish court has set a dangerous precedent.
Burqa, handshakes, segregated schools and other issues like these are raised by a politically motivated extremist minority with links to Salafi groups in the Muslim world. Muslim immigrants cannot integrate themselves in their countries of adoption by appeasing this impossible-to-appease minority.
These extremists invoke human rights in case of bans on the burqa while they take refuge behind religion when it comes to men and women shaking hands. When it concerns the rights or religion of others, however, they don't care a penny.
The writer is a staff member.
I. THE NEWS
A FEW GOOD MEN
Help! The vultures are hovering around the dying Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP). In exactly seven days they will be able to feed on the carcass of its chairman and the commission.
Why are the government and the opposition keen to see the end of the CCP and Chairman Khalid Mirza? Simple. Everybody, and I mean everybody from the presidency, the PM House, down to Raiwind estate, the Senate, parliament, business tycoons, are known to leech off the poor. They have been "named and shamed" by Mirza and his zealots. The scofflaws have been penalised and told to pay up. Instead of paying the fines, they have ganged up to destroy the CCP and choke the voice of its chairman forever.
Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry has promised to end corruption. Will he be a silent spectator to the death of the CCP? And even if the ordinance was re-promulgated after making sure that the commission's powers are crippled and Mirza maimed, will our Lordship move suo motto?
Horror tales of vice stalk the land today. The truth will only come out once the government goes. Well-informed sources close to palaces of power say that lucrative jobs are being auctioned to bidders willing to pay the highest price. The stewardship of National Highway Authority (NHA); senior banking jobs and other well-oiled public sector positions are up for sale. A well-known government legislator is the chief collector who names a price and demands a down payment before putting the bidder in touch with the agent. "We'll tell you how to make a huge profit once you put down Rs50 crores as down payment," is the sort of line the collector tells the candidates.
With so much corruption around town, Khalid Mirza works 10-12 hours a day catching the thieves. Big cartels and their chums hate his guts. He's been openly threatened by the named and shamed. "You along with your twelve comrades in the CCP will be lying dead in the middle of the road," is the message he has gotten often. On the flip side, he's been offered huge bribes. An LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) magnate sent a mutual friend (he shall remain nameless) to Mirza with the message, "He (the magnate) will give you something hard for you to refuse."!
Who is Khalid Mirza? And more importantly who are his 'enemies?'
According to media reports, while the National Assembly has given its green signal for the bill to be re-promulgated, Senators Wasim Sajjad, Haroon Akhtar and Ishaq Dar are opposing it. The attack squad is shameless and relentless. Junior minister for finance Hina Rabbani Khar, a Musharraf hand-down, is doing what she does best: serve her current masters (Zardari and Gilani), and not the interests of the people. Her role in the CCP survival is therefore suspect.
Why is Haroon Akhtar, son of the late General Akhtar Abdur Rahman who perished with Zia, keen on emasculating the powers of the CCP? Haroon and his brother Humayun are wealthy businessmen. An "axis of evil" formed of influential politicians from Sindh to Frontier owning sugar, atta, cement mills, banks, auto industry, LPG, and media industry want Mirza gone with the wind because he spares no one.
Even the ex-faujis have not been spared by the CCP for "abuse of dominance and unacceptable concentrations." Fauji Fertiliser companies were found to be practising "unreasonable monopoly power" and therefore given two years for compliance. April 2010 is the deadline. Who will have the last laugh should Mirza and his CCP were to wind up on March 26?
You guessed it right. It will be the cartels.
The Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE), the Lahore Stock Exchange (LSE) and the Islamabad Stock Exchange (ISE) were found to be "fixing the purchase and selling price of any goods or the provision of any service" thereby violating Section 4 of the Competition Ordinance, 2007. While the ISE has complied, the LSE and the KSE have gone to court. In a separate instance, the KSE, which "refused to share its trading platform with the ISE and the LSE" that according to the CCP "amounts to an abuse of dominant position", has again gone to the Sindh High Court.
Fauzia Wahab, the chairperson of the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Finance, has allegedly made amendments to the CCP draft bill by removing the Supreme Court out of the equation! Khalid Mirza is most unhappy. "The Supreme Court and not the high courts should decide. The SC is the appellate forum against orders of the commission without an intermediate appeal to high courts as is the present practice", he says, "otherwise, the cases against the offenders can drag on for 12-15 years."
