media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month march 20, edition 000460, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
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1. A CONVENIENT BARGAIN
2. MODERN DAY NOAH'S ARK
3. IDENTITY POLITICS ALONE WON'T DO - ASHOK MALIK
4. LOOK FOR TRUTH IN OASIS OF FAITH - SOMA CHAKRAVARTY
5. ANOTHER CRUTCH FOR THE NUCLEAR LOBBY
6. NUCLEAR BILL MOCKS INDIA AND INDIANS
7. MUCH TO GAIN FROM THE BILL
8. HARINDER SEKHON
1. BATLA AUTOPSY REPORTS BOOST CASE FOR PROBE
2. GET TO GRILL HEADLEY
3. OFFEND WITH CARE IN INDIA - BY DEVBRAT ROY CHAUDHARY
4. THIRD UMPIRE - QAISER MOHAMMAD ALI
THE TIMES OF INDIA
1. WELCOME TO BEE-MARU UP
2. THE FLAWED LOGIC OF QUOTAS - MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR
3. IT'S WORTH A SHOT
4. DON'T KILL THE GAME - PRODOSH MITRA
5. WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT IRAN? - NAYAN CHANDA
1. MORE ON THE PLATE NOW
2. MERTON IN MOHALI, BALLIOL IN BANDRA? - PRATIK KANJILAL
3. CHASING A SHADOW - BARKHA DUTT
1. KHAN DO SPIRIT
2. A BREATHER
3. CUT THE MULTI-TASKING
4. PAK DAYDREAM, WAKE-UP CALL - SHEKHAR GUPTA
5. A SPACE OF THEIR OWN - GEORGINA MADDOX
6. WHY WE NEED A BOLDER CENSUS - T.V. RAJESWAR
7. TURN OFF THE TELEPROMPTER, OBAMA
8. ALL THE NEWS THAT'S FIT TO BUY - S. Y. QURAISHI
9. WHOSE TALIBAN?
10. RUCHIKA TALWAR
1. A BETTER RATING
2. TIME FOR THE IMF
3. WHY DEFICIT DOESN'T SEEM TO HURT - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
4. BJP HAS NEW LOOK, BUT AGENDA? -ASHOK MALIK
5. INTEREST IN EQUITY - SAIKAT NEOGI
1. BEHIND HEADLEY'S PLEA BARGAIN
2. A SUPER REGULATOR NO ONE WANTS
3. GOING ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH - M.S. PRABHAKARA
4. THE BUCK MUST STOP AT THE VERY TOP - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
5. KHUDA HAFIZ PAKISTAN - NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN
6. BANK FAILURE A MATTER FOR SHAREHOLDERS: IMF - JULIA KOLLEWE
1. HEADLEY FACTOR
2. FISH OUT OF WATER - GWYNNE DYER
3. PUBS, POETS AND NAOMI IN DUBLIN - SUJATA DUGAR
1. ESCHEWING VENDETTA POLITICS
2. PROBLEMS OF PLENTY
3. THE HEADLEY WORRY
4. CHINA'S DOLLAR TRAP - BY ZORAWAR DAULET SINGH
5. ENCOUNTER WITH A GOOSE - BY SARVJIT SINGH
6. END OF A DREAM - BY RAVI DHALIWAL
7. TIGHTEN YOUR BELT, HARYANA - BY V.N. ATTRI
8. INSIDE PAKISTAN - BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
1. REDEVELOPMENT SANS BUILDERS
2. THE POST-LEHMAN WORLD
3. FILLING THE POST-US VACUUM - JYOTI MALHOTRA
4. INCLUSION NOT ELITISM, PLEASE - RAMA BIJAPURKAR
5. GAWANDE'S GUIDE TO HOW TO GET IT RIGHT - V V
6. ABU DHABI - THE GULF'S CENTRAL ARENA - SUNIL SETHI
7. ADITI PHADNIS: GADKARI'S BIG PLAN - ADITI PHADNIS
8. THE MISGUIDED WAR ON DRUGS - DEEPAK LAL
9. RAIN NO LONGER ON PLANE - KISHORE SINGH
10. THE CRICKET BAT AND THE TOILET SEAT - K NATWAR SINGH
11. IN SEARCH OF HOME...- GEETANJALI KRISHNA
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
1. VERY SLIPPERY GROUND IN OIL
2. A GOOD IDEA FOR POSCO AND SAIL
3. HEIL KRICKET
4. PUBLIC FUNDING OF ELECTIONS - C P BHAMBHRI
5. LEVEL PLAYING FIELD IS ESSENTIAL: TATA SKY MD - SANJEEV SINHA
6. LEAVE YOUR CRAVINGS TO BE ONE WITH ALL - VITHAL C NADKARNI
7. PROPERTIES COULD BE OUR BIGGEST BIZ: ADI GODREJ - NAMRATA SINGH
8. WE WILL BRING IN FUNDAMENTALLY STRONG COS TO MARKET: DIVESTMENT SECY - SUPRIYA SRINATE & SOMA BANERJEE
9. 'WE WILL WORK HERE TO BE COMPETITIVE IN OTHER MARKETS'
10. ONLINE IPL A BIG SUCCESS: GOOGLE INDIA MD - AMINAH SHEIKH
11. INDIA IS AN ATTRACTIVE GROWTH MARKET FOR US' - AMIT SHARMA & HARSIMRAN JULKA
1. IN PURSUING HEADLEY, DON'T FORGET BIG FISH
2. MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE - BY BY FARRUKH DHONDY
3. SCENE UNSEEN
4. EXAMS & THE RACE TO THE TOP - BY ANTARA DEV SEN
5. PROBLEM OF BEING AN INDIAN ABROAD - BY KISHWAR DESAI
6. DEMANUFACTURE TWEAKED QUOTES - BY ROGER COHEN
1. SEAL YOUR LIPS'
2. COMPLICATED CONFUSION
3. MINORITY MUDDLE
4. A TALE OF TWO STATES - DEBAKI NANDAN MANDAL
5. 'PEOPLE HAVE TAUGHT US A FEW LESSONS'
6. DELHI DURBAR
7. NUKE THE BILL
8. ON RECORD
1. LABOUR'S LOVE LOST
2. NOT ANOTHER LIKE HIM - SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
1. DEMAND ACCESS
2. ACT WITH CAUTION
3. CHASING HEADLEY - BY M K BHADRAKUMAR
4. GOONDAS, MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
5. COOL CONNECTIONS - BY STANLEY CARVALHO
THE NEW YORK TIMES
1. FLEEING A SINKING GOVERNORSHIP
2. THE FISHING LOBBY WINS AGAIN
3. RACE AND MYTHOLOGY IN DRUG LAWS
4. UNREALITY TV: IF THE BOSS ONLY KNEW, HE WOULD DO SOMETHING - BY ADAM COHEN
5. SAINTS PRESERVE US - BY GAIL COLLINS
6. COULD OBAMA BE INVINCIBLE? - BY CHARLES M. BLOW
7. A RUINOUS MELTDOWN - BY BOB HERBERT
1. STRATEGIC DIALOGUE
2. BOILING POINT
3. FOR THE MISSING
4. 'IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID' - ARIF NIZAMI
5. TACKLING FOOD INFLATION - SHAHID KARDAR
6. BEHIND THE AFGHAN IMBROGLIO - SALEEM SAFI
7. GIVING PEACE A CHANCE - M SAEED KHALID
8. LOST IN TRANSLATION? - BABAR SATTAR
9. RUDDERLESS - TAYYAB SIDDIQUI
1. PRESIDENT'S LAUDABLE INITIATIVE
2. A TECHNOCRAT TO STEER PAK ECONOMY: GOOD
3. PM MAY TALK TO CM
4. LIFE IS DUTY! - NOSHEEN SAEED
5. LEMON LAWS - RIZWAN GHANI
6. PAKISTAN AIR FORCE IN ANTI-TERROR WAR - AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
7. PAK-US STRATEGIC TALKS - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
8. OBAMA MUST ACT DECISIVELY - DAVID CROOK
1. ACCORDS WITH CHINA
3. DAL AND THE RAILWAYS..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
4. STUDENT VIOLENCE: A LAW AND ORDER SITUATION - SYLVIA MORTOZA
5. BANGLADESH'S TOURIST SPOTS - MD. SAZEDUL ISLAM
1. ENVIRONMENTALISTS EAT MEAT
2. SHORING UP SUPPORT FOR SUPER
3. IT'S NO GOOD PLAYING THE BLAME GAME OVER SCHOOLS
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
1. THE CASE FOR COALMINING IS NOT ENTIRELY OPEN CUT
2. NOW SLEEP OR YOU'LL FEEL SCOTTISH TOMORROW
3. COMPETING VISIONS LACK A LIVEABLE BALANCE
1. BUDGET: WHAT WEDNESDAY MUST BRING
2. UNTHINKABLE? DISHING A DUOPOLY
THE KOREA HERALD
1. POLICE INEPTITUDE
2. INTERNATIONAL NORMS
3. PREEMPTING HOME-GROWN TERRORISTS - THOMAS DE MAIZIERE
4. THE NEED FOR NO-PHONE ZONES
THE JAPAN TIMES
1. NEW LEADER FOR BAR FEDERATION
2. LITTLE IN THE WAY OF A WAGE BOOST
3. LET THE CLEAN WATER FLOW - BY CAROLINE BOIN
A CONVENIENT BARGAIN
HEADLEY WON'T PAY FOR MUMBAI CARNAGE
If there was any hope, of which there really was very little or none if truth be told, that the US Department of Justice would agree to India's request for the extradition of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba terrorist Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley, previously known as Daood Gilani, to stand trial for crimes committed in this country, it has been laid to rest after Friday's plea bargain. The US Attorney-General has, no doubt after due consultations with the Obama Administration and officials of American intelligence agencies, cut an amazing deal with a terrorist who facilitated the 26/11 jihadi carnage in Mumbai that resulted in the slaughter of at least 160 people, many of them foreigners, including some Americans. No doubt the US Department of Justice has acted within the ambit of American law: Headley has pleaded guilty to all the charges framed against him; the prosecution has entered into an elaborate 35-page 'Plea Agreement'; the accused has been spared both trial and death sentence. The plea agreement discloses Headley has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bomb public places in India; conspiracy to murder and maim persons in India; six counts of aiding and abetting the murder of American citizens in India; conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in India; conspiracy to murder and maim persons in Denmark; conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in Denmark; and conspiracy to provide material support to Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. In the normal course of justice, he would have been tried and, given the US's unforgiving approach to killers of Americans on foreign soil, executed. So did the brave jihadi chicken out at the prospect of being despatched to the nether world? Or were certain individuals and organisations keen to avoid a tell-all trial during which a lot more than what is contained in the 35-page plea agreement would have become public knowledge? Does the deal validate the widely-held view that Headley was working for American intelligence agencies which were loath to see their man sing like the proverbial canary if only to save his skin? More important, did Islamabad enter into a plea bargain of its own with Washington, DC, to prevent the Headley affair from being exposed any further? After all, the LeT is the Pakistani establishment's most valued strategic asset, its deadly weapon of assault against India.
These and many other questions will never be answered. Instead, we will have to remain content, at least for the moment, that the Americans have not entirely ruled out the possibility of our intelligence agencies getting access to Headley, albeit through indirect means like video-conferencing under the direction of the US Attorney-General's office. Of course, there's nothing absolute about India being allowed access to this criminal; the clarification issued on Friday makes this abundantly clear: "Headley has agreed to not only continue his cooperation with the (US) Government, which he has been doing since October, but also to make himself available for interviews by other Governments in this country." Would 'other Governments' also include the Government of Pakistan?
The US claims the "guilty plea is a crucial step forward in our efforts to achieve justice for the people who lost their lives in the Mumbai terrorist attacks". We have been told the US "will not rest until all those responsible for the Mumbai attacks and the terror plot in Denmark are held accountable". Having allowed Headley to get away with his crimes, what punishment is America talking about?
MODERN DAY NOAH'S ARK
DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE A GOOD IDEA
The Biblical story about Noah and his ark in the Book of Genesis is known to all. Thanks to popular illustrations accompanying the story, most of us can vividly imagine good old Noah obediently following god's instruction and building his ark that eventually houses a pair of each and every known animal species on Earth and sees them through the great flood. Noah's story has a moral for our times and resonates strongly with wildlife conservation today. Given the increasing conflict between human beings and animals, wildlife conservation is in desperate need of a metaphorical Noah's ark. Perhaps it is with this thought in mind that the Government has announced the setting up of a new Department of Wildlife under the Ministry of Environment and Forests. This has been a long-standing demand of many wildlife experts who believe that such a change in the bureaucratic set-up will bring about a more focussed approach to protecting the wildlife. The proposed Department of Wildlife would be entitled to separate annual budgetary allocations, a huge change from the present system wherein wildlife is just one of the several divisions within the Department of Environment. The decision was taken at the latest meeting of the National Board for Wildlife with the hope that the move would result in greater resources being provided for wildlife conservation.
There can be no denying the fact that given the alarming rate at which our wildlife species are declining, a far greater amount of energy and effort needs to be spent on conservation. We need better implementation of existing projects, better management of wildlife reserves and, most important, better people at the helm of affairs to reverse the grave situation. Our entire approach to conservation needs to be far more pragmatic. We should start addressing the issue of encroachment on forest land far more vigorously than we have been doing till now. For, habitat loss is one of the main reasons for loss of fauna. There has to be a delicate balance between development and preservation. Plus, wildlife poaching is one issue we have sorely failed to tackle. We require better trained and well-equipped forest rangers on the ground to deal with this menace effectively. Expediting the use of modern technology and surveillance systems will go a long way in this regard. But none of this will be possible without clarity and conviction at the top. It is in this context that the move to create a separate Department of Wildlife should be seen and welcomed. With the bureaucratic machinery now in place, it is time to get down to work and save our animals.
IDENTITY POLITICS ALONE WON'T DO
In the past few days, Ms Mayawati's "garland of currency notes" and police inquiry into an alleged bee attack on a BSP public meeting in Lucknow have brought the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister into the centre of a fascinating debate on attitudes.
Her adherents and sections of 'progressive' intellectuals have contended Ms Mayawati's ostentation has to be seen in the context of the oppression of Dalits for thousands of years. When the ordinary Dalit observes Ms Mayawati's grand statues, lavish birthday parties and currency-note indulgences, he apparently experiences a sense of pride. He feels, so the argument goes, the equal of upper caste folk whose political leaders have been behaving thus for years.
Such analysis is not new. It has been with us for over a decade and is wheeled out each time Ms Mayawati's public persona is discussed. A degree of political correctness and squeamishness takes over and many observers tend to be lenient with the BSP's garishness and display of wealth in a manner they simply wouldn't be if it came to another party.
It is true aesthetic subjectivities cannot and should not come in the way of cold political assessment. Ms Mayawati's shiny salwar kameez may not appeal to somebody who prefers south Delhi chic but it still may represent aspirational taste in a more humble, hinterland setting.
Likewise, the massive BSP construction projects in Uttar Pradesh Lucknow probably matches Pyongyang in the number of statues of an incumbent head of Government can be reckoned to be only a more visible, in-your-face perpetuation of cultism. An alternative, subliminal system, perfected by the Congress, would be to name every programme, organisation, building, memorial and institution after members of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Having said that, the defence of Ms Mayawati's excesses only on the basis of past precedents (of other parties) or past injustice done to Dalits is beginning to look a little tired and ragged. It was fine in her earlier terms and when she became Chief Minister in 1995 or again in 1997. Yet, after her decisive victory in the 2007 Assembly election, surely the frame of reference has changed?
All effective politics is a combination of bread and circus. Ms Mayawati's continued emphasis on the circus aspect even after winning a majority in the 2007 election does indicate an inability to make a critical evolution in her politics. She has been the unquestioned boss of Uttar Pradesh for three years now, unencumbered by difficult alliance partners and free from political blackmail by independent MLAs. Yet, she has not made good governance or an alternative development paradigm her calling card.
This is certainly a failing and it would be dishonest to not recognise it or to confuse criticism of it with upper caste/urban hostility to the BSP. Indeed Ms Mayawati won so handsomely in 2007 precisely because a game-changing mass of upper caste (primarily Brahmin) voters across Uttar Pradesh turned to her. She won not just because of her strong Dalit constituency but thanks to the formidable rainbow coalition she put together.
Identity politics makes for great theatre. It absorbs political observers and journalists and becomes a self-contained universe of its own. Yet, in the broader community, beyond merely the politically obsessive, identity politics can only occasionally be an end in itself.
There are essentially two templates for Ms Mayawati to choose from. She can turn to Gujarat and Bihar. In their own ways, both Mr Narendra Modi and Mr Nitish Kumar have made the transformation from identity politics to good governance.
This doesn't mean they have completely given up on identity. Mr Kumar is still very much a Kurmi leader and sees himself as part of the OBC/social justice movement. Mr Modi self-identifies as a confident Hindu and a pillar of Gujarati pride. Yet, with good governance, they have added value to their individual brand. The mix has given their politics a greater robustness, one that stressing on identity alone would not have achieved.
The other model is that of Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav. He premised his entire politics on identity. When it ran its course, when those energies were expended, he had no back-up plan, nothing else to offer the voter. As such, the RJD's collapse in Bihar has been precipitous.
Today, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav is a desperate man, working fervently to reignite the Muslim-Yadav alliance using the women's reservation issue, trying to stay in the running in the Bihar Assembly election later this year. He realises if he loses this round as well his career is more or less over. In one decade, he has gone from being invulnerable to completely vulnerable. That is the huge gamble of an identity-only political platform.
What message does this hold for Ms Mayawati? If she wins the Assembly election of 2012 or even if the BSP finishes as the single largest party, well ahead of others in a hung House would it mean her statue symbolism, the corruption allegations against her, the sudden and dramatic acquisition of property, doesn't matter to the voter? Would it imply the (Dalit) voter is happy enough with circus to not bother about bread?
That would be a cynical and extremely superficial assumption. If Ms Mayawati is still a force to reckon with in Uttar Pradesh, it is for two reasons. First, the social coalition she shaped before the 2007 election is still largely intact. There is a movement of Muslims towards the Congress. Brahmins and the urban middle classes have also turned in that direction. Even so, the shift hasn't been complete and absolute. Rather, it has created a situation where State politics has devolved into a two-horse race.
Second, the Mayawati Government's biggest plus point is simply that it is not the Mulayam Singh Yadav Government. Memories of Mulayam raj are still strong across towns of Uttar Pradesh and they are not pleasant ones. Large parts of the State remain lawless; corruption, with accusations right to the top, remains a concern. Yet, the perception that the Government itself is hand-in-glove with criminal syndicates and mafia dons, and the ruling party is a mechanism for crony capitalism charges that dogged the Mulayam Singh Yadav Government are not quite as strong today. As Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati is not so much good as simply less bad.
As can be imagined, this is very different from an endorsement of her identity politics, much less of her astonishing income tax returns.
LOOK FOR TRUTH IN OASIS OF FAITH
Belief in religious scripture confines the mind; the trust we repose in an individual, too, is a limiting factor. The intellect can only too often weave a cobweb of theories, and reason can cause mistrust, taking us away from discovering the great scope and depth of an infinite power that is faith, that can otherwise serve as an effective spiritual guide.
Zen Master Hakuin said, "Not knowing how near the truth is, people seek it far away. What a pity! This very Earth is the Lotus Land of purity and this body is the body of the Buddha."
The Upanishads say Brahman, the absolute, is nothing but the self. The will as Brahman, transcends all relationships; it is non-dual or nir-dvandva. Duality or dvandva is an illusion or maya that leads us to desire worldly pleasures, or kama, and fear death, mara. When this veil of delusion is lifted, the realisation that boddhi is the ultimate truth that we are all part of the supreme soul (tat tvam asi or thou art that) emerges.
Faith is heartfelt rather than knowledge-fed. It is the unquestioned surrender to the will of the almighty. We have to become aware of the light within to know god, to become god-like. Yajnavalkya says that the self is its own light when the Sun has set, when the Moon has set, when the fire is put out atmaivasya jyotir bhavati. This light is the faith that gives us the vision of the eternal and eternity. Faith becomes reality when the mind concentrates on the real. The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad says: "Those who put their trust in the intellect cannot attain to a knowledge of Brahman, yet there is an apprehension of his being by those who are childlike." It is faith, rather than intellectual understanding or theoretical knowledge, that is needed for revelation of the supreme in the individual soul.
One has to rise above religion and rituals, dogmas and doctrines that cloud our vision. "Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking," said Kahlil Gibran. To discover faith that can lead us to consciousness of the infinite, we have to calm the mind, fill our heart with unconditional love and compassion, and listen to the sound of silence, the eternal song of the absolute.
ANOTHER CRUTCH FOR THE NUCLEAR LOBBY
THE OPERATIONALISING OF THE CIVILIAN NUCLEAR DEAL WOULD BE A BIGGER SELLOUT THAN IMAGINED BECAUSE THROUGH THE RESTRICTED LIABILITIES WINDOW, THE US PROPOSES TO BRING HERE THE CULTURE OF UNJUST ENRICHMENT PERFECTED BACK HOME THROUGH 60 YEARS
The nuclear power industry is the offspring of military research and development work in atomic energy in the United States after World War II. The transition from military to civilian power in the country was critically important in shaping the character of the industry. After the war, there was no economic pressure to find alternatives to fossil fuels as energy costs from conventional fossil fuels were low and declining. The idea of developing nuclear power generation was initiated for political reasons primarily to demonstrate the peaceful uses of nuclear power. This birth-defect of the nuclear power generation industry continues to haunt its life even today.
The first American prototype reactor built at Shippingspost, Pennsylvania was originally designed to power an aircraft carrier. It began supplying power to the grid in 1957. Beginning the 1960s, first General Electric and then Westinghouse and several other manufacturers began to build reactors for the generation of electricity. The companies involved were chosen by the government. Not surprisingly, the handful of companies that came to dominate the industry were in most instances the same that had been selected on non-competitive basis to do military work for the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in the previous years. The government provided fuel for free, contributed research results, bought back information generated by reactors and even undertook to protect utility companies by limiting their liability to off-site claims in case of a nuclear accident.
The story unfolding in the Indian nuclear energy industry is hardly different. Since its inception, it has employed almost all conceivable forms of direct and indirect subsidies, including R & D investment, the waiving of user charges on nuclear fuels and other materials, fuel reprocessing and waste storage and payments after construction for a specific period and purpose. The Civil Nuclear Liabilities Bill, despite its pretence of providing a framework beyond the existing legal structure for liability claims that failed the Bhopal gas victims, is just another crutch being offered to the nuclear industry.
While the granular details in the Bill can be debated ad infinitum, there is a fundamental flaw that is hard to defend: it fails to protect the interests of the victim. There are other loopholes such as the absence of liability in the case of accidents occurring on subsidiary activities of the nuclear industry and the authority given to the Nuclear Energy Regulatory Authority to decide whether or not there has been serious damage. These are mere technicalities compared to the major failing of the Bill in protecting the victim.
Among the arguments dispersed by articulate spokespersons of the Congress Party in defence of the Bill is the one which says India must become a part of an international regime in settling nuclear liability claims. To this end, the Bill is intended to facilitate India's participation in the International Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC) which is not yet in force. The CSC calls for a two-tier system of compensation in which the first tier alone calls for a minimum of 300 million Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to compensate victims in case of a nuclear accident. The Indian Bill which draws on the CSC sets Rs 500 crore as the maximum that can be claimed from the operator in case of an accident. This is less than one-fourth of the minimum level set by CSC. The switch between the terms 'minimum' and 'maximum' is not insignificant enough to be dismissed as an unintended error. The substantial lowering of the first tier liability barrier is nothing short of an 'apartheid of low expectations' imposed on the potential poverty-stricken Indian victim of nuclear accidents. The Bill is sloppy even if its real objective is to protect the operator. There is no clause in the Bill that categorically excludes other legal routes to extract liability damages from the operator.
American companies which are said to be demanding the Liability Bill to be passed are used to the luxury of the Price Anderson Act, and it is no surprise that they want similar comforts in India. Under the Act, the maximum liability for any facility licensed by the AEC was fixed in 1957 at the amount of liability insurance available from private sources. For any damages above that, the AEC agreed to indemnify and hold harmless the licensee and other persons indemnified from public liability. Since the total amount of private liability insurance available in 1957 was $ 60 million, the aggregate liability was set at $ 560 million. By many accounts the figure of $ 500 million was chosen arbitrarily. One rationale advanced was that this sum would not seriously distort the budget.
The original expiration date of the Price Anderson Act was August 1967. The rationale behind the 10-year lifespan for the Act was the hope that sufficient experience would accumulate in that period to allow the amount of commercial liability insurance to be large enough to make the Act unnecessary. By 1965, private liability insurance had not increased even by a single dollar. In that year the Act was extended until 1977 and the only significant change made was that aggregate liability was capped at $ 560 million. With private insurance having grown only to $ 125 million by 1975, the Act was extended again until August 1987. The latest extension of 20 years was given through the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
The second argument put forth by the defendants of the Bill in its current form is that India does not have the luxury of closing any energy option. What this statement seems to imply is that the nuclear energy industry in India will have to shut up shop in the absence of this additional crutch. This is hard to believe. Such generous offers of crutches will only promote the growth of the industry long before economic conditions in India make it attractive to private players. These circumstances are important because they represented a type of public involvement in the emergence of an energy industry that is very distinctive. In no other regime are market forces and competitive processes so systematically set aside even in the determination of what liabilities the industry will be subjected to.
When competition finally emerges in the industry it will only be over who would get a chance to profit from the construction of a technical system developed under government direction under strong political pressure to produce something of perceived value in terms of energy and environmental security, not over which company, which fuel or which technology could provide the most economical means of generating clean electricity for masses of impoverished Indias. In any other competitive industry such investments would have been considered speculative at best and reckless at worst.
Globally, the coal industry, which is characterised by its large labour force, has almost never matched the lobbying capacity of the cash-rich oil industry or the concentrated and government support-laden nuclear industry. The plight of the Indian coal industry, which currently accounts for over 70 per cent of power generated in India, is such that it is expected to treat trees with greater care than the nuclear industry is expected to treat people. Ironically, it is on the back of the very same 'people', who have no access to electricity or access to legal recourse in the case of an industrial accident, that the nuclear establishment is loading its reason for existence. In the international arena, the number of 'people' without electricity is skillfully used to project low per capita energy and emission figures. In the end, the impoverished will remain impoverished while they will continue to be used by the privileged few to gain concessions to further their interests.
The writer is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation
NUCLEAR BILL MOCKS INDIA AND INDIANS
THE CIVIL LIABILITY FOR NUCLEAR DAMAGE BILL, ON WHICH UPA-II WAS FORCED TO BEAT TEMPORARY RETREAT THIS WEEK, THREATENS TO EXPOSE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA TO A THOUSAND BHOPALS. A SATURDAY SPECIAL FOCUS
The country is haunted by the introduction of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2009, which has raised the spectre of a repeat of Bhopal 1984. The Bill, an important step in the implementation of the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement, has certain clauses which indirectly let US manufacturers and plant builders off the hook from financial and legal liabilities for nuclear accidents caused on Indian soil.
In its present form, the Bill raises grave suspicions in the minds of the public whether its purpose is only to protect foreign companies from liabilities. Though the government denies this charge and claims that it has no intention to amend the Atomic Energy Act, 1962 that bars foreign firms from operating in India, its pushing for a paltry liability of Rs 500 crore ($110) on the operator, is a giveaway. As the country has set an ambitious target of increasing the installed capacity of nuclear power by 60,000 MW by 2030, it is unimaginable that foreign private players would not lobby for slices of the multi-billion dollar Indian nuclear market.
The government argues that this liability regime envisages a three-tier compensation regime: the operator's liability limited to Rs 500 crore, and the government's at Rs 2,087 crore. The third tier is the funds that India would get once it signs the Convention for Supplementary Compensation (CSC: $450 million). However, the CSC is contentious and not legally enforceable. Moreover, the ratification of CSE by India would open the floodgates for US firms to enter India.
The government's position that the Bill is in synchronisation with international best practices appears fallacious. Contrary to claims by the government and backers of the Bill, the Vienna Convention does not cap nuclear liability for damage, but only puts a minimum floor. The US has economic channelling of liability providing for civil law suits against every party, including suppliers. The Price Anderson Act of the US provides $10.2 billion in cover without cost to the public or government and without fault needing to be proven. In India, however, the US is pushing for legal channelling of liability which would help private US firms to go scot free. Further, Clause 17 of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2009 does not allow the operator (NPCIL) to sue the manufacturers and suppliers.
The liability regimes in European countries are far more comprehensive. Germany has unlimited operator liability for damage and requires EUR 2.5 billion security which must be provided by the operator for each plant. Switzerland asks plant operators to insure EUR 600 million, and has proposed to increase this amount to EUR 1.1 billion after the ratification of the Paris and Brussels conventions. So is the case in Finland, which requires operators to take at least EUR 700 million insurance cover, and operator liability is unlimited beyond EUR 1.5 billion provided under the Brussels Convention. Sweden's Nuclear Liability Act requires operators to be insured for at least EUR 302 million, and above this amount the government covers EUR 1 billion per incident. The Czech Republic is moving towards ratifying the amendment to the Vienna Convention, and in 2009 it increased the mandatory minimum insurance cover required for each reactor to CZK 8 billion (EUR 296 million). In Japan, nuclear plant operator's liability is exclusive and absolute. It is planning to double the operator's liability to $ 1.2 billion this year.
Another pestering provision in the Bill is Clause 18 that limits the time to make a claim to 10 years. This is totally unreasonable, as nuclear damage involves changes in DNAs resulting in mutagenic and teratogenic changes, which take a long time to manifest. Moreover, Clause 35 states that the operator or the responsible persons in case of a nuclear accident would face trial under the Nuclear Damage Claims Commissions and no civil court is given the authority.
For a country which has yet not come out of the horror of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Bill raises collective anxiety for lack of provisions for criminal liability. Private firms like GE and Toshiba Westinghouse would not be able invest until India ratifies the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSCNL) and installs a domestic civilian nuclear liability regime, as the US companies want no part of the liabilities arising out of a Bhopal-like disaster. In the Bhopal case, the operator and manufacturer, Union Carbide, had to cough up $ 470 million. Still, according to one estimate, it amounted to just Rs 3.5 per day per person over the 19 years since the incident occurred. The initial official death toll was 3,000 which rose to about 15,000 later; while the number of permanently disabled people was 50,000.
A nuclear disaster would have wider and far-reaching negative consequences than Bhopal, and yet the Bill fixes the upper limit at $458 million. It is morally reprehensible how the government drafted such a Bill even though the risks from nuclear energy cannot be capped. On a request by Greenpeace India for a legal opinion, former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee said: "There is no warrant or justification for capping nuclear liability. Any such move will be in defiance of Supreme Court judgments and will be contrary to the interest of people of India and their fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution."
Moreover, the Bill does not require India's nuclear industry and the government to publish and disclose any information relevant to nuclear risk. This is ominous as the non-independence of the regulatory board always downplays the risk of operating a nuclear plant in India. In the past, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board made all efforts to downplay nuclear accidents, whether it has been the November 2009 heavy water drinking incident in Kaiga or the collapse of the inner containment dome of Kaiga on May 13, 1994.
Understandably, the entire Opposition and the Congress' biggest partner in UPA-2, the Trinamool Congress, have protested this Bill. If it is allowed to pass, it would pave the way for private participation in nuclear industry as operator, giving them free hand to cut production capital at the cost of safety. In such a scenario, the common Indian taxpayers would end up paying compensation to themselves with their own monies for disasters caused by the negligence of private foreign firms. Profiteering capitalists would go scot free with their interests intact.
The irony of the fact is that the nuclear industry is lobbying to cut its losses in the event of such a calamity.
Private industries, including domestic ones, want the business, but don't want to bear the risks, while and the Indian nuclear establishment wants the technology, even if it means exposing Indians to the risk of being hurt by a nuclear disaster. To add salt to wound, the government wants its citizens to be happy with pittance in the event of the next Bhopal.
--The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer
MUCH TO GAIN FROM THE BILL
THE ANXIETIES OF ITS OPPONENTS NOTWITHSTANDING, IT MUST BE CONCEDED THAT THE NUCLEAR LIABILITY BILL IS IN INDIA'S LONG-TERM INTEREST BECAUSE WE HAVE TO BUDGET FOR THE RISKS OF ALIGNING WITH GLOBAL
Critics of the proposed Bill are of the opinion that this legislation is being pushed by the government because of pressure from the US lobby groups that represent equipment suppliers and investors, through the highest echelons of the US administration. This is evident from the statement of US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, who informed the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2009: "We are hoping to see action on nuclear liability legislation that would reduce liability for American companies and allow them to invest in India." More recently, in an interview on March 10, 2010, he said: "We are very much hoping that the Indian government will proceed with very important legislation on nuclear liability, that will be very important protection for American companies who are seeking to do more business in the civil nuclear area in India. And, we were very gratified to learn that the President of India has announced India's intention to introduce this Bill in the current session of the Indian Parliament."
Such statements have set alarm bells ringing in India and concerned opinion-makers feel that the US is trying to make it mandatory upon India to put a cap on the financial burden and accountability of the nuclear operators and virtually remove all liabilities of the equipment suppliers if it wants the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal to be operationalised. That is also the reason why the Fuel Reprocessing Consent and dual-use technology restrictions have not been addressed by the US administration as claimed by the Prime Minister in Parliament. They further opine that the miniscule cap of 300 million Special Drawing Rights (SDR) which is equal to $458 million (Rs 2,087 crore) is extremely inadequate considering the fact that a similar kind of law in the US has set the financial liability for such accident at $10.5 billion.
In short, the clause has fuelled the Opposition's campaign that the government of India is giving the Indian people short-shrift.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill states that "India intends to join the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, which was adopted in 1997." This, it is argued, would provide India access to an international fund to compensate victims of nuclear accidents, for which India too has to make its own contribution.
Viewed rationally, this statement seems reasonable and needs careful consideration. For a rising India that aspires to play a greater role in global geo-politics, some risks and a willingness to work towards integrating itself with global practices and norms should be adhered to. The proposed Indian Bill is in line with the international environment and practices the IAEA's Vienna Convention for Nuclear Damage (1963), the OECD's Paris convention on Third Party Nuclear Liability in the Field of Nuclear Energy (1960), or the National Liability Law of individual countries. While the Paris and Vienna Conventions created a limited liability scheme back in the 1960's, various revisions seek to expand the geographical and financial scope of the original proposals.
By opting to go along with global accepted practices, India too would be a part of any future international legislation that seeks to revise the amount of liability to be paid in the event of a nuclear mishap.
According to Dr G Balachandran, an expert on global nuclear legislation, there are currently 30 countries that operate civil nuclear power, with 436 nuclear power plants (NPP). Of these, 28 cover the operation of 416 NPPs, have some sort of nuclear liability act in force in their territory either as a result of adherence to some international liability regime or through enacting a national liability law. Twenty- two of the 28 countries are party to one of the two international conventions. The others, including Canada, China, Japan, Republic of Korea and South Africa, have national laws on nuclear liability. Only two countries operating 20 NPPS between them India (18) and Pakistan (2) are neither members of any international convention nor have any national legislation."
In conclusion, since India plans to take advantage of the nuclear deal and aspires to increase the share of nuclear power in its domestic energy scenario to sustain its economic growth, the proposed Bill would be in its long-term interest. While there is no denying that the US and other western powers are urging India to enact this legislation, the Indian proposed legislation would in no way be different to already established international conventions or the national laws of the six countries that follow their own nuclear liability laws.
Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi
BATLA AUTOPSY REPORTS BOOST CASE FOR PROBE
THE post- mortem reports of the two men killed in the shootout at Batla House in Delhi's Jamia Nagar Atif Ameen and Mohammed Sajid in September 2008 makes it apparent as to why the Delhi Police has been so keen to keep them under the wraps. The reports have now surfaced through a Right to Information petition to the National Human Rights Commission and they drills holes into the police story on the death of the two youths in the incident.
According to the official version, the police had burst into a room where the supposedly armed men were hiding and the two men, and Inspector Mohan Chandra Sharma, were killed in the ensuing firefight. Yet the post- mortem reports of Mr Ameen and Mr Sajid say they also had wounds inflicted with blunt objects.
Under what circumstances these wounds arose is not clear, and the police is clearly not telling.
The official story is that the incident occurred when the police net closed in on the perpetrators of the September 13, 2008 serial blasts in the Capital. But, the outcry against the incident in Azamgarh from where Mr Ameen hailed, in Jamia Nagar and among civil society groups refuses to die down. The disquiet in the Congress has been manifested by the visit of Mr Digvijay Singh, the party general secretary, to Azamgarh. This could have to do with garnering minority votes. But it is rare for a party in power to go against the official position without good reason.
The post- mortem reports and the continuing doubts over the incident bolster the case for an independent probe into the shootout the report of the National Human Rights Commission which gave a clean chit to the police fails to inspire credibility because of the shoddy manner in which the panel went about the job.
The government should do this quickly because the reports are likely to once again open old wounds. The truth should no longer be held back behind a smokescreen of poorly- thought out ' official' storylines.
The issue is not whether or not Mr Ameen and Mr Sajid were terrorists; that can only have been determined by a court of law. The issue is the possible extra- judicial killing of two people suspected of terrorist crimes. Under Indian law, that, too, is a crime.
GET TO GRILL HEADLEY
PLEA bargaining is a peculiar American legal process through which a person accused of a crime pleads guilty in exchange for lenient treatment by the prosecution. The process saves the prosecution the effort of building up a watertight case against a defendant and going through the process of a trial. In a country where torture is not employed, getting a person accused of a crime to cooperate is not easy; in some cases even prosecuting him or her for the crime becomes difficult.
Robert Hansen served the Soviet secret service, the KGB, for 22 years between 1978 and 2001. His case was probably the worst intelligence disaster for the US because his actions had led to the arrest and execution of several American agents.
Yet, the FBI agreed to a plea bargain with him through which they did not press a death penalty in exchange for
his cooperation in further investigations. He is currently serving a life sentence and will never be released.
No doubt, similar compulsions have compelled the US to offer David Coleman Headley a similar bargain. Though his sentencing will depend on the level to which he cooperates with the US authorities, it is more than certain that he, too, will never see the outside of a jail again.
The damage Mr Headley has done is obvious and so are the heightened feelings in India against him. After all, his detailed reconnaissance was the key to the precision with which the Mumbai attack of November 2008 was carried out.
But India can benefit from his cooperation because according to his plea agreement, he has agreed to talk to Indian officials, should they desire to interview him.
As he notes in his plea agreement, he has done extensive training in Lashkar- e- Tayyeba facilities and knows many of its personnel well. This information could be invaluable in building up the Mumbai case, as well as preventing further attacks.
OFFEND WITH CARE IN INDIA
BY DEVBRAT ROY CHAUDHARY
FEW RIGHT thinking people will deny that the move by Maqbool Fida Husain, one of this country's greatest artists, to relinquish his Indian citizenship is a most unfortunate development. Things would certainly not have come to this pass had civil society, the Indian state and Husain himself handled the controversy arising out of his depiction of Hindu goddesses in a more mature way.
And while the role played by the Indian state and lumpens who take the law into their own hands has been rightly condemned, more needs to be said about Husain's part in the controversy than has happened so far.
Two legal points must be remembered in the backdrop of this controversy. One, the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution are not absolute. Two, the law recognises that what are called 'sensibilities' do exist. If this weren't so there would be no anti-defamation laws.
The question to be asked here is whether the caveats to individual freedom apply to the Husain case. There are no easy answers here. As a general rule it is far better to err on the side of freedom than curbs on liberty.
It would be a stifling society indeed that doesn't allow writers and artists to express themselves. A lot of change that is desirable wouldn't take place if artists did not attack status quo. And doing so sometimes means offending sensibilities. So the fact that people take offence to something cannot in itself be a justification for shutting a creative person up.
But this is a general principle.
Every case must be judged by its own merit.
Those who are defending Husain's paintings by saying that there is a tradition of nudity in Indian art have not revealed the full truth.
For Husain has done a little more than disrobed goddesses. His defenders, with their refined senses, may see in them high art, but to a lay eye some of the drawings have strong sexual overtones, with the goddesses being placed in suggestive postures with mythological characters with whom sexual ties of any sort is tabooed: for instance Sita and her husband's devotee Hanuman, Durga and her traditional carrier, tiger.
There is an interesting story relating to an exchange between James Joyce and a gushing admirer. On being asked by the fan if he could kiss the hand that had written Ulysses , the master, in his inimitable way, said the hand had done many other things too. The import of the story is that everything that great artists do may not stem from their greatness.
This makes it understandable for Husain's critics to see mischief being at work in some of his drawings, to feel that he has drawn them with the desire to provoke.
There is a standard argument that such critics make in this context.
Would Husain's fertile imagination dare to draw something similar in relation to Islam, his own religion? And shouldn't an artist's irreverence, like charity, begin at home? And will Husain's brush be permitted such flourishes in Qatar, his new home?
Defenders of Husain might call this logic crude or banal but there is no getting round it. For try as you might, in today's times, when the politics of religion forms a backdrop to all such disputes, the fact that the drawings have been made by a man who belongs to an ' other' community, especially Islam, cannot be left out of the debate.
The two sides to this controversy belong to two universes.
On one side is the community of artists and art lovers who seek freedom for the exercise of their imagination. On the other side is the lay public for whom religiosity forms a dominant theme of their lives. Mind you, the vandals who attacked Husain's exhibitions are only the lunatic fringe of this latter group. Even minus them, there are large sections and this includes many secular people which have felt offended by Husain's drawings.
Can we in a country like India where religion is still very much the opium of the masses ignore the sensibilities of this large group? In other words, does it cost artists and their patrons so very much to avoid stepping on the toes of religiously inclined people, especially since doing so does not involve any serious compromise with their freedom to express themselves? Or to frame it differently can Husain, even after what has transpired with him of late, claim that artists do not have the freedom to express themselves in India? Can he tell his new found friends in Qatar that though he had the freedom to paint literally anything under the sun in India the fact that a controversy arose over his drawing Hindu goddesses in suggestive postures betrayed India's illiberal credentials? It is a little like a schoolboy who is given an enormous variety of delicacies to choose from saying he would not get on with his meal unless one particular dish was made available to him.
That the exercise of creative freedom cannot always be dissociated from the socio- cultural realities of the society in question can be illustrated by another example. The English cartoonist, Gerald Scarfe once drew Margaret Thatcher in the raw, with two politicians hanging from her two breasts. Can we in India similarly depict one of the power divas of the political arena? And will those defending Husain stick their neck out for such a cause? As we said before, this does not mean that artists mustn't offend public sensibilities.
But it helps if they are trying to portray an evil of the system, speaking what they believe to be the truth or even stating their opinion. For instance, Husain's case cannot be placed in the same category as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's writing about the Soviet evil in The Gulag Archipelago . It wouldn't have been the same even if Husain, stating his opinion, had said that the Ramayana was a bad epic. He had every right to articulate his view and the state and civil society had a duty to back him.
Unfortunately, in the case before us, Husain is doing neither of these things. He has instead ventured into a sensitive domain where primeval instincts and faith, rather than reason, hold sway.
It is also of no little consequence that many of the secular people defending Husain are short on credibility.
These people may go hammer and tongs at Hindu fundamentalism but when the fundamentalism is Islamic in nature they either go into hiding or soften their voices of disapproval.
They know that railing against Hindu fundamentalism is far safer than taking on Islamic fundamentalists.
In fact, this lack of even- handedness against fundamentalism regardless of which community practises it is one of the biggest hurdles in the way of the secular project in India.
Nothing that has been said so far about the sociocultural realities of India or the need to respect ' sensibilities' implies any satisfaction with the existing state of affairs. Far from it.
Who will deny that Indians let their religiosity out in the public domain when we should confine it to our private lives? Who will contradict the view that we as a people need to reach a level of maturity where nothing that an artist draws or writes should threaten or offend us in a public way, with those who don't like such works simply choosing not to see them? A day will surely come when this becomes a reality.
But that time is not on us yet.
QAISER MOHAMMAD ALI
IS PRESSURE OF FAILURE TELLING ON JOSE BRASA?
TO ADD to the poor performance of the Indian hockey team at the just- concluded World Cup in New Delhi, chief national coach Jose Brasa dropped a bombshell, demanding unprecedented powers to run the sport at its ' home'. His utterances have caught Indian sports administrators as well as experts by surprise. Some people say he could have decided to hold a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday after possibly getting hints that his days as coach are numbered after India finished eighth at the World Cup. His contract is till the end of the Asian Games in November, though.
Others see it as a part of the larger political game to control Hockey India ( HI), the sport's national federation, which is yet to get formally elected. " Who sponsored Brasa's press conference at an expensive hotel?
There's strong feeling that a third party is involved here because the battle to get hold of HI is still on," felt a hockey observer.
Some key hockey officials strongly feel that Brasa, who draws a monthly salary of 7,500 euros or more than Rs 4.5 lakh, has taken India for a ride.
They point to the extraordinary and unreasonable demands that he made while applying for the post. Some of them were accepted, some were not.
Brasa had sought a contract till 2012 for himself. He also demanded a 12- member support staff to work with him.
" Not only did he demand so many staff, he gave us some names. Interestingly, most of them were Spaniards like him.
