media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month march 23, edition 000462, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- AMERICAN HYPOCRISY
- IPL SURGES AHEAD
- HUSSAIN MUST NOT GET AWAY - A SURYA PRAKASH
- BHAGAT SINGH STILL RELEVANT ASHIYA PARVEEN
- CANARD AND CALUMNY AS NEWS!
- M Y BELOVED COUNTRYMEN,
- TWAIN SHALL NEVER MEET - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- POOLING SOVEREIGNTY IS NOT GOOD - GWYNNE DYER
- LEH FEELS THE HEAT AS GLACIERS MELT - TASHI MORUP
- RICH US MUST PROVIDE HEALTHCARE FOR ALL
- IPL EXCESS CAN KILL CRICKET
- WE MUST AVOID PAK TRAP IN AFGHANISTAN - BY KANWAL SIBAL
- PATNA DURBAR - GIRIDHAR JHA
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- IPL MANGE MORE
- ON SHAKY GROUND
- FREE THE PRISONERS OF GENDER - SHERRY REHMAN
- OBAMA SCORES POLITICALLY
- THERE'LL BE A HUGE PRICE TO PAY - SINDHU MANJESH
- MAINSTREAM WATERS
- KATHMANDU CONNECT
- CHANGING PUGMARKS
- NIPPED WINGS
- PREDICTABLE NO-SHOW
- WINNER'S BONUS
- THE GENERAL'S DC WISHLIST - C. RAJA MOHAN
- AUTO-METERS FOR THE PEOPLE - SIMONHARDING
- FEAR STRIKES OUT
- WHAT WATER WARS? - RAMASWAMY R. IYER
- VISIONS OF REVOLUTION - SIRFANHABIB
- WHERE THE MACHINE STOPS
- FUTURISTIC M&A MATH
- EXIT IN CONTEXT
- RBI HIKES KEY RATES, BANKS STAY CALM - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN
- CAN WE BUILD A MASS MARKET FOR NPS? - GAUTAM BHARDWAJ
- RENAULT-NISSAN'S FRUGAL FIXATION - R RAVICHANDRAN
- OBAMA'S HEALTHCARE TRIUMPH
- WHAT GENOME SEQUENCING REVEALS
- ISLAMISM, MODERNITY & INDIAN MUJAHIDEEN - PRAVEEN SWAMI
- TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THE HEALTHCARE OVERHAUL WILL MEAN - TARA SIEGEL BERNARD
- OBAMA'S HEALTHCARE VICTORY CARRIES A COST - DAVID E. SANGER
- FOLLOW THE MONEY
- UNREAL REALTY
- HEADLEY, A PROTECTED 'ASSET' - RAJEEV SRINIVASAN
- IT'S BACK TO OLD TIMES ON INDO-US FRONT - PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR
- ENSURE SAFE FLYING
- AWASH WITH FUNDS
- FLAWED EXAM SYSTEM
- HANDLING HEADLEY - BY K. SUBRAHMANYAM
- LET THE WOMEN DECIDE - BY RAJ CHATTERJEE
- SACRIFICE TRANSCENDS BORDERS - BY KULDIP NAYAR
- COTTON FARMERS FACE AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE - BY JOGINDER SINGH
- DELHI DURBAR
- DRIVERS OF THE BRANDWAGON
- PRESIDENCY UNIVERSITY AHEAD
- AUDIT THYSELF
- IN NEED OF SEED - SURINDER SUD
- UNDER CONSTRUCTION - THE GREAT DELHI NOVEL - NILANJANA S ROY
- INDIA'S WAR MEMORIAL - SEAL THE DEAL - AJAI SHUKLA
- DISINVESTMENT AS PORTFOLIO SHUFFLE - AJIT RANADE
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
- SAAS SACHIN AND BAHU DHONI
- GOOD LUCK, DR BASU
- OSCAR WINNER
- RBI MUST CONTINUE TO HIKE RATES - TUSHAR PODDAR
- IPL, NOT JUST A GAME-CHANGER - RAGHU KRISHNAN
- THE RACE THAT WAS NEVER LOST - MUKUL SHARMA
- FOR MUTUAL FUNDS, EQUITY MARKET IS THE THEME IN 2010
- NON-FARM GDP GROWTH LIKELY TO STAY STRONG'
- ONLY 4 OF 18 NTPC PROJECTS FACING DELAYS: RS SHARMA - SUBHASH NARAYAN & SOMA BANERJEE
- IPL AUCTION WAS A VINDICATION OF FAITH
- THE BURDEN OF EXPORT-LED GROWTH - BY JAYATI GHOSH
- INDIA-NEPAL BHAI-BHAI - BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
- LEGEND LIVES ON
- ETHOS ERODED
- THE ELECTED LORD
- AGONY OF THE NORTH-EAST~I - SHYAMAL DATTA
- WITH NO RESPECT
- HIMALAYAN TEST
- MOBILITY IN CALCUTTA - ASHOK V. DESAI
- TAINTED HONOUR - MALVIKA SINGH
- NO TIME TO DREAM OF THE PAST - SHYAMAL DATTA
- MORE THAN JUST A DUMPING GROUND - ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA
- SUPER REGULATOR
- KOIRALA'S LEGACY
- ONE MORE NAIL - BY B G VERGHESE
- LOHIA'S LEGACY IN KARNATAKA - BY CHANDAN GOWDA
- BOWLED BY YOGA - BY PRAVEEN MULL
- RESPONDING TO RACISTS
- PLAYTIME'S OVER - BY YOEL MARCUS
- CUTS FOR THE LITTLE GUYS, AS THE BIG GUYS PARTY - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
- U.S. ERA OF JEWISH AND EVANGELIST PRESSURE IS OVER - BY TZVIA GREENFIELD
- WOULD PALESTINIAN STATE STYMIE IRAN'S PLANS? - BY EPHRAIM KAM
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- REAL REFORM IN AN ELECTION YEAR
- EUROPEAN DISUNION
- THE ONGOING TOLL FROM 9/11
- TWO RALLIES - BY LAWRENCE DOWNES
- AN ABSENCE OF CLASS - BY BOB HERBERT
- THE DEMOCRATS REJOICE - BY DAVID BROOKS
- FOR DEMOCRATS, A WIN IS A WIN - BY STANLEY B. GREENBERG
- BENEDICT'S FRAGILE CHURCH - BY PETER SCHNEIDER
- ERASING ZIA
- GUN CRAZY
- TALKS NOT AN OPTION YET - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
- 70 YEARS DOWN THE ROAD - TAJ M KHATTAK
- PAY ME TO FIGHT MY WAR - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
- ON ECONOMIC GROWTH - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
- WHY PARTIES NEED CHANGE - DR MALEEHA LODHI
- THE RIOTS - MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
- AMERICANS STAND-UP AGAINST OBAMA
- THRILLING PAF HIGH MARK EXERCISE
- LISTEN TO INDUSTRIALISTS OF SIALKOT
- THE DREAM LIVES ON - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- PAK RESOLUTION, HARBINGER OF FREEDOM - IMTIAZ RAFI BUTT
- PAKISTAN DAY: AN OCCASION TO PONDER - M ASHRAF MIRZA
- BEYOND LAHORE RESOLUTION - SHAIMA SUMAYA
- FIGHT BACK WHEN YOU'RE DOWN..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- THE VANISHING SHUSHUK
- SUNDERBANS FIRE
- BREAK FREE BRAKES FREE..!
- CAPACITY-BUDGET AND BUDGET-CAPACITY NEXUSES - DR. M. S. HAQ
- APPETITE OF SOME BANKS - HARADHAN GANGULY
- MY BANGLADESH - CALLY BARLOW
- WE NEED ANSWERS, NOT ACCUSATIONS ON HEALTH
- TRICKY TACTICS FAIL CHARACTER TEST
- THE WILL OF THE POLITICALLY SAVVY PEOPLE ON DISPLAY
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- LET THEM EAT STEEL AND CEMENT
- IN PURSUIT OF SAFETY
- OBAMA TRIUMPHS OVER HEALTHCARE RESISTANCE
- PAPAL APOLOGY IS TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
- ENDANGERED SPECIES: LAST CHANCE TO SEE
- UNITED STATES: HEALTH OF A NATION
- IN PRAISE OF TED HUGHES
THE KOREA HERALD
- LULL OR TRUCE
- TEMPLE DISPUTE
- KRUGMAN VS. ROACH ON VALUE OF YUAN - WILLIAM PESEK
- GLOBALIZATION: ITS MEANING IN AN EDUCATIONAL CONTEXT - JOHN ENDICOTT
THE JAPAN TIMES
- NEW FOUNDATIONS FOR CONTRACT LAW
- WHEN AIRPORTS EAT EACH OTHER
- REDRESSING INCENTIVES FOR EXECUTIVES TO FAIL - BY LUCIAN BEBCHUK, ALMA COHEN AND HOLGER SPAMANN
- FORMER POW REJECTS IDEA THAT DPJ IS ANTI-AMERICAN - BY LESTER TENNEY
THE JAKARTA POST
- EVENTUALLY, OBAMA
- LAST GUARDIAN OF PLURALISM: END OF NAHDLATUL ULAMA? - AHMAD JUNAIDI
- INDONESIA JOINS TOP RANK OF CLIMATE ACTION LEADERSHIP - URSULA SCHAEFER-PREUSS AND KATHERINE SIERRA
- THE NU NATION.
- BRINGING BACK GOOD KARMA IN WATER QUALITY - TOMY HARYADI
- DON'T WAIT FOR DISASTER - BAN KI-MOON
- ELUDING COPYRIGHT DEBACLE
- A CHAIN OF CORRUPTION
- US IS THE TRUE MONEY MEDDLER - BY ZHANG MONAN (CHINA DAILY)
- LET'S NOT LOSE FOCUS IN CLIMATE FIGHT - BY KHALID MALIK (CHINA DAILY)
- MEDIA HURDLE TO INTERCULTURAL RELATIONS - BY BI YANTAO (CHINA DAILY)
- DEBATE: HUKOU ABOLITION
- INTRA-PARTY RIVALRY FOR THE LAST TIME?
NOW NUCLEAR DEAL FOR PAKISTAN
If the reports that suggest the US is contemplating a nuclear deal with Pakistan are true then what we are witnessing is a major shift in American policy that could have severe consequences for not only South Asia but also the world beyond. That the US should be willing to offer Pakistan a deal that would allow it access to weapon-grade uranium and associated nuclear technology despite Islamabad's track record in proliferation is truly astounding. Is this then a reward for decades of running a bazar, courtesy AQ Khan, where nuclear knowhow and components were sold to rogue regimes? How else does one explain the self-proclaimed champion of non-proliferation thinking of making it easier for one of the most unstable countries in the world, which cannot even guarantee whether its existing stockpile of nuclear weapons is under strict lock and key, more access to nuclear fodder? This is American hypocrisy at its best and akin to past policies that have seen the US shake hands with tainted regimes to fulfil its own vested interests. It is clear that all talk of a nuclear weapons-free world and non-proliferation emanating from Washington, DC is nothing but so much bunkum. The US will continue to do whatever it feels will benefit American policy, even if it means effectively selling nuclear bombs to jihadis who have sworn to eradicate all 'kafirs' from this world and establish their own Islamist caliphate. Also, if there is indeed a shift in thinking underway in Washington, DC, as has been suggested by US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson ahead of a 'strategic dialogue' between the two countries on March 24, then the Americans no longer have the moral authority to question Iran or North Korea's nuclear programmes. The latter would be well within their rights to tell the US to lay off.
The possible policy shift also means a clear departure from the way the US approaches the sub-continent. During Mr Bill Clinton's second tenure as the US President as well as throughout the two terms of former President George W Bush, a lot had been done to de-hyphenate India-US relations from Pakistan. For this the two American leaders as well as former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee deserve full credit. But the Pakistani demand for a nuclear deal, which the US is now reportedly considering, is driven by Islamabad's obsession to be treated at par with New Delhi. That the US is seen to be willing to indulge the Pakistanis suggests that the Obama Administration has decided to roll back a decade-and-a-half of sound American policy. Regardless of the empirical evidence available, it is willing to spend billions of dollars to prop up a decrepit regime in Islamabad and even arm-twist its 'global partners' the Nuclear Suppliers Group for instance into providing the latter with favours. One has to be blind to not see the pitfalls of such a flawed strategy.
As far as India is concerned, the notion that the US sees it as a favoured ally, one which is entitled to special treatment as exemplified by the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement, lies in tatters. Besides, those who believed that President Barack Obama would bring about a sea-change in American policies and make them more pragmatic and vibrant have every reason to feel sheepish. For, Mr Obama has proven himself to be naïve, lacking in long-term vision and completely clueless about ground realities exactly the kind of American President Pakistan would have hoped for.
IPL SURGES AHEAD
BUT WATCH OUT FOR SUSTAINABILITY
It was only last year that the second season of the Indian Premier League was on the brink of being called off after it tried to take on the might of the Government of India. Exactly a year later, not only is the mega cricket event back with a bang but is also looking set to expand its horizons. At a time when austerity is a mantra that is on everyone's lips, the recent purchase two new franchises Pune and Kochi exemplifies the vibrancy of IPL's business model as well as its immunity to recession. The two franchises were bought for a combined total of $700 million, an amount that is as IPL chairman Lalit Modi so proudly pointed out more than what the eight franchises at the inaugural auction went for. Even in this recovering economic climate the achievement is phenomenal. Besides, two new teams mean around 70 extra players 20 international and 50 Indian. This clearly represents a strengthening of the existing talent pool, especially among domestic players. However, this huge investment by corporates is still quite a gamble. It is true that the marquee product is running smoothly, the money from sponsors is rolling in and the IPL has successfully created a niche in the psyche of the Indian cricket fan. But the tournament is still in its infancy, a work in progress, and buying a franchise does not guarantee anything. No stadiums, no fixed assets, no players, nothing just the opportunity to make it big in the treacherous and unpredictable world of a game doting on uncertainties.
While the Sahara Group is a big player in sports, Rendezvous Sports World's entry, picking up the Kochi franchise, has been a pleasant surprise. It is easy to see what prompted the bid: The huge expatriate Malayali community and all that it entails money, sponsorships, and an entirely new fan base. There is no doubt that IPL is all set to become a grander phenomenon than it presently is. But diligence from the caretakers of the game is also required. Attracted by the glitz and glamour of IPL, the franchise-owners are walking a very fine line. They have put themselves in a very volatile environment, one marked by more ups and downs than the stock market. With more teams making their debut in IPL, the sponsorship pie stands to be further divided. And for teams which are not supported by huge conglomerates or are without strong revenue streams, things are far from rosy. The money involved is great, but a closer scrutiny of the sustainability of IPL in the years ahead is pertinent. More so if it is planning to compete against more popular leagues such as the English Premier League or the American NBA.
HUSSAIN MUST NOT GET AWAY
A SURYA PRAKASH
Maqbool Fida Hussain has always been a hero for the pseudo-secular crowd in India. That is why sections of the English media are aghast at his decision to migrate to Qatar and have been blaming Hindus for "hounding him". Since some television anchors have been screaming their heads off over Hussain's decision to give up his Indian nationality but are unwilling to tell the people the truth about his artistic licence, the time has come to place some cold or shall we call it 'hot' facts on the table.
What has prompted Hussain to flee India? Mr Prafull Goradia and Mr KR Phanda, the authors of Anti-Hindus, published in 2003, provide us some valuable clues and answer this question substantially. This book not only reproduces a Press release issued by Mr DP Sinha of Sanskar Bharati but also photographs of some of the most repulsive paintings of Hussain. The Press release is indeed a comprehensive charge-sheet against the painter, because it provides a graphic description of eight of Hussain's paintings each more vulgar and reprehensible than the other.
Here is the list of the eight objectionable paintings and the accusations made by the organisation. 'Durga', in which the goddess is shown in sexual union with a tiger. 'Rescuing Sita', in which the artist shows a naked Sita astride a naked Hanuman's tail "Hanuman's tail as a phallic symbol crosses all limits of decency." Lord Vishnu is generally painted with four hands holding a shankh, a padma, a gada and a chakra, but the hands of Vishnu are shown as amputated and his legs have been cut off a maimed, mutilated and exhausted Vishnu reclines on his spouse Lakshmi and his vahan Garuda. "Should the cutting of hands and legs of Vishnu be regarded as creative freedom or deliberate affront to Hindu sensibility?" Saraswati, whom Hindus regard as a goddess draped in a white and pure garment (ya shubhra vastravruta) is also shown naked. Goddess Lakshmi is shown naked and perched on the head of Ganesh, "a posture highlighting unmasked sexuality"
Hussain's 'Hanuman-V' shows a three-faced Hanuman and a nude couple "The identity of the woman is not in doubt. The erect genital of Hanuman is bent in the direction of the female. The obscenity is too obvious." Another painting, 'Hanuman -13', shows a stark naked 'Sita' sitting on the thigh of an equally naked 'Ravan', while a naked Hanuman is shown attacking the latter. In 'George Washington and Arjun on the Chariot' Washington replaces Lord Krishna in the famous chariot scene from the Mahabharat! Hussain replaces Lord Krishna with Washington because "in his eyes Lord Krishna is no god and stands denigrated and reduced to the level of a mere human being George Washington".
But, is Hussain's iconoclasm uniform? Far from it. Hussain is the very epitome of reverence when it comes to non-Hindu subjects. He paints Fatima, Prophet Mohammed's daughter, as "the embodiment of serenity and grace" and fully clothed. The artist takes no liberties here. He takes no liberties also while painting his daughter and mother. His painting of Mother Teresa is "an outstanding piece of art" which brings out the compassion of the Mother, says Mr Sinha. If this be so, why does he depict Hindu gods and goddesses in such a repulsive manner? The answer lies in yet another painting a panel depicting Einstein, Gandhi, Mao Tse Tung and Hitler, in which only Hitler is naked. Can we then conclude that characters about whom Hussain feels repugnant are depicted in the nude by him?
While reproducing these obnoxious "works of art" and the detailed Press release by Sanskar Bharati, Mr Goradia and Mr Phanda describe Hussain as a "sexually perverse person". The photographs of these paintings originally appeared in a book that was designed by Hussain himself. The authors add three more to the eight accusations made by Mr Sinha. These relate to paintings which show a bull copulating with Parvati while Shankar looks on; a naked Hanuman with his genitals pointing towards a woman; and a naked Krishna with his feet and hands cut-off. The authors draw the distinction between nudity, pornography and perversity: "When pornography or perversity embroils deities, it is sacrilegious."
As Mr Goradia and Mr Phanda point out, it is simply not possible to give him the benefit of doubt. The panel portraying Einstein, Gandhi, Mao Tse Tung and Hitler is the clincher, they say. The first three have clothes on but Hitler is naked. "Does that mean that he painted in the nude all those he hated? ... Can any self-respecting Hindu forgive Maqbool Fida Hussain?" they ask.
The answer is obviously a big 'No'. So, what do Hindu citizens who feel offended by Hussain's art do? Barring a few vandals who took the law in their hands and disrupted a couple of the artist's exhibitions, the reaction of the large mass of Hindus was what it ought to be in a democracy. They moved courts and lodged criminal complaints against the artist. They drew on the Indian Penal Code that prohibits citizens from offending the religious sensibilities of other citizens.
There were no death threats or absurd pronouncements like the Muslim politician in Uttar Pradesh who, not very long ago, offered a prize of Rs 51 crore for the head of the Danish cartoonist accused of lampooning Prophet Mohammed. Yet, if you go by the shrill posturing of some television anchors, the Hindus deserve no marks for this lawful, democratic response to the worst form of blasphemy. If this pseudo-secular fringe is to be believed, Hindus deserve to be condemned for "hounding" Hussain with court cases.
Whatever Hussain's friends and admirers may say, the truth is that after taking such obnoxious liberties with Hindu sentiments, he became a fugitive from the law. He has been on the run ever since the cases were filed. Many Hindus who are aware of Hussain's vile art rightly see him as a 'Qatarnak' painter. So, one supposes that Qatar was the logical destination for him!
But, if we value our secular traditions, we must not let him go. The long arm of the law must reach Qatar. We should seek his extradition and prosecute him for hurting the religious sentiments of 800 million citizens.
BHAGAT SINGH STILL RELEVANT
It was on this day in1931when the nation bemoaned the loss of its legendary revolutionary hero Bhagat Singh. There were many revolutionaries in pre-independence India to whom we will be forever indebted to. But what distinguished Bhagat Singh from them was his farsightedness that gave the revolutionary movement in colonial India a new dynamism. Unlike his contemporaries, Bhagat Singh, under the influence of Mahatma Gandhi, developed revolutionary tendencies right from the early age of 13 and joined the Non-Cooperation movement. He was also influenced by the revolutionary movements of Europe and had even worked out a political alternative for post-independence India.
The suspension of the Non-Cooperation movement by Mahatma Gandhi after the Chauri Chaura incident left Bhagat Singh disappointed and weakened his faith in non-violence. Henceforth he would infuse the freedom movement with vigor and inculcate a spirit of revolution among the youth. His association with Sukhdev, Bhagawati Charan, Chandra Shekhar Azad, BK Datt and, above all, Lala Lajpat Rai, strongly influenced his world-view.
It was Bhagat Singh's determination to change the whole system of injustice prevalent in the country at the time. In 1925, he founded the Nav Jawan Bharat Sabha and sought the participation of the youth to liberate India from the British Raj. Nonetheless, his ideology, combined with the logic of atheism, invited criticism from eminent political and social figures. Yet he continued with his philosophy that paved the way for the rise of socialist policies in India. Along with Chandra Shekhar Azad, he formed the Hindustan Samajvadi Prajatantra Sangha to establish an Indian republic by means of an armed revolution. But the brutal killing of Lala Lajpat Rai left him perturbed. To avenge the death of his mentor he, along with Batukeshwar Dutt, threw bombs in the Central Assembly Hall while it was in session. The two deliberately courted arrest and embraced the death sentence that was handed down to them.
On this March 23, let us commemorate this great son of India by paying tribute to his vision of a strong, self-reliant, independent India.
CANARD AND CALUMNY AS NEWS!
GUJARAT CHIEF MINISTER NARENDRA MODI, IN AN OPEN LETTER TO THE NATION, EXPOSES HOW SECTIONS OF THE MEDIA BENT UPON DEMONISING HIM HAVE BEEN PUTTING OUT THE FALSEHOOD THAT HE WAS SUMMONED BY THE SIT ON MARCH 21. THE DATE, HE SAYS, IS AN INVENTION OF VESTED INTERESTS, AIMED AT INTERFERING IN THE DUE PROCESS OF LAW AND TARNISHING HIS IMAGE
M Y BELOVED COUNTRYMEN,
I am constrained to write to you with a deep sense of anguish. Since last eight years, canards have been spread against me. For the past one week, if we analyse the allegations levelled against me, then the truth will become evident. Truth cannot be suppressed. It is now my duty to place before you the facts that bring out the importance of understanding what the truth really is.
After the 2002 Godhra incidents, I had categorically said in the Vidhan Sabha and in public that no one is above the Indian Constitution and the law, even if he happens to be the Chief Minister of a State. These are not mere words. My actions have reflected this statement in its true spirit. I assure you that this would be my stand in the future.
In spite of that, some vested interests, without losing a single opportunity and with malicious pleasure and without bothering to ascertain the truth based on mere whims and fancies have been tarnishing the good image of Gujarat, my Government and me.
Recently, there has been a systematic campaign to defame Gujarat through propagation of false reports titled 'Special Investigation Team summons Narendra Modi'; 'Narendra Modi did not appear before SIT' and 'Modi has shown disrespect to Supreme Court and SIT'. Such baseless allegations are being levelled once again against me to defame Gujarat.
I am therefore compelled to place the facts before my countrymen.
As soon as newspapers began reporting that Modi has been summoned by the SIT, the Government spokesperson immediately said that Shri Modi is bound by the law of the land and the Indian Constitution. He has always extended his cooperation to every procedure of law. And he is committed to do so in the future.
It is a matter of grave concern and needs investigation as to why and who started spreading lies that 'SIT summons Narendra Modi on March 21, 2010'.
The purveyors of untruth failed even to think that March 21, 2010 happens to be a Sunday and a public holiday.
These purveyors of lies even did not once bother to check whether the key SIT officers, who are appointed by the Supreme Court, were present in Gujarat on March 21, 2010.
SIT had not fixed March 21, 2010 for my appearance. To say that I was summoned on March 21 is completely false. I shall respond to the SIT fully respecting the law and keeping in view the dignity of a body appointed by the Supreme Court.
The date of March 21, 2010 was invented by some vested interest and as a part of their effort to interfere in the due process of law. They wanted to paint me as a person who refused to respond to the SIT. This country has in the last twenty four hours witnessed a campaign of disinformation in which a section of the media became an instrument of the disinformers. I hope this section will now take corrective steps.
My beloved countrymen,
The people of Gujarat and this country have identified those who are defaming Gujarat continuously since 2002. But I want to tell the truth that spreading falsehoods has only one single purpose and that is to instigate people. It is a sinful action which will harm the working of a democratic state. Seen in the backdrop of events in the last 24 hours, it shows that there is a nexus among the vested interests in spreading lies against me in order to defame me. This machination has come unstuck and the people have seen through this charade.
The Government of Gujarat has always honoured and cooperated with the investigative agencies, commissions and the Supreme Court looking into Godhra and post-Godhra incidents. And that is why I never thought of giving a public statement on this issue. Despite unbearable pain, I decided to maintain silence in the belief that the due process of law would take its own course.
But now, as the lies reach a crescendo as never before, I am compelled to bring the facts before the countrymen. I also consider it my humble duty.
I hope the truth is not twisted by the purveyors of untruth to misguide the investigation. And I expect that the media would bring my deep pain and despair to the notice of the people.
TWAIN SHALL NEVER MEET
THE MARXISTS AND MAMATA WILL NEVER AGREE TO ANYTHING
There is humbug and then there is more humbug. The rigmarole about working towards and finding a 'consensus' between bitter political competitors in West Bengal as essential to enabling the State to fulfil its potential, realise its promise as among the top league of economic achievers in India is sheer humbug.
The Congress as much as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) as well as the less subtle Trinamool Congress need to stop telling their constituents that a consensus, that works like an insurance and a guarantee on the way forward for West Bengal's beleaguered citizens, trapped between spiralling violence and ceaseless competition, is possible. At least one of the consensus-makers namely the Trinamool Congress, will not share the same space with one other. It has adopted as its favourite weapon of destruction the vow to boycott Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and to have no truck with the CPI(M).
With such open belligerence elevated to the level of political principle and winning mantra, the Trinamool Congress cannot afford to sit at the same table and work out a consensus. It is ridiculous for the Congress to churn out platitudes such as the climate for a consensus needs to be created so that the major political players in West Bengal can sit together.
While Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's statement on Saturday that a consensus that addresses the three basic needs of the moment in West Bengal is imperative to rescue the State's future is self-evident, the fact of the matter is that neither he nor the Congress has any intention of persuading its recalcitrant partner to do the needful. The needful in this case involves climbing off the high horse that the Trinamool Congress leadership is sitting astride.
Since a three-way consensus, however desirable, is unlikely, the Congress and the CPI(M) are left with one politically difficult choice: An agreement between themselves that excludes the Trinamool Congress. The Congress on its part cannot do this because to drop the Trinamool Congress at this stage would jeopardise its future in West Bengal, push the United Progressive Alliance Government into a crisis and generally play havoc with its image.
The CPI(M) is no less constrained; for its own reasons it can support the Congress on the Women's Reservation Bill, but it cannot strike deals without eating crow, given its acrimonious exit from UPA 1.0 over the nuclear deal.
Therefore, the idea of consensus is a mirage. It is being bandied around to make the Congress and the CPI(M) look good. It also enables the Trinamool Congress to do what it does best lash out at the CPI(M) for what Ms Mamata Banerjee has listed as its failures.
Given that no sensible mature political party can ignore the idea of consensus to end the one-sided war of annihilation underway in West Bengal the rhetoric must remain. But the CPI(M) cannot hide behind the rhetoric in order to escape its primary political responsibility of taking the lead.
Mr Bhattacharjee is much too tentative in his utterances as of now to deliver a punch line that helps his defeated troops revive and surge forward. Till now the CPI(M) has been busy with converting the disorderly retreat in the face of the Trinamool Congress's success into an orderly withdrawal. The effort that has gone into leading the withdrawal so that the CPI(M) can survive intact to fight another day needs to be evaluated. How can the CPI(M) be sure that its ranks have indeed recovered from the shock of severe losses inflicted by the Trinamool Congress unless the cadres are led back into the war zone?
It is not enough for Mr Bhattacharjee to say that his Government has learnt from the mistakes since 2006, that is Singur and Nandigram. It is not enough for him to say that 4,000 acres of land have been acquired for industrial projects. It is not enough for him to say that he will lead a road show soliciting investors in India. It is not enough because it is a defensive strategy.
The CPI(M)'s apologetic, understated tactics that include within itself a superstitious aversion to acknowledging that West Bengal's investments are on course despite the Singur debacle is revealing of how shaky the leadership feels. There is safety in playing the blame-game, in accusations about Maoist linkages vis-à-vis the Trinamool Congress.
By adopting the tactics of avoiding risk, the CPI(M) is in fact delivering itself into its challenger's hands. The incapacity of the leaders to score political points even when there is opportunity indicates that there is a certain timidity, a squeamish aversion. The party may have instructed its cadre to listen more and talk less work more and exert authority less, but that dictum surely does not apply to the speaking heads unless there is an acute crisis of confidence within the CPI(M) about where it is headed and how it plans to get there. In welcoming consensus even though it is a chimera the CPI(M) is probably revealing its disability to engage in robustly strategised counter measures that anticipate a successful future.
POOLING SOVEREIGNTY IS NOT GOOD
FRENCH PRESIDENT NICOLAS SARKOZY'S PROPOSAL TO CREATE A JOINT NUCLEAR DETERRENT WITH BRITAIN IS FAR REMOVED FROM REALITY AND CAN NEVER WORK
As a general rule, we should all encourage and support international cooperation. Once in a while, however, a proposal comes along that is so disconnected from reality that you check the date in case it's April Fool's Day. There is now such a proposal on the table.
The French Government, according to a report in The Guardian on March 19, has suggested that France and Britain pool their ballistic missile-firing submarines ("boomers"), in effect merging their nuclear deterrent forces. This would allow some savings on operational costs, since at the moment each country always has at least one 'boomer' at sea.
Under the French proposal, they could just keep one submarine at sea, hidden and invulnerable in the mid-ocean depths, ready to retaliate against an attack on either Britain or France. That would leave the other crew, safely ashore, plenty of time to contemplate the huge can of worms that this strategy would open.
The whole policy of always having one boomer at sea is a left-over from a different era anyway. During the Cold War, when countries worried about the other side launching a nuclear Pearl Harbour, it made sense never to have all your missile-firing subs in port where they could easily be destroyed.
It's the classic logic of deterrence. If the other side knows for certain that at least one submarine will survive, and shoot back with dozens of unstoppable nuclear warheads, then it won't attack in the first place. That's why Britain has four Vanguard-class boomers and France has three Triomphant-class boats with a fourth building: So there will always be one at sea.
However, the Cold War ended almost 20 years ago. No great power lives in fear of an attack from any other. Neither Britain nor France is within range of any of the non-great powers that have or are alleged to want nuclear weapons, like North Korea or Iran. Why don't they just leave the boats in harbour, maybe taking one out for a training cruise from time to time?
But if Britain and France insist on maintaining these patrols, then they have to realise that one submarine cannot provide cover for both countries. The idea was apparently discussed for the first time when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London in March, 2008, but it's not likely that either man really understands the theory of deterrence. So here, for their benefit, is a potted version of the strategy.
Let's suppose that it's a British submarine out on patrol, and some evil country strikes France with nuclear weapons, eliminating all of France's boomers in port. Does the British submarine retaliate with its own nuclear weapons, knowing that to do so means that Britain may also be attacked by nuclear weapons?
If I were French, I wouldn't trust British promises about this. And if I were running the evil country in question, I would likewise doubt that Britain would really retaliate against me on France's behalf, knowing that I might then hit British cities too. So deterrence fails, and all that money was wasted.
Soon after Mr Sarkozy met with Mr Brown in 2008, he said in a speech in Cherbourg: "Together with the UK, we have taken a major decision. It is our assessment that there can be no situation in which the vital interests of either of our two nations could be threatened without the vital interests of the other also being threatened." Fine words, but not true.
In practice, when Britain has to choose between its loyalty to the European Union and its instinct to go with the United States, it almost always chooses the latter option. France has always had less faith in American judgement and in US willingness to fight a nuclear war on Europe's behalf, which is why it spent all that money over two generations to build a truly independent nuclear deterrent force.
The British nuclear deterrent force is different, since the missiles it uses have been American ever since 1962. There is no formal US veto over the use of the missiles that are in British submarines, but those missiles are only leased by Britain and belong to a pool of missiles that also supplies American boomers. A missile that is in a British submarine this time around could be in an American one in its next service cycle.
The French Navy must be furious at Mr Sarkozy for offering, in effect, to combine their genuinely independent nuclear force with a British deterrent force that is very closely tied to the US. Fortunately for France, the British Navy doesn't like the idea of job-sharing either, and can be counted on to resist, undermine, and ultimately kill the idea. The astonishing thing is that it ever got out into the public domain at all.
The writer is an independent journalist based in London.
LEH FEELS THE HEAT AS GLACIERS MELT
WITH WATER DISAPPEARING FAST DROUGHT LOOMS LARGE OVER LADAKH, WRITES TASHI MORUP
Trudging down the street of Leh bazaar, Ishay Tundup, an elderly farmer holds up a bag full of green vegetables. This 70-year-old man had grown vegetables all his life and had never needed to buy them from market. Tundup is one of the many farmers who have suffered the effects of drought in Ladakh last summer, a phenomenon unheard of. Sonam Zangpo, the headman of Leh district, rued, "Our fields received waters only four times in the whole season." Normally, barley fields receive water through irrigation channels during the period of cultivation. But this time streams ran dry and the staple crop barley grew stunted.
This pattern of nature going awry has become apparent over the last decade in this high altitude trans-Himalayan region. Drastic reduction in Indus River waters and in smaller streams, disappearing glaciers, flash floods and lake overflows vindicate this. Many natural springs, which for centuries have been a source of drinking water and irrigation, have gone dry.
Ladakh, likened to an oasis in the icy desert attracts thousands of tourists with its rugged terrain and its immense potential for trekking in the semi-arid highland. But now crossing fast-flowing and intricately linked rivulets do not hold that thrill anymore.
"You can now cross these tributaries without wetting your shoes with the help of stones that have emerged on the water surface," says Tsering, a veteran tour operator. The famous 22-day trek from Lamayuru to Darcha cutting across the Himalayan range had a memorable stretch at the Shinkun La pass, which meant crossing the glacier. Now deep moraines have developed due to melting glacier and this route is now omitted from trekking itinerary.
The Khardong La pass, called the Highest Motorable Pass in the World, is also a must for trekking enthusiasts. Here too the rising temperatures have led to a complete disappearance of glacier. People of Leh have seen flash floods in 1999 and in 2006 caused by recessional glacial lake outbursts at Nang-tse and Phu-tse glacier.
According to Mr Joseph T Gergan, glacial scientist at Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun, these are the sources of water supply to Leh town. The fast melting glaciers' in Changthang area are pouring into the famous Pangong lake which lies partly in India and the rest in Tibet. The overflowing waters recently submerged the roads adjacent to the long shore of the lake, which then needed to be rebuilt.
Communities settled along the Indus belt areas have their own woes to tell. Water canals in Chushot, Choglamsar, Spituk and Phey villages are stretching further upstream to access the rapidly receding waters of the Indus River. "We had to build fresh canals to draw water further up from the Indus as one of the three courses of the river along our village has completely gone dry," said Mohd Sadiq, Goba of Chushot village.
"There was not a single drop in our stream last summer," said Tsering Angdus, an elderly villager in Phey. He remembered those days when snow was knee-high everywhere, which lasted the whole winter.
The dwindling water has forced communities in Shun village, Lungnag valley in the remote Zanskar region decide to shift base from their traditional land. They now inhabit Darcha on Leh-Manali road, a difficult trek of several days from their ancestral village. At Phu-tse glacier the breaching point where the lake was formed due to melting is apparent. So is the larger lake at the snout of Khardong la glacier.
Chering Dorjey, Chief Executive Commissioner, LAHDC, Leh is concerned about the depleting underground water sources and has mooted a water supply scheme to lift water from the Indus River. More and more villages like Taru, Phey, Nang, Stagmo and Sakti in Ladakh, facing water scarcity are now building reservoirs under Watershed and Haryali schemes.
Mr Gergan, who has studied the issue, believes that the numerous moraines created by the glacial melt could work as small, manageable check dams to preserve water as well as rejuvenate the springs. In several countries facing glacier recession, like Switzerland, artificial covers from Sun are provided. Artificial glaciers along side hills protect the original glacier and preserve the vast stretch of permafrost. However, meeting the immediate challenge of water shortage should receive top priority but it needs to go much beyond that. The larger issue of global warming and its effects in the region need urgent attention.
RICH US MUST PROVIDE HEALTHCARE FOR ALL
THE United States has, arguably, the finest medical centres and doctors in the world. But it also happens to be a country, the only one in the developed world, which does not provide for the healthcare of all or most of its citizens.
The healthcare bill passed by the US House of Representatives on Sunday night should begin the process of remedying the situation.
It will now require most Americans to get health insurance by providing subsidies to the middle class to buy policies, enlarge Medicaid, the existing system that provides medical assistance to some low- income people, and by expanding healthcare dramatically help reduce its burgeoning costs. Estimates are that by the time the impact of the legislation sets in, by 2019, 32 million additional Americans will get insurance and only 23 million will remain uninsured, of which one third will be illegal immigrants.
The legislation also aims at checking the worst practices of the US insurance industry.
Insurers will not be allowed to reject people with pre- existing conditions or charge them exorbitant premiums, they will not be able to cancel policies on flimsy grounds or limit the payout. The cost of the new legislation could be a trillion dollars or so in the coming decade.
That is an enormous sum, considering the already swollen US deficit. But there could be a payoff in terms of the life- style of people and the boom in the healthcare industry.
The unanimous refusal of the Republican party to support the bill bodes ill for the US system. President Barack Obama's determination to seek the passage of the bill and his success in doing so should still the doubts that have been raised about his staying power.
Despite the obstructionist tactics of the Republicans, the Democrats have prevailed.
No doubt, the Republicans will continue to press their opposition to what they call " big government" in the November elections. But whether the measure is historic or not will only be known over the next decade.
For the moment Mr Obama and the Democrats should be allowed to savour their victory.
IPL EXCESS CAN KILL CRICKET
WITH the Indian Premier League garnering $ 703 million ( Rs 3,235 crore) after the sale of two new franchises on Sunday in the world's most lucrative cricket extravaganza, India's position as the world's prime cricket destination has been further reinforced.
But the money being pumped into IPL must be viewed not only from the commercial point of view, but from that of the game as well. In an already overcrowded cricket calendar, the IPL with its current eight teams takes away six weeks of prime international cricket playing time. With two more teams entering the fray, this window will only open wider, to at least two months ( perhaps more, if IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi has his way) in a jam- packed schedule.
With its frenetic pace and extreme demands on the human body, the IPL is bound to take its toll on cricketers. Two international captains Graeme Smith of South Africa and M. S. Dhoni of India have already injured themselves ahead of the World T20 Championship.
True, domestic cricketers now have the chance of earning the kind of money they'd never dreamed of earlier. But on the opposite side, what is the real purpose for which they have taken up the game? One would guess, to represent their country in Test cricket. In that sense, the IPL has been an abject failure.
It has thrown up very little world- class talent, and it is those who prosper in Test cricket, save a couple, that have done consistently well in this form of the game, too Shane Warne, Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis, Virender Sehwag, Dhoni, Adam Gilchrist.
Then there is the question of the money itself. Where does it go? Does it go for the development of the sport in India? Has India's cricketing infrastructure in terms of stadia and the like improved in any manner? Once again, there is very little evidence to suggest that.
Mr Modi may be hailed as one of the " revolutionaries" in the sport, but only from a businessman's point of view. From a cricketing standpoint, the IPL would possibly end up hurting the sport rather than benefitting it.
WE MUST AVOID PAK TRAP IN AFGHANISTAN
BY KANWAL SIBAL
A FGHANISTAN is geopolitically important to various countries for different reasons. Currently, the primary objective of the US is to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a launchpad by Al Qaeda and associated extremist groups for terrorist activity directed at it. Beyond that, Afghanistan is integral to the pursuit of US longer term political and economic interests in Central Asia, and that would include preventing Russia from dominating it militarily and China economically. US presence in Afghanistan also constitutes a potential pressure point on Iran for curbing its nuclear ambitions.
Russia's interest in Afghanistan is complex.
It is very reluctant to intervene unilaterally in Afghan affairs, with the bitter results of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in mind. Yet it cannot ignore the threat of a consolidation of US presence in Afghanistan to its longer term interests in Central Asia, even though for short term pragmatic reasons it is currently providing transit facilities to Nato forces through its territory. It is deeply concerned about the spread of extremist religious forces in Afghanistan, represented by the Taliban, as these could then spread to Central Asia and eventually dangerously infect southern Russia too. Meanwhile, drug traffficking from Afghanistan has become a top priority issue for Russia as almost one- fifth of Afghan heroin flows into its territory, causing societal ravage and 30,000 deaths annually.
China is consolidating its presence in Central Asia, in the energy sector in particular.
It would not want Afghan instability to spill over into Central Asia and jeopardise the progress it is making there. The spread of Islamic radicalism in the region would concern it deeply because of the impact of that on the already troubled situation in Sinkiang.
For these pragmatic reasons it too would not want the US/ ISAF forces to withdraw prematurely, despite the occasional rhetoric about removal of foreign forces from the region. As part of its frenetic acquisition world wide of raw material resources China is making a multi- billion dollar investment in developing Afghanistan's copper resources, including building a railway line as part of the project. This would fit in with its larger strategy of promoting the economic growth of its provinces by linking them to neighbouring countries and, backed by the dynamism of its econony and the enormous capital resources that it now possesses, to bring these countries or the adjoining regions into the Chinese orbit.
Iran has special interest in the Herat region in which it has already consolidated its interests, especially economic.
It is opposed to the Shia- hating Taliban, supported in the past by Saudi Arabia and, barring the Al Qaeda complication, still linked to that country as is clear from President Karzai's open support for a Saudi role in the renconciliation strategy directed at these extremist forces. Iran, as is reported, may well be giving some support to the Taliban groups fighting US/ Nato troops as a form of retaliation against the US for its open support for anti- regime elements in Iran.
Pakistan's interest in Afghanistan has several dimensions, deriving from history, geopolitical realities, outstanding territorial issues, ethnic links, military ambitions, anti- India paranoia and the like. As both rational and irrational elements are involved in shaping Pakistan's Afghan policy, dealing with it on the Afghan issue is a problem for both its friends and its adversaries. Pakistan's desire to dominate Afghanistan contradicts historical experience as, barring Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a non- Muslim ruler of Punjab who ruled Afghanistan, it is the Afghans who have ruled in Delhi. Even the Mughals came to India via Afghanistan. Just because its missiles have been named after Ghazni and Ghauri should not delude Pakistan into believing that it has any historical basis for its imperial ambitions in Afghanistan. Pakistan's rationale for pursuing " strategic depth" in Afghanistan appears equally obtuse.
Such thinking is premised on denying full sovereignty to Afghanistan. How can Pakistan decide unilaterally that it must have such depth? Is the Afghan government ready to concede this abridgement of its security choices to Pakistan? Other than this fundamental perversity, hasn't Pakistan's nuclear arsenal given it the security depth it needs against India? If the whole purpose of acquiring this capability, accompanied by a policy of first use whose threshold has been kept relatively low, is to deter an Indian conventional attack of major proportions, then why is strategic depth in Afghanistan needed, as that would presuppose a scenario in which Pakistan, reeling under a strong Indian conventional blow, would not use nuclear weapons and would need space, outside the reach of Indian forces, to recover, recoup and retaliate? Actually, this would imply an alliance between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the two countries joining forces to fight India.
Even if " strategic depth" were only to mean that a government friendly to Pakistan should be in power in Kabul it would still be an unacceptable demand.
Such logic would justify India demanding " strategic depth" in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, not to mention in Pakistan itself. If Pakistan is concerned about Indian influence in Afghanistan working against its security interests, then India would have equal concern about Chinese influence in Pakistan working against Indian security interests, not to mention the threat from both China and Pakistan to its interests in other neighbouring countries. Barring the period when the Taliban were in power in Kabul, ever since 1947 Pakistan and Afghanistan have not enjoyed a close political relationship despite Afghan dependence on Pakistan for transit facilities.
Despite the Pashtun bond, even the Taliban proved unwilling to formally recognise the Durand line.
India's relationship with Afghanistan too has not been particularly close or fecund.
Afghanistan has stayed aloof from India- Pakistan conflicts and differences; India also has not supported Afghanistan on the Durand line issue. There is no history of India using Afghan soil to foment trouble in Pakistan. It is true that India opposed the ouster of the legitimate government of Afghanistan by the Pakistani sponsored Taliban extremists who blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas as remnants of Afghanistan's pre- Islamic ties with the Indian civilisation, apart from being complicit with the terrorists responsible for the IC- 814 hijacking. It is worthwhile remembering that no other country apart from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, recognised the odious Taliban regime. If the US had not intervened in Afghanistan after September 11 and ousted the Taliban regime, India would have had to tolerate the existence of that regime.
India is not in competition with Pakistan in Afghanistan. It is in Pakistan's interest to project such rivalry in order to resist US demands to act against the Afghan Taliban and shift focus from the country's eastern border to its western one and accept that the real danger to Pakistan's stability comes not from India but from the extremist religious forces let loose by Pakistan itself to serve its ambitions in India as well as Afghanistan. Pakistan wants a political victory over India in Afghanistan to satisfy its hunger to diminish India diplomatically as much as possible.
Neither our historical relationship with Afghanistan nor the stakes today should push us to fall into the Pakistani trap of projecting Afghanistan as a battle ground for the perennial India- Pakistan confrontation.
Pakistan's overreach in Afghanistan will recoil on it. Let's be patient.
The writer is a former Foreign Secretary ( sibalkanwal@ gmail. com)
GOVT GRANTS STATE A NEW OCCASION TO CELEBRATE
BIHAR Chief minister Nitish Kumar is trying to hardsell Bihar as a land with a glorious past and enviable present by organising a medley of grand events for three days to commemorate the foundation day of the state.
The state government has declared March 22 as the Bihar Diwas ( Bihar Day) to instill a sense of pride and whip up Bihari sub- nationalism among the people belonging to the state.
It is for the first time since Bihar was carved out of Bengal on March 22, 1912 during the British era that an official ceremony has been organised at this scale on the foundation day of the state. The state government declared a holiday in the state on Monday under the Negotiable Instruments Act, to enable people to take part in the celebrations.
The functions are being organised at more than 25,000 venues, including schools and colleges in the state, as well as other states and in a few cities abroad through Bihar Foundation.
But the main functions are being organised at the historic Gandhi Maidan here where Chief Minister Nitish Kumar formally inaugurated the celebrations on Monday evening.
The celebrations will showcase the best of Bihar with a special emphasis on its rich art, culture and heritage. At the beautifully decked up Gandhi Maidan, replicas of Bihar's famous monuments like Golghar, Mahabodhi temple, Jain temple of Pawapuri have been put up. A 12- foothigh statue of Lord Buddha has also been built. Government departments have lined up a series of educative and entertainment programmes for visitors. A fortnight- long Bihar Diwas fair also began at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi on Monday.
The Nitish government is trying its best to make the events memorable but they have already generated some controversies.
The opposition has called it a cosmetic exercise which has caused a drain on the state's exchequer. " The Nitish government is hoping to earn votes by organising ostentatious shows in the name of Bihar Diwas but this will not happen," said Ram Kripal Yadav, principal general secretary of the Rashtriya Janata Dal ( RJD). " The government is simply wasting public money in an image- building exercise." He said that Nitish had not organised any Bihar Diwas in the first four years of his tenure. " Now, when his days in power are numbered he has suddenly woken up," he added.
The participation of bigwigs from the state is uncertain during the threeday celebrations.
RJD president Lalu Prasad and his electoral ally Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan will stay away from the programme while Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) MP Shatrughan Sinha openly said that he had not been invited to the programmes. Sinha, who was in Patna on Sunday in connection with a promotional programme of his son's debut film, made it clear that he would not be available for the programmes. Janata Dal- United president Sharad Yadav and the sulking party MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh aka Lalan Singh are also likely to be absent.
Principal secretary of the human resource department Anjani Kumar Singh, however, said that invites had been duly sent to all MPs and MLAs.
Daler sets Patna afire
IT WAS a homecoming for Daler Mehndi in Patna after more than three decades.
