media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month march 24, edition 000463, 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
- THE FUNDAMENTAL FLAW
- MODI STUMPS HIS CRITICS
- FINDING POLITICAL MIDDLE GROUND - GAUTAM MUKHERJEE
- ARROW MISSES THE MARK - FASIHUR RAHMAN
- AMONG THE FIRST, LAST TO GO - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- LET MORE WATER FLOW - CAROLINE BOIN
- AT LAST, PUNISHED FOR NAZI CRIMES - DAVID RISING
- GEORGIA NEEDS HELP TO GET BETTER - DMITRY SKOSYREV
- SHEILA DIKSHIT BLUDGEONS INF LATION- WEARY DELHI
- HEAVY ADULATION
- HEALTHCARE VERY MUCH A GLOBAL CHALLENGE - BY SHIBAN GANJU
- AMARINDER'S PEN WILL NOW ' EXPOSE' HIS RIVALS
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- IT'S JOBS, STUPID
- LOOSE LIPS
- OUT OF PROPORTION - DILEEP PADGAONKAR
- 'HINDU' HUSAIN? - JUG SURAIYA
- 'VOCATIONAL COURSES BACKBONE OF OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM'
- CURRICULUM VITAL
- THE MENU'S STILL A LA CARTE
- DELHI, TAKE IT EASY - RESHMA PATIL
- KEEPING A FINE BALANCE - SUHIT SEN
- BIND SPOTS - RAMACHANDRA GUHA
- EYE ON ORE
- FREE AT LAST?
- SHOW US THE MONEY - SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI
- THE BAREILLY FACTOR - IMTIAZ AHMAD
- THE MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS - D. RAJA
- CHINESE TAKEAWAY - C. RAJA MOHAN
- IRAN'S EXILES
- VIEW FROM THE LEFT - MANOJ C G
- REDDY, STEADY, STOP
- FACILITATING TRADE
- WHY MINING IS EVER SO TROUBLESOME - BIBEK DEBROY
- WHAT RBI IS THINKING ON RATES - MADAN SABNAVIS
- SOVEREIGN WEALTH FOR ENERGY ASSETS? - NOOR MOHAMMAD
- RAPE LAW AND REFORM
- MAMMALS UNDER THREAT
- THE PATH OF SCIENCE FOR GM CROPS IN INDIA - DEBASHIS BANERJI
- ONLY U.S. CAN END U.K.'S NUCLEAR FOLLY - GEORGE MONBIOT
- BIGGEST CITIES MERGING INTO MEGA-REGIONS, SAYS U.N. REPORT - JOHN VIDAL
- FIGHTING SLEAZE
- LOHIA'S CONTRIBUTION
- BEGGING A SOLUTION - BHASKAR GHOSE
- PICK-A-POTHOLE PROGRAMME FOR CITY STREETS - ALEXANDRA LANGE
- PAK N-DEAL AMBITIONS
- HARD REALTY
- WHO KILLED DUBEY?
- CONVENTIONAL FARMING HAS ITS LIMITS - BY DARA DHILLON
- LONDON AND MONTY - BY B.K.KARKRA
- GROPING IN THE DARK - BY RUCHIKA M. KHANNA
- CAUGHT IN ETHICAL TENSION - BY NONIKA SINGH
- MUMBAI DIARY - SHIV KUMAR
- BACK TO THE FUTURE
- US HEALTH CHECK
- INDIAN PREMIUM LEAGUE
- SONS AND FATHERS - A K BHATTACHARYA
- MULTILATERALISM ON CURRENCY ISSUES - ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN
- WILL THE FOREIGN EDUCATION BILL HELP?
- BATTLES WITHIN THE CAMP - M J ANTONY
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- CONGRESS SLOGAN REVISED!
- TACKLING GODHRA'S GHOSTS
- SHODDY, FUZZY THINKING
- DEATH CHANGED AYER'S LIFE - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- WILL PORTABLE MEDICLAIM WORK?
- BACKEND PROCESSING COULD BE TRICKY - PAWAN K BHALLA, CEO RAKSHA TPA
- INSURERS SHOULD OFFER LIKE-TO-LIKE COVERS - SL MOHAN
- R&D: THE MISSING GROWTH INPUT - JAIDEEP MISHRA
- MAOISM: NEW THREAT TO INDUSTRY - SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR
- INDIA HAS ROOM TO CATCH UP IN AFRICA' - GEORGE SMITH ALEXANDER
- MARKET PRICING IS A FALLACY IN AGRICUTURE
- THE QUOTE QUIBBLE - BY P.C. ALEXANDER
- HEALTHCARE GENEROSITY SPELLS FISCAL RUIN - BY DAVID BROOKS
- LET PADMAS SHINE, OR ABOLISH THEM - BY S.K. SINHA
- MY HERO, THE MART - BY JAMES DELINGPOLE
- SUBMIT TO THE DIVINE WILL - BY J.S. NEKI
- SOCIAL CHOICE
- UNSPORTING IMPOST
- SIGNS IN SIKKIM
- AGONY OF THE NORTH-EAST~II
- SHYAMAL DATTA
- ROOTS OF DYNAMIC SECULARISM
- 2.7 MILLION PAKISTANIS GET FOOD AID
- POLL PUSH
- HEALTH CONCERN
- CONTINENT IN DISTRESS - KRISHNAN SRINIVASAN
- THE REAL ISSUE - SUMANTA SEN
- AGAINST ALL ODDS
- TIME TO BEHAVE
- MONEY TALKS - BY GAYATHRI NIVAS
- EUROPE: CRISIS OF THE LEFT PARTIES - BY ROBERTO SAVIO
- ROTTWEILER, WHO? - BY R AKHILESHWARI
- IN THE WORDS OF THE HISTORIAN
- WHERE'S BIBI? - BY ALUF BENN
- A NECESSARY STOP IN DAMASCUS - BY AMOS HAREL
- HOW CAN SO MANY ISRAELIS BACK THE CONSTRUCTION FREEZE? - BY YEHUDA BEN MEIR
- WE'RE ALL LITZMANS - BY URIEL PROCACCIA
- BRITAIN HAS DEALT A BLOW TO ISRAELI ARROGANCE - BY AMIR OREN
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- THE DAY AFTER
- GOOGLE AND CHINA
- FIXING MISSILE DEFENSE
- A PROPER COUNT OF INMATES
- HAIL THE CONQUERING PROFESSOR - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- A TEA PARTY WITHOUT NUTS - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- PAKISTAN'S WAR OF CHOICE - BY MICHAEL E. O'HANLON
- KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL NO MORE - BY TIM ZAGAT
- STRATEGIC EDGE
- MURDER IN QUETTA
- POWER FROM IRAN
- SUBSTANCE, PLEASE - SHAMSHAD AHMAD
- WHAT IS THERE TO CELEBRATE? - ROEDAD KHAN
- RICH DEVOURING THE POOR - DR A Q KHAN
- SINGLING OUT MUSLIMS - ABBAS RAZA
- A TITTER A DAY - ANJUM NIAZ
- PLAYING CATCH-UP - CHRIS CORK
- PATTERSON'S GOOD NEWS FOR PAKISTAN
- UNDERSTANDING REAL MESSAGE OF PAKISTAN DAY
- RETURN OF AFGHAN REFUGEES
- END TO TERRORIST AND DRONE ATTACKS - AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
- PAKISTAN, WORLD'S MOST MALIGNED COUNTRY - DR MANZOOR H KHATANA
- THE SINGLE-ITEM AGENDUM! - KHALID SALEEM
- PASHTUNS ARE NOT TERRORISTS - ALI SUKHANVER
- DAL AND THE RAILWAYS..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- CHINESE CONNECTION
- OBAMA WINS POLITICAL GAMBLE
- THE FORCE EARNS GOOD NAME IN UN MISSIONS - ABDUL KHALEQUE
- PAKISTANI HIGH COMMISSIONER STEPPING INTO MINEFIELD - M. SHAFIULLAH
- TURKEY'S FAILED COUP - IBRAHIM KALIN
- LAST CARETAKER GOVT SEEN IN RETROSPECT - SYLVIA MORTOZA
- LIFE AT THE CIVIL SERVICE ACADEMY - ATM SHAMSUL HAQUE
- USE OF DUAL-USE CARS IN REDUCING TRAFFIC CONGESTION - PROF BIJON B. SARMA (PART-II)
- AN OPEN MIND IN SHANGHAI
- OBAMA'S WIN ON HEALTH POSES NEW CHALLENGES
- WELCOME BACK, MR RUDD
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- HEALTH REFORM AT A BRISK TROT
- OBAMA OUT OF INTENSIVE CARE
- BRUMBY ANTENNAE TWITCHING AT POLLS
- RUDD AND HIS PLAN STAND UP WELL UNDER FIRE
- ISRAEL AND BRITAIN: THE RULE OF LAW
- IN PRAISE OF BRITAIN'S WAR ON POVERTY
- LABOUR: THE MANY, NOT THE FEW
THE KOREA HERALD
- FOUR-RIVER PROJECT
- JOINT HISTORY STUDY
- FROM HEALTH CARE TO TRADE CARE - LEE JAE-MIN
- ORIENTALISM IN THE '300' SPARTANS - KIM SEONG-KON
THE JAPAN TIMES
- JAPAN MUST CHANGE TUNE ON TUNA
- SCARS OF THE SARIN ATTACK
- CATALYZING CONSUMPTION AND BALANCING GROWTH - BY ANOOP SINGH
- DON'T JUST WAIT FOR DISASTER - BY BAN KI MOON
THE JAKARTA POST
- STEALING THE SHOW
- PASSAGE OF HEALTH BILL JUSTIFIES RESCHEDULING OF OBAMA VISIT - WIMAR WITOELAR
- HEALTHCARE WHO CARES? - JULIA SURYAKUSUMA
- THE PROBLEMS OF MULTI-DRUG-RESISTANT TB - MUHERMAN HARUN
- LESSON FROM DROUGHT
- GOOGLE FACES BACKLASH
- GROWING CHINESE DEMAND
- TAGGING THE YUAN AS A SCAPEGOAT IS UNFAIR
- HARD TIMES CALL FOR GREEN ECONOMY
- AFGHANISTAN REFLECTS US' SELF-OBSESSION - BY SUN ZHUANGZHI (CHINA DAILY)
- WALKING ON THIN ICE
- GENERAL FONSEKA WILL BE THE PRIME MINISTER
- COMMITTED AGAINST CORRUPTION, THUGGERY
- WE FEAR WHETHER THE NEXT PARLIAMENT WILL BE EVEN WORSE
THE FUNDAMENTAL FLAW
SCHOOLS, AND NOT ACCESS, IS THE PROBLEM
It is fast becoming apparent that the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act is a badly written piece of legislation. The Act might have been enacted to address the daunting challenge of providing education to all children between the ages of six and 14 by making this a fundamental right, but it completely glosses over the nitty-gritties involved. As a result, we now have a situation wherein the Act has already been notified and is set to go into effect from April 1, but no one seems to have any idea as to how to actually implement the Government's ambitious project on the ground. As much has been exposed by a petition filed in the Supreme Court by the Society for Unaided Schools of Rajasthan. The petition not only challenges the Act on the debatable ground that it infringes upon the autonomy of management of private schools, but also brings to the fore several glaring lacunae. For instance, though the Act stipulates that a child within the said age group will have to be necessarily admitted in a neighbourhood school if he or she approaches the latter for admission, nowhere is it defined as to what constitutes a neighbourhood school within a given distance. Hence, if a certain locality has both a Government and a private school, it is not clear as to which one would be considered as the designated neighbourhood school. In case both are considered so, the Act is completely silent on what would be the alternative if the neighbourhood schools reach their maximum intake capacity and are simply unable to admit another child. Will in that case the child be entitled to seek admission in another school in a different locality? The jury is still out on this.
On the other hand, the Act completely gives primary education a miss. It simply seeks to plonk students between the ages of six and 14 into any given school regardless of the child's academic progress till that point. The Act stipulates that schools would be bound to admit students into classes appropriate to their age. But in the absence of any evaluation mechanism no exams, no interviews or written tests this would essentially mean that a nine-year-old child would have to be necessarily admitted to class V, irrespective of whether he or she has had basic elementary education. Given the fact that this year parents admitting their wards to schools in Delhi had a harrowing time with the newly introduced point system that sought pretty much to admit children on the basis of where they lived in the city, the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act needs to be far more clear on the details of the admission procedure than it presently is. Otherwise, schools would have no other option but to turn down admission to some children out of pure compulsion. And punishing them for this would be highly unfair.
The fundamental problem here is the lack of adequate number of schools. Unless and until we have a sufficient number of functional schools, passing a law that forces existing schools to take in students without a choice is both meaningless and unfeasible. Our policymakers must realise that access to education is indeed a problem, but it is not as big a problem as the non-availability of proper schools and teachers. There is absolutely no way that we can ensure education as a fundamental right if we do not address this basic issue. The solution lies in refocussing our energies to tackle this fundamental flaw.
MODI STUMPS HIS CRITICS
BETWEEN FACT AND FICTION, FORMER WINS
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has delivered a stunning blow to his critics in sections of the media, especially news channels, who have been relentlessly seeking to malign and demonise him by peddling warped opinion as news. This is a pattern that has been discernible since the violence that erupted following the massacre of 58 Hindus, nearly all of them pilgrims returning from Ayodhya. Mr Modi's critics, among them prominent human rights activists who have turned manufacturing grievance against the state and allegations against individuals who reject their bogus ideology and fake liberalism, not to mention pseudo-secularism, into a flourishing and profitable industry, are loath to even mention the ghastly mass murder at Godhra because the culprits belong to the Muslim community. But they are ever so willing to churn out, tirelessly, pulp fiction about the subsequent violence which was no less tragic and took a terrible toll on human lives. Mr Modi was no doubt the Chief Minister when the violence occurred, but it is equally true that he and his Government did whatever was possible, if not more, to deal with the situation. It would be simplistic to suggest that the Gujarat Police failed to contain the violence; in no other State has the police proved to be any better in putting down communal strife. In any event, the Army was deployed when it was obvious that the situation required a tougher response. Since then, there has been a sustained campaign of calumny to paint Mr Modi as the culprit and, it must be said with a sense of regret, that a section of the media, to flaunt its 'secular' credentials, has unabashedly collaborated in this devious exercise.
The latest example is the manner in which it was conveyed to readers and viewers that Mr Modi had 'failed' to respond to 'summons' issued by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team by not showing up for questioning on March 21. Mr Modi has exposed this fiction by simply making the facts public: The SIT had not set a deadline of March 21; and, second, he had not 'failed' to respond to the SIT's summons/notice. If the intention behind the campaign was to diminish Mr Modi's stature, it has recoiled with tremendous force on the purveyors of untruth: It is they who stand denuded of all credibility. It is for the Chief Minister to explain his position; we would only like to point out that a not-so-subtle attempt to prejudice the minds of the SIT officials deserves to be condemned unambiguously. For far too long jholawallahs have played ducks and drakes with Gujarat; the time has come to call their bluff.
FINDING POLITICAL MIDDLE GROUND
Till the aberration of the Emergency in the mid-1970s, general elections routinely returned the Congress to power despite disappointment over economic results. The Opposition gained little ground and credibility, espousing a range of alternative strategies ranging from capitalist and free-market nostrums to even more populist forms of socialism. Still, the political hold of the Congress was strong and India stayed under one-party rule for over three decades.
Nevertheless, the growth rates were dismal. India remained poor with myriad shortcomings, facing the ignominy of being a backward Third-World nation, its high-minded international initiatives in the Non-Aligned Movement often derided or ignored.
Despite this non-performance, public loyalty endured. Indeed, the best general election results ever for the Congress came in the aftermath of Mrs Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984. The irony is that even with a near total hold over Parliament, Rajiv Gandhi's Government was stymied on most reformist issues by resistance from within its own ranks. And only near bankruptcy prompted reforms under Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, the contours of which were largely dictated by the World Bank in return for a suitable bailout.
So it is seen that reform does not necessarily predicate itself on lack of opposition, both formal and informal, from within and without. Irrespective of such opposition, reform still needs to be undertaken at different stages of a nation's journey, and must necessarily spring from the vision of the leadership if it is not to be forced from without. And in pushing forward, the leadership knowingly and willingly must risk being swamped, both by the winds of change and the counter-winds of reaction.
Perestroika, in the then USSR, presided over by Mr Mikhail Gorbachev, is a case in point. Many would argue that the tolerance towards reformist ideas initiated by him actually exposed the rot. And the demise of the Soviet empire shows that reformist impulses do have a way of radicalising once unleashed, taking on a life and direction of their own that become very difficult to control.
That may also be why US President Barack Obama is being vilified and prematurely written off. The constant sloganeering about change that oiled his excellent election machine has been replaced by the nuanced positions of actual governance. But the public, reeling with up to 25 per cent unemployment among Blacks, and perhaps influenced by simplistic if arch right-wing interpretations on the wildly popular Fox News channel, is unimpressed.
This despite the real progress President Obama's Government has made on the economy, health reform and other areas. The public, however, can only see the 'vast undone'. Perhaps it simply misses the adrenaline and the limitlessness of the election rhetoric.
In India, over 63 years of self-rule, we have seen the excesses of both centralisation and its diced and pared opposite, without either extreme delivering the goods. And now, we may finally be veering around to the responsibilities of reasoned debate intended to be inclusive and representative. Centralisation and brute majorities have bred complacency and a fear of rocking the boat. And too much fragmentation has seen the politics of blackmail, disruption, and paralysis.
In the Indira Gandhi era, power was relentlessly centralised. It was applied, using licences and permits and an array of bureaucrats and political appointees in the all-powerful PMO rather than the Ministries. Plus, there was also an informal cabal of advisers, dubbed 'the kitchen cabinet', that frequented the Prime Minister's residence.
Politically this may have yielded rich results, but it did little for the economy, resulting in dismal GDP rates, rampant inflation, primitive infrastructure, and chronic shortages for almost all manufactured goods. But thankfully, not all the Government-knows-best statism fell on stony ground. The great successes during this period include the Green and White Revolutions in farming and milk production bolstered by mechanisation, new irrigation, and canals. And Mrs Gandhi did do us proud in our confrontations with Pakistan and various separatist movements. She also pulled off the vital if oxymoronic 'peaceful nuclear explosion' which altered our strategic possibilities.
This realpolitik was a relief after the overly idealistic Nehru era when we were invaded by the Chinese and couldn't even feed ourselves without foreign food aid. Nehru, however, was a constitutionalist. He worked, as intended by the Indian Constitution, through the Central Ministers and Ministries as well as the State Governments; relying on his towering stature, and copious correspondence, to carry the day.
He dominated and shaped all policy, even when he was mistaken, as in his naïve initiatives on Kashmir or in his gross miscalculations with regard to China. But Nehru felt no need to formalise the extent of his executive domination by legislative action.
Just as well because excessive formalised centralisation is probably why we have greater democracy today. It was revulsion against the Emergency that gave birth to a non-Congress Government for the first time in the seventies. This was repeated through the eighties and nineties and could happen again before long.
But along with the power shifting to those who generally sit across the aisle from the Treasury Benches, came the era of coalitions, often made up of disparate elements and competing interests, and the peculiar phenomenon called 'outside support'. And out of such political weakness and failed socialism has come the new market-friendly policies that have resulted in renewed economic strength.
Even as the coalition era has proven unwieldy, it is a vast improvement on the erstwhile emasculated Chief Ministers of States and quaking central Cabinet Ministers. The PMO's steely grip over various Government entities and institutions including the presidency and governorships, the PSUs, even the judiciary, was complete. All who served in them did so at the pleasure and favour of the Prime Minister alone. The checks and balances intended by the Indian Constitution were subverted and its clauses and provisions used in a cavalier fashion.
But those days are now long gone, probably forever. And with the realignments, even among the regional parties fighting to stay relevant, there is a trend towards actually shaping legislation to reflect a broader consensus of public opinion and grass-root concerns. The future, therefore, could well show the door to noisy morcha-like confrontations in favour of impassioned and persuasive debates followed by democratic voting in Parliament and in the State Assemblies alike.
ARROW MISSES THE MARK
Women's empowerment by way of reserving 33 per cent seats for the fairer sex in Parliament and in the State Assemblies is certainly a revolutionary step. Given the fact that women remain victims of discrimination and gender inequality, such an initiative by the Government is commendable. However, good intentions aside, I am not quite sure as to how such a legislation will go beyond symbolism and provide solace to the millions of women in this country who struggle every day for their rights. What difference will reservation make to those women who do not have access to proper healthcare or adequate schooling facilities in their villages?
In the recent history of South Asia, women have been at the helm of political affairs as Prime Ministers and Presidents. But this has hardly translated into significant change in the socio-economic status of women. Even in the United Kingdom where Ms Margaret Thatcher reigned as the Prime Minister for a decade, no significant changes in the status of women were seen during her tenure. In fact, there were more women-friendly policies during the regime of male British Prime Ministers.
A more pragmatic step towards women's empowerment would have been to provide adequate educational facilities for the girl child by establishing more schools, and providing greater grants and scholarships to female students. Healthcare for women is another important issue that continues to be neglected and which should be tackled on a priority basis. Employment for women belonging to marginalised sections of the society needs to be given utmost attention.
The celebratory scenes that were on display on various television channels after the Women's Reservation Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha were essentially those of women belonging to the creamy layer who would actually benefit from the legislation. For, in reality, the Women's Reservation Bill will only help those women who already have the right ingredients in terms of education, economic stability and proximity to the corridors of power, to further their political prospects.
AMONG THE FIRST, LAST TO GO
KANU SANYAL, ONE OF THE FOUNDERS OF THE CPI(M-L) WHO LED THE NAXALITE MOVEMENT FROM THE FRONT, URGING YOUNG MEN AND WOMEN TO WAGE RELENTLESS WAR AGAINST THE 'CLASS ENEMY' AND SEIZE POWER WITH THE HELP OF VIOLENCE, MADE MAOISM FASHIONABLE IN INDIA. HE DIED ON TUESDAY.
Kanu Sanyal, 78, one of the founders of the original ultra-Left movement that originated in Naxalbari and became known as the Naxalite struggle in India, in fact, the last of the legendary band that declared that power should be captured through the barrel of a gun and believed in their ardent years that China's chairman was also their chairman, died near Siliguri. Reports said he killed himself at his home in Seftullajote.
What despair could have led this veteran fighter, this name who could and did spread dread in his heyday, to take his own life? The question will need to be answered but not just yet.
Along with Charu Mazumdar and Jangal Santhal, Sanyal established the original Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). The ideology of the movement was to mobilise peasants, organise an uprising, encircle the cities by building bases in the rural areas and then overthrow the bourgeois state and establish a communist regime. The ideology drew inspiration from China's communist movement and the Red Book, a set of pithy statements that served as the doctrine of the party and its strategic text.
The Naxalite movement split from the Communist Party of India(Marxist) in 1967 over differences on the correct revolutionary path; whereas the Naxalites believed in, propagated and committed acts of violence, the CPI(M) adopted the parliamentary route to establishing itself as a contender in the race for power.
The confrontation between the Naxalites, grouped in secret cells and engaging in spectacular acts of violence and liberation, and the Indian state was immediate and brutal.
In those first heady years, when the call to revolution inspired hundreds of young educated urban people, the Naxalites were a heroic cadre. Their objective was to liberate the peasants and the proletariat from bourgeois exploitation. To that end, the Naxalites devised a tactics of attacking the land owning class. Under Naxalite protection, peasants appropriated the land and made themselves the custodians.
Along the way, the Naxalites fought the police, snatched rifles, raided armouries and led what they believed as an armed insurrection. The Naxalites also attacked other political players including the CPI(M) and the Congress, describing them as "running dogs of imperialism."
The movement, however romantic, led by charismatic leaders including Kanu Sanyal, was from the outset riven by deep fissures. There were differences within the leadership about the conduct of the revolution. There were differences within the leadership about the correct interpretation of Marxism-Leninism and it all eventually became a messy movement that was directionless.
But when the Naxalites launched their insurrection, it was like spring thunder that shook the old pillars of every political establishment and focussed intense attention on the exploitation of the peasantry by the land owning class, of the state system on the powerless ordinary citizen, of the urban vis-à-vis the rural. At the forefront were Kanu Sanyal and Charu Mazumdar, who led a feverish, fugitive existence, delivering stirring messages, organising cadres, instigating violent attacks and so provoking brutal repression.
Those were the years when young educated Bengalis, many from Presidency College, persuaded themselves that they were revolutionaries. A lot of their energy was spent in argument, but some certainly went out and worked for the revolution. It was in those years that Kolkata resembled a fortress; the police wore their rifles chained to their belts; armed guards at bank entrances (some of whom had been killed during a Naxalite arms snatch) also had their rifles chained to their belts; the Central Reserve Police Force routinely marched through the streets; the police raided the poorer sections of the city and picked up young people on suspicion as Naxalites. Women and girls were arrested, but not charged. The young were held without reason and the rule of law was jeopardised.
Those were less civil times, for there were encounters and killings, including the Baranagar massacre denied by the Siddhartha Shankar Ray Government but confirmed by eyewitnesses and other political parties. Fear was the dominant emotion within the city and in the villages, unlike now when the cities are insulated from the new Maoist violence that rages in pockets but has not as yet spread like wildfire.
Along with Jangal Santhal and Charu Mazumdar, two other members of the Naxal triad, Kanu Sanyal lit the fire of a violent revolution out of a peasant uprising in West Bengal in 1967 although in later years he shunned his own anarchist past.
As he battled senility, age and a blurring eyesight, the bachelor 78-year-old founding leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) abhorred violence unleashed by present day Maoists.
He was the last surviving member of the Maoist triad that included another legendary revolutionary and comrade-in-arms Charu Mazumdar and Jungle Santhal.
The three were behind the abortive Naxalite insurrection attempt by radical communist to initiate an 'Indian revolution' by violent means. Sanyal had even actively solicited help from the communist Government in China to further his goals, but it could never be established whether this was moral, tactical or financial.
He was a critic of land acquisition by the Left Front Government in Singur and Nandigram and criticised it calling it capitalist.
Sanyal believed that led by selfless and strong leadership, the protests in Nandigram had the potential to surpass even the Naxalbari movement.
"Maoism is not the path of Naxalbari. The violence being indulged in can't solve things. I don't support this," he had said of the stepped up violence by Maoists.
"There is distinctive difference between our way of revolution to that being pursued in name of Maoism," he had said dubbing Maoists as people without ideals and direction.
Born in Kurseong in 1932, Sanyal while working as a revenue clerk at the Siliguri court, was first arrested for waving a black flag at then West Bengal Chief Minister Bidhan Chandra Roy, to protest the Centre's ban on the CPI.
He was lodged at the Jalpaiguri jail, where he met Mazumdar, who was then a CPI district secretariat member.
Influenced by Mazumdar's ideology, Sanyal joined the CPI after his release, and later sided with the CPI(M) after the party split over the India-China war.
He, together with Mazumdar and another leader, however, became disillusioned with the CPI(M) and broke away to found the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1969 aiming at an 'Indian revolution through armed struggle'.
The Naxalite movement began from a peasant uprising in Naxalbari village May 25, 1967 when the then officer-incharge of Phansidewa police station Amarendranath Pyne was shot dead by an arrow.
LET MORE WATER FLOW
LEGALISING LOCAL VENDORS SHOULD BE A PRIORITY
The 18th annual World Water Day, observed on Monday, offered the same old problems and rejected the practical solutions. On March 22 one billion people, as usual, spent the day without clean water and a third of humanity without adequate sanitation. As usual, some three-and-a-half million men, women and children will die from related diseases this year. Yet many NGOs and politicians still prefer ideology to ideas, spurning what the private sector delivers to the world's poor, including in India.
Activists often claim to be defending the poor from profit-maximising corporations. But this has more to do with dogma than reality. Given that less than 10 per cent of world water management is private, it is hard to see how they can blame corporations for poor supply.
In fact, it is Governments that mismanage water and misallocate it to political cronies and powerful lobbies such as farmers. The poor, in rural areas or slums, are left unconnected and unable to do much about it. Anti-privatisation groups keep repeating that water should be provided by Government but ignore that Government has been the worst enemy of the poor.
On another tack, the World Development Movement and similar groups claim that the private sector has done little for the poor, having connected only three million people in developing countries over the past 15 years. But this figure excludes Latin America and South-East Asia where private water management and the number of people getting water has boomed since the 1990s. In Argentina, for example, privately-managed areas got lower water prices, more connections and a drop in infectious diseases and child deaths.
Activists have further misrepresented private supply by focussing on multinationals while ignoring the small-scale water vendors who get water to people whom Governments have abandoned. In many African cities, they sell plastic water sachets to passers-by, while in Paraguay 500 aguateros supply nearly half a million people using tankers and piped water.
A World Bank researcher found in 1998 that "in most cities in developing countries, more than half the population gets basic water service from suppliers other than the incumbent official utility." Country surveys suggest that the situation has changed little since then.
The World Health Organisation, like activists, disregards these 'informal' water vendors, bottled water and tankers. It refuses to consider them as "improved water sources" as they are unregulated, unpredictable and allegedly incapable of serving a mass market.
But to the hundreds of millions of people who rely on them, there is nothing incapable about private water providers. For many, they are the difference between life and death.
Informal water vendors come in all shapes and sizes but they all provide water for profit. Their clients are among the poorest yet prepared to pay to protect their families from disease and to put their time to better use than searching for clean water.
The success of these private water services throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia disproves the claim that the poor are too poor to pay for water and that the private sector has no incentive to serve them. In fact, the poor often pay more for water than those in prosperous areas with 'formal' supplies. A World Bank survey of South American cities found that, on average, trucked water costs four to 10 times more than the public network's price. In Kibera, a Nairobi slum of about one million people, jerry-can water sells at four times the average price in Kenya.
Activists who accuse the private sector of putting profits before people should realise three things. Firstly, water vendors would stop providing water and sanitation if they did not make a profit. Secondly, Governments are largely to blame for the higher prices because they constrain or outlaw private supply. Finally, people buy from vendors willingly, often with a choice of suppliers.
India has more than adequate water resources but there are artificial shortages because of underpricing and mismanagement by the Government even in towns, around 20 per cent of households which receive municipal tap water must supplement their water supply with other sources.
The theme of this year's World Water Day is quality, so legalising the work of water vendors should be a priority. They could then own sources, land and infrastructure, get credit and expand operations, serving more people at cheaper rates with cleaner water. It is these small-scale ventures not empty Government promises that can quickly improve water supplies for the poor.
The writer is a Project Director at International Policy Network, London, an independent think-tank working on economic development.
AT LAST, PUNISHED FOR NAZI CRIMES
GUILTY OF WARTIME MURDERS, A FORMER WAFFEN SS MEMBER HAS ADMITTED THAT HE WILLINGLY JOINED THE NAZIS AFTER THE GERMANS OVERRAN THE NETHERLANDS, WRITES DAVID RISING
A German court on Tuesday convicted an 88-year-old of murdering three Dutch civilians as part of a Nazi hit squad during World War Second, capping six decades of efforts to bring the former Waffen SS man to justice. Heinrich Boere, number six on the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of most-wanted Nazis, was given the maximum sentence of life in prison for the 1944 killings.
"These were murders that could hardly be outdone in terms of baseness and cowardice beyond the respectability of any soldier," presiding judge Gerd Nohl said.
Boere sat in his wheelchair, staring at the floor and showing no visible reaction as the verdict was announced.
For Mr Dolf Bicknese, it was the first time he had seen in person the man who killed his father in 1944 but he said he felt little emotion staring Boere in the face.
"The person hardly interests me any more," the 73-year-old said. "My interest is justice." During the trial, which began in October, Boere admitted killing a bicycle-shop owner; Bicknese's father, a pharmacist; and another civilian as a member of the Silbertanne hit squad a unit of largely Dutch SS volunteers responsible for reprisal killings of countrymen who were considered anti-German.
He said he had no choice but to follow orders to carry out the killings.
"As a simple soldier, I learned to carry out orders," Boere testified in December.
"And I knew that if I didn't carry out my orders I would be breaking my oath and would be shot myself."
But the prosecution argued that Boere was a willing member of the fanatical Waffen SS, which he joined shortly after the Nazis overran his hometown of Maastricht and the rest of the Netherlands in 1940.
Judge Nohl noted that there was no evidence Boere ever even tried to question his orders.
He characterised the murders as hit-style slayings, with Boere and his accomplices dressed in civilian clothes and surprising their victims at their homes or places of work late at night or early in the morning. "The victims had no real chance," judge Nohl said. Though sentenced to death in absentia in the Netherlands in 1949, later commuted to life imprisonment, Boere has managed to avoid jail until now.
One German court refused to extradite him because it ruled he might have German nationality as well as Dutch. Another would not force him to serve his Dutch sentence in a German prison because he was absent from his trial, having fled to Germany. "We welcome the conviction, we welcome the sentence and this is again another proof that even at this point it is possible to bring Nazi war criminals to justice," Mr Efraim Zuroff, the top Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said over telephone from Jerusalem. "It also underscores the significance of the renewed activity on the part of the German prosecution," he said.
Defence lawyer Gordon Christiansen said he would appeal to a German federal court. Boere will remain free until the appeals process is complete and that could take two to three years if it goes to the European Court of Human Rights, Christiansen said. Mr Teun de Groot, whose father of the same name was the bicycle-shop owner killed by Boere, said it was "a shame" Boere would not be imprisoned immediately but was happy nonetheless. "The verdict here is good," the 77-year-old said.
GEORGIA NEEDS HELP TO GET BETTER
FAKE TV REPORT ABOUT RUSSIAN INVASION TAKEN TOO SERIOUSLY, WRITES DMITRY SKOSYREV
Georgia's privately owned Imedi television station caused a nationwide panic with its mock news report.
The report had to do with an alleged Russian "invasion," the "assassination" of President Mikheil Saakashvili and the coming to power of "pro-Moscow forces" headed by Opposition leaders Nino Burdzhanadze and Zurab Nogaideli.
It appears that all aspects of this shocking episode have already been discussed. Mr Saakashvili and his spokesperson, the Opposition, Russian politicians, Abkhazian and South Ossetian officials have all made their statements.
Nevertheless, a distinct feeling of unreality persists. To understand it, let's try to imagine how this episode would have played in Russia. Let's say a Russian television channel shows a news story about an invasion by either the whole of Nato or China. How would most people react to the news? They would switch channels, watch a beer commercial and feel quite unperturbed.
People would ask themselves what kind of idiot it would take to finance an extremely costly invasion of Russia and its subsequent occupation. Such a military operation seems pointless because no benefit would justify the expenses incurred, even if the nuclear factor is overlooked.
Can a hypothetical invasion be mounted in order to control Russia's natural resources or transport routes linking Europe with Asia? All these far-fetched scenarios were extremely popular in the 1990s. Later Russian analysts realised that 19th century realities should not be applied to the current situation. Horror-story fans occupied a befitting place on the sidelines of politics and journalism.
At any rate, not a single person in Moscow would rush out to buy food, take out cash from an ATM or stage a protest in front of the Ostankino TV centre. Most people would say the producers are morons and forget the hoax broadcast in three seconds. This is the only difference between a relatively normal society and the one currently existing in Georgia.
We say 'relatively' because each person has his or her own psychiatric diagnosis. Any doctor will tell you that there are no absolutely healthy people. The same can be said about nations.
Think back to Russian developments of the 1990s. According to psychiatrists, an unimaginable number of people requiring medical attention and even hospitalisation walked the streets of Moscow. This became clear to any medical professional because of the way they spoke, the look in their eyes and their speech. The doctors said there was nothing like it anywhere in the world.
Manic-depressive psychoses seemed to be the least serious mental disorder diagnosed by them. The human psyche was absolutely unable to cope with the radical changes of the time.
Technically speaking, the mental state of an entire society, as well as its normality and abnormality, are an unstudied sphere. Naturally, war with its destruction and loss of life cannot but affect individual and collective mentalities.
This is true of just about any war, be it the Hundred Years War between England and France or the Times of Trouble in the 17th century Russia.
What these periods had in common was mass hysteria and inadequate behaviour of numerous individuals in various situations. This happened at the very end of such upheavals and after they were over. A typical example of this was Joan of Arc, with her visions and her huge following.
During a relatively short period of independence, Georgia has fought and lost two civil wars, which could also be called ethnic conflicts, on its territory or, to be precise, on a territory that had belonged to it for several decades.
Georgia attacked Abkhazia and South Ossetia, committed outrageous atrocities there and was subsequently repelled. Abkhazians and South Ossetians, former citizens of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, feared another Georgian invasion for 15 years. They will not want to live with Georgians in an integral state in the foreseeable future.
Georgia realises this, regardless of the media-promoted version of events. And the most ardent patriots, who violently deny this state of affairs, also realise this. This implies the collapse of statehood and of a national idea. Such developments always have a psychological effect.
Before 1991, there was a widespread stereotype in the Soviet Union that Georgians were 'hot-tempered.' In effect, the entire Georgian nation seemed highly emotional against the backdrop of Russians' lyrical despondence. In the long run, most Russians became emotionally detached from other former Soviet republics, which were also marked by the same psychological inadequacy on a mass scale. Most of them do not understand what it's like to be a 'hot-tempered' nation and to endure the hardships that befell Georgia.
The writer is Moscow-based political affairs analyst
SHEILA DIKSHIT BLUDGEONS INF LATION- WEARY DELHI
WITH no elections in sight, and an ineffective Opposition in the state assembly, the Sheila Dikshit government has inflicted a tax raid on Delhi by raising the value- added tax ( VAT) by 7.5 per cent on a host of goods that will burden an already inflation- fatigued citizenry.
On the pretext of funding the Commonwealth Games, the state government hopes to raise Rs 1,130 crore in additional taxes to make up for the Rs 1,950 crore deficit that arose after the Centre allocated just Rs 50 crore instead of the Rs 2,000 crore that the state apparently wanted to complete various Games projects.
For Delhi's citizens, though, the Commonwealth Games has become a white elephant.
It has drained our resources, while simultaneously the administrators have done precious little to complete the projects on time and without any cost overruns. The end result is that Delhi's citizens would end up paying for administrative inefficiencies and the lofty ambitions of our politicians and officials.
On Monday, finance minister A. K. Walia said that Delhi has already spent Rs 15,000 crore on building new infrastructure. It would have been nice if he'd listed the infrastructure he is talking about. The Metro, for instance, has been built by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and the roads are the responsibility of the Delhi and New Delhi municipal bodies. Besides, the state government has very little to do with the sports stadia that are being built around the city. Even before the announcement of the state budget, the common man was reeling under 17 per cent food inflation and an almost double- digit wholesale price index. The immediate consequence of these new tax rates would be that lakhs of households that were already stretching their meagre resources would have to make further sacrifices.
Clearly, Ms Dikshit has lost touch with her constituents.
Crime and punishment
IT is difficult to know what to make of the conviction of three men for the murder of Satyendra Dube, the IIT- Kanpur alumnus who was murdered in Gaya in 2003, allegedly for exposing corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral Project. The event should be a cause for cheer, especially in a country where trials drag on endlessly, and the guilty often get away. But Mr Dube's kin allege the Central Bureau of Investigation has implicated innocent men for the crime, portraying a cold blooded murder by the road mafia as a robbery incident that turned bloody.The issue highlights two shortcomings of our system. The first relates to the lack of a whistleblowers' legislation which has been talked of endlessly since the cases involving Mr Dube and Manjunath Shanmugham, another brave man who lost his life fighting corruption. The Empowered Group of Ministers examining the legislation must ensure that the Bill becomes law at the earliest.
Two, the allegations made by Mr Dube's kin reiterate the poor credibility of the country's premier investigative agency. This can't change until the CBI is freed of political control.Let our prime minister, whose integrity is tom- tommed by his party, take the initiative on this count.
THOSE who wave accusing fingers at politicians who accept garlands made from currency notes should know this is serious business.
One garland gifted to Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Ms Mayawati on March 15 reportedly weighed 60 kg.
It needed several partymen to carry it and, importantly, take care not to place it around the BSP supremo. Surely, it was one weighty problem the feisty CM did not want to tackle.
Perhaps that was why the next garland she got was lighter. Recently, the Tamil Nadu chief minister, Mr M. Karunanidhi, was presented a similar garland. It was featherweight compared to Mayawati's. Such gifts have acquired a place in politics to show adulation. This display of money power undermines the image of public service.
Yet, who will rein in the sycophants? The lure of creating a spectacle and the chance to get close to party bosses is too much to resist.
HEALTHCARE VERY MUCH A GLOBAL CHALLENGE
BY SHIBAN GANJU
HEALTHCARE begets health; the two are inseparable.
The experience of developed countries shows that disease is recession proof while national income is not; demand grows inexorably while funding shrinks.
When the resources lag to fulfill the minimum need, health becomes a mere dream.
People of the world are unhappy with their national systems, no matter which country. In a survey done by the Commonwealth Fund in six OECD countries a majority wanted either fundamental changes or to rebuild the system.
The world has evolved four models of Healthcare financing: ( 1) Bismarck model: where employers and employees contribute into a not for profit fund and providers are usually private as in ' Sickness funds' system of Germany. ( 2) Beveridge model: government is both the payer and provider as in the UK and Cuba. ( 3) Single payer: government is the sole payer from funds collected through employee contribution and taxes. The providers are both private and public.
Canada, Taiwan and South Korea have adopted this system. ( 4) Out of pocket model: where no organised risk pools exist and individuals pay as they fall sick.
Most of the low income countries do not have the resources to organise national financing systems for health care.
The US has evolved a pluralistic system.
Government funds 46 percent, a private commercial insurance fund 35 percent and 13 percent is out of pocket as deductibles and co- pay. Providers are mostly private. Innovations like HMO capitation and health saving account have not dented the costs.
In a position paper by American College of Physicians in the Annals of Internal Medicine in January 2008, the following lessons were summarised from international experience.
1: Nations can provide guarantees access, affordability and universal coverage through a funding, which can be public or in combination with private. Access to care should carry no copayments for the poor and cost sharing for those who can afford, based on income. Examples of single payer system are Canada, UK, Japan and Taiwan. The pluralistic systems are Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.
2: Global budgets can help cost control.
( Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Taiwan, UK) 3: Government power to negotiate prices with providers can decrease costs ( Belgium, Canada, and Japan) but also create shortages, delays, cost shifting and a competing private sector. ( Japan, New Zealand, UK) 4: Countries have built incentives to encourage behaviour change and take personal responsibility. ( Australia, Belgium, Japan, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Taiwan) 5: Adequate funding of preventive and primary care yields better outcome. ( Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands, UK, New Zealand) 6: Incentive to physicians results in quality improvement and performance ( Belgium, UK, Australia, and New Zealand) 7: Uniform electronic payment systems reduce costs and improve efficiency ( Germany, Canada, Taiwan, UK) Experts have suggested that the Netherlands model suits US. The Dutch have been trying to reform their system since 1904 and only recently have instituted universal care.
The Dutch system mandates everyone to buy a private insurance coverage. It has three other salient features: a central fund for risk equalisation of insurance companies, incentives for competition among providers and strong regulations.
Professor Wynand van de Van of Erasmus University has written about the rise of The Netherlands Healthcare model in June 2008 issue of ' Health Affairs'. The summary is as follows: The Dutch insurance industry worked without any regulation till 1940. Several hundred insurance companies that existed contracted with doctors a capitation fees for their customers. And the doctors had freedom to start their practice and set their fees.
In 1941 a mandatory health insurance was introduced for low and middle income population; it covered physician fees, maternal care, drugs and hospital expenses. By 1965 about 85 per cent of the population had enrolled. But this well meaning insurance model created a problem.
Mandatory Healthcare cost increased the cost of labour, making the industry uncompetitive in the export driven economy. The government responded by price control and passed The Health Prices Act in 1982. The physicians were forced to forgo fee for service and the hospitals were given a single bundled payment for all services including the fees of specialists.
Lack of incentives choked the system and innovations suffered. Responding to growing discontent, government introduced a series of market based reforms to give incentives to insurance companies, consumers and providers over the years. Finally, The Health Insurance Act was passed in 2006, which makes health insurance mandatory and induces managed competition in the private sector.
The Netherlands Healthcare system serves a population of about 16.7 million, spends about 9 per cent of GDP, which is about 3,100 USD per capita. Of the total funding, individuals contribute 45 per cent, employers contribute 50 per cent and the government pays 5 per cent. Personal and employer contributions fund the system, while government pays for children under the age of eighteen.
Employers contribute an income- related percentage of their employees' salary and citizens pay about 1 to 2000, USD per year in premiums.
With all its flaws, some have called it the best Healthcare system in the European Union.
The current bill passed by the US Congress has some features from the Netherlands system but not all. The salient features of the bill are:
A Health Insurance Exchange to provide information about coverage and rates.
A public health insurance option to compete with private companies.
Guaranteed coverage from insurance market.
Limits for annual out of pocket expenditure.
Shared responsibility between employer and the individual.
Government to provide assistance to smaller employers.
Improving Medicare payment system to cut costs and improve performance.
Prevent fraud and overpayment.
Increased funding for training primary care physicians.
Expansion of community services for health promotion.
The bill lacks the innovative ' risk utilisation fund' of the Dutch system. But it incorporates the Australian innovation of government owned insurance.
The US system has had two main problems to fix: coverage for 47 million uninsured people and the cost of care. The bill mandates universal coverage but whether it will be able to control hyperinflation in national Healthcare expenditure will be apparent only after a few years.
The history of the US reforms have been mostly repair jobs done with tapes: minor repairs with scotch tape, convoluted repair by red tape and the current repair by duct tape. Hopefully, the current bill is the first step towards fundamental changes to rebuild the system as a majority of the Americans want. Like the rest of the world, it is still a work in progress.
The writer is a physician in the US. This piece appeared in 3quarksdaily. It relates to the 2009 House of Representatives version of the healthcare bill
AMARINDER'S PEN WILL NOW ' EXPOSE' HIS RIVALS
THOSE WHO thought that former chief minister Amarinder Singh's latest book The Last Sunset on the history of the Sikh empire and its dynamic ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh is the only thing that has exercised his imagination in recent times are wrong.
At the Punjab launch of the book in Chandigarh, Amarinder announced that he would now use his writing skills to expose his political rivals the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal ( SAD) in particular. He remarked that the time had come to expose the dubious role of the Sikh leadership in the politics of Punjab.