An example of how justice is delayed is that of the Pakistan Banks Association. The CCP took suo moto notice of an advertisement published in newspapers by the Pakistan Banking Association in 2007 announcing the introduction of an "Enhanced Saving Account (ESA)," that would automatically convert PLS accounts with an average balance of Rs20,000 to the ESA. The commission issued show-cause notices to the leading banks asking them to explain such unilateral action. The case is in the courts. Another case still pending in the court is that of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan (ICAP) for violating the CCP's ordinance.
But the biggest fraud being committed is by the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM). The CCP took suo moto notice of newspaper reports alleging that "most allocations of the critical raw material known as steel billets were being allocated to a particular entity known to be too close to the Man on the Hill and the remaining users of steel billets were not getting these in time or in the quantities required by them. The commission conducted an enquiry and noted that the undertaking was in violation of the rules. A show-cause notice was served asking the undertaking to appear before the commission on May 19, 2009. So far, four hearings have been held in the case."
Get the drift?
Even the Bahria University was allegedly caught violating the CCP's rules. "The practice of compulsory purchase of laptops sold by the university to the students amounts to tying the sale of laptops with the provision of educational services appeared, prima facie, to violate Section 3 of the ordinance." The case is still in progress.
The CCP caught PIA involved in an "abuse of its dominant position in the matter of imposing excessive rescheduling charges when passengers reschedule or cancel their flights." Three hearings have been held to date.
Mirza as the relentless pursuer of consumer rights deserves our gratitude for getting many other business entities to comply after being penalised/warned/put on notice. They are Dewan Salman Fibre, Pakistan Synthetics Ltd., ICI Ltd., Rupali Polyester Ltd., Ibrahim Fibres Ltd., Pakistan Mobile Communications Ltd., All Pakistan Akhbar Farosh Federation and the APNS and 13 other members, Siza Foods Ltd., China Mobile Ltd. and Pakistan Mobile Telecom Ltd.
How has Khalid Mirza, an ordinary M Com from Punjab University, succeeded in just 28 months to shake up the whole corrupt system comprising industrialists, businessmen and powerful cartels? He boasts of no MBA degree from Harvard. "Success is all perspiration," he says. Shaukat Aziz brought him as his "attack dog," never realising that he would bite the hand (of unscrupulous millionaires like Aziz) that feeds off the poor. Another twist to the tale is that should Mirza survive on March 26, he turns 65 on July 25 and retires. Will the powers that be allow the Ralph Nader of Pakistan to be finally shunted out? Continuation in service is being given to deserving people like Justice Ramday and the ISI chief, General Ahmad Shuja Pasha. Why not Mirza?
Whoever saves the CCP and its chairman will be our shooting star.
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting
I. THE NEWS
THE PAKISTAN REPORT CARD
Imagine a situation where you have to speak before a large crowd. Right there and then, even though you are not a cow, you discover you have foot-and-mouth disease. That is to say, you mistakenly put your foot in your mouth.
Shahbaz Sharif did that just recently, when he argued that the Taliban should not attack Lahore because like the Taliban, his party, the PML-N, was also against Musharraf. He said, "We in the PML-N opposed his policies and rejected dictation from abroad, and if the Taliban are also fighting for the same cause, then they should not carry out acts of terror in Punjab."
He claims that his remarks were taken out of context. That's a flimsy excuse when he doesn't offer an explanation for what kind of context justifies a statement like the one he made. And as far as the issue of foreign dictation goes, they seem to have forgotten their extended sojourn in Saudi Arabia.
At least, the outrage is there over this kind of appeasement. Of course, the theatrics of the PML-Q's Nighat Orakzai run shallow. It's odd that she asked Shahbaz to wear a dupatta and stay home bound because that's what women supposedly do? Talk of betraying one's own gender. But the real issue is something else. For the longest time people have suspected of the Taliban sympathies of the PML-N, and in this statement they hope they have found a smoking gun.
The Punjab assembly has been passing silly resolutions under the tutelage of Shahbaz Sharif, like the outrage over cheap midnight mobile calls because they lead to "vulgar" talks between the sexes. The Taliban comment is not the only evidence of reactionary thinking.