And the expected salary of each staff was usually 2,000 euros or more, with a demand for car and accommodation," a source in the know of things told M AIL T ODAY . The most amusing of Brasa's demands were for him and his family. " He sought a five- room accommodation for his family along with a car. He said that the furnishing and fixtures in his accommodation would be done as per his wife's specifications.
He also sought the services of a maid servant all at government cost," he said. " Another of his conditions, which we didn't accept, was that if a child was born to his wife in India, his employers would meet the entire medical bill."
THE Spaniard is entitled to 25 days of leave in a year, like the 30- odd other foreign coaches in India. He has already availed of 24 days, and was set to leave for home again on Sunday for another holiday. He has also demanded that he be paid for the times he has worked on the weekend. " If we accept what he is demanding, we would probably end up paying him remuneration for 104 days ( Saturdays and Sundays)," said the source. It was, however, agreed that he would be given 12 return tickets home in a year.
Brasa has said several times that he has not received the modern equipment, including the expensive global positioning system ( GPS), he sought. But the fact is that when tenders were invited, not a single company bid for GPS. After the second tender, some companies responded but the prices they quoted were too inflated; some of them more than doubled the normal price of one piece, which is about Rs 5 lakh.
This, however, doesn't mean that the sports ministry didn't provide any money to hockey.
" We have spent about Rs 12 crores in the last 18 months on players' training," said a ministry official.
Telecast of matches no innocuous affair
HOW MUCH television rights holders are beginning to influence rules and regulations and formats of sport is starkly visible in cricket. For example, the selection of pitches these days is almost entirely dictated by broadcasters.
Ask any broadcaster and he will justify his viewpoint saying that the placement of cameras at the two ends of the ground, behind the stumps, is the key to high quality, viewer- friendly cricket telecast.
While this happens all over the world, in India the pitch problem seems to be more acute than anywhere else.
Quite ironically, this is most visible at Kolkata's Eden Gardens one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in the country. At the Eden, curators have virtually no option in choosing pitches for big- ticket matches.
" They have said that due to the placement of television cameras and corporate boxes for coverage there can be only one pitch for the World Cup matches there.
They can't shift some corporate boxes," veteran curator Andy Atkinson, a pitch consultant of the International Cricket Council, made this revelation to M AIL T ODAY in New Delhi. Clearly annoyed with the increasing intrusion of broadcasters in the game, Atkinson, who is overseeing pitch and ground preparations in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the joint hosts of the 2011 World Cup, said that lack of space for placing cameras behind the two sets of stumps gave no choice to curators in preparing pitches. " After all, the money comes in from television," he added with a naughty smile.
Delhi's Ferozeshah Kotla is only slightly better than Eden Gardens. " They have told us to prepare only three pitches for the World Cup, and that's sad. They say that they won't be able to cover matches if any pitch other than these is used for the games," he said.
ANGAD SPINS OUT OF DAD'S COURSE
ANGAD, son of legendary left- arm spinner Bishan Singh Bedi, has taken to big time television hosting during the Indian Premier League. Bedi Sr initially wanted him to play cricket, but he is completely content now with what his son is doing.
A firm believer in destiny, Bedi said: " It's all destiny. He has changed his lifestyle. If he is destined to earn his livelihood in a particular way and at a particular place, destiny will take him there. You should leave everything to destiny." A former India captain, Bedi said he has never imposed his will on Angad. " I never forced him to play cricket. I myself never dreamt of playing for India or captaining the team. But it happened because it was destined," he said.
Bedi also admitted that he would have struggled to play the energy- sapping Twenty20 format.
" Today, I would have struggled to fit in. We struggled to play One- Day Internationals ( in 1970s and 1980s), which was then played in a 60- over format and not over 50 overs, like it is now. You have to adjust. That's why I admire players like Dhoni, Sachin, Dravid and Sourav, for the way they have adjusted to the different formats of the game," he said.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WELCOME TO BEE-MARU UP
Bumblebees take the shortest path between two flowers. Queen bees prefer the shortcut between two garlandings. For, what's made of marigold and roses could exude something more fragrant: currency bills running into lakhs, even crores. For Mayawati, the distance between two note-worthy garlandings is ultra-short. When she flaunted a superstring of 1,000 rupee notes on the BSP's silver jubilee, her detractors first mistook it for a heavyweight anaconda carried in by men on her majesty's not-so-secret service. Disabused, they later bashed Maya's rupee convertibility. Defiant, UP's CM posed with neckpiece No 2. What's flower power, compared to money power?
The austerity-driven Congress immediately dubbed her "daulat ki beti". But potshots aren't all that stings. With garlands around, to bee or not to bee's not an existential question for winged creatures. Bee-ing there's mandatory, even if it means buzzing around kagaz ke phool like currency notes. A swarm crashed Behenji's rally, putting a bee in her bonnet: all airborne bugs are now enemies of her state, sent by rival forces to torpedo her jumbo-rees. UP police are thus chasing conjurers of bee season at BSP's b'day. Try telling the pest controllers that it's not the money, honey. For bees, honey's money. Or is it?
Could we indeed have here political warfare's new drones, doubling up as pinchers of rival party funds? Think. After UP's aborted sting operation, a heist in Bihar also involved cash garlands. Maya-inspired, an ex-JD(U) member accepted one worth Rs 1 lakh from his chelas. But it vanished as mysteriously as the alien hovercraft at Maya's do. Now, honey combing or money combing, insect armies can damage political crop. Especially if killer bees take the shortcut between two Bee-maru states associated with misappropriated taxpayers' nectar.
Consider how alike bees and politicians are in their antics. Those bumblebees learning super-quick about nectar levels jump flowers accordingly. Similarly, cross-pollinating netas track party fortunes, pegging loyalties accordingly. Bee-like, many know where to forage: grabbable land, mining terrain, ministerial berths promising honey-extraction. Again, food-collecting bees prefer petals that, Velcro-like, are easier to grip. Netas too settle on high-returns kursis they cling to, limpet-like. Finally, if bungle-bees get swatted, bungling netas get stung. Why, some even get clicked pocketing the very notes going into garland manufacture.
So, who can rule out a trans-species attack? To defeat it, netas could return to humbler garlands of garden variety (or footwear like chappals). Let note-neckpieces migrate to Rakhi ka clone ka swayamvar or Great Indian Weddings. But no, BSP-wallahs want Maya's malas to reek of rupaiya, even if income tax-wallahs come buzzing. Isn't Behenji's 'downtrodden' constituency resigned to partaking vicariously of conspicuous consumption? Who but Maya can single-handedly defuse an array of floating sting-bombs? She didn't even need a bug dispersal squad. Ever since, paisa-pelting fans are singing: I'll never promise you a rose garland. So bee it.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE FLAWED LOGIC OF QUOTAS
MADHU PURNIMA KISHWAR
The champions of the highly flawed women's reservation Bill are facing a tough challenge from leaders of the Muslim community and castes designated as backward. They argue that only upper caste women from elite families will benefit from this reservation and demand a quota within quota for backward caste women and Muslims.
In characteristic style, the pro-reservation lobby has reacted with pious outrage, declaring: ''Please do not try dividing us. Women are all one; their interests are common.'' By polarising the issue on gender lines, the pro-reservationists have actually exposed the weakness in their own ranks. They claim to speak on behalf of all of India's women. But the quota within quota demand clearly indicates that on most issues women's loyalty to their caste and community is far stronger than their commitment to gender-based solidarity. This is understandable since women do not constitute a homogeneous group. The disabilities they suffer are largely dependent on the overall status of the caste, class, religious and regional community within which they are situated.
In a multi-ethnic, multilingual, multi-religious, multi-caste society with wide disparities, there are bound to be ever newer claimants for reservations, especially considering the poor state of governance in India, the lack of basic security, especially for women, and widespread nepotism. The government machinery remains colonial in its functioning because it is not constituted to be accountable and responsive to the rights of citizens as citizens. Acquiring a foothold in the government machinery brings with it enormous clout and opportunities for upward mobility through means fair and foul. People perforce have to mobilise themselves as communities in order to gain a measure of protection and privilege. Those who cannot pull strings through their caste and family ties feel vulnerable and thwarted.
The resultant vicious tussles over gaining a foothold in offices of power have made virtually every group feel aggrieved and insecure. Therefore, it does not take much effort to mobilise new groups to demand their share of the pie.
For example, while one section of Muslims demands a quota for Muslim women in general, another section argues that within women's quota there should be a fair proportion reserved for lower castes among Muslims. They claim that caste is as deep-rooted and entrenched among the subcontinent's Muslims as among the Hindus and hold the upper caste Muslim leaders responsible for keeping the lower caste Muslim community trapped in backwardness and illiteracy by their obsessive focus on identity-based demands ignoring class and caste deprivations. Therefore, they are demanding that the benefit of a Muslim women's quota should go to lower caste Muslim women so that the most oppressed among them get to be heard and represented. Similarly, there is a demand that there be a sub-quota for women of the most backward castes (MBCs) since thus far the advantages of reservations have been mainly cornered by the creamy and well-organised layers among ackward castes.
The logic of quotas can be extended indefinitely in a malfunctioning democracy to transform it into what Bhanu Pratap Mehta terms a ''Quotacracy''. Why not a quota for physically handicapped women, as well as for women afflicted by leprosy - for they are treated worse than pariahs? Why not a quota for women beggars, for prostitutes, for those defamed as ''criminal tribes''? The list of marginalised groups is indeed endless and they are indeed very vulnerable.
The faults of our representative institutions and colonial-minded governance cannot really be corrected through the quota mechanism. Other, more radical, remedies are required involving far-reaching electoral and administrative reforms. The alternative scheme of affirmative action offered by Manushi, Loksatta and Lokniti avoids the pitfalls of the lottery-based rotation system by mandating parties to give due share of tickets to women within which special provisions could be made for Muslim and OBC women as well without pushing them further into the ghetto mindset. In addition, we also propose electoral reform measures that will make our political parties more accountable, transparent and democratic in their inner functioning.
However, if all that the pro-reservation lobby wishes for is an enhancement in the number of women in legislatures, why not require that women from elite families - upper caste women as well as those whose husbands, fathers, brothers or close family members are already MPs and MLAs - will not avail of the quota? It can be reserved for first-time entrants into politics - women who are contesting on their own rather than using the political clout their family enjoys. It would also be sensible to add that a woman will be allowed to avail of a reserved seat only one time. Thereafter she will contest from a general seat.
The advocates of the Bill say such a safeguard is not necessary because the women's reservation Bill is supposed to have a lifespan of just 15 years. However, we know from past experience that reservations have a way of extending indefinitely. The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe reservations were to last just 10 years. Sixty years later no political party dare ease out even the ''creamy layer'' among them, leave alone dismantle reservations altogether. We are likely to be stuck with this brainless scheme of reservations which functions like a game of musical chairs. It will further wreck our already fragile democracy.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IT'S WORTH A SHOT
The Indian Premier League (IPL), which has retuned home for season three, is going great guns. Fans across the country as well as in cricket-loving nations abroad are having a blast. The excitement over T-20 club cricket is only getting more robust. This is evident from the packed stadiums and the soaring TRPs the games are garnering. It's not surprising that IPL chairman Lalit Modi has more ambitious plans for his enterprise. He now wants to institute a second IPL tournament and stage it overseas in North America, the Middle East or the UK.
Hang on, all you who will shoot the idea down on grounds that too much cricket is already being played and hence another tournament sounds absurd. Critics will also argue that countries in North America and the Middle East don't have a cricket-playing culture, so why go there. Well, there is no denying that plenty of cricket is doing the rounds today. But if there is a growing demand for T-20 cricket, then more T-20 tournaments can be accommodated into the cricket calendar by cutting down on the number of ODIs and Tests played. Purists will no doubt cry foul at this idea. But one simply cannot ignore the overwhelming popularity of the T-20 format, particularly of the IPL.
Consider this: This year, the IPL has already attracted more viewership than its earlier editions according to a survey conducted by a media research firm. Correspondingly, advertisers are also spending more. Online streaming of matches has also boosted revenue streams. IPL's big, and it only getting bigger. It makes good commercial and sporting sense to showcase it overseas.
Cricket might not be the kind of global sport that football is but has the potential to become one. After all, the Chinese, who don't have much of a cricketing bone, are taking to the game now. Americans and Arabs could follow suit. The force be with cricket's success.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
DON'T KILL THE GAME
Is the IPL overreaching itself? The latest plan unveiled by Lalit Modi is to have a second IPL tournament which will travel to the US and Middle East, among other places. Sure there might be an audience for IPL across the world, mainly among the South Asian diaspora. But is that enough to justify taking IPL to places where there is very little local interest in cricket?
The BCCI knows they have a good thing going with IPL. The viewership and the huge amounts of money being generated are ample proof of that. But haven't our cricket administrators realised that there is only so much that spectators and cricketers can take? With cricket having become a round-the-year phenomenon there is just too much being played at any given time. The IPL itself stretches at present to nearly 45 days. With more franchisees queuing up, this is going to become even longer in future. With an annual T-20 World Cup thrown in along with the routine Tests and ODIs, there is no down period for the game. This is already taking a toll on players. In the ongoing IPL, top players such as M S Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir are already out with injuries. There will surely be more players in the sick bay if another IPL is added. Fan fatigue is also likely to set in at some point.
Besides, because of the crowded cricketing calendar none of the IPL clubs have their entire team available. At present, Australia, England and New Zealand - among the major cricket playing nations - are involved in matches elsewhere. This means players of the calibre of Brendon McCullum, Michael Hussey and Kevin Pietersen will turn out for the teams only for short periods.
Modi and the Indian cricket board must take a call on where they want to see the game headed. Though they keep insisting that Test cricket is the real deal, they're not walking the talk. By keeping on expanding the IPL, the BCCI is undermining the very structure and ethos of cricket. The actual game is gradually becoming a sideshow to the money-spinning machine.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT IRAN?
Psychiatrists track five stages of human emotion after someone has been told of terminal illness starting with denial, passing through anger, bargaining and depression and ending in acceptance. The way Washington and perhaps the western world have been dealing with Iran's emergence as a nuclear weapons state follows a broadly similar process. The growing acceptance of the inevitability of a new nuclear power in Tehran is, however, accompanied by hope that a breakout by Iran would be contained by the threat of annihilation as it has deterred other nuclear powers in the past. That may be a misreading of history.
Although a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has long been suspected of secret efforts to develop weapons. However, it was not until 2002 that the first evidence of a secret nuclear site emerged. That angered Washington and Europe and led to calls for sanctions. Then came a phase of denial: Perhaps Iran is bluffing about its progress, analysts wondered. In 2007, the US intelligence community concluded that Iran had actually halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003. But the relief proved short-lived as Iran rejected the offered bargain to exchange its stock of enriched uranium for medical isotopes.
Last September, Tehran revealed that it had built a second uranium enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom. The IAEA report followed, giving details of Iran's potential for producing a nuclear weapon and its plans to develop a missile-ready warhead. Now comes a Japanese report: North Korea has supplied Iran 45 tonnes of unenriched uranium concentrate (known as yellowcake), enough to produce a few bombs. Now, with the US intelligence community revising its earlier comforting assessment, Washington is close to reaching the final phase. Officially, the line is that Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons, but there is a growing sense of resigned acceptance of the inevitability of an Iranian bomb.
It arises from the fact that neither of the two considered options increased sanctions and air strikes against the enrichment sites have any real prospects for success. There are already sanctions in place and apart from hurting common people and shoring up anti-western nationalism, they have scarcely dented Iran's nuclear ambitions. Even tougher sanctions, aimed at the Revolutionary Guard Corps who are in charge of the nuclear programme, are unlikely to do better. There has been talk of possible military action but there is no enthusiasm in Washington for a venture that is fraught with risk and unlikely to significantly derail Iranian nuclear plans, even if successful.
After all, even if sites at Natanz and Qom are destroyed, Iran could yet have other undisclosed sites to produce fissile material. In the event of a US or Israeli attack, there can be little doubt that these backup sites would be ramped up to produce a functioning nuclear device. A Q Khan is believed to have supplied Iran with a warhead design, obviating the need for them to carry out a test. More immediately, Iranian retaliation could upend oil tanker traffic through the Persian Gulf, sparking an immediate crisis in the world economy and igniting violence by Iran-backed groups across the Middle East.
Washington has implicitly acknowledged the fait accompli of Iran's nuclear programme by offering a nuclear umbrella to its Arab allies. American strategists are preparing for Iran's nuclear debut by noting that in the end, the same containment and deterrence, which worked with Russia and China, will prevent any adventurism. However, history offers a worrisome counter-example. Within a year of testing its nuclear bomb, Pakistan undertook the most daring of assaults on Kashmir in Kargil, emboldened by the calculation that fears of a nuclear confrontation would constrain India's response. It was later revealed that Pakistan had prepared its nuclear-tipped missiles before ultimately withdrawing its battered infiltrators.
How a nuclear-armed Iran would behave is anybody's guess. It is sobering to recall that the country's nuclear programme is under the control of Revolutionary Guards, the same organisation which acts as the patron of Hezbollah and almost certainly Hamas, among other terrorist groups. The West's acceptance of the Iranian nuclear bomb may be the last inevitable phase of confronting this bad news, but that may not be the end of the story.
MORE ON THE PLATE NOW
The fever has broken in food inflation. The food price index rose 16.30 per cent in the year to March 6, lower than 17.81 per cent in the previous week and off the recent high of 19.95 per cent. The softening is set to persist as the benign food inflation of a year ago reaches a tipping point and a high base effect kicks in. If food prices stay at current levels and there are indications that a strong winter crop has stabilised prices since February food inflation should decline by over a percentage point each in subsequent weeks. This gives the government leeway to consider raising the price of rationed food to match the support prices it pays farmers for grain. The subsidy has almost tripled since 2002 when prices were last raised for food sold through the public distribution system.
The wild card in food inflation is this year's monsoon, which, if truant, could reverse the nascent trend. Buffer stocks saw us through the 22 per cent decline in rainfall last year, but two failed summer crops in succession would be disastrous when cereal prices worldwide are higher abroad than at home. The official forecast is due in a few days, but early predictions suggest El Nino a weather pattern that warms up the Pacific Ocean and weakens the Indian monsoon should fade by July. This may delay rains, but ought not to affect precipitation overall. India went into the 2009 drought with a smaller grain stockpile than in 2002, the previous drought year, limiting the government's options to tame prices last year. With a regular crop in, the granaries will have to start restocking, exerting price pressure in tandem with the pace.
The battle with the price line has now moved to a new theatre of operations. Core inflation minus volatile energy and food prices has climbed from zero last July to 7.4 per cent in February. Higher taxes and energy costs are working their way through the system and could push wholesale inflation up by nearly 2 percentage points. Here, however, the government is on firmer ground it can work the policy levers to reign in non-food inflation. India has gingerly embarked on a demand compression cycle; its progress will depend on the strength of the recovery. If, in the process, the bigger lessons from our rising food insecurity are lost, the next drought could cost us more.
MERTON IN MOHALI, BALLIOL IN BANDRA?
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australian universities are eager to set up campuses in India, now that the Cabinet has approved foreign educational ventures. They're really asking for it, aren't they? Asking for their campus gates here to be mobbed every time there's a racist incident Down Under. Maybe even asking for reprisal bashings. A hapless Aussie rector bashed here, an inoffensive keeper of muster rolls bashed there
I trust that this horrible scenario will not come true and that we shall welcome Australian education more civilly than the Aussies embraced Indian students. But how shall we react to our best and brightest being educated on campuses run by the Australians, the Americans, the English and perhaps even the Chinese? Dodgy question, what? Any nationalists want to take it?
But actually, the loaded set will heave a sigh of relief. Home delivery of the prized foreign degree with no airfares or exorbitant living costs. Kids getting degrees without being estranged from Grandma's nutritious gajar halwa, without having to wash dishes on foreign shores, and without forcing proud parents to indulge in petty hawala to keep them alive.
Meanwhile, the government can let citizens indulge their craze for foreign qualifications without having to contain a brain drain. And for teachers, it's the jackpot. The bar on repatriating profits from foreign-operated campuses will force heavy investments in people and capital. Teachers poached from Indian universities will get the wages, equipment and resources they have been denied by our education system. It is truly shocking that even institutions like Delhi's School of Planning and Architecture do not meet University Grants Commission criteria on basic services like internet access.
But will teachers who move get the intellectual community which enables creative work? The entry of foreign universities will leach the best teachers off Indian campuses but it takes decades or even centuries to create the atmosphere, the communities and the web of off-campus networks that are the hallmarks of great universities.
Students may not get the real thing, either. Can quality education be franchised? Training and certification are readily shipped out in kit form but education has a larger intellectual dimension. It is being globalised like other services, but can the intellectual climate of a campus be manufactured, branded and distributed like a market commodity?
Second-tier institutions like Australia's Monash University have established a strong presence overseas. So have institutions which specialise in what amounts to training and certification, like the Chicago Business School. Scientific institutes go overseas in search of cheaper research facilities. But the big brands from the Ivy League or Oxbridge franchise only in dribs and drabs for fear of devaluing their exclusivity. Brands are about perceptions and if Mohali started offering full Oxford University courses, the perceived value of Balliol and Merton would dip somewhat.
India could be the laboratory where the franchising of education is put to the test. But we could have done the experiment without proposing to gut our own education system, in which we have invested since Independence. We could have simultaneously attempted international joint ventures to rejuvenate our old institutions. What we're doing is like abandoning an ancestral home with bad plumbing and moving to a Gurgaon apartment. It's a smart choice, but perhaps not the wisest.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine
The views expressed by the author are personal
CHASING A SHADOW
Now that the light-eyed Pakistani American who waged war against India and plotted the ruin of Mumbai in meticulous detail has finally pleaded guilty we are being told that all is not lost. After the cushy deal that David Headley has cut with the Americans, it's brutally clear that India will never get hold of the man who criss-crossed our country like some Super-Bomber, surveying targets and picking new victims. But, apparently we are still meant to be pleased that Indian investigators may eventually be able to talk to the man in some shape or form. So what if a government who demanded extradition now has to quietly contend with a reduced sentence for Headley and one that India will have no say in.
Never mind the humiliation of our sleuths being turned back from the United States when they first arrived to question him. And forget the fact that India allowed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to interrogate Ajmal Kasab for nine hours away from the formal constraints of court trials and the relentless gaze of the public eye. Since 26/11 claimed the lives of six Americans, the FBI felt it had an automatic entitlement to that meeting. But the murder of more than a hundred Indians in the same attack; one that left India naked and vulnerable forever, does not apparently give us the same rights in reverse. But no we are being asked to forget all of that and be grateful for the fact that Headley may now testify in the trial via videoconference. As they sometimes say in Ronald McDonald's land: "Gee Whiz." What a joke.
There can be only two explanations for this astounding double standard: hypocrisy or secrecy. For several months now questions have been raised about Headley's curious and untold past. His differently coloured eyes (one brown, one blue) may as well have been a metaphor for a life steeped in schizophrenia. We know now of his two wives and about his American socialite mom who ran a swinging bar and his Pakistani diplomat dad who encouraged a regimented orthodoxy. But Headley's version of East- meets-West turned out to be his stint in Pakistan working as an undercover informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
In an eerie déjà vu of what is unfolding now, back in 1998, Headley managed to get a 10-year sentence for smuggling heroin reduced to just two years in prison. In return, he agreed to "conduct undercover surveillance operations for the DEA". What happened next is where the story blurs. Did he navigate his way through Pakistan's narcotics underbelly and infiltrate the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba as a US informant? Or did he stop working for the Americans at some point and turn rogue? If so, at what point before 26/11 did this happen? How did a man with a proven felony travel in and out of America and indeed, across the globe, with such ease? And even more to the point: if Headley was under the FBI's surveillance one month before the 26/11 strikes, why was this information not shared with India? How did Headley manage to make a trip to India in April, 2009, five months after the Mumbai attacks, if he was being watched by the Americans?
So far, all of these queries have been dismissed as the imaginative creation of people who read too many spy thrillers. But if we were all wrong, could someone just tell us what an alternative narrative may read like? Not just has America denied Indian investigators access to the principal architect of 26/11, they have gone and saved his life.
And this is the second time that Headley has managed to strike a compromise while in custody. Isn't that enough to make anyone suspicious? Rahul Bhatt, the Mumbai actor and gym owner who was befriended by Headley for months, says he always called him "Agent Headley", because, "he used to come up with fascinating trivia, used intelligence jargon, knew his stuff". The government may dismiss those remarks but the fact is that Bhatt knew about Headley's stint in prison before the Americans had decided to share that information with us. The home ministry says it believes the American denial on Headley not being an agent/rogue agent. But how does it explain the curious case of the US striking a deal with India's most-wanted terrorist?
If the opaqueness around Headley is not to do with his past as a DEA informant, then the US's handling of the case is even stranger to explain. Danish journalists are now citing their own intelligence sources to say that their investigators have already been able to question Headley on the retaliation planned against the Danish cartoons. If that is the case, why would India have been kept on hold for so long?
No one is pushing the case for bizarre paranoia or reflexive anti-Americanism. But the truth is that there is growing disquiet over whether the United States is a serious partner in India's fight against terrorism or whether this will be a battle that is ours to wage alone. The Obama administration's changing Af-Pak policy already appears to be that of a government that doesn't have India on its mind. The Headley mystery may just take the simmering discontent to boiling point. One hopes that our government will not shy away from expressing displeasure in order to preserve some larger semblance of common goals.
After all, even the carrot offered to India in getting Headley to testify in the trial remains wrapped in uncertainty. Will this be an actual interrogation opportunity or a mere regurgitation of his American deposition? Even the government doesn't appear to know at this stage and that leads us to a more disturbing question. If the 49-year-old mastermind gets the leniency of life, should Kasab, the 21-year-old footsoldier for Headley's plans, be confronted with possible death?
Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV
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
KHAN DO SPIRIT
My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist," dully insists Shah Rukh Khan's character in My Name Is Khan. That hasn't deterred the Hizbul Mujahideen from wielding the movie as a weapon of indoctrination. According to the Gujarat Anti-Terror Squad, currently interrogating "Pepsi Bomber" Bashir Ahmed Baba, the movie is being used as recruitment video, to grind in the humiliation and victimisation of Muslim men around the world.
Through movies like MNIK, Kurbaan or New York, Hindi cinema has delved into the emotional complexity of radical Islam. These films flit between different subject positions, from the brown-skinned objects of Western hostility to the reflective voices that want to recuperate the idea of Islam, from militant bombers to those who are simply caught in the global crossfire. And as they enact the drama of being Muslim in the modern world, they are open to all kinds of oblique readings.
If anything, this MNIK story goes to prove how slippery the impact of popular culture is. We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are. Whatever a writer or filmmaker's stated intentions, audiences interpret it through their own lens so Bashir's initial response, "Nice movie, Shah Rukh acted well," was coldly rejected by his boss, who told him to watch it again and internalise Muslim agony, and then use it as grist for his deadly cause. This is the perfect lesson to those who think that a film has directly destructive "effects" on viewers. The idea that watching a film would somehow programme you into behaving in particular ways, lead you into violence and aggression, is clearly flimsy a piece of media works best when it confirms your presuppositions, not when it runs counter to them. Alienated young people don't need a movie to tell them how to hate and hurt. It may just work the other way.
The fraught issue of the Darjeeling hills is a history of opportunities gained and lost, over and over again. That is why it is good news that the tripartite talks involving the Centre, the West Bengal government and the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha are on track despite the post-Telangana eruption last December. If that hasty announcement had reignited passions in the hills and brought north Bengal close to being thrown completely out of gear again, that danger appears to have subsided, with the GJM scaling down its statehood demand for now and proposing, instead, an interim set-up till December 2011, along the lines of a regional authority with substantial executive, legislative and judicial powers. Of course, the GJM has clarified that it is not jettisoning the statehood demand. Nor is the ruling Left Front as well as the opposition Trinamool and Congress willing to consider any partition of Bengal. Nevertheless, since nothing in politics is inviolate or inevitable, this new turn is a breather for all parties to the negotiations, opening a two-year window to talk further and reduce the points of disagreement.
The Telangana case showed up an India that has changed significantly since the post-independence states' reorganisation. Statehood demands are now increasingly constructed in terms of development and administration. The Gorkhaland issue is complicated by the fact that this is a demand voiced primarily in ethnic and linguistic terms. And the region knows only too well the violence that such politics can unleash.
For any solution, the present talks are a necessity as is the absence of violence and obstructionism. As the GJM's new proposal is examined, the sincere aim should be the best possible deal for the people in and around Darjeeling. But it's necessary to tread with caution. These long-neglected people care less about the powers and status of any new administrative mechanism and more about the fruits of development and economic growth like the rest of the country. The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council was a big opportunity lost and a total failure. Whether the solution ahead is a separate state or a virtual Union territory or greater autonomy, that fundamental aspiration of the hills people cannot be betrayed again.
CUT THE MULTI-TASKING
In a talk in New Delhi on Thursday, Vijay Kelkar, chairman of the 13th Finance Commission, emphasised the importance of good institutions in India's success at achieving high economic growth. Looking forward, he underlined the importance of monetary policy reform, combining political independence for the RBI, coupled with the accountability mechanism that is inflation-targeting. This offers a frame
work for Indian monetary policy for the future, in contrast to the RBI governor's recent speeches canvassing for multiple targets, multiple instruments and no accountability for the RBI.
The first point is that of independence. In today's India, the RBI does not have autonomy for the one issue where autonomy matters: monetary policy. The RBI is able to have its way on many things. As an example, it has unfortunately succeeded in crippling India's financial system in numerous dimensions. But it ultimately has to comply with the views of the finance minister on monetary policy. This is an uncomfortable state of affairs for India. This brings election considerations into monetary policy, leading to inappropriate monetary policy choices. It gives unfairness in elections: the incumbent government is likely to ensure that, in an election year, monetary policy is accommodating, and an inflation crisis is likely to present itself in the post-election period. A monetary policy that delivers stabilisation of India's business cycle requires an independent central bank. But at the same time, no government agency can be given power to run amok without checks and balances. While all sound economies have independent central banks, they all have strong accountability mechanisms. Any call for an independent central bank must be accompanied by a credible plan for achieving accountability. This is the only way for politicians to agree to the idea of handing over monetary policy to unelected monetary economists.
This involves three elements. First, the functions of the RBI need to be pared down to the narrow core for which independence is justified setting the short-term interest rate. Second, the RBI needs to come up to the standards of the best central banks worldwide on transparency. Third, the agency must have a quantitative monitorable target: such as that of achieving 4 per cent inflation in the medium term. Such an "inflation targeting central bank" is the configuration which all the good economies of the world have. It is the direction for India too.
PAK DAYDREAM, WAKE-UP CALL
There is a phenomenon peculiar to the Pakistani Establishment, that unique combination of its army, intelligence agencies and bureaucracy that constitutes its permanent government, and therefore spelt with a capital "E". Every 10 or 12 years, it starts believing that it is winning. Winning what, how and to what effect, are not facts it wants to be confused with. It just believes, at that particular moment, that it is "winning" against India. This is when the foundation of an impending disaster is laid. Unfortunately, if you've been exasperated at the sudden turn in the Pakistani Establishment's conduct, you have to understand that they are currently caught in the throes of another such irrational euphoria. They again think they are "winning".
The first phase of madness was 1947-48, that led to the invasion of Kashmir and ruined our relationship at the very start. The next came along with our war with China which, they thought, was a wonderful time again to seize Kashmir, through negotiated, US/UK-backed blackmail (India was desperately seeking American military aid then) and, when that failed, through war against a recently "defeated" army. That led to the misadventure of 1965. That moment of madness came yet again in 1971, when they misread the significance of their emergence as the link between Nixon's America and China to mean that they had a superpower shield and could crush the revolt in their eastern half as brutally as they wished. They lost half of Pakistan.
Then, almost exactly 12 years later they saw another "wonderful" opportunity in India's Punjab, with rising Sikh militancy. This was just the moment to wage a war of a thousand cuts they were perfecting along with the Americans in Afghanistan. That phase of belligerence was put down only after the reality check of the Operation Brasstacks standoff in 1987. But check the IMF/ World Bank figures of annual economic growth. It is around this time that Pakistan permanently lost the sizeable edge it had maintained against India in terms of economic growth. In 1993, again, came the next moment of the same "we are winning" illusion, because of troubles in our Kashmir and the victory of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. A full-fledged
"jehad" was launched in Kashmir, the consequences of which we are all facing till today. I would treat Kargil and the Kandahar hijack as part of the same continuing madness and it was all cut short by 9/11. Almost a decade after Kargil now, you see the same Establishment believe that they are "winning". Our challenge, therefore, is to assess what is causing this "winning" feeling in Islamabad/ Pindi and what disaster, for Pakistan, and collaterally for us, this could lead to.
If you want to put a date to the beginning of this new mood, it would perhaps be Obama's West Point address when he nearly set a deadline for the US withdrawal. The Pakistani GHQ read it as American acceptance of the unwinnability of the Afghan war. This was the window of critical relevance they were looking for. This lifted for them the shadow of 26/11. If Obama wanted to leave any time next year, it could only be after striking some kind of a deal with a faction of the Taliban. Only Pakistan could bring about that deal, and also guarantee the future conduct of the new regime. In one stroke then, this will give Pakistan a diplomatic indispensability to the Americans while they are here, and strategic depth once they are gone. That new position could then be leveraged by demanding a settlement of basic, "root-causes" issues with India, sidelining the problem of the India-specific Lashkars. The new turn in the Pakistani Establishment, the Kayani speech, the water non-paper and the sudden and brazen re-surfacing of Hafiz Saeed are to be fully understood in this context.
To be fair, most civilian politicians in Pakistan do not share this illusion, but at this point they count for nothing. Similarly the civil society, the free, moderate and modern sections of the media would be seriously concerned by this. But Pakistan's political class and civil society have been greatly undermined in the past year, and some of the blame for that lies at the doors of its feuding president and prime minister. When policy is left to a tiny soldier-spook cabal, you get the kind of disaster that has followed each such moment in the subcontinent's history. Pakistan's larger tragedy, in fact, is that its strategy has often been crafted by purely tactical minds. That is not how great nations function: their strategy is devised by strategists and implemented by tacticians. But that is a problem the people of Pakistan and its civil society will solve, though in the course of time.
So how should we deal with this new situation? First of all, keep engaging with Pakistan. It is a process that would have been much more effective had it been resumed three months earlier, but still, build on that first meeting. Second, look for where your leverage lies in the region's new reality. This entire new daydream is predicated upon the Americans being able to fight with some degree of effectiveness for another year or so, so they could find a faction of the Taliban willing to settle. Obama cannot leave Afghanistan as Nixon had fled Vietnam. To fight effectively, he needs every platoon of the forces the Pakistanis had re-deployed to the west from their classical eastern, India-facing posture. This has also been made possible by some Indian cooperation. For example, if India had moved even one division towards the border after 26/11, this entire game would have been upset. India now has to let the Americans and the British know that if there is another major terror attack, it may just be constrained to return to its traditional counter-terror gambit, of threatening Pakistan with a conventional response. Just a division, a few squadrons of multi-role aircraft moved westwards would have the Pakistanis rolling back all the divisions from their west to the east. This is the last thing Obama wants, and this is our most important leverage. He cannot be allowed to take our vital interests for granted.
Of course, this has to be accompanied by one more correction: the end of the six-year complacence on modernising our conventional defence. While it is fashionable to credit nuclear weapons with ensuring peace in the region, the fact is, it was the deterrence of a swift and withering conventional response that kept the Pakistani adventurists in check since 1987. In the past six years that edge has been allowed to erode, and when Manmohan Singh looks back he will be honest enough to acknowledge that as his government's biggest failure on national security. What kind of country living in such a dangerous neighbourhood returns Rs 10,000 crore of its defence acquisition budget unspent? If Manmohan Singh can simply start fixing that and also let the Americans know that another 26/11 may, just may, see a different response from us, it would be a fine strategic response to this new challenge. It may even ensure peace in the region.
A SPACE OF THEIR OWN
His eyes may be dimmed by glaucoma but 88-year-old Syed Haider Raza has a clearer vision than most as far as the future of Indian art is concerned. His dream, for which the blueprints have already been made, is to create a museum for the art works, letters, books and memorabilia of the Bombay Progressives, also known as the Progressive Artists Group or PAG.
The young rebels of the PAG banded together in the '50s. The late Francis Newton Souza gathered about him a maverick named Maqbool Fida Husain, fresh off the pavements, and with a burning desire to move beyond painting hoardings; the dapper and soft-spoken Raza, who had just won a scholarship to study at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and already presented a window into the future; and, to balance out the equation, the rustic sensuality of K.H. Ara. (The vibrant but moody Sadanand Bakre and the withdrawn H.A. Gade remain the more elusive and less documented of the group but that is another story entirely.)
M.F. Husain also had a vision in the late '90s of museums across the length and breadth of the country, beginning with Husain Ni Gufa in Ahmedabad. When right-wing goons vandalised it, Husain held a protest exhibition that consisted of white sheets and blank canvases. The 94-year-old has now decided to stay in Qatar and will share his collection with a gallery in Dubai India's loss, say the cognoscenti, clucking their tongues in despair.
Raza, on the other hand, has decided to return to his motherland and heroically begin work on a museum that will not just be dedicated to the art of his times, but will also nurture young performance artists of merit. Together with his protégé Manish Pushkale, he intends to launch it in Delhi's satellite township of Dwarka; but much remains to be done, and one can only keep one's fingers crossed.
Bakre's vast collection of art, tragically, languishes under lock and key at his Ratnagiri farmhouse. The artist died alone in 2007; his adopted son is now stuck in a legal battle with Bakre's parent gallery Son et Lumière, in Mumbai, since the artist made a double will honouring both parties. The dispute, apparently, might take years to resolve.
These are some of the difficulties that private ventures have faced. Yet the bureaucratic, fuddy-duddy image of government-run art spaces put potential viewers off massively. There's enormous apathy about innovation; many of our premium spaces suffer from simple problems: poor lighting, unenthusiastic display techniques. Labels are absent or often wrong. Staff are unenthusiastic, and often rude.
There have been efforts to modernise Mumbai's Prince of Wales Museum (renamed for Shivaji) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (renamed the Bhau Daji Lad Museum) but generating exciting programming around their vast collections still remains an annual affair. The
latter, though, is an exceptional example of a group of individuals successfully cutting through red tape. It's been a year since the museum has been renovated and the credit should go to the interest taken by private entrepreneurs and the involvement of the Mumbai-based trust INTACH.
The innovation is all from private collectors finally putting their collections in the public domain. In HCL's Noida factory Shiv and Kiran Nadar have found a temporary space to house the jewels of their collection, including works of the PAG. They also have cutting edge art by Anish Kapoor, Raqib Shaw, Subodh Gupta and Shahzia Sikander. Right now it's mostly HCL employees on their lunch break that visit; but with time the Nadars hope to house the collection at a proper permanent space, and bus out art enthusiasts and students.
A successful prototype exists at Anupam Poddar's Devi Art Foundation at Gurgaon, launched in 2008. The cutting-edge 7,500 foot building, made of raw brick and steel, oozes modernity. From new media art to conventional oils on canvas, Poddar has collected art for about 8 years. Devi Art is currently hosting an exhibition of young Pakistani artists; two other cutting-edge shows have showcased Poddar's permanent collection. In Mumbai it was Bose Krishanmachari's dream to have a museum dedicated to books, films and art by young contemporaries like Riyas Komu, Justin Ponmany and Jitish Kallat. What he has currently settled for is a commercial space, Gallery BNB, in Fort. The Kerala-born Bose, who came up the hard way and shared a room with 10 migrants who slept in shifts, knows the value of space. His solution is a simple one: making his collection mobile. For the project, Bose has designed two large trucks with transparent sides. The art caravan will travel all over the country making stops at small towns and spreading the joy of art.
Raza's pro-active step, actually doing something about the heritage that he has helped endow, is just another indication that privatisation may be the only way out of an era of apathy.
WHY WE NEED A BOLDER CENSUS
Preparations for conducting the next Census in 2011 are on and the enumeration is proposed to be carried out between February 9 and 28. In the context of socio-political changes brought about after the Mandal Commission Report was implemented from 1990 onwards, the 2011 Census has to be attuned accordingly. This is possible only by enumerating the various backward classes and castes which have prevailed from time immemorial. This should have been done in the 2001 Census itself. The politics in the Hindi heartland has vastly changed during the last two decades, bringing in its wake political parties based almost entirely on castes and combination of castes. They came to power and implemented various measures passed by the state assemblies, which were meant to benefit particular castes. It is necessary to have a precise idea of the population of the various castes and communities that constitute the different regional political parties, which play important roles in the coalition era that prevails in both Central as well as regional government formations.
The enumeration of castes in the 1931 Census brought out the population figures of various castes and communities. Social reformers and political leaders analysed the implications of these figures in their states. This led to the growth of parties like the Justice Party in the south, which eventually led to the formation of Dravidian parties. One of their objectives was to assert their strength and gain political importance and ascendancy. The traditionally educated forward communities, which held a predominant position in political and administrative spheres, especially in the then composite state of Madras, had to yield and share power with the backward communities and castes. This process was replicated far more vigorously, in the Hindi heartland after the implementation of Mandal Commission recommendations.
It was reported that Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily had written to the prime minister in August 2009, urging the revival of the practice which was discontinued in 1931 and to enumerate all the castes and communities since there was a need for accurate and authentic data. However, it was announced in December 2009 that there would be no such caste-wise enumeration in the next Census. It would be unfortunate and indeed short-sighted if the Census pattern was not revised.
In fact, the scope of the 2011 Census needs to be further widened for enumerating the sizable number of foreign nationals living in India. Bangladeshis and Nepalis are today important factors in India's political scene, particularly in Assam and West Bengal respectively. The history of Bangladeshi immigrants dates back to pre-Partition years, but this need not be gone into now. They are concentrated in Assam and West Bengal and parts of Bihar mostly, but they are indeed all over the country. After many long years, Indo-Bangladesh relations have become cordial. The recent visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ushered in a new era of goodwill between the two countries. However, the enumeration of Bangladeshis in India should not lead to any misunderstanding. Over the years, the number of Bangladeshis in India has been estimated as between 10-20 million, and it would be in the larger interests of all concerned if the enumeration is carried out in the 2011 Census.
As for Nepalis, there has been an agitation for a Gorkhalistan or Gorkhaland since the early 1980s. The All India Nepali Bhasha Samiti based in Darjeeling started collecting data regarding the Nepali population living in West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam and elsewhere, and it was claimed that Nepalis constituted about 30 lakh in 1980s. Nepalis are dispersed all over India, but are concentrated in Sikkim, Darjeeling and the Terai region of West Bengal. There is an agitation for Gorkhaland which has been intensified after the
announcement on Telangana. Nepalis constitute a majority in Sikkim. At the height of the GNLF agitation, in the 1980s, it was claimed that Nepalis in India accounted for a crore. Chief Minister
P. K. Mohanta of Assam had claimed in his book published in 1986 that the Nepalis in Assam accounted for 1,10,335 in the 1951 Census, 1,82,925 in 1961 and 3,53,673 in 1971 Census. Mohanta wrote that on the basis of decadal growth of Nepalis over the years, they should be well over 5,00,000 in Assam alone.
Nepal is the only country with almost open borders and the Nepalis are our close neighbours, bound by history and traditions. The Gorkhas of Nepal form an important part of Indian army. The relation between the two countries is by and large normal but has had its hiccups. The enumeration of Nepalis living in India is therefore essential. Similar enumeration needs to be done in respect of other foreign nationals like Pakistanis, Burmese, Afghans etc. While enumerating the population of Bangladeshis, Nepalis and other foreign nationals, it would also be necessary to ascertain how many of them have acquired ration cards, how many of them figure in the voters' lists, which are periodically revised by the Election Commission, and how many have acquired Indian citizenship. This data is vital for evaluating the demographic picture of the country.
The debate over the Women's Reservation Bill and the persistent arguments put forth by leaders of Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and others revolved around the anxiety on the part of certain backward communities and their future in the political life of the country. This debate has brought forth the need to have precise figures of the various castes and communities in different states. If the 2011 Census opportunity is missed without enumerating all this vital data, it would be a serious national lapse, to put it mildly.
The writer retired as Director, Intelligence Bureau. He has served as governor of Sikkim, West Bengal and UP.
TURN OFF THE TELEPROMPTER, OBAMA
When I worked in Europe in the 1980s and '90s, I would often run into a little clash of journalistic culture. People I'd interviewed would ask me to submit quotes for their approval read adjustment before publication. No, I'd say, that's not US practice, that's not the way we do it.
Times change: I'm tempted to say the manufactured quote has become standard practice in the United States, but that would be provocative. Let's just say that plenty of quotes are manufactured in the sense that they've been reviewed by their source and "tweaked," or "cleaned up," before publication. Plenty of others just die, or get paraphrased, because they never clear that hurdle.
The Obama administration is particularly active in this regard. I'd say one of its chief difficulties in its first year has been shifting from the relentlessly controlling, on-message, no-drama, one-star-in-the-firmament message of a campaign to the different demands of the presidency, where the humanity of America's leader, his flesh-and-blood fallibility and impulses, assumes central importance.
Once in the Oval Office, the effective must yield in some measure to the emotive. "Pride in responsible process is the closest thing to an Obama ideology," writes George Packer in a recent New Yorker piece called "Obama's Lost Year."