The popular Punjabi singer was in the state capital to perform in a musical nite on Saturday. But he chose to refresh his childhood memories in the dingy lanes of Patna City, where he had spent the first six years of his life, before his show.
Daler's father lived near Harmandir Sahib Gurudwara at Patna City where the tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, was born.
It was here that Daler had first shown his talent in music. During his visit, he not only went to see the house where he used to stay but also met his childhood friends. He also recalled how he had given his first live performance as a five- year- old kid in Patna.
Refreshed after a trip down memory lane, Daler hopped on to the stage belting out all his smash hit numbers.
But it was his medley of Bhojpuri film songs that brought the house down.
BIHAR MLCS ARE UP WITH TIMES
BIHAR'S legislators are finally getting conscious of the environment and the threat it faces. They organised a seminar at the Bihar Legislative Council where noted environmentalist Dr R K Pachauri addressed them on the needs to protect the eco- system. The legislators listened to his speech in rapt attention. Some of them also raised their environmental concerns in the Council.
Bharatiya Janata Party's Sanjay Jha called for protecting tigers at the Valmiki Tiger Reserve in the West Champaran district where two big cats have died in the last few years. Janata Dal- United member Bhim Singh wanted the government to conduct a survey on the number of vultures in the state. He said that the number of vultures in the state had dwindled considerably because of the veterinary use of the banned diclofenac drug.
Rashtriya Janata Dal's Nawal Kishore Yadav expressed concern over the rampant felling of trees owing to construction of roads across the state and sought to know the steps the government had taken to make up for the loss.
The government, for its part, reassured the members that it was doing everything to protect the environment. It said that Bihar's forest cover had been reduced to less than 7 per cent following the creation of Jharkhand in 2000 and it would take time before the results of the government's efforts were visible. There was a time when the members of both the Houses of Bihar legislature were preoccupied with cases of crime and corruption and had no time or inclination for discussing things like the environment.
Times have certainly changed now.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IPL MANGE MORE
That cricket in India attracts big money is well known. Yet the price that the Indian Premier League's (IPL) two new franchises fetched is eye-popping. The two teams, Pune and Kochi, were sold together for Rs 3,235 crore at the auction on Sunday whereas the combined amount for eight teams in 2008 was only Rs 2,853 crore. To put the figures in perspective, the current promoters of Liverpool bought the English Premier League club for the equivalent of Rs 1,511 crore in 2007 while the Sahara group's successful bid for Team Pune was at Rs 1,702 crore. The IPL looks set to become one of the most expensive sports events in the world.
The spinoffs of IPL's success are many. Money is good for any sport. Cricket can be no exception. More IPL teams will mean better cricketing infrastructure across the country. Many tier-II cities now have IPL teams. That'll help them build new stadiums and spur youngsters to take to the game. A Kochi-based IPL team is likely to help cricket gain deeper roots in Kerala. Cricket has not been a premium sport in Kerala, though the state has a rich sporting tradition. A local team is likely to change that and open up opportunities for young cricketers in the state. The state's economy, increasingly dependent on tourism, is also likely to benefit from the traffic generated by cricket buffs. Similarly Pune, for long overshadowed by Mumbai as a cricketing centre, will emerge on its own as a sporting destination. These cities have sizeable cricket-mad populations, but rarely do they get to see international cricketers in action. IPL matches could bridge that gap. These could be the first step towards turning these cities into regular venues for Tests and one-day internationals.
With 10 teams, IPL has now expanded its reach. But the geography of the league tells us a few things about the Indian economy. It's dominated by cities in the south and the west. This region has outstripped the rest of India in terms of economic indicators in the past two decades. Businesses recognise that these cities, with growing markets and substantial middle-class populations, are ripe for branding. There's a message here for state governments in India's north and eastern regions.
Finally, do the millions of rupees splashed out at the IPL auction indicate that the worst of the economic slowdown is behind us? It seems so, at least as far as cricket is concerned. The sentiment is surely upbeat. And, macro-economic figures confirm the turnaround. After all, cricket's just a reflection of life around us.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
ON SHAKY GROUND
The reverberations of the death of former Nepalese prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, a prime architect of Nepal's current political system, are likely to be felt throughout Nepal and in New Delhi as well in the months to come. From the inception of a multiparty parliamentary system through the abolition of the monarchy and the accord with the Maoists, his stature as the country's tallest political leader enabled him to broker agreements between disparate factions at crucial junctures. Given the current standoff between Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal's administration and the Maoists, the Nepali Congress (NC) needs to get its act together and project a unified front despite Koirala's absence. And this is where New Delhi is likely to face a headache in coming months.
It now seems extremely unlikely that the May 2010 deadline for drafting Nepal's Constitution will be met. Worse, the peace process as a whole has stagnated. Internal strife may well weaken the NC if it doesn't act in its best interests. One of the premier bones of contention could be Koirala's autocratic promotion of his daughter Sujata incentivising the Maoists to take a harder line. This places New Delhi in a bind. In the past, its stake in Kathmandu had been characterised in many ways by its relationship with Koirala. Now, it must seek new ways to support the peace process without creating a perception of intrusion. That can only be done if New Delhi adopts a broad, issue-based approach engaging political players across the spectrum.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
FREE THE PRISONERS OF GENDER
Two steps forward, and one step backwards. This is how the meander of progress is measured for women's empowerment in South Asia. In countries like Pakistan, where women's identities are in a constant state of stressful negotiation with society, the passage of a law penalising sexual harassment of women at the workplace was seen as one step forward.
But if empowerment is seen as the ability to make choices in an environment where it was not previously possible, Pakistan offers a hugely polarised landscape. Today the standard measure of class, or labour participation that correlates to more empowerment, often fails. Pakistan today is the most urbanised country in South Asia and rapid social change, with enclaves of exception, has paradoxically brought overall degradation in the average woman's status.
Growing poverty and religious extremism have brought a dual burden of vulnerability. If she is an income-generator, rarely is she a decision-maker. Urban women have better access to information but even as entrepreneurs, if not factory fodder, they remain subordinate to male peers. In contrast, the life of a rural woman is often stereotyped as one at the bottom of the pyramid but, where commercialisation has not broken traditional structures, she still retains some degree of autonomy as compared to the faceless tribal woman, the least empowered in terms of making strategic choices.
Terrorism, militancy and religious extremism ravage all of society, but their long shadow now defines social exclusion for women even in areas where the Taliban have been officially flushed out, such as Swat. These areas were once hospitable to women in public spaces; now as outposts to many tribal regions and agencies, they have been transformed into harsher, gender-hostile realities. According to the World Economic Forum's task force on gender disparity, Pakistan now ranks third from the bottom, 132 out of 134 countries, better only than Chad and Yemen.
Patriarchal social mores of tribal society have seeped into our most metropolitan environments, creating sub-cultures of restriction. Karachi is home to the largest number of semi-migrant tribal men, with higher demographics than Kabul or Peshawar, lowering the city's social bandwidth for gender freedoms. In urban Punjab, sectarian violence and state tolerance for jihadist outfits have expanded the appetite for anti-women discourse and created new inhibitors. In Quetta or Peshawar, the walls close in on women and their opportunities.
A breakdown in the architecture of laws and challenges to state writ mean women's rights suffer a downslide. According to human rights lawyers, many areas of Pakistan witness a silent case of honour killing every day; in the most populous province a woman is raped every hour.
What can be done? The state is no match for the creeping Salafism of our society, but it can start to challenge this trend by investing in better governance of social programmes. The only indicator that remains stable in most correlations to empowerment is access to education, not just access to jobs, and better healthcare. On an average, all those who seek to influence policy discourse in Pakistan can target traditional social indicators and Millennium Development Goal targets as indices we need to work on, and can safely invest in.
While framing new legislation is critical, laws often provide for little reform on the ground if public knowledge of their utility remains obscure. Women are unable to navigate the programmes on offer, or to seek relief from empowering laws because of lack of information. This is where media initiatives can actually transform the relationship of women with the state, as well as with society.
An effective case in point is an animated public service campaign run by a private channel that iterated the message that women do not have to tolerate harassment, now that the sexual harassment Bill is law, and can start reporting such incidents to the police, courts, an ombudsman, or a mandatory committee if they work in a corporation.
Yet bucking all these trends, we have empowered women like a legislator in the Punjab Assembly squandering women's rights, probably because she is oblivious to the devastating effect that existing laws on polygamy, in their easy abuse, have on the average woman in urban Pakistan. She forgets that the strict permissions which are rightly required by law in Pakistan, are cast aside for thousands of women every year who become half-citizens in a contractual vacuum when their husbands shed them without support, without either Islam's justice system or the state's intervention.
The good news is in the nuance. A burgeoning urban youth culture accommodates middle-class aspiration, and provides a gender-neutral public space in the media. Women are serving as role models in traditionally all-male professions. Higher participation of women in the legislatures has redefined the agenda in parliament. In fact, vilified reserved seats have done more in seven years for women's empowerment laws than anyone in 50 years.
Now it is up to all of us, the executive, civil society, the media, and politicians, to chip away at the social, cultural and economic barriers preventing women from exercising power as full citizens of Pakistan. We hold up half of Pakistan's sky. No one should be allowed to take that away from us.
The writer is a member of the National Security Committee of Pakistan's National Assembly and former information minister.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
OBAMA SCORES POLITICALLY
Barack Obama has scored a major legislative victory. But some say congressional approval of his healthcare Bill will come at a price since it's led to political polarisation like never before. Republicans voted against the change. Nor were all Democrats behind Obama. Plus Americans are split on the healthcare overhaul. But sweeping changes representing a sharp break from the past are almost always controversial. They have staunch backers and die-hard detractors. It's precisely because healthcare was at the centre of a long political battle that the Bill's sinking would have dented Obama's image far more than its passage.
Obama's critics seem to suggest he himself should have gone slow on the plan. On the contrary, he would have suffered major loss of credibility had he reneged on a campaign pledge to deliver non-discriminatory healthcare. That he was elected to office means there were takers among the voting public for a proposal to extend coverage to millions of Americans left out of the loop. The Bill's sail-through is, therefore, a feather in Obama's cap. It'll help him recuperate his political capital, somewhat eroded in recent times.
It's said Obama's plan and the trade-offs made to get it passed displease too many people, from the pro-abortion lobby to critics of "big government". But please-all decision-making is only possible in political utopia. There'll always be pockets of resistance to official endeavours. Take women's reservation in India. The UPA government staked its survival to push the Bill through the Rajya Sabha. Though UPA numbers have reduced, Congress bigwigs have got good press. If leaders only calculated the political costs of their actions, we'd see policy paralysis wherever consensus wasn't possible, that is to say most of the time. Pursuing radically new policies carries risk. That's a given. Does that mean visionary legislation should never be promoted or adopted?
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THERE'LL BE A HUGE PRICE TO PAY
A little over a year ago, Barack Obama promised to end bipartisan politics in Washington and unite the country as he took over the presidency. That promise has now been eclipsed. Even as he won support in the House of Representatives for his historic healthcare legislation, Obama must have begun counting the many political losses the Bill's passage will surely bring on.
It has taken Obama one year of bitter debates and acrimonious exchanges with Republicans as well as some Democrats who are unconvinced about sections of the Bill to get to this day. In the process, he has polarised America and made enemies within his own flock. The president has also compromised on many provisions of the initial legislation like disallowing federal aid to be used for abortions in his keenness to see it through no matter what, which has led to questions about his authority and judgement.
The first political fall-out of this Bill will be reflected in the mid-term elections coming up where the Republicans are no doubt going to milk this issue for all it is worth. Some Democrats are already resigned to losing key seats in the polls. That would deal a severe blow to Obama's credibility as he has staked all his political clout on this battle. It would also hamper his ability to push through other important legislation. There is already talk of his being a one-term presidency.
Supporters of the legislation claim it will help reduce the fiscal deficit over the next 10 years. But such a huge spending programme will only raise government expenditure and increase the tax burden on citizens. If the critics turn out to be right, then Obama will have a tough time answering a nation singed by a severe economic crisis. The healthcare win could well be a pyrrhic victory.
There seems to be some folks who are gobsmacked by the kind of money that's running between the wickets after the announcement of two new teams joining the Indian Premier League (IPL) menagerie. To make their discomfort more cardio-vascularly felt, the bit about the sale of the latest entrants, Pune and Kochi, bringing the IPL consortium more moolah than the sale of the previous eight, has raised many bushy eyebrows who don't like sports and money to mix in the bathtub with such a splash. But the
Rs 3,235 crore that's entered the IPL coffers through the auction of a Kochi and Pune teams show that money follows the most democratic principle: popular interest, something that aficionados can knock at their own peril.
Look at Bollywood, for instance. After a flirtation with 'parallel cinema' in the 70s-80s that saw little in terms of a leap in production qualities despite the scripts offering something more nuanced, Hindi movies became synonymous with over-the-top frilly-silly films for the lowest common denominator. What was required was good cinema good scripts with good production quality to enter the mainstream via traditional Bollywood marketing and visibility. Only now are we seeing 'intelligent', nuanced, high quality and popular Hindi films.
What we see in IPL and its ability to generate interest and cash two pillars of the survival of any sustainable venture is a similar hegemony of the lowest common denominator-style product. With the Colosseum of the IPL playing out its gladiatorial contests to the rabble, what we will see in the years to come is the mainstreamising of 'quality' sports like Test cricket that will borrow the strengths of this crores-aflutter circus while retaining its own subtle 'value-added' virtues.
The volatile world of Nepal politics is all set for another tumble with the death of Girija Prasad Koirala, the patriarch of democratic Nepal. It was he who was able to hold together the movement against the monarchy in difficult times. The Nepali Congress-led coalition is in for shaky times and a fierce internal struggle for succession is bound to ensue between his daughter Sujata Koirala and those in the party who feel she has been foisted on them. Unlike her charismatic father, Ms Koirala is not known for her political insights and opinions. There are many contenders for the top post in the Nepali Congress, but no one has ever been given a chance thanks to the fact that succession was taken for granted as the rightful inheritance of the Koirala family. India, correctly, has stayed in the background, given the sensibilities in Kathmandu.
However, there are developments that the Indian establishment should keep an eye on. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), smarting at its growing irrelevance, is bound to use this turmoil in a bid to destabilise the Madhav Nepal government. The Maoists, after a bitter civil war, have not been able to deliver on their promises of a better future. An enormous number of people have died for the dream of a better Nepal. Mr Prachanda and his cohorts don't seem to have gone beyond the rhetoric which is now wearing thin. All they seem to have done is to have got a semblance of power, only to lose it very soon. The example is the loss of major hydel projects with India for no apparent reason. They have also tried very hard to play the China card with not much success as of now.
What New Delhi needs to look at now is a degree of continuity in ties, since Nepal is strategically crucial for India. Nepal's leaders, the Maoists particularly, sometimes seem to forget that India is host to millions of Nepali workers, something that works so much to Nepal's advantage. The ties with Nepal will now hopefully move to a more solid foundation and much of the emotion that surrounded the Koirala family will be dissipated. Indian tourism is a major factor which keeps the Nepali economy afloat. With the civil war and unrest, the foreigners who used to flock to the country are no longer knocking at the door. The Madhav Nepal government will stay on course at the moment, but with difficulty as the political war begins. G.P. Koirala had a grand vision for a unified Nepal and a seamless relationship with India. The coming days will prove whether this will come true.
Twenty-four years ago when the Year of the Tiger dawned in the Chinese calendar, wildlife conservationists were euphoric. We were seeing the fruits of the Indira Gandhi era: tiger populations were up and in Ranthambhore, I remember seeing 16 different tigers in one day. We seldom thought of the severe threats that tigers might face in the future.
In 1998, when another Year of the Tiger dawned, it was as if we were living in another world. Tigers were dying and our wildlife landscape was besieged with problems. The decade of the '90s was probably one of the worst years for those dealing with wildlife. The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) created endless crisis committees to deal with the crisis but all in vain. Before the end of the century many of us offered new ideas to the government one of these was about creating a new department of forest and wildlife within the MoEF, a stepping stone for a dedicated ministry of forest and wildlife.
I think this must have been also on the minds of both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi before the MoEF was first created in 1985. For the first six months, the MoEF had two departments but later became a one-department ministry thanks to ego problems of the then secretary. The bureaucratic lobby was opposed to any change in the system and by 2004 we had to live through the nightmare of the extinction of tigers in Sariska. By 2008, tigers went extinct in Panna and at the beginning of 2010, another Year of the Tiger, we were ready to write off at least six to eight tiger reserves including Sanjay National Park in Madhya Pradesh, Indrawati National Park in Chhattisgarh, Palamau National Park in Jharkhand and so on.
But the need for change and reform had travelled right up to the Prime Minister's Office during the first decade of the 21st century. I think both A.B. Vajpayee and then Manmohan Singh were both concerned and interested in creating the change necessary for better governance in India's forests but somewhere the senior bureaucrats scuttled all these ideas.
But 2010 was going to be different. Fortunately the MoEF was being spearheaded by one of the most dynamic ministers, Jairam Ramesh. And he was determined to change everything around. An unusual man, because he has the ability to call a spade a spade, and in the same language as all of us used. He insisted on transparency and truth, and he was desperate to overhaul this sector. But this is not easy. We live in a federal polity that gives all power to the state governments to rule forests and wildlife. The federal government provides advice and money. So Ramesh's task was highly complex, he had to find necessary leverage within his ministry in order to cajole the state governments into action.
The first place where this change was required was in the MoEF. With a meeting of the National Board of Wildlife (NBW) about to take place under the chairmanship of the PM on March 18, I knew that all of us required a tangible result from this meeting. And the only doable thing for the PM would be an approval for a new department of forest and wildlife, which could focus on issues that we had been fighting for so many decades.
The reality of wildlife landscapes in India has never been so grim. Ramesh had long discussions with the members of the NBW before the PM's meeting and because he is a strategist he knew the immediate priorities that required resolution.
When we went into the meeting, none of us knew what the outcome would be. As a group of members coordinated by the minister, we achieved one of the long-standing demands of conservationists when the PM turned to Ramesh and said "Do it!". Thus a new department within the moef was born.
This is a great opportunity for someone like Ramesh to structure and organise the mechanisms for a new department, which will lead to high focus and better governance of wildlife-related issues. The team in the ministry is also euphoric and conservationists must help so that this new department can trigger the necessary changes. State governments must create their own focused departments for better and efficient governance. In many of our states, forest ministers are also ministers of mining this leads to a serious conflict of interests. This must end.
I believe this is a moment of hope and optimism and the younger generation of conservationists and wildlife scientists must engage with these developments with a new burst of energy. In my opinion, for the first time ever we have a minister who is ready to support and respect us. He has a vision for the future and that's why we have a new department that can further the interests of wildlife in this country. I am certain that one of the next steps will be to bring in young wildlife scientists to gauge the pulse of forests in India. This will be vital if we want to change the course. So far, it has been the rule of the spin doctors, this must end. It must become the era of the informed wildlife scientist and manager.
It took us 25 years to get a department of forests and wildlife even when forestland makes up 21 per cent of the country's landmass. It's been an exhausting battle but let's not wait another 25 years to reform the processes of governance across the forests of this country.
Valmik Thapar is a wildlife conservationist
The views expressed by the author are personal
I n g p n October 2009, the Centre declared the endangered Ganetic river dolphin as the national aquatic animal. This dolhin is found in the Brahmaputra, Ganga, Meghna and Karnaphuli river systems of South Asia. The dolphin is at the apex of the aquatic food chain and is an indicator of the health of the rivers it inhabits.
A Working Group has recently been constituted to prepare an action plan for the conservation of the Gangetic dolphin in the Ganga. While this is a positive development, the question conservationists in the Northeast is have one question: what about a conservation plan for the Gangetic river dolphin in the Brahmaputra river basin? The Brahmaputra river basin is one of the most important habitats for long-term conservation of the endangered species.
Apart from the existing threats that include poaching and water pollution, an emerging threat to the dolphin in the Northeast is from large dams. One hundred and sixty eight large projects planned in this ecologically sensitive region will involve a major plumbing of the Brahmaputra river basin. The Yangtze river dolphin in China, the Indus river dolphin in Pakistan and the Gangetic river dolphin in the Ganga have been affected by dams and barrages. Case specific impact assessment studies on the dolphin and its habitat are necessary before granting green clearances.
However, the Centre has failed to do this until now. The 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Project on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border was granted environmen- tal clearance without a downstream impact study. Terms of Reference for the Environment Impact Assessment studies prescribed by the MoEF to mega-hydel projects in the lower reaches of major rivers in the Brahmaputra river basin such as the Siang and Lohit ask for studies to be restricted to only 10 km downstream and do not include a study of impacts on the dolphin and its habitat.
On February 12, the MoEF granted clearance to the 1,750 MW Demwe Lower project on the Lohit river without a study of impact on the Gangetic river dolphin, despite the issue being brought to its notice by wildlife biologists from the Northeast. Is it too much to expect the environment ministry to halt this farcical environmental decision-making in the International Year of Biodiversity?
The writer is a member of Kalpavriksh The views expressed by the author are personal
After being promised a high-flying aviation career and sinking resources into Pune's privately run Air Hostess Academy, over 100 young tribal people find themselves stranded back where they came from. Not only have airlines refused to hire them, the state has now scrapped the course with the outrageous justification that their looks and accents worked against them. No less than Maharashtra's minister and commissioner for tribal development have blamed the students instead of sticking up for them.
Apart from an absurd industry standard, there is no reason why the requirements should include anything beyond efficiency, fitness, grooming and smarts. The job description spans serving food and drinks, caring for the ill or elderly, enforcing safety rules and staying alert for possible emergencies. A flight aisle is not a runway given a choice, who wouldn't prefer a warm, competent air hostess to an icy, convent-schooled, heavily made-up stick insect? But ever since the first American "sky girls" in the '30s, flight attendants have been wrapped in a remote glamour, no matter how tedious their service and safety duties. "Trolley dolly" is the condescending British expression for flight attendants. Singapore Airlines unabashedly sells itself through the Singapore Girl, who must be between 25 and 35, of Asian extraction, "slim and attractive, with a good complexion and warm personality". India's airlines have easily internalised that idea, of high-heeled, low-status paragons of femininity.
The unfairness extends beyond prejudice about tribals. Whether it is measured at the interview stage or in terms of lifetime earnings we know attractive people just have a better time at the workplace. The airlines industry only intensifies those oppressive aesthetic ideals. So even as we express shock at the Maharashtra officials claiming that tribals were "not physically appealing", the world is unfairly stacked against those who don't fit a very particular, whimsical convention of good looks what feminist Naomi Wolf calls the Iron Maiden. Whether you look identifiably like a central Indian tribal or not (if there is such a thing), this beauty myth is a way of making sure women enter the workforce only in terms of a patriarchal society's choosing. Of course, flight attendants have also been at the forefront of labour and feminist activism, suing airlines and chipping away at restrictions through union pressure, forcing the industry to revise maternity and weight rules, as well as age policies. Unpacking the layers of prejudice in Pune, however, will be a hard haul.
The Supreme Court-supervised special investigation team had kept its Gandhinagar office open on Sunday, expecting that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi would present himself. But the chief minister chose to stay away. Claiming that no date was set, he is said to be exploring legal avenues with regard to the summons issued to him by the SIT on March 11. The panel is seeking a few answers from him on the massacre in Gulbarg Society in February 2002 and the state government's words and deeds in the aftermath of the Godhra incident. The SIT claims there has been no communication from the government on the summons. Of course, Modi may appear before the SIT yet.
The state machinery of Gujarat, irrespective of whether the chief minister's own culpability is established or not, cannot evade the charges of criminality levelled against it. After Gujarat burned in 2002, the state administration, its police and lower rungs of judiciary were all accused of conniving in the denial of justice. In fact, the apex court had to finally transfer the most critical cases out of the state. The SIT summons to Modi itself is the result of a Supreme Court order last April the apex court last week agreed to consider an appeal against that order to inquire into the complaint of Zakia Jafri, widow of former MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed in the Gulbarg violence, against 63 individuals, including the chief minister.
That is why, the summons had great symbolic import, if little else. Modi made quite a brand out of Gujarat and his development mantra subsequent to the convulsions of 2002; subsequent to the foregrounding of Gujarati asmita (pride) as a reply to those calling the state to account. On top of it all, Modi has not, till date, publicly regretted the murderous mayhem of 2002. Therefore, it was necessary for the chief minister to present himself before the SIT in response to the summons. This bit of grace was required from him. Unfortunately, he chooses neither to possess nor to display it; and certainly not to offer it.
For US President Barack Obama, victory has been a long time coming. Of course, he won an election, and a tough one. But, for someone as accustomed to success as Obama, the first 14 months of his presidency must have been nightmarish. He came into office with an enormously ambitious legislative agenda: new thinking on financial regulation; closing Guantanamo Bay; immigration reform; withdrawing from Iraq; and fixing America's healthcare. For months, not one looked like getting done. Healthcare was the most likely till back-to-basics Republican Scott Brown won liberal icon and healthcare prime mover Teddy Kennedy's supposedly safe Massachusetts Senate seat. Healthcare was finished, the conventional wisdom went, and Obama's bipartisan, take-everyone-along approach was too.
Two months on, a landmark healthcare reform bill has been passed, the first major piece of rights-based legislation in the US since the '60s Civil Rights era; if assented to by the Senate, it will end America's ignominious stint as the only major advanced economy without universal healthcare. Nice for the Americans, sure. But what's in it for the rest of the world? What is worth noting is that conventional wisdom may have got one thing right: in that the Obama administration might have realised that, with a solid Democratic majority in both houses, perennially requiring bipartisan support is pointless. This bill bears the imprint of attempts to try and appease Republicans who were never going to vote for it anyway: it has no cost-control mechanism, no attempt to force competition on the big insurers who will benefit massively.
If Obama has decided to follow House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's lead and junk the flower-child why-can't-we-all-get-along approach, then it does matter for the rest of the world. A freshly empowered White House might be more willing on climate change, a tougher negotiator on trade. Perhaps all the ambitious bits of his agenda aren't doomed after all.
THE GENERAL'S DC WISHLIST
C. RAJA MOHAN
As General Ashfaq Kayani arrives in Washington this week to lead what has been billed as a comprehensive strategic dialogue with the United States, there is considerable anticipation in Rawalpindi about the goody bag that might await the Pakistan army chief.
With the Army GHQ in Pindi demanding strategic parity with India and primacy in Afghanistan in return for the recent services rendered to Washington, there is some concern in Delhi about where the US-Pakistan relationship is headed and what it might mean for the geopolitics of the region.
Pindi's expectations from Washington as well as Delhi's fears about the direction of the US-Pakistan relationship might, however, turn out to be somewhat exaggerated.
If there is always a big gulf between the Pakistan army's reach and its grasp, the Indian foreign policy establishment has a habit of reading too much into Pakistan's relations with the US.
While Delhi cannot stop Pindi from overplaying its hand, it must respond calmly to the likely results from the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue this week. Even more important, Delhi must prepare to shape the evolution of the US-Pakistan relationship rather than merely protest against it.
A self-confident India that builds on its own partnership with Washington and works its undervalued levers in Islamabad can explore the many contradictions in the current US-Pakistan partnership and influence its future direction.
For one, both the US and Pakistan say the purpose of their strategic dialogue is to construct an enduring relationship rather than an instrumental one. The Obama administration has indeed apologised for the past American habit of using and discarding the Pakistan army.
Only a bold man will bet that the US-Pakistan relationship will now evolve into something more than the marriage of convenience it has been for decades. After all, there are little commercial or societal ties that bind the US to Pakistan and it might be difficult to sustain the US-Pakistan partnership once the current expediency passes.
To be sure, the American interest in Pakistan will continue so long as it has troops in Afghanistan. This surely will not be a permanent condition.
In Washington, the rhetoric is all about looking beyond the military/ security relationship with Pakistan. The Obama administration wants to channel the expanded American assistance to Pakistan into such areas as agriculture and education. Any amount of money that America and the world might mobilise for Pakistan's economic development will be a drop in the bucket.
Pakistan's ruling party the GHQ is under no obligation to win political mandate from the people, let alone renew it periodically. It has little incentive, then, to promote economic and social transformation in Pakistan.
For all the American hopes to move the relationship beyond security cooperation, Kayani's focus in Washington this week will be on geopolitics and not the social sector.
Given his recognition that the American connection might once again be a short-lived one, Kayani would naturally want to extract, quickly, whatever he can from the Obama administration on India and Afghanistan.
Although Pakistan's leverage in Washington today is real, Kayani might be over-estimating its value. Kayani's American wishlist is said to have four key demands. First, re-establish strategic parity with India in the atomic domain with a civil nuclear deal of the kind Delhi gained from President George W. Bush.
Second, Pindi wants substantive conventional weapons transfers to redress what it sees as India's threatening military modernisation. Third, Kayani wants Washington to press India to make major concessions on its disputes with Pakistan, including the old one on Kashmir and the newly minted one on the Indus waters.
Finally, Pakistan wants the US recognition of its case for "strategic depth" in Afghanistan and to have a decisive say in the construction of new political arrangements across the Durand line.
There is no way the US can meet the entirety of Pakistan's demands. Nor can the administration deliver on them unilaterally; some of them like the nuclear deal require congressional consensus as well as unanimity in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. There are others that are simply not possible force Indian concessions on Kashmir.
On Afghanistan, where the US needs Kayani's troops, there will be some give and take; but India will have to be super-paranoid to believe Washington will simply hand over Afghanistan to the Pakistan army.
The presumed endgame in Afghanistan will be a prolonged one and no final decisions are at hand in Washington this week. Having already written some big cheques to Pakistan since it came to power, the Obama administration too has demands on Pindi. These include more substantive army action against the Afghan Taliban and its associates and freedom of action for American use of force on Pakistan territory.
Since Kayani cannot return without a going-home present, India must expect that there will be some American rewards for him this week. Expanded supply of arms to Pakistan is certainly one possibility.
The temptation is strong in India to protest against any and all arms sales to Pakistan. Delhi must resist it, because such objections carry little credibility.
India's main problem with Pakistan is not about a fragile conventional military balance that might be upset by American arms transfers. It is to change Pakistan's belief that under the nuclear gun it can promote anti-India terror groups with impunity.
As it responds to the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue this week, Delhi's message must be three-fold global efforts aimed at a positive transformation of Pakistan are welcome; expanded economic and military assistance to Pakistan must be conditioned on Pindi's commitment to dismantle its jehadi assets; India is ready to address all of Pakistan's concerns including Kashmir if it gives up violent extremism as an instrument of state policy.
AUTO-METERS FOR THE PEOPLE
Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit's promise to scrap autorickshaws because autowallahs "harass" passengers and many ply "illegally" is part of her desire to see visitors to Delhi's Commonwealth Games return convinced "that they have been to a truly civilised city". But are Delhi's autowallahs really that greedy? Why won't they switch on the meter? Why do so many ply "illegally"?
There are two types of auto-driver: 80 per cent are renter-drivers, renting autos from contractors who own multiple vehicles. They pay Rs 250-300 for 10-12 hours and earn the same amount in profit: half their daily taking goes on rent and CNG. Owner-drivers own their machines, although "owner" is misleading as most are repaying huge loans to auto-financiers from whom they purchased the rickshaw and the required permit. Monthly payments are Rs 9,000-15,000.
Two decisions have strengthened the auto-financiers' hands. In 1997, the Supreme Court capped the number of autos, trying to cut emissions. No new auto-permits would be issued; nor could they be sold. Delhi's size and population grew, but the number of autos did not. Consequently, the permit price rocketed and a black market emerged. Only auto-financiers won; their existing stock of auto-permits appreciated. In the late '90s, a new rickshaw with permit cost just over a lakh. Today, after a decade of black-market inflation, the same package costs Rs 4-4.5 lakh: Rs 1.45 lakh for the auto, Rs 3 lakh for the permit. Meanwhile, demand for rented autos rose with new migrants, but supply froze, allowing contractors to hike rents.
Then, in 1998, the Supreme Court ordered public transport vehicles to convert to CNG by 2002. Owner-drivers had to pay
Rs 30,000 each. In 2000, Delhi had 83,000 autorickshaws. In 2002, there were 55,000. Where did these autos go? The average owner-driver could not afford it; thousands had to sell their autos and valid permits cheaply to financiers. Others had their permits voided and were left unable to legally drive their autorickshaws: selling them to a financier was the only option. By cancelling and hoarding permits, financiers and the Transport Department managed to get rid of over a third of Delhi's autos, sending permit prices spiralling.
Financiers now hold most of Delhi's auto-permits but in the names of the original owners (not the financiers), who sold their vehicles years ago. When a driver pays Rs 4-4.5 lakh for the auto-permit package, the permit will be transferred in his name only when the loan is repaid. Until then he drives "illegally". Renter-drivers have the same problem: the auto-permit is in the contractor's name, or a false name to cover the contractor's activities.
Other methods exist to retain control. The financier will make the driver frequently a new migrant to Delhi sign several blank loan contracts. This gives him power to raise interest rates and deny the driver ownership even when the loan is fully repaid. It also allows him to charge extortionate "penalty charges". Many of Delhi's owner-drivers have been repaying loans for many years due to compound interest and "late payment penalties" of up to Rs 30,000. The contract maximises the financier's ability to repossess the autorickshaw. Once snatched back, it can be sold to the next driver. Many vehicles have been "sold" and repossessed five or six times.
The financial pressure on the auto-driver does not end here. The transport department and the traffic police need their cut too. Auto-drivers must carry around 16 documents with them at all times, "available" from the transport department on application. However, each application requires an absurdly long list of supporting documents: a 50-year-old Bihari driver may be asked for his old school certificates and Delhi ID and ration cards. Impossible requirements, of course, lead to bribes being offered.
Given these requirements, the traffic police can stop auto-drivers and find an excuse to challan them retrospectively. If the officer simply keeps asking to see documents, he will find one which is missing. If not, then he can issue a challan for "wrong uniform" (including "wrong socks"), "incorrect lettering on auto" (Rs 1500) or "illegal stopping". (Delhi has 312 official auto-stands. They are unmarked. Nobody knows where they are.)
Is it surprising, then, that in this distorted market, auto-drivers can't rely on the meter? Somehow, in the midst of all these repayments, rents, bribes and challans, the autowallahs must feed their families.
Yet autorickshaws are a vital part of Delhi's infrastructure: they are efficient, affordable, economical, environmentally friendly and iconic. They cannot be scrapped. Instead, the whole autorickshaw sector must be reformed, starting with the issuance of new permits. To become a "world-class city" Delhi does not need more taxis and cars; it needs a bigger, better fleet of autorickshaws that provides convenient public transport to residents and livelihoods to drivers.
The writer researches informal labour for the Delhi-based Aman Trust
FEAR STRIKES OUT
The day before the health care vote, President Obama gave an unscripted talk to House Democrats. Near the end, he spoke about why his party should pass reform: "Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made ... And this is the time to make true on that promise. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine."
And on the other side, here's what Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House a man celebrated by many in his party as an intellectual leader had to say: if Democrats pass health reform, "they will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years" by passing civil rights legislation.
I'd argue that Gingrich is wrong about that: proposals to guarantee health insurance are often controversial before they go into effect Ronald Reagan famously argued that Medicare would mean the end of American freedom but always popular once enacted.
But that's not the point I want to make today. Instead, I want you to consider the contrast: on one side, the closing argument was an appeal to our better angels, urging politicians to do what is right, even if it hurts their careers; on the other side, callous cynicism. Think about what it means to condemn health reform by comparing it to the Civil Rights Act. Who in modern America would say that L.B.J. did the wrong thing by pushing for racial equality? (Actually, we know who: the people at the Tea Party protest who hurled racial epithets at Democratic members of Congress on the eve of the vote.)
And that cynicism has been the hallmark of the whole campaign against reform.
Yes, a few conservative policy intellectuals, after making a show of thinking hard about the issues, claimed to be disturbed by reform's fiscal implications (but were strangely unmoved by the clean bill of fiscal health from the Congressional Budget Office) or to want stronger action on costs (even though this reform does more to tackle health care costs than any previous legislation). For the most part, however, opponents of reform didn't even pretend to engage with the reality either of the existing health care system or of the moderate, centrist plan very close in outline to the reform Mitt Romney introduced in Massachusetts that Democrats were proposing.
Instead, the emotional core of opposition to reform was blatant fear-mongering, unconstrained either by the facts or by any sense of decency.
It wasn't just the death panel smear. It was racial hate-mongering, like a piece in Investor's Business Daily declaring that health reform is "affirmative action on steroids, deciding everything from who becomes a doctor to who gets treatment on the basis of skin color." It was wild claims about abortion funding. It was the insistence that there is something tyrannical about giving young working Americans the assurance that health care will be available when they need it, an assurance that older Americans have enjoyed ever since Lyndon Johnson whom Gingrich considers a failed president pushed Medicare through over the howls of conservatives.
And let's be clear: the campaign of fear hasn't been carried out by a radical fringe, unconnected to the Republican establishment. On the contrary, that establishment has been involved and approving all the way. Politicians like Sarah Palin who was, let us remember, the GOP's vice-presidential candidate eagerly spread the death panel lie, and supposedly reasonable, moderate politicians like Senator Chuck Grassley refused to say that it was untrue. On the eve of the big vote, Republican members of Congress warned that "freedom dies a little bit today" and accused Democrats of "totalitarian tactics," which I believe means the process known as "voting."
Without question, the campaign of fear was effective: health reform went from being highly popular to wide disapproval. But the question was, would it actually be enough to block reform?
And the answer is no. The Democrats have done it. This is, of course, a political victory for President Obama, and a triumph for Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker. But it is also a victory for America's soul. In the end, a vicious, unprincipled fear offensive failed to block reform. This time, fear struck out.
WHAT WATER WARS?
RAMASWAMY R. IYER
Pakistan, for reasons of its own, has decided to raise water as a major new issue with India. This is an ominous development, perhaps the most ominous ever in the troubled history of the relations between the two countries. If the Kashmir issue were to be miraculously resolved tomorrow, water will be the new core issue.
There has been a vicious anti-India campaign in the Pakistani media for some time now, and it is getting worse. India is accused of "stealing" Pakistan's water; reducing river flows; stopping the Chenab; constructing "illegal" projects on the western rivers; desertifying Pakistan; and so on. Terrorist outfits have picked up this issue and given an ultimatum to India: "Let water flow or face war". As for civil society, it is likely to find the slogan of "water in danger" persuasive. The whole of Pakistan, including intellectuals, liberals, and advocates of good relations with India, are likely to allow themselves to be mobilised against the perceived Indian threat to Pakistan's water.
This outcome is perhaps exactly what the Pakistan army wanted. Is not a national sense of insecurity the best guarantor of the continuance of the army's dominance? As for the government of Pakistan, one does not know whether it is raising this issue in strong terms at the behest of the army, or for reasons of its own. What is their rationale?
One possibility is that, faced with the Indian focus on terrorism and the discomfort that it causes to Pakistan, the latter has decided to turn the tables on India. Another explanation is that this is an attempt to deflect bitter inter-provincial dissensions over water within Pakistan by attributing water problems to Indian action, and rousing anger against that "national enemy". A combination of the two is perhaps the full explanation.
The fact that needs to be stated clearly and categorically is that there is no water issue between India and Pakistan. Water-sharing on the Indus stands settled by the Indus Treaty 1960, and the sharing is so simple (three rivers to India, three rivers to Pakistan) that no misunderstandings or misinterpretations are possible. (There is indeed some dissatisfaction in both countries with the water-sharing under the treaty, but they have to live with it as it was the agreed outcome of prolonged negotiations approved at the highest level in both countries.) For monitoring the operation, there is a joint Indus Commission mandated by the treaty. The differences that can arise and have arisen under the treaty relate not to water-sharing but to questions of conformity of Indian projects on the western rivers (permitted by the treaty) to the technical and engineering stipulations laid down in the treaty. There are provisions and procedures for dealing with such "differences" or "disputes". Those arrangements have been working. Internationally, the Indus Treaty is regarded as a good example of successful conflict-resolution between two countries otherwise locked in a bad relationship. The Indus Commission meets regularly. In one case (Baglihar) the differences were arbitrated by a neutral expert as provided for by the treaty. Pending or future "questions" or disputes can similarly be dealt with in the Indus Commision, through reference to a neutral expert or through submission to a court of arbitration. There is thus no case at all for including water in the agenda for future India-Pakistan talks.
By handing over a "non-paper" on water to India, Pakistan has succeeded in putting India in a dilemma. If India were to refuse to include water in the agenda for talks on the ground that there is another forum for water-related issues, namely the Indus Commission, it may give the appearance of intransigence or negativism to the people of Pakistan and to the world. On the other hand, if India were to agree to the inclusion, the very inscription of water on the agenda may be interpreted as an implicit admission by India that there is a water issue to discuss.
In the case of other issues such as Kashmir or the nuclear issue, there are points to discuss or counter and positions to take, but how does one discuss a non-issue? All that India can say and must keep saying is that there is no water issue; that the Indus Treaty is in operation; and that any question or difference or dispute that arises in the course of such operation can and must be discussed within the ambit and framework of that Treaty.
However, such a statement will not remove the misperceptions on the part of the people of Pakistan. India must somehow find ways of telling them that they have been deliberately misled; that India has not "stolen" Pakistan's water; that it has not even made use of or stored the waters of the Indus to the very limited extent permitted by the treaty; that it has not reduced river flows and cannot do so because there are stringent provisions regarding the maintenance of flows; that the treaty does not permit India to construct storages on the western rivers; that the treaty also provides safeguards to Pakistan against the danger of being flooded; that India has not constructed and is not constructing any "illegal" projects on the western rivers; that everything is being done within the ambit of the treaty; that there are provisions for dealing with any differences; that those provisions have been utilised in the Baglihar case and can be used again; that the water issue is therefore a bogus issue manufactured by the army and the government for strategic and political purposes, and a massive confidence trick on the people of Pakistan.
The writer is a former secretary, water resources , and is currently at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
VISIONS OF REVOLUTION
Bhagat Singh continues to be idolised by millions even today, 79 years after he was hanged on March 23, 1931 at Lahore. We know something of how Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose viewed Bhagat Singh and his comrades. However, little is known about Singh's views of the young Congress leaders of the 1920s. We get some insight from an article titled "Differing views of new leaders", which Singh wrote for Amritsar's Kirti magazine in July 1928.
Bhagat Singh wrote this at a time when youth movements were sprouting all over the country, demanding complete independence and radical social and economic change. Nehru and Bose addressed youth conferences in many parts of the country. Nehru presided over a Socialist Youth Congress in Calcutta in December 1928, which called for independence as "a necessary preliminary to communist society". They organised the Independence for India League as a pressure group within the Congress.
Singh began his article referring to the disenchantment among the youth after the Non-Cooperation Movement and the ensuing violence. He saw the emergence of Bose and Nehru as a redeeming feature of the national struggle during the 1920s. Bose and Nehru, he said, "had fresh ideas and were immensely popular among the youth." However, he felt they differed immensely in their ideas: "one is devoted to the ancient Indian culture while the other is the product of the West. One is a soft-hearted emotional being, while the other is a perfect revolutionary".
Bhagat Singh refers to a meeting in Bombay where Nehru and Bose spoke. Bose turns out to be an emotional Bengali, said Singh, one who believed India had a profound spiritual message and that those who said nationalism was a narrow creed were mistaken. Singh disagreed, calling that idea "sheer romanticism." Nehru, according to Singh, stands in contrast to Bose, as he says: "Each country, wherever you go, claims that it has a special message for the world. England carries the burden of its civilising mission. I don't see anything special with my country."
This response can be located in a context when most nationalists were forced to defend Indian culture, religion and civilisation which was being vilified during colonialism. Bhagat Singh and Nehru shared a vision which went beyond this. It was evident when Bhagat Singh approvingly cited a passage from Nehru saying, "Every youth must rebel. Not only in the political sphere, but in social, economic and religious spheres also...Everything unreasonable must be discarded even if they find authority for it in the Vedas and Quran." Bhagat Singh expressed similar views in his famous essay "Why I am an atheist", saying that "any man who stands for progress has to criticise, disbelieve and challenge... mere faith and blind faith is dangerous: it dulls the brain and makes a man reactionary".
Bhagat Singh and his Naujawan Bharat Sabha stood for a socialist republic, which is the measure he brought to Bose and Nehru. He writes: "Subhash Babu is sympathetic to the worker's cause and wants improvement in their lives. Panditji, on the other hand wants a complete change through revolution." He quotes Nehru: "they should aim at a Swaraj for the masses based on socialism. That was a revolutionary change which they could not bring about without revolutionary methods..." Bhagat Singh concludes his piece with an exhortation to Punjab's youth, to follow Nehru.
In fact, despite Gandhi's public disapproval of Bhagat Singh and his politics, Nehru was all praise for the Naujawan Bharat Sabha and expected it to "grow in strength to take a leading part in forming a national India". Recognising Singh's popularity, Nehru said: "He was a young boy full of burning zeal for the country. He was like a spark which became a flame in a short time and spread from one end of the country to the other, dispelling the prevailing darkness everywhere."
The writer is Maulana Azad Chair at NUEPA, New Delhi and author of 'To Make the Deaf Hear: Ideology and Programme of Bhagat Singh and his Comrades'
WHERE THE MACHINE STOPS
Everybody has his own tale of terrible translation to tell an incomprehensible restaurant menu in Croatia, a comically illiterate warning sign on a French beach. "Human-engineered" translation is just as inadequate in more important domains. In our courts and hospitals, in the military and security services, underpaid and overworked translators make muddles out of millions of vital interactions. Machine translation can certainly help in these cases. Its legendary bloopers are often no worse than the errors made by hard-pressed humans.
Machine translation has proved helpful in more urgent situations as well. When Haiti was devastated by an earthquake in January, aid teams poured in to the shattered island, speaking dozens of languages but not Haitian Creole. How could a trapped survivor with a cellphone get usable information to rescuers? If he had to wait for a Chinese or Turkish or an English interpreter to turn up he might be dead before being understood. Carnegie Mellon University instantly released its Haitian Creole spoken and text data, and a network of volunteer developers produced a rough-and-ready machine translation system for Haitian Creole in little more than a long weekend. It didn't produce prose of great beauty. But it worked.
The advantages and disadvantages of machine translation have been the subject of increasing debate among human translators lately because of the growing strides made in the last year by the newest major entrant in the field, Google Translate. But this debate actually began with the birth of machine translation itself.
The need for crude machine translation goes back to the start of the Cold War. The United States decided it had to scan every scrap of Russian coming out of the Soviet Union, and there just weren't enough translators to keep up. The Cold War coincided with the invention of computers, and "cracking Russian" was one of the first tasks these machines were set.
The father of machine translation, William Weaver, chose to regard Russian as a "code" obscuring the real meaning of the text. His team and its successors here and in Europe proceeded in a commonsensical way: a natural language, they reckoned, is made of a lexicon (a set of words) and a grammar (a set of rules). If you could get the lexicons of two languages inside the machine (fairly easy) and also give it the whole set of rules by which humans construct meaningful combinations of words in the two languages (a more dubious proposition), then the machine would be able translate from one "code" into another.
Academic linguists of the era, Noam Chomsky chief among them, also viewed a language as a lexicon and a grammar, able to generate infinitely many different sentences out of a finite set of rules. But as the anti-Chomsky linguists at Oxford commented at the time, there are also infinitely many motor cars that can come out of a British auto plant, each one having something different wrong with it. Over the next four decades, machine translation achieved many useful results, but, like the British auto industry, it fell far short of the hopes of the 1950s.
Now we have a beast of a different kind. Google Translate is a statistical machine translation system, which means that it doesn't try to unpick or understand anything. Instead of taking a sentence to pieces and then rebuilding it in the "target" tongue as the older machine translators do, Google Translate looks for similar sentences in already translated texts somewhere out there on the Web. Having found the most likely existing match through an incredibly clever and speedy statistical reckoning device, Google Translate coughs it up, raw or, if necessary, lightly cooked. That's how it simulates but only simulates what we suppose goes on in a translator's head.
Google Translate, which can so far handle 52 languages, sidesteps the linguists' theoretical question of what language is and how it works in the human brain. In practice, languages are used to say the same things over and over again. For maybe 95 per cent of all utterances, Google's electronic magpie is a fabulous tool. But what of real writing? Google Translate can work apparent miracles because it has access to the world library of Google Books. That's presumably why, when asked to translate a famous phrase about love from Les Misérables "On n'a pas d'autre perle à trouver dans les plis ténébreux de la vie" Google Translate comes up with a very creditable "There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life," which just happens to be identical to one of the many published translations of that great novel. It's an impressive trick for a computer, but for a human? All you need to do is get the old paperback from your basement.
And the program is very patchy. The opening sentence of Proust's In Search of Lost Time comes out as an ungrammatical "Long time I went to bed early," and the results for most other modern classics are just as unusable. Can Google Translate ever be of any use for the creation of new literary translations into English or another language? The first thing to say is that there really is no need for it to do that: would-be translators of foreign literature are not in short supply they are screaming for more opportunities to publish their work.