The PML-N has been coasting for sometime, immune to the rabid accusations against the PPP. In their anger of the corruption of this government, many observers have blindly sided with the PML-N. But other than supporting the judiciary, which is in its interest, what do we know of the party that will set it apart, especially from its previous terms when the party leader wanted to be the Amir-ul-Momineen? The PML-N had a terrible record of both attempted authoritarianism and muzzling the press. If anything, we have learnt from Asif Ali Zardari that rough times do not reform people; they just go back to their old self the moment they are safe and comfortable.
Given that the PML-N is, for all purposes, a government in waiting, its narrowsightedness is worrisome. Thanks to the PPP's self-destructive incompetence, the PML-N needs to stand up and be ready to be a national party. It cannot do that by asking for special concessions for Punjab from terrorists, or for that matter, having law ministers cavorting with sectarian organisations in public.
Despite the PPP dragging its feet on the Taliban, it finally committed itself to battling them. If we are to treat Shahbaz's statement as a Freudian slip, then it bodes poorly for the strides made in battling the cancer that is the Taliban. This desire to negotiate is based on a perverted world view that these murderers have something holy about them.
Yes, say no to foreign dictation. But also say no to domestic terrorists.
The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
KEEP NFC SPIRIT ALIVE
THE consensus 7th NFC Award signed by President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday in the presence of Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, Provincial Governors and Chief Ministers is a giant step to give financial autonomy to the Provinces. The NFC Award in the past had been a source of discontentment among the Provinces who had been complaining that they were not being given due share by the Federation from the divisible pool of taxes.
President Asif Ali Zardari described the Award as a victory of democracy, political parties, provinces and success of policy of reconciliation while Prime Minister Gilani termed it as dividend of democracy. To be effective from the 1st of July 2010, the Award would ensure greater resources to the Provinces as their share has been increased to 56% in the divisible pool. Earlier due to lack of resources with the federating units, most of the development projects had been carried out by the Federal Government and the Provinces had to seek funding from the Federation in times of emergencies. One must give credit to the PPP led Government at the Centre for giving a free hand to former Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin to negotiate the Award to the satisfaction of all stake holders. Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif also showed magnanimity and large heartedness by surrendering significant amount of resources from Punjab share to the smaller Provinces to address their demands. That spirit of mutual accommodation needs to be carried forward to resolve other inter-provincial issues. Though not relevant, yet we may point out that Sindh as a gesture to reciprocate the generosity shown by Punjab should not have objected over the implementation of Jhelum-Chashma Hydro project that the later intends to implement. Under the Award Balochistan would be receiving Rs83 billion in the first year as well as arrears of RS 120 billion on account of GDS in instalments. So is the case of NWFP, which will be receiving arrears of Rs 110 billion as its hare in net hydel profits. Now that the Provinces will be getting enough resources, it is time that they should pay greater attention to capacity building and appropriate planning to utilize these funds for the well-being of their people. We hope and expect that the spirit of NFC will be kept alive and the political parties in the Parliament would come up with a consensus Constitution Amendment package addressing other contentious issues like repeal of 17th amendment and provincial autonomy.
RECOVERY OF SAHEL
THE good news is that the ordeal of the family is now over as their son Sahel, kidnapped from Jhelum on March 4, is safe and back with the family again yet his recovery raises many questions that would continue to haunt citizens of this country for a long time.
The episode had generated a lot of concern not only among the family members but people at large about safety of the five-year-old boy and, therefore, they have taken a sigh of relief. Safety and security of the boy was of paramount importance and there was every reason to handle the case with great care. However, if reports about payment of ransom are correct then it amounts to submission of the State before lawbreakers and this would convey wrong signals to numerous gangs operating in different parts of the country. According to reliable reports, there were 480 officially recognized cases of 'kidnapping for ransom' in the country during last year and Punjab is said to be particularly vulnerable to the heinous crime. Kidnapping cases in Punjab alone were more than 11,000 during the year. Pakistan is in top five countries in the world for kidnapping for ransom incidents and majority of kidnapping for ransom involve criminal gangs who normally target local businessmen. Kidnapping for ransom has become one of the most profitable and widespread criminal enterprises in the country yet regrettably the Federal and provincial Governments have so far closed their eyes to the menace. Despite the fact that records of the criminals are available with the local police but they go scot-free because of their connections or the practice of palm greasing. There are also widespread instances of abduction of small children for selling, prostitution and use in camel races. The Sahel episode also damaged the country's reputation as the incident evoked considerable interest not only in Pakistani media but the entire world. Therefore, the authorities concerned should not only go deep into the incident but also ponder over the situation and take concrete measures to protect lives and properties of the citizens.
