media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month march 26, edition 000465, 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
- INFILTRATION ON THE RISE
- TERROR IN GOD'S COUNTRY
- WHO HOLDS THE FORT? - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- FINALLY, OBAMA CAN SMILE - TRINA JOSHI
- CONGRESS PLAN TO STUMP YADAV CHIEFTAINS IS SOUND
- US PERSISTS WITH ITS FOLLY
- DON'T MISUSE ISLAM TO DENY WOMEN'S RIGHTS - BY SYEDA HAMEED
- THE LAHORE LOG - BY NAJAM SETHI
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS
- WHAT A FUSS
- SO FAR AND NO FURTHER - JANINA GOMES
- 'PUBLIC SERVICES OFTEN FAIL AS THEY'RE DESIGNED FROM TOP DOWN'
- DELINK INDO-PAK - SHYAM SARAN
- WE, ROBOTS - JUG SURAIYA
- LOST AND NOT FOUND
- STAYING OUT OF THE LOOP
- MIRACLE OF SILENCE - PARAMBIR KAUR
- AN UNNECESSARY LINK - NAMITA BHANDARE
- AN UNEQUAL BURDEN - SITARAM YECHURY
- INWARD BOUND
- WHISTLE BLOWER
- ACCEPTING 8 PER CENT
- NOT JUST ARITHMETIC - SEEMA CHISHTI
- STILL WITHOUT PERSPECTIVE - YOGINDER K. ALAGH
- BRIDGING THE (INFRA) GAP - DHIRAJ NAYYAR
- A WINDOW-SEAT VIEW OF THE WORLD - NOT JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED
- PCSHARMA - SUMMONS TO MODI
- AFTER BHARTI
- FIRE HAZARD
- GETTING IT RIGHT ON INFRASTRUCTURE - RAJESH CHAKRABARTI
- RATIONALISE NATURAL GAS PRICES - KAUSHIK RANJAN BANDYOPADHYAY
- MOVING TO POST OFFICE SAVINGS - SAIKAT NEOGI
- AMERICA'S PAKISTAN STRATEGY
- CHINA'S RISE IN SCIENCE
- MANY U-TURNS AND A FULL CIRCLE - SUHASINI HAIDAR
- U.S. AND RUSSIA AGREE TO SLASH STRATEGIC NUCLEAR ARMS - PETER BAKER AND ELLEN BARRY
- BRITAIN'S HISTORIC ROLE IN WEST ASIA - NATASHA GILL
- RECOUNTING AN ATTEMPTY TO ARREST TONY BLAIR - DAVID CRONIN
- HOW TORIES "AIRBRUSHED" ETHNIC MINORITY CANDIDATES - HASAN SUROOR
- RATE OF DEFORESTATION HAS SLOWED: U.N. REPORT
- US-PAKISTAN AXIS
- MULAYAM EXPOSED
- WHERE'S THE STRATEGY? - HARSH V PANT
- THE PROGRESSIVES OWE IT TO THE JEWS - MADHU JAIN
- OBAMA'S HEALTH-CARE IDEA
- TIME INDIA THOUGHT OF ONE
- MORE VARSITIES, COLLEGES
- QUALITY CHECK IS IMPERATIVE
- PROMOTION AS A RIGHT
- MERIT AND PERFORMANCE VITAL, NOT JUST SENIORITY
- CONFUSION AFTER KOIRALA - MAJ-GEN ASHOK K. MEHTA (RETD)
- REAL ILLUSIONS - BY S. RAGHUNATH
- FALL FROM GRACE - BY HARJAP SINGH AUJLA
- GOING DOWNHILL IN HIMACHAL - BY RAKESH LOHUMI
- LUCKNOW DIARY - SHAHIRA NAIM
- RICH BLEND OF OLD AND NEW
- PM'S PLAINSPEAKING
- DELIVERING FOOD SECURITY
- REDOING GREEN BUILDINGS - SUNITA NARAIN
- RAJU HAS TOLD THE TRUTH, SO FAR - BHUPESH BHANDARI
- AKASH PRAKASH: A DIFFICULT SIX MONTHS - AKASH PRAKASH
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- IMPURE THOUGHTS
- FIRE SAFETY
- PAROCHIAL CHAIRMAN?
- LESS BANG FOR US STIMULUS BUCK - MICHAEL SPENCE
- THE CITY SLICKER AS METAPHOR - MUKUL SHARMA
- A DELIBERATE ONSLAUGHT ON GENDER EQUALITY
- IT'S ABOUT J&K'S IDENTITY WITHIN THE UNION
- TOO MANY BUMPS ON ROAD TO SARAL
- LUBNA KABLY
- INDIA'S HUGE OPPORTUNITY FOR US: MICROSOFT
- WE WANT TO FOLLOW INDIA'S MODEL OF HIRING MORE FRESHERS: CAPGEMINI - PANKAJ MISHRA
- MEDIA LANDSCAPE HERE CONTINUES TO INNOVATE - RATNA BHUSHAN
- TOP COURT SPELLS OUT HOME TRUTHS
- MISSING MIDDLE CLASS - BY SHIV VISVANATHAN
- AMERICA AND A BRAVE NEW HEALTHCARE WORLD - BY GAIL COLLINS
- WHY MAYAWATI FLAUNTS CASH - BY MUJTABA KHAN
- JESUS, SACRIFICE, THE HOLY WEEK - BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL
- WHILE YOU'RE ASLEEP - BY A. ROGER EKIRCH
- HISTORY OF HORROR
- SHAMELESS SEXIST
- TRENDS IN MYANMAR
- MERCHANTS OF DECEIT - BHARAT DOGRA
- CHANGED BUT UNMISTAKABLE - SHYAMOL BHATTACHERYA
- MAKING OF A MONARCH - SUDHA PALIT
- MEANS TO AN END
- ON SIN AND GODLINESS - ASHOK MITRA
- TOWARDS AN EQUAL WORLD - MALVIKA SINGH
- PAYBACK TIME
- TERRIBLE TRAGEDY
- NO NEED TO HURRY - BY KULDIP NAYAR
- MULTIPLE CHALLENGES BEFORE THE FM - BY SUDHANSU R DAS
- LIFE BEGINS AT FORTY - BY SHIVARAM NAYAK
- A DANGEROUS GOVERNMENT
- AT A NADIR - BY YOEL MARCUS
- ONLY AN IMPOSED SOLUTION - BY ZEEV STERNHELL
- BLOOD AND MATZA - BY YOSSI SARID
- WHERE HAVE ALL THE ANTI-SEMITES GONE? - BY ADAR PRIMOR
- A REALITY TOO TERRIBLE TO ADMIT - BY JONATHAN SPYER
- WHAT NAOMI KLEIN REALLY WANTS - BY ERAN SHAYSHON
- BROUGHT TOGETHER BY BEES - BY MEDI NAHMIYAZ AND NATHALIE ALYON
- ABOVE IT ALL - BY GERARD HEUMANN
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- HAITI'S MISERY
- LOOSENING THE 'DON'T ASK' SHACKLES
- RECORDS IN REAL TIME
- REIMAGINING WHAT WASHES UP - BY FRANCIS X. CLINES
- THE RETURN OF HISTORY - BY DAVID BROOKS
- GOING TO EXTREME - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- FIX HEALTH REFORM, THEN REPEAL IT - BY PAUL RYAN
- NOW COMES THE HARD PART - BY JONATHAN COHN
- POWER, PROMISE AND PEOPLE
- NEITHER FREE NOR FAIR
- SLAUGHTER AT THE ALTAR
- BRAVE NEW WORLD OR THE PAST REVISITED? - AYAZ AMIR
- DEFYING POLITICAL OBITUARIES - ZAFAR HILALY
- BUYING TIME TO SURVIVE - AMEER BHUTTO
- SETTLEMENTS IN EAST JERUSALEM - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
- PAK-US TALKS A GOOD BEGINNING - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
- SPO WORKS - HARRIS KHALIQUE
- TWO YEARS DEVOURED BY TERRORISM
- IS IT NEW BEGINNING IN PAKISTAN-US TIES?
- RANGERS-POLICE CLASH. ANARCHY
- SAUDI ARABIA AND INDIA COME CLOSER - M D NALAPAT
- AMAN KI ASHA OR ROADBLOCKS TO PEACE? - S M HALI
- THE ELOQUENT HOLY QUR'AN - ATIF NOOR KHAN
- INDIA BLUFFING GLOBAL POWERS - LT COL ZAHEERUL HASSAN (R)
- US-INDIA ANTI-TERROR RIFT - BAHUKUTUMBI RAMAN
- DAY OF DELIVERANCE
- A HAND TO PULL YOU UP..!
- AN ATTACK ON INEQUALITY - DHIRAJ KUMAR NATH
- EDUCATION: FROM PRESENT TO FUTURE GENERATIONS - GOPAL SENGUPTA & AVIK SENGUPTA
- FACING UP TO HUMAN FAILURE
- SPEND MONEY ON SCHOOLS BUT LET'S STOP THE WASTE
- WE NEED TO COUNT THE COST OF HIPS, KNEES AND IVF
- ABBOTT PASSES RESHUFFLE TEST
- OUR TAX-NURTURED LANDLORDS
- NO PLACE IN THE POLICE FOR RACISM
- ABBOTT MISSES AN OPPORTUNITY TO REBUILD
- THE BUDGET: PUTTING DARLING TO THE TEST
- US-RUSSIA NUCLEAR DEAL: TWO TRIBES DON'T GO TO WAR
- IN PRAISE OF RADIO LA VOZ DE BAGUA
THE KOREA HERALD
- KDI'S PROPOSAL
- LEE'S COMEBACK
- CHANGING FACE OF THE EARLY ADOPTER - M. K. THOMPSON
- TURNING FRIENDS INTO FOES
THE JAPAN TIMES
- EARLY PEEK AT POSTAL PLAN
- BUDGET PASSED, BUT BATTLES AHEAD
- PEDOPHILE-PRIEST COVERUP TRANSCENDS 'SECULAR' BELIEF - BY GWYNNE DYER
- NATIONALITY IS NO WAY TO SELECT IMF LEADER - BY BARRY EICHENGREEN
THE JAKARTA POST
- NOT-SO-CLEAN GOVERNMENT
- SIX DECADES OF SINO-INDONESIAN RELATIONS AND 'REALPOLITIK'
- BUDIONO KUSUMOHAMIDJOJO
- 2016, a catastrophic year for Indonesia? - Hadianto Wirajuda
- PDI-P'S REALISTIC OPTION IN BALI CONGRESS - SUNNY TANUWIDJAJA
- UNSETTLING SETTLEMENTS
- REASON FOR FAKE REPORTERS
- A LOCAL CURE TO HOME PRICES
- CITY GETS RELOCATION RIGHT
- ECONOMY NEEDS TO BREAK FROM ITS PAST - BY WU JINGLIAN (CHINA DAILY)
- TOYING WITH YUAN WON'T HELP US - BY FAN GANG (CHINA DAILY)
- GOODBYE GOOGLE AND GM INFORMATION - BY PHILIP J. CUNNINGHAM (CHINA DAILY)
- MICROCREDIT COULD BRING MACRO GAINS - BY MICHELE GERACI (CHINA DAILY)
- CLOSING SCHOOLS FOR CAMPAIGN WORK
- "NO POSTS FOR THOSE WHO CREATE VIOLENCE"
- HEALTH VS. WEALTH: OBAMA'S BILL TURNS BITTER PILL
- NATIONAL RECONCILIATION WITHIN THE MAHINDA CHINTHANAYA
INFILTRATION ON THE RISE
PULLING OUT ARMY FROM J&K WON'T DO
It might be true that 2009 was Jammu & Kashmir's most peaceful year in a decade with terrorist violence in the State dropping by nearly a third as compared to 2008. But if reports are to be believed, things are poised to take a nasty turn in the months ahead. There is no doubt that the lull in terrorist violence that was experienced last year went a long way in convincing the Government that a scaling back of the Army presence in the Kashmir Valley was a good idea. The perception has been that the clout of the separatists in the Valley is waning and the security situation can be controlled through greater co-ordination among the personnel of a lean security force. It has been argued that it was better intelligence gathering and sharing that had significantly curbed the incidents of terror in the State. Indeed, the State Government had put forward the contention that an overwhelming presence of the Army was detrimental to the overall security climate in the State. As a result 36,000 Army personnel were ordered to leave Jammu & Kashmir over the last 18 months. But in the wake of intelligence inputs that terrorists are planning to make up for the ground lost last year, the Government has been forced to put a halt to the withdrawal. Needless to say, if the inputs are accurate, the coming months could see a lot of bloodshed.
Irrespective of what politicians in the Valley say, the Government must realise that the Army has to play a vital role in the security apparatus of Jammu & Kashmir, not just for the sake of the State itself but also for the country as a whole. To give in to the demands of those who want the Army to exist would be naïve. For, there is absolutely no way that the Jammu & Kashmir Police can be entrusted with handling the bulk of the law and order issues in the State. It simply does not have the necessary resources. Violence in the State is largely the creation of foreign elements who are aided and supported by Pakistan. It is they who are determined to send across droves of jihadis from the other side of the Line of Control with the aim of bleeding India with a thousand cuts. Therefore, local support waning for the separatists makes little or no difference to the security scenario in the Kashmir Valley. As long as organisations such as the United jihad Council a conglomeration of terrorist outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Hizb-ul Mujahideen and the Jaish-e-Mohammad continue to carry out their jihad to cleave Kashmir from the rest of India, there is no way that Army presence in the Valley can be rolled back. It is true that normalisation of the overall atmosphere in the Kashmir Valley is an aim that the Government must continuously strive for. But this normalisation, at least in the short-term, cannot be achieved by scaling back troops when people like Hizb-ul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin continue to make provocative statements and pronounce jihad as the only way to 'liberate' Kashmir, as was witnessed at a recent gathering of the UJC.
Jammu & Kashmir is an exceptional case, and exceptional circumstances need exceptional responses. Ideally, there shouldn't be a need to have a significant Army presence in the Kashmir Valley. But the ground realities are such that we simply cannot do without the Army in the State. Politics should not cloud security issues. For, the terrorists would love it if it does.
TERROR IN GOD'S COUNTRY
KERALA WAKES UP TO NASTY REALITY
Till some months ago, Keralites could not have even dreamt that their State was a haven for ruthless terrorists. But with the revelations that roll out every day from the interrogation chambers in north Malabar, where Thadiyantavide Nazeer, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba's South India commander and a Kannur native, and his jihadi brethren are housed, peace-loving Keralites are realising that they have been living in a fool's paradise. The Kerala jihadis' connections spread far and wide and include terrorists like David Coleman Headley, Tahawwur Hussein Rana and Fahim Ansari, the infamous accused in the 26/11 terror strikes on Mumbai, as well as the Al Badr, whose operatives are trained by Pakistan's espionage institutions. The most unfortunate aspect of all this is that the 'secular' political parties in Kerala as well as the State's police system still refuse to accept that terrorism is a clear and present danger in God's Own Country. Even the National Investigation Agency is shocked by the revelations being made by Nazeer, his aide and relative Shafaz, co-accused Shammi Feroze, etc, about LeT south India's cross-border connections. It is hardly surprising that funds, explosives, arms and 'theoretical ammunition' for jihad have always been available locally, given that the jihadis, directly or indirectly, enjoy significant political support. The case of Islamist leader Abdul Nasser Madani and his wife Sufiya exemplifies this.
Nazeer has confessed to his Kerala Police interrogators that he had met 26/11-accused Fahim Ansari in the Gulf at a rendezvous point arranged by LeT's Pakistan-based West Asia coordinator Wali. This revelation was followed up by the discovery of clues which suggest that Sabir alias Ayub, another Kannur native, had been in contact with David Headley. Sabir was Tahawwur Rana's local help when he visited Kochi prior to 26/11. Sleuths have also discovered that Nazeer and his associates had received training from Pakistani national Muhammad Fahad, an Al Badr terrorist with family roots in Kerala who was arrested in Mysore while plotting an attack on the Karnataka Assembly building. After his arrest, the Kerala Police had conveniently limited their probe to a simple passport application irregularity. Again, Shammi Feroze, arrested by the NIA as the seventh accused in the Kozhikode bombing case, was living comfortably in Abu Dhabi while two more accused in the case are still in the Gulf. The funds for the 2008 Bangalore terror bombings were arranged by Ernakulam native Sarfaras Nawaz. These revelations and more destroy the myth of peaceful Kerala. It also suggests that the State is perhaps the epicentre of terror in the south India.
WHO HOLDS THE FORT?
SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
Union Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna had not broken what seemed like a self-imposed silence on foreign affairs to warn the US against Pakistan's nuclear ambitions, people might have been forgiven for believing that Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had taken over external affairs.
The public invests foreign policy with more glamour and importance than other branches of governance. Finance has a more direct bearing on prosperity. Defence determines our survival as a nation. Communications spell modernity. Agriculture feeds 1.2 billion Indians. But just as American Secretaries of State loom larger in the public eye than Vice-Presidents, it's foreign policy that captures India's popular imagination. Jawaharlal Nehru rationalised this appeal when addressing the Constituent Assembly in 1949.
"What does independence consist of?" he asked, answering his own question. "It consists fundamentally and basically of foreign relations. That is the test of independence. All else is local autonomy. Once foreign relations goes out of your hands into the charge of somebody else, to that extent and in that measure you are not independent." Not everyone will agree with a definition that owed much to Nehru's personal predilection for international statecraft but it explained his insistence on assuming charge of external and Commonwealth relations in the interim Government under Lord Wavell.
Neverthelless, Nehru could not follow his inclination and appoint VK Krishna Menon High Commissioner to Britain because governmental functions overlapped even then. London's India House came under the jurisdiction of the Commerce Department which went to the Muslim League. The apportionment of duties being determined today by pragmatic considerations and the assessment of superiors (the Prime Minister and party president), Mr Chidambaram's high-profile parleying with the US National Intelligence Director, Mr Dennis C Blair, or quick trip to Britain to talk to Mr David Miliband and Mr Alan Johnson, respectively Secretaries of State for Foreign and Home Affairs, add to his stature at home. Described at 65 as the 'youngest among the seniors', he is seen as the coming man.
There need be no quarrel with that. Mr Chidambaram has a great deal going for him. His Harvard training made him one of Rajiv Gandhi's bright young technocrats. More to the point, he has lasted the course while many others of that school (Mr Arun Nehru, Mr Arun Singh) fell by the wayside. He astutely distanced himself from PV Narasimha Rao when the Tamil Nadu Congress split, and though holding the finance portfolio in the two United Front Governments (1996-98) was warmly welcomed back into the Congress fold when the UPA came into being. The mega farm loan waiver he announced was a shrewd move from which Congress benefited at the hustings; it is not inconceivable that his supposed blunder on Telangana may yet turn out to be another winning card.
But where does his dabbling in diplomacy abroad even as an extension of security leave Mr Krishna? The External Affairs Minister was reportedly scheduled to canvass this week for Sunday's Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Paliki election while the Home Minister was engaged in high-level dialogue in Britain. True, the Bangalore election is important for the Congress in a BJP-ruled State, and a local veteran's expertise would be useful, but it's somewhat remote from the concerns that should animate a Foreign Minister at a time of national crisis. The death of Nepal's former Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, seems to have provided Mr Krishna with a legitimate job abroad, albeit one of mainly protocol significance.
Of his two talented juniors, the personable Mr Shashi Tharoor is highly visible but not often on account of any serious foreign policy issue. Very little is heard of South Block's other Minister of State, the popular 'Maharani Sahiba', Ms Preneet Kaur, whose husband is titular Maharaja of Patiala. One cannot but wonder if the Government makes the best use of their talents.
Of course, the overlapping mentioned earlier does bestow certain special responsibilities on Mr Chidambaram. When he was awarded the home portfolio soon after the grisly events of 26/11, it was assumed that even if he hadn't been Internal Security Minister under Rajiv Gandhi, he could not but be an improvement on the man he replaced. He was expected to follow the leads of the conspiracy to attack Mumbai to their source and ditto with terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir. Suppressing Maoist rebels came afterwards.
All three tasks entail close coordination with other departments. For instance, force alone will not stamp out the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Operation Green Hunt can be only one feature of a multi-pronged programme to bring roads, electricity, housing, schools, medical care and jobs to disadvantaged Dalits and Adivasis in the neglected interior. Given conditions in Nepal and the propensity of some of India's neighbours to fish in the troubled waters of domestic dissent, the Maoist rebellion may not be without an external dimension either.
This is more obviously the case with jihadi terrorists, explaining why the National Security Adviser must share the Home Minister's perceptions. But what of the Foreign Secretary? Are her exchanges with her Pakistani counterpart integral to the effort to promote security and therefore another aspect of the Home Minister's responsibility? Or are they part of neighbourhood diplomacy and thus the External Affairs Minister's rightful domain?
Bluntly put, people can ask who Mrs Nirupama Rao is responsible to, formally and informally. Does she take her instructions from and report back to Mr Chidambaram or Mr Krishna?
Every Minister is not always the best man for the portfolio. But he must be seen to be doing his job as long as he holds it. Mr Chidambaram himself once said, "The Prime Minister can handle the finance portfolio far better than anyone." But efficiency would not improve by doing the experienced and highly competent Mr Pranab Mukherjee (now the most senior member of the Cabinet, senior even than the Prime Minister!) out of a job and merging his Ministry with the PMO. If Mr Chidambaram is best equipped to handle sensitive negotiations with foreign Governments, Cabinet cohesion and ministerial harmony demand that he should enjoy the formal responsibility to do so.
Sidelining the External Affairs Ministry by elevating someone out of turn almost to the level of de facto Deputy Prime Minister doesn't only hurt the amour-propre of three Ministers. It can also damage the balance and stability of the ship of state.
FINALLY, OBAMA CAN SMILE
The Democrats' loss of a historic seat the seat that fell vacant following the death of Edward Kennedy last year in Massachusetts' special Senate election in January was widely dubbed as the people's mandate on US President Barack Obama's populist agenda healthcare reform. Two months later, with the Senate Healthcare Bill seeing the light of the day, Mr Obama has silenced those who tried to write him off and claimed that the Bill would bite the dust.
A recent Gallup poll reveals that five in 10 Americans consider President Obama's healthcare reform a 'good thing'. The passage of the 871-billion-dollar Bill that is likely to cut the federal deficit by $132 billion and provide insurance coverage to 30 million additional Americans over the next decade is a first step towards bringing about 'change', the very promise that guaranteed this 47-year-old Democrat entry into the White House in 2008. At a time when unemployment is at 10 per cent, the plan is a boon for the recently-sacked Americans as insurance is usually provided by employers in the US. It will also prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, especially in children.
There is no magic wand to wish away 10 per cent unemployment in one year. In fact, the situation after that Black Thursday of 1929 did not shift to an upward gear until the spring of 1940 and finally became normal in 1954. The panic of 2008 was no different.
So for a President who took charge amidst an ailing economy, the need to avoid another Depression was urgent than bringing it back on track. And the healthcare reform is probably that first step towards making the American capitalist setup more people oriented.
However, it's not the time to be content as the battle is just half won. In view of the Republicans' gradually rising popularity, the Democrats will have to gird for tapping independent voters, the fence sitters, before the members of the US Congress re-contest their seats in November this year. This mid-term election will better indicate whether Mr Obama's presidency is actually going south.
'ENGLISH CANNOT BE GIVEN PRIMACY OVER THE LANGUAGE OF OUR CULTURE'
My first encounter with Pavan K Varma, or rather his writing, was when I reviewed his book Krishna: The Playful Divine many years ago. Before reading the book, I had this image of him in my mind which later proved to be entirely wrong. I had thought of Pavan as a stuffed shirt, a self-obsessed and utterly boring member of the exalted, twice-born Indian Foreign Service. Half way through Krishna, I had begun to doubt whether I had the right impression of the author; by the time I finished reading the book, I knew I was wrong. No stuffed shirt would have written a book like that. When I finally met Pavan, which was some years later, I realised he was a cut above his colleagues in the IFS, a class apart from those who represent India abroad. At an open air Hindustani classical music concert where Kishori Amonkar was in full flow and all of us had lost track of the hour of the night, Pavan taught me, with great élan, how to appreciate the finer nuances of Raga Nand Kalyan which I would have missed otherwise.
One of our finest diplomats, Pavan K Varma remains rooted in all things Hindustani from culture to clothes to language. And that is evident in the series of books he has written exploring the mindset and worldview of the Indian middle classes. A gifted writer he makes his point without belabouring it repeatedly he is what may be called a 'thinking bureaucrat', which could be mistaken as an oxymoron by those acquainted with our bureaucracy and babus. The Great Indian Middle Class and Being Indian fetched Pavan, and deservedly so, critical acclaim as a commentator with profound thoughts on the past, the present and the future. His new book, Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity, proves that praise for his earlier work was not misplaced. It's a brilliant, incisive exposition of how colonialism has moulded the way we look at ourselves, our culture, and the world. "Those who have never been colonised can never really know what it does to the psyche of a people. Those who have been are often not fully aware of or are unwilling to accept the degree to which they have been compromised," he writes in this book. That, in a sense, is the theme of Becoming Indian.
I met Pavan for a long adda on a lazy late spring afternoon in New Delhi during which we discussed his new book. What he had to say, as always, was scintillating. Below are excerpts from that unstructured discussion:
Kanchan Gupta: So tell us, what prompted you to write this book? To take the middle class series nearer to a conclusion or something else...
Pavan K Varma: Essentially, after 60 years of independence, I thought the time had come for a cultural audit. This audit entails two things. One is a rigorous analysis of colonialism because, as I write, colonialism is not about the physical subjugation of a people but the colonisation of their mind. And while a political audit takes place after the Union Jack comes down and an economic audit takes place to take stock of what is lost and what is gained, a cultural audit is something that does not take place ... this is something which is common to all colonised countries... to, in a sense, recolonise the mind. So, it is both a rigorous analysis of colonialism and a meditation on the state of culture today in our country.
I must confess I profess a fair degree of anguish at our low threshold of satisfaction and self-congratulation. Because we are not only a nation, we are a civilisation. We have 5,000 years of history, antiquity, peaks of refinement, assimilation, diversity ... but underlying that diversity, what is not visible to a superficial observer, is great unity. We are not a parvenu civilisation, we were not born 200 years ago, and therefore it is legitimate for us to see where we are in terms of our culture today in contrast to the journey we have made and where we have come.
And I believe in the reappropriation of our cultural space without chauvinism or xenophobia. This is all the more important because we are simultaneously in an aggressive phase of globalisation where the subtext in the field of culture is often co-option, where the victim is the last to know. And, when the educated are relatively rootless, that co-option becomes all the more easier. So that, essentially, is the paradigm of the book.
KG: Nothing offers a better platform than a book for a study and discourse of this nature... By the way, some people feel you have been needlessly uncharitable towards English and Western culture...
PKV: There is hardly any space left for cerebral discourse. There has been an oversimplification of what I have to say in my book. One is that I am against English. I am not. I am not for the imposition of Hindi. I am just saying that there must be respect given to our languages and while English is an indispensable language of communication, specially to help us interface with a globalising world, it cannot be given primacy over the language of our culture.
There is a language of communication and there is a language of culture. The language of culture is a window to your history, mythology, folklore, proverbs, idioms, to your creativity ... and it's the language in which we cry and laugh. There is no contradiction between the two. Recent research shows that all those who are well-grounded first in their mother tongue pick up a foreign language that much faster.
KG: Do you believe English is still a foreign language in India?
PKV: I genuinely believe that while it is a language of communication which has been indigenised in India, it can never take the place of our natural languages. And, badly spoken English cannot become the lingua franca of a country which is so rich in its linguistic heritage.
KG: Your book opens with an intense personal experience centred around your father his attempt to learn English and thus qualify for the ICS, in which he was successful. Did that influence your career choices? After all, the IFS, in fact the civil services, are part of the colonial governance construct, it has a hierarchical structure put in place by our colonial rulers.
PKV: Without a doubt I am a product of the milieu that, in a sense, I was condemned to inherit. That is why I went to St Columba's, St Xavier's and St Stephen's. And I am not against these schools and colleges. But I have mentioned in my book that my mother withdrew me from Modern School and put me in St Columba's because she said the standard of Hindi in Modern School was too high!
People place priorities because they are products of a milieu. English was the language which was inherited by us, it was the language of social status and, by that virtue, it was a language of exclusion. If you did not speak English with the right accent and fluency, however shallow you might be in other respects, or accomplished for that matter, you could never be part of the charmed circle which ruled India.
So I am a product of that milieu but I am able, at some level I think, and I don't take any special credit, to see that no nation can sit on the high table of the world as we aspire without giving respect and pride to their own culture and languages. So when we try to be like them at the cost of being who we are, that forces India to become a caricature. I have served all across the world and I have seen this happen.
The whole point is that you have to be an authentic spokesman of your own milieu. Today, I believe that as far as our general cultural scene goes, Kanchan, mediocrity, mimicry, rootlessness and tokenism have become features which we need to introspect about. I don't say this with anger, I say it calmly.
Look at the state of our humanities departments, not an original work! This is the country of Nalanda? Doctoral theses are being written with footnotes by foreign scholars. Look at the state of our literature, the man who won the Bharatiya Gnanpeeth told me his books sell less than a thousand copies. Look at the state, pardon my saying so, of even our book reviews. If you are in the UK, the country that colonised us, on the weekend any broadsheet will have 30 to 40 pages only on book reviews. Here we have leading newspapers who have dispensed with book reviews!
KG: Look at the state of our classical arts... music, dance...
PKV: Exactly! Look at the state of classical dance I mean I have been a cultural administrator also. Top exponents of a parampara which goes back 3,000 years have to telephone friends for days before a performance to fill a hall when the entrance is free. Look at the state of classical music, the raga represents a 4,000-year-old parampara and it is a very delicate structure... the elaboration of the mood the gradual vistaar and the drut... Today we have eminent musicians performing like adolescent pop stars, catering to the lowest common denominator of an audience.
Now, I am not against pop culture. In Hyde Park I have lived in London when you have a pop music performance thousands go for it. But on the same day I have seen people queuing up from 11 in the morning at 20 pounds a pop to attend a performance of Western classical music. Mature civilisations nurture both. We cannot be reduced to a sterile simplicity that it is either popular culture or nothing else at all. So these are things we need to think about.
Look at the state of our monuments. Of our museums. Of our libraries. The MGMA gets 30,000 visitors a year. The Louvre gets 2.5 millions at 12 euros an entrance. The Tate gets four million visitors a year at 1.20 pounds an entrance. These statistics are there in my book. A country like China, in spite of the setback of the cultural revolution, is investing in 100 new museums, 83 are already built. Beijing alone has 150 art galleries. There's a full gallery district. Here you have a gallery but no curators, no cataloguing worth the name! So what has happened that our threshold of satisfaction has become so low?
KG: Maybe it's the sarkari thing, perhaps we should get the state out of it?
PKV: Hundred per cent. But the state will be out of it when there is a cultural vibrancy in the people. It's a symbiotic relationship. The performer will be bad if the audience is unresponsive. Whether at the level of the state or at the level of the common man or at the level of the artiste and our creative people, there needs to be something that jolts us out of our complacency. Because, as I said, we are not a parvenu civilisation. We were the benchmark of civilisational excellence, Kanchan. I was amazed when I read it, 200 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, Bharata wrote the Natyashastra, 6,000 Sanskrit shlokas not on any particular art ... a meditation on aesthetics, what constitutes rasa.
Even in popular culture, Bollywood, which we hold as a brand ambassador now of India abroad, I have nothing against it, some very good films have been made, but 70 per cent of Bollywood is a lift of Hollywood! What has happened to India's originality? Music and story? So, there is reason for us to introspect...
KG: We get carried away by foreign awards...
PKV: Yes, any foreign accolade! I give the example, I have nothing against Slumdog Millionaire although on merit I believe it was mediocre, but when it got the Bafta award, it had not been released in India, people had not seen it. Yet, without application of mind there was only only euphoria, it made headlines and breaking news everywhere. Similarly with the Booker. I have read 12 reviews of Aravind Adiga's White Tiger in the British Press, substantive reviews, some good, some damning, some panning it. In India, when the award was announced, there was hardly a review. In this great flexible civilisation with its own refinement touchstone, the only news is that it got the Booker! There has to be santulan, there has to be equilibrium, which is a sign of maturity
KG: We are constantly looking at foreign awards Somebody gets the Sahitya Akademi award or Gnanpeeth does not even find mention in the media
PKV: I will give an example, I will name the person. Sitakant Mahapatra, a very sensitive Odiya poet, he gets the Bharatiya Gnanpeeth award, and his book sells 843 copies! Even till this day in Russia, when a new edition of Pushkin is published, a million copies sell. And they were selling even during the stage of transition during and after Yeltsin when people had not got salaries for three months. So you have to think...
KG: You also talk of the mimic men!
PKV: You see mimicry is a natural consequence of rootlessness. People mimic when they are not secure in their own anchorage and my worry is that for a great deal of the educated in India today there is that rootlessness and therefore that mimicry.
KG: But Nirad C Chaudhuri, about whom you are critical in your appraisal, was equally comfortable with his Indian identity while living in Britain...
PKV: Without a doubt. But Nirad C Chaudhuri, and this is my own feeling, went out to prove that if you have to be the brown sahib, you should be the most educated, most accomplished, most knowledgeable, beyond tokenism brown sahib. And he did it in many respects. His taste of wine, his knowledge of Western culture, his reading his writing I personally believe that it was one of those complex consequences of colonialism which produces a man of his towering intellectual stature who judges himself only in terms of his ability to be the most accomplished Indian in terms of the Western touchstone of refinements. At another level he remained Bengali at home But to be harmonious schizophrenics is also a sign of colonial legacy.
KG: You are also harsh with Rammohun Roy
PKV: I have used Rammohun Roy as an example to show how the well-intentioned leader in the colonial phase needed to caricature his own civilisation in order to win the approbation of the ruler. First of all, his movement against ills within his own society and religion, especially sati, was a well-intentioned crusade. But if you read his letter to the Viceroy, he first devalues his language, the learning of philosophy and metaphysics, and without a doubt they struck the right chord. And, as you know, when he went to London he actually argued in the House of Commons for the permanent residency in India of the British and a mixed community through inter-marriage between both. So Rammohun Roy, as I say in my final paragraph, shows that people are products of their times. Colonialism was a hugely, hugely impacting influence on the lives of our well-intentioned leaders
KG: But it did help bring about reforms
PKV: I give him credit for his crusade against obvious evils, but I analyse how when you are part of the colonial syndrome, to do that you need to caricature aspects of your civilisation which is totally unnecessary to win the approbation of the ruling power. It's only an example.
KG: Today we have crossover sahibs who subscribe to the idea of being global citizens, world citizens. For them, the Indian identity becomes baggage.
PKV: I would say I honestly believe in today's time, the authentic global citizen is one who has the tools to interface with a globalising world is one who is rooted in his own milieu, his own civilisation. Because it is only that person who is rooted in his own milieu who can be a confident interlocutor with the world. Otherwise, we are producing clones. One of the great myths spawned by globalisation is that having been reduced to a global image we have all become mirror images of each other. But I believe that differences are real, that diversity needs to be respected and people who are the legatees of such a civilisation must preserve that identity because only then will they get respect.
Pavan K Varma's book, Becoming Indian The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity has just been published by Penguin.
CONGRESS PLAN TO STUMP YADAV CHIEFTAINS IS SOUND
THE Congress Party's reported plan to checkmate the Yadavs Mulayam Singh, Lalu and Sharad over the Women's Reservation Bill by pushing the UPA government to implement the Ranganath Misra Commission Report recommendations on reservations for Muslims will bring out in the open the duplicity of the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
The three Yadav chieftains of Indian politics have consistently opposed the landmark legislation on rather flimsy grounds. Their latest objection is that 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament and state legislatures would bring in only the rich women, while the poor and the minorities in the main Muslims would be neglected. This is a specious argument as political parties would go by the " winnability" of any candidate in a certain constituency, rather than her economic status or religious affiliation.
In an example of his anachronistic way of thinking Mulayam Singh recently declared that women who get elected to Parliament and other lawmaking bodies would be hooted and whistled at on the floor of the respective body. It is, of course, well known that Mulayam Singh had propped up his daughterin- law, Dimple Yadav, to fight a Lok Sabha election, and Lalu Yadav had his wife Rabri Devi act as a proxy chief minister.
The beauty of the Congress' plan is that it will come at a time when the fabled Muslim- Yadav alliance, the real basis of the enormous clout of the Yadav chieftains, is already tottering.
By pushing quotas for Muslims, the Congress will be acting on an issue of great import, but also gain crucial electoral advantage. Not only do Muslims face discrimination in the country, but Dalit and Other Backward Class Muslims face the same disabilities as their Hindu counterparts, without gaining the attendant advantages of a quota in jobs and educational institutions.
The Women's Reservation Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation that this country has ever debated, and is being universally hailed as one of the most effective ways of bringing women into the political mainstream through mandatory quotas. It would be poetic justice if in the process of pushing the bill, the country also manages to get quotas for a beleaguered minority. We can only hope that the Congress and the UPA will display the political will to push the measures with the needed determination.
US PERSISTS WITH ITS FOLLY
THE United States has been a major player in South Asian politics, mainly to the discomfiture of India. The US' entrance into the region as an ally of Pakistan in the mid- 1950s, put paid to a plan worked out by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his Pakistani counterpart Muhammad Ali Bogra to settle the Kashmir dispute bilaterally. The most pernicious aspect of the US arrival into the region was that it militarised Pakistan's responses towards India. American patronage and military aid persuaded Karachi that it could achieve parity with India. Subsequently Islamabad roped in China also towards the same end.
It is difficult to predict where the present phase of US- Pakistan friendship is going to lead to. Given the past record, it is difficult to be optimistic because no matter what Pakistan says about its desire to secure itself and to live in a stable environment, its eventual goal is to destabilise India. We are witnessing the third cycle of the American rearmament of Pakistan. Washington ought to have learnt its lessons by now, but that is not apparent. Besides huge sums of unaccounted money, the Americans are providing arms and equipment that are unlikely to be used against guerillas; their obvious use is against India.
It should be clear to anyone who has read the list comprising the Pakistani delegation in the US that its real leader is the chief of the Pakistan Army, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. The deal being worked out is between the US and the Pakistan Army, not Pakistan. Following the pattern of the past, whenever confronted with a crisis, the US has chosen to make a deal with the generals, rather than make some effort to promote democracy and the culture of civilian supremacy over the armed forces in the country.
DON'T MISUSE ISLAM TO DENY WOMEN'S RIGHTS
BY SYEDA HAMEED
I PICK UP my pen to write on a subject that has, once again, brought the glare of politics and media on Muslim women. Two beams have been focused on them ever since the Women's Reservation Bill was introduced on March 8 in the Rajya Sabha. The first has been thrown by pro- reservationists consisting of venerable leaders of Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party and part of the Janata Dal ( United). They have again begun the old refrain of quota within quota for their Muslim and OBC ' sisters'. The second has been thrown by some Maulvis ( not all Maulvis) who have made public statements that Muslim women should restrict themselves to the home and children and not aspire for politics.
The first group, led by politicians, has been projecting this line for 17 years. I recall going to them in the mid- nineties as part of the women's movement then agitating for 33 per cent reservations in Parliament and State Assemblies. At that time these leaders had conceded our point that commitment to empowering Muslim and OBC women could also be attained by giving them tickets. Their demand would, therefore, be met through the party route. Women of all castes, class and communities waited for two elections: Nothing happened.
The second group is led by some Maulanas, who have, as quoted in the Urdu press, declared that Islam does not permit women to make public appearances and they would serve a better purpose if they produce leaders instead of becoming leaders.
For Muslim women both propositions are highly problematical, indeed unacceptable.
The first is clearly a ploy to send the Bill into cold storage and keep women away from decision- making; it should be clearly understood as such. When the women's movement was agitating for Women Reservation Bill under the leadership of Geeta Mukherjee, Member Rajya Sabha and Chair Joint Parliamentary Committee, which studied the first version of the Bill in 1996, this was the exact argument used by the same actors.