Well, that won't butter most
In real life people don't adjust their quotes. It's therefore natural that manufactured utterance does not resonate. But everything I've experienced in Washington, and heard from journalists there, suggests control over the message has reached obsessive proportions. Even background (anonymous) interviews morph into "background with
authorisation," so that a quote from "an official" must pass the review process lest "an official," should
On my return from the post-election tumult of Iran last summer, I spent some time in Washington working on a policy piece and was struck by the control fixation. I'd seen young Iranians shot, beaten, tear-gassed and brutalised in the streets in the name of their beliefs. Yet officials in awe of these Iranians' courage, and desperate to know more about it, were themselves in the calibration business. Their danger zone lay in the words "on the record." In general they avoided it.
"Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?" asked T.S. Eliot. And "Do I dare / Disturb the universe?" Obama became president because beyond eating peaches he dared disturb the universe. Responsibility is important, given where irresponsibility brought America, but not sufficient.
It is interesting how the authentic, the genuine, the unvarnished, the spontaneous have come to be sought in politicians, both in the United States and Europe. That's a measure, I think, of the way metrics, control, spin and a kind of narrowing have fed a desire in people for the unscripted. They want to dream because the space for that the uncharted space has narrowed.
I got into correspondence recently with a former teacher from high school in Britain. He wrote about his misgivings over how education had changed, how "league tables, and a huge weight of bureaucracy, health and safety regulations, lesson plans for teachers" had curtailed spontaneity. "Instead of a double period with a class looking at Blake's poems, on a fine day, when we might suddenly choose to go down to the Tate to look at his water colors, these days a risk assessment form has to be completed in triplicate and submitted for approval three days in advance," he wrote. Of course, it's those impromptu visits to the Tate, and how the water colors interwove with the words, that a boy remembers. As my former teacher wrote, "something precious has been lost" in the development of "modern anxieties about danger and accountability."
We live with a paradox: choice and possibility have broadened yet there is less space for unfiltered experience, for losing yourself, for self-immersion in place. When I started in journalism, it was possible to be "out of contact" for days. There was something to be said for that.
President Obama knows how lonely the pursuit of truth can be and what passion it can require; that in a sense is his family story. He is a remarkable politician who has already done much to steer America from the politics of fear, from economic catastrophe, from self-delusion, and from a costly belligerence. Repair is painstaking; these achievements are not paltry.
But he has failed to connect, to make the transition from the effective to the emotive. He lacks the narrative of American reinvention that every great president must have. The tones of his administration are pallid rather than primary, just like the tone of manufactured quotes.
In recent weeks, his passion about health care reform (fired in part by his mother's experience of dying while arguing with insurance companies) has been stirring, a reminder of how powerful this politician who took down the Clinton and McCain machines can be.
My advice for the second year and beyond is to set aside the teleprompter, allow big administration personalities to get out there and de-manufacture the quotes. The genuine can trump the narrowing that people feel in their lives.
ALL THE NEWS THAT'S FIT TO BUY
S. Y. QURAISHI
Over the decades, the approach to news has changed quite a bit. But these changes have largely related to presentation and formats. In the increasingly competitive media world, we have come across terms like morning news, evening news, prime time news, headline news, latest news and more recently, breaking news. But paid news? This coinage is the epitome of anti-news. Paid news is downright unethical, and sinister. The malaise has now gone deep, and cuts across print and electronic, regional and national, vernacular and English media.
We at the Election Commission are seriously concerned. Many of us have been dealing with the problem of surrogate advertising for a while. Some instructions are in place to prevent stealthy advertising in favour of or against candidates. The success in this has only been moderate. But the new camouflage for advertising is "news". To some extent, the menace has played out its role in manipulating real estate and the stock market; but this is not my official headache. We feel directly concerned with the infiltration of this evil into the election arena. We realise with all seriousness the impact of this malpractice. It is against free and fair polls. It could derail democracy.
Paid news is not free speech. The commission is concerned about the undue influence that paid news can create in the mind of the voter. The voter's right to correct and unbiased information needs protection. Our second concern is that paid news hoodwinks the enforcement of the expenditure ceiling, a key component in election management with particular importance for a level playing field.
I am happy that most political parties are speaking against paid news. I am even happier that there is a conspicuous uprising against it within the media. Not surprisingly, the protest is led by women and men from the editorial desk, because it is their space and their freedom which is in maximum danger. It is heartening to note that the government and Parliament are also seriously engaged to find a redressal. The churning is healthy and holds out hope.
Friends in media and politics have suggested that the Election Commission is powerful enough to deal with this problem. Well, we have some powers defined by the Constitution, acts of Parliament and judicial pronouncements. We have to work within these. Our control runs only during the election period and applies generally to political parties and candidates. Politicians are most powerful. Members of Parliament alone have the power to legislate to bring the culprits of paid news to book. But, it is the media, which, to my mind retains absolute power, derived from absolute freedom. In my estimate, the problem of paid news is best addressed by self-regulation that lends legitimacy to absolute power anywhere. The commission would again call upon politicians and media to press the delete button on paid news through active self-regulation.
Of course, this would require consensus building. Fortunately, in our country, a good cause or a good piece of legislation brings even opposite camps together. Our model code of conduct during the elections is a shining example of restrictions voluntarily accepted by all political parties. This is a unique Indian institution that makes election managers across the world envious. Can there be a code to check the destabilising activity of paid news?
Paid news is like a snake whose hood is down and tail underground. It is not easy to pull it out. There is circumstantial evidence of all type, but little proof. I am happy that the Press Council is finding ways to deal with the element of deceit in paid news. The commission has lent support to their consultations and will do more, if necessary.
As I have often said, in the multi-dimensional mandate of election management, every problem has a solution, but often a good solution leads to a new problem.
After serious consideration of the public damage caused by some campaign methods, the commission put some restrictions on wall writings, hoardings, loudspeakers etc. The question as suggested by some is, has the strict enforcement of defacement laws led to this worse sickness of paid news in the election arena? More importantly, has it denied a level playing field to those candidates and political parties, who by force or by will, are not accomplices in paid news?
In India, the media is one of the strengths of the Election Commission. With all responsibility, I have to state that media has all too often been our eyes and ears in the conduct of elections. I fervently wish that the alliance between the Election Commission, political parties and the media, which fortifies the world's largest democracy does not weaken in the shadow of paid news.
The writer is an election commissioner.
The supporters and opponents of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif clashed over a statement that he apparently did not make. Following successive bomb blasts in Lahore last week, Sharif appealed to the Taliban to spare Punjab as his party, the PML-N was just as opposed to external forces influencing Pakistan, as they were. This was construed by the opposition as a justification for Taliban-led terror attacks in other provinces.
Dawn reported on March 15: "Musharraf planned a bloodbath of innocent Muslims at the behest of others only to prolong his rule, but PML-N opposed him and rejected dictation from abroad... if the Taliban are also fighting for the same cause then they shouldn't carry out acts of terror in Punjab (where the PML-N is ruling)." Soon enough, the opposition criticised Sharif, as Dawn reported on March 16: "Sharif came in for sharp attacks in the National Assembly... Members called for an apology... for negating a national consensus against terrorism and justifying Taliban attacks in other provinces."
As Sharif tried to manage the fallout, son Hamza came to his rescue, as reported in The News : "Our actions have reflected PML-N always worked in national interest and it never talked about a single province." Sharif was also summoned by the boss in battle fatigues, the army chief, reported The News : "Sharif met Gen Kayani at the Army House... Sources said Sharif maintained his statement regarding was being given a wrong colour." His next stop was the PM house. Dawn quoted from a joint statement issued by him and PM Yousaf Raza Gilani to assuage Sharif's opponents by clubbing attacks outside Punjab with the Lahore attacks: "While condemning recent terrorist attacks in Lahore and Mingora, both leaders expressed their resolve to fight this menace in all its forms."
The upcoming US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in Washington will have "fresh faces". A piece in Dawn stated on March 15: " Gen Kayani will be the first army chief to participate in the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue to be held on March 24. Also for the first time, the Americans are expected to include their defence secretary Robert Gates and national security adviser Gen James Jones. ISI chief Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha will represent Pakistan's security interests... the inclusion of senior defence and security officials indicates military and security issues would dominate." Kayani is doing his homework, as Dawn reported on March 17: "Gen Kayani presided over a meeting of key federal secretaries at the GHQ... for the upcoming dialogue with the US administration... The meeting was part of a consultative process of civil and military bureaucracy to forge a consensus on key security and economic issues confronting the nation amid ongoing efforts against militancy and for strategic relations with key world powers... It was the first-ever meeting of federal secretaries presided over by a military chief in a civilian set-up."
An editorial in Daily Times read between the lines: "This exchange is going to be the central point of the agenda at the meeting... the plan to leave Afghanistan is on the cards for the US-led NATO forces... but they don't want to leave without ensuring a stable government and trained security forces are in place. For this, they need the help of Afghanistan's most important neighbour, Pakistan. But it seems Pakistan is not very happy with the Karzai government's negotiations with the Afghan Taliban or Saudi mediation in Afghanistan. Cutting out Pakistan hasn't gone down well with the military establishment in the country... President Karzai expressed his displeasure at the arrest of Taliban leadership from Pakistan. In not so many words, he has said... Pakistan is manoeuvring to stay centrestage in a post-US dispensation... The Afghans are also wary of a proxy war between India and Pakistan on their soil."
So flows the Indus
Water issues continue to dominate the Pakistani media. Dawn reported on March 16: "The Tarbela dam reservoir hit the dead level on Monday, leaving agriculture and power generation to rely on paltry run-of-the-river supplies which also have taken a sharp dip... all rivers were flowing on Monday at around 20 per cent less than last year's levels on the day." An editorial in The News took a larger view: "The problem is becoming acute... It is made up of many facets: the management of water resources, specifically the Indus river system, inadequate storage and a failure to create new storage for a decade, poor maintenance and leakage and now a failure of seasonal rains to replenish stocks... Water and its current and future management is key to our very existence, and a lack of it presents a far greater existential threat to the state than every terrorist group within our borders."
A BETTER RATING
Standard & Poor's (S&P) upgrading of the outlook on India's sovereign credit rating from negative to stable reflects the fact that the country's fiscal position is recovering and the economy is on a strong growth path. Earlier, other rating agencies like Moody's and Fitch also upgraded India's outlook before the Budget. As sovereign ratings reflect the ability of the government to pay back its debts, the change in outlook will result in increased foreign investor confidence in India's investment climate. It will also help local companies and banks raise money from abroad at cheaper rates as there will be some repricing of external commercial borrowing rates. In fact, the Budget has given a host of positive cues and foreign institutional investors have pumped in around $2 billion in Indian equities since the Budget was presented. S&P's upgrade is in contrast to its earlier position in February last year when it cut the outlook on India's ratings to negative from positive after the government provided the stimulus packages in the wake of the global economic crisis and credit crunch.
The revision is based on the assumption that India's economy will grow at 8% in FY11 and positive steps are being taken by the government towards fiscal consolidation. The possibility of the implementation of the goods and services tax and a revised direct taxes code has also helped. S&P's revised outlook for India acknowledges the government's efforts to reduce its subsidy bill, particularly on fertilisers. As we have argued in these columns, the government's move to a nutrient-based subsidy policy is a welcome step and will end market distortions and reduce pressure on the fisc. A similar pragmatic step now needs to be taken on deregulating oil prices. That would further signal the government's commitment to fiscal consolidation. The government will also have to address some downside risks mainly in the form of inflation, which rose to 9.89% in February compared with 8.56% in the previous month largely due to rising food prices and the restoration of customs duty on crude, and increase in excise duty on petrol and diesel. The spurt in inflation, which is still predominantly a supply-side problem, has pushed RBI into raising both the repo and reverse repo rates by 25 basis points each on Friday. But given that the economic recovery has just begun and that significant external risks to recovery persiststhe crisis in Greece could spillover an increase in interest rates by RBI should have been withheld for a while longer so that the growth momentum does not get affected.
TIME FOR THE IMF
If there is one trouble spot that continues to threaten to spoil an imminent global recovery, it is Greece. At current market rates, where the government of Greece has to pay interest on borrowed money at a rate 3 percentage points higher than Germany, a default will arrive sooner rather than later. The government of Greece is banking on an EU bailout to help lower the spread on its debt. But there remains no agreement among the key members of the EU on whether to bail out Greece. Germany, Europe's strongest economy by some distance, is resisting a bailout package, which will likely have a strong element of moral hazard. If Greece is bailed out now, Spain, Ireland and Portugal may demand the same in the near future. At that rate, fiscal discipline in the EU will cease to exist causing much damage to the euro and to the euro zone economies. Greece, on the other hand, claims that it has announced an unprecedented austerity programme after a number of false starts, an announcement that sparked strikes all over the country. So, its leaders believe that they are doing more to cut deficit and debt than what would normally be politically prudent.
The global economy could, however, do without the stalemate in Europe. It is taking a toll on global markets and more importantly on global confidence in the recovery. If the EU is unable to sort out the issue soon, the IMF needs to step in. One of the promises of the G-20 in the aftermath of the crisis was to enhance the role and power of the IMF to stave off another crisis by making preventive interventions. Greece and some of the other debt-laden European economies are prime candidates for some disciplining by the IMF. At this stage, the IMF is likely to play a more constructive role than the bickering member states of the EU. An IMF bailout, with its many stringent conditionalities will also not create a serious moral hazard problem like a soft EU bailout may. If international coordination to prevent crises has to have any credibility in the future, there must be some immediate action on Greece. If the fate of Greece is left simply to the EU and they fail to act in time, then the global economy will pay a price. And if everyone has to pay, as they did in this financial crisis just gone by, they must push for a coordinated intervention in Greece, preferably through the IMF.
WHY DEFICIT DOESN'T SEEM TO HURT
Standard & Poor's has stated the obvious by bumping up the Indian outlook to stable from negative. After the financial contagion subsided, leaving few economies standing in the global ruin, even the most cussed investor would need to do little more than just glance around her to confirm that.
In the present world it would have looked bizarre if the negative outlook had continued. For this would have meant one of the most promising investment directions for the global investor community is one with a negative story. Among all the topsy-turvy tales emerging from the global meltdown this one would have ranked at the top.
The tale that will, however, be told is the one about the crazy fiscal deficit that India keeps running without choking off its economic growth rate. The upgrade in outlook makes the right noises about the need to keep this deficit in check, but the S&P report has come perilously close to endorsing the position that fiscal deficit is good for the economy, if an economy knows how to use it.
This is quite close to overturning conventional economic wisdom. The fiscal deficit in India has persisted through the industrial downturn since 1997, has stayed put in the heady growth years and has now returned with a 'bang' to provide stimulus to the economy. Yet at no stage have the numbers threatened to derail the rate of economic growth of the economy.
Why has this panned out in this way? In the early years of the Indian development story, economists worked out a two-gap model to describe India's needs. Of the two gaps, one was the shortage of technology that needed to be bought from abroad. The other was the shortage of foreign capital needed to finance those buys. The logic of that gap theory has altered in the post-liberalisation era. It can now be called a single gap model predicated on a domestic engine of growth instead of a foreign one. The engine is government expenditure, needed to run a deficit to finance the consumption needs of the people, which, in turn, drive production in the private sector. We have seen the application of that logic in the NREG scheme, the debt waiver scheme and recently in the excise duty relief that has created a wave-like transformation in the automobile sector, especially in the passenger car segment.
From financing consumption needs, the deficit is now turning to finance the investment needs of the economy. The economy, therefore, has built in an absorption capacity for the fiscal deficit, of course with a lag and a degree of consequent wastage that this sort of model implies. So, the fiscal deficit in India makes up for the shortage of demand that a developing economy is prone to.
In fact, the government by trial and error has learnt to be fairly flexible with the application of the deficit. Instead of building up capacity in the same direction, over the past decade it has learnt to move it around to where the economy needs it the most.
So, far from being a gridiron lock for the economy to sort out, the deficit has more often than not been the answer to the demands of the economy. The changed outlook by S&P and also by other rating agencies, therefore, adjusts their conservative stance with the reality of an economy that is behaving quite differently from the textbooks.
Of course, there is a rider here. The Indian government has been able to do this Houdini trick because it also owns 70% of the domestic banking sector. Government borrowing is, therefore, secured by a compliant banking sector. Despite that comfort, the cost of the high deficit has hit these banks hard in 2009-10. As the growth story progresses into the next decade, these collateral damages could mount.
On an immediate note, the change in outlook has a happy consequence. The changes in ratings or outlook essentially guide the debt market by altering the rates for loans raised by the entities involvedeither the governments or the companies.
But India has not borrowed from the global markets for more than half a century. The closest it came were the three bank-led deposit drives from NRIs in the nineties and early 2000s.
That story might change soon. In Budget 2010-11, the finance ministry proposed to raise Rs 34,735 crore (gross) or $8 billion, from external agencies. This is no chicken feed. It is 25% more than the sum earmarked for the current year.
The change in outlook will take off a few basis points from the rate at which the government will contract the loans. Of course, a large percentage of the loans will come from the World Bank and some more from the ADB. The former, in any case, offers the loans at very low rates, so the government is in a very safe position. But at a time when the cost of servicing the interest on total loans is 36.4% of the total revenue receipts of the government, the shaving off in the rates will help in managing the deficit. So, while analysts may say the change in the ratings outlook for India just follows the market wisdom, there is enough scope in the upgrade for the government to cut its fiscal deficit.
BJP HAS NEW LOOK, BUT AGENDA?
Nitin Gadkari's announcement of the team of office-bearers that will assist him in his term as BJP president has been greeted with a somewhat uncharitable cynicism. From 'drab' to 'RSS handpicked', many negative descriptions have been used. The focus has been on which high-profile MP has been left outYashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha come to mindand which assistant of which former president has made it.
In all this, there is a bigger picture being missed. It has to be acknowledged that the BJP has limited talent available to it. A party in opposition, having been out of power for six years now and with a long and unclear road ahead, cannot be expected to be brimming with celebrities and brilliant lateral entrants. Rather, it has to make do with tried and tested folk, loyal soldiers, those who will stay with it through thick and thin.
That aside, some of the BJP's best men and women are in parliamentary positions or in government in the states. Given these restrictions, the BJP president had a small pool to draw from. If at the end of the day people are only muttering about one spokesperson here or a national secretary there, it does indicate there is little to complain about.
Conversely, is there much to celebrate? The team is young and for a party that lost the 2009 election because it was seen as a Dad's Army that is a long overdue transformation. The commitment of keeping a third of positions for women has been adhered to. In some cases, rigour and hard work from within the party system, and from outside the hothouse atmosphere of Delhi, have been rewarded. Take Nirmala Sitharaman, one of the new spokespersons. She has an academic background and submitted a thesis on the India-Europe textile trade within the GATT framework. She was part of the then Price Waterhouse research unit in London, working on transferring Western audit systems to post-Cold War Eastern Europe. In the 1990s, she returned to Hyderabad with her economist husband to set up a public policy institute and gravitated towards the BJP.
There are strong technocratic abilities here. Kavita KhannaVinod Khanna's wife, a formidable businesswoman and lawyer in her own right and described by party insiders as 'unusually ambitious'too, is worth noting. She is an invitee to the BJP national executive. People with such a profile don't come into politics every day. It is for the party to make use of them.
On the flip side, the team probably has more television and movie stars than is strictly warranted. While serious politicians are part of the list, the public face of the women's contingent has unfortunately become the glamorous dilettante. To some extent, Gadkari can be accused of trying to please all factions and stakeholders, from the RSS to his immediate predecessors. This may have resulted in a few less-than-perfect selections but, frankly, nothing extraordinarily damaging.
Indian politics is obsessed with the 'who' question: After Nehru who? After Indira who? After Vajpayee-Advani who? The real test of the BJP lies in the 'what' question: After the Advani-era, what? The party that was shaped in the early 1990s was a protest movement against the social excesses and economic and foreign policy failures of the Congress. It also adroitly exploited a resurgent Hindu nationalism. That template is now obsolete. What lies ahead?
The leaders in ParliamentSushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha and Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabhaare clear the answer lies in a Centre-Right party, one that pushes the government on the defensive on governance issues, seeks to tap into anti-Congress or anti-incumbent sentiment and presents the BJP as a wholesome, reliable partner to various regional entities.
It is understood that Gadkari agrees with this broad idea. He sees the organisation as an adjunct to the legislative wing. The balance had gone awry in the 2004-09 period because the leadership in Parliament was virtually comatose and the party headquarters had become a hotbed of intrigue. Gadkari seems keen to avoid a replay. He would prefer a team of low-key office-bearers rather than self-seekers, purpose-oriented dissidents and political adventurists.
Yet, there are two caveats to be entered here. First, there is no unanimity within the party or even within the Sangh on the future course of the BJP. Not everybody is convinced that the law of diminishing returns now operates in terms of religious mobilisation; or that the BJP should recast itself in a manner that resembles the Swatantra Party more than the Ram Rajya Parishad, to consider two previous incarnations of the Indian right. Second, on its own even the 'centrist BJP' formula may not succeed. It will still have to wait for the Congress to make major mistakes. In short, it will require patiencea quality, as the BJP president is realising, not everybody in his party values.
The author is a political columnist
INTEREST IN EQUITY
After a spurt of redemptions from the equity schemes of mutual funds during August to December last year, investors are once again opting for these schemes. In February, the equity category saw inflows of Rs 1,514 crore added to Rs 980 crore in January. This is in sharp contrast to the Rs 2,185 crore investors pulled out of the schemes in December last year.
Typically, during the period January to March, inflows in equity schemes increase because of income tax rebates. But this time around investors are bullish on these schemes as the markets are seeing new highs and companies are expected to post stellar results in the quarter ending March. Equity schemes saw a huge outflow after Sebi put a ban on entry load last year. Investors had been doing profit booking on equity schemes before the Budget. But with positive cues emerging after the Budget and FIIs putting in around $2 billion in Indian stocks in the last three weeks, domestic investors, led by high net worth individuals, are once again getting bullish on equity schemes.
On the other hand, liquid funds, which saw the highest inflows until December last year, are now seeing outflows on fears of an increase in interest rates. In February, the scheme saw an outflow of Rs 516 crore and a whopping outflow of Rs 10,218 crore in January. Companies redeemed to pay advance tax while banks redeemed to meet the quarter-end balance sheet requirements on capital adequacy. Firms are no longer finding it profitable to park money in liquid-plus schemes, as it will be subject to mark-to-market from July 1.
Analysts say liquid-plus schemes will become volatile and will not show any consistency in increase or decrease of the net asset value. At present, only debt securities above 182 days of maturity are subject to mark-to-market norms, which assign current market value to these instruments. Income and liquid papers contribute to over 60% of the total assets under management of fund houses. Going ahead, equity schemes are expected to draw investors' interest, as most of the inflows in the last two months were not driven by new fund offers. It is a good sign and reflects investors' affinity for tried and tested funds.
BEHIND HEADLEY'S PLEA BARGAIN
Five years after he began the surveillance operation that finally guided a ten-man death squad through the streets of Mumbai in November, 2008, Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley has entered into a plea bargain with U.S. prosecutors. In India, the deal has provoked media outrage but careful study of the Plea Agreement (accessible under Resources at beta.thehindu.com) shows that claims that Headley has got off lightly are misplaced. Plea bargains in the United States work around a complex points system set up by the United States Sentencing Commission. In return for pleading guilty to all the 12 terrorism-related charges, and for meeting specified obligations for cooperation with investigators, prosecutors will recommend a reduction in sentence. In essence, Headley will avoid facing the death penalty and will not be extradited to India, Pakistan, or Denmark. However, the judge hearing the case is not bound by the sentencing recommendations and if they are rejected, Headley will not be able to withdraw his guilty plea. Nor, unlike an approver in an Indian criminal trial, will he be granted a pardon in return for giving state's evidence. Some commentators have speculated that the Plea Agreement means Headley was a secret U.S. agent. The truth is that the U.S. repeatedly passed on substantial intelligence to India of the looming threat to Mumbai in the months before 26/11. Had Headley been the source of those warnings, he would be in the process of receiving a medal not life in prison.
Just what has Headley who made a similar plea bargain earlier in his troubled life, in connection with a narcotics-trafficking prosecution promised in return for his life? Paragraph 12 of the Plea Agreement states that he will, when directed to do so by the U.S. Attorney's office, "fully and truthfully participate in any debriefings for the purpose of gathering intelligence or national security information." In addition, he will "fully and truthfully testify in foreign judicial proceedings held in the United States, videoconferencing or letters rogatory." This means he will have no choice but to testify in the ongoing trial of Mumbai attack suspects if called on to do so by Maharashtra prosecutors. He must also cooperate in any future criminal proceedings initiated by the National Investigations Agency on the Lashkar-e-Taiba's plot to attack the National Defence College in New Delhi. Further, Headley has agreed to "the postponement of his sentencing until after the conclusion of his cooperation." Paragraph 8 of the Plea Agreement reveals that he has already "provided substantial assistance to the criminal investigation, and also has provided information of significant intelligence value." This cooperation should strengthen the case against his co-accused, Tahawwur Rana, as well as key Lashkar operatives in Pakistan. Barring death-penalty enthusiasts, no one has any reason to bemoan the Plea Agreement. India's investigators and justice system must move quickly to capitalise on Headley's intelligence and testimony.
A SUPER REGULATOR NO ONE WANTS
In his Budget speech, the Finance Minister proposed the setting up an apex regulator for the financial sector, which would enable the government "to strengthen and institutionalise the mechanism for maintaining financial stability." The proposed Financial Stability and Development Council would monitor the macro-prudential regulation of the economy and address inter-regulatory coordination issues. The move to entrust it with the task of coordinating the activities of the existing regulators the RBI, SEBI, the IRDA, and the PFRDA has set off an intense debate. The existing oversight arrangement, of course, has not delivered. The High Level Coordination Committee (HLCC) on capital markets, supplemented by operational coordination among the regulators, has not been equal to the task. For instance, it has not been able to prevent turf wars between the IRDA and SEBI over the unit-linked insurance plans. The debt markets have stumbled between two regulatory jurisdictions, those of SEBI and the RBI.
For the new Council to accomplish what the HLCC has not been able to do, it might have to encroach on the autonomy of individual regulators. Such a prospect appeals to no one. Besides, there is every possibility that over the medium term the Council would become a unified regulatory authority for the financial sector. Bringing all regulatory functions under one roof has not worked well in countries where it was tried. The authorities need to clarify whether it is at all necessary to create a new body to monitor macro-prudential regulation and maintain financial stability when the RBI has been fulfilling nearly all those functions. Its role in insulating the domestic economy from the recent global crisis has been widely acclaimed. By setting up the new body, the government seeks to fix problems that do not exist in India. It must learn from the U.K., which tinkered with a long-established tradition and shifted the responsibility of prudential regulation from the Bank of England to a new authority, which proved grossly ineffective as the financial crisis unfolded. While attempts are already on to restore the status quo ante, it is clear that prudential regulation goes hand in hand with the central bank's role as a lender of last resort.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
GOING ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH
THE ISSUES RAISED BY THE NAGA NATIONALISTS ARE SO COMPLEX THAT THE TALKS BETWEEN THEM AND THE CENTRE END IN AN IMPASSE, ONLY TO BE RESUMED AT ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER VENUE.
One has lost count but the present round of talks between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland led by Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah (NSCN-IM) must be the 66th or 67th, not taking into account the informal contacts that began way back in 1967. Perhaps not even during the momentous negotiations for transfer of power that led to the emergence of India and Pakistan as two sovereign nation-states were so many rounds of talks held.
This is not surprising. The issues raised by the Naga nationalists, rooted in their conviction that the Naga people simply recovered their independence with the transfer of power in August 1947 and are now seeking only a de jure recognition of that de facto reality, are so complex that some of the earlier parleys too dating back to the days before India formally attained independence, from the Nine-Point Agreement of June 1947 to the Shillong Accord of November 1975 were equally prolonged. However, while the Centre seems to have become adept at stonewalling demands during these negotiations, the Naga nationalists who, above all, want a solution, are left floundering.
The Shillong Accord that was supposed to have brought peace to Nagaland marked the beginning of divisions within the Naga nationalist movement, reflecting the divide in Naga society. However, the emergence of the NSCN in January 1980 was no less divisive, leading eight years later to another split, this time in the NSCN, resulting in the formation of the faction that views itself as the legitimate standard-bearer of Naga nationalism. It is using the initials of its principal office-bearers to distinguish itself from the other faction, NSCN-K (for Khaplang) a tribute, indeed, to the factionalism of despised India's mainstream political culture. Nor has the emergence of professedly militant and uncompromising, and contending, Naga nationalist factions meant the total political demise of the Phizoist Naga Nationalist Council. The result is that though the NSCN-IM claims with some legitimacy and the media too, even more than the Government of India, project the organisation as the structure with which an agreement has to be sealed for a "lasting peace in Nagaland," there are several other actors who cannot be ignored.
First, there is the State government which, irrespective of its political persuasion, has always been in a symbiotic relationship with militant Naga nationalism of every complexion and persuasion. Then, there is the NSCN-K, with which too the GOI has a ceasefire agreement and is holding talks, though with less visibility. Of late, the NNC under the daughter of A.Z. Phizo has been demanding that it also be heard for a "lasting peace."
The similarities to the situation obtaining with the United Liberation Front of Asom in Assam are striking. Any prospective talks between the GOI and the ULFA will necessarily include, irrespective of the outfit's claims that it is the sole representative of Assamese nationalist aspirations, the real and constructed clones of the ULFA claiming the same legitimacy, as well as the State government.
Formally, there is a ceasefire agreement between the GOI and both NSCN factions. Negotiations for "a lasting peace in Nagaland" are also on with both factions, each of which claims it is the "sole representative" of the Naga nationalist aspirations. This fiction has given tremendous leeway to the GOI while tying the other side in knots.
This was evident in the prolonged talks held in New Delhi over several weeks in early 2005, when Mr. Muivah gave vent to both his hopes and frustrations over the seemingly never ending negotiations in his April 2005 interview on the Hard Talk programme of the BBC. Indeed, even before that interview, he seemed quite reconciled to and even ready for the collapse of the peace process ready to "walk away." Addressing the Naga People's Consultative Conference (January 20-21, 2005) in 'Hebron,' headquarters of the Government of the People's Republic of Nagalim (GPRN) near Dimapur, Mr. Muivah said the NSCN-IM would never compromise on its "core demands:" Naga sovereignty and the integration of the Naga-inhabited areas at present outside Nagaland into one territorial unit. Bhangile bhangibo ("if the talks break down, so be it"), he said, using the expressive Assamese idiom to communicate to a predominantly Nagaland-based audience whose lingua franca is a form of Assamese.
National sovereignty and the territorial imperative: these are the cutting edges of Naga nationalism. They are also the very essence of Indian nationalism, the bottom line on which no political formation can even appear to compromise. There is the even more problematic issue of Manipuri nationalism with a political programme of attaining a sovereign Manipur. The political map of 'southern Nagalim' includes four districts of Manipur: Senapati, Ukhrul, Tamenglong and Chandel. It is true that Naga insurgency derived much support from these areas in its early years. However, such is not the case now. Half-a-century down the line, the very Naga character of a once totally homogenous Ukhrul district has changed. The demographic changes in other areas claimed for 'Southern Nagalim' are even more far-reaching. They are also, like all demographic changes, irreversible. This probably explains the efforts of the NSCN-IM to mobilise public opinion in Ukhrul and Senapati districts in its support.
Even a trade-off between territoriality and sovereignty as a special case applicable only to the Naga nationalist struggle, retaining the substance of one and a compromise on the other, is not possible. The maximum concession the GOI is prepared to make is an unspecified assurance of "greater autonomy." Both sides know this. And yet every round of talks so far has ended in a stalemate or impasse or deadlock, only to be resumed at another time, perhaps in another venue.
The fact is that despite its frustrations and threats of "walking away," the NSCN-IM, no less than other Naga nationalist organisations, simply cannot afford to do so. Walking away would only mean walking away into oblivion. While the structures of the state and the government represented by 'India' may be corrupt, a mixed bag as in every other component of the Indian state, the people of the State have had uninterrupted peace. The dramatic changes that began in the 1990s and their seamy underbelly, which are now a feature not merely of urban India but also evident in small towns and villages, have not bypassed the Naga-inhabited areas. Nagaland and the Nagas may be terra incognita and persona incognita to much of the rest of India; but the Naga people have discovered India in massive numbers.
The NSCN-IM, too, has made many gains. It runs what amounts to a parallel government in the State, collects taxes, and sometimes dispenses justice as it sees fit. When in February last year, a popular non-Naga official working in Ukhrul was killed apparently by persons linked to the NSCN-IM, the arrest of one of the suspects was 'facilitated' by the NSCN-IM. Ukhrul at the height of the Naga insurgency was virtually dead by dusk; now shops, some of them owned and run by non-Nagas, are open late into the night. This correspondent was recently able to send an e-mail and speak to a friend in Johannesburg well past 10 p.m. from a cybercafé in Ukhrul. Life in Dimapur in Nagaland, only city where the Inner Line regulations apply and has consequently become an "open city," is now more orderly, secure. These are not small gains.
The other side of peace is the spread and consolidation of the presence of the armed forces. Two corps, 3 and 4, of the armed forces are now headquartered in the northeast in Tezpur and Dimapur. There is no need to press the point, or press the implications of such a massive presence of the armed forces for any attempt to resurrect insurgency. Unlike till late into the 1990s, the armed forces are now well equipped with the most sophisticated weapons. They are familiar with the region's social and political landscape, including those represented by the powerful and resourceful NGO sector. They are conversant with the theories and practice of insurgency and counter-insurgency as well as theories of development as a tactic to counter insurgency.
So, talk the two sides will, talk they must, though a satisfactory convergence of the stands taken by them is nowhere in sight.
THE BUCK MUST STOP AT THE VERY TOP
THE SIT'S INTEREST IN QUESTIONING NARENDRA MODI FOR THE GUJARAT RIOTS UNDERLINES THE REASON WHY THE NEW COMMUNAL VIOLENCE BILL MUST EMBRACE THE COMMAND RESPONSIBILITY DOCTRINE.
The Special Investigation Team's decision to summon Narendra Modi marks the first time any judicial or quasi-judicial body has seen fit to ask the Gujarat Chief Minister what exactly he was doing when murderous mobs took charge of his state in 2002.
From February 27 when the Sabarmati Express was attacked by a mob at Godhra to mid-March, by which time the worst of the targeted violence was over, more than 1,500 Muslims lost their lives across Gujarat. The Justice Nanavati Commission is probing the matter and criminal cases stemming from the violence are at various stages of completion. Despite these, there has, as yet, been no proper accounting for the mass killing and destruction of property. Disturbed by the lack of investigative and prosecutorial enthusiasm within Gujarat, as evidenced by speedy acquittals of the accused, the Supreme Court transferred two cases outside the State. It set up the SIT to help with the probe into a number of high profile incidents. It also put the State government on notice for its failure to punish the guilty, describing Mr. Modi and his colleagues as "modern day Neros" who chose to look the other way while Gujarat burned.
Any society built on the foundations of law would not require the widow of a victim to petition the highest court of the land in order to investigate the reasons behind the state's failure to protect the life of its citizens during those fateful days. The fact that the apex court's intervention was necessary is itself an indictment of the Chief Minister, under whose watch such large-scale death and destruction took place, and under whose leadership, eight years on, justice continues to be elusive.
The petition filed by Zakia Jaffrey and the Citizens for Justice and Peace asks questions that any honest investigator probing the violence would want to ask. At stake is not so much the individual guilt or innocence of Mr. Modi but the need to unearth and dismantle a system of rule which could allow so many innocent people to be massacred.
The petition, pursuant to which the SIT now wants to question Mr. Modi, began life in 2006 as a criminal complaint filed with the Director-General of Police in Ahmedabad by Ms Jaffrey and the CJP. They wanted a First Information Report to be registered against 62 individuals, including Mr. Modi, his ministers and senior police officials and bureaucrats for their role in the 2002 violence. With the police refusing to file an FIR a requirement under Indian law the petitioners approached the Gujarat High Court and then the Supreme Court, which last year asked the SIT to look into the matter.
The questions posed in the petition fall into two categories. One focuses on the administration's sins of omission, the other on its alleged acts of commission. Why were the bodies of the victims of Godhra train carnage, all but one of whom were Hindu, brought to Ahmedabad, for example, and why were they paraded in the street? Prima facie, that decision, which was cleared at the highest level, seems to have been designed to inflame communal passions. The petition asks whether senior police officials told the Chief Minister or higher officers in writing about the likely repercussions of parading the bodies. Why was no preventive action taken when a bandh call had already been given by VHP? Why was the Army not called out immediately and why was there a delay in its deployment when it finally reached Ahmedabad? By themselves, none of these questions implies the commission of a crime. But the answers they elicit would obviously provide clues for further investigation.
The petitioners also asked for an investigation into reports that the Chief Minister had held a meeting in Gandhinagar on February 27 evening with senior officers to review the situation arising out of the Godhra incident. A former police officer, R.B. Sreekumar, has alleged in an affidavit that instructions were given to the police at that meeting to allow "Hindus" to "vent their anger" against the state's Muslims. The petitioners also charged collusion between the Modi government and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad -- whose leadership and cadre spearheaded much of the violence against the Muslims and called for the telephone records of the Chief Minister and senior ministers and officials to be examined.
Some pointed questions
Besides asking the SIT to probe the existence of a conspiracy to unleash communal violence in Gujarat, the petitioners also sought answers to some pointed questions. Why, for example, was there was no response to the desperate calls for help made by Ehsan Jaffrey, the former Congress Member of Parliament and husband of Ms. Jaffrey, who was murdered at the Gulberg housing society in Ahmedabad by a mob along with 68 others on February 28, 2002?
Fearing attacks, many Muslims from the Chamanpura locality of the city had sought refuge in Ehsan Jaffrey's compound believing the police would adequately protect the former MP. As the mob outside grew more menacing, Jaffrey made phone calls to senior politicians and police officers asking for help. But to no avail. In the end, the mob broke in and slaughtered dozens of women, children and men, singling out the elderly Jaffrey for particularly brutal treatment.
One of those who went missing in the violence at the housing society that day was a 10-year-old Parsi boy named Azhar, later to become the subject of Parzania, a feature film on the riots. Last November, his mother, Rupa Mody, testified before a trial court in Ahmedabad that Jaffrey told her he had spoken to Narendra Modi too on the telephone about the threatening mobs outside his compound but the Chief Minister had refused to help.
The Indian Penal Code has powerful provisions dealing with conspiracy and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (which was in force at the time) also has sections which apply well to those responsible for the carnage. But at the heart of the 'riot system' lies the vicarious responsibility of the political leadership. Both in Gujarat and in Delhi in 1984, when more than 3,000 Sikhs were massacred, the leadership knew mass crimes were happening under its jurisdiction. It could have stopped those crimes promptly but chose not to. Some leaders may even have directly facilitated the commission of those crimes by instructing the police not to act.
As an investigative arm of the Supreme Court, the SIT must be allowed to establish the broad facts about what Mr. Modi did or did not do during the violence. If its investigators find a smoking gun linking him directly or indirectly to the violence or the wider conspiracy to commit violence, one could expect an FIR to be lodged. In the absence of such evidence, the SIT may nevertheless establish the chief minister's vicarious responsibility. If the SIT concludes, for example, that the Chief Minister failed to take timely action to stop the violence and failed to discipline or punish police officers who refused to protect the life and property of those under attack offences which arguably figure only as dereliction of duty in the IPC and which attract relatively light punishment -- the apex court would have the opportunity to pass judgment by bringing Indian legal practice in line with customary international norms.
Eight years after the Gujarat killings, it is surely time to ask how the Indian legal system could be strengthened so that future day Neros can be held strictly liable for their fiddling in the face of mass crimes. The proposed Communal Violence bill provides one such opportunity formally to embed the doctrine of command responsibility holding superiors guilty, under certain circumstances, for the acts of those under their command. It also provides an opportunity to strip away the impunity provided to police officers and senior officials, whose acts of omission and commission allow terrible offences to be committed against vulnerable sections of the population. Unfortunately, the draft bill currently lacks such provisions, which means that had it been statute in 2002, it would not have deterred the perpetrators of the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat. This is the basic test all justice-loving Indians must demand of the proposed new law.
KHUDA HAFIZ PAKISTAN
PEOPLE ON BOTH SIDES MUST TAKE CHARGE OF PEACE-MAKING.
The goodwill experienced in daily interactions with ordinary Pakistanis was overwhelming and more powerful than anything else
The political class on both sides has specialised in hyping the emotional in India-Pakistan relations over the rational
"There is a Pakistani in every Indian; and an Indian in every Pakistani," President Asif Ali Zardari famously said two years ago. Those words rang in my head with new resonance as I packed my bags and left Pakistan recently after a nearly four-year-long assignment as this newspaper's Islamabad-based correspondent.
It should have been easy to leave a country that is by word and deed hostile to India, and where the state machinery treats every Indian as a "RAW agent", spending considerable human and material resources on the surveillance of the only two Indian journalists from The Hindu and Press Trust India that are permitted to be based there.
Yet, saying goodbye to Pakistan was much more difficult than I imagined. Like other Indians who have experienced Pakistan first-hand, I gained a vast number of friends for life and multitudes of warm memories. Against this reality, it seems absurdly unbelievable that these two countries are not even talking properly to each other, that I cannot visit my Pakistani friends easily, that they cannot come and see me. Even texting, one of the easiest and cost-efficient ways of keeping in touch these days, is not possible or erratic, at best between India and Pakistan.
Walking across the Wagah border into India took me less than five minutes. But as I turned at the gates to wave to a Pakistani friend who had come to see me off, the distance between the two countries seemed huge and daunting.
At home, family and friends greeted me with relief, and asked me how I had managed to survive four years in "a country of terrorists." Despite the close geographical proximity of the two countries, and the reams written and spoken in India about Pakistan, there seemed little patience for or understanding of the complexities of, an important neighbouring country, the shades of political, social and religious opinion among Pakistanis on such issues as terrorism and extremism.
There is similarly much in the way Pakistanis react to India that can send even the mildest Indian's blood pressure rising. For instance, even well-educated Pakistanis continue to believe that the Mumbai attacks were staged by RAW to defame Pakistan with the ultimate aim of snatching its nuclear weapons or dismembering the country. Young and old alike will assert that India is behind the wave of terrorist attacks in Pakistan because "no Muslim will kill fellow Muslims", even though they have no explanation for why Shias routinely get killed by Sunni extremists.
I would have heated debates with Pakistanis who consider themselves modern, enlightened, liberal and secular but would suddenly go all Islamic and religious when it came to an issue such as Kashmir, seeming no different from their ultra-conservative compatriots who protest against the clamping down on Islamic militancy in Pakistan as harassment of "brother Muslims." They could tout jihad in Kashmir as legitimate even while condemning the Taliban who threaten their own modern, liberal lifestyle, despite the knowledge that the distinction between the two kinds of jihad, or the two categories of militants, is at best an illusion.
But at the end of the day, the goodwill I experienced in my daily interactions with ordinary Pakistanis, even during the most heated debates, was overwhelming and more powerful than anything else. Despite the heavy hand of the state in every sphere of life, I found people who were willing to set aside long internalised stereotypes and prejudices about Indians and Hindus to try and understand me and my point of view, and they accepted with good faith that I was trying to do the same. We may not have entirely convinced each other every time but we managed to build little bridges of our own and find our own modus vivendi.
If there is anything I learnt from those personal experiences in Pakistan, it is that these little bridges are the key to peace. And for this reason, peace-making cannot be left to rulers. It is the people on both sides that have to take charge of it. What the people have now is a unique and contradictory chemistry of love and hate, curiosity and suspicion, friendliness and antagonism, admiration and envy, not to speak of nostalgia and convenient memory lapses. Forget about which of these is natural and which deliberately created. What is required for a stable relationship is a rational middle-ground between these emotional extremes.
If we acknowledge that war or even just a simmering long-term enmity is not an option, that middle-ground would be easy to locate. There, on that middle-ground, we need not be the best of friends, but we need not be the worst of enemies either. We can just live as two civilised neighbours.
It is evident that the political leadership of both countries, which includes the military in Pakistan, cannot be entrusted with finding this middle-ground. The political class on both sides has specialised in hyping the emotional in India-Pakistan relations over the rational, finding it a useful instrument for domestic political gain. Blame communally driven politics on the Indian side, and in Pakistan, the tight grip of a military that needs to perpetuate its predominance in national affairs.
Narrow prism of state
Most of the celebrated India-Pakistan people-to-people contact since 2004, including the interaction between the media, film and fashion worlds of the two countries, has tended to be driven by the governments on both sides, or blessed, encouraged or sponsored by the two states in some way. With rare exceptions, such contact has mirrored the official point of view, providing no room for building genuine bridges. No wonder they fell apart so easily in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks to a point where goodwill seems almost irretrievable.
But even now, the first thing that Pakistanis and Indians ask each other is: "We eat the same food, speak the same language, we even look the same, so why can't we be friends?" The short answer to that is that we cannot be friends as long as we continue looking at each other through the narrow prism of our respective states. Pakistanis must locate the Indian within themselves, and Indians must discover their inner Pakistani. It would help understand each other better, and free us from state-manipulated attitudes. In our own interests, it is up to us, the people, to find ways to do this. For now, Khuda Hafiz Pakistan.
BANK FAILURE A MATTER FOR SHAREHOLDERS: IMF
The International Monetary Fund has called for a European "fire brigade" funded by the finance industry to deal with the collapse of banks that operate in several countries.
Managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn urged the European Union to create a European resolution authority to deal with insolvent banks that would force shareholders and uninsured creditors rather than taxpayers to bear the costs of failure. The authority would be funded by the financial industry from deposit insurance fees and levies on institutions, he said.
"What I think is needed is a European resolution authority, armed with the mandate and the tools to deal cost-effectively with failing cross-border banks an ante-solution to the problems that currently hamper cooperation in crisis situations, rather than an ex-post one," StraussKahn told a conference in Brussels on Friday..
"It should cover at least the major cross-border banking groups, as well as all banks running large-scale cross-border operations under the single passport." Such a body could prevent a repeat of the debacle seen after Fortis collapsed in 2008. The Benelux lender had to be bailed out by the governments of Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, at a total cost of 11.2bn. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
The decision by US citizen and suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Headley to plead guilty to the 12 charges against him in a US federal court hardly comes as a surprise to India the surprise was in his earlier plea of innocence. Headley is charged, among other things, of laying the groundwork for the Mumbai terror attacks of November, 2008, and for this he is of immense importance to India. It may be possible that he will now duck the death penalty by pleading guilty and, if intelligently processed, this may be of use to India. It is suspected that Headley was a double agent, hired by the US's Intelligence agencies. It is also unclear whether he was in fact "nabbed" by the US's Federal Bureau of Investigations or whether he surrendered. The world of terrorism and intelligence-gathering is murky and almost impenetrable in many ways and wasting our time on mere speculation is hardly going to help India's cause.
While all diplomatic channels to gain access to Headley must continue extradition is unlikely, as we do not have a treaty with the US we would do well not to concentrate our efforts solely on trying to get Headley's head.
The capture of Ajmal Kasab in Mumbai and the trial of Headley in the US give us a unique opportunity to study how a terrorist outfit works at close quarters. Terrorism, as we well know, cannot be fought only with CC TV cameras at railway stations and security checks at shopping malls. What is needed, apart from political and diplomatic interventions, is efficient and effective intelligence-gathering. In this, Headley can answer many questions: the ease with which he entered India several times, the manner in which he identified and reconnoitred targets, his social skills which made him several friends and the length and extent of the network which assisted him are all vital in our arsenal against fighting terrorism.
It is an unfortunate circumstance that our various police and intelligence agencies are all too often at loggerheads with each other and seemingly more intent upon winning points against one another, fulfilling personal agendas or pandering to political whims. The Mumbai attacks in 2008 exposed our weaknesses terrifyingly and accurately. If we are to combat such assaults again, we need to work urgently at our intelligence-gathering methods.
Obviously, this would also help in fighting all the other various internal insurgencies which we have to deal with.
Brute force and diplomacy both have their places here. But first it is imperative that we try to maximise the opportunity that the capturing of Headley has given us.
FISH OUT OF WATER
Everybody in the business knows that the Atlantic population of bluefin tuna is in worse trouble than the Pacific population, but how much worse? Well, here's one measure: Stanford University's Tag-a-Giant programme is now paying $1,000 per tag to fishermen in the Atlantic and Mediterranean who return the tags after they have caught the tuna, whereas fishermen in the Pacific only get $500 for a tag. Trust the market to tell you the truth.
Another measure of the bluefin's scarcity value is the fact that two months ago, the owners of two sushi restaurants in Japan and one in Hong Kong banded together to pay $175,000 for a 513-lb (233-kilo) bluefin tuna at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market. The primary market for bluefin tuna is sushi, and the demand is so great that the fish are disappearing fast in both oceans.
That's why the first order of business at the CITES conference that opens in Doha, Qatar on March 13 is a complete ban on the international trade in bluefin tuna. CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) is the only port of call, because no other international organisation can intervene in defence of a fish species. Whales have the International Whaling Commission, but for tuna, CITES is all there is.
So are the bluefin near the edge? Probably yes. When they tagged six hundred of them in the North Pacific, they got three hundred tags back: half the tuna that Tag-a-Giant caught were caught again by the commercial fishery. In the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, scientific data suggest that the species has dwindled by 60% in the past six years.
It would help a lot if the European Union were solidly behind a ban, for CITES needs a two-thirds majority of the 175 member states to put a species on the endangered list or take it off again. Most Atlantic bluefin tuna are caught in the Mediterranean, where they migrate to breed, but even within the EU there is no unanimous support for a ban.
France and Italy have recently come around to a total ban, but Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Malta still oppose it. Even France and Italy want to exempt the so-called 'artesanal' fishery, in which local boats from the Mediterranean countries would continue to fish for local consumption only.
In practice that would mean exactly the same boats as before, catching the same fish, but with a legal requirement not to sell any of their catch internationally. If you think that would work, when prime bluefin tuna is selling wholesale in Japan at $350 a pound ($770 a kilo), you are a very trusting person.
As for Japan, which consumes around 80% of the world's bluefin
tuna catch, it does not just oppose the ban. Its chief delegate to the CITES conference, Masanori Miyahara, says that it will "take a reservation" to any ban: that is, ignore it. Even if the eastern Atlantic tuna population is given some form of protection at the Doha meeting, it is unlikely to do more than slow its decline.
The bluefin tuna population of the western Atlantic (which spawns in the Caribbean) was over-fished in the 1970s and 1980s. The 'spawning stock biomass' fell to 15% of its former level before that population got protection and while its numbers then stabilised, despite the passage of several decades they have never recovered.
Good luck to CITES on the tuna issue and in the equally important but less 'iconic' business of stopping over-fishing of a number of shark species (mainly for their fins) whose populations have dropped by up to 90% already.
According to a 2006 report in the scientific journal Nature, 90% of the really big fish tuna, marlin, swordfish and the like are already gone. The middle-sized fish are following, and the solution does not lie in last-minute bans on fishing for the next species to reach the brink of extinction. These fish are all part of a food chain, and the whole ecosystem must be given a chance to recover.
Short-term pain for long-term gain. We are going to lose the principal source of protein for one-fifth of the human race in the next few decades unless drastic measures are taken. The world's fishing fleet needs to be reduced by at least two-thirds, bottom-trawling must be banned outright, and fishing moratoriums for large areas of the oceans need to be imposed for a decade or even longer.
Fish breed fast. Let them breed back up to their historic levels, and we could then sustainably take a catch that is three or four times greater than the current, unsustainable level. Or we can go on squabbling about the last few fish until they are all gone.
The writer is a UK-based journalist
PUBS, POETS AND NAOMI IN DUBLIN
It was my second visit to Dublin and there seemed a certain sense of familiarity as I hit the cobbled streets and felt the chilly late autumn breeze beating my cheeks while I meandered through Nassau Street, walking past Trinity College and stopping for some window shopping at Blarney Woollen Mills, known for its tweeds.
Watching the leprechaun mementos peeping out of gift shops and taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the crowd gathered at the numerous pubs dotting the Temple Bar area warmed my senses. Armed with my camera, I was sure to take lots of photographs to remind me of the vibrant city something I had been unable to capture in totality during my earlier visit due to a faulty camera.
So vivid were my earlier memories that a sense of deja vu filled my senses as I walked in along with a group of writers through the iron gates of the over 400-year-old prestigious Trinity College Dublin, way past its lawns, its groups of students, to enter the historic Trinity College Library. After all, it was here that I had had my first taste of a library where books dating back to several centuries were still kept in such a healthy condition.
Our first stop was the historic Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript which contains the four gospels of the New Testament in Latin handwritten on vellum (prepared calfskin). It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and the illustrations indeed make it Ireland's finest national treasure.
A flight of stairs led us to the Long Room, which houses over 2,00,000 of the college's oldest books neatly stacked in oak wood bookcases spread across columns and lovingly gazed upon by marble busts of writers, philosophers and famous Irishmen and also a 15th century harp.
Dublin, for the uninitiated, is the city of poets, pubs and the pint and at every bend you are likely to be greeted with the native sons like George Bernard Shaw, WB Yeats, James Joyce and Jonathan Swift posing either in the form of a statue or by way of a museum or a gallery in their name. Not to forget, the innumerable pubs dotting Temple Bar area which tell tales of the literary greats who spent many an evening there while penning their masterpieces. A literary pub crawl organised by private tours is the best way to get up, close and personal with the works of these literary masters over a pint of the famous Guinness beer.
Travel journalist Paul Theroux once wrote about the Irish: "I cannot remember any people so quickly hospitable or easier to meet."
And rightly so. The Irish love their pint and are happy to stop for one and spot for the craic, the uniquely Irish form of fun that lets them revel in hearty laughter, dancing and singing. I found it all one evening while attending an Irish House Party in the basement of the Lansdowne Hotel. Withlive music, tap dancing and an amazing four course Irish dinner in a homely setting, it was worth every penny, or Euro, so to say.
The Irish joie de vivre spirit resonates everywhere. I experienced it again when walking past the Ha'penny Bridge across the river Liffey, when John Byrne, our friendly Irish guide and a veritable encyclopaedia on the subject of Ireland, broke into a song 'In Dublin's fair city, where the girls are so pretty, I first set my eyes on Molly Malone crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh ' while he crossed the statue of the famous fishmonger Molly Malone on Grafton Street, whose existence is part of the Irish lore and whose song is the unofficial anthem in Ireland.
My second visit to Dublin took me to the hitherto unexplored parts of the city too. Be it the scenic Powerscourt Estate with its castle and landscaped gardens or to Glendalough, a medieval monastic settlement founded by St Kevin, my camera went clicking happily.
As if I hadn't had enough of memorable moments captured on camera already, supermodel Naomi Campbell made it the Kodak moment when she put her arms around me and posed happily for the shutterbug while walking the Temple Bar area one evening.
Dublin left me with memories, moments and a smile yet again.
ESCHEWING VENDETTA POLITICS
GOOD, BUT WATCH OUT AGAINST CORRUPT ESCAPEES
Such has been the lack of credibility of leaders across the political spectrum in the country that even a move like that in the Punjab assembly for withdrawing all cases against leaders registered out of "political vendetta" evokes scepticism and scorn. Punjab's record in political vendetta has indeed been far from reassuring with the Parkash Singh Badal regime slapping cases on the erstwhile Amarinder Singh dispensation indiscriminately just as the Amarinder regime had done with Badal earlier in an atmosphere vitiated by acrimony. In the circumstances, a sudden attitude of forgive and forget hardly evokes conviction and provokes one to think that there is more to it than meets the eye. One wonders whether it is a reflection of a tacit understanding by political leaders across the spectrum to let one another off the hook for mutual benefit.
Indeed, if such a move as triggered off by a letter from Deputy Speaker Satpal Gosain to Speaker Nirmal Singh Kahlon and supported in the House by several legislators leads to segregating and withdrawing cases of political vendetta there can be no quarrel with it. What is however something to watch out for is that under the garb of weeding out cases of political vendetta, cases of corruption and criminal misconduct are not dropped. Congress Legislature Party leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal has already smelt a rat and justifiably called for ensuring that cases in which there is substantial evidence of corruption do not fall in the category of 'vendetta' cases.
There is little clarity whether the House resolution on the subject that Deputy Speaker Gosain advocated would find enough takers to be passed. But even if it does not pass muster it is important that the ongoing cases against political bigwigs which are not out of vendetta do not fall by the wayside as has invariably been happening because of witnesses against them not coming forward or turning hostile. There is an overwhelming feeling among people that politicians of all hues ensure through use of undue influence or through arm-twisting that they are not brought to book. The move to drop cases stemming from vindictiveness must go hand in hand with ensuring that no politician is above the law of the land regardless of his position and clout.
PROBLEMS OF PLENTY
ENOUGH WHEAT STOCKS, STILL PRICES HIGH
The Centre's food management is truly chaotic. There is high food inflation (16.3 per cent) despite a glut of wheat. The current stock of 20 million tonnes is five times the buffer requirement. Some 10 million tonnes of wheat stored in the open may rot unless lifted early to make space for the new bumper produce. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has ruled out wheat exports. Some experts from Punjab Agriculture University advocate exports so that prices do not fall, hurting farmers. Exports, if done, would cause a huge loss. The current wheat price in Chicago translates to Rs 825 per quintal. Once India decides to export, prices would plunge.
Pawar's decision to ban exports has been prompted perhaps by the National Food Security Bill under which the government is to issue 25 kg of wheat/rice at Rs 3 a kg to the families below the poverty line. He is raising wheat allocations to those above the poverty line through the public distribution system. How PDS food items are sold at profit is well known. The annual Central food subsidy bill comes to Rs 47,000 crore. The FCI has been steadily releasing wheat to the registered mills at below-market rates to cool prices. The current rate is Rs 1,240 a quintal. This has resulted in huge profits to the mills as the retail rate of wheat flour has not come down as expected.
Instead of getting FCI stocks cleared throughout the year Punjab and Haryana put pressure on the Centre when the new crop is due. If the Centre now auctions wheat in bulk, wheat prices would plummet, leaving growers in depair again. Traders and millers gain while growers and consumers suffer because of Central mismanagement. The Centre has neither built any additional storage capacity nor encouraged the private sector to chip in. More silos are needed to safely store foodgrains. Mechanical grain handling can cut costs. Food security would remain a dream unless issues like wastage, procurement, storage and pricing are handled competently.
THE HEADLEY WORRY
CONFIRMING INDIA'S WORST FEARS
Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Toiba operative David Coleman Headley, accused of plotting the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and conspiring to target a Danish newspaper, has dodged death sentence by pleading guilty before a US court in Chicago. By changing his plea, he has not only evidently escaped the gallows, but has also obtained an assurance from the US that he would not be extradited to India or Pakistan. That strengthens the suspicion that he was a double agent on the rolls of the US who turned rogue after being brainwashed by the jihadis he was asked to infiltrate. The 49-year-old Headley was earlier arrested in 1998 for conspiring to smuggle heroin into the US from Pakistan. But he cooperated and got away with only a two-year jail term and was sent to conduct surveillance operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Pakistan and allegedly came in contact with LeT operatives there.
But he may not be able to get away that lightly this time, considering that he has admitted guilty on all 12 counts on which he was charged. These include all six counts of conspiracy involving bombing public places in India, murdering and maiming persons in India and providing material support to foreign terrorist plots and the LeT. Equally significant is the fact that he has admitted that he aided and abetted the murder of US citizens in India. He may now spend his entire life behind bars.
US law forbids access to convicts without their consent. That means that the India security agencies may not be able to grill him. But his admission of guilt confirms all that India had been saying about Pakistan's involvement in the dastardly act. He attended training camps in Pakistan operated by Lashkar on five separate occasions between 2002 and 2005 and later travelled to India five times to conduct surveillance. The least the US can do is to unravel the plot completely and destroy its roots which go deeply into Pakistan.
CHINA'S DOLLAR TRAP
WHY BEIJING NEEDS UNCLE SAM
BY ZORAWAR DAULET SINGH
The international system, we were told shortly after the 2008 blowback on Wall Street, had entered a "new era". The Eastern hemisphere would henceforth dictate the terms of high politics and geoeconomics. Asia's rise was now all but inevitable.
While this belief has resonated widely in the international policy community, it was the Chinese leadership that might have taken their great power status a little too seriously. On the other side of the equation, it appears that the US strategic community overstated their relative decline a result of the geopolitical woes emanating from its Eurasian military interventions and the financial crisis' adverse impact on the real economy and government finances.
The Chinese diplomatic shrill that came to the fore with the January announcement of US arms sales to Taiwan represents a return to an equilibrium in US-China relations, one based on the actual distribution of power among the two protagonists.
Beijing's strident rhetoric in its recent diplomacy is a sign of both exuberance and frustration. To discern the present lack of tranquility in US-China relations, it is worth revisiting the post-crisis phase and Obama's initial impulse to exaggerate the China factor.
China's post-crisis massive fiscal expansion and its apparent success combined with a declining confidence in the Anglo-Saxon financial system created an impression among Beijing's rulers that their improvised model of capitalist development, which had cultivated powerful state-owned enterprises, had been vindicated by the financial crisis. Such triumphalism was palpable in Chinese commentary in the months following the crisis.
This optimism, however, soon gave way to a rising concern over China's dependence on the dollar, which in turn was linked to China's structural dependence on Western consumer markets to sustain its high growth rates. Nothing captured this anxiety more than the laughter the US Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, invited from his Chinese audience last summer when he declared that "Chinese assets are very safe".
By mid-2009, the consensus among Chinese economists was that China's dollar holdings posed great risks to its future economy. Yet, China grudgingly recognised that not only did its dollar holding provide it with little actionable leverage in a world with a single reserve currency but that the post-crisis US response to revive its economic system via unrestrained fiscal and monetary expansion was tantamount to shifting a major portion of the financial risks of US debt to creditor economies.
Paul Krugman bluntly remarked last April that "China had driven itself into a dollar trap, and that it can neither get itself out nor change the policies that put it in that trap in the first place." Against this backdrop of a Chinese confidence in its fiscal economic strength that had staved off an immediate collapse of the Chinese economy but also a deeper fear of the vulnerability of its asymmetric interdependence with Western economies suggests that the Chinese political economy was itself in a state of flux.
During this time of Chinese introspection, the new American President was signaling a vision for a wider canvas in US' China strategy.
The Obama Administration unable to accurately gauge the evolving geopolitical and geoeconomic situation and overeager to expunge the unilateralist legacy of the Bush years might have inadvertently given a cue to China to assume a more bold posture. On several occasions, Obama's foreign policy team went on to extol the virtues of a broad cooperative arrangement with Beijing.
The expansion of the Strategic Economic Dialogue established in 2006 to a Strategic and Economic Dialogue (announced in April 2009) signaled an intention to extend the geoeconomic division of division of labour between Washington and Beijing to the geopolitical realm. The November 2009 Obama-Hu joint statement was an expression of the Obama global vision vis-à-vis China.
A fundamental weakness of the G-2 image, aside from the comprehensive national power asymmetry between the two potential collaborators was the fatuous presumption that the national interests of America and China were convergent enough to seriously consider seamless geopolitical cooperation on diverse issues such as North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, energy security, climate change, non-proliferation, and reforms of the international financial system.
And since the terms of resolution to most of these strategic questions were largely being conceived in Washington, the G-2 in retrospect was probably a euphemism to extract Chinese concessions.
The Obama Administration can be faulted with either trying to be too clever or too naïve; the Chinese for misperceiving that a global power-sharing arrangement with Washington was actually possible. Nonetheless, upon being presented with a sustained narrative throughout 2009 that glorified a US-China concert system while papering over deeper contradictions, Beijing felt emboldened enough to actually believe it had arrived as a world player.
With Washington now better aware of contemporary geopolitical pluralism, but still incipient multipolarity, other actors including China can hope to receive more coherent policy communications from the Obama Administration.
China is still some years away from attaining great power capabilities. As international feedback mechanisms enlighten Beijing's leadership of this empirical reality, Chinese foreign policy would probably revert back to its gradualist mantra of "peaceful development", which has been underpinned by making a virtue out of the necessity of avoiding a geopolitical collision with the United States.
While it may be tempting to overanalyse the recent thaw in US-China interactions, none of the recent diplomatic rhetoric implies that the complexities of US-China interdependence has now turned on itself or changed the fundamental compact between the two whereby the Chinese would maintain a status-quo like rise within a US-constructed economic and security system and in lieu would receive internal (single party rule for the Chinese Communist Party) and international legitimacy on the world stage and respect for core Chinese interests.
While the future course of the geoeconomic portion of this arrangement that manifested in a vast trading system between East Asia (with China as the export conduit) and the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) world has been questioned or at least temporarily affected by the crisis and attendant severity of western household debt, the broader geopolitical arrangement remains intact. And the costs of "decoupling" from this arrangement will be enormous for China and its leadership.
Meanwhile, US monthly exports to China reached an all-time peak of $7.3 billion in November 2009 only to be surpassed a month later by exports of $9.5 billion!n
The writer is Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Alternatives, New Delhi
ENCOUNTER WITH A GOOSE
BY SARVJIT SINGH
Today being a Saturday, with a holiday at hand and one more to follow, I can afford to get out of bed when the sun is up. Cutting through the slant of mesmerising morning sun, suddenly a goose flutters down on the shiny dark wood floor of the room! A pristine white Bio flying machine with glossy black eyes and aesthetics unseen in three dimensions! The encounter has set blood racing in my veins! It can't be real! So I decide not to pinch myself and spoil the experience.
In a jiffy I collect myself and put in queue the questions jostling and elbowing each other for the breath of answers. Hey beautiful being! Where you come from and where you go? "Born of the Arctic where the magnetic pull peaks, I head to the Antarctic, guided by forces unseen!" it quipped.
Miracle! It speaks! And how come your symmetry's so precise and beauty so perfect? "I was a man in the life bygone in which an encounter with a Master shook me out of trance when I saw myself tethered to a house, to relations and to objects. Suddenly I was infused with strength to unshackle myself. I, then shed the mass that had just fed the Ego through 'form'. A day came, I dropped 'the mind within mind' that had warped vision with its waviness. In the dead of one night then, God of death appeared in my dream and I saw from close, it was 'Creator' itself in disguise. And with a shudder, I woke up in this new avatar. You see 'Surrender brings Perfection', it is written somewhere."
That sounds magical! And you can fly half the globe before the first halt, I read somewhere? "That's true! Perfection and tirelessness go hand in hand. Tiredness is an outcome of an unnecessary struggle. I ascend with the winds and dive 'n' recharge in stillness. There is bliss in the power of winds and the slight twist of a wing. When in harmony, you realise there is no difference between without and within. My lightness is my richness that lets me soar and swirl."
Don't you feel concerned at times if you won't get fish tomorrow? "I thought you would have deduced, worry about future is a weight I cannot fly with. It is a blessing that I was born without. As you surrender to life, fear of death recedes."
But don't you miss a dwelling? "Beauty of creation is so vast and dynamic that I can't think of wasting life in addiction of a place. Powered by the gushing winds and my art, I fly in ecstasy. Circling the globe over land and sea, I fly a few million miles in the 50 years granted to me. Bliss is being one with the ever-changing vistas above and beneath."
"And I have to leave now or else I'll burn my reserves flapping up to my flock. You know answers to questions that arise in one's mind are hidden in a layer just beneath."
Why then you dived down all the way to my house O Being of the High Skies? "Because you had a desire to see me!" it levitated a bit and said, before taking off swiftly, white light bouncing off its wings.
END OF A DREAM
FOR PUNJABI YOUTH LONDON IS NO EL DORADO
BY RAVI DHALIWAL
Hundreds of Punjabi students in the suburbs of Southall want to return home but have no money to pay for their one way tickets from London to Delhi or Amritsar.
Didar Singh Randhawa, President of the Management Committee which controls two of the main Gurdwaras in London- Singh Sabha (Park Avenue) and Havelock Road Gurdwara, is clearly worried over the trend.
"We are doing our best to help these students who, in the first place, made their way here after being misguided by agents in Punjab. Just recently, half a dozen girls, who paid anything between Rs 6 to 8 lacs to agents, landed up in the Gurdwara and requested us to provide boarding and lodging for them since they had no other place to go. We told them that they could live in the garage which is adjacent to the Gurdwara parking lot. At the same time, we have also told them to scout for jobs or be ready to leave the Gurdwara. After all how many students can we host ?" he told this correspondent.
Singh Sabha Gurdwara is also running a helpline-Sikh Awareness Society (SAS) in collaboration with other Sikh organisations in an attempt to ensure that "Our Sikh sisters coming on student visas are not exploited by agents here in UK." There are several other Sikh social organisations operating in London which are going out of their way to help students get jobs or pay for their air fare back to Punjab.
Says Labour party's Ealing Southall Member of Parliament (MP) Virendra
Sharma,"The problem is being compounded with every passing day, every moment, and nobody knows how to convince parents of these kids back in Punjab not to send their wards for so called 'higher studies in UK.' Students coming in the late fifties and early sixties were students in the real sense of the term. They would come to UK, study and leave for India once their education was completed. However, now everyone who comes on a student visa wants employment the moment he or she lands at the Heathrow airport," rued Sharma.
In Punjab, agents tell starry eyed youngsters that London is their El Dorado. That once they get a decent degree from a decent UK University, they can laugh their way to the bank! Subsequently, falling into their trap, parents either mortgage their small land holdings or borrow money at exorbitant rates of interest from private money lenders to send their wards to UK for what IELTS coaching 'institutes' and agents refer to as "quality job oriented education."
However, once in UK, their dreams are shattered to smithereens. Spiralling costs in the aftermath of a long drawn out recession means that there are no jobs for these youngsters. Once they land in London these students totally forget about studies and become desperate to get a job. The reason is simple- in order to survive and pay their college and university fees and room rent on time , they have to find employment- which is not there. Homesickness quickly sets in and it is not uncommon to find cash strapped students shelling out anything between 5 to 10 pounds every day for the pleasure of talking to their folks back home in order to overcome their loneliness.
Employment opportunities for youngsters arriving on student visas are scarce. UK rules state that a student can work for just 20 hours a week , which in any case is totally insufficient for a student to pay for his or her room rent, food, fees and other sundry expenditure. A majority of the youngsters, having a middle class background, can not risk asking their kin back home to send more money because their parents have already accumulated enough debt in their misguided attempt to send their wards to UK for studying. Then begins the vicious cycle where students play hide and seek with UK Border Agency- UK's immigration police- if they have to work for more than 20 hours so that some of their needs, if not all, are fulfilled.
In order to ease the pressure of paying room rent, which is anything between 40 Pounds to 60 Pounds per week in Southall, Hayes, Hounslow and Slough areas-all dominated by Punjabi students-these youngsters start living 3 or 4 to a room. Here girls mix up with boys-after all it is an alien land and there are no prying eyes to watch!
Earlier students were lucky enough to find work at top of the line Departmental stores like Tesco, Marks and Spencers, Debenhams, Westfield shopping centre (at Shepherd's Bush) and Primarks or at the Heathrow airport-where the newly built Terminal -5 was a hit with students from Punjab. However recession has meant that jobs at these stores have dried up in double quick time. To top it, job placement agencies at the Heathrow airport have stopped providing jobs to students.
The UK Border Britain's immigration agency has pasted posters in all Gurdwaras of London which ominously say "You came with dignity. Now you are staying here illegally. It is better you go back with dignity."
TIGHTEN YOUR BELT, HARYANA
BY V.N. ATTRI
Since the 1990s Haryana's growth rate and per capita income have risen steadily. Even during the recent financial crisis, which severely affected economic activity at the national and state level, the performance of Haryana has been spectacular. Its average growth has been in double digit in recent times.
During 2009 the state economy witnessed a very healthy growth of 18.4 percent in the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) over the pervious year at the current prices. During the current year the per capita income is likely to grow further by 13 percent to Rs. 77,878 at the current prices.
The structure of the Haryana economy has undergone a significant change over the years. In Haryana's state domestic product the share of the primary sector has declined vis-a-vis the shares of the secondary and tertiary sectors. At present, the share of the primary sector in the state domestic product is 19.8 percent, whereas the shares of the secondary and tertiary sectors are 28.8 and 51.4 percent at constant prices respectively.
In economic literature economic development is defined as "change of attitude" the economic actor or agent should possess the attribute(s) of flexibility and adaptability so necessary for the growth the economy. In Haryana the people, the government and the bureaucracy seem to have undergone such a required change in their psyche. The unprecedented growth in Haryana is the outcome of a "participatory approach" through which farmers, industrialists, businessmen and policymakers in the state have contributed to the process of economic growth in the state.
In a recently published book entitled "Financial Structure, Economic Growth and Stability: Policy Challenges of 21st Century", The author tries to establish the fact that a sound financial structure is a pre-condition for the stability and sustainability of the growth process. This involves bold policy initiatives to meet the growing challenges of fiscal management of the 21st Century.
It is worth mentioning here that Haryana happens to be one of the best states in the country in the field of fiscal management. The state has not availed overdraft for a single day in the recent times, as indicated in the Economic Survey, 2009-2010 published by the Haryana Government.
The performance of Haryana in the area of revenue growth, expenditure restraint and reduction of revenue and fiscal deficits has been good. The 12th Finance Commission of India has commended the performance of Haryana in maintaining the finances. The fiscal deficit as the percentage of the Gross State Domestic Product has been varying between 3 percent and 4 percent since 2001; though it also became negative during 2006-2007.
The revenue deficit, however, increased in 2009, which was earlier negative during the pervious three financial years. The restriction of deficit indicators to the manageable level(s) indicates that Haryana's finances are in the position of meeting future challenges of sound fiscal management as a small and manageable deficit is the key to higher and sustainable development.
An analytical study of the data related to fiscal management of the state reveals that on revenue account, inclusive of revenue receipts and revenue expenditure, the performance of the state has been good. The interest payment-revenue ratio has been rising but is still within manageable limit of 15 percent in the current budget.
The deficit in the current budget is the consequence of a rise in the salaries of the employees of the state due the full implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission report by the state, which has put a burden of over Rs 4,000 cores during the current year.
Despite this strain, the government has not shied way from its responsibilities, and has actually increased the outlay of the annual plan for 2009-2010 from the budgeted figure of Rs. 10,000 crore to Rs. 10,400 crore in the revised estimates, which is 46.31 percent higher than the actual plan expenditure 2008-2009.
This reflects the deep commitment of the government to fight the economic recession with all measures at its disposal and maintain the pace of development in the state. However, after 2007-2008 there has been a deterioration in the financial position of Haryana, as a consequence of which the current budget of the state turned into a deficit budget.
In the last, it can be concluded that the state has been managing the finances prudently and judicially, but it has to adopt a conscious approach to fight out the impact of the financial crisis to the state in terms of a fall in revenue and non-revenue receipts. The challenges of the 21st century fiscal management can be met by creating a pool of skilled and innovated human capital in the state.
The writer is a Professor of Economics at Kurukshetra University
SHAHBAZ SHARIF IN THE SOUP
BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
Pakistani Punjab's Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, respected for his administrative ability, is in the dock these days. But he himself is to blame for his predicament. Last Sunday, while speaking at a function in Lahore, he asked the Taliban "not to target Punjab as his government would not take dictation from outsiders (Americans)", according to The News (March 15). This strange comment from the head of a provincial government led to an interesting debate in Pakistan with the PML (N)'s second top leader being at the receiving end.
In a scathing comment, Dawn chastised him by saying, "Essentially, Mr Sharif has argued that his party, the PML(N), shares a common cause with the Taliban that of opposing Gen Musharraf and his policies and rejecting 'dictation' from abroad and, therefore, the Taliban should spare Punjab. The very thought that any mainstream politician, let alone as high-profile and powerful as the serving Punjab Chief Minister, could find anything in common with the Taliban ideology is despicable."
The Frontier Post, a Left-leaning daily, remarked that "not even the profoundest sophistry or hundreds of explanations can help gloss over its terrible undertone that while the Taliban must spare Punjab, they may unleash their wickedness on the country's other parts."
Even a conservative paper like The Nation pointed out that "his suggestion that the Taliban should spare Punjab since both they and the PML (N) are against the US dictation, tooth and nail, has a parochial tenor."
Real strength of militants
In the opinion of a well-known Dawn columnist, I. A. Rehman, "Mr Shahbaz Sharif may not have meant what he was quoted as saying, but it is impossible to deny the existence of groups and individuals who are soft on terrorists because of an imagined sharing of anti-American sentiment .
"The militants' real strength does not lie in their arms or their suicide bombers; it lies in the pockets of support for them in Pakistan society. While most people condemn the loss of lives in terrorist attacks, they do not display the urge to join the struggle against the culprits."
That is why in an article in Daily Times (March 17) Nizamuddin Nizamani says, "Mere use of force is not enough to counter the menace of terrorism; instead, an integrated approach could have been adopted, which should include discouraging the fanatic schools of thought ."
The Musharraf factor
Former President Gen Pervez Musharraf, accused of having caused most of the problems Pakistan is faced with today, including that of suicide bombings, has been in the news for some time for planning to re-enter politics.
The latest on the subject, according to The Nation, is that the former military dictator is believed to be trying to get a new party All-Pakistan Muslim League (APML) registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan with the help of his loyalists.
Barrister Saif, who has submitted the application for the registration of the APML, is the legal adviser and spokesman of General Musharraf. The Nation quoted Maj-Gen Rashid Qureshi (retd), close to the former President, as saying that "General Musharraf has not yet decided to join the party and is waiting for the right time to join Pakistani politics. There are 1,55,000 members of the Pasdaran-e-Pakistan and 1,50,000 lovers (of the former President) on Facebook."
The Pasdaran-e-Pakistan is a movement launched by Musharraf loyalists.
Before General Musharaf begins to play his role afresh, one of his former ministers and a well-known economist, Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, has been appointed Financial Adviser by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. He will look after the Finance Ministry.
Intriguingly, the PPP-led government, "which does not tire of blaming the Musharraf government for all the difficulties it is facing today on the economic front", has chosen a person from among his team "whose track record does not inspire much confidence", as Daily Times (March 19) commented.
REDEVELOPMENT SANS BUILDERS
HOUSING SOCIETIES COULD EASILY DO AWAY WITH THE MIDDLEMAN WHO TAKES AWAY THE CREAM OF THE PROFIT
Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) is a body which is actually older than the state of Maharashtra. In its original form it was a Housing Board, and subsequently in 1977 it became an apex body (or authority) under which there are now seven different housing boards across the state, and two additional housing boards which deal with building repairs and slum improvement.
Basically MHADA's mandate is to create affordable housing. In the older days it used the acronyms of LIG, MIG and HIG to distinguish between low, middle and high income groups. The flat allotment is done by a lottery. Last year it sold 3,863 flats in Mumbai for which more than 4.5 lakh people applied. This year it plans to sell another 3,449 flats for which expect similar stampede. The lottery is designed and conducted by computer experts and is supposedly impossible to manipulate, like online railway booking.
Over the years many people have benefited from MHADA houses, and have resold their flats for a hefty profit. You have a compulsory holding period, after which transfer is possible. One erstwhile MHADA housing society in Worli seems to be one of the biggest winner from MHADA's grace. This is a society which recently concluded a deal with a builder, under which the builder will pay the society Rs 101 crore for the privilege of redeveloping the society. That large sum will be mostly distributed to the society members, who will also get a brand new flat in the newly-constructed buildings and towers. This is an area within five hundred metres of the seashore, which means there are restrictions on development due to coastal regulations (called CRZ). But then so is 38 per cent of Mumbai.
Does that mean no redevelopment can happen in 38 per cent of the city? The Environment Minister has said that he does not mind exempting low-cost housing from CRZ regulations. Of course with 101 crore as simply the premium, it does not sound like affordable housing. If anyone needed an example of how to monetise an illiquid asset like an old flat, this is the most illustrious example.
There are probably more than one lakh housing societies around Mumbai, not all MHADA progenies. Many are in a state of utter disrepair. But they represent property which can generate immense wealth for their holders.
The usual way to unlock wealth from a decrepit building is to approach a builder and ask him to make an offer to redevelop the property. Due to increased FSI, and possible exemptions from CRZ the builder is able to provide a spanking new flat to incumbents, some additional cash (maybe not Rs 101 crores!), and yet have spare flats to sell in the open market, to make himself a handsome profit.
While doing so, he is simply acting on behalf of the existing society, which is undergoing redevelopment. The rights to the property continue to be with the society and its members.
So here's the rub. Why do you need the builder? Why can't society members come together, hire a contractor, and an architect, and do the redevelopment themselves? In doing so, they can not only award themselves brand new flats and extra cash, but can also collect all the handsome profit from selling new flats to new society members (due to surplus FSI). So, all the cream that would have gone to the builder can go to the society instead.
The funds required for construction and paying the contractor can easily be raised from a bank against collateral. Heck, why aren't societies doing this rampantly? The answer dear reader, is that getting a democratic decision from a housing society is more difficult than even India's Parliament. Even a dozen members can lead to half a dozen factions. Neighbourly rage can be deadly and tragic, as we just saw this week. So builders rule, and cooperative societies continue to be uncooperative.
THE POST-LEHMAN WORLD
THIS IS NOT A MOMENT FOR INDIANS TO CROW ABOUT THEIR EXPECTED ARRIVAL ON THE WORLD STAGE, BECAUSE SUCCESS BRINGS WITH IT RESPONSIBILITY
When is a new generation born? The cheeky answer is, around 10 pm. To a similar question (when was the new world order born?), the answer would be: September 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed. It has been customary in the year-and-a-half since then to talk of the global financial crisis. In truth, it was no such thing, because the crisis engulfed only a couple of dozen countries around the North Atlantic. Countries elsewhere were affected too, but not in the same way and the speed with which China and India have regained their footing underlines the point. In comparison, many of the advanced industrial countries look forward to two decades of slow growth at best, and relative stagnation at worst. The "re-balancing" of the world economy has well and truly begun.
It will take the rich countries all the way to 2030 before they get back to the pre-crisis fiscal situation, according to a paper presented at a seminar last month in Seoul, organised by the International Monetary Fund and the Korean Development Institute. During this period, pressures to expand government spending will grow, as countries with ageing populations struggle with mounting health care and pension bills. And yet, budgets will have to be squeezed to deliver a surplus, so that the surge in debt-GDP ratios (a result of the stimulus packages of the last 18 months) can be rolled back. That could mean higher taxes, but how do you collect more taxes when the revenue base gets chipped away, as a consequence of the very re-balancing of the global economy? Bear in mind that the Brics scenario spelt out by Goldman Sachs in 2003 has already come to pass; in fact, Goldman has been compelled to repeatedly update its forecasts of the global shift of economic power as India and China have continuously done better than the original Brics report had predicted. This shift in the economic balance has now got accentuated in the post-Lehman world.
Martin Wolf, of the Financial Times, refers to India and China as "premature superpowers", countries that have low living standards but huge economies. Premature or not, he suggests that Britain should give up its permanent seat in the Security Council to India. That is not about to happen, but Wen Jiabao's defence of the indefensible, namely China's currency policy, underlines the ineffectiveness of American pressure on the rising power, even as an article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs debates how to deal with a post-nuclear Iran (thus looking forward to the US failure to prevent such a denouement). Even more abject is America's apparent willingness to let Pakistan and the Taliban take over Afghanistan, after having fought a war for over eight years to prevent just such an outcome.
This is not a moment for Indians to crow about their expected arrival on the world stage, because success brings with it responsibility. For all its imperfections, the world of the last two decades was an ordered world, with generally-accepted rules and a global policeman. India has gained in this ordered world, even though it has complained constantly about not getting its rightful due. In contrast, a post-Lehman world will see many rising powers that do not automatically play by the rules, and so the challenges are likely to be more complex the matrix could involve zones of influence, regional power balances and fluid coalitions, even sudden convulsions (think China). If India counts itself as a "great power" in the new world that is being born, it will be expected to play a role in framing and enforcing new rules. Are enough people thinking strategically in New Delhi?
JYOTI MALHOTRA: FILLING THE POST-US VACUUM
THE TIME MAY HAVE COME FOR INDIA TO PLAY A MORE ACTIVE ROLE ON THE AF-PAK FRONTIER
At a dinner party at the home of India's defence attaché, Brigadier Surinder Singh, in Kabul in December 2009, the freezing cold outside was considerably lightened not only by a raging bonfire set up on the verandah, but also by the grace, charm, warmth and wit of the young men and women from India's Army Education Corps and Army Medical Corps who had left their spouses and children back home in order to work among the people of Afghanistan.
Major Deepak Yadav from Mainpuri, Uttar Pradesh, taught English at the Afghan Military Academy, as did Major Nitish Roy, while Major Laishram Jyotin Singh, from Imphal, Manipur, looked after the ill, the infirm and unhealthy children at the Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital in Kabul. The hospital's out-patient department (OPD) has since been temporarily shut down, after Major Singh was blown up (and several other Indian doctors were injured) when he tried to stop a suicide bomber from hunting down Indians two other terrorists went from room to room in the guesthouse, looking for the Major's colleagues and thus allowing several Afghans and Indians to escape during those crucial life-giving moments.
Much has been written about the February 28 Kabul attack, the third against Indians in the last three years, which, Indian and Afghan officials believe, was carried out by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Much has been said about the LeT's motives, as well as that of its alleged sponsor, Pakistan's spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), with US, British and other NATO diplomats privately conceding that the ISI and its mother organisation, the Pakistan Army is playing a double game in the Af-Pak frontier. (Last year's attack against the Indian high commission in Kabul was also said to have been carried out by the LeT.)
None of this is new. According to Pakistani media reports, Pakistan Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani has told President Asif Ali Zardari that the army will take primary responsibility of all Af-Pak-related policies meaning, Af-Pak matters are too important to be left to the democratically-elected government in Islamabad. This ties in with the general western assessment that the Pakistan Army/ISI has refused to completely cut off its links with the Taliban because, it may need to revive them after the western forces leave and join the US-led war on terror in the Af-Pak region.
The most startling reaction came from the US special envoy for Af-Pak Richard Holbrooke. At first, Holbrooke rejected the claim by Afghan intelligence that the attack in which nine Indians, including Majors Deepak Yadav and Laishram Jyotin Singh, died, while Nitish Roy succumbed to his injuries at the Army hospital in Delhi was targeted at the Indians.
Two days later, when Delhi protested against the insensitivity of the top US diplomat's remarks, Holbrooke backtracked, saying he "regretted any misunderstanding caused" by his comments. "The willingness of India to take risks and make sacrifices to help Afghanistan is testament to India's commitment to global peace and prosperity and a vital part of the international commitment to Afghanistan's future," he added.
Although Holbrooke's carefully-worded denial of his own intemperate remarks was aimed at appeasing a furious Indian establishment, the fact is, the clarifications still haven't found their way into the US State Department's website in Washington DC, nor the State Department's website in Pakistan.
In fact, the US establishment seems increasingly divided down the middle over its Af-Pak war, with Holbrooke tending to very much overlook Pakistan's complicity, because he feels it will endanger and discourage the critical role Islamabad is playing in the war effort.
On the other hand, Delhi believes that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is much more circumspect about Islamabad's intentions and much more willing to keep India in Afghanistan, in the short as well as the long term. When Kayani, followed by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, reaches Washington in the coming days, they are likely to find that it is Clinton who takes the tough calls.
Clinton understands that when the US forces get out of Afghanistan, sooner rather than later, India and to a certain extent, Russia, will be the only regional players not Pakistan, China or Iran that the US will be able to depend upon to settle the chaos that is likely to ensue.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has now indicated that the US troop' draw-down could begin even earlier than the mid-2011 deadline. With Barack Obama increasingly embroiled in the two wars that he had no part in making, Delhi's assessment is that the "outsourcing of the Afghanistan war" has already begun in Washington's mind.
According to Holbrooke, the time is not ripe to call Pakistan's bluff in the Af-Pak badlands. So, when Pakistan and the US "jointly" captured Mullah Abdu Ghani Baradar in Karachi in mid-February, said to be the second most important man in the Taliban hierarchy after Mullah Omar, Holbrooke described it as a "high watermark for Pakistani and American collaboration".
Only, it now appears that Baradar's capture was really a cull. Having moved the top Afghan Taliban leadership, known as the "Quetta Shura" to Karachi from Quetta recently, the Pakistan Army/ISI is said to have "given up" Baradar because he was willing to experiment with Karzai's grand plans for "reintegrating" all shades of Afghans.
The US-owned news agency, Associated Press, is now reporting that Karzai was furious at Mullah Baradar's capture by the Pakistanis; in fact, when Karzai asked that Baradar be extradited during his visit to Islamabad last week, the Pakistanis turned him down. So much for the "twin brotherhood" between Pakistan and Afghanistan that Karzai was said to have espoused during his Islamabad trip
In fact, Holbrooke is well known to be resisting the Indian offer to train the Afghan Army because Pakistan, already edgy about India's enormous goodwill in Afghanistan, does not believe Delhi should be allowed to expand its sphere of influence there.But, as America wrestles within itself over its next course of action, the time may have come for India to play a more active role on the Af-Pak frontier. Keeping the conversation alive with the Obama administration will, naturally, be key to enhancing Afghan partnerships, whether it is about training the trainers for the Afghan National Army or the civil police force.
Meanwhile, Delhi must expand and intensify its dialogue with countries like Russia, Germany and Japan all of whom have enormous stores of experience, financial resources as well as determination to enhance both goodwill and leverage, so that it is ready to play an active role to fill in the vacuum when the US-Nato-led troops' draw-down begins.
Expanding India's footprint in Afghanistan will mean that Majors Deepak Yadav, Nitish Roy, Laishram Jyotin Singh, as well as all the other Indians who died there, did not fall to the terrorist's bullets in vain.
INCLUSION NOT ELITISM, PLEASE
The Foreign Universities Bill is puzzling for two reasons: One, it proposes that a business operating in India can be exempt from the letter and spirit of the prevailing laws of the land on the grounds that the owner is foreign (pharmaceutical companies would love for that to be applicable to their industry too!); and two, this proposed exemption from reservations comes from a government that is otherwise very, very clear about its position and walks its talk on the inclusion of backward classes and economically-weaker sections into educational institutions. The same government, not too long ago, demonstrated, in words and deeds, its passionate belief that everyone should have a reasonable shot at getting the best possible education it made haste to enable, and with an iron hand, even supervised implementation of a speedy inclusion of other backward classes (OBCs), in addition to that of scheduled castes/scheduled tribes (SCs/STs), into all institutions of higher learning. With this Bill, it seems to be saying to the backward classes that, "Well, the best from the West is not for you, the home-grown is good enough for you." Need-blind admissions and financial aid do not automatically solve the inclusion problem the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has explained this to us at length several times.