But even if the need were there, Google Translate could not do anything useful in this domain. It is not conceived or programmed to take into account the purpose, real-world context or style of any utterance. (Any system able to do that would be a truly epochal achievement, but such a miracle is not on the agenda of even the most advanced machine translation developers.)
However, to play devil's advocate for a moment, if you were to take a decidedly jaundiced view of some genre of contemporary foreign fiction, you could surmise that since such works have nothing new to say and employ only repeated formulas, then after a sufficient number of translated novels of that kind and their originals had been scanned and put up on the Web, Google Translate should be able to do a pretty good simulation of translating other regurgitations of the same ilk.
So what? That's not what literary translation is about. For works that are truly original and therefore worth translating - statistical machine translation hasn't got a hope. Google Translate can provide stupendous services in many domains, but it is not set up to interpret or make readable work that is not routine - and it is unfair to ask it to try. After all, when it comes to the real challenges of literary translation, human beings have a hard time of it, too.
FUTURISTIC M&A MATH
The credit markets' appetite to finance the $8.3-billion Bharti-Zain deal is a good indicator for Indian companies planning big-ticket deals. By every standard, the deal is one of the biggest by a domestic corporate in the global buyout league. So, there was a lot of interest in regard to how the deal will be financed by a global financial market not yet fully recovered from the impact of the credit squeeze. For instance, getting a five-year syndicated dollar loan is still very difficult. Yet, the financing of the deal has been sewn up by the Bharti management at a very fast clip. It is less than a month since the company made the announcement of its plan to buy out the African operations of Kuwait-based Zain telecom. The striking difference in the post-2008 world is that companies are not resorting to the extent of balance sheet leverage that existed before the Wall Street crisis. This is a point of departure from some of the marquee deals before the financial blowout of September 2008. For instance, in the acquisition of Corus by the Tata group, special purpose vehicles were floated at several offshore destinations to massively leverage the initial $1 billion put in by Tata Sons. There was nothing unusual about this as respectable investment bankers were ready to leverage the group balance sheet several times to reach the $12 billion needed for the deal. The international market has, however, moved away from those practicesat least for now. So, the Bharti group has instead used the strength of its cash reserves to arrange a straightforward loan and possibly a limited leverage. The total debt-to-EBIDTA ratio for the combined entity remains under 2.5, which is considered safe.
The other interesting aspect of the deal is the role played by the Indian rupee for the term facility offered by the banks. This shows how Indian companies will do their M&A math in the future. The Indian rupee is now a key global currency and companies feel confident about using it as part of the debt mix. Gone are the days when corporates would be wary of taking a rupee loan and convert it into dollars for fear of gradual depreciation of the local currency. Indian banks will, therefore, play a bigger role in such deals. It has been reported that SBI has offered $1 billion in Indian rupees to India's market leader in the telecom sector to finance the associated transaction costs. As the number of deals involving Indian companies grows, the need for the Indian rupee and the ability of the domestic banking sector to finance such a demand will multiply.
EXIT IN CONTEXT
Raising the repo and reverse repo rates as a part of its calibrated exit strategy, RBI had noted at the end of last week that these steps would hopefully anchor inflationary expectations and contain inflation. This was based on its strong belief that economic recovery is increasingly taking hold and that inflationary pressures have accentuated. It even expressed the view that the IIP data suggests a revival of private demand that could, also, potentially add to inflationary pressures. But then there are other equally, if not more, reliable and extensive indicators that show that both these core assumptions remain suspectat least for the time being. Let us take the evidence on the recovery assumptions first. The most recent OECD composite leading indicators (CLIs), one of the most reliable gauges of global economic activity, show that while the G-7 continued to signal an improvement in economic activity in January, the scenario in the Bric countries remain mixed. Economic activity in China and Russia is projected to continue to expand while that in Brazil and India faces a real threat of losing momentum.
The reason for pessimism is that CLIs for both Brazil and India have once again turned negative in the most recent month and the scenario was the bleakest for India where the year-on-year change in the monthly indicators was just 5.1%, the lowest across the major seven developed economies and the four developing economies. Growth cycle outlooks in both Brazil and India are still labelled to be in the recovery phase as compared to the expansionary mode in all other nine countries. As regards the second assumption of the accentuated inflationary pressures, the evidence is mixed, given the low price increases in important products like machinery and equipment (0.35%), transportation goods (0.11%), cement (-5.23%) and metals (2.63%). This trend is probably aided by the sharp increase in domestic output and the appreciation of the rupee, which has helped contain domestic price increases. So, while it is true that manufacturing prices hit a high of 7.42% in February, the only major sectors where prices show some signs of overheating are food products (20.3%), cotton textiles (12.88%) and chemical products (7.84%). While the first two can be attributed to cost push factors originating in agriculture, the increase in chemical prices was mainly due to a few items like pesticides (20.91%), drugs and medicines (19.55%), and perfumes and cosmetics (16.53%).
RBI HIKES KEY RATES, BANKS STAY CALM
Catching the money market off guard on Friday evening, the central bank upped key policy ratesthe repo and the reverse repo ratesby 25 basis points to 5% and 3.5%, respectively. The market hadn't expected the tightening process to begin until end-April. But with inflation nudging double digits and the growth in factory output sustaining, there is little doubt that key policy rates will be raised by about 125 basis points by March next year. In fact, at least four banks hiked deposit rates in February, by anywhere between 25 and 100 basis points across various maturitiesanticipating that money would become dearer.
Given the abundance of liquidity in the Indian money market for more than 6-8 months nowaround Rs 70,000 crore has been lying with RBI in reverse repothe yield curve in India is the steepest in more than a decade. Short-term rates have also been extremely low because banks do face some competition from mutual funds that have an edge given the tax benefits they attract. Near-term rates had increased somewhat after the hike in the CRR by 75 basis points in two phases in January and should move up further as key policy rates are now increased. From the perspective of banks, this is not a problem and, in fact, helps their net interest margins.
However, over the last two months, long bond yields have moved up meaningfully, breaching the 8% mark on a couple of occasions. The market believed that the central bank wasn't raising rates warranted by the buildup of inflationary expectations as well as robust industrial growth. To that extent, the move is welcome because as the central bank itself explained, "given the lags in monetary policy, it is better to respond in a timely manner, even if it is outside the scheduled policy reviews than take stronger measures at a later stage when inflationary expectations have accentuated."
With RBI now having signalled the end of cheap money, inflationary expectations could get tempered, thereby capping the yield on the 10-year benchmark. That would be good for banks because they would take a smaller hit on the portfolio of securities that needs to be marked-to-market. But the more likely scenario is that yields could inch up to 8.5%. Much would hinge on how government borrowing is paced, how much of it is frontloaded, whether a fair share is at the shorter end and how much is mopped up through floaters.
In the immediate term, the ample liquidity in the system should be adequate to satisfy the demand for credit from both individual and corporate borrowerswith the growth in non-food credit still under 16%. Deposits are growing at a fairly healthy 16% and the momentum should pick up if rates are upped. If push comes to shove, RBI always has the option of allowing greater participation by foreign institutional investors in the government debt market. As it is, with India's sovereign rating having been upgraded, the risk appetite for Indian paper will improve and banks and companies can now pick up money at somewhat better rates. Flows into the capital market are expected to match the $17 billion that came in last year.
In fact, no bank is looking to up lending rates right now and the market is actually penciling in a small increase in the CRR in April once the shrinkage in money, owing to the advance tax payments, is normalised through government spending. Indeed, credit growth is expected to pick up meaningfully only in the second half of the year. While some banks have upped rates for auto loans, the rates in themselves aren't really high and this is more of a reversion to the mean rate prevailing before the global financial meltdown in late 2008. Even after a hike, policy rates are low by historical standards. As of now, there's little danger of either retail or corporate borrowers shying away from borrowing or scaling back their operations. That's because confidence has clearly returned and the factory output numbers are more encouraging than ever at 17.6% for December and 16.7% for January. Anecdotal evidence suggests that companies are hiring once again and consumers are spending.
The only area of some concern is capital expenditure. Bankers point out that companies are cautious about going ahead with large projects, possibly because of the state of the global economy where it appears that the recovery could be delayed. Sovereign crises in countries such as Greece haven't been comforting either. The other risk to growth is higher oil prices. It's true that the equation between growth, inflation and interest rates needs to be managed and that could be tricky. And banks will have to be careful while setting their base rates in July, given that they cannot lend below the floor. But, as of now, there's little cause to worry.
CAN WE BUILD A MASS MARKET FOR NPS?
The 2010-11 Union Budget has proposed an annual co-contribution of Rs 1,000 for people who voluntarily open a new pension scheme (NPS) account in the coming financial year. This benefit is aimed at low-income workers who can only save between Rs 1,000-12,000 per year. Apart from the social attractions of this approach, there is an important vertical tax equity issue involved. High-income earners enjoy benefits of up to Rs 30,000 tax deduction per year for retirement contributions. Low-income workers are excluded from such tax benefits. From a tax expenditure point of view, there is little difference between tax-funded subsidies and forgone tax revenues.
On the face of it, therefore, the Swavalambam initiative announced by the FM seems to be a prudent policy measure, especially since the low, intermittent incomes of most informal sector workers may not produce an above-poverty annuity, even if they diverted a significant part of their consumption towards long-term savings over multiple decades. With the high real returns that NPS appears set to deliver along with continued co-contribution until a worker retires, the new NPS-for-the-poor strategy may ensure that the value of the poor workers' savings are sufficient to sustain them in old age. The FM anticipates this co-contribution could be that elusive 'pull' in PFRDA's coverage strategy that motivates the poor towards NPS and inspires savings discipline even in a voluntary environment.
According to the 2007 round of the Invest India incomes and savings survey, over 61m low-income informal sector workers are willing to join a voluntary pension scheme structured on the lines of NPS. This group is willing to commit Rs 1,200-3,600 per annum towards retirement. Clearly, the size of the latent demand for NPS is not hindering its growth. PFRDA should be able to easily surpass the Budget target coverage of 1m low-income subscribers within 365 days.
While the potential market size is good news, the profile of the latent demand is tricky and may cause the regulator to pause and reflect. For instance, most (45m or 73%) of the potential NPS subscribers in the lower income segment live in rural India, 6.93m in small towns, 6.19m in class 1 towns and 3.3m in metros and super-metros. Less than a third of this group has access to banking or formal finance channels. Barely 4% of them are saving for old age. Other than some salaried employees in small firms, most of these workers are farmers (40%), shopkeepers (12%) or wage labourers (30%).
Since the current NPS architecture is heavily dependent on banking channels, PFRDA may need to rethink its current coverage strategy in the context of Swavalambam. Luckily, there is already enough precedent.
As a first step, it may be useful for PFRDA to analyse the reasons for the modest voluntary coverage of NPS since May 2009. At a headline level, this may simply be because the points of presence have low commercial incentives (and interest) in NPS sales. A free-wheeling discussion with all NPS intermediaries who collectively reach and service over 100m finance customers would help design a suitable incentive model that aligns the interests of subscribers, intermediaries and the government. This would be preceded by a one-to-one meeting with each of the roughly 4,000 subscribers who have already joined NPS on a voluntary basis.
As a second step, PFRDA could study why and how over 1,50,000 head-loaders, street vendors, milk farmers, rickshaw-pullers and other working poor have voluntarily joined the 'micro-pension' scheme rolled out by UTI Asset Management Company and Invest India Micro Pension Services instead of NPS. And that too without the 'pull' of a co-contribution. At a headline level again, this may simply be a result of extensive efforts at promoting those schemes among the poor in partnership with the likes of SEWA, BASIX and Janalakshmi, and in educating the poor about financial concepts like compounding, TMV and NAV-based market-linked returns.
As a third step, PFRDA could study the implementation arrangements for the Rajasthan Government's Vishwakarma Co-Contributory Pension Scheme that already covers 50,000 working poor across 33 districts. Vishwakarma offers a Rs1,000 co-contribution just like Swavalambam. Unlike Swavalambam, however, Vishwakarma is not available to everyone in the informal sector. It uses occupational categories as a proxy for a means-test, and screening mechanisms have been put in place to limit the subsidy to the intended population. Rajasthan's success has already motivated other states like MP, Haryana and AP to announce similar co-contributory pension schemes for the poor.
Lessons from both the failure of NPS to achieve meaningful scale and the success of the UTI-IIMPS 'micro-pension' model provide valuable answers to the core ingredients of a mass market for NPS. The government and PFRDA simply need to ask the right questions.
The author is director of Invest India Economic Foundation
RENAULT-NISSAN'S FRUGAL FIXATION
For Carlos Ghosn, the high-profile, globe-trotting chairman and chief executive of the Renault-Nissan alliance, India is not only the potential destination to drive the alliance's future growth, but also the place to learn its unique 'frugal engineering and product development' capabilities in order to conquer the emerging markets.
His penchant for 'frugal engineering' was more evident the other day when FE questioned the alliance's logic in having more than one partner in India. Pat came the reply, "If we need to be in India for long and to be a competitive player we need to have multiple partners to learn more on the partner's frugal engineering and product development capabilities. We cannot import a car to fight with Indian companies. At the same time, we need to be aggressive at the entry level point (A, B and B+ segments) in India."
The Renault-Nissan alliance believes that India is the market to learn more from in order to stay fit. The Indian car market is expected to touch 5-6 million units a year in the next 10 years, as against 2 million units at present. The alliance wants to take advantage of this huge potential and this is where frugal engineering will play a major role.
The Indian car market has undergone a sea change and has become challenging. For Nissan, India is a unique market and Indian engineers are more capable in frugal engineering than others. If this alliance succeeds in India, the same model can be replicated in other emerging markets.
Nissan also believes that it cannot restrict itself to one or two partners in India as each one of them has different frugal engineering capabilities. Nissan wants to learn from every Indian manufacturer to drive the alliance's global strategy, going forward. Citing an example, Ghosn said it is amazing to note that the cost estimates made by an Indian engineer are one-fifth those of Nissan engineers, which makes a huge difference. This is why Nissan decided to have multiple alliance partners in India for different products. An alliance with each of them will lead to different products in different categories and enable Nissan to push more products at a rapid speed rather than waiting for a single partner to develop a higher number of products, which is time-consuming, Ghosn opined.
OBAMA'S HEALTHCARE TRIUMPH
On March 21, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 219 to 212 to concur with the Senate Amendments Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Republicans, who voted unanimously against the motion, were joined by 34 Democrats but could not block a historic piece of legislation that will transform U.S. healthcare. Most of the bill takes effect in 2014; the 32 million Americans currently uninsured in a total population of 308 million will be covered. All businesses employing 50 people or more will have to pay a fee of $2000 per employee or offer insurance; part-time staff are included. State-level exchanges will be created where small businesses, the self-employed, and those uninsured will be able to choose from a range of insurance schemes. For households, there will be tax credits, and capped insurance premiums will be available to families on low incomes. It is highly significant that gender discrimination, age limits, and exclusion for pre-existing conditions will be banned, as will lifetime dollar limits on policies. The popular Medicaid programme, started in 1965, for people on low incomes will be expanded; there will be some expansion of the equally popular Medicare system, also dating from 1965, which is for many of those retired or over 65. Current estimates are that the implementation of the bill, which now goes to President Obama to be signed into law, will cost $940 billion over 10 years.
Healthcare reform in the U.S. has always been politically fraught, and the Obama administration has worked extremely hard to obtain Congressional approval for the bill. Many Democrats supported it only on condition that federal funds would not be available for abortion; that will have to be paid for separately by those who buy health insurance. Furthermore, individual States will be able to ban abortion on insurance offered through the proposed exchanges, though exceptions will hold for rape, incest, and danger to the mother's life. Secondly, the so-called public option, whereby a federal government scheme would offer insurance paid for solely from premiums, was a casualty of the earlier political battles. Mr. Obama has, nevertheless, taken almost the only opportunity available to persuade Congress to pass the bill while he is also dealing with the economic stimulus package, the bank bailouts, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Republicans will certainly mount all possible resistance at State level and will try to cause maximum damage to the Democrats in November's mid-term Congressional elections. That much of the $3.47 billion spent on lobbying Congress in 2009 was used for opposing health reform shows how bitter the opposition is to Mr. Obama's single biggest domestic policy commitment, as do the lies and smears levelled at supporters of reform. Mr. Obama's success with this bill amounts to a notable political triumph.
WHAT GENOME SEQUENCING REVEALS
How rich human genetic diversity is has been revealed by the fully sequenced genomes of an indigenous southern African hunter-gatherer belonging to the Khoisan or Bushmen community, and a Bantu individual. The Bantu individual is none other than liberation hero and Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu. This is the first time that genomes of minority populations in Africa have been sequenced. The study, published recently in Nature, shows that southern Africans have about 1.3 million novel DNA differences compared with the genomes of West Africans, Asians, and Europeans. In addition to the genetic differences, partial genome sequencing of three more Bushmen revealed that they have 13,146 amino acid variants. Such is the genetic variation that two of the Bushmen studied, who may at times be within walking distance of each other, are more different than, for instance, a European and an Asian. Previous studies indicated an extraordinarily high level of genetic variation among indigenous populations in Africa. This was only to be expected as humans had lived in southern Africa much longer than in any other part of the world, and therefore had greater chances of accumulating genetic differences. A comparison of the Bushmen's single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) with those of the chimpanzee's reveals that very few of the differences seen in their genome are ancestral.
The latest study has important implications for medical research. It will help in identifying diseases caused by genetic variations, and in understanding how genetic variations influence the effectiveness of drugs a field of medical research called pharmogenomics. With no genomic data of southern Africans available, all pharmogenomic research and genetic disease susceptibility studies carried out so far have mostly used European genome sequences. As the sequenced data of all the five individuals are freely available, drug companies will be better equipped to produce drugs for these populations, and understand why Bushmen are particularly susceptible to TB. The results have inspired a more detailed investigation of the neglected people of Africa. The same team of researchers has begun to study different ethnic groups in Africa; the recruitment of volunteers has begun; and specific information from the present study has been incorporated for quicker and detailed investigation.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
ISLAMISM, MODERNITY & INDIAN MUJAHIDEEN
INDIAN JIHADISTS ARE OFTEN SEEN AS BACKWARD-LOOKING FANATICS. THEY ARE, IN FACT, PRODUCTS OF A MODERN, PLURALIST SOCIETY.
Days before 21 improvised explosive devices ripped through Ahmedabad on July 26, 2008, a young cleric from Azamgarh arrived to offer religious instruction to the Indian Mujahideen's bombers.
Sheikh Abul Bashar hoped, Gujarat Police investigators say, to deepen the bombers' theological understanding of the war they were engaged in. He came armed with Salamat-e-Kayamat, an evangelical video replete with scriptural prophecies of the triumph of Islam before the day of judgment. He also acquired a copy of Faruk Camp, a paean to Taliban rule in Afghanistan, from Usman Aggarbattiwala, a young commerce graduate from Vadodara's Maharaja Sayaji University who allegedly programmed the integrated circuits used as timers for a separate set of bombs planted in Surat.
Bored by the religious polemic, though, Bashar's students turned instead to Anurag Kashyap's movie Black Friday a riveting account of just how a group of hard-drinking, womanising gangsters carried out the 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai to avenge the anti-Muslim riots that that tore apart the city after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
It seems improbable that the earnest cleric approved of these decidedly irreligious role-models and the Indian Mujahideen's aesthetic choices may point us in the direction of important insights into the jihadist movement in India.
Many believe the jihadist movement in India to be driven by religious fanaticism. There is little doubt that the idiom of the Indian Mujahideen drew on Islam, or at least a certain reading of Islam. The manifestos the organisation released after its operations sought religious legitimacy for the jihadist project. They also point to specific secular political problems facing India's Muslims, specifically communal violence. Bashar's Black Friday story helps debunk notions that the jihadist movement in India is spearheaded by madrasa-educated fanatics indoctrinated in something called "extreme Islam." Both SIMI, and the Jamaat-e-Islami from which it was born, would rail against watching films; Indian Mujahideen terrorists revelled in them. Many seminaries are still struggling with modernity; India's jihadists are natives of the new world.
Azamgarh and the Indian Mujahideen: Early last month, police in Uttar Pradesh arrested Salman Ahmad, one of a string of alleged jihadists associated with the Lashkar-e-Taiba's so-called "Karachi Project": an enterprise run by Karachi-based fugitive Indian jihadists Riyaz Ismail Shahbandri, his brother Iqbal Shahbandri, and Abdul Subhan Qureshi to execute a renewed wave of bombings across the country. Police say Ahmad, who was arrested after the Research and Analysis Wing intercepted phone calls he made from Nepal to Pakistan, had received training at a Lashkar camp in Karachi before being tasked to set up a safe-house in Kathmandu for routing new recruits to the Lashkar. Just 15, his lawyers claim, when he was alleged to have participated in the 2008 bombings in New Delhi, Ahmad studied at a government-run high school and had enrolled for a computer-applications course at a Lucknow college.
Ahmad's profile closely resembles that of many Azamgarh jihadists which, along with Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Bhatkal, near Mangalore, served as a core recruitment base for the Lashkar-e-Taiba linked jihadist cells which are today collectively referred to as the Indian Mujahideen.
Data obtained by The Hindu for 10 individuals alleged to be key members of the Azamgarh jihadist cell show that just two individuals Bashar himself and Mohammad Arif Badruddin had spent any length of time in madrasas. Many likely received some religious education in their spare time, in common with many small-town children of all faiths, but their aspirations appear to have been decidedly middle-class. Zeeshan Ahmad, one of the suspects involved in the 2008 shootout with the Delhi Police at Batla House, was pursuing a business administration degree. His flat-mate, Mohammad Saif, a history graduate, also hoped to secure an MBA. Mohammad Zakir Sheikh was studying for a Master's degree in Psychology in Azamgarh. Sadiq Israr Sheikh, who spent two years in an Azamgarh madrasa as a child, was enrolled in a computer-educaiton course.
Bashar's story casts some light on just how the jihadist cells in Azamgarh in fact formed. In the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Jamaat-e-Islami came under intense pressure from hardliners calling for militant action. The party, deeply entwined in mainstream politics and suspicious of a confrontation with the Indian state, resisted. Maulana Abdul Aleem Islahi a prominent Hyderabad-based cleric who had graduated from Azamgarh's well-known Madrasat-ul-Islah earned the party's wrath by authoring an inflammatory tract challenging its line. Expelled from the Jamaat-e-Islami, Maulana Islahi became an ideological mentor to many young radicals who played a key role in the jihadist movement in India among them, fugitive Indian Mujahideen commander Abdul Subhan Qureshi.
In the summer of 2005, Maulana Islahi offered Bashar a job at the Jamaiat Sheikh ul-Maududi, a seminary named for the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami. The cleric and Bashar's father had been friends and political allies in the Jamaat; their relationship evidently survived his expulsion.
Later, though, Bashar was increasingly drawn to the jihadist project advocated by Maulana Islahi's son, Salim. He left his job, began addressing gatherings of the pro-jihadist organisations like the Darsgah Jihad-o-Shahadat and Tehreek Tahaffuz-e-Sha'aire Islam, and edited the Islamist magazine Nishaan-e-Rah, which drew its name from the seminal ideologue Syed Qutb's key work, Milestones. Salim Islahi introduced Bashar to Sadiq Israr Sheikh, a Mumbai-based SIMI radical with Azamgarh roots who had studied at a madrasa there for some years as a child. Sheikh, who was linked through SIMI to the Indian Mujahideen's fugitive commanders Qureshi and Shahbandri, in turn recruited jihadists in Azamgarh key among them Atif Amin, who was killed in the 2008 shootout.
The "Islamist Class": Clearly, a complex matrix of factors among them, personal friendship, kinship networks and ideology helped build the Indian Mujahideen's networks. Madrasas or traditional Islamist affiliations were not among them. Bashar, for example, did not draw on students of the Madrasa Sheikh ul-Maududi for recruits. Nor did he seek out students at the Azamgarh seminary where he and his employer were educated, the Madrasat-ul-Islah.
Part of the reason for this may be that the jihadist movement, of which SIMI was the most visible face, stood in opposition to both the traditional clerics and organised Islamist politics. In his rich anthropological study Islamism and Democracy in India, the scholar Irfan Ahmad explored the frictions between the Jamaat-e-Islami establishment and SIMI at the Jamaat-e-Islami-run Jamiat-ul-Falah seminary in Azamgarh. Founded by the Jamaat-e-Islami to capitalise on the new political space that opened up after the Emergency, SIMI soon embarrassed the party's elders by its support for jihadists.
SIMI mounted polemical attacks on the Jamaat-e-Islami scholar Maulana Mohammad Rahmani, and sought to take control of the Jamiat-ul-Falah's old-students' association. In 1999, a time when it had become increasingly vocal in its calls for jihad and support for organisations like the Taliban, SIMI members provoked a showdown with authorities at the Jamiat-ul-Falah. The Jamaat-e-Islami's official students' wing, the Students Islamic Organisation, responded by founding a parallel student body, the Tanzeem Tulba-e-Qadim, which charged SIMI with propagating " katta [gun] culture", saying that its calls for jihad were "lethal for Islam, Muslims and the country." Notably, SIMI was proscribed by authorities at the Jamiat-ul-Falah well before the Government of India finally acted against the jihadist organisation in the wake of the Al Qaeda's attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. During the police crackdown that followed the SIO refused to join in protests against SIMI leaders from the Jamiat-ul-Falah.
Dr. Ahmad points to the existence of what he describes as a distinct "Islamist class". Unlike at some other seminaries, students living at Falah did not come from among the ranks of the poor. Fees, including food and incidental costs, ranged around Rs. 900 a month. Of 5,365 students, 4,300 came from cities. But class, he noted was "not just based on monthly income and an urban location but, more crucial, the specific cultural capital." Just as cultural capital of the Jamaat-e-Islami led its leadership to make specific political choices to the crisis with which the Muslim community has been confronted, so, too, did the jihadists linked to the institutions and organisations that broke with the structured Islamist movement. Both sides drew on Islam to legitimise their position but their choices were shaped by the challenges of politics in a modern, plural society.
"Haven't you still realised that the falsehood of your 33 crore dirty mud idols and the blasphemy of your deaf, dumb, mute and naked idols of Ram, Krishna and Hanuman", the venomous Indian Mujahideen manifesto released to media as bombs went off across Ahmedabad read, "are not at all going to save your necks, Insha-Allah, from being slaughtered by our hands."
Below, though, were five demands, each entirely secular in character: demands for restitution against police outrages, the punishment of the perpetrators of communal violence, and the legal defence of terrorism suspects.
Fighting the jihadists must obviously involve better policing and intelligence. But it also needs political interventions built around rights and justice not the appeasement of religious neoconservatives and clerics, as successive Indian governments have seemed to believe.
TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THE HEALTHCARE OVERHAUL WILL MEAN
MANY AMERICANS WHO REALLY WANT OR NEED HEALTH INSURANCE WILL ALWAYS BE ABLE TO GET IT AT A REASONABLE PRICE, REGARDLESS OF THEIR HEALTH OR FINANCIAL SITUATION.
TARA SIEGEL BERNARD
The uninsured are clearly the biggest beneficiaries of the historic legislation, which would extend the healthcare safety net for the lowest-income Americans. The legislation is also meant to provide coverage for as many as 32 million people who have been shut out of the market whether because insurers deem them too sick or because they cannot afford ever-rising insurance premiums.
For people already covered by a large employer most Americans, in other words the effect will not be as significant. And yet, just about everyone might benefit from tighter insurance regulations.
"We think it's a big step forward," said Bill Vaughan, a policy analyst at Consumers Union. "It's going to provide a peace of mind that many Americans who really want or need health insurance will always be able to get a quality product at a reasonable price regardless of their health or financial situation."
There will be costs to consumers, too. Affluent families will be required to pay additional taxes. Most Americans would be required to have health insurance and face federal penalties if they do not buy it. And it is still unclear what effect, if any, the legislation would have on rising out-of-pocket medical costs and premiums.
But there is no question that the legislation should benefit consumers in various ways. Beginning in 2014, for example, many employers those with 50 or more workers could face federal fines for not providing insurance coverage. Several of the other changes would take effect much sooner.
Six months after the legislation is enacted, many plans would be prohibited from placing lifetime limits on medical coverage, and they could not retroactively cancel policies on people who fall ill. Children with pre-existing conditions could not be denied coverage.
And dependent children up to age 26 would be eligible for coverage under their parents' plans instead of the current state-by-state rules that often cut off coverage for children at 18 or 19.
And within three months of the law's taking effect, people who have been locked out of the insurance market because of a pre-existing condition would be eligible for subsidised coverage through a new high-risk insurance programme.
That special coverage will continue until the legislation's engine kicks into a higher gear in 2014, when coverage would be extended to a wider portion of the population through Medicaid and new state-run insurance exchanges.
Those exchanges, or marketplaces, are meant to provide much more competitive, consumer-friendly online shopping centres of private insurance for people who are not able to obtain coverage through an employer.
In 2014, people with pre-existing conditions could no longer be denied insurance, all lifetime and annual limits on coverage would be eliminated, and new policies would be required to meet higher benefit standards.
Even sooner, in 2013, affluent families with annual income above $250,000 would be required to pay an additional 3.8 per cent tax on their investment income, while contributing more to the Medicare programme from their payroll taxes. And eventually, the most expensive insurance policies will be subject to a new tax.
Here is a look at some of the main ways the healthcare overhaul might affect household budgets.
Although most Americans who do not obtain health insurance would face a federal penalty starting in 2014, many experts question how strict the enforcement of that penalty will actually be.
The first year, consumers who did not have insurance would owe $95, or one per cent of income, whichever is greater. But the penalty would subsequently rise, reaching $695, or two percent of income.
Families who fall below the income-tax filing thresholds would not owe anything. Nor would people who cannot find a policy that costs less than eight per cent of their income, said Sara R. Collins, a vice-president at the Commonwealth Fund, an independent non-profit research group.
Expanded Medicaid: More lower-income individuals under the age of 65 would be covered by Medicaid. Under the new rules, households with income up to 133 per cent of the federal poverty level, or about $29,327 for a family of four, would be eligible.
Exchanges and subsidies: Most other uninsured people would be required to buy insurance through one of the new state-run insurance exchanges. People with incomes of more than 133 per cent of the poverty level but less than 400 per cent (that is $29,327 to $88,200 for a family of four) would be eligible for premium subsidies through the exchanges.
Premiums would also be capped at a percentage of income, ranging from three per cent of income to as much as 9.5 per cent.
Employment flexibility: The exchanges would also help people who lose their jobs, quit or decide to start their own businesses.
"If you lose your employer-related insurance, you will be able to move seamlessly into the exchange," said Timothy Stoltzfus Jost, a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law.
Moreover, people of any age who cannot find a plan that costs less than eight per cent of their income would be allowed to buy a catastrophic policy that will be available for people under age 30.
Those with insurance
Employer coverage: People who receive coverage through large employers are unlikely to see any dramatic changes, nor should premiums or coverage be affected. But almost everyone would benefit from new regulations, like the ban on pre-existing conditions that would apply to all policies come 2014.
There may even be cases where people would be eligible to buy insurance through an exchange instead of through their employer, Mr. Jost said: those who must pay more than 9.5 per cent of their income for premiums, or those whose plans do not cover more than 60 per cent of the cost their benefits.
Changes in Medicare: One of the biggest changes involves the Medicare prescription drug programme. Its unpopular "doughnut hole" a big, expensive gap in coverage that affects millions would be eliminated by 2020. Starting immediately, consumers who hit the gap would receive a $250 rebate. In 2011, they would receive a 50 per cent discount on brand name drugs.
High-cost insurance: Starting in 2018, employers that offer workers pricier plans or those with total premiums of $10,200 or more for singles and $27,500 for families would be subject to a 40 per cent tax on the excess premium, said C. Clinton Stretch, managing principal of tax policy at Deloitte. Retirees and workers in high-risk professions like firefighting would have higher thresholds ($11,850 singles, or $30,950 for families), pegged to inflation.
Although the taxes would be levied on the insurer, experts expect the assessment to be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher premiums or reduced benefits. © 2010 New York Times News Service
OBAMA'S HEALTHCARE VICTORY CARRIES A COST
GONE IS THE PROMISE THAT HE RODE TO VICTORY ON LESS THAN A YEAR AND A HALF AGO A PROMISE OF A "POSTPARTISAN" WASHINGTON.
DAVID E. SANGER
With his party rallying around him on healthcare, President Barack Obama is now assured, whatever the ultimate cost, of going down in history as one of the handful of Presidents who found a way to reshape the nation's social welfare system.
After the bitterest of debates, Mr. Obama proved that he is willing to fight for something that moved him to his core. Skeptics had begun to wonder. But he showed that when he was finally willing to throw all his political capital onto the table, he could win.
Whether it was a historic achievement or political suicide for his party perhaps both he succeeded where President Bill Clinton failed in trying to remake American healthcare. President George W. Bush also failed to enact a landmark change in a domestic programme, his second-term effort to create private accounts in the Social Security system.
At the core of Mr. Obama's strategy stands a bet that the Republicans, in trying to portray the bill as veering toward socialism, overplayed their hand. Fuelled by the anti-government anger of the Tea Party movement, Republicans have staked much on the idea that they can protect the country by acting as what the Democrats gleefully call the "Party of No".
Now, armed with a specific piece of legislation that offers concrete benefits to millions of people and that promises to guarantee insurance for many who found it unaffordable or unattainable the White House and Democrats believe they may have gained the upper hand.
But there is no doubt that in the course of this debate, Mr. Obama has lost something and lost it for good. Gone is the promise that he rode to victory on less than a year and a half ago a promise of a "postpartisan" Washington in which rationality and calm discourse replaced partisan bickering.
Not in modern memory has a major piece of legislation passed without a single Republican vote. Even President Lyndon B. Johnson got just shy of half of Republicans in the House to vote for Medicare in 1965, a piece of legislation that was denounced with many of the same words used to oppose this one. That may be the true measure of how much has changed in Washington in the ensuing 45 years, and how Mr. Obama's own strategy is changing with the discovery that the approach to governing he had in mind simply will not work.
"Let's face it, he's failed in the effort to be the non-polarising President, the one who can use rationality and calm debate to bridge our traditional divides," said Peter Beinart, a liberal essayist who is publishing a history of hubris in American politics. "It turns out he's our third highly polarising President in a row. But for his liberal base, it confirms that they were right to believe in the guy and they had their doubts."
For that lesson in governing, Mr. Obama paid a heavy price. He nearly lost the healthcare debate, and only pulled out victory after deferring nearly every other priority and stumping with the kind of passion he had not shown since the 2008 campaign. His winning argument, in the end, was that while the political result could run against him and other Democrats remaking healthcare was one of the keystones of his "Change You Can Believe In" credo.
"I don't know what's going to happen with the politics on this thing," Mr. Obama said on Friday in his last big rally for the healthcare bill at George Mason University in Virginia. "I don't know whether my poll numbers go down, they go up. I don't know what happens in terms of Democrats versus Republicans."
Republicans entered this fight convinced, at least for public consumption, that they do know how it will play out: With an end to Mr. Obama's mandate and a bigger-than-normal loss for the incumbent party come the midterm elections.
In the soaring deficits that began in the Bush era and accelerated in the heat of the financial crisis, and in the argument that Mr. Obama was taking over wide swaths of the economy, an increasingly conservative Republican Party believes the healthcare overhaul encapsulates the argument that the President is about big government intruding into the lives of citizens.
"In the short term, Obama will get a boost, because the narrative is that he came back from the dead and got done what no president has managed to do in 70 years," said Peter Wehner, who was a political adviser to Mr. Bush. "But once people discover that their Medicare taxes are going up, that there are deeper cuts in Medicare advantage, that there are court challenges to many provisions, and that the process of getting it passed created a portrait of corruption, it won't sit well."
Perhaps so, but Mr. Obama's counterargument is that three-quarters of a century of American history is largely on his side. In 1966, celebrating the creation of the first Medicare rolls that covered 20 million Americans, Mr. Johnson recalled the complaints three decades before that Social Security "would destroy this country," and noted "there is not one out of 100 who would think of repealing it." (He may have been right at the time, but in the ensuing decades many have come to believe that system must change or go broke, the battle Mr. Bush fought and lost in 2005.)
Today many would tinker with Medicare; many of the arguments over the last three months have been how to reshape it, but no one on Capitol Hill has dared suggest eliminating it.
Mr. Obama's gamble is that what worked for Mr. Johnson and President Franklin D. Roosevelt will ultimately work for him. Once Americans discover that they can no longer be rejected for insurance for pre-existing conditions, he is betting, or that they can keep their children on their own insurance plans longer, the more they will come to appreciate the effect of the changes on their day-to-day lives. He is trying to sell the government's oversight role over doctors and insurance companies the way he is trying to sell financial regulation: as a levelling of the playing field, in favour of consumers.
But as the fight over healthcare shows, the political atmosphere of 2010 resembles neither 1965 nor 1933.
The more the country debated this change to the social contract, the more divided it became. The more Mr. Obama talked, the more his Republican opponents decided that their best strategy was to dig in and defend the status quo. If deficits soar, if the Congressional Budget Office's estimates prove fanciful, they will be able to argue that Mr. Obama expanded government at a time the country simply could not afford yet another entitlement.But it will take years to know whether the Republicans' worst predictions, or Mr. Obama's vision of affordable near-universal care, will resemble reality.In the meantime, Mr. Obama can lay credible claim, for the first time in his presidency, that he proved willing to risk all to turn his convictions into legislation.
© 2010 New York Times News Service
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Cuba Gooding Jr's oft-repeated line "Show me the money" to Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire was an amusing, if true, statement about how sport is often about the money. This reality, manifest in the Indian Premier League (IPL) since its inception, appeared larger-than-life on Sunday when the teams for Pune and Kochi were auctioned for about $700 million, or Rs3,325 crore. Pune was bought for $370 million, or Rs1,702 crore, by Sahara Adventure Sports, while Kochi went to a little-known consortium, Rendezvous Sports World Ltd, for $333 million, or Rs1,533 crore. These two bids are more than the combined amount for the first eight teams, another affirmation of the lure of cricketainment. But Rs3,000 crore is just a number. Look beyond the funds pouring into the IPL coffers, and the addition of these two teams signifies an opportunity for as many as 70 more cricketers. IPL's marketing extravaganza can be a purist's torment but for a young player who has not yet earned his spurs it presents the chance of a lifetime to rub shoulders with the best in the business and, needless to say, earn a robust livelihood. So far, the players have been sourced from test-playing countries and the national smorgasbord. The expansion of the league will have to mean greater inclusivity of cricketing talent an Iranian player in Pune XI, perhaps.
In that sense, while the IPL has already reinvented cricket for television audiences and created a huge financial foundation for the sport, it will now, willy-nilly, also set the ball rolling for truly globalising it. IPL's evangelical zeal in spreading the word about cricket to prospective buyers, advertisers and sponsors should now take flight into previously uncharted waters new markets for sports people. That, in many ways, could even be the redemption of IPL that has managed to ruffle the feathers of the devoted cricket lover.
As for Pune and Kochi, they are bound to be licking their chops, waiting for next year's edition of the IPL. Kerala, especially, will be excited as it is not seen as a traditional centre for cricket and Kochi was won, thanks to the efforts of minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor, who encouraged the members of the Rendezvous consortium to bid. By spreading the net to other cities, IPL has ensured a future for itself and for sport. Now, though, it has to be about more than just the money.
Home buyers are finding that their dream homes are becoming more and more unaffordable. A recent study by one property consultancy suggests that Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai have seen the steepest increases in property prices in all segments affordable, mid-price and premium during the second half of calendar 2009. The price increases have been in the range of 10-30%, with the affordable segment seeing the highest increases. This makes a mockery of the idea of what we think is "affordable." In contrast to Mumbai and its satellite cities, property price increases have been moderate to stable in the National Capital Region, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad, suggesting that where there is land available, and where the real estate markets work a bit better, home buyers have a decent chance of finding themselves a roof.
However, the crux of the problem lies somewhere else. What is not being clearly acknowledged at the official level is the nexus between builders, politicians and the land mafia, who have all developed a vested interest in keeping real estate prices high. It is no secret that many politicians hold land in benami names, and would, therefore, have no interest in making the market work. It is rumoured that one of the main reasons for the sharp opposition from Andhra politicians to the creation of Telangana is that many of them have purchased land in an around Hyderabad. If Hyderabad goes to Telangana, out goes their ability to mint money from these
To make matters worse, we are now close to the point where interest rates will start rising, thanks to high inflation. The Reserve Bank raised rates last week, and home loan rates will follow soon enough. This means not only will most homes become unaffordable to the middle class, the cost of financing too will go through the roof. Since this will push more people to rent houses, the rental markets, too, will start firming up sooner or later, if they have not done so already.
There is only one way to square the circle: urban land reforms, and an all-out drive to ensure transparency in land deals. Of course, this is like asking politicians to legislate something that is not in their own interest, but the best way forward would be for one state to start the process. Once this happens, the pressure will build on other states to follow suit. There is no other way to solve this problem.
HEADLEY, A PROTECTED 'ASSET'
The fact that the United States' department of justice has agreed to a plea-bargain by David Coleman Headley (born Daood Sayed Gilani) is worrying. Headley, the Pakistani-American accused of being a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative and the person who did much of the planning and surveillance for the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai, pleaded guilty to 12 counts, including conspiracy to murder Indians and Americans in India, and to support terrorism in India. Apparently, Headley has pleaded guilty so that he might escape the death penalty as a cooperating witness. This is not surprising, because the Americans have dropped hints from day one about their reluctance to let Indian investigators interrogate Headley. Now it will happen only under controlled circumstances in the US. Around the time of Headley's arrest last year, Indian sleuths flew to the US but returned empty-handed. Suspicions were raised that Headley was in fact a 'strategic asset' for American intelligence, because he had gotten off surprisingly lightly in a drug-related incident, a serious offense in the US.
However, it is worrisome because it implies that the Americans have many skeletons in the closet regarding Pakistan-related terrorism incidents. The plea-bargain insulates Headley from being examined in court, suggesting that the Americans did not want him to 'sing like a canary', revealing various things they would rather keep well-hidden. There will be no trial in the US, no depositions and no public disclosures, and he will not be extradited to India to stand trial for 26/11. This is yet another instance of the ambivalent nature of the US attitude to Pakistan and its terror apparatus. Even though it is obvious that most terrorism has links to Pakistan, and that its spy agency ISI nurtures terrorist entities such as LeT; the Americans pretend to not see this. Symmetrically, the Pakistanis pretend to reduce their terror sponsorship, periodically rounding up an unimportant terrorist and delivering him to the Americans; this charade keeps everybody happy.
A particularly egregious example of American collusion with the ISI was seen in 2001 at the siege of Kunduz in Afghanistan. At the time, the Northern Alliance, in full cry, were besieging a thousand Talibans in an old fort in Kunduz. Astonishingly, the US allowed the Pakistani air force to air-lift most of these alleged Talibans, who, it turned out, were mid-level officers of the ISI and the Pakistan army who had traded in their uniforms for the Taliban's baggy pants and beards.
There is speculation that Headley is a double-agent for America's spy agency, the CIA. The world of double-agents is complicated, as the CIA itself learned to its chagrin just a few weeks ago when most of its agents in Pakistan were massacred by a Jordanian double-agent. This could be why, even though Headley was indirectly responsible for the deaths of several American citizens in Mumbai, they are not throwing the book at him.
Contrast Headley's treatment with the fuss over Adam Gadahn, a white American convert, a senior spokesperson and propaganda advisor for al-Qaeda. Even though Gadahn has not killed any US citizens, he is the first American charged with treason in over 50 years. Clearly they are bothered by Gadahn's actions, but not so much by Headley's. There is also no indictment of the LeT despite the fact that Headley is accused of attending several training camps run by them, in jihad indoctrination, combat, counter-surveillance, and weapons usage.
The tenderness shown to Headley suggests there is more to his story than meets the eye. Could it be that Headley, and his fellow-accused, Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Rana, breezed in and out of India and did their reconnaissance because the CIA was greasing the wheels? Maybe they even helped Headley erase his past, his Pakistani name Gilani, and his record as a drug-dealer so that he could travel as a white American to India. It is true that white Americans arouse less suspicion, as has been seen in the cases of blonde converts Jamie Paulin-Ramirez and Colleen R LaRose, aka 'Jihad Jane'.
The Headley saga may well be a practical demonstration of the attitudes of the Obama administration towards India. Obama has downgraded India in his priority list. When Obama made a trip to Asia, India was not on the itinerary. If and when Obama finally makes it to India, we can be assured that there will be a hyphenating visit to Pakistan included.
The department of justice's willingness to protect Headley after he pleaded guilty to abetting terrorism and mass-murder in India, and admitted that he had attended terrorism training camps operated by the LeT, leads to a simple conclusion: the US government does not care about the killing of Indians. This, after all the honeyed words about the beginnings of a beautiful relationship, leads us to a sad truth: India cannot depend on anybody other than itself. And there are plenty of Headleys and sleeper cells out there.
IT'S BACK TO OLD TIMES ON INDO-US FRONT
PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR
It is unfair and even irrational to blame the United States for wanting to do business with Pakistan on terms favourable to Washington and to Islamabad. Americans will have to do what needs to be done. They want to get out of Afghanistan and if it means yielding to Pakistan's demands like keeping India out of Afghanistan, then they will see to it that it turns out that way.
Preparations have already been made. India is willing to appreciate American compulsions. National security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon has indicated that India is opposed to reconciliation with the Taliban on ideological grounds but it is for re-integration of the Taliban in the Afghan political mainstream.
This is quite different from the earlier stated position that there cannot be a good and bad Taliban.
That is, Taliban are bad per se, bad for Afghanistan, bad for India. Itremains India'sposition. Fanatical political Islam of the Taliban kind is unacceptable, but if there are groups of Talibans willing to be part of the new democratic set-up in Kabul and who would abide by the will of the majority in the country then India cannot have objection to it. In real terms, this is a shift in position without abandoning principle and it does provide a respectable exit for India. Apart from pruning its position on Afghanistan and accepting the new reality, New Delhi will have to pause to reckon the errors in the matter. The major error was committed by the NDA government in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.
The dramatic turn of events blinded Indians to the fact that the Americans did not have much against the Taliban as such and that they were negotiating with the Taliban through Pakistan for the surrender of al-Qaeda's leader Osama bin Laden and his associates till the last minute. Taliban commander Mullah Omar plainly refused and the Americans then had no option but to go to war against the regime in Kabul in November, 2001.
Americans did not want a war in Afghanistan and they went into it rather unwillingly. The war that George W Bush was keen to fight was the one against Iraq which he did in 2003. When the Taliban collapsed within weeks, the Americans did not spare much thought. They put up a weak Hamid Karzai government and left it to the Nato forces to fight the Taliban remnants.
When Obama came into office last year, he understood that the problem of Afghanistan is somehow linked with Pakistan. His Af-Pak formulation followed from this. It seemed that he understood that the roots of Islamic terrorism are in Pakistan and it has to be dealt there. He did indeed force Pakistan to fight the Taliban on Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Pakistan on its part demanded its pound of flesh for doing its bit keeping India out of Afghanistan. It seemed a small price for America to pay.
It is not just that the Taliban will become prominent political player once again. There will be changes in Pakistan as well. The army will now call the shots in Islamabad. It is not surprising that Pakistani army chief Pervez Ashraf Kayani is being paid special attention by the US State Department, starting with special envoy Richard Holbrooke and the liberal American media has started to lionise him.
The situation that is emerging is the one that was before September 11, 2001: Taliban in Kabul, Pakistan army chief holding political reins in Islamabad. The war against terrorism in this part of the world is moving to its denouement: a tame retreat to old ways, status quo ante. In Washington's view, India-US bilateral ties are not affected by what it does in Af-Pak. India, which believed that Americans will fight its war against Islamic militants in
Pakistan, will now have to make its own plans which include factoring in American military aid to Islamabad. It is old times again.
ENSURE SAFE FLYING
COME DOWN HARD ON SECURITY LAPSES
Imagine the fate of the 31 passengers on board the Kingfisher plane that flew from Bangalore to Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday if the crude bomb found in its cargo section had exploded. Any explanation for the security lapse that occurred would have been meaningless had the passengers lost their lives. Even if the "country-made bomb-like object" was of the size of a cricket ball, it had 30 gm of "gunpowder", sufficient to blow up the plane. One fails to understand why those looking after aviation security are unable to realise that even a small security lapse on their part can endanger a number of precious human lives. This is not for the first time that a security lapse of this kind has occurred. On February 14, incidentally a Sunday, a five-inch kitchen knife was found at Chennai in the toilet of a Colombo-bound flight, again a Kingfisher plane.