They had 14 years to translate their argument into action. Today, when we take stock, we find that we have a total of two Muslim women in the Lok Sabha and three in Rajya Sabha. Since Independence, we have had only 18 Muslim women in Parliament. If we were to go by strict proportion to percentage, 50 per
cent of Indians are women; therefore out of a total of 543 seats, 271 seats should go to them. But the die seems to have been cast for 33 per cent and in this compromise figure there is no scope for dilution or diversion.
Analysts and psephologists have told us that across parties, women have always been given tickets from the weakest constituencies; places where the party knew it had little chances of winning. At the same time, there are studies on the ' winnability' of women candidates if they were given a level playing field, instead of being ' sacrificed' in no- win situations.
This is an old strategy to keep women out. Muslim women should themselves
be made aware of this ploy. They should not allow themselves to be used as an excuse to stymie the Bill, which is exactly what will happen if it is tampered with.
The second ' warning' from some Maulanas contravenes every tenet of Islam. Fatima Mernissi, the Moroccan Islamic scholar, whose book Women and Islam: A Historical and Theological Enquiry is a definitive text on the subject, writes that Islam was meant to break the traditional mindsets about women and accord them a status equal and in some matters higher than that accorded to men. Islam, she writes, was revealed to lift people from animal existence to higher goals. " It came to sustain the people of desert lands, to encourage them to achieve higher spiritual goals and equality for all". The dawn of Islam was a heady epoch and, for women, it was empowerment in one stroke.
It is this face of Islam that the Maulanas must uphold and not allow to be imposed on it the face of the cruel oppressor of women. The Prophet's life, his word ( Hadith) his practice ( Sunnah) projects a gentle, gendered, genial face of Islam. During his time, women were free to come into the mosques and engage with him about what were the Islamic injunctions about women.
The women of his family were leaders; I refer to his daughter Hazrat Fatima who is called Syeda tu Nisa e Alameen ( Leader of all Women). It is recorded that when she entered the room he got up to show respect and spread his kamli ( blanket) for her to sit on. His granddaughters, Zainab and Kulsum, led the caravan of Muslims from Karbala to Syria and stopped everywhere to speak to the populace about the Right Path of Islam; creating a movement that turned the tide in favour of the Prophet's Islam.
The time has come for the Maulanas to try to revert to this original face of Islam. On the front page of an Urdu paper, recently, I saw an advertisement for a special supplement on Muslim Women's Empowerment. It had snapshots of a woman performing a Nikah, an event which happened in 2008 in Lucknow and which, at the time, was bitterly criticised by some Maulanas in India and elsewhere.
The fact that today it is flashed as a positive sign offers hope that there is a change on the horizon and a closing of the gap between real Islam and the Islam propagated by a few self- serving ignorant men. It is the scholars of Islam, men and women, including enlightened Maulanas like the late Maulana Ali Mian of Nadwatul Ulema, or the great Islamic scholars like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, and women like Fatima Mernissi, whose writings should guide the thinking of all who profess to love the faith.
[ The writer is Member, Planning Commission. Her new book Gard aur Gardish ( Dust and Movement) is nearing completion]
THE LAHORE LOG
GENERAL KAYANI'S STRATEGIC TALKS
BY NAJAM SETHI
THE PAKISTAN army under General Ashfaq Kayani is holding a strategic dialogue with the Obama administration externally and the Zardari government internally. The former is underway in Washington currently while the latter was initiated some months ago in Islamabad.
The failing Pakistan economy and the fierce war with the Taliban are on top of the list with all protagonists. Everything flows from, or is related to, these two pressure points on Pakistan's stability and security.
If the economy fails, increasing impoverishment, angst and alienation from democracy and mainstream politics will swell the ranks of the extremists and put pressure on the military to devote greater resources of men and materials to putting them down. And if the Taliban aren't vanquished swiftly, their violence will scare away all prospective investment to revive the economy, thereby adversely impacting defence budgets and military needs for national security.
Pakistan's economy is caught in a vortex.
Political instability since 2007 has knocked the annual growth rate to about 3 per cent which is barely above the population growth rate. Stagflation unemployment is over 30 per cent and inflation about 25 per cent shows no sign of abating. Energy is short about 1/ 3 of demand is unfulfilled and power outages of 6- 14 hours every day are the norm across the country, hurting industry ( about 35 per cent is shut down) and pricey power rates have soared by 80 per cent in the last two years and are forecast to rise by another 40 per cent this year! Indeed, Pakistan Electric Supply Company ( PEPCO) that buys and sells all the power in the country has been on a financial " drip" of about Rs 60 billion every year for the last five years by the Finance Ministry, a practice that is highly objectionable from the IMF's point of view which has linked its US$ 9 Billion Standby Facility to a reduction of Pakistan's fiscal deficit from about 8 per cent to 4 per cent. PEPCO's line losses on account of power theft and inefficiencies are about 25 per cent; it is owed tens of billions in unpaid or defaulted bills by the private and public sector, and the circular debt of the power sector ( all the partners in the supply and demand chain) has risen to over Rs 450 billion.
THE cost of the war on terror variously estimated to be about US$ 4 billion in the last two years has also blown a big hole in the federal budget, despite regular military and financial handouts to the Pakistani army by Washington. In consequence, the government's poverty alleviation and Public Sector Development budgets have been slashed by half this year.
The strategic dialogue in Washington led by General Ashfaq Kayani is focused on all these issues. Included are talks on how to use American assistance to upgrade the hydroelectric network and finance new run- of- the- river electricity projects and dams. Pakistan is also keen to get the Americans to abolish or reduce quota restrictions on its textile exports which account for over 60 per cent of all Pakistani exports. Finally, Pakistan is nudging Washington on two important counts: persuade India to reopen dialogue on water- sharing issues that are threatening relations between the two even more than crossborder terrorism; and abandon opposition to Pakistan's nuclear programme so that it can extend and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes as envisaged and outlined in the Indo- US nuclear deal.
While Washington is acutely aware of the regional and global consequences of Pakistan's " failing state" syndrome, no free lunch is on offer. Indeed, the quid pro quo is concrete Pakistani help to America's besieged armies in Afghanistan so that a respectable exit strategy can be implemented according to President Obama's political timetable. This is where there is a historical " trust deficit" between the two sides that urgently needs to be bridged.
The Americans want effective Pakistani military action in North Waziristan where the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda are entrenched. But the Pakistani army has held off military operations pending a firm recognition of Pakistan's geostrategic stakes in the region. Roughly translated, this amounts to a ring side seat for Pakistan's ISI in any proposed dialogue between the Kabul regime and the Afghan Taliban, followed by a core role for Pakistan's " moderate" Taliban assets ( after they renounce all Al- Qaeda links) in any future political dispensation in Kabul. By way of corollary, India's role in Afghanistan, including its links with Afghan intelligence to abet insurgency in Balochistan, is the subject of discussion in the talks.
General Ashfaq Kayani practically took charge of the country's foreign policy some months ago. That accounts
for his straight talk with the Americans and NATO on Afghan policy and by the Foreign Office with the Indians
on the unconditional composite dialogue. It signals an end to the clever- by- half approach of General Musharraf and the whingeing attitude of the Zardari government. Now General Kayani has made an imprint on Pakistan's economy by pressurising the Zardari government to induct General Pervez Musharraf's privatisation minister, Hafeez Sheikh, a great US- IMF favourite, into the driving seat of the finance ministry. Pundits predict that an increasing number of " technocrats" approved by General Kayani are likely to fill important slots in government soon, in pursuit of the military's national security paradigm of Two Ds defence and development supported by a resurgent judiciary and nationalist media.
The irony in the situation should not be missed. It heralds a new model of military supremacy over the civilians in forcefully but indirectly formulating and executing Pakistan policy in a " democratic" framework. Whether it will succeed or fail, and whether it will prove to be good or bad for Pakistan, depends on how the two mainstream parties led by Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif react and play their cards.
The writer is the editor of The Friday Times ( Lahore)
TODAY we had a funeral in our house. Before you ask, no such luck. The Old Bag is still alive and licking. No it was Billoo, Kuclhoo's labradog who's gone and died. Dekho zara. What an ungrateful dog, vaisay. I spent so much money on his injections and on his food ( milk two times a day and meat one time, and that also small meat) that the servants would say Billoo eats like a foreigner, meat and milk, and we eat like poor desis, veg and water.
Vaisay foreigner tau he was. A pure bread labradog from UK, from some county ( Janoo says they are like our provinces, only smaller) called Cantt. ( Their generals must also be real khata peeta types like ours if they have whole provinces that they've made into Cantts and cut up into plots and either taken two two three each or sold for crores and crores to us poor civilians.
Take bets with me that they must be having one called Defence also tucked up into some corner of England.) Anyways, his name not withoutstanding, Billoo was from Cantt, UK. And as I told you before also, he was thorough bread gora with a shajra as long as a Mughal emperor. And Kulchoo also treated him like a proper gora saab. Majal hai that he slept outside.
Taubah karo! Billoo slept inside in Kulchoo's air conditioned room and if ever Kulchoo went to spend a few nights here or there, tau the servants were four bidden to switch off the AC in case Billoo Saab got hot. I told to Kulchoo, I said he's not about to get hot flushes darling just because his father was from Cantt. But Kulchoo wouldn't budge.
As usuals Janoo also took his side. ' I'm glad he takes his responsibilities seriously,' he said. So many nakhras
that dog had. Couldn't stand makhees, couldn't stand other dogs, couldn't stand banging doors. But in one thing
he and I were one. He couldn't stand the Old Bag. Every time he heard her voice even he'd start growling. As our gardener from Sharkpur used to say, he was a ' siyana' dog. In his last few days I spent so much money on the wet ( oho baba wetnery doctor) keh poocho hi na. Could have bought four four joras from Body Focus for that much. But the wet was useless. In the end the fever took him. Billoo, not the wet. Kulchoo cried like a baby. Janoo rushed back from Sharkpur to comfort him and attend Billoo's funeral. He's buried in the garden on our backside. Our bedroom ki windows look out on his grave. Hai vaisay can dogs haunt you?
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The clash between an internet superpower and Asia's giant is shaping up to have far-reaching consequences. From the ultimatum first issued by Google two months ago to its latest gambit of shifting search services from the mainland to an unfiltered Hong Kong site, the situation is careening towards a messy end. While backroom negotiations are likely underway, the very public stand taken by both parties leaves little room for manoeuvring. And if this does indeed lead to Google's pulling out of China altogether, it could raise larger questions about the relationship between western businesses and Beijing.
This is a matter of hardheaded business concerns, not ethics. Google's credo might be Do No Evil, but that didn't stop it from acceding to Beijing's censorship demands when setting up in the country in 2006. Now, however, the cyber attacks and intellectual property theft are a direct attack on its business structure. The larger scenario has changed as well. Western businesses have courted the Chinese market for years. But Google is not the only company that is realising now that China's intellectual property rights (IPR) regime is a problem, or that Beijing may not relax regulation or open up its markets. A number of reports by the European Chamber of Commerce and American Chamber of Commerce have hinted at this growing wariness on the part of western companies.
Complicating the matter is the fracas over Beijing's alleged currency undervaluation and the negative publicity that toeing an authoritarian government's line brings. This is not to say that there is likely to be an exodus of companies from China any time soon. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has emphatically stated his company's intention to play by Beijing's rules. What it does mean is that there is an opportunity for India to provide an attractive alternative business destination. But for that, improving our business-friendliness and major investment in infrastructure is needed.
India's IPR regime is not entirely problem free, for one. Neither do we have the internet penetration that is needed to provide the kind of scale that large multinationals require. The internet is a major driver of innovation in society, with economy-wide effects. To the extent that Beijing's actions result in a Chinese internet (or "chinternet") breaking away from the global internet, it will lose. But we too are showing muddled thinking in addressing the problem, opting for a capital-intensive optic fibre network instead of focusing on wireless infrastructure to expand connectivity. IT has been the flagship sector of India's economic boom. We must now seize the opportunity to cement its position.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WHAT A FUSS
One would imagine that the Supreme Court's job is to deal with important and contentious cases. But no, here in India, the apex court has to deal with the inconsequential as well. This has been illustrated again recently when the SC heard a series of criminal cases against actress Khushboo. She faces criminal charges, no less, in 22 different cases for her so-called obscene remarks regarding pre-marital sex and virginity. She has also been accused of "misleading gullible youth" and fomenting "chaos in society". The SC has rightly pointed out to the prosecutors that Khushboo's remarks do not amount to disturbing public order and that cohabitation is not a crime in India. These cases, which do not have a leg to stand on, should have been dismissed by the lower courts. No wonder there are judicial delays, if frivolous cases take up so much precious court time.
In a rapidly changing and modernising India, a variety of social constructs are undergoing revision, especially in the realm of personal relationships. This is inevitable. But both the political class and self-appointed guardians of public morality and 'Indian culture' have not kept pace with these changes. The result is a rash of litigation as well as public agitations by those who claim their sentiments have been hurt by some statement or the other. Meanwhile, those who actually incite violent riots manage to get away scot-free. Instead of targeting those who break conventional moulds, morally indignant trouble-makers would do well to update their attitudes and outlook.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
SO FAR AND NO FURTHER
It does not take many years or deep wisdom to realise that we all have our limitations. These limitations differ from person to person. Some are able to push back physical barriers by performing feats in athletics, weight lifting or hard manual labour. Those who are physically weak may turn out to be achievers intellectually and go on to become good scholars and researchers. Similarly, we have emotional, affective and spatial limits. We can go so far and no further.
Instead of being hamstrung by these limits, they come into our lives to help us grow. Until and unless we are tested by circumstances and events, we do not know our own limits and how far we can go. When confronted by difficulties, there is an inner force abiding within us all that makes us rise up and overcome the obstacles we face.
Obstructions and difficulties are challenges to growth. One becomes wise after learning from experience, for instance. And that generates inner strength.
When we watch games and matches on the fields, we see cricket, tennis or hockey players at their best, having spent long hours training and developing skills, and we have not been privy to their learning process. It is the same with an author, musician or artist- we see the finished product, not all the long hours that went into developing their skills.
However, whatever the field of endeavour, sooner or later we discover that we have our limitations. We learn, especially if we have lived for around 50 years, that there is a slow degeneration and decline of our physical bodies. We may be intellectually alert and prolific, but some things are just beyond our grasp. We find, perhaps, that relationships that have been fulfilling in the past no longer mean anything to us.
Slowly, we learn to let go and stay on with things and persons with whom we are comfortable. While a comfort zone is healthy, we still need to stretch ourselves beyond it, if we want to live a peaceful, purposeful and meaningful life. Sooner or later we begin to draw away from activities and work which are stressful and perhaps not a great priority for us any longer.
We prioritize our time and redeploy our resources. That is often what human wisdom consists of to know what to do, when to do it and when not to expend our energies and resources on what may be meaningful to others, but which no longer make sense to us, with our limited time, attention and resources. Although our knowledge domains have expanded over time, we still cannot find answers to many questions. As medical science progresses, with it the number of illnesses increases. Technology produces all kinds of wizardry. Young children have the kind of exposure to life that was unthinkable a few decades ago. But, along with the exposure come many attendant problems.
So, whether it is spatial, physical, emotional or spiritual, our limitations will teach us to be truly human. We will not wallow in our weaknesses but learn to acquire strength and courage to live with them. We cease to look at the achievements of others as competition and instead look at how we can evolve, and give our best, notwithstanding our limitations. We will acquire stature and grow precisely because we have created for ourselves a purposeful life with and despite our limitations.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'PUBLIC SERVICES OFTEN FAIL AS THEY'RE DESIGNED FROM TOP DOWN'
They might live on just $2 a day but their financial lives are complex. Stuart Rutherford , a leading expert on how the poor manage their money, along with three others, in their book Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day, has compiled financial diaries of 250 households in India, Bangladesh and South Africa to give an insight into how poorest of households patch together their financial existences. Rutherford spoke to Rema Nagarajan :
Are the poor necessarily bad money managers?
Our own experience from the households we surveyed is just because you are poor you do not lose personality. Even among rich people there are some who are good at managing money and some who are not and some who are loan averse and some who are not. It is the same with the poor too. However, without exception, every single household we surveyed, no matter how poor, did save some money.
Why are the government's public services not reaching the poor?
Very often the system is poorly delivered and suffers from leakages along the way. They are often designed from top down and don't reach out to the real needs of the people. That's why in our book we have tried to hear what the poor themselves are saying about their money problems and money management. Microfinance (MF) organisations are getting better at identifying the needs of the people and responding to it. By watching financial activities of poor households and listening to them we hope to find even better ways of doing it.
What prevents microfinance organisations from reaching out to more people in India?
Microfinance has exploded in India since 2004-05. However, in India, the MF organisations are still offering only one part of MF micro credit. The poor are not yet getting the saving services they need. The model that MFs use in India is mostly in the form of an annual loan to be paid off in small weekly payments. Breaking it down into such tiny, bite-sized pieces is good and that is the secret to finance for the poor as it fits in with their cash flow system. The income of poor people is small, irregular and unreliable. They need reserves and they need to borrow quickly. A once-a-year loan is not good enough; they need it more often. But there are legal hurdles to offering saving services as there is the fear that unlicensed persons taking people's savings could be dangerous.
Is MF a social programme or can it become a profit-making business?
When MF programmes were developed, it was clear that it is an anti-poverty mission, a social mission. In the 1980s, in Latin America and Bangladesh, once it was discovered that MF could also cover costs, MF quickly developed its business side. For instance, an MF company like SKS in India might soon be going for an IPO. This is very controversial, because many people fear that it will be more for profit-seeking than to help the people. Maybe, you need to legislate to ensure that the interests of the poor are looked after. I would agree that there are dangers, but given the fact that the need for financial services is so great, i would welcome all kinds of players small non-profit players as well as big players.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The next review conference of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will be convened in May this year. Though not a party to the treaty, India nevertheless has more than a passing interest in the conference outcome. First, it is in our interest that the treaty continues to serve as a firewall against the emergence of new nuclear weapon states, especially in our own neighbourhood, but consistent with the right of all states to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Second, any outcome whereby the link between non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament is explicitly recognised and addressed would be welcome. It would confirm President Barack Obama's recent embrace of Rajiv Gandhi's vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. Third, it would be in our interest that the conference confronts and responds to the new and growing danger from the possibility that nuclear weapons or fissile material may fall into the hands of terrorist groups or non-state actors. It is a threat to which nuclear deterrence has no answer.
Then there are possible pitfalls, too, to be mindful of. There will inevitably be calls for the universalisation of the NPT with the implication that non-parties like India join as non-nuclear weapon states. India's status as a de facto nuclear weapon power has already been acknowledged in the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) decision to resume civil nuclear commerce with India without insisting on international safeguards on all its nuclear activities, currently applicable to non-nuclear weapon states.
We should consolidate and build upon this significant diplomatic achievement. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's categorical statement in a recent interview with journalist Fareed Zakaria, that India could not join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state, should be reaffirmed even as we continue to signal our willingness to be a constructive partner in global non-proliferation efforts.
There have been calls in preparatory meetings that the exception granted to India should be reversed since it goes against the spirit, if not the letter, of the NPT. Several non-nuclear weapons states party to the NPT feel that the NSG decision is discriminatory, unfair to those who have abided faithfully with their obligations under the treaty, and rewards those who have chosen to remain outside it. This is the same challenge we faced during lobbying with the 45-odd NSG members, but the extraordinary effort India put in was eventually persuasive and successful.
We need a similar diplomatic effort towards key non-aligned members and major developing countries. This effort will have to include exploring convergences such as our shared interest in pursuing nuclear disarmament, in preventing proliferation to non-state actors and terrorists and in promoting, in a safe and secure manner, the peaceful uses of nuclear energy in an energy and climate-constrained world. India should promote its role not only as a major market for nuclear reactors and technology but also a low-cost supplier and technology partner.
There have been recent reports that the US may be willing to consider a civil nuclear agreement with Pakistan. We need to await further details on what the US may have in mind. Clearly any such move will severely damage the international non-proliferation regime. It is important that this issue is not looked at through the outdated and irrelevant prism of an India-Pakistan symmetry but from the perspective of global non-proliferation. India earned its access to international civil nuclear commerce on the strength of its impeccable non-proliferation record. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been both the recipient as well as the source of serial and clandestine proliferation. It has gained the unenviable reputation of having become the epicentre of terrorism. This puts the safety and security of its own nuclear arsenal under serious threat. Against this background, any action that may be perceived as rewarding irresponsible transgressions both current and past will, by undermining global non-proliferation, have widespread and far-reaching adverse consequences.
India has a good and credible story to tell on the nuclear issue. We have an unmatched record of restraint and responsibility, which is acknowledged the world over. India is the only country that, despite having become a nuclear weapons state, has reaffirmed its conviction that its security will be enhanced, not diminished, in a world free of nuclear weapons. It has consistently advocated an international agreement on the non-use of nuclear weapons pending nuclear disarmament and has proposed multilateral negotiations on a nuclear weapon convention based on the model of the successful Chemical Weapon Convention. It is willing to play its role in these negotiations as a responsible stakeholder.
India, therefore, has the right credentials to lead the way to a new, inclusive and more effective global non-proliferation regime, which incorporates credible commitments towards nuclear disarmament. After all, this is what India had in mind when in the 1960s it became one of the original sponsors of multilateral negotiations on a non-discriminatory Non-Proliferation Treaty. The time is ripe to fulfil the treaty's original promise.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
With IPL in full swing, everyone and Shashi Tharoor are playing, reading, breathing, eating, talking and bidding cricket. Correspondent Vinay Verma from Australia writes about the biomechanics of human movement which culminate in a master batsman such as Sachin Tendulkar: The human organism consists of more than 200 major muscles (out of 400); more than 206 bones; 43 major joints; 14 billion nerve cells; over 100 trillion other cells; and over 60,000 miles of blood and lymph vessels.
And all of this the 200 major muscles (out of 400), the 206 bones, the 43 joints, the 14 billion nerve cells, over 100 trillion other cells, and hey, don't forget those 60,000 miles of assorted vessels find full play in what? In cricket, of course. Don't ask stupid questions. Imagine 200 major muscles (out of 400), 206 bones, 43 joints, 14 billion nerve cells, over 100 trillion other cells, and 60,000 miles of vessels, all of them all dressed up, so to speak, and trying to decide what to do. Come on guys; what'll it be? you can hear those 100 trillion cells asking the lymph vessels. C'mon, gang, let's do something, man. Invent fire all over again but this time remember to patent it for crissake; devise a non-invasive, non-icky cure for piles; repaint the Sistine Chapel? Nah, man. All that's like sooo yesterday. Tell you what, says the 206th bone, or it might be the 193rd major muscle (out of 400): How about... cricket!
And before anyone can say May-God-and-all-His-angels-bless-Lalit Modi, IPL has been invented. And at last, at long last, all those more than 200 major muscles (out of 400), the 206-plus bones, the 43 major joints, the 14 billion nerve cells, the 100 trillion other, bindass cells and see, you almost forget them again; sorry, guys and last but very far from least, the one and only, the star of the show, the 60,000 miles of blood and lymph vessels, have something worthwhile to do, other than hanging around street corners like loafers, hands in their pockets and generally doing time-pass.
Now they've got something which will engage all their skills and powers and abilities, honed and perfected over 2.5 million years of human evolution, and test them to their utmost, which will challenge not just the definition but the very spelling of endurance and stamina and grace under pressure.
Yep. All that and more. The sole purpose for which the human species was invented, its manifest destiny. Encapsulated in one, two-syllable word: cricket. The players those fellows on the field need all those 200 major muscles (out of 400), those 206 bones, 43 joints, trillions of lymphs, whatever. But much more much, much more than the players, the real examplars of endurance are the spectators, all those millions who watch IPL, goggle-eyed, hour in, hour out, day in, day out, year in, year out. And that's only IPL 3. Next season might see IPL 4. Then IPL 5. Then Son of IPL, Chacha of IPL, Daduji of IPL. And so on, ad IPL-finitum.
They can't take it. No, not even 200 muscles (out of 400), 206 bones, 43 joints, all those billions and trillions of cells yeah, yeah, i remembered and the blood and lymph vessels, 60,000 miles of 'em. Even all those, put together, can't take it. Can't take IPL 24x7, 365x365 (366x366 for leap years).
That's why those 200 muscles (out of 400), those 206 bones, those 43 joints, those 14 billion whatsis and thingamies have long been superseded. IPL has taken the human species to the next stage of evolution: it has turned us into automatons: tireless, tenacious, single-minded in our devotion to cricket. Perfect machines, nothing can go wrong with us. Nothing can go wrong with us. Nothing can go wrong. Nothing can go....
LOST AND NOT FOUND
These days, we are told, the soft-spoken Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is feeling lost because he is not feeling like a PM anymore. His aides say that he is feeling more like an archetypal school principal thanks to his feuding wards, the Cabinet ministers, who are up against each other over key policies and projects. The latest round of squabbling that the PM has to arbitrate features the Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh (the born-again environmentalist) on one side and Road Transport Minister Kamal Nath, Power Minister Shushilkumar Shinde and Water Resources Minister Pawan Bansal on the other.
The trio has complained to Mr Singh that Mr Ramesh's ministry has been delaying environmental clearances for key infrastructure projects. The PM has now asked the Planning Commission to formulate a procedure that will help fast-track environment clearances. While the trio must be celebrating their win, Mr Ramesh is sulking. Why wouldn't he? Post-Copenhagen, his reputation as the keeper of our green treasures was in tatters. But then he managed to claw his way back into the hearts of the green lobby with carefully crafted pronouncements on genetically modified foods and mining leases. Just when he was savouring his sudden jump in the popularity stakes, his colleagues ruined it all. And Mr Ramesh is hurt too. Only a month back, he told all and sundry that the PM was his only support in the Cabinet. But now the referee has backtracked too.
So now we have a piquant situation: the PM is not feeling like a PM and the minister not feeling like a minister. Which in a way puts both on the same side. Shall we say the curious case of Indian politics?
STAYING OUT OF THE LOOP
The conflict between Google and Beijing has an element of inevitability. The search engine giant's lifeblood is the free flow of information. China's government sees communications control as necessary for its political survival. Circumstances contributed to the timing and intensity of the cyber showdown. One is a Chinese leadership jumpy following some of its worst ethnic riots and high levels of rural unrest. Another is evidence that an under-siege Hu Jintao has been singing a nationalist tune to divert attention from his administrative deficiencies. Three are signs Beijing is becoming less friendly to foreign investors as it reconsiders its earlier strategy of becoming a manufacturing-exporting hub for multinationals.
All the above reasons reinforce the others. The Google incident, and the espionage trial of four executives from the Australian firm Rio Tinto, is further evidence of what many have long argued: the arrival of a more nationalistic, assertive China on the international sphere in tandem with a more intolerant Middle Kingdom on the home front. On one level, this has a strategic fallout. It is one reason the US and China are becoming far less polite these days. It has also meant Beijing has undermined its own claims to be a 'pacific' rise to power. After all, it was China's hacking of Google to track down dissidents and steel industrial secrets that triggered the present row censorship was a secondary and later issue. On another level, it has underlined the potentially subversive nature of the internet, especially in a country where all media are State-controlled. Google is a relatively innocuous technology. But its ability to allow an individual to access information almost anywhere and of any kind makes it the stuff of nightmares for one-party systems. It is another thing that most tech-friendly Chinese can subvert the government's monitoring by using virtual private networks or proxy software.
China is in a state of transition. But its economic and political rise seems to have reached a crossroads. It is struggling with an aspirational population who have high expectations regarding their government. It is resisting international demands that it take up global responsibilities commensurate with its economic might. And it is debating whether it can or needs to open its political system in the same way it opened up its economy some 40 years ago. The Google kerfuffle indicates that, for now, Beijing prefers to tread a path of caution, if not outright regression.
MIRACLE OF SILENCE
Nothing else lends more meaning and charm to our conversation than silence.
Silence is a blessing. Words uttered after a spell of silence are given more importance on the presumption that they must be the result of some serious contemplation.
A quiet rumination, of even tough situations, like of which keeps coming up quite often, yields favourable results. Seemingly baffling problems turn into simple ones and their solutions appear within reach.
It is only by remaining silent that one can become a good and cautious listener.
And a good listener always stands a better chance of expanding his/her knowledge than his garrulous counterpart.
By becoming a discreet user of words, one also saves a lot of energy.
Many unpleasant situations can be avoided by resorting to silence.
Quick wit is required to keep quiet when words might play a spoilsport.
Thoughtless use of words becomes a cause of repentance later.
Silence is a requisite if one is to concentrate on some job. Silence has its own voice. An apparently quiet person can have a lot of chattering going on, within.
No wonder, some of the world's greatest creations can be attributed to silence.
Silence is also a significant way of expressing both positive and negative feelings. It can be effectively used to agree-disagree, praise-condemn, approve-disapprove and much more.
It often proves to be more competent than words. Of course sometimes when it is imperative to use words, to set the house in order, it would be unwise to remain silent.
Quietness is also a matchless way of keeping one's composure and placidity. Sometimes a person, physically present in a crowd but by staying silent, could be enjoying the bliss of one's own thoughts.
A silent prayer is also one of the most eloquent ways of conversing with God.
As a matter of fact, silence is an asset to one's personality. It compliments one's speech.
The famous English essayist, Thomas Carlyle, had remarked, "We should never speak at all unless we have something to say."
AN UNNECESSARY LINK
Who owns the Bandra-Worli sealink in Mumbai? We know who constructed it. We know who inaugurated the first phase. We know who it is named after. But who owns it? Who can legitimately claim that this sea link belongs to them? The guys who built it and collect toll? The governmentwalas for clearing permissions? The labourers who built it? Can we dare to say that this piece of architecture belongs to the people of Mumbai, those who can afford to travel on it to save commute time as well as to those who cannot; who have to be content to just look?
Now that that question is out of the way, here's the next one. Who owns Amitabh Bachchan? Clearly, his immediate family has an interest. Clearly his friends, political and otherwise, have an interest. But could you stretch it and say he belongs to lakhs of his fans, not just in Mumbai or Allahabad but all over the world?
When Raj Thackeray huffs and puffs and calls for a boycott of Amitabh Bachchan films in response to Jaya Bachchan's insistence at a film function to speak in Hindi because she is from Uttar Pradesh, we denounce him as a thug. Bachchan points out that the Indian Constitution has granted him the right to live in whichever part of the country he chooses to. But, he also clarifies, his wife meant no disrespect at all.
Raj's uncle, Bal Thackeray, writes in Saamna that Amitabh Bachchan belongs to the entire nation. So, that should settle the question of ownership. But then he moves his sights onto another national figure, Shah Rukh Khan. Bachchan belongs to India. Shah Rukh is a 'Dilliwala' who should pack his bags and go home, decrees senior Thackeray. Let's just say that logic doesn't run deep in the Thackeray genes.
But question three what does one make of Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who is fast turning out to be a doppelganger for the Thackeray parivar?
First comes Chavan's astounding statement that taxi- drivers (routinely bashed up by Raj and his goons for coming from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh) must speak in Marathi a statement that he later tries to clarify is a requirement of some law in some statute book.
Now, saying it was a mistake to invite Amitabh Bachchan, arguably India's biggest film star, to the opening of the Worli-Bandra sealink is what? plain stupid.
Chavan who shared the dais with Bachchan at the inauguration says in hindsight that it was a mistake to have invited Bachchan because he is the 'brand ambassador' of Gujarat. Had he known that he would be sharing the dais with Bachchan, he would have stayed home, he says. Mumbai Congress president Kripashankar Singh, meanwhile, sparks off a whodunit by saying he was not consulted about the invitation.
So, was it the NCP, the Congress party's uneasy allies in the state? Is there truth in the claim that the NCP wanted to inject a bit of 'glamour' into what would have undoubtedly been a dreary inauguration? Sachin Tendulkar, another national icon who also happens to be a son of the soil, was not available, so Amitabh Bachchan was sent a card.
What remains really now that the coconuts have been broken and the sealink extension officially opened is the unedifying smallness of the Maharashtra Congress. Bachchan is a national icon, he belongs to the people who have a rightful claim to the sealink.
Inviting a man of the people, whoever invited him, was appropriate and correct. Bickering about it after the event is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is Ashok Chavan's attempts to claim the loony space so far occupied by the Thackerays.
Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer
The views expressed by the author are personal
AN UNEQUAL BURDEN
The Delhi government has brazenly announced an across-the-board hike in the prices of essential commodities including fuel and cooking gas. The message is clear: the burden of financing this year's Commonwealth Games is to be borne by the aam aadmi. This comes on top of the inflationary content of the Union Budget, attested by the finance minister when he informed the Rajya Sabha, "I will not be surprised if it (inflation) reaches double digits in March itself." He then went on to justify that India has lived with higher rates of inflation in the past and, therefore, this was no big deal.
This is not only a reflection of the audacity that accompanies a government in its first (honeymoon) year. This, in fact, reflects the international pattern of neo-liberal prescriptions that seek to emerge from the global recession by burdening the vast mass of the people and benefiting the corporates and the rich with the hope that the latter through their spending will rejuvenate the economy. This year's Union budget reflects this philosophy when it doled out concessions to the rich and hiked indirect taxes for the poor.
While we in India are being asked to prepare for a fiscal consolidation to reduce our 6.5 per cent deficit, the 2009 US budget sent by President Obama to its Congress has a $1.75 trillion deficit or 12.3 per cent of its GDP. This comes on top of the over $10 trillion of bailout packages that were given last year in the name of recovering from the crisis. The consequence of such a global trend has increased the number of billionaires in the world by over 200 and their aggregate capital has expanded by over 50 per cent. Recently, Forbes reported that as of late 2009 the number of billionaires soared from 793 to 1,011 and their total fortunes from $2.4 trillion to $3.6 trillion.
Given the global recession such massive accumulation in the hands of the wealthy can only be put to good use on stock and raw material markets leading to the creation of new financial bubbles that neo-liberalism hopes will trigger growth-based on speculation. The seeds of fresh crises are being sown by replicating the process, which in the first place, created the current crisis. It is not surprising, therefore, that oil prices that had hit an all-time low of $47-a-barrel in December 2008 now stands over $80. Global financial indices are also climbing steadily. A classic case is that of Russia which saw a GDP decline of 7.9 per cent in 2009 but had double the number of billionaires as its stock market grew by over 100 per cent. The result is that the very same financial giants which caused the present crisis are now announcing super profits. JPMorgan Chase announced a record $2.7 billion profit in the second quarter of 2009.
As the bankruptcy crisis in Greece shows, much of this largesse to make the wealthy wealthier is being done at the expense of massive cuts in social security expenditures. In late January, the Greek government adopted an austerity package worth $6.8 billion. In March, it announced an additional package of saving an additional $6.5 billion. This has been financed by raising taxes, slashing social security expenditures, increasing the retirement age, cutting the pay of civil servants etc. This has naturally led to four successful general strikes in the space of one month.
Many raised an eyebrow at the rise in the sensex post-budget. As India is following these very neo-liberal prescriptions, this is not surprising. In addition to tax concessions announced this year, the budget documents show that nearly Rs 80,000 crore was 'uncollected' from the corporates and Rs 4,000 crore from high-end income-tax payers last year. Instead, if this was collected and utilised for hiking public investments in building our much-needed infrastructure, it would have generated high levels of employment. The consequent expansion of domestic demand could have spiralled the cycle of sustained growth. This latter course, however, would have denied the rich from making further quick super-profits.
This process is already feeding speculation in India. The total value of trade in agricultural commodities in the commodity exchanges during the fortnight ending January 31 increased by a huge 64.14 per cent. The cumulative value of trade in agricultural commodities during the year from April 1, 2009 to January 31, 2010, grew by a whopping 102.59 per cent, in absolute terms valuing over Rs 10.13 crore. Now any forward trading can make profits only when the prices of these commodities are higher than what they were when the trading initially took place.
The aam aadmi is, therefore, faced with a double whammy attack rise in prices through official hikes and speculation. Like the spate of general strikes and protests across Europe, India is bound to see the rise in popular actions demanding that the government reverse these policies. The jail bharo call given by the Left parties on April 8 will only be the beginning.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
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
One of the more unexpected consequences of India's rapid growth and rather successful tryst with economic globalisation has been our conversion from being a big exporter of labour to an attractive destination for foreign labour. The government's initial response to this inward movement of labour, largely
unskilled labour from China, was to ban work visas for semi-skilled and unskilled labour and to limit work visas given to high-skilled professionals. Now, under pressure from the IT industry in particular, the government is rethinking the 1 per cent quota or ceiling of 20 foreign nationals per company or project (40 for power and steel projects). The government should ideally do away with arbitrary quotas for all categories of workers altogether.
After all, Indian firms only hire foreign workers, whether skilled or unskilled, because they help enhance productivity and output. The government, of course, has a right to be concerned about employment prospects for the local workforce. But it must try and understand why firms operating in India choose to hire foreign labour rather than local labour. In the case of skilled workers, it may be the case that there is insufficient availability of skills in the local population. The solution to this is to upgrade local skills. In the case of unskilled labour, firms may be reluctant to hire locals because of stringent labour laws. The solution to this problem would be to reform labour laws. In any case, protectionism simply promotes inefficiency.
Interestingly, bans and limits on movement of labour are also at variance with India's international stance on this issue at fora like the WTO. It will be hard to sustain this position if India imposes draconian rules on the movement of foreign labour to its own shores. It is, therefore, also in the economic interests of locals looking to work outside the country that the Indian government abandons its restrictive policies on inward bound workers.
It increasingly seems that reason has abandoned Mulayam Singh Yadav's case against the Women's Reservation Bill. Days ago, he argued that the rotational scheme for the 33 per cent reservation of constituencies for women candidates would yield their eventual domination of 99 per cent of seats. Now, perverting further Sharad Yadav's old anxiety that "parkati" (short-haired and so, by a curious leap of logic, privileged) women would monopolise the quota, the Samajwadi Party chief has broadbased his case. Building on a widely shared apprehension that nepotism could determine
the choice of women candidates, he chose to explain to party workers who exactly these "wives and daughters of officers and businessmen" are: "the kind who get whistled at".
These remarks have drawn a barrage of criticism, and Yadav must have anticipated it. It is said the comments reflect "male chauvinism" (Jaya Prada, once an SP faithful), they are "disgusting" (Nirmala Sitharaman, BJP), they are "offensive to women" (Brinda Karat, CPM). It may even be part of his plan. His comments are coded to touch a latent nerviness about dealing with an assertive woman, someone unmindful of socially prescribed roles. It is a neat inversion of the valid fear that the women's quota may just perpetuate, for now, a feudal order in how candidates are chosen, that the fray may not be opened up to enable self-made politicians. Given that the SP fielded his daughter-in-law recently from a family bastion, Yadav's case against the bill is presumably that it would unsettle a political culture in which women are kept to their prescribed roles. It is suggestive of an anxiety about a future that, by all accounts, is already here. In fact, it is of a piece with the SP's 2009 manifesto, with its resistance to English-language education and computers.
It is unfortunate that this is what the SP's politics has come to. Yadav was at the forefront of a political mobilisation that opened up north Indian politics in the '90s. But the promise of deeper democratisation was too soon dashed by a politics over-reliant on saying who the SP would keep out, and not enough about what it would deliver. So it is, in fact, with the party's way of opposing the women's bill.
ACCEPTING 8 PER CENT
The mid-term appraisal of the Eleventh Plan period that the Planning Commission released on Tuesday makes several important points, and there are several ways to interpret the data. The revision of targeted growth to around 9 per cent is, of course, the big story. But perhaps the most important, and intriguing, aspect of the story is the nature of the focus on infrastructure. Many ideas, some of dubious merit, have been floated the idea of tax-free infra-sector bonds from the private sector, most recently. But what has been starkly brought home by the numbers in the appraisal document is the mind-boggling scale of the problem.