The forthcoming work, he claims, would deal with the political and social scenario in Punjab between 1978 and 1996 when the state suffered terrorism and be an eyeopener for the young generation in the state. The former chief minister said he had maintained a diary of events and political developments during the militancy years.
The book would essentially deal with the contemporary history of the state. Amarinder is suited to write the work since he has closely watched Punjab politics and was one of the key players attempting to broker peace in the state in the militancy years. When Bhindrawale attained a larger than life stature in Punjab, he played an emissary of the late prime minister Indira Gandhi in attempting to achieve normalcy in Punjab.
He was also instrumental in the signing of the Rajiv- Longowal accord. He was a Congress MP at that time. The central government attempted to seek a political solution to the grievances of the Sikhs through the accord. The accord was signed by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Harchand Singh Longowal, the then president of the Akali Dal. Longowal was assassinated a few months later. The accord recognised the religious, territorial and economic demands of the Sikhs that were thought to be nonnegotiable under Indira Gandhi's tenure. The agreement provided a basis for the return of normalcy in the state.
In The Last Sunset , his latest work, Amarinder recreates the Lahore Durbar and recounts the life of its ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh with effortless ease. He narrates how the inimitable Lion of Lahore was a stumbling block in the British Empire's project to bring the whole of India under its rule.
But, the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839 proved to be the last sunset of a great kingdom.
Amarinder Singh: He is certainly not your regular politician He wants to chronicle the militancy years Proving his mettle as a scholar of military history, Amrinder Singh a former officer of the Army's Sikh Regiment meticulously researched the source material for the book. It was something unexpected of a politician least of all in Punjab.
It is also slated to be released in Lahore, Maharaja Ranjit Singh's capital.
The Last Sunset is Amarinder Singh's third scholarly work, and was preceded by two wellreceived books on military history Lest We Forget: The History of the Indian Army from 1947- 65 and A Ridge Too Far: War in the Kargil Heights 1999 . Lest We Forget, published in 1999, is a tribute to the soldiers and officers of the Indian Army with descriptions of seven key battles from three post Independence wars Kashmir 1947- 48, the Indo- China War of 1962 and the Indo- Pakistan War of 1965.
His second book published in 2001 chronicles the Kargil War during the summer of 1999 from a militaristic perspective.
DR GREEN IS A MAN WITH A PURPOSE
A senior horticulturist from Punjab Agricultural University ( PAU) who is based in Chandigarh Dr Satish Narula has carved for himself a niche as the Garden Man. The horticulture extension specialist has been involved in the redesigning of Asia's biggest rose garden in Chandigarh.
Popularly known as Dr Green, Narula is also conceptualising and designing the Garden of Valley of Animals,
Maze with Hedge and Children's Adventure Park in Chandigarh.
Further, he has been invited to develop Guru Ka Bagh ( Guru's garden) at the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar and beautify the Jallianwala Bagh. He is already setting up the prestigious Chandigarh Botanical Garden on 180 acres. The garden would have an aquatic plants garden, in addition to cactus, Japanese, bulbous and nutrition gardens.
He also developed a nutrition garden and a spiritual garden at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi during Dr A P J Abdul Kalam's tenure as President, besides creating a herbal garden at the residence of the then Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.
HONOUR FOR RTI ACTIVIST
PUBLIC Causes Research Foundation ( PCRF) has nominated a Chandigarh based RTI activist advocate H C Arora as a member of the RTI Awards Committee.
Magsaysay awardee Arvind Kejriwal is the managing trustee of PCRF. The PCRF had instituted the RTI
Awards last year for the best RTI citizen, best public information officer and best information commission.
These awards were given away by the Vice- President of India. The awards carry a citation and a cash prize of Rs. two lakh. The RTI Awards Committee scrutinises the nominations for the awards. Arora is also the convenor of RTI Activists' Federation ( Punjab).
He also publishes a newsletter on RTI activism every month.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS HIS ABODE
PUNJAB'S political and bureaucratic circles are amused with the new passion of the Punjab government's media advisor, Harcharan Singh Bains: Facebook. Bains religiously stays hooked to Facebook and interacts with journalists and other people.
He sends posts and holds debates on the portal. " Now it has become easy for us to approach Bains. If he is not reachable, send him a message on Facebook and he will respond," quips a bureaucrat.
LIGHTING A CANDLE FOR TWO HEROES
PUNJAB Virasat Foundation ( PVF) organised a documentary festival on the legacy of " the working class heroes," Shaheed Bhagat Singh and noted revolutionary poet Avtar Singh " Pash." The foundation in association with Pash- Hansraj Yaadgar Committee screened two documentaries at Pash's native village Talwandi Salem in Punjab's Jalandhar district on March 23.
Rajeev Kumar, the founder president of the Virasat Foundation, says that the aim of the festival was to make the people understand the life and ideology of two of Punjab's true heroes. The foundation screened Main Haan Bhagat Singh ( I am Bhagat Singh) a short film on the life and ideology of the martyr and Apna Pash ( Our own Pash ) a work documenting the late poet's work and life.
Pash was born in 1950. He grew up in the midst of a revolutionary movement waged in Punjab against the
landlords, industrialists and traders who control the means of production. In 1986, he got involved with the Anti- 47 Front which opposed terrorism in Punjab. A group of Khalistani militants killed him on March 23, 1988 when Pash was in Punjab on a holiday from the US. Punjab Virasat Foundation had also organised a documentary festival on the " Concerns of Punjab" in January. The festival focused on the falling water table in the state and the menace of female foeticide.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
IT'S JOBS, STUPID
From banking to textiles, companies are showing a hiring appetite missing at the height of the slowdown. Corporate head-hunters are back on student campuses. Resorting to salary lock-ins and lay-offs only yesterday, firms are again willing to dole out fat paychecks . A prominent jobs portal has reported a 17 per cent spike in recruitment activity in February. Several surveys also reflect this upbeat mood among talent scouts and job-seekers alike. Global consultancy Ernst & Young predicts a 10-15 per cent hike in hiring in 2010-11, led by telecom. Another recent study projects nearly a million new organised sector jobs next fiscal, with healthcare, hospitality, realty and education leading the hirers' pack. Assocham, on its part, forecasts an impressive 87.37 million new jobs by 2015, with manufacturing right on top.
Jobs should, in fact, be India's new mantra. In a fast-growing and domestic demand-driven country, urban and rural consumers are on an aspirational spiral. The youth bulge is growing, and with it the productive potential of our human resources. Farm livelihoods barely sustain the majority of Indians. We need greater industry-agriculture interface, such as in agro-processing. For big-ticket growth to be enabling, initiatives like NREGS can't substitute for mass labour absorption into manufacturing. Such shifts need private funds in retail, and reformed labour and land acquisition rules to ease the setting up of factories.
Investment-friendly policymaking for key labour-intensive sectors, including real estate and tourism, can have multiplier effects in terms of empowering people, creating skills and gene-rating jobs. With demand for services in short supply, education is emerging as a labour magnet. Creaking government infrastructure barely satisfies India's mammoth student population, so more private players need to take up a supporting role. On health, let's think both ends of the social spectrum by building and running rural assets as well as promoting top dollar medical tourism. Boosted construction, a key growth driver, can serve social goals by creating affordable housing and spur infrastructure-building from malls and parks to ports and expressways providing jobs on a vast scale.
India's employment trends are, however, marked by a growing casualisation that translates into largescale labour insecurity. The reason is that employers are forced to tap informal hiring systems since labour laws don't permit flexibility. The gainers are labour contractors and the losers are workers, who remain underpaid and don't get on-the-job training. Labour reform has long been sidelined in the name of workers' interests. All this does is cosset a labour aristocracy while denying millions of labour market entrants a better chance to participate in India's economic transformation. If inclusive growth is the goal this situation needs to change, and fast.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
We welcome Washington holding a strategic dialogue with Islamabad, which may need reassurance that its interests will be protected if it is to move against terror groups on its territory. Neither do we mind if army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani should play a starring role in these confabulations, sidelining the civilian government of Pakistan. We have, in fact, offered the pragmatic argument that if the army is the real power centre in Pakistan today, New Delhi should seek to engage Gen Kayani to the greatest extent possible. But by discussing the possibility of a civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan as hinted at by Anne Patterson, US envoy to that country the strategic dialogue goes too far.
Islamabad has made no secret of its desire with parity with India in this regard, but there are good reasons why this is not possible. Mimicking the Indo-US agreement with Pakistan is a terrible idea, because India and Pakistan have very different records on non-proliferation. While New Delhi has been squeaky clean in this area, most incidents of nuclear proliferation around the world whether to North Korea, Iran or Libya have been found to have a Pakistan connection. Factor in the rise of extremism in the country and the radicalisation of elements within its military and intelligence communities, and any agreement giving them greater access to nuclear equipment and technology would be foolhardy in the extreme. The best thing that Washington can do now is firmly and comprehensively quash any possibility of a deal that Patterson might have raised.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
OUT OF PROPORTION
Political correctness has now reached such depths of degeneration in our liberal opinion that we no longer dare to call a spade a spade, let alone a bloody shovel. A recent example is the criticism of Mayawati for flaunting her diamonds and garlands of currency notes at BSP rallies. It took little or no account of her dogged belief that as a Dalit she is entitled to exercise that privilege.
This belief, her apologists argue, explains, indeed justifies, her utter indifference to what the 'elites' in the media and the rest of the political establishment think about such outrageous displays of wealth. The thought that she might have accumulated it through illegitimate means does not make them lose their sleep either. After centuries of oppression, runs their dirge, the trespasses of Dalits need to be overlooked.
Some apologists go further than that. Mayawati's most lethal weapon, they claim, is her candour. Unlike other leaders in our public life, she makes no bones about her greed for money and lust for power. She does things in broad daylight what others do only after dusk. And she says aloud what others mutter beneath their breath. She might be guilty of this or the other misdemeanour. But no one can accuse her of double-speak and double-think.
Arguments of this nature are flawed on two counts. They are patronising at best and, at worst, rooted in mawkish cynicism. To say that Mayawati's 'core constituency' isn't bothered about its leader's shenanigans is to suggest that the Dalits are bereft of a moral sense. Such a view is offensive in the extreme. The main reason why bahujan samaj leaders of the past Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Shahu Maharaj, Ramaswamy Naickerand, B R Ambedkar are revered by all sections of society today is precisely because their comportment, in private as in public, was above reproach. Even while they berated the upper castes for their deep-seated prejudices against those at the bottom of the social pecking order, they drew their strength from universally accepted notions of equality and justice.
Not once did they suggest, late alone assert, that as victims of caste oppression for several millennia, Dalits should be permitted to observe a lax moral regimen. What is good for the Brahmin must be good for the Dalit. They would have been appalled to hear that Mayawati's greed must be condoned because of her community's sense of victimhood.
Nor would they have shared Mayawati's antipathy for the 'elites'. In their own time, they were at the receiving end of Brahmins who held sway in public life, including the press. But they fought the critics armed with knowledge and reason and, above all, with a heightened sense of moral purpose. Ambedkar's critique of Gandhism was often acerbic. What lent it levity was his closely argued stand that the Mahatma chose not to attack the roots of social evils in the country: the varna system.
Our political establishment has strayed far away from this path. But the one who takes the cake for vagrancy is Mayawati. Her only service to her icon is the erection of his kitschy statues across the length and breadth of Uttar Pradesh along with those of her mentor Kanshi Ram. She has cast herself in stone as well. To claim, as her apologists do, that her Dalit flock applauds this megalomania is to have a poor opinion of their intelligence.
Moreover, to hail Mayawati for her candour is to forgive the sins of every demagogue in the land. The Thackerays, too, are candid. And so are Narendra Modi, Praveen Togadia and an assortment of maulvis. All of them nurse a sense of victimhood. All see conspiracies assailing them from all sides. All indulge in venomous rhetoric. And all manage to hoodwink their 'core constituency' again and again.
Yet this 'core constituency' is not frozen in time. It yearns for security, education, jobs and speedy justice. Sooner than later it has to repudiate the demagogues who are tall on promise and short on delivery. To assume that they will tolerate the megalomania of their leaders for all times to come is to hold them in contempt. Mayawati only succeeds in strengthening the vilest upper-caste prejudices about the parvenu Dalit.
The pity of it all is that her provocative speeches and gestures take attention away from her genuine leadership qualities. The former prime minister, P V Narasimha Rao, had once described her as a 'miracle of democracy'. Her grit and perseverance have enabled her to brave the heaviest of odds in our caste-ridden and male-centred polity. Time and again she has outwitted her political foes with her shrewd understanding of social forces. Few politicians in the country can match her talents for social engineering.
By embarking on a confrontationist path, she may well succeed in consolidating her support base among Dalits. At the same time, however, she is bound to alienate other sections of society. Her talents at social engineering would then come under intolerable strain. At present she is caught in a cleft-stick. She needs to revisit Ambedkar's teachings. He will have a thing or two to tell her about what it takes to prevail.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Would M F Husain have dared to paint the Prophet, either clothed or otherwise? That question is being asked by many after Husain gave up Indian citizenship to live in Qatar. The artist was constrained to go into exile following a strident reaction by elements of the sangh parivar to his depiction of Hindu deities in the nude. While those who believe in freedom of expression at any cost have rued the Husain case, others not all of whom belong to the parivar have raised the counter question regarding the Prophet, and whether Husain, or any other artist, would be at liberty to portray him.
The question is rhetorical: Islam forbids any pictorial depiction of the Prophet. So the question has nothing to do with artistic freedom, or lack of it, but with that old bugaboo: 'weak' Hinduism as compared with 'strong' Islam. In the face of a radicalised Islam which in the name of blasphemy has targeted people as varied as Salman Rushdie, a Danish cartoonist and Taslima Nasreen, to name only a few the so-called 'weakness' of Hinduism in dealing with religious offence has increasingly been called into question. Such arguments are not merely misguided; they are inimical to the very essence of what, for the sake of convenience, is called Hinduism.
It has become a cliche to say that Hinduism is not a religion, but a way of life. Perhaps it would be more accurate and less repetitive to describe Hinduism as a life which finds a way to let others live their lives, according to their lights, without seeking to convert them or make them change their ways. The basis of what has been labelled as Hinduism is the opposite of zero tolerance: it is infinite tolerance. There are almost as many Hinduisms as there are Hindus; it's a designer religion. There are shudh shakahari Hindus who will not eat onions or garlic, and equally there are fully paid-up members of the Hindu fold who eat beef without a qualm. There are Hindus who acknowledge a pantheon of 33 million deities, and there are Hindus who disavow the existence of even one God.
Far from being a 'weakness' of Hinduism, this endless elasticity of adaptation gives it a supple spiritual and philosophical strength that is unsurpassed by any other belief system or body of speculative thought. Efforts by the sangh parivar and others to 'semitise' Hinduism in the manner of faiths which are based on uniformity rather than diversity (one scripture, one congregation) and so 'strengthen' it are, in fact, witting or unwitting exercises in sabotage. A homogenised Hinduism would not be Hinduism at all, but a travesty of that myriad-threaded fabric of daily ritual and abstract reason which has been ceaselessly woven and re-woven over thousands of years. The face of militant Hinduism the crusade to 'strengthen' Hinduism by robbing it of its life-breath of tolerance is the mirror image of radicalised Islamism. Indeed, a 'strong' Islam is as much of a misnomer as a 'weak' Hinduism. For all its relative youth and seeming monoculturalism, mainstream Islam has many tributaries and distributaries, including that of Sufism in which the Creator is wooed as the romantic Beloved by the suitor intoxicated by spiritual passion. Do these diverse strands of Islam 'weaken' it or 'strengthen' it?
To come back to the question as to whether Husain would have dared to paint the Prophet, it is possible that as a good Muslim the idea didn't occur to him. So how come he took such scandalous liberties with Hindu deities? Could it be because the artist thought he intuited the true nature of Hinduism, that in it there are no scandalous liberties deserving of censorship? By bearing witness to its capacity of tolerance was the artist willy-nilly demonstrating that, good Muslim apart, he was also a good 'Hindu'? Too bad he was proved wrong about the tolerance and had to exile himself. Has that 'strengthened' Hinduism or 'weakened' it?
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'VOCATIONAL COURSES BACKBONE OF OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM'
Switzerland has maintained one of the lowest unemployment rates, even during the recent economic crisis. It also has one of the highest proportions of skilled workers. This is ascribed to their system of vocational education and training. Rudolph H Strahm, one of the pioneers of this system, spoke with Subodh Varma:
What is the Swiss vocational education and training (VET) system?
We call it the dual system because students spend one to one and a half day in classrooms in a college and three to three and a half days in an industrial unit getting hands-on training. There are 243 trades in 22 fields on offer. A tripartite commission consisting of the federal government, the employers' associations and the employees' associations determines the content of these courses. It is periodically reviewed so that the latest technologies are included. Courses last for three to four years. Students are admitted after completing compulsory school at the age of 15. They are guided in their choice by state-run occupational guidance offices. Companies pay them about 800 Swiss francs per month for the duration of apprenticeship.
Are these courses popular?
They are the backbone of our secondary education system. Sixty-three per cent of compulsory school pass-outs enrol in vocational and professional education courses. Only 23 per cent go for academic baccalaureates. Even after completing this secondary stage, about three quarters of students go for higher education in professional colleges or higher VET, with practical training. Almost 90 per cent of the VET and PET passouts get jobs. The average wage a new trained entrant in industry gets is about 5,600 Swiss francs. Some of them continue into the higher vocational or professional education sector. Many existing workers join courses in new trades if they think they are better suited for them.
What is the key to this success?
It is the involvement of employers and the state together in a public-private partnership. There is no law forcing industry to take in apprentices. But they need highly skilled people, especially in new emerging skill areas. The apprentices are trained in these skills and they infuse the mainstream economy with it. Economic analysis shows that productive work by apprentices in the workplaces starts yielding profits to the company from the second year itself. So, it is very beneficial to the industry. Expenditure on education by the state is just like any other advanced country -- in the range of about 6 per cent of GDP. But such a vocational system is unique to us, and our neighbours -- Denmark, Austria, Germany and Holland -- for historical reasons.
India's experience of vocational education has not been very happy. Do you have any suggestions?
I can't recommend any formula, because every country has its own tradition and evolution. But perhaps a better linkage with the needs of industry -- with them taking on some responsibility too -- would help close the gap and ensure better employability of the workers.
Can your system be adapted to a different setting like India?
We ourselves have kept changing the course content over the years according to popularity -- in the 1980s it was banking services and in the 1990s informatics. Since the whole system is closely aligned to industry needs, changes in the macro-economy are speedily reflected in courses and seats. Ours is a service sector-based economy. This is reflected in the vocational courses. The same can be adapted for a more differentiated economy like India's.
For those caught short on the wrong side of the law, hope has come in the philosophy of former Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy. He feels that a criminal background should be no barrier to contesting elections if the said felon is sure to win. The dear man goes further. In the unique Kumaraswamy penitentiary and correctional school of thought, the erring party could actually be reformed when he or she comes into politics. This says, the ex-CM, is for the greater good of society. We do feel he has a point.
Given the manner in which politics is conducted these days, a career in strong-arm tactics, not to mention other forms of criminal activity, might come in useful. In state legislatures, and Mr Kumaraswamy knows a thing or two about the proceedings in these bodies, a certain muscle power bordering on the criminal is useful in order to uproot microphones, fling chairs about and, if required, land a few well-aimed punches on your opponent. We also agree with Mr Kumaraswamy when he questions our reluctance to ask politicians with clean images any uncomfortable questions. Indeed, we would like to know how his famous father and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, who coined the much-maligned epithet 'humble farmer' and his family came into such wealth and power if they started off tending the daisies chez Gowda.
The ex-CM has gone to such pains to defend his party's decision to give a ticket to a history sheeter, that peculiar Indian coinage for a person with a criminal record. But in all fairness, it is good that we let everything out in the open. This would save us the trouble of investigating into the backgrounds of our elected representatives. This might mean that many of our tribe of journalists will be out of work, but what the heck, it is in the greater good of the motherland. Going by the Kumaraswamy doctrine, it is winnable-win situation all around.
THE MENU'S STILL A LA CARTE
We are in the process of legislating ourselves a free lunch. The law being drafted traces its roots to court rulings that the right to live is a right to live with human dignity. Access to food forms the core of this dignity and it would be unconscionable to argue against such an entitlement. However, differences are bound to emerge over how much food should be guaranteed and to whom. Much before the need for legislation made itself manifest, the Indian State has been providing cheap rations to the poor on a stupendous scale: last year the Centre spent Rs 56,000 crore as food subsidy. The issue is not that the State is miserly, it is how much of this dole actually reaches the needy. A law that allows any entitled person to seek accountability if denied, unfortunately, does not address the delivery failure.
India has a long way to go before it can get food into every mouth that needs it. First, we need a fix on how many people face hunger. Varying estimates of poverty muddy the picture as do the perverse fiscal incentive of claiming inflated incidence. The World Bank reckons 300 million Indians live on less than $1 a day. Indian estimates of poverty range from 270 million to 450 million people. If our policymakers zero in on one number and manage to issue all of them identity numbers within a reasonable time-frame they still have to figure out how to get the food to them before it rots in granaries or is stolen. It costs nearly Rs 7 to transfer one rupee worth of benefits to the poor through the public distribution system and just over half the total food subsidy reaches the consumer. At this rate, 0.5 per cent of India's GDP falls off the free lunch table every year.
Then there is the larger question of whether subsidised food is the most convenient option to keep hunger at bay. Much the same result can be achieved by widening the circle of prosperity but the process is slower. Enhanced farm productivity is vital for keeping food prices in check on the one hand and raising rural incomes on the other. The next Green Revolution is waiting to happen if India can stop 1 per cent of its GDP from spoiling between the farm and the market. Food entitlements are an essential means but must become irrelevant eventually for the Indian State to claim any measure of success in fighting malnourishment.
DELHI, TAKE IT EASY
As a weekend sandstorm coloured Beijing desert-yellow and residents were warned that the grainy air was unsafe to breathe, I stayed home trawling Delhi's preparations for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games. Was I reading about the capital of India or China?
Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit says "we want to change Delhi's public culture". The line takes me back to the summer of 2008 when a communist official in a little black skirt told me, "We want to improve the citizens' quality and human culture."
As Delhi spends copious administrative machinery after getting inspired by the Communist Party of China's
'civilised' game plan, it might be worth noting that Beijing did not evict bad manners in a temporary campaign. The Office of Capital Cultural and Ethical Progress Construction spent four years teaching Beijingers three-second handshakes, eight-teeth smiles and how to warmly applaud.
After four years and over four million etiquette pamphlets of the kind that Delhi is printing for its 'rude' citizens, the campaign had mixed results. The beggars of Beijing speak better English than the taxi-drivers who received free textbooks. The beggars say 'hello' and 'money, money'. The taxi-drivers still say nihao, can't say 'left, right,' and many of them still shoot spit with special sound effects.
New Delhi, I read, wants ten states to take their beggars back. After the Olympics tourists left, Beijing's beggars came back to their spots outside malls selling knock-offs. If the Delhi government thinks its citizens are rude, try buying a Mao clock in Beijing's counterfeit goods market. If you don't buy, the salesgirls will ask you to never return. A normal sales practice is to clutch wrists in a kung fu grip.
Privately, Beijingers warmly applauded the end of the games so that they could get on with life. The English textbooks and etiquette lessons are forgotten. The Olympic rings that decked an arch opposite my apartment lie tossed on a parked truck. But the world is still talking about Beijing's real Olympian change new subways, airport, railway stations and continuing anti-pollution policies. That's what Delhi needs to note.
As Beijing's rival Shanghai reels under peer pressure to banish pyjamas in public and train Miss Etiquettes for the World Expo to take place between May and October, a party-backed newspaper recently ran a surprising editorial. It asked Shanghai to 'take it easy' because the event need not be perfect.
Several frequent-flying Chinese regularly tell me that India's 'public culture' (yes, the same one Delhi wants to reform) and Indian cities are more international and foreigner-friendly than China. In fact, they want Beijing to do a Delhi.
KEEPING A FINE BALANCE
The shenanigans that accompanied the passage of the Women's Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha grabbed public attention. Some of the television coverage also focused the limelight on the person being seen as the driving force behind it, Congress boss Sonia Gandhi. But this incident also sheds much light on something else: a new kind of relationship between party and government symbolised best by that between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Gandhi.
Before the Congress ascendancy in India crumbled decisively in the mid-1990s, the relationship between the Congress party organisation and Congress governments both at the Centre and in the states had been fraught. A little bit of that history must be recounted.
In the 1940s and 1950s, there had been a titanic struggle for power between the Congress party organisation represented by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) and the Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs) and Congress governments both at the Centre and in the states. The former claimed that it should wield effective power as the organisation that had brought about independence and as the mass organisation that represented the people. The champions of the latter, however, repudiated this claim and upheld the position that the powers of the government were paramount and sovereign, even as the Constitution was being scripted. In the end, with the Congress 'high command' throwing itself behind the latter proposition, the paramountcy of the government's power was sustained and the party organisation tamed, its claims to power circumscribed within constrained limits.
With the advent of Indira Gandhi, the rules of the game changed and remained in place, perhaps, with minor variations until the era of coalitions dawned. Indira Gandhi subverted most conventions and structures of democracy, bringing under her personal control both the party and the government, running both with the help of small, subservient coteries one of which was the notorious 'kitchen cabinet'. In a sense, the issue of party-government relations had been rendered irrelevant.
Since the UPA came to power in 2004, the issue of party-government relations has once again become germane. It appears, on the evidence of the past six years or so that the direction in which this relation is headed is healthy and bodes well for democracy. It is best exemplified by what we may designate as the Gandhi-Singh dialectic.
In the early years of the UPA government, there was a sense both in the media and the public that Sonia Gandhi held the whip hand and Singh deferred to her. That impression was dispelled, to some extent, when Singh held out, almost against his party, to get the Congress and Gandhi to back his nuclear deal with the US. But the impression had been wrong in the first place. It's true that of the two the party president is the more powerful and was there to be a showdown, she would probably prevail. But Gandhi's style is distinctly understated and it doesn't appear that she seeks to wantonly impose herself on the prime minister on all matters. That does make for a fairly equal relationship.
But, of course, the issue is not mainly about Gandhi and Singh. It's about party and government. It does appear that government is by and large left alone to run the country. But it does also appear that the party determines the broader direction of policy. That's probably why we now have a welfarist policy framework of some kind instead of market fundamentalist liberalisation. This is clearly Gandhi's contribution. An unrestrained Singh would probably have been more Washington Consensus-oriented.
And this model is right and balanced. The party makes the political choices that frames policy and the government makes and executes policy relatively unhindered.
Suhit Sen is a Fellow at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata
The views expressed by the author are personal
When the politician-social worker Nanaji Deshmukh died last month, none of the obituaries mentioned what may have been his finest moment. This occurred during a debate in the Rajya Sabha in the first week of May 2002. The subject being discussed was the recent Gujarat riots. As members of the BJP and the Congress traded accusations, Deshmukh intervened to suggest that the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the Leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi, together visit the camps of Gujarat in a bid to restore communal harmony.
Tragically, the polarised political atmosphere of the time would not allow the proposal to be taken forward. Now, eight years later, a bipartisan consensus in the same House has permitted the passing of the Women's Reservation Bill. (Perhaps I should have said 'tripartisan', since the support of the Left was vital.) This important it is too early to say 'historic' event prompts a closer look at the past and possible future of bi-and tri-partisan politics in India.
India was made united and democratic by an extraordinary act of political selflessness, whereby a particular party put the interests of the nation above its own. The Congress had dominated the struggle for freedom from British colonial rule, but when the first Cabinet of independent India was constituted, crucial portfolios were assigned to those who were not Congressmen. The Madras businessman and Justice Party politician, R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, was made Finance Minister, while the Akali Dal leader, Baldev Singh, became Defence Minister.
The most remarkable appointment to that first Cabinet, however, was that of B.R. Ambedkar. Through the 1930s and 1940s, Ambedkar had been a bitter opponent of the Congress, and had attacked Mahatma Gandhi in particular in very sharp language. Yet, as Rajmohan Gandhi tells us, when India became independent, the Mahatma advised Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel to include Ambedkar in the Cabinet, on the grounds that 'freedom has come to India, not to the Congress party'. The old adversary of the Congress was made Law Minister, as well as Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution. Good deeds led to noble ends, for Ambedkar did an excellent job in piloting the Constitution through an often fractious Assembly.
The second great example of cross-party collaboration took place at the end of the 1970s. Until then, the decade had been marked by vicious rivalries between the Congress on the one hand and the Opposition parties on the other. In 1974 and 1975, the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, and her main political opponent, Jayaprakash Narayan, traded charges that brought little credit to either party. A popular movement against the government led by Narayan was answered by Mrs Gandhi in June 1975 through the imposition of a State of Emergency which led to the arrest and incarceration of thousands of politicians and social workers.
In January 1977, the Emergency was lifted and fresh elections called. On the eve of the polls, the Opposition politician Morarji Desai, told an interviewer that if his Janata Party came to power, it would 'work for the removal of fear which has enveloped the people'. One of its first tasks would be 'to rectify the Constitution' to rid it of the Emergency-era amendments which had reduced the powers of the Supreme Court and the legislature, while greatly magnifying the powers of the Prime Minister. 'We will have to ensure', said Morarji Desai, 'that [an] Emergency like this can never be imposed [again]. No Government should be able to do so'.
When the Janata Party came to power and Morarji became Prime Minister, he kept his word. His outstanding Law Minister, Shanti Bhushan, supervised the drafting of amendments to the Constitution which would restore the position of the courts, make the functioning of legislatures more transparent, reduce the arbitrary powers of the Centre, and so on. These amendments required a two-thirds majority in Parliament. By now, however, even the Congress Party was embarrassed by the Emergency and its excesses. Thus, when these amendments were discussed in Parliament on December 7, 1978, both Morarji Desai and Indira Gandhi voted in favour, along with their respective party members.
Democracy requires debate and dissent, these articulated by individuals and parties who subscribe to different
points of view. So long as these arguments are conducted by words and not through violence, intimidation, or
blackmail, they are necessary and vital. At the same time, there are moments in a democracy's history when political rivals need to work together for the common good.
These need not necessarily be in constitutional matters alone. In the wake of the Gujarat riots, had the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition the courage to follow Nanaji Deshmukh's advice, it would have sent an extraordinarily powerful and wholly positive message to the citizenry at large. Now, in the wake of the crisis caused by the rising Maoist insurgency, there needs to be a cross-party (if not all-party) consensus on how not to yield to violence and terror while simultaneously making amends for the shocking exploitation of tribal people by the Indian State and corporate interests down the decades. The corruption of our political class, and of our judiciary, police, and civil service, is another problem that can only be tackled by an abandonment of partisan and self-interested positions.
In the history of democratic India, examples of constructive cross-party collaboration are rare indeed. Those who are pleased with the recent denouement in the Rajya Sabha should now work towards making such happenings a more regular feature of our political life.
Ramachandra Guha is the author of India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy
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
EYE ON ORE
The Supreme Court has instructed several mining enterprises based in Anantpur district of Andhra Pradesh including one, the Obulapuram Mining Company, that is associated with the powerful Reddy brothers of Karnataka to stop operations while investigations are conducted into whether they are mining in areas which they aren't supposed to touch. This is a welcome check on the Reddy brothers, who must have begun to think of themselves as pretty much invincible by now. The court, recognising that commercial enterprises can't afford to shut down in an open-ended manner, has asked the Survey of India to investigate, and submit an interim report in two weeks. If the Reddys have indeed moved many of the posts marking the edge of their claim into protected forest land, this is a necessary preliminary step in a process that will hopefully end with a full accounting of their trespasses, literal and figurative.
Two points, however, are thrown into sharp focus. The first is that "illegal mining", as the Reddys are accused of, goes beyond simply extending ones own claim in this straightforward and quantifiable manner. It includes bringing out more from your mine than you are technically supposed to; it includes ducking or wriggling out way out of environmental assessments. Most twistily, it includes the habit one which, as a recent set of articles in this newspaper demonstrated, the Reddys are widely accused of having of expanding your influence by forcing other lease-holders to share their leases with you. These are crimes which are tougher to catch; if the Reddys are guilty of some or all of them, any investigation will take some time to conclude.
The second is a larger point. It takes an institution as insulated and as distant as the Supreme Court to get things moving, to force a response from the state administrations. (On Monday, the Andhra Pradesh governments suspended or transferred three officials who had cleared various Reddy projects.) The local authorities, and increasingly state governments, are too close to mining interests to ensure the sector is cleaned up. This is not a state of affairs that the Centre can allow to happen. Of India's 50 mining districts, half are largely tribal, and more than half are among India's 150 poorest districts. Devolving control of extractive mining entirely to careless or extractive state governments will leave us with a basket of problems, all born of political interference, of thuggish crony capitalism. That is not something that a fast-growing economy can afford. New mining legislation should ensure that independent supervision of mining processes is quick and transparent. The Supreme Court cannot step in every time.
FREE AT LAST?
The Internet, as John Gilmore famously said, is built to interpret censorship as damage and route around it. And now, Google, the front door to the Internet for most people, has decided to literally find a way around China's great firewall. It will now redirect search to Hong Kong, while keeping its sales and engineering offices in China and sell ads for Chinese-language search. Sick of being censored and slapped down by China, and yet reluctant to give up on a gigantic and growing market (nearly 390 million users), the company has now come to a compromise.
China wants the Web to bend to its will while it is content to use it for business and recreation, anything that crosses over into incendiary political/human rights territory is not tolerated. YouTube was accused of lying when it showed a crackdown on Tibetan protesters, Google, Twitter and Flickr were blocked days before the Tiananmen anniversary, and a slew of recent regulations have resulted in thousands of arrests. It is hardly an exception: Iran, Ethiopia, Burma, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates all block content. Google's Sergey Brin calls this an untenable "half an Internet" approach. After a series of devastating cyber-attacks, the Google-China smackdown erupted into the headlines in January, when the company decided to defy the government and refuse to participate in the surveillance and control. The move covered Google in glory, to China's great annoyance. "Illegal flower donation" was the inimitable phrase coined by China's propagandists to decry the wreaths and bouquets placed at Google's corporate headquarters in China. Of course, this grand rejection need not have been prompted by don't-be-evil motives; cost-benefit analysis might have led them to the same conclusion. After two months of haggling, the company has decided to ship out with the hope that this "sensible solution" will "meaningfully increase access to information for people in China".
Of course, that remains to be seen as so far, the government has seemed capable of filtering out whatever it wants. The issue is often tactically wielded to shame China: Obama has spoken up for an unfettered Internet, and Hillary Clinton cautioned against an "information curtain". But it's unlikely that Google's huffy exit will change anything yet the ideas patrol remains formidable as ever.
SHOW US THE MONEY
The real civil nuclear liability: we are not being compensated for having the wrong debate. Why the Nuclear Liability Bill is not a conspiracy against Indian people by the Indian government has been conclusively demonstrated in these pages. However, the bill may be reconsidered in that the government may amend some of the headline numbers. If a giant radioactive if the BJP declares itself grumblingly satisfied, the bill may pass both Houses. This is optimistic, of course. But even that optimistic conclusion does not guarantee that we will start having the right debate. If the bill passes, we may have no debate. And the government will be spared the really tough question.
That question is how we fund nuclear power generation plans. During the nuclear deal debate (another wrong-headed political debate) the oft-repeated government target for nuclear power generation was 20,000 MW in 10 years. Let's trust our government and take that target seriously.
But, first, let's get a non-answer out of the way. The non-answer is reducing commitment to nuclear power generation. Insufficient electricity generation can choke India's economic growth. Continued reliance on mainly thermal power does not produce a low-carbon economy. No matter how much climate change diplomacy India does, if it grows at, say, 8-9 per cent for 10 years and that's fed mainly by thermal power, its arguments would, as it were, lose a lot of steam. So, we need nuclear power. But how do we finance it?
There's been no official suggestion that the public sector monopoly on nuclear power generation will be changed. During the government-opposition debate on the nuclear liability bill the government said there are no plans to allow private operators. And the BJP said it suspects that the bill's distinction between operator-government liability commitments (Rs 500 crore and Rs 2,100 crore) is a de facto forerunner to privatisation. So, the government is firm on maintaining public sector nuclear power generation monopoly and the principal opposition party, suspecting the government's firmness on this issue, is even more firm.
We are looking at the public sector operator, NPCIL, to execute a massive expansion of nuclear power generation capacity. Will NPCIL require large doses of Central budgetary support? There's Central budgetary support for the power sector as such, a little less than Rs 30,000 annually. However, remember, other power sources like thermal and hydel have private and public players. On nuclear power, with its public sector monopoly, we are looking at a very different order of numbers in terms of official commitment.
The cost of generating nuclear power in India, by working in costs associated with equipment import and assuming best practices, has been estimated at around Rs 10 crore per MW. If we plan to produce 20,000 MW in 10 years, then the total generation cost is Rs 2,00,000 crore and the per year expenditure for this period is Rs 20,000 crore.
Can the government's budget fund this? You need to be only minimally familiar with the government's current and projected near-future fiscal capacity to know that this order of expenditure commitment will be extremely stressful. This government has a high welfare expenditure commitment. But it also has a commitment to a low and stable tax regime (the under-discussion new direct tax code and the goods and services tax). It also wants to, and should, return to a low deficit fiscal regime. Juggling all these is tough. Add to that the extra annual commitment of Rs 20,000 crore on just one subhead (nuclear power) of just one expenditure head (the power sector).
Will the government break its low/stable tax regime commitment to fund public sector nuclear power generation? And/or will it break its fiscal correction commitment and borrow more? And/or will it cut into welfare commitments?
Now, the government may try to answer the question by simply relaxing its target. Not 20,000 MW in 10 years but, say, 10,000 MW in 10 years. Indeed, NPCIL has been talking about producing 10,000 MW by 2020, requiring an investment of Rs 1,00,000 crore.
If we are looking at the government to fund that out of its budget, it's still problematic. Even a halving of the annual government expenditure commitment on one subhead is fiscally very challenging. Plus, the reduced generation commitment leads to the question of producing enough power in a reasonable time to feed economic growth, given the low carbon economy imperative. Is hydel power the answer? Many power sector experts think it's not, given the scale of requirement.
Given the potential stress on government budget, the pragmatic question will be, can NPCIL manage largely on its own? Here, there's a very important qualification. NPCIL raises debt in the Indian market. It also takes term loans from banks. If it raises a lot more market debt via bond issues and takes a lot more term loans, are these ultimately different from repayment obligations of the government of India? Not really. NPCIL is a wholly owned public enterprise and its debt is in effect sovereign debt. So, if we say there will be little or no Central budgetary plans for NPCIL's investment, we are not really answering the fiscal question. We are just dodging it.
The Union science minister recently said there will be budgetary support for NPCIL. We do not know for sure whether there will be any, and if there is, what its level would be. But we do know that ultimately the distinction between budget financing and NPCIL's "own" debt financing is not relevant.
NPCIL has also said a 70:30 debt/equity plan to fund its investment. The equity contributions will reportedly come from NPCIL and public sector companies like NTPC, IOL and NALCO. Here again we are looking at intra-public sector model of financing.
All of this hides the real issues. Can NPCIL manage to expand nuclear power capacity without private investor participation (going to the equity market itself)? Will even that be enough and therefore do we need private operators in nuclear power generation? Or if the above are deemed not desirable do we settle for a considerably less ambitious nuclear power expansion plan? And if we do that, isn't there a question for the government to answer about the cost to the country arising out of its public sector orthodoxy on nuclear power generation?
That's the real debate, if only the opposition would see it.
THE BAREILLY FACTOR
Bareilly's history of communal harmony means the recent riots have been an anomaly. It shows, however, that while Muslims project themselves as a unity and are similarly perceived by others, this unity has never been real. In Bareilly, the fundamental cleavage has been between Barelwis and Deobandis.
This cleavage dates back to the 19th century, traceable to the theological line propagated by Ahmad Raza Khan who lived in Bareilly. He distinguished his theological line from Deoband, the theological seminary located further west, in Saharanpur some whose followers he described as "Wahhabis", after the reactionary religious movement which sought to rid Islam in India of local accretions. The Barelwis refer to themselves as "Sunnis", implying thereby that the Deobandis and other groups are not. The Deobandis and other antagonists make similar claims about them.
The differences between the two groups are not merely theological. They relate as much to Islamic practice. The Barelwis are somewhat eclectic, insisting that many of the ritual practices found among Muslims as a result of local influences are perfectly tenable. For example, they allow the veneration of saints, as well as using saints as intercessors between God and man. They also endorse the ritual offering of obeisance to the dead. The Deobandis are strongly opposed to the persistence of such practices, regarding them as remnants of a Hindu past. They want to stamp out such ritual practices and purify Islam. The Tablighi Jamat, whose founder himself was a Deoband product, has been active in trying to dissuade Muslims from adhering to such accretions and emphasise the practice of Islam's fundamentals.
These differences over theology and ritual practices have led to rioting and conflict not only in Bareilly, but also in other parts of the country where people of Barelwi persuasion are found in substantial numbers. Unlike Hindu-Muslim conflict, Bareilly has witnessed Barelwi-Deobandi riots on several occasions in the past. Over the years, the level of conflict has worsened. Each regards the other as non-believers or kaffirs. Mosques in Bareilly, and now in many other towns and cities, carry a signboard announcing that it is a Barelwi mosque and non-Barelwis cannot pray there. If missionaries of the Tablighi Jamat ever use the mosque to propagate their ideology, the mosque is washed and cleansed.
One incident eloquently brings out the mutual antagonism took place at a funeral prayer, at which people of both persuasions joined. The prayer leader was a Deobandi; Barelwi clerics subsequently pronounced that the nikah, or marriage contracts, of all the Barelwis who had joined the prayer were thereby annulled and they must go through the nikah ceremony with their spouses afresh. Such antagonism is more distinctly visible among society's lower classes; upper classes, whether of Deobandis and Barelwis, recognise these differences but quite often ignore them for marriage and similar purposes.
What sustains such theological and ritual differences are each group's madrasas, which claim to teach Islam to Muslims, but in practice they teach them Islam as propagated by their distinct theological line. The students in these madrasas come from poor families in backward areas. Soon enough, the relationship between these students and founders of madrasas build up into a strong patron-client relationship because of the material help they receive in the form of food and free education. Subsequently, these students go on to their own madrasas and end up becoming more loyal than the king, as it were, to the theological line in which they have been trained. Thus, the antagonism of faith is strengthened and spread far and wide.
The Barelwi cleric, Tauquir Raza Khan, tried some time ago to bring the two groups together. He started declaring that Muslims should take to martyrdom meaning that irrespective of theological differences they should act as one. His position was soon contested by other Barelwis, who went on to exhort their theological brethren not to be misguided by Tauquir Raza Khan, not to join hands and interact with the Deobandis. Even a cataclysmic event like the riot could not succeed in bringing the two lines of persuasion together.
In the face of this glaring chasm, an explanation for the communal riot must be found in the changing dynamics of residential patterns in the city. Historically, Hindus and Muslims have lived interspersed in the city. With the emergence of large colonies on the outskirts, Hindus have been moving out to new colonies. Muslims are not averse to this development as it would reduce population pressure. The popularity of Varun Gandhi-style politics in the Bundelkhand region has added to the tussle. These appear to be more potent factors than any kind of Muslim communal solidarity.
The writer is a former professor of political sociology, JNU
THE MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS
In 1915 in a village named Ooruttambalam in Kerala, the great Dalit revolutionary Ayyankali took a Pulaya untouchable girl for admission into a Malayalam school. The upper castes set fire to the school to prevent the untouchable children from "defiling the educational institution". This was followed by the first-ever agricultural strike in the history of the nation, fought not for wages but for school admission. After nearly a 100 years (and 60 years of the Indian republic), education and admission will be as inaccessible as for the little Pulaya girl. This time, the question is not about the right to entry, but the cost of education.
As a nation, we know the travails of educating the children of Dalits, adivasis, marginal farmers and toiling industrial workers. But the rich in our country never had this problem. Even the salaried middle class could look up to low-fee high-quality institutions built by the government to educate their children. If the HRD minister's dream comes true, the entire middle class will become debt-ridden to eager private banks and dormant nationalised banks. In 10 years, there will be no difference between the farmers of Vidarbha and the English-educated salaried middle class.
One can imagine the plight of parents who took loans to send their children to Australia, and their consequent troubles. Education, once almost free, has now become a costly, globalised and privatised commodity. The UPA was visibly under-committed to implementing the 95th amendment made to the Constitution by inserting Article 15 (5) to make education accessible to Dalits, adivasis and the backwards. The amendment envisaged reservation in all government, aided or unaided private educational institution. But with UPA-II, one only hears of liberating education from the clutches of the government, revamping higher education etc. because education is a saleable commodity.
The second indication of things to come is the pricing of application forms. The price of a mere form is never
less than Rs 500 in private and sometimes even in government-run institutions. How can a student whose family falls under the poverty line (less than Rs 20 a day as per the Arjun Sengupta report), afford one? Will the whole family go hungry to buy one application form?
The right to education humbug, unfortunately, is restricted to government institutions. The poor will not have right of entry into elite public schools the government is not willing to pay the high fees, and nor are the schools willing to accept poor children. So by 2015, again we will have a poor Pulaya girl waiting outside a public school.
The Union HRD minister has brought in the Educational Tribunal Bill which deals with any dispute arising between students and institutions, teachers and institutions and the institutions concerned with any regulatory body. That means there will be more work for the lawyers in our country.
Next comes the Foreign Education Providers Bill which will allow a foreign institution to operate in our country and probably charge tuitions in dollars or euros, and push our foreign-education-crazy middle class to run around banks (and money lenders) to cough up the cash. The UPA is also bringing in a bill on accreditation to allow the entry of private accrediting agencies into the country, both foreign and local, to rank private educational institutions and star them from one to five. Instead of expanding and increasing the reach of the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) which is the premier and highly authentic institution established by the University Grants Commission, headed by highly respected academics like Prof. Goverdhan Mehta and Prof. H.A. Ranganath, the government has chosen to open this country to roadside shops to award accreditation to our business-minded private educational institutions.
Again the lawyers in our country will find their plates full because the government is coming up with another bill, purportedly to contain capitation fee, but actually designed to impute criminality to teachers through the Prohibition of Unfair Practice in Technical, Medical, Educational Institutions and Universities Bill. This bill will allow the police to enter educational institutions on one or the other pretext, the slightest violation or even false information about the facilities and faculty. Upon violation of any of the 25 listed violations, the Central government (usurping the state's government's role) can fine up to Rs 50 lakh or sentence the teacher up to 10 years. This is not to defend errant insititutions, but whether such actions warrant the imputation of criminality is the basic question that Parliament must ponder. After all, education is a field for learning, not for litigation.