PAK-IRAN GAS PIPELINE AGREEMENT
IN a major breakthrough on the gas pipeline project, Pakistan and Iran signed on Tuesday the heads of agreement and an operational accord in Istanbul, clearing the way for implementation of the project of great significance to the two countries. It is hoped that the physical work would begin soon and gas would start flowing to Pakistan sometime in 2013.
This is indeed a historic achievement and would go a long way in overcoming the growing energy crisis in Pakistan and cementing ties between the two brotherly countries. Pakistan, these days, is facing acute shortage of gas and the future scenario is all the more grim as domestic reserves are depleting fast while the demand is rising at unprecedented pace. No country can progress and prosper without ensuring energy security and it is good that Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project is step towards that direction. The project already got delayed considerably because of deliberate attempts by India to sabotage this vital venture, as New Delhi used it as a bargaining chip with the United States during discussions on nuclear accord to gain more concessions. It is good that the two countries have now decided to pursue it as a bilateral project but there are bright prospects of Chinese joining it because of mind-boggling energy consumption there. This option should also be pursued as Chinese association would help accelerate implementation of the project and make it more viable. Similarly, we have also been hearing since long about possibilities of importing gas from Turkmenistan and Qatar as well but there has been no worthwhile progress towards that end. As energy demand is rising and development is directly linked to energy security, it is time we move ahead on these two projects also. We can do the spadework for import of gas as well as electricity from Central Asia so that the projects are realized speedily upon return of normalcy in Afghanistan.
KARZAI'S VISIT TO PAKISTAN
The Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Pakistan earlier this month to follow up on his meeting with his US and NATO allies to discuss a new strategy to deal with Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. This two pronged strategy is the brain child of US President Obama who wants to wind up the war in Afghanistan as early as possible. As a first step he sent an extra 30 thousand troops to Afghanistan to accelerate the battle to a finish. But at the same time he asked President Karzai to find avenues of reconciliation with moderate elements of Taliban who are not taking part in the war and are willing to patch up with the Government to return to a peaceful life if they are provided suitable avenues for their employment in peaceful pursuits.
The US and its allies have agreed to set up a fund of US$500 million for the welfare of those who join the bandwagon of peaceful co-existence. Members of Taliban's leadership council held a secret meeting with the UN representatives to discuss the conditions to lay down their arms. They requested all stakeholders that they may be assured full protection before they come out in public. At an international conference held in London recently, Western Allies of Afghanistan headed by the United States whose forces are fighting in Afghanistan with heavy loss of life of their soldiers participated in the conference. US ambassador Holbrooke has said that this initiative would fill the gap in dealing with Taliban and invite them back into the fold. All stakeholders are keen to donate for the fund because they are all in a hurry to wind up the Afghan war which is most unpopular in their countries and is adversely affecting their own popularity.
The communiqué issued after the conference says the participants welcomed the Afghan government's initiative to persuade moderate Taliban to renounce and begin a new peaceful phase in their lives to earn their living through jobs which the government would provide them. If they agree to return to a peaceful way of life they will be offered an honorable place in a free society. The conference committed for a peace and reintegration fund for the accommodation of those who return to the fold of the government. The communiqué welcomed the Afghan government's resolve to complete the majority of its operations in insecure areas of the country within three years and take responsibility for its physical security within five years. International forces committed to support Afghan security by increasing the number of troops to about 300,000 by Oct. 2011. World powers agreed to raise the proportion of development aid from about a third to a half in two years as long as efforts were made to tackle corruption. Taliban have not so far shown any willingness in public for talks, but observers believe they are dead tired of fighting and might gladly accept the offer. The problem however is whether the die hard followers of Osama will agree with moderate elements as expected by the Karzai government, which believes that there is need to win the hearts and minds of the people. The US, while striking the bargain had desired that Pakistan which is also suffering from the Taliban menace must be taken on board in any ceasefire arrangement with radical elements which are the common enemy of both the countries. Pakistan and Afghanistan have a porous border stretching across several hundred miles without any barriers or check posts. The insurgents easily cross into either country without any let or hindrance. When Pakistan armed forces built their pressure along the Pak-Afghan border some very important Taliban leaders slipped quietly into Pakistan and were recently apprehended. On his arrival in Islamabad President Karzai assured Pakistan that he would keep Pakistan on board in his political dialogue with Taliban.