The Planning Commission goes on to delineate which three infrastructure sectors, in its opinion, are most short of investment. Those are ports, water supply and railways. The ports sector, in particular, had only little more than half the investment that the plan had delineated for it; numbers were a little better for water supply and for rail, but not by much. This is a clear indictment of the state of reform in those sectors. Remember, the infrastructure sector is unique in the enormous size of investment needed. It also requires a long-term perspective that we have traditionally not sought from the private sector. But the numbers required to meet any sort of growth targets make it absolutely clear that, without
public-private partnerships, India's growth efforts will continue to be hobbled.
There are several other steps, better than distortionary tax incentives, which should be looked at carefully. The first is to ensure that the monetary authority reviews the sectoral caps to which, for risk management reasons, big investors are subject. Funding a single big project can take an investor to the sectoral cap, meaning that other projects will find it difficult. A sectoral approach to risk management, imported blindly from the mature, low-growth economies of the West, is pointless here: we need to accept that the conditions here, with 8 to 9 per cent growth and massive infrastructure shortfalls, are fundamentally different. The second is to ensure that the sectoral regulators accept the need for reform. Railways might be a lost cause for at least another year. But the port sector and water supply might well benefit from the sort of shake-up that the highways sector is currently receiving. This is a matter of changing the mindset of hidebound regulators. More projects need to be put on the table, and the approval process should be much quicker. If the personal intervention of the prime minister is what it takes, so be it.
NOT JUST ARITHMETIC
In the tumultuous times when a surly and united opposition against the Congress's huge parliamentary majority was growing in the late '80s, the definitive election was the one that launched V.P. Singh firmly as the opposition's centre of gravity.
Allahabad, vacated after the resignation of Amitabh Bachchan, went to the polls in a bypoll on June 16, 1988. What made news was how Sunil Shastri of the Congress got just 23 per cent of the vote and Singh, an independent backed by the opposition, got 52 per cent. A third candidate, Kanshi Ram, was not discussed much. He got 10 per cent of the vote and launched his Bahujan Samaj Party in the sense of a national election. Kanshi Ram's credo of "you" can't win elections on "our" votes was the beginning of a completely different language in north Indian politics, whereby acquiring power was hailed as an event in itself.
For an indifferently clad man from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh was an accidental theatre of war, his native Punjab
meant to be the original base. However, his forays around the country since the mid-'70s soon resulted in the formation of the BAMCEF, a union of sorts where employees of the "oppressed" classes got together to demand respect and justice. It was a movement that focused on the educated Dalit, a sliver of an elite but an emerging one ever since reservation was enshrined in the Constitution. From BAMCEF it was the more overtly political DS4 (Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti) in 1981 and then the BSP on April 14, 1984 all of this made possible by vast distances covered by bicycles and more than 6,000 rallies. Quietly and slowly, the BSP took the Dalit vote base so vital to the Congress's political strength.
Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu already had strong social movements against caste oppression, but it was mostly about reforming Hindu society (by extreme means, as in the case of Periyar's Justice Party or, as in Ambedkar's case, renouncing caste-ridden Hinduism was the focus). In Kerala, reform was at the back of strong Left politics. But what Kanshi Ram hoped to do was to turn Dalits into a focused vote base, a political force which did not help bring "others" to power or promote Congress-style patronage politics. The BSP spoke unabashedly of "our own" leaders reaching the top and wielding power.
The word "Harijan" (children of God) was therefore seen as patronising. The BSP was not meant to be a Gandhian enterprise or a Left-oriented one (no call for levelling inequalities) but making sure that Dalits had their say forcefully in fulfilling their potential and as deciders of their own destiny. The Bahujan (majority) was the subaltern, seeking justice in a different sense from the way leftists or prevailing Gandhian wisdom in the Congress saw the plot.
The BSP, from having aligned with the SP in 1993 and then the BJP thrice in the state has always boasted of a solid and transferable vote base, something they guard being stolen away from them. In 2007, Mayawati used her vote base to build bottom-up a social coalition fuelled by anti-incumbency against the SP government, and took power in India's largest state on her own. Complacency about the voter base did lead to expensive flirtations with "other castes" in 2009 when Mayawati pitched to the upper castes the lure of her basic vote share, which, when added to by the votes of the community of the candidate standing on her ticket, could often race first past the post.
Now, 25 years on, Mayawati must hope to further refresh her politics or what the BSP stands for. The times are different. The power or punch in what her mentor Kanshi Ram used to say in closed door meetings or in legendary Boat Club rallies in Delhi must be somewhat mellowed now, as the "Dalit ki beti" occupies power and must reconcile her language of being the underdog and the oppressed with the fact of being in power, and satisfying expectations that generates.
Today Mayawati is guarded, cautious and just a little circumspect about her flock. In the "garland" controversy, her admirers of course make some valid points about the issue being needlessly picked up on, despite the fact that "other" parties accept hefty corporate donations or are seen making donations to temples which pass off without comment. Clearly, she senses in this an opportunity to return to her core vote, but is also keen on getting rid of those who failed to "manage" the adverse publicity around it
(like her publicity-in-charge in the UP government).
The BSP has been one of the most dynamic political forces in the country. It has not hesitated to make and then switch alliances, shock former allies, go into several Lok Sabha polls without a manifesto. It's had the confidence of its committed voter base, to build and establish a new symbolism around its leadership and idols and has not even hesitated to attack the Father of the Nation when required shedding the austere khadi or kurta-pyjama, de rigueur in Indian politics at one point, even before the Congress did. But as it crosses the 25-year mark, it is redefining what it stands for.
The BSP, founded on a distinct identity platform, especially the identity of the sub-caste that is Mayawati's and comprises the majority of Dalits in UP, faces a challenge today as its "Dalit-plus" strategy seems to have peaked with the upper castes having found a way out and with the Muslim vote too weighing different options. The romance of a Dalit woman occupying the UP CM's chair was enhanced earlier by the fact of her rapidly terminated stints at power. In her third stint though, an unhindered run, she is rapidly running out of excuses.
So far, Kanshi Ram's blueprint, the organisational base painstakingly set up by him, has worked for her, except that there was perhaps no framework laid down for what must be done once the holy grail (power in this case) was found. And devising a plan for what to do when in power is what Mayawati must do now. This is why the run-up to the 2012 assembly election requires a different pitch.
In neighbouring Bihar, she has an example of a chief minister, Nitish Kumar, who combined identity politics (mining and scouring the state for new social groups who could be welded into a political support base) with the promise of development for all. It will be interesting to see if she has the imagination and dexterity to morph out of her own statue figures cast in stone that tower over UP's crumbling skyline today.
STILL WITHOUT PERSPECTIVE
YOGINDER K. ALAGH
The Planning Commission's Mid-Term Appraisal (MTA) was placed before a meeting of the full Planning Commission, presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on Tuesday. This is a useful step. The lack of a medium-term perspective is hurting the economy as it gets out of the recession. Mid-term appraisals of development intentions have in fact been better documents, historically, than the five-year plans themselves.
There is genuine concern around the 8 per cent target being advocated and the PM is absolutely correct in indicating concrete steps to achieve the target. We had earlier suggested that the growth rate in the Eleventh Plan would be closer to 7.5 per cent, but the very marked improvement in manufacturing growth rates is visible since then, and if it persists after the stimulus is moderated, then a higher target seems worth aiming at.
The efforts of the Planning Commission to model the economy with outside help are well taken. Indicative planning, which has been suggested by all of us since the early '90s, does not rule out business-like perspectives. It only means that the command economy gives way to behavioural models as I titled my paper for the V.K.R.V. Rao centenary volume.
Kirit Parikh, before he left the Planning Commission, released a book on the models behind the numbers in the Eleventh Plan. As liberalisation continued through the '90s many, myself included, kept on writing on the need to introduce behavioural rather than deterministic models. There are two ways of looking at the economy: one is to worry about structural bottlenecks, income distribution and price-wage rigidities. The other is to sail with the working of markets. Both needed consumers, producers and traders, and their behaviour at home and abroad; these can be modelled. Kirit, an engineer-turned-MIT economist had both kinds of models built and for good measure one by the Planning Commission. It's an effort he will get credit for. His famous words, on page 281 are: "However as the economy began its tryst with liberalisation and globalisation in 1991... the focus of economic modelling also shifted to... indicative planning... A beginning was made in the Ninth Five Year Plan to move away from deterministic to indicative planning and the practice has continued since."
So far, so good. The models Kirit edited are both structural and market-economy ones. In one set, agriculture, rigidities and income distribution are modelled. In the other, the rest of the world as trading opportunities. These issues are still with us in terms of impacts on fiscal and monetary policies, trade perspectives under alternatives and investment strategies. The mindsets are relevant. The Eleventh Plan original numbers no longer are. We have to go back to the drawing board to carry conviction.
But indicative planning does not mean the lack of a perspective. Very responsible people have given targets
from 7 to 9 per cent, which is naturally seen as media noise, without serious content. Underlying this is a
genuine viewpoint articulated in some "responsible" speeches to chambers of commerce, that strategic policy-making is a fault, one inconsistent with the age of liberalisation. This is a faulty perspective.
The official Indian position by default against strategic perspective planning must go. The real concerns are, clearly, in infrastructure investment and the argument that the overreach in telecom investment makes up for the expenditure targets is a no-go. The concerns about power and roads shortfalls are real. Government investment is slightly higher in the budget figures as compared to earlier half-yearly estimates, but loans, which are a proxy for PPPs taking off, and are the vehicle for viability gap funding, remain stagnant. Nowhere is the gap more apparent than in the sectoral caps the banking and monetary authorities put in for power and road projects when in the PPP viability gap mould. Here a single project can pierce the norm of a diversified basket or portfolio of a financing agency. Unfortunately, our long-term funding institutions are in the public sector and access to global finance is limited. To change that we need to argue using a perspective approach, which brings out the centrality of these investments to the growth process and to the 9 or 8 per cent target. Without that, we cannot underline the need for newer mindsets and policies. India is a country of quantum breaks; more of the same won't work.
We do need a perspective both of policies and targets which is slightly more than general wishlists. The argument of this column, that a perspective chapter should be added on, is not a mere theoretical oddity: it is important in a practical sense.
The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand
BRIDGING THE (INFRA) GAP
It's often easy to forget that at least notionally, India's economic strategy is still laid out through Soviet-style five year plans. This week's mid-term appraisal of the Eleventh Five Year Plan (that runs from 2007 to 2012) served as a reminder, never mind the irony that its presiding officials were the two men most closely associated with taking India away from the stagnant path of Soviet-style planning Manmohan Singh and Montek Ahluwalia in their capacities as chairman and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.
The only point of real interest that came out of the meeting was the focus on infrastructure. Of course, one doesn't need to present statistics to confirm the still inadequate state of India's infrastructure anyone who has done business in India will confirm that (with the relevant comparisons with China) while adding that this remains the single biggest bottleneck in fast-tracking India's growth story.
And if there is one economic activity which for better or worse still needs some long-term planning and government intervention, then infrastructure it is. Why? Because as even a beginners' textbook in economics will tell you, infrastructure requires massive financial investment, of a scale that isn't always easy to mobilise, particularly when the returns on investment are relatively low compared with the costs, and usually accrue with a long time lag. That sort of business scenario doesn't always make the private sector enthusiastic participants, which is why the government needs to lend a hand. But since government in India is generally poor in delivering quality public goods by itself, some private participation is necessary to ensure high quality outcomes. So the aim of government intervention should be to try and ensure that investing in infrastructure is a profitable proposition for the private sector.
The government, of course, recognises this. Perhaps that's what prompted at least a couple of interesting ideas from the top echelons of the government at the mid-term appraisal meeting. The first is the suggestion floated by Pranab Mukherjee that private sector firms be allowed to float tax free bonds for infrastructure. The second was the prime minister's strong endorsement of the need to completely overhaul the regulatory regime for infrastructure.
The finance minister's proposal to allow private sector players to issue tax free bonds tries to address the financing/cost side of the infrastructure equation. Bank finance for infrastructure projects comes with an interest rate in double digits. In comparison, the interest paid on tax free bonds would be in the single digit range, around 7 per cent. So raising finance through tax free bonds would certainly reduce costs. The only problem is the other distortions that such a move would cause.
From a practical perspective, it will be hard for the government to identify which private sector firms will be eligible to raise funds in this manner. If the decision is discretionary, it will lead to lobbying and rent seeking, hardly the direction in which policy ought to go. Even if an objective criterion like net worth is used to pinpoint eligible firms, there will be the problem of favouring bigger firms over smaller ones, compromising a level playing field. There is also the problem of identifying which sectors constitute infrastructure while roads, ports and airports are obvious candidates for inclusion, what about borderline sectors like hotels for example? There are also uncertain implications for India's nascent corporate bond market.
Given the downsides in allowing private sector firms to issue tax free bonds, such a strategy may be best avoided. That is not the same as saying that the government shouldn't try and make finance easier for private players interested in infrastructure. But perhaps it best that the government just extend aid as explicit project-based subsidy, like in the existing Viability Gap Funding model that won't cause rent seeking, bond market distortions and a perversion of a transparent tax regime.
But that is only the financing/cost side of the infrastructure equation. There is also the revenue side if private players are to invest, even with some government subsidy there needs to a reasonable revenue stream from the project once completed. This is often hard in infrastructure it still isn't easy to charge profitable sums for using roads in India, or using airports or even for selling power to state-owned distribution companies. And that is why the regulatory dimension, flagged by the PM, is so important.
There is an urgent need for all the different infrastructure sectors to have strong independent regulators that operate at arms-length from both the government and the private sector participants. Because only a credible independent regulator will be able to impartially adjudicate on the pricing decisions made by private players who sell their infrastructure for use by the wider public.
Left to themselves, private sector players may indeed charge too much for the use of a particular road, airport, port or electricity. Most infrastructure sectors don't naturally lend themselves to competition within if indeed there is more than one player, collusion may be an equal probability to competition.
The government, constrained by the weight of doing what is politically correct, may prevent private sector players from charging what is even reasonable. In many cases, the government may be an interested party, like in the case of government-owned power distributors, or as a partner in a PPP road or airport project.
At the moment, many of these conflicts are for real roads and airports, to take just two examples, have no independent regulator that can adjudicate on user charges, which some people think are too high and others believe are too low. That needs to change if infrastructure is to attract more profit-making investors. The challenge is big, but at least the government is thinking.
The writer is a senior editor at 'The Financial Express'.
A WINDOW-SEAT VIEW OF THE WORLD
Window seat or aisle? Ever since I was a small child, there's been only one answer. Sure, the aisle is a bit roomier, and it's easier to get up to stretch your legs. But for me, it's all about the views, especially those entrancing last few minutes before touchdown.
It's how the details of the world are summoned again, how gracefully scale and shadings resolve into trees and fields and subdivisions. It's the steady, lyrical motion of a silvery wing over a new place an entirely unique geography and history that appear simply and perfectly beneath you.
As a teenager, I was so enamoured with landings that I would choose soundtracks for them, cuing up my Walkman for that perfect song (rules on electronic devices were different back then). Indeed, as new security rules and ever busier airports continue to change air travel, rediscovering the romance of the window seat may be the most practical way to make flying more enjoyable.
While all frequent fliers will have their favourites, some cities are perennial winners. Passengers flying to San Francisco, for example, are regularly treated to marvellous views of its bridges, hills and microclimates. If sister cities were chosen from above, San Francisco would be paired with Lisbon. Note the 25th of April Bridge: you won't be the first to see its striking resemblance to the Golden Gate.
But of all the world's cities, I nominate London as offering the finest in-flight entertainment for window seat passengers. Prevailing winds and Heathrow's location west of central London mean that arriving passengers are usually granted soaring views of the "mighty imperial city," a Churchillian turn that makes perfect sense from 5,000 feet. Day or night, follow the trace of the Thames and you'll spot every iconic landmark: Tower Bridge, St Paul's, the Tate Modern, the Eye, Big Ben. The river's mostly east-west course is a good way for visitors and residents alike to orient themselves .
London's smaller graces are equally apparent from on high. Note the dozens of tiny parks that few tourists will ever encounter and the proximity of the sea that carried so many of the city's fortunes. Fans of "The Office" should console themselves with the view of Slough, while admirers of another British institution can look out for Windsor Castle.
Another favourite arrival is Milan. For most travellers, I imagine the words "Milan" and "runway" conjure up a very specific image of beauty. For me, they bring to mind the drop-dead gorgeous mountains. Milan is so close to the Alps that many flights start their descents while directly above the mountains. You'll see the texture of the glaciers, sky blue lakes and peaks so iconic that you'll find yourself reaching for some milk chocolate.
It's a common perception that Switzerland's vaunted independence was ordained by its geography. Catch sight of Geneva off to the left and it will be obvious that the Alps never offered Switzerland much protection from northern neighbours. But the extraordinarily serrated Alpine wall to the south of Switzerland's major cities is a geographic barrier like no other in Europe. Imagine Hannibal and his elephants trudging through the snow as you down another chocolate truffle.
These days, even Carthaginian generals might be too stressed out by air travel to enjoy the view. But world-weary empire builders should take heart in the curious fact that many of the world's worst airports also happen to offer particularly amazing approaches.
There's no more unfortunate example than La Guardia. Despite its abysmal reputation, flights into La Guardia regularly offer breathtaking views of New York City. If you come in over the Upper Bay of New York Harbor, your arrival will start, aptly enough, with a view of the Statue of Liberty. Next is the small matter of a famous island, which, at least at night, manages to look like what it so often claims to be: the capital of the world.
Note the topography of Manhattan's skyscrapers, how Lower Manhattan and Midtown are entirely distinct skylines. Find Times Square by the stadium-like metallic light that pours upward into the night sky and spills like water into nearby neighbourhoods. From there follow Broadway as it angles across the grid. And make sure to look directly down as the glowing streets flip past like pages in a book.
LA is an equally powerful example. While Los Angeles International rarely appears on the average traveller's list of happy places, an early-evening approach is one of my favourite airborne scenes. Watch American history and geography unroll below you: the snowy agricultural grids of the Midwest, the jagged Rockies, then the vast and seemingly uninhabited deserts that resemble nothing so much as images sent back by a Mars orbiter.
Just when it seems that this is how the continent will finish, the few roads etched on the desert floors begin to multiply. Follow these hairline highways as they turn, widen and race around one last ring of mountains as your jet starts descending. The snowcapped peaks fall away to the vertiginous grid of illumination that is LA, an American original that contradicts pretty much everyone else's notion of a city. The city looks like an ad for a computer chip, a kinetic vision of light and energy. It's perhaps not surprising that the skies above Los Angeles would offer such a cinematic experience. But wherever you're flying, ask for the best seats in the house.
NOT JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED
The idea of human rights has been central to the last century, chief among these being the right to life with dignity. Entitlement to health care is crucial, as the universal declaration of human rights has affirmed, "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services."
The right to health and patients' rights is not just about access and the building of hospitals. It includes a wide range of factors like freedom from non-consensual treatment, safe food, safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, health education, non-discrimination, gender equality etc.
The Supreme Court of India, in Parmanand Kataria vs.Union of India has aptly observed that that the preservation of human life is of paramount importance. Article 21 of the Constitution casts that obligation on the state. A doctor at the government hospital, positioned to meet the state's obligation, is, therefore, duty bound to extend medical assistance towards the preservation of life. This obligation being total, absolute and paramount, laws of procedure whether in statutes or otherwise, which would interfere with this obligation must give way.
International covenants, like the Alma Ata Conference, have put the people at the centre of health care, fostering a culture of patients' rights. The conventional approach, where the patient completely and uncritically surrendered to the doctor's authority, is expected to give way to a more intimate patient-doctor relationship. Patients are entitled to know what they are being subjected to by the doctors and nurses. The patient's entitlement is gradually expanding to include right to choose treatment, right to informed consent, freedom from exploitative practices, right to privacy and confidentiality, respect and dignity, knowledge of hospital rules and regulations, free consent, right to make complaints etc. All medical practices that deny or limit equal access to health care for all persons, whether gender or caste-based, have to give way to a non-discriminatory approach.
Being a welfare state, India has introduced free medical services for its citizens and formulated enlightened health policy, but it has not enacted any legislation on the rights of the patients. Perhaps an enactment akin to US Patients' Bill of Rights is necessary to operationalise the patient's rights. Basic features of this legislation are information disclosure, choice of providers and plans, access to emergency services, participation in treatment decisions, respect and non-discrimination, confidentiality of health information, complaints and appeals and consumer responsibilities.
In India, patients' rights got a fillip after the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) was passed in 1986. It gained strength following the Supreme Court judgment (Indian Medical Association vs. V.P. Shantha, 1995 6 SCC 651) whereby the medical profession came under the CPA. Prior to the CPA, the government enacted the Medical Council Act in 1956. The Medical Council code of ethics and the norms of Nursing Council define the duties of doctors and nurses towards patients.
But patients' claim to attainable standards of health appear to be threatened by illegal and unethical practices in the medical profession, the manufacture and distribution of fake or sub-standard drugs especially with poor or rural people who may not know what is being administered to them. There are also poignant cases of bodily impairment and serious disability, even mortality resulting from professional negligence. No one is better qualified than medical professionals themselves to maintain a vigil over such hazards.
Acutely conscious of the illegal practices that have crept into the medical profession, like fake registration certificates, sub-standard treatment, quackery etc., the National Human Rights Commission has issued a wide range of recommendations covering HIV/AIDS, access to medical services, increasing awareness about certain dreaded diseases, regulation of public health services, dissemination of information, decentralisation of authority through panchayati raj institutions, etc. NHRC adopted the unique practice of holding public hearings across the country on the right to health care. These workshops provided a forum for patients to express grievances about the denial of health care and assert their rights.
While discussing patients' rights, one cannot be oblivious of the fact that the current rights-based approach has led to some conflict situations. While asserting their rights, patients ignore their responsibilities and tend to lay disproportionably greater stress on the obligations of the medical professionals and even go to the extent of launching legal action against them. While patients' rights are sacrosanct, instances of misplaced assertive actions tend to mar the new, developing relationship between patients and doctors. All stakeholders must make sure that this relationship between medical professionals and the recipients of healthcare is not allowed to become adversarial. Justice Katju of the Supreme Court of India has also observed [(2009) 3 SCC Cases 1, p 25 para 65] that the doctors, medical institutions and nursing homes need not be unduly worried about the performance of their functions. The law is a watchdog, not a bloodhound, and as long as doctors do their duty with reasonable care they will not be held liable even if the treatment is unsuccessful.
The vigil maintained by the judiciary and institutions like NHRC can strike a healthy balance between the responsibilities and rights of the patients on one hand and obligations of medical professionals on the other, fostering an emerging culture of patients' rights.
The writer is member, National Human Rights Commission
SUMMONS TO MODI
The developments connected with the reported summons to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi issued by the Special Investigating Team (SIT) regarding the Gulberg Society massacre has been the subject of much discussion. Rashtriya Sahara, in an editorial on March 24, writes: "Modi's worries can get intensified by the clarification sought by the Gujarat high court from the Nanavati Commission...The high court has asked the Nanavati Commission to clarify by April 1 next whether its decision to summon Modi and six others in September 2009 was final or provisional (qataee ya aarzee)... Following the query by the high court, the commission will have to come out with its view regarding Modi and six others. If the court or any opponent connected with the matter expresses lack of confidence in the stand taken by the commission, it is evident that Modi's worries can be intensified... The open letter written by Modi about the summons indicates that Modi is in a mood to play politics on the summons issued by the SIT... In the existing situation it seems that howsoever much politics Modi plays on this issue, sooner or later he will have to account for his actions within the bounds of law."
Delhi-based daily Hindustan Express writes in its editorial (March 23): "The Centre has repeatedly in the past used Article 356 to dismiss state governments failing to uphold the Constitution and the law. But it is Modi's government that has not been acted against so far, even through the Supreme Court has indicted it for its 'lawlessness' ( la-qanuniyat )."
Commenting on Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati being presented a garland of currency notes at a rally in Lucknow, Sahafat , in a March 19 editorial entitled 'Sab maya hai' asks: "The question that arises is, why is Mayawati doing all this? Does she not know that this type of vulgar exhibition of money will not be liked by the people?" The paper attempts an answer: "Perhaps Mayawati wanted to tell them (the large number of Dalits who came to the rally from all over the country) that their leader was not an oppressed, helpless, rudderless, surviving on meagre food, traditional Dalit woman. Their party (BSP) is not a poor and bankrupt party that may enter the arena of election in a hesitant and fearful state of mind...She was giving a message to the 23 per cent Dalits of Uttar Pradesh that they are with a rich and powerful party."
Delhi-based daily, Hamara Samaj , in its editorial entitled ' Maya ki maya ' (March 17) writes: "If we think about a garland worth crores of rupees, we will realise that while morally it is an extremely wrong act, on the other hand it is a violation of norms of many (government) departments. Changing the shape of a currency note is a violation of the RBI act. The income tax department too can ask to account for the open display of crores of rupees. And, most importantly, how the money that could have fed lakhs of poor people can be used to decorate a neck in the presence of lakhs of people?"
Most of the newspapers have condemned the "vulgar display of money" at the BSP rally. Delhi-based daily Hindustan Express , in its editorial (March 18), views the garlanding of Mayawati as part of "a new battle for Dalit votes". The paper writes: "While the Congress has intensified its attack on the BSP, saying that when Bareilly was burning, Mayawati was in a celebratory mood, wearing a garland of currency notes, it has started preparations for a fitting reply to this rally on Dr. Ambedkar's birth." The Congress has planned an ambitious 45-day programme of raising consciousness about the party among Dalits with Rahul Gandhi as the pivot, the paper points out.
While the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has again vociferously raised the issue of the Communal Violence Bill and asked for a revision, Akhbar-e-Mashriq on March 21 has noted that the board has skirted the issue of the Women's Reservation Bill. In a report, the paper quotes the spokesman as saying that the board cannot comment on the Women's Reservation Bill, as "it is not a matter concerning Muslim family law." The board, however said that its "affiliates have been agitating against the bill in its present form, which is adequate (kaafi hai )."
Compiled by Seema Chishti
The final fructification of the high-profile deal between Bharti Airtel and Zain, which will give the Indian telecom giant a strong foothold in 15 African countries, is a landmark event in the evolution of the business relationship between India and Africa. Despite a long relationship of engagement between the two regions, stretching back to the colonial period, the African continent has largely been ignored by Indian big business. India Inc was more attracted to the far richer markets in East Asia and the Middle East, and more recently in developed countries. Forays into Africa were few and far between and most business was focused on utilising its rich natural resources like Tata's investment in the iron ore deposits in Côte d'Ivoire and the investments in fertiliser units by the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperatives. The only other major investment of significance in the infrastructure sector has been the rights secured by a consortiumin which Rail India Technical and Economic Services (Rites) has a majority shareto run Tanzanian Railways for 25 years. Interestingly, small and medium investors from India have shown greater interest in the African market than big business has. Overall, total Indian investments in Africa have accelerated from $734 million between 1996-2000 to $1,570 billion in 2002-06, which have helped push up Africa's share of India's total FDI outflows from just 8.6% in the early 1990s to 13.5% in the most recent period. Small and medium investors are responsible for a large part. For instance, 118 Indian companies have invested around $825 million in Tanzania alone during the 1990-2006 period. The Bharti-Zain deal will now hopefully help kick-start a growing interest of Indian big business in Africa.
Apart from natural resources and the growing size of markets, another important factor that has boosted the interest of Indian business in the African markets is its attractiveness as a business destination. In fact, the most recent Doing Business Report of the World Bank group shows that as many as 16-odd African countries were ranked ahead of India in the ease of doing business. These include South Africa (34), Botswana (45), Tonga (52), Namibia (66), Rwanda (67) and Tunisia (69), all of which were far ahead of India, which was ranked 133. A further acceleration of India's African investments in areas like infrastructure and services will also partially offset the impact of the global recession in Africa, which has pushed down FDI by 36% to $55.9 billion in 2009.
West Bengal is the only Indian state to boast of a fire services minister. Pratim Chatterjee has held this august position for more than 14 years. As the Stephen Court disaster unfolded, he claimed, "We have done our best." As the state assembly was rocked by both the Congress and Trinamool demanding his resignation, he countered, "There are railway accidents every day. Should the railway minister resign after rail accidents? Why should I resign?" One wishes that such belligerence was out of the ordinary. It isn't. In fact, with Mamata Banerjee looking set to take power in the state in 2011, we have little evidence that she will offer an alternative governance modelone that is more efficient and rooted in something more than rhetoric. The shortfalls in the fire department have hardly been a state secret, but Mamata's party hasn't had much to say about them. Consider the recent gutting at Tangra and Ultadanga or the blaze that lasted more than 100 hours at the Nanadaram market in 2008. The abysmal state of heritage buildings is evident even to an uninformed outsider. As for Stephen Court itself, the two floors whose illegal presence aided and abetted the fire have been around for decades.
There has been much talk of how ordinary folk stepped up to the crisis, selflessly risking their lives to help out their fellows. But here is the thing; ordinary folks too have known that all kinds of safety norms were being flouted at Stephen Court. When staircases get occupied by commercial enterprises and electricity wires run amok, concerned authorities are to blame. But when civil society does little but utter genteel whimpers, shouldn't it share some of the blame, too? The fire minister isn't, clearly, the only one whose excuses ring hollow. Yes, the fire department was understaffed. They didn't have anything near an adequate (or swiftly accessible) supply of skylifts. Yes, it was missing basic resources like a floor plan or safety nets. But why haven't recent incidents pushed anyone in the department to, in turn, push for such resources? It appears that a committee headed by principal secretary (fire) PS Katiresan submitted a report in August 2008 suggesting that even the Writers' Buildings are like a tinderboxwith everything from old furniture to gas cylinders stacked across it indiscriminately. It's somehow not very shocking that no action has been taken to improve the fire safety of the state government's administrative hub. When apathy thus running through all the city's veins, it's hard to hope that even today's dramatic blame game will yield a safer tomorrow.
GETTING IT RIGHT ON INFRASTRUCTURE
The mid-term appraisal of the 11th Five Year Plan, as well as Tuesday's conference on infrastructure organised by the Planning Commission, point to how serious the current government is about building infrastructure. In spite of the global meltdown bringing about a temporary drought of financing during the first half of the Plan, the revised estimates for the overall infrastructure investment are virtually unchanged from the initial projections (down by 0.1%). This is 127% and 136% higher than the actual investment and original projections in the 10th Plan, respectively.
But the consistency of the overall figure may be misleading. Infrastructure is an omnibus term. There are important readjustments among the sectors. For instance, the revised projection for roads is down by 11%, railways by 23% and ports by 54%. The stability in overall figures is maintained by overachievement in telecom (revised estimates up by 34%) and a whopping increase in oil and gas pipelines (up by 655%) simply by including oil pipelines in infrastructure. So, concerns persist at the sector-level. In particular, transportation continues to constrain growth and needs much greater investment.
A major change has also occurred on the public-private sharing of investment. Originally, the 11th Plan sought to raise the share of private investment in infrastructure from 20% at the end of the 10th Plan to 30%. The revised break-up further ups the share of private sector to 36%.
Problems and bottlenecks remain in the financing side though. Infrastructure financing in general is long-term in nature with very long payback periods. Therefore, institutions like pension funds and insurance companies with long horizons are the natural suppliers of funds for infrastructure projects. Also, shorter horizon players like banks should have instruments that impart liquidity in their investments in infrastructure projects so that they can come out of those investments, if they need to, before the project itself gets over. On both counts, the Indian financial system does not fare too well. According to the initial projections of the 11th Plan, banks accounted for more than half of the debt financing for which a source was identified. Pension funds and insurance companies came in at a mere 7%. In practice, too, banks currently finance about 45% of the infrastructure funding of the country. That is clearly a sub-optimal arrangement. The bank dominance in funding reduces the length of time for funds available to private sector projects to around 12 years, which is considerably shorter than what the project promoters would like.
A solution to many of these problems may lie in the development of the corporate bond markets in India. This is one area where the recognition of the problem is unanimous and the criticality of the market is widely acknowledged. And yet, after years of regulatory attentionwith concerted efforts beginning at least from Chidambaram's acceptance of the Patil Committee recommendations years agoprogress has been sluggish. Corporate bonds in India have a negligible secondary market and issuers would much rather raise debt through private placements rather than make public issue of bonds. There seems to be a chicken-and-egg problem here with both the issuers and potential buyers avoiding the market, while blaming each other for the lack of instruments and liquidity. Another party pooper frequently pointed out is that pension funds and insurance companies, once again the natural home of corporate bonds, are not allowed to hold bonds of anything but top credit quality. None of these have easy solutions that do not compromise other parts of the system.
It is in this setting that one must view the current government's proposal to extend tax-exempt status to infrastructure bonds issued by private companies. It has the potential of achieving the twin objectives of making funding available to private infrastructure projects and breathing life into the dormant corporate debt market in India. If it works, it can go a long way in not just easing life for the current infra catch-up exerciseone of the most ambitious in the worldbut also in helping create an institution to fill a void in the financial structure of India.
There are, of course, questions. Is this subsidisation by stealth? In a sense, but the revenue loss is transparent enough. Would it not divert funds from other purposes? Sure, that's the whole point; infrastructure is top priority. Would this not give the rich undeserved tax breaks? Maybe, but that is the same question as government subsidy since the exchequer loses out. Can the government select sectors? Will it be arbitrary? That depends on the implementation.
On the whole, it looks like a good idea with limited side effects. The biggest question, however, is: will it work? Unfortunately, the answer there is less certain: we will never know until we try.
The author teaches finance at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad
RATIONALISE NATURAL GAS PRICES
KAUSHIK RANJAN BANDYOPADHYAY
The ministry of petroleum and natural gas is mulling an increase in the price of natural gas (under APM) produced by national oil companies (ONGC and OIL) and is reportedly in the final stage of decision-making. The ultimate objective, however, is to bring parity between the APM price ($1.79 per mmBtu) and the price of the gas produced from KG basin ($4.20 per mmBtu) by 2013 in a phased manner. There are indications that the gas procured from different sources might be pooled or averaged out to make the price uniform for all consumers. Given that natural gas is a sunrise sector and is at its nascent stage, this measure would facilitate in the removal of multiple distortions in its source-based pricing. Of course, the national oil companies would be the obvious beneficiaries, but the decision might invite flak from the key consuming sectors.
Natural gas is mainly used in power generation, fertiliser, city gas, petrochemicals & refineries, steel and sponge iron industries. Fertiliser and power plants consume around 70% of the total gas supply and command preferential allocation of APM gas, the price of which is proposed to go up. As natural gas is one of the most cost-effective fuels for fertiliser plants, gas-based fertiliser (urea) production accounts for the lion's share of total production. The government clearly prefers the use of natural gas to naphtha for the fertiliser sector as it would eventually help in pruning the piling subsidy bill. Furthermore, lower input costs would also allow government to mull the process of complete decontrol of fertiliser pricing.
As the end-use of fertiliser is regulated and given its strategic importance in terms of food security, the bigger question is whether the proposed increase in APM gas price is uneconomical from an operational point of view. In this context, an earlier analysis carried out by Goldman Sachs when this proposal of price rationalisation first came to the fore in 2007 demonstrates that even at the price of $6 per mmBtu (which far exceeds the price that may result from rationalisation through pooling), natural gas continues to be more competitive than other conventional high-priced inputs for fertiliser production.
The current gas-based power generation capacity in India is around 14,900 mw, which is about 10% of the total installed capacity. However, operating existing gas-based capacity at a plant load factor (PLF) of 90% or more would demand an amount of gas that far exceeds the current allocated supply. Thus, most of the functional projects are operating at sub-optimal PLF. Moreover, some gas-based power projects have been shelved or are pending commissioning due to non-availability of gas. But, with RIL already reaching a record level of production and superseding the threshold figure of 100 mmcmd from its D6 block in KG basin (in December 2009), such deficit related problems are likely to be sorted out. In other words, gas-based power plants would have to diversify their sources even if that amounts to an eventual increase in input cost. The analysis carried out by Goldman Sachs in 2007 (based on the then cost of power generation) inferred that even at $4.75 per mmBtu (higher than the base price of KG basin gas), natural gas-based plants are not uneconomical to operate as compared to imported coal-based or non-pithead coal-based power plants. However, the continued dominance of pithead coal-based power plants remains indisputable. The implications on viability and competitiveness of gas-based power plants, on account of movements to market-based prices in future would, however, be contingent upon the tariff regime in the power sector (whether it is capable of absorbing the increased gas price) and on the availability of enhanced flexibility to offload the available capacity of gas-based power plants (say, by operating partially or fully as merchant enterprises and marketing their capacity to inter-state or intra-state traders). The implication on affordability would also depend upon whether the power sector manages to substantially reduce its transmission and distribution losses.
The array of distortions in the natural gas sector do not allow the sector to thrive and send a wrong signal for the investors to invest in exploration and production business in the country that is so crucial to promote this viable and cleaner alternative. Moreover, given that the production of existing fields generating APM-gas is already dwindling, the key consuming sectors would eventually have to diversify their input basket towards other sources of natural gas even though they command higher prices. Thus, the gas price rationalisation is unlikely to hurt the consuming sectors much in the medium to long term and could be considered a step in the right direction.
The author is a senior fellow at the Asian Institute of Transport Development, New Delhi
MOVING TO POST OFFICE SAVINGS
Small investors are gradually shifting from bank deposits to small savings schemes, as the latter now offer higher interest rates. The latest data from RBI show that collections in post office deposit schemes have gone up by almost 50% to Rs 1,49,178 crore during April-December 2009, up from Rs 1,00,903 crore in the corresponding period of the previous year. In contrast, aggregate deposit in the banks until February-end has grown 13.8% as compared with 16.8% in the last financial year.
Investors have been switching to small savings as they are offering an interest rate of over 8% across various schemes like National Savings Certificates, Kisan Vikas Patra, Public Provident Fund and the popular Monthly Income Scheme (MIS). On the other hand, banks have been reducing the return on term deposits since October 2008 as the peak interest rate on a five-year term deposit has come down from 10% to below 8%. Also, banks have not been aggressively mobilising deposits because of sluggish credit growth, as companies have been slow in taking disbursement of even their approved loans for both their operating expenses and capital expenditure plans. Post office savings schemes saw a dip in deposit mobilisation in 2007-08 when banks increased their deposit rates across all maturities.
Inflows into MIS, which is most popular with retired people and senior citizens, doubled in the first nine months of the current financial year. In fact, seeing the popularity of the scheme, the government since 2007 has increased the cap on individual investment in the scheme from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 4.5 lakh and for joint account holders from Rs 6 lakh to Rs 9 lakh. Deposits to National Savings Certificate also saw an increase of 35% in the first nine months of the current financial year, as compared with the same period in the last financial year.
Moreover, due to volatility in equity markets, investors are getting risk averse and are shifting away from equity-linked savings schemes of mutual funds, which have seen a spate of redemptions in the last six months. Now, with banks gradually increasing their deposit rates, it will be tough for post offices to sustain the momentum of deposit mobilisation and they will have to aggressively compete with banks in the near future to stay ahead of the curve.
AMERICA'S PAKISTAN STRATEGY
There is no reason for India to be alarmed over the newly launched U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue. There is no need to worry, as some have begun to do, that this week's talks in Washington mark the beginning of a new phase in the re-hypenation of Delhi and Islamabad. In the run-up to the dialogue, Indian officials allowed themselves to be blindsided by the well-publicised wish list the Pakistanis said they were taking with them. The demands included American mediation over the Kashmir dispute with India as well as a civil nuclear energy agreement to allow the country to access global nuclear technology and fuel. In the context of the high decibel campaign (within Pakistan) of water theft by India, U.S. intervention was solicited to help effect a better water-sharing arrangement. On all of these counts, Pakistan's delegation will have to return empty handed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who led the U.S. side in the strategic dialogue, promised help in increasing the efficiency of Pakistani energy and water utilisation; but she was clear and forthright in emphasising the importance of bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan in the quest for solutions to outstanding issues. As for nuclear energy, Pakistan was told that a deal of the kind India got in 2005 is not on the table.