Security, that too relating to an aircraft, is an extremely serious task to be accomplished. Holding an enquiry to fix responsibility for the latest lapse is alright. In the present case, both the Civil Aviation Ministry and the Kerala police have ordered their own separate probes to find out how the "bomb-like object" got into the Bangalore-Thiruvananthapuram flight. But this is not enough. The guilty must be given the maximum punishment possible to serve as a deterrent. There is need for a zero-tolerance policy to be adopted to ensure aviation security.
Those dealing with security matters must be made to realise that India cannot afford to allow even the slightest slackness in aviation security, as the country continues to face threats from Pakistan-based terrorist outfits. If these terrorists can target the country's Parliament, enact the worst dance of death in Mumbai on 26/11 or kill innocent civilians at Pune's German Bakery, they can cause any kind of harm to India's interests if we fail to have the tightest security possible. The Lashkar-e-Toiba and most of the other well-known terrorist outfits continue to function with their infrastructure intact despite the US-led anti-terrorism drive in the Af-Pak region. Whatever is possible must be done to ensure 100 per cent safe flying.
AWASH WITH FUNDS
IPL, BCCI HAVE A SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY TOO
If one were to go by the mind-boggling auction figures of the Indian Premier League for two new franchisees who have joined the elite group that owns teams for the Twenty-20 2011 season, one wouldn't believe that the country is not fully out of the woods from an economic slowdown. The two franchisees Rendezvous Sports World Limited which clinched Kochi and business conglomerate Sahara which bagged the Pune franchise have committed more money than that put in by the combined bids of the eight existing franchisees in the auctions held when IPL was launched two years ago. Indeed, the two new successful bids are worth a whopping Rs 3,235 crore against a total value of Rs 2,840 crore for the eight existing teams.
While the IPL League is awash with funds, the Board of Control for Cricket in India as the apex body for cricket is even more so. But neither the BCCI, nor the franchisees who are doling out money so liberally with the aim of making a 'killing' nor even the IPL have spared a thought for the infrastructure. Take Kochi for instance. While a consortium of five entities bagged the Kochi team for a massive Rs 1,533 crore, the city does not even have a proper cricketing stadium. The same goes for the promotion of sports in general at the school and college level. Barring a handful of relatively-recent cricket academies, there is a woeful lack of sports facilities for budding cricketers, what to talk of other sports which are a picture of terrible neglect.
There is no quarrel with the fact that cricket has become a national obsession but it is vital that the BCCI take the lead to use part of its huge resources to discharge the minimum social responsibility of bankrolling the creation and maintenance of playgrounds and other facilities for sportspersons. This should be designed to promote sports other than cricket too and to inculcate a spirit of fitness-consciousness. Business conglomerates too must come forward to lend a helping hand in upgrading the quality of sports in the country.
FLAWED EXAM SYSTEM
FIND WAYS TO BEAT PAPER-LEAKERS
There can be little doubt that the school examination system in India is riddled with lacunae. Reports of paper leakage and cheating undermine its credibility even more. In a shocking incident in Jammu Division the paper leakers found an ingenuous way of leaking papers through use of cell phone SMS. While this particular episode has exposed the functioning of the Board of School Education (Jammu) who did precious little even though it had known of the paper leak, clearly this is not an isolated incident.
Similar incidents are from time to time repeated from various parts of the country cutting across education board boundaries. Not too long ago the Haryana School Board of Education cancelled the English paper of Class XII due to reports of a leak. Yet another incident of anomaly of a different kind cropped up when students of two CBSE schools in Chandigarh got same question papers on different days. While it cannot be strictly called a leak, it gave undue advantage to certain students. Such lapses are avoidable. However, the issue of paper leak deserves more serious concern and action.
The Board of School Education (Jammu) has done what was necessary to hold an investigation and also promised strict action if any board employee is found involved. It is clear that such leaks are not possible without the connivance of someone within the system. Such wrongdoers must be identified and taken to task. The misuse of technology would result in the perpetrators leaving an electronic trail, which would make the task of the investigators easier. While the HRD Minister Kapil Sibal is constantly claiming credit devising for upgrading the quality of education, the education reforms will have meaning only if we first ensure that the examination system is fair and free from such leaks. While those who leaked the paper must be duly punished, there should be some way to make students who bought the papers accountable too.
WHY THE US REFUSES TO OBLIGE INDIA
BY K. SUBRAHMANYAM
The Headley case and the US decision on plea bargain and shielding him from the custodial interrogation by the Indian authorities even while providing them access to him have generated understandable dissatisfaction in India. It is pointed out that the kind of information that can be obtained in custodial interrogation cannot be elicited during such an exercise conducted through mediation by US officials.
It is also pointed out that the US insisted on rendition by Pakistan of Aimal Kansi, the Pakistani terrorist who killed CIA operatives at the gates of CIA headquarters in Langely in 1993; Ramzi Yousuf, the Pakistani terrorist who attempted to blow up the World Trade Towers in 1993; and some of the senior Al-Qaeda leaders, in particular the Pakistani mastermind of the 9/11 plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Of these, Kansi was executed after trial and Ramzi Yousuf is undergoing life imprisonment in the US. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is yet to be tried though he was renditioned by Pakistan. There has been no plea bargain with him. He was subjected to repeated water-boarding torture and information was extracted from him by methods now repudiated by President Obama and his administration.
Other terrorists and terror-related Pakistanis are in Pakistan with the US either not pressing Islamabad strongly enough for their rendition or Pakistan not willing to hand them over. One is Omar Sheikh, who led US journalist Daniel Pearl into a trap, ending in his murder. The Sheikh confessed to the murder and was sentenced to death, but he is still alive in prison some seven years after the sentence of death. Omar Sheikh was also the person who wired $100,000 to Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11 plot, presumably under instructions from Gen Mehmood Ahmad, then chief of the ISI. Though the US got General Mehmood removed from his post, he is doing well in Pakistan. All the US efforts and pressures have not resulted in Washington or the IAEA being allowed access to Dr A.Q. Khan, the notorious nuclear proliferator.
Recently in the case of Mullah Baradar, the Afghan Taliban leader, after initially refusing access to him by the US authorities Islamabad has agreed to allow them on Pakistani soil. But Baradar was captured after the US agencies in Pakistan first located him and then called the ISI to arrest him. The US, however, has not succeeded in getting access to all the persons whom it might have wanted access to and who are in Pakistan's custody.
It is clear as daylight that Headley was selected by US agencies to penetrate the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). His name changing, the facility with which he travelled in Pakistan and India, his attending LeT training camps, his cultivating LeT operatives, even his reconnaissance missions in India and his cultivating potential LeT sympathisers and collaborators in the country all fit in with such a mission assigned to him. In such cases, often the penetrator may have to prove his commitment to the cause in order to gain the LeT's confidence by carrying out the commissioned tasks.
The task given to the agent may well be a terrorist act. It is for the penetrating agency (the US handlers and their superiors) to decide whether to permit the assigned agent to carry out a terrorist task to gain the confidence of the terrorist organization (LeT) or to withdraw him at that stage. If the ultimate objective of the penetration operation was considered so important as to necessitate the agent to prove his credentials to the LeT the agency might have decided to authorise him to go ahead. It is also possible the penetrating organisation or the agent may not know the full scope of the terrorist act. A reconnaissance campaign need not necessarily mean all the targets would be attacked simultaneously in one operation.
There was always the risk as it happened in this case the agent crossing over to the other side. That might be due to his ideological affinity or it might be a case of buying off once the LeT discovered the penetration operation. Headley himself may not have had much choice once he was discovered. As soon as the US agencies realised that Headley had crossed over to the other side, they had to arrest him and put him on trial. It cannot be asserted whether this is what happened. But this hypothesis has greater plausibility than the various alternatives advanced.
If this had been the case the US will not hand over Headley because it cannot afford to expose its penetration operation. The Headley story may be only one of the several simultaneous ongoing operations. He may have intelligence on some others. Intelligence obtained from him may be relevant to continuing other operations. The Pakistani media has carried numerous stories of US security organisation Xe services (formerly Black Water) operating in Pakistan. Apart from Mullah Baradar's arrest in which US agencies appear to have played a role, there are reports of other extremist personnel being targeted by the US well inside Pakistan
The US suffered the 9/11 attack plotted in Pakistan by a Pakistani. It has been subjected to various attempts at terrorist attacks on its homeland by Al-Qaeda and the LeT. While the US initiated an attack on Afghanistan within a month of the 9/11 outrage because the Taliban government gave asylum to Al-Qaeda, it has been patient in respect of Islamabad though the Pakistan Army-led administration over the last eight years had harboured, nourished, re-equipped and unleashed five terrorist organisations the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani network, Al-Qaeda and the LeT. Washington could not take any punitive action against Pakistan since Islamabad had shielded itself with nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands. Dealing with Pakistan called for a strategy of sleeping with the enemy.
According to US accounts, Pakistan has been persuaded to initiate action against the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda. It is likely that the US itself may have to deal with the Haqqani network after its surge ends in North Waziristan with concentrated drone attacks. But the LeT is the Pakistan Army's most precious terrorist asset and it is mostly Punjabi with its headquarters at Muridke, close to Lahore.
A US-Pakistan strategic dialogue has been convened in Washington on March 24. The Pakistan Army Chief and the ISI chief are attending the meeting besides its Foreign Minister. The US side will be led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Ambassador Holebrooke and CIA Director Leon Panetta are also scheduled to participate. Now that the Headley case and his involvement with the LeT have attracted worldwide attention, it will be of interest to see how the issue is handled during this dialogue.n
LET THE WOMEN DECIDE
BY RAJ CHATTERJEE
According to the Book of Genesis, God created the world in six days, relaxing on the seventh which he called the Sabbath.
Forestalling the Mughals by millions of years, God laid out a pleasure garden which he called Eden. In this he planted trees of many varieties, some bearing fruit, others for beauty enhanced by a bubbling brook that ran by them.
Someone had to look after the garden and enjoy its fruit and its peace. So God created a man called Adam who remained naked as on the day he was born till he was compelled to end his blissful state by the presence of a lady.
And there was the snake in the grass, like any other snake except that this one could talk. This snake, as we shall see later, had greater rapport with women than with men, hence the expression "snake in the grass" to describe a sly, mean fellow who enjoys the hospitality of his best friend while trying to seduce his wife.
God being a kind and understanding person, realised that Adam was going to be very lonely with only a snake for company. So one day he artfully extracted a rib from Adam's chest while the latter was enjoying a siesta in the shade of a tree.
The purloined rib God fashioned into the shape of a lovely woman whom he named Eve and presented to Adam for a playmate.
The two of them, alas, were not destined to live happily ever after. The fault lay with Eve who was a restless and ambitious creature, bored with what God had given her and her mate.
One night she had a heart-to-heart talk with Adam as they lay naked and unashamed under the stars. Millions of years later these after-dinner talks between husband and wife came to be known as "curtain-lecture" with the wife doing most of the talking.
Eve spoke to Adam on the following lines: "What the hell are we doing holed up in this place at the back of beyond? Nothing in this garden belongs to us. We can be turned out any moment by your boss without a stitch on our backs. And all your boss does is to give you orders like forbidding you to eat the fruit from the one tree in the garden that I fancy.
"Let's get out of here while we are still young. The snake told me that there are millions of acres of land outside the garden. We could stake our claim to as much of it as we need. We could grow things on it and extract its minerals. We could be millionaires in no time at all."
Adam, whose mouth was watering by this time, spoke in a whisper: "But supposing the boss doesn't allow us to go? He watches our every movement, night and day."
"You leave that to me," said Eve with a cunning smile on her face. Soon after she went into a secret session with the snake who was only too happy to be rid of Adam and Eve so that he could have the Garden of Eden all to himself.
The snake suggested a plan of action to Eve in which Adam, being a spineless fellow, readily acquiesced. That the plan bore fruit in more ways than one we know to our cost, or we wouldn't be here in this crazy world!n
SACRIFICE TRANSCENDS BORDERS
NO SIGN OF HANGING LEFT IN LAHORE
BY KULDIP NAYAR
The martyrdom of Bhagat Singh and the Pakistan National Day fall on the same date, March 23. But hardly does any one remember him in Pakistan. There is no arch, no plaque, not even a stone to commemorate the execution of Bhagat Singh and his two comrades, Sukhdev and Rajguru.
Lahore Central jail, where the three revolutionaries were hanged on the day in 1931, has been practically demolished. Their cells have been razed to the ground as if the establishment does not want any sign of their hanging to remain. It is a pity because Bhagat Singh's sacrifice, long before partition, could have been a link of sorts between the two countries.
Three years ago, some of us located at Lahore the place where Bhagat Singh and his two comrades were hanged. Ironically, the locality where the scaffold for hanging was put up, has been named Shadman (abode of happiness). I asked residents of the colony if they knew who Bhagat Singh was. Many of them had heard the name. Some had a vague idea of his confinement and hanging.
"When we came here, there were only police quarters, which were pulled down as the colony expanded," said a man in his fifties. The then Lahore Deputy Commissioner had not even heard of Bhagat Singh's name.
Fortunately, the place of hanging is a bit removed from the main road. There is a pond which gives serenity to the site. We paid homage to the martyrdom of the three on March 24 to avoid the Pakistan National Day celebrations. The following year, we could not hold even a meeting because the authorities had clamped Section 144. The recurrent blasts at Lahore this year kept us away.
The busy roundabout, near which the scaffold for hanging was put up, has a story which is told and retold. This is the place where Nawaz Mohammad Ahmed Khan, father of Ahmed Raza Kasuri, then a member of Pakistan's National Assembly, was shot at.
Former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had reportedly "instructed someone" to kill Kasuri, a staunch opponent. When the bullets were fired through automatic weapons, Kasuri was negotiating the roundabout. His father, sitting next to him, received fatal injuries near the scaffold.
Kasuri's grandfather was one of the officials who had identified the bodies of the three revolutionaries. Old timers believe that nemesis caught up with the Kasuri family when Mohammad Ahmed Khan was wounded at the roundabout. Ironically, Bhutto himself was hanged some 25 years ago.
Bhagat Singh was a staunch secular who knew no borders of prejudice or bias. For him the world was divided between the haves and the have-nots. Religion or caste did not figure anywhere. In an essay on "Why am I an atheist?" he argues: "Any man who stands for progress has to criticise, disbelieve and challenge every item of the old faith. If after considerable reasoning one is led to believe in any theory or philosophy, his faith is welcomed. His reasoning can be mistaken, wrong, misled, and sometimes fallacious. But he is liable to correction because reason is the guiding star of his life. But mere faith and blind faith is dangerous; it dulls the brain, and makes a man reactionary."
Bhagat Singh maintained a notebook throughout his internment. A voracious reader as he was he would write down in his notebook the sentences he liked. Dwelling on his lack of faith in any religion, Bhagat Singh quoted from the notebook Upton Sinclair, an American socialist. The latter wrote: "Just make a man a believer in immortality and then rob him of all his riches and possessions. He shall help you even in that ungrudgingly. The coalition among the religious preachers and possessors of power brought forth jails, gallows, knots and these theories."
The saddest day was March 23. It began like any other day when the political prisoners were let out of their cells in the morning. They normally remained out during the day and returned after sunset. But on March 23 when warden Charat Singh showed up at 4 p.m. and asked them to get back in, they were surprised.
It was too early for them to be locked up. They had often stayed long after sunset despite the warden's rebukes. But this time he was not only strict, he was also adamant. He would not say why. All that he muttered incoherently was "orders from above." They guessed that it was the hanging of Bhagat Singh and his two comrades.
The scaffold was old, but the hefty hangmen were not. All the three men sentenced to death stood on separate wooden planks, with a deep ditch of water running below them. Bhagat Sigh was in the middle. The noose was tightened around each one's necks. They kissed the rope. Their hands and feet were tied. The hangmen pulled the rope and removed the rafters from under their feet. It was a crude mechanism. The bodies, limp and drooping, remained hanging from the scaffold for a long time. They were brought down and examined by a doctor who pronounced them dead.
I have not been able to understand why the government is reluctant to put a copper plaque at the place in the Central hall of Parliament where Bhagat Singh threw a bomb, purposely of low intensity, to draw the attention of authorities to the two proposed Bills relating to public safety and trade disputes before the House.
He said: "It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear." These are immortal words uttered on a similar occasion by Valliant, a French anarchist martyr, who said: "We strongly justify this action of ours" to open the ears.
During my six-year-long membership of the Rajya Sabha, I requested all Lok Sabha Speakers of different political parties to put the plaque at the bench in the public gallery from where Bhagat Singh threw the bomb and the place on the floor where it landed. My efforts bore no fruit. This is the least homage we can pay to the memory of Bhagat Singh.
COTTON FARMERS FACE AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
BY JOGINDER SINGH
A suicide is a criminal offence but suicides in large numbers are a phenomenon which needs serious thinking. The recent suicides by farmers examined by a number of individuals and organisations arriving at varied inferences is just like describing the shape of an elephant by blind persons by touching different parts of its body.
The view expressed by the Farmers' the Commission attributing the phenomenon to drug addiction too is not a comprehensive analysis. The cases need to be examined in the light of the socio-economic framework.
Like other states, the phenomenon of farmers' suicides in Punjab is associated with the failure of the cotton crop in the mid-nineties. Economic pressures on farmers had increased.
Cotton being the predominant crop in such areas has seen a severe fall in profitability. Both the crop yield and the market price have witnessed wide fluctuations, disobeying the economic phenomenon of inverse movement of prices to production.
As an expected outcome of the fall in production, price increase could have saved the situation but it was guided by global prices. The yield declined to the lowest levels in the mid-nineties while the cost of production increased substantially due to perpetuating pests.
The Punjab cotton belt was relatively better off till the early nineties as farm size was comparatively large and cotton-wheat rotation was paying. The level of living of farming families in the area was thus set high.
When the downturn began, it was quite difficult to cut down consumption expenditure, make social ceremonies simple and less ostentatious, give up liquor or lower spending on the education of children.
The falling profitability from agriculture and an unabated rise in family expenditure resulted in disinvestment in farms through the sale of tractors, land and other farm assets.
The coming up of a large number of tractor markets in the area was peculiar in this belt during the economic slump. A survey of such markets by the writer revealed that sellers of farm assets outnumbered buyers, thus depressing prices and further piling up economic misery for the owners.
A way out was to obtain credit from alternative sources. Visualising the low networth and repaying capacity of farmers in the area, the institutional agencies were hesitant to advance loans.
Non-institutional agencies, particularly commission agents (arhtiyas), came forward but charged exorbitant rates of interest. For easy recovery, they even mortgaged the land and put social, moral and legal pressures on the borrowers.
In spite of tall claims by governments that institutional credit is easily available, complicated procedures discouraged illiterate farmers from availing the facility of cheap loans.
With the economic, moral and legal tightening of the noose, farmers and their family members succumbed to pressures and resorted to suicide. A clear negative relationship between the cotton yield and the rate of mortality in the 1990s is observable. A large number of cases go unreported due to the fear of legal complications.
In an attempt to improve farm income, many farmers switched over to the paddy-wheat crop sequence. Although the groundwater in the cotton belt is brackish, a heavy investment was made in deep submersible tubewells.
Paddy is less risky and helps in the timely sowing of wheat, providing some relief to farmers. But the subsequent fall in the water table, depletion of soil fertility and the pest menace make the sustainability of paddy doubtful.
Farmers with an access to canal water have also started paddy cultivation and supplant canal water with underground water. On the contrary, the cotton crop has witnessed an improvement in yield with the introduction of Bt gene.
Farmers are at the crossroads whether to continue with paddy or switch back to cotton. Ruling politicians have been silent spectators, making consoling statements now and then.
A policy to convert non-institutional debt into institutional is essential to minimise the burden of fast-accumulating interest on farmers. In the areas having a high potential of revival of cotton the supply of quality and cheap seed along with an integrated pest management calls for top priority.
Institutional arrangement for ensuring Bt seed supply needs to be made so that farmers get rid of loot by private traders. The pressure on farming has to be minimised in the area by improving education and promoting non-farm and agro-processing activities.
The writer is a former professor of Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana
ON BOARD, BUT NOT OVERBOARD
Former Law Minister Ram Jethmalani is known for repartee. He was at it in the Supreme Court last week during the hearing of a case against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the 2002 riots.
When he rose to make a point, the rival lawyer objected, stating that Jethamalani's matter was not on board (not listed for hearing) for the day.
Acknowledging this, Jethmalani said, "At present, only I am on board." At this, Justice Aftab Alam quipped: "I hope you won't go overboard."
Unperturbed, the former minister said he vouched for the grand old school of thought which viewed every judge as a god and as such the question of going overboard did not arise.
After he argued for some time, the Bench said it had taken his case on board. At the end, one lawyer told Jethmalani, "Sir, you managed to get on board."
A top police officer from Gujarat complimented him for scoring a point. Jethmalani was modest in his response: "I am 86. At least this is expected of me."
The high-flying minister
Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has no time to waste. So while his critics are busy running him down, he is flying high.
The minister had gone to the US and the UK, inviting universities there to set up campuses in India. In October last, he went to the US, covering Harvard and some other world-class institutions. In January this year he toured the UK for the same purpose.
Next on his itinerary are Australia and New Zealand. He plans to the land of kangaroos from April 7 to 10 and the Kiwis from April 12 to 14.
He will be accompanied on the trip by his mandarins from both the school education (joint secretary S.C. Khuntia, handling school exams and education reforms) and higher education departments (V. Umashankar, working on all major bills, including foreign education providers). Also in the team will be UGC Chairman Sukhdeo Thorat
UP Chief Minister Mayawati's garland tamasha is hotly discussed in Delhi's political circles. Everyone in the Central Hall of Parliament talked about the garland made of Rs 1,000 notes the day her pictures were splashed by television channels wearing the huge 'mala' on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
A senior Congress leader was heard telling a BJP Lok Sabha member, "Your old Maya 'behenji' has introduced in Uttar Pradesh a new vocation learn garland making after money making". The Congress MP laughed but the BJP member preferred to just smile.n
Contributed by R Sedhuraman, Aditi Tandon and Ashok Tuteja
DRIVERS OF THE BRANDWAGON
THE IPL HAS GIVEN BIRTH TO A BREED OF COMMENTATORS WHO SOUND MORE LIKE PUBLICISTS
For the first time this season, against my better judgement, for the sake of this column, I decided to watch a full IPL chase on Saturday evening. I turned up the volume on the TV, determined to listen to the commentary, to 'soak in the atmosphere', to set aside all my baggage of having covered Tests and one-dayers for over a decade.
I have to admit that I was surprised. Not by the quality of cricket, which was as dull and predictable as I'd feared, but by the great pains the analysts all former players with a far better understanding of the game than I have were taking to describe the technical nuances of an encounter that actually had one common thread: bowler runs in, batsman gets his left leg out of the way and swings wildly.
There were a few other strokes played as well sometimes the batsmen tried to get their right leg out of the way, sometimes they even tried to move both feet but the commentary suggested a thought process that wasn't required, and painted a picture of a contest that didn't really exist.
There may be doubts about whether the IPL will produce a genuine new breed of cricketer who is fearless, unorthodox and effective at the same time. But it has certainly given birth to a new class of commentators who seem to double up as publicists, press agents and propagandists. With them in the box, every six is a DLF Maximum, every wicket a Citi Moment of Success, every catch a Karbonn kamaal, and every over sounds less like match analysis, more like a Vaudevillian announcement.
Colleagues, friends, even some players, often tell me that the IPL needs to be taken with a pinch of salt it's entertainment, after all. But the desperate attempt by the commentary team many of whom are aligned either with one of the teams or with the IPL itself to brand it as a genuine test of skill belies this theory.
Those who're selling the tournament to the public want it to be seen as a pure form of the game, where the excitement is not manufactured, where how you hit the ball over the ropes is as important as how many times you hit it. The IPL's success in the long term depends on it because when the glitz and the glamour wear off, the quality of cricket, or more accurately the perception of the quality of cricket, will remain. The challenge, it seems, is to numb the minds of the fans by the time that happens.
The Rs 3,200 crore that the two new IPL owners have paid to get Pune and Kochi into the competition in 2011 shows how the marketplace views the tournament as a potential goldmine even though the existing franchises have lost money over the last two years. With greater investments, the losses for the new teams will naturally be bigger some inside estimates are pegging them as high as 100 crore a year for the next seven years. But the desire to be affiliated with the tournament is clearly overriding those concerns.
It's anyway hard for an outsider to pinpoint the financial problems being faced by the eight current teams because their revenue models are not identical at a micro level. For GMR's Delhi and Shah Rukh's Kolkata, for example, gate-money is a big component because of bigger stadiums and a richer cricketing culture in the cities. But at Kings XI Punjab, the management has to rely more heavily on sponsors.
Then, there lies a basic dichotomy in what the team owners want to achieve from the IPL. While Hyderabad may look at it purely as a business venture, for Vijay Mallya the link is more about image, making him less worried about how much he's losing and more concerned about how the team's performance affects his personal brand.
In the middle of all these intriguing ends, the means remain the same. Eventually it will all come down to what happens on the field of play. So, as the publicists in the commentary box say, "come one, come all..."
PRESIDENCY UNIVERSITY AHEAD
WHEN POLITICS RESCUES HIGHER EDUCATION
The West Bengal government has at last steered through the state Assembly the legislation conferring university status on the 193-year-old Presidency College of Kolkata, thus ending an epic, nearly four-decade battle to secure for it the autonomy it deserves. As the institution is known for its excellence, not just in India but also beyond the country's shores, its travails in seeking to stop being a government college are relevant for the whole country and provide an abject lesson in how not to run higher education.
The development is a pointer to the political upheaval that is engulfing the state. The state government woke up only when, late last year, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee added her voice to the long-standing campaign for autonomy. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, an alumnus himself, had wanted to get this done long ago but his party, the CPI(M), had opposed it. The reasons for the initial opposition and the recent volte face are revealing. Since the late 1960s, the dominant Left forces in the state have cared less for academic excellence and more for their desire to control higher education and appease the government college teachers' union, which was against any special status to Presidency College.
Attitudes have changed because the prospect of defeat in the Assembly elections next year stares the Left Front in the face. Particularly humiliating is the loss of support among the state's intelligentsia, after the violent incidents in Nandigram over land acquisition. Once Ms Banerjee added her voice to the demand for autonomy, it saw merit in usurping an emotive issue for the state's educated middle class. Otherwise, if Ms Banerjee and her party were to win next year, the Left would have offered her on a platter a chance to deliver a popular measure and take all the credit. The one-upmanship at play is clear from the fact that, after having asked for autonomy status for long, the Congress-Trinamool Opposition in the state opposed the passing of the Bill on the Assembly floor, demanding greater scrutiny.
Full university status will not be a password to academic excellence. A great deal will depend on who the government will appoint as the new university's first vice-chancellor, till the electoral arrangement provided under the new law can be set up. Also, Presidency University will be no different from other state universities across the country, which have state politicians meddling in their affairs, invariably to the detriment of academic standards. The university's budget will have to be approved by the state government, the difference being that it will be able to secure endowments and funding independently and not include what it does with these in the budget. This something will be better than the earlier nothing.
TIME TO REFORM ACCOUNTANCY PARTNERSHIPS
In 2002, after being found guilty of having helped Enron doctor its books, Arthur Andersen folded up and the Big Five accounting firms became the Big Four. Although the verdict on Andersen's role was subsequently reversed by the US Supreme Court, the damage was done and Andersen never returned to business; its businesses, by then, had been bought over by other firms. Contrast this with India, where none of the Big Four KPMG, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Ernst & Young and Pricewaterhouse have taken any of the flak for faulty audits. When Global Trust Bank (GTB) ran into trouble, the auditors were accused of negligence and professional misconduct since they had certified the accounts as kosher. While the matter was referred to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) for disciplinary action, the Reserve Bank of India, for a while, advised banks not to take Pricewaterhouse as an auditor. When the Satyam scandal burst, it turned out Pricewaterhouse was the auditor in question once again, and one of its partners, S Gopalakrishnan, was common to both audits.
Each time such an incident takes place, a series of diversionary tactics surfaces. This is facilitated by the ceiling of 20 partners per accounting firm; so firms which seem to operate under the same umbrella auditing firm are in practice different firms with similar names. If trouble erupts, Pricewaterhouse in one city can quickly distance itself from a firm with the same name in another city as, in fact, it tried to do. Or, it has been argued, one partner cannot be legally liable for what another partner does. Those involved are happy to see the debate getting deflected. This can and should be corrected, but some of the changes required would mean allowing the Big Four to consolidate their different partnerships. However, the ICAI is dominated by small audit firms that do not want the Big Four to get any bigger.
Now the government is working on whether it will allow the Big Four to set up and establish full-fledged practices in India. This, it is argued, will force them to take full responsibility for GTB/Satyam-type incidents. But this has been made into a reciprocity issue (under the World Trade Organisation), since the Big Four have foreign affiliations and the argument is that Indian accounting firms need to be allowed to practise in other countries as well. Meanwhile, the ICAI has proposed that the Big Four be asked to take on some responsibility for the actions of their partners. If Pricewaterhouse has earned money from Satyam, thanks to Mr Gopalakrishnan, it must take the flak for his actions as well. The ICAI has recommended a ban on the firm for a certain period of time, quite like what RBI did in an informal manner after the GTB case. The argument against this is that other partners of the firm will get hurt even though their audit work has been exemplary.
The ICAI is not blameless, since (like other professional, self-regulating bodies, such as the Medical Council of India) it delays disciplinary action for years. Also, its proposal to compulsorily rotate partners/audit firms every so many years is no solution since acquiring domain knowledge takes firms both time and effort, and large corporations which are comfortable with audits done by the big firms could find that they have run out of experienced auditors of choice. More thinking is required before good solutions can be found.
IN NEED OF SEED
AN ACUTE SHORTAGE OF HEALTHY SEEDING MATERIALS FOR HORTICULTURE REQUIRES REDRAFTING OF THE SEEDS BILL, 2004
Unlike foodgrain crops that have been getting every kind of support from the government for their growth ever since the green revolution started in the 1960s, horticultural crops have been receiving attention only since the 1980s. Yet, they now contribute nearly 30 per cent to the country's agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) from merely 10 per cent of agricultural land under them.
Buoyed by this performance, the National Horticulture Mission has decided to put an additional 3.3 million hectares under horticultural crops and rejuvenate another 1.6 million hectares of senile horticultural plantations during the 11th Plan to boost the production and availability of fruit, vegetables, flowers, spices, etc. The Planning Commission has fixed a target of 7 per cent annual growth for the horticulture sector, against 4 per cent for the agriculture sector as a whole, for this Plan period.
However, there is a formidable constraint that needs to be overcome if such an ambitious goal is to be achieved. There is an acute shortage of good-quality, disease-free seeding material for horticultural crops. Hardly 30 to 40 per cent of the requirement of planting materials for horticultural crops is estimated to be met through the reliable public-sector horticultural seed producers. Though the private sector has also stepped into this field, there is still a large unmet demand for healthy seeding materials. This is restricting both the expansion of area under horticulture and the rejuvenation of over-aged orchards by replacing old plantations with new ones.
Since a large number of horticultural crops, especially fruit and flowers, need to be propagated through vegetative means (cloning), the production of their planting material (cloned seedlings) requires modern technology, besides, in most cases, heavy investment. Moreover, vegetative multiplication of the planting material involves greater risk of viruses and other diseases being carried forward to new plantations. There is, therefore, a need for observing strict phyto-sanitary standards, which many of the nurseries are unable to do. Substandard seeding material can lead to debilitation of the new plantations and poor quality of the produce, causing huge, even though avoidable, losses to the horticulturists.
Methods to detect the presence of viruses and pathogens in the seedlings were not available till recently. But, according to H P Singh, deputy director-general (horticulture) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), this lacuna has now been covered to a large extent. Scientists have worked out diagnostic techniques for early detection of diseases in many fruit and vegetable crops, such as banana, citrus fruit, potato and other tuber crops. These techniques need to be used on a mass scale to weed out unhealthy seeding material. A national conference on "Production of quality seeds and planting material and health management in horticultural crops" was recently held in New Delhi to promote these techniques.
Apart from technological shortcomings in the production of healthy propagation material for horticultural crops, the legal framework for ensuring adherence to quality-control norms, too, is wanting. Though the seeds industry is subjected to several binding regulatory measures, including the Seed Act, 1966, the Seed Control Order, 1983, the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001, and the National Seed Policy, 2002, none of these measures specifically deals with the quality assurance of plants produced through vegetative means, such as tissue culture, grafting, layering and the like.
Another problem with the existing legal framework is a lack of provisions for dealing with transgenic and other genetically-modified (GM) propagation materials. With the entry of multinational companies in the seeds sector, especially in research and development of GM seeds and crops, bringing quality assurance of cloned seeding material of GM horticultural crops under legal regulatory regime has become imperative.
A Bill for enacting a new seeds law to replace the Seeds Act, 1966, which was introduced in Parliament way back in 2004 but not pursued further since then, too, does not deal comprehensively with the GM seeds and seeding material though it seeks to introduce some other significant reforms in the seeds sector. Since the Seeds Bill, 2004, suffers from this lacuna, besides being embroiled in other controversies, it seems desirable to suitably redraft the Bill to address the current needs, and get it enacted into a law. Besides, the producers of the propagation material for horticultural crops need to be encouraged to use modern diagnostic techniques and follow strict phyto-sanitary standards.
UNDER CONSTRUCTION - THE GREAT DELHI NOVEL
NILANJANA S ROY
Drawing a literary map of Bombay, or Calcutta, is a relatively straightforward exercise: writers fall into neat categories, and time periods, and claim their neighbourhoods easily.
But as a recent collection of writings on Delhi indicates, this is the original Trickster City. In most of its centuries, Delhi has hosted more writers than it has nurtured them: the Capital has been the resting place, the halt between stages of a writer's career rather than the inspiration for great writing. Foreign correspondents and old Asia hands pass through Dilli on their way to Ayodhya or Kashmir or Maoist Chattisgarh. After the last mushaira in Bahadur Shah Zafar's time, Delhi has housed poets, but there has been no great outpouring of Delhi poetry nothing to match Bombay's line-up of Nissim Ezekiel, Dom Moraes, Arun Kolatkar, Adil Jussawala and Jeet Thayil.
At Penguin's Spring Fever festival, a final session was dedicated to the Trickster City. That's also the title of a collection of writings, translated from Bahurupiya Shahar, which illustrates one of the big problems of writing about this city. Literary Delhi is usually either South Delhi or Old Dilli, with the party palaces, bleak concrete jungles and constantly resettled slums of North Delhi unchronicled, until now.
For some of us, listening to William Dalrymple and Mahmood Farooqui brought in a sense of deja vu. Dalrymple was at the threshold of his career as a flamboyant historian when he wrote City of Djinns in 1994, and as he said, the city he captured in that book doesn't exist any more. Mahmood Farooqui began his dastangoi performances several years ago, as a kind of literary curiosity, a revival of the storytelling traditions of the past: his book on Delhi in 1857 will soon be out. For Dilliwallas, much as we celebrate the achievements of Dalrymple or Farooqui, watching them in performances that have become familiar over a decade is a reminder of how few Delhi writers, and great Delhi novels, there have been.
Part of this is what might be called the Great Washington Novel conundrum: there are great writers from Washington, but no iconic fiction to match the great New York novels. Nayantara Sahgal chronicled political Delhi in novels like Rich Like Us and A Situation in New Delhi, but it is hard to pull off truly great writing about administrative capitals it's like pulling off the great oil novel, as Amitav Ghosh once remarked. It is theoretically possible, but it doesn't happen that often.
Among younger writers, there's been something of a shift. An earlier collection of short stories, Delhi Noir, had a rocking premise capturing the underbelly of a city that has only a thin barrier of gated communities dividing its pleasant surface from its extreme darkness. But its version of Delhi was closer to flabby paunch than dark underbelly; Trickster City with its blend of rough-hewn, unstylised writing and sharp, acute observations offers a much more disturbing take on Dilli.
Aatish Taseer and Mridula Koshy have both produced debut works of fiction that take you into the complexities of Delhi: instead of the seven (or 13) cities of its historical past, today's Delhi offers seven (or more) cities, co-existing uneasily with one another. And novelist Rana Dasgupta is working on a non-fiction narrative about the city it's hard to capture a city that is constantly reinventing itself, a city always under construction, but Dasgupta has the skills and vision to pull it off.
The classic, iconic Delhi novel was evoked by Dalrymple in his reading Ahmed Ali never published another book after Twilight in Delhi, and was an unhappy exile who felt himself neglected in Lahore. But he refused to come back to Delhi, because his city the city of his past, and the city of his imagination no longer existed for him. He didn't want to see what it had become.
In the Delhi of the 1980s, bahurupiyas could still be found in the Old City. A bahurupiya is, literally, a person of many faces, an inhabitant of many avatars. Most bahurupiyas stuck to imitating the gods and goddesses more money in that but sometimes, they also commented, behind their shifting masks, on the political scandals and struggles of the day. In the Delhi of 2010, there are few practising bahurupiyas left, but few images capture this city better. It's a Trickster City, a shape-shifter, occupying many versions of itself at any given point of time and it may finally be finding its chroniclers.
INDIA'S WAR MEMORIAL - SEAL THE DEAL
RAJEEV CHANDRASEKHAR'S PLAN FOR THE WAR MEMORIAL IS A GOOD IDEA
Amongst the many issues that scar relations between India's military and its civilian overseers pay scales and pensions; the failure to buy adequate weaponry; and the military's marginalisation in framing security policy, to name a few the most easily resolved is the military's longstanding demand for a national war memorial to honour the 20,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen who have sacrificed their lives while defending independent India. A broad section of the urban public echoes this plea.
The demand is for a prominent memorial on New Delhi's Central Vista, which can be visited freely by the Indian public, and where wreathes can be offered by national leaders on occasions like the Republic Day, and by visiting foreign dignitaries who choose to do so. The current memorial, the Amar Jawan Jyoti, is merely an add-on to the India Gate, an imposing 42-metre high British structure, built in 1921, to honour the 90,000 Indian soldiers who died in the First World War.
The irony is evident: the British exalted the memory of Indians who died for the empire; but India finds it bothersome to suitably commemorate those who fell in service of the republic.
Anyone who has travelled along India's borders with China and Pakistan cannot have missed the lonely memorials at the places where Indian troops fought and died. Amongst the most stirring is the stark monument to Major Shaitan Singh and his 111 Kumaoni soldiers who battled to the last, holding up a major Chinese advance on the desolate, windswept plateau of Chushul. This Indian hero, a winner of the Param Vir Chakra, is honoured only in that unvisited war memorial near Chushul. No national memorial is inscribed with the name of Major Shaitan Singh.
The proposal for a "National War Memorial", as I accidentally discovered in the Assam state archives in Guwahati, predates independent India. A confidential memo, issued on March 3, 1945, from the War Department in New Delhi (in File No. 110-C/45, entitled "Indian National War Memorial", in the Governor's Secretariat, Confidential Branch) declares that the Government of India (GoI) has been examining "the question of the form that an Indian National War Memorial should take". The memo orders that "the establishment of a Military Academy on the lines of the United States Military Academy at West Point for the education and basic training together of future officers of the Royal Indian Navy, the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force would be the most suitable form for the memorial to take".
In short, New Delhi proposed that what was to become the famous National Defence Academy (NDA), which is still the bedrock of Indian officer training, would also serve as India's National War Memorial.
The British government of India further proposed that "funds for the academy would be provided by public subscription and supplemented by the state". It urged all provincial governments (as state governments were then called) to support the scheme, establish scholarships, encourage the public to contribute, and to not set up any other war memorials so that the support of the public "may be concentrated on the all-India (war memorial)".
Shortly afterwards, as the Second World War hurtled towards its denouement in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the War Department in New Delhi directed (vide memo No. F.65/45/W.1, dated June 15, 1945) that the construction of the academy be financed from a gift of 100,000 pounds, received from the Government of Sudan in gratitude for the Indian Army's role in freeing Sudan from Italian occupation.
An Indian National War Memorial Working Committee was quickly constituted, which sent out a questionnaire to the provinces asking for their views on a range of subjects, including the setting up of feeder schools for the proposed academy-cum-war memorial. The questionnaire asked, keeping in mind the "urgent need in India for leaders in all walks of life, including the fighting services", should "practical steps not be taken to meet the requirement of the immediate future by the establishment of a certain number of residential high schools".
Today, 65 years later, the military community, especially officers from the NDA, will recognise that these proposals have been implemented in full. The Sudan Block, a magnificent basalt and granite structure, topped with a Jodhpur red sandstone dome, is the central edifice around which the academy stands. Generations of cadets, including this columnist, have dozed restfully through lectures in the Sudan Block's cool classrooms. Many of those cadets entered the NDA from 19 Sainik Schools across the country, the network of "feeder schools" proposed in 1945.
Lost along the way, fortuitously, is the proposal for the NDA to constitute India's National War Memorial. A training academy is a living organism that shapes the leaders of tomorrow; bursting with life, it is ill-suited to be a sombre memorial.
Today, with the government unwilling to concede the space for a memorial on New Delhi's Central Vista, Karnataka MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, has suggested a Vietnam Wall-style memorial, inscribed with the names of India's fallen soldiers, on a 50-60 acre site alongside Mahatma Gandhi's memorial at Rajghat. The design, which Chandrasekhar submitted to the prime minister last week, includes an eternal flame, a 24x7 ceremonial military guard, a memorial wall, a martyrs' museum, and large, landscaped areas that would allow schoolchildren and other visitors a pleasant day at the memorial. If the army wants the country to know about and to remember its sacrifices, this is the way to do it.
DISINVESTMENT AS PORTFOLIO SHUFFLE
AN INNOVATIVE APPROACH TO PRIVATISATION WILL CREATE ITS OWN STOCK-MARKET FOLKLORE LIKE ICBC'S IN CHINA
The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) created history in October 2006, when it listed simultaneously in Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges, raising more than $19 billion in its initial public offer (IPO) of shares.
Although a tiny sliver of shares were made available for retail investors, the oversubscription was 78 times in Hong Kong and 49 times in Shanghai from the mainland investors. Some of this euphoria was due to the year-long ban on IPOs in the mainland, and due to infrequent opportunities for participating in Chinese privatisation. On its debut, the stock shot up considerably, taking the entire index up by more than 1 per cent. Nearly four years later, ICBC remains the biggest bank in the world by market capitalisation, never mind that its floating stock is much smaller than that of its western peers, and valuation of its bad debt is much more generous than what Basel would allow. Despite the Wall Street-induced financial crisis in the intervening years, its stock price is still more than 60 per cent above its listing price, and going by growth of Chinese credit, ICBC is going to be doing very good business till (middle) kingdom come.
The story of ICBC is part of the folklore in the stock markets. It serves as a holy grail benchmark of what's possible when you privatise large government-owned entities. Hence, that legendary IPO may have some relevance to India, where the government is currently trying to offload shares of hitherto-unlisted giant enterprises. Of course, these are not in banking (e.g., BSNL or Coal India), but they have attracted wildly-optimistic valuations, and, inevitably, ICBC may be taken as a reference. After all, like in the case of ICBC, India's disinvestment also comes after a drought of IPOs by the public sector, so in principle, there ought to be hunger for PSU shares. From the finance minister's speech we know that the government is committed to raising Rs 40,000 crore from disinvestment next year, and the preferred route is to spread ownership widely among retail investors by divvying up a small slice of each of these and other companies.
But comparison with ICBC may be unwise for several reasons. Firstly, we are in post-crisis sober times of 2010, not the wild super-cycle year of 2006. Secondly, in the case of ICBC, there was an assiduous wooing of global cornerstone investors, i.e., global banks that promised to hold on to ICBC shares for at least a year post-listing. This role of cornerstone investors cannot be played by domestic giants like LIC or SBI. They have to be global players, willing to make credible commitments. And thirdly, ICBC's IPO also made room for strategic investors, from whom it sought to gain management expertise and international perspective, which does not seem to be the case in the Indian context. Most importantly, even though the ICBC IPO was all about maximising listing value, it was not driven by a fiscal deficit. It was backed by a strategic desire to go global.
Hence, ICBC's relevance is limited. In the Indian context, the starting point is fiscal compulsion. There is thus a subtext of a reluctant privatiser. Hence, with an eye on keeping the listing value high, the discount that is actually offered in the sale of shares is insufficient to excite the retail investor. The lukewarm response of the retail investor to REC, NTPC and NMDC should give us a pause about using an ICBC like template or, indeed, any revenue-maximising template. Asking LIC or SBI to keep bailing out sputtering issues is pointless, and based on unsound governance. In case of NMDC, the high price and high implied valuation were based on an extremely tiny float, making its issue almost like an IPO. Such an artificially-high valuation, and high P-E multiple near 50, is unlikely to sustain in the absence of anchor investors a la ICBC. With dilution comes better price discovery, but the current process does not guarantee a smoother transition to that more correct price.
Can we then convert our fiscal necessity into a virtue? Is there a better way to politically sell bigger discounts for the upcoming IPOs and not being under the shadow of ICBC? Yes, there is, and a blueprint was recently given in a public speech by Thirteenth Finance Commission Chairman Vijay Kelkar. The first and the most important change that we need is that of mindset. Think of disinvestment as a portfolio reshuffle, said Dr Kelkar. We need to drastically alter the mix of public ownership from physical to social and human capital. Which means less coal mines and telecom, but more of rural health clinics and rural roads owned by the government.
During the early days of India's development, the public sector took control of the commanding heights of the economy, namely infrastructure, big industry, utilities and such like. Six decades later, it is time to change that portfolio-mix. It is not asking for shrinkage of the government, but reorientation towards what is not provided by competitive markets. The second factor driving privatisation should be efficiency. The physical capital that is under the control of the public sector is roughly 50 per cent of GDP, but the return that it produces is less than 3 per cent of GDP. Even if this rate of return does not need to match private or global rates, and even after making allowance for social goals (like spread of rural telecom, or employment generation), there is substantial improvement possible in the rate of return on public capital. The third rationale, as articulated by the finance minister in July 2009, is to create dispersed ownership. This practically rules out sale to a strategic partner. But to ensure a better price discovery, and indeed to quell potential political hue and cry, a continuous pre-announced dribble sale of small quantities of shares may be necessary, especially in case of giants like BSNL or Coal India. This also obviates the need for an anchor investor(s) a la ICBC. Finally, to ensure wider retail participation and eventual ownership, it is essential that a large discount be given initially, which is progressively narrowed as sales continue "on tap". This innovative approach to privatisation is sure to create its own stock market folklore, with fiscal improvement as a bonus. An Indian ICBC fairy tale? It's possible.
The author is chief economist, Aditya Birla Group.
Views expressed are personal
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
Ripping off masks
Given that CPI-M partymen were unhappy with some leaders in Kerala blatantly pursuing their commercial/ networking interests in the entertainment industry, Sitaram Yechury's clear 'no' to such moves has earned him kudos from the party.
The central leadership, it is learnt, fully backs the blow against some Kerala leaders facilitating some sort of secular acceptability to the Amitabh Bachchan-Narendra Modi tango. What particularly earned AKG Bhavan's goodwill was that the 'rectification' of the 'ideological elasticity' of its thriving Kerala leaders happened even as the Congress-led UDF seemed in deep slumber during the entire episode.
As the Congress' Kerala brass rues how it missed an opening to play to the minority and secular galleries, only two sections are smarting from the Yechury slash: the offending Kerala leaders and Modi fans who thought their icon could, finally, earn wider acceptability beneath the Bachchan mask.
Room with a view
Satyavrat Chaturvedi continues to remain an enigma for many. Just as the NCP was celebrating his removal as AICC spokesperson for giving Sharad Pawar a tongue-lashing, comes a tiny detail from 24, Akbar Road. Just a day after his "final and formal removal" was notified by party managers, came the spectacle of the same AICC establishment doing up a swanky new room at the Congress HQ for the irresistible leader.
This new room has been allotted to Chaturvedi in his capacity as 'Chairman, AICC departments/cells' but others think it is a reward for services rendered. Perhaps the NCP can take solace from the fact that compared to Amar Singh, whom the AICC foxed for a full year by Chaturvedi's mock removal after he'd given the ex-SP man a taste of his vocabulary, the Pawar camp was given an instant realty-check.
Nitin Gadkari may be taking pride in the fact that he started as a "humble party worker" by white-washing walls for writing party slogans. But the BJP chief's ham-handed re-constitution of the leadership team shows he hasn't learnt even the basic lesson of politicking in Delhi: never raise expectations.
For months, Gadkari built up a suspense about his "new and bold" team only to produce a body of recycled members at the expense of many eligible aspirants. Team Gadkari, supposedly meant to take on Team Rahul, is so lacklustre that party spin doctors barring, of course, the much-decorated Ravi Shankar Prasad are finding it tough to sell it even to rebelling party men. But then, it also produced an in-house joke. Ten months after the LS poll jolt, the BJP office experienced another tremor: of the Gadkari balloon bursting.