Here is a sad scenario that is very likely to be played out if this Bill in this form goes through: With no price controls and reservations, and with shackled Indian competition that has not just these but other controls, like the one on teachers' salaries, foreign entrants will be able to build a viable business, offering superior quality to consumers. Before we burst into applause about the magic of competition, let's think of all constituencies. Better quality will happen for the better classes of consumers, and the rest will have to suffer the collateral damage an even more depleted, poorer quality, government-shackled institutions, as the better-quality students and faculty gravitate to the new entrants. Thus we go back to rich kid/forward-class preserves and poor kid/backward-class ghettos. As several ministers in the MHRD have repeatedly reminded us in the context of IITs and IIMs, young India deserves better than an elitist education policy that excludes most of them.
Competition certainly increases the quality and reduces prices as we have seen since 1991. But, that only happens with a free market with an intense free competition. A government-meddled and -muddled "free market" that is free only in parts, and governed by different laws for different players, causes the kind of swampy mess that takes a long time and several lost generations to emerge from. Young India deserves better.
Some people say that this Bill is not a big social-fabric-changing phenomenon that we should worry about, but just a small signalling favour done to a few favourite universities so why protest? Either way, the principle of a government-sponsored, warped and elitist ecosystem is unacceptable. That was the spirit in which all the political parties got together and passed the OBC reservation Bill in fact, with far more unity and enthusiasm than seen in the case of the Women's Reservation Bill.
The perspective that this article seeks to provide will not be complete without tabling three issues: The government's relentless operational control of existing institutions of higher learning has left them in a severely weakened condition; the recent spate of several policy initiatives by the MHRD is moving in the direction of even more government control in education; improving an existing system means widespread capacity and capability improvement for the benefit of all, not the creation of a high-quality island for some.
Existing institutions of higher learning are in a very bad shape. To say to such institutions "you too can go abroad and compete if you wish" is foolish. They are at the end of their tether, and struggle to produce the quality they do, with incredible jugaad and a few good men and women who have chosen to stay on and keep the ship afloat. Their newest struggle is to cope with the sudden increase in scale and the pedagogical challenges as a result of the implementation of the OBC reservation. Over time, just as there is a flight of good capital from controlled markets, there has been a flight of talent from such institutions' teaching staff, whose salaries have been severely controlled. The honourable minister for HRD has been quoted in the press as saying that teachers don't care about more money, they just want decent housing and good schools for their kids. The fact is that like other members of their social class in India, they too aspire for one hell of a lot more. Many of these institutions need to be unshackled, need to be mended for the damage done to them so far, and then be told to compete or die. Simpler still, if the government gets out of micro-managing them now, the rest will follow. Perhaps some of them will even offer a "stake" to one of the foreign entrants that wants to come in.
The Bill must be amended to make businesses that seek to profit from the highest potential youth market in the world fulfil legislated social obligations. The MHRD must see its role as one of giving direction and not directions on all manner of operational issues; and do some serious work and frame a well-thought-through policy for a sensibly and responsibly regulated free-market education with one set of rules for all.
The author is an independent market strategy consultant
GAWANDE'S GUIDE TO HOW TO GET IT RIGHT
We look for medicine to be an orderly field of knowledge and procedure. But it is not. It is an imperfect science, an enterprise of constantly changing knowledge, uncertain information, fallible individuals, and at the same time lives on the line. There is science in what we do, yes, but also habit, intuition, and sometimes plain old guessing. The gap between what we know and what we aim for persists. And this gap complicates everything we do.
Atul Gawande: Complications
Over the past decade, Dr Atul Gawande, who is a general surgeon at the Boston General Hospital, has made a name for himself as a writer of deeply-crafted meditations on the problems and challenges of modern medicine through his writings in <I>The New Yorker </I>magazine and his two books, <I>Complications </I>and <I>Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance. </I>His latest book, <I>The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right </I>(Viking hardback reprint, Rs 399) begins on a familiar ground, with his experiences as a surgeon. To an extent, Gawande is part of a tradition of writers who have studied medicine John Keats, Antov Chekhov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Conan Doyle, Somerset Maugham, William Carlos Williams etcetera spring to mind and reported life in extremis, seen men and women in bravery, in astonishing selflessness, up close and not merely personal, but indeed beneath the skin. But Gawande is one-up on his illustrious predecessors unlike most of them who became full-time writers, he still practises his medicine and his experiences are those that he has gone through in his years of practice.
Like his previous writings, Gawande makes a distinction between errors of ignorance (mistakes we make because we don't know enough) and errors of ineptitude (mistakes we make because we don't make proper use of what we know). Failure in modern medicine is really about the second of these errors, and he gives numerous examples of how routine tasks of modern surgeons have become complicated and mistakes become virtually inevitable: it is so easy for an otherwise competent doctor to miss a step, or forget to ask a crucial question because of the pressures of work. Or, very simply, failure to provide for every eventuality.
You pause here to ask if this is the case in the advanced West, how much more difficult it would be for Indian doctors who have to work under immense pressures, without the necessary equipment and adequate infrastructure and modern medicines. Indeed, one could further ask whether Indian doctors, because of their vast experience and the need to improvise, are better equipped than British and American doctors because of their hands-on experience under virtually impossible conditions, especially in the districts.
But as you delve deeper into the book, you realise that Dr Gawande is really interested in every aspect of modern life and how professionals deal with the increasing complexity of their responsibilities. So, he visits airline pilots and architects who build skyscrapers and comes back with a simple solution: you need checklists that provide a breakdown of numerous functions that have to be followed for a "mission" to be successful. No individual can possibly carry all that needs to be done in his head: he needs a team of specialists and a checklist of the functions that will ensure success at the end of day. As in modern surgery, so too in the complicated tasks of everyday life.
At a certain level, you can read Checklist as a manual on modern management: you take a problem, break it up into its component parts, supervise its implementation and then bring the whole lot together into a holistic whole. Gawande is very clear, though, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and what makes the "enterprise" work is how well the parts are jelled together. In the concluding section of the book, Gawande shows how his research team has taken the idea of modern management, developed a safe surgery checklist, and applied it around the world with huge success.
A short review of this kind could give the impression that Gawande's book is meant for the medical student or the lab assistant and, therefore, is narrow in focus or prosaic in its conclusions. It is neither; if any thing, it is addressed to the serious common reader because Gawande is, first and last, a storyteller who knows how to spin it out with simplicity, clarity and purity of line. But between the lines, there is a deep philosophical message that we need to be clear in our minds what we mean by specialists: that experts also make mistakes simply because they go wrong with details that could easily have been corrected with proper checklists. Progress in medicine, as in other spheres, depends on experts, but they need to have the humility to concede they can go wrong in the small little things that hold structures together.
SUNIL SETHI: ABU DHABI - THE GULF'S CENTRAL ARENA
Twenty years ago, the Abu Dhabi book fair was a disorganised books souk, but then, 20 years ago, not all that much was going on in Abu Dhabi. This year, the book fair's general manager, a brisk German, announced that it was now the largest book fair between Tehran and Seoul, and with 236,000 publishing professionals, 840 exhibitors and 63 countries participating, even bigger than Moscow's. Ever since Kitab, as the festival is called, began operation as a joint venture between the Frankfurt book fair and the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage in 2007, it has been registering an annual growth of 25 per cent. And the growth is visible.
Last year, visitors were put up in hotels downtown about a 20 minutes run from the fairground. This year, a trendy new 200-odd-room hotel has come up at the site itself, complete with terrace gardens and rooftop bars overlooking the Gulf's marinas. Together with the exhibition area, 20,000 sq metres of air-conditioned space set around a vast open air piazza, the place is a pulsating hive of activity. It makes Delhi's shambolic international book fair, hosted at Pragati Maidan last month, look like a backward child.
A little learning is said to be a dangerous thing, but Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Emirates which sits on 9 per cent of the world's oil reserves and was once voted by Fortune magazine as the richest city on the planet, is putting some of its wealth to good use. Epic-scale events are held here and, since Dubai's decline, it has emerged as the Gulf's central showpiece arena. Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO of Google, Rupert Murdoch and other luminaries were in attendance at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit earlier this month; there was an international sports event with Hollywood stars walking the red carpet; and Shah Rukh Khan chose Abu Dhabi for the worldwide premiere of My Name Is Khan. Late last year was the Abu Dhabi Art Fair, an event so exclusive that only a select list of auction house representatives, art galleries and big-ticket collectors were invited to ogle (and haggle) over prime pieces of Impressionist art, Alexander Calder mobiles and other treasures.
The six-day book fair, by contrast, is open to the public and caters to a wide range of interests, including 12,500 schoolchildren who poured in to revel in a large children's section. Other than specialist sections (seminars on copyright law, subsidised trade between literary agents and authors and academic publishing), there are several well-established popular segments. Two interactive showpieces are the Kitab Sofa and Discussion Forum that present authors in interview with live audiences followed by book signings. Guests from the subcontinent this month included Bapsi Sidhwa, Amit Chaudhuri, Pankaj Mishra and Tarun Tejpal, but the scene was stolen by noted Malayalam writer and filmmaker M T Vasudevan Nair. Hordes of the Gulf's Malayali community came out to root for him and there were queues at the stall of DC Books, Kerala's leading publisher and bookseller.
Another example of the carefully-honed events is the book fair's wildly-successful show kitchen. This has live demos all day long by international chefs with cookbook displays and signings. The professional show kitchen with video screens, a cameraperson with hand-held camera and cooks with hands-free mikes is supplied by a leading German kitchen appliances firm and the event is managed out of Stockholm by a gourmand company that presents cookbook awards. Audiences are invited to learn recipes, buy cookbooks and gorge on delicacies that range from Moroccan to Mughal feasts.But the Abu Dhabi book fair's true raison d'etre is to promote authorship in the Arab world and in Arabic literature. Considering that the prizes for best fiction, works in translation and academic research start at over Rs 8 lakh a head, oil money is being well spent.
ADITI PHADNIS: GADKARI'S BIG PLAN
THE PROBLEM IS, NO ONE CAN QUITE SEE HIS VISION
Sheikh Chilli is a well-known character in South Asian mythology. He abounds in vision, dreams, and knows how to inspire people with his talk. He is brimming with futuristic ideas, but has no idea how to realise them: The most famous Sheikh Chilli story is how he decided to cut a branch off a tree when he needed firewood, except that he was sitting on the branch while cutting it.
Several in the BJP are reminded of Sheikh Chilli while evaluating the team that the party's new president, Nitin Gadkari, announced earlier this week. Some inclusions are inexplicable, omissions even more so. Promotions and demotions don't seem to indicate any larger strategy the new president may have in mind for the party.
First, the party amended its constitution to have a 120-member national executive, up from 80 earlier: This is fine, as the president thought he would benefit from wider consultation. But, see the list of members in the executive, including a mysterious category called "others" (for which there is no provision in the party constitution). The resultant national executive has 190-plus members. It can only be an insecure president who has to subvert the constitution, presumably to have an executive packed with his supporters.
Now, the team itself. Of the 190-plus members, more than 25 are from Maharashtra. Actor Vinod Khanna's wife Kavita is an "other". But the party's former foreign and finance minister Yashwant Sinha has not even been found worthy of being an "other". He's been dropped altogether. So has been another NDA Cabinet minister, Jagmohan.
Those from Maharashtra are neither thinkers, nor professionals, nor, in any way, expanding the intellectual frontiers of the BJP. They are politicians mostly from the municipal and local body levels. So, no doubt the BJP expects to sweep the local body elections in Maharashtra but to build a national executive on the back of that talent?
It is clear that Gadkari wanted to end factionalism in the party and thought that he would be able to do so by making the national executive a rainbow coalition. So he has appointed Vasundhara Raje as the general secretary. But he has also appointed Bainsla, her greatest detractor and the biggest pain in her neck in Rajasthan during her tenure as the chief minister, as an "other". Bainsla represents the Gujjars in Rajasthan the caste in counterpoise to the largely Congress-leaning Meenas. Why insult the Gujjars by giving Bainsla an ornamental representation in the executive?
If the national executive is the vehicle for policy decisions by the party, it makes sense that members from the state where elections are due should have been chosen in larger numbers and with care. The Bhumihars in Bihar (which goes to the polls in a few months) are the biggest supporters of the JDU-BJP-led government there, and are seriously disenchanted with Nitish Kumar. The BJP could have snapped them up if it had taken a little care. But, there isn't a single Bhumihar from Bihar in the national executive. Instead, Kiran Ghai, a Punjabi from Bihar, who has been a nominated member of the legislative council, has been elevated as an office-bearer. In Bihar politics, what is she expected to bring to the table?
At least two members from Uttar Pradesh (where the party is all but finished) Ram Bux Verma and Ravi Kant Garg left the party when they were denied nominations. Verma was a Rajya Sabha member and the party could not give him another term because it didn't have the numbers to renominate him. He quit the party and returned later. He's a member of the executive. Garg represented Mathura and left the party not once but twice after he was denied a re-nomination. He, too, is in the executive. What sort of message does this send?
Assam has sent 14 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Rajan Gohain is an MP who has served three terms. He, however, is not an office-bearer. Instead, Tapir Gao from Arunachal Pradesh, which sends two MPs to the Lok Sabha, is a secretary. Moreover, Gao represents the scheduled tribe quota. So, the voice of the North-East region is heard through these two and Bijoya Chakravarty, who has been appointed vice president.
The Parliamentary Board the highest forum of the party has 12 members, of which one is reserved for a scheduled caste and the organising secretary's post is filled by an RSS representative. So, that leaves the president with 10 members whom he has the freedom of choice to appoint. Of these, seven are Brahmins. What happened to the BJP's big other backward class project of social inclusion ?
No doubt, Nitin Gadkari has a plan for the BJP. It is not clear what it is.
DEEPAK LAL: THE MISGUIDED WAR ON DRUGS
INTERNATIONAL SUPPLY-CONTROL MEASURES DON'T WORK. IT IS TIME TO END THE WAR ON DRUGS IF WE WANT TO WIN THE WAR ON TERROR
International supply-control measures don't work. It is time to end the War on Drugs if we want to win the War on Terror.
In my last column, I had argued that one of the ways to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan was to buy up the opium crop with the current aid money and convert it into morphine, to provide pain relief to millions suffering from terminal illnesses. But this rational solution required to win the War on Terror can only be achieved if the US and the UK give up their War on Drugs. To show why the latter is misguided is the subject of this column.
It is worth outlining the history of the War on Drugs. The British empire had not merely tolerated but promoted the opium trade with China from its Indian base as a means to balance its large incipient trade imbalance with the Chinese. The opium wars in China in the 19th century were fought to protect this Indian trade, through the legalisation of the importation of opium by the treaty of Tientsin in 1858. By the beginning of the 20th century, 23.3 per cent of the male and 3.5 per cent of the female adult Chinese population were opium users, consuming between 85-95 per cent of the global opium supply. It was this Chinese opium crisis which led to the movement for international supply control measures. The Royal Commission on Opium, set up by Britain in response after examining a broad range of witnesses and based on rigorously-collected information, found that opium consumption did not "cause moral or physical degradation". Whilst it was impractical to disentangle the medical from the non-medical consumption of opium (J Richards, 2001: Opium and the British Indian Empire), it advocated a laissez faire policy for opium in line with J S Mill's famous principle of liberty that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant".
When the US occupied the Philippines in 1898, it sought to maintain legal consumption from a licensed opium trade run by state-controlled monopolies, which provided a large part of the revenues of the preceding Spanish colonial state. This plan was derailed by a powerful missionary prohibitionist lobby the International Reform Lobby which, appalled at the US sanctioning the opium evil, bombarded President Theodore Roosevelt with petitions from its supporters. Roosevelt caved in and the long US War on Drugs began with the 1909 Shanghai Opium Commission and the first international drug treaty of the International Opium Convention of the Hague in 1912.
What have been the outcomes of this century-long War on Drugs? First, the supply-control measures outside the US borders have had little effect on US drug problems. A Rand Corp survey of research (J P Caulkins et al, 2005: How goes the 'War on Drugs'?) concluded: "Crop eradication and substitution, in particular, show minimal promise. Close to the drug source, costs are so low that enforcement-induced increases are likely to have no observable effect on street prices. The same is true of increase in the cost of land and labour for producing coca or opium." Whilst: "The price record suggests that supply-control efforts have failed to reduce the use of any established drug."
Having failed in its avowed aim of reducing drug consumption in the US and the UK, the supply-control measures have created a large global illegal economy where trafficking in illegal goods from drugs to arms to humans has led to a vast shadow global economy (Moses Naim: Illicit, 2007). Thus, the extent of international money laundering is estimated to be between 2-6 per cent of world GDP. The total global retail value of illicit drugs was estimated to be $322 billion, just over 4 per cent of global licit exports. In Afghanistan, the gross profits of Afghan opium traffickers were estimated in 2006 to be $2.3 billion nearly 33 per cent of the country's GDP. The net effect of these international supply-control measures is to create narco states, as in the coca-growing states of the Andes. The drug wars and the accompanying corruption to garner the massive illegal profits in this illicit trade are now reaching the borders of the US as Mexico's democracy is being gradually undermined by the drug-lords. The US foreign policy goals are thus continually being undermined by its War on Drugs. [Lal, World Economics, 9(3), 2008:1-29.]
To what end? The proportion of chronic drug users in the world is small, as is the use of opiates (from 0.7 per cent in Europe to 0.4 per cent in the Americas, of their adult population). There is a genetic element in creating a propensity to use drugs in a small proportion of the population. Most drug-use is characterised by the time shape of a contagious epidemic. Drug use is spread mainly through social contacts, but most users, after becoming aware of the downside of addiction, desist from it, leaving a small number of hardcore users. Thus, the US drug problem is better dealt with through treatment based on "coerced abstinence" of the small proportion of hardcore users. International supply-control measures are worthless. (Caulkins, et al, op.cit)
Economic theory also suggests that for a negative social externality from consuming drugs, there is no case for restriction of production in other countries. Production should be governed by comparative advantage. The consumption externality needs to be dealt with by domestic consumption taxes which equate the marginal private with the marginal social value of the goods, with imports being taxed at the same rate. Thus, the optimal policy is not prohibition, but optimal taxation of consumption of legalised drugs. But, as most "sin taxes" lead to black markets, which would continue to fuel the global illegal economy, the best feasible alternative to limit its scope may be a free market in drugs, where any domestic spillovers are regulated, as in other markets (e.g. alcohol and tobacco) by law and custom (Lal, op.cit). It is time to end the War on Drugs if we want to win the War on Terror.
RAIN NO LONGER ON PLANE
Because she had been unusually busy, my wife was delighted when an invitation for a working (for me) trip (for the family) came up, complete with the promise of spa treatments and gourmet meals. "We're in Agra for the weekend," she started postponing her appointments. "Whoa," I cautioned, for I had not yet said yes, "I may be busy with another assignment and unable to go." But my wife had made up her mind. "Pack your bags," she told our daughter, "we're off to Agra."
I didn't want to disappoint her but this weekend, and the next, I planned to spend with a billionaire who would pay handsomely for the pleasure of my company. "I'm an intellectual," he had said over the phone, then followed it up with a list of degrees that positioned him nicely as a nerd with the qualifications to prove it. It was a long conversation and not all of it made sense, but this much I knew: The American couple wanted to be introduced to India by an intellectual giant my wife couldn't help sniggering when I told her this and their agents had planned everything from special permission to view the Taj by moonlight to private planes to ferry them to the medieval kingdoms of Rajasthan. My wife ignored me. "Don't bother with formals," she told our daughter, "we won't need them in Agra."
I was to be part of an entourage that included a celebrity photographer, but he was to compose his shots from a distance, and "not like the paparazzi", the American told me, "because we don't want our sense of intimacy to be disturbed". I was to be similarly employed: Speak when spoken to, mind my interventions, a kind of brains-on-planes that they could dip into any time they wanted to discuss history or archaeology, foreign affairs or economic matters, books, writers, films or poets from the past or of the present. "But he insists I should not view this as a social outing," I told my wife, "he wants to spend time strictly in the company of his wife, but we're to accompany them and be on call for when he desires debate, discussion or discourse." "Will you do your own packing for Agra, or do you want me to do it for you?" my wife persisted.
I told my wife that she should consider it a privilege that I would be in the presence of someone who, on his travels in other nations, had employed chief anthropologists, world historians, bestselling novelists, well-known scholars. "He's promised me every luxury as part of his travelling group," I told her, though it did seem that we were to be a large presence, and surely they would feel overwhelmed by the number of experts and service professionals who would cater to their every whim. "I suspect it will be a lark, a little bit of jaw-jawing and all the hedonism of private travel," I gloated to my wife. "While I," repeated my wife, "am looking forward to going to Agra."
I ordered myself a new wardrobe, one suitable for the intellectual companion of a picky billionaire; I brushed up my history and geography; did some number crunching; pored over dates; practised a little light humour; even working on an American accent as part of my training for the task and was all set to play my evangelical role when the billionaire's wife decided the entourage had grown too unwieldy, that jobs would need to be axed, and so with words of appropriate sympathy, I was put out to pasture.
"Oh dear," I said to my wife, "I had been looking forward to my cerebral holiday." "It's okay," said my wife sympathetically, "I'll listen to your garbled nonsense but in Agra."
THE CRICKET BAT AND THE TOILET SEAT
K NATWAR SINGH
What politicians could not achieve, the IPL has - sporting integration and an end to racism in sports for good. A spectacular achievement. First the bad news. Fifty-eight per cent Indians, because of lack of proper latrines, have to defecate in the open. The majority of these 58 per cent are women. According to a WHO-Unicef report, 18 per cent Indians living in urban India, attend the call of nature in the open. The percentage is 69 in rural India. Still grimmer is the devastating revelation that 638 million people in India don't have access to toilets. In several other developing countries, the number is much smaller, e.g. it is 50 million out of a population of 1.3 billion for China.
After 63 years of Independence, we are still unable to provide basic services to our citizens. Why is this so? I'm not an economist or a statistician, but as an Indian I feel ashamed when I'm confronted with these dismal figures. I do not recall our Parliament deliberating these matters of national degradation. As far as I'm aware, the electronic media too has not found time to have informed debates on this appalling reality. Why are we indifferent to these social evils?
I'm not taking a holier-than-thou position. I have no right to do so. I'm one among the small number of Indians who were born in the right bedroom. People like me live cloistered lives. Why do the well-to-do opt for private splendour and do nothing about public squalor? There is a chilling silence on these uncomfortable and unpleasant realities. I'm not absolving myself. Mulk Raj Anand (1905-2004) in 1934 wrote a novel called The Untouchable. Things have certainly changed human beings no longer carry excreta on their heads to dump it where they could. The solution Mulk Raj Anand offered over 70 years ago was the flush system. How long more will it take us to provide this convenience to all our people?
The other day, a list of Indian billionaires was published by the American outfit Forbes. Their number has dramatically increased. Good for them. I personally know several of those splendid individuals. All self-made (except one), all public-spirited decent people. But. There is always a "but". Himanshu, in his column in Mint, wrote on March 17: "The good news is that Indian billionaires have, once again, done better than the rest of the world at a time when almost half a billion people are also going through recession, unemployment, drought and food price inflation. But does that mean we should not celebrate the glory the minuscule minority of billionaires has brought to the country? Perhaps not." According to Himanshu, the "net worth of the billionaires club increased from less than 5 per cent in 1996 to a little over 10 per cent in 2007, it was almost one-fourth of the gross domestic product of India in 2008". He concludes, "If growth has to be inclusive, there has to be a concerted effort to tackle structural inequalities." Fair enough.
Now the good news. Like millions of my compatriots, I'm a cricket buff. In all humility, I claim to know the difference between slips and third man. Cricket was invented in England nearly 200 years ago (I may be out by a few years) and its first Indian patron was the Maharaja of Patiala, who took the first Indian team to England in 1911.
The game is vastly different now. Test cricket, one-day cricket, Twenty Twenty and now the IPL. I do not know Mr Lalit Modi, but his baby, the IPL, has brought globalisation to cricket. Only 20 years ago, no black/brown man could play for South Africa. Today it is heart-warming to watch Indians rubbing shoulders with Messrs Kallis and Smith, Bravo with Shane Warne. It's a sporting miracle on a grand scale. Tendulkar and Sehwag are worldwide heroes. Also imagine, a former and great Pakistani bowler, Wasim Akram, being invited to be the bowling coach for the Kolkata Knight Riders. I'm aware of the commercialisation of the game, but have no fundamental objection to it so far.
What politicians could not achieve, the IPL has sporting integration and an end for all time to racism in sports. A spectacular achievement.
Tailpiece: The foreign minister of Malta came to India on an official visit in the late 1960s. Mrs Gandhi was then also looking after the Ministry of External Affairs. So, he called on her. I too was present. The population of Malta was then less than two lakh. What did the prime minister of India say to the foreign minister of Malta? She talked about the Second World War and the Maltese who came to India and stayed in Deolali for the duration of the War etc.
Somehow the subject of commonwealth countries driving cars on the left came up. Mrs Gandhi said, "We in India too drive on the left of the road. What do you do in Malta?" The foreign minister said, with youthful aplomb, "Madam prime minister, we do not wish to offend those on the right or those on the left. We, in Malta, drive in the middle of the road."
The author is a diplomat, writer and former foreign minister
IN SEARCH OF HOME...
It started with an innocent question. "So," said I, looking around at the quaint town of Port Blair, "do you belong here?" I was in an auto rickshaw, driving to Aberdeen Bazaar, and this was one of my standard conversation openers. The driver sighed, thought for a while and replied. "I don't know." Then he added: "Although I was born here, and my father and his father have lived on these islands, I somehow still think I don't really belong here." Silence reigned for the next few minutes as the auto rickshaw sputtered asthmatically on the road meandering uphill. This was not the answer I'd expected, for in the Andamans, most people you meet will cheerfully tell you they don't belong there, but have come from the "mainland" a generic term for Bengal, Tamil Nadu and anywhere else in India. So I asked him, "Where are you originally from?" And so he told me his story.
"My grandfather was Burmese, and arrived here as a prisoner of the Japanese in 1940. They'd taken over the Andamans and put their prisoners in Cellular Jail," said he. When the Second World War ended five years later, the prisoners were freed. "My grandfather used to tell us how at that time, the Andaman islands were totally wild just jungles, hills, wild animals and, of course, the deep blue sea!" Port Blair, said he, had the infamous Cellular Jail, the officers' quarters and little else. It was, he recounted, a strange combination of great natural beauty and extreme inhospitality. The waters, so deceptively tranquil, had proved treacherous for many a ship. Malarial fevers often claimed those who survived jail, wrecked ships and other ignominies. Escape from the island, which was flanked by impenetrable rainforests and the deep sea, was well nigh impossible.
"Consequently, he could never ever appreciate the beauty of the islands without thinking of the pitfalls they hid," said he, "In fact, my grandfather always found it oppressive here, he longed to go back home."
Yet, inexplicably, when he was freed in 1942, he decided to stay back. "Instead, my grandfather set up a small logging business in Port Blair," the driver said, adding, "He left it to the traders to risk the long sea voyage to the mainland!" He married a local girl, and died from malaria years later, still yearning for his homeland.
The grandfather's attitude to the islands also coloured his family's perception of them. "My father grew up hatching plans to escape. Then logging became illegal in the Andamans, and their business had to be closed," said he. Once again, the family was at a crossroads. They had the option of going back "home" and setting up a new business. "You know how a captured bird feels its captor's hands upon it long after they've been taken away. In the same way, the islands continued to tie my family with invisible shackles ," the driver said.
"Growing up, I was very confused. My family still rigidly called Burma their home, but the islands were where my friends and family were," said he. Then a cousin offered to take him to Rangoon to look for work. "I'd have been the first in three generations to leave the islands. Yet, I hesitated," said he. Eventually, fate intervened. His father became sick and he couldn't go. Instead, 15 years ago, when auto rickshaws were introduced in Port Blair, he was among the first to buy one.
"Now this provides a decent livelihood, and I've long forgotten my plans of working in Rangoon," said he, adding, "But once in a while, I wonder what life would have been like if we'd actually grown up at "home" instead of here "
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
VERY SLIPPERY GROUND IN OIL
Is it a good strategy for India to follow China and buy up large oilfields abroad as energy security? ONGC is investing a few billions in places like Sudan and now Venezuela . Should India follow the Chinese example of strategic buying? First, let's define strategic. For a company, strategic can include acquisitions purely on commercial grounds.
But for a country, strategic purchases are noncommercial deals struck to attain political goals. One of these is security of supply. The Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union sought non-commercial selfsufficiency in food to ensure food in the event of war.
Ironically , the policy produced gargantuan surpluses that were exported at a loss to the USSR, Europe's enemy. A very different cautionary tale comes from Japan. When Opec countries took over western oil companies in 1974, Japan tried hard to buy large oilfields abroad to ensure secure oil supply. It failed: no large oilfields were available for sale.
But subsequent decades proved that oil would always be available at a price, and that fears of supply disruption were largely mythical. Despite being totally dependent on commodity imports and lacking any strategic ownership, Japan became a world power.
Countries that nationalise MNCs typically become economic pariahs, but countries that nationalise oil are exceptions . No Opec country suffered after the mass nationalisations of 1974. In effect, the world accepted that oil was different from other commodities. India was partowner of the Rustam and Raksh oilfields in Iran but these were nationalised by Khomeini for a pittance.
This drives home the risk in owning foreign oil assets: they can be expropriated , as Chavez has done in Venezuela. Now, Opec members will happily allow foreigners to bring in capital and technology and pick up a small slice of oil production. But if a foreigner strikes a huge oilfield, that will assuredly be expropriated.
Lesson: China and India can pick up modest stakes in oilfields abroad, but these will be a tiny fraction of import demand and cannot be called strategic. So, any foreign acquisitions should be attempted strictly on commercial grounds, not strategic ones.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A GOOD IDEA FOR POSCO AND SAIL
Posco , the South Korean steel major, deserves a medal for perseverance. Instead, it might get a joint venture with India's biggest steel producer, state-owned SAIL. This would make sense. SAIL has unused land that can readily be made available, and also access to some of the finest iron ore.
It would make sense for the nation for under-utilised assets to be put to work, for high-grade steel imported at present to be produced within the country and for foreign investment proposals to fructify rather than fail. That said, the development draws attention to the continuing challenge in acquiring land for any fresh development project, whether to build a road, open a mine, construct a new town, airport or factory.
Farm or forest land has to be converted to commercial use and those who live on or off the land in question have to be compensated and rehabilitated. So far, we have seen mechanical application of the land acquisition law of colonial vintage. We need to move ahead on the basis of a new philosophy that would convert landlosers into stakeholders in the development that comes up on their erstwhile land.
Clearly, it is not enough to pay those who give up land compensation at the current market price of the land. What once was farmland rises in value by many multiples when it becomes part of an urban agglomeration that houses industry or services. Those who lost their land to the project feel betrayed and turn into the project's opponents.
This can be prevented by giving them some stake in the income generated by the urban agglomeration coming up on the land that was theirs. This can be achieved in multiple ways: the land can vest with a special purpose vehicle in which the landlosers own at least half the equity and earn a proportionate share of the rental income from leasing the land out to the development, those who lived off the land can be trained and organised into production units that provide assorted services, and so on.
The point is, policy on land acquisition must commit itself to creating active stakeholders out of landlosers, instead of fobbing them off at the least possible cost.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
Googlies , silly mid-ons , square legs and LBWs, men in cumbersome pads putting bat to ball often with no clear victory for five days sounds insane to most beyond the pale of the cricketing world. Imagine how it would strike a no-nonsense Teutonic warrior like Hitler? So what if he painted wistful watercolours and loved dogs?
He decreed the English gentlemen's languid game simply too soft for the future German worldbeaters. BBC staffer John Simpson says in his new book, Unreliable Sources: How the 20th Century was Reported, that a rightwing MP named Oliver Locker-Lampson recounted in a 1930 newspaper article that Hitler met some former British prisoners of war when he was convalescing in 1923, and asked to watch a match and learn the rules.
The Britons obliged and, a few days later, Hitler challenged them to a 'friendly' match with his own XI. Locker-Lampson did not say who won but the fact that Hitler immediately declared the game insufficiently violent for his German compatriots indicated the result was not a happy one.
The MP an admirer of Hitler mentioned that the Nazi supremo mulled over whether it could be used as a possible tool to train troops, but wanted the rules to be altered . Nein, nein, none of those namby-pamby pads for his tough men, nor those undersized cricket balls either; his blitzkricket motto would be "Ohne Hast, ohne Rast" Unhasting, Unresting.
Had he taken a second look at the game by the time he took over as German Chancellor in 1933, he may have allowed himself an appreciative nod for the England captain Douglas Jardine's brutally-efficient bodyline tactic to win back the Ashes from Australia.
Sadly, he was otherwise preoccupied with plotting to overthrow the Reichstag and there was no televised coverage that he could fall back on. He would surely have been astounded to see how much aggression can be packed into a leather-versus-willow battle when it comes to a subcontinental face-off or an IPL match!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PUBLIC FUNDING OF ELECTIONS
C P BHAMBHRI
Democratic political systems in every advanced western country have faced challenges posed by the role of political finance or money spent during elections. On the basis of their specific experiences, these countries have tried to tackle the issue of political funding during polls.
The democratic political system is corrupted if elections are contested on the basis of financial resources provided by rich individuals or business corporations as these donors, from the powerful strata of society, expect returns from those elected representatives.
A natural quid pro quo develops between elected political representatives and their financial supporters because such obliged representatives are bound to return favours to their benefactors.
The Indian Constitution-makers were conscious of this fact that corruption-free and fair elections would not be possible without laying down constitutional and statutory provisions 'for the independence and neutrality of the Election Commission' responsible for the conduct of elections.
Elections to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies were concretised in the various provisions of the representation of the people Acts of 1950 and 1951 and corrupt electoral practices were identified, and if an elected candidate was found guilty of electoral corrupt practices his election was set aside.
But it is a wellknown fact that legal and formal structures can only lay down a framework, while in practice laws are violated and illegalities practised by finding loopholes in the legal system. It has been happening in India from the very beginning of the electoral journey on the plea that 'elections cannot be fought without money' .
Political parties and candidates need money to organise election campaigns and, in large Lok Sabha and state assembly constituencies, electoral mobilisation cannot be undertaken without spending money for reaching the voters. This argument that democratic elections need money is unexceptionable and the Election Commission has fixed a limit on election expenses by individual candidates.
Again, this idea of fixing a ceiling on expenditure has not worked, and legally laid down requirements have been always violated both by political parties and the candidates. Former PM Indira Gandhi, in 1969, had imposed a ban on donations by private business companies to candidates or parties for elections. But that remedy was worse than the disease as the 'ban' was flouted by donors by secretly transferring funds for elections.
The ceiling on electoral expenses, as provided by section 77 of the representation of the people Act, was challenged in the Supreme Court and it made the ceiling more rigid by deciding that this law would stand violated by the candidate not only if he exceeded the expenditure but also if his political party did so.
Indira Gandhi amended section 77 of the RPA in 1975 and nullified the Supreme Court judgement by legalising expenditure on a candidate by his political party. Again, an amendment was made in 1985 which permitted a business company to contribute to parties for elections.
So, how does one protect MPs, MLAs and ministers from the stranglehold of powerful private investors in the democratic electoral process? If corruptionfree and fair elections are a pillar of democracy , the taxpayers should pay for elections because they have a real stake in corruption-free good governance.
A very important study, Money in Politics Handbook, mentions "an estimated 18 % countries, mostly developed nations, provide some form of tax relief for political donations" , to ensure that funds for elections are "open donations" .
Second , 'government funds are transferred to parties ... which receive 5% of the votes cast or seats in the last election' and if the government of India is serious, it should fund political parties through the public exchequer, especially those which have secured 10-15 % of the votes cast or seats.
Third, the audiovisual media has emerged in a big way and, with a full subsidy from the public exchequer, political parties should get free broadcast time for election campaigns. This practice is prevalent in many advanced democratic countries. Fourth, the government should provide subsidies in kind to serious political contenders , say, in the form of free electoral lists, free paper to publish party pamphlets , and free diesel and petrol for campaigning during the elections. In short, public funds and public subsidies are required to insulate political parties and their candidates from dependence on private operators for contesting an election.
It will be quite educative to describe the system of electoral funding in the US Presidential elections. While every democracy has a specific history of its own process of cleansing of electoral malpractices , the US has a rich experience as it had to fight a 'battle against coercion and forced contribution' from private companies for electoral purposes.
The US Federal Corrupt Practices Act of 1910 required disclosure of names of donors contributing over $100 for elections. Further, funding for elections in the US comes from individual citizens and public funds. Not only this. There is a strict legal limitation in the US on individual citizens' contribution and public funding and a very comprehensive law exists for 'disclosure requirement' to ensure transparency in such contributions.
It is a well-known fact that opposition parties in every democracy have been actively engaged in asking for electoral reform because the donors always favour and invest in the ruling party and it leads to an unequal electoral competition.
The coalition system of government has made electoral reforms difficult because every group is in power at the Centre or in the sates, and all of them are involved in collecting funds from powerful private individuals.
The Dinesh Goswami report, as well as every chief election commissioner, has made recommendations for cleansing the electoral system. The Goswami report made important suggestions for 'state funding of elections' , but it is all gathering dust as every party or group has a vested interest in receiving money from private sources.
The Money in Politics Handbook clearly states that 'one lesson from the US experience is that fighting corruption in political finance is a process of reform, evasion, identifying loopholes, and then more reforms ....' Is anyone listening?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD IS ESSENTIAL: TATA SKY MD
The direct-to-home (DTH) segment of the country's broadcasting sector has experienced significant growth in volume and competition over the past two years. Between seven players, there are more than 22 million subscribers today, and the number is expected to rise to 45 million by 2015.
While this rapid growth is good for the sector, the price war that has ensued with the entry of too many players too soon is detrimental to its long-term health, believes Tata Sky MD and CEO Vikram Kaushik. He also doesn't rule out the possibility of consolidation in the sector, but that may take some time. For now, the DTH players are upbeat about their growth prospects, and Tata Sky is no exception.
A recent Media Partners Asia (MPA) report has suggested that digital pay TV penetration in India may grow from 10% in 2008 to 33% by 2013, and 42% by 2018. What does this mean for DTH players? Digitisation has a certain inevitability about it, says Mr Kaushik.
It has to happen simply because analogue systems cannot deliver either the quantity or quality of an evergrowing list of channels across genres and languages in the country. "Only digitisation can remove the anomalies created by serious under-declaration in the pay TV market. It will help meet the requirements of all the constituents in the value chain: broadcasters, government and, most importantly , consumers. By 2015, we expect to have 40-45 million DTH subscribers in India." But is Tata Sky in line with the projected subscriber growth?
"We did our first million in 11 months, the second million in nine months, the third in seven months, and the fourth in eight months. Overall, the category is exploding ." But policymakers need to understand that digitisation of pay TV is being driven by the DTH industry, he adds.
The financial burden of generating this growth is extremely high and the government policy is not helping with creating a level playing field vis-a-vis cable TV. The tax regime threatens the viability of this fledgling sector . So, what is key differentiator in subscriber acquisition for Tata Sky, particularly when six of the seven players offer similar content and services, at a similar price?
"Tata Sky has identified three key areas of excellence to differentiate itself. The first is the brand that indisputably stands for reliability, trustworthiness and has a premium image. The second area of excellence is technology. The basic service works efficiently and simple functions such as channel change, picture quality and planning of the programming guide are superior to our competitors. Moreover , Tata Sky+ has initiated a revolution in urban Indian homes with its unique pause-and-record function."
The third differentiator is customer service. "With three call centres manned by over 1,200 people and dealing in 11 languages 24x7, Tata Sky has changed the perception of subscriber-based services in India. Over 3,000 trained personnel instal new connection every day."
The company is optimistic about Tata Sky+, as in a recent NDS study, personal video recorder (PVR) emerged as the second-most essential household technology in India. "We have subsidised the PVR for Indian consumers, and it is seeing growing traction. It transfers the control to the viewer she can choose to watch what she wants, when she wants." Given the intense competition, what is the company's strategy to expand its market share?
Tata Sky has various plans including high-definition (HD) service and more interactive channels. One of the players has already launched HD service, but Tata Sky is not deterred, he says. "We will launch HD shortly. However, in line with our track record , whatever we offer will be meaningful, problem-free and seamless. We will offer better value to the Indian consumer than what is currently available."
So, does the company see consolidation in the fiercely-competitive DTH market? "In any industry, an individual player should be able to justify its existence either in terms of quality or price. Consolidation could happen through aggregation or mergers since the relative investments in capital equipment are not so large. One of the constraints , however, will be the limited availability of co-located satellite capacity for the efficient transmission of content. Valuations are also still at an incipient stage and, hence, the process might take a while to crystallise."
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
LEAVE YOUR CRAVINGS TO BE ONE WITH ALL
VITHAL C NADKARNI
Have you heard the story of the monk and the sandwich vendor? "Make me one with everything." So goes the monk's humble request to the foodstall peddler. But when the Buddhist hands over a $20 bill to the chef in return for his deck sandwich, he waits for a long time for his change. Finally, when he asks for it, he's politely informed that "change comes only from within" .
Jokes apart, the vendor sounds like the Zen Master Ikkyu more than the monk does. Born in 1394 Ikkyu was an illegitimate son of the emperor Gokomatsu . He was known by some as the emperor of renegades , a wild wandering monk and teacher, sometimes called Crazy Cloud.
But Ikkyu is also said to have understood the beauty of both high and low culture, and he gently celebrated the ironies of life in a series of poems and drawings as he practised Zen Buddhism medieval Japan. Listen to his verse on change:
"Natural, reckless, correct skill;/ Yesterday's clarity is today's stupidity / The universe has dark and light, entrust oneself to change/ One time, shade the eyes and gaze afar at the road of heaven."
Ikkyu was reputed to be very clever even as a boy. His teacher had a precious teacup, a rare antique . One day Ikkyu happened to break the cup and was greatly perplexed. Hearing the footsteps of his teacher, he held the pieces of the cup behind him. When the master appeared, Ikkyu asked: "Why do people have to die?"
"That's natural," the older man replied. "Everything has to die and has just so long to live." With a smile, Ikkyu, produced the shattered cup and added: "It was time for your cup to die."
The moral of the story is about change and that every journey, even the ones you want to last forever , must inevitably come to an end. Whether you view it as a tragedy or a comedy depends on your stance and your involvement. For even the things that one gets attached to are constantly changing. Hence attachment to them only leads to unrest and sorrow.
But when one knows things as they truly are (yathabutam) or annicca (impermanent) hence liable to cause dukkha or sorrow, one ceases to get agitated by them. One also ceases to take refuge in them. Just as attachment to things is to get fettered by them, even so detachment from them is to get freed from them. In Buddhist ethics, the perception of impermanence is the first step to the eradication of all cravings, which has the attainment of Nirvana as its final goal.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PROPERTIES COULD BE OUR BIGGEST BIZ: ADI GODREJ
Riding on India's growth story, the century-old Rs 13,000-crore Godrej group has been undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts as it gets ready to herald a new era where real estate could become its biggest business. This comes even as it claims to be the only Indian company with the largest consumer touchpoint in the country with 470 million consumers.
Besides, the group has also managed to retain its relevance in the marketplace and this has a lot to do with the induction of the fourth generation of the Godrejs into the group. However, while on one hand, the group is poised to attain a youthful exuberance, on the other, like all family businesses, it is going through a phase of succession planning.
The third-generation Godrejs in the supervisory position have been engaged in internal discussions for some years now on this matter. The Godrej family council, which was set up a decade back, has now inducted two external directors, Keki Dadiseth and Naushad Forbes. What shape the discussions take only time will tell, but the seriousness with which the family has undertaken this exercise epitomises the transparency in its culture that has been handed down from one generation to the other. The Godrejs are among the few families which have followed a structure of equal ownership for decades. In an interview with TOI, group chairman Adi Godrej, who turns 68 this year, spoke at length on how the group is charting its growth path. Excerpts:
Over the last few years there's been a visible change in the Godrej group. Is it a conscious decision to change so that the group remains relevant even as it turns 113 years old this year?
Over the last few years we had a relook at our strategy and when we saw four years of 9% plus growth, it led to an internal realisation that we needed to revisit our strategies in many areas. The important changes we've made include the new strategy cell that we have created. Secondly, we decided to form a FMCG leadership team for the three FMCG businesses (Godrej Consumer Products, Godrej Sara Lee, Godrej Hershey Foods & Beverages), which would look at synergies in each business and opportunities for inorganic growth. The third thing we did was to have a relook at our brand Godrej and its positioning across companies. We formed a team led by my daughter Tanya [Dubash] and partnered with Interbrand, a brand consultancy firm, about two years ago. We decided to go in for property development, which has been added as a major focus area for the group. We also worked over the last 2-3 years to take Godrej Properties public, which we were able to list in January.
You would ask why now? There are two or three reasons. One is that India's growth rate has accelerated well. We think that the next decade is going to be the best ever for India. We expect growth rate over the next decade to be 10% plus. Over the last 2-3 years, we've also inducted a lot of younger family members into the business. Or, they've been working in the group and have now taken strong leadership positions. They've driven a lot of this change too. All in all, this encompasses our desire to bring about the changes.
Your eldest daughter Tanya Dubash has been with the group for long, Nisa has taken an interest in HR, while your son Pirojsha is keen on the real estate business. What kind of future roles do you have in mind for them?