In courting Islamabad, President Barack Obama has been careful not to squander the gains Washington has made in building up a 'strategic partnership' with India over the past decade. Mediation and other forms of interference are non-starters and the U.S. knows this. But in its search for an exit route from the quagmire of Afghanistan, the Obama administration is in danger of becoming over-dependent on Pakistan. This is where the danger for India, and, ultimately for the U.S. and the rest of the international community, lies. The presence of Pakistan's army and intelligence chiefs at the strategic dialogue underlined the abnormality of the situation. Terrorism and extremist politics in the AfPak region are mainly the product of the Pakistani military establishment, which nurtured and patronised jihadi groups as a force multiplier. Despite this, a solution is now being sought by valorising and even strengthening the role of this establishment at the expense of Pakistan's civilian structures of governance. If it was clear that the military had learnt its lessons and decided to change course irrevocably, the American approach might have some merit. But the continuing links between the army and the ISI, on the one hand, and terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, on the other, are too well-known to ignore. The U.S. knows this and is using the strategic dialogue as a lever to influence Islamabad. The danger, of course, is that the lever may work the other way.
CHINA'S RISE IN SCIENCE
President Barack Obama has earmarked $66 billion for non-defence research and development, which includes substantial funding for basic-science research, in his budget proposal for the fiscal year 2011. This six per cent increase over the 2010 budget allocation reflects the United States' anxiety to stay on top; China is fast catching up with it. The socialist country's efforts over three decades to improve its competitiveness in science and technology have started showing results. While Mr. Obama has given the thumbs down to NASA's plan of sending humans to moon, China's moon mission is very much on track. So is its mission to send unmanned probes to collect moon soil before 2020. Writing in the New Scientist, Jonathan Adam, author of the 2009 Thomson Reuter's Global Research Report on China, says: "If it continues in the current trajectory, China will overtake the U.S. before 2020." The credit must go to China's two-pronged approach: capacity building and liberal funding. Since 2000, it has been the world's second largest producer of scientific knowledge. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report of 2007, China's gross spending on R&D grew at 18 per cent a year during 1995-2006. Its R&D budget for 2009 is $25.7 billion, a 26 per cent increase over 2008. This places it just behind the U.S. and Japan in terms of R&D spending.
A proxy way to assess a country's research strength is to look at the number of papers published by its nationals in international journals. For China, this number has risen from 20,000 in 1998 to 112,000 in 2008, according to the 2009 Thomson Reuter report. If joint authorship with researchers from scientifically developed countries is one way to assess quality of research, it was nine per cent with the U.S. collaborators alone. Another indicator of high-quality research done in China comes from the latest ranking by the Nature Group of Publications (NGP). The ranking of countries in the Asia-Pacific region based on the number of papers published in its journals during the past year (after correcting for the number of authors from each country) places China second, after Japan.While the biological sciences constitute a major thrust area, other areas such as material sciences, nanotechnology, space, atomic energy, computer science, and information technology are getting increasing attention. Nobody who follows non-defence R&D seriously is likely to disagree with New Scientist's assessment that "China's emergence as a scientific superpower can no longer be denied."
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
MANY U-TURNS AND A FULL CIRCLE
WITH THE U.S. ADMINISTRATION'S WILLINGNESS TO CONSIDER PAKISTAN'S FIVE-YEAR-OLD REQUEST FOR NUCLEAR PARITY WITH INDIA, PRESIDENT OBAMA AND SECRETARY OF STATE CLINTON ARE SETTING THE CLOCK BACK TO A DECADE AGO.
It's another sign of changing times and changing U.S. policy in Afghanistan. A story in the New York Times this week describes how U.S. and NATO forces are turning their opium eradication programme on its head during their latest Marjah offensive. Troops are now allowing poppy cultivation-clearly meant for the Taliban's coffers, and not destroying them, as they have done in the past 9 years of the war on terror. "We don't trample the livelihood of those we're trying to win over," says a U.S. military official. Yet trampling over opium crops has been the stated policy of the U.S. all these years the new strategy causing even an Afghan counter-narcotics official to expostulate, "The Taliban are the ones who profit from opium, so you are letting your enemy get financed by this so he can turn around and kill you back." But others, like the U.N. official quoted say, postponing the eradication of poppy as a goal is the sensible, pragmatic thing to do.
U.S. Foreign policy is often singled out for its rank pragmatism that allows it to make such sudden and sharp turns in its national self-interest. In South Asia in particular, the year 2010 has already been marked by many twists and turns.
Take for example, the Good Taliban, Bad Taliban policy. When President Obama took office last January, his new-look Af-Pak policy was seen as a ray of hope one that would realistically cut down the Taliban's vice grip by dividing them into some groups the U.S. could do business with, and those it would be impossible to live with especially the hardcore elements who had taken Afghanistan back into medieval times in 1996.
Over the year, it became clear that either the Obama administration couldn't distinguish, or decided not to and all Taliban, including the Quetta Shura with perhaps the exception of Mullah Omar came into talks with the Afghan government, encouraged by the American government.
Since the London conference on Afghanistan this January, that policy has further twisted around like a spirogyra with the latest round of talks between President Karzai's government and the dreaded warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar 's group. Originally created by the ISI and CIA to fight Russian forces, Hekmatyar is feared for the violence that his group the Hizb-e-Islami unleashed on Kabul in the early 1990s, attacks that eventually paved the way for the Taliban to take power. Hekmatyar, a former Afghan Prime Minister has, over time, been accused of allying with everyone from the U.S. and Pakistan to Saudi Arabia to Iran, and then betraying them. He now seems poised at getting back at the helm of his country's affairs aided, ironically by American officials who proclaimed him a 'global terrorist' in 2003. That Hekmatyar himself claimed in 2006 that he had helped Osama Bin Laden escape from Tora Bora, and that he and the Hizb were once charged with an assassination attempt on Hamid Karzai, are forgotten facts.
President Karzai's own turnaround this year has been remarkable too his recent statement likening Pakistan to a conjoined twin came after years of accusing Islamabad of fomenting violence in Afghanistan, and directly blaming the ISI for blasts like the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008. In August 2008, Karzai had gone as far as to threaten that Afghan troops would cross over the border to fight the Taliban, if Pakistan refused to crack down on them. Increasingly in the New Year though, Afghan officials are blaming their other neighbour, Iran for funding and arming the Taliban.
Other curious events have followed inside Pakistan as well the arrest of Mullah Baradar, Mullah Omar's deputy, was hailed by the U.S. as evidence that Pakistan was finally cracking down on the "big fish." But then it emerged that Baradar had been in talks with members of Karzai's family, and had reportedly even agreed to join the 'grand reconciliation' Loya Jirga scheduled for May 1st the arrest the result of a double game on a noted double-gamer.
It is that Loya Jirga that both the U.S. and Pakistan are working on now, along with other issues at the Strategic dialogue in Washington this week with Islamabad in a position to demand, and Washington in the mood to accommodate. At the helm of negotiations is not the Pakistani government, but Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani who the U.S. seems increasingly comfortable with. Many of the items on Pakistan's 56 page wish-list are demands the U.S. has rejected in the past, but now is willing to talk about, including an India-type nuclear deal, and access to drone technology.
Conversely, India is feeling some rigidity in the U.S. position, and a hardening of the Pakistani one when it comes to its own war on terror. In the past few months the Pakistani government has made it clear it doesn't intend to act against Hafiz Saeed, believed by India to be a mastermind of the Mumbai attacks. Shutting down the Lashkar-e-Taiba seems an even more remote possibility, given the public rallies its leaders are able to address, including one on Tuesday in the POK town of Kotli, addressed by LeT chief Abdul Wahid Kashmiri and Hizbul Mujahideen Chief Syed Salahuddin. Despite statements by visiting U.S. dignitaries on acting against the LeT, Washington has also snubbed New Delhi in the David Headley case. First, the U.S. government entered into a plea bargain that saved the LeT operative from both execution and extradition. Then, despite an assurance from President Obama to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last November, officials are dragging their feet on even granting Indian officials 'direct access' to the man. A man who admitted in court last week that he helped plan, prepare and execute the Mumbai attacks.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh now heads to Washington in April for the Global Nuclear Security Summit and must be fully prepared for what may follow. It is extremely likely that fresh from his victory on Healthcare Reform, President Obama will lay out his next priority global nuclear disarmament, with a special emphasis on curbing nuclear weapons capability in South Asia. According to many U.S. analysts, he could best achieve this by pushing both India and Pakistan into test ban treaties, with promises of more nuclear energy deals in the bargain.
Ironically, with the U.S. administration's willingness to even consider Pakistan's five-year-old request for nuclear parity with India, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are, as one analyst put it, setting the clock back to a decade ago: India and Pakistan being put on par with each other (something the Bush era worked hard to de-hyphenate), the U.S. more dependent on Pakistan for logistics, a military chief gaining control in Islamabad and the Taliban closer to sharing power in Kabul. In such a scenario the U.S.'s U-turns don't just bring the region full circle, but may leave India, unless South Block reads all the signs together, out of the loop.
( Suhasini Haidar is Deputy Foreign Editor, CNN-IBN.)
U.S. AND RUSSIA AGREE TO SLASH STRATEGIC NUCLEAR ARMS
PETER BAKER AND ELLEN BARRY
The treaty to be signed next month will impose a new inspection regime to replace one that lapsed in December.
The United States and Russia have broken a logjam in arms control negotiations and expect to sign a treaty next month to slash their nuclear arsenals to the lowest levels in half a century, officials in both nations said on Wednesday.
After months of deadlock and delay, the two sides have agreed to lower the limit on deployed strategic warheads by more than one-quarter and launchers by half, the officials said. The treaty will impose a new inspection regime to replace one that lapsed in December, but will not restrict American plans for missile defence based in Europe.
Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev plan to talk on Friday to complete the agreement, but officials said they were optimistic that the deal was nearly done. The two sides have begun preparing for a signing ceremony in Prague on April 8, timing it to mark the anniversary of Mr. Obama's speech in the Czech capital outlining his vision for eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
The new treaty represents perhaps the most concrete foreign policy achievement for Mr. Obama since taking office 14 months ago and the most significant result of his effort to "reset" the troubled relationship with Russia. The administration wants to use it to build momentum for an international nuclear summit meeting in Washington just days after the signing ceremony and a more ambitious round of arms cuts later in his term.
"This gives a boost" to the administration's efforts to build better ties to Russia, said Steven Pifer, a top State Department official under President George W. Bush who specialised in Russia and arms control issues. "There's still a ways to go and there are still difficult issues. But the last six months, it seems to be going pretty well and this adds to the positive in the relationship."
More broadly, the White House hopes the treaty will build on the President's victory in the fight to overhaul healthcare, demonstrating progress on both the international and domestic fronts after months of frustration over unmet goals.
The new 10-year pact would replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991, or START, which expired in December, and further extend cuts negotiated in 2002 by Mr. Bush in the Treaty of Moscow. Under the new pact, according to people briefed on it in Washington and Moscow, within seven years each side would have to cut its deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 from the 2,200 now allowed. Each side would cut the total number of launchers to 800 from 1,600 now permitted. The number of nuclear-armed missiles and heavy bombers would be capped at 700 each.
Neither the White House nor the Kremlin formally announced the agreement on Wednesday, pending the final telephone call between the Presidents. A Kremlin official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was an agreement on the text of the pact, although not all the wording had been finalised. Robert Gibbs, the White House Press Secretary, said, "We're very close."
Arms control proponents hailed the progress. Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, called it "the first truly post-Cold War nuclear arms reduction treaty." Richard Burt, a former chief START negotiator who now heads a disarmament advocacy group called Global Zero, said that the two Presidents "took a major step toward achieving their goal of global zero."
The breakthrough ended nearly a year of tumultuous negotiations that dragged on far longer than anticipated. The two sides quarrelled over verifying compliance, sharing telemetry and limiting missile defence programmes. Mr. Obama restructured Mr. Bush's plans for an anti-missile shield in Europe, but Moscow objected to the new version as well and wanted restrictions. Mr. Obama refused. The two Presidents cut through disagreements during a telephone call on March 13.
The treaty will go for ratification to the legislatures in both countries, and the politics of Senate ratification could be tricky, coming at a polarised moment with a midterm election on the horizon. Republican Senators have already expressed concern that Mr. Obama might make unacceptable concessions. Ratification in the Senate requires 67 votes, meaning Mr. Obama would need support from Republicans.
Senators Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican leaders, wrote Mr. Obama last week warning him that ratification "is highly unlikely" if the treaty contained any binding linkage between offensive weapons and missile defence, reminding him of his position "that missile defence is simply not on the table."
Administration officials describing the draft treaty said its preamble recognised the relationship between offensive weapons and missile defence, but that the language was not binding. The treaty establishes a new regime of inspections, but the U.S. monitoring team that was based at the Votkinsk missile production factory until START expired would not be allowed to return on a permanent basis.
Russian analysts said Moscow was happy to have reduced what it saw as the overly intrusive inspection regime mandated by START but disappointed not to have secured restrictions on missile defence. The military was pressuring the Kremlin not to agree to arms reductions without limits on the American missile shield, even though both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama have described it as aimed at Iran, not Russia. In the end, the Kremlin overruled the military because it wanted a foreign policy achievement. "The military does not have the influence that it did during Soviet times," said Anton V. Khlopkov, director of the Centre for Energy and Security Studies in Moscow. "Back then, the military people, if they didn't run, they were among those who led the arms control negotiations from the Soviet side. Now, they have less of a role."
Vladimir Z. Dvorkin, a retired Major-General and arms control adviser, said Moscow would retain the ability to scrap the new treaty if U.S. missile defences became a threat. "If, for example, the U.S. unilaterally deploys considerable amounts of missile defence, then Russia has the right to withdraw from the agreement because the spirit of the preamble has been violated," he said.
Mr. Obama met at the White House on Wednesday with Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the senior Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to brief them on the negotiations.
Mr. Kerry later said he would hold hearings between Easter and Memorial Day on the history of arms control and promised action by year's end. "I assured the President that we strongly support his efforts and that if the final negotiations and all that follows go smoothly, we will work to ensure that the Senate can act on the treaty this year," Mr. Kerry said.
(Clifford J. Levy contributed reporting from Moscow.)
© 2010 New York Times News Service
BRITAIN'S HISTORIC ROLE IN WEST ASIA
A FRANK RECOGNITION OF ITS ROLE IN WEST ASIA CAN GIVE BRITAIN A UNIQUE INFLUENCE IN THE CONFLICT.
The reprimand of Israel by David Miliband, the U.K. Foreign Secretary, resonated sharply in an already difficult week for Israel. But Britain can do more to influence West Asia than register a complaint, expel a Mossad officer, or sit on the sidelines as Washington pursues its Sisyphean efforts to renew the peace process.
Of all the western powers it is Britain that has a unique responsibility to Israelis and Palestinians, and something unique to offer both parties. After all, Britain was the original third party to the Palestine triangle. From the beginning of the British Mandate in 1922 to their great escape from Palestine in 1948, it was the British who lived in suffocating proximity to the parties an intimacy that neither the U.S. nor any other nation has experienced.
It was the British who were present at the birth of the clash between the Zionists and the Arabs of Palestine, and witnessed the conflict unfold. Britain was the first European power to be presented with each party's litany of demands, and to be at the receiving end of their threats and manipulations. It was the first that each side relied upon to fulfil its aspirations, and that each accused of betrayal. And it was the first to express exasperation at what it saw as both parties' insufferable behaviour.
Indeed, Britain was not simply a bystander. Having made promises to each side during the First World War, enshrined its incompatible "dual obligations" in the Balfour declaration of 1917, and implemented contradictory policies for some 30 years, it shared responsibility for the conflict's shape and evolution.
A decision openly to address Britain's role could have an impact on the most unbridgeable gap between Palestinians and Israelis: the question of ultimate responsibility for the conflict.
The responsibility issue and its twin, recognition have only become more intractable in recent years. The Palestinians insist that Israel acknowledge its responsibility for the 1948 nakba and the refugee problem. For Israelis this is unacceptable because they believe it corners them into confessing to "original sin" and ultimately delegitimises Zionism and Israel. They have thus upped the ante recently by requiring that Palestinians recognise Israel "as a Jewish state", which the Palestinians consider as tantamount to putting a stamp of approval on the loss of their homeland.
This is a circle that seemingly cannot be squared. So what could Britain possibly do about it? Without validating the tactics of blame and breast-beating (or inviting a renewed debate about the nature of its wartime promises), Britain might consider making an important public speech that would address the problems of recognition and accountability directly.
Acknowledging its own role in the origins of the conflict might afford Britain the opportunity to speak to the parties from a position of humility and even complicity: not as an outsider trying to impose its will, but as a former party to the conflict, one that has a moral and historical stake in its resolution, in a way that even the U.S. can never have.
Should Britain admit past failures, Israelis might feel that they can acknowledge their own role in the nakba without getting entangled in a web of exclusive culpability. Palestinians may interpret this as a diffusion of Israel's responsibility; but they would receive the additional acknowledgment that long before 1948 their quest for independence was undermined by a British policy predicated on building, in their land, a home for the Jews.
Britain could also recall its original pre-Holocaust moral support for Zionism as a movement that sought to address the escalating threats to Jewish minorities from exclusivist forms of European nationalism. Israelis might see this as a more powerful form of recognition than any statement the Palestinians may be forced to utter under duress. Of course, the fundamental matters that define the conflict today will not be magically assuaged by symbolic gestures. In fact, an excessive focus on these issues has often provided a convenient stalling tactic for those who want to avoid moving forward on a peace process. But these disagreements are not likely to go away, and progress towards defusing the issue of responsibility now can help provide a more secure way forward, should there be movement beyond the current impasse.
While the U.S. struggles to invent its future as an honest broker, Britain might find its relevance in the Arab-Israeli conflict merely by recalling its past: and to tap into its historical knowledge and reclaim its role as a member of the original Palestine triangle.
(Natasha Gill is a research associate at Columbia University, New York)
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
RECOUNTING AN ATTEMPTY TO ARREST TONY BLAIR
It was only when I saw the glow from Tony Blair's tan that I knew I couldn't chicken out. I'd hatched a vague plan the previous day to place him under citizen's arrest during his visit to the European Parliament in Brussels, but wasn't certain I would have the guts to go through with it.
But with Mr. Blair just a few metres away from me, I walked up and placed a hand on his right arm. "Mr. Blair, this is a citizen's arrest," I said. He looked at me with an expression that seemed to blend puzzlement and contempt. I'd intended to invite him to accompany me to the nearest police station, but was shoved out of the way by at least one of his bodyguards. "You are guilty of war crimes!" I shouted at his back, as he made his way towards a meeting room.
My attempt was inspired by the Arrest Blair campaign that George Monbiot, environmental activist and Guardian columnist, has set up. Mine was the second attempt, so many well-wishers have since expressed a hope it will be third time lucky. Britain and Belgium have both ratified the 2002 Rome statute that refers to the crime of "aggression". In my view, the war against Iraq was demonstrably not an act of self-defence. Yet, so far, the International Criminal Court has only issued indictments against Africans. Why should international justice not apply to people such as Mr. Blair and George W. Bush? I also wished to highlight the obscenity of Mr. Blair's role as a "peace envoy" in West Asia. Last year, I visited the house of Maher Hanoun and family in East Jerusalem who were later evicted by an Israeli settler company. Mr. Blair has an office in the nearby American Colony hotel, yet said nothing. How can he be trusted to bring peace?
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
HOW TORIES "AIRBRUSHED" ETHNIC MINORITY CANDIDATES
CANDIDATES OF ASIAN AND AFRICAN ORIGIN WHO THOUGHT THEY HAD BROKEN THROUGH THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY'S GLASS CEILING WERE IN FOR A SHOCK.
When Emran Uddin, Wale Oguntona and Samson Omosule won the Conservative Party's nomination for elections to the East London council of Barking and Dagenham, a stronghold of the xenophobic British National Party (BNP), they were clearly over the moon. They thought that, finally, they had broken through the Tory glass ceiling that had prevented ethnic minorities from getting in until now. The Tories, it seemed to them, had indeed changed under David Cameron and become more inclusive.
But, alas, there are some things that never change; or, as the French say, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose the more it changes the more it remains the same. For they soon discovered that the party was not exactly enthusiastic about its non-white candidates and, indeed, seemed embarrassed about acknowledging them in public.
When the publicity material arrived, they were shocked to find that their photographs had not been included, whereas their white colleagues had their pictures prominently featured. They were also subtly advised to keep a low profile and not to speak to the media without official authorisation.
Apparently the party feared that promoting Asian and African candidates would not play well with the BNP supporters who see immigrants as a "threat" to their jobs and "way of life". But as news of the "invisible" Tory trio spread, local immigrant groups reacted with anger and accused the Tory leadership of "pandering to prejudice" instead of fighting it.
"There is a clear intent from the Conservative Party to airbrush its candidates out of these leaflets. It is extremely disappointing given that the Conservative leadership recognises the power of the black vote. This is pandering to prejudice. You can either confront hatred or pander to it, as they are doing by having only white faces on their material," Simon Woodley of the Operation Black Vote told The Observer.
The newspaper reproduced copies of the Tories' campaign leaflets which clearly showed that they contained pictures of only white candidates. Non-white contenders had only their telephone numbers and email addresses against their names. Tories denied that their pictures had been deliberately left out and claimed that the reason for the omission was that the full list of candidates for the constituency had not been finalised when the leaflets were printed.
But, as The Observer pointed out, they "failed to explain" how was it then that they were able to include the names and other details of these candidates. It said the fact was that the party appeared to be "wary" of promoting its non-white candidates in areas where the BNP was a "force" and there was "strong anti-immigrant feeling".
Local residents appeared to confirm the Tories' policy of keeping their ethnic minority candidates under wraps. Few claimed to have seen them in public.
A Labour candidate was reported as saying that neither she nor any other member of her team had ever spotted her Tory opponent who is of African origin.
"It would appear they do not want to let the gentleman out," she said.
The row is embarrassing for Mr. Cameron who has been trumpeting the Tories' conversion to the idea of a racially diverse party. Since becoming the party leader nearly five years ago he has tried desperately hard to broaden its appeal beyond its traditional narrow electoral base of "Little Englanders" and sought to promote it as an inclusive and modern political platform for all Britons irrespective of their class background or ethnic origin.
This has involved toning down the party's previously shrill anti- immigrant agenda, promoting the few non-whites that it has among its ranks and, for the first time, making a serious attempt to recruit members from ethnic minorities. Not that everyone in the party is happy with his approach (in fact a significant section of "grassroots" Tories is believed to be quietly fuming) but so far he has been able to prevent an open revolt.
So, the coming elections were to be the first real test of new-look Tories. What a shame, then, that they have faltered at the very first hurdle.
"Having come thus far, the Tories appear to have suffered a sudden attack of nerves," said one critic.
Labour has been quick to seize on the Tories' embarrassment with one senior party MP accusing them of running "scared" of BNP. But the fact is that Labour's own record of tackling BNP has been pretty shameful. It is almost as guilty as the Tories of trying to play catch-up with BNP by scare-mongering about immigration rather than addressing the real issues that have led to the rise of such a party. And with elections round the corner, both Labour and the Tories have stepped up their rhetoric on immigration, often sounding as xenophobic as the BNP xenophobes they condemn.
Even as I write this, the Tories are involved in a spat over an allegedly inflammatory anti-immigrant election leaflet. The leaflet, distributed in Romford, a parliamentary constituency in north-east London, and featuring the shadow home office minister Andrew Rosindell warns against the "floodgates" of migration being opened and says: "We simply cannot go on like this".
While seeking to distance himself from the material, Mr. Rosindell has defended its contents.
"I don't think they're inflammatory; it's how people feel," he said.
By the way, Romford is adjacent to Barking and Dagenham the scene of the Tories' "airbrushed" non-white candidates.
Just a coincidence?
RATE OF DEFORESTATION HAS SLOWED: U.N. REPORT
Ambitious planting programmes in Asia and the United States have helped slow the global rate of deforestation but farmers are still cutting trees to clear land at an alarmingly high rate, a U.N. survey released on Thursday shows.
Forests absorb and store greenhouse gases so deforestation can exacerbate mean the effects of climate change, said Mette Loyche Wilkie, coordinator of the assessment by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Eduardo Rojas, assistant director-general for forestry, said the study of the last decade showed the first decrease in global deforestation since experts began tracking the phenomenon.
Planting programmes, notably in China, India and Vietnam, helped dramatically slow the rate of forest loss, from 8.3 million hectares a year in the 1990s, to 5.2 million hectares per year from 2000 to 2010, said forestry experts presenting the study at the Rome headquarters of the U.N. agency.
But South America overall lost four million hectares annually over the last decade, and Africa 3.4 million hectares yearly. Severe drought in Australia since 2000 has contributed to forest loss, the report said.
At the end of the US-Pakistan strategy talks followed by a joint press conference that US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi attended on Wednesday, it became clear that Pakistan had many requests and demands ranging from a civilian nuclear deal and a constructive US engagement in the Kashmir dispute. To the first, Clinton declared that it was a complicated issue and announced a package of US$125 million for three thermal power projects and promised to do much more to meet the energy needs of Pakistan. She had also promised help in improving agriculture and in giving Pakistan products access to American markets.
On the Kashmir issue, she said that the US cannot dictate the foreign policies of either Pakistan or India, which is a polite way of saying that it is an issue that the two countries must settle between themselves. All that the US could do was to encourage both sides to engage in dialogue. It was also announced that Pakistan would get the military supplies that the US had promised.
The US, it is clear, felt the need to seriously engage with Pakistan for the sake of better coordination in the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and also to help Pakistan's battered economy and civilian institutions, which had suffered due to the ongoing war against terrorism.
Pakistan on its part is rather exultant, and perhaps understandably so, that it is back in the good books of its Cold-War-era patron. Qureshi, throwing to the winds any diplomatic subtlety, told his hosts in embarrassing language that Pakistan should get what India got the civil nuclear deal and that the US must help in settling the Kashmir issue. He has also made it plain that
Pakistan wanted tangible rewards for fighting the war against terrorism, implying that Pakistan had no interest of its own in it and it was doing so to get brownie points with its allies and friends in the world.
India should keep a close watch on this development but there is no need to get jittery over it. But that is exactly what India did when it opposed the idea of the US offering Pakistan a civil nuclear deal.
There was much substance in the view but it could have been conveyed to the Americans in an informal exchange of views. The public airing of it should have been avoided. It did India no good.
You have to feel sorry for Mulayam Singh Yadav nothing seems to be going right for him. For one, he's been abandoned by his once-beloved Amar Singh and with him some of his high-profile friends. Then there's Behenji who rules his fiefdom, manages to collect crores while staving off attacks from hostile insects as well as deflecting sideswipes from the media and upper classes. And finally, there's the sad fact that he's been unable to enter the 20th century, forget the 21st.
His latest comment about how the wives and daughters of industrialists and government officers entering Parliament will attract whistles from the men is ill-though-out on so many counts that it is hard to know where to begin. It insults not only all women but also all men who are obviously all so crass and crude by his reckoning that the sight of a particular type of woman will cause them to lose all sense of social propriety. Then he somehow seems to feel that only wives and daughters of industrialists and government officers will attract such attention, thus insulting the attractiveness quotient of all other women who are not wives and daughters of this type of men.
But mostly, his comment shows the pettiness of his mindset and the complete lack of respect he has for all women including the women of the other backward classes whose cause he pretends to champion. By reducing women to sex objects, he has exposed himself in a way which he may not have considered. His objection, on the face of it, is to "elite" women entering Parliament, who are only worthy of lewd attention from men. Perhaps this only shows his own preferences and also makes clear his biases and prejudices.
This is a man who was once seen as a socialist messiah of some kind, who would provide leadership to the underprivileged and downtrodden. In the late 1980s and 1990s, many women of the type he is now reducing to being merely whistle-worthy, felt that he might make a difference. But now it appears that he is no more than a provincial leader, lost in a new world he neither understands nor can grasp this is the same man, remember, who is also opposed to the teaching of English and computers.
It is hard to completely understand the shallowness of the opposition that leaders like Mulayam are expressing to the Women's Reservation Bill. It shows them up as both anti-progress and anti-women neither of which are required or desired positions in today's world.
WHERE'S THE STRATEGY?
HARSH V PANT
Inaugurating Def Expo India-2010 last month, the defence minister underlined the commitment of his government "to the rapid modernisation of our armed forces as we want our forces to be equipped with state-of-the-art technology and equipment to help them defend our sovereignty." India has been one of the world's major defence spenders over the last few years and is expected to make more than US $35 billion of arms purchases over the next two or three years. Not surprisingly, India signed crucial defence deals during Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin's recent visit to Delhi: a new $2.34 billion contract for the refit of the Gorshkov aircraft carrier; a $1.2 billion deal to procure 29 additional MiG 29K naval fighter aircrafts; and an agreement for an additional 40 Su MKI fighters for the Indian Air Force.
Accordingly, India has asserted its military profile in the past decade, setting up bases abroad and patrolling the Indian Ocean to counter piracy and protect lines of communication. As its strategic horizons become broader, military acquisition is shifting from land-based systems to airborne refuelling systems, long-range missiles and other means of power projection.
Yet fundamental vulnerabilities continue to ail Indian defence policy. So while the Indian army is suggesting that it is 50% short of attaining full capability and will need 20 years to gain full defence preparedness, naval analysts are pointing out that India's naval power is actually declining. During the 1999 Kargil conflict, operations were hampered by a lack of adequate equipment. Only because the conflict remained largely confined to the 150-km front in the Kargil sector did India manage to get an upper hand, ejecting Pakistani forces from its side of the line-of-control (LoC).
India lacked the ability to impose significant military costs during Operation Parakram because of the non-availability of suitable weaponry and night vision equipment needed to carry out swift surgical strikes.
Few states face the kind of security challenges that confront India. Yet since Independence, the military has never been seen as central to achieving Indian national priorities. India ignored the defence sector after Independence and paid inadequate attention to its security needs. Indeed, it was not until the Sino-Indian War of 1962 that the Indian military was given a role in the formulation of defence policy. Divorcing foreign policy from military power was a recipe for disaster as India realised in 1962 when even Nehru was forced to concede that India's military weakness had indeed been a temptation for the Chinese.
This trend continues even today as was exemplified by the policy paralysis in New Delhi after the Mumbai terror attacks when Indians found out that due to the blatant politicisation of military acquisitions India no longer enjoyed conventional military superiority vis-à-vis Pakistan, throwing India's military posture into complete disarray and resulting in a serious loss of credibility.
When the UPA government came to power in 2004, it ordered investigations into several of the arms acquisition deals of the NDA. A series of defence procurement scandals since the late 1980s have also made the bureaucracy risk-averse, thereby delaying the acquisition process. Meanwhile, India's defence expenditure as a percentage of GDP has been declining and a large part of the money is surrendered by the defence forces every year given theirinability to spend due to labyrinthine bureaucratic procedures involved in the procurement process. Pakistan has rapidly acquired US technology under the garb of fighting the "war on terror" while the modernisation of the Indian army has slipped behind a decade.
The higher defence organisational set-up in India continues to exhibit serious weaknesses with its ability to prosecute wars in the contemporary strategic context under serious doubt. The institutional structures, as they stand today, are not effective enough to provide single-point military advice to the government or to facilitate the definition of defence objectives. Coordinated and synergised joint operations need integrated theatre commands, yet India hasn't found it necessary to appoint even a chief of defence staff yet.
In recent years the government has decided to fast-track the acquisition process by compressing the timeline necessary to finalise a defence contract. It is hoped that this will allow the services to spend their unutilised budgets quickly. A new defence procurement policy will be unveiled in 2010 as the Indian government tries to promote private sector participation in the defence sector, giving them incentives to establish joint ventures and production arrangements with any foreign manufacturer.
Delhi is accelerating its programme of arms purchases, but has yet to broach the reforms necessary for these to translate into improved strategic options. There is no substitute for strategic planning in defence. Without it, India will never acquire the military muscle that would enhance its leverage, regionally as well as globally.
THE PROGRESSIVES OWE IT TO THE JEWS
History serves up the strangest of connections: cause-and-effect ripples usually go on for a long time. Who would have thought that the rise of Nazism and the persecution of Jews in Europe would have fostered and nurtured an art movement of sorts thousands of miles away in Bombay, in the 1940s?
In fact, it is well nigh impossible to imagine that the big-ticket names synonymous with Modern Indian art (MF Husain, FN Souza, SH Raza, Tyeb Mehta and others) might not have evolved the way they did and the speed with which they did had it not been for three Europeans of Jewish extraction who sought refuge in India during the dark days of Hitler's campaign to exterminate Jews.
These thoughts occurred to me when I read about the Sotheby's auction in New York on Wednesday of the Emmanuel Schlesinger Collection consisting of early works of Raza, Husain, Souza, Tyeb Mehta, Ara, Bendre, Gade, Mohan Samant and others. An early Tyeb Mehta (1949), shown as part of his first solo show, brought down the hammer at $566,500, while Husain's Tribal Girl fetched $86,000 and the paintings of Ara, Mohan Samant and Palsikar crossed the threshold of the high estimates.
Born in Zemlin, Yugoslavia in 1896, Schlesinger moved to Vienna, where he befriended many artists, including Oskar Kokoshka and Egon Schiele: his collection of over a thousand works included paintings of these artists. Life was culturally enriching for the young Schlesinger until the shadow of Nazism forced him to flee Austria in 1939. He managed to get on to a P&O ship. He was headed for Shanghai but when the ocean liner docked in Bombay he decided, on a whim, to disembark. Fascinated by Buddhism and
Hinduism, he wanted to explore the temples of the South.
The outbreak of World War II put an end to his travels in high culture, just as he was approaching Mysore. The British government began to arrest foreigners from the Axis power countries.Schlesinger was sent to an internment camp in Ahmednagar.
A turning point in his life, Schlesinger, decided to stay on after he was released from the internment. He soon became involved in the art of the Bombay, the city he was to make his home until his death in 1968.
The other two European émigrés who also settled down in Bombay and, like Schlesinger, had such a decisive role to play in the Indian art scene of the mid-20th century were Rudy Van Leyden, Walter Langhammer and his wife, Kathe.
All three were ardent supporters of the Progressive Artists Group. Led by FN Souza, the group initially consisted of Souza, Raza and Ara. It expanded in 1947 to include Husain, Gade and Bakre. These artists wanted to reject both the academic realism taught in the art schools in India as well as what they considered
revivalist art of the Bengal School.
Sundays were open house in the Nepean Sea road home of the Langhammers (he was a painter and art teacher and Leyden a critic) where artists could view and discuss black and white reproductions of the works of European painters. Raza was even offered space in their home to use as a studio.
Schlesinger's contribution went beyond being a patron and avid supporter: on his visits to Husain's studio on Grant Road he discreetly left some money for the artist-and intermittently picked up a painting. Apparently, he also discouraged the painter from leaving India, as Raza and Souza had done.
Among the more striking testaments left behind by the European Jews are the murals of Stefan Norblin, the Jewish painter who fled Nazi-occupied Poland and came to India. His murals, mostly scenes from Indian mythology, can be found in the Umaid Palace in Jodhpur and a few in the Morvi Palace.
OBAMA'S HEALTH-CARE IDEA
TIME INDIA THOUGHT OF ONE
President Barack Obama has added perhaps the best feather to his cap by providing some kind of health insurance cover to all the US citizens. His idea of ensuring the right to health care became a reality when he signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Bill on Wednesday. The Bill, bringing about historic health-care reforms, was passed by the US House of Representatives on Sunday by a narrow margin. The significance of the Bill, which has now become an Act, lies in the fact that the 32 million US citizens without any health insurance cover in a country with a population of 308 million will also join the ranks of the privileged Americans. It is no mean achievement when very few can afford proper health care in the US on their own. Now the insurance companies will not be able to deny health coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.
The long-awaited law will cost the US exchequer $940 billion over 10 years. But it is so designed that it can bring down the federal budget deficit in the years to come. The idea of a universal health insurance facility has been on top of President Barack Obama's domestic agenda ever since he entered White House in January 2009. But gradually people got the impression that it was being relegated to the background. Mr Obama was seen to be concentrating more on how to extricate the US from Iraq and Afghanistan than on domestic issues. It was not without reason that his popularity rating declined considerably. He took up the universal health insurance project with renewed vigour only after the Republican victory in the recently held elections in the left-leaning Massachusetts state.
Can we in India, too, think of having what the US citizens have got? Experts believe that it is not possible to implement the Obama idea with the help of private health insurance providers because of the very low per capita income in India around Rs 50,000. However, this should spur us to launch a debate for extending the scope of the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna (RSBY), meant for only the below poverty line (BPL) families. There are nearly half a billion Indians who have to fend for themselves if we take into account those covered under the RSBY and the Central Government Health Scheme.
MORE VARSITIES, COLLEGES
QUALITY CHECK IS IMPERATIVE
CALL him a man in hurry or one with vision, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal is determined to put higher education on a fast track. After clearing the decks for the Foreign Education Providers Bill, the HRD Minister is now planning to relax credit-lending norms to attract private sector investment in education. Allowing more private players in education is an appreciable decision since there is little doubt that India, where the Gross Enrolment Ratio is a dismal 12 per cent, needs colleges and universities aplenty.
Since Independence, India's education system has expanded vastly and the private sector has played a key role in it. Yet, the quality of education imparted by many colleges and universities in India remains below par and even the Prime Minister has expressed concern over it. The earlier move of the government to de-recognise many "deemed universities" is another case in point that India's higher education needs quality check and monitoring. Besides, India faces a deficit of skilled manpower. The Centre is aware of the problem and has resolved to focus on the Industrial Training Institutes (ITI) and polytechnics to develop high-quality skilled workforce and to create 500 million skilled people by 2022. However, it must see to it that the promise does not remain on paper. Job-oriented courses can be the backbone of not only India's education system but also its growing economy that requires more and more trained and skilled persons, not unemployable graduates.
Simply increasing the number of higher educational institutions will not address the education needs of India. Shortage of teachers, infrastructure problems and use of technology to set up virtual universities are some of the issues that the government needs to look into. Moreover, allowing greater private investment in education is no excuse for the government to spend little on higher education. Whether accreditation of education institutions will change the face of higher education or not, India's education system needs to be revamped and rejuvenated with the right mix of control and autonomy. The grand vision of 600 more universities and 35,000 colleges is welcome, provided it is not at the cost of academic meritocracy and ensures that the only aim of private participation is not to rake in the moolah.
PROMOTION AS A RIGHT
MERIT AND PERFORMANCE VITAL, NOT JUST SENIORITY
Wednesday's Supreme Court judgement that promotion is the fundamental right of an employee under Article 16 of the Constitution is bound to cheer up millions of officers and employees working at the Centre and in the states. A Bench consisting of Justice R.V. Raveendran and Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly not only pulled up the Uttar Pradesh government for its delay in promoting the State Civil Service officers in 2003 but also questioned its failure to conduct the cadre review for over two years for promoting the officers after Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000. The Bench took the government to task for searching for alibis like the use of the word "ordinarily" in the statute and made it clear that periodic cadre review meetings are "mandatory". While there could be exceptions in the facts of a given case, the government's "lethargy, inaction and irresponsibility" cannot fall within the category of such exceptions, the Bench observed.
Though the ruling comes as a welcome relief for the Uttar Pradesh officers, one cannot overlook the larger question the criteria for promotions. It can be legitimately argued that promotion should necessarily be linked to one's merit and performance. An officer or an employee cannot be promoted only because he/she has put in many years of service. Several government officers at the Centre and in the states have a poor track record. An unjust time-scale promotion and empanelment system and lack of commitment on the part of the civil servants to serve the country have adversely affected governance at various levels.