The young and the old
Apart from A B Vajpayee's induction into the new BJP parliamentary board, two other inclusions in the BJP leadership have invited curiosity from within and from the Congress camp. First, the right-sizing of Varun Gandhi's disproportionate ambitions.
Sanjay Gandhi's son got just the ornamental post of secretary whereas he was lobbying to become a general secretary or the saffron youth wing chief. Perhaps, his infamous attempts to copy Pravin Togadia advertised his own limitations to make it a 'Gandhi versus Gandhi' show. Second, the naming of Sonia Gandhi-fan-turned-critic Najma Heptullah as a BJP vice-president. A fly on the wall says it is meant to be a retirement package for Najma whose fifth Rajya Sabha term four from the Congress and one from BJP is ending this July, which will not be renewed by the party. Not a bad deal, though.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SAAS SACHIN AND BAHU DHONI
The Indian Premier League (IPL)'s success in procuring record bids for the 9th and 10th teams it added to its existing cast of eight franchises shows the firm arrival of sports as a viable part of India's entertainment industry.
What IPL does is to put our star cricketers in the distinguished league of the saas and saucy bahu who rake in the moolah for television's entertainment channels. The development is a tribute to India's fast-growing economy, rise in disposable incomes, more leisure time, growth in television households and our collective passion for cricket.
That the two winning bids to host two new IPL teams Pune and Kochi next season worked out to Rs 3,235 crore, is a reflection of its success. New franchisees want to grab a share in the money spinning venture, even if it takes some years to break even. The rewards are handsome for all stakeholders cricketers, franchisees, sports federations and the IPL, an arm of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). The IPL also offers huge prospects for television rights and the sponsorship market, estimated at $250-350 million a year. It provides a platform for merchandising as local and international brands vie to grab a slice of the growing consumer market.
There are spin-offs for tour organisers as well. They can diversify and promote sport destinations instead of confining themselves to leisure or religious tourism. IPL will boost cricket, discover new talent and have a positive impact on other sports as well, with football, tennis, golf and India's national, yet fund-starved sport, hockey becoming inviting targets for the IPL treatment.
Cricket or any other sport is entertainment, much like Bollywood movies or TV serials. Today, cricketers pay tax on their income from IPL matches as franchisees deduct tax at source on payments made to them. Franchisees also pay a tax their on income. The IPL shares all its revenues with franchisees, but does not pay tax. The taxman does not get a look-in. This is unacceptable. The Maharashtra government has taken the right step in imposing an entertainment tax on IPL. This year's Budget has done well to levy service tax on some parts of this business as well.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GOOD LUCK, DR BASU
Direct transfer of subsidy to the target beneficiary is an old idea. The Indian government is now buying into the idea, it would appear, thanks to the efforts of economic advisor Kaushik Basu. He would like the government to distribute food coupons to the poor, which can be redeemed for food at open market prices at any outlet, and sold as well.
This would make food coupons almost the equivalent of cash. Dr Basu would like to distribute fertiliser subsidy also in this fashion. In theory, this is a great idea. However, in practice, it would require a great deal of political will, administrative reform and changes in the law to allow private trade to stock and move grain across the country without inviting penalty under the Essential Commodities Act.
In the current system of subsidised food being distributed through a public distribution system, producer subsidy is conflated with consumption subsidy grain is procured at a 'remunerative' price, stored, transported and sold to consumers at a steep discount to the cost of carrying out these operations, inflated by wastage, spoilage and pilferage en route. Food coupons would separate producer subsidy from consumption subsidy, though they would stay linked.
It can bring in the efficiencies of private trade to minimise waste, pilferage and transport costs, reducing the overall subsidy bill. The government would probably still maintain a buffer stock, but of a smaller size than at present, and move a portion of it from surplus to deficit regions. Money would be saved on the smaller volumes entailed.
All this is welcome, but the real challenge is in identifying the target beneficiaries and ensuring that they actually do get the subsidy. The poor typically lack political agency. Muster rolls are prepared in their names, often, and money collected for rural employment schemes, without a single paisa reaching them. What is the mechanism to ensure that food coupons would fare differently?
We agree that the cost of supervising the end-use of food coupons would be huge. Dr Basu suggests that they be made tradable. Why not transfer cash instead, preferably to the eldest female member of the beneficiary household?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
Who would have thought that a balding octogenarian (though admittedly better built and better preserved than many of his own generation) could wreak havoc among the prima donnas of the screen? It seems that Oscar just has to get close to a lady for her spouse to go haring off in search of solace in another woman's arms.
In the past week, it has been revealed that not only is this year's Oscar winner Sandra Bullock's marriage to reality TV star Jesse James on the rocks, last year's awardee Kate Winslet has actually separated from her husband of seven years, director Sam Mendes.
A measure of Oscar as a devastating ladies man is the fact that of the past dozen women who have held him in their arms, eight of them, besides Bullock and Winslet Gwyneth Paltrow (1999), Julia Roberts (2001), Halle Berry (2003), Charlize Theron (2004), Hilary Swank (2005), Reese Witherspoon (2006) kissed goodbye to the men they were with before that career-boosting event. There have been efforts to brand Oscar as having a Tutankhamen-like curse on the lives of all those who touch him, but the near-absence of men who have dumped their partners after becoming acquainted with him as well 2004 and 2009 awardee Sean Penn being the only exception indicates that Oscar has that effect only on women winners.
Besides being seen as evidence of the enduring success of old men who sway susceptible ladies with the promise of wealth and fame by association, this dismal statistic should also count as an indictment of the younger men who fail to stand up to Oscar's insidious ploy and abandon their wives and girlfriends to him instead.
Surely, these husbands and boyfriends should have stood up to that expressionless, stiff, gentleman just over a foot tall, instead of letting him drive a wedge between them and their smart, talented and sophisticated better-halves. Moreover, the women who have been blindsided by Oscar's gilded charms should have known better than to succumb to the lure of a man who only stands on pedestal to be adored.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
RBI MUST CONTINUE TO HIKE RATES
The RBI's rate action on Friday brings into focus the key questions facing India's macro economy how big of a threat is inflation? Can monetary policy fix it? If yes, how much should monetary policy tighten?
The government's line of reasoning goes thus the current bout of inflation is mainly driven by food. Since this is mostly a supply shock, as soon as the winter crop hits the markets, inflation will subside. On the other hand, domestic demand has still not fully recovered from the crisis and therefore monetary policy should continue its present accommodative stance, albeit with very gradual and small rate hikes.
The above argument is at best naive, and at worst extremely dangerous. Inflation is a clear and present danger, and that the belated but welcome policy action by the RBI should be buttressed by significant further rate hikes to remove excessive pro-cyclical impetus to the economy and anchor inflationary expectations. This will obviate the need to raise rates more aggressively in the future and risk a hard landing.
Anytime headline inflation numbers reach 10%, inflation is a problem, one exacerbated by four other factors.
First, inflation is significantly higher than what is being captured by the wholesale price index (WPI). The WPI is not an accurate reflector of prices faced by the consumer, as it has a lower weight of food than what is actually purchased, and does not include services.
Indeed, CPI inflation is running in the high-teens, with the last print of CPI-industrial workers at 16.2%. Disturbingly, core CPI (excluding food and energy) was running well above 10% as early as October 2009, and is likely to have accelerated since then. This is because domestic demand is much stronger than external demand, and is captured by the CPI which includes the price of non-tradables (that is services) that are rising faster than the price of tradables (that is manufactured products).
Second, it is not just food prices, WPI core inflation is rising by on average 1% every month, which translates into a 12% annual increase. Demand pressures are rising and pricing power is returning to corporates. With the government's projection of GDP growth at 8.25-8.75% for FY11, the gap between the economy's potential and actual output will close rapidly, exerting further upward pressure on core inflation.
Third, inflationary expectations are building up. With headline numbers in double digits, there is grave danger of expectations becoming unhinged. Recent surveys of inflationary expectations are already showing upticks, and the fast disappearing slack in the labour market will add to these pressures.
Fourth, inflation is generally surprising on the upside in rapidly recovering emerging markets. Importantly, core inflation is picking up, albeit from low levels, and heading towards levels observed in the middle of the previous cycle.
Even if the original shock to inflation is supply-side driven, there is a very important role for policy in preventing second round effects via inflationary expectations. It is instructive to go back to the supply shocks of higher oil in the 1970s. After the oil price shocks of the 1970s, those countries which had an expansionary stance going into the shock, primarily the US, found a much higher increase in inflation, and therefore, larger costs of bringing down inflation in 1980-81. In contrast, Germany and Switzerland maintained restrictive monetary policies, and the impact of the oil shock was largely limited to first round effects.
The role of monetary policy should be to pre-empt the second round effects of the supply shock, else they will get incorporated into inflation expectations, which become persistent, and significantly raise the costs of the eventual disinflation.
Urgent action is also necessary due to three other reasons long transmission lags, establishing credibility, and negative real interest rates.
The lags between raising policy rates and activity tend to be long. During the previous rate-cutting cycle, policy rates took a long time to feed through to bank deposit and lending rates, and that too only partially; similarly on the way up, bank rates may take considerable time to react, and from rates to activity will take further time. Policy needs to be forward-looking and cognisant of these lags.
Second is the issue of credibility of the central bank and importance of staying ahead of expectations. If market participants begin forming the view that the central bank is behind the curve, it would reduce the effectiveness of policy actions and call for larger rate moves than originally required.
Third, the yield curve is amongst the steepest it has ever been. Short-term real interest rates are negative, and one of the lowest among emerging markets. The short end needs to move up significantly to normalise policy.
How much tightening should the central bank do? We have tools to measure the misalignment of policy. First, a Taylor-type rule to measure the output-inflation trade-off. The Taylor rule gives an indication of the level of interest rates, if the economy has to grow at potential, and inflation needs to be at the desired level. Our analysis of the Taylor rule suggests that short-term policy rates may need to be raised by 300bps from current levels to normalise policy rates. This can be achieved by both withdrawing liquidity and moving the effective policy rate from the reverse repo to the repo, and partly by increasing the repo rate.
Countries such as India where domestic demand was least affected by the crisis, and are facing the most inflationary pressures, have little reason to continue with 'crisis level' of interest rates and extremely easy liquidity, especially as central banks across the emerging markets either begin to raise rates (Malaysia) or threaten to shortly (Taiwan, Thailand). The RBI needs to continue to raise interest rates through the course of the year to normalise policy in order to prevent inflation from spiralling out of control. If that implies giving up some domestic demand in the near term for the benefit of prolonging the recovery cycle, then so be it.
(The author is vice president & chief economist, Goldman Sachs (India) Securities)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IPL, NOT JUST A GAME-CHANGER
"Pound-notes is the best religion in the world", wrote the Irish playwright Brendan Behan some 50 years ago in an age when England's traditional summer sport of cricket was played in winter in India. That was the era when five-day international Test matches between the Indian team and visiting foreign squads were invariably played in Kolkata during the last week of December and in Chennai during the harvest festival of Pongal in mid-January when the holiday crowds would turn up with tiffin-boxes full of coconut-rice or biryani.
The Kolkata match would be preceded by Tests at Mumbai, Kanpur and Delhi where the players would be introduced to the President of India.
Some 50 years later, cricket has become a summer sport in India, thanks to the Indian Premier League (IPL). India's once-a-year Test centres now lend their names to club teams like the Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings and the Delhi Daredevils. They have been joined by the Royal Challengers Bangalore, the Deccan Chargers (whose home games are this year being played not in Hyderabad but Cuttack due to the ongoing agitation for and against the creation of Telangana), the Kings XI Punjab and the Rajasthan Royals (whose home games are being played not in Jaipur but in Ahmedabad for reasons no one can quite fathom).
From being a leisurely five-day affair, cricket has become an instant sport made for television. The IPL T20 format where each team plays 20 overs is slotted during weekdays at TV prime time when viewers are back home from school/college/office and ready for instant entertainment before, after and during dinner. And pound-notes is literally no longer the best religion in the world with Indian players being paid in rupees and foreign cricketers in dollars. National rivalries are blurred to an extent where if Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds ever play together for the same IPL team, they would not be abusing each other but embracing to celebrate the fall of an opposition wicket!
This behavioural transformation is being financed by India's cash-rich corporates who have seen in IPL an opportunity to target their brands at audiences on prime-time TV. Just 23 years ago, the 50-over international World Cup was held for the first time in India and the trophy won by Australia was called the Reliance Cup at the instance of the sponsor Dhirubhai Ambani.
Today, the IPL's Mumbai Indians team is owned by Mukesh Ambani and overseen by his wife Nita who turns up for home games with school-children who come from an under-privileged background. And the Royal Challengers Bangalore is owned by the erstwhile Garden City's biggest industrialist Vijay Mallya who also owns a Formula One (F1) car-racing team called Force India and who makes it a point to cheer both his cricketers and his super-fast drivers. And the latest franchisee to get into the act is Subrata Roy's Sahara Group which continues to be the sponsor of the national cricket team since there were no takers for the BCCI's revised terms for Team India.
Things are financially far rosier on the IPL front with the two winning bids for inducting new franchisees on March 21 working out to $703 million or Rs 3,235.53 crore, beating the combined figure of Rs 2,840 crore forked out for the eight teams in the first IPL auction some 30 months ago All of which is quite a simplistic way of looking at the IPL and its phenomenal impact not just on sports but TV audiences. Cricket connoisseurs are apprehensive that the obsession with made-for-an-evening T20 cricket will adversely affect what they see as the purest form of the game five-day Test cricket. One of the best batsmen in contemporary cricket, Michael Clarke, has stayed away from IPL and focused on playing for the Australian national team, of which he is the vice-captain and future leader. At a far more serious level, if IPL cricket becomes compulsive viewing at home, it could cut into the study-time for children who are preparing for their school-final or college-entrance exams in an increasingly competitive world.
The fans might be seduced by IPL's 45 days of non-stop T20 cricketing action. There is, however, no guarantee that the action will be restricted to just six weeks as more and more teams enter the fray. The US example shows that compulsive TV-viewing of baseball and American football makes for future generations of not so much sportsmen as couch-potatoes, addicted to junk food. The American influence can already be seen in the Indian TV news-channels' habit of describing weekends when IPL offers not one but two games as Super Saturday and Super Sunday! The masses have always loved gladiator-sports. "Butchered to make a Roman holiday" was how the poet Byron described the goings-on in the Colosseum of ancient Rome!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE RACE THAT WAS NEVER LOST
Many years later, older and wiser now, the hare and the tortoise had become good friends who would often meet of a weekend at the local pub to quaff the froth while reminiscing their youth. One day, loaded with an ancient paradox, the hare turned to his barstool mate and said, "I know everyone thinks you won the race by being slow and steady and all that guff but you do understand why I couldn't catch up and overtake you after I woke up from my nap, don't you?" Tonguing a whisker of foam off his upper lip the tortoise replied, "I suppose because there was an arbitrary finish line imposed which doesn't happen in real life, right?"
"Wrong!" said the hare. "If there had been no finish line whatsoever I could still never have overtaken you. Hell, I couldn't even have caught up with you." Seeing his carapaced companion's brow furrow in perplexity he continued, "See the reason is, the moment I reached the spot where you had been, you would have already moved a little distance ahead in that time. Then when I had caught up with you once more you would have moved a short distance in front again. And so on. Realising classical mathematics had outdone me, I knew there was no way I could win. So I gave up and a fable was born instead."
The tortoise looked at him thoughtfully over the rim of his supping vessel and said, "Okaaay. So what you're saying is that it takes all the running to stay in the same place because motion is an illusion. But, your point is...?" The hare paused before answering. Then taking a deep breath he blurted, "To prove my logic that I can never overtake you, all we have to do is have another race."
"Agreed," said the tortoise, "But on condition I get a head start and you don't fall asleep. That still satisfies your logic doesn't it?" The hare's eyes lit up. "Done!" he exclaimed and they were off to the applause of the forest animals who had gathered to witness the rerun. Within a few seconds the hare had overtaken his sluggish opponent and was waiting with tears in his eyes at the finish line.
"I don't get it, what went wrong?" he sobbed brokenly when the tortoise finally reached. "How come I lost again?" Gently leading his friend away to their favourite watering hole, the tortoise said, "Well, calculus has been invented since but more importantly, sometimes" (and here he quickly inserted a moral): it takes all the thinking to stay in the same place.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FOR MUTUAL FUNDS, EQUITY MARKET IS THE THEME IN 2010
Fixed income has really been the trend, even though equities have started moving up. But for the mutual fund industry, the theme is the equity market in 2010, says Joe Mansueto, chairman & CEO of Morningstar, in a chat with ET Now.
You have created a business with revenues of $500 million a year, and you came upon this idea in 1984 when the mutual fund industry was only $370 billion in size. Did you ever think that the MF industry would be as big as $10 trillion today?
I wish I was that visionary. But no, I didn't foresee that. I think, I would have told you back in a time that the fund industry had a very good future, but I couldn't tell how exactly what it would look like 25 years into the future.
What has the recession in the US and other global markets meant for the MF industry?
No big negative for the fund industry, except that global markets have come down. That shows the environment for new investing by investors into MFs. So, downward market movements tend to chill flows end into funds. It'll also push more funds into fixed-income investments away from equities.
You mentioned that more money got moved to fixed income. But things are beginning to look better. Is there an expectation that more money will flow into equities?
That's right. We are already starting to see that happen because the markets have come back. It's a problem that investors are always chasing performance. As soon as the markets move up, investors want to invest in equities. So, they are resting precisely the wrong time, which you would rather see is more equity investment going at the bottom.
What is going to be the biggest theme for mutual funds in 2010?
So far, it's been fixed income. Again, even though equities have started moving up, fixed income has really been the trend. If you look back, fixed income has done well in the past 5-10 years. But interest rates have come down during that period, boosting fixed income returns. Now, with rates so low, should rates move up that would harm fixed income investing. So, I would encourage investors to look more into equities. But again, the flow has been more towards fixed income. So, in many ways, I think, the theme for 2010 is the equity market.
There are voices talking about 2010 also being a great year for treasuries. Is that something you would agree with?
No, I think, cash is another potential bubble. Basically, you are getting paid very less for cash. It's hard to say how you are going do well, especially after inflation with investments in cash.
In the US, junk bond sales make a comeback in a big way. In fact, March junk bond sales are at their highest in nearly three years. How would you read into that? Would you say it's a sign that things are beginning to get back to normal there?
Yes, things are getting back to normal, the markets have come back. But I think, it's also a factor that investors are looking into a rear-view mirror. Junk bonds have gone really well over the past year, but also past three years. And again, it's investors chasing performance, something we prefer not to see.
But how do you believe the overall global investment environment in this year is going to look like?
Certainly better than the past year. I think, things are positive upwards slope. I don't think, it's going to be a robust recovery. But things are generally getting better. So, I think, we are more likely to get back to long-term averages. If you look at what stocks have returned over the past 75 years, it's been about 11% a year. It's hard to protect market returns in any one year.
There is some talk about the US likely to see a double dip in the housing market. What do you think the chances of that happening are?
We don't really forecast kind of these newer-term movements in housing. Housing analysts, I am sure, will have a different opinion. I think, it's certainly possible, the US consumer is certainly very weak today. The consumer is about 70% in the US economy to the extent that the unemployment is high. Spending is down. That puts a lot on pressure on the housing market. So, I can see this easily slipping back, especially, if interest rates move up. If we see an upward spike in rates, then that's going to put pressure on mortgages. Housing would possibly double dip.
But were that to happen, what could be the impact on the market?
Definitely negative. If the housing market looks back at the recession, housing carries so much with it. Home purchases, washing machines, dryers, furniture, plumbing... all that's related to new home sales also falls because the housing market.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NON-FARM GDP GROWTH LIKELY TO STAY STRONG'
The Edelweiss ET NOW Lead Indicator Index (ETLII) has come in at a reading of 121 for April 2010, up significantly from a trough of 73 in the fourth quarter of FY09. In an interview with ET NOW, Edelweiss senior economist, Siddhartha Sanyal elaborates on the outlook for the Indian economy. Excerpts:
At 121 in April 2010, the Lead Indicator Index is up significantly from the trough of 73 that we saw in the fourth quarter of FY09. What are the factors driving up the index?
It's not really being driven by any one particular factor but rather a host of them. Right now, there are indications of credit going up significantly, commercial vehicle production is rising, cement despatches remain very strong, resource mobilisation in the domestic market looks pretty strong at the moment also.
So are we looking at a strong double-digit non-agri GDP growth in FY11?
We typically tend to track the intermediate goods production in IIP very closely and that is still going up. The capital goods index is also gaining strength every second month. So, there are a number of indicators that point to the strength in the industrial segment. As far as services are concerned, the segment typically shows relatively less volatility and at the moment, barring government expenditure, which is likely to be reduced gradually, all services are looking pretty strong at the moment. So, at least for the next one quarter, our feeling is that non-agriculture GDP growth will be pretty strong.
What do you believe are the factors that can spoil the party?
I wouldn't say there are factors that could spoil the party. However, there are certain factors that we will need to a keep a watch on. Inflation and the interest rate scenario will have to be tracked very closely. Apart from that, we need to see how the monsoon turns out this year. We also need to see how capital expenditure on the ground starts picking up.
What are you expecting on inflation?
If you just look at the year-on-year number, which is close to 10%, it is quite alarming. But there is another way of looking at it. Inflation is high because it is significantly being driven by the base effect. If someone tries to do the math and take the base effect away, the inflation number is still close to only around 5% which is the long run average for India. We strongly believe that inflation numbers will shoot up, but in the next 3-4 months, they will soften. Our view is that inflation will be at around 7% during the second half of the year.
What action does Edelweiss expect from RBI to tackle inflation? Growth look fairly strong, IIP numbers are also very good, but inflation continues to be a huge bugbear for the RBI.
From April onwards, I expect inflation to start cooling a bit but RBI will also start hiking rates around that time. On the face of it, it looks a little counter-intuitive but if you actually go deeper, it makes perfect sense. At the moment, if RBI does hike interest rates, it will not be to tackle commodity price inflation. Rather, it will be aimed at pre-empting any possibility of asset price inflation six months down the line.
You have to keep in mind another factor that all the policy rates, including repo and reverse repo rates, are way below their long-term average and the 'steady state' levels. If you see over a period of time, long-term average repo rate for India is somewhere between 6% and 6.5% and compared to that, we are at 4.75% today. So, when the economy comes back to a more normal situation, you will want your interest rate scenario to come back to close to a 'steady state' level.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ONLY 4 OF 18 NTPC PROJECTS FACING DELAYS: RS SHARMA
SUBHASH NARAYAN & SOMA BANERJEE
Power major NTPC could light up 14 Delhis if its ambitious plans to double capacity to 75,000 MW by 2012 fructify. NTPC chief RS Sharma says the company is on track to meet the target, stitching deals to ensure the uninterrupted supply of coal while eyeing renewable energy sources such as solar and wind projects. Mr Sharma tells ET he is upbeat about the state-run company's future despite a tepid response to its recent share sale. Excerpts:
NTPC failed to attract retail investors in the follow-on public offer. Why? And what are the lessons learnt?
Apart from the markets crashing, there is also an issue about FPOs when it comes to retail investors. There is a discovered price and retail investors are always wary. We have to do something to reward the long-term investor. For instance, we could offer a special discounted price to investors who have been with the company for a year. Retail investors in the infrastructure sector have to hold on to the stock for some time as these scrips take a while to appreciate.
Are there issues on market perceptions about PSUs and the manner in which they are run?
Unlisted government companies do have a problem of perception. Most investors are unsure if the companies can deliver value for their investments. But there are strong fundamentals in many of these companies. We listed our stock at Rs 62 and (it) peaked at Rs 290.
What are the changes a PSU is compelled to introduce once listed?
One for sure is to do with improving and delivering better financial results. Stakeholders and investors need to be rewarded and so, there is immense pressure to improve financial performance, which requires efficient operations and optimal costs.
What about corporate governance issues?
That is important and we have been very particular about all the norms. The independent director issue is a problem with most PSUs. But 50% of the NTPC board comprises independent directors.
Is it only about the numbers? What about their background? Are they truly independent?
We have people from all sorts of backgrounds from foreign services, railways, former secretaries etc. They bring in varied expertise.
But they are all former government employees.
That should not be a disqualification. We pay much less to our independent directors and they attend almost all the meetings. We have been able to conduct debates over decisions and have never had a dissent note from any director.
How confident are you of achieving the targets of capacity addition during the Eleventh Plan?
We will try to reach 50,000 MW by 2012 though I know it poses difficulties. Still, a lot of time is left. As per our calculations, except for the Russian projects at Sipat and Barh and the hydro projects at Koldam and Kahalgaon, all other projects are progressing as per schedule. Though there are supply constraints on the equipment side, we are doing work simultaneously at 18 locations.
What are you doing to see that projects are fast-tracked and commissioned on time?
We have changed our methodology of commissioning projects by going for direct synchronisation of units by coal so as to take plants to full load in just 15 days. We have done this in the case of the Dadri project where full load was achieved in 30-35 days despite an equipment failure. Moreover, we are soon opening an internet project monitoring system that will facilitate real-time monitoring. In the case of Twelfth Five-Year Plan, equipment orders are being placed now so that there is not a day's delay in projects.
Fuel security could be another delaying factor. What is NTPC doing towards this end?
NTPC has signed a coal supply agreement with Coal India for 20 years for ensuring guaranteed coal supply at 90% of annual contracted quantity for its generating stations. NTPC will also soon start direct import of coal and talks in this regard have already begun. We have also been allocated coal blocks that would meet the fuel needs of our existing and new plants. Mining work on the Pakri-Barwadih mines is going on as per plans and production is expected to start by 2012. The company is also looking at acquiring coal blocks in Indonesia, Mozambique and is partnering ICVL (an SPV with 4 other PSUs) for making acquisitions in Australia, South Africa etc. For a sustained long-term supply of APM category gas by GAIL, we have renewed our APM agreement up to 2021 and PMT agreement up to 2019. We have also got gas from KG basin.
What about developing merchant power capacity?
We intend to have 3-4% of the 2017 targeted capacity of 75,000 MW under the merchant route. If the response is good, about 5,000-6,000 MW could be kept under this route. NTPC is set to commission 2120 MW of merchant capacity by December 2010. It will be start generating revenues from 2011-12. As the spot market of electricity is yet to develop, we will concentrate on selling merchant power to SEZs, special industrial parks and distribution utilities under the Case -1 bidding route. All these would provide us a long-term market for merchant power. We intend to have 80-85% of merchant capacity tied under the long-term route and 10-15% available for spot sales.
What about renewable initiatives?
We have already approved a plan for having 300 MW of solar capacity and 700-800 MW of wind capacity during the Twelfth Plan. For solar, we plan to set up a plant in Anta and are also looking at sites in Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. The solar project would be photovoltaic and solar-thermal. In Dadri, we intend to put up a 5 MW solar-thermal plant and in two months, we will finalise a project for a 15 MW plant at Anta.
In wind, we will finalise tenders to award work for a 100 MW plant. We are also planning to undertake a pre-feasibility study at a site in Uttarakhand for our geo-thermal foray. We are also reworking a joint venture agreement between NTPC, Asian Development Bank and Kyushu Electric Power for setting up renewable energy projects in India and abroad. NTPC is also making efforts for inducting Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology, which has the potential to achieve higher efficiencies and reduction of CO2 emissions. For this, NTPC has decided to appoint a reputed consultant to assist in the preparation of technical specifications and providing services as owner's engineers. The 100 MW technology demonstrator plant will come up at our Dadri plant.
Given the scale of projects and funding requirements, does NTPC plan to tap the market?
NTPC has a high capital base and will not need to raise equity from the market to fund expansion at least till the end of the Eleventh Plan. A fresh look could be given only after March 2012. We can fund all our equity needs for a couple of years with internal accruals. We intend to make capital investments of Rs 26,000-27,000 crore in 2010-11 and another Rs 30,000-32,000 crore in 2011-12.
IPL AUCTION WAS A VINDICATION OF FAITH
The figures are, quote simply, mind-boggling. A sum total of $703 million, approximately Rs 3,235 crore, for just two teams that will add to the existing eight in the Indian Premier League from next year, are staggering in terms of just numbers. When you place them against the context of the recent worldwide economic slump, they start to defy the imagination. yet that is where the IPL and T20 cricket is headed towards in India. To put the sums the Sahara Adventure Sports Group (for Pune) and Rendezvous Sports World (for Kochi) paid for their teams in another perspective, the eight "first-comers" to the IPL collectively paid about Rs 2,840 crores before IPL-1. While these are very bug sums of money, there is a business aspect to the IPL which makes such splashy payouts feasible. In just one year, according to market figures, the IPL's valuation, estimated at a little over $2 billion in 2009, has more than doubled, to approximately $4.1 billion in the present season that is reportedly breaking all records already in viewership and sponsorship inflows for the eight participating teams. And this is in just the nascent stages of IPL-3, mind you. Clearly, those doing their homework in putting together the successful bid amounts have tested the waters and found that their investments will pay and handsomely in the not very long run. Interestingly, it is pertinent to note that the failed bids for Pune ($261 million by Amonar and approximately $320 million by Videocon), and Ahmedabad ($315 million by Adani Enterprises) were almost as much as Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich had paid for Chelsea FC, among the biggest names in the professional soccer world. Clearly, cricket at least the IPL version is reaching stratospheric heights when it comes to drawing in the money. In return for their investments, the two new IPL owners will gain their share of the IPL pie from television income, title sponsorships and thereafter from what they can mop up from the market individually. On a purely cricketing note, all the currently contracted cricketers go back into a common pool at the end of IPL-3 other than a few that particular teams particularly the "icon" players would want to retain. This means yet more money for those who have successfully paraded their wares in the first three seasons of the IPL, not to mention the fact that the two new squads will give yet more cricketers largely from the domestic pool a chance to enter the lucrative league and make a career out of a game that not very long ago was feasible for only the select few. Other than the shakeout from the fresh auction for the cricketers, there are bound to be interesting realignments as well. While Mumbai and Pune are very much part of Indian cricket's 100-plus-year history, the fact that a team representing Kerala will now be in the fray as well is what is truly fascinating, and underlines like nothing else the primacy the T20 form of the game has come to embody. The southern state has for long been the bastion of sports like football, athletics, basketball almost anything other than cricket. In cricket, there are not even a handful from the God's Own Country who have donned national colours. Yet the junior foreign minister, Mr Shashi Tharoor, was able to network and bring together a group of investors to fork out almost three times the amount Mr Mukesh Ambani did as the highest bidder ahead of IPL-1. And who knows, we may even get to see the sight of Shantakumaran Sreesanth as the Kochi combine's "icon" player. Now that truly would be something to see.
THE BURDEN OF EXPORT-LED GROWTH
BY JAYATI GHOSH
One of the apparently contradictory features of the global economic boom that preceded the financial crisis was the extent to which the benefits were unevenly spread. In the developed world, this boom is generally seen as one in which developing countries made their presence felt as growing exporters of goods, services and even capital, and therefore suggests a shift in the global distribution of income. Yet, contrary to public perception, most people in the developing world even those within the most dynamic economic segment of Asia did not really gain from that boom.
One major reason for this is that the expected net transfer of jobs from North to South did not take place. In fact, industrial employment in the South barely increased in the past decade, even in the "factory of the world" China. (It is worth noting that secondary sector employment in China was broadly stagnant in absolute numbers between 1997 and 2004, despite very rapid increases in manufacturing output in the same period. This reflected technological change associated with rapid per worker productivity increases. Thereafter, while secondary employment has grown, the increases have been well below the expansion of secondary sector output in China.)
What was essentially happening, in China as well as in other buoyant segments of the global economy, was that technological change in manufacturing and the new services meant that fewer workers could generate more output. Old jobs in the South were lost or became precarious and the majority of new jobs were fragile, insecure and low-paying, even in fast-growing regions.
Developing country governments opened up their markets to trade and finance, focused on export-oriented production of both goods and services, gave up on expansionary and inclusive monetary policy (because of increasing focus on attracting private capital inflows) and pursued fiscally "correct" deflationary policies that reduced public spending relative to gross domestic product (GDP). So development projects remained incomplete and citizens were deprived of the most essential socio-economic rights. The persistent agrarian crisis in the developing world hurt peasant livelihoods and generated global food problems. Rising inequality meant that the much-hyped growth in emerging markets did not benefit most people, as profits soared, wage shares of national income declined sharply. In most countries, International Labour Office data indicates that growth in real wages was well below increases in labour productivity in the period 1990 to 2006; and the wage share of national income showed declines in all major regions of the world during the two decades, between 1985 and 2005.
Why did this happen? This broad process is related not only to the shift in bargaining power between workers and capitalists that has occurred in this phase of globalisation, but also because of the choice of economic strategy for growth and development.
Almost all developing countries adopted an export-led growth model, which in turn was associated with suppressing wage costs and domestic consumption in order to remain internationally competitive and achieve growing shares of world markets. Household consumption as share of GDP in some of the more "successful" developing economies declined over this period, in some cases quite significantly, reflecting the strategy of suppressing the home market in order to push out more exports.
This is evident from a comparison of two important indicators from national accounts data: the share of net
exports (exports minus imports) of goods and services in GDP, which indicates the extent of focus on the
export-oriented strategy; and the share of household consumption to GDP.
China is of course the most well known example of successful export orientation in the world today, and its huge current account surpluses are typically cited as classic outcomes of an essentially mercantilist strategy. It should be noted that large and rising net exports (relative to GDP) are really quite a recent phenomenon in China: the very significant increases date from the early part of this decade. Between 1994 and 2000, the share of household consumption to GDP was largely stable at around 45 per cent, although this was a relatively low level for a developing country with a low per capita income. But thereafter, precisely in the period when net exports started rising very significantly, the share of household consumption has fallen drastically, to only 35 per cent in 2007, which is one of the lowest such ratios ever recorded anywhere in the world, while net exports rose to nearly nine per cent of GDP.
This strategy and this outcome are not unique to China. Similar tendencies, albeit to a lesser extent, are evident in most of the developing economies that are currently seen as successes: Malaysia, Vietnam, Brazil, Chile, to name just a few.
It would be mistaken to think, however, that this is a strategy that was adopted only by developing countries. The case of Germany was relatively unremarked upon until the recent economic crises of other countries in the eurozone that are adversely affected by Germany's strategy, such as Ireland and Greece and Spain. United Germany started running net export surpluses only from the middle of the 1990s, and they were not significant as a share of GDP until the turn of the decade. For most of the earlier period, Germany's net exports tended to move broadly in the same direction as household consumption shares. From the early part of the this decade, this has abruptly shifted to very sharp, even dramatic declines in household consumption shares, associated with five-fold increases in exports to GDP ratios.
This reflects the fact that Germany has kept real wages largely stagnant through a phase of increased labour productivity, allowing all the productivity increases to be absorbed by employers and enabling savings surpluses that have also tended to be exported abroad, both inside and outside the eurozone. It is, therefore, obvious that beggar-thy-neighbour exporting strategies (that also involve beggaring workers within the economy) need not be associated with currency manipulation, but can result from other macroeconomic policies as well.
So what of India? While India is currently seen as one of the more successful economies, this cannot be because of net exports, since these have been mostly negative, and increasingly so, over the entire period under consideration. What is interesting, however, is that in India as well, the share of household consumption in GDP has declined quite significantly, especially since the start of the current decade. This reflects domestic income distribution and power equations, of course, but it also reflects the same broader strategy of export orientation that requires suppression of domestic wage costs and mass consumption. The fact that this has been less successful in generating positive net exports does not lead to a reversal of this strategy, but rather its intensification, because of the perceived need for domestic producers to become even more competitive vis-a-vis international producers.
Overall, therefore, an obsession with export orientation has its costs, especially in terms of the suppression of domestic consumption and wage incomes. It is also an increasingly unreliable strategy given that the major stimulus provided by the US as the engine of world demand is unlikely to continue. Therefore there is a clear case for a shift towards wage-led and domestic demand led growth, particularly in countries with economies large enough to sustain this shift. This can happen not only through direct redistributive strategies but also through public expenditure to provide more basic goods and services.
BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
"Like poles repel."
The truth of this schoolboy aphorism in elementary physics is perhaps nowhere more glaringly evident than in the case of India and Nepal, two countries whose relations remain generally strained and adversarial even though the people of the two countries are intensely interlinked by language, religion, culture and ethnicity.
The Kingdom of Nepal was established in 1769 by King Prithvi Narayan Shah who even then acknowledged the presence of his two giant neighbours, China and India, and wrote in his Divya Updesh "The Kingdom is a yam between two stones" laying down guiding principles for Nepal's foreign policy which hold good to this day. Nepal's geopolitical compulsions dictate a strategic policy of positive equidistance with both neighbours, making Indo-Nepalese relations essentially a contest for the hearts and minds of Nepal's public opinion. India is at a relative disadvantage here because of its shabby and dishevelled image abroad, where China comes across as organised, disciplined and powerful. India has to respect Nepal's preferences, but must also build up its own strength and capabilities, and approach the relationship confidently, as is expected from a large country.
At the core of troubled Indo-Nepal relationship is the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 and the "special relationship" with India, which is perceived adversely in Nepal as compromising national sovereignty and interests. To establish relations between the two countries on a more positive and transparent footing, an essential prerequisite is a revised and restructured Indo-Nepal Treaty that equitably balances the interests of both countries and even allows for a degree of positive weightage towards Nepal as a smaller entity, while always maintaining India's own irreducible core national interests. Nepalese recruitment for the peerless Gorkha rifle regiments of the Indian Army would certainly be an issue here, frequently raised by lobbies in Kathmandu as demeaning to national sensitivities. Here India should have no hesitation in putting the issue in full perspective by firmly stating that should Nepal desire to terminate the present arrangement, the entire complement of human resources for the 40 battalions of the Gorkha Rifles in the Indian Army could be found from within India itself, without any recruitment from Nepal.
Another factor in any revised "special relationship" should be a particular emphasis on the shared core of Hindu
and Buddhist religious affinities between India and Nepal, until recently the world's only Hindu kingdom, though now no longer so by Comrade Prachanda's diktat. The traditional Vishwanath-Pashupatinath linkage still resonates vibrantly amongst large sections of the population on both sides of the border, with the potential to be a unique geopolitical catalyst in constructive cultural diplomacy between the two countries. If bilateral interactions on this aspect do ever come about, they would be best progressed on track-two channels through internationally-respected socio-religious organisations such as the Ramakrishna Mission and similar institutions.
For India, watching from the sidelines, the whole internal situation in Nepal is exceedingly complex and sensitive, and the strong political and sub-ethnic cross-currents require navigation with extreme care and circumspection. The Kathmandu Valley is the heartland of Nepal, and the traditional political epicentre of the country, but a multitude of faultlines run deep between the Himalayan "khas pahade" and the "madhesi" plains dwellers, as well as in the Limbuwan regions of eastern Nepal and the Tharu adivasis of the Terai. Political power in Nepal has been traditionally dominated by the "pahade", and the others have never held any share in it. "Pahade" public opinion in the Kathmandu Valley has almost traditionally been anti-Indian, but not so with "madhesis" who perceive more in common with the adjacent regions in India than with the Kathmandu Valley. Superimposed on the scene is the political turbulence by a host of parties, with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in the forefront, led by Prachanda, whose outlook is decidedly anti-Indian. The traumatic patricide of King Birendra and much of the royal family, allegedly by his drug-crazed son and heir Prince Dipendra, removed a much-respected unifying figure from the scene, while the subsequent dethronement of the unpopular King Gyanendra and the departure to Singapore of his son Paras added to the dysfunction. As a regional stakeholder, India needs to watch the situation very closely and take remedial measures in its own interest whenever required.
Nepal constitutes a natural bridgehead across the Himalayas, opening directly into India's Gangetic heartland, and on its part would be expected to display an equal consideration and understanding of India's compulsions and sensitivities in the Himalayan region. The Chinese presence along Nepal's northern borders, the covert anti-Indian activities of the Pakistani intelligence establishment operating under diplomatic cover out of its embassy in Kathmandu, particularly along the Indo-Nepal border in the south and Nepal's own internal turbulence and political upheavals all raise important concerns in India.
The old adage "strong fences make good neighbours" is nowhere more applicable than to the Indo-Nepal border, India's soft underbelly which constitutes perhaps the country's most critical but underplayed strategic vulnerability. Central authority has withered away in post-monarchy Nepal, creating extensive tracts of "no man's land" which provide secure sanctuaries and firm bases for almost unhindered trans-border movements of Maoist and jihadi terrorists, human traffickers, drug smugglers and gunrunners. Border controls between India and Nepal have been traditionally soft-pedalled, ostensibly in the interests of the special relationship and a barely-policed border lies open, unfenced and inadequately guarded on either side. India cannot afford to further neglect this border, and made a beginning in 2007 by placing it under the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), a recently-reconstituted border guarding and lead intelligence force for the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan frontiers. Obviously much still remains to be done, not excluding installation of border fencing where required. Also necessary is a strong police and administrative backup in the immediate Indian hinterland, but unfortunately some of the worst of the country's internal "failed states" front the Indo-Nepal border here.
The demise of Girija Prasad Koirala at this precise juncture, when both countries are searching for common ground, has removed from the scene a towering personality and friend whom India could count on. It is a grave setback for Indo-Nepal relations because there are no two countries in the world more suited to be ideal "natural allies", but separated by the baggage of history between them. He will be greatly missed by all friends of India and Nepal.
- Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament
LEGEND LIVES ON
INDIA LOSES TRUSTED FRIEND IN KOIRALA
THE death of five-time Prime Minister and Nepali Congress president GP Koirala has not only robbed Nepal of its tallest figure in politics but India has also lost an old and trusted friend. The void comes at a time when Nepal needed him most to complete the drafting of the Constitution (deadline 28 May) and fulfill the November 2006 landmark Comprehensive Peace proposal that ended 12 years' of Maoist rebellion, which he was largely instrumental in bringing about. It is something to be grateful for that Koirala did not opt out of active politics in April 1994 when he took seriously ill. After undergoing treatment in Washington, he returned to take control but resigned within months. His own group of 35 dissidents ensured his downfall, allegedly for conspiring the defeat of the then Nepali Congress chief, KP Bhattarai, in the prestigious Kathmandu parliamentary by-election. In early 2001, too, he was eased out, in part because of dissidents, but also because of the Opposition, and the Maoist anger over his inability to check corruption. The Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) ushered in multi-party democracy in 1990 but the former had never been a coherent entity, with supporters divided between Koirala, Bhattarai and founder Ganesh Man Singh. The late BP Koirala, who fought against the monarchy, jointly entrusted them with the task of nurturing the party and they, despite rivalries, did sink their differences when the chips were down but made the mistake of not forging unity before the 1994 mid-term poll. The outcome was disastrous and it lost to the CPN(UML). The party, however, returned to power in the 1999 elections but Koirala often ignored public opinion and ran the government arbitrarily with his loyalists. His refusal to hand over leadership to the younger generation was largely responsible for disaffection in the party, which led to a split in 2002 when the then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba formed his own Nepali Congress (Democratic). The two have since reunited.
Koirala and Bhattarai (out of politics) were the last Nepalese politicians to have their political initiation in India. The former's pro-India tilt had always been anathema to ultra-leftists and Maoist supremo Prachanda always worked overtime to exploit this. The presence in Kathmandu on Sunday of India's finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, Union external affairs minister SM Krishna and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar were no small tribute to the departed leader's abiding friendship for this country.
PALACE DARLING'S BACKDOOR ENTRY
A FORTNIGHT ago there was widespread condemnation of the rowdy conduct of MPs opposed to the Women's Reservation Bill: a refrain underscoring the outrage was that violence had been perpetrated in the Rajya Sabha. For though it is not the "Upper House" of Parliament that some describe it, the Council of States has come to be seen as a "House of Elders", the chamber in which all the virtues and core ethos of parliamentary democracy are enshrined. Now, it is relevant to ask if the UPA has not assailed the institution as despicably as the mike-wrenching members by misusing a key feature of the Elders to rehabilitate a "loyalist" who had been rejected by the same voters who had sent him from Mayiladuthurai to the Lok Sabha more than once? It is true that Mani Shankar Aiyar is not the first Lok Sabha loser to be accommodated in the other House; frequently have parties used their numbers in a state legislature to overturn the electorate's verdict. Nor is this the first time that political spent-bullets have been nominated for one of the 12 seats that the Constitution earmarks for eminent persons in the fields of literature, arts, science and social service. Yet it would be difficult to find a parallel of such backdoor entry being provided in less than a year of a constituency expressing "no confidence". Aiyar is articulate, he has written some books, but even the brazenness for which he is reputed would not shield him from the ridicule flowing from a Congress spokesman hailing him as a "social worker, academician and author."
In recent times Aiyar proved a man of independent thinking: he was not entirely in favour of the Indo-US nuclear deal, and his resistance to crores being diverted away from aam aadmi's basics by hosting international sporting festivals cost him one of his two ministerial responsibilities. Much of that "high thinking" has been negated by the route used for his re-entering Parliament. The "buzz" is that 10 Janpath required his services to counter the Opposition: fair enough, he does that rather effectively. Then the UPA supremo should have used her clout to get a "safe" seat vacated and ensure Aiyar's election. Now his unprincipled induction raises apprehensions of another hallowed convention being discarded ~ that of nominated members not being appointed ministers.
THE ELECTED LORD
TOWARDS MOMENTOUS REFORM IN BRITAIN?
IT might be a mite premature to conclude just yet that Britain is set for a watershed development in its constitutional history. Indubitably, of course, it will should the plan materialise. The Labour government of Gordon Brown appears to be on course towards unveiling its agenda to reform the House of Lords, momentously to make it a wholly elected entity. At this juncture, however, the agenda comes through largely as an election plank, at best an attempt to fructify pledges that have been made over the past 100 years. As much is plain from Justice Secretary Jack Straw's assurance that should Labour be re-elected this summer, its government would effect radical reforms in the second chamber. The decision to feature that signal of intent ~ "firm proposals" in the words of Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary ~ in Labour's election manifesto suggests that the character or the reformation of the House of Lords will be a critical campaign plank. Indeed, the very "legitimacy" of the second chamber has been thrown open to question. This is reinforced by Lord Adonis' blunt assertion: "I think the time has now come to make it legitimate in the only way that a legislative assembly can be legitimate in the modern world, which is to be elected."
If the tentative contours are any indication, there will be 300 elected peers in the second chamber, serving terms for up to 15 years. No less crucially, the reforms will do away with the remaining 92 hereditary peers. It is a measure of the importance attached to the reforms that the voting to the House of Lords will coincide with the general elections and under the system of proportional representation. The almost hereditary security of tenure will lapse in the limbo of British history under the electoral engagement. Accountability will be a major determinant not least because the "recall ballot" envisages that peers can be removed for indifferent performance ~ a provision that is worthy of emulation by the Indian parliamentary system. There is bound to be considerable opposition not least because a fully-elected House of Lords will neutralise, if not undermine, the House of Commons; a similar attempt by Labour in 2007 was voted down. But there need be no conflict of jurisdiction as the government will be accountable to the Commons. Any fresh move must await the outcome of the general election. And should the next exercise materialise, Britain will be in the way of all democracies
AGONY OF THE NORTH-EAST~I
THE BURDEN OF SECURITY HAS IMPEDED GROWTH
THE talks between the Government. of India and the collective leadership of the NSCN(IM), that have been in progress for over 12 years without any break, provide the occasion to examine the fundamental features of the mountainous region and assess their fallout in the hilly areas of the North-east. The mountainous area is marked by a long history of conflict, poor infrastructure, backwardness, stagnant agriculture, poverty, alienation and isolation from the mainland. It is an explosive mix of differences and contradictions along tribal, clan, village, cultural, religious and national lines. The region often failed to sustain itself on its own because the actual problems were either not addressed properly or resolved before working out a viable political solution.
The British realised the complex nature of the hilly region and its people, and decided not to interfere with their life and their unique culture, customs, and traditions. The well calibrated policy it evolved was intend to exclude it from the day-to-day administration though the region was badly disturbed by internecine feuds and frequent outbreak of hostilities between tribes, clans and villages. The "head-hunters" were ruthless and their activities caused considerable panic and concern. There was a genuine fear that any intervention to administer the area would provoke resistance and create serious law and order problems, undermining the focus of the East India Company on the exploitation of the resources of tea and oil as the main commercial venture to swell the coffers of the empire. The strategic design of the British was, therefore, to leave the people and the mountainous region in a state of unrest and turmoil.
Meanwhile, the Baptist missionaries on way to Myanmar met some Nagas and converted them to Christianity. The evangelising began and as part of this mission, English medium education was introduced. The idea was to unify the sharply divided people of the hills around Christianity, giving up the animism that they believed in and practised. The ulterior objective was to insulate the hilly people from the influence of Hinduism and Islam, and divide the plains and the hills on the basis of religion. The calculation was that with evangelising activities gathering momentum, the identity issue would get accentuated and the people of the hilly region would rise in revolt to challenge the government of the day. Eventually, it would become impossible for the government to administer the region. The situation would turn so grave and difficult that India as a nation, would fall apart and get balkanised.