He acknowledged that Pakistan has to play a critical role in this process and without its collaboration it will not be possible to achieve peace and stability in the two countries. One hopes that the trust deficit between the two neighboring countries that has existed for a long time will give way to confidence in each others words. This is indeed essential for the elimination of terrorism in both countries. One major obstacle in Pak-Afghan relations has been India which has penetrated between the two countries with evil intents. President Karzai too has been taking a lot of advantage from India at the cost of Pakistan. However now it seems that the US has put its foot down, warning Afghanistan to smooth out it relations with Pakistan without which America can not win its war against terrorism. Consequently Mr. Karzai has tried to strike a balance in his country's relations with India and Pakistan. He told a news conference in Islamabad that Afghan President acknowledged India's contribution in the development of his country and called it a friend but he called Pakistan a conjoined twin. It is hoped that this clarification by President Karzai will dispel the suspicion in Pakistan that India's growing influence in Afghanistan has been the major cause of concern that Indian agencies are active in destabilizing Pakistan.
Even recently terrorist attacks in Lahore have been attributed to India by the Pakistan Interior Minister. This blame game has been going on between the two countries ever since terror attacks on Mumbai for which India holds Pakistan responsible because the only terrorist who was captured alive is of Pakistani origin. President Karzai in his talks with Pakistani leaders has, however made it clear that Afghanistan does not want any proxy war between India and Pakistan on its soil, nor does it want a proxy war between Iran and the US on its territory. A joint communiqué issued after talks between the foreign ministers of the two countries calls for boosting of economic and trade ties as well as enhancing cooperation in education and agriculture sectors. As a first step the two countries agreed to increase their bilateral trade to$5 billion by 2015. All these developments indicate that Afghanistan has finally agreed to fully cooperate with Pakistan in the war on terror.
As a follow up, a meeting will be held in Washington on March 24 for strategic dialogue between Pakistan and the United States. The Pakistan team will be led by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi while the US team will be headed by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Pakistan Army Chief General Kiyani and ISI Chief Lt. General Shuja Pasha will also attend the meeting. The dialogue will be broad based covering economic, defense, security and social issues. Americans have indicated that they would be interested in the revival of Pakistan's economy particularly in the energy sector in which they are willing to finance some major projects.
INDIAN DEFENCE BUDGET AND POVERTY
MAMOONA ALI KAZMI
According to the budget presented by the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, India's defence expenditure has been raised to Rs. 1,47,344 crore for 2010-11, a 4 percent increase from the last year's Rs. 1,41,703 crore. The rationale being given by the Finance Minister for the increase in the budget was deteriorated security environment of India. It seems quite astonishing that India now using the internal mishaps as basis for the increase in the defence budget. Whereas, in reality India needs a huge defence budget to finance its defence deals with different countries such as Israel, Russia and America. Israel is poised to grab a major chunk of the whopping $ 30 billion that New Delhi will spend on defence purchases over the next five years. In the past three years, India had spent as much as $ 10.5 billion on military imports, making it amongst the largest arms importers in the developing world. India's military imports are expected to reach $ 30 billion by 2012. India is a country, which bullies neighbouring countries and has no direct threat of aggression from any other country, so it can not justified such a massive defence budget.
The Indian Government is increasing its defence budget and is not bothering about what is happening to the common man. Two-third of India's 1.1 billion citizens continues to live on less than £1 a day. The people living below the poverty line have nothing to do with the defence budget. The socio-economic indicators of Indian society do not allow India to have a huge defence budget. The poor condition of its agriculture, education, employment etc. has exposed its fake economic progress. According to International Herald Tribune, " there are too many signs of an over confidence (in India) that look more and more like hubris". Paradoxically, only a false sense of economic growth is spreading throughout India notwithstanding the reality. According to a survey conducted by the BBC World almost half of all Indians feel that their country's economic "miracle" has done nothing to benefit them or their families. The survey revealed the growing sense of division in Indian society between the newly affluent middle classes and the socially disenfranchised rural poor.