It is an entirely different issue that the HRD minister and the UPA are least bothered about the rights of state
governments to run educational institutions, and regulate them in the interest of linguistic culture and integrity. There will be a day when the nation will have to rue the Centre's unwarranted entry into the states' domain and the imposition of the HRD ministry's whims, to cow down, control, regulate, access, accredit, implicate in criminal cases, the education sector in the state governments.
UPA -II is now creating another SEZ special education zones which will lead to a further divide between the haves and have-nots in a country where education is already the primary basis for the gulf between the rich and poor, the rural and the urban.
The writer is CPI national secretary and a Rajya Sabha MP.
C. RAJA MOHAN
While the leadership of Pakistan's security establishment is in Washington this week for a strategic dialogue, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has traveled to Beijing to seek Chinese blessings for his intrepid and autonomous diplomacy.
Kabul now sees a critical Chinese role both political and economic in the endgame that is playing out in Afghanistan. For Beijing, in turn, limiting the instability on its turbulent south-western frontiers is an important national security objective.
Karzai will be received by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao in Beijing. The Afghan president wants to expand his manoeuvring room vis-a-vis the United States and Pakistan.
Ever since the Obama administration signalled its displeasure with Karzai and Washington's special representative Richard Holbrooke sought to undermine him, the Afghan president has recognised the importance of striking out on his own.
Karzai outsmarted Holbrooke during the presidential elections last year, when the US diplomat backed Dr. Abdullah to replace the incumbent president. Karzai also surprised Washington and the international community at the recent London Conference when he announced a separate plan for engaging the Taliban.
If the Obama administration wanted to focus the local Taliban commanders in southern and eastern Afghanistan, Karzai's plans aim at a power sharing arrangement with the Taliban leadership.
Karzai's attempts to build an independent line to the Pashtun opposition in Afghanistan alarmed the Pakistan army which chose to arrest Karzai's main interlocutor with the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar a few weeks ago.
While the Pakistan army wants to control all engagement with the Taliban and other groups currently hostile to Kabul, Karzai has not given up.
A day before he flew into Beijing, the Afghan President met with a delegation of Hezb-e-Islami, one of the major opposition groups led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
The favourite of the ISI among the anti-Soviet Mujahideen groups during the 1980s, Hekmatyar fell out of favour in Rawalpindi and has trodden a separate path from the Taliban. Karzai is determined to survive the American and Pakistani efforts to marginalise him in the construction of new political arrangements for Kabul. Meanwhile, the evolving situation in Afghanistan and China's self-perception as a rising power have triggered a major debate within Beijing on the kind of role it must play in the north-western parts of the subcontinent.
The Wakhan Corridor
China's growing interest in Afghanistan is reflected in its aid programme that has now reached nearly US$ 250 million. Kabul has also encouraged Chinese companies to join the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan and the development of its natural resources.
The China Metallurgical Group's decision to put US $3.5 billion in a copper mining project has been billed as the largest single foreign investment to date in Afghanistan.
Kabul has also been pressing Beijing to develop transport links between the two countries through the Wakhan corridor that links north-eastern Afghanistan with the Xinjiang province. Building a modern highway into Afghanistan fits in with the general Chinese effort to link its frontier regions with the countries across the border. Road links to Afghanistan can easily be spun off from the many current ambitious transportation projects between China and Pakistan.
Beijing is yet to take a decision, however, on the Wakhan project. There is some wariness in China about a potential negative dynamic the prospect of Islamic extremism spilling over from Afghanistan and Pakistan into the restive Xinjiang province which saw riots between Han Chinese and the Muslim Uighurs last year.
The Obama administration is also in close consultations with China on Afghanistan and wants Beijing to do more. Unlike in Delhi's think-tank circuit, where there is great enthusiasm for a larger Indian political role in Afghanistan, caution dominates Beijing's debate.
Chinese analysts say Beijing is deeply concerned about the instability in Afghanistan but will not participate in what they see as an American effort to organise the country's internal affairs. Beijing, Chinese scholars say, would want at the minimum a solid UN political mandate before it agrees to join the international security forces in Afghanistan.
For now, Beijing might be focused on judging how far Karzai might go in asserting his autonomy from Washington. They would also be interested in knowing the implications for regional stability from the proposed reintegration and reconciliation with the Taliban.
First Negar Azizmoradi contacted me and then I read about Mohammed Reza Heydari: two Iranians, two exiles, one truth of a people defrauded and denied.
I'll take Heydari first. He's the brave Iranian diplomat in Norway who defected, having been asked to change the vote tally he'd certified: 650 votes cast at the Oslo embassy, of which 540 (or 83 per cent) were for the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, a result consistent with cable traffic he saw from other embassies.
"The will of the people was clear" Heydari told The Wall Street Journal's Margaret Coker. I believe it was. Change this number, change that number and soon enough you can pluck President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's fantastical 62.63 per cent from the air.
Three days after that result in Iran's June 12 election was announced, I met Negar for a few minutes. She was beside me by chance on the avenue between Enghelab (Revolution) Square and Azadi (Freedom) Square in central Tehran. Side by side we walked in a crowd later estimated at over two million people, an Iran that had arisen to protest the theft of ballots.
Seldom have dignity and indignation coalesced in such resolve as on that Monday, June 15. "Where is the 63 per cent?" asked one banner. I turned to Negar. "There has been a big cheat," she said. "We were hoping that after 30 years we might have a little choice."
Negar smiled and was gone forever I thought.
Nine months have since passed, time enough to birth the largest popular protest movement in the Middle East, time enough for killings and mass arrests, time enough for hope to surge and recede, and time enough for many who were not there last June to opine that the protesting crowd was smaller or that Ahmadinejad's triumph genuine.
Sometimes you have to smell the truth, breathe it. Heydari lived it. Something was rotten then in the state of Iran. It still is. A historic mistake was made. It gnaws at the Islamic Republic's core. The crowd has dispersed but not changed.
That dispersal has been hard. I'd like to talk about Negar's nine-month odyssey. There's been time enough, too, for the upending of lives.
Iran chatter gets very abstract, all those words moulded around so much opacity, theories mushrooming in inverse proportion to facts. Bombing Iran can begin to sound like a decision with all the moment of going down to Chinatown for lunch. Put the words "nuclear" and "Iran" together often enough and the notion the place is atomically armed (it's not) self-propagates.
But after Iraq we should be very careful, try to stick to what we know, not what we imagine or is fear-mongered. Here's something I know. Iran is full of people like Negar. She's 32, a movie editor. She hates the regime. She doesn't want her country to be attacked, a return to the wailing sirens of the Iran-Iraq war of her youth (in which Israel supported Iran.)
Negar contacted me the other day from a town in central Turkey. She lives there in limbo as her application for refugee status is processed by a UN agency. Her story returned me to the road from Revolution to Freedom.
It's just an ordinary Iranian story of waste.
On July 17, 2009, she was in a protesting crowd when security agents grabbed her, rammed her head into a water channel, broke her hand. Her camera and bag were taken. "I knew they would come for me."
She managed to get her passport renewed, flew to Istanbul, and decided to seek asylum in Britain. Her parents borrowed money and she paid $10,000 for a fake Italian passport. The people-smuggler said she should travel to Nairobi, and from there to London: That way she'd look like a tourist.
So Negar headed for Africa, spent four days wandering Nairobi and was arrested at the airport. Deportation to Iran loomed. "No," said Negar, a convinced atheist, "they might kill me." She was put on a plane back to Istanbul via Dubai.
In Dubai, the authorities wanted to deport her to Iran. She prevailed again and proceeded to Turkey, where she was detained and held for five weeks. Under the terms of her release she had to move to central Turkey to await the result of her refugee application.
History's whirlwind got her.
Negar's heart is in Iran. "It was a great moment, changes came," she told me. "People are motivated, this stupidity cannot continue. Before we were hidden, now we have found each other. The day I met you was incredible, so much serenity. I realised: Iranians care about their destiny."
Negar now wants to come to the United States, pending the new Iran she considers inevitable. I asked why. "Because there I can be the way I am."
Negar does not want her country bombed. "It would be a big, big mistake. All Iranians would unite in anger."
Her own government stifled Negar's voice. But the world must listen. It's her country after all and the ballot-counting Heydari's.
VIEW FROM THE LEFT
MANOJ C G
STAGING A SUMMONS
At a time of controversy over Narendra Modi being summoned by the Special Investigation Team, the comrades have questioned the credibility of the SIT itself, and argued that whole idea behind summoning the Gujarat Chief Minister is to give him a clean chit. It claims that the Modi summons is "stage-managed".
The lead editorial in the latest issue of CPI mouthpiece New Age subtly points out that the six-member SIT includes three Gujarat cadre IPS officers "who are still working under the Modi administration". The premise of the article is that the SIT has summoned Modi to provide him a "platform to get many of the doubts cleared about his role in the riots". It will be "used to get Modi cleared as well as to re-assert the Sangh Parivar's theory that no more investigations be carried out in Gujarat riots as it revives the wounds."
In this context, the article also questions the SIT's decision to summon Modi in connection with the Ehsan Jafri murder case. "So far, SIT had not dug any evidence that could go against Modi personally". If the SIT really wanted to pin down Modi and his colleagues, it should have taken up the case of Naroda Patia massacre, it says and alleges that there are enough "call records" establishing that the RSS-BJP leaders involved in this "massacre" were in "direct contact" with the chief minister's office.
With the Samajwadi Party and the Left showing signs of warming up to each other post-Amar Singh's exit, the New Age now has no qualms in attacking Mayawati who stood with the comrades during the no-trust vote against Manmohan Singh's UPA-I just two years ago.
So, New Age carries an article pouring scorn on the BSP chief. Referring to the garland episode, it says "Mayawati has cut the crudest, the ugliest and the dirtiest joke on the Indian polity by showing her arrogance and throwing all democratic norms, decency to the four winds." The article questions the source of the money that was used in the garland and demands an investigation "so that the mischief could be nipped." The money in all probability "was collected by forces from industry and business houses, there are news from the districts how BSP leadership misused its power and authority in making such huge collections." What's more, the article claims that Mayawati is amassing wealth and alleges that she has purchased bungalows in Lucknow and bought buildings in Delhi's elite areas, and talks about her losing hold over the Brahmin-Baniya combination in Uttar Pradesh.
INFLATION? WHO CARES?
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's statement that he would not be surprised if inflation touches double digits in March itself, has been attacked by the CPM. It says that the UPA government has given up even the pretence of showing remorse at the "unprecedented burdens" being imposed on the people.
"By pleading helplessness, the government is not just abdicating its responsibility of providing some relief to the people. Worse, it is blatantly declaring that in order to provide further gains and super-profits to its social base of the ruling classes. The common people or the aam aadmi has to suffer by bearing the burden for providing such gains to the rich...Therefore, for the shining India to shine brighter, suffering India will have to endure greater suffering," says the lead editorial in CPM mouthpiece People's Democracy.
REDDY, STEADY, STOP
The Supreme Court has suspended all the mining activities of Obulapuram Mining Corporation (OMC), pending investigation of whether the Reddy brothers muscled into reserve forest areas via the company. Who are the Reddy brothers? How does their story speak for the general mining malaise in our country? Janardhana Reddy is the infrastructure and tourism minister in Karnataka, as well as the district minister in charge of Bellary, which covers nine Assembly constituencies and lies at the heart of the Reddys' mining empireBellary accounted for around 66% of the iron ore Karnataka produced last year and the state is the second largest producer of iron ore in India. Karunakara Reddy is the state revenue minister, which means he is in a position to grant favours in land disputes. Finally, Somasekhar Reddy has been mayor of the Bellary Corporation and a vice-president of the Bellary zilla panchayat. All these facts have been brought to the fore in a recent The Indian Express series titled "The Independent Republic of the Reddys". The broader fact emerging from the series is that while the Reddys' access to mines is limited to just four in AP on paper, they have used their political clout to create an empire that straddles Karnataka and AP. What's critical to their profiteering is that global iron ore prices have surged 700% since the Reddys bought their first mine in 2002. However, India's system of allocating mines remains mired in antiquity as does mapping of affected areas, notwithstanding talk of satellite geospatial records. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that a lot of state actors, including forest officials, have played along with the Reddys, in the latter's systemic gaming of the system.
But don't let the Reddys play the role of red herrings, too. Consider Jharkhand, where it appears that the former CM Madhu Koda reportedly cleared as many as 41 files for iron ore mining licences in an hour. Orissa has been rocked by the scandal of crores worth of manganese ore being illegally extracted. We could go on. But the bottom line is that, notwithstanding its mineral riches, India just hasn't worked out a system of mine allocation that meets expectations of efficiency, equity and growth. If the states' execution of responsibility has been below par, the Centre cannot claim great initiatives in capacity-building exercises. A lot of reform hopes are now vested with the new Mines and Minerals Act, which is expected to introduce transparent mechanisms such as mine auctions.
The attempt by a committee chaired by the minister of state for commerce and industry, Jyotiraditya Scindia, to map out a plan of action for reducing the transaction time and costs for exporters by 7-10% is laudable, given the uncertain trends in global trade and the need to boost profitability in the face of an appreciating rupee. Such an effort will not only help boost export profit margins but also the volume of exports. Delays in transactions not only add to costs but also have a disproportionately large negative impact on exports of time-sensitive industries, like fresh food and perishables, which is very important for countries like India where agriculture plays a significant role in generating income and employment. India's record on the trade facilitation front has been tardy despite the large gains in trade made in recent years.
In fact, the most recent effort made by the World Bank to compare the trade logistics in the global economy shows India in a bad light with the country's logistic performance ranking slipping from the 39th position in 2007 to the 47th in 2010. This is in sharp contrast to other Asian economies that have improved their performance. For instance, while China's ranking has gone up from 30th to the 27th, that of the Philippines has improved from 65 to 44. India's ranking on the six important parameters used to rank the overall logistics performance differed substantially with the ranking varying in the 40-56 range. India's highest ranking was in the logistic quality and competence (40) followed by access to international shipments (46), infrastructure facilities (47), customs procedures (52), tracking and tracing facilities (52), and timeliness (56). The survey showed that the number of agencies to be handled by an Indian exporter averaged 3.71, while a German exporter had to tackle just 2.25. Similarly, while an Indian exporter had to provide five different documents for an export transaction, the German exporter could do with three. The clearance time for physical inspection averaged 3.5 days in India, while it was only 1.6 in Germany. So, while it took an average of 4.8 days and $976 to move goods over 458 km on a land supply chain in India, German companies could move goods over 407 km in just 1.41 days at a substantially lower cost of $354. All these data indicate the large potential for cutting down transaction costs in India and boosting exports if the committee takes up the issues with commitment and determination.
WHY MINING IS EVER SO TROUBLESOME
The Supreme Court has stopped iron ore mining by the Reddy brothers along the AP-Karnataka border, the charge being one of encroachment. India is a major source of minerals (chromite, coal, iron ore, bauxite). With global demand and prices increasing and expected to increase further, mining is lucrative, for exports and domestic development. Consequently, we have a National Mineral Policy (1993, 1994, 2008) designed to ensure private investments (domestic and foreign) and 'sustainable development'. The 2008 version was after the 2005 Hoda Committee, with its emphasis on sustainable development.
The 2009-10 annual report of the ministry of mines accordingly states, "The basic approach is that (i) mining activity can and should enrich rather than deplete biodiversity as a corollary to their intervention in the ecology of the area of activity; and (ii) mining can and should contribute to the economic, social, and cultural well-being of indigenous host population and local communities." If these laudable objectives are satisfied, there should be no problem. So, why do we have a problem?
First, 90% of operational mines are in 11 states (AP, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, TN, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, MP, Gujarat and Karnataka), (data from CSE). Second, as a corollary, Maharashtra, TN and Gujarat may be diversified, but several other states (Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand) are dependent on minerals and are also poor, not only in terms of per capita income, but other human development indicators, too. There are 50 major mining districts. Of these, 60% are in India's 150 most-backward districts. But that surely is the point. These states are backward and rich in natural resources. Tapping this comparative advantage should provide paths to progress. Third, that hasn't quite happened. Earlier mining was small-scale and public sector-driven. Modern mining is large-scale, mechanised and private sector-driven. This is understandable, because one wishes to reduce costs. However, declining employment intensity is a fact and becomes starker if one excludes coal. Fourth, major mining districts have extensive forest cover and there is diversion of forest land for mining. De jure, forest clearances are required under the Forest Conservation Act.
But, fifth, de facto, we have a governance problem. Rules and regulations are flouted and there is no enforcement, unless countervailing pressure is exerted by courts or Naxalites. Sixth, since half of those 50 major mining districts have large shares of tribal populations, there is an issue of livelihood and displacement of tribal populations, whose traditional rights on forests and natural resources have also been usurped by arbitrary misuse of executive powers. Had mining not been opened up to large-scale private sector participation, it is probably the case that the Naxal problem would not have escalated on the scale it has. Seventh, there is an issue of environmental degradation and waste generated from mining. Eighth, to add to the governance problem, there is a lack of transparency in the award of leases. Ninth, also on that governance mode, decentralised planning hasn't happened and decisions are taken top-down. The interests of citizens, local communities and indigenous communities are not considered and no one has yet worked out mechanisms for community participation and co-management in mining. Tenth, if local communities are dissatisfied with top-down decisions, there are no satisfactory redressal mechanisms. The 2008 National Mineral Policy (NMP) has still not been reflected in necessary legislative changes (Minerals Development and Regulation Act of 1957). But the moot point is whether it addresses these ten issues, though it does use expressions like sustainable development, restoration of ecological balance, stakeholder interest and international best practices. For instance, questions like resettlement and rehabilitation, Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act and fixation of royalties still remain vague. It shouldn't be surprising that Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand haven't exactly welcomed the 2008 NMP.
In fairness, there is also a Model State Mineral Policy (2010) and a Modified Draft Mines and Minerals Act (2009). In theory, these should increase transparency in granting leases and improve regulation. A Mining Administrative Appellate Tribunal has also been proposed. Perhaps one should go back and read the Approach Paper to the 11th Five Year Plan. This said, "India is a resource rich country but India's mining potential has been much less explored than other comparably endowed countries. The Mines and Minerals Act and the Mineral Concession Rules as well as the FDI policy have also been revised on several occasions with a view to attract private investment for exploration of mineral deposits and operation of mines but actual investment in this area has been very meagre because of procedural hassles and numerous discretionary provisions in the laws, which discourage prospective investors. The provisions for rehabilitation are also unsatisfactory." The last sentence was almost tagged on as an after-thought, and policy focused on procedures (seamless transition between reconnaissance, prospecting, mining, royalty rates). Somewhat reminiscent of the way SEZs were handled, myopia that ignored broader social issues catalysed the resentment.
The author is a noted economist
WHAT RBI IS THINKING ON RATES
RBI's decision to increase the reverse repo and repo rates last week is significant for two reasons. The first is that RBI's so-called signals sent out in various encounters with the media cannot be taken to be an accurate indicator of the final action of the monetary authority. Various personnel have, at different times subsequent to the Budget, indicated that intervention if at all would be at the time of the policy and not in the interim period. Yet, RBI has increased rates at a time when the economic situation has not changed: inflation numbers have not changed and higher economic growth is expected this year. The lesson is that interviews with RBI personnel will not be necessarily indicative of what the central bank will do since the institution will have differing policy views at various points in time. Policy thinking is now dynamic and the market should not respond excessively to perceived signals from the monetary authority.
The second is that there is now a conviction that inflation is going to be demand-driven, notwithstanding the high cost-push inflation that is already entrenched in the system. RBI has always maintained that inflation was a supply-driven phenomenon and, therefore, was not aggressive in taking action despite the suggestion that monetary policy should be forward looking and should look at inflation control in a preemptive manner. The view evidently through FY10 was that RBI would not, to the extent possible, upset the apple-cart of growth by being overtly aggressive. However, the fact that it is talking tough on inflation indicates that it does see demand-pull pressures exerting their influence from now on.
This thought germinates from a combination of factors. The first is that the recent boom in industrial production shows that the economy may be getting heated with demand driving production on both the consumption and investment fronts. The second is that exports and imports have started increasing swiftly; and the recovery in the global economy will accelerate them. The third is that GDP growth for 2010-11 has been placed at a rate higher than 8.5% with all sectors expected to contribute to this process despite the slowdown in fiscal impulses.
Moreover, with the gross government borrowing being high this year at Rs 4.57 lakh crore (net Rs 3.45 lakh crore), interest rates will be under pressure to match the demand-supply gap. For 2009-10, the gross borrowing programme of over Rs 4.5 lakh crore has been facilitated by RBI with the assistance of the market stabilisation scheme balances and open market operations (OMO). Together they have accounted for around 25% of the borrowing programme. The first buffer is not available as it is virtually exhausted and RBI will have to get more active on the OMO front, given that growth in credit is expected to be more robust with growth being sustained at a higher level in FY11. In this set-up, it is but natural that interest rates will have an upward proclivity to reflect the true cost of funds.
Two questions remain. Will banks increase interest rates now or wait for further signals from RBI? This is an internal call that banks have to take on deposits and lending rates depending on the impact on their net income margins. Banks in general have reacted by saying that they would not consider such changes immediately, it is left for some of the leading banks to take a decision before others respond. Currently, on account of the advance tax payments, there is a liquidity squeeze as seen in a lower amount going into the reverse repo auctions. However, it is more likely that most will wait for further signals from RBI before taking action.
The second question is, what is RBI likely to do on the 20th of April? Normally the policy should have been a week later, and this sends a signal that maybe some further action is on the cards. Economic conditions are less likely to change in this period. Food prices could come down with greater flows of the rabi harvest, though the number will be moderate. Fuel-price inflation has already set in and the manufactured products group would be the one to watch for. Based on the actions, since January, of a 75 bps increase in CRR and 25 bps in policy rates, the logical conclusion is that RBI will pitch in for another round of interest rate hikes of a higher magnitudeprobably 50 bps this time.
FY11 will most certainly be an important year for RBI as monetary policy will have to steer the economy through the challenges of lowering inflation, instilling growth, managing the forex reserves, which may be deluged with dollars from capital flows, and facilitating the government's borrowing programmea classic case for the theoretician looking for an equilibrium while dealing continuously with a set of various non-linear equations.
The author is chief economist of NCDEX Ltd. These are his personal views
SOVEREIGN WEALTH FOR ENERGY ASSETS?
The petroleum ministry has mooted the idea of a sovereign fund to help finance acquisition of energy assets by Indian companies abroad. The ministry has proposed setting aside a part of India's $254 billion forex reserves for this purpose. This is a welcome move because it would help Indian companies like ONGC Videsh (OVL) to take on competition from their Chinese counterparts that are backed by a similar fund created by the Chinese government.
Significantly, the availability of assets for acquisition is declining. But energy consumption in India and China is growing fast as their economies continue to roar along. So the competition of oil and gas assets is expected to get fiercer .The Empowered Committee of Secretaries (ECoS) mechanism put in place by the government to fast-track OVL's investment proposals has proved very successful. However, the ECoS has the power to approve investment proposals of up to Rs 300 crore only. Any investment proposal of value beyond that has to be approved by the Cabinet only. This can prove a serious constraint. The success of the ECoS dispensation shows that in the hunt for overseas energy assets, an institutional mechanism is much more effective than individual efforts of companies. The facility of a sovereign fund will provide more financial flexibility to companies hunting for hydrocarbon assets overseas. For example, OVL borrows money from its parent company ONGC to finance its acquisition of oil and gas assets. Besides, it also leverages balance sheets of ONGC for raising funds from the market. So indirectly, ONGC bears risks emanating from OVL's acquisitions.
The success of the sovereign fund mechanism would also crucially hinge on modalities that the government works out for disbursing money from the fund for acquisition of oil and gas assets abroad. For example, the government will have to take a decision on what terms and conditions companies can access the fund on. The government will have to decide whether it wants to make the money available to companies on demand, or if it would undertake due diligence like a banker. Further, the government will also have to decide if it wants to provide full or partial funding. It will also have to take a decision on whether it would provide funding as equity investment or as a soft loan.
RAPE LAW AND REFORM
The laws relating to rape and sexual assault are set to undergo a radical overhaul with the Union Home Ministry readying a draft Bill on the subject. Home Minister P. Chidambaram's remarks suggest that the proposed legislation is likely to be based on the Law Commission of India's 172nd report, which called for a thoroughgoing review of our rape laws. The 2000 report was prepared following a direction from the Supreme Court that loopholes in the law relating to rape and sexual assault should be identified with a view to plugging them. At least two major changes seem to be on the anvil. First, the meaning of rape, which Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code construes as non-consensual sexual intercourse, will be broadened to cover other forms of penetrative acts that fall outside the purview of the existing definition. The Law Commission, the National Commission for Women, and various feminist organisations have supported such a widening of the definition of rape on the ground that the existing legal provisions neither reflect nor deal adequately with the various kinds of sexual assault women are subjected to in India. The restrictive interpretation of the term 'penetration' in the Explanation to Section 375 fails to address the myriad ways victims of sexual crime can be humiliated physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Rape, as feminists have argued, must be understood as an experience of brutal violation and degradation and not just the act of penetration.
The proposed legislation will also broaden the definition of rape in another respect by making it gender-neutral. This is principally to protect males, particularly young boys, who could be victims of homosexual crime. As the Law Commission observed in its report on rape laws: "Not only women but young boys are being increasingly subjected to forced sexual assaults...[which] causes no less trauma and psychological damage to a boy than to a girl subjected to such offence." It is a mistake to regard gender-neutrality as a dilution of the rape law. While girls and women are victims of the vast majority of sexual crimes, boys and men suffer too. Statistics reveal that one out of 10 rape and sexual assault victims in the United States and England is male. Indian laws relating to rape have remained virtually unchanged since 1862, when the IPC came into force. (Some amendments made in 1983 have not made much of a difference.) It is necessary to review the law in a humane and progressive manner, factoring in what we know about the patterns of sexual assault and the severe trauma it inflicts on victims. The Home Ministry's draft Bill, which promises to do precisely this, will be closely watched.
MAMMALS UNDER THREAT
A reliable measure of just how endangered the natural environment is in an era of fast-paced economic development is necessary to advance conservation goals. A recent research report on the likely local extinction threat to 25 mammal species in India over a 100-year time frame attempts to provide some answers. Scientists have looked at over 30,000 historical records about the presence of these animals and assessed them against their current status. What emerges from the work of Krithi K. Karanth and other researchers published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society should be of interest to all citizens who seek to preserve a part of the natural heritage of this hotspot-rich area of earth. One of the key conclusions is about the relatively high estimated probability of local extinction of all the animals surveyed, which range from prey species like spotted deer, sambar, muntjac, swamp deer, wild pig, and gaur to predators such as tiger, leopard, and lion. This is a timely alert. Fortunately, a lot can be done to improve the prospects of survival of these species in varied habitats, going by the fine-grained research data.
India has only about two per cent of its geography under the formal protected area system. The conclusion that these areas lower the probability of extinction in the case of 18 species should serve to tighten government policies that will make them inviolable and immune from even regulated extraction of resources. Further, several mammal species such as mouse deer, blackbuck, chinkara, sloth bear, jackal, and wolf have a range that extends beyond the small geographical area currently protected by law. This underscores the need to expand the protected area system. The vitality of the hills as reservoirs of biodiversity, highlighted by the research, also needs to be recognised there is evidence that eight species had a lower likelihood of going locally extinct in elevated areas. Cultural factors also work in favour of seven species, although such tolerance has not come to the rescue of some rare endemic animals such as the Nilgiri tahr, swamp deer, and lion. The research data should be of real help to policymakers driving development. For example, they provide a ready map for infrastructure planners, identifying the areas to avoid while giving sanction to gas pipelines, mines, roads, and highways. With intelligent planning, it should be possible to avert protracted development conflicts over the environment. The challenge before India is to retain its natural heritage while working to improve the lives of its billion-plus population. It must act resolutely to stop the march of extinction with sensible land use policies.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
THE PATH OF SCIENCE FOR GM CROPS IN INDIA
DECISIONS ON GM CROPS SHOULD BE TAKEN ON THE BASIS OF SOUND SCIENCE ONLY AFTER INCORPORATING KNOWN ADVANCES IN PLANT TRANSFORMATION TECHNOLOGY.
The recent restraint on commercial release of Bt brinjal despite approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee has become controversial. The step was taken after consultations with diverse stakeholders in several states. The majority view in the consultations was that commercial release of Bt brinjal could wait. Reasons included cautionary advice of European scientists about inadequate bio-safety assessment by seed producer company Mahyco and possible threats to indigenous brinjal biodiversity. Some scientists and politicians consider the decision a setback to advances in agriculture biotechnology and therefore to attainment of food security in the long-term. Many biotechnology researchers have taken it as a blow to their efforts. So we must carefully chart the way ahead for introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops and for relevant avenues of biotechnology research, especially in genetic engineering.
Bt brinjal is a genetically engineered brinjal containing the Bt toxin gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (therefore, Bt). The Bt toxin confers resistance to two pests fruit and shoot borer (FSB, Leucinodes orbonalis) and fruit borer ( Helicoverpa armigera). Genetic engineering (GE) or recombinant DNA technology (r-DNA) is a path-breaking technique compared to conventional plant breeding, as it allows genes to be transferred across species, from animals to plants, microbes to higher organisms and vice versa. Like other GM crops, commercial production of agriculturally suitable Bt brinjal involves two steps. First is the production of the primary transformant by GE. The gene to be transferred (transgene), for instance, the Bt gene, is inserted into a chromosome of a target crop variety, which is most amenable for its cellular acceptance and integration by a particular r-DNA protocol. The host variety for this primary event has high acceptance for the transgene, but is usually not agriculturally suitable and therefore, we need a second step, namely, the production of the commercially viable and agriculturally suitable GM hybrid or variety. This is done by transferring the Bt gene from the primary transformant to a hybrid or variety by a conventional plant breeding technique based on cross-pollination.
In the first step, GE is used to ensure that an alien gene of a desired trait can be inserted and integrated into a crop of interest. In nature a gene, on accidental entry into an alien cell, is immediately destroyed. The exceptions are the DNA of parasitic bacteria and viruses. They have some DNA of unique mobility and protective armour which confer on them the property of crossing species barriers and infecting and surviving in alien host cells. Genetic engineers have taken advantage of this phenomenon. The transgene is attached to such mobile microbial DNA, which acts as a carrier and then by suitable protocols this recombinant DNA is transferred to host cells. From these transformed host cells, whole plants or primary transformants are developed using tissue culture techniques. Seeds of these are collected for future use.
In the second step, the primary transformant is crossed with suitable hybrids or varieties to produce the usable GM crop. The favoured method for this is backcrossing, to obtain homozygous plants which have uniform expression of the transgene, reliable performance and which breed true with regard to the inheritance of the transgene.
Thus, Mahyco produced Bt brinjal primary transformant by incorporating the Bt gene into a bacterial plasmid DNA (pMON10518) and transferring this r-DNA by the common agrobacterium-mediated transformation technology to a brinjal variety. This primary transformant was crossed with several brinjal hybrids (MHB 4, 9, 10, 80, 99 etc) to produce the Bt MHB lines for commercial release.
What is not so well-known, however, is that for most commercially released GM crops the protocols still date from as far back as the mid-1990s, overlooking the many advances in GE technology since then. For instance, Mahyco uses a slightly modified technique enunciated by M. Fari et al in 1995 (Fari et al, Plant Cell Report, pp.82-86, 1995). The plasmid used continues to have, besides the Bt transgene, antibiotic resistance markers (npt II and aad) and the 35S CaMV promoter. Over the last two decades, however, plant transformation technology has moved ahead rapidly as scientists around the world have endeavoured to make the technology bio-safe. They recognise the danger that since the transgene-vector recombinant DNA had the capacity of 'jumping into' alien species, it could also 'jump out' of a transgenic crop and 'jump into' another species causing gene contamination. In this context, a major apprehension was that the antibiotic resistance marker DNA fragments could spread to other species from the GM crop. To take care of these dangers, genetic engineers developed safe markers and protocols for obtaining marker-free transgenic crops.
Similarly, scientists had reservations about the gene switch (promoter) derived from the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus (35 S CaMV) as parts of its base sequence resembled some sections of the HIV virus. To avoid it, safe promoters have been designed. Innovations on promoters have also focused on tissue-specific promoters for tissue-specific transgene expression in plants. For instance, at present in the commercially released Bt crops, Bt gene expression being non-specific, Bt toxin is formed in all organs of the plant. It would be better if it were expressed only in the susceptible tissues and not everywhere including the roots. With new tools it is now possible to have expression of a gene, only where it is needed and by using controls of temporal expression, when it is needed. Random unpredictable insertion of the transgene into the genomic DNA has been another concern of the researchers. Such random insertion, even in non-genic segments of the genome, could have unintended negative consequences. Therefore, attempts for site-directed non-random insertion of a transgene have been a thrust area of research with some success in the case of plants. A rapidly developing area constitutes attempts to insert multiple genes in a crop or gene stacking. One such example, besides Golden Rice, is the production of GM cotton with the Bt gene along with a gene for resistance to sucking pests developed at the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow under the leadership of Rakesh Tuli.
Many such advances have been made in plant transformation technology to make it more efficient, relevant and bio-safe and this is a continuing effort around the world, including India. However, it is disconcerting to note that in India the GM crops released or waiting to be released have been produced through an underdeveloped technology dating from the mid-1990s.
A key concern regarding the second step of transfer of the transgene from the primary transformant to a suitable hybrid or variety through repeated backcrossing is the choice of the acceptor host hybrid or variety. In India with diverse agro-climatic zones a preferable strategy would be to use acceptor lines which are best adapted to particular zones of cultivation of a crop. This approach is being followed for Bt cotton being developed by the Central Institute for Cotton Reseach (CICR), Nagpur, under the stewardship of K.R. Kranthi. However, commercial release of GM crops tends to take a short-run view and to attract farmers, companies use very high yielding hybrid lines as acceptors. These very high yielding hybrids and their Bt counterparts require much higher inputs of fertilizers and irrigation than even the Green Revolution hybrids. The even more important point is that world-over the higher yields of GM crops are not because of the inserted transgenes but due to the use of very high yielding hybrids or varieties as the acceptor host.
In view of the above considerations, it would be wiser to take precautionary measures and not rush into commercialisation of a technology that is currently still being perfected by our scientists. One should wait till truly bio-safe GM crops, especially bio-safe food crops have been produced using advances in plant transformation technology. Researchers are already working towards producing marker-free GM crops, with safe promoters, site-directed insertion of single or stacked genes, genes expressing in specific tissues, and other necessary attributes for bio-safety. A major endeavour of genetic engineers is the production of transplastomic GM crops through chloroplast transformation rather than nuclear transformation. In such transgenic crops there is enhanced formation of the transgene product, as a plant cell contains only one nucleus but many chloroplasts. Further, with transplastomics there is little chance of gene contamination by pollen flow. This should become a thrust area of plant transformation initiatives. In this context, the proposal that GM research should mainly be in the public sector is of great relevance. There could also be public-private partnered GM crop production.
As Prof. M.S. Swaminathan has said, "Unless R&D efforts on GM foods are based on principles of bio-ethics, bio-safety, bio-diversity conservation and bio-partnerships, there will be serious public concern in India, as well as many developing countries, about their ultimate nutritional, social, ecological and economic consequences."
( The writer is Director, Bio-Science, Samaj Pragati Sahayog, Madhya Pradesh. Former Professor of Botany at CCS University, Meerut, he was associated with pioneering work on agrobacterium-tobacco DNA combination at the Roswell Park Memorial Cancer Research Institute, New York.)
ONLY U.S. CAN END U.K.'S NUCLEAR FOLLY
TALK OF BRITISH SOVEREIGNTY IS LAUGHABLE. THE U.K. WILL BLOW BILLIONS OF DOLLARS ON A NONSENSICAL NUCLEAR DETERRENT UNLESS THE U.S. ACTS TO DISARM.
The U.K. government is preparing for the last war, building a fantastical Maginot Line against the enemies of a previous century, the ghost armies that haunt the official imagination
The U.K.'s claim that it is working towards full multilateral disarmament while investing £70 billion in nuclear rearmament does not ring of conviction
For the United Kingdom, sharing nuclear deterrence with France is out of the question. Last week, the U.K. government slapped down a French offer to reduce the costs of submarine patrols by taking turns to prowl the same seas rather than duplicating the effort and occasionally crashing into each other. This proposal, it said, would cause "outrage", on the grounds that it is an unacceptable erosion of sovereignty. Using a system leased from the United States, on the other hand, presents no such difficulty. When the government says sovereignty is threatened, it means that another nation might disrupt the orders it receives from Washington.
So the pretence that this is Britain's alone must be maintained, and sustain the extravagant doctrine of "continuous at-sea deterrence". Deterrence against what? Nazis? Aliens? Killer jellyfish? British Trident missiles, due to be replaced and deployed at a cost of several tens of billions, have no visible strategic purpose. They are the reification of a fantasy: a fantasy that the United Kingdom is still a defining world power and that its enemies present an existential threat. As usual, the U.K. government is preparing for the last war, building a fantastical Maginot Line against the enemies of a previous century, the ghost armies that haunt the official imagination.
Let us begin with the sovereignty issue. When I once made the mistake of stepping into a Blockbuster video shop, I found myself walking past aisle after aisle of Hollywood movies. Then I came across a tiny section labelled "foreign", which contained about a dozen European films. Either Hollywood's hegemony was such that the U.S. was no longer perceived as another country, or Blockbuster had adopted the U.S. definition of foreign and imported it 6,500 km into the U.K. The same confusion governs the U.K.'s defence policy. The other side of the Channel is "forrin". The other side of the Atlantic is not.
As Dan Plesch shows in his report on British weapons systems, the U.K. has no independent deterrent. Since 1943, when the U.K. joined the Manhattan Project, its nuclear weapons programme has relied on crumbs from the U.S. table. The U.S. has granted the U.K. a franchise on parts of its programme, which it has graciously allowed us to rebrand with the Union flag.
Britain's Trident missiles are currently leased from the U.S. The warheads they carry are based on an American design (the W-76) and manufactured at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire, southern England. Its factory is a copy of a nuclear plant at Los Alamos, and it is two-thirds owned by the American companies Lockheed Martin and Jacobs Engineering. The firing system is designed and built in the U.S.; so is the missile guidance system. The missiles are aimed with the help of U.S. satellites. The subs themselves are designed and built in the U.K., but use American components and American reactor technology. There might be the odd shaving brush and plastic cup on board that was designed and manufactured entirely in the U.K., but that is about the limit of the deterrent's independence.
The dependence does not end there. In 2003 the then U.K. Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, announced that he would restructure the armed forces to make them "inter-operable" with those of the U.S. The idea that the U.K. government, which has renounced sovereign control of its forces, could launch a nuclear attack without the blessing of or instructions from the U.S. is ludicrous. Yet it will not contemplate even sharing patrols with France.
Both the government and the opposition in the U.K. assert their virility by rejecting offers of power-sharing from Europe, while accepting offers of subordination from the U.S. Never do they find themselves obliged to explain why. Those who most loudly proclaim themselves patriots are the first to demand that the U.K. prostrates itself before the U.S.
So to the second issue, the question succinctly put by Field Marshal Lord Carver: "Trident what the bloody hell is it for?" The Defence Department's Green Paper contends that the system's purpose is to "deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression against our national interests that cannot be countered by other means". Let's spend a moment unpacking that.
It is true that other states (eight to be precise) possess nuclear weapons, though none is currently willing or able to use them against the U.K. This could change. But states possess nuclear weapons because other states possess them, or might acquire them. Every nuclear state uses the same argument as the U.K.'s: it might be blackmailed by someone else with nuclear weapons.
The only certain means of preventing nuclear blackmail is multilateral disarmament. The only route to multilateral disarmament is for the nuclear powers to show that they are serious about junking their weapons. The non-proliferation treaty commits the nuclear powers "to pursue negotiations in good faith on ... nuclear disarmament". In return, other nations promise not to acquire nuclear weapons. By failing to honour their side of the bargain in the name of defending themselves from proliferation elsewhere, the nuclear nations invite other countries to proliferate.
But the very power of these weapons defuses the threat they present. The consequences of using a nuclear weapon are such that other nations know you are not really going to do it. The only question you have to ask yourself is this: if a country subject to someone else's nuclear blackmail launches its nuclear weapons, is it more or less likely to get nuked? Everyone knows the answer, which is why nuclear weapons are useless as a credible strategic threat. They might have some use against a non-nuclear power, but in that case the blackmailer is you. As W.H. Auden noted in his poem The Quest, "In theory they were sound on Expectation, / Had there been situations to be in; / Unluckily they were their situation".
A government serious about preventing nuclear blackmail would be ready to bring something decisive to the non-proliferation review in New York in May. The U.K.'s claim that it is working towards full multilateral disarmament while investing £70 billion in nuclear rearmament does not exactly have the ring of conviction. The U.K. government sticks to this course even as U.S. President Barack Obama insists that he will "take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons". It clearly does not believe him, or it would not be investing in a new weapons programme. It will be interesting to see how quickly the U.K.'s nuclear deterrent collapses if the U.S. dismantles its own Trident missiles.
This is the only force that will kill British nukes. The opinions of Parliament, where MPs launched one of their biggest revolts when asked to approve a new Trident programme, and the public, which has turned sharply against rearmament, count for nothing. Only when the U.S. orders it to do so will the government decide that the U.K.'s sovereign interests are best served by abandoning our nuclear programme. Until then, as social services are cut in the U.K., this fairytale budget will not be touched. The government must please its imaginary friends and fight its imaginary enemies.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
BIGGEST CITIES MERGING INTO MEGA-REGIONS, SAYS U.N. REPORT
TREND TOWARDS 'ENDLESS CITIES' COULD SIGNIFICANTLY AFFECT POPULATION AND WEALTH IN THE NEXT 50 YEARS.
- The largest is the Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou region in China, home to 120 million people
- Mega-regions have formed in Japan and Brazil and are developing in India, west Africa and elsewhere
The world's megacities are merging to form vast "megaregions" which may stretch hundreds of miles across countries and be home to more than 100 million people, a major UN report says.
The phenomenon of the "endless city" could be one of the most significant developments and problems in the way people live and economies grow in the next 50 years, says U.N.-Habitat, the agency for human settlements, which identifies the trend of developing mega-regions in its twice-yearly State of World Cities report.
The largest of these, says the report, which was launched on Monday at the World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro, is the Hong Kong-Shenhzen-Guangzhou region in China, home to about 120 million people. Other mega-regions have formed in Japan and Brazil and are developing in India, west Africa and elsewhere.
This trend helped the world pass a tipping point in the last year, with more than half the planet's people now living in cities. Urbanisation is now "unstoppable". Anna Tibaijuka, the outgoing director of U.N.-Habitat said: "Just over half the world now lives in cities; by 2050, over 70 per cent of the world will be urban dwellers. By then, only 14 per cent of people in rich countries will live outside cities and 33 per cent in poor countries." The growth of mega-regions and cities is also leading to unprecedented urban sprawl, new slums, unbalanced development and income inequalities, as more people move to satellite or dormitory cities, the report warns.
"Cities like Los Angeles grew 45 per cent in numbers between 1975-1990, but tripled their surface area in the same time. This sprawl is now increasingly happening in developing countries, as real estate developers promote the image of a 'world-class lifestyle' outside the traditional city," say the authors.
Urban sprawl, they say, is the symptom of a divided, dysfunctional city. "It is not only wasteful, it adds to transport costs, increases energy consumption, requires more resources and causes the loss of prime farmland." The report's co-author, Eduardo Lopez Moreno, said: "The more unequal cities become, the higher the risk that economic disparities will result in social and political tension. The likelihood of urban unrest in unequal cities is high. Cities that are prospering the most are generally those that are reducing inequalities." But the development of mega-regions is regarded as generally positive, Mr. Moreno said. "They [mega-regions rather than countries] are now driving wealth." He added: "Research shows that the world's largest 40 mega-regions cover only a tiny fraction of the habitable surface of our planet and are home to fewer than 18 per cent of the world's population, [but] account for 66 per cent of all economic activity and 85 per cent of technological and scientific innovation. The top 25 cities in the world account for more than half of the world's wealth, and the five largest cities in India and China account for 50 per cent of those countries' wealth." Migration to cities, while making economic sense, is affecting the rural economy too. "Most of the wealth in rural areas already comes from people in urban areas sending money back," Mr. Moreno said.
In a sample survey of world cities, the U.N. found the most unequal were in South Africa. Johannesburg was the least equal in the world, only marginally ahead of East London, Bloemfontein, and Pretoria.
Latin American, Asian and African cities were generally more equal, but mainly because they were uniformly poor, with a high level of slums and little sanitation. Some of the most egalitarian cities were found to be Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh.
The U.S. is one of the most unequal societies, with cities like New York, Chicago and Washington less equal than Brazzaville in Congo-Brazzaville, Managua in Nicaragua and Davao City in the Philippines.
"The richest one per cent of [U.S.] households now earns more than 72 times the average income of the poorest 20 per cent of the population," says the report. "In the 'other America', poor black families are clustered in ghettoes lacking access to quality education, secure tenure, lucrative work and political power."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
Satyendra Kumar Dubey, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) engineer, paid with his life in 2003 when he wrote to then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee about corruption in his department. There was public outrage and the media pursued the case with much determination. This forced the government to hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). A trial court in Patna convicted three persons for the killing of Dubey.
It should bring some solace to Dubey's family though it can never be a full measure of the idealist engineer's life, which was brutally cut short. It can be a closure in a way for the family. But disquieting questions remain. We still do not know who were the people who had plotted Dubey's death, and who it was in the department who had leaked his name to the corrupt lot against whom he had complained.
The verdict is not exactly a reassurance to future whistleblowers because the contractors who siphon off money from big and small public projects do not hesitate to resort to criminal acts to defend their vested interests. There are very few Dubeys who dare stand up to them. There was a proposal to bring legislation to protect the whistleblower but nothing has come of it. Even if the law were to come into existence, it is not a sufficient defence against the corrupt. What is needed is sustained public pressure against those in the government and outside who indulge in corruption with impunity and strike fear in the hearts of law-abiding citizens. It is a diabolical nexus of the moneyed people on the one hand and the powerful including politicians and bureaucrats on the other. What is a hapless individual to do against the bullies?