Tanya has been there for almost two decades. Nisa is active on HR and strategy. Pirojsha is currently involved in Godrej Properties. He's the executive director on the board of the company. These are the current roles. Their roles will evolve over time.
Do you see Tanya emerging as a future leader of the group?
We have not enunciated anything of this sort.
That brings us to the question on succession planning. Anil Sainani (a former civil servant who runs his consulting business on family governance) has been working on this matter for sometime now. What has been the progress?
He's not only working on succession, he is also the advisor to our family council. There we keep meeting regularly. We don't want to comment on family business matters.
What kind of changes can we expect in the next decade?
We expect a whole lot of changes based on our strategic approaches. We will leverage our brand very strongly. Let me give you a piece of fact. We have, across the group, around 470 million consumers in India who use one or the other of our products each day. So our brand is very strong.
As we have acquired a number of businesses, the number has grown. In our view, no Indian group has more consumers than we do. Not even larger groups such as Reliance or Tatas, because they are more into B-2-B (business-to-business) businesses. Our main businesses are B-2-C (business-to-consumer).
We do not think any other group has these many consumers. For example, Bharti Airtel may have 200 million consumers. Altogether, the telecom industry has 400-450 million consumers. Tatas have some consumer businesses like tea, but not more (consumers) than us. We feel we are uniquely positioned as the largest Indian group. The only company in India which we feel has more consumers than us is Hindustan Unilever. But, they are not an Indian group. Also, among groups based in the developing world, we're among the top 3 or 5.
The only company we know based in a developing country which has definitely more consumers than we do is China Mobile. We don't know of other companies based in developing countries which have more consumers than we do in smaller countries.
This is a very strong competitive advantage we have and we need to leverage this to have greater sales per capita by getting each consumer who uses our products to use a wider range of our products. This is one of the strategic directions in which we hope to move in the future.
Since Godrej has diverse interests, what would be the focus areas going forward?
We will clearly focus on our core areas, which is consumer products and property development. There are other businesses which will keep growing, but these are the focus areas. We expect a growth rate in between 15-20% organically in sales, and about 10% inorganically. So we would like to see a growth rate of 25-30%, organic plus inorganic.
Currently, FMCG would be the largest business. Consumer durables is the second largest. However, in time to come, we think properties could become our largest business.
In the past the group has divested some non-core businesses like medical diagnostics and pest control service. Have you identified more non-core businesses?
Whatever businessness we needed to shed, we are done with. All our existing businesses will continue.
Any new business that the group plans to enter? Godrej was among the first few corporate houses to put up a proposal for retail any plan to revive this?
We are still in the retail business to some extent. We have Nature's Basket (a specialised gourmet retail store) which is still growing very strongly. We still have a 30% stake in Aadhar, the rural retailing business, where 70% is with the Future Group. We have a retailing arm in Godrej & Boyce, which sells our consumer durables.
We decided about two years ago that retail was not going to be a focus area for us. The main reason being that we do not want to compete with our customers. So we decided to defocus on retail. We would, however, continue with Nature's Basket since it is doing well.
Since the group is expanding its properties business, would you also look at SEZs. There was also a talk about the group eyeing the bottled water segment?
We could always take a look at bottled water which is a consumer product. SEZs are part of any property development company. We had a couple of plans for SEZs, but we changed them to residential development, because SEZs are facing some problems at the moment. So plans keep changing but that doesn't mean we will not look at SEZ in the future.
Tura was your third acquisition in Africa. What kind of growth potential does Africa represent for the future?
Even the present in Africa is very strong. We think Africa is the continent of the future. Just as Asia started growing very strongly 20 years ago, Africa has started growing well. It is a large continent with almost a billion people, which represents a big growth opportunity and, more importantly, we are able to translate our technology for strong products that appeal to low-income population well in Africa.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE WILL BRING IN FUNDAMENTALLY STRONG COS TO MARKET: DIVESTMENT SECY
SUPRIYA SRINATE & SOMA BANERJEE
As far as pressures on his time go, Sumit Bose must think he has landed from the frying pan into the fire. Until the end of 2009, he worked with Vijay Kelkar, studying municipal bodies and state government finances, to put together the 13th Finance Commission report. And, if he thought that he could get a breather after spending months touring the country, he couldn't be more wrong. As the secretary of the government's department of disinvestment, Mr Bose heads it during what is easily its busiest time in history. It is tasked with raising Rs 40,000 crore, a central plant of the government's effort to bring down the fiscal deficit. Mr Bose speaks to ET. Excerpts:
Is the divestment programme being put in top gear because the government needs to reduce the fiscal deficit?
That is a wrong way to look at it. Basically the government has some objectives behind the disinvestment drive unlock value in profitable PSUs, bring in greater corporate governance..., sell assets to create more capital assets through its flagship programmes ... and have more dispersed ownership of government-owned companies through more public holding.
You talked about improving corporate governance. Don't you think corporate governance challenges also have to do with government policies?
The two have to go hand in hand. But policies have moved from time to time. The power sector has had a steady regulatory system, which has helped companies. NTPC today has a very strong investor cell and constant interactions with stakeholders do help. In the oil sector too, we have had the Kirit Parikh committee report and policies will be made.
That brings us to divestment in IOC. Is there any such plan?
Well, the petroleum ministry has some ideas on this and I should be soon talking to my good friend (petroleum secretary) Sundareshan on this. Several administrative ministries have drawn up such plans and we have to work with them for public offerings
There is a perception LIC has been bailing out every offering of the government and it is largely responsible for the success of the issue. How do you defend this?
LIC takes its decision based on commercial factors. It bid for REC as well, but it was outbid by other institutions. But LIC's equity drive is not just for public sector sector companies. LIC is also looking at dispersed ownership and expanding its portfolio. It is a big investor in IPOs of private companies as well.
There is a perception that the government may crowd out private sector issues. Do you think the number of PSU offerings being planned for the fiscal are a little on the higher side?
The market has already started recovering and it will have appetite for more issues. Even last year, the PSU divestment offerings accounted for only 20% of the total money raised. And it would be around that region even in the next fiscal.
Do you think that investors, particularly institutional investors, are wary of the price at which the PSU shares are being offered?
I do not think that is the issue. There is some difference between follow-on public offer (FPO) and IPO. Take the case of the NTPC IPO in October 2007. It was priced at Rs 62 per share and the issue got a tremendous response. With FPOs, there is a dampener as there is already a discovered price and investors may not agree with the premium or discount being offered. We have to make changes as we go along and every issue has a lesson or two. While we went with the French auction route for NTPC FPO, we adopted the bookbuilding route for NMDC.
In that case, will you look at bringing forward IPOs since that would get a better response and setting the stage for FPOs?
No, that is not what we are planning. (We have) no distinction between IPOs and FPOs. We will look at bringing in the fundamentally strong and better companies to the market.
Have you worked on a one year road map for the disinvestment programme? How did the Budget come up with a figure of Rs 40,000 crore?
Planning a disinvestment road map for the whole year does not help. We know how we have to go ahead with the companies (and) which are the companies that qualify for the government's programme. We are taking up those companies that have got a cabinet clearance. As of now, SJVNL will be the first issue that would kick start the disinvestment drive next fiscal. The issue will be in the market by April-end. We also have the cabinet clearance for EIL which should follow next.
Do you think the NTPC issue was badly timed?
There is very little you can do about market movements. The Greece crisis broke out around that time. Investors shouldn't have any doubts about companies like NTPC. Apart from being a company with strong fundamentals, the regulatory system in the power sector is also quite competent.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'WE WILL WORK HERE TO BE COMPETITIVE IN OTHER MARKETS'
Despite disengaging Indian partner Hero, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles is still open to the idea of having multiple partners, to leverage the functionality the alliance partner would bring on the distribution, legal, operational and supplier fronts. The 100% subsidiary of Germany's Daimler AG may even consider a distribution pact with its former partner Hero. While the world's largest truck maker is yet to decide,
Daimler India CEO Marc Llistosella indicated it is keen to bring on board an Indian partner, during his interaction with ET at Oragadam, near Chennai the location of its Rs 4,400-crore greenfield CV plant (including a Rs 25-crore world-class test track) which will have an initial truck annual capacity of 36,000, to be scaled up to 75,000. Excerpts:
Your partnership with Hero dissolved last year. Any changes after that?
It was a hard and tough decision but the disengagement was done professionally. We don't change anything the investment and plan stay. We are looking for long-term relationships, even with Hero. So whether the
disengagement happens or not, this is not changing our relationship with Hero, we see them as a partner when it comes to the point of sales.
Are you looking at a distribution tie-up with Hero?
It's under discussions. That is also one of the key drivers for the partnership in the initial stages. Currently, we are going in for multiple partnership discussions, we are not fixated on one. We are also being approached by non-Indian companies, which is very interesting. But our focus is Indian companies and Indian partners that we know already. The choice of partner must make sense in business and also suit our DNA. With TVS, we are working at producing some system components. The local content at Chennai plant would be to the extent of 85%. Key components and final assembly will be done by us.
Daimler exited Tata Motors recently. Will that money be ploughed back to India through the Chennai plant?
We don't have direct linkages between disengagement and investment. This plant investment is Rs 4,440 crore of which Rs 1,200 crore has been allocated for R&D. We will work on India and in India to be competitive in other markets, too. We are an over 100-year-old truck company.
The Indian commercial vehicles market is getting crowded by JVs. Where does Daimler stand?
We made a long journey to India, started with Tata, the recent disengagement also based on excellent co-operation. One thing is sure that we are getting more competitors. But our investment has nothing to do with day-to-day operations. Even a financial crisis could not shake our investments. India is not a market but the market. Its much more than a short-term step, it's a long journey and we have done it in Brazil and Turkey. We have reached, after some years, a significant market share in these countries and you can be sure this is what we want to do in India. What the others are doing, we have respect for them, especially for Tata. But we are also confident of our strengths.
What about the impact of Renault-Nissan discussion with Daimler globally. How will that impact your plans for India?
No. That alliance is cars, not trucks.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ONLINE IPL A BIG SUCCESS: GOOGLE INDIA MD
It's the biggest online deal ever signed for a sporting event. Rs 80 crore is what Google is believed to have pitched in for the online telecast rights of the most popular cricketing tournament, DLF Indian Premier League, for a period of two years. Google India's managing director Shailesh Rao chats with ET on the success of IPL on YouTube. Excerpts:
From just 10,000 viewers subscribing to the channel on March 11 to nearly 52,000 subscribers and over 11 million views as on March 19. It's clearly a win for Google...
The response has been overwhelming and has surpassed our expectations. There are almost 1 million new channel views everyday. We started off with around 2 lakh views on March 11. On the inaugural day of IPL the channel views and subscription both went up to 8 lakh views and 40,000 subscribers. The myth was that more number of views will come from other countries than India because of connectivity issues. Surprisingly, the maximum number of subscription and channel views has come from India followed by the UK,Australia and the US.
There have been issues regarding the quality of match streaming. What are you doing to resolve it?
The response has exceeded our expectations and our capacities were tuned accordingly. However, now we are ramping up our capacities to support the growing demand. By the end of the week our streaming quality will most certainly improve. In fact, some videos clips are already available in high definition.
How have advertisers reacted to the move?
As you know we've managed to sign on 7 brands as of now which include Hero Honda, Airtel, HSBC Bank, HP, Coca Cola, Bangalore Royal Challengers and Samsung. We are looking at providing maximum brand mileage to our advertisers. While premium sponsors gets presence during six league matches, semi finals and the final match, other sponsors get ad spots during the match streaming (through in-stream ads) and pre roll (ad prior to the match highlights). Advertisers also get brand paste up during fall of wickets, boundaries and sixes.
How does the deal with IPL work? Do you share the revenues with the league body?
Yes, we do. But I can't divulge the details. The deal is focus on increasing reach and users base for now, we will look at revenues once we have successfully build the user base for the IPL YouTube channel. The aim of this alliance is to offer cricket fans an interactive experience to enjoy their favourite sport online
Will you now considering extending the alliance for IPL's Champions League as well?
The present deal will demonstrate the many possibilities we can venture into in times to come. Our focus right now is to deliver the best possible consumer experience on the Internet. Other live events and sporting events will follows.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDIA IS AN ATTRACTIVE GROWTH MARKET FOR US'
AMIT SHARMA & HARSIMRAN JULKA
The $25-billion Sharp Corporation has always faced a chequered history. The Japansese saw its radio sales going up during World War II as people desired more news. Before the war, its factory was destroyed in an earthquake, which made its founder to sell patents of the famous Ever Sharp Pencil. Now, it's again seeing declining revenues due to the economic slump and fluctuation of yen versus dollar. The declining Japanese population is making the giant look towards markets like India and China. Sharp is one of the few electronic pioneers to be a late entrant into India. On his maiden visit to the country, Sharp's global president and COO Mikio Katayama shares his plans to take over LG, Samsung, Nokia and Sony. Excerpts:
How has the financial crisis reshaped Sharp's market entry strategy?
Prior to the crisis, we had been engaging in the global expansion of LCD TV business. We have always focussed on the Japanese and the North American market. After the crisis, the growth in European and North American markets declined. Also, yen appreciation has not helped matters. We are now going to bring two key changes. There is now going to be a regional marketing strategy. The European, South East Asian and Chinese markets will be areas of growth for us now. North America and Europe were our bets earlier. Now, we are betting on China and India.
Has the recession also changed your product strategy?
We were focussing on audio-visual products in the past, but we will now focus more on health conscious and environment-friendly products. We possess patents to core technologies, such as solar and LED technology. Now, our strategy is to use these technological advances in growing our business globally.
When will Sharp launch its mobile handsets here?
We have a 30% share of the Japanese handsets market. We are analysing whether we will be able to customise our handsets to Indian conditions. We have already launched our solar-powered handset in some markets, optimised for regions where there is power shortage.
How do you plan to tackle giants like LG, Samsung and Sony?
We look at India as an attractive growth market. We understand that it's a tall order. But, we have the advantage of technology, which will make the task easier.
IN PURSUING HEADLEY, DON'T FORGET BIG FISH
We should not take our eyes off the ball in discussing the fate of David Coleman Headley, the American of Pakistani origin who took an Anglo-Saxon name in order to go under the radar while scouting locations in Mumbai on behalf of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba for the November 26, 2008 attacks. Headley, after all, has been no more than an instrument of a key Pakistani jihadist outfit that is intricately linked with Pakistani intelligence and security outfits which pursue the agenda of waging a secret war against India through acts of terrorism, a story which is decades old. In the final analysis, the Pakistani-American is only a minion who faces trial in a Chicago court. On the other hand, the higher-ups who plot and launch terrorist strikes against this country are quite safe in their redoubts in Pakistan. It is they that India must seek to bring before the law. After the US Federal Bureau of Investigation tipped off New Delhi about the former Dawood Gilani's role in the assault on Mumbai, the Indians wanted to interrogate him but the American authorities did not permit this. After the Kasab trial is over in Mumbai, India may well file a chargesheet against Headley, but there is little chance the US will permit him to be extradited to this country for interrogation, much less to stand trial. It will doubtless be said that he is serving a jail term, which he should be by then. On Thursday Headley entered a plea bargain in a Chicago court on the 12 counts on which he was charged. These relate to his criminal activity in Mumbai and his intention to engage in terrorism in Denmark. He has pleaded guilty in order to avoid a possible death sentence, and be given lighter punishment (which could still mean a life term). As part of the bargain with the US authorities, he has agreed to assist US intelligence analysts, and a part of the deal is that he would not be extradited to India, Pakistan or Denmark. While not letting India lay a hand on Headley, Washington continues to assure New Delhi of not slowing its cooperation on counter-terrorism. There is not much to lose here, although Indian experts should have optimally interviewed the Chicago man. America's record vis-à-vis this country in permitting interrogation of prisoners or allowing access to documents in its custody has been consistently poor. After the battle of Kunduz when the Taliban government was being toppled in Afghanistan, access was denied to Indian investigators to interview any of the Pakistanis taken prisoner, although there was suspicion that some were linked to terrorist acts against India. Later, access was denied when a Kabul residence from the Taliban-Al Qaeda period yielded a gold mine of documents, including those that might be of interest to India. Such episodes have been irksome. Washington is currently engaged in wooing Islamabad whose help it needs to insinuate the Taliban back into power in Kabul. Hypothetically, if Headley, a US citizen, could be interrogated by Indian investigators, there would be pressure on Islamabad to permit India to interrogate someone like Hafiz Saeed, Lashkar's godfather. It is unlikely that the US would want its long-term ally Islamabad to face that embarrassment.
MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE
BY BY FARRUKH DHONDY
"Stop your lies about me
Or I'll tell the truth about you".
From Dattey Raho
The friend of a friend from India visits Britain for the first time. After a few days of learning London by foot, from Westminster Abbey past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, across Westminster bridge to the South Bank with its concert halls and galleries and then along the river to the Tate Modern and across the foot bridge north again to St. Paul's, he professes to his friend and to me that he has fallen in love with the city.
If he was to pick out one feature of it which had most impressed him, which would it be, I asked. The architecture, ancient and modern, the haphazard imposing view along the river, the art in the galleries, the shop windows a long string of choices.
"None of the above", he says. "The thing that strikes me first is that no one seems to be urinating in the street. I've passed under deserted bridges, gone through subways, walked to alleys behind the monuments and there aren't any signs prohibiting it and it would seem these are unnecessary because no one commits any nuisance anyway".
My British friend laughed.
Our Indian visitor went on to say that he would if he could leave the chaos of Mumbai behind and live and work in London. I told him I thought that it was a hasty judgment and that he should consider other factors of life as well, apart from the fact that Britain would not allow him to settle here unless he was in some professional sense indispensable to the British economy or of course if he married a British citizen and applied for leave to stay and for citizenship. After two further weeks of absorbing the British atmosphere and despite the fact it has been rather cold and unwelcoming outside, my Brit friend caught him scouring the Internet for websites that offered British women who wanted marriage partners.
Nothing came of it and our Indian friend left for Dubai which, we briefed him, was Las Vegas without the good taste. But perhaps there too the Dubai authorities and the population of foreigners kept the place free of what we in the subcontinent call "nuisance".
The day he left, there was a newspaper report which said that 12 urinators had been produced before the magistrate's courts in London for committing a nuisance in Victoria and Soho. The 12 were sentenced and fined a total of £2,000 by the City of Westminster Magistrate's court, with fines for each ranging from £50 to £250. The Westminster Council's strategic director who had initiated the crackdown on public urinators, said "not only is it offensive and unhygienic to urinate in the street, it costs a small fortune to clean up the mess and get rid of the putrid smell which seeps into brickwork and paving"
Our Indian friend was puzzled.
"I think you'd better check Dubai out", I said, "I also read a report by an environmental charity whose research showed that 95 per cent of Britons had urinated, vomited or defecated in public places because no toilet was available".
"I suppose our friend will be looking into Dubai websites for prospective brides", the Brit friend remarked. "An absurd reason for liking or disliking a place".
I said I didn't think so. I recalled writing a column in this very paper extolling the dawn of the public lavatorial revolution in New Delhi where I had seen the first establishment of the Sulabh Shaochalays. I remember discussing the prospective column with a friend at the time and she said "why would anyone want to read about pubic toilets?"
I reminded her of the literary furore that followed the publication of V.S. Naipaul's An Area of Darkness in which he wrote at some length about the Indian habit of urinating and defecating in public places and cultivating a social blindness to the undesirability of the tradition. He, unlike his critics who called his book a gutter-inspector's report, thought this almost universal habit worthy of mention as a national trait.
After the column was published a few people complained that there were revolutions and transformations more important than the lavatorial one.
The slogan that I had coined for the Sulabh Shaochalays at the time, with apologies to W.B. Yeats was:
"I must go down to the Sulabh again
To the Sulabh Shaochalay!
A rupee a pee,
Two for a poo,
Everything short of a lay!"
The shortage of public toilets was, in my youth a chronic problem and one can't claim never to have used the wide open spaces or a dark alley to relieve oneself. A college friend whom I shall, to save the blushes of his children or grandchildren and save myself a libel prosecution, call Master J, was spotted by a group of me and my friends at Pune railway station, in a crocodile of arrested persons, tied to each other with the same rope in loops round their necks and being led by policemen to the courts. His companions in the chained gang were tramps, villains, drunkards, drugees the usual suspects. Had he been caught travelling without a ticket?
"No", he said, "There was, on the cricket stadium wall, a notice which said Commit No Nuisance and, khulla I committed nuisance".
He was led away by the neck.
The truth about London today is that despite the fines and the alertness of police to the nuisance commiters, the scourge of public urination is set to continue and increase. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of public toilets in London dropped by 40 per cent. There are now 415 public toilets in London serving a population of 7.5 million and the additional 28 million people a year who visit the capital.
The creative strategy of people who are caught short is to dodge into a pub, pretend to be looking for a friend and when you've evaded the barman or barwoman's eye to segue into the Ladies or Gents. Then there are always the Macdonalds, the Kentucky Fried Chicken and other fast food joints which I only enter in extreme circumstances to use the loo. Coffee shops, supermarkets and departments stores also have public toilets but in the department stores it is more than likely that one has to tackle five floors, escalators and vast trading areas before one finds the facility.
Senior bureaucrat S.P. Singh's prayers have been answered finally. The former GHMC commissioner participated in a week-long puja to please the gods - and it paid handsome dividends. The officer was on leave after the GHMC elections when he was posted as principal secretary, information technology. But his knowledge of computers is rather poor, so he asked chief secretary S.V. Prasad and the gods to give him another posting. He continued his puja and the government had to issue an order extending his leave. Finally, he was given a post more to his liking principal secretary, transport. Interestingly, the officer who was shifted from IT to make way for him, Ms Ratna Prabha, was lobbying to return to her former post in IT.
Charming women LEGISLATORS
It has been a practice with finance ministers to keep MLAs in good humour by giving them "gifts" once the Finance Bill is adopted in the state Assembly. It has been a traditional token of thanks in state politics though some might call it something more sinister. Now that Mr Rosaiah is holding the portfolios of both the Chief Minister and the finance minister, he has decided to do away with the practice, given the "precarious financial status of the government". However, the minister for mines and handlooms, Mr Balineni Srinivasulu Reddy, decided he would play Santa Claus. Only he has been partial to the fairer sex and has left out the male legislators altogether! The ladies were overjoyed to get the famous Uppada handloom sari each costing a whopping Rs 10,000! The minister said that he paid from his own pocket. To angry male members who wanted to know why they had been left out, the minister said "These are saris meant for women". The male MLAs retorted that they wanted it for their wives!
Spending more to retain DGP than the Chief Secretary
The state government was ready to spend copiously to defend the promotion of Mr R.R. Girish Kumar as the director general of police, but has become austere when it comes to the chief secretary. The government spent a whopping Rs 30 lakh and hired the services of the noted Supreme Court lawyer, Mr P.P. Rao, when Mr Girish Kumar's elevation was put to legal scrutiny. The grapevine is that the DGP himself was instrumental in hiring costly legal service by mooting a proposal through the office of the advocate general. However, when it came to the chief secretary, the powers that be left it to the legal brains of the AG's office. It is a rather queer message that the state government is sending.
Rosaiah's smile for siddhantis
Chief Minister K. Rosaiah, whose general demeanour is rather serious, looked uncharacteristically jovial while releasing the Telugu Panchangam at the Congress headquarters, Gandhi Bhavan. The Chief Minister had just heard the siddhanti read out that he would not complete his full term. Nothing to smile about in that, except that just a few minutes earlier, Mr Rosaiah had attended the official function of Panchangam pathanam (recital), where the siddhanti had predicted that he would complete his full term! When journalists met the Chief Minister later and asked about the smile, he said, "It is obvious. No two panchangam will coincide. There are several such panchangam available now. I never believe these predictions. I believe in destiny." When he was finance minister he said he had heard contradictory opinions from panchangam about state's finances.
"What I cannot understand is one siddhanti says expenditure will be less while the income will be more. This is quite heartening to me. But the moment I hear from another siddhanti that expenditure will be more than the income, it actually hurts me."
EXAMS & THE RACE TO THE TOP
BY ANTARA DEV SEN
It's age, I guess. This vague suspicion of the revolutionary ideas of high profile politicians. This gurgling lament rising like bile within me as the government prepares to usher in landmark changes that will spruce up our education system, bring in funds, stop our incessant brain drain and make life stress-free for traumatised school students and their paranoid parents.
Take the Centre's scrapping the Class 10 board examinations from next year. There will be no exams in school, they say, even the Class 10 exams will go. Students can stop killing themselves, parents can relax, all will be well with the world. Till the Class 12 examinations, that is. Which is when the school kids and their parents will pop out of their heaven of tranquillity and fall headfirst into the unfamiliar earthly thunderstorm of competitive final examinations possibly to be felled in one swift swoop.
Now, there is a lot to be said for reducing stress in life. But may be we are barking up the wrong tree. Exam stress comes not from exams as such, but the way exams are pumped up to take on a surreal, superhuman aura, the extraordinary importance ascribed to it, the make or break power bestowed on it. The rituals of worshipping exams make some tests which are at best means to determining an end the end itself. The lack of enough quality institutes for higher education sharpens the competition for admission and these tests become the permit to enter the world of superior education. Add to that the fierce dedication of today's parents to push their children as far as they can go and you have a pressure cooker on the boil.
The answer may not be to abolish cooking pots, but to take the weight off the pressure cooker. Protecting little children from competition may be a fine idea, but we cannot shelter them from it forever. Teenagers in high school face competition in very many ways in their home and social lives, in their sports abilities, singing or dancing skills, even in their ability to make friends in real or ethereal life. Taken in the right spirit, exams could be a healthy tool to negotiate life's inevitable competitive edges rather than a source of paranoid paralysis.
Besides, given our general disinterest in teaching and the startlingly uneven quality of learning in the country, examinations do in a certain way ensure some amount of education. Once we get promoted without an annual exam, we may sidestep learning altogether. There is a sea of difference between private schools for the privileged and government schools for the underprivileged, and by abolishing exams I suspect we would be widening the gulf. Children of poor families would not get even the minimum education they now get in government schools with absent teachers, missing textbooks and unfavourable conditions of learning.
Instead of abolishing exams in general, we need to abolish the excessive importance granted to board exams. College admission could be more holistic, more human. Instead of the obsessively narrow focus on the marksheet of one examination, admissions could be based on the student's general performance over the years, his/her admission test, interview, references, general interests and other activities. Parents need to stop putting their lives on hold the moment their child gets into Class 9, squashing them with notes and tutors. They need to recognise that exams are not in themselves the modern-day moksha, that they are at best a step towards better education that may or may not lead to a more fulfilling life. In short, education needs to be connected to life, rather than be its rival.
Besides, we need more centres of excellence. There are hordes of colleges both private and public but mere numbers is not enough. So the Foreign Education Bill, readied this week for the Lok Sabha, is of great interest. It assures us that we will not only have several new wonderful institutes of higher education, but these would also be of foreign origin, and would happily put their firang stamps on our native kids. We have tried to woo Harvard, Yale and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). But the Ivy League seems curiously disinterested. Never mind. We have enough Australian and other if lesser known foreign institutes keen to set up shop here.
These would be institutes that come in for the moolah, unfettered by socialist straps or dreams of social justice that weigh down Indian institutes with reservations etc. But a profit-seeking enterprise could provide excellent education, in the logic of the market where profit is determined by the excellence of the service provided. So far, so good.
But where will they get their teachers from? Possibly from India both by weaning away Indian academics who settle abroad and by poaching from local colleges and universities. Our home-grown institutes, bogged down by low salaries, red tape and the absurd egalitarianism of the University Grants Commission (UGC) that ignores merit and glorifies years of service, would lose good teachers to these foreign institutes. And good students too the ones who can afford them. For foreign stamps don't come cheap.
So it may destabilise our rickety education system. Unless the UGC does something about it. Fair competition needs a level playing field, and the odds are against Indian institutes strapped for funds and tied firmly by UGC rules. Add to that the grand omnipresence of corruption and apathy.
But these problems are not insurmountable. With the government's help, if we gird our loins and prepare for honest competition, we need not fear these primarily B-grade colleges. These would provide the much-needed options for quality college education, especially for the rich, but wouldn't devalue our institutes of excellence. Soon, people would realise that an offshore campus is not the real thing you get the stamp but not the exposure to the culture, the interesting mix of teachers and students. Given comparable salaries, the best teachers may not wish to be poached from a real centre of excellence to a lesser educational centre even if it has a sparkling campus and a firang name.
In short, if the government really wants revolutionary change, it needs to do more than just bring in foreign colleges and abolish exams. It needs to recognise merit and balance its laudable commitment to social justice with some recognition of market realities.
And most of all, it needs to concentrate on basic and primary education. Higher education can be the cherry on the cake but if the cake is rotten, no amount of cherries will make it acceptable.
- Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at email@example.com [1
PROBLEM OF BEING AN INDIAN ABROAD
BY KISHWAR DESAI
One often wonders why most Indians who live abroad end up spending all their time with fellow desis? Is it because we are secretly racist or do we lack the self-confidence to mingle with non-Indians? Recently two new films one Brit-Asian, Life Goes On and the other based in the US, Bollywood Beats reflected this quite successfully and the "phorener", usually a "gora" or "gori" (very rarely is it a black character), does not enjoy more than a small part in either film.
Even though both films are set outside India should this really surprise us? So are Asian filmmakers abroad writing stories which will appeal to the Indian psyche or is this a reality check of how ordinary Indians actually live? Safe, within a comfort zone, clinging to each other? Then the question is: why leave India at all? Is it only for the economic benefits?
Most of the major roles (in both films) are played by desis, and apart from the location (and the fact that both films had "gay" couples in it) the films could have just as easily been about successful Indians living in a metro in India. Both films were very well made so I am not critiquing the films: I am simply stating that they accidentally brought to the fore the main problem of being an Indian abroad: very few of us want to delve into unfamiliar territory.
In mainstream big budget Hindi cinema (a la Karan Johar) I always thought because huge monies was spent it meant the audience would see their favourite stars and so a foreign chehra was taboo.
Thus even in My Name Is Khan , when Shah Rukh Khan falls in love, it has to be with Kajol. The other problem being that most foreign actors manage to mangle Hindi when they speak it and so it often propels the director to enforce silence upon them as in Love Aaj Kal.
However, perhaps the reality is that we are "like that only". We do prefer the company of another desi than to befriend someone culturally unknown to us. It is something Indians who live abroad must attempt to rectify. We will miss out on so much if we do not mingle with other cultures.
Nonetheless, I have to say that these last few weeks, almost every event I have attended has had an Asian flavour. So either I am also falling into the trap of logging onto my comfort zone or it may be that we have really colonised the UK.
And then perhaps, I cannot really be blamed because the charming and sophisticated Sharmila Tagore and her daughter Soha Ali Khan were here and it was wonderful to be able to have a quiet lunch with them at the House of Lords. It caused a real flutter among some of the Asian attendants in the dining room because those famous dimples still have the power to knock you over into your soup. Soha is also emerging into a talented actress, and now that she is seriously looking at roles outside of India, it is easy to imagine her as an international star. She may have her mother's petite frame but she is an intelligent graduate from the London School of Economics (LSE), and her determination and interest in good roles will take her a long way.
Earlier in the week Sharmila and Soha honoured Saeed Jaffrey at the Nehru Centre, giving him a Lifetime Achievement Award from Pravasi Today. Saeed Jaffrey was entertaining as always at the event, recounting how he had asked Satyajit Ray for a role and was fortunate enough to be given one in the brilliant Shatranj Ke Khilari. It was a rare opportunity to watch the thespian in action, but despite his bravura performance, he seemed frail.
And not just the filmi events, even the literary functions this week had an Asian resonance. The highlight was a reading by Vikram Seth on friendship and poetry at the LSE. It was a fascinating evening because Vikram quoted from a range of poets on their interpretation of friendship. There were even three Chinese poets translated by Vikram and he discussed the different kinds of poems written in praise of friendship, as well as the situations in which they had been written. The evening was part of the Eva Colorni lecture series. Eva was Amartya Sen's wife and so Amartya was chairing the evening. Of course, the theatre was overflowing with poetry enthusiasts and Vikram covered a wide range ending with a reading from his Beastly Tales about the fable of the crocodile and the monkey.
Now that is a dangerous tale of treacherous "friends" which carries a severe health warning, i.e., beware of those friends who profess to love you but are ready to kill you if they want anything you have.
Meanwhile, one person who could do with some friends is the much-maligned Pamela Bordes. I had met her in Goa a few years ago, at a book shop and I vaguely remembered her. In fact, I had quite forgotten her fracas here with the press and her once-upon-a-time very risqué image. However, whilst I had taken her for face value as a photographer starting life all over again in Goa in the UK there are many who have still not forgotten her.
Therefore, every now and then there is "scandalous" report of her enjoying life in Goa and then it rakes up her past, including her affair with the editor Andrew Neil. (Who can forget her gesture of cutting up all his expensive suits before she quit his home?) and working as an escort girl for Adnan Kashoggi. One of the more aggressive tabloids even seems to have sent special reporters and photographers to Goa to track down the poor Ms Bordes and ask her all kinds of embarrassing questions. Rather aggressively the paper states "She was the escort girl whose affairs with Establishment figures scandalised Britain. Today Pamella (sic) Bordes lives in a tiny flat in a seedy Indian resort, ostracised by her family and reduced to chatting up men on the Internet".
In my sole encounter with Pamela I remember a quiet, but very attractive woman interested in talking about her photographs. None of us mentioned her "tempestuous" past and it is entirely possible that Pamela wants to start afresh.
It is at times like this that I find the British press, especially the tabloids, quite intrusive.
But ultimately, the desis are everywhere even in the scandals reported in the tabloids. You simply cannot avoid the desis! What's going on?
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org 
DEMANUFACTURE TWEAKED QUOTES
BY ROGER COHEN
NEW YORK, United States
When I worked in Europe in the 1980s and '90s, I would often run into a little clash of journalistic culture. People I'd interviewed would ask me to submit quotes for their approval read adjustment before publication. No, I'd say, that's not US practice, that's not the way we do it.
Times change: I'm tempted to say the manufactured quote has become standard practice in the United States, but that would be provocative. Let's just say that plenty of quotes are manufactured in the sense that they've been reviewed by their source and "tweaked", or "cleaned up", before publication. Plenty of others just die, or get paraphrased, because they never clear that hurdle.
The Obama administration is particularly active in this regard. I'd say one of its chief difficulties in its first year has been shifting from the relentlessly controlling, on-message, no-drama, one-star-in-the-firmament message of a campaign to the different demands of the presidency, where the humanity of America's leader, his flesh-and-blood fallibility and impulses, assumes central importance.
Once in the Oval Office, the effective must yield in some measure to the emotive. "Pride in responsible process is the closest thing to an Obama ideology", writes George Packer in a recent New Yorker piece called Obama's Lost Year. Well, that won't butter most people's bagels.
In real life people don't adjust their quotes. It's therefore natural that manufactured utterance does not resonate. But everything I've experienced in Washington, and heard from journalists there, suggests control over the message has reached obsessive proportions. Even background (anonymous) interviews morph into "background with authorisation", so that a quote from "an official" must pass the review process lest "an official", should misspeak.
On my return from the post-election tumult of Iran last summer, I spent some time in Washington working on a policy piece and was struck by the control fixation. I'd seen young Iranians shot, beaten, tear-gassed and brutalised in the streets in the name of their beliefs. Yet officials in awe of these Iranians' courage, and desperate to know more about it, were themselves in the calibration business. Their danger zone lay in the words "on the record". In general they avoided it.
"Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?" asked T.S. Eliot. And "Do I dare/Disturb the universe?" Barack Obama became US President because beyond eating peaches he dared disturb the universe. Responsibility is important, given where irresponsibility brought America, but not sufficient.
It is interesting how the authentic, the genuine, the unvarnished, the spontaneous have come to be sought in politicians, both in the United States and Europe. That's a measure, I think, of the way metrics, control, spin and a kind of narrowing have fed a desire in people for the unscripted. They want to dream because the space for that the uncharted space has narrowed.
I got into correspondence recently with a former teacher from high school in Britain. He wrote about his misgivings over how education had changed, how "league tables, and a huge weight of bureaucracy, health and safety regulations, lesson plans for teachers" had curtailed spontaneity.
"Instead of a double period with a class looking at Blake's poems, on a fine day, when we might suddenly choose to go down to the Tate to look at his water colours, these days a risk assessment form has to be completed in triplicate and submitted for approval three days in advance", he wrote.
Of course, it's those impromptu visits to the Tate, and how the water colours interwove with the words, that a boy remembers. As my former teacher wrote, "something precious has been lost" in the development of "modern anxieties about danger and accountability".
We live with a paradox: Choice and possibility have broadened yet there is less space for unfiltered experience, for losing yourself, for self-immersion in place. When I started in journalism, it was possible to be "out of contact" for days. There was something to be said for that.
US President Obama knows how lonely the pursuit of truth can be and what passion it can require; that in a sense is his family story. He is a remarkable politician who has already done much to steer America from the politics of fear, from economic catastrophe, from self-delusion, and from a costly belligerence. Repair is painstaking; these achievements are not paltry.
But he has failed to connect, to make the transition from the effective to the emotive. He lacks the narrative of American reinvention that every great President must have. The tones of his administration are pallid rather than primary, just like the tone of manufactured quotes.
In recent weeks, his passion about healthcare reform (fired in part by his mother's experience of dying while arguing with insurance companies) has been stirring, a reminder of how powerful this politician who took down the Clinton and McCain machines can be.
My advice for the second year and beyond is to set aside the teleprompter, allow big administration personalities to get out there and de-manufacture the quotes. The genuine can trump the narrowing that people feel in their lives.
SEAL YOUR LIPS'
HEADLINES DON'T NAIL TERRORISTS
MUCH as the media may apprehend a blockage in the information-flow in high profile cases, there is valid reason for the Union home ministry to blow its top and direct the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad ~ and hopefully parallel units across the country will also get the message ~ to be restrained when disclosing the leads being followed, the identity of suspects and so on. For soon after the head of that ATS had the media lapping up his disclosure that the two men picked up for allegedly plotting three major strikes in Mumbai were being directed by a senior ISI functionary in Pakistan, that "mastermind" dropped himself below radar level. That "Chacha's" phone went dead immediately after the media highlighted his remote-controlling meant that not only did the Mumbai probe grind to a halt but that the monitoring of his communications by other intelligence/investigative agencies also came to grief. And they had been banking on him providing leads running far beyond the three planned strikes ~ establishing probable linkages with the western metropolis' notorious, well-organised criminal network had been high on the list of expectations. A splash in the media sufficed to drown high hopes. Clearly, the fascination with "appearing" on television persists even though highly-competitive, aggressive (irresponsible?) channels are no longer new.
It is now very necessary for middle to senior police officers to be trained in media relations ~ clamming up is not the solution, it only justifies widespread use of the reporters' pet term "clueless". Maintaining public order and confidence in the wake of a terror strike, raising public alertness, gleaning information and perhaps even more is facilitated by keeping the media in the picture. Yet there is little room for expounding theories, airing opinions ~ even if it is now deemed legitimate to speak of a Pakistan/ISI hand in a terror strike even before initial information is collated. Striking a balance is easier said than done, yet professional policing calls for restraint, as well as discarding the notion that the media can be "managed" or worse, "manipulated". Failure to develop and include a media-relations package in higher level police training could prove expensive. Else loud-mouth cops and sensation-seeking media could, unwittingly, provide terrorists much "real time" information.
IRAQ'S POST-ELECTION SCENARIO
IT is an iffy situation. A beleaguered nation's quest for an elected government becomes still more difficult and for a reason that must seem remarkable in the background of the past seven years of war and turbulent strife. All the parties that contested the recent elections in Iraq have performed reasonably well. They feel emboldened enough to throw their hat into the ring though the eventual complexion of the coalition remains an uncertain quantity. Though the incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was generally expected to have an edge, his party, the State of Law, is now reported to be running neck-and-neck with the Iraqiya group, under the leadership of rival Iyad Allawi. There may be nothing exceptional in the performance of Maliki's party, the ruling entity. He is ahead in seven of the 18 provinces. The striking feature of the result is the impressive showing of Allawi, whose party is ahead in five. There has been a distinct diminution in the strength of the ruling party. The post-election tussle between rivals is bound to hobble the formation of the next coalition. The psephological swing indicates that the voting was on sectarian lines. Thus while Maliki has won in Baghdad and the south, where the Shias are predominant, Allawi has fared commendably in the Sunni north. This must be another of the surprises thrown up by the election as Allawi is believed to be a secular Shia. The ethnic trend has been reinforced also in the Kurdish areas that have returned Kurds. The other striking feature must be the impressive showing of the Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr's followers.
A fractured verdict is the message of the Iraqi elections. And it shan't be easy to cobble together a coalition for there may be as many interests in the power game as there are political blocs. Maliki may yet come up trumps, but he will have to contend with the Sadrists, who with as many as 40 seats in the new 325-member parliament, are against his taking over as PM again. The Sadrists will neither forget nor forgive the US offensive against them in 2008, believed to have been undertaken with the tacit approval of PM Maliki. And having won the Sunni vote, Allawi may well place his finger in the coalition pie. The divergent interests will make the formation of the next government yet more unpredictable. Iraq showcases complicated confusion.
PRACTICAL TEST FOR THE CM
NO one has any illusions about why the West Bengal chief minister has been travelling all over to express his appreciation for the achievements of the minority community. But it is left to a rebel in his ranks, Abdur Rezzak Mollah, to confront him with the truth that a few scholarships and recognitions will not reverse the impression that his government has left it till it is too late. It becomes more serious when he has to live up to his promise of ten per cent reservation in government jobs for backward Muslims. The announcement was made more than a month ago apparently as an antidote to the ties the Opposition was rapidly establishing with minorities. Even at that time, the chief minister must have known in the context of legal hassles encountered elsewhere that reservations based on religion could be legally compromised. At the same time, if the announcement cannot be followed up with an official notification soon, it will become counter-productive. The government has already been handicapped by the haste with which it got into sensitive areas like land acquisition. Once again, the chief minister rushed into a programme when there were clear signs of an erosion of minority support. But it is one thing to make an announcement that draws cheers, quite another to make it legally possible and administratively feasible. The Centre has proceeded with caution on the recommendations of the Ranganath Mishra Commission that reservation be granted in government jobs and educational institutions because constitutional and legal implications need to be examined. If the West Bengal government chose to jump the gun, it now faces the onerous task of living up to its pledge before the party in power seeks a fresh mandate. Officials entrusted with the responsibility of drafting the notification have to identify "backward'' Muslims to the satisfaction of leaders of the community. They will then have to see how this "backward'' section can be granted a ten per cent reservation in jobs over and above the seven per cent granted to OBCs. The chief minister would know how contentious this would be. The question is why he didn't choose another route such as an increase in spending on minorities and tribals for the next 12 months. Even that would have raised questions but unlike job reservations, it may have had a better chance of being implemented.
A TALE OF TWO STATES
BIHAR FLOURISHES, BENGAL LANGUISHES
; DEBAKI NANDAN MANDAL
IF bimar means sick in Hindi, Bimaru is not quite the appellation for a resurgent Bihar. Going by the data released by the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO), the state's five-yearly average of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) is 11.3 per cent. Between 2004-05 and 2008-09, Bihar's economic growth under Nitish Kumar has been next only to the highly industrialised Gujarat, which registered a growth rate of 11.5 per cent during the same period.
No wonder Bihar has earned the sobriquet of "miracle economy". Having completed four years in office on 24 November last year, the Chief Minister proudly remarked: "Bihar is poised to be one of the leading states in India. We have endured years of insults from other states. But today they are emulating us."
Agriculture has reportedly registered a high growth rate of 9 per cent per annum. The progress is largely centred around horticulture, Bihar being the country's fourth largest producer in this segment. Fruit and vegetables are cultivated in nearly 20 per cent of the cropped area.
IN the industrial sector, the State Domestic Product (SDP) points to a significant 25.4 per cent growth, construction accounting for the major share. Both public and private investments have contributed to the construction boom. Central assistance to state plans as well as Central plan projects average Rs 6,000 crore per annum, while private investment in the last five years stands at Rs 20,000 crore. The state government is interacting with Britain's Department For International Development (DFID) for policy inputs.
Along with construction, Bihar has witnessed a boom in the liquor trade. This has increased the state's excise earnings. In the rural areas, however, there have been protests by women against the proliferation of liquor outlets. The excise minister was removed after he fell out with the Chief Minister on the issue of the expansion of the liquor trade.
Questions have, however, been raised over Bihar's growth story. The estimates of the GSDP are always prepared by the state governments and the CSO makes comparable estimates of the states based on this data. There is a mismatch of between 3 and 7 per cent between the estimates prepared by the states and the final figures of the CSO. It has also been argued that even if the figures are correct, the change is only nominal because the base is low.
Not very long ago, during the Rabripati raj, Bihar had the lowest per capita income among the states. Sceptics say that even if the state continues to grow at this rate over the next 10 years, its per capita income will be below the 2007-08 national average.
Paradoxically enough, the number of families below the poverty line has gone up by 1.4 million over the past two years. The growth, therefore, has not been inclusive considering the extent of rural poverty. The government is trying to finalise the BPL lists. Professor Jitendra Singh of Wharton has summed up Bihar's experience: "It is a wonderful example of how good governance and responsible, accountable leadership can make a difference, even in Bihar."