If the service delivery system has collapsed today, it is because of the lack of accountability in the system. Corrupt civil servants enjoy immunity under Article 311 of the Constitution and continue in service while honest and upright officers are either victimised by political masters or not rewarded for excellence. No doubt, promotion is a great incentive. It inspires and motivates officers and employees to give their best for the organisation. But there is a need to evolve suitable criteria for a just and fair promotion system. And this can be ensured only when promotion is linked to the officers' merit and performance and not just seniority
CONFUSION AFTER KOIRALA
MAOISTS MAY TRY TO TOPPLE NEPAL GOVERNMENT
MAJ-GEN ASHOK K. MEHTA (RETD)
THE death of Girija Prasad Koirala has removed the pivotal figure of Nepal's fragile democracy. With Koirala gone and Ganesh Man Singh having died earlier, only Krishna Prasad Bhattarai remains of what was once the Nepali Congress's (NC) first generation troika. Five times Prime Minister, Koirala was easily the tallest of Nepal's leaders, instrumental in putting his country on the path of a constitutional republic. No one leader has done more in ending the 10-year-long Maoist people's war, bringing the Maoists into the political mainstream and stimulating the historic makeover of Nepal through the landmark peace process - which could not have materialised without India's help.
Breaking protocol, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a special gesture in 2006 by receiving visiting Prime Minister Koirala at the airport. But he did not repeat this special gesture for him and India-Nepal friendship by leading the Indian delegation to Kathmandu for his funeral. His condolence message contained a major factual error - G.P. Koirala was "the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Nepal". No, he was not. It was his brother, BP Koirala, who earned that honour in 1959.
All major changes in Nepal have occurred with India's direct involvement. The 104-year Rana rule was ended in 1950 by Prime Minister Nehru personally forging a tripartite agreement between the Ranas, the King and the NC which had launched the country's first armed revolution. A huge row broke out between Kathmandu and New Delhi after King Mahendra sacked the elected government of Prime Minister BP Koirala in 1960, leading to the 30-year partyless panchayat palace rule. An imperfect multiparty democracy was restored in 1990 after India imposed a de facto economic blockade which led to the second but peaceful revolution.
In 2002, King Gyanendra dismissed the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur
Deupa and ran the government through his handpicked nominees. Though India maintained silence over this development, it cried foul when King Gyanendra seized executive powers through a coup like his father had in 1960. This prompted New Delhi to arrange secret talks between GP Koirala and the Maoists which resulted in the historic New Delhi agreement of 2005.
The April 2006 people's movement, the third revolution, and Indian counselling forced King Gyanendra to restore Parliament, appointing G.P. Koirala as Prime Minister. Later, both the Maoists and the Madhesis were brought on board to contest the Constituent Assembly elections through India's prodding. New Delhi's investment in Nepal's peace process is in the enlightened interest of both countries and for peace and stability in the region.
The election victory of the Maoists, which dramatically brought Prachanda to head the government, upset India's calculations because the Maoists by their words and deeds showed they had an agenda inimical to India's national interest. The second dramatic turning point in the peace process was the fall of the Prachanda
government after mere nine months in May 2009 when India could resume breathing normally.
Throughout this period of uncertainty over the peace process, Koirala frequently urged the Maoists to transform fully into a political party, shedding their old guerrilla habits. He kept together the non-Maoist political opposition, stood between them and the government of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal the Maoists sought to topple and, in his fading days, attempted the impossible: get them to support the Nepal government by cooperating in drafting the constitution and accepting the previously agreed terms for the integration of the Maoist PLA with the Nepal Army.
Even in sickness and old age, nepotism never left Koirala. He got his daughter appointed first as the Foreign Minister and later as the Deputy Prime Minister too. He became increasingly irrelevant to the peace process though he did not abandon chasing the mirage of breaking the political deadlock with the Maoists.
Koirala's absence will create other problems. There will be no national leader of his stature, no Girija Babu to summon Prachanda and ask the Maoists to behave. And most of all, no autocratic leader to keep the Nepali Congress together. Koirala's demise may affect the cohesion of the NC split as it was in 2001 into the NC (Democratic) led by thrice Prime Minister, SB Deupa, and formally reunited seven years later.
The general convention of the NC has been postponed more than once, dodging the question of appointing Koirala's successor. His nephew, Sushil Koirala, the acting President, is indisposed. Sujata Koirala and two other nephews, Shashank and Shekhar, are doctors and political lightweights. The NC's second generation troika Ramchandra Poudyal, leader of the parliamentary party; Sushil Koirala, acting President; and SB Deupa, senior party leader sat next to G.P. Koirala's cortege .
With less than 60 days left for the May 28 deadline, the peace process is unlikely to be spurred by protests of eminent persons of civil society and urgings by the international community. Looking for short-cuts, the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly, Subhas Nambang, has floated the idea of a "concise constitution". The Maoists have said time and again that the new constitution will be written only under their leadership and not a word will get written which is not their word. Every article of the constitution will require a two-thirds majority and as Maoists and their opponents hold fundamentally different views on the structure of the state, federalism and devolution, a consensus is illusory.
The real issue is the power struggle between the old guard and new revolutionaries. And there is no referee. The United Nations Mission in Nepal's mandate does not extend to conflict resolution but only arms and army management. Neither the high-level political mechanism which was being chaired by Koirala nor civil society has made any dent in narrowing the gap between the government sitting pretty and the Maoists, battling to be in their place.
The Maoists have been threatening to table a no-confidence motion to bring down the government. With 238 legislators in the Constituent Assembly, they require another 63 members to dislodge the government. When Koirala was alive, a scenario doing the rounds was that the Maoists would be prepared to support an NC-led government. That is no longer on the cards. The Maoists have tried to break the United Marxist Leninist Party, which is heading the government, but failed. Already split, the Madhesi parties do not add to the numbers.
The Maoist deadline for seizing power is also May 28 to ensure that they are heading the government when Nepal is confronted with a constitutional crisis. To be sure, they have a Plan B; its leaders have said that if the constitution is not written on time, they will launch a revolt. The question will remain: why did G.P. Koirala not seek India's help for mending the Maoists?
BY S. RAGHUNATH
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that the Indian Press tends to highlight the "problems" the country is facing when, in fact, those "problems" are only "illusions."
He was addressing foreign correspondents based in Delhi.
He later fielded a few questions.
"Prime Minister, there are persistent reports in the Indian press that the Bofors gun which is vital for the country's security and defence preparedness, has failed to measure up to its performance expectations and that its range is only 19 km and not 90 as claimed by its manufacturers. Do you wish to comment?"
"Yes, we've checked on those reports and we've found them to be substantially accurate. But what difference does 70-odd kilometres make? The Bofors gun is huge and ugly and it goes off with a terrific, ear-splitting bang and that's what matters in a gun, isn't it? That's what I mean when I say that our newspapers tend to dramtatise problems of national security when those problems are only illusions."
"Prime Minister, Indian newspapers are solemnly editorialising that corruption, venality and misuse of public funds have become all-pervasive and that they're eating into the vitals of national economic development and hampering the country's progress. Do you wish to take a call on that?"
"When our newspapers talk about corruption and misuse of funds, it's only an illusory problem and let me cite some statistics. For the 11th Five-Year Plan which is just ending, our total outlay for just one sector rural development was a huge Rs 500,000 crore and out of this investment, as much as Rs 499,990 crore went to line the pockets of contractors, petty government functionaries, unscrupulous politicians and middlemen leaving a massive Rs 10 crore for actual development. So where's the question of corruption and venality becoming all-pervasive?"
"Prime Minister, Indian newspapers are cautoning the government against complacency on the economic front, what with inflation getting into double digits and the vicious price spiral. Your comments?"
"Yes, I agree that inflation and the price spiral are alarming, but there's no problem. I know that coarse varieties of rice now cost Rs 29 a kg, but the Indian people are flexible and they've changed over to eating wild roots, tubers and leaves which are available in the open market at a reasonable Rs 17 a kg. So the so-called problem of inflation is only an illusion."
"Prime Minister, Indian press is noting with concern the deteriorating crime situation and insecurity being felt by the common man and they're pointing out that armed dacoit gangs from the North-East are operating with impunity in southern states like Kerala and Karnataka. Your response, please." "Look, India is a free country and people don't need passports and visas for internal travel and if dacoit gangs from the North-East are operating in the southern states, they're well within their constitutional rights. In fact, they're helping in emotional integration by bringing the people and North and South together. The so-called crime situation is only an illusion. There's no problem, per se."
FALL FROM GRACE
WHY INDIA TRAILS IN HOCKEY
BY HARJAP SINGH AUJLA
THE World Cup Hockey Tournament has concluded in New Delhi. Generally the host nations perform very well due to the home ground advantage, but Indian hockey had reached such a low level before the tournament that miracles could not be expected.
India has certain advantages like over a billion population to choose its teams from. But India has some serious negatives too like poor diet available to its athletes, especially during the growing years.
The present state of our national game of hockey gives rise to serious skepticism among our thinking and analysing fraternity.
During the past several years, I have talked to some hockey greats of yesteryear. Among those I talked to extensively are India's only living triple gold medallist Balbir Singh Senior and a veteran of four Olympics Udham Singh a few years before his death.
From the narration of their experiences, it can be concluded that India has been great on grassy fields. Statistics also indicate that ever since astroturf has been introduced, our hockey players have started fairing very badly.
Grass constitutes a natural playing surface for both football and hockey. In football, poor African nations stood their ground and did not permit the rich nations to force international matches to be played on astroturf grounds.
But in hockey, in spite of India's supremacy in the game more than three decades ago, the European nations dominated the decision-making process and bulldozed their resolve to force astroturf on everyone.
Astroturf is manufactured in several European nations and its technology keeps improving all the time. By the time we install astroturf in India, a better and faster playing surface is invented in Germany and Holland.
In Europe, natural grass is expensive to maintain as it grows very fast in damp cold climates, but in India astroturf proves expensive to install. The tall and strongly built Europeans are capable of running faster and can be very effective on astroturf and they can beat us on stamina too.
In the game of cricket, India enjoys certain advantages. The first thing is that all over the world, cricket is still being played on grassy grounds and there is no move to introduce astroturf in cricket.
Secondly, the slow-paced spin bowling works to India's advantage. India has produced some of the finest spin bowlers in the world.
Thirdly, approximately half of India's matches are played on home grounds and the remaining are played abroad. If we can't do well in foreign conditions, we can be more than compensated while playing on the home grounds.
Moreover, with money and fame cricket has become India's most popular game. Most of our children are playing cricket. This has led to India topping the world in test cricket.
A few years ago, we could not even dream of becoming number one in the world. Now we can choose our teams from amongst the finest athletes of India. Such an advantage is certainly not available to hockey any more.
There is one consolation for India in hockey, we were not at the bottom of the table. In the last World Cup, we were placed eleventh. This time we have climbed three steps to finish at number eight. Rather than dreaming for a podium finish, we should first aspire for finishing among the top six teams and then build the team slowly for attaining higher positions.
The government has expressed its willingness to install astroturf in more areas where hockey is still played with passion. The government should now concentrate on giving European style diet to its school-going hockey players. The present-day conditions are calling for the installation of synthetic athletic tracks to make athletes perform faster and we need gyms for building strong muscles.
Talent cannot be discovered in the drawing rooms. We must hold national hockey championships for junior, sub-junior and senior level hockey players on a regular basis. Let all the national teams be picked up without bias from these tournaments.
Above all, Hockey India must hold its free and fair elections so that the best possible management is selected for the service of the nation and its national game.
GOING DOWNHILL IN HIMACHAL
BY RAKESH LOHUMI
THE recent decision of the Himachal government to hike bus fares by 30 per cent in one go has attracted criticism from all quarters. It is the second upward revision in as many years and going by the past experience it is not going to turn around the fortunes of the ailing state road transport corporation, which has accumulated losses to the tune of Rs 540 crore till date. Its sorry plight is only indicative of the ills plaguing the passenger transport services in the state.
The perils of privatisation without adequate regulatory mechanism in place are all too discernible. On the one hand commuters face inconvenience because of inadequate bus services and on the other the corporation incurs heavy losses due to declining occupancy.
The irrational and indiscriminate grant of bus route permits and taxi permits without conducting any traffic survey has led to this paradoxical situation. For years the corporation was the main service provider and private transporters plied only a few buses, mostly in the merged areas.
All that has changed over the past two decades and today the private operators are in a dominant position with a fleet of over 2,800 buses as compared to just 1,900 buses of the corporation. There are more buses on road than required. The state has 75 buses per lakh of population as against the national average of 45 buses.
Influential operators invariably manage to secure the most profitable bus routes. Worse, they use their political clout to manipulate bus time-tables. No surprise the average occupancy in the HRT Corporation's buses has come down from 83 per cent to 54 per cent and it is incurring losses in 928 of the 2,500 bus services.
The free and subsidised travel facility to the freedom fighters, the disabled, MLAs, MPs, mediapersons, police personnel, students and other categories and an exorbitantly high cost of manpower add to its financial woes. Today it is not in a position to even replace the old buses.
Before the fare hike the annual loss was of about Rs 100 crore. With the government providing Rs 60 crore, the net loss came to Rs 40 crore.
In contrast, private operators are flourishing with almost hundred per cent occupancy and even giving concession to commuters.
The failure to carry out reforms has jeopardised the Urban Transport Management Scheme, launched last year, under which 75 buses have been provided by the Centre for plying in the state capital. An urban transport fund has not been set up as required and only a separate account has been created for operating the scheme.
All taxes pertaining to vehicles like the registration fee, driving licence fee, token tax, bus route permit fee, green tax, parking fee and other such charges were to be deposited in the fund to meet the operational expenses.
Instead of carrying out reforms the government reduced the local bus fares, putting a big question mark on the viability of the scheme. As a result, the Centre has not released the second instalment of Rs 3.04 crore to be provided for the purchase of buses and the corporation is in no position to pay the outstanding amount of Rs 3.75 crore to the supplier of buses.
The corporation has decided not to appoint any regular conductors and only engage "bus sahayaks" on a 3.5 per cent commission and recruit drivers only on a contract basis. However, this will help bring down the operational costs only marginally. The only way out is to rationalise the routes after a proper traffic survey, introduce smaller buses on low-occupancy routes, ensure an equitable distribution of loss-making and profitable routes between private operators and the corporation, downsize the bus fleet to 1,500 and, above all, set up an independent regulatory body for the allotment of routes and oversee the transport sector.
Kanpur's loss allies and political protests provide news and amusement in Uttar Pradesh. In the process it is missing out on the real entertainment the IPL.
Last week Sahara group promoter Subrata Roy outbid Videocon Industries and Adani Exports to acquire the IPL's Pune team for a record Rs 1,702 crore.
Speaking to the media, he admitted that he was keen to bid for Kanpur but was advised otherwise on the ground of logistic problems.
Roy frankly told a news channel that he had to give up on Kanpur when it was pointed out that the city was still not equipped for such an event. It was neither on the air map nor had good hotels, roads and other facilities that cricketers and cricket lovers wish for during the matches. Kanpur's loss was Pune's gain.
hat was missed amidst the garland and bee controversy was the clockwise precision with which things went at the BSP maha-rally. No detail was missed out to ensure that the stay of close to a lakh of BSP office-bearers and workers from various corners of the country was comfortable.
New mattresses, bed-sheets and even toiletries were arranged for the special guests who had been put up in a tented colony that had come up on the sprawling 70-acre Smriti Upwan.
A giant-sized dining hall, an amphitheatre for cultural programmes in the evening, several 25-beded tented hospitals as well as 2,000 toilets came up. Interpreters were available for non-Hindi speaking BSP workers. Sight-seeing and visits to various dalit parks and memorials were on the agenda.
Five caterers were hired at Rs1 crore each to ensure multi-cuisine meals for the party workers. Separate arrangements were in place to provide food packets to the million participants who arrived on the rally day.
Quite a fall
According to the law of gravity, "what goes up must come down". The more heavyweight the object the quicker it would come down with as loud a thud.
The law was in demonstration in the case of the once most powerful bureaucrat in the state, Vijay Shankar Pandey, on March 18.
From the heavyweight charge of Additional Cabinet Secretary along with Principal Secretary, information and CM secretariat, he became the Principal Secretary, medical health, with an additional charge of vocational education.
The next day the medical education portfolio was taken back and all that remained was vocational education. Clearly not wanting to deal with him on a day-to-day basis, Mayawati, who till then personally handled the vocational education department, suddenly appointed a new minister.
On March 18 Pandey's brother, Ajay Shankar Pandey, serving as a municipal commissioner of Ghaziabad was also stripped of his post and sent to Mathura as the Chief Development Officer.
That was not all. On March 21 three other siblings sister Kanak Tripathi and brothers Hari Shankar Pandey and Vinay Shankar Pandey all PCS officers, were swiftly removed from their plush posts to relatively insignificant ones. The fall was complete.
RICH BLEND OF OLD AND NEW
POORNIMA RESTAURANT, WHICH HAS BEEN AROUND FOR MORE THAN 60 YEARS, OFFERS A DELIGHTFUL INDIAN FARE; THE CHIC WICH LATTE, ON THE OTHER HAND, WHIPS UP SUMPTUOUS DELICACIES FOR THOSE WITH A WESTERN PALATE
Continuing with the fourth part of having a microscopic look at the various food joints around the Bombay Stock Exchange the standard "Udipi" style restaurants abound but once in a while, a different place, which seems like a breath of fresh air, does come up which makes the eating experience a delightful one. At the same time, one cannot forget the unbelievable paradox in terms of taste as well as ambience as well as prices.
Poornima Restaurant (non a/c) is supposedly one of the oldest eateries around the BSE and has been around for probably 60 years or more (it has a sister concern called Swagat located near the fire brigade, off D N Road). A simple eatery minus any frills and thrills, Poornima is hugely popular amongst officegoers in the vicinity.
One can see the regular stock market visitors, lawyers, executives from HSBC and even staff from the legendary Bombay House sitting cheek by jowl. The hustle and bustle at lunch time in Poornima Restaurant has to be seen to be believed. With a polite and helpful staff at your service, Poornima is located at 29, Muddanna Shetty Marg (read as Tamarind Lane). As far as proximity to famous buildings is concerned, it's just a stone's throw from Bombay House the Tata HQ. Originally started by Jagannath Naik, it is currently being run by his son Pramod Naik for the past 20 years or so. The restaurant is different in the sense that it has a revolving menu, which changes every day (different food items for all 6 days of the week). The standard base applies: no beer or alcohol and only vegetarian fare is served. The restaurant is divided into three parts the self-service (money needs to be paid upfront) area on the ground floor, a lunch-only section on the mezzanine floor, and a lunch-only section on the first floor. The delicacies that you must have include Ulundu Masala Dosa (excellent), Mysore Masala Dosa, Idli, Batata Pova, Gulab Jamun, Carrot Halwa & Onion Pakoda (after 4.00 pm on Mondays only).
Wich Latte made up of 'wich' from sandwiches and 'latte' which is Italian for milk (got to thank my wife for enlightening me on the subject) is one of those new fangled eateries located at Natwar Chambers, Meadows Street (aka Abdul Razzaq Allana Marg), behind Bombay Stock Exchange in the lane opposite Mumbai University.
In fact, there is a small chain of this eatery in Mumbai with one located at Colaba Causeway and another located at Phoenix Mills. A small air-conditioned restaurant, it has a seating capacity for 28-30 people and both serves vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare.
The interiors of Wich Latte are done up elegantly: it has well-polished wooden furniture, with an orange background on one wall that faces another that has an actual brick finish (which is the chefs' corner). You can enjoy your meal at Wich Latte while listening to well-chosen English music.
Some of the food items on offer are Scrambled Eggs, Omelette, Bagels (a ringshaped bread roll), Soups, Salads, French Fries, Pastas, Pizzas, Hot Dogs (only nonveg), Hot Beverages (Cappuccino, Espresso, Hot Mocha, Irish Coffee, Tea & Green Tea) and Desserts (a rather comprehensive list of cakes, pastries and ice-creams. There is also an option of eggless cakes).
Must-haves include Cascadilla Crisp (a superb sandwich with sprouts and vegetables), Mexican Bagel (a brilliant concoction of cheese and tomato/cucumber), Spicy Fries, Black Forest Cake and Chocolate Chip Cookies (simply irresistible). Prices are clearly on the higher side but the entire experience, including the taste and quality of food, justifies to some extent this price premium.
MID-TERM BLUES FOR ELEVENTH FIVE YEAR PLAN
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has done some much-needed plainspeaking on the problems facing the Eleventh Five Year Plan. The biggest hurdle to the Plan realising its objectives is, of course, an external one the global economic slowdown. This has imposed a constraint on the ambitious 9 per cent growth target set for the Plan period as a whole (2007-12). The Plan's growth target is unlikely to be realised also because of domestic inadequacies. As Dr Singh has rightly cautioned, "the restoration of high growth should not be taken for granted". Apart from the telecommunications sector, where despite the telecom ministry's efforts the sector has done well in terms of growth, in all other infrastructure areas performance is lagging behind Plan potential. Despite high gross savings and investment ratio, poor implementation of projects may be slowing down the growth process. The prime minister's call for better performance on the infrastructure front could not have come a day sooner. The question is what will the government do to walk the talk. In critical areas like power, roads, railways and urban development, better project delivery is as important as finding money to finance these projects.
If economic growth in the Eleventh Plan period is likely to suffer for all these reasons, the inclusiveness of the growth process is also likely to suffer on account of weak implementation of the United Progressive Alliance government's well-intentioned flagship programmes. The prime minister did some plainspeaking on that as well. It is not enough to ask for more funds, he said, it is even more important to see how the funds allocated have been spent. For lapses on this score, the Central government alone is not the guilty party. State governments too have to do much more to ensure proper implementation of pro-poor welfare schemes. However, if between themselves the Centre and the states are unable to properly implement programmes like Bharat Nirman, the inclusive dimension to growth will suffer. The prime minister was right to state that if these schemes were not properly implemented then the growth process would not be as inclusive as it was hoped to be. This is a challenge facing India at all levels of government. Unless local and state government institutions, especially in states with higher incidence of poverty, are made more efficient, representative and responsive, higher growth need not automatically translate into more inclusive growth.
DELIVERING FOOD SECURITY
WILL COUPONS WORK BETTER THAN COMMODITIES?
The well-intentioned food security Bill, cleared by the empowered group of ministers (EGoM) and now awaiting Cabinet approval, continues to raise issues that have not been fully resolved. Apart from the fact that it falls short of the Congress party's election promise of guaranteeing nutritional security for the poor, it is still not clear how the government intends to mobilise the food stocks required to implement such a Bill across the country, and ensure that they reach the targeted families. The existing public distribution system (PDS) has been found wanting on many counts, apart from the fact that in parts of the country where it is needed the most, it does not even exist! In its present form, the draft of the Bill seeks to give the poor a right to get 25 kg of rice or wheat every month at Rs 3 a kg. Though it is not clear whether this quota would be in addition to the 35 kg of foodgrains provided to the below poverty line (BPL) households now or in place of it, there would be problems in both cases. Apart from the fact that the government would be required to arrange for required foodgrains, from the domestic market or abroad, with contingent implications for food prices, it would also exert a huge burden on the public exchequer. The burden on this count would rise further if the EGoM's other recommendation of also enhancing the quantity of the subsidised grains supplied to the above poverty line (APL) people is also implemented. On the other hand, if the new statutory food quota replaces the existing PDS entitlement for BPL families, of 35 kg grains, which actually seems to be the case, this would tantamount to toning down, instead of strengthening, food security for the poor. In any case, 25 kg of foodgrains per month cannot by any stretch of imagination be expected to take an entire family (of five members, on average) above malnutrition line. What is worse, many of the poor, especially wheat consumers, will end up paying more for food as the present price of wheat for BPL is just Rs 2 per kg, against Rs 3 mooted in the new law.
The existing PDS is wholly unfit for serving the objective of food security for all. Besides being woefully inefficient, it reeks of corruption, leakages and wastages. A Supreme Court-appointed Central Vigilance Committee has said so after scrutinising its operation in different states. While in some states the PDS has wholly collapsed, in others it is inefficient and corrupt, resulting in large-scale diversion and black-marketing of highly subsidised grains. There is also the issue of a discord between the Centre and the states over the number of BPL people to be covered under the new system. Going by the Centre's (read the Planning Commission's) reckoning, the BPL households in the country number around 60-odd million. But the states, put together, have already issued over 80 million BPL ration cards even while leaving a sizable chunk of the genuine poor without an access to the PDS. Considering all these issues, it may indeed be prudent for the Centre to revisit the provisions of the draft food security Bill, especially in light of the views expressed in the Union finance ministry's recent Economic Survey on the advisability of a coupon system. Direct cash transfer to the poor has, in some countries, worked better than delivering food through a government-run system. A workable system, even if the second-best, is better than a non-workable ideal policy based on a non-working system.
REDOING GREEN BUILDINGS
IT IS TIME TO BUILD TRULY GREEN STRUCTURES RATHER THAN ERECTING HUGE ONES AND SUGARCOATING THEM WITH A LITTLE GREEN
Building green is not about building structures that use lots of materials and energy, and then fixing them so that they become a little more efficient. Building green is about building structures that optimise the local ecology, use local materials as far as possible and, most importantly, reduce power, water and raw-material requirements.
Take the glitzy new airport building that Delhi will soon get. The developers say it will come with a green tag, because the airport is investing in energy-efficient lighting, sewage disposal system and rainwater harvesting. All are very important initiatives. But the question remains: Could the airport have been designed differently, so that it used much less energy, before it had to save some. For instance, green airports today are being challenged to think how they can reduce the time taken to enter the aircraft from the point of entering the airport building. This "frugal" planning would make everything more efficient use of less building materials and less energy to cool and heat. But, we are thinking to first build the biggest and then sugarcoat it with a little green. I say this without even discussing the need for airports to give way to other much more efficient modes of transport like railways.
If we begin to think green in this more locally appropriate way, we will realise that traditional architecture was green in many ways. Every part of India had its unique stamp of buildings. This is because creative and architectural diversity was built on biological diversity. So, buildings in the hot and dry regions would ensure that corridors directed the wind so that it cooled naturally. In wetter regions, architects would build structures using natural breeze and light. All in all, traditional architects knew how to optimise the natural elements in the best way.
Today, we have forgotten how to build for our environment. Instead, modern buildings are mono-cultures lifted from the building books of cold countries, where glass facades are good to look at and appropriate for their climate. But in India, the same building is a nightmare. The glass in the building traps the heat. It cannot be "naturally" cooled, because windows cannot be opened. It needs central air-conditioning and heating. In this situation, turning it green means using very expensive glass to insulate better, which is avoided by the builders. So, the only band-aid green measures are to include a few token items like efficient lights and some water-saving devices in the toilets.
The architects say: "God is in the details." In this case, the details are both about simplicity and diversity. So, what we forget is that in large parts of India, where the sun is the source of both light and heat, traditional architecture made use of this, with a small but critical element: The window shade. Modern facades are built without these shades, because they don't fit the image of the western buildings. Just lift up your head and see the next glitzy building, and you will notice this simple but effective detail missing in action.
Clearly, the way for our buildings of the green future has to be different. But this will need policy, so that practice can follow. The fact is, even today, we have no mandatory green standards for builders to follow. The National Building Code does not include energy, water or material efficiency standards. The only standard that exists is for energy the Energy Conservation Building Code and it is voluntary. The first and the urgent step is to incorporate this voluntary energy code into the mandatory National Building Code. The second step is to ensure its implementation so that builders measure and reduce the energy usage of their construction.
But most importantly, the Code must be developed so that it sets the mandatory benchmark for all builders to follow tough standards for energy usage for each square metre of built-up area. This will then allow the architects and builders to do things with a difference build for efficiency and cut costs or build for inefficiency and then spend on making the building more efficient. This will bring back all the knowledge and practice of construction to maximise passive energy, natural light and wind but to reduce the heat.
Simultaneously, the Code needs to be expanded to include water and waste standards to reduce water usage in toilets and to ensure that institutions and large residential complexes recycle and reuse their sewage. Similarly, these complexes must be provided space to compost kitchen waste. But, for that, we must segregate our solid waste separate what can be composted, what can be recycled and minimise what cannot be reused (like plastic).
But this is only the beginning. The green building is as green as our city. So, if we cannot connect our homes with public transport, then our homes can be green but our lives and environment will continue to be brown and dirty.
RAJU HAS TOLD THE TRUTH, SO FAR
When Ramalinga Raju confessed to the monumental fraud he had perpetrated at Satyam early last year, a lot of people believed that he had taken money out of the company possibly to invest in real estate. This is the line that the Crime Investigation Department of the Andhra Pradesh Police took in its probe. It was subsequently asked to hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
More than a year later, that trail seems to have gone cold. The CBI charge sheet makes no mention of any diversion of funds from Satyam. The scam was looked into by the Serious Frauds Investigation Office in the Ministry of Corporate Affairs also. But its findings have not been put in the public domain. So, not many people know what it has found out. The only real estate found was in closely-held Maytas Properties, which was developing a project called Maytas Hill County. The money there was all accounted for.
The evidence gathered so far seems to support what Raju said in his confession: He did not divert money from the company; he simply inflated the accounts to hide the small size of Satyam from customers. So, we have to believe the word of somebody who has admitted that he defrauded his employees, shareholders, customers, business associates and the taxman for seven long years.
Those who have looked into Satyam's books post-scam say the money trail isn't altogether dead. The CBI continues to look at the possibility of diversion of company funds. Investigators have come across some complicated real-estate deals that involve offshore accounts. What Raju confessed, they say, is true but there could be more to it.
There could be an indirect connection also, they say. Raju had raised money regularly by pledging the Satyam shares he owned. Had he not inflated the accounts, the Satyam share price would have been lower and he would have, therefore, got lesser money for those shares. Where has that money gone? Raju's friends say it was pumped back into the company to keep the show going. Indeed, days after Raju's confession, some of his private companies did write to Satyam demanding the money they had given as loans back. Some of that money, investigators say, may have gone to real estate. The angle is being looked into.
But nobody is sure if anything will come out of it. Raju, his brother Rama Raju, and his CFO Vadlamani Srinivas have been in custody for almost 15 months now. It is not clear what new information sleuths can unearth now. But there are some elements in the Satyam affair that don't seem quite all right. To begin with, there was, from day one, excessive focus on the role of the two Pricewaterhouse auditors. That they goofed up and were negligent in their duty is evident, and they ought to be taken to task for that; but that they were hand in glove with Raju is yet to be proven. Their bail application was contested every time it came up for hearing. Why? What is it that the investigators didn't ask after holding them in custody for a year?
Had their complicity been evident, Pricewaterhouse would have lost large chunks of its audit business. Companies re-appoint auditors at their annual general meetings, which happen three to six months after the closure of the financial year. Pricewaterhouse says that 97 per cent of the customers re-appointed it last year.
What about the independent directors on the Satyam board? Though they all resigned after the scam came to light, they seem to have got away with just a rap on the knuckles. Also, nobody from the company has been arrested apart from the two Raju brothers and Srinivas. In other words, the whole fraud was ideated and operated by the three men! This is just what Raju said in his statement. A scam of this magnitude requires a great deal of paperwork orders have to be forged, the authorities hoodwinked, banks taken for a ride etc. It's a little hard to believe that all this was done for seven years by just three men.
All this makes one ask if all the layers of the Satyam onion have been taken off. Have the various probes worked in a way that the whole truth comes out? When Satyam was put on the block, one Delhi businessman, who had a pile of cash in his bank, was very eager to bid. He does not understand much of software and technology but has innate intelligence and a sixth sense to spot assets that can be monetised. He was convinced that the money trail would lead to large real-estate assets. He even made secret trips to Hyderabad to find out the truth. That was his interest in Satyam. Closer to the bid date, he realised that the trail had got difficult to find. And that is when he began to lose interest.
If money was not extracted, Satyam would go down in history as the first scam which was carried out not for personal gains. Remember Nick Leeson? The "rogue trader" who brought Barings down? He too had said that he did it all for the good of the bank. Facts can often be stranger than fiction.
AKASH PRAKASH: A DIFFICULT SIX MONTHS
THIS WILL BE A RISKY PERIOD AND HENCE ONE MUST EXERCISE CAUTION AND NOT GET CARRIED AWAY
The equity markets have rebounded strongly following the presentation of the Union Budget, rising by more than 10 per cent from their lows. This surge has been caused by a combination of strong global markets as Greece has seemingly bought itself some more time, and a generally favourable response by investors to the Budget and its fiscal targets. Inflows from foreign institutional investors (FIIs) have resumed as many of the large, long-only funds have received significant inflows, and we are in that part of the year when domestic insurance flows are at their maximum. The markets are trading well and seemingly want to go up. The recent move of the ratings agencies to take India off the credit watch status has been a further boost to market sentiments.
However, in my opinion, the next six months is going to be a difficult time, full of risk and an environment where one must exercise caution and not get carried away.
First of all, we are by no means over with these sovereign risk issues. Greece is still in trouble, and the EU is seemingly split as to how to bail out the country. Germany and France are opposite ends of the spectrum on using the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help a bailout, and Greece has over 20 billion euros of funding needs in April and May. The country is running a fiscal deficit of close to 16 per cent, and not 12 per cent as commonly reported. And, to get this deficit down to a manageable number will involve huge economic and social costs. It is not clear if the country has the stomach and maturity to implement a double-digit fiscal correction. Post-Greece, we have similar issues with Spain, Portugal, Ireland and eventually Italy as well. All this will come to a head over the coming six months. Given the size of funding needs, the quantum of sovereign debt held by the EU financial system, and general political unease over sovereign bail-outs, risk aversion could reassert itself anytime. The euro remains weak and clearly headed lower.
Back home in India, the obvious problem is inflation. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor has probably the toughest job in the country trying to calibrate monetary tightening so as to promote growth, stifle inflation and simultaneously still put through the huge borrowing programme of the government at a reasonable cost. India probably needs higher interest rates to prevent the current food-based inflation from spilling over into a more generalised price spiral, but higher interest rates will hurt the growth transition currently underway. We need to move away from government stimulus being a driver of growth towards private investment demand, and a spike in rates will hurt this transition meaningfully. A 300 basis points higher cost of debt affects project IRRs materially.
India has another problem in that at high rates of growth, anything over 8.5 per cent on a sustained basis, and everything starts falling apart in the country. From power, ports, airports, skilled manpower to railway wagons, everything goes into short supply, and inflation starts to spike higher. Remember, the last inflation scare in 2007 was not driven by food prices at all, but by surges in commodity prices and a general overheating of the economy. We are a fundamentally under-invested country, and to address the structural issues of an economy which cannot handle sustained growth of over 8.5 per cent without overheating, we need large-scale investments to improve the supply side response to growth in numerous areas of soft and hard infrastructure. To improve the supply side, we need huge investments. These investments are sensitive to rates, and will not be made in an environment of high and rising interest rates. Thus, ironically, one can argue that to tackle inflation on a more structural basis, we actually need low interest rates, not tight monetary policy.
The RBI governor thus has a thankless job, having to make a very delicate balance between growth and inflation. He cannot let the country move into an era of generally higher inflation and interest rates, as once out of the bottle, that genie is very difficult to control. But he cannot use a sledgehammer approach either. He anyway has to handle the inevitable crowding out issues as private sector credit demand picks up.
Interlinked with the above, the biggest risks on the horizon for India are the monsoons and oil prices. Another monsoon failure (God forbid) will throw the whole food price situation out of control, besides seriously damaging consumption, growth and the fiscal. We dodged the bullet of a poor monsoon in 2009 (in terms of economic impact), but two poor years back to back will put a huge strain on the economy. RBI will be forced to act, as no government will be able to withstand the political pressure that will be mounted following a second year of double-digit food price rise. Agriculture will dip by a lot more than the 2 per cent the government statisticians project for 2009, and rural consumption will slump with food subsidies spiralling out of control.
India is also extremely vulnerable to higher oil prices. There is a worrying tendency recently on the part of many global oil analysts to become more bullish and raise their price forecasts, which is a clear red flag.
High oil prices have a huge impact on the fiscal side in India through petroleum product subsidies and higher fertiliser subsidies, or on inflation in case prices are allowed to adjust. We can only hope that prices behave. Whether the impact is through the fiscal or inflation, the end outcome is the same higher rates.
The next six months are also critical in that the government will have to demonstrate progress on tax reform through the direct tax code and goods and services tax. As pointed out before, both these reforms are absolutely critical to achieving the fiscal deficit targets outlined in the Budget. We will know within the next six months whether the government has been able to withstand the lobbyists and special interest groups, and deliver on these landmark legislations.
The markets, to my mind, should be stuck in a broad trading zone till such time as we get better visibility on the monsoons and oil prices. Normally, the rains do not have such importance, but given the inflationary and fiscal challenges already confronting the country and the policy-makers, we need to cross this hurdle for the markets to break out of their current range.
Markets can handle a 125-150 basis points rate hike over the coming 12 months, that is baked in the cake, but anything higher than that will be corrosive for PE multiples and market performance.
If the rain gods are kind, and the government does deliver on tax reform, then we are looking at a very positive market outlook in the second half of 2010.
The author is the Fund Manager and Chief Executive Officer of Amansa Capital
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
Bulimia and anorexia are all too often fashionista disorders, one of the fast growing family of lifestyle diseases. The usual counter-mantra to their endless cycle of paranoid binging and starving has been simple: 'Eat Healthy'. Now even that has come under the scanner in the west and the new juju word is 'orthorexia' or a condition in which eating healthy becomes an unhealthy obsession.
Sufferers refuse to ingest 'impure' foods and end up becoming as stick-thin as those affected by the other two better-known disorders, as very few edible items meet their stringent standards. Orthorexia is not necessarily related to anorexia, but the victims in both cases display a marked similarity of silhouette.
The distinction is subtle, as anorexics are bothered about how they look while orthorexics are bothered about what they eat. Though the actual percentage of 'orthorexics' is unknown, the rising anxiety among the chatterati about pesticides and genetically modified foods, points to a rather large group of potential victims. And their numbers are swelling because of the rising tide of opinion in favour of organic and seasonal foods. It is not surprising, therefore for the organic food movement to regard this burgeoning segment as probable converts.
The orthorexics' tendency, however, to distrust labelling and methods of production and their consequent deliberate reduction of intake makes them also all-tosusceptible to that paradoxical and peculiarly First World phenomenon: voluntary malnutrition. The west is indeed a study in contrasts, with large sections of the population obsessively overeating, while others severely curb their intake on purpose. Backed by empirical evidence there should be cause enough to invent a new type of condition or disorder to encompass this kind of widespread behaviour that seems to traverse continents and cultures!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
The Park Street fire casualty figures go up, as more bodies are discovered or the missing join the officially dead. Reports suggest that those on the top floors died because their exit to the terrace and probable safety was blocked by a locked door. That single locked door stands as a grim pointer to what fire safety is all about, and the huge challenge that fast-urbanising India faces on this front.
In the popular imagination, fire safety means brave firemen rushing to trouble spots in their red fire engines with tall ladders, long hoses and high-pressure water. It's high time this popular imagination was modified, moving away from what is essentially one chunk of active fire protection to the entire spectrum of active and passive fire protection measures. It must start with a cultural shift, from the primordial fatalism of a population whose fortunes depended, in the main, on the whims of the rain gods, to the mental make-up of the modern man who takes much larger responsibility for shaping his own destiny. Planning is the next step, and enforcement.
Town planning, to prevent fires spreading or starting, traffic (including parking) management and discipline to ensure ready access to the site of a fire accident, building codes which have passive safety built into their DNA and are meant to be enforced rather than serve as a means of extortion from builders who flout the codes, standards for fire-proofing , resisting or delaying materials, mandatory and systematic dispersal of such material inside new construction, training of the occupants of large building blocks to behave responsibly in times of fire emergency the list of things that can and need to be done goes on. Fire safety is a fairly well developed discipline, what is lacking is the will to import its insights into how we build modern India.