The problem is that other honest people in society do not join hands and put up a united front against corruption. Dubey was left alone and literally thrown to the wolves. Even when people like Jayaprakash Narayan, with impeccable credentials, were able to create a popular movement against corruption, it lost steam midway because mischievous and violent elements joined in and derailed its high ideals. It is a Sisyphean battle, to be fought time and again. The best bet against corruption is of course to create transparent mechanisms. That alone would not be sufficient.
There is always need for individuals like Dubey who fire up society to take a stand against sleaze.
There was the official ritual in Parliament House on Tuesday when prime minister Manmohan Singh, some of his cabinet colleagues, and leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj of the BJP gathered to remember socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia on the occasion of his birth centenary. It was something that would have embarrassed the stormy petrel of opposition politics in the 1960s. Perhaps he may not have objected to his acolyte Mulayam Singh Yadav being hustled out by chief minister Mayawati's men in Lucknow as he tried to unveil a statue of his mentor.
But unlike the Yadav triumvirate Mulayam, Sharad and Lalu Prasad Lohia was a brilliant intellectual who could hold his own with the best. He displayed this trait with brilliance in Parliament. When Nehru was the colossus of Indian politics, Lohia not only dared to stand up to him but also argued his case with passion and intelligence. In 1963, he pointed out that it needed Rs25,000 a day to maintain Nehru when the poorest man lived on less than 'three annas' (about 18 paise) a day. Nehru demurred and said that according to Planning Commission figures it was '15 annas' (about 90 paise). Lohia countered by showing how Planning Commission statistics were a concoction and backed it with arguments and not mere innuendo.
To be sure, Lohia would have been the harshest critic of economic reforms, but his would have been an intellectual critique. He was against English but he had an argument which one could have listened to without agreeing with him. What he offered were arguments and ideas. His was an intellectual tirade, the sound and fury of a thinking man. Democracy needs articulate dissent and he provided that.
And he belonged to a band of socialists like Jayaprakash Narayan, Ashok Mehta, Madhu Limaye, HV Kamath and Hem Barua who were his peers in intellect and political commitment. He did not stand tall among pygmies. He had famously called Indira Gandhi 'goongi gudiya' (dumb doll). He would have realised how mistaken he was if he had lived on till 1969 he died in 1967 when she stole the socialist thunder
In the last 20 years, pro-reforms zealots have pooh-poohed Lohia and his acolytes. It was easy to demolish Lohia-ites who were caricatures of the man. But that would be unfair to the man himself. For all his faults, and he had enough of them, he contributed to political debate which is the stuff that democracy is made of.
BEGGING A SOLUTION
Mumbai: Not so long ago the chief secretary of the Delhi government wrote to his counterparts in UP, Bihar, West Bengal and possibly some other states, asking them to cooperate with his government in the repatriation of the beggars in Delhi. All of them, according to the Delhi government, were from these states. The letter, which was quoted extensively by the media, did not, of course, put it quite so baldly; it was couched in rather clever bureaucratese, and said that they wold surely agree that these 'unfortunate' people needed to be 'rehabilitated' and sought their active help in getting that done. Well, the real motive was to clean up, so to speak, for the Commonwealth Games, so that the thousands of visitors the Delhi government hope will pour into Delhi to watch the Games will see a sparkling clean city, with wide roads, encroachment-free pavements, no slums (those are being razed to the ground by the Delhi government itself, and the inhabitants moved to some distant tenements) and no beggars. And since the beggars come from certain states that have been identified, it is, according to the Delhi government, only fair that they take them away. Actually, the Delhi government has, if I remember right, offered to move them to their states of origin, if the states agree to take them over from then on.
There is, one has to concede, some logic in this, but underlying it is a frightening reality from which all those in authority in all states are studiously turning their attention. There are some who beg because they have no work in their states, and they are not all from villages many are from the thousands of small towns all over the states mentioned and there are others, possibly the larger number, who are part of a regular industry being run by some gang leaders. This second lot kidnap children, maim them, often mutilating them horribly, and then put them out to beg in different parts of big cities.
If one looks around carefully wherever there are beggars places like traffic crossings, temples and wherever people gather in large numbers one will see one or two seemingly idle men at a distance from the beggars talking to each other. These are the 'minders', who watch the beggars at work, and in the evenings pick them up these pitiful, maimed beings who would have been able-bodied men and women if they had been left alone and take them to some place for the night.
Considering that, according to police and other sources, a beggar can earn up to two hundred rupees a day, the activity is most lucrative for the gang.
What has any state ever done to counter these gangs on any continuing basis? The organisation of security forces against terror is fine and needs to be done, but isn't this also an evil? An evil that needs to be eradicated, the ring leaders rounded up and given exemplary punishment? But one never ever hears of a single leader of such gangs being caught and tried.
True, the process needs to be carefully worked out and several agencies have to be involved, from the police to the welfare authorities who need to provide decent homes for the beggars who will need care and, if possible, some training in skills that will not just give them something to do but earn them some money as well. Above all there needs to be vigilance to ensure that new gangs are not formed, that the kidnapping of children and defenceless adults is prevented by giving harsh punishment to those caught doing it.
The effort can and must be made. It is an evil that has been flourishing for a very long time because many of us lack compassion and are innately cruel and only stern action to stamp it out will work. One appreciates the vast number of responsibilities that the police forces already have but then the answer is to have more police to handle this evil effectively. That cost the state has to bear if it is, as it professes to be, concerned with the welfare of the common man.
The first category of beggars, those who take to it because of extreme poverty, will need to be handled differently, of course. Those among them who are able-bodied and a surprisingly large number of them are can be absorbed into projects like NREGA and its equivalent in urban areas which one hears is being worked out. Others will need to be cared for in homes, perhaps trained in some skills within their competence, and given some work.
There will be NGOs who are doing this already in a small way; their efforts can be supported and their area of work widened.
But, whatever the methods used, the anxiety of the Delhi government to smarten up their city for the Commonwealth Games and the foreign visitors they hope will come to watch them, must be used by the government of India and the states to remove, step by step, one of the abiding and most distressing features of our societies.
PICK-A-POTHOLE PROGRAMME FOR CITY STREETS
At the beginning of March, New York Mayor Michael R Bloomberg travelled to Staten Island to fill his administration's two millionth pothole. It was a milestone for him, but it was also a reminder that a new season is upon us: spring is pothole-filling time.
After I'd read the news, I thought of the pothole outside my old apartment on Court Street in Brooklyn. The city would fill it one year, but the next spring it would reappear, larger than before. And so I despair: is our cash-strapped city condemned to filling in the same two million holes again and again?
A week later, though, I saw a television report on Niederzimmern, a German village where citizens can sponsor pothole repairs after this year's especially cold winter.
For a $68 contribution, they get their name embossed, over the town crest, on a patch of new asphalt.
With a few tweaks, New York could have its own sponsor-a-pothole program.
True, Niederzimmern is home to only about 1,000 people, and traffic is probably a lot thinner than in New York. Once a pothole is fixed in Niederzimmern, it's likely set for a while.
In New York, potholes are like pets requiring constant care over years and years so our programme would mean almost literally adopting a patch of road.
It would also come with a slightly higher price tag than in Niederzimmern: filling a New York pothole costs about $30; new asphalt every 18 months for 15 years would cost $300.
But the idea of such a commitment contains the germ of a viable educational plan for New York: call it Pick-a-Pothole, a citywide civic investment program.
In Niederzimmern one contributes to a fund; in New York you would get to choose a hole to sponsor. Rather than a brick for your child's school, why not pay to repair the hole that swallows your stroller tyre, with a personal marker in the pavement to recognise your effort?
You could even take part in the repairs, as Mayor Bloomberg did in Staten Island. That could be you in the Day-Glo vest shoveling gravel (professionals would handle the steaming asphalt kettle).
The repair crew might even send you home with extra rocks to fix small repeat depressions, since constant attention would stave off the hole's return.
And since we're talking about shoveling only a few loads of rock, why not involve your children? People complain about how disconnected our children are from the outdoors and civic life.
Families, youth groups and high school earth science classes could collectively adopt a pothole this could be a great way to get young people to look more closely at their surroundings, even if they're not actually wielding shovels.
With the budget deficit rising, new methods for the city's upkeep need to be explored. At the same time, New Yorkers seem more willing to invest in their communities than ever before. And we have a mayor consumed by the same issues that would motivate a pothole adoption programme, including metrics, education and sustainability.
Sure, pick-a-pothole wouldn't be for everyone. But for those looking to give something back to their city, it would be a great way to unleash their inner Bob the Builder.
PAK N-DEAL AMBITIONS
US SHOULDN'T IGNORE PROLIFERATION RECORD
Even if the Barack Obama administration has not begun a process for an India-type civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan, what has been reported by the media on moves in that direction is disconcerting. The subject came under sharp focus following the disclosure by US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson to a Los Angeles daily that Washington had been thinking of "working-level talks" with Islamabad for a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement on the pretext of helping Pakistan to meet its growing energy requirement. This is what Pakistan has been pestering the US for ever since the Indo-US nuclear deal became a reality. But the George Bush administration had clearly told Pakistan that this was not possible in view of Islamabad's track record as a nuclear proliferator.
President Bush was pursuing a policy initiated during the second tenure of President Bill Clinton, aimed at de-hyphenation of US relations with India, having nothing to do with Washington's dealings with Islamabad. The Obama administration appears to be inclined to restore the status quo ante. India got the nuclear deal primarily because of its impeccable credentials as a responsible nuclear-weapon state, despite not being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. That is why the deal was easily cleared by the powerful Nuclear Suppliers Group, making India eligible for nuclear trade with other countries. But Pakistan is in an entirely different category. Its secret attempts to help Iran, North Korea and Libya with nuclear weapon-manufacturing technology and design have got exposed. Instead of thinking of an India-type civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan, the US should have forced Islamabad to allow it to question the disgraced father of Pakistan's nuclear programme, A. Q. Khan, to unearth more details relating to the Khan Nulcear Mart.
The US, still reeling under recession, may have its own compulsions, including that of infusing new life into its nuclear arms industry. But international security is no less important, which may get seriously threatened with allowing Pakistan access to the latest nuclear technology by way of signing a nuclear deal with Islamabad. The internal situation in Pakistan is such that its existing nuclear assets may fall in the hands of rogue elements anytime. The US will also be harming its own interests if it prefers to place itself on the side of a known nuclear proliferator.
HOUSES STILL BEYOND REACH
First, the financial meltdown, beginning with the US housing muddle, and then the RBI's tightening of monetary policy, the real estate is once again in real trouble. Gone are the days when plot, house or flat prices jumped from week to week. So many made so much money in so short a time that every street corner saw a new property consultant entering the booming business, dishing out advice at a hefty price on what to buy and where. And everybody made money from the farmer to the NRI investor. No longer. Latest reports suggest many fortune seekers have burnt their fingers.
In the past two years property prices in Chandigarh have risen while those in its neighbourhood have either stagnated or dipped. Panchkula and Mohali have seen a little rescheduling of the housing prices in keeping with the changed trend. Zirakpur has many housing projects left incomplete as buyers have deserted. Many have got trapped as builders have run short of funds and failed to meet deadlines. Builders are defaulting on bank loans, liberally given to fund the property boom during 2006-07, and banks are now piling up NPAs (non-performing assets). During the downturn they turned cautious and avoided lending to risky clients despite the RBI lowering interest rates.
As inflation has remained untamed, loans are getting costlier, adding to the troubles of prospective house buyers. The recent hikes in salaries of the state and Central employees have partly eased an otherwise dismal housing scenario and saved banks from several individual loan defaults. Owning a roof has seldom been as difficult as now. There are too many pitfalls. The regulatory mechanism is ineffective in helping house buyers duped by unscrupulous builders. The correction is necessary to bring down prices to more realistic levels. The market forces have their own way of punishing greed, ignorance and illogical decisions.
WHO KILLED DUBEY?
CBI MUST COME CLEAN ABOUT THE PROBE
The conviction of three persons by a Patna court for killing National Highway Authority of India whistleblower Satyendra Dubey in 2003 has kicked off a controversy. Though the quantum of punishment will be announced on March 27, the judgement is being dubbed a travesty of justice. The slain engineer's brother, Dhananjay, has charged that those convicted are "petty thieves" and in no way connected with the murder. He has contested the CBI's inference that Dubey was the victim of a road robbery. An IIT-Kanpur product, Dubey was killed after he had complained to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002 alleging corruption and poor quality of work in the prestigious Golden Quadrilateral Project in Bihar's Gaya district. In his letter to Mr Vajpayee, he had named some people and requested that his name be kept confidential as he feared threat to his life. Yet, his name got leaked and he was eliminated.
A year after Dubey's murder, the land mafia of Bihar's Shabdo village killed social activists Sarita and Mahesh. Their murder in 2004 shook the country's conscience. Then came Manjunath Shanmugham's murder in 2005. An Indian Oil Corporation executive and IIM alumnus, he was gunned down by the petrol mafia in UP's Lakhimpur Kheri because he stopped dealers from selling adulterated oil. Two months ago, Satish Shetty, a Right to Information activist, was murdered in Pune for his campaign against the land mafia. In one of the fastest convictions, Pawan Mittal, a petrol pump owner, was sentenced to death and seven others were given life imprisonment for killing Manjunath Shanmugham. But what about the killers of other whistleblowers? The CBI must come clean about the Dubey murder probe.
The Centre needs to enact a legislation to protect the identity of those who rip the lid off corruption and irregularities in government departments. The recommendations of the Law Commission and the Constitution Review Committee should be implemented in this regard. The continued attacks on whistleblowers prove that the Centre's earlier order in 2004, following a Supreme Court directive, has failed to serve the intended purpose. If the Centre is sincerely committed to zero tolerance to corruption, it must show the required political will and bring forward a legislation to protect the whistleblowers.
CONVENTIONAL FARMING HAS ITS LIMITS
THINK BEYOND THE USE OF FOSSIL FUELS
BY DARA DHILLON
Not many people challenged sustainability of the Green Revolution because it was associated with increased food production for feeding the world's poor and hungry. But was it due to new inventions of crop varieties, chemical pesticides and fertilisers, or was there something else more fundamental that caused this boost in agricultural production?
Agriculture, like any other production process, needs a certain amount of energy input to produce something more useful as output. One of the major portions of farm energy input has always been available in the form of solar energy. This is consumed by plants using their photosynthesis capabilities and the rest of the input is filled in by animal/human energy in the shape of physical labour. That model wasn't capable to feed 7 billion humans presently inhabiting this planet but, nonetheless, it was sustainable. A sustainable system is one which over its lifetime produces enough energy to maintain, grow and reproduce itself.
Then with the availability of relatively cheap fossil fuels (hydro-carbons) and the farm machinery that runs on these fuels, farmers were more than happy to switch over to this new "Green Revolutionary" system of non-renewable energy-intensive farming. This new model made farmers totally dependant on ever-increasing energy consumption, thus increasing the fossil fuel content of our food chain. Fossil fuel (oil) is solar energy stored as hydro-carbon deposits under the crust of the earth over millions of years.
There are two factors worth mentioning here about the fossil fuels. Firstly, fossil fuel reserves are of limited quantity due to the fact that they can only exist at a certain temperature and pressure and hence found only up to a certain depth under the earth's surface. Secondly, they don't exist everywhere. Mother Nature did not distribute its resources evenly. She gave oil to the Saudis but didn't provide them with good soil or water. To the Punjabis, she gave good soil and water but no oil. May be, she thought it would be too humdrum if everybody was treated alike.
Farmers are mostly aware of the visible energy inputs in the form of diesel consumed by tractors or electricity consumed by irrigation motors. Besides this, a huge quantity of invisible energy is consumed to manufacture other farm inputs. Consider the tractor for instance; right from the time of mining iron ore, making steel, shipping steel, transporting thousands of factory workers to manufacture a few hundred different parts in dozens of different cities, assembling and shipping a working tractor. All this happens well before the machine enters the fields.
The energy cycle is visible only when you start your tractor for actual ploughing, sowing, harvesting and transportation of the farm produce to the markets. An invisible energy cycle starts again when the farm produce is sent to the storage, processing and packaging to be shipped to the end users across the country or even overseas. Other farm inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides have energy cycles of their own. Pumping irrigation water either by diesel engines or electricity produced by coal-powered plants adds another substantial hydro-carbon footprint.
Total solar energy received on a daily basis by our planet sets a limit to the maximum photosynthesis capacity and thus gives an idea about the maximum amount of food that can be produced sustainably. The only other way to increase production is to use stored solar energy in the form of fossil fuel.
If we want to continue practising agriculture for centuries to come, also known as permaculture, we better understand the energy cycle, the soil-nutrient cycle and the water cycle of the current model of agricultural practices. Are we consuming more energy than we are producing in the form of food crops? Are we returning everything produced on our land back to it? Are we consuming water faster than what is being replaced by Nature?
To answer these questions, one doesn't need a degree from a university. Put these questions to any number of farmers and almost all of them will make out the correct answers. They all know that soil nutrients are being depleted and only partially replaced by petroleum-based fertilisers; ground water level is dropping in most locations. What they don't know or don't want to discuss is whether this fossil-fuel based farming system is sustainable or not?
It is such a daunting thought that most of us do not want to recognise the problem or even discuss it. Some of us acknowledge the problem but hope that someone else will invent a solution. The public discussion on this topic is certainly absent. What a dangerous fantasy.
The current model of agriculture is severely dependant on adding a huge amount of non-renewable and mostly imported energy in the form of diesel, petrol and gas. As we have consumed more than half of the hydro-carbon stock from the ground during the last century alone, oil and gas are set to deplete within our lifetime. Since we are fast heading towards a post-carbon age, consequently the cost of hydro-carbons will increase manifold in the near future. This will have a multiplier effect on the production costs and prices of all food items.
No matter which political party you belong to and no matter how many andolans or morchas you put together, you can't run away from this simple mathematical correlation. We can blindly carry on this path of maintaining or even increasing the agricultural production by tapping the remaining stockpile of fossil fuels until we finish it. Then what? Imagine, for a moment, agriculture without fossil fuels. Can a farmer plough, sow, harvest, process and transport his wheat or rice crop on a mere 10 acre land? It is very intimidating for the present-day farmers to think of this scenario, but it should also send a forewarning to the population that relies on surplus production by the farming community.
It would be naïve to think that the government will do something to fix this. The government's prime job is to keep the things as usual, at least till the next elections. It is guaranteed to maintain the status quo, especially if the proposed changes can cause a decrease in production and consumption and, therefore, result in reduced tax revenues. Which section of the population is likely to pay the price for this readjustment? Politicians might lose their hungry voters but they can switch sides. Some government officials may lose their jobs but they might find a real productive work elsewhere. Ultimately, it will be the farming community that will face the brunt by losing its livelihood. Farmers can't leave their land and go elsewhere.
The farmers are the one who have no option but to change their operations from mechanised to localised organic farming. But how can we change the system if we can't even perceive the problem? Like any other grassroot movement, you might have a small group to start with a new way of thinking. Get on with localised farming practices and even start a local trade based on the barter system and slowly become fully self-sufficient, not depending on cheap fossil fuels and any sort of government help. The ultimate achievement for any village community would be to establish an eco-village; a complete self-sustaining unit. All this might find resistance from the establishment; after all, we are talking about agrarian reforms.
Most of us cannot handle too much reality and it is devastating when age-old traditions shatter for whatever reason. At the same time, if you are not a scientist or a government official, you may have retained the ability to see things in a simple way. We can't see the predicament of the current farming model and its imminent collapse unless we understand the short life-span of fossil fuels and move away from intensive mechanised farming practices that solely rely on them. We can plan ahead now and try for relatively smooth transition or wait for oil to run out at some point in the near future, and everything will change for us without seeking our advice. It is a harsh view but there is no easy way out.n
The writer is an academic based in Australia.
LONDON AND MONTY
I joined our Army more than a decade after the British had left our shores. We, however, still felt their presence among us at the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun.
The remnants of the Anglo-Saxon culture still permeated our routine. Quite a few things were good about the British ethos which we could gainfully retain. Some memories of their time, however, needed to be thrown out of the nearest window. Their apolitical and professional approach to the military career was worth emulating. Their theory in the Indian context that the officers were individuals and the men were only a mass, deserved to be given a burial. It needed to be inculcated that all of us were just human.
The armed forces commanders at all levels find themselves in a unique predicament. At least within their own command, they must have the image of being "the bravest and the best" all the time. They can be friendly and patronising, but cannot afford to be chummy with anybody, not even with their seconds-in-command. They often feel what is usually described as "the loneliness of command" - the top, after all, is a lonely place. They just cannot open their heart to anybody in their units and formations.
Yet, some of them are highly communicative when it comes to narrating their experiences in battle or elsewhere. We had our Brig Prakash Nath posted out. He was a tough task-master and it was by no means an easy job to be his staff officer. Still we were comfortable with him as he was true to himself and a genuine person, though not a very amiable one.
We were rather uneasy about what his successor would be like, whether he would like to ask for dinner too early to deprive us of our evening fun in our officers' mess or he would make us sit in the mess well past midnight and then expect us to be up on our feet for the morning P.T.
We finally landed with Brig Bikram Chand, a simple-minded soldier. All was right with him, except the fact that he had served under Monty (Field Marshal Montgomery) and had also done a training course in London. So, when we met in the mess every evening, we had to be prepared to listen to his stories beginning with, "You see, where Monty went wrong " and "When I was in London ".
I was obstinate enough to once ask him what he was when he served with Monty. He disclosed innocently that he was then a Second Lieutenant, but did not take the hint that we were having a dig at his finding faults with the strategies of the legendary Field Marshal. Similarly, we did not like to hear about London on a daily basis.
There was, however, no remedy for all this, except to escape to the toilet all too frequently to shake L and R (London and Monty) out of our system, till at least the next evening.
GROPING IN THE DARK
PUNJAB A POOR SPENDER ON EDUCATION
BY RUCHIKA M. KHANNA
In the budget proposals for 2010- 11 Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Badal has announced a substantial increase in the fund allocation for school, college/university, technical and vocational education.
Realising the need to have an "educated and technically trained" workforce rather than a merely literate population, Punjab has increased its allocation by a substantial 25 per cent over last year.
This year Punjab has reserved Rs 546 crore for school education, Rs 51 crore for higher education and over Rs 145 crore for technical education.
Comparatively, Haryana has increased its allocation by almost 12 per cent over the current fiscal. It has reserved a whopping Rs 5,946.29 crore for school and higher education and Rs 431.12 crore for technical and vocational education.
It is not that Haryana's budget outlay (planned and non-planned) is more than Punjab. In fact, the outlay for Punjab is around Rs 43,000 crore -- almost Rs 10,000 crore more than that of neighbouring Haryana.
But what stops the state from investing in the social sector in general and education in particular is the heavy establishment costs. With 60 per cent of the state budget going into salaries alone, the state has little left for improving its education infrastructure.
With the limited resources at hand, Punjab will be using a major component of the budgetary allocations in implementing the flagship schemes like Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan and mid-day meal scheme in financial partnership with the Central government.
A sizeable part of the budgetary allocation has been reserved for e-learning initiatives and setting up virtual classrooms.
Though this has already been initiated in hundreds of schools, whether these e-learning centres actually take off in the rustic heartland or remain confined to the model schools in the urban areas will have to be seen.
But one good aspect has been the stress on making computer education compulsory and setting aside of Rs 75 crore for this information and communication technology project.
Even as Punjab scrambles for more resources to be put under education, Haryana has been on the road map to improving its education sector. The state has increased its total budget for education from Rs 1,733 crore in 2004-05 to Rs 5,331.35 crore in 2010-11.
This shows that the total budget of Punjab for education is even less than what it was for Haryana five years ago.
Haryana is putting in more money for ensuring easy accessibility of schools to all children with a primary school being available to a child within a 1.03 km radius, a middle school within 1.07 km, a high school within 1.52 km and a senior secondary school within a radius of 2.28 km.
Punjab deserves appreciation for recruiting more teachers, upgrading infrastructure in existing schools and ensuring that schools are available to students within a close radius of their homes a fact that has ensured better attendance rate in schools.
Special emphasis has been given to the educationally backward districts and blocks with proposals for setting up model schools there.
In order to better the girl child education rate in the state, funds have been set aside to create girls' hostels, especially in secondary and senior secondary schools.
The two states are not just emphasising on improving the school education scenario. A major part of the education budget this year will go into setting up centres of higher education like the International Business School at Mohali and Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law.
The existing industrial training institutes will, hopefully, be turned into centres of excellence and new ones are to be set up. As many as 13 new model degree colleges have been proposed, mostly in the educationally backward districts.
Though small, efforts are being made to improve the education scene in Punjab. The policymakers, however, need to realise that the concept of job-oriented education should not be the most important aspect of learning.
This is something that most of the new age schools and colleges in the private sector have realised and are now implementing Socrates' famous dictum: "Teach Thyself".
CAUGHT IN ETHICAL TENSION
BY NONIKA SINGH
The tribe of critics who have often dismissed Punjab's indomitable poet Surjit Patar as the poet of mushaira can take a break. For once again he has emerged tall. With Saraswati Samman coming his way he has not only become the third Punjabi after Dr Haribhajan Singh and Dr Dalip Kaur Tiwana to be so honoured, but also finds himself in the company of greats like Sunil Gangopadhyay and Vijay Tendulkar.
However, Patar doesn't see the award as a means to silence his critics or to settle scores with them. Rather the moment he heard the news the first thing he did was he acknowledged a debt of gratitude to Guru Nanak and Baba Farid Indian poetic tradition, to all the poets whose poetry he has browsed and above all his mother tongue.
And now he is ready to answer his detractors who decry his lyrical poetry on grounds that are quite unfounded. Says he, " If Gurbani can be sung, if Sufi poetry is sung, then why have problems with my 'maari moti' poetry".
Going back in time he recalls he was always fascinated with music and as a child he would insist on buying musical instruments like harmonium and sarangi rather than toys.
Expectedly, the childhood demand was not granted by parents who feared it might distract him from studies. Yet music continued to permeate both his being and poetry.
While his first poem was 'Gaayika', his poetry continues to sing and reverberate with a lyrical resonance till date compelling him to write "Hey kavita mein mud aayean haan tere ooche dwaar, jithe har dam sargam goonje har gam dai niwar."
Poetry, according to him, is an antidote to loneliness, a means to transcend pain and perhaps even the final refuge echoing in lines "Santaap nu geet bana lena, meri mukti da ek raah taan hai, je hoe nahi hai dar koi, eh lafzan di dargah taan hai."
Poetry for him is the deepest voice of humanity. Words that were originally meant to express have become a veneer we cover ourselves with and it is in literature alone that words convey what we actually feel.
Like many others, he doesn't concur that poetry falls like manna from heaven yet finds the creative process rather mysterious. He avers, "Deep within us lies a memory bank and often a disturbance or an event can trigger the chain reaction and words are automatically woven as if one has been handed over a thread and a needle."
And the metre of poetry he insists is no impediment in this torrent of poetic thoughts. Comparing metre to the grammar of language, he says, " Just as we are not conscious of the grammar when we speak, the same way metre is internalised by a poet."
What of imagery in his poetry? He smiles, " Well a poet always thinks in terms of metaphors." Indeed, often the reader can decipher it differently. Like though the thought for kuch keha taan hanera jarega kivein came while passing by an old court in Ludhiana, people associated it with days of terrorism in Punjab.
Similarly in his poem Buddhi Jadugarni he was referring to the establishment and readers thought he was alluding to the late Indira Gandhi even though the poem was written much before her despotic Emergency days.
"Poet", he reveals, "does react to his times". His compilation "Birakh Arz Kare" is about Punjab's dark chapter of terror. Such poetry, he agrees, might be topical and could have a limited shelf life.
But the fact that some of his poetic lines like "Kal Waris Shah nu wandeya si, aj Shiv Kumar di waari hai" have almost become part of Punjabi folklore and permanently etched on the minds of readers is itself an answer to the universal and timeless appeal of his poetry.
Does he think Lafzan Di Dargah that fetched him the Saraswati Samman is his best work? And the acclaimed poet, who has only six books of poetry, besides one of adaptation of plays to his credit, chooses not to discriminate between his various creative endeavours. Nor does he feel that his poetry has passed through segregated phases.
On the contrary themes such as the dialogue between nature and culture, ethical tension, the gnawing gap between ideal and reality have been the recurring leitmotif.
And the litmus test of his poetry are not honours like the Sahitya Akademi Award, Anaad Kaav Samman, Dashabadi Kavi Puruskar, Panchnad Puruskar, etc, that he has received or the honorary D Litt degree conferred by GNDU, Amritsar. Rather he is egged on by the fire in him that incessantly challenges " Chal Patar hun dhoondan chaleye bhooliyan hoyian thaavan, kithe kithe chad aaye haan unlikhiya kavitaavan'.
And it is this quest that will not be deterred by any criticism. Nor of what he calls his "gazetted critics" who never miss an opportunity to throw a barb at him. He quips, "Each time I am on cloud nine they bring me back to mother earth with a thump. Yet I get up again". And scales even greater heights.
ALL ABOUT MONEY, HONEY
The uneasy marriage between the Congress and the NCP in Maharashtra is under strain over sharing the spoils of office.
With the Congress' Ashok Chavan determined to show who is the boss when it comes to awarding "lucrative" contracts involving crores of rupees, Sharad Pawar's party is getting hot under the collar.
Recently, Chavan over-ruled Deputy Chief Minister Chagan Bhujbal of the NCP and shifted a proposal to turn the existing secretariat at Nariman Point into a high-rise from the PWD to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority controlled by the CM himself.
Now all real estate projects handled by the PWD ministry under the NCP are being vetted by the CM himself, much to the discomfiture of Bhujbal. Small wonder, cabinet meetings have become slanging matches.
Shiv Sainiks turn secretive
Shiv Sena leaders who do not hesitate to take credit for the violence unleashed by them have begun to feel the pinch on their pocket books.
With the courts asking the party's leaders to pay for damage caused to public and private property, the toughs are getting reticent about owning up to acts of machismo.
When Shiv Sainiks attacked the Bombay Natural History Society over its "refusal" to adopt Mumbai as part of its name, they covered their faces with scarves and escaped before news photographers arrived to shoot pictures.
The times, then, are surely a changing!
No business like show biz
Anil Ambani, while juggling cash between companies hungry for growth, cannot resist the lure of the arch
One year after the multi-million dollar deal with Steven Spielberg, the younger Ambani is working on a blueprint to emerge as a major Bollywood player.
At a film-land party recently, Anil and wife Tina sparkled with scores of stars and celebrities from tinsel town fawning all over them.
And Anilbhai didn't disappoint. Funds, he said, would not be a problem and everyone would be able to realise his dream under the RDAG banner, of course.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
INDIA'S URBANISM LIKE THE STORY OF BUDDHISM IN THE COUNTRY APPEARS TO BE STUCK AT THE POINT OF ORIGIN
The insistent and continuous comparing of India and China does not really stop. It may fade away from the media for a few months but continues to trouble and haunt policy makers, academics and all those in the grand race for global supremacy all the time as is testified by the continuous evoking of these two countries in conferences. Actually, nations and histories often play themselves against each other all the time. From the cold-war US/USSR domination to the rise of the Middle-East, to the surprising success of countries like Malaysia and Indonesia nations have their moment of glory and then fade away in the space of global attention. Japan was a hot favourite in the 70's and got inevitably discussed as a model of sorts and then it found its way out.
However for those interested in the history and growth of cities the connections of India, China and Japan remain fascinating for many unexpected reasons. At one time ancient cities in the north of India Magadh and Pataliputra had deep connections with China and Japan - thanks to the presence of Buddhism and the independent trade networks that connected these territories for several centuries now. Though Japan can claim greater historical distance from the other two, the insidious way in which Buddhism negotiated its political turmoil and its older religious systems ultimately connected the three historical territories in ways that are difficult to ignore. An architect scholar such as Kisho Kurokawa has represented the relationship of these historical linkages through an interesting metaphor. He points out that Buddhisms roots are in India nicely muddied and enriched by the historical manure of centuries of prior spiritual discoveries, but it found its stabilizing structures in China's robust and ancient socio-economic institutions and beliefs and grew tremendously in its environment. However it eventually bloomed into its most sophisticated version in Japan highly refined and taken to unexpected levels. Interestingly some would argue that in its move towards refinement, Japan came back closer to the point of muddied origins. After all refinement is achieved by an even more intimate contact with purity and impurity things that are familiar in a special way to India.
Such a trajectory is mirrored in several surprising ways in worlds not disconnected to Buddhism either. Take for example the way in which cities themselves in these varied environments grew. In India - after the mysterious and puzzling success of the Harrappan / Indus Valley Civilization urban spaces were more or less messy affairs and far from being models of civic worlds. This has been documented time and again by travellers however polite in their writings. They frequently lament about the presence of dirt, lack of order and overt messiness everywhere on the subcontinent. A history that persists till today. India's urbanism like the story of Buddhism appears to be stuck at the point of origin organic and enriched by historical manure more than anything else.
China in comparison delves into strong institutional histories rooted in centralised imperial administration (way before communism) and manufactures cities at the drop of a hat. Japan on the other hand continues to confound categories. Its cities are at once refined, sophisticated, technologically advanced, as they are rooted in a messy aesthetic. Its official voices even say that so many Japanese cities are slummy for the simple reason that those cities never really gave up their older forms. Interestingly the magical quality of Japanese cities like with Buddhism reconnects to the point of origin that brings it back to India. More and more scholars point out that older Japanese urban neighbourhoods remind you often of Indian slums.
What is the spiritual-urban lesson here for us? Do we want to imitate China's history without any of its supporting institutional structures - or do we risk a more sophisticated Japanese inspired trajectory for our cities and come closer to where we already are? It will be less wastage for sure.
US HEALTH CHECK
THE HEALTH-CARE BATTLE POINTS TO A POLARISED COUNTRY
In India, a Bill with the same provisions as the US health-care reform Bill is unlikely to encounter opposition, except perhaps from some fringe parties. It would seem obvious that a country that spends a sixth of its GDP on health care, and still leaves one-sixth of its people beyond the pale of health insurance, has a health-delivery system that needs fixing especially since US health statistics (like life expectancy) compare poorly with most European ones. Yet, the House of Representatives passed the reform Bill by just seven votes after nearly four months of hard lobbying and angry debate. This speaks volumes for the "anti-socialist" ethos that dominates American thinking, and the partisanship that now dictates US politics.
By guaranteeing near-universal coverage to its citizens (about 6 per cent may continue to be outside the pale), via state subsidies if necessary, and taxing rich people to part-finance the expanded costs, the Bill has "Big Government" written all over it. But the Bill's defenders see it in the same line as Lyndon Johnson's Great Society reforms of the 1960s, while liberal critics would argue that the Bill has made too many compromises with the vested interests, which is why total health-care spending will not come down, and most health insurance policy premiums will go up. The Bill could easily have failed had some fringe Democrats not been assured that there would be no federal funding for abortions.
Electoral opportunism also explains why so many lawmakers strongly oppose offering all American citizens a benefit that West European countries take for granted and most emerging economies want to give their citizens. The Republican Party, which is hoping to win back the swing states that it lost in the presidential elections last November, can ill-afford to alienate its traditional support base. This includes big insurance companies and rich baby boomers, the current beneficiaries of state-sponsored medical care, who will have to pay more.
Republicans have argued that the Bill will push up the US budget deficit to $1 trillion, though the independent Congress Budgetary Office says the legislation will cut the deficit by $138 billion. Even if the final picture on the deficit is unclear financing the new insurance plan is dependent on imposing new taxes and spending cutbacks elsewhere it is worth noting that similar concerns for fiscal prudence never arose when Congress approved two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and the bailouts of Wall Street investment banks.
A reconciliation Bill, synchronising House changes to the Bill, still requires to be passed through the Senate. Such a Bill can be passed by a simple majority, which the Democrats say they can count on in the Senate. Meanwhile, the Republicans have announced that they would move the Supreme Court against the legislation approved by Congress. "This Bill is terribly wrong for America", the former Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, wrote and suggested that the Democrats could no longer count on Republican cooperation. So, President Obama may have won the battle for health-care reform, a feat that eluded Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, but in doing so, he would have kissed goodbye to any return of bipartisan sentiment in the remainder of his tenure.
INDIAN PREMIUM LEAGUE
SERIOUS MONEY HAS FINALLY FOUND ITS WAY INTO INDIAN SPORT
Indian Premier League's (IPL's) Commissioner Lalit Modi is right to be exultant after the results of the auctions for the two additional teams for the 2011 season. At Rs 3,235 crore for the Pune and Kochi franchises, the total haul almost equals the Rs 3,330 crore that the IPL netted from selling eight teams in its first season in 2008. These are awesome valuations for a tournament that is just three years old and for auctions that have taken place at the tail-end of an economic slowdown.
By international standards, though, IPL valuations lag those of other popular sports like soccer, basketball and American football by leagues. For comparison, consider that the 10 IPL teams together could be worth roughly $3.5 billion a tad less than the world's two most valuable sports teams on the Forbes rankings, Manchester United and Dallas Cowboys of the US National Football League (NFL), put together. Note, however, that Manchester United is a 132-year-old club and it plays in tournaments that have been around for decades the most recent of them is 18 years old. The Dallas Cowboys is nearly 50 years old and the NFL is heading for its 90th year.
The IPL, then, may be a whippersnapper in the global scheme of things, but it has certainly proved more recession-proof than its elderly global counterparts. The Pune franchise is worth more than half the value of the New York Knicks, which is the most valuable team in America's iconic National Basketball Association (NBA) league. The NBA, it should be noted, is 64 years old and the US recession has taken its toll 2008 valuations (the latest for which figures are available) were either stagnant or had fallen marginally over the previous year. In contrast, the Pune franchise marks a 64 per cent premium over the price that Mukesh Ambani paid to acquire the Mumbai Indians in 2008.
It is also worth noting that all the prominent sports tournaments are facing problems of huge debts and burgeoning expenses. In the English Premier League, the world's most-watched tournament after the World Cup, the combined debt of 18 out of its 20 clubs exceeds their revenues (two clubs are bankrupt). Complaints that player costs have been spiralling out of control are growing louder on both sides of the Atlantic invoking parallels with the global investment banking crisis (unchecked executive pay). In contrast, IPL has altered the dynamics of cricket in a more fundamental way than Kerry Packer's "pyjama cricket", and seems to be facing no such problems. No wonder, every IPL team owner is salivating at the higher valuations that they believe are inevitable, going forward. That's something few sports team owners elsewhere can boast of right now.
A K BHATTACHARYA: SONS AND FATHERS
THERE IS SOME MERIT IN WHAT MALVINDER SINGH AND SHIVINDER SINGH HAVE DONE IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS
A K BHATTACHARYA
Who is Sandip Ray? Well, he is a technically sound filmmaker from Bengal. He has made a few Bangla films, leaving no one in doubt about his grasp of the medium and ability to tell a story in celluloid. And, of course, he is Satyajit Ray's son.
The last bit, however, has set off a peculiar problem for him. Since he is also the son of India's best-known film director, Sandip Ray's films raise expectations. Viewers and critics alike compare his films with those of his father in the manner in which a particular theme is treated and, indeed, the entire film is made.
It is a special yardstick by which an artiste is compared with a master just because he happens to be his son. His work is judged rarely on the strengths or weaknesses of his work alone. Not surprisingly, therefore, Sandip Ray's biggest asset, his father, also becomes his biggest liability.
The obvious question that this throws up is whether Sandip Ray chose the wrong vocation. Joining the same profession one's father belongs to inevitably leads people to compare and contrast the son with the father. For a son, it is that much easier to excel if he chooses a profession different from that of his father.
In that sense, Satyajit Ray was an astute son. He did dabble in children's literature, like his illustrious father Sukumar Ray. However, that was not his main area of work. He chose to become a film director. Consider for a moment Satyajit Ray's fate, if he had only written those Feluda stories and not made those memorable films! Invariably, Satyajit Ray would have been compared with the incredibly more entertaining poems and stories that Sukumar Ray had penned. In other words, Satyajit Ray would not have been Satyajit Ray, if he had not become a filmmaker.
In sports as well, one sees a similar story. Ashok Mankad, who managed to play for India in a few Test matches, was always compared with his great father, Vinoo Mankad. The verdict was unanimous. The son was no patch on his father. In recent times, Rohan Gavaskar faded away as an average cricket player, although he tried hard to make a mark on his own. Every time he would come on the field, he had to live up to the expectations of being Sunil Gavaskar's son. Jeev Milkha Singh did not make that mistake. He chose to be a golfer, instead of a sprinter like his father, Milkha Singh. Today, Jeev Milkha Singh is as famous as his father, if not more.
For sons, therefore, the trick seems to be to avoid a comparison with their illustrious fathers. That can be achieved if the son avoids the profession of his father, particularly when he has to contend with as illustrious a father as Sunil Gavaskar in cricket or Milkha Singh in athletics.
That is why, perhaps, there is some merit in what Malvinder Singh and Shivinder Singh have done in the last couple of years. There was a general outcry, accompanied by a sense of outrage, when the two brothers exited Ranbaxy, which their father Parvinder Singh had developed into a world-class pharmaceutical company with a multinational footprint. However, the developments in the last few months will make you wonder if the two sons realised that to make it big in life they must not operate in the same business as Parvinder Singh did.
First, they sold Ranbaxy to Daiichi Sankyo of Japan in an eye-popping deal and pocketed over $3 billion in the process. It is true that they were bitterly criticised for having sold the business their father had so painstakingly built over the years. In retrospect, however, it was a deal that helped the two brothers exit the company at a time when the pharmaceuticals space was getting more complicated and they had clearly no stomach to carry on that battle.
In the last year and a half, the two brothers have focussed on two of their businesses Fortis Healthcare and Religare. The growth in Fortis as also in Religare was fuelled largely through acquisitions. Early this month, the two brothers decided to acquire Singapore's Parkway, a health-care company, which would make Fortis Healthcare Asia's largest in this space.
The two sons are clearly sending out a message loud and clear. They don't want to be seen as sons who would remain content with their father's business. They will monetise that business and chart a new growth path for themselves. They will not like to be seen only as Parvinder's sons in Ranbaxy. They will like to be known as Malvinder and Shivinder in a business that they have grown themselves. There would then be no scope for comparing them with Parvinder Singh. Or subjecting them to critical analysis as to how the two brothers are dealing with a company that their father built. They have understood that golden rule, to which the only exception so far seems to be India's thriving political families!
MULTILATERALISM ON CURRENCY ISSUES
THE WORLD SHOULD PURSUE MULTILATERAL TRADE RESOLUTION OF CURRENCY UNDERVALUATION
Back in 1971, the then US Treasury Secretary, John Connolly, told his European counterparts that the dollar was "our currency, but your problem". Today, it seems that China has returned that favour. Its currency has become a problem for the US. Not just the politics but the intellectual climate has become charged with even Nobel laureate Paul Krugman urging strong trade action against China. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has a damned-if-I-do-damned-if-I-don't choice facing him in mid-April, when he is required by law to pronounce on whether China is a currency manipulator.
Branding China a currency manipulator would be akin to pushing the nuclear button. China is hyper-sensitive about its currency policy and would not take kindly to being chastised formally. It is likely to respond in kind, and it is safe to assume that changing its currency policy will not be part of that response. Yet, ducking the issue yet again also carries costs. Letting China off the hook would be an abdication of responsibility, a signal of weakness from the world's still-greatest power.
Is there a way out? There is, as Aaditya Mattoo of the World Bank and I have proposed. The key is to recognise that the renminbi is a problem not just for the US but for the world, and so it requires a multilateral, rules-based solution and not a bilateral confrontation between the US and China.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is, of course, the natural multilateral forum for addressing exchange rate issues. But the IMF suffers from problems of eroding legitimacy and inadequate leverage. Emerging market countries still chafe at its antiquated governance structure that does not reflect today's economic realities. One just has to compare the voting and influence in the IMF of Belgium and Luxembourg on the one hand, with India and China on the other, to get a sense of the anomalies.
Moreover, the IMF has rarely, if ever, effectively influenced the policies of large creditor countries even where such policies have had significant negative effects on others. The IMF and its managing director have become more vocal in characterising the renminbi as "substantially undervalued", but this has been like water off the Beijing duck's back. The IMF is, sad to say, toothless.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is a natural forum for developing new multilateral rules. First, undervalued exchange rates are de facto protectionist trade policies because they are a combination of export subsidies and import tariffs. Second, the WTO has a better record on enforcement of rules. Its dispute-settlement system, although not perfect, has been reasonably effective in allowing members to initiate and settle disputes. The WTO has greater legitimacy than the IMF developing countries, even smaller ones, have been active in bringing disputes to the WTO. Tiny Antigua (population: 69,000) managed to successfully challenge US gambling laws.
Although the WTO has some rules on exchange rate-related action, they are too vague to provide a basis for effective enforcement. What is needed is a new rule in the WTO proscribing undervalued exchange rates. The irony is that export subsidies and import tariffs are individually disciplined in the WTO, but their lethal combination, "an undervalued exchange rate", is not. But the rules would have to be carefully designed because a competitive exchange rate can be a legitimate policy tool for development. The rules should aim to addressing those situations where the adverse costs imposed on partner countries from an undervalued exchange rate start to become large relative to the benefits to the country.
The IMF would continue to be the sole forum for broad exchange rate surveillance. But in those rare instances of substantial and persistent undervaluation, we envisage a more effective delineation of responsibility, with the IMF continuing to play a technical role in assessing when a country's exchange rate was undervalued, and the WTO assuming the enforcement role.
How would this new rule be incorporated in the WTO? Essentially, through negotiation. China would have to agree with its other trading partners in the WTO to negotiate new rules aimed at disciplining undervalued exchange rates. In return for such a commitment, the US treasury secretary would desist from branding China a currency manipulator in mid-April. To sweeten the pill for China, its major trading partners could pledge granting China the status of a "market economy" in the WTO. This would have value because anti-dumping and countervailing duty actions are easier to take against non-market economies such as China.
Such an approach has several advantages. China would not be seen as a victim of bilateral targeting, but be part of a cooperative approach to settle an issue that could well go beyond its currency. The remedy would be new, broad-based rules rather than just renminbi revaluation. There would be a large collateral benefit too. Negotiating new and important rules would help revitalise the WTO, which has languished because of the unfinished Doha Round of trade talks.