The law of the jungle has been replaced by the rule of law, and civil society has been accorded its due respect. The improved law and order situation has attracted private investment and NRIs. Large stretches of the proposed Rs 37,000-crore Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor linking Punjab and Bengal pass through Bihar and will be a major impetus to investment. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) report titled "Doing Business in India 2009" has given Patna the No. 2 rank in terms of starting new business. New Delhi occupies the No. 1 slot. To start a business is least expensive in Patna.
Bihar's resurgence under Nitish Kumar and Bengal's decline during the 33-year rule of the Left Front is a study in contrast. If current trends persist, West Bengal and Bihar could see their fortunes reversed in the CSO's growth table. The former occupies the 14th slot, averaging 7.28 per cent GSDP per annum against the all-India average of 8.49 per cent.
The share of industry in Bengal's GSDP is around 18 per cent ~ much less than the national average of 28 per cent. Between 2004 and 2008, registered manufacturing units expanded at the rate of 3.4 per cent per annum, whereas the growth of the unregistered segment stood at 7 per cent, much below the national average. Lack of adequate infrastructure, trade union activity, the policies of the government, the lack of clarity in the matter of land acquisition, and violence at Nandigram and Singur stood in the way of industrialisation.
THE ideological baggage is no less responsible for the industrial decline. According to the Wharton's management professor, "Communism as a way to organise an economy is one of the most expensive mistakes in human history". Economists Timothy Besley and Robin Burgess of the London School of Economics have shown that the "pro-labour states in India have ended up with higher unemployment, lower wage rates and lower per capita income. Bengal, under Left rule, would be the poster boy of that analysis".
Has Left rule benefited rural Bengal? Of the 18 districts, as many as 14 are among India's poorest whose number is 100. As for economic inequality, Uttar Dinajpur (the poorest district) has a per capita SDP that is only 33.6 per cent that of Kolkata (the richest district). Murshidabad, the country's richest provincial capital during the days of the Raj is now languishing in poverty. This district has witnessed a demographic change on account of the influx from Bangladesh.
The conventional perception that Bengalis are the most politically conscious group within the country is a myth. In every sphere ~ from law and order to health care and education, employment and social services ~ the state has descended to the lowest rung of the ladder. The vast majority of the electorate live in abject poverty and in sub-human conditions. A change of guard, as in Kerala, may ensure competitive politics and accountability. The state cries out for resurgence. Otherwise, Bihar will be the success story of today and tomorrow, and Bengal yesterday's.
The writer is a retired member of the West Bengal Civil Service
'PEOPLE HAVE TAUGHT US A FEW LESSONS'
Beleaguered or not, the Left today appears lost in India's political wonderland. Going through rectification and introspection, the Left parties are looking for ground to re-establish their relevance after the drubbing they got in the last Lok Sabha poll. At 84-plus, AB Bardhan, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, is today the tallest Left leader, who has been outspoken on where the blame lay. How does he foresee the Left's revival? Speaking to DEEPAK RAZDAN, he shares his vision.
In spite of its campaigns, the Left today is marginalised in India's fast-paced politics. How will it make itself relevant again?
I wouldn't like to use superlatives, but it is a fact that the Left suffered a big setback during the last Lok Sabha election. People, in a way, have taught us a few lessons. All Left parties, some more, some less, and each in its own way, are trying to draw lessons from what happened in the elections. From 61 seats in the Lok Sabha to 24 is a big comedown. So, I don't want to mince words. However, with the price rise, the whole question of food security, the question of fertile land for peasants which was taken away on one plea or the other, the question of jobs which hundreds of thousands of people have lost due to the economic crisis, if the Left parties do their homework, remain with the people, fight for their causes, take up their issues, then they can meet the challenge. I am optimistic.
It was admitted there was lack of coordination in the Left...
That is the least part, lack of coordination. Actually, I think that we could not utilise the opportunity when we gave outside support to the UPA government. We should have utilised that opportunity to build mass movements. What we are suffering from now had started then. That was one of the reasons why our relations with the UPA became more of a struggle, started souring, ultimately leading to a rupture. Those days, we did not go to the people, particularly in the rural areas. If we cannot get the rural people behind us, what are the prospects of the Left?
What particular issue do you think can help re-launch the Left?
I think the basic issue today is the issue of price rise. Prices continue to rise and the government continues to fiddle, doing nothing. Only statements are issued occasionally that prices will come down but they don't come down. The more the government takes steps, the more prices escalate. For instance, duties on petroleum products will have a cascading effect.
But you no longer have that sting in your attacks on the government?
It is not a question of an individual, or a party being in an attacking mood. The movement is with the people; it is the people who build the movement. People have to be mobilised. People have to act, move in the streets. There is a saying that politics really begins when millions are on the streets. Today, the people do not feel confident of going to the streets although they are suffering every day. They are living in miserable conditions. They can't afford to come out on the streets even for one day because they are worried about their next meal.
Is the Left not sending contradictory signals, you are with the Congress one day, against another day, even if the issues are the Women's Bill or the Nuclear Bill?
These are all issues. If the BJP takes a position on the Women's Bill, which has been our position for the last 20 years, what can we do? Fourteen years ago, the Bill came, our MP, Geeta Mukherjee, saw it through in the joint select committee. If the BJP also thinks of supporting the Bill, should we say they shouldn't support?
For the common man, does it not present a confusing picture?
The confusion is being created by the media as if it is a joint action between the BJP and the Left. We are fighting for principles, what we stand for. If the BJP for reasons of its own, also because it happens to be the Opposition party, takes up those common positions, what can we do?
To survive as a distinct political group, how do the Left parties propose to expand their base, enlisting the support of youth?
Young people have to come to the movement, and I do see young people coming into the movement. The whole point is that the media is playing up only certain individuals, sons and daughters of established people in political power as if they are the only youth working in the country.
How do you propose to project the Left in the coming Assembly polls, including Bihar, where you want to have the RJD with you?
The RJD has a different point of view as far as the Women's Reservation Bill is concerned. We will differ on the issue. That is not the end of the road. There are other issues before the country, like price rise, food security and the question of land, jobs. On these questions, we can come together.
Other parties project leaders and establish rapport with the people through them, why doesn't the Left do so?
We differ on that. It is not a question of projecting personalities. I don't think it has helped any party. They are projecting, and losing. Sometimes they win, but what happens when they lose?
So, you are extending issue-based support to UPA-II?
No. Even to the UPA-I, there was more struggle and very little support, particularly when inflation rose, and farmers started committing suicide. When they started bending before the US, abandoning our traditional foreign policy, we parted company with them. They continue to follow the same path; where is the question of lending them support. But if they bring the Women's Bill, well and good. So we are supporting the Bill, we are not supporting the Congress.
The UPA government does not have a majority mandate, they are only talking. They never had a majority in UPA-I, and they don't have a majority in UPA-II. They have to rely on a coalition. They are being offensive, arrogant and becoming authoritarian, disregarding the views of the people, and what the Opposition says. An attitude of contempt towards the Opposition is growing, that is very unfortunate.
NUKE THE BILL
Politicians can fight over the domestic Nuclear Liability Bill till the cows come home. The fact is we need a domestic Bill that addresses this issue, because the Atomic Energy Act will soon be amended to allow private companies in.
They can fight over the cap, the amount of the cap, who is liable, etc, in the Bill. But the bigger danger is in the Convention for Supplementary Compensation, or the CSC. The Americans have been pushing India towards it. NSA Shiv Sankar Menon admitted before Congress members that the domestic Nuclear Liability Bill is in alliance with the CSC, meaning that it is a foregone conclusion.
Is the CSC necessary? Yes, to the extent that we have to sign an international convention. But India has choices like the Vienna or Paris Convention.
In other words, the CSC takes away our right to sue American companies in American courts. After the Bhopal gas leak, thousands of cases were brought in by Indians in American courts. Now the Americans want to prevent that kind of situation.
There is a silver lining for Indian lawyers. If all cases remain in India, it would certainly mean more business for them. So one fear is that the lawyers in different parties will see a common ground in pushing this issue. At a time when the cost of living is rising, the value of life will fall if the CSC gets through.
It is like the Arab and the camel. With the government having divested itself, the Arab depends on the camel at times. There have been occasions when netas borrow corporate luxury jets to ferry them around. But the quid pro quo is often heavily loaded on one side. So it stands to reason if the government goes in for flying machines for exclusive use by VVIPs. During the meltdown, it went in for a squadron of Bombardiers. And now when the thin veil of austerity has been lifted, it has silently gone in for a dozen copters at a cost of Rs 4,000 crore. They will be fashioned on the ones President Obama uses with self-defence systems.
But the point to be made is that when travel is by the cattle class or by Mumbai Metro and dinner with the Kalavatis of the world, can't the VVIPs be more abstemious in reality? Can't they open their own purse strings a wee bit instead of being a drain on the exchequer and staying at five star hotels for months together? Even the honourable Dr Abdul Kalam, it is reported, incurs a cost of $1,000 per day on security alone on his foreign trips which is sometimes as often as once a month. While it is good that he spreads the light of learning across the globe, the widely respected ex-President can at least put a cap on frequent visits abroad and light the lamp within the country. It is a good augury that the PMO is framing guidelines in this regard perhaps only to be honoured more in its breach than in its observance.
Dog bites dog
Two TV channels are crossing swords. In a lawsuit filed by one channel against the other, it has alleged that its rival has accused it of "copying", "cheating" and "lying" about its viewership ratings on the day of the announcement of the Union Budget. The lengthy defamation notice goes on to describe in great detail the alleged "accusations and representations" of the other channel.
While law will take its own course, is this part of a wider malaise that seems to have gripped the Indian television industry as a whole? Enough and more has been written on the no-holds-barred battles that are being fought between various TV channels across genres to grab viewership.
Be that as it may, these skirmishes don't seem to prevent the same talking heads from appearing on "live" news capsules across various channels, flitting in and out of various newsrooms in the span of a few minutes, (almost being in two places at the same time), mouthing the same platitudes, delivering the same slogans and flogging the same ideologies. And shouting down the same opponents. And TV anchors, some are celebrities in their own right cultivated by publicity hungry politicos, have reduced serious debates to silly arguments and fiery issues into sound bytes.
The financials of various broadcast houses are not in robust health. But when will the wake-up call come? The fact is that the battle for viewership has caused a steady deterioration in the quality of programming, across channels.
A survey on the most "influential" people in India to be featured as a cover story in one of the forthcoming issues of a magazine was put up to the baron. He flipped through and reacted, "Why is 'X' not in the list?" "X" is an erstwhile telecom czar and now MP. He was also heading a Chamber until recently and put off the Chambers' economists by his pomposity and half-baked knowledge. And so it had to be re-worked, possibly to include him. So much for the authenticity of such surveys. The editor too would have his favourite(s) to be included. And when the survey appears, it may not resemble the survey undertaken in any manner whatsoever. Freedom of the Press or of the Baron? Debates on issues like this or on paid news all bakwaas!! It is always paisa vasool.
Winning public approbation
The media policy of a large oil and steel conglomerate almost sounds like a gag order. A plethora of "don'ts". The avowed purpose is to ensure that the company, which was in the news for all the wrong reasons when its rival group was still united, is positively represented. It is tough talk "those responsible for 'leaks' will face termination".
Some remarks are enough to deflate the ego of those in the Fourth Estate. Take a sample: "Assume that everything you say to the reporter is on record. If you do not want to see it in print, just do not say it... Don't treat any meeting with the journalist as a personal meeting even if you know the journalist well." What is not on record is the attempt of the corporate to win over (and bamboozle) the media through means fair and foul.
It looks as if the group would like to cover its tracks as it embarks on a listing at the London Stock Exchange.
Why should any self-respecting corporate put up with stories of its bail-outs and restructuring schemes when it is frantically seeking injection of more funds for its glorious expansion programmes? But Dame Luck is continuously smiling on the Group after the famous siblings fought.
Eighty per cent of Americans believe that nothing can be accomplished in Washington in relation to Obama's effort to swim against the well-entrenched tide, according to an Ipsos/McClatchy poll conducted in early March 2010. There is a simmering disillusionment about Obama's ability to walk the talk. If a similar poll is held in India, will the result be any different? A Booker prize-winner has this to say, "Corporatisation of natural resources such as coal and iron ore has led to scandals galore. And it's this money which can buy governments, courts and media, making our democracy the best democracy that money can buy."
Heard on the street
The Cricket Czar and Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, confessed that he was no economist to understand market costs, comparison and price rise. "I am a kisan," he said. Reminiscent of Charan Singh and Deva Gowda! Does Pawar understand only cricket? Or is he suggesting that an economist should occupy his chair? Well, since an eminent economist took over in 2004, rural poverty has risen by 20 per cent.
We shall have to move towards the betterment, towards development and 9-10 per cent growth is achievable. It is not a pipe-dream.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee while replying to the debate on the budget in the Rajya Sabha.
Congress demands are like castles in the air. BJP leader Jaynarayan Vyas on the Congress's demand that Narendra Modi should resign.
Publishing paid news should be declared an electoral malpractice under the Representation of the People Act.
CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat. We agree and will push for it in the Lok Sabha (electoral malpractice issue) in the second half of the ongoing Parliament session.
Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj.
We do not really know what changes have been incorporated in the Bill. The central government did not feel the need for discussing the matter with the state governments.
West Bengal higher education minister Sudarshan Roychowdhury on the Foreign University Bill.
The chief minister wants the matches to be conducted within legal parameters. After Tuesday's match, the Kolkata Knight Riders will have 10 days to adhere to the rules and regulations.
West Bengal sports minister Kanti Ganguly.
All Gorkhas must be declared a Scheduled Tribe to preserve the unique cultural heritage, tradition and ethnicity of the Gorkha community as a whole.
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha proposal.
SRK told me that he had heard of my acting in some Bengali movies. I told him that I was a small actor, while he was an icon loved all over the country. I also told him that I liked his movies. At this point, Shah Rukh said he wanted to act in a Bengali movie and asked me to talk to producers and directors in Tollywood. He also asked me to be a part of it.
Fire Services Minister Pratim Chatterjee.
Party workers from the Lucknow zone had raised funds to gift the garland. Each currency note in the garland was heard earned by BSP workers.
A close aide of Mayawati, Naseemuddin Siddiqui.
No more a Dalit ki beti but daulat ke beti.
Congress leader Digvijay Singh on Mayavati.
The subjugation of women is a direct threat to the security of the United States.
Over 50,000 fans thronged the Parramatta Park at the height of the turmoil (over the attacks on Indians) ... Rahman's message was one of love and everybody embraced it... The power of love won.
Cricketer Matthew Hayden about the recent Festival of Sydney, where AR Rahman presented his Jai Ho concert.
LABOUR'S LOVE LOST
The British political system is full of contradictions. The principal among these is the startling fact that Great Britain is a thriving and robust democracy with a monarch as the head of State. Following from this is the presence of the institution of the House of Lords, which represents the Crown and the nobility. (Such is the power of custom and convention of the House of Lords that peers consider themselves defranchised as they are supposed to stand above the fray and to represent the interests of the Crown.) Over time, and reflecting changes in British society and politics, the House of Lords has refashioned itself. It is certainly no longer the powerful body it used to be before H.H. Asquith reduced its powers by way of a radical dose of reforms in 1911. Despite reforms and refashioning, it has been clear that the House of Lords is living on borrowed time. As an institution it is an anachronism. Tony Blair, when he became prime minister, declared it to be "undemocratic and unrepresentative". Not even Mr Blair's critics will disagree with his choice of epithets. One of the steps that Mr Blair took was to replace hereditary peers by appointed officials. Another step was to take the senior judges out of the House of Lords and to rename the highest court the supreme court. And now his successor has announced plans to completely abolish the House of Lords.
According to the new reform plans, the existing lords, almost all of whom are appointed, will be replaced by an elected chamber. Those who seek election to this chamber will not belong to any political party and they will be elected on the basis of proportional representation. This chamber will probably be called the senate and one-third of its members will be elected when there is a general election. Obviously, these proposals, when they become reality, will radically alter the way the British political system is configured. It is difficult to object to the proposals put forward by Gordon Brown's government even though their timing can provoke a few queries. There cannot be any intellectual justification for an institution that is based on aristocratic privilege.
There can, however, be a utilitarian justification. The House of Lords, despite its curtailed powers, has often been a restraining influence on the the House of Commons. Even those who oppose in principle its existence, acknowledge that the House of Lords is often a repository of wisdom, grace and common sense. These are not virtues that can be easily ignored in today's Britain. It is also true that the intellectual level of debates in the House of Lords is inevitably superior to the one that prevails in the Commons. The idea of a Upper House has much to commend it. The abolition of the House of Lords a part of the project to level British society should not be carried out for the wrong reasons and in unseemly haste, and certainly not with populist electoral gains in mind.
NOT ANOTHER LIKE HIM
- MICHAEL FOOT SOUGHT NOTHING FOR HIMSELF
SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
More recently, Lee Kuan Yew said the same thing during the conversations for my book on his role in Narasimha Rao's 'Look East' policy. India would have been transformed, he argued, if "Mrs Gandhi had continued the declaration of Emergency for ten, twenty years after making the trains run on time". He laughed when I asked why he had not said so publicly at the time. "How could I? They would all squat on me! I am already thought to be authoritarian. Here I am supporting a democrat who is turning into a dictator!" Lee thought "she was trying to do the right thing for India" through the Emergency. "I didn't think she was trying to do India in, trying to do it for her glory or her wealth." I told him about the comment attributed to Foot and Lee conceded he lacked "the audacity" to follow the Labour leader.
Lee's advocacy of strong governance was expected. But it was a surprise from a British social democrat. A
common friend, himself an active Labour supporter, explained that in Foot's eyes, Jawaharlal Nehru and his
progeny could do no wrong. What he didn't add was that Clement Attlee, Aneurin Bevan who was Foot's great
hero, Fenner Brockway who was born in Calcutta of missionary parents, and other Labour Party veterans of Krishna Menon's India League, took a proprietary interest in India. They saw modern democratic India as their creation.
All India Radio asked me to interview Bevan's widow, Jennie Lee, during the Emergency but warned repeatedly not to raise any political question. The insipid conversation with the dumpy little woman with heavy make-up and an artificial blonde bouffant dragged on until she suddenly took the initiative with, "I want to say what a wonderful woman Indira Gandhi is and how much I admire everything she is doing!" or words to that effect.
I was not surprised. Jennie Lee would not have come to India at that time as the Indian government's guest except to demonstrate solidarity with Mrs Gandhi. The latter must have gloated over the implications of the visit and the bonus of a distinguished British personality's endorsement of the Emergency over AIR. But I doubted whether Nye's widow had much idea of what the Emergency was all about. She was being loyal to her husband who had been devoted to Nehru. India and Nehru were synonymous.
Foot was in a different league, with an intellectual breadth that is rare in the hurly-burly of political life, an authority on Byron, Hazlitt and H.G. Wells, and author of The Pen and the Sword: Jonathan Swift and the Power of the Press. Writing under the pseudonym of Cato in Guilty Men, he launched a withering attack on Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler. He admired and wrote about the radical Tom Paine, one of the fathers of American independence. Foot and Jill Craigie, his wife, made a film at their own expense to expose Slobodan Milosevic's atrocities in Bosnia.
His reported comment on the Emergency might arguably have been excusable if he had known of the self-interested posturing that it encouraged or the antics of those Indians who feathered their nests by ingratiating themselves with the American human rights lobby. But such cynicism was beyond his comprehension. The "smack of firm government" remark reflected his goodwill come what may for Nehru's daughter, and perhaps also his fear that India was drifting towards anarchy during those months of civil turmoil that preceded the Emergency.
But did he really utter those words? "Where you got that from I don't know but I said no such thing!" he snapped when I visited his small Hampstead house overflowing with books to find "the heart of an ox" imprisoned in a frail body in a shabby green jersey embroidered with Old Labour's forgotten logo. That was seven years ago. As I wrote in these columns at the time, he proudly recalled he had insisted on visiting Mrs Gandhi against the advice of his friend and colleague, Richard Crossman, Britain's foreign secretary, foreign office mandarins in London, Britain's high commissioner in New Delhi, and the Socialist International which was concerned about George Fernandes. Foot, who was then Harold Wilson's employment secretary, remained unapologetic to the end about defying the fashionable orthodoxy of the time.
As I wrote in 2003, "His three-hour tête-à-tête with Mrs Gandhi served a useful purpose, he says. It forced her to face up to concerns like Sanjay's birth control measures, the expulsion of foreign correspondents and Fernandes's incarceration, that few others brought up with her. 'She didn't lose her temper. She didn't give satisfactory replies but didn't refuse to talk either, as everyone had said she would.'
"Above all, she gave the lie to those jeremiahs who had been singing a dirge for democracy. She assured Foot she had no intention of extending the Emergency. 'Of course, we will hold elections,' she said, 'and we'll win them.' Foot's aside that she was probably convinced she would does not alter his conviction that the 1977 election was a momentous event. 'No exercise in the whole history of democratic politics can compare with it.' He is more eulogistic than James Callaghan whose measured praise for Mrs Gandhi's decision (while Morarji Desai looked as if he had bitten on a bitter lemon) provided Congress candidates from Kashmir to Kanyakumari with campaign material." He was impressed by her acceptance of electoral defeat and determination to regain her political authority. When Mrs Gandhi visited Britain, he took her to Ebbw Vale, Bevan's old Welsh constituency he had inherited.
I am not sure there wasn't a tinge of patronage in all this, especially in the belief that he had influenced Mrs Gandhi. It was the way with Labour stalwarts. It came out again when I invited Fenner Brockway to write an article for the paper I edited. Brockway, who famously flaunted a Gandhi cap in the House of Commons and was fond of recounting how only a man and a dog turned up to hear him speak on Indian independence, and the dog was the more attentive of the two, readily complied. But his article began with how, as a child in Bengal, he had no compunctions about mixing with Indian children.
Foot's political career was not deemed a success. As a minister he failed to forge the social partnership between capital and labour that was his ideal. His 31 months as party leader led to the split that formed the Social Democratic Party and Labour's huge defeat of 1983. Today, Labour is mired in scandal. Three members of parliament, David Chaytor, Elliott Morley and Jim Devine, are trying to wriggle out of theft charges by claiming parliamentary privilege under the Bill of Rights of 1689. Among Labour's prominent South Asians, one scandal after another dogs Keith Vaz, the first Asian MP since Shapurji Saklatvala. Swraj Paul and Pola Uddin have been caught with their noses in the trough.
Michael Foot was above such shenanigans. As Gordon Brown said on Monday, his was "a life lived in the service of the greatest of progressive causes". There were no hymns or Biblical tracts but readings from Cicero to Byron and that stirring refrain, "Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,/ We'll keep the Red Flag flying here." That ode to a lost cause was an appropriate valedictory to a man who sought nothing for himself. Whatever his views on the Emergency, there won't be another like him.
''INDIA MUST TELL US COOPER-ATION CAN'T BE ONE-WAY.''
Hopes of seeing David Headley extradited to India for questioning, perhaps even to face trial here for his role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks have been dashed with US authorities striking a deal with him that will see him get off rather lightly. Headley has pleaded guilty on all charges against him in a Chicago court. This will allow him to escape the death sentence. It is believed that the guilty plea is part of a larger agreement he reached with US government officials that will enable him to avoid extradition to India. India has been pressing the US to extradite Headley. But the Americans have been reluctant to give India any access to him. This has prompted sections in India's security establishment to speculate over Headley's antecedents. Was the Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Toiba operative a CIA agent earlier, who was tasked with infiltrating the LeT but turned a double agent subsequently? The rather favourable deal that Headley has worked out with US officials now will give credence to such speculation. The US seems excessively reluctant to allow India to access him. This is evident from the deal they have struck. It suggests that Washington fears he will reveal their dirty secrets to India. India's questioning of Headley could also lay bare the role of the Pakistan military and of LeT chief Hafiz Saeed in the Mumbai attacks, issues that the Americans are loath to raise with the Pakistanis at this juncture.
US officials say that the plea bargain with Headley does allow India to question him. But this access will not be direct but through US officials or video-conferencing and not in India but in the US. Indirect access is not the same as extradition. This is a point that India must emphasise to the Americans.
The US has been preaching to the international community on wanting full co-operation in tackling terrorism. But it doesn't seem to practice what it preaches. Its co-operation with India in its battle against terrorism has been less than satisfactory. India must clarify to the Americans that co-operation is not a one-way street. India must tell Washington that it expects it to show support for India's concerns in concrete action, not just airy rhetoric. Allowing India full access to Headley will enable it to get to the bottom of his links. This is as much in the US' interest as it is in India's.
ACT WITH CAUTION
''FOREIGN VARSI-TIES WILL FORCE LOCAL REFORMS AS WELL.''
With the Union Cabinet approving a legislative bill to allow foreign universities to open campuses in India, the dream of lakhs of students in this country to get a higher education of international standards is a step closer towards realisation. The bill is now ready for introduction in parliament. Several overseas educational institutions are already known to be interested in setting up campuses in the country. The proposed legislation should benefit Indian students as they can now expect to get a foreign degree at a fraction of the price abroad. While education in these institutions is likely to be expensive and far more costly than that provided by government and private institutions in the country, studying here will be less of a financial burden than if one went abroad for an equivalent degree. Hitherto, students have not always found it easy to security admission into a foreign university.
The entry of foreign players is expected to put enormous pressure on Indian educational institutions, most of which at present lack quality. They will have to reform themselves to compete and remain relevant. They will have to match international standards. Actually, time may be running out for them; unless such institutions embark upon a path of reforms, time may not be far away when their very survival may be in doubt. However, while the proposal to allow foreign varsities will force local institutions and academia to pull up their socks, it will not by itself raise educational standards in the country. Reform in the higher education sector requires more than opening the gates to foreign players.
Probably, the reservation system that is applicable to the country's higher educational institutions may not be applicable to foreign players entering the country. That is what Human Resources Development minister Kapil Sibal has hinted at, though the exact position on this important aspect would be known only when the bill is out. There is thus an area of concern the gap in the quality of education that the rich and poor can hope to access, which is already wide, may widen further. There is a danger too of low-quality overseas institutions swooping in to make a fast buck in the country. The regulatory body that will scrutinise proposals from these institutions must exercise utmost care while granting permission to open campus.
THE US WILL DO ITS UTMOST TO ENSURE INDIA IS NOT GIVEN A SHRED OF EVIDENCE BY HEADLEY LINKING LET WITH THE PAKISTANI MILITARY.
BY M K BHADRAKUMAR
It must be the mother of all political ironies that the week that the government almost tabled in the parliament an extraordinary legislation safeguarding the business interests of American nuclear industry, should end with the burnt-out case of David Headley.
A whole lot of themes of faith and disbelief on the political diplomatic front sail into view what can only be called the spiritual aridity of India's foreign policy. The time has come to examine the possibility of redemption.
Cooperation in the fight against terrorism lies within the first circle of US-India strategic cooperation. The Mumbai attacks led to unprecedented counter-terrorism cooperation between India and the US "breaking down walls and bureaucratic obstacles between the two countries' intelligence and investigating agencies," as the prominent American security expert Lisa Curtis underscored.
There is no doubt that David Headley's arrest last October has been a breakthrough in throwing light on the operations and activities of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) in India. To quote Curtis, "Most troubling about the Headley case is what it has revealed about the proximity of the Pakistani military to the LeT." Trouble began brewing from this point.
The stark reality is that the US government viewed LeT largely through the prism of India-Pakistan adversarial ties. This is despite all evidence of the LeT's significant role since 2006 as a facilitator of the Taliban's operations in Afghanistan by providing a constant stream of fighters recruiting, training and infiltrating insurgents across the border from the Pakistani tribal areas.
The US' policy prioritised the securing of Islamabad's cooperation on what directly affected American interests and it made distinction between the 'good' Taliban and the 'bad' Taliban. This political chicanery lies at the epicentre of the unfolding drama over Headley.
Without doubt, Headley has been a double agent of the CIA and the ISI and it is a moot point whether the US knew this or at what point the US officials began suspecting it. The crux of the matter today is that Headley may spill the beans if Indian interrogators get hold of him and the trail can lead in no time to LeT. Where will that leave the US?
Obviously, Washington is in no position to 'pressure' the Pakistani military. Its obsession is to end the fighting in Afghanistan, which would enable President Barack Obama to drawdown the combat troops and declare victory in the war in the nick of time before the US presidential election campaign in 2012 unfolded.
The extent to which the US is beholden to the Pakistani military today is apparent from the illogical statements being made lately by even self-styled 'agnostics' like the AfPak special representative Richard Holbrooke about Rawalpindi's so-called change of heart regarding use of terrorism as an instrument of geopolitics. Holbrooke applauds even while ISI is reads the riot act to him that any of his secretive 'reconciliation' talks with the Taliban will need to be conducted with its full participation.
No matter what the American lobby in our midst might say, the Indian foreign policy and security establishment should have no illusions that the Obama administration is stringing Delhi along on the Headley case. The US cannot afford to acknowledge the reality that the LeT enjoys the support of the Pakistani military. For, that would complicate its strategic cooperation with the Pakistani military and in turn call into question its reconciliation policy toward Taliban.
Therefore, the US will do its utmost to ensure India is not handed down a shred of hard evidence by Headley linking LeT with the Pakistani military. Where does that leave our government?
Clearly, the assumptions underlying India's foreign policy ever since the UPA government came to power in 2004 are unravelling. These included first-rate bloomers like the idea of a US-led quadripartite alliance against China, India being an Asian 'balancer' against China, the 'Tibet card,' etc. They included naïve estimations that a strategic partnership with the US could substitute for an independent foreign policy, that the contacts with Pakistan were best conducted under US watch, that Delhi must synchronise its policies with the US' global strategies.
The plain truth is that India today is saddled with a nuclear deal that is becoming difficult to 'operationalise' except on American terms; India's ties with Iran are in tatters; the high level of understanding forged with both Iran and China by the previous NDA government in 2003 stands dissipated.
Worst of all, Headley's case highlights that the government proved incapable of assessing the geopolitical dimensions of the US-led war in Afghanistan. The government failed to comprehend that the ground realities of the war were pushing geopolitical alignments inexorably toward the formation of a US-Pakistan strategic axis. Pakistan has shrewdly exploited the fallacies in India's foreign policy orientation to navigate itself to an unprecedented geopolitical positioning.
This isn't paranoia or pessimism. The US-Pakistan strategic dialogue is scheduled to be held in Washington next Wednesday with the Pakistani military leadership making an undisguised pitch for a pivotal partnership between the two countries commensurate with what it regards as Pakistan's legitimate claim to be a regional power. India, on the other hand, looks around confusedly, unsure of its ability to connect Headley's clemency plea with the big picture, and like the burnt-out case in the Graham Greene classic, badly in need of a self-cure.
(The writer is a former diplomat)
GOONDAS, MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS
DID SHAH RUKH KHAN AND THE MAHARASHTRA GOVERNMENT SCORE A DECISIVE VICTORY OVER THE SHIV SENA BY SHOWING 'MY NAME IS KHAN' IN MUMBAI'S CINEMAS?
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
Did liberal elements in Karnataka score over Rama Sene by blackening the face of Pramod Muthalik? Many of us think so and hope both senas have been dumped on the garbage heap. Unfortunately that is not so.
Shiv Sena's balloon has no doubt been somewhat deflated but not burst. It was the same when Rahul Gandhi travelled by suburban train, walking down streets of Mumbai a one time performance. And Muthalik has wiped that soot off his face and is leading his storm troopers to impose his will on people who do not agree with him.
My reasoning is simple: you cannot put down subversive elements without having a strong government, which can effectively deal with bullies. Their strength is their ability to damage property and rough up people: No one wants to lose his property and get beaten up. The most vulnerable are mill owners, cinema hall proprietors, eateries and film people.
They will be eager to patch up with the Thackerays and the Muthaliks. Take it from me that soon SRK will come to an understanding with the Thackerays. It has been done before. Sunil Dutt and his daughter Priya Dutt of the Congress sought Bal Thackeray's blessings before the elections. So did Pritish Nandi to become Sena's nominee to the Rajya Sabha.
Bal Thackeray is happy to receive important people at his residence, Matoshree. They kowtow to him and touch his feet while he sits on his throne draped in saffron robes and rudraksh malas, looking like a patriarch of all he surveys. He aches to be loved to and is as liberal in his blessings as he is in offering visitors chilled beer.
I have never met his recalcitrant nephew Raj Thackeray but his modus operandi is much the same as his uncle's. So I fear the present euphoria generated by the release of 'My Name Is Khan' is going to be short-lived. We have yet to build up a mass support of those who can confront these senas's goondas and teach them how to mind their own business.
Almora-born Ramesh Chandra Shah was a professor of English in Hamidia College, Bhopal, till 1997. However, he won acclaim as a Hindi poet and novelist and was honoured with several awards. He stumbled on Bharatrihari's poems in Sanskrit and decided to learn the language; to be able to translate them into English. I published some selections in 'Yojana' and 'The Illustrated Weekly of India'. It is a privilege to publish some more a third time. The translations are in rubai form and read as well as Fitzgarald's translations of Omar Khayyam.
'Thus Spoke Bharatrihari' is divided into three sections: Niti (polity), Sringar (erotica) and Vairagya (asceticism). First I give examples of Sringar:
You are so lucky if you can admireThe lineaments of satisfied esireIn your young bride; suck at her honey's mouthnd let her languor in your arms retireAnd:The bookful blockheads preaching self-restraint
Do not consider what's really at stakeLove's play on passionate breasts and thighs once known
Such amorous raptures who can ever forsake.In the third verse he rues the futility of life spent in making love:
The joy companionship of women bringsEnds in despair and disillusionmentSelf-knowledge is the only certain goodLeading to calm of mind, all passions spent.Finally the search for salvation:Blest are the saints who from all passions freePossess their souls and live in ecstasyWith boundless space as garment and a bowl
Of rice as food and woods as company.
Drunk with delusion's ever tempting wineWe mortals fail to see the spark Divine
Caught in the vicious whirls of nights and daysOur soul ne'er stops to think of its decline
Dress CodeHenry Ford II, son of Henry Ford I, who felt that his father was generally improperly dressed and did not adhere to the correct dress code, had the following conversation with him:
Henry Ford II: Dad, you are the biggest manufacturer of cars and a very renowned person in America. Then why do you dress so shabbily?
Henry Ford I: Yes. I dress the way I like, as everyone in America knows me as Henry Ford.
Henry Ford II: But, when you go abroad, there also you dress in the same way, even in poshest of places.
Henry Ford I: Yes, of course, abroad also I dress the same way, because there no one knows me as Henry Ford.
(Contributed by Colonel Trilok Mehrotra, Noida)
AWAY FROM HOME, I SPENT AN AWFUL LOT OF MONEY ON PHONE CALLS.
BY STANLEY CARVALHO
When my teenage kids continued to tease me on a recent visit home that I am anti-social and not 'cool' because I am not on facebook, it irked me considerably. I may not be cool in the way they perceive men and matters, but I am indeed a social and rational person. I told them in no uncertain terms that Facebook held no appeal to me.
It didn't wash with the duo. They waxed eloquent on Facebook, saying that even grandpas and grandmas have signed up and how it helped Obama win the election. An argument also ensued on how tech-savvy I was or not.
I couldn't care less. There's enough and more to cope with in the daily grind and the last thing I wanted was to log into another website and network or socialise. Worse was, to create and remember login and password details. Besides, to be candid, I felt it was a mindless preoccupation on the internet and I preferred real life and friends, not digital ones.
Living hundreds of miles away from the family, I spent an awful lot of money on phone calls. But whenever I called, the kids were either out or busy on the Net. If I did get them on the phone, it was all too brief. Clearly, a communication gap had set in.
Then, to my utter dismay, my better half confessed that, of late, her conversations with the kids were mainly via sms, chat or facebook. After agonising over this for weeks, I threw in the towel and sheepishly signed up on facebook.
What happened thereafter was nothing less than a miracle. I was confirmed friend of my kids instantly on facebook and voila! It was like being with them. I knew what was happening in their lives on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. What's more, I was privy to their latest photographs, videos, messages, comments on almost everything under the sun, their weekend plans, even about their friends and their friends' friends. I also peep into my better half's home page frequently.
Indeed, a communication revolution is happening. Although my son and daughter may not comment when questioned about their studies or exams, or how much time they spend surfing the internet, they talk about themselves regularly. We are in touch. And oh yes, my phone bills have dropped significantly and I am a 'cool' dad now.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
FLEEING A SINKING GOVERNORSHIP
Five top state officials have now fled Gov. David Paterson's side, the latest of them being his press secretary. The terms of their departure made it clear that they were either implicated in or appalled by what appears to have been an attempt by Mr. Paterson to suppress charges of domestic violence against one of the his closest aides.
It is always hard for us to believe that things can get worse in New York State's so-called government, but Mr. Paterson keeps proving us wrong.
He has left Albany paralyzed, run in name only by a governor who appears to have little influence, and even less power, and is facing at least two investigations. In addition to the domestic violence case, Mr. Paterson also is in trouble for allegedly lying about paying for prime Yankees seats.
Meanwhile, the governor is clinging to his vow to stay in office until the next governor is sworn in, still refusing to be candid with the voters about what happened and failing to provide any evidence to refute the mounting evidence against him.
This means that New Yorkers still don't know everything that transpired between the time a New York woman told a judge that Mr. Paterson's close aide had beaten her and the time she failed to appear in court to finalize an order of protection against him.
But we do know that Mr. Paterson's press secretary, Marissa Shorenstein, resigned after The Times disclosed that Mr. Paterson had her call the woman before her court appearance.
Ms. Shorenstein said she couldn't do her job if she's not told the truth, or is unwittingly passing on false information. We also know that another aide contacted the woman in the abuse case, as did the State Police unit that provides Mr. Paterson's personal protection. The superintendent of the State Police "retired," and the state official who supervises the police quit in protest.
Meanwhile, Mr. Paterson has increasingly withdrawn from state business, doing the occasional interview and cutting the occasional ribbon.
But the governor's active, daily participation is vital most urgently to negotiate and then enact a painfully spare state budget by April 1.
If Mr. Paterson plans to prefer stubborn self-imposed isolation in Albany, the least he can do for the state he serves would be to put Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch firmly and finally in charge of concluding negotiations on the budget.
He should make it clear to a few legislators mainly the cranky Senator Carl Kruger, the Finance Committee chairman who has expressed doubts about negotiating with Mr. Ravitch that the lieutenant governor speaks for the governor's office.
We believe that the only way the governor can hang on to his job is to prove quickly and convincingly that he did no wrong in the matter of the abuse case or the Yankees ticket scandal. If not, he should resign.
Mr. Paterson is using the investigations as a shield. But the governor's delay in talking straight to New Yorkers does not offer him the kind of protection he seeks. His silence only makes his departure look more inevitable.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE FISHING LOBBY WINS AGAIN
THURSDAY WAS A TERRIBLE DAY FOR BLUEFIN TUNA.
By a depressingly lopsided margin, countries meeting in Doha at the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species rejected a proposal by Monaco and the United States to ban international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna, which is spiraling toward extinction. The convention had earlier rejected, also by a wide margin, a softer motion by the Europeans that would have placed the tuna high on the international list of endangered species but delayed a trading ban for one year.
The vote split partly along developed/developing nation lines. But make no mistake: It was largely the result of relentless lobbying by Japan, whose citizens consume four-fifths of the world's bluefin tuna, thus providing a steady market for poorer countries with big fishing industries like Tunisia.
Under the proposed ban, Japan would have been allowed to consume only the fish caught in its own waters, which would have put a huge crimp in exports from Tunisia and other African nations that ply the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic.
The best case for conservation, of course, is that if things keep going the way they are, those nations are going to wake up one day to discover that tuna, as a viable commercial species, have disappeared.
They are in bad shape already. Stocks of Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin dropped by more than 70 percent between 1957 and 2007, and by more than 60 percent in the last decade alone. But numbers like these are never really persuasive when commercial interests stand to lose, whether talking about tuna or sharks or salmon.
The convention's member nations will not meet again for another 30 months, and, in the meantime, the onus for restoring the bluefin to sustainable levels will fall on the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the regulatory body with primary responsibility for the species.
At its most recent meeting in Brazil, the commission which for years did little to stop the slaughter agreed to reduce the allowable catch significantly but nowhere near the moratorium recommended by the commission's scientists. The commission meets next in November. Japan says it will honor the new quota and possibly press for other measures to halt the species decline. We are not holding our breath.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
RACE AND MYTHOLOGY IN DRUG LAWS
Congress is trying to undo some of the damage it inflicted more than two decades ago with its frenzied mandating of longer prison sentences for abusers of crack cocaine than for those who abuse the powder version.
The result has been disproportionately harsher punishment for crack offenders in black neigborhoods.
The law is built on a scientifically indefensible 100-to-1 ratio, which means the same prison term (a minimum of five years) for 5 ounces of crack as for 500 ounces of the powder kind.
A compromise reform of the law approved this week by the Senate would repeal mandated sentences for simple possession and reduce the ratio to 18-to-1 for trafficking in crack versus powder cocaine.
This standard is still irrational, if significantly less so than current law. It's imperative for the House to fight for the 1-to-1 ratio when it takes up the issue. Otherwise, the law will remain tinged with racism even if relative harshness is cut back.
The sentencing disparity was enacted amid a wave of crack use and hyperbolic warnings that crack cocaine cooked in baking soda was more addictive than powder cocaine.
That has since been disproved by scientific studies. That hasn't stopped tens of thousands from being sentenced unfairly under the skewed law. Recent studies showed that while blacks make up 30 percent of crack users, they compose more than 80 percent of those convicted under the federal law.
After pressing for the 1-to-1 ratio, Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat of Illinois, says he accepted the 18-to-1 compromise with Republican opponents because it is the best available chance to "ensure that every year thousands of people are treated more fairly in our criminal justice system."
The senator can be commended for his efforts. Now it's up to the House to totally end the disparity and the severe injustice it has wrought
THE NEW YORK TIMES
UNREALITY TV: IF THE BOSS ONLY KNEW, HE WOULD DO SOMETHING
BY ADAM COHEN
In the premiere of the new CBS show "Undercover Boss," Lawrence O'Donnell III, the president of Waste Management the large trash-collection company disguised himself as a lowly worker. In these tough times, a voice-over declared, hard-working Americans blame wealthy, out-of-touch C.E.O.'s, "but some bosses are willing to take extreme action to make their businesses better."
From the ground up, Mr. O'Donnell noticed things that he had missed from the executive suite problems and injustices that he immediately vowed to correct. By the hour's end, he had done just that.
"Undercover Boss," is bad television but a perfect show for our times with its heaping helpings of what politics is increasingly about: false populism.
The "king incognito," who dresses down and wanders among his subjects, is an old literary device. In "Henry V," on the eve of the battle of Agincourt, the king strolls among his soldiers in disguise to learn what they are thinking and bolster their spirits.
In the 21st-century version, the bosses leave their lavish homes and move into budget hotels, don workers' uniforms and hairnets and take on the most humbling assignments. As the cameras followed him, Mr. O'Donnell picked up litter from the ground (so badly he was fired) and cleaned outhouses (too slowly, but a supervisor decided that he had potential).
More fundamentally, the show draws on the old Russian peasant refrain: "If only the czar knew of our suffering, he would do something."
On "Undercover Boss," the bosses are genuinely shocked by what they see. Mr. O'Donnell is dumbfounded when a worker rushes out of the lunchroom, because if she is just a minute or two late from her 30-minute break she is docked. He cannot believe, as he learns, that one of his female garbage truck drivers too pressed by the workload to make bathroom stops has to pee in a can. "I feel like a male chauvinist," he says. "I never thought about it."
Mr. O'Donnell is particularly struck by the plight of Jaclyn, a low-level administrative employee who is could it possibly be? overworked and underappreciated. Jaclyn does several jobs, piled on her because her unit is understaffed. And, despite all of her hard work for the company, she is at risk of losing her dream home, in which she lives with three generations of relatives.
Before the episode is over, Mr. O'Donnell calls in the supervisor responsible for docking workers who are a few minutes late from lunch break and directs him to rethink his policy. He appoints the driver who had to pee in a can to a task force to improve the workplace.
The biggest beneficiary of his munificence is hard-working, underappreciated Jaclyn. Mr. O'Donnell takes Jaclyn off her hourly wage, puts her on salary, and tells her she can hire her replacement. As a manager, she becomes eligible for a sizable bonus. She can afford to keep her home.
The show ends with the boss bathed in a warm glow of employee gratitude. "All my hard work has been noticed," Jaclyn declares. On another episode, featuring the White Castle hamburger chain, an employee named Donna tells the boss, "I'm glad there's people like you out in this world."
At its core, "Undercover Boss" sells a false idea of why many workers are in the position they are in and what can be done about it. It is the relentless focus on the bottom line, as well as out-of-touch executives, that causes workplace wrongs to flourish. The czar, as many Russians understood, did know and chose to do nothing.
The show simply glosses over the fact that it is not corporate benevolence that protects workers but also the legal protections that arose out of the New Deal minimum wage and maximum hours laws; energetic enforcement of Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules; and strong unions.
Many viewers seem to recognize the faultiness of the premise. One commenter on the show's official message board noted that Mr. O'Donnell's solution for Jaclyn might help her, "but what about her 'replacement' that she is supposed to hire?" who would presumably have the same problems she had.
Sounds like a good sequel.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SAINTS PRESERVE US
BY GAIL COLLINS
On Friday, as Democrats were flopping around madly over the upcoming vote on health care, Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted brightly that it was the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, "where we remember and pray to St. Joseph to benefit the workers of America. And that's exactly what our health care bill will do."