The percentage of inflation is much higher than what is projected at the national level by the Government. For common man, inflation means rise in the prices of wheat and flour. The poverty-stricken people are committing suicides in the country at an alarming rate. The Indian Government failed to provide employment to its vast population. The proportion of the unemployed to the total labour force has been increasing from 2.62 percent (1993-94) to 2.78 percent (1999-2000) and 3.06 percent (2004-05). According to the Minister for Labour and employment the enrolment of the unemployed in the Employment Exchange in 2006-07 was 79 Lakhs against the average of 58 Lakhs in the past ten years.
The quality of education is also not satisfactory, which is indicative of Indian Government's ignorance towards this sector. According to a study, 38 percent of the children who have completed four years of schooling cannot read a small paragraph with short sentences meant to be read by a student of class II.
The number of people living in slums in India has doubled in the past two decades. According to Indian Government, the population of people living in slums has exceeded the entire population of Britain. According to Kumari Selji, Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, India's slum-dwelling population had risen from 27.9 million in 1981 to 61.8 million in 2001. The ballooning slum population is also an evidence of the Governments' failure to build enough housing and other basic infrastructure for its urban poor, many of whom live without electricity, gas or running water. India's largest slum population is in Mumbai where 6.5 million people live in tiny makeshift shacks surrounded by open sewers. Mumbai is also home to Dharani, Asia's biggest single slum, which is estimated to be home to more than a million people. Delhi has the country's second largest slum population, totaling about 1.8 million people followed by Calcutta with about 1.5 million. According to Maju Varghese of YUVA, an NGO that has been working with urban poor for more than 20 years, the rise in slums is due to the lack of affordable housing provided by the Government.
India is in negative growth mode. Industrial production is down for the first time in two decades. Export fell by 20 percent and at least 1.5 million officially-employed workers are expected to lose their jobs within this quarter. In the diamond polishing industry alone, 14,000 factories have been shut down; another 10,000 will follow suit in forthcoming weeks. Thousands of small-scale outfits supporting textile and machinery exporters have entered bankruptcy. A worried market analyst at the Bombay Stock Exchange who was looking for additional measures directed at stimulating the Indian economy questioned why "the government failed to incorporate any genuine economic stimulus in the interim budget, and why the focus was on defence? Apart from the industrial sector, the agricultural sector despite being the back bone of Indian economy viewed a decline. The agricultural growth of 3.2 observed from 1980 to 1997 decelerated to two percent subsequently. This was due to low investment, imbalance in fertilizer use, low seeds replacement rate, a distorted incentive system and low post harvest value. In 1951, agriculture provided employment to 72 percent of the population as compared to 58 percent in 2001 and its share in GDP also declined from 24 percent to 22 percent in 2006-07. Similarly, the number of rural landless families increased from 35 percent in 1987 to 45 percent in 1999, further to 55 percent in 2005. The farmers are destined to die of starvation or suicide. More than 1, 00,000 Indian farmers committed suicide during the period 1993-2003 mainly due to indebtedness.
Mere growth of defence budget does not solve the chronic poverty and backward level of living norms of the people. In the last three years, the Indian Government has made the life of middle class more miserable. The high rate of inflation has created stress among the citizens and when finding no way out how to fulfill their basic needs they started ending their lives. The welfare of a common Indian does not guaranteed from the hike in the defence budget. There is a need that India should first provide basic amenities such as clean water, food, and housing to its citizens. The rationale on which India is increasing its defence budget is absurd. Firstly, India has no threat from neighbouring countries but it's the smaller neighobours that are being threatened by the big brother. Sometimes it harmed them by blocking their water wealth and sometimes by creating instability through its intelligence agency RAW. Secondly, Indian claims of allocating good part of budget to fight insurgencies in North East and central India are farce. As basic stimulus behind insurgencies in these parts is under-development and neglect by the successive governments. For that matter, gentle way to deal with these rebel movements is by addressing their causes rather than fighting oppressed people with arms.
There is a direct correlation between extremism and poverty in practice and the social, political, economic, and cultural discrimination faced by (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who are among India's poorest people) has resulted in discontented people resorting to violence for their rights. In view of these bitter realities a humble suggestion to Indian authorities would be to adhere to the dictum of Martin Luther King, Jr. that .. A nation spending more money on military defense than social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.