It is possible that this approach will be unsuccessful. But multilateralism must be the first recourse before more extreme options are contemplated.
The author is senior fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics and Center for Global Development, and senior research professor, Johns Hopkins University
A shorter version of this article appeared in the Financial Times on March 17, 2010
WILL THE FOREIGN EDUCATION BILL HELP?
Apart from the possibility that top-class foreign universities will not want to set up campuses if they're going to come in as 'deemed universities', there is the issue of a level playing field for Indian institutions. B Raj
Country Head and Director, Stamford India Education Centre
Well-established, foreign universities may not like the deemed university status in India - they may consider such campuses as a dilution of quality
The Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010, if passed in its current form without removing the existing anomalies in the higher education system, will lead to deterioration in quality and increased corruption in higher education. Unlike his predecessors, Kapil Sibal has made a sincere effort to improve the higher education sector, but he has unfortunately not been able to make the Bill attractive enough to get in enough foreign universities to help India improve higher education and achieve a gross enrolment ratio (GER) of 21 per cent.
India has one of the largest higher education systems in the world with around 430 universities and 22,000 institutions of higher education. The present GER in higher education is around 12 per cent (world average 23.2 per cent, developed nations 54.6 per cent, Asian countries 22 per cent) and the government wants to increase this to 21 per cent by 2017. There is an interim GER target of 15 per cent by 2011-12, for which the enrolments in universities/ colleges need to be substantially raised to 21 million students. The government estimates that the share of enrolments of private, unaided higher education institutions will be around 51 per cent. It is obvious that the government alone will not be able to achieve GER target and will require public partnership, private investment, and participation of foreign institutions to achieve this ambitious goal.
After the Cabinet approved the Bill, Sibal said "This is a milestone which will enhance choices, increase competition and benchmark quality. A larger revolution than even in the telecom sector awaits us". In the telecom sector, MNCs have given tough competition to MTNL and BSNL and, as a result, consumers in India can now make a telephone call at 30 paise/minute from anywhere to anywhere in India. MNCs that have brought down the prices in telecom sector are allowed to transfer the profit back home. Higher education is private investment for private gain. In India, most of not-for-profit educational institutions are serving public interest for "private gain", thus making higher education unaffordable. Malpractices like capitation fee exist because of the not-for-profit concept in higher education. Increasing private investments in higher education can produce greater benefits, including enhanced access to higher education and improvement in quality, with the increased competition in a levelled playing field.
But there is hardly any incentive in this Bill for genuine foreign universities to set up campuses in India. The big question is why a foreign university should use its own resources and capabilities to solve India's problem of higher education. What will they get in return?
In order to enter, universities need to invest in at least 51 per cent of the total capital expenditure needed to establish the campus. Getting a suitable, accredited Indian partner who is really not interested in profit for remaining 49 per cent investment will be difficult for an accredited foreign university. The university has to go through an elaborate three-level registration process and will be granted deemed university status under Section 3 of the Universities Grants Commission Act, 1956.
According to the proposed NCHER Bill, universities will not be able to appoint vice-chancellors (VCs) on their own. It will be the prerogative of the NCHER to appoint VCs of all universities in India. Therefore, despite having a majority stake, foreign universities will not be able to appoint VCs on their own. Higher education in India has always been over-regulated and under-governed. Moreover, well-established accredited foreign universities/institutions may not like the status of a "deemed university" in India and may consider off-shore campus in India as a dilution of quality and something that can lower their brand image. Hence, most foreign universities will continue to explore collaborations/ partnerships with Indian educational institutions rather than setting up campuses in India.
Many believe this Bill will help save an outflow of about $7.5 billon of foreign exchange per annum as over 500,000 Indian students go abroad for higher education (mainly in engineering, management and medical courses). The reason for studying abroad is not just acquiring a foreign degree but to get exposure to the foreign culture and environment. Moreover, it is the work permit (an opportunity to work in a foreign country) after successful completion of the course that encourages the students to study aboard. Students will continue to go aboard for higher studies as foreign universities' campuses in India will neither provide foreign environment nor the work permit to them.
B S Sahay, Director, MDI, Gurgaon
The government must ensure the same rules apply to Indian institutions, whether on reservations, on fixing fee, on taking out surpluses and so on
The Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010 has been hailed by most Indian institutions including the Management Development Institute (MDI). Healthy competition is good for growth of the economy and, thus, for the country. We have seen the positive impact of competition in many sectors like telecom, automotive, IT etc, and I presume this holds good for the higher education sector also. I have not seen the revised draft of the Bill, and am going by what has been reported in the media. I think this is a bold step in the right direction.
However, the government must ensure that only top-class foreign universities are allowed to set up campuses in India this will help Indian institutions come up to global education standards. The Bill should not lead to a situation where all types of foreign universities are allowed to set up campuses in India. The process for allowing these universities to set up their campuses needs to be absolutely transparent and objective-oriented without any biases otherwise, we will land up in the same situation as has happened with some approved private universities and institutions.
It is important that the foreign institutions entering India offer the same curriculum, quality of education and degrees that they provide in their own countries. Some issues, such as regulatory framework to look into dual degrees and the portability of credits, have not been addressed in the Bill; hence, some guidelines on foreign institutions looking forward to partnership models will be a welcome move.
There are some apprehensions that the entry of such institutions may result in faculty members from top institutions and universities in India joining foreign institutions that may offer higher salaries. There may be some mobility of faculty members, but the majority would prefer to continue with their present institutions most professors have opted for academics as a career by choice, they can never be lured by salaries in dollars. The right academic and research environment is important and it will take foreign universities years to set up institutes of excellence.
It is anticipated that once foreign universities set up campuses here, this will stop Indian students from going abroad to study according to Assocham, over 500,000 students go overseas every year for education and, in 2008-09, $2.25 billion was spent on this. There are three sets of students who go abroad those who get admission in top universities because of their high academic credentials; those who cannot get admission in top institutions in India but can afford to go abroad and stay there and the third are those who just want the foreign stamp. In short, those who want to go abroad for higher education will go irrespective of foreign institutions setting up campuses in India. However, after the arrival of top universities, these institutions may be able to attract some good students if their fee is reasonable otherwise only those students will prefer to join such institutions who are not able to make it to the top Indian institutions/ universities.
In addition, there has been some concern over the Bill's provisions that allow foreign educational institutions to have their own admission processes and freedom to fix fees. This rule should be applicable to the Indian institutions also.
The government policy should ensure the same rules are applicable to Indian as well as foreign institutions. They should be gauged by the same yardstick. If the government allows foreign institutions to take out some reasonable surplus, the same rule should be applicable to private Indian institutions also.
Similarly, if the reservation policy is not applicable to foreign institutions, it should not be applicable to private Indian institutions also. The rules of the game have to be the same for all.
It is going to be tough for the government to raise gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education from the present level of around 12 per cent to 30 per cent by 2020. The government alone will not be able to achieve the GER target and, therefore, will require partnership both with Indian and foreign institutions.
M J ANTONY: BATTLES WITHIN THE CAMP
WARRING PARTIES SHOULD ABIDE BY THE DECISION OF THE COMMITTEE ON DISPUTES ON MOVING COURT
M J ANTONY
It is bad enough that more than 60 per cent of the litigation is triggered by the government and its undertakings; but when the arms of the government sue each other, it is time to call for a ceasefire. When the Supreme Court noticed a rise in the number of such cases, it asked the government to set up a committee on disputes to examine the issues before any party rushes to the court. The department concerned is allowed to move the court only if the committee permits it to do so.
However, it is not rare that suits are filed against the advice of the committee on disputes. Last week, the Supreme Court came across the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation vs Commissioner of Income Tax case. The committee had expressly refused permission to the commissioner of income tax, Dehra Dun, to pursue appeals before the Uttarakhand High Court.
However, the commissioner went ahead and won its case in the high court. In the ONGC's appeal to the Supreme Court, the judgment noted the defiance of the revenue authorities but heard the case on its merits. It did so as a special case as the high court had handed a wrong ruling on a tax matter and if the judgment was allowed to stand, it would perpetuate the mistake.
Some courts reject such petitions at the threshold itself on the ground that the disputes have not been examined by the committee or the parties ignored the advice of the committee. The Delhi High Court did so in the Central Bank of India vs Union of India case. The dispute was between the public sector bank and the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC). The issue was related to the premises taken on licence by the bank from ITDC in the Ashok Hotel. Proceedings were taken by ITDC under the Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971. When the dispute landed in the high court, it dismissed the petition on the ground that the committee on disputes had not given it clearance to move the court.
In the Steel Authority of India vs Life Insurance Corporation case, 1997, the Supreme Court had taken the view that in petty disputes like tenancy, the committee's green light was not necessary. It was required only in major fiscal disputes involving policy.
However, the Supreme Court itself has changed that stand in recent times. In 2004, a larger bench of the court, in its judgment in the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd vs Chairman, CBDT case, insisted on clearance from the committee in all matters. The judgment said: "Undoubtedly, the right to enforce a right in a court of law cannot be effaced. However, it must be remembered that courts are overburdened with a large number of cases. The majority of such cases pertain to government departments and/or PSUs. It was not contemplated by the framers of the Constitution that two departments of a state or the Union of India and/or a department of the government and a PSU fight litigation in a court of law. Such a course is detrimental to public interest as it entails avoidable wastage of public money and time. These are all limbs of the government and must act in coordination and not confrontation. The mechanism set up by this court is not only to conciliate between government departments. It is also set up for purposes of ensuring that frivolous disputes do not come before courts without clearance from the committee. If it can, the committee will resolve the dispute. If the dispute is not resolved, the committee would undoubtedly give clearance."
According to the court, "In almost all cases one or the other party will not be happy with the decision of the committee. The dissatisfied party will always claim that its rights are affected, when in fact, no right is affected. The committee consists of highly-placed officers of the government, who do not have an interest in the dispute. It is thus expected that their decision will be fair and honest. Even if the department/PSU finds the decision unpalatable, discipline requires that they abide by it. Otherwise, the whole purpose of this exercise will be lost and every party against which the decision is given will claim that it has been wronged and that its rights are affected. This should not be allowed to be done."
If the high courts do not follow this norm and lay down wrong principles as in the ONGC case, it would result in "double jeopardy". Like the Delhi High Court, government establishments should be strictly told to take their disputes elsewhere.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CONGRESS SLOGAN REVISED!
Dog bites man' is not news. However, a Maharashtra minister kicking a party worker on candid camera at an election meeting on Sunday in Aurangabad is certainly breaking, if not punching, news. And so what if Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan initially dismissed it as a minor incident and not national news.
Chavan has apparently forgotten that not even a year has elapsed since his party was re-elected to power both at the national level and in Maharashtra on the campaign slogan, 'Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath' . Maharashtra's minister of state for food and civil(!) supplies Abdul Sattar could, of course, claim that he has not violated the party slogan since he did not use his hand to chastise the worker, Mushtaq, who dared to question him at a meeting called to forge an electoral alliance for the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation polls. What the minister has instead said is that "I do not know the man. He is not a Congress activist and I am going to lodge a police complaint against him." So, did the minister mistake Mushtaq for an irritating aam aadmi?
Which raises a rather interesting question. How would the minister react if he was asked, "Have you stopped kicking party workers?" Times Now tells us that Mushtaq was unhappy at not being given a ticket to contest the Aurangabad municipal polls. The minister has so far not quoted the old quip that goes, "People who want by the yard and try by the inch should be kicked by the foot!" However, it is not just Congress party workers who are finding life a bit difficult these days.
Last Saturday, a local BJP activist was accidentally injured when members of his party fired guns, 101 of them, no less, in Madhya Pradesh to welcome their newly-appointed general secretary Narendra Tomar. If the choice for party workers is to be kicked deliberately or shot inadvertently, where exactly does that leave the aam aadmi?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TACKLING GODHRA'S GHOSTS
The current drama over the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team's (SIT) notice to Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, and the latter's non-appearance , posits the problem of whether the SIT can fulfil its mandate to fully investigate cases related to the 2002 communal riots. The larger issue is that of delivering justice to the victims of communal riots.
It was the state-level efforts' patent incapacity to deliver justice that led the Supreme Court to constitute the SIT. To thwart its effective functioning is to thwart the ability of India's legal mechanisms to deliver justice. Any tardiness or failure on the SIT's part could leave no option but to reconstitute the team or even ask the CBI to step in.
But such a step would only further erode the credibility of our legal system. Not to mention the faith and hopes of the victims and the people at large. It thus becomes more incumbent on the state government to extend full cooperation to enable the SIT to function effectively , and for the Supreme Court to be even more vigilant in its supervision. For, the deeper issue here is of critical import for Indian democracy. Given the acute communal polarisation in Gujarat, the question is whether we will be able to deliver justice in a situation where the whole state machinery is seen to be complicit.
The constitution of the SIT, almost a year ago, was quite the right step. And it did seem to be doing its job, with a minister of the state government, for the very first time, being charged for her role in the riots. But concerns soon surfaced related to some team members, or the SIT's functioning , transparency and accountability. The two public prosecutors in a particular case quit, citing the behaviour of one team member and the alleged bias of the case judge.
These concerns must be seen to be addressed. For, while it's not certain what culpability at the higher levels of the state administration can finally be fixed, the idea of perpetrators of a pogrom being able to evade justice must be challenged. Integrity of the legal system and its immunity to subversion by those in power are of the essence for a polity that styles itself a democracy.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SHODDY, FUZZY THINKING
The proposal to launch ultra mega hydroelectric projects , analogous to ultra mega power projects (UMPPs) based on coal, suggests shoddy, fuzzy thinking. The clearest evidence of this is that the first few projects expected to be bid out are Ratle (690 mw), Kwar (520 mw) and Kiru (600 mw), all three in Jammu and Kashmir.
True, their detailed project reports are the most advanced, but to think that they are ready for take-off is absurd. All rivers in Kashmir are covered by the Indo-Pak Indus Waters Treaty , and Pakistan has always used every possible clause and provision of the treaty to delay if not sabotage every Indian hydroelectric proposal. Salal, Dulhasti and Baglihar are old examples, and Kishenganga is the latest. Our very first assumption must be that any project in Kashmir will be on a very slow track.
But this is not the only evidence of shoddy thinking. Any analogy with thermal UMPPs is somewhat ridiculous since a threshold size of just 500 mw is proposed for hydel projects, barely a tenth of the 4,000 mw threshold for thermal UMPPs.
The hydel projects will be neither mega nor ultra. Ironically, this may be no bad thing. The displacement and rehabilitation issues in large dams are so horrendous that ultra mega dams are plain undesirable, save in the remotest, unpopulated locations, and may be not even there. For the UMPPs, the government arranged all the environmental and other clearances and only then opened the bidding, assuring bidders that there would be no costly delays.
But for the proposed mega hydel schemes , bidding will start after applications for environmental and forest clearance are proposed. What happens if clearances do not come, or come with stringent conditions ? At the very least, the government will have to accept as a tariff pass-through all the additional costs involved . Such issues must be clarified at the outset, not negotiated after bidding. Only then will we get transparent , fair bidding and awards of contracts.
In thermal UMPPs, we already have the spectacle of Reliance Power being allowed to sell surplus coal in its Sasan UMPP, something not explicitly provided for in the original bidding scheme. We need completely clear, binding conditions for all bidding for power plants, thermal or hydel.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DEATH CHANGED AYER'S LIFE
VITHAL C NADKARNI
One afternoon in May 1988, an elderly patient with pneumonia was admitted to London University's Middlesex Hospital. The senior consultant on duty instantly recognised the patient as A J Ayer, professor of logic at Oxford and one of Britain's most eminent philosophers. Ayer was the public face of atheism in Britain, often arguing on radio and TV, as well as in print, for the 'non-existence' of God.
He was immediately put on oxygen and sent to the ICCU where he started to improve. He asked for and got Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time from his son-in-law . Another of his legion of friends brought him a supply of smoked salmon which his kind nurses pretended not to see.
As Ayer wrote later, he carelessly tossed a slice of this salmon into his mouth. It went down the wrong way and he choked and suffered clinical death for four minutes before doctors could revive him.
In his own account of afterlife published in the London Daily Telegraph three months later, he said, "The earliest remarks of which I have any cognisance... were made several hours after I returned to life...addressed to a French woman in French, 'Did you know that I was dead? The first time that I tried to cross the river, I was frustrated but my second attempt succeeded.' It was most extraordinary. My thoughts became persons."
He went on to describe what he so vividly recalled on the other side, "I was confronted by a red light (and became) aware that this light was responsible for the government of the universe. Among its ministers were two creatures who had been put in charge of space," he wrote.
Ayer told a doctor visiting him after the revival that he had seen a Divine Being and that he'd have to "revise all my various books and opinions" . But he wrote something quite different later for the newspapers:
"My recent experiences have slightly weakened my conviction that my genuine death, which is due fairly soon, will be the end of me, though I continue to hope that it will be. They have not weakened my conviction that there is no God."
Was it because of faulty memory or because he had excess of brain chemicals such as DMT? Whatever the reason, friends and family did notice that Ayer was a changed man after his return from hospital; "He became so much more nicer after he died," quipped his wife. And the priest with whom he'd sparred so often became his closest friend.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WILL PORTABLE MEDICLAIM WORK?
Insurers should offer like-to-like covers
SL Mohan, Secy General, Gen Insurance Council
As India has a wide income range, health insurance products are likely to evolve substantially over time to be able to offer benefits to suit a particular income group. So far, health insurance products have been tailored for individuals, corporate groups and state-sponsored schemes. In future, there would be a finer segregation of insured or customers by insurance companies as different types of benefit would be offered at different price levels. Hence, the concept of portability would also impact each group differently.
But there are many variations of portability in health insurance. One, a person insured individually could change his insurer and carry his benefits. Two, the person would get only the continued benefit of pre-existing diseases cover without the mandatory waiting period when he changes his insurer.
Since there are cost-benefit tradeoffs related to each approach to portability, the concept should be applied after careful evaluation of the need and extent of portability required in a society or country.
Australia has regulations that all health insurers need to cover every person for all conditions at any age after a maximum of one year. But there are rules that help this risk management : spreading cost of high claimants to all insurers through a risk equalisation scheme supported by rules restricting cover for certain items or procedures.
This coupled with a fairly good National Health Scheme makes the structure workable. In India, portability is talked about primarily in the context of individual insurance policies. A person would generally change an insurer due to lack of service, denial of renewal or extraordinary escalation of renewal premium. Insurance regulator Irda, through recent regulations , has addressed issues relating to denial of renewal and escalation of renewal premiums.
So, the need for portability is essentially about giving the customer a window to switch insurer should he desire to. For a portable health insurance policy to work, portability has to be offered between like-to-like covers through a common product offered by all categories of insurers underwriting health as a line of business.
Backend processing could be tricky
Pawan K Bhalla, CEO Raksha TPA
Health insurance is in an evolving process in India, with its portfolio growing from a modest Rs 25 crore in 1986 to Rs 650 crore in 2002-03 . Insurance regulator Irda brought third-party administrators (TPAs) into the system to service policyholders not just to create confidence among them but also to overcome the cumbersome process of claim reimbursements. Since then, the collective health insurance portfolio has grown to Rs 9,000 crore.
In the first two decades after its inception, only a standard mediclaim policy was available and the insured had nothing to choose from. However, many products have been launched over the last three years to suit everyone's requirements. Policyholders would be keen on swapping insurance plans marketed by various insurance companies to get better products and service at an affordable premium. But they would also be concerned over the loss of cumulative benefits and the continuity of a policy that gives them protection.
The endeavour of bringing portability in health insurance is a welcome step to empower policyholders to choose among the best products and at an affordable price. It would, however , be different from the portability of mobile telephony where the consumer can shift from one service provider to another with his unique mobile number for future services only. In health, portability is not only a concern for the consumer but also the insurer. This is because the consumer would also bring in liabilities along with the swap such as the history of chronic ailments or frequent claim experience.
The implementation process, therefore, has to address data migration , interpretation of existing policy wordings, exceptions and exclusions . Swapping from group policy to an individual mediclaim policy where the conditions of pre-existing disease is normally waived will be amajor concern. There will be grey areas since the policies are serviced by different TPAs that do not have a unique code to interlink previous data of sum insured, claims history, ailment patterns and multiple policies taken by the insured. There are also fears that insurers will be selective in selling policies to the elderly and those with chronic ailments.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BACKEND PROCESSING COULD BE TRICKY
PAWAN K BHALLA, CEO RAKSHA TPA
Health insurance is in an evolving process in India, with its portfolio growing from a modest Rs 25 crore in 1986 to Rs 650 crore in 2002-03 . Insurance regulator Irda brought third-party administrators (TPAs) into the system to service policyholders not just to create confidence among them but also to overcome the cumbersome process of claim reimbursements. Since then, the collective health insurance portfolio has grown to Rs 9,000 crore.
In the first two decades after its inception, only a standard mediclaim policy was available and the insured had nothing to choose from. However, many products have been launched over the last three years to suit everyone's requirements. Policyholders would be keen on swapping insurance plans marketed by various insurance companies to get better products and service at an affordable premium. But they would also be concerned over the loss of cumulative benefits and the continuity of a policy that gives them protection.
The endeavour of bringing portability in health insurance is a welcome step to empower policyholders to choose among the best products and at an affordable price. It would, however , be different from the portability of mobile telephony where the consumer can shift from one service provider to another with his unique mobile number for future services only. In health, portability is not only a concern for the consumer but also the insurer. This is because the consumer would also bring in liabilities along with the swap such as the history of chronic ailments or frequent claim experience.
The implementation process, therefore, has to address data migration , interpretation of existing policy wordings, exceptions and exclusions . Swapping from group policy to an individual mediclaim policy where the conditions of pre-existing disease is normally waived will be amajor concern. There will be grey areas since the policies are serviced by different TPAs that do not have a unique code to interlink previous data of sum insured, claims history, ailment patterns and multiple policies taken by the insured. There are also fears that insurers will be selective in selling policies to the elderly and those with chronic ailments.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INSURERS SHOULD OFFER LIKE-TO-LIKE COVERS
As India has a wide income range, health insurance products are likely to evolve substantially over time to be able to offer benefits to suit a particular income group. So far, health insurance products have been tailored for individuals, corporate groups and state-sponsored schemes. In future, there would be a finer segregation of insured or customers by insurance companies as different types of benefit would be offered at different price levels. Hence, the concept of portability would also impact each group differently.
But there are many variations of portability in health insurance. One, a person insured individually could change his insurer and carry his benefits. Two, the person would get only the continued benefit of pre-existing diseases cover without the mandatory waiting period when he changes his insurer.
Since there are cost-benefit tradeoffs related to each approach to portability, the concept should be applied after careful evaluation of the need and extent of portability required in a society or country.
Australia has regulations that all health insurers need to cover every person for all conditions at any age after a maximum of one year. But there are rules that help this risk management : spreading cost of high claimants to all insurers through a risk equalisation scheme supported by rules restricting cover for certain items or procedures.
This coupled with a fairly good National Health Scheme makes the structure workable. In India, portability is talked about primarily in the context of individual insurance policies. A person would generally change an insurer due to lack of service, denial of renewal or extraordinary escalation of renewal premium. Insurance regulator Irda, through recent regulations , has addressed issues relating to denial of renewal and escalation of renewal premiums.
So, the need for portability is essentially about giving the customer a window to switch insurer should he desire to. For a portable health insurance policy to work, portability has to be offered between like-to-like covers through a common product offered by all categories of insurers underwriting health as a line of business.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
R&D: THE MISSING GROWTH INPUT
Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we might win, by fearing to attempt, penned the Bard. That was then, in uncertain pre-industrial times, and long before long-term forecasts of growth of entire economies. Fast forward to the here and now, and seasoned observers are already heralding the end of economic history, or words to that effect.
What's posited now is that economic growth in India would surpass those of the other major economies soon, and remain world-beating , for decades. We are on a strong wicket on growth, or so it would seem. There have indeed been phenomenal improvements in our saving and investment rates in the last decade or so. But then, figures can be rather deceptive.
It remains to be seen whether the economy-wide innovative trend would be sufficient to shore up growth in the secular period. For, as researchers like Solow have shown since the 1950s, the bulk of growth over the long term is not so much due to increase in factor inputs like capital and labour as technological change, efficiency improvements and productivity gains. And given our weak science, technology and innovation indicators, to assume world-leading growth for decades would verily belie the empirical evidence of umpteen studies that growth is essentially about technological progress.
Note that the Solow thesis, although it has been greatly advanced and refined upon, remains at the heart of modern growth theory. What's now widely accepted is the reasoning that technology is not really an exogenous, standalone factor as supposed in the Solow model, but more an inbuilt, endogenous dynamic that can be influenced by policy design. But the fact remains that the larger, richer economies, which have experienced growth over the long-term , do allocate up to 3% of their gross domestic product for R&D sometimes even more.
And to the extent that the corresponding resource-allocation figure in India is barely 1% of total output, and is unlikely to change for the better in a jiffy, the presumption that world-beating , long-term growth is around the corner may be a little premature.
We are certainly on a heightened growth path, no doubt. Public investment in infrastructure and communications do affect growth dynamics positively. Also, endogenous growth theories incorporate the idea that long-run growth is determined by actors and agents availing of economic incentives. And the reforms and opening up of the last two decades, albeit by fits and starts, have overhauled the business environment for entrepreneurship , investment and trade.
But notice that our spending on R&D is concentrated in only a few sectors, and tends to be confined largely to prestigious space projects etc. In recent years, technology-intensive MNCs have stepped up R&D expenditure here, which is notable. But such spending is more likely to be modular, project-specific and not game-changing .
The new growth theories incorporate the notion that innovations and inventions on the shopfloor and beyond are intentional, brought about by purposefully allocating resources and funds, and that they generate technological spillovers and skills that diffuse and lower the cost of improvements in the pipeline. It means vast scope for human capital to rev up productivity and efficiency levels across the board.
It implies that the rate of growth of human capital can speed up path-breaking technical change and boost growth per se. But the reality is that in India, post-secondary education is availed by just about 10% of the target population . Abroad, in the mature economies, it is over 50%. The mavens project that to get to a figure like 20%, already reached by China, would perhaps takes us two decades.
The new growth theories suggest that economies with higher levels of educational attainments (read: human capital) provide greater incentives for innovation and, by implication , lead to higher rates of growth. Which is all the more reason not to be triumphatical on the growth front. The point is not that growth here would decelerate in the foreseeable future. Rather, the point is that we need to improve the quality of our growth momentum with proactive policy, and not be content with growth brought about largely by addition of factor inputs. Such growth would be at high costs, and likely to make the economy increasingly uncompetitive, and sooner rather than later.
Hence, the need for a clearly-defined technology policy, to boost our long-term growth prospects. The move in the Budget to provide 200% weighted tax deduction for R&D expenditure is certainly a step in the right direction . Also, reforms such as financial sector development to have a thriving debt market would incentivise growth. The new endogenous growth models do conceptualise productivity growth as part and parcel of the economic structure and attandent policies in place. But it cannot be gainsaid that we can no longer ignore looking 'inside the black box' and make a firmer policy connection between technology and economics, and across sectors and industries. About time, too.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MAOISM: NEW THREAT TO INDUSTRY
SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR
As India's GDP growth accelerated to a record 8.5% between 2003 and 2009, Maoism also accelerated to hit over 200 districts. Maoist attacks made major headlines and seriously affected some localities, but had no macroeconomic impact.
That situation may be about to change. The width and depth of Maoist power has improved greatly in the last decade. It now has the potential to hit important industrial and transport targets , directly affecting production and discouraging future investment.
Whether or not this happens will be influenced by the success or failure of the current crackdown on Maoists in seven states. Home minister P Chidambaram has taken a tough line, and refuses to get diverted by offers of negotiations, which in the past have been used by Maoists to re-group and re-arm . The Maoists have responded by threatening to hit back if the security drive is not stopped. As a newspaper headline put it, Talk, or we'll attack the cities, warns Kishanji.
On Tuesday, the Maoists declared a 48-hour bandh in seven states, which was largely ignored in urban areas but fully observed in several rural districts. Within hours, the Maoists derailed a Rajdhani train in Bihar, blew up rail tracks in West Bengal and Orissa, set fire to a West Bengal CPM office and blew up a road bridge in Jharkhand.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Many more attacks on many more targets are certain. Optimists view these attacks as the last gasp of a Maoist movement in retreat, one that is finally going to be crushed by police force. Pessimists fear that no amount of police force will quell grassroots support for Maoists from tribals and poor villagers, and that the current crackdown will breed more Maoists and supporters than ever.
When the Naxalite movement first began in West Bengal in the late 1960, its theoreticians like Charu Mazumdar advocated strikes on urban power centres. Many Kolkata businessmen were targeted , and many fled the city. However, the police were able to detect and crush urban revolutionaries.
The Naxalite movement survived only by retreating into remote rural and forest areas where the police had no infrastructure . Separately, Maoist groups (like the People's War Group) in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh focused on championing the cause of tribals and the rural landless , staying away from urban areas.
For the next few decades, Maoist groups controlled or had a significant presence in the jungle belt running from Bihar through Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra into Andhra Pradesh. In many cases, they constituted a parallel government with whom businessmen could do business. For instance, the Maoists rejected the validity of government forest contracts but imposed their own terms on forest contractors for the collection of forest produce by tribals such as tendu leaves for the biri industry, and sal and other seeds for the edible oil industry. State governments licensed various paper mills and timber contractors to extract bamboo and other trees, but could not deliver because Maoists controlled the forest.
However, many paper mills struck deals with the Maoists. Businessmen paid twice for extracting forest products, once to the state government and once to the Maoists, but were able to continue with their businesses. Far from killing industry or industrialists, the Maoists were actually collaborators, though at a price.
That practice began eroding in the last decade, as the Maoists movement became more violent and ideological. Kishanji's latest language we will attack the cities reflects the rise of a more militant form of Maoism.
IN CHHATTISGARH, Maoists have blown up and made inoperative the slurry pipeline taking iron ore from the Bailadilla mines to Visakhapatnam. This is the first instance of Maoists crippling an important industrial facility. Many electric lines, railway lines and pipelines run through Maoist-affected areas, and all are vulnerable to assault. This could disrupt future industrial activity.
In the last decade, industrialists proposed mammoth projects based on iron ore, coal and other minerals found mainly in the Maoist forest and tribal belts. These projects entailed massive land acquisition . The Maoists championed the oustees: tribals and other poor landowners . The oustees also gained support from mainstream political parties, columnists (including me) and intellectuals. The Trinamool Congress and Maoists formed a united front against the CPM in West Bengal, wrecking the Singur Tata project and Nandigram SEZ.
Many top industrial houses, including Posco, Tata and Vedanta, ran into trouble in land acquisition and mining operations in Orissa. Mega projects in Jharkhand failed to move because of land acquisition issues. The whole political class now recognises that voluntary land purchases should replace forcible land acquisition . The historical lack of rehabilitation of oustees has been a disgrace, and needs total overhaul. This today is a mainstream view, not just a Maoist one.
But newly-militant Maoism has gone well beyond fair land acquisition to simply vetoing projects. Once, Orissa's Maoists demanded compensation of Rs 30 lakh per acre for those displaced by the Posco project. This was a very high price, yet constituted an offer of collaboration at what they regarded as a fair price. This was in line with the deals they had struck in the past with paper mills and tendu leaf contractors. That collaborative attitude changed two years ago, when the Maoists declared they would not allow Posco to go forward at any price. Confrontation replaced possible collaboration.
This militant Maoism poses new dangers . In part, it reflects concern that Maoist control of forest areas will erode with the entry of large new projects with roads and infrastructure. The big test is going to be the ability of the Maoists to withstand the current offensive. Even if they retain control of large areas, most of the economy will be outside their ambit. However, their new militancy has the potential to attack industrial targets, force abandonment of some new projects , and chase away possible investors. The macroeconomic impact of this will still be small, but no longer negligible.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDIA HAS ROOM TO CATCH UP IN AFRICA'
GEORGE SMITH ALEXANDER
V Shankar, or Bhagwan as he is known among his team, is the second-most senior Indian management professional in Standard Chartered after Jaspal Bindra, CEO of Asian operations. On Monday, Stanchart announced Shankar's appointment as the CEO of non-Asian business, which brings in close to 30% of its global revenues. The 51-year-old banker will also be inducted on the bank board on May 1 when he also takes over as the CEO of Middle East, Africa, the Americas and Europe. He is currently the head of the corporate and institutional bank based out of Singapore. Shankar spoke to ET in an exclusive interview.
India is currently the group's largest market for corporate banking. Do you think this will be sustained?
Sustainability comes from business, product diversity and client diversity. There is a lot of growth from these three factors and the fact that in the wholesale bank, we have substantially deepened our relationships with major Indian corporates. You can never predict M&A activities. It is not just M&A dependant. M&A gets us headlines. But it is not the only driver of our bottomline.
Bharti seems to have taken a high amount of debt for the Zain deal. It is also facing problems in Nigeria. Your comments.
It is a hugely transformational deal for Bharti. And the synergy benefits are being underestimated. Also Zain's market in Africa is fundamentally very attractive. The EBIDTA margins are at least 50% more than India. Bharti is buying the company from Zain. It has no issues with partners.
Do you think the debt repayment problems in Dubai are over?
Dubai is heading towards an orderly resolution and will bounce back in the next 12-24 months. One will also have to consider that Dubai's neighbour Abu Dhabi is in a very strong position.
How will you take advantage of the African growth? Is the business potential overblown?
It is not overblown. The only continent which will have a young population 40 years from now will be Africa. The rest of the world population will be ageing. So they have got a demographic advantage. Also Africa has abundant resources oil and gas and mineral resources which are going to be critical for the world. There is also a growing consumer demand in Africa. In many African countries, democracy is taking hold, governance and political stability are improving. The country which has played the African card best is China. India has made some early attempts, but has a significant room to catch up. Hopefully, Bharti is leading the way with the Zain acquisition.
How big is your African presence? And how will you grow it?
In Africa, StanChart has a presence in 14 countries. We already have good growth and our presence there is growing very well. The topline has been growing in the high 30 range in the past few years in wholesale. We, as a bank, have been involved in major acquisitions in Africa Bharti looking at MTN and now Zain, Sinopec buying oil assets in Angola, we are helping Blackstone and Warburg Pincus sell Kosmos Oil assets in Ghana, Tullow Oil in Uganda and advised Essar on their acquisition of telecom licence in Kenya as well as their refinery assets.
With the collapse of the derivative business and low margins in the traditional vanilla businesses, what are the opportunities?
We have a very balanced book of business a complete range of products in both wholesale and consumer business. We also have a decent market share in many. Within the businesses, our product range is wide. In wholesale business, we do everything from plain commercial banking to corporate finance and M&A. In consumer banking too, we have a whole range of products from wealth management to credit cards and mortgages. We are also geographically well-diversified. In Europe and America, we are focused on the network helping American and European companies for their needs in Asia, Africa and ME and helping the Asia, Africa and Middle East business in the Western world.
Is it frustrating for you to suddenly move to the Middle East when you were doing quite well in your current job, based out of Asia?
On the contrary I am delighted. I am looking forward to my new job. Even in my current role, I was quite active in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. The fact is also that there will be further business flows from that part of the world to Asia. I will still be actively involved with some of the major clients in this part of the world. Equally, I expect Jaspal to spend time with non-Asian clients with whom he may have superior connections.
How important is Middle East and Africa for StanChart? Do you think some of the countries in the region will become large enough to bring in revenue share?
The Middle East and African markets are very important for StanChart and very much part of the growth. Sometimes the numbers don't tell the importance. Many of our clients want to speak to us about the African business or because of our network in the Middle East. In some sense, it's like a telecom player. If you don't have a network, you won't be successful. Business there has grown very well, in spite of the problems which we believe is a temporary blip. It's resource and capital rich. We are in more than eight countries in the Middle East and have announced moving into Saudi Arabia where we have got a capital market licence. We also have a rep office licence for Libya.
MARKET PRICING IS A FALLACY IN AGRICUTURE
The Planning Commission's call for wide-ranging reforms in agriculture in a draft report of its mid-term appraisal of the 11th Five-Year Plan, and its stressing of a market-oriented pricing system that would be delinked from procurement prices, does not have any new ideas, which are needed to increase agricultural growth and give it its rightful place in the GDP of the country. It is currently barely three per cent of GDP. The government has been saying many of these things for the last 15 years. Its other suggestion, according to news reports, is to do away with levies and stocking limits, allow free movement of goods across the country, remove bans on exports and futures trading, and take technology to the farmers. These are vague statements and unlikely to solve the ground-level issues that plague Indian agriculture. In addition to the fact that agriculture and allied activities provide livelihoods to more than 60 per cent of the country's 1.2 billion people, 70 per cent of the population has no purchasing power. There is a lot of double-speak when it comes to tackling agriculture. The talk about leaving pricing to market forces vanishes when prices go up as a measure of the supply and demand equation. For instance, when international prices are low, the government imports to depress prices domestically. India imports 50 per cent of her requirement of edible oils around 12 lakh tonnes annually. When prices of palm oil were high at around $1,400 per tonne, the government had reduced import duties to zero from 85 per cent to make imports cheap and depress domestic prices (Rs 80 per kg of soyabean oil at that time). But now that prices have fallen in the international market to $800 per tonne, the government has not reimposed import duty, which is why edible oil is cheap compared to two years ago. The consumer is happy with cheap palm oil but the farmer does not get a fair price and that's why oilseed production is not increasing. However, in the case of petroleum, when a barrel was $144, the government reduced import duty by 7.5 per cent. When prices fell to $80 per barrel the government reimposed the import duty, which is why prices have gone up by Rs 2.50 per litre in the cases of petrol and diesel. So the government plays a double game with the farmers, and that is why the farmers have no incentive to produce enough food grains or edible oils. The government is caught between pleasing consumers, particularly vocal middle-class consumers, with cheap food grains and the like, and depriving farmers of remunerative prices. While industry can raise its price every time raw material prices go up, the farmer cannot and has therefore been the loser. The government has to find a way to harmonise the needs of consumers with that of farmers. The government has for some inexplicable reason done away with the PDS for people above the poverty line while it has badly mismanaged the system for those below the poverty line. The Planning Commission's draft report is now trying to mask its failure by trying to do away with the procurement policy. It has said procurement price should be delinked from the minimum support price it gives to farmers. The problem is not procurement but distribution. The government has been unable to provide an efficient distribution network, which is why we have hundreds of tonnes of grain lying rotting in the open in Punjab.
The report talks about making the system more market-price-oriented. But nowhere in the world are prices based on market forces. Every government subsidises its farmers heavily; the US government leads in this. In fact, as the Planning Commission members are probably aware, the whole fight at the WTO is about farm subsidies. The Doha Round has been languishing for several years because the US and Europe do not want to give up their subsidy regime while calling upon India and other developing countries to cut subsidies.
THE QUOTE QUIBBLE
BY P.C. ALEXANDER
A few days ago a statement by Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav appeared in the press he was asserting that the Women's Reservation Bill would be passed by Parliament only over his dead body. One would have thought that an experienced politician like Mr Yadav would not be so irresponsible as to claim the right of veto for his party that has just four members of Parliament out of a total of 543, that too over a Bill supported by all major parties in the Lok Sabha. The respect some leaders in India have for the basic principles of democracy was evident.
Leaders of political parties who are demanding quota within quota for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Muslims, like the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Samajwadi Party (SP) etc., did not threaten in a similar way when the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments were made in 1992. The 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution of India provided for reservation of seats (at least one-third) in panchayats and municipalities for women. These parties never showed any such zeal while nominating candidates for elections to Parliament or state legislatures. Even in filling up senior posts within their party, one does not see any special consideration being given to OBC or Muslim women.
Having said that, no impartial observer can absolve the Congress of its share of blame for the controversy surrounding the Women's Reservation Bill. It has become a regular practice for the Congress to present very important and sensitive proposals for legislation without bothering to hold consultations even with the leaders of the most important political parties.
The finance minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee's announcement in Parliament that the government will be holding an all-party meeting came only when a determined group in the Opposition made it impossible for Parliament to transact regular business. If the government had made such a move well before the issue erupted, it would have helped create the atmosphere for calmer discussions in Parliament.
More unfortunate is the fact that certain Congress leaders appear to be keen on taking all the credit for the introduction of the bill exclusively for their party. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, was generous enough to acknowledge that the bill could be passed in the Rajya Sabha because of the support of major Opposition parties, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left. But some Congress leaders appear to be interested only in using the passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha as another opportunity for heaping praise on the Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi.
Again, the sharpness of the opposition to the bill could have been blunted substantially if the Congress had launched a public information campaign on the merits of the Bill. It should have explained to the people before the introduction of the bill that what the government was trying to do was what several other countries in the West and even some developing countries had already done in order to make the right to equality more relevant for women.
Ordinary people in our country are not even aware of the fact that in a democracy some form of quota for women in the legislature has been recognised as a basic right of women. The percentage of reservation may vary from country to country and the methods used for quota may also vary, but the principle of quota for women is accepted by many developed and developing countries.
The ways adopted by these countries for implementing the quota system for women are through provisions in the Constitution, through legislation and through political parties. Countries where quotas for women have been fixed either through the Constitution or through national legislation include South Africa (percentage of women in Parliament 43), Argentina (41.6 per cent), Costa Rica (38.6 per cent), Belgium (36.7 per cent), Spain (36.3 per cent), and Tanzania (36.4 per cent).
In India, quota for women through political parties may not be advisable as most of our political parties lack inner party democracy and, therefore, quotas implemented through them may result in giving the party high command a virtual monopoly in nominating all the candidates for reserved seats. In countries where political parties work in a strictly democratic manner, quotas through parties have proved to be quite successful. A few examples are Sweden (47.3 per cent), Norway (37.9 per cent), Netherlands (36.7 per cent), Austria (26.7 per cent), Germany (31.8 per cent).
I would like to raise a point here about the objectives that can be achieved through increased representation of women in the legislature, particularly in Parliament, in a country like ours. The phrase "empowerment" is very commonly used to describe the main objective of reservation for women in Parliament. However, the agitators for increased representation of women in legislatures should also face the reality that the manner in which Parliament works (or does not work) these days does not give much scope for such empowerment. The fact that Parliament has not been able to meet even for 100 days a year because of disruptions is a serious dampener on such expectations.
The right to represent a constituency of voters in Parliament is certainly a great privilege, but unless women are also helped to liberate themselves from the various disadvantages they suffer from in our society, "empowerment" will continue to remain a meaningless word.
The low percentage of girls in schools and the high rate of dropout among girls, particularly in rural areas, perpetuates the disadvantage of women as a class. And in spite of all the talk about women's education being a top priority, the lack of educational facilities for female children remains a major hurdle. The absence of proper medical facilities in rural areas, particularly at the time of childbirth, has led to intolerably high rates of maternal and infant mortality in India. The increasing trend of alcoholism among men folk in certain states is becoming a serious problem affecting the dignity of women in homes. In panchayats and municipal councils where seats are reserved for women, a trend has been noticed where the husband or other relatives of the woman elected function in their place.
These are only some of the many reasons that inhibit empowerment of women in India. Of course, these should not become arguments for not giving priority to increasing the representation of women in Parliament. They are mentioned here only to emphasise the fact that removal of gross disadvantages for women in our society is as important as their increased representation in our legislatures.
P.C. Alexander is a former governorn of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra
HEALTHCARE GENEROSITY SPELLS FISCAL RUIN
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 recognise the Democratic DNA in the content of the Healthcare 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 healthcare 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.
The US President, Mr Barack Obama, and Ms 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.
Mr Obama and Ms 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 honour 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 vigour is challenged on two fronts. First, the country is becoming geriatric. Other nations spend 10 per cent or so of their gross domestic product on healthcare. We spend 17 per cent and are predicted to soon spend 20 per cent and then 25 per cent. 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.
LET PADMAS SHINE, OR ABOLISH THEM
BY S.K. SINHA
It has been a well established tradition for a state to confer awards and titles on its citizens. Take the peerages in Britain, which are hereditary titles. There are five grades of peers dukes, earls, marquis, viscounts and barons. Lord Sinha was the only Indian before Independence to be made a peer. After 1947, a few Indians have been made barons. Knights rank below peers. Rabindranath Tagore, the first Indian Nobel laureate, was made a knight but he later returned his knighthood in protest against the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. There was also the Indian award of Kaiser-e-Hind, awarded for distinguished service. Mahatma Gandhi received this award for his service in the Boer War but returned it in 1920 when he started the Civil Disobedience Movement.
The British have also awards of different orders, such as the Order of Bath, Royal Victorian Order, Order of St Michael and George, Order of the British Empire, Order of the Star of India and the Order of the Indian Empire. After India became independent, the latter two orders were closed. These orders have gradations, like Grand Knight Commander, Knight Commander and Companion. Below these British awards were Indian awards of Rai Bahadur for Hindus, Khan Bahadur for Muslims and Sardar Bahadur for Sikhs, and similarly Rai Saheb, Khan Saheb and Sardar Saheb.
During the struggle for Independence, the Congress felt that such awards promoted toadyism among the people and called for a boycott of titles and awards. However, honorifics got attached to the names of some of our great leaders. Rabindranath Tagore called Gandhiji "Mahatma" and this caught on. Gandhiji called Vallabhbhai Patel "Sardar" and Rajendra Prasad "Desh Ratna". Similarly, C.R. Das came to be known as "Deshbandhu". After Independence, Jayaprakash Narayan acquired the honorific Loknayak and Gopinath Bordoloi "Lokpriya".
On attaining Independence, we initially decided not to have any titles or awards other than for gallantry. After the Kashmir War, we introduced gallantry awards the Vir Chakra series in war and Ashok Chakra series in peace, corresponding to such awards during the British era. In 1954, awards were introduced for distinguished service, like the Padma series for civilians and Vishist Seva series for military personnel. The Padma series has four grades Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri. These awards are also related to the status of the individual and to the level of his/her achievement. The Vishist Seva series for the military has three grades Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal and Vishisht Seva Medal.
In exceptional cases, military personnel are also given Padma awards. Manekshaw was made a Field Marshal and also given the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award. Arthur Wellesley got the highest civil award of his country and became the Duke of Wellington. On that analogy, Manekshaw should have been given a Bharat Ratna for India's unique military victory. On becoming Prime Minister, Morarji Desai stopped the Padma series of awards but they were revived after him.