A blogger instantly retorted that it was actually the feast of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary. "The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is May 1," Scott Richert wrote on About.com.
"The way she sees it is this is the same St. Joseph," said a spokesman for the speaker of the House.
The moral here is that nothing about health care reform is easy. Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.
As the House prepared for its big, historic, achingly close vote on Sunday, the joys of being undecided seemed so great that legislators kept jumping on the fence, just to feel the love. After all, Representative Dennis Kucinich got four meetings with the president and a trip on Air Force One. Dennis Kucinich!
A congressman from South Boston, who supported the bill but opposed including a public option last time around, announced that he was now voting against the bill because it lacks a public option. Others suddenly discovered that their states had unmet needs. President Obama made yet another postponement of his Asia trip and invited the entire House Democratic caucus to the White House Saturday, which qualifies as possibly the worst way to spend your weekend in the history of the world.
On Sunday, the House is expected to finally vote on the bill that the Senate approved on Christmas Eve after a debate so endless that the wiped-out majority leader, Harry Reid, initially voted "no" by mistake. If it passes, it theoretically goes to the president. In the real Congressional world, there are still major complications involving a second bill making changes in the first one, under parliamentary procedures so abstract that they verge on the metaphysical.
That would bounce back to the Senate, where the Republicans are vowing to find some way to stretch the process out even longer. (Friday was also the feast of St. Pancharius, a Roman senator who was beheaded by the emperor in 303. No matter how bad it gets, this is not be the sort of thing we want to encourage.)
Nevertheless, Sunday feels as if it's going to be the critical moment, and if the House votes yes, it will be kind of incredible.
We live in an era in which the power of the new hypermedia is so intense and politics so rabid that it's almost impossible for Congress to do anything more difficult than tax cuts or highway construction. Yet, here's this huge, complicated, controversial reform bigger than any domestic program in decades.
If it passes, the short-term political consequences are unknowable. But in 10 years, people will look back in amazement that we once lived in a time when Americans couldn't get health care coverage if they were sick, when insurance companies could cut off your benefits for being sick, and when run-of-the-mill serious illnesses routinely destroyed families' financial security.
And if it passes, Barack Obama will have validated his presidency.
He came into office on the wave of hope so enormous there was no way he was not going to disappoint. He broke promises we still remember that one about holding health care negotiations on C-Span. He sure failed to deliver on that more respectful, bipartisan spirit in Washington. He seemed, day to day, so much less Obama-like than the guy who made people faint at campaign rallies.
But the core qualities that got him elected were his coolness under pressure and the sense that he would never stop fighting for change. No matter what you think of it, this health care bill is one heck of a change. And no matter what you think of the White House strategy, Obama has been incredibly tenacious in pushing for it.
All year, his party has been begging him to drop health care and do something about jobs or more specifically, give the impression of doing something about jobs. The government has only so much power to stimulate the economy. And even at the height of his postelection power, Obama could only get a medium-size stimulus bill through the Senate.
What many Democrats really wanted was just a change of conversation away from the complicated, frustrating subject of health care to rewarding fights for proposals that would embarrass the Republicans even if they didn't pass, and small, symbolic programs that would be the 2010 equivalent of supporting public school uniforms. Plus lots of photo-ops at construction sites.
He stuck to his guns. Speech after speech, phone call after phone call, sit-down with one frightened or greedy or
confused legislator after another, he kept on the case. "Do not quit. Do not give up," he told yet another rally on
Friday. "We are going to get this done."
This weekend, we'll see. But the man gets points for trying.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
COULD OBAMA BE INVINCIBLE?
BY CHARLES M. BLOW
As we stand at the verge of the historic vote on the health care bill a signature piece of President Obama's agenda it feels appropriate to take a look at how he has fared during the long slog that got us here. My quick assessment: remarkably well.
First, let's take his job approval rating. Yes, it slid during the summer, but it stabilized around 50 percent in November and has hovered there ever since.
The empty-headed chattering class began another round of speculation and inane analysis this week when his approval rating dropped to 46 percent, its lowest yet. Silly pundits.
It was a minor tick and overplayed. If I were a Republican strategist (God forbid!), I would actually be very worried that the lower 50s/upper 40s could be Obama's bottom. He has weathered some of the worst months of his young presidency recently, and his numbers have barely budged.
The second thing to remember is that job approval is only one measure of how well a president connects with
At the conclusion of his Wednesday appearance on Fox News, insolent interviewer Bret Baier interrupted the president for the umpteenth time to ask him if he thought that the health care bill would pass. Obama responded with a familiar line: "I do. I'm confident it will pass. And the reason I'm confident that it's going to pass is because it's the right thing to do."
This idea that he wants reform "because it's the right thing to do" resonates with people. Whether they agree with him or not, they seem to genuinely believe that he has good intentions and that he is, at his base, a good man. This view of him has so penetrated the public that it often goes unspoken.
But, it shows up in the polls, albeit in indirect ways.
For instance, a Pew Research Center poll released on Thursday found that despite Obama's 46 percent approval rating, 61 percent of Americans still say that he is inspiring. Furthermore, 57 percent describe him as decisive, 54 percent say that he still makes them feel hopeful and 49 percent said that he still makes them feel proud. Only about a third would describe him in negative terms like arrogant and detached, or would say that he makes them feel angry.
This disparity holds true even among conservative Republicans, some of his most ardent critics. While only 12 percent approve of the job the president is doing, more than twice as many still view him as an inspiring figure.
Regardless of whether the health care bill survives, Obama has demonstrated that he can. And if the reform bill passes, and his numbers rebound, I'm going to take to calling him Barack the Unbreakable.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A RUINOUS MELTDOWN
BY BOB HERBERT
A story that is not getting nearly enough attention is the ruinous fiscal meltdown occurring in state after state, all across the country.
Taxes are being raised. Draconian cuts in services are being made. Public employees are being fired. The tissue-thin national economic recovery is being undermined. And in many cases, the most vulnerable populations the sick, the elderly, the young and the poor are getting badly hurt.
Arizona, struggling with a projected $2.6 billion budget shortfall, took the drastic step of scrapping its Children's Health Insurance Program. That left nearly 47,000 low-income children with no coverage at all. Gov. Jan Brewer is also calling for an increase in the sales tax. She said, "Arizona is navigating its way through the largest state budget deficit in its long history."
In New Jersey, the newly elected governor, Chris Christie, has proposed a series of budget cuts that, among other things, would result in public schools receiving $820 million less in state aid than they had received in the prior school year. Some well-off districts would have their direct school aid cut off altogether. Poorer districts that rely almost entirely on state aid would absorb the biggest losses in terms of dollars. They're bracing for a terrible hit.
For all the happy talk about "no child left behind," the truth is that in Arizona and New Jersey and dozens of other states trying to cope with the fiscal disaster brought on by the Great Recession, millions of children are being left far behind, and many millions of adults as well.
"We've talked in the past about revenue declines in a recession," said Jon Shure of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "but I think you have to call this one a revenue collapse. In proportional terms, there has never been a drop in state revenues like we're seeing now since people started to keep track of state revenues. We're in unchartered territory when it comes to the magnitude of the impact."
Massachusetts, which has made a series of painful cuts over the past two years, is gearing up for more. Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, told The Boston Globe: "There's no end to the bad news here. The state fiscal situation is already so dire that any additional bad news is magnified."
California has cut billions of dollars from its education system, including its renowned network of public colleges and universities. Many thousands of teachers have been let go. Budget officials travel the state with a glazed look in their eyes, having tried everything they can think of to balance the state budget. And still the deficits persist.
In the first two months of this year, state and local governments across the U.S. cut 45,000 jobs. Additional
layoffs are expected as states move ahead with their budgets for fiscal 2011. Increasingly these budgets, instead of helping people, are hurting them, undermining the quality of their lives, depriving them of educational opportunities, preventing them from accessing desperately needed medical care, and so on.
The federal government has tried to help, but much more assistance is needed.
These are especially tough times for young people. "What we're seeing now in Arizona and potentially in New Jersey and other states spells long-term trouble for the nation's children," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician who is president of the Children's Health Fund in New York and a professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
"We're looking at all these cuts in human services in health care, in education, in after-school programs, in juvenile justice. This all points to a very grim future for these children who seem to be taking the brunt of this financial crisis."
Dr. Redlener issued a warning nearly a year ago about the "frightening" toll the recession was taking on children. He told me last April, "We are seeing the emergence of what amounts to a 'recession generation.' "
The impact of the recession on everyone, of whatever age, is only made worse when states trying to balance their budgets focus too intently on cutting services as opposed to a mix of service cuts and revenue-raising measures.
As Mr. Shure of the Center on Budget noted, "The cruel irony is that in a recession like this, the people's needs go up at the same time that the states' ability to meet those needs goes down."
Budget cuts also tend to weaken rather than strengthen a state's economy, especially when they entail furloughs or layoffs. Government spending stimulates an economy in recession. And wise spending is an investment in everyone's quality of life.
All states have been rocked by the Great Recession. And most have tried to cope with a reasonable mix of budget cuts and tax increases, or other revenue-raising measures. Those that rely too heavily on cuts are making guaranteed investments in human misery.
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
The foreign minister has delivered a strong message to Washington ahead of the start of a high-level strategic dialogue between Pakistan and the US. He has said that Pakistan has done a great deal in fighting the war on terror and now it is the turn of the US to do its bit. It appears certain that this line will be conveyed to the team in the US capital led by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton by the Pakistani delegation which includes the COAS and the ISI chief. There is no doubt at all that Pakistan has a point. No one would dispute that, as the frontline state in the war on terror, it has suffered huge losses. People have died on the roads, families across the country mourn loved ones killed in terrorist attacks and soldiers have died while defending their country against those out to destroy it. The price Pakistan has paid has been a heavy one too in terms of the internal divisions that have cropped up, with people divided on the question of how to tackle the Taliban.
Islamabad then makes a very valid point. People at home, who continue to suffer deprivation of all kinds, wish to know what the payoff is for all they have borne. Washington needs to offer up some answers. It must realize that Pakistan cannot keep on fighting a war which brings it and its people no tangible benefits. The dividends of the aid promised under the Kerry-Lugar Bill have yet to be seen. There has been no improvement in the power-supply situation despite assurances that assistance would be offered in this sphere; and it is indeed clear that the war on terror will continue for some time yet with the militants remaining entrenched in some areas. It is, however, also important that Pakistan deliver a clear message to the US. We need to tell Washington exactly what we need and stress that people are unwilling to wait indefinitely. An aid initiative in education and development is one possibility. But we need to take matters into our own hands. Islamabad must lay out its vision for the future and quit merely following orders. We must say what our longer-term plan to defeat terrorism is and what assistance we need in this. It is indeed somewhat unclear why funds already available to Pakistan have not been used for development in conflict-hit areas. Such matters need to be sorted out. Pakistan must have a blueprint for success that it can implement.
I. THE NEWS
A rise in the cost of public transport seems to have been the catalyst for a set of spontaneous and violent demonstrations in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Protesters gathered first on Thursday afternoon and evening, angry at what they saw as an unjustified increase in bus fares, an increase that would particularly hit those who commuted between Rawalpindi and the federal capital daily. There did not appear to be any political party or organisation bringing people on to the streets, and the demonstrators themselves when interviewed by private TV channels expressed a range of frustrations about rising prices of basic foodstuffs, loadshedding and the poor quality of water amongst other things. The police responded with live rounds and teargas. A youth was critically injured and the disturbances continued after nightfall.
They resumed on Friday morning, this time centred on the Faizabad interchange and quickly took a very ugly turn. The private TV channels caught police firing into the demonstrators with pistols and rifles and at least one policeman was seen discharging an entire clip from his handgun in the direction of the crowd. There was confusion in the police ranks. On the one side were the Punjab police and on the other the police of the federal force, and neither seemed inclined to support the other. Demonstrators outnumbered police, the police ran out of teargas rounds and the interior minister distinguished himself yet again by declaring that he detected 'foreign hands' as being behind the disturbances. Various political parties put their organizers into the field but they failed to rein in the protesters. What we may have witnessed over Thursday and Friday is that most unusual of events a spontaneous outpouring of public anger. Demonstrations of any type are normally orchestrated by one of the political parties or a special interest group, and the common man rarely takes it upon himself to raise his voice individually. But people today are angry, angry enough to come on the streets without being called or harangued. They see the ineptitude of a government that has left them without power, poorer and less able to afford the necessities of life. Anger may not always be controlled and it sometimes boils over -- and this is only the start of a very long, very hot, summer.
I. THE NEWS
FOR THE MISSING
The government has informed the Supreme Court that a judicial commission headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and comprising high court judges and political representatives is to be set up to look into the matter of the missing. The panel, we are told, will be authorized to call up officers, including those in military uniform, for inquiry. This should not turn out be another empty statement by the government that has been hedging and foot-dragging on the issue for years now and should lead to definite steps forward. The setting up of the body, which has been welcomed by the court, should take us closer to locating the hundreds who remain missing in the country.
For some families the wait has extended to years; children have grown up without fathers and wives have no way of knowing if they are widows. We now seem to be moving in a more definite direction. The court has said that it will act against anyone found to be responsible for whisking away people from their homes. This is important for the future. No one should be permitted to get away with violating the law, especially when it involves acts of violence against citizens. We have as yet no way of knowing how many of the missing are guilty of crimes. But even if they are, they must be permitted to face the law and undergo the due process laid down by it. Extra-judicial measures are unacceptable. The case we see unfolding now must then lead not only to the missing being found but also to the setting of precedents that can dissuade others from acting in the same way.
I. THE NEWS
'IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID'
Finally, Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, a dark horse, has accepted the coveted job of adviser to the prime minister on finance, revenue and economic affairs. Better late than never, Pakistan finally has a finance minister. After the initial flurry to find Mr Shaukat Tarin's successor there seemed little sense of urgency to fill the most important position in the cabinet second only to the prime minister.
The original contenders for the job included Dr Hafiz Pasha who briefly served as the adviser on finance when Mian Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister, only to be replaced by his close friend, Ishaq Dar. Although he is a respected banker, the sole claim to fame of another contender, Mr Nasim Beg, rested on the fact that he is a close relative of Mr Anwer Majid, a trusted friend of the president. There was speculation in the financial circles that precisely for this reason the prime minister was not in his favour. However, it confounds logic that if Mr Beg was really the president's man, how the prime minister could effectively block him.
Dr Hafeez Sheikh, a US-trained economist, who served in the World Bank as its country head in Saudi Arabia, is not new to Pakistan. Belonging to a landed family of Sindh closely related to the Soomros, he served as the provincial finance minister and later as the minister for privatisation and investment in the Musharraf regime. Despite showing good results in both the slots, he resigned from his post over policy differences. Since then he as been heading an investment firm based in Dubai.
According to the outgoing finance minister, Mr Shaukat Tarin, in the board meeting of the IMF which takes place on March 24, the fifth tranche of $1.2 billion of the 11.3 billion IMF bailout package for Pakistan is to be assured. It is obvious that the government wanted Dr Sheikh in place before the crucial IMF meeting. However, the question that begs an answer is that why the inordinate delay in finding Mr Tarin's replacement when he had conveyed much earlier to his bosses his decision to quit to look after his own bank.
Admittedly, Mr Tarin ably steered the economy in very turbulent times. Despite the country being virtually in a state of war, riddled with suicide attacks, he managed the economy well, bringing a modicum of economic stability. This was no easy task especially when governance issues coupled with tales of corruption and cronyism have plagued the PPP government.
Mr Tarin openly defied his political bosses on the contentious and economically indefensible issue of rental power projects. He offered to resign in a heated cabinet meeting and only backed off when the prime minister agreed to an audit of the RPPs by the Asian Development Bank. The finance minister was vindicated when the ADB upheld the view that excess power capacity and the related issue of circular debt be tackled before embarking on the dubious and economically prohibitive RPPs' scheme.
The former finance minister can also take due credit for bringing inflation down from 20 per cent to 9 per cent in two years. However, according to latest figures it is up again into double digits. Another big plus for Mr Tarin was the broad consensus reached amongst the provinces on the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award that happened on his watch. President Zardari rightly called the seventh NFC Award a historic achievement at the signing ceremony of the award at the presidency.
A modicum of stability notwithstanding, handling of the economy remains the bête noire of the present government. As it is, resource crunch coupled with structural distortions is a perennial problem that successive governments have been facing. But this is no excuse for the bulk of the population living below the bare sustenance level, facing endemic shortages of basic foodstuffs at prices increasingly beyond their reach. The manufacturing sector on the other hand justifiably complains about difficulty in uninterrupted supply power and fuel on competitive prices.
State corporations like the national airline, WAPDA, railways and the Steel Mills - packed with cronies and political appointees by successive governments - are massively contributing to the burgeoning budget deficit. A projected GDP growth rate of just over three per cent during the current financial year is barely sufficient to keep pace with the rate of population growth.
In sharp contrast, the Indian economy is growing at the rate of eight per cent. Spending the bulk of its resources on defence and debt servicing, Pakistan is finding it increasingly difficult to match the defence capabilities of its hostile neighbour. In these circumstances, it is not difficult to imagine that after filling the coffers of its ruling elite what little can the state spare for vital sectors like health, education and housing.
The banking sector has shown robust growth in recent years. However, the recent spate over the acquisition of Royal Bank of Scotland Pakistan by MCB is a setback. Strangely enough, the State Bank after giving approval to MCB to conduct due diligence of RBS Pakistan last year, did not let the deal go through on the plea that the MCB's sponsor shareholders did not meet the Bank's regulations. In the Sindh High Court the shareholders have taken the plea that since the privatisation agreement between the government and the sponsor shareholders predates the SBP circular, it cannot be applied with retrospective effect. Hence in essence the sponsors refused to deposit their share post facto and as a result RBS is looking for a new buyer. It is clear that the State Bank linked the acquisition of the RBS Pakistan by MCB to a circular issued much earlier. If the MCB did not qualify, the permission for due diligence should not have been accorded.
Adding insult to injury is the Banking Companies Amendment Bill recently passed by the National Assembly. According to the interpretation of some bankers, the amended law gives draconian powers to the State Bank by suspending the role of the Security and Exchange Commission and hence is liable to be misused. Circles close to the State Bank, however, defend the amended law on the ground that banking is no ordinary business since overwhelming part of its funds are public money. Hence, being a custodian of public money, a banking company cannot be allowed to go under just because of the malfeasance of its shareholders. The entire emphasis of the proposed amendments is to regulate the shareholders of the banking company instead of a banking company itself, they contend. Furthermore, laws similar to the proposed amendment bill already exist in many countries. In this backdrop, it is important to address the genuine concerns of the bankers. Whatever law, if needed, should be transparent in its application obviating the possibility of being misused for mala fide intentions by the government, present or future. The bill should not only be referred to the Finance Committee of the Senate, but also the views of the stakeholders be sought before its being passed.
No one should envy the mild-mannered and self-effacing technocrat adviser on finance. Judging by the country's dire economic straits his job is a daunting one. The IFIs and donor countries, primarily the US, will be relieved that here is a person they can do business with. Being no walkover, Dr Sheikh will hopefully be able to ward off competing vested interests vying for influence on the basis of cronyism and political connections. Hopefully, he will be given the authority and the freehand he demanded before joining the cabinet.
In the end analysis, it is the economic performance of the government that will be the make-or-break issue even before the next elections. To borrow from history, H.W Bush senior won the Iraq war in 1991 and had a job approval rating of 90 per cent. The very next year his job rating started to decline and he lost the presidency to Bill Clinton because of his poor economic policies. During the election campaign, Clinton, taunting his rival coined the now famous phrase "It's the economy, stupid."
The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
TACKLING FOOD INFLATION
Despite higher production of cereals, food prices have risen at a much faster pace than those of non-food items since 2005. Food inflation has risen sharply to 15.5 per cent after the recent double digit increase in electricity and gas tariffs and oil prices and the reduced sugarcane crop. And this increase is not restricted to just one or two food items; it encompasses a fairly broader range of commodities.
The government is struggling to control the hike in food prices and would not be worried if this was to be a one-time jump in the price-level with an eventual tapering off over a period, resulting in the decline in the pace of increase in prices.
Unfortunately, the future does not bode well: a) the electricity tariffs are programmed to rise again in April followed by another increase in July; b) the international prices of oil and commodities are firming up with improvement in world growth; and more importantly c) fear of persistent inflation has been built into the expectations of key economic actors selling goods and services, reinforcing the inflationary process.
There is complete confusion on the reasons and whether the causes are short-term or long-term in nature, the latter being important for the improved availability of food. With population growing by 1.7 per cent per annum, the demand for more food production in the long-run needs greater emphasis, especially given the present low-level of food intake and nutrition in comparison with human needs.
The side factors that are pushing up prices include the huge and growing budget deficit, the Rs350 billion borrowing by the government for importing sugar, procuring wheat and rice from farmers at prices well above their global prices, the high growth in the non-food producing services sector, like retail trade, restaurants, transportation, financial and other professional services, real estate, public administration and defence.
There have also been supply side issues including reduced production of some crops, global price rise, the abnormal increase in the procurement price of wheat by government (well above its price in global markets), poor management of food markets by government in the face of growing demand and the pernicious role played by speculation, hoarding and cartels.
While the private sector imports edible oils it is not active in the import of other food commodities like sugar, mainly owing to the history of stringent official regulatory environment and the general delay in government's decisions to facilitate imports in times of poor availability and rising prices. The latter disincentivises the private sector to gear up for imports. Hence, as the situation becomes grave the pressure on government to import these commodities increases.
Successive governments have failed to establish institutional arrangements for an early warning system on developments in the global and domestic markets regarding supply and demand conditions. Resultantly, by the time a decision is taken to import something, the international market takes into account our demand and adjusts prices accordingly, leaving us little choice but to settle for the worst of both worlds. Take the case of sugar; in early 2009 its price was close to US$300 per ton but when the global markets realised that there was a shortage of sugar in both India and Pakistan, its price doubled. As for the commodities like pulses, world markets are small. With global availability of 10 million tons, India imports 30 per cent and we import another 2 per cent to 3 per cent. For us, the fact that we have porous borders that facilitate smuggling means we also have to factor in the demand of Afghanistan and the Central Asian states.
This food inflation is feeding into general inflation and threatening the government's macroeconomic stabilisation plans. So, what should be done to check it, without putting the entire responsibility of tackling it on the monetary policy? The budget deficit needs to be checked by a) launching a serious austerity drive, grounding the executive jets of the president, the prime minister, the chief ministers and the intelligence chiefs and by discontinuing the tradition of performing Umrah and Hajj on government's expense etc., and by drastically cutting other wasteful, non-development expenditures that have slipped out of control; b) replacing expenditures on general subsidies (on wheat/Atta, sugar, rice, fertiliser, electricity, etc.) with direct cash transfers to poverty-stricken households; and c) raising tax revenues by removing exemptions and making sure better enforcement of policies regarding these matters.
The short-term supply side measures include: a) a greater clarity in the role of government agencies and the private sector in the trade of food commodities; b) liberalisation of imports of staple food commodities, like lentils/pulses, cereals, sugar, etc. by the private sector, thereby also checking the role of cartels and hoarders in keeping the prices artificially high; and c) better management of the growing imbalances between supply and demand of staple foods through timelier decisions and improved operational efficiencies.
The longer-term measures include: a) counter the problem of water scarcity with conservation, storage and better management and drainage of water, thereby improving the production and supply of food items; b) improved storage facilities for perishable commodities and buffer stocks for non-perishable items as carry-over stocks; c) steps to address the stagnant or declining per capita availability of wheat, pulses and sugar through improved seeds and technologies and utilising the potential offered by telecommunication and IT facilities (the latter to improve access of farmers to high quality, real time advice, cheaply); and d) reduction in post harvest losses through modernisation of supply chains by private domestic and foreign retailers.
The writer is a former Punjab finance minister. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
BEHIND THE AFGHAN IMBROGLIO
Moscow offered to train a few officers of an Afghan law-enforcement agency. Kabul was ready to accept the offer, but the US killed the proposal. After the rebuff, the Russian ambassador publicly stated in a BBC interview that the US was creating difficulties for his country in Afghanistan.
The Americans ignored two important points since the occupation of Afghanistan. One, the Afghan psyche of rising against all occupation forces. This becomes more dangerous when jihad fits into their scheme of national resistance. Similarly, the seeds of Islamism sown during the Soviet War in Afghanistan have bolstered the capacity of anti-Western Taliban and Hekmatyar forces abetted by Al-Qaeda to defeat the US-NATO alliance.
Two, that all neighbouring and regional countries were involved in proxy wars in Afghanistan. These players had also become a part of the problem. The US-NATO alliance did not appreciate this fact. Rather, they mistakenly considered the occupation of Afghanistan as synonymous with expulsion of all regional players from the scene.
Currently, the proxy wars of the neighbouring and regional countries are major hurdles in the way of stability and peace in Afghanistan. The changing goalposts of the US agenda, its failure to defeat opposing forces through a meaningful strategy and pushing out neighbouring countries from the equation are but a few of the gaffes. The regional players of the great game felt that the US agenda was not limited to finishing Taliban and Al-Qaeda alone.
First of all, Iran was alienated for no good reasons. Initially, Iran honestly helped the US-NATO alliance against the Taliban. But George W Bush and the Neocons responded by hyphenating Iran with North Korea and Iraq as a member of an "axis of evil." Without finishing the job in Afghanistan, the US occupied Iraq on flimsy grounds. Though Iran could make a natural ally in both places due to its strong abhorrence for Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, the overconfident George W Bush and the Neocons did not feel any need for Iranian help. The occupation of Iraq actually added to Iran's not-so-misplaced fears of being the next target.
Similarly, the growing US-Iran tensions on the nuclear issue further pushed apart these probable partners. This tension touched new heights during the last term of George W Bush in the White House when the Western media ran a campaign of leaking "official" information about a possible US-Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites. In this scenario, Iran decided to play its cards carefully on both fronts, Iraq and Afghanistan, to keep the US-NATO alliance at bay.
The recent arrest of Jundullah leader Abdul Malik Rigi and his revelations regarding the active American support in training and equipping the group from its bases in Helmand confirmed Iran's suspicions.
A proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is an equally important factor in Afghanistan. For the last three decades, any faction in Afghanistan that supports Saudi Arabia automatically opposes Iran, and vice versa. One reason for the Iranian boycott of the recently held London Conference was the Western alliance's intention of engaging Saudi Arabia in the future reconciliation process in Afghanistan. Some analysts even believe that Arab and Western interests in Afghanistan are running in parallel.
After 9/11 China wholeheartedly welcomed US arrival in Afghanistan. But the US attack on Iraq before the stabilisation of Afghanistan and the construction of a modern sprawling military base in the far-flung eastern Nooristan province close to the Chinese border raised many eyebrows in Beijing. According to some information, US intelligence had initially called in and trained some young Uyghur Muslims in Afghanistan for creating troubles in Xinjiang province. These factors also dragged China into the fray. So China responded to the Western challenges in Afghanistan on two fronts: economic diplomacy through huge investments in the mining and water sectors of Afghanistan, and partnering a friendly country for creating direct influence through dependable proxies. On both fronts, China seems to have made headway.
During the attack on Afghanistan, the Russians had offered full-fledged support to the invading US and Western forces in the form of land and air routes for logistical support. The US could hardly believe such largesse from an erstwhile opponent that had taken a beating in Afghanistan from the same Western alliance. As Russia considered both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban a threat to its interests, it honestly supported the US-NATO alliance. Some routes are still being used by NATO forces for supply.
But later events compelled Russia to change its tune and tone on Afghanistan. Russians deduced that the Western powers pursued a hidden agenda in Afghanistan. Similarly, the construction of large and long-term modern military bases in Afghanistan and awarding of fast-food supply contract on the bases for ten to twenty years rang alarm bills in Moscow. Such steps gave credence to the "theory" that the Western alliance was actually eyeing the vast Central Asian energy resources.
Ultimately, Russia also resorted to creating influence through proxies. An example of the proxy war between Russia and the US was the latter's rebuff to the Russian proposal for training a few officers of an Afghan law enforcement agency. Kabul was ready to accept the offer, but the US killed the proposal. After the rebuff, the Russian ambassador, Zamir Kabalov, publicly stated in an interview with BBC that the US was creating difficulties for his country in Afghanistan.
Besides, a novel proxy war between the US and Germany, allies in the NATO, is most astonishing. To the dislike of the US, the Germans have independently created pockets of influence in northern Afghanistan. Since their arrival, they have focused all military, economic and political efforts on the northern half of the country. On many other occasions, UK and US priorities are also on divergent trajectories.
Turkey, a NATO member, and the US are also not on the same page when it comes to priorities in Afghanistan. Turkey gave asylum to Abdul Rasheed Dostam when he was expelled by the US and brought him back against American wishes.
The US made a monumental mistake by bringing India into Afghanistan in a big way. The Western alliance was in the knowledge that Pakistan had sacrificed everything to become their ally in the war against Taliban and Al-Qaeda. They knew that Pakistan ran a huge risk of a strong backlash at home from extremists and Al-Qaeda. Pakistan embraced these mortal threats on the condition that India is kept out of Afghanistan. But despite the many sacrifices by Pakistan, the US conveniently ignored Pakistani reservations, thus creating a security nightmare for this country.
Pakistan half-heartedly fell back on support from some Afghan factions. On the other hand, India endeared all the powerful anti-Pakistan elements in the Afghan government. So a proxy war between the two South Asian nuclear powers has rendered peace in Afghanistan well nigh impossible.
Beside these proxy wars, the regional players are also countering each other in many ways. The Central Asian states and Iran are poles apart on individual interests. The tug of war among the Central Asian states for securing individual interests is not a mystery. Similarly, Iran and Pakistan are unable to speak from the same page when it comes to their national interests in Afghanistan.
The Western alliance's blunders, the neighbours' interference through proxy wars, regional scrambles and the international community's inability to come up with acceptable solutions has turned Afghanistan into a melting pot.
How can peace and stability be restored to Afghanistan? This question will be addressed in the next column.
The writer works for Geo TV. Email: saleem .email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
GIVING PEACE A CHANCE
M SAEED KHALID
Hardly a day passes without a member of India's political class or its officialdom taking a pot-shot at Pakistan for bad behaviour. After "India shining" and "Incredible India," we should not be too surprised at New Delhi assuming the role of the paragon-of-all-virtue-India or what was candidly described by Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir as sermonising India.
This overbearing attitude of our big neighbour is hindering a conducive atmosphere for the resumption of a meaningful dialogue between the two countries. Unfortunately, the latest remarks attributed to Home Minister P Chidambaram advising Pakistan to reinvent itself as a genuine democracy can only add to the frustration on this side of the border about India's holier-than-thou approach. His call to Pakistan to become a truly democratic country where real power lies in the hands of democratically elected leaders is rather curious.
Can Mr Chidambaram's speechwriter deny that decision-making in democracies like India and the United States has become increasingly militaristic? I remember the observation of an American diplomat: "In the State Department, we try to ensure that our sausage is as good as someone else's, but it is another matter if in the end someone like Rumsfeld calls the shots."
It is also unfair that India should be accusing Pakistan's state actors of being involved in terror activities. This blame-game is pointless, as became clear during a press conference of Pervez Musharraf three years ago. His straight answer to a question about the ISI's involvement in India was: "ISI does what RAW does " Before an Indian leader points a finger at Pakistan, he should ponder whether RAW uses its huge budget for humanitarian activities in Pakistan.
The time has come for India's political class, which seems to be sure of its decision-making power, to show its control over the security-dominated approach by closing one or two of its consulates in Afghanistan.
And, as for genuine democracies in control of their military, let us not overlook how security establishments in the US and India have diverted huge chunks of national resources to increasing their military power in the name of fighting terrorism and building defences for exaggerated security threats.
The endless sermonising by India runs the risk of further alienating their public opinion from Pakistan. It helps to create the image of a monolithic Pakistan which should be taken to task if another Mumbai-like attack takes place. In contrast, the view in Pakistan is that there are elements trying to destabilise Pakistan, create turmoil in the region and bring about a warlike situation between India and Pakistan.
If the Indian design of "responding swiftly and decisively" to another terrorist attack implies hitting targets in Pakistan, that would please the same jihadi elements who wish to enlarge the area of conflict. The situation calls for more talks, and not less, and the higher the level of meetings the better for the one-sixth of humanity inhabiting the two countries.
By inviting our foreign secretary the Indian establishment acknowledged that the Indian policy of no talks with Pakistan had started to bring diminishing returns. The international community, which had shown sympathy to India after Mumbai, began to send signals of weariness with New Delhi's reluctance to engage Pakistan in a dialogue that would allow the two sides to discuss all matters of concern, including terrorism and Kashmir.
India had failed to isolate Pakistan and world leaders were more or less appreciative of Pakistan's determination in taking on the jihadis. America's willingness to seek accommodation with the Taliban marked an important shift in the eight-year-old war in Afghanistan in the name of fighting terrorism. What justification was left to keep saying "no" to talks with Pakistan? Of course, India would not come down from its high horse without adding caveats relating to Pakistan's compliance with India's demands about prosecuting Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, et al, and dismantling the terrorist infrastructure.
The Indian initiative was programmed to be devoid of substance and consequently termed by Salman Bashir as "a PR exercise." This is hardly the way to move forward and leaves us wondering whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his advisers and a large part of the Indian media have really recognised the futility of overheating the public sentiment against Pakistan. Secondly, will they be frank in admitting to their public that it is time to go back to the drawing board rather than issuing hard-hitting statements?
The Indians need to start differentiating between the country or state that is Pakistan and the jihadi groups. To begin, the Indian establishment can acknowledge that the trust deficit is not one-way but a reciprocal phenomenon. It can be countered by confidence-building measures, an expression that seems to have gone missing in the Indian lexicon since the "t" word became a favourite in their megaphone diplomacy.
The media on both sides of the border can justifiably ask whether the meeting in New Delhi was as frustrating as evidenced in the public comments of the two foreign secretaries or there remain some pieces to be picked up to move on. The alternative to dialogue is point scoring through the media, but that runs the risk of further vitiating the atmosphere.
It is now up to the political leadership to proclaim that the suspension of dialogue has not helped in tackling terrorism. The people will only be satisfied to hear from their leaders that wide-ranging dialogue without preconditions would be resumed to address all outstanding issues.
The writer is a former ambassador.
I. THE NEWS
LOST IN TRANSLATION?
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
If Shahbaz Sharif's statement at Jamia Naeemia was indeed taken out of context, can one construct a frame of reference in which such a statement would be justifiable? Maybe he did not mean to say that the Taliban should spare Punjab while they continue to brutalise innocent citizens across the rest of Pakistan. Maybe he was only attempting to reach out to the non-committed sympathisers of the Taliban, expose the hypocrisy of militants and the fact that they are not true to their self-proclaimed ideology and mission. Or maybe he was appealing to the logical among the Taliban, saying that they did not need to kill innocent Pakistani civilians to protest the hegemonic acts of the US, given that the PML-N-led Punjab government was already focused on the job.
Does any such spin or contextualisation make his statement and the ingrained message endurable? Let us assume for a moment that the PML-N was not in power in Punjab or that it was as amenable to complying with US diktat as Gen Musharraf. Would killing and terrorising civilians in Punjab be justifiable in such a case? If the Taliban were only motivated by anti-US zeal and were fighting for Pakistan's sovereignty, and nothing else, would their ideology and mission then be acceptable?
Is Shahbaz Sharif propagating the view that the ends of the Taliban might be justifiable but their means are objectionable? When militancy and private armed organisations are expressly forbidden under Article 256 of our Constitution, should the chief executive of the country's largest province attempt to create a distinction between the means and ends of such an organisation?
Can there be a suggestion more reprehensible than one insinuating that the target of suicide missions should be informed by policy positions of the respective provincial governments? Even though the actions and policies of successive US administrations towards Afghanistan, Pakistan and Palestine might have been a source of inspiration and means of justification for the prophets of obscurantism and religion-inspired violence in our country, is terrorism the sole product of anti-Americanism? Must the PML-N refuse to learn lessons from our recent history? While we need a multi-pronged approach to confront terrorism, can appeasing militants be a part of such strategy?
In the 1980s and 1990s, a nexus between hate and intolerance-spewing madrasas and militant organisations was forged, nurtured and protected by the state, and religion-inspired mercenaries were used as an extension of Pakistan's national security policy to serve our strategic interests. Gen Zia must have been partly inspired to establish such infrastructure of violence on being cajoled and coerced by the US. But such plans fit right into his bigoted personal ethic, his need to further "Islamise" a predominantly Muslim country to legitimise his dictatorship, and the need perceived by our security planners to find strategic depth in Afghanistan. The US certainly wished Pakistan to lead the "good Jihad" in Afghanistan. But our elites were equally eager to serve as the chosen henchmen.
We continued nurturing our jihadi project notwithstanding changes in international strategic thinking after the end of the Cold War and growing concern over terror threats emanating from non-state actors. 9/11 transformed our non-state assets into a liability overnight, as Pakistan's U-turn over its policy towards Afghanistan and the Taliban government rendered our jihadi outfits engaged in Afghanistan hostile to the state of Pakistan. To compound our follies, the Musharraf regime chose to fudge our in-house jihadi problem with a combination of hypocrisy and denial. He widely publicised a comprehensive madrasa reform policy that was never followed through. While faking armed action against militant outfits in Fata, the state continued to distinguish between the "good" and the "bad" Taliban. Musharraf's histrionics bought him more time in power, but fuelled terrorism and bled the country further.
Over the last three years this country witnessed an extensive debate over the causes of terrorism in Pakistan and the preferred solutions. We considered entering into peace agreements with tribal groups and militants. We did. They all backfired and resulted in strengthening the militants and their ability to inflict more terror on civilians. We considered initiating talks with the "reasonable" Taliban.
Sufi Mohammad was brought out of state custody. In the name of peace, the PPP-ANP alliance capitulated before the Swat Taliban, promulgated the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, and conceded the writ of the state to Mulla Fazlullah and Sufi Mohammed. In turn, Sufi Mohammad declared everyone an infidel, clarified his desire to slap us back to the Stone Age, and the country witnessed women lashed in public and men slaughtered at will.
It was not the vision and leadership of our military or political leaders, but the barbarism of "reasonable" Taliban that finally shook the country out of slumber and generated broad support for firm action against these killing machines. Backed and buoyed by such unflinching public opinion, the army carried out an effective military operation to cleanse Swat and then moved into Waziristan.
If the PML-N is so eager to find non-military solutions to our militancy problem, what political and development efforts has it proposed or supported to establish sustainable peace in Swat? In this backdrop, notwithstanding the true intent of Shahbaz Sharif and the unpersuasive defence his party has been instructed to mount on his behalf, the Jamia Naeemia statement of the Punjab chief minister is injurious and alarming for at least three reasons.
One, it exposes the PML-N's facile approach to the scourge of terror and the strategy required to confront this challenge. Will withdrawing the army from the tribal areas automatically return peace and serenity to Pakistan? Will a hostile relationship with the US transform the Taliban and members of other militant outfits into tolerant law-abiding citizens? We need to find the roots of terror, but our inquiry must extend beyond hate for the US.
The infrastructure of terror in Pakistan is built upon a violent brand of religion nurtured by the state, non-performing structure of governance, an illogical and unaccountable national security doctrine, subservient foreign policy and an intolerant cultural ethic. If we are serious about addressing terror, we must start by confronting the religion inspired ideology of hate and violence shared by the Taliban and other militant organisations across Punjab.
Two, by pointing the finger at the US and holding a foreign country responsible for all our ills, Shahbaz Sharif has chosen to accentuate our psychological disempowerment and our sense of paranoia as a nation. Throughout our history, our elites (civil and military) have elected to eagerly forge a close relationship with serving US administrations when in power, while continuing to lay the blame for unpopular and harmful national policies on the Americans. This mastery over running with the hare and hunting with the hounds has cultivated a sense that we are mere agents acting on foreign commands and are therefore neither autonomous beings nor responsible for our actions. Borrowing a leaf from the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiatul Ulama-e-Islam and attempting to derive political mileage by riding the current wave of rabid anti-Americanism is neither constructive nor becoming of a popular political party.
Three, Shahbaz Sharif's outburst threatens to confuse public opinion and shake the national resolve to fight militancy that was forged after it claimed over 30,000 precious Pakistani lives. This is especially troubling, given that the PML-N is the main centre-right party in the country, which has the ability to come together with centre-left parties and form a centrist consensus to fight terror.
The PML-N's dithering and reluctance to attack the thought process and the ideology that breeds violence and terror could very well polarise the country across ideological lines. This is the moment of truth for Pakistan. We need leaders who understand the complexity of our militancy problem, have the ability to rise above the prejudices and ill-informed opinions of their traditional constituents, and the wisdom and courage to shape public opinion, rather than follow it.
I. THE NEWS
Seldom has a government taken the reigns of office amidst such public enthusiasm and anticipation as the coalition government of Gilani. The people's struggle against eight years of military misrule had finally been redeemed with the dawn of a new democratic era, giving them new hopes.
The priority issues that the Gilani government said it aimed to address during its first 100 days included relief measures for the poor, austerity drive, supremacy of parliament, freedom of information, and national reconciliation based on restoration of law and order with all institutions subject to democratic control by the government. He pledged to start a national employment scheme to alleviate poverty under which one person from each poor family was to be provided a job. Also, plots of 80 square yards were to be allotted to the homeless. However, there has been no action in this regard, nor any details regarding the mechanism and modalities to achieve the target have been revealed.
Prime Minister Gilani also committed to bring stringent financial measures to reduce non-development expenditure and limiting the perks and privileges of ministers and officials. Today, Gilani is presiding over the largest cabinet in Pakistan's history and most of his ministers have suspect record of being bank defaulters and NAB convicts. Some of them are infamous for their corruption and dismayed record of performance.
On the economic front, the government has failed to tackle serious challenges, the most critical being the hiking prices of food and fuel and the acute shortage of electricity and water. During the period, gas prices have increased by 31 per cent, and petrol shot up to Rs76 per litre perhaps among the highest in the world. The flour crisis and later the sugar crisis exposed the government's incapacity to govern, and the greed and avarice of the rich, quite of few of whom are in the federal cabinet.
On the issue of constitutional reforms, he pledged to restore the 1973 Constitution, the repealing of Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to promote national reconciliation and bring NAB under the control of the judiciary to strengthen democratic culture and institutions.
The truth of the matter is that the Gilani government has not only failed to achieve any significant success during the last two years, but no movement is in sight in the direction of achieving any of its objectives as well. Parliament has been declared, ad nauseam, as the supreme authority and final arbiter of any policy, but has remained a silent bystander.
Following the American tradition where the president addresses the nation every month on the National Public Radio, on March 5, Prime Minister Gilani spoke to the nation on radio, but failed to interest anyone. His speech was a bland narration of his government's so-called achievements which carried little meaning or credibility.
The prime minister will be well advised to refrain from making such boastful claims which only further expose the incapacity and inefficiency of his government. His pathetic effort to assert that he is the chief executive only invites derision. A prime minister who cannot find one suitable qualified person, for months, to be given the charge of the finance ministry, is a telling commentary on the functioning of the government.
After two years of democratic setup, the nation is more fragmented and tormented. The ineptitude of the government as well as its policy of prevarication has robbed it of any lasting impact. The commitment made regarding the restoration of the constitution to its original form is still to be accomplished. The government seems to have no sense of direction or destination let alone a vision.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: m.tayyab.siddiqui @gmail.com
PRESIDENT'S LAUDABLE INITIATIVE
PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari, on Thursday, launched yet another pro-poor initiative that will go a long way in alleviating mental agonies and economic sufferings of the underprivileged classes of the society. He handed over cheques of Rs 40,000 each for the marriages of 2,500 poor girls from all over the country, funds for which have been provided by the President while Pakistan Baitul Maal (PBM) has managed disbursement.
The launch of the highly beneficial marriage package is manifestation of the fact that everything is possible if you have the necessary vision and the will to improve the lot of the people. This would surely prove to be a ray of hope for the poor parents who are unable to arrange marriages of their daughters because of financial constraints. Because of poverty, countless families in the country are unable to get their young daughters and sisters married and in some cases, helpless parents resort to extreme measures such as killing of their children and thereafter committing suicide themselves. Successive governments announced programmes to help tackle this social problem and grant of dowry grant to workers, new tradition of mass weddings and ban imposed by Punjab Government on ostentation on marriages are aimed at that. However, it is for the first time that an organized effort is being made by the Government to address the problem on a much higher scale. The President really deserves appreciation for arranging funds for marriages of twenty-five thousand girls and it is understood that these families must be praying for him. Already, he has taken a number of measures for amelioration of the lot of women and their empowerment. These include one thousand a month cash grant that goes to women, allotment of land and protection from harassment at work place. We hope that with the passage of time the scope of all these good measures would be increased so that the benefits could reach to each and every deserving family of the country. However, it is also pertinent to point out that the Government alone cannot spare the necessary resources for the purpose because of its own economic woes. Therefore, the NGOs and philanthropists should come forward and play their role in addressing the issues like dowry. It would be in fitness of things if NGOs and well-to-do people form voluntary organizations in different areas to work systematically for the noble cause.
A TECHNOCRAT TO STEER PAK ECONOMY: GOOD
THE appointment of Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh as Prime Minister's Advisor on Finance in a difficult economic environment after a lot of thinking has been received well by business leaders and in the financial circles. An economist of international repute with vast experience and knowledge of the local economy, it would be a test of his skills among ot