After being released from tariff control, fire insurance rates have plunged to ridiculously low levels. This race to the bottom is unhealthy and must stop. Insurance must factor in the passive and active fire safety measures going into a building, while writing its premium. That would supplement regulatory pressure to build fire safety into our new physical environment, from the bottom up.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
The demand that the chairman of Punjab and Sind Bank (PSB) must be a Sikh is completely untenable and must be junked forthwith. PSB is a nationalised bank and the same rules must apply to the selection of its chairman as to any other nationalised bank.
Selection must be made on the basis of competence, not religion. Unfortunately, the government is reportedly toying with appointing a Sikh officer from the Indian Administrative Service on the specious ground that there is no eligible Sikh candidate to head PSB after its current chairman and managing director retires in June this year. This follows a demand from the ex-chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, Mr Tarlochan Singh and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) that the appointment of a non-Sikh would hurt the sentiments of the Sikh community.
The government should treat the demand as political noise unworthy of serious attention. The interests of the Sikh community would be far better served by appointing the best man for the job, Sikh or non-Sikh, rather than someone whose main credential is his religion . Remember a major part of PSB's branch network is in Sikh-dominated Punjab. So the appointment of someone who does not make the cut would do more harm than good to the community.
The entire notion that top positions, whether in banks or elsewhere, is to be decided on the basis of cosy community ties is a relic of the past. In the pre-nationalisation days, all banks were largely community-owned and community-run . Indeed one of the main reasons for nationalisation was to break the community nexus of banks and ensure that banking became accessible to every Indian regardless of caste or creed.
Today we are still far from achieving that goal but that is not because nationalised banks still function on narrow parochial lines. If the government succumbs to the demand in the case of PSB, what is to stop other banks Indian Bank, once owned by the Chettiars of Tamil Nadu, Central Bank of India, by the Parsis and so on from raising similar demands? It is time we put an end to such identity politics. Let the best man win! PSB (and the country) deserve that!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
LESS BANG FOR US STIMULUS BUCK
The run-up to the economic crisis in the United States was characterised by excessive leverage in financial institutions and the household sector, inflating an asset bubble that eventually collapsed and left balance sheets damaged to varying degrees. The aftermath involves resetting asset values, deleveraging, and rehabilitating balance sheets resulting in today's higher saving rate, significant shortfall in domestic demand, and sharp uptick in unemployment.
So the most important question the US now faces is whether continued fiscal and monetary stimulus can, as some believe , help to right the economy. To be sure, at the height of the crisis, the combined effect of fiscal stimulus and massive monetary easing had a big impact in preventing a credit freeze and limiting the downward spiral in asset prices and real economic activity. But that period is over.
The reason is simple: the pre-crisis period of consuming capital gains that turned out to be at least partly ephemeral inevitably led to a post-crisis period of inhibited spending, diminished demand, and higher unemployment. Counter-cyclical policy can moderate these negative effects, but it cannot undo the damage or accelerate the recovery beyond fairly strict limits.
As a result, the benefits associated with deficit-financed boosts to household income are now being diminished by the propensity to save and rebuild net worth. On the business side, investment and employment follows demand once the inventory cycle has run its course. Until demand returns, business will remain in a cost-cutting mode.
The bottom line is that deficit spending is now fighting a losing battle with an economy that is deleveraging and restructuring its balance sheets, its exports , and its microeconomic composition in short, its future growth potential . That restructuring will occur, deficit spending or no deficit spending. So policy needs to acknowledge the fact that there are limits to how fast this restructuring can be accomplished.
Attempting to exceed these speed limits not only risks damaging the fiscal balance and the dollar's stability and resilience , but also may leave the economy and government finances highly vulnerable to future shocks that outweigh the quite modest short-term benefits of accelerated investment and employment. Demand will revive, but only slowly.
True, asset prices have recovered enough to help balance sheets, but probably not enough to help consumption. The impact on consumption will largely have to wait until balance sheets, for both households and businesses, are more fully repaired.
Higher foreign demand from today's trade-surplus countries (China, Germany, and Japan, among others) could help restore some of the missing demand. But that involves structural change in those economies as well, and thus will take time.
Moreover, responding to expanded foreign demand will require structural changes in the US economy, which will also take time. This is not to say that rebalancing global demand is unimportant. Quite the contrary. But achieving that goal has more to do with restoring the underpinnings of global growth over three-to-five years than it does with a short-term restoration of balance and employment in the advanced economies, especially the US.
Today, the best way to use deficits and government debt is to focus on distributional issues, particularly the unemployed, both actual and potential. In an extended balance-sheet recession of this type, unemployment benefits need to be substantial and prolonged. The argument that this would discourage the unemployed from seeking work has merit in normal times, but not now.
Today's unemployment, after all, is structural, rather than the result of perverse incentives. Benefits should be expanded and extended for a limited, discretionary period. When structural barriers to employment have diminished, unemployment benefits should revert to their old norms. Doing this would not only reduce the unequal burden now being carried by the unemployed; it would also help to sustain consumption, and perhaps reduce some precautionary savings among those who fear losing their jobs in the future.
Monetary policy is a more complex and difficult balancing act. A more aggressive interest-rate policy would likely reduce asset prices (or at least slow the rate of appreciation), increase adjustable-rate debt-service burdens, and trigger additional balance-sheet distress and disorderly deleveraging, such as foreclosures. All of this would slow the recovery, perhaps even causing it to stall.
But there are consequences to abjuring this approach as well. Low-cost credit is unlikely to have a significant impact on consumption in the short run, but it can produce asset inflation and misallocations.
Much of the rest of the world would prefer a stronger dollar, fewer capital inflows with a carry-trade flavour, and less need to manage their own currencies' appreciation to avoid adverse consequences for their economies' competitiveness. In short, the sort of monetary policy now being practised for a fragile economy like the US will cause distortions in the global economy that require policy responses in many other countries.
From a political point of view, the crisis has been portrayed as a failure of financial regulation, with irresponsible lending fuelling a rapid rise in systemic risk. That leaves the rest of the real economy populated with people who feel like victims albeit victims who, prior to the crisis, bought a lot of houses, vacations, TVs, and cars.
Unfortunately, that perception pushes the policy response in the direction of too much remedial action, even when the marginal returns are low. What we most need now is support for the unemployed, stable government finances with a clearly communicated deficit-reduction plan, some truth-telling about medium-term growth prospects, and an orderly healing process in which balance sheets are restored mostly without government intervention.
(The author, the 2001 Nobel Laureate in economics, and professor emeritus, Stanford University, chairs the Commission on Growth and Development)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE CITY SLICKER AS METAPHOR
Before he disappeared under mysterious circumstances at the age of twenty in 1934, the American artist, writer and naturalist Everett Ruess, spent his last four years exploring the deserts of the American southwest always alone. His attitude to life can be found in a letter he wrote to his brother shortly before his death: "I have not tired of the wilderness ; rather I enjoy its beauty and the vagrant life I lead, more keenly all the time. I prefer the saddle to the streetcar and starsprinkled sky to a roof, the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown to any paved highway, and the deep peace of the wild to the discontent bred by cities."
How came he upon this manifesto which is so prized not only by nascent New Agers but also embraced down the ages by sadhus , saints and sages? How does such a (chronologically ) young mind reject perceived materialism for a pristine return to nature? Why should, indeed, a saddle be necessarily preferred to a streetcar?
What if some Mongol or Native American tribesmen were to tell someone like Ruess that they prefer the bare back to the saddle because riding in this fashion is natural, allows considerable communication with the horse and improves a rider's balance? Would a saddle become automatically repugnant in that case? Also, in that case, we should be preferring raw food instead of having it flame tempered by fire. And doing all our writing by means of stick marks on sand or a goose quill dipped in waterrubbed inkstone instead of using something like a pencil, Biro or word processor. It would be interesting to know what Ruess used for his writings.
But perhaps we do the man a gross injustice here because it's possible he was using his examples only as personal metaphor. The trouble is, we often tend to take that figure of speech, turn it on its head and begin to idolise it.
That's when we begin to suddenly see ceilings as something made of cement and not as the tops of caves or burrows and desire the elemental but essentially unprotective star-sprinkled sky. And what if a person were to find deep peace amidst a herd of people he calls his city? Would such a claim be any more falsifiable than that discovered in the wild? As for nature trails, it's the natural product of walking that occasionally get paved into highways which, too, can still lead into the unknown. Just like swinging through the trees once did.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A DELIBERATE ONSLAUGHT ON GENDER EQUALITY
As the whole world was celebrating March 8 as Women's Day, and the Union government was bringing in the women's reservation Bill, the Congress in J&K joined hands with the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and allowed its MLC to introduce the Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill (PRDB). The ill-motivated PRDB seeks to snatch the citizenship rights of the daughters of J&K who had already married outside the state and who would marry non-state subjects of their choice in the future.
The PRDB says that daughters of J&K shall forfeit their right to own immovable property, inherit ancestral property, obtain government jobs and seek admission to state-run professional institutions and universities in case they marry non-state subjects . The Bill also seeks to snatch the citizenship rights of those non-state subject females who are married to state subjects on the termination of their marriages.
To be more precise, the Bill seeks to upturn the three landmark judgements on the issue of gender equality judgements delivered by J&K High Court on October 7, 2002, September 24, 2004 and August 8, 2005. The high court had taken no less than 20 years to come to the conclusion that "a female state subject does not lose her status as a state subject on her marriage to a non-state subject".
Hitherto, the practice was to make an endorsement of "valid till marriage" on the state subject certificates issued to unmarried daughters of state subjects.
The Bill was introduced after careful planning, despite it having the potential of provoking the people of Jammu province to explode the way they did in 2004 on the same issue. The manner in which the Bill was introduced indicated that ruling NC and its arch political rival in Kashmir and main opposition PDP had worked in tandem to achieve what both these parties had failed to achieve in 2004. The Bill needs to be defeated as it means not just the denial of natural rights to female state subjects but will hasten the process of the state's disintegration a process which is already on.
By HARI OM, Dean (Social Sciences) University of Jammu.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IT'S ABOUT J&K'S IDENTITY WITHIN THE UNION
The Bill concerning the rights of women married outside the state is to be seen in the historical perspective of J&K within the state of India.
It was much before partition that the Maharaja enacted a law on the demand of the limited educated elite of his vast state. The reason was the attraction the beautiful state held for the rich and mobile from other areas of British India, especially neighbouring Punjab. The fortune seekers saw J&K as a country of promise where they started acquiring properties and getting the bulk of scarce government jobs on the basis of superior, or at least competing, merit. Dogras of Jammu and Pandits of Kashmir, who constituted the more influential class, were hit by this emigration directly and since they had the run the civil services, the ban came easily and was followed as an article of faith by successive generations with new reasons.
After the accession of the state with the Union of India the equations changed and it became a more sensitive issue for Muslims and non-Muslims of the state. They looked up to the state subject law as a bulwark to preserve their identity in the ocean of numerous larger and more powerful influences defining India. The law was struck down in its application to those women who marry an outsider.
Here it is important to mention that outsiders would mean those from other countries as well, not just other states of India alone and there are still more marriages taking place between Kashmiris and Pakistanis than perhaps the rest. The state government was obliged to respond to the new situation constitutionally and it did so.
The lower House passed the amendment in 2004 with a rare consensus and even the lone BJP member, besides Congress, NC and Panthers Party voted in its favour. But the shouting brigade took over and the Bill was sabotaged before it could become a law.
The issue is therefore to be seen in the context of the larger Kashmir problem rather than give it a bad name as some antiwomen measure. The people of the state have a genuine concern about their identity within the union and that has to be respected.
By Naeem Akhtar, Spokesperson PDP.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TOO MANY BUMPS ON ROAD TO SARAL
Zenobia aunty lives in what the realestate brokers call 'towers'. Now Zenobia aunt's apartment is tucked away in the last tower in the residential complex, away from the din and noise and on a lower floor, even as the preference, perhaps, may have been for apartments on higher floors which offer a sea view. All around her neighbourhood mill complexes are giving way to residential complexes. Real estate brokers are a busy lot, towing potential customers across to see the model flat as are perhaps vastu consultants.
Yes some flats do command a premium such as a flat overlooking a park or having a sea view or even one which is on a higher floor. Our finance minister has now sought to bring into the service tax net: "special services provided by a builder to the prospective buyers such as providing a preferential location or external or internal development".
Zenobia aunty scratches her head. "Is this practical, how will they ever implement it?," she wonders. A Google search shows that in 1696, a tax was placed on British homes based on the number of windows the home had.
Previously the tax was levied per household, no matter the size of the house or the number of residents. The law changed, however, to levy higher taxes on larger homes with, presumably, more windows. Instead of paying the higher taxes , people just bricked up the windows that they found to be extraneous. An astute visitor to Britain can still see evidence of this law today in the scores of walled up windows in older buildings throughout the country! This columnist wonders what Mumbai apartment dwellers having a sea view will do, buy thick curtains perhaps?
Zenobia aunty was really expecting that the tax exemption available for medical expenses would go a bit higher from the current limit of Rs 15,000. Alas, while this did not happen, payment for treatment made by insurance companies directly to hospitals is now under the service tax net. The past few weeks, we have been seeing headlines on how third-party insurance intermediaries are trying to dictate terms on how much doctors in hospitals should charge . Even as the battle between insurance companies and the patients is hotting up, up comes this whammy. Zenobia aunty can sense that HR departments, where employees are covered by health insurance plans will have their hands full. And it is quite possible, that the employee covered by the insurance scheme will have to bear this tax for which he cannot take any tax credit.
There is also a retrospective amendment dating back to July 1, 2003 to cover commercial training and coaching services. Once again, the litigation and administrative costs involved thanks to such a retrospective amendment may not be worth the recovery in the form of service tax.
Ah, well, there are some things that hoipolloi like you, this columnist, or Zenobia aunty will never understand. Minimum alternative tax (MAT) is one such thing. Last year, we saw a hike in MAT from 10% to 15%. This year, there is another hike to 18%. On the other hand, the normal tax rate, with the slight decline in surcharge to 7.5% is now 33.22% (for large companies). If one considers the various tax sops including tax depreciation available, the normal effective tax for a company could be slightly lower, say around 25%.
MAT was introduced as a solution to bridge the difference between book profits and taxable profits to bring into the tax net companies which were paying heavy dividends but owing to tax sops were not paying tax. This bridge or gap has been narrowed down the years through a reduction in depreciation rates and phasing of various exemptions. Reduction in tax depreciation for plant and machinery from a high of 25% to 15% by the Finance Act, 2005 significantly narrowed the disparity between book profits and taxable profits. Thus, Zenobia aunty really wonders, why MAT still exits.
MAT takes back what was lawfully intended to be given as tax breaks and tax sops. And hiking MAT rates adds insult to the injury. Further, if it is to exist, MAT should be applicable, when there is actual profit after deducting both the carry forward loss and unabsorbed depreciation from the book profit and not the lower of the two. Else, companies where depreciation element is low, but who make consistent losses owing to business environment , will have to pay MAT despite heavy carry forward losses. Likewise, companies that are making nominal profit or loss before depreciation but the depreciation charge being very heavy will be liable for MAT.
Zenobia aunty also hopes that there is some rethink on, as regards levy of MAT on the gross value of the assets which was proposed in the draft direct taxes code. Abolish MAT in toto, is what she advocates. Hopefully once the direct taxes code is in place, it will ensure greater simplicity and stability in tax laws, like Saral-II. Let us wait and watch.
Retrospective amendments result in more disputes, further litgation and higher administrative cossts Abolish minimum alternative tax as there is no rationale for its continuation Simplicity and stability in tax laws ensure better compliance.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDIA'S HUGE OPPORTUNITY FOR US: MICROSOFT
His first visit to India was in 1995 when the mobile phone was a rarity in this country. Custom officials curiously inspected his cellphone and even broke down its registration number in the process. Since then, India has undergone a revolution in cellular telephony and has become the second largest user of cellphones after China. India is now on the cusp of another revolutionmore and more people are taking to entrepreneurship and fuelling a booming economy. And Birger Steen, vice-president of small and medium business and distribution at Microsoft Corp, doesn't want to let go this opportunity. On a recent visit to Delhi, Steen met Aman Dhall and shared his views on the SMB market here and why there are no real challengers for India in the short-term. Excerpts:
Is the Indian small & medium business (SMB) market following a particular pattern?
It's more defining a pattern. You have something of magnitude of nine million people, who will over the next 30 years go from working in traditional paths and migrate into doing businesses in companies. The formal SMB sector in India is world's largest. In a recession, all sorts of businesses go under but there is one type of company that gets createdthat's a small business. Creative destruction works in that way. Destruction applies broadly, creations happen there.
What is confronting the growth of SMBs?
Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure... That's what has been a big hurdle in the development of SMBs. In some countries, getting people to starting a venture, the complacency is they don't want to take risk. You don't have a chance in Europe. In India, there is a huge appetite among people to start something of their own. If the government proactively supports this sector, it can grow faster.
Which countries can challenge India's SMB growth in the future?
Mexico has impressed me. They have up to the highest government levels, a very clear appreciation of importance of SMBs. They sponsor a national week every year that is opened by the PM and attended by 100,000 people. The event celebrates small businesses and entrepreneurs in the country. There is a sizeable local market with good underline growth. If I look at our growth charge globally, Brazil is definitely one that challenges India. Over the horizon of some time, however, no country can overtake India in the SMB space.
What are your business targets for India?
In five years from now, there'll be easily 20 million businesses that will be using IT as part of their every day life in some way. On that assumption, our business in India five years from now should be 10 times from where it is today.
What excites you about your work?
Today, multiple SMBs in the same area are doing businesses with each other. The textile cluster in Tirupur and auto cluster in Pune are two classic examples in India. Around 20 years ago, big companies integrated their workforce in this way internally. Then electronic data interchange arrived between big companies and there was exchange of documents electronically. Very light versions are now being used. That's the fun about working in this space. You continually make tech and business process that was previously only available to giants of this world, accessible to very small businesses. Pay per usage and in many cases pay very less. You don't have to pay for hardware. Stuff that was enterprise class, enterprise capacity and enterprise price becomes chopped in to small pieces to be made accessible to small business. This is what happened with the commercial Internet.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE WANT TO FOLLOW INDIA'S MODEL OF HIRING MORE FRESHERS: CAPGEMINI
For Capgemini, Europe's biggest technology consulting company, India is emerging as an effective strategy for improving profitability. It will also help the company compete better with rivals IBM and Accenture, apart from Indian outsourcing companies such as TCS and Infosys. Paul Hermelin, the group CEO of Capgemini, who will turn 58 next month, plans to replicate Indian companies' pyramid structure, which involves hiring fresh engineering graduates and achieving double-digit profit margins, higher than around 6-7% currently. In an exclusive interview with ET, Mr Hermelin says it may be a tad too early to celebrate the end of recession. Excerpts:
Banks seem to have started spending in the US and Europe on technology again, but some argue that everything may not be right. Are we celebrating too early?
You're right, celebrating early would be the right word. First, the downturn was amplified by severe cost cutting by the main companies. We now see the 2009 profits and find that they are generally less bad than what people feared 12 months ago. It meant staff cut for protecting earnings, which amplified the recession. It's just like automotive they cut their inventory of cars, they stop the production just to exhaust their existing inventory. By doing that, they over reacted. Part of the better feeling after the fall was we have done that kind of 'cost killing' exercise, and we have come back to something that is more appropriate, but it is not necessarily to the level before the crisis we have swallowed the over-reaction, that's it.
If I take one sector that has apparently recovered it's the banks. There are far less housing programmes, less borrowing by households, so it's not exactly the same world as before. So, if I look from our angle, we now see bigger projects. Last year, it was all about price reduction, vendor consolidation, now, they are back launching some new projects, but most of the projects have a mission, which is to reduce costs. I do not see banks launching new projects.
There is one point which has not been addressed, that is, the confidence of the end consumer. People are still fearful. Frankly, the level of saving in the US is better than it was they did not save at all! They just consumed more than they earned. France has one of the highest savings in entire Europe. Savings would be directed to investments. If they save and do not consume, the money will be frozen. The US looks more optimistic. Americans are always optimistic, but only when they are completely depressed. They can't stand pessimism for long.
Have you started to win new contracts?
On system integration projects last year, it was difficult to sign a project worth more than e10 million because projects were sliced in two pieces, people were delaying commitments on large projects. So, now, we have a good pipeline of projects between e20 million and e100 million, which is normal.
Many Indian IT firms are now looking at public sector offshoring as the next big opportunity. What lessons do you have to offer based on Capgemini's long haul in UK's government outsourcing market?
This sector is not too good for our Indian colleagues because there is a lot of protectionism. We are a big player there. First, we start to see some offshore presence and we can leverage them, too. With central governments, you couldn't even talk about it, now you can. So there is an openness to consider what it would bring. When we run the tax authorities in the UK, they transfer to us 2,600 people.
Among them, some are still civil servants, with all the rights of civil servants we can't lay them off, it's forbidden. So, if we offshore completely, we would be left with civil servants. It's just not about offshoring, it's about dealing with substitution. They want savings, but it's quite difficult for them to manage the social consequences, so we have to find a way out and empathise with a customer's problem. Will it change? Probably yes. Can it be as radical as in the commercial sector, may be not.
With nearly 75% of revenues from Europe, there are challenges for Capgemini as you drive more offshoring. How are you addressing the local sentiments?
The first point is UK is a mature market. Today, we see a higher acceptance of offshoring in the share of Europe where people can work in English, which could be Scandinavia and Belgium. These are small countries where in a customer organisation it's pretty well accepted to work in English.
Now, when we look at all the resistance in Germany, even in these countries there are mature segments, there are true MNCs with global presence. During 2008, the offshore leverage was 48% in terms of headcount, last year we reached 55:45 and this year, we will reach 60:40. So you see, in two years, we moved 10 points on delivery inspite of big public sector contracts in the UK. If you put the UK public sector aside, the ratio of offshore is quite high, 70-80%. Today, we have transformed the French and the Dutch financial business units. In Southern Europe, we had offshore leverage of 9.5% and we moved it to 15% in one year, so it's an evolution.
How much can you move offshore and what impact will it have on your profitability?
In terms of billable people, today our ratio is 32% offshore. We have grown the offshore ratio last year, from 28% to 32% and our goal is to move it to 36% by this year end. Last year, we grew our Indian headcount. If you
look at the European IT services market, profit margins are between 5-10%. In the US, good players are at 12-15% and if I look at India, they are above 20%. So, the first point is the absence of flexibility in Europe, when you lay off someone it's very expensive and you try to delay it, that has a weight on margin. We at Capgemini said with offshoring it will move to double digits pretty soon.
I think it's a question of mix. The talent of pure offshore players has been to leverage the pyramid very well and use the freshers. That's the way Indian companies deliver superior margins. The tradition at Capgemini has been to sell mainly fixed price projects, whereas our Indian colleagues sell more of framework arrangements that are multi-year relationships that's the model that allows to optimise the pyramid.
Would you also look at hiring freshers?
Yes indeed. We have already started recruiting from the campuses. We had started with what are called lateral recruits, but we are now moving to hire more freshers. But this is the model that the western companies could not start, and we are getting there.
The 32% offshore in terms of revenue per head is one third, which means our offshore revenues is 13%. Which means 32% of headcount is 13% of revenues, and the margin impact is in proportion to people and not in proportion to revenues. So, while offshore will help us drive our margin up, today it's still 13%.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MEDIA LANDSCAPE HERE CONTINUES TO INNOVATE
After a year of declining profits and tightfisted clients, global media consultancy and buying outfit Maxus says it has turned the corner, at least for India. The GroupM network has revised advertising expenditure forecast for India upwards, according to Kelly Clark, worldwide CEO of Maxus, who is currently on an India visit. Clark is a veteran of the WPP, the world's largest advertising group that owns JWT, MindShare and Maxus, among others. In an interview with ET, he talked about recovery from a tough economic environment and what it will take for Maxus to keep growth momentum ticking. Excerpts:
Is the slump in the advertising industry over? How different was the scenario in India compared to developed markets?
We definitely think we've turned the corner. After a brutal 2009, with major declines in ad expenditures in most markets, we expect a small measure of growth globally in 2010. Of course, there will be stronger performances in high-growth economies. We have revised our advertising expenditure forecast for India upwardsto over 10% this year.
India certainly took some hits last year. But this was much better than the huge declines we experienced in the so-called developed markets. The media landscape in India continues to innovate, which is exciting. Just look at the success of the IPL.
WPP group saw the maximum layoffs last year. How badly was Maxus affected?
We did not have layoffs. The role Maxus plays within GroupM is that we don't try to replicate what the bigger agencies are doing. Our approach is entrepreneurial. Our size works in a positive way for us. And we want to remain that way.
Are you satisfied with Maxus India's performance?
Well, in many ways, this is a flagship market for us, with clients like Vodafone and Nokia. But we can do a lot to improve. We need more skill sets in the digital space, integrated mobile marketing, and in a couple of areas in traditional media as well.
There's a growing belief that media firms are becoming more dominant client partners than creative agencies. What's your view?
It would be plainly wrong not to mention arrogant to claim categorically that media agencies are more dominant partners to clients than creative agencies. Of course, it depends on the client. Some clients rely more on their creative agency. Some rely more on their media agency. And some want both to work as equal partners in an integrated team. But there is no question that media agencies now enjoy many more 'top table' relationships with clients these days. This is a result of the significant investments we've made to understand consumers and to exploit opportunities in the rapidly changing media landscape.
In this context, how much does media creativity help?
Creativity is crucial, and it is not the exclusive realm of ad agencies. In our experience, here in India, great clients want creativity and innovative ideas from all their agency partners.
TOP COURT SPELLS OUT HOME TRUTHS
Self-proclaimed defenders of public morals, in other words agony aunts, usually find themselves thrust in that position as they have little better to do and are not averse to grabbing a little publicity on the side. This possibly explains the harassment of South Indian actress Khushboo by the gung-ho morality brigade, who began frothing at the mouth when she said in an interview that she had no objection to live-in relationships or to sex before marriage. The do-gooders filed criminal cases against her at different places across Tamil Nadu. It is no credit to the Madras High Court that it dismissed Ms Khushboo's plea for quashing these absurd cases which plainly amounted to harassment. But relief has come to the outspoken filmstar through the Supreme Court, which not only upheld her plea on Tuesday but also gave the pushy morality-wallahs a tongue-lashing. The three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan made two clear and separate points. The bench said the views expressed by the actress were her "personal" views, and asked counsel for the busybodies plying the morality argument: "How does it concern you?" This blunt question strikes a blow for the freedom of expression, a key element of our Constitution, which in recent times has been sought to be subverted by vigilante groups operating usually under the pretext of upholding India's cultural values. It is typically this variety that mimics the Taliban, attacks painter M.F. Husain, and continually creates a nuisance come Valentine's Day every year. The other clear point made by the country's highest court is that no law prohibits a live-in relationship or premarital sex. Indeed, striking a poignant tone, the bench observed: "Living together is a right to life." The argument of the morality-mongers was that live-in relationships and premarital sex would adversely affect the minds of young people, leading to a decline in moral values and dissipating of the country's ethos. Expressing their impatience with such reasoning, the court asked the counsel for the culture-afflicted: "How many homes have been affected, can you tell us?" While it is more than clear that physical intimacy before marriage, or a live-in relationship, violates no law in this country, there is no gainsaying that until very recently a live-in relationship was far from being the norm. But so was women living on their own in big cities, women working, or women working nightshifts in pursuit of a promising career. Experts will also have little difficulty establishing that women, in many instances, are indeed the family bread-winner, not the so-called man of the house. It is plain to see that such tectonic sociological changes have come about across the board, not only in respect of matters concerning women or the family. Culture and values are notions that are not static and those who think they are batting for Indian Culture have themselves been conscious or unconscious agents of change in their time. While the idea of culture arises from everyday practices gathered over time, the idea of morality fundamentally goes hand in hand with the idea of order and stability, and in that spirit delineates codes of thought and conduct at given moments of time. But who can say that the injunctions of morality in a period can be totally at variance with the broad notions of culture? And with very rapid material changes in the world, this culture is changing rapidly.
MISSING MIDDLE CLASS
BY SHIV VISVANATHAN
The INDIAN Premier League (IPL) auctions and the prices paid for the Pune and Kochi teams were both impressive and scandalous. What was impressive was the money paid. What was depressing was the response to such payments.
To say that cricket is business does not explain everything. Cricket for all its hypocrisy was a wonderfully middle class game which captured a whole set of values from gentlemanliness to sportsmanship. Oddly, I was waiting for someone to say that the price of the teams was "not just cricket". Cricket in a classic sense was also an appeal, a particular code, a vision that went beyond business and the practical. I do not want to say that the investments were obscene. I want to make a different point.
I want to make sense of what I am calling the absence of the middle class response. It is a bit like the Chesterton story where the mystery surrounds the fact that the dog did not bark. Has something changed in the middle class?
I am not arguing or making a case for the middle class. The Indian middle class was terribly repressed, supine during the Emergency, happy if the exam results were above the pass line. But the same corsetted community created a sense of social work, a pride in professionalism, the romanticism of old protest. It had a sense of proportion, a music of values.
One could dismiss all of it as legacy of socialism. One could explain it away as the remains of the ration card economy which had turned us into scavengers and foragers. Maybe, scarcity and shortages creates a sense of limits, a sense of this much and no more. It made the middle class reasonably ascetic, committed to saving. Consumption was limited to target goods; the body was a bounded entity. Life centered around exams, competition and the dream of Indian Institute of Technology. Desire was a Lux soap and excess was foreign liquor.
Today consumption has exploded. We no longer have a generation that is afraid of debt that believes in savings. It wants to spend. Conspicuous consumption has become a sign of success, or even excellence. Cricket in a sense expressed the transition to branded goods. It was a game which was middle class and started expressing the new sense of excitement about upward mobility and small towns. The Dhonis, the Tendulkars and the Irfan Khans told the story of cricket as a cornucopia of opportunity. Cricket was a middle class game. It combined individualism and nationalism gave India a sense of style, of standing up to the world. But our cricketers like Gavaskar, Sardesai, Contractor, Venkatraghvan, Prasanna and Vishwanath, were wonderfully middle class. Restrained. Modest. Disciplined. Professional. Understated except in their achievements. They lived buttoned down lives. One could never associate these names with consumer frenzy, luscious beauties and cheerleaders.
Cricket has turned global, even diasporic. Every Indian, Australian, West Indian and Pakistani in Silicon Valley is an avid weekend player. Cricket provides a sense of roots. There are, I believe, around 700 clubs in California alone. Cricket signals symbolic power. It is hyphenated with Bollywood and the Gulf, and now with money. In that sense, cricket is no longer cricket, that old fashioned game where we challenged an empire in a ritual game of competence and sportsmanship.
It smells of money. It drinks up investments and suddenly the middle class proportion, the limits we associated with cricket, have disappeared. What I am bemoaning is not IPL, but the framework of values, even goodness and responsibility that surrounded both cricket and the middle class. Cricket was once a symptom of the best of middle class values, from play to fair play.
If an act of conspicuous consumption like IPL took place, one would have added a few buts to it. This was a generation that would not waste food as people were starving. This was a generation that felt investment in education was a prime goal, that knowledge and exams were priority over games. In that scale of priorities, excess was always frowned at. Excess was attributed to the noveau rich and the last page pin up. The achievements of Gandhi, Baba Amte and Mother Teresa were recited with pride and belief. Even Communism as a style was part of the middle class lifestyle. Today, that framework of values that stood for justice, limits, penny pinching, repression and restraint is silent or has gone underground.
No Gandhian is there to condemn it. No socialist leads a protest march. One misses an official condemnation from the Communist Party treating it as capitalist excess, even if it enjoys the game. Coffee house conversations and officegoers in bus rides would have clucked in contempt instead of remaining silent in awe, indifference, or consent. A value horizon has suddenly disappeared.
One wonders why. Is it that globalisation has legitimated consumerist excess, so that a middle class sense of limits appears both apologetic and a failure. Does the old middle class which created the nation seem anachronistic? Are our models only the upwardly mobile and the new rich? Can we have core competence without values?
This does not call for a spoilsport attitude. We celebrate success but we create a framework of values and limits for it to operate within. Let me put it another way. One cannot see the Tatas or the Birlas doing such an act. One can expect them to back a research institute, a temple, but the IPL is not their style. Or at least not yet.
Today, the ecstasy of cricket seems different from the high that IPL provides. Cricket which glorified its narrative slowness suddenly glories in the machismo of speed. Narratives change, but should values disappear with it?
The middle class man was a spectator, a knowledgeable witness, who saw in cricket part of his heritage of values. The spectator had power. He was a commentator but today his comments say little about the nature of the sport. The spectator seems to have ceded his claims to the expert and it was the spectator in cricket that kept it a middle class game. Yet, cricket no longer feels middle class. Does this change in essence convey a fading of middle class frames and values? This loss would be a tragedy and the vaudeville called IPL cricket is a symptom of it, an early warning signal that something precious has faded away.
* Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist
AMERICA AND A BRAVE NEW HEALTHCARE WORLD
BY GAIL COLLINS
Change is so traumatic.
There we were, minding our own business, when all of a sudden, whammo, healthcare got reformed.
Really, it was quite a shock. I guess it was because of the new US President, Mr Barack Obama, who is so much more decisive and take-chargey than the old President, Mr Barack Obama. And, of course, he was helped by the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who is strong and brave and pure of heart. As opposed to that party hack, whatshername. Hated her.
The American people certainly seemed impressed, giving thumbs up to the new law in public opinion polls. Since the polls had been showing that they were strongly opposed to that very same plan last week, we can only presume that we have also acquired a whole new set of Americans.
Really, there is just so much transformation a person can handle. One day you go to bed worrying about death panels. Next day you wake up and healthcare reform is so trendy that the coolest spring accessory is a pre-existing condition.
We can only handle so much newness at once. So it's been comforting to return to the US Senate and find that it's exactly as insane as it was last month and the month before that.
The Republicans are continuing their ongoing search for new ways that any one single senator can bring all activity to a standstill.
You will remember that their dedication to this cause allowed Jim Bunning a senator who is recognised even by members of his own party as being completely loopy to put a perpetual hold on the confirmation of a deputy trade representative because he is angry with the Canadian Parliament for banning the sale of cigarettes with candy flavouring.
Now, in celebration of the passage of the healthcare reform bill, the minority party has begun invoking a rule that allows any one senator to block all committee hearings scheduled to run later than 2 pm.
Quite a bit of activity has already been cancelled, beginning with a hearing on bark beetle infestation. OK, I know some of you are sitting there chortling about bark beetles, but you'd feel differently if you were a tree. Or a state senator from Colorado who'd paid $600 of his own money to fly to Washington to testify.
And irony of ironies, at another hearing, a witness had just gotten to the part of her statement about "improving access to government information" when the chairman told her that the 2 o'clock buzzer had gone off and they were compelled to close up shop and go home.
Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman, was enraged because his hearing on judicial nominations couldn't go forward. Although really, Leahy should count his blessings. At least Jim Bunning didn't put a hold on the nominations because of some antismoking initiative in Finland.
Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, begged the Senate to allow him to go ahead and hear testimony from military commanders who had come from as far as South Korea to talk about the defence budget. Even the new, unimproved version of John McCain the one who vowed there would be "no cooperation for the rest of the year" was willing to allow an exemption for that one. But another Republican gave a thumbs down, and the officers were dismissed for the day.
"Disappointed", tweeted Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who had to cancel a hearing on police training contracts in Afghanistan.
Bad as we think the Republicans' behaviour has been, it should not be taken as an excuse for senators to take out their frustrations on Twitter. No good can come of political tweets.
Over on the Senate floor, everyone was debating the caboose to the healthcare train, a bill full of fixes that unfortunately was not entitled "Act to Eliminate Embarrassing Things Feckless Senators Stuck in the Healthcare Reform Act".
The Senate Democrats wanted to approve the exact same version that the House has passed so this debate will be over and everyone can move on to congratulating victorious college basketball teams and discussing why Republicans are opposed to a consumer protection agency for financial products.
But the Republicans drew up a slew of amendments, many of which made no sense but offered opportunities for spectacular election-year attack ads. The most instantly famous, from Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, was the classic "No Erectile Dysfunction Drugs to Sex Offenders".
This could go on for some time. Meanwhile, feel free to remind Rush Limbaugh that he promised to move to Costa Rica if healthcare reform gets implemented. Once you're done, you can go back and remind him that Costa Rica has national healthcare.
WHY MAYAWATI FLAUNTS CASH
BY MUJTABA KHAN
Politics, in academic parlance, is viewed as "who gets what, when and how". Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati's resurrection to limelight through the controversial garland needs to be seen from this perspective. Undoubtedly, during the last decade, Ms Mayawati has demonstrated unparallel political sagacity in devising successful mobilisation strategies to keep alive her own image as an invincible political shrew be it the alliance with the upper caste dominant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or emulation of Nehruvian consensus model in a new garb called "social engineering"even at the heavy cost of totally abandoning the fundamentals of the BSP as laid down by Kanshi Ram and the Mandal philosophy.
The 15th Lok Sabha election results belied Ms Mayawati's dreams to emerge as a possible kingmaker and in the bargain even a potential Prime Minister with support from non-Congress Left-secular forces. To her misfortune not only did this not happen, but on the contrary, in the aftermath of the election, a general trend of concern towards the socially excluded and marginalised ensued in the programmes of various political groups. The United Progressive Alliance's penchant for an inclusive agenda; the BJP chief Nitin Gadkari's concern for accommodation of dalits in the party; and Rahul Gandhi's proclivity to woo dalits into the Congress fold, made Ms Mayawati restless as she perceived intrusions in her political space. The legal hassles in her quest to develop memorial parks and erect statues of dalit luminaries in order to consolidate her hold on the drifting dalit masses added to her difficulties. At that moment of exasperation, the talisman of the currency garland worked miracles in bringing Ms Mayawati back on the centrestage of political popularity and an astute Ms Mayawati immediately seized the opportunity.
The BSP is essentially a lusty child of the turbulent phase that started in the aftermath of the 1975 national Emergency and reached its zenith in 1992. Born in 1984 to protect the interest and identity of the excluded castes, the BSP gradually blossomed into a political force to be reckoned with. Ms Mayawati not only wrought the party into an assertive dalit dominant organisation but also broad-based it by giving substantial space to minorities and other marginalised strata of society and steadily established herself as an undisputed leader of the dalits. Politics in India is highly personalised with individuals, and parties and movements are built around such leaders. As such the critical element in any political organisation largely rests in the reputation of the leader. In her bid for prominence, Ms Mayawati also resorted to the use of symbols, slogans, rhetorics and names like Ambedkar, Jotiba Govindrao Phule and Kanshi Ram as the situation warranted, thus mobilising support and remaining in the limelight.
Ms Mayawati's popular postures owe a great deal to the national media. Of late, media has an attitude, and image, of passivity and pessimism towards dalit issues. A glaring example is the anti-reservationists stance adopted by the national media without realising the historic intricacies of the issue. Similarly, in 2007, the visual media continuously beamed Benazir Bhutto's assassination while dalit jhuggis were ablaze in Orissa and dalit Christians were fleeing for life into wild forests. Amazingly, media remained silent spectator to the brutalities in Khairlanji and geared up after one month, only when a dalit bureaucrat took pains to mobilise a section of his media friends! Curiously, too, development work in 25,000 Uttar Pradesh villages under Ambedkar Village Development Scheme and 202 hostels built across the state failed to fetch Ms Mayawati the anticipated publicity.
In March 1991, the huge BSP rally at Boat Club, Delhi, failed to catch media's attention until a crowd broke into Mahatma Gandhi's samadhi. Ms Mayawati got convinced that abnormal behaviour is the best tool to draw media attention. At the 1995 rally in Delhi and subsequently in Lucknow in 2008, where Rs 22 crores were raised, vindicated her conviction, hence the politics of the unconventional currency garland. It also sends a clear message that it is not only the Sangh Parivar but dalits too are equally capable of raising huge sums through donations.
As such, note (money), vote and support are the three things that Ms Mayawati has gained through gimmicks be it her expensive sandals or jewellery or dresses or decorative birth cake and now the currency garland. A commoner may well construe these acts as sheer display of wealth in a poor society, and also an overt and daring exhibition of corruption. But for Ms Mayawati's dalit followers these symbolise status and power of their leader.