There has been criticism that these national awards are given on the basis of an individual's acceptability to the ruling establishment.
Many deserving individuals get overlooked because of the bias against them of those in authority. On the basis
of his unparalleled achievement, Sardar Patel should have been among the first to be awarded the Bharat Ratna. However, this award was given to him 50 years after his death. He got this along with Rajiv Gandhi. All Congress Prime Ministers received Bharat Ratnas except P.V. Narasimha Rao, despite his great contribution to liberalising the economy. Possibly, political considerations related to the Babri Masjid or his alleged involvement in scams came in his way. Maulana Azad set a fine example by refusing to accept a Bharat Ratna as he had been a member of the awards committee. He was awarded one posthumously.
When I was governor of Assam, I pleaded with President K.R. Narayanan and Prime Ministers I.K. Gujral and Atal Behari Vajpayee for a Bharat Ratna for Gopinath Bordoloi. He was the first chief minister of Assam and had saved Assam from becoming a part of East Pakistan. He had also been the architect of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. I had to struggle against the decision taken then not to confer these awards posthumously. Moreover, there were demands for Bharat Ratnas for Biju Patnaik and N.T. Rama Rao. We finally succeeded in getting this award for Bordoloi nearly 50 years after his death. Apart from the fact that he eminently deserved this award, I had a special reason for sponsoring his case. The people of Assam felt neglected and discriminated against. This had been the main cause of insurgency in the state. The award to Bordoloi had an electrifying effect all over Assam and helped us win the hearts and minds of the people and bring them back into the national mainstream.
Similarly, in Kashmir, we got a Padma Bhushan for Mian Bashir, the oldest Bakherwal political leader in the state, much revered by his community. Gujjars and Bakherwals constitute 20 per cent of the population of Jammu and Kashmir. They are backward tribes who nurture a feeling of deprivation. This award had a healthy impact. I may add that the award of a Padma Vibhushan to Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1992 by a Congress government set a healthy tradition.
The 2010 award of a Padma Bhushan to a hotelier of questionable achievements and a Padma Shri for a former militant with a dubious record have generated controversy and have devalued these awards. We need to either abolish awards altogether, or introduce a fair and transparent system of selection which inspires confidence.
An awards committee comprising representatives of the ruling party and the Opposition, plus some eminent apolitical citizens, should be constituted to screen recommendations for awards. Service to the nation, and not to the party in power, should be the criterion for selection.
The author, a retired lieutenant-general, wasVice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir
MY HERO, THE MART
BY JAMES DELINGPOLE
M. "I've spotted him!"
M. "Down there. Having a coffee. On his own".
Me. "Hey. Do you think he'd like it if we joined him?"
M. "I doubt it. He's reading a book."
D. "God, is he reading his own book? Unbelievable. He's reading Yellow Dog".
M. "No it's not. I think it's Hitch 22".
Me. "Yeah well, whatever it is, look, he's almost at the end. You know how it is when you're nearly at the end of the book. You want to prolong the moment. So we'd be doing him a favour".
M. "You can if you want to. I'm staying here".
Me. "Coward. What about you, D?"
D. "Well we've come all this way. Seems a shame not to try..."
Back home in England, you'd never get away with it because: a) it would be considered a touch infra dig, and b) he'd never present such an obvious sitting target for such a prolonged period of time. But here in Dubai, the rules are different. That's what we're calculating. Indeed, I think it's secretly one of the main reasons my friends D, M and I decided to come to this Emirates Festival of Literature. To hang with The Mart. The great Martin Amis.
Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds pathetic. At least it will if you're a girl. I haven't met a girl on the entire planet apart from his wife Isabel, of whom more later who gets excited by The Mart to nearly the same degree as boys do. But that's because The Mart doesn't really do girls' books. He writes books about foul characters called Keith, and darts, sports cars called Fiascos, and the fantastic breasts of aristocratic blonde 20-year-olds in Italian castles, with glorious show-off, wily-waggling sentences and fantastic adjectives like "rangy". I don't know why, exactly, but when you're a boy at least a boy of a certain generation this sort of thing really hits the spot. You feel you're in the presence of greatness and you want a bit of it to rub off on you, ideally by getting some sort of quality time with the man.
But how? Interviews don't count they're too one-way, too much of a performance. Bumpings-into-at-parties don't count either they're too fleeting and unsatisfactory. The first must have been in my late twenties, when I said: "People say I look a bit like you. Do you think I look like you?" and I can't remember what his reply was but it must have been pretty boring, otherwise I suppose I would remember it.
I think it's a deliberate technique of his. I've seen it used before, though usually by rock stars or movie stars rather than novelists. They've honed this way of dealing with non-famous strangers where they engage with you just enough for you not to go away thinking "What a ****!", but not so that you can get any kind of conversational purchase on them. And off they slip, the eels.
Indeed, in my teeny tiny way I have experienced this myself. I am not Martin Amis. But even I, crap and really not very famous person that I am, quite often feel a flutter of mixed ingratitude and trepidation when a stranger recognises me. Even once I've established that they don't hate me and don't want to kill me, I still resent slightly the time I'm now going to have to spend being nice and listening to the things they want to tell me.
So I quite understand why The Mart always has that wary, slightly hunted look about him in public. The last thing a brilliant literary mind like that needs is some prat coming up to him and saying: "God I loved The Rachel Papers/Dead Babies/Other People" (bad call: he doesn't rate the early ones), or God I loved Money (an even sorer point because it was probably his peak) and then having to be gracious in response.
Part of the challenge then, on this quest to hang with Mart spend quality coffee-and-roll-ups time in the bar with him, below the swimming pool terrace from which we've been monitoring him on and off for half an hour will be to signal to him immediately that D and I are not your usual, glib, stupid, fan riff-raff but the kind of interesting people who'll brighten up his day.
Being all lavishly looked-after guests of this Emirates Literature Festival helps, obviously. They're great levellers, literary festivals, especially in exotic places like Dubai where you're all staying in the same hotel and bumping into one another at breakfast and going on exciting group excursions like the one into the desert where you smoke hubbly-bubbly pipes and ride camels and get to sand-board down the sides of sand dunes and such like. You, The Mart, Yann Martel, John Simpson, Kate Adie, Alexander McCall Smith, Jeffery Deaver there might be slight differences in the size of your book sales, but for the festival duration you're one big pretend-happy family.
Besides this, we have another secret weapon. Isabel Fonseca. Perdition catch my soul, but I do love Isabel Fonseca. Apart from my wife, she's perhaps the most perfect specimen of womanhood I've ever encountered. It's not just that she's stunningly beautiful and intelligent and talented and looks great in a hat, but that she's really nice with it. Approachable. No side. Just lovely, as D, M and I had discovered the day before on an outing to Dubai's Old Town when we totally bonded with her.
So D and I go on to the secret sun terrace where The Mart is having his quiet coffee and fag and we pretend to be surprised to see him. "Martin", I say, greeting him like an old friend. "Your talk was great last night..." (He nods graciously. Quick. Quick. Think of something less fan-ish!) "...and Isabel. We so totally love Isabel. You really lucked out there. She is amazing". Yes she is, The Mart agrees. "So hey, is it OK if we join you for coffee?" "Actually", says The Mart. "I was just about to leave". And after just enough shifty page-turning and final-dregs-of-sipping to let us know it's not about us or anything, he does.
SUBMIT TO THE DIVINE WILL
BY J.S. NEKI
My son once asked me three questions in one breath, "What is Divine Will? How can one know it? And if one can, how may one respond to it?"
I made an effort to answer him from what I knew of the Gurus' word. Divine Will, in Sikh parlance, is at once God's pleasure as well as His command. From the point of view of the Creator, it is His pleasure; from that of His creation, it is His command. From another standpoint, it is nothing other than cosmic consciousness. In contrast, human will is egoic consciousness.
To know the Divine Will, one must suspend one's self-will. Then alone can one see clearly that whatever happens is by the will of God. Eradicating one's own ego, one's consciousness becomes attuned to cosmic consciousness which is coterminous with Divine Will.
For most of us, God is a matter of hearsay. Those who can get in tune with the infinite and swim in cosmic consciousness, they alone experience God. God is not a "person" in the ordinary sense of the term. He is superbly aware; and awareness is taken by man as the characteristic of a person. So, anthropomorphically, man calls him purusha (a person) and designates Him by innumerable names such as God or Allah or Rama. Whatever the name, He is the Cosmic Purusha.
Our ego is not our real self. It is only a cloak upon the atma, the real self, and that also is of the nature of pure consciousness. The egoic images of our worldly undertakings weave a cloak that shrouds the natural resplendence of pure consciousness within us and makes us unaware of it.
Just as a drop in the ocean has the same nature as the entire ocean, so too our atma is identical in nature with cosmic consciousness. It is thus that seekers who come to realise their true self, the atma, come to realise God and by knowing Him, get to know His will automatically.
Then, the question: "Is His will knowable?" Only rare individuals who have got detached from the world and attached with cosmic consciousness can realise it. For attaining detachment from the world, two diverse approaches are available. One is creating disdain for the world because of its ephemeral nature that renders it unreliable. From this disdain ensues a state of alienation from the world called vairagya. It may further lead to tyaga or renunciation. The other method is that of loving God. Anyone who has loved anyone truly, knows that the lover remains immersed in the thoughts of the beloved and hates to be distracted from that pre-occupation of his. So too, one who truly loves God, remains immersed in thoughts about Him only, and becomes unattached with the world even without renouncing it. While the former type of vairagya is primarily based on negation of the world, the second one primarily betokens positive feelings of love and yields spiritual pleasure. The Guru has designated it as rasik vairagya or blissful vairagya.
"Do you know of anyone who realised rasik vairagya?" asked my son. I preferred to tell him a story from the Sikh annals of the Gurus' time: One day, some Sikhs asked Guru Arjan Dev, "Do you know of any among your Sikhs who are really in tune with the Divine Will?" The Guru affirmed that there were quite a few. The Sikhs asked, "Could we meet any individual of such an attainment?" The Guru told them of one Bhai Bhikhari, and also of where he lived. On reaching his house they noticed great fanfare going on there. They were told that Bhai Bhikhari's son was to be married that evening, hence the merriment. They then enquired where Bhai Bhikhari was and were led to his room. There they were taken aback by what they saw. Bhai Bhikhari was busy stitching a shroud for a corpse. They expressed their surprise and asked him, "While great merriment is going on in your house for your son is to be married, why are you doing something entirely out of tune with that?" Bhai Bhikhari said, "My son who marries shortly is destined to pass away tomorrow. I am stitching this shroud so that it may be handy on that occasion". The Sikhs asked him, "If you know that he is destined to die by tomorrow, why don't you stop this marriage". Bhai Bhikhari said, "Who am I to interfere with the will of my Beloved Lord?"
Here, indeed, was one who knew the will of God and was submitting to it without a whimper.
J.S. Neki, a psychiatrist of international repute, was Director of PGIMER, Chandigarh . He is also a Sahitya Akademi Awardee for his contribution to Punjabi verse. Currently he is Professor of Eminence in Religious Studies at Punjabi University, Patiala.
BENGAL BUDGET AND RESOURCE MOBILISATION
IT is almost Micawberite economics, with the hope that something will turn up. And something must for, there is little substantive on resource mobilisation in the MIT-trained economist's West Bengal budget for 2010-11. The Rs 4-crore deficit may not be particularly eye-popping given the state's record. A Rs 3,000-crore outlay is proposed on the restive social segment, and once again for a predominantly indeterminate group. It is an open question whether the eleventh hour saccharine assurances for the subaltern, the minorities and the lower rungs of APL consumers will yield dividend in the municipal elections this summer. And that precisely is the critical underpinning of Monday's budget ~ to woo the disenchanted sections of the electorate. Still less is it likely to curb tribal disaffection considering the mood in rural Bengal. The target group may well consider the package as one that is too little, too late. The budget has reinforced the Chief Minister's job quotas for minorities with Dr Asim Dasgupta echoing the Sachar Committee's perception that "they should get more opportunities". The outlay on minorities and madrasas has been sharply increased from Rs 121 crore to Rs 300 crore. There is no assurance, however, that the fundamentalist syllabi will be dispensed with in favour of contemporary disciplines, as Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee once directed but has not been able to achieve. Just as there is no indication as to how the 90,000 jobs will be created.
A striking feature is the proposal to provide rice at Rs 2 a kg for "the bottom 20 per cent of the APL category". Theoretically it ought to benefit both the semi-urban and rural poor. But tragically the state's record has been dismal. The administration has done little or nothing to curb food inflation. Equally is it accountable for the diversion of PDS stocks to the open market, essentially a panchayat operation that had led to violence, arson and suicides in September 2007. Of measures to check hoarding and profiteering, there is not the faintest indication in Dr Dasgupta's presentation. And hoi-polloi is entitled to know whether the "cooked rice" proposal, announced in the 2008-09 budget, has materialised. The other segment that the government is anxious to placate before the civic and Assembly elections is the academic circuit ~ from the primaries to the universities. But the substantially hiked outlay has been studiously geared to enhancing salaries ~ in keeping with UGC recommendations ~ and the creation of teaching posts. In any budget, it is imperative that the outlay on education is focused on the advancement of learning. But Bengal appears overly anxious to placate the teachers' constituency that can be enormously useful during the elections, in the manner of the coordination committee. After a series of fiascoes, industry gets a relatively minor rating ~ the outlay hiked by a mere Rs 50 crore. At the end of the day, it is the social sector that will call for enormous funds. And the budget is largely clueless on the resource effort. It is in the main a statement of intent.
CWG PROFLIGACY WARRANTS PROBING
NEVER did anyone in authority condescend to seek the Dilliwallah's endorsement of his city staging the Commonwealth Games. A similar arrogance is evident in the Delhi government's budget for 2010-11 transferring the Games' financial burden to aam aadmi. Arrogance which assumes sinister, contemptuous dimensions because such action would never have been contemplated had an election been on the horizon. Is there not brazen shamelessness to the chief minister and finance minister openly stating that it was the sporting extravaganza that had caused the local household to pay more to, literally, keep the pot boiling? Not to mention the cascading effect that increased VAT on diesel and CNG would have on already uncontrolled prices. While the budget's provisions are themselves new, what is not "news" is that while hosting the Games was a dream of so-called sports administrators, it was the common man who suffered the nightmares. For despite all the promises ~ as in 1982 too ~ the event will not transform the city. The infrastructure upgrade is confined to a geographically small area, piecemeal planning of flyovers has already detracted from their utility ~ congestion has merely been shifted further down the road. So massive has been the inconvenience caused by projects like the restoration of Connaught Place that even when completed they will not please. As for the new/upgraded stadiums, they will be priced beyond the local sportsman. So who benefits: only the folk who desire a suspension bridge over a waterway on which no boats ply. If only the "signature bridge" marked the conclusion of ministerial resignation letters!
Budget documents, be they pertaining to the Centre or states, conceal more than they reveal so it is not improper to demand a comprehensive, authentic statement informing the taxpayer of just how much of his money has been squandered. Not just that ~ an independent expert panel (if truly honest folk can be identified by the powers-that-be) needs to examine all expenditure: was it money well-spent, were all projects etc necessary, the reasons for cost and time overruns. Essentially to fix responsibility now, the trail will be cold a few months hence. As well as to ensure criminal liability will follow non-repayment of loans by the Organising Committee. Let not 2010 go down as the year of the CWG loot.
SIGNS IN SIKKIM
RULING SDF MUST LEARN FROM DISSIDENTS
DISSIDENCE within a party is not uncommon, particularly in the North-east hill states where anti-party activities are largely responsible for political instability. So there is nothing surprising about the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front expelling 14 rebel leaders and workers last week for their vociferous criticism of chief minister Pawan Chamling and also for undermining party policies and programmes. In getting rid of such elements, the SDF has apparently sent a strong signal to dissidents and waverers that it will not tolerate indiscipline. But having done this, and in the process becoming a little wiser, the leadership must also identify why frustration and strain is building up and remedy the situation. It is possible the reason could be the leaders' failure to live up to supporters' expectations. Chamling may be sure of his popularity ~ he is now ruling the state for a record fourth time ~ but the same cannot be said of his SDF and one man does not a party make.
The SDF may consider it a windfall that 214 members from the opposition Sikkim Himali Parishad and Sikkim Pradesh Congress joined it as "unconditional" primary members early this month. But they may have done this out of frustration. The SDF may continue to attract supporters but the growing numbers is no reason for complacency. It is the quality of those who man the party and their ability to coordinate with others that matters and enhances the party's image. The joint statement issued early this month by 18 "active members" of the central committee and former panchayats asking the SDF (administration) to take corrective measures to "separate party chief post and chief minister and declaration of assets by all active members" within three weeks carries an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the chief minister holding both posts. This cannot be brushed under the carpet.
AGONY OF THE NORTH-EAST~II
THERE MAY BE HOPE YET FOR A BETTER FUTURE
NO attempt has been made over time to rectify the adverse image of the North-east and the perception that the region is an unsafe destination for investment. In the quest for development, the government, under the influence of corrupt special interest groups, took up large-scale infrastructure projects which suffered deliberate delays, entailing huge time and cost overruns. The benefits were not commensurate with the costs. More often than not, they harmed nature and the environment. This made progress unsustainable. The ad hoc response in the absence of well-conceived and long-term policies failed to bring about a synergy of efforts between the government and the corporate sector. Not that the latter was particularly visible; it was a reluctant player, afraid of suffering losses.
The insurgent groups remained firmly opposed to any move on the part of the government to try and promote developmental activities by exploiting rich mineral resources. They claimed that the right to do so only belonged to them, the master of the land.
THE huge opportunities in the North-east were squandered through governmental ineptitude. The governments became hostage to the vagaries of politics. With every change of government, the emphasis changed in accordance with the interests of the ruling clique. The number of people with unearned riches proliferated, impeding development and growth. The critical areas like health, sanitation, hygiene, education, and poverty alleviation faced the brunt of malgovernance, made worse by the lack of transparency and accountability. The socio- economic model was flawed for the majority and beneficial for the minority. Rampant corruption at every level literally choked the flow of funds and seriously undermined the implementation of almost all government projects. This corroded the efficacy of the enforcement and delivery mechanisms of the government, taking a heavy toll of human life.
The "tax holiday", ever so prevalent in the region, did not encourage the states to improve living conditions for the community by efficiently utilising the resources, funds, and aid received from the Centre and other sources. The creation of employment opportunities and revenue generation was tardy. The payment of tax would not only have been a direct source of augmenting the income of the states, but would also have put the governments under compulsion to improve the quality of goods and services. In the absence of the tax provision, the kind of relationship that emerged between the governments and the electorate in other parts of the country, did not grow in the hilly region. This has vitiated the electoral process.
The North-east, like other states in the country, needs an enlightened leadership at different levels. The lead has to come from the government and political parties to revive and revamp the institutions, systems, and instruments of governance. Norms and values will have to be upheld to enforce transparency and accountability in every sphere of governance. The ties and bonds across different faultlines will have to be strengthened. This will call for greater emotional integration and a personal touch in the implementation of policies and the day-to-day conduct of business.
In the age of information technology, the people of the region have come to realise that they cannot behave and work in the manner they have done in the past. They have realised that they will have to move and change fast or else they will be left behind and swept off their feet by the currents of globalisation, making matters more complex and difficult.
Clearly, the sense of alienation is wearing off and the people are coming to terms with the fact that their destiny is in their own hands and linked closely and unmistakably to the mainstream of Indian life. The country is poised to emerge as one of the first five leading economies in the world in less than 15 years. To be an indispensable part of this, peace and development must bnefit the North-east through well-calibrated policies. There ought to be an integrated focus on efficient management of resources and good governance in the region.
Multilateralism the plank
THE subtle change in the mood and temper of the people appears to have had an impact on the collective leaderships of different insurgent groups. It is reflected in the continuity of the Naga peace process since 1997. Several other groups are also inclined to be meaningfully engaged with the process of dialogue. What they need to appreciate is that in today's globalised world, integration within the region and with the neighbourhood and the mainstream is far more important than the integration of some parts of an adjoining state into another on the ground of common ethnicity. More than land, space has emerged as a better force multiplier.
Multilateralism and not unilateralism is the plank preferred for the resolution of problems.
In the current situation, a turnaround is very much possible if the leaderships care to listen to the inner voice of the people. The leaderships will have to demonstrate greater maturity and farsightedness. The key to better sustenance is greater devolution of powers and inter-dependence and not the cry for independence for form's sake.
The fact that the talks have continued for so long illustrates that the time and energy spent on the ongoing peace process has yielded the dividend of peace. It has given courage to the saner sections and the youth in particular to articulate the fact that the time has come for the talks to move from the form to substance. It would be suicidal to fritter away the gains derived from the joint initiatives of the Government of India and the NSCN(IM). It has helped strengthen the campaign of peace and minimise the risks of destabilising the political process. Democracy is a form of governance that does not hesitate and is always willing to consider the idea of giving a larger stake in the political process only if the contesting side is agreeable to play by democratic rules. It takes years to turn enmity into amity. It also takes decades to transform chaos into cosmos. The time has come for the two to bring about a better future for the people of the North-east.
ROOTS OF DYNAMIC SECULARISM
The secularism accepted in India grants religious freedom to all and offers sufficient powers to regulate individual and collective activities perpetrated in the name of religion and also to promote socio-economic life, says Nirmalendu Bikash Rakshit
Though our Constitution has not, in its original form, used the term "secular", it accepted, among other things, a lofty ideal which is now known as "secularism". Of course, the word "secularism" is closely related to European history and it contained a particular meaning which has undergone changes with the march of time.
Historically, the "doctrine of two swords" prevailed during the larger part of the Middle Ages. While the king was the political head of every state, the Pope was the spiritual head of the Christian world. Of course, the proclamation of the Holy Roman Empire (962 AD) indicated an alliance between the state and the church. It, however, did not last long. As the Pope and Bishops widely interfered in the affairs of the state, Europe was plunged into a prolonged conflict between the spiritual head and the lords of the state. In particular, the Reformation Movement led by Martin Luther and Kelvin strengthened the revolt against the Pope in Germany and France and the personal fury of Henry VIII of England against the Pope intensified the separatist movement. Many other rulers, during this time, saw an advantage in breaking the religious ties between their people and Rome and, thus, separated themselves from the Roman Communion.
In this way, a repaid change overtook the European countries. The ecclesiasts still remained the religious mentors, but they lost their earlier influence over state subjects because the Kings established their control over the affairs of the state. The "Reformation Parliament" (1529-35) of Henry VIII of England passed a series of measures which coerced the clergy into submission, destroyed the papal authority and brught about a complete severence of the English Church from Rome.
Thus, the concept of a "secular state" emerged suggesting that men of the church would be fully entitled to deal with religious matters but they would have nothing to do with the political affairs of the state. In short, it implied the attainment of freedom of the kings from papal clutches and also the emergence of a sort of nationalised religion.
However, now the term "secularism'' is used in a different sense. In modern times, it implies that the state has no particular religion, nor does it accord special privilege to any specific religion. In fact, the makers of the Indian Constitution have sought to create a secular state in this sense.
There are some distinguishing features of such a state: (i) the state does not identify itself with any religion; (ii) it does not accord any preferential treatment to any of them; (iii) no discrimination is shown by the state against any person on account of his religion; and (iv) the equal right of every citizen to enter any public office is guaranteed.
As Dr S Radhakrishnan held in the Constituent Assembly, "We hold that no religion should be given special status or unique distinction, that no one religion should be accorded special privileges in national life or international relations".
For this purpose, four Articles ~ 25, 26, 27 and 28 - have been inserted in the chapter on Fundamental Rights. A perusal of these Articles indicates that there has been a planned dissociation of politics from religion. In other words, the guarantee of fundamental rights relating to religion constitutes the sheet-anchor of our secular state.
Under Article 25, a person can "profess, practise and propagate" a religion of his own liking. Thus, he can not only accept a religion as an inner faith but can also take part in its external rituals. As our apex court held in the case of Hindu Religious Endowment v Lakshindra (1954), the expression "practise" religion denotes that the Constitution not only protects the freedom of religious opinion, but also acts done in pursuance of a religion. He can also propagate his religion so that others can accept it. Significantly, such a provision has not found a place in any other Constitution known to us.
Secondly, Article 26 has granted religious freedom to every religious denomination so that people of every creed can enjoy it collectively. Thus, they can establish and maintain religious institutions, manage their own affairs and can also own, acquire and administer movable and immovable properties for religious ceremonies.
Thirdly, in order to maintain its neutral character in religious matters, the state must be careful in adopting its tax policy. According to Article 27, no person can be taxed in order to provide facilities to a particular religion or its believers.
Finally, Article 28 declares that no religious instructions can be provided in any educational institution which is either totally or partially financed by the state. However, some members of the Constituent Assembly claimed that it was not necessary for a secular state to bar religious education. But some others, like Prof KT Shah and RK Sidhwa, strongly advocated such legal prohibition. Dr BR Ambedkar, the chairman of the Drafting Committee, however, explained that the provision actually implied a middle course ~ an educational institution which did not seek or depend on any sort of governmental finance had every right to impart such religious instructions, but others would constitutionally be prohibited to take such an opportunity owing to the acceptance of secular principles by the state.
These four Articles have sought to dissociate religion from politics. This is why it is claimed that our state is more secular than many other countries of the world. By the Act of Settlement (1701), Britain has preferred Protestantism. Pakistan and some other Muslim states have accepted Islam and Myanmar has adopted Buddhism as the state religion. Some other countries have expressly recognised the faith of the majority, but India has shown an examplary tolerance and magnanimity in religious affairs by ensuring equal treatment to all creeds.
But one thing is to be remembered. The secularism accepted in India is known as "dynamic" secularism. It grants religious freedom to all, but it is not irreligious or indifferent to religious affairs. The Constitution has offered it sufficient powers to regulate individual and collective activities perpetrated in the name of religion and also to promote socio-economic life. To cite some examples ~
(i) It can, under Article 25(1)(a), regulate any unfair activity which may be associated with religious practice; (ii) Hindu religious institutions of a public character can be thrown open to all sections of the Hindus; (iii) the individual can practise his religion, but only those practices would be recognised and protected which are regarded by the judiciary as its essential and integral parts (Durga Committee vs Husain, 1961); (iv) a person has the right to propagate his religion, but it must be done without force; (v) religious denominations can surely purchase property for worship and they can administer their own affairs but, under Article 26(d), everything must be done "in accordance with the law"; (vi) in case of internal dispute, the state can appoint administrators for such institutions (Digyadarshan vs Andhra, 1970); (vii) it can take up a portion of property of such institutions for agrarian reform (Narendra vs Gujarat, 1974).
So, it can be held that India has adopted a unique type of secularism which has sought to strike a balance between the rights of the individual and the authority of the state. More important is the fact that though the Hindus comprise 80 per cent of the population, no special privilege has been accorded to Hinduism.
The writer is former Reader, New Alipore College
2.7 MILLION PAKISTANIS GET FOOD AID
The world food agency has said that it has distributed some 37,000 metric tons of food to over 2.7 million people in conflict-affected areas of Pakistan this month, including 1.6 million people who were displaced in 2009 and who have returned to their original homes. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that beneficiaries also included 200,000 people who did not move from the affected areas.
It stated that March food distribution marked the final round of free food deliveries to people returning to the Swat Valley and Buner district in NWFP where Government forces have been fighting militants.
The agency is introducing a variety of activities focused on education, health, livelihood support and rehabilitation of infrastructure in areas of return. Some 167,000 people have been displaced from Orakzai Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A new camp for internally displaced persons is being established at Hangu.
OCHA said that the number of displaced people in Pakistan is 1.24 million, with over 24,000 families living in 10 camps. Two million displaced people have gone back to their areas of origin, it added. It reported that the Pakistan humanitarian response plan requested $537 million for 2010 and so far has received over $7.5 million.
Middle East: The Quartet diplomatic group called on the Israeli and Palestinian sides to resume negotiations as soon as possible to reach a settlement and promote peace in the Middle East in two years. "The Quartet believes these negotiations should lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties within 24 months, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its neighbors", the group said in a statement issued after their meeting in Moscow.
The Quartet also reiterated its call on Israel and the Palestinians to act on the basis of international law and on their previous agreements, adherence to the Roadmap calls for two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. "The Quartet urges the Government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, dismantle outposts erected since March 2001; and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem".
It condemned Israeli moves earlier to expand settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem, after the Government approved plans to build 1,600 new homes, in a statement issued earlier. Members underscored that the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties, and they condemned the decision by the Israeli Government to advance planning for new housing units in the occupied Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem.
Living in slums: The UN habitat agency report found out that over 200 million slum dwellers worldwide have escaped their conditions in the past decade, but the overall population of slums has swelled by 60 million in the same period. Some 227 million people have moved out of slum conditions, largely due to slum upgrading, since 2000, more than double the target of improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.
"However, this achievement is not uniformly distributed across regions", Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of the UN-HABITAT, wrote in the introduction to the agency's biennial "State of the World's Cities 2010/2011" report. "Success is highly skewed towards the more advanced emerging economies, while poorer countries have not done as well", she said, stressing that "there is no room for complacency."
Overall, the number of people residing in slums has climbed from 777 million in 2000 to 830 million in 2010,
the report stated.
The report focused on the theme "Bridging the Urban Divide" characterizes efforts to reduce the number of slum dwellers as neither satisfactory nor adequate, especially given that just over half of the world's population or 3.5 billion now lives in urban areas.
Tuberculosis: The world health agency report released stated that drug-resistant tuberculosis is now at record levels in Asia, and called for better diagnosis of the disease. According to the WHO Multidrug and Extensively Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis: 2010 Global Report on Surveillance and Response, in some parts of the world, one in four people with TB becomes ill with a form of the disease that can no longer be treated with standard drugs.
The report stated that one-third of the 440,000 people with multi drug-resistant form of the disease in 2008 died. Half of the MDR-TB cases occurred in China and India where the nationwide drug resistance surveys were conducted. Africa showed 69,000 cases emerged, the vast majority went undiagnosed. It showed a gap in efforts to control TB in Eastern Europe.
Infrastructure: The UN Conference on Trade and Development meeting of experts discussed the ways to help developing countries improve infrastructure service sectors which serve key functions including banking, energy and transportation. ISS, according to the Unctad is essential to support agriculture, manufacture and service industries markets in poorer nations and "forms the backbone of national economies". It said that regulation to correct market failures and achieve universal access to essential services, widely recognized as fundamental has posed challenges for governments. Ever-changing economic, social, technological and environmental realities require countries to adapt regulations to new conditions, and they need sufficient institutional capacities to guide, negotiate, regulate and monitor ISS.
One dozen academics, government officials and representatives of international organizations have examined what kinds of regulatory and institutional frameworks are best suited for individual countries. Unctad said in an information note that this event comes at a "critical moment, as the full impact of the economic and financial crisis on infrastructure services in developing countries is unfolding and recovery measures and regulatory overhauls are still being implemented".
Myanmar polls: Independent UN human rights expert said that there is no indication that the junta government is willing to release political prisoners ahead of national elections. Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, had visited Myanmar in February and stated that the elections should be fair and transparent, that freedom of speech, movement and association should be guaranteed in the country and that all prisoners of conscience should be released before the polls so they can be as inclusive as possible.
"Without 2,100 prisoners of conscience, their participation and an environment that allows people and parties to engage in the range of electoral activities, the elections cannot be credible", he said as he presented his report to the Human Rights Council.
Mr Quintana has stated that the government missed an opportunity to prove its commitment by extending the house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, effectively barred her from participating in the elections. His request to meet Ms. Suu Kyi was rejected. "I consider her a prisoner of conscience and reiterate my call for her release without delay", he said.
He added that he did not come away from his most recent visit with a "clear sense of progress" on the four core elements he put forward to the government in August 2008. He urged the government to complete the revision of domestic laws that limit fundamental rights, the progressive release of the prisoners of conscience still in detention, the reform and training of the military so that it conforms with human rights, and changes to the judiciary so that it is fully independent.
It is perhaps futile to look for sound economic logic in an election-wary government's annual budget. Few will be surprised, therefore, that the budget that West Bengal's finance minister, Asim Dasgupta, presented was more a political than an economic exercise. Checking the erosion in the Left's vote bank, rather than setting an economic agenda, seems to be his overriding concern. Several polls in the last two years have seen the Left losing support among its traditional supporters such as the Muslims and backward classes. The lack of employment opportunities has alienated the urban poor too from the Left. Hence the attempt in the budget to win back their support with liberal allocations for schemes meant for these sections. The politics of the exercise is evident as much in what the budget provides as in what it ignores. Almost forgotten, therefore, is the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government's new zeal for industrialization. The government's messy handling of the issue of acquiring agricultural land for industrialization has been at the heart of the Left's recent political reverses. Mr Bhattacharjee still argues that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the government's industrialization policy. He is right on this because only a determined push for new, modern industries can make a substantive change to the state's economy. But the budget suggests that the government has now developed cold feet on the industrialization drive.
Ironically, even the government's decision to finally accept a fiscal regimen appears to be more a political move than a real change of heart. West Bengal may not be the only state to carry a heavy debt burden. But Mr Dasgupta's persistent refusal to submit to the basic norms of fiscal discipline has worsened the state's debt crisis. His 24 years as finance minister is a bizarre record that perhaps shows why things have changed so little for West Bengal. Given this record of profligacy, it is difficult to take Mr Dasgupta's sudden awakening to the virtues of deficit reduction at face value. It is perhaps more likely that he now wants to force the hands of the next government in the event of the Left losing power in next year's assembly polls. Yet, what West Bengal needs most is to free its budgets and overall economic planning from the compulsions of electoral politics. But then, Mr Dasgupta's budgets were never known for inspiring great hope.
Two devastating wars and a trail of suffering are all that George W. Bush had to show for his eight years in power. Contrast this record with that of Mr Bush's successor, Barack Obama. Having spent a little over a year in office, Mr Obama has not only delivered the major promise of his manifesto but also created a landmark. The contrast serves to hit home a relatively new idea of a Democratic president who gets things done, even at the risk of incurring the ire of his colleagues and the disapproval of a section of the people. The healthcare bill, long championed by stalwarts like the late Edward Kennedy, finally came through on Sunday night. This historic legislation owes its passage to Mr Obama's unrelenting efforts. Although the victory, if it could be called that, might prove dear to Mr Obama, 95 per cent of his people should benefit from it. With its goal of extending care to the poorest, the bill goes on to establish Mr Obama's credentials as a principled and progressive thinker, willing to wager his popular appeal for the greater common good.
Yet this is not the time for Mr Obama to bask in a sense of triumph. Enraged Republicans are already going to town with their opposition to the bill, calling the loss in the House of Representatives their "Waterloo". For them, the most obvious way to counter Mr Obama would be through a victory in the mid-term elections scheduled for November. With majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives, the Republicans are most likely to "repeal and replace" the existing bill with their more 'moderate' (some would call it 'elitist') version of the same. Republican attorney-generals are also challenging the constitutionality of the bill; some have flatly refused to obey the law. But it is difficult to predict which way the tide will turn for Mr Obama, given that he tries so hard to straddle the middle ground. While raising taxes, he has ensured that people are not denied healthcare because of pre-existing conditions. He has also offered a somewhat shame-faced concession to the Catholics by promising not to spend public money on abortion (except for rape and incest), and left illegal immigrants out of the bill's ambit. Mr Obama, no longer a political greenhorn, is maturing into a complex tactician. He even gave up his bipartisanship for a cause dear to his heart. Short-term worries apart, this episode may bring immense gains for Mr Obama in the long run.
CONTINENT IN DISTRESS
YEARS OF ANXIETY AHEAD FOR THE EUROPEAN UNION
Since the age of European expansion, Europe has been the continent with which Indians are most familiar. The European Union, a transnational decentralized federal construct of 27 nations and nearly 500 million people, making great progress towards a common space for goods, people and services, common standards, a common currency, and espousing values such as democracy and the rule of law, was a role model for other organizations around the world. With a combined gross domestic product of $18 trillion, it ranks above the United States of America and is our leading economic partner. Yet, at this time of Europe's greatest crisis, there is no attention given to it by the Indian media.
Even before the global recession, Europeans had begun contemplating the adjustments that would be needed in this century owing to the rise of Asia. With the largest concentration of world population, concerns over terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, unsolvable inter-state and would-be state problems and imminent conflicts, abject poverty, food shortages and climate change, the phrase 'Asian century' is a misnomer for a continent that enjoys neither political nor commercial unity, and neither does it have any common security agenda. Its few multilateral structures are weak, and governance varies from dystopia and communism to liberal democracy. Nevertheless, internationalists must note the spectacular economic growth in certain parts of Asia, with the benefits of low-cost labour, large territory and resources and rapidly growing infrastructure and technology. The locus of new demand and spending power will shift to the emerging economies, especially in Asia, and per capita disparity will imply exceptional price sensitivity in the Asian market with its fallout on production, outsourcing, investment, pricing and marketing influencing the future shape of European industry.
The EU's ambitions for an innovative dynamic economy necessitate the establishment of internal economic reforms and new decision-making structures to pursue appropriate policies at a time when it is beset by other multiple preoccupations: ageing populations, fiscal problems including the extent of regulation, economic slowdown, ailing health services, failing pension schemes, and debating the vaguely-defined European social model as opposed to so-called Anglo-Saxon forms of global competitive capitalism. Other challenges are the need for coherent internal governance, further rounds of enlargement, financial solidarity in an asymmetric economy, the political and military profile, immigration issues, management of diversity, use of biofuels, and normative and moral issues like biotechnology. When the current economic crisis is over, those concerns will remain and, despite being the most powerful and unified association of independent states ever devised, the EU confronts multiple dilemmas.
EU governments have been living on loans representing large percentages of the national GDP. The amortization of these borrowings will add to the burden of public services that are too large a proportion of the total economy, which has reduced the incentives for responsible consumption. Funding the welfare state at these levels will no longer be possible unless the economy grows bigger. Despite stringent rules in principle, fiscal discipline has not always been achieved even in good times, and the next generation of governments will have to face their electorates with these realities.
Recession can no longer be considered an exclusively American problem, and the EU's recovery is extremely fragile. The euro zone was established after countries like Germany and France abandoned currencies that were expressions of their national identity, but there is now acute stress on the euro system, focused on Greece, which, after a decade of low interest rates, wage inflation and spending and property booms, needs to raise 50 billion euros in public debt this year with a budget deficit of 13 per cent of GDP (the euro zone limit is three per cent) and a national debt of 120 per cent of GDP. It is guilty of falsifying its eligibility criteria data to join the euro and of widespread tax-evasion, but warnings are also out on Ireland, Spain, and Portugal. Iceland, not in the EU, is already a declared defaulter. California, with a bigger economy than Greece, has long been living beyond its means, but its deficit is underwritten by the US federal government and the taxpayer. Unless the euro zone taxpayer is willing to bite a similar bullet, the EU will be revealed as having no economic or fiscal strategy. The crisis shaking Greece and driving down the value of the euro shows how solidarity still stops at national borders as public opposition to rescuing Greece mounts including as many as two-thirds of the German population, which has recently undergone Lutheran-austerity salary freezes and reduction of welfare benefits. But the chaos that would occur in financial markets if Greece were to be expelled from the euro zone is more frightening than the wrath of voters. If Greece defaults, it will make lenders wary of lending to any government, and all of them need to borrow. So when Greece gets bailed out by member states, it must undergo a period of economic reforms and monitored belt-tightening that has already triggered social and industrial unrest.
It is the political dimension that will define the EU as a meaningful international player. Its experience in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that, while it may be respected for conflict resolution and peace building within Europe, it is neither an actual nor potential political or military force with geo-strategic capabilities outside Europe. Operations in Afghanistan are hugely controversial domestically, and apart from Britain, coalition members have taken pains to provide the minimum contingents deployed as far away as possible from the front line. Even so, the Dutch government has fallen on the issue of extending its Afghan commitment, and others will be anxiously watching their voting public for signs of greater unease.
In terms of 'hard' economic or military power, Europe cannot aspire to a major role in shaping world events, and the abundance of soft power generated by its various constituents has been impossible to replicate at the pan-EU level. It will have to compete in an ever-stiffer contest for raw materials in the coming decades. Its present dependence on energy imports make it vulnerable, as the extent of its self-sufficiency is steeply declining. By 2030, the production of oil and gas within the EU is expected to decline by 73 per cent and 59 per cent respectively, and at least two-thirds of its requirements will thereafter have to be met by imports.
The EU's fertility rate is expected to continue falling with a drop in working age population, and no member country has the 2.1 birth-rate per female that is needed to keep the population stable. One- third of the population will be 65 or above by 2050. By 2050, average EU GDP growth is likely to be around 1.25 per cent and its share of world product is expected to fall from about 30 per cent now to 10 per cent. Contrary to current public opinion in Europe, a strategically calculated enlargement, more legal immigration, and increased flexibility in the workplace including an increase in the retirement age, may prove essential for future economic competitiveness.
The labour pool in the Arab world will increase by over 100 million in two decades and that of sub-Saharan Africa by 250 million. The consequences of these demographics are causes of great concern to Europe, though it will require a measure of controlled immigration to enhance productivity. Many migrant communities in Europe remain marginalized, and despite the rousing speeches of politicians extolling tolerance, are considered a burden rather than a source of positive contribution. The problem concerns the authority of the secular state and its impact on religious minorities in general and Muslims in particular. The latter number 16 million or three per cent of the EU population. Only a new settlement between the member states and religion can successfully incorporate the growing religious minorities in Europe. The EU has to redefine its attitude to Islam, the Arab world and Muslim immigration, since Islam has become Europe's second largest religion.
Many nations have enjoyed rising living standards despite budget deficits, appreciating currencies, high interest rates, high wages, periods of labour shortage and limited natural resources: the stock of factors at any time is less important than the way in which they are created and upgraded. Whether the recovery is V- or W-shaped, the EU will eventually emerge from recession to remain a major contributor to world economy, with its external relations based on normative values. But it has a packed and controversial domestic agenda to deal with first, and its biggest challenge will be to stay united.
The author is former foreign secretary of India
THE REAL ISSUE
The bill for the reservation of seats for women in Parliament and state assemblies has been forced through the Rajya Sabha. When it will be placed in the Lok Sabha is still not known. Nor is it known whether the bill will get the same unqualified support from the principal opposition party it got in the Upper House. Meanwhile, fingers will be pointed at the Lalu Prasads and the Ram Vilas Paswans for creating obstacles in the path of women enjoying a cherished right. What, however, is not being appreciated is that the reason for continued opposition to the proposed legislation is rooted in reality. And that reality is not the creation of the Prasads and the Paswans alone.
The bill proposes that one- third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures be filled by women, thus presuming that there are enough women available who are qualified to shoulder such responsibilities. Now, the Prasads, Paswans and leaders of the Dalits are almost wholly dependent on the backward castes and Muslims for their electoral success. Unfortunately, in north India, these segments of the population are yet to enjoy in any large degree the benefits of education. In the vast countrysides in the grip of feudal mindset, women are still underprivileged and generally not seen as having minds of their own. It wasn't so long ago that even a convent-educated woman like Roop Kanwar was forced to become a sati by her father and others. The backward castes and Muslims are in an even less enviable position. Yet the law, when it comes into effect, will force the likes of Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan to find candidates for the seats from among these people.
This is a Herculean task. It will also not be easy for parties enjoying upper caste support, but their problem will be comparatively less since by virtue of their birth these segments are economically better off, enjoying a greater exposure to education. Even then, the upper caste leaders of the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party are not quite at ease with the proposed legislation. Champions of women's rights, of course, will argue that it is to fight such a situation that there should be more women in the House an argument that seems to suggest that put the cart before the horse and the journey will be smooth.
Giving women greater parliamentary responsibility requires preparing them at the ground level which has never been attempted even when the states had been under the rule of the Congress. So there is little point in blaming the leaders of the backward classes now. They are not saying so in so many words, but their objection stems from a very real problem.
It is unfortunate that instead of speaking out, these leaders are, in the accepted style of Indian politicians, seeking to further confuse the issue. Their demand for sub-quotas is aimed at further splitting of the already badly fragmented population. This will be dangerous, particularly the demand for a quota for the Muslims which reminds one of the British attempt to have separate electorates along religious lines.
Champions of women's reservation cutting across party lines remember the picture of Sushma Swaraj and Brinda Karat hugging each other are speaking of women's empowerment. The need, however, is for empowerment of the poor, irrespective of gender. What joy can a poor woman in a Bihar, Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh village feel on knowing that some privileged sister of hers has become an MP or an MLA? Actually, the entire debate over reservation is an attempt at cosmetic surgery to hide the real face of society, its wrinkles and warts. Those opposing the bill should have had the courage to say so. Instead, they chose to be equally mindless.
AGAINST ALL ODDS
'OBAMA HAS SHOWN HE'S WILLING TO GAMBLE.'
The US House of Representatives' nod to a health care reform bill is a historic milestone in the Democratic Party's long struggle to make health care accessible to millions of citizens. The bill provides for health insurance to nearly all Americans and regulates the working of medical insurance companies. It does away with restrictive insurance practices such as refusing to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions. The bill will now go to the Senate where it is expected to pass easily before President Barack Obama signs into legislation. Health care reform was an important item on Obama's election campaign agenda and he has delivered on it. This is his most important achievement in the 14 months since he assumed office as president. Health care reform was a goal that eluded his predecessors for almost a century. The bill's passage is therefore no small accomplishment.
The issue of health care reform divides the US right down the middle. For many Americans who are suspicious of 'big government,' the reform is a harmful government takeover of the mostly-private US health care system. Rich Americans are opposed to the higher taxes they will have to pay around $900 billion will have to be raised over a decade to make health care available to the poor. Then there are those who fear that the bill will enable public funds to be used for abortions. There are some who support the reform but believe that the bill in its present form does not go far enough. Indeed, the bill falls short of a state health system that many Obama supporters wanted. They are saying that the passage of the bill is merely a symbolic achievement.
The health care legislation could exact a high political price of the Democrats. They could end up losing seats in the Senate elections later this year. However, it must be borne in mind that the US health care system is among the worst in the world and badly in need of reform. It was the fear of risk that prevented several of Obama's predecessors from pushing through health care and other reforms. Obama has shown that he is willing to gamble, however high the stakes, if it is in the interest of the poorer sections in America. The health care reform legislation falls short of expectations perhaps, but for his commitment to principle and tenacity that he displayed in pushing through the bill, Obama deserves a huge applause.