The "grand designs", however, failed to fructify since the Government of India had intervened to initiate the process of engagement, accommodation and rapprochement. Large sections of the people reciprocated in ample measure for better socio-political cohesion. Later, the British had to describe the development as a miracle. Thereafter, India has only become stronger.
The region, however, failed to achieve self- sufficiency, exploiting nature's bounty with foresight. Its limited capacity and capability to administer a modern democratic state was further undermined by political turmoil and instability. Those opposed to the constitutional path embarked upon the guerrilla movement with a view to seceding from India. Insurgency ensued and soon acquired a status of its own, because of the presence of mineral resources, in particular oil and gas.
People drawn into insurgencies were reminded of performing the so-called historical role of liberating the region from India. The proximity of the long international borders helped the insurgents to take refuge and enlist help and assistance from forces inimical to India. The difficult hilly terrain, the distance from the state headquarters, the presence of head-hunters and the thin presence of security forces in the hills made contact with people and the region scarce and difficult. The exclusiveness that the British imparted to the region had otherwise denied all exposure to external influences and ideas. In their absence, suspicion and animosity that the hill people nursed towards the people of the plains only got accentuated to create greater misunderstanding and hostility. The alienation and isolation became very serious and deep-rooted.
For its part, the state put security on top of its administrative agenda. The problems of the region were viewed only from the perspective of security. The region was progressively militarised with the focus on larger deployment of troops to contain violence. The functioning of civil society and its institutions and systems got stymied under the jackboots of security forces. With frequent intervention of the latter, the problems became more complicated and serious because neither the armed forces nor the police were trained to deal with the issues connected with the heart and the mind. These required greater sensitivity in the handling by the civil face of the administration. When the security forces failed to contain them, the problems were declared as intractable with security implications. The easier option was adopted to fence off the trouble spots, thus allowing alienation and isolation to fester and turn serious.
The burden of security did not allow the process of growth and development to take roots. No wonder, the region remained pockmarked with poverty, low growth, low income, high dependence on the import of primary products, malgovernance and burgeoning corruption. The profile of poverty differed from that of the plains because the tribal customary arrangements institutionalised with the village and the clan, made provision for supply of food, land and water in the event of people going without these essentials. The village had land set apart and the clan granaries of food to meet these contingencies. Therefore, alleviation of poverty was never accorded a high priority and poverty also never posed questions of life and death. More important and pressing problems were the deeprooted rancour, strife and hatred along tribal lines.
THE approach to the problems remained ad hoc and no worthwhile initiatives were taken to study, understand, and appreciate the psychological nuances of the tribal mind. The "best practices approach" was not used as an instrument to bring about systemic solutions and a better quality of life. The security and political issues got precedence over the socio-economic needs. The issues affecting the people were addressed in sequence, and not simultaneously with security accorded primacy. Policies were geared to issues and not the people. No wonder the policies failed to touch human lives and create bonding and equity. The people remained passive onlookers and not partners in building their destiny.
This security-centred approach did not allow an interplay of politics, economics and governance. There were major gaps between what was considered to be economically sound and what was deemed to be politically feasible. There was a big mismatch too between the macro-economic policies and actual needs of the people. No broad consensus emerged across the political spectrum on objectives, means, instruments, and the ends of politics. Indeed, politics and governance were controlled by the requirements of special interest groups .The latter did not show much inclination to subordinate their interests to the State. The sole objective was to feather their own nests under the patronage of the party or parties in power. In the net, the lot of the common people did not improve. The limited economic growth did not move in tandem with social development. The benefits were cornered by those closer to power and privilege. A traditionally classless society turned into one of "haves" and "have-nots". This damaged the social fabric and aggravated internal fissures.
(To be concluded)The writer is former Director, Intelligence Bureau, Government of India, and former Governor of Nagaland
WITH NO RESPECT
The Constitution allows for the nomination of 12 members to the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) by the president. It adds the qualification that persons so nominated should have special knowledge or practical experience in literature, science, art and social service. The founding fathers of the Constitution introduced the nomination clause to elevate to the Council of States men and women who have achieved eminence in areas far away from politics. The intention clearly was to draw in non-political persons of standing to debates concerning the making of national policies. Such men and women would not be honoured by being nominated to the Rajya Sabha; rather their presence would bestow honour upon the Upper House. Significantly, the Constitution makes no provisions for politicians who failed to get themselves elected to either the Rajya Sabha or the Lok Sabha. In the early years of the Indian Parliament, the spirit and the intention of this clause was upheld. Subsequently, it has been more honoured in the breach.
The clutch of nominations announced last week includes the name of a person who, as an active politician, failed to win a seat in the last elections to the Lok Sabha. His party the Congress did not offer him a ticket to come to the Rajya Sabha. His closeness to a former prime minister should not count in the consideration of a presidential nomination. The argument that on previous occasions politicians have been similarly nominated is nonsensical, since innumerable wrongs do not make a right. To be honest, there is hardly anyone in the latest list who deserves the nomination. The government, by sponsoring such nominations, is eroding the august character of the Council of States and, what is worse, it is also mocking the Constitution. Nominations of this kind are additions to the long list of instances that go to show how in India those very people who are supposed to champion and safeguard the value of institutions act decisively to erode their value. The demeaning of Parliament, its codes and conventions, is an unseemly aspect of Indian public life. The government's attitude to this problem is evident from its utter disregard of the Constitutional provisions regarding the nomination of eminent persons to the Rajya Sabha. The government cannot violate the spirit of the Constitution and expect to retain respect.
Girija Prasad Koirala tried different things for nearly 50 years to change society and politics in Nepal. His long and many battles against an anachronistic monarchy included even attempts at an armed rebellion. But he eventually convinced himself, and the majority of the Nepalese people, that peace and democracy offered the best hope for a new order. If the monarchy in Nepal is now history, and democracy, however fragile, is the new order, it is largely due to Koirala's lifelong struggle against the monarchy and the feudal institutions it nurtured. Of course, he had notable predecessors in men like his own brother, Bishweshwar Prasad, Ganesh Man Singh and Pushpa Lal Shrestha, the founder of the first communist party in Nepal. His own stints as prime minister may have been marred by corruption, scandals and administrative inefficiency. It is not uncommon for a fledgling democracy to face critical tests and even threats to its survival. There were far too many vested interests in the Nepalese society to make it a smooth transition for the young democracy. Even a constitutional monarchy had enough powers to make things difficult for a democratic ruler. The assassination of King Birendra and his family in 2001, and the dismissal of the elected government by King Gyanendra in 2005, proved this.
Koirala's death presents even greater challenges for Nepal's new democracy. His status as an elder statesman proved invaluable in uniting the country's democratic parties and the Maoists, first against King Gyanendra's autocratic rule, and then for the peace process that ended the Maoists' 13-year-long armed rebellion. The Maoists' activities since then have strengthened suspicions about their commitment to peace and multi-party democracy. The elections to the interim parliament have thrown up the Maoists as the biggest political force in the country. But their positions on a new constitution and a federal structure for Nepal have unleashed new hostilities instead of ending old ones. The future of Nepal's young democracy is now threatened more by the Maoists than by diehard monarchists. Koirala's own party, the Nepali Congress, has always had a moderate, centrist approach to politics. It now faces a new test of carrying forward his democratic legacy. It is a test that the party cannot afford to fail because the alternative is a Maoist takeover of the country.
MOBILITY IN CALCUTTA
TOO MANY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRANSPORT HAVE FAILED IN INDIA
WRITING ON THE WALL - ASHOK V. DESAI
Calcutta has some beautiful spaces. The central court of the Oberoi Grand and the atrium of the Taj Bengal come readily to mind. So when I come to Calcutta, I try and spend my time in such welcoming environments, and as little as possible on the streets. The streets are a battleground for a peculiar genre of warfare, in which people and vehicles advance aggressively at one another only to avoid collision at the last minute. There are collisions once in a while; more often, there are collisions of tempers. But most of the time everyone takes it very coolly. For this I admire Calcuttans, but however much I tried, I could never be so good at the game as they are, so I retire before I get hurt.
Congestion is nearly as great in the business centres of Europe, except for certain forms of transport that are to be found only in India, such as rickshaws. Rickshaws and trams made the conjunctions more complicated in Calcutta. But for better or worse, foot rickshaws have been largely removed from the main roads, although one or two still occasionally mingle with buses and trucks when their runners think no policeman is around. With their passing, Calcutta has come closer to being a modern metropolitan city. Trams still pass, but they have become much rarer. The few still on the roads are decrepit, so at last they are looking like authentic museum pieces.
There is one respect in which Calcutta still differs from other cities, even Indian ones: it has fewer traffic lights. So there are crossings where one still sees the primordial chaos in its full glory, observes the triumph of unpredictability. Even where there are traffic lights, there is a big difference between Calcutta and other cities: humans carry on crossing activity as if traffic lights did not exist. Since touching a human is taboo, other vehicles are reduced to tooting; whenever the traffic light changes, there is a loud chorus of toots from drivers trying to clear the foot or two in front of their vehicles.
But then, traffic lights are outdated, 19th-century technology; the latest thing is bridges. Delhi leads in them. At one place in the bed of river Jumna, it has built a bridge factory; it casts long cement blocks. When a junction is to be cleared of traffic lights, engineers dig foundations, weld together reinforcing, and pour cement to make base columns. Then they bring readymade cement blocks out of the factory, lay them between the columns, and pour a layer of tar. Voilà! You have an overbridge. By now there are over a hundred, and a dozen are probably being built at any time.
One consequence of this proliferation of bridges is the disappearance of pedestrians. Delhi was always rather sparse in pedestrians. Buses have always been plentiful, and the long distances persuaded people to jump into a bus rather than walk. But even walking is better than trudging up a bridge along a narrow pavement while dangerous vehicles run within inches; so pedestrians have taken even more to buses.
Since buses did not solve the problem, planners looked abroad again. They went to European cities like Berlin, and found that traffic moved smoothly there. The reason is that there are few cars on the roads. Everyone has a car, but everyone leaves the car at home; it is used only to go on holidays or to drive into the countryside over the weekend. They go to work by train; metros have become the norm in Europe.
So increasingly, planners in India are taking to trains. The metro started in the north of Delhi, the habitat of traders and the poor; the south, where the wealthy reside, was little affected. But now it is spreading south towards the airport and east into Noida; and while it spreads there, it has turned roads into obstacle races. So where they can, even the rich are taking to the metro, which is fast, light and cheerful. Where they cannot, they either sit for hours in traffic jams, or they just stay at home. Calcutta Metro was better planned; most of it is underground. So although it is getting a bit old, it runs fairly well, and it disturbs the rest of the traffic little.
All over India, the public authorities thought they were going to solve traffic problems with bridges. But they did not. Then they thought of solving the problems with trains, and they did not. Now they have to think again. Where might they go next? I think they will go to Japan. Japan is a very congested country; and it is rich richest next only to the United States of America. To make cars compatible with the city, they have built elevated highways in Tokyo which traverse the whole city. The result is that although the airport is some 40 miles away, one can reach one's hotel, even in the oldest and most congested parts of Tokyo, in less than an hour. The future lies in double-story roads the upper story for fast vehicles, and the lower story for all other kinds of lower life, including humans.
This sounds rather inhuman; for those who care for humans, there is the Latin solution. A number of Latin American cities, starting with Bogotá, have constructed what are essentially dedicated busways. They are like the old tram tracks, except that there are no rails; instead, there are high-capacity, articulated, luxury buses. They are a good way of persuading people to move away from cars; they may be a good solution for many American cities. Delhi experimented with them, but did not go far. They work well when the dedicated busways range over long distances. Delhi simply has not the road capacity to dedicate it to busways; other Indian cities have even less.
After all these failed experiments, do Indian cities have a chance? Maybe Calcutta does. It has so many waterways; whichever way I go in Calcutta, I am likely to come across one within a couple of kilometres. Today, the waterways are dirty drains, along which stretch slums. But at one time they must have been streams or canals; they can still become waterways. All one has to do is to fill them with flowing water; it should not be difficult in Calcutta, which has plenty of water around it. Water has the advantage that humans cannot walk on it. So the uncontrollable confusion of human with vehicular traffic that afflicts Calcutta is unlikely on waterways. The embankments could be planted with flowering plants. Old men would sit on the embankments and catch fish; their leisuretime activity could replace the fish being imported now from Bangladesh and other places. Waterbus stations could be built with restaurants and shops; families could repair in evenings to the nearest bus ghat and have some fun. And once Calcuttans rediscover the beauty of water, they will look again at all the water close to them, and begin to use it for work and recreation. There was a time when the Hooghly was the lifeline of Calcutta. Let this river be supplemented by a thousand liquid lifelines crisscrossing Calcutta.
The list of presidential nominees to the Upper House (announced last week), intended for people celebrated in the realm of arts and literature and in non-government and non-political activism in the best possible definition of the word, has introduced a Congress politician. Elected candidates find their place in the Lok Sabha, and the Rajya Sabha accommodates all those who fail to win an election but need to be nominated parliamentarians if they are to hold rank and office in the Central cabinet or in other such bodies. The president's list of nominations, on the other hand, saluted professionals like Shyam Benegal, Kapila Vatsyayan, and such stalwarts before them.This time, however, we have a Congress politician who should have entered the Rajya Sabha through the good offices of his party and not via this special dispensation. We also have a husband whose wife was a member during the tenure of an earlier president via the same dispensation. Then we have the head of a national institution that should have been India's most prestigious for advanced studies, but is, alas, lying in neglect, and which the concerned nominated member failed to put on a fast-track trajectory that would ensure its revival. Why do we always end up corroding good practice and destroying the fundamental values and intellectual ethics that govern our institutions? At whose behest and by what procedures are these feeble but expensive sinecures handed out to retired candidates who need to be 'placed' somewhere? How does it all work? Lobbying for these plums and peaches, and other handouts like the Padma awards or the presidential nominations to the Rajya Sabha has radically diluted these 'awards for meritorious work' meant for those in spheres other than politics and babugiri.
LOST THE PLOT
Are we becoming a rather careless mess? Do we need to reassess norms, procedures and delivery mechanisms in an effort to restore some dignity into the manner in which we use the 'system'? Misuse has been rampant for so long that we have forgotten what is right and what is wrong. A 'free for all', regardless of rules, has taken precedence, and needs to be dislodged urgently. We have damaged our legacy, abused our tried-and-tested traditions, abdicated our fine culture and their complex nuances that have withstood the ravages of alien intervention, and adjusted ourselves with changing times over centuries, all for short-term self-aggrandizement and personal survival. Where this civilization nurtured excellence and passed philosophies, expertise, skills and more down the generations, and secured a profound sensibility, both intellectual and aesthetic, modern, democratic India has adulterated the values intrinsic to us as a people and watered down the best we have to offer our fellow citizens and those of the larger world.
We honour those who kow-tow and are no challenge. We pay tribute to the mediocre, and never applaud the best and the brightest. We encourage sychophancy, not spirited individualism. We explain away all that has been degraded by passing the buck. We are ruled by an administration that has surrendered to easy, untenable options. We elect a political class to power which acts without any commitment to the people. We cannot bear to see our professional peers achieve great heights. We manipulate to pull them down by any means. We have forgotten how to pay homage to achievers and risk-takers. We have failed to recognize the courageous and the honest. We have lost the plot.
It is shameful how our members of parliament behave in the House when in disgreement. If these are the actions of our leaders, how can we except dignity to enter the public domain? It is for the party leaders to baulk this unacceptable trend. They are responsible and must be made accountable.
NO TIME TO DREAM OF THE PAST
THE LEFT FRONT GOVERNMENT MUST UNDERGO A THOROUGH IMAGE MAKEOVER IF IT WANTS TO RETAIN POWER IN WEST BENGAL, WRITES SHYAMAL DATTA
The recent 'State-sponsored' rally of the Left Front government at the Brigade Parade Grounds was impressive. It sounded the bugle for the march to retaining power for another term and also marked the conclusion of the central committee meeting of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Calcutta.
The committee had earlier deliberated on the contents of the rectification report prepared by the state unit, following the drubbing of the Left Front, led by the CPI(M), in the Lok Sabha elections last year. The report took cognizance of the growing incidence of bourgeoisie vices among the rank and file. Over the years, the revolutionary fervour got dented, and ideological impurities crept in at all levels. There was a greater hunger for power, lavish lifestyle and corruption. This showed that the committees at the grass-roots level have failed to detect and deal with the aberrations. Even the control commissions at the state and Central levels did not succeed much in this regard.
The committee drew some satisfaction from the assessment of the state unit that signs of a turnaround are visible. This was manifest in the emotional send-off that the party patriarch received from the people during his last journey. The Brigade rally hummed with snatches of speeches by Jyoti Basu. Hundreds of posters, cut-outs and masks painted the ground red as a mark of tribute to the legend. In Basu's death, the party has found a beacon of hope to revive its electoral fortune. The crowd at the rally roared that the party was sure to return to power under the able leadership of the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, whose eyes were, reportedly, moistened.
The rally unfurled the electoral strategy of the Left Front in its broad contours.The focus will be on the forthcoming elections to the 83 civic bodies, including the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. The Front, and the CPI(M) in particular, consider a victory in an overwhelming number of municipal bodies to be an absolute must. It would not only help retrieve ground lost in the panchayat and parliamentary elections, but also to restore the morale of the workers and leaders. The command over the civic bodies would help the campaigning for the assembly elections gather momentum. It would also demonstrate that the party's influence in urban areas has remained formidable, that there is nothing much to worry about.
The seriousness that the Marxists attach to the municipal and assembly elections is clear from the decision of the central leadership to postpone the 20th party congress by a year from 2011 to 2012 a step that is out of routine. The leadership wants the focus to remain entirely on electoral triumph to retain power in Kerala and West Bengal respectively. The party must go all out to deliver on the rectification committee recommendations on a war-footing. It must improve its image by bringing itself closer to the people. Frank admission of mistakes and expression of regret for the same will be in order. The rectification campaign should be carried forward to keep the house in order, election or no election, so that the party could measure up to the expectations of the people. After the municipal elections, the party should undertake a review of its performance and draw up the blueprint of its political tactics.
An important element of the electoral strategy would be to try exploit the inner contradictions in the Opposition, making a distinction between the Congress and the Trinamul Congress. The recent acrimony over the impromptu meeting between Subrata Mukherjee and the Trinamul supremo on sharing of seats in the civic body elections behind the back of the Congress indicated the strains that exist between the allies. The fact that Banerjee was upstaged in the Siliguri municipal elections by the Congress last year is also fresh in mind. The CPI(M)'s objective would be to try frustrate efforts at Opposition unity and engineer a split in the Opposition votes, which have not only remained substantial but also shown a measure of accretion. A division in the Opposition vote bank would be the key to retention of power in the state. In keeping with this, the party should build up a campaign highlighting the alleged high-handedness as well as the anti-Centre and divisive politics of the Trinamul Congress.
The CPI(M) should appreciate the Congress's graciousness of giving a State funeral to a former chief minister. Such grace was lacking in the Trinamul Congress. The Left Front must be also happy with the Centre's support in dealing with the Maoists. Straws in the wind suggest that in the event of a split electoral verdict, the Congress could depend on the support of the CPI(M) from outside, and form the government on its own in the state, if it fell short of the required numbers. After all, the United Progressive Alliance government was formed in 2004 at the Centre with the Left extending outside support.
For a political party, image makeover is not an easy task. It becomes more difficult when the party has to carry the burden of the past, marked by arrogance and inefficiency. For the CPI(M), these infirmities clogged the channel of information, and it developed a denial syndrome, allowing the so-called non-communist vices to continue unabated. The CPI(M) leadership also refused to see the structural drawbacks that festered on account of its failure to maintain a clear distinction between the party and the government, and the government and the State. By holding a rally at the Brigade Parade Grounds, in violation of high court orders, the Left Front has weakened the State. Describing the elite of Calcutta, whom the party 'disempowered', and the rural rich whom the land reforms 'dispossessed', as black forces bent on destabilizing the state, the CPI(M) only transgressed norms of acceptable human conduct.
In every political process, aberrations like the abuse of the State authority for self-aggrandizement are present in varying degrees. The capacity to curb these tendencies gets weakened when the system lacks transparency and accountability. In closed political systems, the flow of information, lacking in integrity and falling short of objectivity, is a recurrent feature. Secrecy and unquestioned decision-making power without any respect for other opinions make the situation worse. Political muscle is built to perpetuate a monopoly on power. The simultaneous need to strengthen the economic muscle for the growth of the state is lost sight of. The party, driven by ideological compulsions, tends to overlook the mind of today's youth, which wants economic, rather than political, enfranchisement.
West Bengal is beset with intractable problems. The party that is able to mobilize people on the plank of humanity is not required to score brownie points on the eve of elections or to opt for reservations for a particular community. Less of the politics of rallies, and violent protests, and more of the politics of work culture and good governance, is called for. The party that is able to appreciate the challenges, adhere to the power of example, not to the example of power, is prepared for a proactive response. The dreams for a better future, not the memories of a legend, are more life-affirming.
The author is former director of the Intelligence Bureau, and the former governor of Nagaland
MORE THAN JUST A DUMPING GROUND
India should rethink its arms acquisition programme
One of the most visibly high-profile and lucrative arms bazaars today happens to be India. The Big Boys of Europe (Russia included) and the United States of America feel happy to see in India a potential market of military equipment worth $50 billion over the next 10 years, and an expected $100 billion in the next 20 years.
The 'mother' of all deals, however, is that for the 126 Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, reportedly worth almost $11 billion. Expectedly, therefore, all top six companies America's Boeing, France's Dassault Aviation SA (Rafale), America's Lockheed Martin Corporation (F-16), Russia's MiG-35, Sweden's Saab JAS-39 Gripen and the EADS's Eurofighter Typhoon are competing with one another to clinch the deal.
One can well guess what is there in store for the one 'victor' and the five 'vanquished' once the government of India chooses the type of aircraft for its air force from amongst the six players vying for the deal. There is every possibility of the closure of those plants that fail to get the Indian order, as conventional military hardware markets all over the world have shrunk dramatically. But India being a compulsive big-ticket buyer, all foreign sellers of fighters are camping in New Delhi to woo the potential mega customer.
Perhaps the smartest seller so far has been America's Boeing Company. Reportedly, the Boeing is to reinvest $640 million in India as part of its offset obligations. But many questions remain unanswered will the Boeing's planned investment upgrade indigenous technology? Or will Boeing remain content with asking Indian entrepreneurs to manufacture and copy a few non-technical and non-sensitive inventories such as the fuselage, doors, windows, galleys and tyres? One is not too sure as yet because if Barack Obama's recent utterances are to be considered, "outsourcing" is anathema to him. And offset programmes of the government of India might be interpreted by American hardliners as outsourcing.
Boeing, however, was reportedly always "confident of securing export orders and the US Navy had sought international partners to share development of P-8A." American companies (especially Boeing), consider India to be an important market "We are here for the long haul," declared an official of the company.
From India's perspective, however, some puzzles remain. Serious defects had occurred and recurred in the F/A-18 Super Hornet programme. This spells trouble both for India and the USA. If a high-tech aircraft sold to India is found defective, then India which has till date never produced the likes of F-4, F-5, F-15, F-16, F-18, F-22 and F-35 certainly cannot be expected to repair or replace an aircraft that even the Americans today find hard to maintain.It might be useful for India to emulate the Chinese in this regard "Give us the latest technology first, then only we will take your hardware." India must get the best stuff for itself, and should not be used as a dumping ground for obsolete technology.
The Union defence minister, A.K. Antony, constantly harps on the "need of high level of indigenisation in defence sector". One-way traffic of sale and purchase could be transformed into 'cooperate and produce' between equal partners. The existing imbalance has led to inequalities in India's arms acquisition programme. Choose the best and chase the quality.
"DECENTRALISED REGULATION IS THE BEST WAY."
The Union government's proposal to set up a Financial Stability and Development Council "to strengthen and institutionalise the mechanism of maintaining financial stability" has not been widely welcomed. The idea was put forward by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee in his budget speech last month and government officials have indicated that the body might be set up next month. It will have the responsibility to monitor the 'micro-prudential' regulation of the economy and address inter-regulatory co-ordination issues. There is the need for better co-ordination between the regulatory bodies in different areas, like the RBI in banking, the SEBI in the area of securities, the IRDA in insurance, etc. There is already a high-level co-ordination body for this which admittedly has not functioned effectively. But the answer is not to have a super regulator with a full time secretariat which will constrain the functioning of autonomous bodies like the RBI.
The effective role of the RBI in guiding the economy through the recent turbulent times is well-known. It has in the past also been known for judging correctly the problems in the financial system and taking timely remedial measures. Other regulatory bodies have also functioned well in their own areas. The formation of another body to oversee their work dilutes their independence and autonomy. Their sense of accountability will also be affected when they know that there is another body watching over them. They will also be slower to respond to situations which call for their intervention. The financial sector has become so complex and varied that decentralised regulation is the best way to maintain its health. Unification of regulatory authorities has not worked well in other countries too.
The proposal to have the union finance minister as the head of the proposed council makes it more problematic. Regulatory authorities like the RBI have functioned to a large extent independently of the government. It is not advisable to have the finance minister at the head of a body that seeks to co-ordinate the actions of autonomous regulatory bodies. It might even lead to the introduction of a political element in their functioning. Mukherjee has sought to allay these fears but his assurance is not convincing. There have been problems of jurisdiction and turf battles between regulatory bodies. They can be solved or avoided if there are better mechanisms of interaction between them.
"HE WILL BE CREDITED WITH BRINGING PEACE TO NEPAL."
With the death of Girija Prasad Koirala, Nepal, indeed South Asia, has lost an important icon of democracy. Koirala entered public life in the 1940s and in the decades that followed he struggled against several autocratic regimes, even spending long terms in prison in the cause of establishing democracy in Nepal. It was under his leadership that the 1990 Jana Andolan successfully ended Panchayat rule, pushed the monarchy to introduce political reforms. He served as prime minister for four terms, the most recent being April 2006 to August 2008. Koirala will be remembered not just for his contribution to establishing democracy in Nepal but also for bringing the Maoists to the negotiating table and brokering the peace process that ended a decade-long civil war. Despite deteriorating health he was working to break the current political deadlock by keeping lines of communication open with the Maoists.
Despite his commitment to building democracy in Nepal, Koirala was often criticised for his authoritarian personal style of functioning and for promoting his family members in politics. His daughter Sujata, who is deputy prime minister and foreign minister in the present government, was his biggest weakness. It does seem that he was willing to fritter away his legacy for the sake of their political ambitions. Koirala was often vilified as a power-monger, who did not hesitate to dismantle governments led by his party if he was not at the helm. Many of his critics have accused him of compromising on principles. However, the compromises he made were often in the nature of pragmatism rather than an abandonment of values. For instance, his anti-communist political beliefs did not stand in the way of joining hands with the mainstream-left parties to negotiate with the Maoists for the sake of peace.
Koirala has departed at a critical juncture in Nepal's contemporary history. A deadline for writing a new constitution is a couple of months away. The gap between the government and the Maoists on key issues is wide and it does seem that the deadline will not be met. The possibility of the peace process unraveling is growing by the day. Koirala's skills in consensus building will be sorely missed.
ONE MORE NAIL
PAKISTAN, WHICH IS IN CONSTANT DENIAL, MUST BE CONFRONTED WITH THE NEW HEADLEY REVELATIONS AND ITS OWN DIVERSIONARY FORAYS.
BY B G VERGHESE
Pakistan has become such a fig-leaf artist that nothing appears to shame it. So perhaps the confessions of David Coleman Headley, the self-indicted American of Pakistani origin who helped the Lasher-e-Toiba plan and execute the deadly Mumbai attack on 26/11, may only add 'literature' to the shelves of all the many literary giants that rule Pakistan today. However, India and the world will not be satisfied by such denial.
Pakistan's lies have been nailed over and over again but it is able literally to get away with murder because it remains a crucial frontline state for the Americans in Afghanistan. Headley, who reconnoitered the targeted sites in Mumbai, has confessed to the existence of LeT training camps, which he visited in 2008, and to consorting with LeT members training to assault Mumbai and their handlers in Pakistan.
A quote from his plea bargain confession before a Chicago court on March 19, 2010, says it all: "Beginning no later than in or about late 2005 (the Musharraf era),and continuing through on or about October 3, 2009 (the Kyani-Gilani era), at Chicago and elsewhere within and without the jurisdiction of the United States, defendant conspired with Lashkar members A, B, C and D, and others, to commit acts outside the United States... namely, murder and maiming in connection with attacks carried out by the Lashkar in India". The dates are revealing.
Headley was a double agent, working for the US Drug Enforcement Agency, who had been arrested earlier and then let off the hook on condition that he went back to Pakistan and fed Washington with information about the terror network and drug mafia in that country. Yet India was not kept informed until much later and even after 26/11 when Headley was back in India reconnoitering more sites for the Lashkar. This was duplicitous, despite whatever information has been vouchsafed.
It is in line with the long rope earlier given to the notorious A Q Khan whom the US allowed to proliferate to and receive nuclear technology and material variously from China and Korea, and to negotiate with Iran, Libya and even Osama agents after he had been caught red handed by Dutch intelligence only to be let off by the CIA. In both cases the primary victim has been India.
India has been promised Headley's testimony through interviews or video-conferencing in the US as part of Indian judicial processes, but he will not be extradited to this country. Whether giving 'testimony' allows for 'interrogation' remains to be seen, though the FBI had full access to Kasab. Possibly the US is worried that Headley he may reveal too much. Whatever be the case, there will be reservations about the US stance and sincerity until the outcome is known.
In a slumber
Pakistan must, however, be confronted with the new Headley revelations and its diversionary forays, asserting Indian mala fides on water and Balochistan-Afghanistan, nailed. India's public communications policy has been abysmal over the years and little spurts of information disclosure is no great triumph. Public information policy not jingoistic propaganda is today a prime instrument of diplomacy, security, national morale and preparedness. It is time the government woke up to this reality.
General David Patraeus of the US central command recently told the Senate armed forces committee in Washington that elements like the LeT are not yet on Pakistan's radar although he had praise for its fight against the al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan. But distinctions have begun to be made as between the good, 'moderate' (read Pakistan) Taliban, with whom it might be possible to do business, and 'radical' Taliban which must be fought to the end.
These are dangerous waters and India has real concerns based on bitter experience that US military aid to Pakistan ultimately goes in substantial measure to support jihad and confront India. The new US-Pakistan strategic dialogue opening in Washington, in which Gen Kayani will be the key Pakistan spokesman, should not be allowed to exacerbate these tendencies, American assurances having been consistently belied in the past.
Meanwhile, the BJP and Left criticism of the fuel price increase announced in the budget must factor in international trends that are beyond domestic control. The opposition cannot demand more expenditures on social and welfare programmes and cavil at efforts to raise resources at the same time.
Equally, the strident opposition to the civil liability for Nuclear Damage Bill is misplaced as being solely dictated by American interests. It is part of an international regime being built through various protocols to encourage investment and technological support for nuclear power development. This should not be stalled by fears of unlimited liability in case of a nuclear mishap. Victims will be more swiftly compensated through a limited vendor liability, an international compensation fund and insurance. Let not the country shoot itself in the foot.
The BJP and Left are threatening cut-motions on these issues during the Finance Bill. The blackmailing tactics of the SP, RJD and Trinamool Congress must be resisted. If the UPA falls, no other coalition will be able to form a government. So let the bluff be called and fresh elections held. The electorate will know whom to punish.
LOHIA'S LEGACY IN KARNATAKA
DESPITE ITS LIMITED ELECTORAL CAREER, LOHIAITE POLITICS HAD TREMENDOUS IMPACT ON MAINSTREAM POLITICS.
BY CHANDAN GOWDA
Ram Manohar Lohia, whose birth centenary is being observed today (March 23), can be credited with infusing his robustly original democratic ideals in the minds of some of the most creative individuals in Karnataka: The ideals of caste equality, the virtues of economic democracy and a decentralised administration, the 'equal irrelevance' of capitalism and communism and the political necessity of de-privileging the English language in short, the ideas with which Lohia tried to evolve a model of Indian socialism, informed the activist consciousness among many influential politicians, social activists, intellectuals and artists in Karnataka for over five decades.
Lohia is not only intimately linked with his brief, but also dramatic involvement with the Kagodu farmers' satyagraha in Karnataka. Between mid-April and August, 1951, the landless tenants rebelled against the landlords over the terms of tenancy at Kagodu, a village in Sagar taluk of Shimoga district. Lohia joined the satyagrahis on June 14, 1951. He was arrested and sent to a jail in Bangalore for a short period. His association with this protest gave it a countrywide fame.
The Kagodu satyagraha later brought political gains for Lohia's Socialist Party (SP) in Shimoga district. This region was to remain the only SP stronghold till the party's demise in the state. Prominent SP politicians like Gopala Gowda, J H Patel, Konandur Lingappa, S Bangarappa and Kagodu Thimmappa were all from here.
Although its electoral career was limited, the Lohiaite socialist politics had tremendous impact on the mainstream politics of the Congress. The 1974 land reforms of Congress chief minister Devraj Urs, which conferred land ownership to the tenants, hijacked the key plank of the Socialist activism in the state. The pro-backward class policies of Urs also owe a debt to the long standing Lohiaite demand for reservations for the backward classes.
Lohia's thoughts had a major influence on the social and literary movements in Karnataka. Inspired by Lohia's 'Angrezi Hatao' campaign, Konandur Lingappa founded the Kannada Yuvajana Sabha (KYS) in Mysore in 1957.
In the mid-1960s, the Samajavadi Yuvajana Sabha (SYS), a forum that grew out of the KYS in Mysore under the leadership of Prof M D Nanjundaswamy and writer Poornachandra Tejaswi, tried to popularise Lohiaite ideals. Nanjundaswamy and Tejaswi compiled and translated passages from Lohia's major works and published them as a short book. In the '70s, SYS activists organised numerous public discussions on, among others, Lohia's passionate ideas of 'jati-vinasha' (destruction of caste), the importance of rejecting the English language, the need for avoiding extravagant marriage ceremonies, etc.
Lohia was an inspiration to farmers' organisations, especially the KRRS, which launched a powerful farmers' movement in the '80s under the leadership of Nanjundaswamy. The KRRS' successful demand for farm loan waiver and its activism against the GATT proposals and the agribusiness MNCs embodied Lohia's socialist ideals.
Two of the three founders of the Dalit Sangharsha Samiti (DSS), B Krishnappa and Devanur Mahadeva had been active Lohiates. Siddalingaiah, the other DSS founder, observed that the Lohiaite influence helped them temper the hostility towards Gandhi among Dalit activists in the state. Their ideological canvas made space for the oppressed among the non-Dalits and allowed them to interact with progressive upper-caste activists.
Lohia left an indelible influence on three of the most charismatic writers of the Navya (modernist) movement in Kannada literature: U R Ananthamurthy, Tejaswi and P Lankesh. All of them were from Shimoga.
While Tejaswi and Lankesh were in open admiration of Lohia's ideals for ending caste through inter-caste marriages and his rational dismissal of religious superstition, Ananthamurthy was skeptical towards the hubris of liberal modernist aspirations for destroying tradition. He even propagated that caste also be seen as a source of knowledge and creative talent.
While Lankesh and Tejaswi liked Lohia's emphasis on the primacy of individual freedom, theatre activist K V subbanna (he translated Lohia's 'Interval During Politics' to Kannada), found virtue in practices of self-sacrifice in the higher interests of the community. Poet Gopalakrishna Adiga's fascination with Toynbee's cyclical theory of history led him to translate Lohia's 'Wheels of History' to Kannada.
Lohia's immense influence on various aspects of Karnataka's life proves, yet again, that the impact of political leaders cannot be measured by their electoral success alone or restricted to their lifetime.
(The writer is an associate professor at National Law School of India)
BOWLED BY YOGA
REGULAR PRACTICE OF YOGA IS HIGHLY INVIGORATING AND REJUVENATING.
BY PRAVEEN MULL
"Amma, you are a changed person. You are not getting angry with me these days," remarked my domestic help of many years. She is absolutely right, I thought to myself. Over the last five years, I have practiced regular, determined and disciplined yoga, and an improvement in my physical and mental health is clearly perceptible.
Much has been written and said about the benefits of yoga, which has undergone a massive revival in India and the West during the past few years. Yoga is now considered highly beneficial for afflictions ranging from asthma to arthritis, and from diabetes to depression.
While performing different Asanas, you use your body, breath and mind to stretch, relax and energise yourself. Regular practice keeps one physically fit, as well as improves and enhances the overall performance and vitality of the body and mind. Inhalation and exhalation during Pranayama fills the lungs with fresh air, raises the internal body temperature, increases the absorption of oxygen and forces out toxins and impurities from the body, leading to vital energy flows.
I would like to share my personal experience with readers. Initially a sceptic like many others, my curiosity and interest in yoga was aroused on hearing true life stories from friends who had benefited from its practice. Why not give it a try, I thought to myself, and began by watching Guru Ramdev's early morning programme on the TV. He explained and demonstrated different Pranayama and Asanas in an explicit, simple and easy manner. Initially, devoting even 15 minutes per day was an effort, as I did not possess either the stamina or the patience. Gradually, I was able to increase the duration to half an hour of Pranayama, followed by another 30 minutes of Asanas.
Regular practice of yoga is highly invigorating and rejuvenating, as it keeps me fresh and energetic throughout the day without any trace of fatigue or lethargy. Chronic pains and aches, insignificant issues which used to fluster me earlier, and pre-flight anxiety pangs are now behind me. The days of tossing and turning at bedtime are over, and I now sleep more soundly than even a new born baby!
Yoga is all about feeling good, experiencing the blood surging through your veins, the energy pulsating through your nerves and the bliss traversing your whole being. Yes, I have made yoga an integral part of my life.
RESPONDING TO RACISTS
Avigdor Lieberman's campaign slogan "no loyalty, no citizenship" keeps popping up in a different context. For example, another Yisrael Beiteinu politician, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, couldn't bear the thought of the cabinet earmarking some NIS 800 million to develop infrastructure and services in the Arab community, so he hastened to pull the campaign slogan out of the racist archive.
"We can't allow the state's financial support for minorities to be handed to a community whose leaders are loyal to Israel's enemies," Misezhnikov said about a plan drafted by Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman.
The plan approved by the cabinet yesterday is a good one, even if too modest for the Arab community's needs. It focuses on creating jobs at a cost of NIS 220 million, upgrading transportation to the tune of NIS 100 million and developing land for building some 15,000 housing units at an investment of NIS 316 million. The state will also invest around NIS 150 million in a program to reduce violence in several Arab towns.
But Misezhnikov and Yisrael Beiteinu, whose ministers voted against the plan, aren't interested in the needs of one-fifth of Israel's population. The minister and his party see the Arab public as a fifth column, active and potential spies, whose sole desire is to bring about the destruction of Israel - their country.
Opinion polls show that at least 72 percent of Arab teenagers see themselves as citizens of Israel and recognize its right to exist as a Jewish state. This does not convince Yisrael Beiteinu, the party that is causing Israel such great damage. When this party's leader, who unfortunately is our foreign minister, said about the Arab minority that "leniency is suicide," we cannot expect a less racist approach from his representatives in the cabinet.
The Arab minority in Israel deserves to have the historic injustice of Israel's discriminatory policy toward it amended in a way that closes the gaps between its living conditions and those of the Jewish majority. It deserves equal opportunities, even if they come appallingly late. The cabinet did well to adopt the development plan and push the Yisrael Beiteinu ministers who objected to it into the dark corner where they belong.
BY YOEL MARCUS
Under the headline "Obama's lost year", New Yorker writer George Packer says in a 12-page piece in the prestigious magazine's March 15 edition that the consensus in Washington is that the president is trying to do too much too soon, and is operating as if he is still on the campaign trail. In the New York Times, columnist David Brooks has warned that Obama overestimates his ability to solve problems and underestimates the public's skepticism toward his efforts.
Despite these critiques, I don't see Brooks' colleague Thomas Friedman calling Obama a "drunk driver" - the words he used to describe Benjamin Netanyahu. For one thing, this highly criticized president has now pushed his health care reform bill through Congress.
From Israel's point of view, American presidents are existential assets, not just politicians whose dignity and integrity can be toyed with. When Bibi sits down to talk with Obama this evening, he has to remember that he is not dealing with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman or MK Eli Aflalo. He has to put all his cards on the table face up and tell the president where he can go and where he cannot. He should not try telling him that his hands are tied by his coalition partners Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas. The administration knows the ins and outs of our politics and is aware that Kadima would be prepared to join a government without those parties.
It would therefore be preferable for Bibi not to say, "I am willing but don't have the majority." He has to disclose his desired destination to Obama and tell him what he needs from the Americans to get there, as well as what he expects the Palestinians to come up with. All this, of course, within a framework of realistic demands.
Obama said after he was elected that you don't have to be a Likud member to support Israel. It's hard for us to swallow a president who doesn't hug us every morning and evening. But he has said explicitly that he is aware of our security issues, although he isn't prepared to accept measures that have to do with Rachel's Tomb and the other tales of heritage that popped up suddenly, as if just to annoy everyone as the proximity talks with the Palestinians draw closer. Obama took Bibi's Bar-Ilan "two-states" speech seriously and can point out that nine months have gone by, yet the expected baby has not materialized.
As Haaretz's correspondent in France, I often met with Eric Rouleau, Le Monde's renowned Middle East affairs commentator. I remember two predictions that he made, one that came true and one that didn't. After the Six-Day War, he forecast that Israel and the Palestinians would never reach an agreement because none of the Arab states would ever agree to Israeli control over Jerusalem. The other prediction was that there could never be peace with Egypt until it defeated Israel on the battlefield at least once. And Sadat, who was called the hamar (jackass) behind his back, Rouleau said, wasn't the hero who would do it. This time, the expert was proved wrong. It was Sadat who launched the Yom Kippur War, restored Egypt's honor and paved the way to peace. The old saying "never say never" was vindicated once again.
Despite arguments with previous administrations, Israel has been building in Jerusalem for 43 years, using the "one dunam after another" method, because there has been silent consent, or "wink and nod" consent, from friendly administrations.
On the day Yitzhak Rabin was murdered, Bill Clinton told him that it was clear that the loan guarantees would have to be cut by whatever was spent on settlements, including those in Jerusalem. That's the kind of conversation that could happen when the U.S. president trusts the Israeli prime minister, as it was with Clinton and Rabin, and with Bush and Sharon and Olmert. When a problem cropped up, they would solve it my mutual understanding and agreement.
Today's administration, to resort to a Yiddish metaphor, won't buy any lokshen (noodles) about what can and cannot be done, what will pass and what won't. The berating we underwent during and after Joe Biden's visit, Gen. David Petraeus' observation that the Israel-Palestinian dispute made things harder for him and Hillary Clinton's harsh remarks all aroused apprehension of a worrying change in the offing.
And it would be correct to assume that they all came down on Bibi precisely because they knew that's what the boss wanted. With the Iranian problem on the horizon and fears of extremists seizing power in Arab states, most of them have an interest in seeing the Israeli-Palestinian dispute resolved.
If Netanyahu stops playing games and comes clean with the president, it could be the beginning of a wonderful friendship.
CUTS FOR THE LITTLE GUYS, AS THE BIG GUYS PARTY
BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
What's circumcision? The little guys are cut and the adults party. The infant screams but can't do anything about it, but the big guys eat, drink and enjoy themselves.
This metaphor is quite relevant to the doctrine of the Israeli economy. The damage is always borne by the little guys, while the big guys continue to party - in many cases, on the backs of the little guys.
Take the banks, for example. Two private bills were recently introduced in the Knesset: One calls for the banks to pay interest on accounts with a positive balance, the other wants to remove all bank fees on private accounts.
The two bills are extreme. Both reflect blatant interference in the way banks do business every day. But both stem from the growing frustration among the people, who feel that they are being taken advantage of, both by excessive fees and deadly interest rates for their overdrafts.
The banks respond that they charge fair prices, on average - but the average is not the problem because there is no such thing as "the public." There are two publics: One comprises the large corporations and the tycoons, and the other includes the middle class and small business owners.
The large companies and the tycoons hold accounts in a number of banks and can move from one to another very quickly, carrying out this or that deal. So the banks compete for their patronage and charge fair prices.
But the middle class and small business owners work only with one bank - that's where they keep their savings and pay their bills. So they are bound to the bank. Note, for example, the amount of money and energy that Bank Mizrahi spends to get "Dvir" to transfer his account to it - as the advertisement goes. Because these are captive clients, the banks charge them maximum fees and murderous interest rates. They can cry about it, but it's the big sharks that laugh.
This is also the case in cellular telephony. Companies charge their individual customer enormous fees. They confuse him with complex plans and an unclear bill, and charge him fees for services he never asked for.
But when the big firms make a deal with the cellular telephone company, the conditions change completely. Suddenly that company is willing to charge only 20 agorot for every minute for a call on its network, and 27 agorot for a call to a different provider. For sending a text message it will make do with 18 agorot. Has an individual customer ever received a similar deal? It's always the little guys who pay above and beyond, and the big guys party at their expense.
This also happens with the investment firms that manage our pension funds. They also think that their management fees are fairly reasonable. But the little client pays the maximum that the law allows at 2 percent, while the big client pays much less.
An employee who makes NIS 20,000 per month on average and puts some of it away in a pension fund for the 37 years he works, in accordance with the law, can save up to NIS 3.7 million at a 4 percent annual return. But he will only receive NIS 2.7 million because 2 percent in management fees takes away NIS 1 million of his savings.
But if someone belongs to a major organization, or is a tycoon who knows how to bargain, he will be charged only 0.5 percent management fees and will have NIS 3.45 million left, not NIS 2.7 million. In this case, too, a bill has been proposed by a few MKs, who want to drastically reduce management fees on pension funds.
What then is the solution? Is it appropriate to support legislation that blatantly interferes with the market? Is the solution in teaching the public to bargain? Should basic economics be taught in high school? Should the regulator ensure that reporting to the public is improved so people can understand what and how much they are paying?
It seems that everything above except the legislation should be done. That should be kept as a final option, because legislation may have negative results. But the banks, cellular telephone companies and investment firms need to know that these bills are like a Sword of Damocles over their heads. If they don't improve their ways, public pressure will produce legislation, and then the people won't be the ones crying and complaining, it will be them.
U.S. ERA OF JEWISH AND EVANGELIST PRESSURE IS OVER
BY TZVIA GREENFIELD
A little more than a year ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed the largest, most wasteful and extreme coalition in Israeli history. Tzipi Livni and Kadima may have won the most votes, but Netanyahu chose to bond with the wackiest, most extreme elements in Israeli society - to ensure Israel's continued hold on the territories and keep a two-state solution at bay.
Netanyahu's belief that occupation and messianism would serve Israel better than rational pragmatism is worrying, but not surprising.
Netanyahu's ideological preferences are known. It is still surprising, however, that once again he has emerged as a failing schlemiel of a politician. He cannot read the new global map and is incapable of evaluating his real chances of surviving as prime minister of a radical right-wing cabinet opposite the new administration in Washington.
In opting against a centrist-pragmatist coalition with Livni, Netanyahu kept moderate people out of his government who could speak in a language acceptable to Barack Obama. This would have saved Netanyahu's cabinet from moments of tension and disagreement with the Americans.
It is clear that to do so he would have had to agree to Livni's demand to reach a final decision regarding the peace process, in order to ensure Israel's legitimate existence as a democratic Jewish state. He would also have had to agree to a rotating premiership with Livni - which would have spared him the shameful surrender to Yisrael Beiteinu and the ultra-Orthodox parties.
But Netanyahu did not accept Livni's terms to join the government and instead got himself into an impossible situation.Now he has thrown Israel into a dangerous, insufferable collision course with the United States and ill apparently have to pay for it with his post.
Netanyahu could have been expected to understand the meaning of Obama's election as U.S. president and to prepare accordingly. Obama was elected without really needing the Jewish vote. He came to power on the back of a clear, enthusiastic agenda to make a fundamental break with all the previous administration's principles.
The era of Jewish and evangelist pressure in America is over, and a renowned Americanologist like Netanyahu should have seen that his lunatic politics would raise strong objections in the United States and endanger Israel and its future.
The writing was on the wall. Livni, who represents the Israeli center, could have conducted a friendly, more moderate dialogue with the Americans, thanks to her credibility and clear support for the two-state principle, unlike Netanyahu's lack of credibility in this arena.
Had Netanyahu really been an adroit statesman, he would have understood immediately that Livni was actually offering him the only way of running Israel in a new world. But Netanyahu did not understand. In his blindness he assumed that in the worst case he could trust the faded magic tricks of Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres. In view of the storm coming from Obama's direction, it is clear that these two cannot divert the lightning.