Her use of the idiom "dalit ki beti" is an expression of dalit pride and an attempt to emphasise that the new generation of dalits is no more a timid and timorous lot like their forefathers. They are conscious of their rights and aware that rights are to be fought for and not to be begged under conditions of humiliation. Dalits need power political as well as monetary as a symbol to realise their rights, a position taken by Ambedkar during the Mahad Satyagraha to claim dalits' right to drain water from the village tank.
Sporadic incidents of dalit youth coming out on streets in large numbers protesting against the desecration of Baba Saheb's statue in Kanpur and to condemn the humiliation and murder of a dalit family in Khairlanji are indications of the emergent patterns of behavioural dynamics among the dalit youth. Ms Mayawati, as a symbol of political and economic strength, strives at regular intervals to keep alive the pent-up dalit anger using novel tactics as strategies of mobilisation and empowerment.
* Prof. Mujtaba Khan is director of Dr K.R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit & Minorities Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
JESUS, SACRIFICE, THE HOLY WEEK
BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL
On Sunday the Christian community, as part of Lent, will begin the Holy Week. The Lenten Season began with Ash Wednesday on February 17, and will end with Easter Sunday on April 4, but only after the all-important Holy Week spiritual exercises, including the Good Friday liturgy, are all religiously observed.
The beginning of the Holy Week is marked by the Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey and people welcomed him waving palms, traditionally a symbol of triumph and victory. It is a different matter that those waving the palm branches may not have understood as to what victory of Jesus they were hailing for He was not entering Jerusalem after winning a war or defeating an enemy. It was a victory over sin and death as by the end of that week Jesus would die on the Cross though he would rise again on the third day. Biblical scholars hold that the reason Jesus went riding a donkey, and not a horse, was because while a horse is associated with war, a donkey stands for peace. It also symbolised the humility of Jesus who was anyway born in a stable and lived a life of an itinerant, who owned nothing and had to be placed in a borrowed tomb after his death.
One of the important days in this particular Holy Week is Thursday, also known as Maundy or Holy Thursday. This day has three significances which are equally important. For, as the disciples settled down for their last supper with Jesus, he performed an unusual act of washing the feet of each of the apostles, setting before them a model of supreme humility and service. "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I the Lord and Master have washed your feet, you too must wash one another's feet, for I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you" he said (John 13: 13-15). Knowing our human nature where we always want to be first and want to be seen in important places, Jesus was actually reiterating what he had said on another occasion, "Whoever wants to be great among you let him be your servant and whoever wants to be first, let him be your slave (Matt: 20:26-27)". Secondly, at that supper, which was the commemoration of the Jewish Passover Meal to celebrate their freedom from slavery, Jesus established the sacrament of the Eucharist, the pivot of Christianity. Through this he left his real presence with all who would gather in future in his name for a Eucharistic meal, which is now known and celebrated daily in churches as the Holy Mass. Thirdly, in establishing the Eucharist he also instituted the sacrament of priesthood, for it is only a priest who can preside over the Holy Mass.
In all this what was paramount is the self-sacrifice of Jesus. The breaking of the bread was symbolic of his own body that would be broken and sacrificed on the Cross the next day. While passing the cup of wine, Jesus pronounced the words, "Take, this is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant". Thus the model of priesthood that he established was that of a humble servant who would be ready to make sacrifices for others, even if that would cost one his or her own life as in the case of Jesus.
Probably inspired by such sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, Swami Vivekanand once said, "They alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive". After Jesus' death He was laid in a tomb where he remained on Holy Saturday, the last day of the Holy Week and the day before His glorious resurrection. Jesus' sacrifice was not limited to empty words. He showed it through his action of taking the path of the Cross and eventual death. No wonder then that Jesus keeps inspiring millions of people to offer their total self for the sake of others in concrete action as seen in the life of many Christian saints, Mother Teresa being just one of them of recent memory and familiar to all of us in India.
Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. Hewas awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India.
WHILE YOU'RE ASLEEP
BY A. ROGER EKIRCH
On the night, several years ago, that I tackled my nightstand, I should have known better. Jolted awake in the dark, my wife Alice peered over the covers to where I lay spread-eagled on the floor. I had lunged with open arms from our bed while still asleep, truly, I later mused, the consequence of an overactive imagination, all the more because my days playing football were long over. Alice joked that we should dust off the kids' bed rails.
Since that night, we have been forced to take my wildest dreams more seriously. In a re-occurrence months later, I "blocked" Alice in bed, envisioning instead a defensive lineman (fortunately, despite her diminutive size, she was not hurt); and, more recently, I punched the headboard with my fist, thinking instead that I was protecting my parents from an assailant. What makes these incidents all the more bizarre is that three years ago, having written on the history of sleep, including its disorders, I began to collaborate with Dr John Shneerson, the director of the largest sleep centre in the United Kingdom, at Papworth Hospital. Our project: a series of papers devoted to sleep violence.
Despite the anguish caused by insomnia, it is far from the most frightening sleep abnormality. Nor, in contrast to the terror of nightmares, are the consequences of sleep violence confined to the unconscious. In extreme cases, sleepers have been known to inflict violence, even death, upon family members as well as physical injury or worse upon themselves. Some subjects, in doing so, never quit their beds, while others leave not only their beds but also their bedrooms, not unlike individuals prone to the related disorder of sleepwalking.
The term "sleep violence" encompasses several possible conditions, although some of these occasionally overlap with others. One of the most common disorders, especially among children, are night terrors, occasioned by momentary, frightening hallucinations, resulting in panic and confusion. Only in late adolescence and early adulthood, however, are subjects apt to commit violence, particularly if restrained. More sensational is REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder (RBD), which was formally identified in 1985 by sleep specialists at the University of Minnesota and Stanford. Insofar as we dream during the phase known as REM or rapid eye movement sleep, RBD, in contrast to other forms of sleep violence, is characterised by vivid dreams, distinguished by their narrative quality, which portray threatening persons or objects. Mild instances result in restlessness and abnormal twitching in bed; more serious are occasions when subjects, in acting out their dreams, attempt to fight back against their imaginary foe, thereby raising the risk of serious injury.
In recent years, sleep violence has figured in a number of high-profile criminal cases. Just this past November, a retired Welsh steelworker, Brian Thomas, admitted strangling his wife in their camper while dreaming of fighting off an intruder. Not only did Thomas have a history of sleepwalking but a polysomnography test, which monitors brain-waves and eye movements among other functions, was compelling enough for prosecutors to withdraw all charges. Better known is the case of Kenneth Parks, an unemployed Canadian whose murder of his mother-in-law in 1987 inspired a television movie, The Sleepwalker Killing (1997), in which Hilary Swank starred as his wife. Having no motive for the crime and a history of sleepwalking, Parks was acquitted by an Ontario jury.
Despite the potential for abuse by over-zealous defence attorneys, make no mistake. Sleep violence, whatever the variety, is a genuine malady not wanting for medical attention here or abroad. Although our understanding has improved dramatically in recent decades, it has been a source of consternation for centuries, particularly for legal scholars forced to grapple with the culpability of criminal suspects. As early as the 14th century, the Council of Vienne in southern France reported murders committed by persons in their sleep. A notorious incident in London occurred years later when Colonel Cheyney Culpepper was convicted in 1678 at the Old Bailey for firing his blunderbuss at an officer of the guard. Although the soldier died, Culpepper was pardoned by James II.
By not holding defendants responsible for their unconscious behaviour, authorities could be surprisingly enlightened, particularly if a prior pattern existed of troubled sleep. On the other hand, courts were less lenient in the event of ill will between a defendant and his victim. Then, too, if previous episodes on the part of the defendant had resulted in violence, he had a duty to take proper precautions. Least deserving of sympathy, noted the German legal authority Adrianus Beier in 1672, was "a sleepwalker", who despite "knowing his condition, sleeps with an enemy, after a quarrel, in the same house or bedroom and does not put away any weapons".
Who today is most prone to sleep violence? That depends upon the nature of the disorder. If night terrors, for example, are especially common among children, most patients with RBD are males over 50 years of age. Their advanced age, it seems, is a factor in the development of lesions on a small portion of the brain stem that ordinarily inhibits physical movement in persons during REM sleep. Equally important is that, depending on the disorder, certain risk-factors are thought to increase the likelihood of episodes, including sleep deprivation, stress, and the consumption of alcohol.
The good news is that medication and, in some cases, therapy normally work wonders in combating sleep violence. Among other benzodiazepines, clonazepam, the same medication occasionally prescribed for restless-leg-syndrome, has proven very effective. Although most episodes of sleep violence do not result in physical injury, the potential for harm always exists, no matter how minor an incident might at first seem. Why run the risk?
As for myself, I currently take medication at the direction of my physician, and my wildest dreams are limited to more pedestrian concerns.
* A. Roger Ekirch is aprofessor of history at Virginia Tech. He is the author of four books, including At Day's Close: Night in Times Past (2005), which has been translatedinto eight languages.
HISTORY OF HORROR
IS THERE NO ANSWER, AND NO END?
Kolkata did not need to be trapped in another inferno for its residents to realise that there is hardly anything by way of disaster management in place. If anything, the Park Street disaster was another damning comment on essential services made worse by the existence of a state department that showers attention on vested concerns rather than genuine measures to confront an emergency. While the fire services minister hogged the headlines by insisting on precautionary measures for a VIP enclosure at Eden Gardens, which prompted a Bollywood star to offer him an acting assignment, there are disasters waiting to happen in heritage structures that suffer from criminal negligence. No one in government, corporation or police had any idea of the hazards prevailing in Stephen Court. If the departments needed guidance, it should have been available from committees that had examined fires which broke out at the Firpo's Market in 2002, Tangra in 2006, the Nandaram market in 2008 and a garments store in 2008 ~ all of which ought to have served as warnings. But when there are concerns far removed from essential responsibilities, there will be a fire minister looking at the stars while the ground on which he stands is ready to burn. And while satellite channels are choked with scary visuals of victims preferring to jump from upper floors rather than be charred, the chief minister on another channel is seen addressing industrialists on "the way forward''.
While there are questions that will never be answered, the government disgraces itself by announcing rewards and looking for escape routes by hiking the compensation for victims. Rather than damage control, it may have asked how the hydraulic platform ladders arrived one and a half hours after the disaster struck with the minister seeking an excuse in traffic snarls. Why did firemen arrive without appropriate equipment and gadgets so that it was left to bystanders to risk their lives using makeshift methods to rescue those trapped? What priority did the state finance minister give to fire fighting in his budget? What was the follow-up on reports submitted after earlier disasters? Political rivals will engage in cynical exercises as usual. More pertinent is whether the machinery is in place for an emergency and whether authority can go beyond rituals where human lives are at stake. Will the authorities, for instance, inspect buildings, including a five-star hotel, in the immediate vicinity to determine their capability to cope with an emergency? Or will they wait for a fire to discover that the path for fire-engines has been blocked? Stephen Court will remain a disgusting symbol of human failures. It will be worse if it reflects a history of horrors to which there is no answer, and no end.
MULAYAM BETRAYS DESPERATION
UNLIKE his current comrade-in-arms in opposing reservations for women in the legislatures, Mulayam Singh Yadav does not dish out catchy quips for "effect". Hence there can be no making light of his latest, disgusting and denigrating comments which would only be dignified if reprinted. While there could be valid differences of opinion on reservations, even those who pride themselves as MCPs would concede that the Samajwadi Party leader has taken the "debate" to the sewers: the violence to which his members took resort in the Rajya Sabha being a mere curtain-raiser. The man is clearly desperate, but is it only fears of the closing of electoral doors that has driven him so low? When viewed along with another of his recent comments in Parliament it appears as though contempt for women is part of his mental make-up, despite occasional lip-service to devis. He expressed serious concerns over the distortion in the gender-balance and condemned female infanticide ~ but only because that would make fewer brides available for young men. Perhaps having done his share of wolf-whistling he is now wary of a backlash. That despite coming under severe attack he has neither apologised nor sought to clarify his offensive remarks indicates much shamelessness.
Such shamelessness raises the tricky query of how he should be countered. That women across the board (and some men too) have flayed his remarks could actually lead him to believe that he has "scored", even contend that the condemnation came from the very "class" of women whom he predicated would hog the reserved parliamentary/assembly seats. Their boycotting him would serve to flatter. Perhaps certain provisions of the penal code and electoral law could be invoked, but that would be a protracted process. Right now his political clout is limited, so the fallout of being cold-shouldered is minimal: he "has" no ministers who could be dropped. There is possibly just one way of bringing such netas to heel, a dimming of electoral prospects. Hence forcefully mobilising the "women's vote" against MSY and his mates could be the preferred course of punitive political action. But that would also require leaders of other parties to walk the talk.
TRENDS IN MYANMAR
SUU KYI THROWS DOWN THE GAUNTLET
Aung San Suu Kyi has conveyed her message to her party, the junta and the world. By implicitly directing her National League for Democracy to boycott this year's elections in Myanmar, she has well and truly called the bluff of a shambolic exercise. Most importantly, the perceived credibility of that election has been undermined before the first vote has been cast. And it is only in the fitness of things that it has been undermined by the icon of the democratic movement who has been in detention for the better part of the past two decades. With its leader under house arrest, the NLD has for long been undecided. Suu Kyi has left the final decision to her party and the people, a gesture in accord with the spirit of democracy. From within the four walls of her house, where she is in detention, she has made it clear that the recent electoral restrictions on the NLD have reduced the party to no more than a notional existence. The party can at least avoid further humiliation by not registering for the polls.
A fortnight after announcing the rules of engagement, the military has found it hard to convince the people that the elections will place Myanmar on the road to democracy. Far from it. On the contrary, the vote will be engineered to reinforce the foundation of the ruling junta, to institutionalise the military dispensation for many more years to come, relegating parties and politics to the footnotes. Suu Kyi's statement on Tuesday is bound to influence next week's meeting of the NLD, when it is expected to decide on whether to contest. And no self-respecting entity can abide by the condition that Suu Kyi will have to be expelled by the party if it is to contest. Beyond the elections, the junta has set the terms for the party. Should the NLD not participate, the election will almost certainly not be recognised by the Western powers. It will be a greater fraud than the ones witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The risk of Myanmar's isolation is substantial. And Suu Kyi has thrown down the gauntlet.
MERCHANTS OF DECEIT
SCIENCE IS BEING FORCED TO HELP COMMERCE
Scientists and all those who are committed to the contribution of science to progress are disturbed over the extent to which commercial interests have been trying to dominate science. The trend is particularly pronounced in food and agriculture, areas where misdirected commercial influence can aggravate hunger and even disrupt the food supply by destroying the environment.
There can be no better example than the use of genetic engineering in agriculture and related activities. The true scientific opinion is best summarised in the report of the International Science Panel (ISP), a group of eminent scientists from several countries. It states: "GM crops have failed to deliver the promised benefits and are posing escalating problems on the farm. Transgenic contamination is now widely acknowledged to be unavoidable, and hence there can be no co-existence of GM and non-GM agriculture. Most important of all, GM crops have not been proven safe. On the contrary, sufficient evidence has emerged to raise serious safety concerns, that if ignored could result in irreversible damage to health and the environment. GM crops should be firmly rejected now."
If this is the truth about GM (genetically modified) crops, then why is it that the commercial interests are able to cite some reports in their favour?
Jeffrey M. Smith has explained how such reports were prepared. I quote from his book, Genetic Roulette, which has been widely recommended and praised by many international experts. Smith writes, "The industry-funded studies have become notorious for using creative ways to avoid funding problems. They feed older animals instead of more sensitive young ones, keep sample sizes too low to achieve the statistical significance needed for proof in scientific studies, dilute the GM component of the feed, overcook samples, compare results with irrelevant controls, choose obsolete insensitive detection methods, limit the duration of feeding trials, and even ignore animal deaths and sickness."
This opinion on the poor quality of studies is endorsed by others. Erik Millstone, professor of Science Policy at the University of Sussex, has commented, "The fundamental problem of the way in which GM foods have been approved is that they haven't really been tested properly at all. All that has happened is something which I would characterise as an exercise in wishful thinking."
But what is even more important is that when scientists spoke against GM crops, their voice was stifled in an unethical manner. Jeffrey Smith reports in the context of the experiences in the USA, the country where GM crops have spread the most. "The FDA (the Food and Drug Administration of the USA) was fully aware that GM crops were meaningfully different. That, in fact, was the overwhelming consensus among the technical experts in the agency. The scientists agreed that genetic engineering leads to 'different risks' than traditional breeding and had repeatedly warned their superiors that GM foods might create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects."
The scientists' concerns were kept secret in 1992, when FDA policy was put in place. But seven years later, internal records were made public following a lawsuit and the deception came to light. The agency's newly released 44,000 pages revealed that government scientists' "references to the unintended negative effects were progressively deleted from drafts of the policy statement." They further revealed that "the FDA was under orders from the White House to promote GM crops and that Michael Taylor, Monsanto's former attorney and later its vice-president, was brought into the FDA to oversee policy development. With Taylor in charge, the scientists' warnings were ignored and denied."
The story of the UK is no less shocking, adds Smith. In the mid-1990s, the government commissioned scientists to develop an assessment protocol for GM crop approvals that would be used in the UK and eventually by the EU. In 1998, three years into the project, the scientists discovered that potatoes engineered to produce a harmless insecticide caused extensive health damage to rats. The pro-GM government immediately cancelled the project, the lead scientist was fired and the research team dismantled.
All the tricks learnt by the merchants of deceit are now being repeated in India to the extent that even the opinion of the leading expert, Prof. Pushp Bhargava, was treated shabbily. He was the Supreme Court nominee on the GEAC-Genetic Engineering Approval Committee. He has stated that when the GEAC appointed a committee to prepare a report, he and others were essentially given just one day to review the 102-page report. He discovered "internal inconsistencies in the report, inconsistencies between the report and the earlier data that had been put in the public domain and outright scientific absurdities." Prof. Bhargava suggested that adequate time be allowed for a review meeting of eminent experts who had been involved in this issue. His proposal was completely ignored and the GEAC went ahead to give its hurried approval to Bt Brinjal.
This then is the level at which science is being forced to advance commerce. In the process the most serious hazards are being created for human and animal health as well as for the environment. As Michael Antoniou, molecular biologist, King's College, London, has said, "If the kind of detrimental effects seen in animals fed GM food were observed in a clinical setting, the use of the product would have been halted and further research instigated to determine the cause and find possible solutions. However, what we find repeatedly in the case of GM food is that both governments and industry plough on ahead with the development, endorsement, and marketing [of] GM foods despite the warnings of potential ill health from animal feeding studies, as if nothing has happened. This is to the point where governments and industry even seem to ignore the results of their own research!"
As far as environmental risks are concerned, what is happening now is without precedence. As Professor Susan Bardocz explains, "GM is the first irreversible technology in human history. When a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) is released it is out of our control; we have no means to call it back. Since GMOs are self-replicating, releasing them might have dire consequences for human and animal health and for the environment and can change evolution." The way in which unprecedented and irreversible hazards and risks are sought to be covered up is a matter of the greatest concern for humanity. Scientists owe it to humanity and indeed to all forms of life to get united and reveal the truth with all sincerity and expose with courage the falsehood being spread.
The writer, a social activist, is Fellow of the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi
CHANGED BUT UNMISTAKABLE
CHANGE, OF COURSE, IS INEVITABLE IN KOLKATA, BUT DIFFICULT TO STOMACH WHEN IT HAS ACTUALLY ARRIVED, SAYS SHYAMOL BHATTACHERYA
The many times I have visited Kolkata in the last few decades (I have now been domiciled 10,000 miles away for over 20 years), and for better or worse, it still is Kolkata ~ changed yet unmistakable! No more is it the Calcutta (reminiscent of British pomp and circumstance) that I left a few years after Desmond Doig's nostalgic Artist's Impression hit the scene! Although Kolkata prides itself on its abundant artistic talent, I have yet to see sketches of the old city rendered with such sensitivity and flair. I hope I can buy a copy when I am down there next.
Doig was a brilliant writer, artist, and photographer (in those days, his work was featured in the prestigious National Geographic magazine), and for those who knew him professionally, a perfect gentleman! Mention should be made of his book on Mother Teressa, which gave the western world yet another glimpse of Kolkata's outstanding missionary, thus deftly foisting her selfless image worldwide.
The Statesman then was blessed with indubitable talent, although the Junior Statesman (Doig was its anonymous guardian angel) could not survive the fast-changing realities of the market. Realities aside, Desmond Doig's charisma and charm won him many young friends, especially those who wanted to have a say on his juvenile forum. I remember doing a regular cartoon column then - Fun with Shyamol - and occasional cover illustrations for the young magazine. Given his warmth and encouragement, one even summed up enough courage (I was barely in final year college then, and nervous by nature) to contribute a few short pieces on Mondays for the elder Statesman's Calcutta Notebook. The Editor's offices bore an austere, foreboding look.
Even the newspaper building in those days carried an imposing post-Raj elegance, notwithstanding the busy factory-like hum on the lower floors of a daily newspaper tirelessly trying to set the record straight, and presumably setting journalistic standards too in the process!
Men like Doig constitute the fond memory of a frenetic city that has undergone sweeping changes. In those days, there were no flyovers, shopping malls, or the Metro Railway, and tramcars still seemed to welcome a breezy ride along the Maidans... rattling merrily past the stretching green fields that was home to so many of Kolkata's popular sporting clubs, not to speak of the Monument (long since renamed Shahid Minar), Eden Gardens, Victoria Memorial, the Planetarium, Calcutta Race Course, and of course, Fort William. My suspicion is, pleasure co-mingles with pain, and those tramcars even enjoyed the dirt and incessant bustle of Kolkata's busy streets, much like a cow's tail tolerates obstinate flies swooping in on its wounds. Inexorably bound by fate to stay within its tracks; draw sustenance from electrified overhead wires; clang ever so gently to erring traffic; its easy pace (where hopping on and off didn't ever appear life-threatening). Even the unassuming but comfortable wooden seats in second class make Kolkata's tramcar worthy of restoration. Not just for old time's sake (which other Indian city can boast of such an unique transport?), but for living history.
Most modern cities are concrete jungles, but it's only in India that, despite its teeming millions, you see both the unspoken harmony and law of the jungle prevailing. Long live human nature!? The Lakes along Southern Avenue that were once a welcome haven from the cacophony and pollution of the city are a sorry portrait of their former self, with ubiquitous water hyacinth, overgrown weeds, submerged and floating refuse. Tell me, have they gotten rid of stray cows from Kolkata's streets altogether? Is the Assembly of Dirt closer to Writers' Building or to the Governor's House? And what about the khatals in Kolkata's densely populated residential areas, particularly in the north and centre? Their odorous offerings dried by the ever-so-magnanimous-and-non-judgmental Sun would eventually adorn many a landlord's walls in the form of dung cakes - cooking fuel for the city's poor.
I personally think the ugly posters and brazen graffiti of local political zealots are far more offensive. Despite earnest attempts to steer a recalcitrant population into affordable pay booths created for that purpose, urinating on walls seems to accompany voting rights for many. If politicians and their ilk may with impunity deface those walls, why not the common public? Another instance of poetic justice, you might say, with suppressed ire.
The old cinema halls have taken a beating too. Metro, Lighthouse, New Empire, Minerva, Elite and Globe have undergone "see" changes (excuse the pun). The Tiger is now a shopping plaza! The famous eating establishments seem weather-beaten too, if not assigned to history by the economy's capricious twists and turns. Remember Firpo's? Beg your pardon, turned into a commercial paradise, for whom? On Chittaranjan Avenue, Chung Wah now hobbles like an old racehorse that had once seen better days. Some of the restaurants like Trinca's, Blue Fox, Quality, Skyroom, Flury's Mocambo, and Moulin Rouge on Park Street (note: it's a one-way street during office hours) still hang on for dear life. Competition is upstart and unsentimental. Big name hotels too have carved their niche ~ Taj Bengal, Peerless, Hyatt Regency, Sonar Bangla, you name it. One thing that was conspicuously absent in Kolkata in those days was any restaurant that served typical Bengali fare ~ you would need extra-strength searchlights in bright sunlight 21 years ago to find one! No more now. Now, you have more than a dozen names that mirror the tongue-in-cheek lyricism of the native Bengali ~ Sholo Anna Baangali, Tero Parban, Bhajo Hari Manna, Esho Bosho Ahare, Oh Calcutta!, and 6 Ballygunge Place (you can google and ogle at them from abroad too)! The gastronomic delights simply should put their names in lights, or is it just me starved from crossing a cultural desert?
Change, of course, is inevitable, but difficult to stomach when it actually arrives. India's (and Kolkata's no less) rapid overpopulation is a shocker every time you visit the city until, like diabetes, arthritis, or fuel prices, you learn to live with it. Except for true beautification, one can only hope they'll leave the Maidans alone! The last time, did I see visible signs of encroachment, or is it just my imagination and near-retirement intolerance that's seeing things? You folks down there know better. Being far away and with imagination as my only crutch, I am and will be resigned to your fair judgment. But, like the tramcar, please stay on track, and for God's sake mind those mini-buses!
The writer is a freelance contributor based in Medford, USA
MAKING OF A MONARCH
When I was a child one of the subjects taught to us in school was Nature Study. This included practical work, like nurturing a seed to make it sprout and grow into a plant. We were also encouraged to study insects and little creatures around us and watch their development at different stages. Being a nature lover, I found the practical side of the subject very absorbing.
When I got married and moved to Kolkata, we lived in a flat and my living quarters were quite a contrast to the wide open spaces I had been used to in the town where I had grown up. But my husband's parents were settled in Ranchi, and they had a large house with a sprawling compound. So, when my two children were born, I used to take them once a year to visit their grandparents, and they had ample space to romp around in the vast compound.
When the children were old enough to take an active interest in the world around them, they too became interested in the natural world and the little creatures that inhabited it. My mother-in-law had a beautiful garden and on one of our visits, the children were drawn to the colourful butterflies they saw around them. Their grandmother asked them how they would like to see the development of a butterfly from a caterpillar, because this was where they originated. They both said they would love this.
Their grandmother claimed that she could make out from the look of a caterpillar what kind of butterfly would emerge. She peered at the caterpillars in the garden and chose one which she promised would develop into a most beautiful butterfly. It would be a large one, most probably a "monarch" whose wings would have a gorgeous orange and black colour. An empty cardboard carton was produced from the store-room. This, she told them, would be the home of the caterpillar for a few weeks. Some holes were pierced on the cover of the carton, so that the caterpillar would be able to breathe through them. She explained to them that the creature would have to be fed to keep it alive. She asked them to pluck some succulent leaves and put them into the carton. Then the caterpillar was introduced to its new home. She explained that after a time the caterpillar would spin a silk coating around itself and would turn into a pupa or chrysalis. From this stage onwards it would not need to be fed, but plenty would be happening to the caterpillar while it was in its cocoon.
Soon after this, we left for Kolkata. The children protected their new acquisition. The cardboard carton was carried very carefully in the train which took us back to our hometown. When we reached home it was placed on a small table in their room. Every day some specially chosen leaves were deposited in the box. It was very difficult for the children to curb their impatience. They would peer into the box from time to time.
After a few days they could see the caterpillar change from its original state into a chrysalis. Now they did not need to feed it, but they were on tenterhooks and could hardly wait to see the beautiful monarch emerge.
The days passed, and one morning they woke to hear some fluttering sounds from the box. Their excitement knew no bounds. The butterfly was finally emerging from its cocooned shell! Slowly the cover of the carton was lifted to reveal the splendour inside it. But something was wrong here. The creature inside had acquired wings and was ready to fly. But its wings were not the glorious orange and black-coloured ones that they had expected to see. They were a muddy brown. They realised to their disappointment that what they had been so carefully nurturing all these weeks was not a beautiful butterfly but an ugly moth. I don't know if they ever forgave their grandmother.
The term, "special relationship", was used at one time to describe the ties between the United States of America and Great Britain. The same words can be used, after the signing of the Indo-US nuclear deal, to describe India's relationship with the world's strongest power. Both countries had their own reasons to forge this relationship after overcoming many years of suspicion, if not hostility. In the great ideological divide that ensued after the onset of the Cold War, India not without justification was seen by US policy-makers as being too close to the Soviet Union, despite protestations of non-alignment. On the Indian side, the US was seen as pro-Pakistan and also as a supporter of military regimes in Pakistan and elsewhere. But neither country could completely ignore the importance of the other. The attitude of cautious recognition of mutual interests changed to overt recognition in the 1990s after the collapse of communism and the emergence of China as a global economic and political power. The threat of Islamic fundamentalism and the war against terror brought the US and India closer than they had ever been before. But the problem of Pakistan refused to go away.
It surprised nobody that the Pakistan establishment military and civil was dismayed by the new cosiness between India and the US. One of the driving forces of India's policy has been to make the US realize that India is a more stable and reliable partner for the US, not only in South Asia but also in the whole of Asia. But the US, for obvious reasons, cannot abandon Pakistan. The latter would also like to have more support from the US in every arena from more financial aid to more military hardware. New Delhi would naturally like to see less of such aid going towards Islamabad. India and Pakistan are thus contending claimants for the US's attention India on the basis of the new special relationship, Pakistan on the basis of old ties. The already fraught relationship between India and Pakistan has now an added element of tension. This has acquired some urgency because of the visit to Washington of Pakistan's army chief, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, with a wishlist. It is not unreasonable to expect that Pakistan will want to further its own interests and may even try to lobby for a nuclear deal or for the US's involvement in hydro-electricity projects. India cannot be paranoid, but it cannot afford to ignore what is going on between Pakistan and the US.
MEANS TO AN END
Peace talks do not fail just because they make slow progress. The worrying thing about the Naga peace talks is not that they have eluded an agreement so far. Both the Centre and the Naga leaders know how far they have to go before an acceptable agreement is reached. The real trouble is that a section of the bureaucracy in New Delhi seems to think that the ceasefire in Nagaland is as good as lasting peace. This approach is obviously wrong. It is true that the ceasefire in Nagaland has worked very well for 13 long years. The credit for this should go to the Nagas as much as to the army and other government agencies. But that does not make the ceasefire a substitute for a peace agreement. The ceasefire, after all, is only a means to an end. It is supposed to create the right conditions for the talks. It appears that the Naga leaders now blame the slow progress of the talks on some Union government officials using the ceasefire to delay substantive talks. Even if this is not really the case, the Centre should try and clear the air of misgivings. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has been consistent in his commitment to the cause of peace in Nagaland. Bureaucratic lapses must not be allowed to interfere with that commitment.
In fact, the need for circumspection is greater now than ever before. By all indications, the talks have entered a crucial stage. Both sides have begun discussing the substantive issues based on the Nagas' 30-point proposal submitted way back in 2003. If it has taken so long to take up these issues, it has much to do with the uncertainties of coalition politics at the Centre. The present government in New Delhi is better placed than most of its predecessors to deal with these issues because it has less to worry about its stability. Two issues "sovereignty" for Nagaland and the integration of all Naga-inhabited areas are known to be the most difficult to resolve. The proposals by the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, led by Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu, also include a seemingly intractable one for creating a "Naga army". Both sides know of the constitutional and legal challenges that such proposals present. But the fact that the Nagas have moved away from their original demand for "independence" is the biggest hope for peace.
ON SIN AND GODLINESS
TOPSY-TURVY VALUES OF BELIEVERS IN THE FREE MARKET
CUTTING CORNERS - ASHOK MITRA
A democratic society should have space for everyone. Including for those subscribing to the most otiose beliefs. Beliefs are a matter of faith, it is pointless to try to persuade persons to discard the beliefs they clutch at by mounting arguments based on logical principles. For faith defies logic. In such circumstances, to live and let live may well be reckoned as a good practical way of solving the problem.
Difficulties, however, arise when fundamentalists flaunting a belief happen to occupy positions of administrative responsibility and attempt to shape official policy in conformity with their cherished doctrine. The public domain becomes their laboratory to turn articles of faith into living reality. The proceedings then directly affect life and death for the community.
The ministry of finance in New Delhi is currently a monastery where votaries of the free market have congregated in large numbers. Asserting the sovereignty of the market is to them of transcendental importance. They have read and sometimes written textbook after textbook which aver that in case no interference takes place with the market process, and the forces of demand and supply are allowed to function freely, the price that equilibrates supply and demand will be the most satisfying from the point of view of sellers as well as buyers. Furthermore, theists believe in a narrow definition of what constitutes interference with the market. In the real world, the functioning of the market is vitiated by the presence of large groups of monopolists or oligopolists who practise restrictive output and thereby manipulate prices and boost profit. The market process is similarly affected by activities of dealers who withhold stocks and thereby create artificial scarcity. The pitch of the market can also be queered by speculation in commodity futures in the share market. Such factors which distort the operation of market forces are, however, considered to be of no significance to the votaries of the free market. In their judgment, imperfections of these kinds are normal features of market activities and it would be unfair to question their legitimacy; it should rather be left to the market process itself to cope with such hiccups in day-to-day transactions. Interference on the part of the State, though, is an altogether different kettle of fish and must not be tolerated on any account. The State, the cherished theology says, has no business to interfere with the market process; to do so is tantamount to an infringement of individual freedom which a democratic society should never put up with. One example of such interference, in the view of the theists, is the public distribution system whereby the government arranges to supply essential commodities, including foodgrains, to certain sections of the population at subsidized prices, that is, at prices lower than those prevailing in the market, in times of distress.
This, according to free market theology, is an affront, for, by selling commodities at prices lower than those ruling in the State hurts the interests of producers and sellers; it deprives them of profits they could have chalked up otherwise. It has an adverse effect on incentives too: producers and traders feel discouraged from making plans to produce the commodities concerned or organizing their trade; as a result, both production and supplies are bound to decline in future.
This year's Economic Survey, produced by savants in the ministry of finance, is greatly exercised over the issue. In times of scarcity, when market prices of essential commodities soar, the poor and middle classes are subjected to intense suffering as they lack the purchasing power to buy their necessities in the market. When such a situation arose in India, during the Second World War, the authorities felt compelled to introduce public distribution of foodgrains and a number of other key commodities. In the decades following Independence, the public distribution system was progressively strengthened with the establishment of the Food Corporation of India and similar other institutions. Economic liberalization, however, brought about a sea change in official attitude; supplies of essential goods via public distribution have shrunk and shrunk. Spiralling prices of foodgrains and sugar this year have, however, once more generated a demand for organizing the public distribution system in an effective manner all over the country in order to supply foodgrains at subsidized prices to the poor and lower middle classes. Legislation supposed to ensure the right to food to every citizen is also reported to be on the anvil. The forum of the Economic Survey has been availed of by free market ideologues to express their concern at such 'non-liberal' proposals. The market process, in their view, must, under no circumstances, be tampered with. Instead, to alleviate the hardship of the poorer classes at the time of runaway inflation, the authorities, the Survey suggests, might think of issuing food coupons to citizens experiencing economic difficulties. The market process will remain unharmed, sellers and producers will be at liberty to seek and receive prices that the market determines, the poor may be given coupons of a certain value with which they can proceed to the market and buy the food they need. This procedure will do no violence to the free operations of the market and yet citizens who lack purchasing power will not have to face disaster: food coupons will come to their rescue. There will, therefore, be no occasion for any public distribution. The needy will be accorded their right to food via food coupons to the shopkeepers and obtain the food: it is as straightforward as that.
Is it really that straightforward? Will distribution of food coupons constitute a foolproof, flawless arrangement? Such coupons, it is reasonable to assume, will specify a value in rupee terms. The holder of a coupon will be allowed the quantity of foodgrains which its face value covers. Suppose the predatory forces who create mayhem in the market are not put on any leash, they are even allowed easy credit from the banks, and the government benignly looks upon the unfolding phenomenon. Prices can, therefore, skyrocket between the time the food coupon is issued and the time it is presented to the dealer's shop. When the coupon was issued, it was intended to cover the price of, say, four kilograms of rice; by the time it is presented for redemption, prices perhaps have doubled, so that it would now fetch only two kgs. The market has remained sovereign but the household which was issued the coupon will have to make do with only half the grain it needed for survival. Would the authors of the Economic Survey kindly explain how this household is to get out of the resulting predicament? Is maintenance of the immaculateness of the market process a greater priority than avoiding death from starvation of millions of our countrymen?
Let us, however, be charitable and agree to go along with the proposition that the authorities are not altogether bereft of the milk of human kindness; should food prices keep soaring in the market, they would adjust upwards the face value of the coupon. If in the first instance the household was issued a coupon worth Rs 200, the following week its face value would be raised to, say, Rs 300, next month to Rs 600, the following month to Rs 1,000 and so on until the danse macabre of inflation comes to a surcease of course, assuming it does. Does that not in effect mean that the government would be subsidizing the sellers and traders to an unlimited extent out of respect for the sovereign whim of the market?
Substituting public distribution by a coupon system thus seemingly leads to either of two contingencies. In one instance, coupons are not adjusted for a galloping rise in market prices so that the hapless consumers perish. In the other contingency, where the value of the coupon is continuously adjusted upward to cope with rising prices, the government subsidizes, in an unashamedly open manner, racketeering traders. The new dictum evidently is as follows: subsidy to the weaker sections through the public distribution system is sin, subsidizing profiteering buccaneers in the marketplace is next to godliness?
TOWARDS AN EQUAL WORLD
BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
The raving and ranting of Mulayam Singh Yadav and his political friends about the women's reservation bill has reached ridiculous proportions, and the Samajwadi Party leader's statements are becoming increasingly obscene. From what he says in the public domain, it is explicitly clear that he has scant, if any, respect for the other gender. He seems to be in the mould of those chauvinists who believe a woman should neither be seen nor heard, should live within the confines of the home, bear children, cook and clean and look after the mother-in-law. Surely the leader of a political party in democratic India, circa 2010, should refrain from making such statements.
It is an eye-opener to hear men oppose the bill on the ground that it defeats the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. Whatever the 'faults' in the drafting of this bill, the reactions from 'male' India make one determined to fight for reservation for women despite being wary of reservations per se.
The excuses educated, intelligent and urban Indian men find to preserve their seat of power are truly despicable and scary. It makes one aware of the terrible flaws in our education system and the deficient values it imparts and endorses. The education system also encourages gender hierarchies and a regressive attitude towards women especially wives and daughters. Indian men deify their mothers at the cost of a fruitful relationship with their wives, proving that the invisible umbilical never gets chopped.
The deep insecurities of the Indian male have risen like scum to the surface. Their inability to face the challenge posed by the rapidly growing numbers of women at work has unnerved them en masse. Equality of opportunity is the call, but they do not see it. Their blind dedication to the 'mother image', having been controlled and pampered by their mothers, has led them to believe that they can do no wrong. It has also made them retaliate in an unacceptable manner against women. The failure of the male specie to share the responsibility of being the repository of tradition, ethics, values and culture has made them socially weak and disconnected. This is the sad social reality across caste and class.
The favourite excuse these days that is used to combat the passing of the bill in the Lok Sabha is that men will continue to rule by using women as a front. However, history has shown that being a 'puppet' has always been a very short-lived phase. The charade is usually played out consciously and used merely as a way forward into the larger public space. When Indira Gandhi ruled, the 'men' in the Congress behaved in the manner of obedient, unquestioning wimps. There was a wonderful photograph taken by Raghu Rai showing Indira Gandhi at her table, her back facing the camera, surrounded by Congressmen in caps facing her, obediently taking down orders much like scared high-school boys. Those men and their descendants are still running scared. The bill will compel the change from male dominance in Parliament to a semblance of equality.
Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav, along with their band of detractors of this bill, are making a caricature of themselves. They will lose more political ground with this stance. Times have changed and the old, tired and irrelevant rhetoric and political machinations, laced with assumptions that are no longer valid, are being rejected. The complete disconnect of such leaders with a rapidly changing nation, infused with fresh aspirations and wanting to reach out beyond the existing, exploitative structures, is starkly visible. The manthan is in full swing.