TIME TO BEHAVE
'LEGISLATORS SUFFER FROM A SENSE OF SELF-IMPORTANCE.'
When India made a tryst with destiny some 57 years ago, the fathers of our would-be Republic dreamed of a nation that would be a model of equity. And those elected would seek nothing but service of the people. A system of inequality was the last thing they wanted, having just liberated our people from imperialist tyranny. Parliament, comprising of the two Sabhas, and the legislatures, bicameral or the single House were supposed to be reflective of the principles of equality. The elected representatives were to be the champions of a new India.
That dream, unfortunately has not been realised, "not wholly or in full measure," to borrow from Nehru's famous speech at midnight when India woke up to its freedom. The elected representatives who enjoy their status, perquisites of office and many other benefits, far from fulfiling their duties in furthering the dreams of thousands who laid down their lives for freedom, seek more, not for others, but their selves. The not-so-righteous indignation articulated by the members of the Legislative Council last week on getting 'low-priced' tickets to IPL matches in Bangalore is one such instance. Their demand that they should have been recipients of high-end tickets, of course free of cost, indicates their exaggerated sense of self-importance. It also highlights, unfortunately, that our representatives' firm belief that their need is greater than anyone else's. The chairman of the Council even referred the matter to the privileges committee of the Legislature! This is not the first such instance. Only a few days ago, during the debate over the Bill to amend the Excise Act to provide tax exemption on liquor to foreign consulates based in Bangalore, a few MLAs were graceless enough to demand similar concession on liquor for them.
The public exchequer bears a heavy burden for keeping our MPs and MLAs in comfort. They vote for themselves pay hikes every term, besides perks of office. Apart from pecuniary benefits, they have been beneficiaries of freebies, be it board and lodge, transport and communication. This has bred in them a sense of entitlement. Much responsibility for such arrogant behaviour rests on the civil society which has tolerated their antics. It is time that our elected representatives start behaving with dignity and not make themselves a laughing stock.
THE NEW CORPORATION COUNCIL WILL BE SHORT ON EXPERIENCE AS MOST CANDIDATES FIELDED BY POLITICAL PARTIES ARE GREENHORNS.
BY GAYATHRI NIVAS
The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike election later this month will be its first after the monolithic civic body's jurisdiction was more than doubled with the addition of some city municipal councils, a town panchayat and surrounding villages. The expansion not only necessitated fresh delimitation of wards but also the suffix 'Bruhat' was added to its name signifying its mega size. The earlier City Corporation had only 100 wards as against the present total area of 852 sq km comprising 198 wards.
Apart from the 198 corporators to be elected, 28 MLAs, 11 MLCs and three MPs representing Bangalore city get automatic membership, taking the total strength of the Corporation to 240 members. In terms of numbers, the corporation will virtually overtake the Karnataka Assembly, which has 224 plus one nominated member.
Bangalore is, perhaps, the only undivided city corporation of its size in the entire country as the elected bodies of most other major metros are broken up into more than one administrative unit. Naturally, administering this monolith will pose quite a challenge.
Though a senior IAS officer is generally posted as commissioner to the corporation, and at least eight joint commissioners will assist him, the framing of policies and programmes is the task of elected representatives, which calls for public contact and experience at the grassroots level.
Sadly, the new corporation council will be direly short of such work experience as nearly 80 per cent of the candidates fielded, even by the major political parties, are more or less greenhorns. Compounding this problem is the fact that the state government rescinded its plan to directly appoint a mayor with a five-year term and empower him/her as a virtual city chief minister.
The intention behind the proposal was to fast-track Bangalore's infrastructure development to cope with its burgeoning growth. Though tactical, it fell through as BJP's influential city MLAs did not fancy a 'super-city father' overriding their own powers. These MLAs had even stalled the BBMP election in every which way until the courts intervened and set a deadline for the government to hold the polls. All these manoeuvre have left the ruling BJP a divided and disgruntled house, the impact of which will bear on the council's functioning.
Taking advantage of the BJP's downside and the party government's failure to tackle some of the city's glaring problems like bad roads, chaotic traffic, pollution, etc, the Congress is nursing hopes of taking over the reins of the corporation, at least by forming a coalition with the JD(S). As a preparatory strategy, it has fielded some 'old hats', including a few former mayors, who party seniors believe will prove handy if the Congress is voted to power.
The BJP, which has been facing bankruptcy charges, is not letting Congress have it easy. The party is spending roughly Rs 2 crore a candidate, it is said. But its poor track record is its bane and may cost the party quite a few wards even if it manages to cross the halfway mark in the 198-member House.
The opposition parties are returning the challenge at least in terms of spending as quite a few crorepatis are in the fray. The exact amount of poll expenses will, however, remain a guesstimate as an analysis of Lok Sabha 2009 election expenses based on returns filed by candidates, reveals: 19 per cent candidates who contested elections didn't even file expenses; the average election expenditure of candidates of all parties is between 50-55 per cent (or less) of the prescribed limit of Rs 25 lakh; only four candidates have shown expenses exceeding the limit; when analysed partywise, most candidates of the major parties reached nowhere close to the maximum expense limit prescribed; when analysed statewise, in none of the states the average spending reached even 50 per cent of the limit; only 30 candidates spent between 90 per cent of the expense limit (ie 22.5 lakh) and the maximum limit (ie 25 lakh).
The average election expenses of the candidates partywise show that average spending of BSP candidates was Rs 6.2 lakh, of Congress Rs 13.7 lakh, of BJP Rs 12.5 lakh and of SP Rs 8.9 lakh.
An analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch shows that placing limits on election spending is unrealistic, as it simply pushes parties and individuals to scout for advantages over their competition by finding new ways around those limits, by legal or illegal means. So, the least we can expect is to ask for deeper scrutiny of expenses and accountability of political parties.
Political parties do not have a god-given right to exist. If parties cannot get enough voluntary support from the public, they hardly deserve to be bankrolled by increasing sums from the taxpayer.
EUROPE: CRISIS OF THE LEFT PARTIES
THE LEFT FINDS ITSELF WITHOUT THE TERMINOLOGY TO IDENTIFY ITSELF WITH THE PEOPLE.
BY ROBERTO SAVIO
The crisis the left parties are facing in Europe is all pervasive. Of the 15 countries in Europe that had leftist governments in 1992, only five do today, and of these three Portugal, Spain, and Greece presently find themselves in grave financial and social difficulty.
At the global level, the UN General Assembly adopted in the 1970s a declaration on the New International Economic Order which postulated 'global social justice' and recognised the Third World's right to participate equitably in the world economy. In this period, the values of human development were the basis of political debate. A North-South dialogue was inaugurated involving 22 heads of state, with a first summit held in Paris and a second in Cancun in 1980, attended by the newly-elected Ronald Reagan a man uninterested in international justice but very interested in trade.
Reagan introduced the famous slogan, 'Trade, not aid'. And with his allies, like British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, he began to change the course of history. In the 1980s the World Trade Organisation was created outside of the UN system, which was targeted by a campaign to delegitimise it as a forum for international decision-making.
Then came the replacement of the New Information Order and the New Economic Order with the so-called Washington Consensus, which imposed a single neoliberal orthodoxy as the basis of international economic relations. At the same time, Reagan and Thatcher undertook a focused assault on the power of labour unions, beginning a liquidation of state social services that continues to this day.
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. The claim was made that what had been defeated was not an enemy the Soviet Union but rather the entire opposition to capitalism.
After the death of communism, the death of ideology was proclaimed. The new orthodoxy eliminated all differing opinion. The market was exalted as the best regulator of the economy, society, and culture.
In the face of this colossal lie, the left, in Europe especially, sought to be as unobtrusive and ahistorical as possible, remaking itself according to the styles and the collective imagination of the moment. In general, it split into two groups: 'widows' and 'virgins'.
The widows of the left, except in ex-socialist countries, withdrew from politics. The virgins, in contrast, began to speak of the end of ideology and to espouse pragmatism. 'You have to be pragmatic,' was the slogan of the 90s.
Many words were dropped from the political lexicon, which did not help the virgins: social justice, solidarity, transparency, participation, progressive imposition, etc. But pragmatism has a major flaw: without a conceptual framework, it becomes a mechanism that undertakes only that which is possible, and therefore what is useful. Which means it is not pragmatism but utilitarianism.
Politics then focuses its energies only in administrative goals, without a larger social vision and without a defined set of values. It is a left without an identity, locked into a chronic polemic with the right over personal and administrative questions.
In the current debate, the old terms have been captured to use in a new Cold War. Republicans are attacking Barack Obama as a socialist. Similarly, Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi denounces the opposition as communists.
And the left?
The left finds itself without the terminology to identify itself with the people. It can no longer speak of social justice, solidarity, equality, or redistribution without being accused of communist nostalgia. In Italy, the situation is so extreme that the labour ministry is now referred as the ministry of welfare, without a peep of objection from the left, which doesn't want to appear too leftist.
The list of concessions made by the left in the countries of Europe would fill volumes. In the United States, after the exceptional election of a black man as president in a massive popular vote, we now see that Obama was accompanied into office by the old economic team that was responsible for the current crisis. This blocks any possibility for reform of the bankrupt financial system, which has created hundreds of millions of new poor and will probably suffer another collapse in the not-so-distant future if reform is not forthcoming.
Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz said that the winners when the Berlin Wall fell are the losers today as the other wall (Wall Street) falls.
IF THE SIGN BOARD IS MEANT TO BE A THREAT, DOES THE HOUSE-BREAKER READ ENGLISH?
BY R AKHILESHWARI
Social scientists expound to us the various methods of communication, the how and why of it, theories to explain the finer aspects and importantly how some of it is effective and some not so effective.
Then there is non communication, according to me. Can we call that an exercise in futility? For instance, a sign on the gate of a house announces 'Rottweiler inside.' As information, we accept it with awe. But as a threat for whom it is meant, namely guys who break into houses, is it effective? Does he know what is a Rottweiler? More basically, does he read English?
Then there is this leading resort in Hyderabad which has given exotic names to its different ventures like P.Heights and P.Valley. The only problem is that 'heights' is flat land and valley is hilly land! In our neighbourhood, a cramped apartment complex is called Rolling Meadows! Sure, it is evocative but may be names should also be less ambitious? An equally ambitious name given to yet another (better built, admittedly) apartment building in the neighbourhood is Vineyard Cedar. Sadly, there is not even a blade of grass growing anywhere in the vicinity, forget a majestic cedar!
The best is this sign that is not a sign really. It is a statement. A funny statement at that. It says, "Forget the dog, beware of the owner." Those who communicate have hit upon this brilliant idea of putting up 'no parking' signboards with the name of the institution or product. So every gate in the neighbourhood, of an apartment complex or an independent house, has stuck to it this commandment, the 11th, I believe, that thou shalt not park in front of the entrance.
I regularly pull out the signboards put on my gate by obliging salesmen or what ever these gentlemen are called and dump them in the garbage. Not because I want all and sundry to park in front of my house but I find it a futile exercise. If we can and often do park right under the no parking sign with the fine amount specified put up by the cops on the busiest of roads (at least in Hyderabad), nothing will deter a determined car driver/owner from parking where he pretty much wants to! I found a soulmate the other day. His sign said "Kindly do not park here." Now that sounds much nicer than the shout, no parking!
It is certainly more respectful. But is it effective? Don't know but mate, I am moving on
IN THE WORDS OF THE HISTORIAN
In a country with a past characterized by national struggles and social divisions, there is no subject as politically loaded as history. Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar has recently joined a number of his predecessors in trying to bias history instruction in accordance with his ideology.
Last year Sa'ar ordered the term "Nakba" removed from textbooks, and this week announced that Israel's peripheral "development towns" would receive expanded treatment in history and geography classes.
The minister's announcement drew stern criticism from Prof. Hanna Yablonka, one of the country's leading historians and chair of the Education Ministry's advisory committee on history studies.
In an interview with Or Kashti published Monday in Haaretz, she cautioned against the minister's interference with the curriculum, which she dismissed as an attempt to "earn Sa'ar another two lines in the newspaper."
Yablonka lamented that the Education Ministry has no official guidelines on the goals of history instruction, and said decisions like the one to integrate the study of Israel's development towns are often made hastily and without serious, professional deliberation.
With class hours cut, teachers struggle to delve deeply into material, resulting in hollow, superficial learning rather than encouragement of more incisive, critical thinking. The War of Independence, the formative event in Israel's history, receives rushed treatment, with only cursory examination of the Declaration of Independence, lest questions arise as to the justness of the Zionist enterprise.
Yablonka reserved her toughest criticism for Israel's method of teaching the Holocaust, which she described as presenting the "pornography of evil," heavy on technical details of the Nazi murder machine but light on the ethical and educational conclusions students may draw from it.
She also condemned the policy of maintaining the Holocaust as a mandatory subject covered on matriculation exams, but not the War of Independence.
The historian's warnings over the dismal state of teaching the Holocaust should push Sa'ar and his ministry to action. Instead of releasing ad hoc statements to the media, minister and ministry should hold a comprehensive discussion over the content and goals of history instruction in the interest of cultivating a generation of knowledgeable, curious and critical students. As it approaches its 62nd year of independence, Israel is ready to deal with a mature representation of its history in the classroom.
BY ALUF BENN
No conclusion is more appropriate for the first year of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's second term in office than the decision to relocate the bomb-proof emergency ward at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. They're doing it at an exorbitant cost, only to keep United Torah Judaism in the coalition.
But this odd decision is not surprising: Netanyahu's political partners are thriving in his weakness and stripping him bare. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman kicks the international community, Interior Minister Eli Yishai angers U.S. President Barack Obama, and now there's Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and the skeletons in Ashkelon. Each one has his own provocation, and Netanyahu cleans up after everyone, wipes the spit off his face and goes on.
After a year in power it seems Netanyahu has lost his Bibi. The politician who was at his best when he stood up for his views against the big and powerful is now crouched and frightened in the corner. His message is lost, and it's unclear what and whom he represents. Settlement freeze or construction? War against Iran or come to terms with an Iranian bomb? Two states for two peoples or annex the West Bank? Bold economic reforms or pour money to grease the coalition?
The focused and determined Bibi has been taken over by the Netanyahu of this but also that, whose rule is characterized by indecision. You don't need to be rash like Ehud Olmert in the Second Lebanon War, and it's good for a prime minister to consult and carefully weigh things. But Netanyahu, in his second time around, has transformed hesitation into the essence of leadership. In the rare cases when he made a decision he was quick to set up a committee to evaluate claims that there were exceptions or to deal with appeals against the decision. Perhaps this would allow him to please yet one more person.
The crisis in relations with Obama made us forget all this momentarily; here was the Bibi of the past confronting a world leader. But it was a hopeless fight. Obama is much more powerful, and Netanyahu is aware of the heavy odds. When he declared at this week's cabinet meeting that "construction in Jerusalem is like construction in Tel Aviv," he sounded like a child who was slapped by a neighborhood bully on his way home, yelping and promising to get him back.
When there is no agenda or message, you deal with little things and present them as "making decisions for the future of the State of Israel." Last week the government decided to send to the Knesset legislation that would alter the law on planning and construction, put up a fence on the border with Egypt and encourage scientists to return to Israel. Netanyahu went as far to say that "this is a historic day." Come on! Is this how Netanyahu wants history to remember him? As an architect whose life's work was a reform that allowed someone to enclose a balcony?
Netanyahu was elected for one purpose: to foil the Iranian nuclear threat. That's why he opted for a coalition with right-wing parties, who are likely to support a military operation. That's why he stepped up military preparations. That's why he became more vocal about a second Holocaust and Amalek. But the results in the meantime are meager. Iran is racing toward a bomb, the sanctions are barely advancing and the Americans are demanding that Israel not attack. Netanyahu has still not decided whether to obey Obama and sit it out or dispatch the air force to Natanz.
There's no movement on the Palestinian track, either. It may be that this is what Likud's supporters had hoped for, Netanyahu among them. But the prime minister promised progress on that front and went against his heritage and ideology by announcing his support for a Palestinian state; he also has contained settlement expansion. He then did the opposite in an effort to calm the settlers down. He has gained nothing, just moved the ping pong ball between the right and Obama. This same hesitation was also evident during the negotiations to release captured soldier Gilad Shalit.
Netanyahu is not alone responsible for his condition: The Israeli public failed to produce a clear mandate in the elections, Obama is out to get him, and Mahmoud Abbas is a refusenik negotiator. But the prime minister's role is to lead, not blame others. A leader needs a clear message that everyone will understand and identify with, or oppose. Netanyahu doesn't have such a message. It's not enough to for the country to have calm on the security front (which is tense and deteriorating), or economic growth (with real estate and stock bubbles).
Netanyahu is lucky because he can still correct the situation. Like him, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon and Barack Obama failed to make any gains during their first year in power. They achieved their breakthrough during the second year. Netanyahu can also, but for this he must stop being passive, emerge from the embarrassing surrender to Lieberman, Yishai and Litzman, and get back to being Bibi.
A NECESSARY STOP IN DAMASCUS
BY AMOS HAREL
Israel's security situation is fraught with a paradox. Despite the occasional incidents in the West Bank and on the Gaza border, 2009 (after Operation Cast Lead ended in January) was the quietest year in a decade in security terms. But amid this quiet, a worrying threat has developed on all sides of the Israeli home front. Most of the civilian population is now menaced by many more missiles and rockets; their range, precision and potential damage is greater than in the past. And memories of 2006 teach that we can't hope that they will rust.
A badly waged war in Lebanon, despite attempts to rewrite history, and a better-managed operation in Gaza have left behind a similar picture. The price the enemy organizations paid, as did the civilians they operated behind, has created reasonable deterrence. It seems that Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as Syria, which watched the fighting from the sidelines, has no taste for another direct clash with Israel. The Israel Defense Forces has used training and exercises to close most of the gaps in preparation for more intense confrontations.
Meanwhile, the government and General Staff face regular challenges that involve dilemmas. How should we respond to provocations by the adversary, what action should we take to prevent the enemy from getting stronger? Should Israel draw, in public or for itself, red lines regarding the terror organizations' obtaining of advanced weapons? There have been concerns lately about a flare-up in the north with Syria (amid mutual declarations and threats) and Hezbollah (regarding the organization's arming and concerns that it would retaliate for the assassination of senior member Imad Mughniyeh). In both cases, Israel's leaders acted responsibly and with restraint, and it seems the danger has abated.
In the past Israel did not risk war to stop the enemy from growing stronger, except in the case of nuclear programs that could be stopped with one operation: the attacks in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. Hezbollah today has about 45,000 rockets, whose range covers most of Israel. Two components could upgrade its ability to present a new threat: more precise warheads, which could repeatedly strike air force bases and other strategic sites, and weapons likely to upset the regional balance of power, which Syria is unlikely to risk handing to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. A similar dilemma, regarding less sophisticated weaponry, exists in Gaza. Hamas has already tested a smuggled missile with a range of about 60 kilometers.
The IDF, from the chief of staff to battalion commanders, sounds realistic these days, aware of the complexities of the conflicts and in no hurry to wage unnecessary wars. At a time when the right-wing government is sparking riots in Jerusalem, the army is the main link in maintaining the strategic ties with the United States and even with Turkey.
The distinction Gen. David Petraeus made about the damage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is inflicting on the U.S. military, although it was not mentioned in talks between senior Israeli officials and the U.S. chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has been clearly understood by our defense officials. The close relationship with the American generals dictates a more moderate worldview, through an understanding of the considerations of our partners. It comes as no surprise that brigade commanders in the territories, veterans of bloody battles with the Palestinians in the last decade, support stronger security ties with the Palestinian Authority.
But deterrence and coordination are not a long-term strategy; their expiration date seems not far away. Lacking a diplomatic horizon with the Palestinians and the Syrians, the cover on the bubbling security cauldron can be expected to shake loose. The prime minister is now busy with day-to-day survival, maneuvering between a crisis with U.S. President Barack Obama and trouble with the ultra-Orthodox. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who like Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi openly supports renewed talks with the Syrians, has not yet proved that the matter is a burning one for him.
Close scrutiny of the Syrian track is an essential stop on the way to preventing deterioration into a war with Iran. American opposition to an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear sites right now is a major way to stop a regional flare-up. So is the care that Ashkenazi is taking, also inspired by the forum of unofficial advisers the chief of staff and defense minister consult. If talks with Damascus are added to the mix, it might be possible to head off the threat of war with Tehran.
HOW CAN SO MANY ISRAELIS BACK THE CONSTRUCTION FREEZE?
BY YEHUDA BEN MEIR
According to media reports, the crisis with the United States is just about over. The prime minister acted responsibly and displayed remarkable restraint, avoiding an escalation and going a long way to satisfy the Americans. But there is something that Benjamin Netanyahu and indeed all Israelis should be worried about: the grave damage to the national consensus on Jerusalem.
Two surveys published in recent days produced astonishing findings about the public's attitude on construction in Jerusalem, findings that should alarm every Jew. In a Haaretz-Dialog poll, 48 percent of the respondents said Israel should continue building in all parts of Jerusalem, even if the price is a rift with the United States, while 41 percent said Israel should stop building in East Jerusalem until the end of negotiations with the Palestinians. Almost identical findings came up in a Mina Tzemach poll, where 46 percent said building in East Jerusalem should be frozen and only 51 percent opposed such a move.
Who would have believed that we would reach a situation where more than 40 percent of the public supports a construction freeze in East Jerusalem and only half say building should continue? The significance of these surprising numbers is that the Jewish consensus on united Jerusalem has been cracked, if not shattered. It doesn't mean that half of Israel's Jews have given up on East Jerusalem or that they see Gilo and Ramot as settlements. It means that increasing numbers feel detached and alienated from the eastern part of the city and do not accept many things that have been going on there. This grave situation is the rotten fruit of the activities of extreme right-wing organizations in Jerusalem, which have the support of Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Mayor Nir Barkat.
These two gentlemen are populist politicians acting irresponsibly and doing everything to please the extreme right; they are causing inestimable damage to the cause of Jerusalem. The forcible eviction of Arab families from the homes they have lived in for decades, and the case of Beit Yonatan, illegally inhabited by a gang of extremists who saw fit to praise and glorify the murderer Baruch Goldstein, are examples of actions that harm the Jewish people's justified demand for sovereignty over Jerusalem. They erode the national consensus on this matter.
The Israeli public knows the difference between historical Jerusalem and those Arab neighborhoods that have never been part of the city. Therefore, the entire Jewish people, and the U.S. government as well, fully supported the restoration of the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City because this was justified. It embodies the revival of the Jewish people in their land, as well as their connection to the sites of their heritage and their right to possess them. Dispossessing Arabs of their homes and attempts to take over clearly Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are not accepted by the world, including most American Jews, and according to the poll results, not even by a large part of Israel's Jewish population.
Jerusalem is not Barkat's personal property - it's the most precious possession of the entire Jewish people. It is up to the prime minister to ensure that the government approves every measure and action with potential diplomatic repercussions in its capital.
WE'RE ALL LITZMANS
BY URIEL PROCACCIA
The very foundations quaked. Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a sincerely pious man, dared to put preserving the sanctity of some ancient tombs discovered on the grounds of Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center high on the list of national priorities - higher than the personal safety of patients fleeing the terror of Qassam rockets, higher than the alternative uses for several hundred million shekels that will now go to waste in this budget-starved land. We should not, however, be blind to the fact that it's inappropriate to condemn Litzman. We should praise him to the skies. Because he, more than anyone, has succeeded in giving us a true and accurate picture of our spiritual identity.
That identity can be boiled down to three words: culture of death. Like our enemies, the Islamic fundamentalists, we, all of us Litzmans, attribute the value of sanctity to dead souls, those who used to be with us but are no longer. Like our enemies, we turn our backs too often on living souls.
The examples are innumerable. Let us remember the "deals" we cut with our enemies to receive coffins holding skeletons, while we gave them hundreds of living people in return. And how many of us do not feel that when a loved one dies, there must be a tombstone "to prostrate ourselves on," since those beneath the tombstones will be warmed by our tears, as they may have been when they were still among us? Do we not extol, almost all of us, the members of Zaka, who scurry from disaster to disaster, gathering the stub of an ear here or the fragment of a fingernail there so as to give these souls a Jewish burial with all due honor? And how many of us dare to differ out loud from that tired phrase, that what they are doing is "holy work"?
All this holds true for how we relate to the worst of our disasters. When we remember the horrors of the Holocaust, we think of all of its victims as "holy martyrs," though clearly among those who perished (as in any large and varied population), there were both saints and sinners. But such differences, which we are so righteously and sternly anxious to emphasize when we judge living people, vanish like smoke after those people perish - and all of them achieves the status of "holy martyr" as of the day they die.
It is precisely those who stayed alive, the Holocaust survivors, who have the memory of the horror branded on their flesh, who get a cold shoulder from us - who are left, time and again, to languish in their sorrow, their poverty and their bitterness, and our fists are too tight to help them. They are still alive, so there is nothing holy about them.
Let us not be mistaken. It is not a love of man that makes the dead sacred. Ask Litzman; ask all the ministers who sided with him and backed his principles: If some scholarly archaeological work proves that the dry bones buried in the hospital grounds are not those of kosher Jews, but of ordinary people - "pagans" in the arrogant language of the official statement - who merely lived, loved and hated, who delighted in the blossoms of springtime and shivered with cold in winter and then died and were buried, if it's just the bones of these people who were found there, the sanctity of the site would simply evaporate.
Avigdor Lieberman, Benjamin Netanyahu and the whole bunch would breathe a sigh of relief, and the patients' path to secure, bomb-proof rooms would be magically shortened. And hundreds of millions of shekels would be available for welfare, health, education and the environment. So how can we complain about Litzman? He comes from a culture of dead souls, and he sings its praises before us. And all of us, as one, say, "Amen, amen."
BRITAIN HAS DEALT A BLOW TO ISRAELI ARROGANCE
BY AMIR OREN
British government ministers - Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Home Secretary Alan Johnson - landed a heavy blow on Israel yesterday by expelling a diplomat from the Israeli embassy in London (who according to news reports was the head of the Mossad mission there). The minister condemned Israel and warned Britons of what may happen to their passports when they receive visas or encounter immigration officers. The move was coordinated with other countries - Germany, France, Ireland and possibly Australia - and may signal the start of an avalanche.
This is a blow to Israeli arrogance on all levels. First, the promise made by Shimon Peres to Geoffrey Howe in 1987 that British passports would no longer be used for Israeli intelligence operations was apparently no longer in effect. William Hague, the foreign secretary in the conservatives' shadow government who may replace Miliband in two months if David Cameron wins the elections, is the one who reminded parliament about Peres' promise to Howe.
Second, it shows the negligence of whoever planned the assassination of Hamas' Mahmoud al-Mabhouh by ignoring the fact that the Dubai authorities are sensitive about any damage to their hospitality. Also, the investigative authorities there are capable.
Finally, it appears that the perpetrators assumed that generous administrative assistance, albeit lacking in substance, to the agents of SOCA, Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency, meant that there would be no repercussions.
The close and intense intelligence cooperation between Israel and Britain in the war against Islamist terrorism only exacerbated and justified British anger at Israel for using British passports as if they were its own. By doing this, Israel also threatened to incriminate Britain as a silent partner in its activities.
A British agent using an Israeli passport to track down an IRA cell would not meet with much Israeli sympathy. The massive use of borrowed identities of citizens of a foreign country is no different, in principle, than a plane entering that country's air space without permission.
Miliband's announcement in parliament offered a glimpse into British decision-making and exposed the serious shortcomings in the way things are done in Israel. The three ministers are responsible for the security and defense services. The Secret Intelligence Service, SIS, also known as MI6, is answerable to the foreign secretary and must coordinate with him or with his top deputies operations that may affect foreign affairs.
The Security Service, the MI5, answers to the home secretary, as do the police. The prime minister has overall responsibility, and his office also helps coordinate intelligence.
In the British way of doing things, were a mishap to happen in an MI6 operation (the parallel to the Mossad), the expectation would be that the foreign secretary would resign. A similar step by the home secretary would be expected if there were a problem at MI5, the parallel to the Shin Bet, or at the police.
In the political culture of the United States, for example, the expectation is for a senior official to resign. President John F. Kennedy highlighted the difference between London and Washington when he asked the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, to resign after the agency's failure at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. Dulles was then in his eighth year on the job, just as Mossad head Meir Dagan is now.
Only in Israel is no one responsible, whether at the political or operational levels. The government is hesitant to push Dagan to resign; it doesn't want this to seem like an admission of the Mossad's involvement in Mabhouh's assassination. The minister charged with intelligence affairs, Dan Meridor, is not held in high regard. The artificial opposition, from the former Mossad employee Tzipi Livni to the head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Tzachi Hanegbi, salutes and remains silent.
But there is no need to go into the troubling details: Overall responsibility lies with Netanyahu. He's the one who did not check things fully, did not weigh the risks and rewards, and eroded Israel's diplomatic standing around the world.
The Mossad mission in London, which works openly vis-a-vis its hosts in matters of foreign relations, has good results to show for its activities. The blow to the mission now, if indeed the person who heads the mission was expelled, will pass. But the Mossad and border control at Ben-Gurion International Airport are now infamous, and it will be hard to shake the stigma. The sole consolation to retired Mossad agents is that this did not occur on the watch of Dagan's predecessor, Ephraim Halevy, a London native.
Israel's ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor, who was director general of the Foreign Ministry when Dagan was careful to update then foreign minister Silvan Shalom, knows a thing or two about the links between Mossad operations and the work of the Foreign Ministry. But even a person like Prosor, an artillery battalion commander in the reserves and a loyal figure in the security establishment, did not manage to break down the walls of the committee of service heads and restore the Foreign Ministry director general to his seat on that committee.
The person supremely responsible is the direct boss of the heads of the services - the prime minister. He must bear the responsibility. But have no fear: Netanyahu never took responsibility and does not intend to do so now.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE DAY AFTER
It is worth pausing to dwell on what happened in the White House on Tuesday: President Obama, just over a year into a tumultuous presidency in which he was sometimes wrong-footed and often adrift, signed the most momentous social legislation in many years.
The health care reform law is an overdue and vital step in the construction of a social safety net, which began after the Great Depression and slowly moved forward often in a bipartisan manner until it was interrupted by the Republican Party's radical antigovernment fervor in the late 20th century.
It was a triumph for Mr. Obama and for the Democratic leadership in Congress. If Mr. Obama draws no other lesson, it is that his early and forceful personal engagement on big issues is indispensable. He waited a perilously long time to exercise his leadership on health care, but when he did, it paid off.
It is important to keep that in mind because Mr. Obama's victory celebration had barely ended before people were asking, "Now what?" There was speculation, in some quarters, that the energy had been drained out of Mr. Obama and his Congressional allies by the struggle against a Republican Party whose only objective seemed to be to thwart the president, no matter his objective.
But there is important business ahead lots of it. And while Mr. Obama deserves a break, he must build on this success, not rest on it.
First and foremost is the economy, specifically the creation of jobs. Mr. Obama offered a budget plan in February that called for cuts in discretionary spending and should have brought major Congressional action on jobs in return. After the Easter break, Congress will likely extend unemployment insurance and offer some fiscal relief to states. That may be enough for the economy to squeak through 2010, but persistently high joblessness is a plague that Congress may not confront in a comprehensive way unless Mr. Obama forces the issue.
He will also have to take the lead in improving the financial regulatory bills moving through Congress. Neither chamber's version is adequate to fix the problems that led to the financial meltdown, and the banking lobby is working hard to render them even less effective.
Beyond jobs and financial reform near-term issues that will bulk large in the midterm elections there are longer-term issues. President Obama has promised to reform the country's education system, and to address climate change and oil dependency by transforming the way Americans produce and use energy. In his campaign, he talked about immigration reform and restoring the rule of law to terrorist detention policies.
These are lofty objectives, and Mr. Obama may not reach them all. But the health care victory shows that big goals can be achieved with Mr. Obama's personal intervention and sustained leadership.
With rare exceptions, the Republicans are not going to help. Anyone who thinks otherwise should consider what Senator John McCain of Arizona said on Monday: "There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year."
As shocking as that is from a man who more than once presented himself as a candidate for president, it sums up the political reality that Mr. Obama faces. Still, he should be able to sell the public at the very least on creating jobs and restraining a rapacious financial industry. The nation's well-being depends on it.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
GOOGLE AND CHINA
Google's decision to stop censoring its search service in China on Monday was a principled and brave move, a belated acknowledgment that Internet companies cannot enable a government's censorship without becoming a de facto accomplice to repression.
We hope that other American companies with operations in China, notably Microsoft and Yahoo, will consider emulating Google's decision.
Yahoo said it supported Google. But soon after Google announced its plan to stop censoring its searches in China in January, Bill Gates of Microsoft told ABC News: "You've got to decide: Do you want to obey the laws of the countries you are in, or not? If not, you may not end up doing business there." Microsoft's Bing search engine is still censoring results in China.
We have no illusions that the Chinese Communist Party will suddenly decide to allow its citizens unfettered access to the Internet through Google's Hong Kong service, where it was redirecting China-based searchers. Beijing is already reportedly disabling searches and blocking search results on Google's site.
But that is much better than self-censorship, which put Google in the troubling business of stripping out results from searches about politically touchy subjects like China's occupation of Tibet and the massacre on Tiananmen Square by the Chinese Army.
When Google took its search engine into China four years ago, it came under attack from human rights groups. Google countered that it was better for the Chinese to have a censored Google than no Google at all.
It took four years for Google to acknowledge the flaws in that reasoning, and it did so only after it discovered an attack on its servers by hackers in China that stole proprietary computer code as well as data about Gmail accounts of human rights activists.
Google can afford allowing google.cn to be taken off-line. Analysts say it accounts for 1 percent to 2 percent of Google's revenue. Like other foreign Internet companies, Google has had trouble growing in China. Its YouTube service, like Facebook and Twitter, is blocked, and it has about only a third of China's search market, around half the share of the local rival Baidu.
Still, the move to challenge the Chinese Communist Party may not come without a cost. China Mobile, the biggest cellular company in the country, was expected to cancel a deal to use Google's search engine on its home page. China Unicom was thought to have canceled plans to create a telephone based on Google's Android system. Other measures are likely to come.
Google's departure may have more resonance outside China than within. We don't know how many of China's many millions of Internet users will be able to read about this public indictment of China's use of censorship. But that is preferable to helping maintain the fiction that the Internet in China is the same sort of vehicle for open communication that it is most everywhere else.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
FIXING MISSILE DEFENSE
It is always encouraging to see a commitment to the Sisyphean task of getting the most out of America's gargantuan defense budget and reining in costs on expensive, badly managed or poorly performing programs.
The Obama team killed the anachronistic F-22 combat jet and is cracking down on the way overbudget F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Now it is looking at the long-troubled missile defense program. Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, the program's chief, told a conference on Monday that some contractors continue to produce poor quality components for missile interceptors.
That is not a good deal for American taxpayers, especially when there are huge and growing demands on the national budget. The missile defense agency is asking for a budget increase of $700 million, to $9.9 billion.
General O'Reilly said he is withholding a portion of the profits from contractors responsible for the shoddy work. He neither identified the firms nor revealed the amount of the contract set aside, apparently because his decision is now subject to appeal. The Boeing Company, the Raytheon Company and the Lockheed Martin Corporation are the primary contractors for many weapons programs. In 2006, the Pentagon withheld some $108 million from Boeing because of shortcomings on a ground-based missile intercept.
Penalizing contractors is sensible because profits are a strong motivator. But the penalty must be carefully structured so it does not boomerang. If contractors know profits will be reduced if a missile test is unsuccessful, experts say this could create a strong incentive for them to ensure the tests are (falsely) successful by conducting more scripted, less realistic tests.
The Pentagon also needs to structure contracts more effectively. The Government Accountability Office said in 2009 that defense contractors typically get up to 84 percent of their promised profits just for "satisfactory" performance. That leaves only a small incentive for contractors to perform above-satisfactory work.
General O'Reilly has urged defense companies to fire employees who fail to accept the need for more quality control. A hiring is also in order. To ensure the strongest team to address the program's deficiencies, the Senate needs to overcome conservative opposition and confirm Philip Coyle, a leading advocate of reforming missile defense, as a White House science adviser.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A PROPER COUNT OF INMATES
The Census Bureau took an important first step toward electoral fairness when it announced that it would publish data on prison populations earlier than in the past, in time for the next round of legislative redistricting. This data, which will become available in the spring of 2011, will make it easy for state lawmakers to draw honest legislative districts made up of real residents instead of falsely inflated districts made up partly of prison inmates whose homes are often far away.
The early data will be welcome in states and localities that want to put an end to prison-based gerrymandering. But the real solution is for the Census Bureau to begin counting inmates at their homes instead of counting them as "residents" of their prisons.
The practice mattered little decades ago when the prison population was relatively small. But with about 1.4 million people in prison today, prison-based gerrymandering can shift political power from one end of a state or county or to another.
The practice persists even though the laws of most states say that prisons are not legitimate residences. But even lawmakers who represent prison districts are beginning to see that prison-based gerrymandering offends the principle of one person, one vote.
According to a new analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative, a research group, about 100 counties already remove prison inmates from the population count, and others may soon join them. Beyond that, more than a half dozen state legislatures are considering new laws that would require prison inmates to be taken out of the count for redistricting or counted at their homes.
It is too late to count prison inmates at their homes, not their cells, for the 2010 census. There is no excuse for not doing it in 2020.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
HAIL THE CONQUERING PROFESSOR
BY MAUREEN DOWD
The Democrats were walking around in a state of shock.
Holy cow, they were saying to themselves. We're not total wimps! We don't have to sit around and let ourselves be slapped silly by Republican bullies and Tea Party scaremongers. We can actually get something done if we suck it up and find a way to pull together.
One minute they were legislative losers, squabbling and scrambling for the off-ramps. The next they were history-makers, sharing chest bumps and goose bumps at the White House. How had the lofty president and the wily speaker suddenly steered them off Jimmy Carter Highway and onto F.D.R. Drive?
One gleeful and relieved White House aide called the bill-signing ceremony in the East Room, packed with Democratic lawmakers snapping pictures and acting like obstreperous children, "an Old Spice moment."
"You could see it in their faces," he said. "It was kind of like that Old Spice ad where the guy smacked himself on the cheeks and said, 'Wow, that feels good!' It was like they smacked themselves on the cheeks and said, 'You are a member of Congress and now you can start doing things. Wow, that feels good!' "
David Axelrod agreed: "It was incredibly moving to be in that room today. This was such an emotional high that I actually saw congressmen hugging senators. People are so used to low expectations around here that the idea that you could do something big and meaningful is exhilarating."
The Democrats held hands, held their breath and jumped over the cliff not that it was a radical bill. And, mirabile dictu, nothing awful happened. The markets went up. The polls went up. Their confidence went up.
John McCain threatened Democrats, telling an Arizona radio affiliate that "there will be no cooperation for the rest of the year" from Republicans. So much for "Country First." (He's so clueless that he came on the Senate floor and said, "Let's stop this legislation, and let's start from the beginning.")
But David Frum, the former W. speechwriter, conceded that in trying to turn health care into Obama's Waterloo a replay of the Clintons' disaster in 1994 Republicans may have made it their own Waterloo.
"We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat," Frum wrote on his blog, adding: "Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother?"
Some base members of the Republican base showed themselves as the racist Neanderthals they are.
Protesters outside the Capitol on Saturday called two black congressmen, the civil rights hero John Lewis of Georgia and Andre Carson of Indiana, a racial epithet as they walked by. Another, Representative Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, was called that epithet and got spit on. Barney Frank of Massachusetts was called an anti-gay slur. The anti-abortion Democrat Bart Stupak was called a "baby killer" by Texas Republican Representative Randy Neugebauer, who says he's had a "tremendous outpouring" of support for his outburst.
It was disgusting. And for the Democrats who had battled each other through every twist and turn of health care, it was unifying.
Senator Al Franken, who had blown up at Axelrod after Obama held a televised session with Senate Democrats in February, arguing that the president wasn't fighting hard enough or strategizing well enough, sent Axelrod a congratulatory note after the bill passed.
"You're welcome," Franken wrote. He added an asterisk: "Joke. I used to be in comedy."
Only a week ago, Fred Hiatt, The Washington Post's editorial page editor, had written that Obama did not seem happy in his job, that he projected "weariness and duty" instead of the "jauntiness" of F.D.R. and J.F.K.
But Tuesday, the president was joyous, and that infectious smile so sparsely offered over the last two years lit up the East Room. Many Democratic lawmakers and Obama supporters were frustrated at the president's failure to show more spine earlier. As Representative Louise Slaughter told The Times in February, "I wouldn't mind seeing a little more toughness here or there."
Until now, Obama has gotten irritated at those who cast Washington affairs in Manichean terms of strength or weakness and red or blue. He wanted to reason, to compromise, to float in his ivory tower.
But at long last, when push came to shove, he shoved (and let Nancy push). He treated politics not as an intellectual exercise, but a political one. He realized that sometimes you can't rise above it. You have to sink down into it. You have to stop being cerebral and get your hands dirty. You can fight fear with power.
The Chicago pol in the Oval has had to learn one of the great American truths: You've got to slap the bully in the face. He's a consensus-building "warrior," Axelrod boasted to Charlie Rose.
The president, who has been reading Edmund Morris's "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt," has always spoken with a soft voice. Now he's wielded the big stick.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A TEA PARTY WITHOUT NUTS
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
President Obama's winning passage of national health care is both exhilarating and sobering. Covering so many uninsured Americans is a historic achievement. But the president had to postpone trips, buy off companies and cut every conceivable side deal to just barely make it happen, without a single Republican vote. If the Democrats now lose seats in the midterm elections, we're headed for even worse gridlock, even though we still have so much more nation-building for America to do from education to energy to environment to innovation to tax policy. That is why I want my own Tea Party. I want a Tea Party of the radical center.
Say what? I write often about innovation in energy and education. But I've come to realize that none of these innovations will emerge at scale until we get the most important innovation of all political innovation that will empower independents and centrists, which describes a lot of the country.
Larry Diamond, a Stanford University democracy expert, put it best: "If you don't get governance right, it is very hard to get anything else right that government needs to deal with. We have to rethink in some basic ways how our political institutions work, because they are increasingly incapable of delivering effective solutions any longer."
My definition of broken is simple. It is a system in which Republicans will be voted out for doing the right thing (raising taxes when needed) and Democrats will be voted out for doing the right thing (cutting services when needed). When your political system punishes lawmakers for the doing the right things, it is broken. That is why we need political innovation that takes America's disempowered radical center and enables it to act in proportion to its true size, unconstrained by the two parties, interest groups and orthodoxies that have tied our politics in knots.
The radical center is "radical" in its desire for a radical departure from politics as usual. It advocates: raising taxes to close our budgetary shortfalls, but doing so with a spirit of equity and social justice; guaranteeing that every American is covered by health insurance, but with market reforms to really bring down costs; legally expanding immigration to attract more job-creators to America's shores; increasing corporate tax credits for research and lowering corporate taxes if companies will move more manufacturing jobs back onshore; investing more in our public schools, while insisting on rising national education standards and greater accountability for teachers, principals and parents; massively investing in clean energy, including nuclear, while allowing more offshore drilling in the transition. You get the idea.
How best to promote these hybrid ideas? Break the oligopoly of our two-party system. Diamond suggests two
innovations. First, let every state emulate California's recent grass-roots initiative that took away the power to design Congressional districts from the state legislature and put it in the hands of an independent, politically neutral, Citizens Redistricting Commission. It will go to work after the 2010 census and reshape California's Congressional districts for the 2012 elections. Henceforth, districts in California will not be designed to be automatically Democratic or Republican so more of them will be competitive, so more candidates will only be electable if they appeal to the center, not just cater to one party.
Second, get states to adopt "alternative voting." One reason independent, third-party, centrist candidates can't get elected is because if, in a three-person race, a Democrat votes for an independent, and the independent loses, the Democrat fears his vote will have actually helped the Republican win, or vice versa. Alternative voting allows you to rank the independent candidate your No. 1 choice, and the Democrat or Republican No. 2. Therefore, if the independent does not win, your vote is immediately transferred to your second choice, say, the Democrat. Therefore, you have no fear that in voting for an independent you might help elect your real nightmare the Republican. Nothing has held back the growth of independent, centrist candidates more, said Diamond, "than the fear that if you vote for one of them you will be wasting your vote. Alternative voting, which Australia has, can overcome that."
Obama won the presidency by tapping the center centrist Democrats, independents and Republicans who wanted to see nation-building at home "to make their own lives and those of others better," said Tim Shriver, the C.E.O. of the Special Olympics. They saw in Obama a pragmatist who could pull us together for pragmatic solutions. But hyperpartisanship has frustrated those hopes. (Alas, though, it is not equal. There are still many conservative Blue Dog Democrats, but the liberal Rockefeller Republicans have been wiped out.) If that radical center wants to be empowered, it can't just whine. It needs its own grass-roots movement to promote reforms like nonpartisan redistricting and alternative voting in every state. It's tea time for the center.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PAKISTAN'S WAR OF CHOICE
BY MICHAEL E. O'HANLON
WHAT are Americans to make of all the good news coming out of Pakistan in recent weeks?
First, the Afghan Taliban's military chief, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was arrested in a raid in February. Around the same time, several of the Taliban's "shadow governors" who operate out of Pakistan were captured by Pakistani forces. Last week, the C.I.A. director, Leon Panetta, announced that thanks in large part to increased cooperation from Pakistan, drone strikes along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border are "seriously disrupting Al Qaeda," and one killed the terrorist suspected of planning an attack on an American base in December that caused the deaths of seven Americans. Meanwhile, Pakistan has mounted major operations against its own extremists in places ranging from the Swat Valley in the north of the country to Bajaur on the Afghan border to South Waziristan further south. Yes, extremists continue to do great damage, as at Lahore on March 14 when about 40 civilians were killed in bombings. But after traveling across the country in recent days as a guest of the Pakistani military, I was convinced that Pakistan has become much more committed to battling extremists over the last couple of years, as the country felt its own security directly threatened.
Things are complicated, as always in this fractious land. Pakistan's resolve is clearest against its own internal enemies. And while its will to pursue the Afghan Taliban has grown, its policies are changing incrementally, not fundamentally. It is rebuilding trust with America only slowly. And its obsession with India will continue to constrain its ability and willingness to act against the groups that threaten the NATO mission across the Afghan border.