Washington wants unequivocal progress toward an agreement, and only Livni can do that. Anyone who doesn't see that has failed in a pathetic, worrisome way.
Netanyahu's wretched entanglement with the U.S. administration proves again that his judgment is fundamentally flawed and his political assessments are not merely invalid, but put Israel at risk.
Anyone who can't understand that we will end up bruised in a collision with a tough U.S. administration isn't capable of the simplest reality check and cannot be entrusted with fateful decisions of war. Bibi is dangerous to the Jews.
The writer was a Meretz MK in the 17th Knesset.
WOULD PALESTINIAN STATE STYMIE IRAN'S PLANS?
BY EPHRAIM KAM
David Petraeus is an American general with an impressive record and a great deal of influence in Washington. He can be credited with reducing violence and terror in Iraq, as well as with the blows dealt to Al-Qaida since 2007. He has been the head of U.S. Central Command, responsible for the Middle East, since 2008. People who have met him say he is friendly to Israel.
Last week, testifying before the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Petraeus came up with a significant insight. The hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors, he said, pose a challenge to U.S. interests in the region. This conflict enflames Arab anti-American feelings because the United States is perceived as supporting Israel. Arab rage springing from the Palestinian problem limits the depth of the partnership with governments in the region, weakens the legitimacy of moderate Arab regimes and helps Al-Qaida mobilize support. Therefore, a credible American effort to solve the Arab-Israeli dispute would undermine Iran's militant policies, and progress on the Israeli-Syrian track would disrupt Iranian support for Hezbollah and Hamas.
Petraeus made his remarks during a long presentation on the threats and challenges to the United States in this part of the world. He did not blame Israel for the situation but simply discussed the problem and its repercussions. Petraeus painted a similar picture last year in front of the same panel, without attracting attention. But this time his analysis was seen as part of the pressure that the Obama administration is putting on Israel, as a continuation of the linkage it is trying to create between progress in the peace process and its handling of the Iranian issue.
Basically, it's hard to see how such progress would help block the Iranian nuclear threat. Iran would certainly not give up its goal of achieving a nuclear weapons capability, something that has nothing to do with the Palestinian question. On the contrary, it could well act in the opposite direction: Because Iran opposes peaceful solutions between Israel and the Syrians and Palestinians, it could activate the organizations it controls - Hamas and Hezbollah - to sabotage the peace process.
It's also hard to see how progress on the Palestinian track would lead the moderate Muslim-Arab camp to unite against an Iranian threat, however worried it may be by the prospect of a nuclear Iran. The Arab world is weak and divided, and if it could join forces to operate against Iran it wouldn't wait for progress between Israel and the Palestinians.
Moreover, even optimists do not expect a quick breakthrough on the Palestinian issue. Since the American intelligence community also estimates that technically Iran could make its first nuclear bomb within a year, progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian settlement would not happen soon enough to stop it. Petraeus, too, was not talking about stopping Iran's nuclear program, but about weakening its militant policies. Ultimately, a settlement of the Palestinian question would create a better atmosphere between Israel and the moderate Arab countries, and between them and the United States, and perhaps help somewhat in isolating Iran.
But the Obama administration had better not delude itself. The Arab street does not support America, even in those countries whose governments are friendly with Washington. There are several reasons for this, and the American attitude to Israel and the Palestinian question is only one of them. An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will not solve America's problems with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or Al-Qaida.
The writer is deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
REAL REFORM IN AN ELECTION YEAR
The White House and Democratic leaders in Congress won't have much time to savor their victory on health care reform if they hope to achieve the next big goal: enacting financial regulatory reform before the midterm elections. A year and a half after the country's banking system nearly imploded, it is still operating under the same inadequate rules and regulations.
Unless President Obama throws himself fully into the fight, there is not much chance of pulling this off in an election year, when many lawmakers are more focused on deep-pocketed donors than on the public interest. The House passed a flawed reform bill last year. After months of talks that led to some compromises between Democrats and Republicans, no Republicans voted for the Senate's version when the banking committee passed it on Monday. That bill, too, is flawed, and the banks are lobbying relentlessly to water it down even more. Here are the areas that must be fixed:
PROTECT CONSUMERS The administration has called for an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency, with power to police banks and nonbanks for bad lending in mortgages and other forms of consumer debt. Caving to the lenders, the current Senate bill would instead house the new bureau in the Federal Reserve, a diminution of status at odds with robust regulation.
The proposal does take steps to isolate the bureau from Fed influence, including making the new regulator a presidential appointee. But that is a consolation prize for loss of autonomy, not a guarantee of independence. Mr. Obama will also have to push back against the Senate's proposal to give other regulators the power to veto the agency's rules in certain circumstances. To protect consumers, the new agency must be truly autonomous and have full rule-making and enforcement authority.
REIN IN DERIVATIVES Even bankers couldn't understand these largely unregulated instruments that were supposed to reduce risk, but ended up spreading it throughout the system. The Senate bill would still allow many derivatives to continue to trade outside of transparent and fully regulated exchanges. It also gives regulators too much discretion to exempt derivatives from full regulation. And it continues to block the states from imposing antigambling rules on unregulated derivatives deals, although many are purely speculative.
ENDING TOO BIG TO FAIL The Senate bill contains "resolution authority." Much the same way that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation shuts down failing banks, this authority would allow the government to seize and dismantle bank holding companies and major financial firms like Lehman Brothers or the American International Group if their imminent failure threatens the system. That is a start. But more is needed, including derivatives regulation.
Unless derivatives trading is made vastly more transparent, regulators would be at a loss to understand how derivatives link one troubled firm to other firms. That could make it nearly impossible to determine how seizing a firm would affect the broader system. True reform must also shrink firms that are too big to fail and prevent others from becoming too large and complex.
The Senate proposal instructs regulators to impose higher capital standards, limits on borrowing, and other measures to make it costlier for banks to engage in activities that increase their size and complexity. Those are important safeguards. But the bill punts on the so-called Volcker rule, endorsed by Mr. Obama, which would begin to restrict the size and activities of big banks.
The Senate proposal calls for a six-month study of the rule, followed by a nearly three-year long implementation process. That's needless delay, and the president should call lawmakers on it.
A watered-down bill could be easier to move through the Senate, and certainly would be welcomed by bank lobbyists. But weak reform would be worse than no reform, because it would entrench the status quo under the guise of change.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A few weeks ago, a solution to Greece's debt problems seemed close. The Greeks did their part by adopting a tough new austerity program earlier this month. But Europe has not followed through with the needed guarantee that the money Greece must borrow to pay its bills will be safe from default.
That is a big problem for Greece, and for the European Union, whose reputation for effective coordination is suffering. It also is bad for the United States. The nervous decline of the euro pushes up the dollar, making exports more expensive and slowing America's recovery.
The European Union has been unable to deliver because Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Europe's biggest, richest country, has been unwilling to lead. If Mrs. Merkel does not do so at this week's gathering of European leaders in Brussels, Greece may be forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund instead.
That would deal a damaging blow to the European Union's credibility and would also raise serious questions about the euro's future. Five of the 16 countries that use the euro are now facing serious fiscal difficulties.
Greece does not need, has not asked for, and would not get a bailout loan. But it does need European guarantees
to roll over its loans at affordable interest rates. Greece now pays 6 percent interest, twice the German rate. For its austerity program to work, that rate must drop or debt service will wipe out most of the savings.
German voters, proud of their economic competitiveness, resist the idea of helping Greece, or other troubled countries like Ireland, Italy, Spain or Portugal. But Germany's economic strength is not just built on German hard work and efficiency. It is built on consumer demand elsewhere including its deficit-plagued euro partners. German voters who favor casting Greece and the others adrift seem to miss that connection.
Mrs. Merkel has not slammed the door on a European solution. She says Germany is prepared to support "stability" as long as it does not have to put any money on the table. Greece says it is not seeking bailout money now, just loan guarantees. There is room for a deal, but it will require German leaders to take on parochial domestic opinion for the larger European cause. Mrs. Merkel's predecessors have done that in the past, and the European Union has been stronger for it.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE ONGOING TOLL FROM 9/11
A House subcommittee has finally begun moving vital legislation to provide long-term health care and compensation for thousands of emergency responders, volunteers and community residents left seriously sickened after the World Trade Center terrorist attack. The 25-to-8 vote cut across regional lines an encouraging recognition that the 9/11 attack was an assault on the nation and that its victims still need and deserve the nation's help.
The measure is separate from the $657 million settlement proposed by New York City and lawyers for about 10,000 rescue and cleanup workers claiming damages. That proposal was rejected by the court last week as too little and too confusing. It left the issue to be renegotiated, underlining the need for federal help for the much larger numbers adversely affected by Sept. 11.
As many as 60,000 people suffering from lung cancer and other diseases traced to the clouds of toxic elements that blanketed the neighborhoods around ground zero now receive medical care and monitoring under limited and year-to-year programs. No one is sure how many more will fall ill in years to come. The House bill would set aside $5.1 billion for the initial decade. It also would wisely provide future economic compensation as additional Sept. 11 victims find themselves unable to work because of their illnesses.
The health care legislation is needed more than ever in the city's painfully slow recovery from the attacks. Important votes remain, but Congress must persevere. More than eight years later, for many victims, the nightmare of Sept. 11 is just as real and just as painful today.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BY LAWRENCE DOWNES
A few hundred Tea Party-types clustered on the south end of the Capitol on Sunday, trying to kill health care reform, fouling the crisp spring air with shouts of violence and loathing.
Instead of pitchforks, they hoisted revolting signs. Some showed Barack Obama as a whiteface Joker, and some as Mao and Hitler. The Democrats were traitors and vermin; "government" was an evil beast. "Kill the bill!," the people chanted, cheering House Republicans who came out to the balcony now and then to feel the hate.
The eruption had an underground source, ugly and not always unspoken. A huge spray-painted banner acknowledged it. A ponytailed guy held it up, advising "All Tea Party" on what to do "if u hear a racial slur": step away, point, boo, take the person's picture and post it on the Web.
The ones who had hurled racist and antigay epithets and spat at congressmen earlier in the day were lying low in the late afternoon. Now the crowd screamed, "We want Stupak!" Not to hail Representative Bart Stupak's staunch antiabortion convictions, but to take his head off for supporting the bill.
Kill the bill. It throbbed in the ears, like an infection. I escaped it at the other end of the National Mall, at a rally that far eclipsed the Tea Party in size, hopefulness and decency.
Many tens of thousands of immigrants and allies were pressing for immigration reform. It's an issue for which they have marched and waited, marched and waited their hopes dashed repeatedly. Sunday's rally was a demand for action.
"We've listened quietly. We've asked politely," said Representative Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat. "We've turned the other cheek so many times our heads are spinning."
If anyone has reason to fear government, it is immigrants like those at the rally, which Mr. Obama addressed via a jumbo TV screen. The government has violently invaded their lives, broken into homes, torn parents from children and sent them away to distant prisons. They have law-scoffing sheriffs and brutal employers and unjust laws aiming just at them.
This is a fear the Kill-the-Billers will never know. No matter how darkly they loathe Medicare, unemployment insurance or Social Security, the safety net is theirs for life.
It's usually best to avoid depicting life in black-white contrast. Not this time. Here were two rallies: one good, one loathsome. One hopeful, one paranoid. One trying to repair how Washington works for all America, and one looking to break it so the system can go on failing.
Kill the bill! Sí, se puede! Same beat, different drums. I'll take the one that rings with patience and hope. Sounds more American.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AN ABSENCE OF CLASS
BY BOB HERBERT
Some of the images from the run-up to Sunday's landmark health care vote in the House of Representatives should be seared into the nation's consciousness. We are so far, in so many ways, from being a class act.
A group of lowlifes at a Tea Party rally in Columbus, Ohio, last week taunted and humiliated a man who was sitting on the ground with a sign that said he had Parkinson's disease. The disgusting behavior was captured on a widely circulated videotape. One of the Tea Party protesters leaned over the man and sneered: "If you're looking for a handout, you're in the wrong end of town."
Another threw money at the man, first one bill and then another, and said contemptuously, "I'll pay for this guy. Here you go. Start a pot."
In Washington on Saturday, opponents of the health care legislation spit on a black congressman and shouted racial slurs at two others, including John Lewis, one of the great heroes of the civil rights movement. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, was taunted because he is gay.
At some point, we have to decide as a country that we just can't have this: We can't allow ourselves to remain silent as foaming-at-the-mouth protesters scream the vilest of epithets at members of Congress epithets that The Times will not allow me to repeat here.
It is 2010, which means it is way past time for decent Americans to rise up against this kind of garbage, to fight it aggressively wherever it appears. And it is time for every American of good will to hold the Republican Party accountable for its role in tolerating, shielding and encouraging foul, mean-spirited and bigoted behavior in its ranks and among its strongest supporters.
For decades the G.O.P. has been the party of fear, ignorance and divisiveness. All you have to do is look around to see what it has done to the country. The greatest economic inequality since the Gilded Age was followed by a near-total collapse of the overall economy. As a country, we have a monumental mess on our hands and still the Republicans have nothing to offer in the way of a remedy except more tax cuts for the rich.
This is the party of trickle down and weapons of mass destruction, the party of birthers and death-panel lunatics. This is the party that genuflects at the altar of right-wing talk radio, with its insane, nauseating, nonstop commitment to hatred and bigotry.
Glenn Beck of Fox News has called President Obama a "racist" and asserted that he "has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture."
Mike Huckabee, a former Republican presidential candidate, has said of Mr. Obama's economic policies: "Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff."
The G.O.P. poisons the political atmosphere and then has the gall to complain about an absence of bipartisanship.
The toxic clouds that are the inevitable result of the fear and the bitter conflicts so relentlessly stoked by the
Republican Party think blacks against whites, gays versus straights, and a whole range of folks against immigrants tend to obscure the tremendous damage that the party's policies have inflicted on the country. If people are arguing over immigrants or abortion or whether gays should be allowed to marry, they're not calling the G.O.P. to account for (to take just one example) the horribly destructive policy of cutting taxes while the nation was fighting two wars.
If you're all fired up about Republican-inspired tales of Democrats planning to send grandma to some death chamber, you'll never get to the G.O.P.'s war against the right of ordinary workers to organize and negotiate in their own best interests a war that has diminished living standards for working people for decades.
With a freer hand, the Republicans would have done more damage. George W. Bush tried to undermine Social
Security. John McCain was willing to put Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the Oval Office and thought Phil Gramm would have made a crackerjack Treasury secretary. (For those who may not remember, Mr. Gramm was a deregulation zealot who told us during the presidential campaign that we were suffering from a "mental recession.")
A party that promotes ignorance ("Just say no to global warming") and provides a safe house for bigotry cannot
serve the best interests of our country. Back in the 1960s, John Lewis risked his life and endured savage beatings to secure fundamental rights for black Americans while right-wing Republicans like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were lining up with segregationist Democrats to oppose landmark civil rights legislation.
Since then, the right-wingers have taken over the G.O.P. and Mr. Lewis, now a congressman, must still endure the garbage they have wrought.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE DEMOCRATS REJOICE
BY DAVID BROOKS
Parties come to embody causes. For the past 90 years or so, the Republican Party has, at its best, come to embody the cause of personal freedom and economic dynamism. For a similar period, the Democratic Party has, at its best, come to embody the cause of fairness and family security. Over the past century, they have built a welfare system, brick by brick, to guard against the injuries of fate.
If you grew up, as I did, with a Hubert Humphrey poster on your wall and a tradition of Democratic Party activism in your family, you recognize the Democratic DNA in the content of this bill and in the way it was passed. There was the inevitable fractiousness, the neuroticism, the petty logrolling, but also the basic concern for the vulnerable and the high idealism.
And there was also the faith in the grand liberal project. Democrats protected the unemployed starting with the New Deal, then the old, then the poor. Now, thanks to health care reform, millions of working families will go to bed at night knowing that they are not an illness away from financial ruin.
For apostates like me, watching this bill go through the meat grinder was like watching an old family reunion. One glimpse and you got the whole panoply of what you loved and found annoying about these people.
Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi were fit to play the leading roles. They both embody the two great wings of the party, the high-minded aspirations of the educated class and the machinelike toughness of the party apparatus. Obama and Pelosi both possess the political tenaciousness that you only get if you live for government and believe ruthlessly in its possibilities. They could have scaled back their aspirations at any time but they hung tough.
Members of the Obama-Pelosi team have spent the past year on a wandering, tortuous quest enduring the exasperating pettiness of small-minded members, hostile public opinion, just criticism and gross misinformation, a swarm of cockeyed ideas and the erroneous predictions of people like me who thought the odds were against them. For sheer resilience, they deserve the honor of posterity.
Yet I confess, watching all this, I feel again why I'm no longer spiritually attached to the Democratic Party. The essence of America is energy the vibrancy of the market, the mobility of the people and the disruptive creativity of the entrepreneurs. This vibrancy grew up accidentally, out of a cocktail of religious fervor and material abundance, but it was nurtured by choice. It was nurtured by our founders, who created national capital markets to disrupt the ossifying grip of the agricultural landholders. It was nurtured by 19th-century Republicans who built the railroads and the land-grant colleges to weave free markets across great distances. It was nurtured by Progressives who broke the stultifying grip of the trusts.
Today, America's vigor is challenged on two fronts. First, the country is becoming geriatric. Other nations spend 10 percent or so of their G.D.P. on health care. We spend 17 percent and are predicted to soon spend 20 percent and then 25 percent. This legislation was supposed to end that asphyxiating growth, which will crowd out investments in innovation, education and everything else. It will not.
With the word security engraved on its heart, the Democratic Party is just not structured to cut spending that would enhance health and safety. The party nurtures; it does not say, "No more."
The second biggest threat to America's vibrancy is the exploding federal debt. Again, Democrats can utter the words of fiscal restraint, but they don't feel the passion. This bill is full of gimmicks designed to get a good score from the Congressional Budget Office but not to really balance the budget. Democrats did enough to solve their political problem (not looking fiscally reckless) but not enough to solve the genuine problem.
Nobody knows how this bill will work out. It is an undertaking exponentially more complex than the Iraq war, for example. But to me, it feels like the end of something, not the beginning of something. It feels like the noble completion of the great liberal project to build a comprehensive welfare system.
The task ahead is to save this country from stagnation and fiscal ruin. We know what it will take. We will have to raise a consumption tax. We will have to preserve benefits for the poor and cut them for the middle and upper classes. We will have to invest more in innovation and human capital.
The Democratic Party, as it revealed of itself over the past year, does not seem to be up to that coming challenge (neither is the Republican Party). This country is in the position of a free-spending family careening toward bankruptcy that at the last moment announced that it was giving a gigantic new gift to charity. You admire the act of generosity, but you wish they had sold a few of the Mercedes to pay for it.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
FOR DEMOCRATS, A WIN IS A WIN
BY STANLEY B. GREENBERG
PASSAGE of the new comprehensive health care reform bill by Congress may not be the "game changer" some joyful Democrats are declaring it to be, but it may at least herald a new game for the 2010 midterm elections.
When the president re-engaged on health care four weeks ago making clear his own priorities, inviting Republicans to a forum at Blair House and relentlessly pressing his case against the villainous insurance companies the public noticed. Yet the Republicans were frozen in post-Massachusetts time, still reveling in Scott Brown's surprise victory in the Senate race, which they felt was the result of an arrogant Democratic Party trying to jam an unpopular health care plan down the throats of the American people.
The Republicans handed Senator Brown the party's weekend radio address on March 13. "Rarely have elected leaders been so intent on defying the public will," he warned. In a similar vein, the House minority leader, John Boehner, said last Saturday that, "In a democracy, you can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it." Indeed, voters will have their say in November.
But the evidence shows that people were not sitting still as the politicians went into the final battle. Four of the seven latest major public polls showed an increase in the numbers favoring the health care reform as it was being debated over the last few weeks. Only one showed it losing ground.
While the health care battle over the previous nine months had intensified opposition to reform and fueled the "tea party" revolt, the last two months produced the opposite effect. A poll that I conducted with the Democratic strategist James Carville for Democracy Corps over the past week showed a 5-point increase in the number of self-identified "intense" reform supporters, to 24 percent. Likewise, the Kaiser Family Foundation's latest poll found that 28 percent of respondents were now "strong" supporters, up from 19 percent in January.
Across the public polls, while a literal majority of 50 percent opposed the reform package, the number in favor rose last week to an average of 42 percent. Voters have been watching the two parties and starting to recalibrate in favor of the Democrats, who if one averages polling by the Associated Press; CNN; and NBC/Wall Street Journal now hold a 9-point average advantage on the question of which party would do a better job with health care.
In addition, Republicans may have crossed a line with voters, particularly independents. In our Democracy Corps poll, we found that favorability ratings among independents for incumbent Republican members of Congress had dropped by 11 points in the last month, to just 42 percent. The Republican vote among independents in the Congressional ballot dropped by 12 points.
Why? Independent voters may have been stirred by Senator Jim Bunning's one-man filibuster that stopped work sites and unemployment checks. They may have noticed the Republicans' last stand for the insurance companies, just as one of the largest insurers, WellPoint, raised its rates 39 percent.
As we look to the 2010 midterms, one must not overestimate the role the health care debate will play with voters. The economy remains the dominant concern. On virtually every economic question the prospect of a recovery, job creation and their own finances voters were more pessimistic than a month ago. While Democrats were making headway on health care, they lost ground on the question of who will do a better job on the economy, now trailing Republicans 38 percent to 44 percent.
Still, I believe that the Democrats' winning on health care reform will affect voters' perceptions on a wide range of issues. Competence and progress count. And all the comparisons to the 1994 midterms, indeed a disaster for Democrats, may need revision.
I got to view those elections from inside the White House as President Bill Clinton's pollster, and am not able to forget what others may have forgotten. As the campaign began in earnest, we were just entering a harrowing six-month period for the president, starting with an independent counsel taking up the Whitewater investigation and the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones. That was followed by the ugly defeat of the president's crime bill at the hand of the Democratic majority in the House and the health care fiasco. The voters reasonably came to view the Democrats as arrogant and incapable of governing.
By contrast, Democrats today could easily be at the beginning of a hopeful six-month period, starting with the signing of the health care legislation that will further raise the public profile of the president and the Democratic Congress.
One closing suggestion for President Obama. I worry that he is tempted to talk about how "America waited a hundred years" for this moment, as he did Sunday night, just as Republicans are talking about the dawn of socialism and the Europeanization of America. The health care reform victory was hard politics. The president should learn the bread-and-butter lesson of the last month: focus on telling voters what the insurance companies won't be doing to you any more.
And then, create some jobs that would be a true game changer.
Stanley B. Greenberg is a Democratic pollster and the author of "Dispatches From the War Room: In the Trenches With Five Extraordinary Leaders."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BENEDICT'S FRAGILE CHURCH
BY PETER SCHNEIDER
POPE BENEDICT XVI's strongly worded apology for the child-abuse scandal in Ireland, issued last week, left Germans like myself scratching our heads.
Where is the apology for the abuses in Germany? After all, even as the number of Irish abuse cases mounts, the depth and history of abuse in Germany is just now becoming clear more than 250 cases are known, with more appearing each day. At least 14 priests are under investigation by the authorities.
Though Germany is a secular country and Catholics make up only a third of the population, the scandal has engendered a national debate about religious education, about single-sex institutions and, above all, about the role of celibacy in the Catholic Church.
And while the scandal is not unique to Germany, the current wave of abuse revelations sweeping Europe feels particularly German, because the pope is German: Benedict was once Joseph Ratzinger, the archbishop of Munich and Freising and long a leading voice of conservative German Catholics.
While it's too soon to know for sure how the scandals will affect church membership, rumor has it that the number of resignations by churchgoers in Munich, where the Catholic Church is traditionally strong, has doubled or even tripled in the last month.
Catholics in Bavaria are especially outraged about the case of the priest Peter Hullermann. In 1979, Father Hullermann was accused of abuse in the western German city of Essen; he wasn't convicted, and he was soon brought to Munich, for therapy.
He was allowed to continue working with children, but was soon convicted of abuse and sentenced to 18 months probation. Yet the diocese still allowed him to work with children up until last week, when news of his history forced the church to suspend him.
One almost has the impression that the church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is responsible for cases of sexual abuse, told the dioceses to follow a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Did Archbishop Ratzinger know? His defenders say no. But Germans would like to hear it from the pope himself.
To be fair, there is possible wisdom in Benedict's silence with sex scandals involving priests erupting from Austria to the Netherlands, the situation is too fluid for a definitive papal statement.
And yet Pope Benedict should also recognize how precarious the Catholic Church is in Germany. Like Americans, Germans have already had to cope with a general loss of trust in public institutions. First there were the bankers, with their insane bets and bonuses. Then the politicians, who couldn't stop the bankers. Now there is a loss of trust in the church.
But unlike in America, religion in Germany is already weak. In the former Communist east, only 2 percent of the population go to church on Sunday; in the western states, the number is 8 percent. Some dwindling congregations have had to sell their church buildings.
So far the church is benefiting from the breadth of sexual abuse scandals. Victims are also coming forward from Protestant institutions, from secular boarding schools and elite academies, from children's homes. Many critics argue that any closed institution where male educators have charge of male children runs the risk of sexual abuse.
Conservative Catholic bishops go further, saying that the sexual abuse committed by their priests is a general social problem, traceable not to the church but to the sexualization of society, to the zeitgeist, to the sins of the 1968 generation. The truth, they suggest, was that the evil had struck in all sectors of society. Others have warned of the dangers of a witch hunt, and some have even highlighted a new form of political correctness.
But the figures available so far show that the problem is especially severe in the Catholic Church. Alois Glück, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, has urged consideration of the "church-specific conditions that favor sexual abuse," which many have taken as a call for the church to reconsider the matter of its priests' celibacy.
This is yet another difference between the Irish and American scandals and our own. Ireland and America are deeply religious places; if priestly celibacy is not as well understood there as it once was, it is nevertheless respected.
Germany is not only a secular country, but a sexually liberated one as well. Many Germans find the Vatican's demand of priestly celibacy completely alien, and we recognize it as a historical, rather than holy, tradition, going back to a decree by Pope Benedict VIII in 1022. Indeed, in a poll conducted last week, 87 percent of Germans said that celibacy is no longer appropriate.
It's not hard, then, for us to draw the conclusion fair or not that the church's problems are rooted in celibacy. Much more so than in the United States, the German debate is about the fundamental structure of the Catholic church: Must a person be chaste to exercise the office of a priest? Does this condition not attract sexually disturbed and pedophiliac men, who count on cover and understanding in the bosom of the church?
How Benedict handles the issue in the coming weeks will determine not only how well the German church endures, but whether it can survive in its current form at all. None of the victims has yet sought reparations, but sooner or later, the church will have to offer compensation. The American church has paid $2 billion to abuse victims since 1992; can the German church afford the same?
Peter Schneider is the author of "Eduard's Homecoming." This essay was translated by John Cullen from the German.
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
Parliament, we hear, is planning to strip away the Zia era from history by denying the late military dictator status as a president of Pakistan. Many of us of course share sentiments against Zia they remember him as a man who derailed democracy, played a key role in the hanging of an elected prime minister and initiated the descent into extremism that has today become the biggest scourge of our society. But despite this, we must ask if it is wise to try and eradicate chapters from history or whether this exercise can serve any useful purpose. What has happened cannot change. The frequent attempts through the ages to tamper with history have indeed inflicted a great deal of harm. Through the decades we have seen textbooks re-written to suit the leaders of the time and episodes from our past re-drafted to fit a particular agenda. The Zia years were undoubtedly dark ones. The images of people being flogged, of public hangings, of repression at levels that had not been known before, are not easy to dispel from minds. A generation grew up in such times. The 11 years through which Zia ruled in many ways distorted the nation, turning the country into a new, more frightening place where hatred lurked everywhere. The legacy of the dictator lives on too in our laws, the many amendments made to the Constitution and the attempts to 'Islamise' the country. The legal dichotomy that today confronts us is one outcome of those changes.
The question to ask our parliamentarians though is whether there is anything to be gained by scratching out all this or denying Ziaul Haq a place among the former presidents of Pakistan. Surely it would be wiser to learn from what happened during the years he controlled national affairs, and work out how to undo the influence left behind. The success of Zia in brainwashing people was marked. We need to turn back the bigotry and reintroduce the tolerance that once existed here. And here we notice, with a deep sense of irony, that the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms has so continently shied away from touching any of the provisions rammed into the Constitution by Zia in the name of Islam in order to serve his own twisted notion of religion and satisfy his hunger for power. How does avoiding concrete steps to undo the damage that was done, and still is being done, by what that dictator did help his 'eradication'? A deeper irony can be found in the fact that, not too long ago, another dictator did everything he could to wreak havoc on the institutions and the body politic of this country, just to cling on to power, and then made good his escape, having been presented with the guard of honour. He does not seem to figure in the deliberation of those engaged now in planning to 'erase' Zia. The task of setting right the wrongs done by tyrants and their sycophants cannot be performed by deliberately falling into a state of denial through an exercise in forgetting and erasing, but by remembering, each step along the way, what it was that landed this country in the moral, political and social impasse it faces now. Many expected to back the move in parliament to erase Zia may do their own conscience a favour by remembering their own role in strengthening the yoke of infamy that was the Zia era. This country needs meaningful reform, not meaningless change through removal of portraits. And this requires more thought, commitment and of course character from decision-makers.
I. THE NEWS
There are still those who remember a time when Pakistan was not armed and dangerous, but today seemingly everybody who thinks they are 'a somebody' wants a gun to go with their elevated position. Hardly surprising then that the issuance of licences for prohibited bore weapons is a process that has quickly become corrupted, and led to almost 30,000 fraudulently obtained licences to be issued in a fifteen-month period. The Interior Ministry has now done what it should have done long ago and put its foot down, cancelling the licences issued by corrupt officials. This does nothing to remove the guns from circulation, and we cannot imagine that the police are about to mount an operation for their recovery or that the owners are going to hand them in voluntarily. Even more worrying, the true identity of many of those who obtained fraudulent licences is unknown, and the pool of lethal weaponry swilling around unregulated continues to grow.
There is a strong sense of the stable door being shut once the horse has bolted. An enquiry into the scam has recommended that in future all arms licences must be issued against applications having valid authority, and the recommendation has been accepted. All well and good, but the fraud was committed in part by using a server that bypassed NADRA which is supposed to be the validating authority and if it has been done once it can be done again, there is no such animal as 'foolproof' in Pakistan. It must also be noted that the investigation that gave rise to these disclosures and subsequent official action emanated in part from complaints about the issue of arms licences by parliamentarians. These are the very same parliamentarians who themselves have a quota of licences which they may grant as grace-and-favour to their voters, a practice that has also been abused and put yet more weaponry into the hands of dubious characters. We need to de-weaponise ourselves and the sooner the better. Guns for genuine protection yes, necessary. Guns as badges of social status and machismo? No.
I. THE NEWS
TALKS NOT AN OPTION YET
The recent disclosure by Kai Eide, the former United Nations special envoy to Afghanistan, about his secret contacts with the Taliban received wide publicity and triggered a controversy. The issue being debated is whether the Taliban representatives held meetings with him and other UN officials and if their contacts broke down following the arrest of Mulla Abdul Ghani Biradar and other Afghan Taliban leaders in Pakistan.
If one were to believe the Norwegian diplomat, who until last month was the UN secretary general's special representative in Afghanistan, he managed to open a channel of communication with the Taliban in spring last year and met some of their leaders in Dubai and elsewhere. In fact, he claims that he met the members of the Taliban central Shura, or the Quetta Shura, as it is referred to by western officials and media. He believes that the Taliban supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar had authorised the meetings.
Kai Eide had made a similar claim earlier also when he was still the UN special envoy in Kabul, but his recent statement about the issue was more specific and elaborate. In fact, the statement was issued to complain that Pakistan's decision to arrest the Afghan Taliban leaders had abruptly halted the channel of secret communications that he had built over the past year. He thought Islamabad made the move to take control of the situation in case the US and its allies decided to negotiate with the Taliban. Pakistan rejected the accusation and insisted that the arrests had no link with any talks with the Taliban. The US, too, appeared to be siding with Pakistan as its officials continued to hail the Taliban arrests in Pakistan. Not yet keen on holding dialogue with high-ranking Taliban figures such as Mulla Omar and in the midst of a big military campaign aimed at wresting control of the Taliban-held territory in south-western Afghanistan, the US apparently wasn't bothered by the prospect of Taliban arrests undermining the nascent Afghan peace process.
Twice in two days, the Taliban denied Kai Eide's claim about his secret contacts with the Taliban leadership and termed it baseless. Alleging that it was an effort to create mistrust in Taliban ranks, they reminded that similar false claims were made in the past about Taliban taking part in reconciliation meetings in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Maldives. They also denied the involvement of Mulla Biradar, the deputy Taliban leader now in Pakistan's custody, in talks with UN officials or Afghan government and demanded evidence from those making such claims. The only way to end the Afghan conflict, according to the Taliban, was the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Even if one were to wish so, the Taliban refuse to go away. They have been around as an organised force in Afghanistan since 1994/95 and were able to stage a comeback after suffering defeat and losing power in late 2001 as a result of the US invasion. The efforts by the US-led NATO forces to sustain the Afghan government in power are proving costly in terms of human and material losses. Opposition to the war in Afghanistan is now widespread in the western countries that have deployed their troops there, and bringing the soldiers home has become a popular demand. Talking to the Taliban and trying to negotiate a political solution is increasingly being seen in Kabul, Washington and other western capitals as necessary to supplement the military initiative and stabilise the situation.
However, there is no evidence that any serious initiative has been made to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Even Kai Eide's reported contacts with the Taliban were, in fact, "talks about talks" that had been ongoing for a year or so and were yet to enter the stage of a formal dialogue mandated by the US and other real parties to the conflict. Though the UN's former Afghanistan envoy is claiming that there had been an increase in the intensity of contacts with the Taliban, it is obvious that these talks were still of an exploratory nature. Kai Eide may have kept Kabul and certain western capitals informed about his contacts with the Taliban, but it appears that neither the Taliban nor other major parties to the Afghan conflict were taking these apparently informal contacts seriously. None of the combatants have until now shown any flexibility in their stance towards each other and there isn't much hope that the US and its allies would become involved in meaningful talks with the Taliban any time soon.
Despite Taliban denials, it seems their representatives did maintain contacts with the UN officials and held one or two meetings with Kai Eide. In fact, the Taliban haven't been averse to maintaining contacts with the UN, International Committee of the Red Cross and certain private institutions due to the specific nature of the job performed by these organisations. The name of Muhtasim Agha Jan, the former Taliban finance minister, has been mentioned as someone who held talks with the UN officials. He was reportedly removed from his job as the head of Taliban finances some eight months ago after detection of irregularities in the accounts. He is among the Afghan Taliban leaders now in custody in Pakistan.
The Afghan government, too, has been sending emissaries to contact the Taliban Shura members. As President Hamid Karzai recently mentioned, he has been offering talks to the Taliban for the last three years now. Despite US reservations, he even invited Mulla Omar to come to Kabul for peace talks and offered to guarantee his security. On one occasion, Karzai asked for Mulla Omar's address so that he could go and meet him at his hideout. Mulla Omar's summary rejection of every offer of talks by Karzai hasn't stopped the Afghan president from trying again. However, Karzai's talks offer lacks substance as he has yet to persuade his American benefactors to help create the right conditions for starting a credible peace process. This could only happen if the names of the top Taliban leaders with whom Karzai wants to negotiate are removed from the UN 'blacklist' and all sanctions against them are lifted. The US offers of head-money against Mulla Omar and other Taliban leaders would also need to be withdrawn as part of the confidence building measures.
For obvious reasons, the US doesn't want to let the Taliban off the hook at this stage. Rather, it is applying greater pressure on the Taliban through its military and civilian 'surge' in Afghanistan to weaken them to such an extent that they no longer are able to dictate terms to the US and its NATO allies, and instead, agree to peace talks and a deal on terms dictated by Washington and Kabul. For this reason, President Karzai was allowed to offer 'reintegration' involving money and jobs to low-ranking Taliban commanders and fighters willing to stop fighting. There is no offer of 'reconciliation' at this stage as that would involve talks with the ranking Taliban leaders and could possibly lead to a power-sharing deal. The US-led western strategists don't envisage such a scenario both in the short and long term, as the priority right now is to defeat and evict Taliban from their strongholds and strengthen the Afghan government and security forces in the captured territory to keep the militants out.
The big offensive in Marja in Helmand province involving NATO and Afghan soldiers would be replicated in Kandahar, the Taliban birthplace and spiritual capital, and also in faraway Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan and elsewhere in the militants' strongholds. If Marja is going to be the model for the upcoming NATO-Afghan Army military operations, it cannot inspire much hope as the 15,000 heavily-equipped troops backed by more than 400 jet-fighters and gunship helicopters took almost a month to capture the small market-town and are still neither fully in control nor able to inspire confidence among the insecure populace. With the focus on military operations, it would be naïve to expect any serious initiative by the US and its allies for engaging in talks with the Taliban and finding a political solution to end the Afghan conflict. In such circumstances, the claim by the former UN special envoy Kai Eide about his contacts with the Taliban was, therefore, at best a side-show incapable of achieving anything.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
70 YEARS DOWN THE ROAD
TAJ M KHATTAK
It was a pleasing sight: ordinary Pakistani folks milling around the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore a few days ago with their families and children, as I drove by the monument marking the site where the Lahore Resolution was passed in 1940.
Jinnah had called the session of the All-India Muslim League to discuss the situation arising from Viceroy Lord Linlithgow's declaration the previous autumn on India's entry into World War II, which he had made without consultation with the provincial governments. The Quaid was concerned about the development since it was going to send young Indians (Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh alike) to war. Also on the agenda was an analysis of the defeat of the Muslim League in the general elections of 1937 in some Muslim-minority provinces.
In 1933, Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, had already suggested a name for a future Islamic state in India, in his superbly articulated "Now or Never" pamphlet.
"At this solemn hour in the history of India," he wrote, "when British and Indian statesmen are laying the foundation of a Federal Constitution for that land, we address this appeal to you, in the name of our common heritage, on behalf of our 30 million Muslim brethren who live in Pakistan by which we mean the five Northern units of India, viz: Punjab, North West Frontier Province (Afghan Province), Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan for your sympathy and support in our grim and fateful struggle against political crucifixion and annihilation."
It was issued in the names of Chaudhry Rehmat Ali himself, Mohammad Aslam Khan Khattak, Sheikh Mohammad Sadiq, and Inayatullah Khan of Charsadda.
There are two versions as to how he arrived at this name: according to his friend Abdul Kareem Jabbar, it was during a walk on the bank of the Thames in 1932; his secretary, Miss Frost, said it was during a bus ride on one of London's trademark red double-deckers.
This "appeal to people living in Pakistan" was a tectonic shift from Allama Iqbal's presidential address to the All-India Muslim League in 1930, where he proposed the amalgamation of Muslim-majority states into a single unit, but within the context of undivided India.
The address of welcome at the 1940 Lahore session was read out by Sir Shah Nawaz Mamdot, who bore all the expenses for the event. Liaquat Ali Khan presented the annual report on the state of the League. Sikandar Hayat Khan, then chief minister of Punjab, had drafted the original Lahore Resolution. The resolution, moved by A K Fazlul Huq, the chief minister of undivided Bengal, and seconded by Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman and a few others, was passed unanimously.
It was resolved that "no Constitutional plan would be workable or acceptable to the Muslims unless geographically congruous units are demarcated into regions, which shall be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary. That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority, as in North Western and Eastern zones of India, shall be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign."
According to historian Stanley Wolpert, this was the moment when Jinnah, who until that point had been known as an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, irrevocably converted to the demand for a separate homeland for Indian Muslims.
In 1942, Jinnah observed that "India never was one, was never a nation, never was a country... It is a subcontinent of different nationalities and peoples. It was never governed, in history, by one single power. Even today, when, constitutionally and legally, British are ruling over India, one-third of India is not British. The administrative oneness is entirely the making of the British. The government, which has been in the subcontinent for the last 150-160 years, is not a government with the sanction of the people...It is the sanction of the British bayonets and not the sanction of the people."
Within a year, the principle text of the document, which almost immediately began to be called the "Pakistan Resolution," became part of the Muslim League's constitution. By 1946, it had become the basis of the demand for a separate homeland for Muslims.
The Sind Assembly was the first legislature to pass the Pakistan Resolution, the original text of which is believed to be buried in the foundations of the 60-meters-tall Minar-e-Pakistan on Iqbal Park.
It is extremely painful to hear members from the same assembly now talk of plans to break up the country. What could have gone so drastically wrong?
We all know of one wrong, the way we West Pakistanis treated our East Pakistani brethren as less than our equals. Which was particularly unfortunate since it was A K Fazlul Huq of Bengal who had moved the Lahore Resolution on 23 March, 1940, at what was then called Manto Park.
Much scorn has been heaped on politicians of the "Pakistan na khappay" variety. However, it is a matter worthy of reflection whether or not Punjab, after playing a vanguard role in the movement for getting itself and its Muslim brethren in the smaller provinces rid of the British and the Hindu majority, had then stepped into the shoes of these two forces without even realising that.
Seventy years on, the citizens of the smaller provinces therefore feel that they never really tasted the fruits of freedom in the economic and political sense of the word.
The seven decades since that momentous day have mostly been lost in pipedreams, and we haven't done too well as a nation. Military dictators ruled for over four decades and "people's representative" only came in for brief stints.
The most saddening decline has been in the quality of leadership between then and now. It is about time we had a crop of selfless and devoted leaders like those in the 1940s era and aligned our national compass to the True North. Pakistan was destined to be a lighthouse of hope and aspirations on the rocky and stormy scene of global politics, not a flickering candle in the wind that we seem to have become.
The question contained in Chaudhary Rehmat Ali's pamphlet, "Now or Never: Are We to Live or Perish Forever?" remains as valid today as it was in 1933.
The write is a retired vice admiral and former vice chief of the naval staff. Email: tajkhattak @ymail.com
I. THE NEWS
PAY ME TO FIGHT MY WAR
If the war against terrorism is Pakistan's war (and it most certainly is) then all the investment required to fight the war should come from within Pakistan. Many would argue that it already has. Even head-in-the-sand ostriches in Pakistan's political spectrum would not argue the facts. Over 8,000 innocent civilians and nearly 3,000 military personnel have been martyred in this Pakistani war.
The Pakistani parliament allows its military an unscrutinised budget, which is why it is difficult to estimate the actual cost of this war to Pakistan. In his unabashed enthusiasm for finding more money for parliament to blindly authorise for the military, Ambassador Husain Haqqani has been on record quoting the figure of $50 billion as the price Pakistan has paid in this war. That represents roughly 30 per cent of Pakistan's annual GDP. Perhaps the ambassador has access to budget analysts that other Pakistanis do not. But even head-in-the-sand ostriches in Pakistan's economic spectrum would not argue the facts. This war against terrorism has cost Pakistan's economy -- in terms of both domestic consumption, and foreign direct investment. It has cost the economy dearly.
So in blood and in treasure, Pakistan is fighting a war that is Pakistan's war to fight. When the prolific President Zardari pens op-ed after op-ed essentially attempting to convince western readers that his country owns the war that it is fighting, he is essentially telling the truth. Whether war-weary Pakistanis that mistrust the United States like it or not, terrorism is consuming Pakistani blood, and Pakistani rupees. It is not a matter of choice, the issue of whether this is Pakistan's war or not. It is an imposition upon the Pakistani people by terrorists.
Given that this is Pakistan's war then, the entire notion of the need for a strategic dialogue with the United States seems misplaced and disingenuous. This strategic dialogue, as Richard Holbrooke himself has stated, is about security as much as it is about other things. The Pakistani state makes no secret of its desire to link this dialogue to security, allowing its military chief to convene and interview civilian bureaucrats -- the heads of twelve ministries -- none of whom would have sought the permission of their ministers to go to the General Headquarters of the Pakistan army.
You can either have the cake, or you can eat it. Pakistan's military and political elite have a compulsive disorder in which they want to have the cake, and eat it too. No wonder the system is chock-full of symptoms of indigestion.
Let's look at a small part of the Pakistani 'strategy' for these strategic talks. Pakistan wants $400 million for Munda Dam, it wants $40 million for Gomal Zam Dam, it wants $70 million for the Natural Gas Production & Efficiency Project, it wants $10 million for Satpara Dam, it wants $27 million for the Wind Energy Project in Sindh, it wants $65 million to rehabilitate Mangla Dam, and it wants $35 million to upgrade Warsak Dam. Total cost of this dam wish-list? $647 million.
Of course, if there is a calculator on the desks of any of the over one dozen South Asia and Af-Pak leads within the Obama administration, they could easily respond to these kinds of requests from Pakistan. At roughly $40 million a pop, the still-pending delivery of 18 F-16 aircraft (from 2006) is a deal worth about $720 million. Instead of actually delivering these aircraft in June this year, as it plans to, the US government could tell the Pakistani government that it can choose. Either it can have a bunch of dams that will resolve the energy crisis, and save many hundreds, maybe thousands of lives in hospitals and clinics around the country. Or it can have a bunch of airplanes that are designed to kill people rather indiscriminately (meaning that not all of the victims of Pakistan's F-16s will be terrorists that have been tried and convicted in a court of law).
As a Pakistani, my vote is for the dams. I suspect I wouldn't be alone. But of course, the people of Pakistan don't have very much say in the direction that Pakistan's strategic dialogue takes in Washington DC.
This is where the Obama administration's Unique Selling Proposition (USP) should have kicked in. Largely on the back of an historic advocacy effort, the compelling narrative of Pakistan that Ambassador Haqqani has become renowned for in Washington DC articulates a simple truth. Repeated American support for Pakistan's military leaders, rather than elected civilian leaders, undermines US interests in Pakistan. Under an embassy run by Haqqani, and an administration whose South Asia strategy was written by ex-CIA officer Bruce Riedel (who once called Haqqani a hero of Pakistani democracy), America was supposed to be standing by the Pakistani people, instead of Pakistani generals. The Obama administration's USP in Pakistan was that it was going to be unlike Reagan or Bush, supporting army generals, and unlike Bush Senior or Clinton, ignoring democratic governments. After the wake-up call provided by the election fiasco in Pakistan's co-joined twin brother, Afghanistan, it seems that plan might be on hold. Now, as in previous eras in which Pakistani territory is seen as vital to US interests, the Pakistani military elite are, once again, indispensable.
That is why when faced with the ridiculous dual-faced Pakistani narrative of "this is our war" and "we are fighting your war so give us your money" the Americans have no response other than to delay and defer the payments which Pakistan is legitimately entitled to, while investing in public diplomacy programmes to see if a few adverts and talk shows can't turn the tide of a decidedly cynical Pakistani public opinion.
The proper American response to a strategic dialogue with Pakistan should have been to ask Pakistan to develop an approach to the dialogue on the basis of a robust parliamentary debate. America could then have expected Pakistani parliamentarians, including both the coalition and the opposition, to own the dialogue. That dialogue may not have been qualitatively very different from what is being presented in Washington DC today. This is because of the generic lack of confidence of parliamentarians, and the resulting ownership of the policymaking function by bureaucrats, rather than politicians. Still, such a process would have had the same stamp of legitimacy that Secretary Clinton so desperately seemed to want to invest in when she visited Pakistan last year.
Instead, the agenda for Washington DC has been scripted by the geniuses that presided over eight-years of Gen Musharraf's authoring of history here since 1999. That the chief of army staff is a member of the touring party will perhaps raise a few eyebrows among those interested in the construction of a sustainable democracy.
This is the problem with the construction of a war narrative. Once constructed, we have no choice but to actually back it up with action. People must not be fooled by the smoke and mirrors of "energy, education and health". Those issues are strategically unrelated to the interests of both the US and the Pakistani state. The only instrument of war in Pakistan is the Pakistani military. As much as this is Pakistan's war, it happens to be America's too. You can't demonise a country's military and intelligence services, and then expect them to fight their war, like it was your war. So, of course, the Americans are going to engage with, egg on, subsidise and endorse whatever requirements the Pakistani military has in this Pak-American war against terrorism. This convergence of interests is the exact opposite of a synergetic confluence.
The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He can be reached through his website www.mosharrafzaidi.com
I. THE NEWS
ON ECONOMIC GROWTH
DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
It is well-known that Pakistan witnessed the largest spell of strongest economic growth during 2000-07, as economic growth averaged 5.6 per cent per annum during this period and almost 7.0 per cent in 2002-07. The growth during the later period (2002-07) has been broad-based; large-scale manufacturing, agriculture and services sectors grew at an average rate of 12.4 per cent, 4.7 per cent, and 6.6 per cent per annum, respectively.
In fact, the performance of large-scale manufacturing has been unparalleled in the country's history. When viewed against the average growth rates of 9.9 per cent, 5.5 per cent, 8.2 per cent and 3.6 per cent in the decades of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, the performance of large-scale manufacturing during 2002-07 or even during 2000-07 has been stellar, with growth averaging 12.4 per cent and 11 per cent per annum, respectively.