First, though, give credit where credit is due. Pakistan has become deadly serious about its own insurgency, loosely referred to as the Tehrik-i-Taliban. Total Pakistani troops in the North-West Frontier Province, Baluchistan and the tribal areas now number about 150,000, up from 50,000 in 2001. In addition, there are 90,000 paramilitary troops of the Frontier Corps in the area, and they are far better equipped, paid and led than in years past.
As I toured the nerve center of the Pakistani military in Rawalpindi, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the army's spokesman, recited an impressive list of statistics. The army now has 821 posts on the Afghan-Pakistan border, as opposed to just 112 manned by NATO and Afghan forces on the other side. Pakistan carried out 209 operations in 2009 of brigade size or larger (that is, involving at least 3,000 troops), twice as many as in the previous two years combined. Convoys bringing supplies for the NATO mission in Afghanistan used to be preyed on frequently by terrorists and thieves; but as a result of the improved security, NATO is now losing only about 0.1 percent of the goods it ships across Pakistan.
Carrying out all these operations has been very costly, though. The Pakistani military says it had some 800 soldiers killed in operations last year, in contrast with NATO's total losses in Afghanistan of 520. Thousands of Pakistanis have lost their lives in terrorist attacks, and several hundred village elders, critical figures in any efforts to pacify the tribal areas, have been killed as well.
Most Pakistanis feel, with some justification, they have suffered all this as the result of American decisions and interests. Pakistan didn't experience suicide bombings until the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. Pakistanis do not begrudge us that act of self-defense, but do expect us to appreciate the sacrifices they have made. And, while Pakistanis acknowledge American economic help, they consider the $17 billion or so that we have provided since 9/11 to equal only about half their total costs, direct and indirect, from the war on terrorism.
Still, Pakistan is hitting the terrorists hard. As a top commander of the Frontier Corps told me from his centuries-old fort here in Peshawar, since 2007 or 2008 he has known that there has been "no turning back." This means ensuring that militants or "miscreants," as Pakistanis like to say do not return to those areas that have been cleared in recent months.
This won't be easy. Often, Pakistani military tactics amount to notifying the local population of a pending mission and asking people to leave before the assault. Afterward, the population is allowed to return but any extremists who had snuck out with the people can then try to sneak back in with them.
Pakistan also doesn't want to fight over too much of its territory at any one time. The other day I visited a camp for the displaced near here, with about 100,000 residents. Most fled from recent military operations in Bajaur and Khyber, near the Afghanistan border. Fortunately, the camp's previous residents, from Swat, were able to go home before the new influx. Conditions at the camp are tough but tolerable, partly because Pakistan has not launched additional operations recently. Islamabad's deliberateness makes Washington impatient at times, but there is a strategic logic to it.
In the near term, any progress will be fitful. Pakistan seems unwilling to move much more of its army away from the Indian border, meaning a further delay before operations commence in North Waziristan home to the Haqqani network, a radical group headed by the Taliban commander Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, which is believed to be behind some of the largest attacks in recent years.
I did not meet any Pakistanis who actually seemed to wish to see the Afghan Taliban back in power. But the country simply does not have the military capacity to make major moves against the Afghan fundamentalists. And, less understandably, Pakistanis tend to see Indian conspiracies behind what is happening in Afghanistan, and fear being trapped between their longtime nemesis on one side and an Indian puppet on the other.
At the headquarters of the Pakistani spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, I was told that India was suspected of providing explosives to Tehrik-i-Taliban extremists through Afghanistan. Many Pakistanis claim that the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai is essentially a reincarnation of the old Northern Alliance from the Afghan civil war a union largely made up of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks and partly financed by India. (This despite the fact that Afghanistan's ministers of defense and interior are Pashtun, as is President Karzai.)Pakistanis wonder why India is building so many consulates in Afghanistan, and even Indian-subsidized health clinics are considered suspicious.
As he departed for a "strategic dialogue" this week in Washington, Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, announced that "it's time for the United States to do more." This isn't what America wants to hear from an oft-unreliable ally. But we must bear in mind that the Pakistani government rules one of the most anti-American populations in the world, and even its elites see us as oft-unreliable ourselves. Washington must stay realistic, and patient, about what can be expected of Pakistan.
Michael E. O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL NO MORE
BY TIM ZAGAT
THE New York City Board of Health has voted to require the city's 24,000-plus restaurants to post at their front doors letter grades reflecting the results of their sanitary inspections. The grades range from A (for the highest level of cleanliness) to B (passing) to C (failing).
Not surprisingly, some restaurateurs and their trade association, the New York State Restaurant Association, have reacted with alarm, claiming that the new system will give a "black eye" to the industry. The association's representatives have hinted that they may challenge the regulation in court.
They're woefully misguided.
This system can only benefit the restaurant industry, and the health board has been eminently reasonable in what it proposes to do. What's more, the public overwhelmingly favors the idea. In a recent survey by my company, 83 percent of respondents said that they would like to have grades posted.
Los Angeles restaurants have had to post sanitation grades for over a decade, and hospitalizations for food-borne illness have declined significantly (by 13 percent in the first year). Also, the number of restaurants getting A's increased from 40 percent when the program started to more than 80 percent by 2007, showing that owners take the process seriously. And well they should: researchers have found that restaurants earning an A were associated with a 5.7 percent increase in revenue, and our 2009 Los Angeles restaurant survey found that an astonishing 92 percent of local diners favor the regulation.
In essence, the New York plan merely makes routine health inspection results more transparent. The city has inspected restaurants for decades, but the results have been available only online or at the health department; now they will be displayed in the restaurant itself. Establishments that fail to get an A on the first inspection will be given a second examination within 30 days, giving them time to correct any failings found in the first go-around.
Quite simply, the inspection process is intended to keep us safe when dining out. This, surely, is in the self-interest of any responsible restaurateur. An outbreak of illness caused by one restaurant has the potential to damage all, even those with no health violations. The restaurant association would do well to take its place at the table and support the proposed grading system.
Tim Zagat is the co-founder and chief executive of Zagat Survey.
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
'Scepticism born of experience' might be one way of characterising how we perceive America in its relationship with ourselves over many years. All too often we have been nothing but a pawn in a larger game, and never truly a 'player' in our own right. This may may be changing. There seems to be a growing awareness on the American side that there is nothing to be profited by marginalising Pakistan, and perhaps much to be gained by a more inclusive relationship. Change was flagged early in the Obama presidency but it is only now that meat is growing on the bare bones of diplomacy.
Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani met with US Central Command Commander General David Petraeus at MacDill Air Force Base this week in order to reaffirm the strategic partnership between the two states. Their meeting is obviously a precursor to the meeting at the foreign ministers' level at which the bigger picture is to be discussed, and the two men will be able to bring to the table a measure of success both separately and conjointly. This is not going to be the key to the end of all our troubles, and there are still issues about which there is going to be an ongoing and acrimonious disagreement but disagreement between partners has a different sense in qualitative terms than does a disagreement between adversaries set firmly against one another. For the first time in our often unhappy relationship, Pakistan appears a party in a real and meaningful sense to discussions and decisions that may shape our future. The trust deficit runs deep on both sides and it has taken some deft diplomatic footwork to draw the sides together in such a way as to go beyond 'talks about talks' and into the territory of decision-making and implementation. If the soothsayers of Washington are right it is General Kayani who will be the lead player for our side in the coming days. That he brings to the table a satisfactory working relationship with his American counterpart is going to be oil in the diplomatic machinery. A degree of cautious optimism would, however, appear to be in order.
I. THE NEWS
MURDER IN QUETTA
The killing of a prominent educationist in Quetta, while on his way to work at the school where he was principal, has once more focused attention on violence in Balochistan and the problems associated with it. The precise reasons for the gunning down of the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) chief, a man who appears to have done no one any harm, are not clear but it can be assumed that it is linked to the violence that has crippled Balochistan now for several years and is linked to the various kinds of tensions that run through the province. It is true the present government in Islamabad has attempted to unravel some of the problems that plague the province, but these efforts have been limited. For this reason there has not been much success either in dousing the fires that threaten to consume much of ordinary life in the province. There is also the issue of the growing distance that has been created over many decades between Balochistan and the rest of the country. Incidents such as the tragic killing of a man engaged in teaching young people draw headlines and the consequent attention of people across the country. On TV news shows the multiple issues of Balochistan come under attention from time to time. But then they fade away. The people of the country's largest federating unit and their problems tend to grow hazy and then vanish from view. This sporadic focus on Balochistan is insufficient. We have seen the difficulties grow rather than diminish. And this is not a positive sign at all.
We need action. Balochistan needs to be made a priority and placed at the apex of the list of national problems that must be solved. This is vital to the future of our nation as a viable federation. It is also vital to the people of Balochistan. They must regain some of the sense of security and normalcy that is crucial to the conduct of ordinary life. For the present much of this has been lost. With reality there is also perception. The people of the province feel that they have been deprived of rights and neglected by the centre. Whether or not this is true, the belief held by people adds to the sense of anger that swirls all around Balochistan. It is pointless to deny that it exists. The rage of people and their feeling of being isolated need to be addressed. Otherwise it will lead to more pointless murders such as the one we have seen now and the loss of lives that need to be saved for the sake of Balochistan and the nation as a whole.
I. THE NEWS
POWER FROM IRAN
The Iranian ambassador to Pakistan has asked, not surprisingly at all, why Pakistan does not move on the MoU it had finalised some months ago to obtain power from Iran. Teheran is willing to export it, and given that we are already facing power cuts that last up to ten hours a day, this is indeed a valid question. There is some element of mystery in why more effort is not made to bring in what power we can. For the government, the import of much-needed power could help calm rising public anger. In previous years we have seen riots triggered by electricity loadshedding break out on the streets. Other violent attacks on the offices of power companies have been seen in all major cities. Surely this is something the government is keen to prevent. It indeed also has a responsibility to try and prevent commercial loss inflicted by the power crisis and improve the situation for the millions affected by it.
It is clear from the tone of Iran's top diplomat that he and his country are losing patience with Pakistan. It is not easy to explain Islamabad's attitude. It is possible that there is still annoyance with Iran over its accusation that Jundollah terrorists are being protected. It is also feasible that despite the setback they have suffered in the form of an ADB report, there are elements that seek to bring in RPPs. But basically, people's interests need protection. The power shortfall is said currently to stand at 4,500 MW. We desperately need to obtain what power we can and act on Iran's advice that the MoU reached for this purpose be acted on.
I. THE NEWS
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi gave a crusty curtain-raiser on what he planned to convey to his interlocutors at today's Pakistan-US "strategic dialogue" in Washington. "My message to Washington is we have been talking a lot and it is time to walk the talk," Qureshi announced at a press briefing at the Foreign Office last week.
However, we should not expect any breakthroughs at this round of the "strategic dialogue." At best, Islamabad could receive a patient hearing in Washington of whatever Foreign Minster Qureshi and his team will be able to put across coherently. This is not the first time the two sides are holding their "strategic dialogue." Since the beginning of this process in 2006, we have had three rounds, all ending with anodyne joint statements, high in words, low in substance, and producing no result.
No progress was made on any of the agenda items, not even on the longstanding investment or free-trade arrangements. The promised market access and Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) also remain unimplemented. Last year, during US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Pakistan, both sides, however, agreed to upgrade their "strategic dialogue" to ministerial level as an important vehicle of their desire to redefine their relationship.
The meeting today in Washington, the first at the upgraded level with high-level participation from both sides, assumes special importance in terms of its agenda, the scope and level of discussions, and the expected new trajectory of US-Pakistan relations. Indeed, there are new factors that make this round of US-Pakistan "strategic dialogue" substantively different from the previous ones.
Unlike in the Musharraf era, Pakistan now has an elected government which, despite its credibility or capability deficits, does have a popular mandate. After Pakistan's effective military operations in its tribal areas wiping out militancy pockets, the US no longer has any reasons to complain of alleged "inadequacies" in Pakistan's counter-terrorism commitment. Pakistan's crucial importance in any future Afghan settlement is also now recognised more than ever before. If anything, Pakistan is now seen as an integral part of the Afghan solution.
No wonder the US State Department, while announcing the first ministerial-level strategic dialogue between the two countries publicly acknowledged that President Barack Obama and Ms Clinton had "repeatedly stressed the breadth and depth of the US-Pakistan relationship, a partnership that goes far beyond security." The emphasis on the partnership going "beyond security" apparently was meant to dispel the impression that America's main concern at these talks would be limited to discussing the security situation in the Pak-Afghan region alone.
However, with the expected participation from both sides of their defence chiefs, security advisers, spy masters and senior generals, a high-level review of the Afghan situation is inevitable in the context of Pakistan's increasing concerns over India's nuisance potential and its negative impact on the prospects of any future Afghan settlement. Pakistan has legitimate security interests and stakes in Afghan peace, which it would like to safeguard at any cost, and would certainly be seeking remedial measures from Washington on these concerns.
In a qualitative difference from its earlier complacent approach, Islamabad is now at least better placed to raise these issues with Washington, asking for concrete "deliverances" on its larger India-specific security concerns in the region. This time, it may not settle for "boilerplate" promises or short-term relief assurances. It was in this context that Pakistan's army chief, Gen Parvez Kayani, personally chaired a preparatory meeting of key federal secretaries in Islamabad to streamline a joint strategy for the talks.
Those who are familiar with decision-making processes on issues of strategic importance know that inter-departmental or inter-agency consultations among the heads of the country's ministries concerned, and military, security and intelligence agencies are a normal practice. Therefore, contrary to some motivated media speculations, there was nothing wrong or unusual with the GHQ meeting as part of the preparatory process before the Washington talks.
In the US itself, senior uniformed Pentagon officials are a permanent fixture of the State Department's consultative and negotiating templates. I have myself been attending many meetings with my US counterparts in which their delegation, unlike ours, included uniformed officials, especially the Centcom commander.
Yes, indeed; for the first time, the American delegation at the Washington talks, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will include Defence Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser Gen James Jones. Pakistan's ISI chief Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha and CIA boss Leon Panetta will also be there at the meeting. Both sides seem to agree that the renewed process of their "strategic dialogue" will be one of the most intense diplomatic engagements the two countries have had in recent times.
Meanwhile, independent analysts in Islamabad and Washington also look at the elevated level of participation from both sides as indicative of their common desire to give a new dimension to their relationship which has had a chequered history with rotating phases of "engagement and estrangement" depending on their narrowly based and vaguely defined issue-specific priorities and an unending legacy of trust deficit rooted in unfulfilled expectations of each side from the other.
For Pakistan, a realistic expectation from this dialogue at this stage should be its immediate transformation into a "strategic partnership" at par with the one the US has with India, with clearly defined, time-bound sectoral goalposts and priorities to be pursued jointly on the basis of mutual benefit. Pakistan now wants the dialogue to be structured at three tiers moving in tandem on an expanded list of sectoral tracks covering agriculture, economy, energy, education, health, science and technology, defence, strategic stability and non-proliferation, counterterrorism, and public diplomacy.
On its part, Washington too is looking at Pakistan as a "key regional player" and a "major non-Nato ally" without whose support and help it cannot attain its objectives in Afghanistan. In the Americans' eyes, a measure of concrete progress in that direction is necessary before the forthcoming mid-term election in November this year which will be crucial for Obama and his Democratic Party to retain their pre-eminent position of strength at Capitol Hill.
The US would thus be eying for deeper long-term engagement with Pakistan. No wonder, Islamabad's "strategists, on their part, also feel that the time has come not only to rebuild the Pakistan-US relationship but also to tell Washington to move on from symbolism to tangibles, and to demonstrate its solidarity with Pakistan in terms of greater sensitivity to its core security concerns and its immediate economic needs.
In the context of South Asia, the US must be asked to show practical sensitivity to Pakistan's legitimate India-specific concerns and security interests. Any policies that create strategic imbalances in the region and fuel an arms race between the two nuclear-capable neighbours with an escalatory effect on their military budgets and arsenals are no service to the peoples of this region. We would also want an end to foreign interference in Balochistan.
The real challenge now is "to mix deft diplomacy, security support and economic aid" in pursuit of durable peace in this volatile region. But peace in this region would remain incomplete without the Pakistan-India issues being addressed, which are not without direct impact on the overall situation in the Afghan theatre. The risk of a Pakistan-India proxy war in Afghanistan is fraught with perilous implications for regional and global peace, and must be averted at any cost.
Islamabad should also be seeking US help in normalisation of Pakistan-India relations on the basis of peaceful and equitable settlement of the two countries' disputes, especially the Kashmir and water issues, and accepting Pakistan's right to equitable treatment at par with India in terms of civilian nuclear cooperation.
Foreign Minister Qureshi and his high-level team, instead of using the "walkie-talkie" phraseology, should be aiming at making the "strategic dialogue" more meaningful and converting the process into genuine "strategic partnership" that Pakistan deserves to have with the United States as its unrivalled non-Nato ally, playing a pivotal role by fighting a full-scale war on its own soil and against its own people, and paying a heavy cost in life and limb.
In the ultimate analysis, if both sides showed seriousness of purpose, the Washington meeting could augur well as an opportunity for them to re-fix the fundamentals of their "transactional" relationship into a more substantive "strategic partnership" based on multifaceted common interests and mutual benefit.
The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: shamshad1941@ yahoo.com
I. THE NEWS
WHAT IS THERE TO CELEBRATE?
Every year, we commemorate March 23 in remembrance of 'The Pakistan Resolution' passed in the historic city of Lahore. Memories come back to me like shards of glass. I was in Lahore, the city of my dreams, on that memorable day. Yeast was in the air. The idea of Pakistan was about to be born.
A day earlier, on March 22, 1940, Mr Jinnah had arrived in Lahore by the Frontier Mail to preside over the Muslim League meeting. When he entered the packed pandal, he faced a sea of humanity all his admirers who had converged on Lahore to hear what he had to say. The Nawab of Mamdot, Chairman of the Reception Committee, presented Mr Jinnah to the vast multitude. It was Jinnah's largest audience, his greatest performance to-date. On that day, the Muslim League led by Mr Jinnah declared its support for the idea of Pakistan. His Lahore address lowered the final curtain on any prospects for a single united India. It was a ringing repudiation of Sikander Hayat's Unionist Party's basic platform of Hindu-Muslim-Sikh co-existence. That is why generations of Pakistanis will always remember March 23 with profound reverence and respect. Seven years later, on August 14, 1947, thanks to the iron will and determination of Mr Jinnah, I was proud citizen of a sovereign, independent country a country I could live for and die for.
As he left the constitutional convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked by an admirer, "Dr Franklin what have you given us". Franklin turned to the questioner and replied, "A Republic, if you can keep it". Not too long ago, we too possessed a great country earned for us by the sweat of the brow and iron will of one person. Where giants walked, midgets pose now. Our rulers, both elected and un-elected, have done to Pakistan what the successors of Lenin did to the Soviet Union. "Lenin founded our State", Stalin said, after a stormy session with Marshal Zhukov.
The German army was at the gate of Moscow. "And we have it up". This is exactly what we have done to Jinnah's Pakistan. Today it is neither sovereign, nor independent, nor democratic. Today it is not just a "rentier state", not just a client state. It is a slave state, ill-led, ill-governed by a corrupt, power-hungry junta running a puppet government set up by Washington. The dream has morphed into a nightmare.
Sixty two years after independence, are we really free? Are the people masters in their own house? The kind of Pakistan we have today has lost its manhood and is a ghost of its former self. Our entire political system has been pulled into a black hole caused by periodic army intervention and prolonged army rule. Today if Pakistan were to look into a mirror, it won't recognise itself. The contrast between Pakistan in 1947 idealistic, democratic, progressive, optimistic, and Pakistan today leaderless, rudderless, violent, besieged, corrupt, uncertain about its future could not be sharper or more disheartening. If you want to know how a people can survive despite their government, or leaders, well, visit Pakistan.
What is there to celebrate? There is no reason to celebrate! But there are myriad reasons to reflect. We lost half the country in a suicidal civil war in 1971. Like the Bourbons of France we have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Today Pakistan is dangerously at war with itself once again. The federation is united only by a 'rope of sand'. Sixty two years after independence, we have a disjointed, dysfunctional, lopsided, hybrid, artificial, political system a non-sovereign rubber stamp parliament, a weak and ineffective prime minister, appointed by a powerful accidental president.
This is an eerie period, the heart of the nation appears to stop beating, while its body remains suspended in a void. What has become of the nation's core institutions? The militarised state has destroyed the foundations of all our political institutions. The army has been enthroned as the new elite. The level of fawning and jockeying to be merely noticed and smiled upon by any pretender in uniform speaks of a nation that is loudly pleading to be crushed underfoot.
The independence of Pakistan is a myth. By succumbing to American pressure, we managed to secure a temporary reprieve. But at what price? Everyday American aircraft violate our airspace, and bomb our villages. In 2009 alone, they killed 667 innocent men, women and children with impunity. No questions asked. No protest. No remorse. Today Pakistan is splattered with American fortresses, seriously compromising our internal and external sovereignty. American security personnel stationed on our soil move in and out of the country without any let or hindrance. Pakistan has become a launching pad for military operations against neighbouring Muslim countries. We have been drawn into somebody else's war without understanding its true dimension or ultimate objectives. Nuclear Pakistan has been turned into an 'American lackey', currently engaged in a proxy war against its own people.
Parliament is one of the chief instruments of our democracy. Today, it is cowed, timid, a virtual paralytic, over-paid and under-employed. Parliamentary membership is the key to material success, a passport and a license to loot and plunder. Who says it is a check on the arbitrariness of the executive? Nobody takes it seriously. Today it is the weakest of the three pillars of state. It has suffered a steady diminution of power and prestige. Its image is tarnished and has been turned into a fig-leaf for unconstitutional and illegal practices.
To no nation has fate been more malignant than to Pakistan. With few exceptions, Pakistan has long been saddled with poor, even malevolent, leadership: predatory kleptocrats, military dictators, political illiterates and carpet-baggers. With all her shortcomings, Benazir Bhutto had undoubted leadership qualities charisma, courage, political acumen and articulation. After her tragic assassination, Mr Zardari's sudden ascension to the presidency caused panic among the people. His record since then hasn't exactly been an exercise in the glories of Pakistan's democracy.
To settle back into your cold-hearted acceptance of the status quo is not an option. The present leadership is taking Pakistan to a perilous place. The course they are on leads downhill. This is a delicate time, full of trepidation. Today it is a political and moral imperative for all patriotic Pakistanis to fight for our core values, to resist foreign intervention in our internal affairs and to destroy the roots of evil that afflicts Pakistan. That is the best way to celebrate March 23.
"Every country has its own constitution", one Russian is alleged to have remarked in the 19th century. "Ours is absolutism moderated by occasional assassination". The situation is not so very different in Pakistan. In democracies, constitutional amendments are especially solemn moments; in Pakistan they are easier than changing the traffic regulations. After 62 years, a parliamentary committee is busy rewriting the Constitution of Pakistan! If you want to know what happens when constitution, the fundamental law of the land, is periodically decimated, disfigured, defiled with impunity and treated with contempt, well visit Pakistan.
The recent spontaneous demonstrations and outpouring of anger witnessed in and around Islamabad are ominous. With such ripples do tidal waves begin? Who will tap the anger, the frustration and the resentment among millions of our people? Both military dictatorship and corrupt, fraudulent democracy, have failed them. The country is impoverished and humiliated. Democratic forms remain, but democracy itself is in effect dead or dying.
The writer is a former federal secretary. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org,www.roedadkhan.com
I. THE NEWS
RICH DEVOURING THE POOR
DR A Q KHAN
In nature one finds many species that devour their own kind. Take, for example, cobras. Most of us have seen TV programmes showing a ten- or twelve-foot-long king cobra catching a six- or seven-foot long snake, manoeuvring it head-first into its mouth and then slowly swallowing it. Male lions and tigers often eat the young of other lions when they have taken over the pride to ensure the birth of their own offspring. Male domestic cats are not so fastidious, either some will eat any young they come upon. Let us now turn to human behaviour.
Poet Nawab Mirza Khan Dagh, the teacher/guide of Allama Iqbal, had a unique way of expressing things in simple, effective words and sayings. The following verse by Dagh Dehlavi inspired the title of this column:
Dekhna, Dagh, unki mehfil menEk ko ek khaey leytey hain.
Khaey lena is a general expression of hostility. This enmity has a much wider application, especially in daily life. Some examples are personal interest, selfish acts, collection of wealth by fair or unfair means. Of these, selfishness is the root cause of all evil. The opposite of selfishness (khudgharzi) is consideration (eesaar). Nowadays the latter seems to have become a figment of imagination as the old tradition of helping each other and giving preference to the needs of others is no more than a textbook ideal.
In so-called "modern" times, people who have every possible form of luxury available to them, and more cash than they need, are still seen cheating others. The result is litigation, murder, delayed justice and family feuds. Who has not read items in newspapers of people killing each other over a mobile phone or money? This kind of selfishness has reached unheard-of heights and crossed all limits of decency. It has now become a question of acquiring power and fame by any means, including character-assassination of opponents and insult and injury of any kind. One sin breeds another and the art of cheating and deception has been perfected to the extreme.
People are after wealth and power through all imaginable and unimaginable means. Many politicians will not hesitate to promise the moon, to cheat, blackmail and threaten to obtain votes for themselves or for their favourites. Once elections are over, these so-called representatives of the people often consider it below their dignity to receive voters or to listen to their grievances. Even if they do give time to their constituents, more often than not, nothing is done about their problems.
Perhaps it was with this kind of democracy in mind that Allama Iqbal said:
Gurez az tarz-e jamhuri, ghulam-e pukhta-kare, showKe az maghze do-sad khar fikr-e insane na mi aamad(Oh, wise slave! Stay away from democracy, because the brains of two hundred donkeys cannot take the place of the wisdom of one human being.)
We on the subcontinent are old slaves. Before the 200-year rule of the British we were ruled by autocratic kings who were interested in their own comfort and that of their families and friends. Most of them were corrupt, selfish tyrants. If, by chance, a ruler came who was honest and had the interests of the people at heart, the old trend was soon restored once he was gone. The public had no option but to agree with every action of the ruler laugh when the king laughs and cry when the king cries. Nowadays the place of the king has been taken by rulers and their cronies. Surrounded by more than a dozen security vehicles and sitting in a bullet-proof car, they force normal traffic to stop for hours on end. Just like in the olden days when everything came to a halt when the king "graced" the area with his presence.
The public suffers, but the ruler remains unaware and uncaring. Furthermore, false and fake cases against opponents, manipulation of official machinery and the award of punishment through hand-picked, corrupt magistrates and judges, has become the order of the day. We all saw how Gen Musharraf insulted and detained Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry when he dared to refuse to obey the general's illegal orders.
Thanks to the lawyers' movement and the support of the people we have now, quite unexpectedly, succeeded in achieving an independent judiciary. The recent action by the government to hijack the powers of the chief justice to appoint judges to the Supreme Court was a clear attempt to continue what Gen Musharraf had started. Luckily, thanks to the tough stand taken by Lahore High Court judges, this attempt failed. However, the principle remained the same an attempt by the powerful to devour the weak (read: the rights of the people). The following saying is very apt here:
Jo ko rakhe saiyan, mar sake no koe;Baal na banka kar sake jo jag bairi hoe.
In the West the democratic system has functioned for centuries and with time it has reached near perfection and is soundly established. In underdeveloped and developing countries, the system has not yet taken firm root and under its disguise, cunning and clever usurpers are still "befooling" the simple public. We know that Churchill was dead against granting independence to India because he was of the opinion that they were not capable of good governance for the next hundred years. Just how right he was is evident from our present situation.
After 62 years we are still at the corrupt, inefficient, self-centred, exploitation stage where rich, powerful, clever and cunning politicians, landlords and feudal lords exploit the poor with false promises and lies. The rich are becoming richer and the poor are almost starving with no basic amenities available to them. Both India and Pakistan are in the same rut, only with different faces.
After a few years of independence, Josh could not help declaring:
Khaddar pehen-pehen ke bad-atwaar aagaey,
Ban kar safaid-posh bad-atwaar aagaey.
Insaan ka lahu to pio, izn-e aam hai;
Angoor ki sharab ka peena haraam hai.
This is the same Josh who, during British rule, had addressed Hitler, their worst enemy, thus:
Suna to hoga tu ne, ek insanon ki basti hai,
Jahan jitee hui har cheez jiney ko tarasti hai.
Bakingam ki khabar leney jo abki bar tu jana,
Hamare naam se bhi ek gola phenkte aana.
This verse landed him in jail. At that time political parties, even the Communist Party, could not protest in such strong words, as Russia and Britain were friends and Russia was considered to be the "Imam" of communism.
For a democratic system to prosper, the public has to be educated and knowledgeable. Nowadays the media is doing a good job in making people more aware of everything that is going on in the country. Corruption and other malpractices are shown on TV for everyone to see and people are more easily able to differentiate between black and white.
The judiciary is facing the brunt for the difficult decisions taken in the interest of the country and the public. Everyone is hoping and praying for its success. If the public and the lawyers continue to strengthen the judiciary, then the big fish will no longer be able to swallow the small fry. Despite our dark past, all is not lost. There is still hope for a new dawn for Pakistan.
Note: I am thankful to brother Dr Munawwar Aziz (March 21) for pointing out the two minor mistakes in the two verses in my last week's column.
I. THE NEWS
SINGLING OUT MUSLIMS
Recently a six-member entourage consisting of both senators and MNAs from FATA was on a 15-day official visit to the United States arranged by the State Department, as a part of an exchange programme intended to show the skeptical Pakistanis that America is their real ally. During their visit, the lawmakers were asked to submit to a secondary screening before boarding a flight to New Orleans at Ronald Reagan National Airport. The parliamentarians reacted strongly as they had been assured by the US embassy at Islamabad that they would not be subjected to a body scan. They preferred to return to Pakistan.
The body scan under the US Anti-Terrorism Act sends a very worrying signal about how unfairly the terrorism laws are applied to the Muslims. The western societies, being the campaigners of liberal values and open societies, believe that everyone has the right to be treated equally and fairly, with dignity and respect. But, the Homeland Security has jeopardised the trust and confidence the western culture has built over the centuries.
Pakistan is one of the 14 Muslim countries whose citizens must go through increased checks before they fly into the United States, a procedure mandated by the Obama administration in the wake of the failed attempt by a Nigerian man to blow up an airliner flying from the Netherlands to Detroit on December 25.
Last year, eleven Pakistanis on students' visas were arrested by the anti-terrorist unit of the British Police. However, without any concrete evidence, they were handed over to the UK Border Agency for deportation on grounds of national security. They underwent humiliation that caused them psychological problems. These students had not committed any crime, yet they faced deportation.
The British Muslim population came under severe scrutiny when it was revealed that at least two of the bombers had visited Pakistan just before the 7/7 London bombing in 2005. It is amazing how broadly Britain's Anti-Terrorism Act 2000 could be applied to Muslims. Daily searches and frequent arrests have effectively demonised the Muslim community as 'the enemy within'. The UK government has every right to adopt stringent measures to counter terrorism on its soil. But when it knows that it has made a mistake, it should have the decency to show remorse and apologise.
Since 9/11, Pakistan has become the target as an epicenter of terrorism. The foreign secretary of the UK, David Miliband, went to the extent of blaming Pakistan, stating that 2/3 of the terrorist attacks in Britain originates from Pakistan. The US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said that the tribal areas have become a central nervous system for next attack on the UK and the US.
What they forget is that Pakistan is the most affected country due to perpetual instability and violence in Afghanistan and that it has joined hands with the international community to combat terrorism. Its economy has so far suffered a loss of $35 billion in the anti-terror campaign. It has deployed more than 140,000 troops in fighting militants in the northwest along the Afghan border.
During the last seven months, Pakistani military has launched 209 major and 510 minor operations in ten regions, raising the death toll to 2,273 army officers and soldiers in the fighting so far. The Pakistan Army is presently engaged in consolidating the gains in massive operations in Swat and South Waziristan.
The success of military operations in the tribal regions have caused substantial decline in cross-border attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan.
About 2,000 Pakistanis were expected to participate in different educational and cultural programmes this year. The biased attitude of the west will add fuel to the anti-western feelings rendering all the exchange/visit programmes meaningless and counter-productive.
I. THE NEWS
A TITTER A DAY
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting
This is exactly what the doctor ordered: a titter a day. Pakistanis are lavished with not one but many giggles a day, courtesy their rulers and the opposition leaders. In days of sweat and nights of darkness when the ebb and flow of electricity dictates each waking moment, we need some comic relief. Our government may starve us of power in our homes and work place; it gives us something to laugh about and be merry.
So, sit back and enjoy.
First the camera rolled out PPP's senior minister Raja Riaz's delivery in English. Tehee and titters. Then came the fall (well almost) of First Lady Fauzia Gilani. While looking academic and serious, the lady at the podium nearly lost her balance but quickly went back to reading the text of her speech. As news channels flashed the clip, some saucy ones even embellished it with Indians song about mein phisli.
Cut! Our sympathies with the caricatured. Listen, English is not our native tongue. So what if Raja mispronounced some words? Give him credit for at least trying to read the script before him and not leaving it in the middle. As for Mam Fauzia Gilani's stumble, it's hardly news. Women with high heels fall and fall often. So what's the big deal? At least the lady had the guts to stand up and address the crowd. We don't see her husband doing that often. He's just warming his seat in the PM House when visitors come calling.
But the above two incidents are symptomatic of something more serious, if not sinister. The nation, and I include the media in it, is simply amused by the audacity of hope our leaders dish out daily. These people talk of stuff that does not solve the bijli, atta, chini and petrol problem of the millions living in a nightmare. Instead their high-falutin chatter borders on the absurd. Only this week Gilani said he would solve the energy crisis. Is he Hercules who will carry the rental power plants and put them down all across Pakistan?
How and when? We need specifics Mr Prime Minister, not idle promises on how you'll rid us of loadshedding. Spill them out, please, before someone beats you to it.
Already the Iranian Ambassador Mashallah Shakeri has suddenly jumped onto the scene to wonder why Pakistan won't buy electricity from his country. "Time is of the essence," he told a reporter in Islamabad. "Should Iran wait forever?" Note the timing of his appearance. It's coinciding with US-Pakistan strategic dialogue in Washington. America has already made firm promises to address our energy crisis and will "move" at an "operational" level.
Ambassador Shakeri who speaks fluent Urdu is a seasoned diplomat. He knows when to strike. He's offering us electricity at a time when its arch-enemy, the US, too is dangling a carrot before us, promising this time to deliver. It's therefore rather an awkward situation we have been put in, but hopefully our Foreign Office should be able to quell Mr Shakeri's "perplexity" tactfully without a diplomatic pratfall.
Enter Dr A Q Khan. Maybe the ambassador's anxiety is heightened due to our government filing a petition in court to investigate Khan's role in Iran's nuclear programme just 48 hours before the Pak-US dialogue.
Are the Americans impressed? Are the Iranians running around like scared chickens? Has Pakistan hit a sixer by this act? Such acrobats would fit well in a circus.
Does President Zardari think that by donating his body parts (by the way there have been so many cruel jokes on that) he's redeeming himself before his Maker and his people of his alleged corruption? Gone are the days, when such an honourable gesture as his, would have invited editorials on this noble deed. To be fair, few of us have the heart to be cut open and our organs distributed after death.
It's the juxtaposition that's awry in the president's case. His lofty resolve to give away his organs while his attorney Kamal Azfar pleads to the Supreme Court in the name of the late Benazir Bhutto to spare her husband's alleged corruption by not reopening the Swiss cases.
Shahbaz Sharif created high drama by telling a bunch of disinterested fatties sprawled on cushy sofas (they must be salivating in anticipation of after-speech goodies) that if we (who's we?) don't act to solve our water issues, the country will go dry. That really is stating the obvious! Of late, Sharif Jr has taken to talking to crowds of well-heeled, well-fed, well-dressed Punjabis on how to save Punjab. Why is the chief minister being Punjab-centric? Is this because he's doing a tit-for-tat by showing the Punjab muscle in response to Zardari flashing the Sindh card? Notice Zardari wearing the Sindhi cap at all times, except when he's turned out in one of his made in Manhattan designer's suits.
All you former and present VIPs beware. With the advent of the cell phone making movies catching you in a compromising position (not literally) but bad enough, the public gets some more laughs. Remember the poor guy who was filmed doing a Neher Walay Pull number before Musharraf, making a total idiot of himself? Well, recently some smart aleck made a movie of Musharraf and his missus in a hotel in London surrounded by their acolytes. The clip found its way to a private TV channel. Now here's a laugh for you: one chap was reading aloud a panegyric that he had composed on the former dictator while standing close to the couple. His verses in Urdu were rapturous and rhapsodic. The small crowd around Musharraf was equally mushy and gushy. But now, listen to this: Our 'hero' and 'saviour' as he was being eulogized was hardly attentive. His face was puffy and flushed and in his hand was a glass that he kept guzzling down, until he finished it. Nobody else had a glass in their hands.
Was Pervez Musharraf drowning his sorrows in a drink?
Sometimes you see him; sometimes you don't. I'm talking about Governor Salmaan Taseer. He has gone rather dull, all of a sudden. I wonder why? Has he received a 'shut up' call from his big boss on the hill? The last time Taseer was fire and brimstone was when Shahbaz Sharif slyly let slip his support for the Taliban. More worked up than Taseer was the lady parliamentarian in Peshawar who threw down her chaddar on the floor of the house. "Wear it and stay at home," in full-throated voice, Nighat Yasmin Orakzai of PML-Q addressed Shahbaz Sharif.
More giggles, titters and teehees for the public to enjoy.
Another lady MPA from PML-Q, Samina Khawar Hayat, announced on the floor of the house in Punjab assembly that she was offering her hubby dear freedom to marry again. "She has turned the assembly into a shaadigar," screamed the shocked PPP women parliamentarians. "She wants to arrange a marriage ceremony for her husband right here." If my information is current, I don't think Chaudhry Shujaat, Pervez Elahi or Mushahid Hussain Sayed plan to take second wives. So whose favour was Samina trying to curry when out of the blue she made this preposterous suggestion?
But here's the clincher: Her bragging before the TV cameras was so brassy: "My husband has refused to take up my offer. He says he only wants me [or words to that effect]."
Hilarious! While men are committing horrendous crimes against women today, our PML-Q sisters are playing to the galleries with filmi dialogues.
I. THE NEWS
The place of women in the political life of south-Asian nations took a step forward recently when the Indian parliament's upper house approved a law that would reserve one-third of all parliamentary seats for women. Currently, women are significantly under-represented in the Indian legislature, occupying 59 seats out of 545 in the lower house and just 21 women in the 248-seat upper house. The approval of the law was not without considerable uproar, as it was consistently blocked by parties demanding quotas for Muslims and other minorities, but eventually 186 of the 248 members of the upper Rajya Sabha chamber voted 'yes' and India dragged itself somewhat unwillingly into line with its neighbours ourselves and Bangladesh. A number of parliamentarians were so incensed at this unwonted modernity that they ripped up the order papers, threw the scraps at the Speaker and had to be restrained and ejected by the parliamentary security team. And all this before it actually gets signed into law as it now has to pass the lower house as well as the state assemblies where a third of seats will also be reserved for women. Assuming it gets through these two stages it will still require presidential assent to be signed on to the statute books.
It is not so long ago that our own female legislative representation was as threadbare and lacklustre as that of the Indian parliament, but we can point with confidence at the advances we have made in this area over the last decade. As a percentage our women parliamentarians at 22 per cent now outnumber those of the USA with 16.8 per cent and the UK with 19.5 per cent - no mean achievement considering our supposed backwardness in these matters. It is also not so long ago that those of our women who were in parliament were very much the tools of their male relatives who called the shots when it came to votes but one of the enduring positive outcomes of the last election was that the black-clad finger-puppets of the previous dispensation were replaced by an altogether more vibrant and independent-minded group of parliamentarians. Pakistani women parliamentarians outshone their male colleagues in the last parliament for the number of bills they got passed and the formation of a cross-party women's caucus under the midwifery of Madame Speaker bodes well for the future.
Indian cultural attitudes towards women are in many ways no less repressive and exclusive than our own. The fact that women are more visible in India and there is less formal gender-segregation does not mean that Indian women are anymore integrated or empowered than Pakistani women, and are in some ways significantly less so. The curse of the caste system still hangs like a funereal pall over the lives of many women, and the plight of widows in India is nothing short of a national disgrace. There is a dangerous gender imbalance in the population caused by the female foeticide, with males now outnumbering females with the same consequences as those faced by China as it today seeks to rebalance itself after the 'one child' policy. We have no shortage of our own home-grown horrors honour killings, acid throwing and women in some areas denied the right to vote, but we can at least point to our parliament and say to India 'There, beat that if you can.' It will be several years before there is parity between our parliaments in terms of female representation but no matter; a step in the right direction, be it Indian or Pakistani, is still a step well taken and a positive indicator of the enfranchisement of women in the sub-continent generally.
The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:email@example.com
PATTERSON'S GOOD NEWS FOR PAKISTAN
AT a time when the energy crisis is deepening further, the US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson has indicated that her country might be open to Pakistan's plea for a civilian nuclear deal akin to the US-India accord. In an interview to a Pakistani-American journal, she revealed that both sides would have working level talks on the subject during the strategic dialogue in Washington.
The US administration has been claiming since long that it wants an enduring, long-term and much broader than security relationship with Pakistan but it is perhaps for the first time that the claim seems to be going beyond rhetoric. Ms Patterson's statement is encouraging in that it is reflective of somewhat realisation of the Pakistan's point of view as well as its genuine energy requirements. However, talking to NDTV, an official of the American Embassy in Islamabad stated that there were no negotiations on for such an agreement yet. The two statements are apparently contradictory in nature but we hope that the Ambassador being privy to each and every aspect of the bilateral engagements must be speaking with authority. Otherwise too, the fact remains that Pakistan has proved to be a staunch ally of the United States and Washington needs to appreciate its difficulties as well as concerns. Crippling energy shortage has become one of the major impediments to development of the country and despite efforts of the Government the latest figures show the deficit has grown to five thousand megawatts. Though the United States has expressed its willingness to provide assistance for development of conventional energy resources, the rising prices of oil are pushing up electricity rates beyond the absorbing capacity of the general consumers and industry. Nuclear energy, though cost intensive, is dependable and environment friendly and, therefore, can help meet the crisis in the long-run. By cooperating in this field, the United States would not be extending an extra favour to Pakistan, as Washington is already providing similar assistance to India and Pakistan too is getting cooperation from China in this regard. However, discriminatory attitude is a cause for concern for Pakistan and the parity demands that both the nuclear States of South Asia should be treated equally. We hope that Ms Patterson, who has been playing crucial role in bring Pakistan and US closer in different fields, would also contribute to this end. She is fast emerging as a role model Ambassador in Islamabad and a true friend of Pakistan and this identity has its demands too, which need to be taken care of.
UNDERSTANDING REAL MESSAGE OF PAKISTAN DAY
PAKISTAN Day was celebrated on Monday with traditional fervour and zeal across the country and with a renewed pledge to achieve the lofty ideals for which the country was created. It was on this Day that historic Pakistan Resolution was adopted in Lahore in 1940 demanding an independent Muslim State giving an ultimate goal to the Muslims of the subcontinent who believed their rights and privileges could not be guarded under a Hindu majority Government.
It is good that people remember the purpose of creation of the country. Creation of Pakistan was not an end but the first step to achieve higher objectives. After Madina Munawara, Pakistan was the second State on the world map which was created in the name of Islam. The idea was to establish Islamic democratic welfare State ruled by just laws and where everybody irrespective of religion, colour, creed or caste would be equal before law. The Founding fathers accomplished the monumental task through unflinching resolve, patriotic zeal and singleness of purpose. Today by the Grace of Allah, Pakistan is an important Islamic country with tremendous potential to grow and progress. However the country is also facing numerous problems and people are suffering under poverty, unemployment, load shedding, price hike and above all insecurity. Even minorities are subjected to discrimination and maltreatment by vested interests. To overcome these problems, we need to develop a social infrastructure providing decent employment, minimum incomes and rewards according to ability and hard work. There is a also need to understand the real message of Pakistan Resolution and that is building a social contract so that people are treated fairly and equally by the State and in turn they should willingly fulfil basic civic responsibilities. These measures would give sense of ownership and responsibility to the masses and promote national unity and harmony. The menace of terror which we are facing today could be overcome to a great extend if people are provided their basic needs including jobs to look after themselves and their families. With no source of income to survive, people turn to illegal and violent means. Therefore we would urge the Government and civic society groups to work for addressing the genuine grievances of the masses which we are confident would promote national harmony and give freedom of action to the people.
RETURN OF AFGHAN REFUGEES
AFTER a temporary winter break, the process of voluntary repatriation of registered Afghan refugees has restarted. This is in line with the outcome of a tripartite commission meeting held in Dubai recently where Pakistan, Afghanistan and UNHCR once again reaffirmed their commitment to the voluntary and gradual return of registered Afghans living in Pakistan.
According to reports, since 2002, when the UNHCR re-launched voluntary return operations to Afghanistan, about 3.4 million Afghans have gone back to their homeland but it is widely believed that apart from new arrivals due to precarious security conditions in areas bordering Pakistan, those returning home also make a come-back soon. The programme is misused by refugees for getting cash grant and other assistance, making mockery of the voluntary repatriation arrangement. This is known to all concerned but regrettably no foolproof arrangements are devised to prevent recurrence of such practices. In the first place, Pakistan has been hosting millions of Afghan refugees for over three decades and there are still over three millions in the country. The international community provided some assistance in initial years but with the passage of time Pakistan has been left to tackle the issue on its own. Apart from this, the issue has created many social and economic problems for the country and of late there are also complaints that Afghans are harbouring objectionable activities from Pakistani soil. We believe that it is time for these refugees to go back to their homeland and the recent phenomenon of IDPs in Pakistan clearly shows that they can be managed within Afghanistan. We would also urge the Government to take due notice of illegal immigrants and take concrete steps for their expulsion.
END TO TERRORIST AND DRONE ATTACKS
AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
US drones firing Hellfire homing missiles into FATA villages have taken a heavy toll of terrorist lives. The immense collateral damage in lives and property should be accounted and compensated for by the American government. After the December 2009 Taliban attack on the CIA base at Khost which killed seven CIA officials and one Jordanian Army Major, the CIA led Hellfire Drone offensive was intensified with a vengeance. Hussein Yemeni, an Al Qaeda bomb expert and trainer, is believed to have been among more than