Instead of acknowledging the facts and moving forward to further strengthening the economy, some professionals or so-called 'experts' particularly the panel of economists led by Dr Hafiz Pasha and the Economic Advisory Group led by Shaukat Tarin took the responsibility of demeaning the good work done during 2000-07. While the rest of the world including the present regime acknowledged the improvements in the economy, the so-called experts continued to distort the facts. Grudgingly, they accepted the fact that the economic growth was strong, but hastily added that the growth was consumption-led instead of production/investment-led. In other words, the growth was not kosher. In this article, I would like to present the facts and would argue that growth in developing countries would necessarily be consumption-led.
To understand as to why growth in developing countries including Pakistan would be consumption-led, I would urge the so-called experts to go back to the basics of national income accounts (NIA) identity where GDP (Y) is the sum of consumption(C), investment (I) and net exports (X-M). The share of consumption (private) in GDP in developing countries would range between 70-75 per cent. In the case of Pakistan it has averaged 72 per cent during 2002-07. Any increase in real private consumption expenditure with weight of over 70 per cent would, by definition, have a dominant impact on real GDP growth. Can anyone deny this? Shouldn't the growth be consumption-led?
Pakistan's economy has undergone a structural shift owing to a strong and sustained economic growth for a reasonably longer period of time which fuelled rapid changes in consumer spending patterns. The real per capita GDP grew at an average rate of almost 5 per cent per annum during the period, thus giving rise to the average income of the people. The pent-up desire to improve living standards encouraged the people to increase consumption expenditure. A more than five-fold increase in workers' remittances eased the liquidity constraints of the recipient households which enhanced their purchasing power, especially in rural areas; it also provided an important hedge against higher domestic inflation; and therefore, influenced their consumption behaviour.
The rise in per capita income and surge in inflows of workers' remittances contributed to the rise in real private consumption expenditure during the period. The real private consumption expenditure grew by an average rate of 5.8 per cent per annum during 2002-07. The consumption boom during the period pointed to the following facts. First, the higher consumer spending feeding back into economic activity provided adequate support to the on-going growth momentum. Second, it suggested the emergence of a strong middle class with more purchasing power which is a healthy sign for business expansion and social transformation.
As pointed out earlier, consumption expenditure with its dominant weight in GDP is bound to contribute the most in real GDP growth. However, for sustaining the longer-term momentum of growth, investment must rise at a faster pace than consumption expenditure. Real investment (gross fixed capital formation) grew at an average rate of 9.5 per cent per annum during 2002-07 as opposed to private consumption expenditure growing by 5.8 per cent per annum during the same period. In fact, real investment grew twice as fast as private consumption expenditure.
Investment-to-GDP ratio (investment rate) also surged during the period rising from 16.8 per cent in 2001-02 to 22.5 percent by 2006-07 an increase of 5.7 percentage points in just five years. In other words, rising consumer spending fed back into economic activity and as a result, the demand for goods started rising. Investors on the other hand, taking advantage of growing demand, expanded their business operation to meet such demand and hence the economy continued to expand. The expanding economy generated jobs, increased the incomes of the people and helped alleviate poverty.
Growth in developing countries would always be consumption-led because of its dominant share in GDP. Private consumption expenditure contributed over 60 per cent to real GDP growth in India during 1951-99. One can find similar contribution from almost all the developing countries. Therefore, what is wrong in consumption-led growth? If people don't consume, why should someone produce? The very act of consumption would encourage private sector to produce more. Thus, consumption-led growth would turn into production/investment-led growth. Take the example of cement production. In 1999, the total capacity to produce cement was 19 million tons, while production was in the range of 9-9.5 million tons. A surge in construction activity resulted in massive demand for cement. Private sector was encouraged and hence it raised the capacity to 43 million tons in a short span of 4-5 years.
I hope the so-called experts would refresh the basics of the NIA identity. I also hope that this would clear the misperception about growth in Pakistan created deliberately by these experts. Instead of wasting time and energy in demeaning the good work done in the past and misguiding the political leadership in general and public in particular, these experts should devote time in taking the economy out of the current mess and provide a helping hand to the newly-appointed advisor on finance.
The writer is director general and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ahkhan@ nbs.edu.pk
I. THE NEWS
WHY PARTIES NEED CHANGE
DR MALEEHA LODHI
The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.
The recent by-elections to National and Provincial Assembly seats have reaffirmed the dominant political position of the country's two major parties: the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). But this reality should be tempered by the recognition that a significant chunk of the electorate did not vote in these polls as indeed in the general elections in 2008. This should worry the two big parties as the nonvoting electorate as much as 56 per cent in 2008 points to a combination of voter disaffection and disinterest in the political process.
From the hard-fought Rawalpindi seat to the electoral contests in Lahore and Jhang, the PML-N won easily in its provincial stronghold with the PPP winning elsewhere. The vote banks of the two major parties are by and large intact. The most dramatic decline has been in the Jamaat-e-Islami's urban influence, as evidenced by its debacle in Lahore.
This reinforces the fact that two parties continue to dominate voting and only they can realistically hope to win office. This is reinforced by the first-past-the-post electoral system. In terms of winning power the political system remains two-party, but in another sense, it is a two-and-a-half-party system. The half does not represent a third national force but indicates the fact that, without support from smaller, mainly regional parties, no single party is able to form a government on the basis of the seats it can win on its own.
Coalition governments have resulted from this reality in 2008, as during much of the Nineties. A look at the vote shares of the two main parties in 2008 is instructive in this regard. The PPP polled 31 per cent of the vote and the PML-N around 20 per cent because Muslim League supporters split their vote (with Q polling more votes), which can be consolidated if the two Leagues unify in the next election.
In seeking support from other parties to form a government at the Centre the PPP, as did the PML-N in Punjab, entered an era of coalition politics. Although the period of PPP-PML-N amity did not last long, the coalition at the national level has obliged different parties to work with one another. This has also enabled the smaller parties to hold the balance of power and enjoy unprecedented leverage in addition to the position they hold in their regional zones of influence.
As governance can no longer be predicated on a go-it-alone approach, this has meant inculcating a habit of working with and accommodating the interests and concerns of other parties. This also implies transcending the "winner take all" mindset by learning to live with one another and not let disagreements produce either gridlock in the system or imposing the will of the majority party on others.
Consensual politics is still a work in progress, but there have been promising developments. The work of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms has seen a remarkable display of democratic give-and-take.
Except for the PPP leader's blundering move to oust the PML-N from Punjab by Governor's Rule which it was forced to reverse parties have generally shown respect for the other's democratic mandate. The national coalition has survived despite internal strains and rifts.
As for a political system dominated by two major parties, its advantages are well known and include the check and balance instituted by two parties alternating in power, each expected to vigorously hold the other to account. This also provides voters with a clear idea about who is the government in waiting.
But if a key advantage is that the two parties offer the public a clear choice in terms of distinct outlooks on issues and policy options, then that doesn't seem to be in evidence here. The choice is more between personalities and political traditions representing different constituencies rather than between discrete sets of policy agendas that people can identify these parties with.
This is a consequence of Pakistan's dominant political culture, in which the major parties are organised around personalities and clan/biradari alignments and oriented to working patronage networks rather than focusing on issues that they define themselves by. As a result, constituency- rather than issue-based politics holds sway.
In terms of issues the PML-N as the government-in-waiting has done little to stake out clear and coherent positions on key challenges facing the country and offer alternative policy to distinguish itself from the People's Party.
The impression this conveys is that other than offering an alternate leadership the PML-N has not yet thought through the kinds of solutions it will apply to resolve the country's many problems. This may not, for now, cost the PML-N votes in relation to the PPP as its Punjab by-election wins show. But it hurts its image and public approval ratings and might ultimately also weaken its electoral strength.
Meanwhile, the large non-voting electorate indicates that significant political ground is not occupied by any party. This might well reflect the view among voters that the two major parties provide too narrow a political choice. What also plays into this sentiment is that the main parties, instead of trying to induct new blood, end up circulating the same elites. This is apparent from their ticketing policies which give precedence to the progeny or kin of traditional elites.
Another more fundamental question is raised by all of this. Are the country's two major parties reflecting and capturing the significant social and economic changes that have occurred in Pakistan over the past two decades, including greater urbanisation, a growing middle class and a society more empowered by the impact of technology?
Recent years have seen the political matrix transformed by greater "connectivity" in society brought about by a number of factors including public access to an unprecedented flow of news and information and opportunities for expression offered by new media platforms. This has expanded the arena for democratic politics and opened possibilities for greater public engagement in politics.
Even if there is contention over the size of the middle class and how to measure it, few will dispute the fact that the middle class has grown in numbers and influence. Political activism by the middle class has already helped to realign national power via the lawyers' movement for an independent judiciary and unleashed popular aspirations for rule-bound governance.
But have parties understood and leveraged the potential for mobilization and participation afforded by all of this? Have they responded to the challenges created by a more politically aware and informed public as well as the need to widen their electoral appeal to the educated middle class?
The PPP has yet to adapt to the higher level of urbanisation, attract members of a more assertive middle class and respond to the socio-economic changes induced by globalisation. Instead, it has preferred to rely on traditional ways of recruiting support and conducting politics. While more representative of urban Pakistan, the PML-N has not sought to represent wider urban aspirations beyond trader-oriented interests. Neither party has set up structures to systematically receive expert advice on issues or inform their platforms with new ideas.
As the main parties are able to muster the votes needed to win office, this seems to have bred complacency and contributed to a degree of stagnation that is an inescapable consequence of the lack of fresh and creative ideas in both parties. Both need to rise above the weight of traditional politics and dial their party clocks to 2010 to be in synch with the shifting state-society dynamic in the country.
They must try to address the sentiment found among a substantial section of the electorate that meaningful and result-oriented political engagement is not available within the framework of the two major parties. In so doing they will not only make themselves more representative and enhance their appeal but also align themselves more closely to changing public aspirations.
I. THE NEWS
MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
The violent riots in Bara Kahu and Faizabab in the outskirts of Islamabad are a strong warning that prices of necessities, which include transport fares, are getting out of reach for the middle and lower-middle classes. Bara Kahu is a part of the Islamabad Capital Territory and Faizabad situated at the other end is a part of Rawalpindi. It serves as the main entry-exit point for the commuters of the Twin Cities and also as a bus station for intercity travel. All traffic from Islamabad to the airport goes through Faizabad Bridge. The rioters succeeded in blocking the airport highway and Murree Road, bringing traffic to a standstill. Islamabad remained cut off for many hours from Rawalpindi, the airport and Murree.
The Islamabad administration was caught sleeping. The major road links between Islamabad-airport and Pindi remained suspended until restored in the late afternoon by security forces. It appears that Islamabad road and air links with rest of the country could easily be cut off or disrupted by a few hundred rioters burning tyres on the roads. Islamabad is a federally administered district. It outweighs the security resources of any other city in the country. Heavy contingents of police and paramilitary forces guard the capital round the clock.
Yet, the Islamabad administration had no idea or a plan on how to control the students clad in white shirts and khaki trousers who were protesting against the hike in transport fares.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has accused people from "outside" Islamabad for creating the mayhem. Does this mean it is illegal for a citizen of Rawalpindi joining a protest march in Islamabad? Had the interior minister stayed a few more minutes on the site, he certainly would have discovered a foreign hand or two behind these riots.
The Bara Kahu and Faizabad violent protests were spearheaded by students. This is ominous. Some other cities have also rioted but their protest was against long periods of load shedding which had forced the closure of factories, rendering many people jobless. In the near future, the rising number of jobless people, students and industrial workers will join hands against the rising prices.
Currently, Pakistan is going through a painful cycle of sharp price hikes. The prices of utility services, petrol and diesel have more than doubled in the last few months. The rise in prices has not been matched by rise in salaries and wages. The middle and lower-middle classes are being pushed below the poverty line. The value of the rupee is consistently shrinking, and falling by the hour. When the price level rises, the purchasing power of the rupee erodes. We are faced with a high rate of inflation. Forget about mutton, poultry and fruit, even vegetables and lentils are now beyond the reach of majority of people.Owners of public-transport vehicles in Islamabad have gone on strike, demanding that any reduction in fares must be matched by equal relief to the transporters. It is a tricky situation. When the fares are raised students and other commuters get angry, when they are reduced the transporters get angry. The question of transport fares cannot be solved piecemeal.
The federal government, which fixes fuel prices, will have to play a major role in finding a formula for transport fares acceptable to all. The government should also consider involving the local governments in owning and running public transport. Even in the most developed and rich countries like the USA it is the municipalities which operate the commuter transport, because it is a public service. Moreover, the administration should encourage buses over the 12-seater wagons, which are a most undignified mode of commuting.
Email: mirjrahman@hotmail .com
AMERICANS STAND-UP AGAINST OBAMA
THOUSANDS of protestors marched through Washington on Saturday to demand an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Similar demonstrations, organized by Act Now to Stop War and Racism, were also held in other cities of the United States, prompting analysts to liken them to a day of demonstrations organized against the conflict in Vietnam in 1969.
Similar protests were also held in the past as well but then President George Bush paid no heed to the voice of the people and continued with the bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But with the passage of time, the severity and anger of the people is increasing and feelings as expressed on Saturday clearly showed that Americans were losing patience with the wrong policies of their Government. That the criticism was directed at President Obama also pointed out that there was sharp decline in his popularity and it is being predicted that in November elections of the Congress the ruling party is destined for a defeat. This is because not only people of the globe but also that of the United States believed that President Obama would live by his commitment for a change. However, the promised change is not so far visible at least in the case of Afghanistan, where, instead of moving towards winding up of the bloody engagement, the United States has increased its troops. There is growing resentment that President Obama has essentially continued the policies of the Bush administration and as pointed out by one of the speakers at the rallies the only difference between Obama and Bush was that of the ability of the former to deliver better speeches than the latter. It is indeed criminal to continue with the bloodshed both in Afghanistan and Iraq on the pretext of war on terror. Iraq has been destroyed and ruined for a reason that never existed possession of weapons of mass destruction while people of Afghanistan are being killed for questionable attacks of 9/11. We believe that there is no other solution of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts than the total and unconditional withdrawal of occupation troops, allowing people of these countries to take care of their destiny. At the most, the UN can be involved for a specified period to create conditions congenial to peace and orderly transition to transfer of authority to people of Afghanistan and Iraq.
THRILLING PAF HIGH MARK EXERCISE
PAF is in the midst of its hi-mark exercise, the thrilling and biggest operational event to validate new concepts in the modern day warfare to defend the motherland. New inductions in the inventory including JF-17 Thunder aircraft, force multipliers Saab-2000 airborne early warning and control aircraft and air to air refueller aircraft are participating in the exercise to ensure efficient coordination and achieve stipulated objectives by exposing the PAF crew to simulated air battles based on contemporary concepts.
The all-important exercise has been tailored to include joint operations with extensive participation by Pakistan Army and Navy over the entire country from Skardu to the Arabian sea. It was essential to test the capability of the Airforce not only to guard the airspace of the country but also fully support the other two arms of the national defence particularly at a time when our enemy is on a massive buying spree to modernize its air force and only on Sunday test fired a new version of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. There is no doubt that the primacy of air power is a decisive factor in shaping the outcome of any conflict. The PAF proved its professional skill and operational superiority during the 1965 war. The hi-mark exercise 2010, one is confident, would test PAF's paramount mission in terms of defensive and offensive operations to be used to deny the numerically superior enemy Air Force. The new state-of-the-art inductions make it imperative that we train hard and prepare well to integrate the new systems professionally and safely. The achievements of PAF leave no doubt that it is immensely capable and, as a team, can set and achieve still higher standards. The PAF on Sunday employed air to air refuelling skill successfully thus attaining another milestone to prove itself second to none. The airborne early warning system would give it added advantage to keep its Falcons in the air in advance and give a telling response to the enemy. Due to financial constraints, Pakistan cannot match the enemy in terms of numbers but our deterrence is through commitment, quality training, vision, planning capacities of the PAF leadership and qualitative upgrades and in these fields we are far superior. While we urge the Government to ensure availability of much needed resources to the vital arm of the national defence, we are confident whatever the obstacles, the PAF will retain is deterrent value by virtue of the professionalism and motivation of its personnel. Whatever the challenges, the PAF will remain Pakistan's shield.
LISTEN TO INDUSTRIALISTS OF SIALKOT
INDUSTRIALISTS of Sialkot have demanded of the Government to extend necessary support to help accelerate the pace of industrial modernization. President of Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry Muhammad Ishaq Butt echoed demands of his community by underscoring formulation of a separate business plan for the city for enhancing productivity and bringing innovation in products.
Sialkot is playing a crucial role in the national economy as it fetches handsome foreign exchange and is known worldwide for producing fine genre export quality products. These include fabrics, garments, clothes and apparel, leather products, surgical goods involving cutting instruments, forceps, and scissors. Apart from this sports goods like soccer balls, footballs, cricket bats and hockey sticks are demanded from manufacturers from Sialkot city of Pakistan due to their presentable attributes. One thing which is peculiar to the city is that its businessmen and industrialists have been working on self-help basis to improve infrastructure and provide civic amenities to the people of the areas. One such example is the construction of an airport, which was need of the hour but the successive governments were unable to listen to the genuine requirements of traders and exporters. As pointed out by the President of the Chamber, the industrial technology has improved the production line worldwide but due to lack of funds and government support our industrial sector lags behind. Every year, the Government announces in the new trade policy different incentives for research and development, innovation, modernization and upgradation but regrettably the impact is not as visible as it should be. Therefore, we would urge the Ministry of Commerce to have interactive sessions with businessmen from Sialkot with a view to formulating a comprehensive plan of action for the purpose. This would surely help boost exports and provide more job opportunities to our young people.
THE DREAM LIVES ON
NEWS & VIEWS
Today is, indeed, the day to rejoice as Pakistan Resolution was passed on 23rd March 1940, which was implemented on 14th August 1947. But it is also the day for introspection, self-accountability and evaluation as to how far we have been able to live up to the ideals set by the founding fathers. Quaid-e-Azam had envisaged a free, progressive, humane, and modern Pakistan, ruled by just laws, where everybody irrespective of religion, colour, creed or cast would be equal before law. Unfortunately, efforts were made to distort his speeches even when he was alive, and vested interest had tried to remove his 11th August 1947 speech before the Constituent Assembly from the record with a view to keep the nation in the dark, as it was the first official version of the Quaid.
In Pakistan, different schools of thought interpret Quaid-i-Azam's speeches to serve their ends, but Quaid-i-Azam had envisioned Pakistan to be a modern progressive state, rooted in the eternal values of Islam, and at the same time responsive to the imperatives of constant change. President Pervez Musharraf, with the concept of enlightened moderation and by persuading the assemblies to pass laws for the empowerment of women and bringing the minorities into mainstream is emulating the Quaid, which his distracters do not like. In his Presidential address at the All India Muslim League session at Delhi on 24th April 1943 he outlined his vision about Pakistan: "I have visited villages; there are millions and millions of our people who hardly get one meal a day. Is this civilization? If that is the idea of Pakistan I would not have it".
In the same speech he said: "A lot of mischief is being created. Is it going to be Islamic Government? The constitution and the government will be what the people will decide". By going through the full text of speeches of the Quaid delivered on 24th April 1943 and 11th August 1947, one could find the guidelines and the parameters within which constitution of Pakistan was to be framed by the representatives of the people. The Quaid while giving reference of Islam and the Holy Book had wished to convey that he stood for an economic system based on true Islamic concept of equality, social justice and categorically stated: "Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state". Those religious parties that had opposed Pakistan wanted to implement their version of Islam which was at variance with the great majority of the Muslims.
Pakistan has all the ingredients to make it a modern progressive state. But where did we go wrong? Unfortunately, Pakistan lost its Quaid and other founding fathers too soon, and conglomerate of privileged few, feudals, bureaucracy and new-rich industrial robber barons devoid of political acumen and vision took over the state. The only redeeming feature is that Pakistan is now an atomic power, and its people and armed forces have the ability and guts to meet any challenge posed by internal and external enemies of Pakistan, and have the capability and the will to defend the integrity of Pakistan. But the problem is that many an element is out to create confusion. Though Pakistan has completed 63 years of its existence, we still are obliged to listen to the debate as to the purpose for which it was created.
In fact, the issue was debated for decades during the struggle for independence, and founding fathers were absolutely clear in their minds about the objectives for attaining an independent state for Muslims of the sub-continent. Quaid-i-Azam was a democrat, and he did not even think of imposing his will on people. When asked about the type of constitution Pakistan would have, he replied that the people's representative would frame the constitution on the basis of guiding principles of Islam. Unfortunately, leaders of the religious parties that had opposed Pakistan were now exploiting masses in the name of religion, and insisted that everybody should accept their interpretation of Islam. In the words of President General Pervez Musharraf, the minority has taken the majority as hostage.
On 14th August 1947, we got rid of the colonialism but became fell a prey to neo-colonialism due to flawed policies of the various governments in the past, and had to depend on the West for our development and defence. The dependency syndrome was evident after 11th September 2001 events when Pakistan was coerced into altering its foreign policy. The internecine conflicts amongst political parties and lust of power of the politicians had resulted in three martial laws in 1958, 1968 and 1977, and another military dispensation in 1999. Unfortunately, the people were not treated any better during the tenures of democratic governments, and it was because of their conflicts that army had moved in. The reason being, degeneration had crept in every stratum of society, but the redeeming feature is that people of Pakistan have not lost hope; their spirit is alive and kicking, and their dream lives on. The question arises as to what should be done to rid the society of inertia and corruption? Can Plato's managerial meritocracy help? It may hold good in services but political exigencies demand far greater than what is provided in that discipline. Leading the people in their pursuit of political freedom, self-governance, economic independence, evolution of a vibrant society and progress in the fields of science and art requires different category of leaders. Pakistan needs a type of leader that first believes in certain principles; he practices what he believes; he upholds those principles and is accepted as an exemplar for others. Such leadership reaches the hearts of the people and brings about psychological changes in their outlook towards life. It inspires them to unite with a view to transforming the society and changing the system for their social, material and spiritual well-being.
In Pakistan, barring a few honourable exceptions, most of the leaders lacked political acumen, leadership qualities and sense of direction that brought the country to the present pass. Pakistan today finds itself at the crossroads. To meet the internal and external challenges to its security, it is imperative that the nation is united. All and sundry should work to convert moribund society plagued by corruption, immorality, inertia, factionalism into a progressive, vibrant and dynamic organism brimming with vitality and creativity.
Allama Iqbal had given the clue as to how to go about it, and underscored the need to reinterpret Islamic thought and assimilate its eternal principles to overcome centuries-old stagnation with a view to launching the nation on the path to revival and build a future worthy of its glorious past. He had dreamt of Pakistan, and his dream became a reality when the nation found a leader like Quaid-i-Azam
PAK RESOLUTION, HARBINGER OF FREEDOM
IMTIAZ RAFI BUTT
The final destiny of the Muslims which the Poet of the East had envisioned in 1930 became a reality after 1940. By then Muslim politics had taken a new and significant turn. The departure from the pre-1937 policy was remarkable. The Muslims no longer wanted an Indian federation. As the Congress traveled towards the idea of a united India, so did the League turn towards "Muslim Independence". The Indian political situation had undergone a basic fundamental change. Never again was it to be the same. The rule of the Congress ministries from July 1937 to October 1939 had been nothing short of a nightmare. The files of the Muslim newspapers of the period testify to the undemocratic and anti-Muslim character of the Congress. The "just and legitimate demands" of the Muslims were ignored. The Quaid-e-Azam accused the Congress of aiming to revive "Hindu domination and supremacy" over the entire subcontinent.
Muslim reaction to Congress rule may be said to have led directly to the creation of Pakistan. It was widely believed that had the Congress government lasted longer, communal fighting would have broken out on an unprecedented scale. If the Hindus were bent on having a strong centre, let them have it. But let the Muslims have their own separate centre. This was partition: the Muslim reply to Hindu Unitarianism. This was Pakistan: the Muslim retort to Hindu hegemony. Even before the All India Muslim League passed its historic Pakistan Resolution in March 1940, the establishment of a separate Muslim state or states in the subcontinent had been advocated by a number of public figures. These harbingers of Pakistan had emphatically suggested that the Hindus and the Muslims were distinct communities with the attributes of nation and recommended the division of the country between the two. As far back as 1867, Sir Syed had said: "It was now impossible for Hindus and Muslims to progress as a single nation." Despondent over the future of Muslim in India he told a students gathering in Ludhiana that the Muslims were a nation. "All individuals joining the fold of Islam, together constitute a Nation of Muslims." The disunity of India had been pointed out by Sir John Seeky, author of The Expansion of England, as early as 1883 - "India," he said, "is not a political name, but only a geographical expression ....... India does not mark the territory of a nation or a language, but the territory of many nations and many languages." Syed Amir Ali, author of the famous work, The Spirit of Islam, also described the Hindus and the Muslims as two nations. Sir Muhammad Iqbal was the first important public figure to propound the idea of partition from the platform of the Muslim League. He articulated his vision in 1930 in his presidential address at Allahabad. Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, a Muslim student at Cambridge coined the word "Pakistan" and found the Pakistan National Movement in 1933. "The Mussalmans," he said, "passes a history, a civilisation, a culture of their own. In our present struggle our back is to the wall ...... for us is a question of "to be or not to be," we know that Pakistan is our destiny."
Although ideas of Muslim separation had been floating in the Indian political atmosphere, yet none had dared to give them a concrete shape. Allama Iqbal had put forward a suggestion but had then relapsed into silence. He inspired rather than led his co-religionists. He was the Mazzini and not the Cavour of Muslim India. Rehmat Ali was consistent but less equipped. Only an established political party could father the idea by making it a plank in its programme. This is precisely what the Muslim League did at Lahore in March 1940. In its historic session at Lahore, the League for the first time, adopted the idea of partition as its final goal. The Quaid's presidential address on the occasion is a landmark in the history of Muslim nationalism in India, for it made an irrefutable case for dividing India into Hindu and Muslim states. The Quaid had, at long last, discovered the truth about the Congress and its intentions. "When you scratch a Congressman, you find a Hindu underneath," he said. On 23 March 1940, a resolution was passed by Moulvi Fazlul Haque, the chief minister of Bengal, and was adopted unanimously. The resolution inter alia stated: "Resolved that it is the considered view of this session of the All India Muslim League that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North-Western and Eastern Zones of India should be grouped to constitute 'Independent States' in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign." The resolution was seconded by Chaudhry Khaliq-uz-Zaman, and supported among others by Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Sardar Aurangzeb Khan, Sir Abdullah Haroon and I.I. Chundrigar. From then onwards the Muslim League policy was clear and unmistakable. It did not want one India with a clear Hindu majority, which through a parliamentary system of government and so-called democratic process would nullify Muslim rights and interests. India must be split. There was no alternative. The Pakistan Resolution was the Muslim answer to Congress ambitions. The Quaid did not have to define Pakistan. All knew what he meant. Beverley Nichols, visiting India in 1943, asked the Quaid how he would describe the vital principle of Pakistan. "In five words," replied the Quaid, "The Muslims are a nation."
With the adoption of the Pakistan ideal, Muslim nationalism came into its own. It had taken Muslims three quarters of a century to finally decide what they wanted. "They had tried everything," says Dr. K.K. Aziz, the renowned scholar, "a revolt in 1857, friendship with Britain, opposition to the Congress, extremist agitation, co-operation with the Congress, belligerent neutrality, negotiations, appeals, threats." The march of history had made a nation of a community. No longer, writes Dr. Aziz, did they eat out their heart in sullen impotence, trusting in the beneficence of the British or the goodwill of the Hindus. To the Congress Claim that India was a national State, the Muslims answered with the brand new idea of separate Muslim nationalism. Why did the Muslim demand Pakistan? Because they feared the prospect of Hindu domination. Intellectuals like El-Hamza attributed the Muslim hardening of attitude to the "ideology of hatred and passive insult" fostered by Gandhi and his followers. A "few months" of Congress rule under the dictation of Gandhi had given the Muslims an unforgettable taste of things to come. Z. A. Suleri gave three main reasons behind the formulation of the demand for Pakistan: Muslims having ruled India before the advent of the British were entitled to rule at least the Muslim majority areas; Hindu and Muslim philosophies of life and ways of life were so far apart from each other that it was "impossible for them to live together;" Muslims were convinced that their economic and social problems could be solved only by an approach to Islam, and this was impractible until they had a state of their own. Carimbhoy Ibrahim was of the view that the attitude of the Congress had always been communal and that it had never taken the Muslims into confidence when it wielded power. It always wanted to establish Hindu raj by introducing the Vidya Mandir Scheme, the Wardha Scheme, the "Bande Mataram" song and other Hindu practices and beliefs. Not once in any way had it shown a desire to accommodate the Muslims.
Thus 83 years after the formal end of the Mughal empire, the Muslims of South Asia firmly decided on the political future they wished to shape for themselves. The diehard been cast. There was no turning back. The struggle for Pakistan had begun.
How, one may ask, did the Founding Fathers accomplish such a monumental task. Through unflinching resolve, patriotic zeal and singleness of purpose. They battled against formidable odds, lived through many an agonising moment, suffered many an ordeal before they could reach the frontiers of the promised land. But, sad to relate, within a few years of the Quaid's demise, a band of usurpers raised their ugly head. They crippled the Muslim League, blacklisted old and venerable politicians, threw caution to the winds, embarked on a reckless career and played havoc with what the founder had achieved. They even lost one half of the country.
The other half that survived is also under threat. Pakistan is in a jam. Its political, economic and social fabric is in tatters. "The centre cannot hold ........ The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Would that we could bring back the spirit of the forties? But can we? Yes, we can, if a stroke of good fortune brings forth a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens endowed with the same resolve, passion and dedication that had fired the hearts of the Men of 1940. Time is running out. How much longer shall Destiny test our patience?
The writer is Chairman, Jinnah-Rafi Foundation.
PAKISTAN DAY: AN OCCASION TO PONDER
M ASHRAF MIRZA
The nation is celebrating Pakistan Day today with traditional fervour to rejoice the emergence of Pakistan that marked the emancipation of the Muslims in the subcontinent from the British-Hindu domination on August 14. 1947. Over six decades ago, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah had led the independence movement that culminated in the establishment of separate homeland for the Muslims despite resistance by the British rulers and the Hindu Congress. Allama Iqbal's dream was thus redeemed as the Quaid responded to his vision with resolve, commitment, sincerity and devotion. He virtually fought single handedly to carve out Pakistan.
It's an auspicious occasion for the Pakistani nation that calls for evaluation of our failings and achievements to seek guidance for the future. Pakistan has endured many ups and downs in the course of its history over the past six decades. It does have many achievements as well as the failings like any other emerging nation. It has, however, never submitted to trials and tribulations and faced the internal difficulties and external threats with courage and pertinence over all these decades. It has obviously come a long way to be an international player in the world affairs. Conscious of the security threat posed to its sovereignty by India in the wake of its persistent hostility, itt achieved nuclear capability to make its defence impregnable in the face of bitter opposition from the world powers especially the United States. Pakistan has vowed to maintain minimum nuclear deterrence to defeat the enemy designs against its security, integrity and sovereignty. Unfortunately, democracy couldn't sustain in the country due to successive military interventions. Pakistan was made to endure military dictatorships for a decade after about every decade of democratic rule on one pretext or the other.
It's, however, a matter of satisfaction that the nation has always refused to submit to dictatorship and continued struggle against it with perseverance and determination for the sake of democracy that was the basis its creation. Pakistan may not have achieved glaring success in its socio-economic development, yet none of its people sleep on pavements or is compelled to starve like in its neighbour on its eastern borders.
India has, however, turned out to be the major factor for its predicaments ever since its emergence on the world map. The fact is that India has never spared any opportunity to harm it politically, economically and integrity-wise. It attacked Pakistan thrice and dismembered its eastern limb through military aggression. It occupied Srinagar militarily soon after independence and has since kept the Kashmiri people under subjugation through military strength.
It has persisted with its illegal occupation of Kashmir and has deliberately avoided dialogue to resolve the issue. It also occupied Siachin glacier and imposed war in 1965 unilaterally. India has now embarked on water aggression and has since started building dams on the rivers assigned to Pakistan under the Indus Basin Accord signed by the two countries through the good offices of the World Bank. It has already built at least three major dams to deprive Pakistan of its rightful share of water. Pakistan is already faced with serious water shortage and construction of dams on rivers Jhelum and Chenab will further squeeze supply of water to it. Pakistan cannot, however, escape responsibility for encouraging India to build the dams since successive governments since the signing of the Indus Water Accord failed to construct reservoirs in accordance with the Water treaty. It's a glaring failure on the part of both the military dictators and the politicians. While India is silently engaged in increasing its storage capacity and power generation capabilities, Pakistani leadership promoted its selfish ends. History will not forgive Gen Ziaul Haq, BB, Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf for their criminal neglect on this count. Water, however, a major issue staring in the nation's face and that needs to be tackled seriously. Tarbela and Mangla are at dead level.
Our politicians have failed to deliver on many counts. They didn't respect the principles as well as values of democracy and conspired to demolish each other over. The conduct of majority of politicians has unfortunately remained unworthy of the norms of democracy and morality. The nation painfully witnessed the power musical chair game between PPP and PML(N) with self aggrandizement as the prime objective. The unprecedented loot and plunder of the national wealth at the hands of politicians is also the disgusting aspect of our politics. The assets declared by politicians over the past two years show unprecedented increase in them. The Supreme Court is struggling to bring billions of dollars stashed in foreign banks by politicians back to the national exchequer. Gen Musharraf committed national crime by absolving over eight thousand politicians and bureaucrats of different crimes especially of looting the national wealth through the NRO.
Pakistan is also confronted with the menace of extremism, terrorism and militancy thanks to India and the United States. While India is sponsoring terrorists with funds and weapons in Balochistan and Tribal Areas, the US invasion of Afghanistan turned out to be a greater problem for Pakistan since its warplanes' bombardment forced the fighters, pampered and supported during the Soviet occupation of Kabul, to shift to Pakistan's Tribal belt only to carry out acts of terrorism. Musharraf's virtual surrender in response to a telephone call from Washington prior to the US attack on Afghanistan pitted Pakistan against a difficult situation. Pakistan has suffered losses in men and material that no other country in the world has endured. Its armed forces had to launch military operations against militants in Swat and South Waziristan to cleanse the area of terrorists and establish the writ of the government. Normalcy has since returned to both Swat and Waziristan.
Irrespective of the quandary that Pakistan has faced over the years due to internal and external problems, it's gratifying to note that it has not only successfully countered terrorism, but also sustained democracy and kept the wheel of its socio-economic development moving. Pakistan is a country of over 170 million people determined to safeguard their freedom, integrity and sovereignty, who shall never surrender to the forces of evil. Pakistan is bound to triumph over its predicaments. No one should have any doubt or misperception on this count.
BEYOND LAHORE RESOLUTION
Ask not what your country has done for you; ask what you can do for your country." (John. F. Kennedy) Kennedy's words are considered to be prophetic when it comes to explaining patriotism. Patriotism is generally understood as the love an individual feels for his or her country. In Pakistan it is often debated how we can instill patriotism is our coming generations in keeping with the present circumstances where there is so much hopelessness and despair. Patriotism is never taught or preached, it comes naturally. It is a raging love and sentiment that follows you from the cradle to the grave. As an individual grows up and matures in his senses, what affects the human mind the most is common sense and logic. Pakistan or any other country for that matter was not created by accident. Every society is like a glacier and just like a glacier moves in the direction of the majority. History, World Events, and tangible results have always favoured the majority. In a Hindustan where majority were non-Muslims mostly Hindus and Muslims were a minority the creation of a separate State was more impossible than unlikely. But the Quaid and the freedom fighters persevered and history was re-directed and re-written. The largest human migration took place in what is the LOC between India and Pakistan and the greatest Islamic State in terms of that period was created in 14th August 1947. In one of the rare occasions in history the minority asserted itself and attained its goal in the form of an independent State. The first time this struggle was given form, shape and a time table when the Quaid gave an extempore speech in Lahore on March 23, 1940 in which he stated that was not its inter-communal nature but the fact that Muslims and non-Muslims were two completely different nations which cannot live together and that is the universal truth. But now that Pakistan is created and we are living in a State that was founded on our ideology, we are still struggling with various issues. Recently former President Pervez Musharraf gave a very wide-reaching and intelligent statement that defeating the Taliban was "critical" to Pakistan. Addressing the Portland University in Oregon he said "We are there because we understand how critical it is to the region and to the world." He praised US president Barack Obama for sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, but he did not consider this step effective in defeating the enemy. An enemy according to Musharraf is scattered and mostly rooted in rural areas and working in the form of cells. Musharraf also disagreed with the US plans of withdrawing US forces by July 2011 because he felt that Obama is afraid to take the necessary but unpopular step when that is exactly the test of leadership. On top of that Pakistan is a very important nuclear strategic State with a very porous border with Afghanistan where the enemy easily moves across both sides of the border. Then there is the immigration of the Uzbeks, Chinese Muslims, Chechans, and the Arabs etc. Last but not least is our border with long time foe since partition, India. Pakistani troops can halt the opposition from coming in but cannot permanently block their movement into Pakistan. For this foreign assistance is needed and it is highly unlikely that the goals of the "War on Terror" be achieved by 2011 unless a drastic change takes place which greatly favours both Pakistan and the US. Hence, it is completely unwise for the US to withdraw troops by mid of 2011 and isolate Pakistan in the fight against terrorism and pressurize Pakistan to do more. One thing must be admitted however that there are silent powers in Pakistan that are supporting al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other Jihadi organizations and curb any advancement towards them. Then there is the question of provincial autonomy. The NFC Award has been signed and Balochistan has received the olive tree yet there is wide skepticism. The present government has lost its credibility so badly, that the masses are saying there will be mass corruption and confiscation of wealth by the government. Most Pakistanis are skeptical about the credibility, honesty and accountability of the government. This government is yet to prove itself and conditions are getting worse by the day. From here the question of good governance arises which has been a problem in Pakistan since its birth.
Then the economy of Pakistan is failing and after the failure of the previous Finance Advisor, there is no telling what the next handpicked Finance Advisor will do. Price hikes, inflation, devaluation of currency, load shedding, lack or absence of basic necessities and unemployment have left the people nowhere. They want the problems mentioned above to be solved. They want nothing to do with the 17th Amendment and the Charter of Democracy. These are issues of the people who are too involved in their power and ego struggle to be concerned about the issues of the poor and the suffering. Then there are riots, target killings and people taking matters into their own hands. The poor are getting frustrated and restless. What will become of the poor and suffering in Pakistan? The answer to this question is simple.
The masses although great in number have the position of a minority in their country. They should collectively step up and eyeball their oppressors and say "No More!" and march till they achieve their just rights. They must conquer their fear which is greatest hurdle and enemy towards liberty. Until then the "oppressed" will remain the "oppressed".
FIGHT BACK WHEN YOU'RE DOWN..!
VIEWS FROM ABROAD
Very often I hear someone is going through a rough patch with business having collapsed, recession having hit his firm or a loss of job. Some start hitting the bottle, some their wives. But there are a few who decide to fight back and fight back they do.
They tighten their belts, get into combat mode and with clenched fist, determined jaw push forward with every ounce of strength, and sooner or later taste victory. In my early days as a salesman in my dad's company, I spent a lot of time meeting customers at the MJ Market in Mumbai. These were not dignified executives sitting in air-conditioned cabins but hardcore traders sitting cross legged next to their bales of cloth, who haggle over every paisa.
I learnt later that into this same market a hardworking young man used to cycle with his carrier packed with cloth, which he tried to sell to the traders. That man was Dhirubhai Ambani. I heard he had a tough time dealing with the cloth merchants but never did he give up his fight and worked hard to rise and become the richest man in India and among the richest in the world.
He fought back when he was down. George Fredrick Handel, famous and highly talented composer of music fell on hard days. For forty years he had written stately music for the kings and queens of England. His fame spread far and wide. But by 1741, he was a bent old man. Four years before, he had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, which had paralyzed his right side, making it impossible for him to walk or write.
He was in the pits of despondency. To add to his miseries the elite Kings Court Society turned against him. He was now aged sixty years and England was in the grip of a hard miserable winter. He felt old and helplessly tired. One day as he walked past a church, he cried out, "My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?" Repeating this again and again he walked round and round the church, till he saw in the corner the words; "He was despised and rejected of men."
These words hit him like a thunderbolt. He hurried home, took his pen and started to write. It was not easy; his right hand was almost useless. But he carried on and his notes filled page after page. He worked nonstop for twenty-four days, taking little rest, even less food. What he wrote was the 'Messiah,' one of the most acclaimed compositions ever written. This tremendous masterpiece, one of the greatest ever composed, had the King of England standing up when it was first performed. If its hard times you are going through and the cry from your heart is; 'My God why have you forsaken me,' then remember He hasn't.
He's just toughening you up, even if like Handel you are 'old and hopelessly tired,' because there's a masterpiece waiting to happen, either a new job, your business or your family. The harder your days, the greater your masterpiece. So fight back when you are down..!
THE VANISHING SHUSHUK
Yet another mammal, the Gangetic dolphin or Shushuk, as it is known in Bengali, is on the verge of extinction. A native of the Ganges-Brahmaputra Basin, the shushuk is also found in the Karnafuli and Sangu rivers. But due to a number of reasons, including loss of habitat, water pollution and insensitivity of fishermen, the mammal is finding it difficult to survive. Currently, there are less than 500 of them in the Sunderbans and the Karnafuli Basins.
The shushuks are particularly vulnerable as they raise their heads, quite often, to catch some fresh air. They have to do so as they are mammals and consequently cannot stay long under water. They also get caught in the fine meshed fishing nets, locally known as "current nets", which is banned but still in wide use across the country. The government should ensure that its writ is enforced throughout the land; otherwise there is no point in having such laws.
The dolphin is a mammal which makes its vulnerability even more shocking. It falls in a class of living beings that includes human beings. Therefore, their extinction is considered very ominous. The theory is that if the habitat is not good enough for other mammals, it will be difficult for human beings, too. Therefore, mammals like the Gangetic dolphin are known as 'indicator species" of nature.
As one of the most vulnerable country to sea-level rise, it was expected that Bangladesh would be a highly concerned country, as far as the environment is concerned. But that has not been one of our top priorities. We have shown scant attention to bio-diversity and even things like air and water that we had taken for granted in the not-too-distant past, need increasing filtration now.
Millions of dollars are being channeled into restoring nature now. It would be cheaper and more effective if we are more conscious about not destroying nature in the first place or at least using it in a sustainable manner.
Only 15 million ha of the original 36 million of the mangrove forest exists as every year around 150,000 ha of mangroves are cleared representing a serious threat to the future of life on this planet. Mangroves play a vital role in coastal biodiversity as stopover and feeding sites for migratory birds. They also help to hold the coastal soil in place, preventing erosion and sedimentation, which can suffocate the sea, grass beds and coral reefs. In addition they filter out pollutants from upland keeping the seawater purer. Although mangroves sequester massive amounts of carbon in their leaves and branches as well as store carbon in the soil beneath their roots, when cleared vast amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere contributing to global warming. Thus the news of an outbreak of fire in the Chandpai range is unnerving because the mangrove forest protects the coastal communities from hurricane force winds and wave surges.
Mihir Kumar Dey, Sundarbans (east division) forest officer said the fire originated at Payshatti Chhila in Gulishakhali camp. He said although fire fighters were managing to keep the fire under control by digging deep ditches around the fire-hit area, he could not say how long it would take to put it out. This is because forest fires are unpredictable. As to the cause, the deputy chief forest conservator, Sheikh Mizanur Rahman, said with fallen leaves lying around on the forest floor up to nine inches thick, such fires are inevitable as decomposed leaves produce methane gas that is inflammable. He said at least nine fires have broken out at different places of the east division since 2001. A valued ecosystem stands a better chance of being protected than one perceived to be useless. We must do all we can to prevent such forest fires in future or at least containing them, as soon as possible.
BREAK FREE BRAKES FREE..!
Many years ago there was a huge oil refinery fire. Flames shot hundreds of feet into the air. The sky was thick with grimy black smoke. The heat was intense, so intense that firefighters had to park their trucks a block away and wait for the heat to die down before they could begin to fight the fire. The fire however began to rage out of control.
Then all of a sudden, from several blocks away came a fire truck racing down the street. With its brakes screeching it hit the curb in front of the fire. The firefighters jumped out and began to battle the blaze.
Immediately all the other firemen who were parked a block away saw this and they jumped into their trucks drove down the block and began to help their comrades in battling the fire. As a result of that cooperative effort, they were just barely able to bring the fire under control.
The people who saw this teamwork thought, "My goodness, the man who drove that lead fire truck-what an act of bravery!
They decided to give him a special award to recognise him for his courage in leading the charge. At the ceremony the mayor said, "Captain, we want to honour you for a fantastic act of bravery. You prevented the loss of property, perhaps even the loss of life. If there's one thing you could have-what would it be?
Without hesitation the captain replied, "Your honour, a new set of brakes..!"
After you've had your laugh just think a moment of the number of things we are scared to do, because we always apply brakes. One of the easiest ways of identifying a learner driver is to watch him or her literally sitting on their brakes. The red light behind flashes all the time.
I remember some years ago asking my wife to drive my car. She did know driving and drove her own light car, but as she sat in the drivers seat and pressed the accelerator pedal, my car moved forward like some sluggish buffalo. We drove a awhile and then she smiled and said, "You've got a very slow car Bob. It hardly moves!"
Now let me tell you, no man likes to hear stuff like that about his racing machine! I glanced down and nearly roared with rage; the handbrakes were on!
She unclasped the brakes and the mean machine jumped forward.
I wonder how many of us are driving through life with our brakes on?
We take a few steps into whatever we have set ourselves to do, Cautiously with our feet firmly on brake pedal or with hand brake permanently on.
Maybe its time we drove like that firefighter and with no brakes, venture into all that life offers.
No brakes into the love we can give!
No brakes into the effort we can put into our jobs!
No brakes into total obedience to a God above!
I remember the look on my wife's face as my car leaped forward. There was adventure and excitement and a gleam in her eye. Suddenly the stops were off and with no brakes, she broke free..!
CAPACITY-BUDGET AND BUDGET-CAPACITY NEXUSES
DR. M. S. HAQ
A proper capacity-budget nexus vis-à-vis a proper budget-capacity nexus would, among other things, be required for achieving - in Bangladesh - outcomes such as and as appropriate: maximum utilisation of scarce resources; a reduction in corruption; a reduction in wastage; a reduction in existing gaps between investments and returns in for example areas of the country's development; a reduction in existing gaps between people's expectations and outcomes of those expectations; a reduction in risks and vulnerabilities associated with say donor resources including those of the World Bank; a decrease in resource idling - used an engineering sense; an improvement in for instance the country's resource allocations; a better management of resources at demand, supply and other levels; and perhaps an increase in people's budget related satisfactions.
It now appears factors such as and as appropriate: one, slow or wasteful (or both) implementation of policies, programmes and projects; two, unrealised budget resources in different stages of budget and implementation cycles; three, outcomes of cause, effect and causality associated with donors' attempts towards tightening for instance procurement related requirements; four, failures of programme outcomes in meeting relevant targets - whether in a timely fashion or not; five, impacts of capital investment related obsolescence (used in a deeper sense) on challenges and opportunities associated with implementation and outcomes of implementation in pertinent areas; six, failures of servomechanism (used in an engineering sense) at for example budget operation levels when it comes to managing expected and unexpected spins and fluctuations at demand, supply and other levels of resources; seven, failures of real time information, data, statistics and their distribution systems when it comes to say facilitating implementation of course correction measures without any intolerable loss of resources, as well as ownerships in pertinent areas; eight, a dearth of more realistic forecasting than that at present in relevant areas; nine, an absence of properly functional switches when it comes to for example managing relationships between and among budgets and capacities and vice versa; and ten a continuous presence of trust deficits in areas say budgeting and budget implementation - - have inter alia been instrumental in creating, sustaining and promoting barriers to budgeting and budget implementation for better results, outcomes and impacts at per capita, collective and other levels.
Let us now focus on the way forward. A few of the suggestions have been presented below - not in the order of priority and importance - they are, however, relative to time, space and other variables.
I. Stop playing political and other games with for example budget figures - whether deliberately or otherwise - aiming at pushing up initially expectations of people of Bangladesh and concerned others in pertinent areas and then playing down those expectations against the backdrop of developments such as and as appropriate unutilised budget resources and slow implementation of policies, programmes and projects. Do not deceive and misguide people of Bangladesh including the voters and concerned others with the help of for example manipulation of figures at relevant levels of for example budget implementation and the supply end of budget outcomes.
II. Develop the critical mass of country's budgets against the backdrop of such things as the country's budget delivery capacities at any given period of time