'THE SC IS FIRM ON STOPPING ILLEGAL MINING.'
Two events of this week have struck a double blow to the powerful Reddy brothers of Bellary. On Monday, the supreme court ordered a stay on the mining operations of the Obulapuram Mining Company (OMC) in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. In the second event the same day, a team of officers from the state forest department raided the Belekeri port in Karwar and seized five lakh tonnes of iron ore worth Rs 150 crore.
The supreme court's shut-down of the operations of OMC and its appointment of a high-level team headed by the Survey of India (SoI) officers to ascertain if the OMC had mined in areas outside those allowed by their licences, and whether they had violated the forest conservation laws is bad news for the Karnataka ministers, Janardhana Reddy, Karunakara Reddy and their associate, B Sriramulu.
The forest department is aware of the ownership of the iron ore which they say was transported to Belekeri with the help of fake permits, the raid suggested a new resolve on the part of the department to check illegal mining and wanton rape of forest areas. It does not bode well for the mining lords of Bellary who are facing charges of blatant violations in protected forest areas, extending mining areas allotted to them illegally and even moving boundary pillars between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka to facilitate their actions.
The story of the Reddys is the story of malaise in Indian body politic. On the strength of their political clout rooted in their wealth, that has spanned the two states and extends to Delhi, the Reddy brothers managed to extract power to virtually rule Bellary district as an autarky and influence the cabinet decisions pertaining to forests and mining. That power was born out of their funding of the BJP's election campaign and later buying up MLAs to bring the government into power. But they overestimated their clout in holding the Yeddyurappa government to ransom in Karnataka and in trying to influence the succession following the death of Y S Rajashekhar Reddy in Andhra Pradesh. While the Yeddyurappa government, aware of its pathetic dependence on the flock of MLAs controlled by Reddys is still supine, the Rosaiah government in the neighbouring state has decided to go after them, seeking a CBI inquiry into OMC operations. Hubris leads to downfall, and the Reddys will not be an exception to that rule.
'HIGH-RISE BUILDINGS ARE POWDER KEGS.'
A devastating fire that swept through Stephen Court, a century-old high-rise building on Park Street in Kolkata, has claimed 24 lives so far. Several people are still missing; so the death toll can be expected to increase. A probe is on to find out what caused the blaze but preliminary investigations reveal that it might have been sparked by a short circuit in one of the lifts. According to police, minimum fire safety regulations had been ignored by the builder. There were no fire exits, the stairway was too narrow and possible escape routes were locked. Besides, the number of electrical appliances being used by residents in the building far exceeded the capacity. Clearly, the terrible tragedy was waiting to happen. Only a month ago, a fire broke out in Carlton Towers in Bangalore killing nine people. A similar disregard for fire safety rules was evident in that disaster too.
Buildings, especially high-rise ones in our cities are powder kegs, waiting for a spark to explode. When fires break out, authorities blame builders and residents for carelessness. But they cannot absolve themselves of responsibility. After all, who gave these builders or businesses licences when safety regulations were ignored? Why are illegal constructions not demolished for being unsafe? Often godowns and workplaces where inflammable material is stored or used exist in crowded areas. Who gave these commercial enterprises permission to set up shop here?
Fires break out with shocking frequency in our cities. Yet public concern over this problem is low, limited to the immediate aftermath of an inferno. Between accidents nothing is done either by authorities or civil society to improve safety of buildings. In Kolkata, locals have alleged that fire engines took a long time to reach Stephen's Court. But this is not the fault of the fire brigade alone. Fire tenders find it difficult to negotiate narrow roads, made narrower by haphazard parking of vehicles and illegal encroachments. And crowds present at disaster sites hinder rescue operations. Thousands of onlookers and media persons jammed the streets around Carlton Towers blocking access of firefighters and other rescue workers. This was the case in Stephen's Court as well. A little bit of sensitivity on the part of the public will go a long way in reducing casualties.
NO NEED TO HURRY
POLITICAL PARTIES SHOULD BE LEGALLY BOUND TO ALLOCATE 33 PER CENT OF SEATS FOR WOMEN IN PARLIAMENT AND THE STATE LEGISLATURES.
BY KULDIP NAYAR
Jihad has different meanings. Islamist terrorists have one. Leaders of other backward classes (OBC) in India have another. The latter have used the word, jihad, to raise the standard of revolt against the government headed by prime minister Manmohan Singh. His Congress party had the Rajya Sabha endorse the controversial Women's Reservation Bill.
The OBC, a caste grouping between the upper castes and the lowest caste, fear that the 33 per cent reservations in the two houses of parliament and state legislatures would benefit primarily the elite and the affluent (today 68 per cent of woman MPs are crorepatis) and leave their womenfolk still more backward.
Many male MPs of different parties are also having second thoughts. The bill when enacted will curtail 181 seats of men from 545-member Lok Sabha. It is laid down that after every general election the tenure is five years reservations for women will rotate to embrace new constituencies. The process, covering the entire country, will end after 15 years when the reservation period ends.
The three OBC leaders who are leading the agitation are: Mulayam Singh Yadav from UP, Lalu Prasad Yadav from Bihar and Sharad Yadav, president of the JD(U). They have threatened not to allow the government function if their castes were not accommodated. Their apprehension is somewhat exaggerated. Yet they have a point when they argue that reservations may come to work against the women from their castes and the minorities.
The remedy they suggest is, however, worse than the disease. They demand a quota within quota, 10 per cent for the OBC and five per cent for Muslims. This proposal may evoke a feeling of separation in the country which easily gets divided on caste or creed.
There is no doubt that the legislation fulfils the call by parliamentary democracy to have gender equality. The question which needs to be asked is: Was it necessary to take such a step when the country was plagued by numerous problems, from Maoists' violence, rising prices to dismal poverty? True, the bill has been languishing for 14 years. But no span of time is long enough when the alternative is a cleavage in society and tension in the country.
India has not yet developed into a polity where the differences over caste or religion have been even allayed, much less settled. Indeed, it is tough for a liberal or a democrat to ignore what the modern world achieved long ago. Yet a nation has to define its own priorities. I do not think that the bill should have been on top of the agenda when the consensus was lacking.
Prosperity and pluralism may make one day the exploitation in the name of caste and creed irrelevant. Till such time, the leaders have to resist the temptation to hit headlines because the gain of a few may spell ruin to the millions. The credit which is given rightly to Congress president Sonia Gandhi may look small in the face of dangers that the nation would be exposed.
Unfortunately, all the three OBC leaders, driven to the wall on the mathematics of numbers in parliament, have played the card of caste. They are trying to reignite the fire that was quenched some 20 years ago by implementing the Mandal commission report and giving reservations to OBC. Still the country remained on the boil till the report was implemented. A similar situation can take place if the women's bill is sought to be passed.
A better suggestion is that political parties should be legally bound to allocate 33 per cent seats to women in parliament and state legislatures. I am told that all parties except the Left are agreeable to the proposal. Why the communists are against it is not understandable but their dialectical materialism goes on a different tangent. Another suggestion Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has given is that the 33 per cent seats can be converted into dual constituencies so as to accommodate women.
There is no option to conciliation. The Congress which has in the Lok Sabha 208 seats, 65 short of a majority, cannot afford to alienate the Yadavs because their support is crucial to the government's viability. The Congress has, perforce, assured parliament that all the parties would be consulted before proceeding further on the bill.
The demolition of the Babri masjid was the fallout of the Mandal agitation. BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee admitted after the demolition that if the Mandal had not taken place, "we would not have picked up kamandal." The nation is still paying for the sins committed at that time. Must we add to our miseries?
Meanwhile, it is welcome to see the nemesis catching up with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. This is also a slap in the face of leading industrialists, who gathered at Ahmedabad some weeks ago, to announce that the next prime minister of India should be Modi. The corporate sector should realise that the people elect a ruling party which in turn appoints the prime minister.
The families of the victims of the pogrom that Modi government unleashed have been waiting for the last eight years to see that those whose hands are soaked with blood do not go unpunished.
MULTIPLE CHALLENGES BEFORE THE FM
MORE THAN THE WELFARE SCHEMES PEOPLE WANT THEIR MEANS OF LIVELIHOOD TO BE SAFEGUARDED.
BY SUDHANSU R DAS
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has spelt out three challenges: the first is to quickly revert to the high GDP growth path of 9 per cent and then find the means to cross the double digit barrier; the second is to harness economic growth to consolidate the recent gains in making development more inclusive; and the third is to erase the weaknesses in government systems, structures and institutions at different levels of governance.
Politicians and economists have admitted the GDP growth benefit has not percolated to the large section of the human race. According to the UNDP Asia Pacific Human Development Report, the global trade has increased inequalities not only between countries but within national borders, among different areas, sectors and households.
The GDP growth in India has added one lakh dollar millionaires. According to the 2010 Forbes International report, India is one of the 11 countries which have at least doubled the number of billionaires since 2009. The irony is that half of India's population continues to live on less than $1.25 a day. Approximately 2.4 million children die every year due to measles, diphtheria, diarrhea, malnutrition and water borne infections.
Bridging the gap
The Union budget has allocated huge social sector fund of Rs 1,37,674 crore which amounts to 37 per cent of the total plan outlay of 2010-11. The fiscal deficit has let government to borrow an excess of Rs 3,00,000 crore to meet the social sector commitment. But, distributing the growth benefit is not all that easy.
In order to percolate the growth benefits, the RBI had advised all banks to achieve 100 per cent financial inclusion by 2012. No frill accounts have been opened to route all kinds of social sector benefit through the banks.
Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka governments have recently agreed to route the social sector benefit through the banks. India has a huge mass of illiterate people who do not know where to put their thumb impression. The effectiveness of financial inclusion solely depends on the integrity of bankers.
Routing the social sector benefits also depends on the quality of NGOs, as many of them have developed the skill of showing their performance on paper only when the ground level story is different.
In fact, more than the welfare schemes people want their means of livelihood to be safeguarded. For example, India imports nearly 800 tonnes of gold per year worth $10 billion, which is one third of the total gold output of the world. After value addition the gold items fetches more than $15 billion. Here the government has to ensure the artisans who add value to gold with their skill and imagination receive their due share.
One litre of milk costs Rs 28 in Delhi. Out of which the intermediaries share is Rs 10. Here the milk producers and the consumers suffer in the entire supply chain. The total national out put of milk is 100 million tonnes out of which dairy cooperatives procure hardly nine million tonnes. More procurement of milk by the dairy union in a healthy supply chain could encourage dairy farmers.
Millions of Indian grain farmers, vegetable and fruit growers need a transparent supply chain, which could improve their living condition.
The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) found a number of alien pests and diseases which have entered the country posing serious threat to food security. The NBPGR report says the incidents of pests were not known to India a decade back. What the farmers need is not relief package but bio security, which will protect their livelihood.
London-based micro finance expert Malcolm Harper suggested India can effectively use its vast mobile telephone network to increase penetration of micro finance in rural India. Indian economists and bankers immediately plunged into action without examining the fact that in the absence of livelihood safeguard all kinds of tools for financial inclusion have little effect.
Large number of frauds occur in e-transaction if proper track is not kept. Educated urban users keep track of their transaction which is not possible for the huge mass of illiterate users.
In fact, the finance minister faces multiple challenges. The biggest ever challenge is the absence of quality human resources with original thinking. There is urgent need to groom a few generations of morally and physically strong people with human sensitivity who can dare to undo the wrong. India is blessed with two renowned Yoga Gurus: Swami Ramdev and Sri Ravishankar whose HR techniques have helped millions of people across the world in increasing their productivity. India can very well internalise their HR inputs for inclusive growth.
LIFE BEGINS AT FORTY
LIFE HAS OTHER BEGINNINGS TOO WHEN ONE ENTERS ONE'S 40S.
BY SHIVARAM NAYAK
They say life begins at 40 and I was never sure of the veracity of this western wisdom until I myself hit the 40s, all too soon to realise it is the old age of youth and the childhood of middle age. It takes personal experience and often travail to realise the truth in some far-fetched aphorism.
It all happened at the cusp of 40, at 39 to be precise, when I decided to kick my job in industry and wanted to do something in the field of humanities. I fervently applied myself to the rigorous study of literature and found myself trying to do something I wanted to do all my life. It was arduous initially to apply my techno-commercially hardened senses to the fine tastes and appreciation of English literature. Natural inclination helped and a sense that something lost out in the march of time could be regained with determination did wonders.
An odd bit of inspiration came from an elderly gentleman I met at the university who was in his 60s and was beaming with pride, having just completed a course, probably the one he wanted to all these bygone years.
Life has other beginnings too when one enters one's 40s, I soon realised. It is time to shake off certain well entrenched beliefs and self-centred confidence and to take recourse to a wider possibility of life's march and the new horizons it provides. As an anonymous saying goes, "At the age of 20 we do not care what the world thinks of us, at 30 we worry what it is thinking of us and at 40 we discover it wasn't thinking of us at all". This saying seems true when one realises the vastness of the world and the minuscule of a role the individual occupies in it.
Forties perhaps help one to balance hope and despair, accomplishments and failures, vast energy and debility, emotion and intellect as never before, creating a fine bed on which the seeds of middle age and wisdom could be sowed. John Lennon of Beatles fame, to whom we owe the popularisation of the phrase "Life begins at forty" sang in his eponymous number how eagerly he was looking forward to a new beginning at 40. He says he tried to sweep the slate clean with a new broom everyday but to no avail all these years making him wait for the next birthday so that he could make amends.
I am now convinced this experience may not be unique to the famed song writer-singer but may be universal to all those with a degree of self-introspection. I marvel at the way Nature weaves its codes of change among humans and all beings with the passage of time
A DANGEROUS GOVERNMENT
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his senior partner Ehud Barak returned from Washington yesterday, leaving behind a deep crisis with the world's most powerful country and Israel's greatest friend. U.S. President Barack Obama asked that Netanyahu give him unequivocal answers to his administration's demands, in order to begin indirect talks and advance the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The demands, which last week received the support of the Quartet of Mideast mediators, include a complete freeze on settlement construction, including in East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu went to the White House several hours after an announcement was made that building permits had been awarded for Jewish construction in the Shepherd Hotel complex in Sheikh Jarrah. Instead of lowering his tone, the prime minister declared during the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC that his government would continue building in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu points to previous governments that built Jewish neighborhoods beyond the Green Line that divides the city. But Netanyahu himself has recognized that advancing the political process and relations with neighboring Arab states, especially Egypt and Jordan, requires that Israel show greater sensitivity to anything that alters the status quo in East Jerusalem.
Contrary to Netanyahu's claim that he is not authorized to stop construction in East Jerusalem, in July 1997, during his previous term as prime minister, he ordered that Jewish residents be removed from the heart of Ras al-Amud. Netanyahu, who at the time was under pressure from Bill Clinton, explained that his decision served "the unity of Jerusalem, the unity of the nation and the continuation of the peace process." Netanyahu relied on the legal opinion of his attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein, who said that it was possible to prevent homes from being populated and even for homes to be evacuated to prevent disturbances that endanger public security.
Conferences held by the right wing and American Jews greatly applaud Netanyahu's old-new slogan about the fate of Jerusalem being equal to the fate of Tel Aviv. But we can expect Israeli elected officials, certainly an experienced politician like the prime minister, to recognize that Jerusalem is different from Israel's other cities and other world's capitals. The United States and the whole international community have never recognized the annexation of the Old City and the Arab villages around Jerusalem. Israel itself has agreed that East Jerusalem and its borders will be determined in discussions on the final settlement. Establishing new facts on the ground does not jibe with fair negotiations and the need to bolster pragmatic Palestinians as partners to a future settlement.
The choice here is between continued construction in East Jerusalem during the negotiations and Israel's future as a secure, democratic and Jewish state. A deterioration in relations with the U.S. administration is taking place at the peak of international efforts to block Iran and strengthen the axis of moderate Arab states. In the unnecessary fight with the United States, an essential ally for Israel, the Netanyahu government is showing itself to be the most extremist and dangerous in the country's history.
AT A NADIR
BY YOEL MARCUS
It's very unfortunate that on the eve of the Passover holiday, the only news we're getting is that the country is at a nadir. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a chilly reception from U.S. President Barack Obama, without photo-ops, with Obama clearly unwilling to be trapped by Netanyahu's well-known trick - coordinating important meetings with the Israeli evening news broadcasts. I can't remember a visit by an Israeli prime minister to Washington that ended as badly as this one.
Meanwhile, Britain's foreign minister whaled on us by evicting the Mossad's man in the Israeli embassy in London because forged British passports were used in the assassination of Hamas' Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Already in 1984, German intelligence discovered eight forged British passports in a phone booth in Germany, which were meant for a Mossad agent. Because of our good relations, Germany didn't make an issue of it, but their intelligence chief told his Israeli counterpart that those methods were passe. Three years later, in the wake of a similar discovery, Britain accused Israel of using forged passports.
Mossad chief Meir Dagan didn't understand the hints and protests and is said to have carried out an operation in Dubai that may not have been so necessary right now. It is said he made every possible mistake in terms of timing, objective and location. Netanyahu was so enthusiastic that he gave Dagan an eighth year in office instead of ousting him. The British, French, and now the Australians, like the Americans, are angry at us.
On Netanyahu's first day in Washington he walked around the AIPAC conference full of smiles because of the warm reception. Also, the speech by the U.S. secretary of state conveyed warmth and, more importantly, included an unequivocal commitment to Israel's security. Netanyahu probably enjoyed every minute, so he didn't notice that the kid gloves were concealing the following message: "Friends must tell the truth."
The significance of her words was that when Netanyahu committed himself to two states for two peoples he should have done much more to prove that his words were not hollow. In the eyes of the administration, his deeds did not accord with his commitment in the Bar-Ilan speech. Netanyahu and his associates have a tendency to say the most inappropriate things with the worst possible timing. Was just before his trip to Washington the right time to say that "building in Jerusalem is the same as building in Tel Aviv"?
And while the administration was warning that construction in Jerusalem is liable to delay the talks with the Palestinians by a year, and just before the meeting at the White House, came news that the construction of 20 residential units in Sheikh Jarrah had been approved.
It's not clear if this was publicized on Netanyahu's initiative or on the initiative of those who want to bring him down; in any case, we exacerbated the conflict with Obama when our image in the era of the second Netanyahu government is very poor. The world is not forgetting the Goldstone report, the siege of Gaza, the forged-passports affair and now the in-your-face urge to build in Jerusalem. Is that the behavior of a prime minister whose top priority is an agreement with the Palestinians?
Since the controversy surrounding U.S. opposition to Israel's deal to sell reconnaissance planes to China, which was accompanied by a threat to hold back defense aid to Israel, there has not been such a serious dispute, not to mention such a dangerous quarrel with the U.S. administration. One person close to the situation says that even if the Republicans were in power, John McCain would not have treated Netanyahu with any less toughness than did Obama. This is because of America's strategic interests in Iran and Afghanistan. The Obama administration is afraid that after its withdrawal from Iraq, undesirable alliances are liable to form in the region; for example, the danger of an Iranian takeover of Iraq and that the axis of evil will stretch all the way to the countries of the Persian Gulf.
Obama is not eager for a military operation against Iran. He is trying to talk to them nicely and even sent the Iranian people a greeting for the new year. His position is that he cannot progress against Iran if there is no progress on the Palestinian issue.
The fact that Netanyahu turned the Iranian threat into a subject that Israel is capable of handling only worries the administration. Do you want to help us in Iran? Commit to an agreement with the Palestinians, freeze the settlements and stop heating up the atmosphere in Jerusalem.
I don't know how the talks between them went, but Obama is capable of being as tough as Jimmy Carter, who in one of his harsher discussions with Menachem Begin at Camp David said that even if he thought Israel was omnipotent, he would put all the blame on Begin if they left Camp David without an agreement.
Bibi, Bibi, as a representative of a furniture company in America you succeeded quite well. A leader is not only talk but the courage to decide, too.
ONLY AN IMPOSED SOLUTION
BY ZEEV STERNHELL
The events of the past few weeks in the territories, Jerusalem and Washington provide laboratory proof of a truth that many people have known for years - without a forced solution, there will be no peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Indeed, from the Oslo Accords to the futile talk about the Annapolis process and the nonsense stories of the past year, all attempts at direct dialogue have failed for one major reason: Neither side has the moral and political fortitude to recognize the finality of the situation at the end of the War of Independence. The Arabs are not capable of coming to terms with their defeat and burying the dream of return, while the Israelis are not capable of holding back the urge to expand in Jerusalem and the territories.
The Israeli political elite is divided between those who seek to continue to push out the Palestinians from the Land of Israel as much as possible and those who, for fear of the settlers, do not dare take a stand against the annexation that is becoming ever more entrenched. The destructive result is that Israel's leaders do not move a finger to give the Palestinians the minimum of incentives required for coming to terms with the great rupture that the War of Independence created in their history.
Were Israeli society prepared to pay the price for peace, its government would not be fanning the flames of conflict at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in Sheikh Jarrah and the Shoafat ridge, nor would it be wrestling with the United States over expanding the settlements. Were it serious about its intentions, the government would immediately put a lid on Jerusalem's lunatic mayor.
After all, how is it possible to demand that the Palestinians recognize the results of the War of Independence and the legitimacy of the Jewish state if Israel takes the liberty of continuing to seize their lands? How is it possible to move forward when the government continues to invest giant sums in the territories and create facts whose only purpose is to create an irreversible situation?
The conclusion is that if building in Shoafat and Silwan is the same as building in Tel Aviv in the eyes of the Israeli government, the only solution is an imposed one. The statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the name of Defense Minister Ehud Barak as well prove that the demand for direct talks is nothing more than endless foot-dragging until the Arabs throw us a lifeline in the form of a foolish act of their own, or until a new regional crisis occurs and perhaps even a war with Iran. Then the game can continue.
Both sides, therefore, require incessant pressure accompanied by an immediate response to any violation of a commitment, and whenever necessary, painful sanctions. Ultimately, the exploitation of the two sides' political vulnerability, with the aim of ending the long war over the land, is a quintessential national interest of everyone who lives here.
For a long time now, the continuation of the settlement project has stirred severe doubts across the world about the nature of the Jewish national movement. Its enemies see it as proof that the Israeli desire for expansion and the cynical denial of human rights for the Palestinians are built into Zionism's very substance and are not a function of one coalition majority or another. The urge to continue the occupation is what arouses abhorrence among the intelligentsia both in Europe and America. Europe is not hostile to Israel, it merely is repulsed by the Israeli policy in the territories and is fearful of a general regional conflagration that could imperil it as well.
To the same extent, there is no greater mistake than the distorted impression of Netanyahu's reception at the AIPAC conference. AIPAC is a forceful and power-hungry lobby, but it represents only a minority of America's Jews. It has no presence among the Jewish cultural elite and at the universities where the political, economic and cultural leaders of the future are studying. Worse still, it derives most of its strength from its ability to raise large sums of money to threaten venerable liberal candidates for Congress whose positions don't find favor with the Israeli right. In this fashion, AIPAC causes the liberal elements in the American elite to loathe it.
Indeed, there is a clear danger that a process will take place in America like the one that has matured in Europe - if the entire Jewish national movement is identified with the nonstop expansionist momentum, the history books will say that between the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and in the fields of settler thuggery throughout the West Bank, the foundation stone for a binational state was carved.
BLOOD AND MATZA
BY YOSSI SARID
Was I born suspicious? Is it hereditary? Did the snake of doubt crawl into our family's gene pool? Not necessarily. My parents were among the most loyal of loyalists. My father thought that David Ben-Gurion was God, and I was afraid at night that both of them - my father and his god - would perform experiments on me in the Land of Moriah. And my mother thought that Dov Yosef, the rationing and supply minister, was God's deputy and appointed herself a secret policewoman to patrol the black market for him.
When exactly was the primeval doubt sown and when did it begin to grow wild? It's easier to remember the major crisis, when during the first Lebanon war those who wore and removed their uniforms banded together to deceive us all.
Eight years later, in 1990, I myself took part in the lie, which still burns today. At the time my friend, Sari Nusseibeh, was arrested and imprisoned for "subversive activities of gathering security information for Iraqi intelligence."
I didn't believe it. I asked to see the material, and I received it. In his book "Once Upon a Country," Nusseibeh writes that the Israeli Yossi Sarid, for whose sake he resigned from the union at Bir Zeit, was a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Israeli Knesset. He writes that Sarid told him that he had been shown convincing proof that Nusseibeh was a secret agent.
I did Sari a terrible injustice. He has forgiven me, but I haven't forgiven myself. I betrayed a personal friendship, one based on common ideals. I was enticed into believing the security people. Since then, as far as I'm concerned, no source is unimpeachable, and the burden of proof is always on them. And when the Israel Defense Forces finds it hard to put together a coherent version of its story, I know that it's getting entangled in a web of lies and half-truths. And when the version doesn't hold water, it apparently holds blood.
This week, in the space of 24 hours, four unarmed Palestinians were shot and killed near Nablus. After one incident, there was a hasty report that no live ammunition was fired, but it soon turned out that in their flight the bullets removed their rubber coating and donned lead. In a second incident, a report came in of pitchforks that instantly turned into small hoes, and of a broken bottle in a field and a discarded syringe - weapons of war and oppression. And immediately came the news of a "serious attack" that had been prevented in the settlement of Itamar.
"They didn't look at all like farmers," said the soldiers speaking in the voice of the settlers. "We checked their palms, they had soft and delicate hands, without the calluses of farmers." And in their anger they killed people, cursed be their anger.
When IDF youth are assisted by hilltop youth, those with soft and delicate hands have no chance; their fate is sealed. One little callus would have saved them.
I don't believe you, sinning official spokespeople. And you don't care that I don't believe; after all, four young Palestinians who are killed are a matter for the bottom of the page deep inside the newspapers.
Still, you should care, because when you release the safety catch and your hand is light and invites a serious mistake, even Staff Sgt. Gabriel Cepic is liable to be killed by friendly fire; and that's really a shame.
I actually wanted to write something nice for Passover this year. But in advance of Seder night I felt a need to get rid of the leavened bread and keep the blood away from the matza.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE ANTI-SEMITES GONE?
BY ADAR PRIMOR
Where have the big anti-Semites, those we knew in the 20th century, disappeared to? Where are they hiding, those racists who prided themselves on their hostility to the members of the Mosaic faith and to the Jewish state? Is it possible they reached the conclusion that anti-Semitism no longer pays?
In an interview with Haaretz this month, the leader of the far right in Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache, spoke of the Wehrmacht as an army that "committed crimes like any other army," spoke of army deserters as traitors and of the Austrian public as if it were not responsible for Nazi crimes. As for neo-Nazism, he related to it as "a spirit that does not really exist."
The fact that these remarks by the successor to Jorg Haider were so widely published in the Austrian media is proof they are not accepted with understanding; that the theory of "the first victim of Nazism" no long holds water with most of the Austrian public; and that although Strache's electoral potential is some 30 percent of the voting public, many Austrians are prepared to fight to block his way.
The most intriguing phenomenon with regard to Strache lies in his rhetorical duality and his attitude toward Israel. In 2002, Strache succeeded in organizing a visit to Jerusalem for himself and wanted to get Haider to join him "so Israel and the Jews would purify them and thus put an end to their 'stigmatization'in terms of anti-Semitism." Strache hoped his visit then and the interview he gave Haaretz now would lead to the Jewish state's supplying him with a longed-for kashrut certificate to pave his way to the Austrian chancellorship.
Strache is not the first nationalist who has tried to use Israeli recognition as a stepping stone to position of power. Gianfranco Fini, the head of Italy's post-Fascist National Alliance, said in an interview with Haaretz in 2002, that if he were invited to Israel, he would accept responsibility for the crimes of Fascism and ask forgiveness from the Jewish People.
That very year, on the eve of the historic presidential elections in France, in which Jean-Marie Le Pen reached the second round, he told Haaretz: "There is no reason to attach the label of 'anti-Semite' to my name." He complimented the Jews on "their many successes," called Zionism "a remarkable challenge of a people that is trying to reconquer its homeland" and expressed his admiration of the Israelis who are "only a few million as compared with a billion Muslims." In a different interview, in 2005, the Flemish nationalist Filip de Winter presented himself as Belgium's No. 1 friend to the state of Israel. He said that "an alliance [was needed] of fraternal love between Europe and Israel" - which he wished to visit.
Prof. Zeev Sternhell identifies among the far right a phenomenon of admiration for Israel's power and its unrestrained use of power and lack of moral inhibitions in doing so. According to this concept, the Jew underwent a metamorphosis in Israel and achieved the ideal of national unity, which extreme right parties were not themselves able to realize in their countries. The Jewish enemy-demon was replaced by the Muslim immigrant-criminal. Islamophobia replaced anti-Semitism, and it is the strongest card today in the hands of the extreme right in Europe.
Strache wishes to eradicate as far as possible the Muslim "visibility." Le Pen relates to the Muslims as France's central problem at the beginning of the 21st century. And for De Winter, Islam is "enemy no. 1 of the free world." An important role is also played by education about the Holocaust and racism - fixing the day of the liberation of Auschwitz as International Holocaust Day, producing films, plays and so forth - and the legislation that forbids denying the Holocaust and crimes of hatred and punishes offenders.
However, the picture is far from uniform. While Fini has undergone a true transformation, Strache's tactical motivation is transparent. In certain cases, the nationalists mix pro-Israeli and even pro-Zionist concepts with anti-Jewish approaches (Le Pen). In other cases, their anti-Islamic sentiments are combined with pro-Arab concepts (Strache).
Moreover, while part of the far right admires "Israel the bully," another part hides its anti-Semitism precisely behind anti-Israel sentiments that are considered legitimate. Sometimes traditional anti-Semitism has made way for another kind that is "new" on the part of migrants and the far left, and in other cases (Hungary, for example) its long-held bases are exposed and threatening.
The glass is half full, and this leaves room for hope. Sixty-five years after the end of World War II, anti-Semitism is no longer politically correct and in most cases does not pay off electorally. But the other half of the glass obliges us to remain strictly on our guard.
A REALITY TOO TERRIBLE TO ADMIT
BY JONATHAN SPYER
The Obama administration's approach to the Middle East is characterized by an apparent desire to revive the sunny illusions of the 1990s peace process - in an era that is far more uncertain and dangerous. This is particularly noticeable in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, in which the United States, the dominant world power, sets the parameters of debate. As a result, international discussion of the conflict is now more detached from reality than at any time in the past 40 years.
There are two layers to the edifice of unreality in which mainstream debate on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is now taking place. The first and most obvious one concerns the Hamas enclave in Gaza. It is now over four years since the movement's victory in elections to the Palestine Legislative Council, and nearly three years since the Hamas coup in Gaza. It is therefore past time to acknowledge that a single, united Palestinian national movement no longer exists.
Since this is, apparently, a reality too terrible to be admitted, the U.S. and the Europeans have chosen, in public at least, to ignore it. The fiction that the West Bank Palestinian Authority speaks in the name of all Palestinians is politely maintained. Behind the scenes, however, the reality is widely acknowledged. The intended means for coping with it constitutes the second layer of illusion.
The inability of even mainstream Fatah-style Palestinian nationalism to accept partition as the final outcome of the conflict has prevented its resolution twice - in 2000 and 2008. This type of nationalism understands the conflict as one that pits a colonial project against a native, authentic nationalism.
From such a perspective, partition of the land means admitting defeat. But Palestinian nationalism does not feel defeated. It is characterized, rather, by a deep strategic optimism. From its point of view, it is therefore not imperative to immediately conclude the struggle - but it is forbidden to end it. Hence the endless reasons why the partition deal somehow can never be inked.
The solution to this obstacle, the West has now decided, is that a new Palestinian leadership, unburdened by this outlook, must be created and defended. The manifestation of this approach is the meteoric career of Salam Fayyad, who was first imposed upon Palestinian politics as finance minister in 2002 by then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and is today PA prime minister.
Fayyad is working closely with Western representatives to build up the institutions and the economic prosperity that are supposedly going to transform Palestinian political culture from the all-or-nothing logjam that has prevented conflict resolution until now, into something with which the world can do business.
The essential logic of this is the same wishful thinking that doomed the 1990s peace process: namely, the idea that institution-building and economic advancement will - and must - eventually have a transformative effect on political outlook. This idea, experience has shown, is fundamentally flawed.
Some liken Fayyad to Konrad Adenauer, the German chancellor who presided over the transformation of political culture and the emergence of democracy in his country after 1945. But Adenauer operated in an era in which the anti-modern, anti-Western element in German political culture had just experienced a final, crushing Gotterdammerung, and Germany was living under a massive and permanent occupation.
In the Palestinian territories, by contrast, the anti-Western and anti-modern element is flourishing, and has state backers in Iran and Syria. It would probably quickly consume Fayyad, were he to cease to be cradled in the arms of the West.
Like the pleasant, well-dressed leaders of the March 14 movement in Lebanon - who have now been devoured by Syria and Hezbollah - Fayyad and company are the product of Western wishful thinking. And like those of March 14, they will survive for precisely as long as the West is willing to underwrite them. And no longer.
This would be fine. The economic development Fayyad is promoting in the West Bank is wholly positive. The problem is that this fantasy version of Palestinian politics is now being seen as real in Brussels and Washington. There are those in the West who seem to have convinced themselves that their creation can walk by itself.
The pleasant figure of Fayyad allows outside observers to pretend that the underlying realities of Palestinian politics do not exist. From there, it is a short step to convincing oneself that the only reason there isn't peace in the Middle East is because Interior Minister Eli Yishai wants to build houses for ultra-Orthodox families in north-central Jerusalem.
In the case of the U.S. administration, it is not entirely clear if this view derives from genuine naivete, or a calculated rationale. There are those who suspect that President Obama will find a way to hold Israel responsible for the absence of peace, regardless of the truth of the situation, because of broader considerations that in his view require the distancing of Washington from Jerusalem.
Either way, it is difficult to discern what advantage the administration's approach will bring for Western interests and good governance in the region. The main impression to be gained is that the West and its allies are confused, disunited and fractious. A cause for celebration for their enemies, no doubt, but hardly an impression one would expect Washington to wish to promote.
Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.
WHAT NAOMI KLEIN REALLY WANTS
BY ERAN SHAYSHON
Several weeks ago, my colleagues and I at the Reut Institute published a comprehensive report on the growing efforts to delegitimize Israel. Discussing our report on Canadian radio, I mentioned the writer and political activist Naomi Klein - an internationally prominent speaker for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel - as one of a few notable individuals in Toronto who promote Israel's delegitimization. Klein soon published a vitriolic denial, which turned into an angry exchange published on a U.S.-based blog.
Klein's main argument was that I was attempting to equate "non-violent tactics like BDS with a military campaign to destroy Israel." Thus, Klein accused me of lying when I said she intended to delegitimize Israel and challenged me to search her writings for evidence to prove it, publicly proclaiming I would find nothing.
Well, I did find something. In my response to Klein, I argued that despite never explicitly rejecting Israel's right to exist, the fact that in her work, she singles Israel out, demonizes it, calls it a perpetrator of apartheid, and suggests it was born in sin, leaves little room for doubt regarding her intentions. Moreover, on at least one occasion a few months ago, Klein wondered publicly, "How about a one-state solution?"
The rest of the exchange, and Klein herself, are largely insignificant in light of the greater phenomena at work. However, by taking Naomi Klein as a metaphor, we can unravel the core of a broader dynamic - "Kleinism," if you will - which damages the quest for a two-state solution.
"Kleinism" represents a simplistic, artificial view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has led many who consider themselves human-rights activists to focus their criticism nearly exclusively on Israel. It brands Israel as the new apartheid state, so it can do no right and its adversaries no wrong. It frames Israel as uninterested in peace or in ending the occupation. It ignores any structural obstacles to peace unrelated to Israel, the most obvious being the sharp divisions among the Palestinians.
Thus, "Kleinists" seem to have concluded that one-sided criticism of Israel is the best way to promote peace, and that pressurizing the state with all available means, including BDS, is both legitimate and effective.
As a result, Israel's branding as a violent, aggressive and discriminatory state is increasingly gaining traction. Consequently, the entire political model of Israel as a Jewish state is framed as inherently immoral. Israel is compared with South Africa's apartheid regime with such persistence and intensity that many seem not to be concerned by the fundamental differences between the two cases, and call for a one-state solution based on the South African formula of "one man, one vote."
This dynamic is well exploited by the "network of resistance" - primarily Iran and its clients Hezbollah and Hamas, which have adopted a strategy that targets Israel's political and economic standing. In recent years, these groups seem to have inverted their position toward the Israeli occupation, coming to view it as a strategic asset, believing that continued Israeli control over the Palestinian population will create an "overstretch" between the Jewish identity of the state, its democratic values, its territory, and demographic trends, all of which will lead to Israel's implosion. Therefore, these groups have consistently sabotaged the political process via terrorism and thwarted Israeli attempts to unilaterally separate from the Palestinians.
Israel thus finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, the country suffers from the permanent military threat posed by the network of resistance, which impedes the political process and threatens to frustrate the paradigm of the two-state solution. On the other hand, Israel is framed in the West as ill-willed and illegitimate, in keeping with purportedly "moral" and "liberal" values, which promote the one-state threat.
Whether intentionally or not, the upshot of these processes is that some human rights activists are aligning with fundamentalist Islamists against Israel. One particularly bizarre example of how these groups' values conflict - differences that melt away when it comes to Israel - is the annual gay rights march against "the Israeli Apartheid," which has taken place twice now in Toronto, while homosexuals are being hanged in Tehran and forced to flee Gaza for Tel Aviv.
It may be that many BDS supporters are genuinely looking to change Israel's policies from a human rights perspective, and do not seek to delegitimize Israel. Indeed, such criticism is important and legitimate, even when harsh and sometimes even when unfair. Yet, the idea of precipitating Israel's capitulation using the model that brought down South Africa's racist regime - which is the conceptual and strategic core of the BDS campaign - is simplistic and unfounded and is likely to cause more human misery, chaos and bloodshed.
We should not be misled by "Kleinist" terminology. Those who really care about justice, peace, human rights and international law should reject the superficial apartheid diagnosis and its accompanying disastrous prognosis. Instead, it is those in both Israel and Palestine who promote the principle of two states for two peoples who could eventually bring about a true and stable peace in accordance with international law. It is we who encourage national, civil and human rights. It is we, and not those who demonize one side, reinforce intransigence and weaken the two-state movement by promoting unrealistic and destructive solutions.
Eran Shayshon is a senior analyst at the Reut Institute.
BROUGHT TOGETHER BY BEES
BY MEDI NAHMIYAZ AND NATHALIE ALYON
As Israeli diplomats worried about what chairs to offer to their Turkish counterparts, 830 Turkish and Israeli beekeepers gathered in Antalya last month for the first annual Turkish-Israeli beekeeping conference.
The conference, organized in conjunction with both countries' agriculture and foreign ministries, dedicated two days to various professional, commercial, legal and scientific issues. Special attention was paid to colony diseases prevalent in both countries, along with lectures on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the mysterious global epidemic facing the industry. Bahri Yilmaz, president of the Turkish Beekeepers Association, presented a history of apiculture in his country, and Shimon Barel, from Israel's Ministry of Agriculture, lectured on the methods for cleaning bee products contaminated by chemical residues.
CCD, which is not completely understood, has serious implications not only for the bee industry but also for agriculture as a whole, since bees play a crucial role in pollinating plants. In a casual conversation between Israeli and Turkish participants in the hotel lobby, Haim Efrat, of the Agriculture Ministry's beekeeping department, recalled a comment by Albert Einstein, who warned that the world as we know it would survive only four years if bees were to become extinct. Facing mutual problems, the two countries decided to establish joint committees to further cooperation in the scientific, commercial, technological and educational aspects of apiculture.
But wait, you may ask, aren't Turkish-Israeli relations on the rocks? How is it that such a cooperative endeavor could come just weeks after the embarrassing incident with the Turkish ambassador in Jerusalem?
Indeed, Israeli and Turkish media paint a grim picture of current relations. Participants at a recent conference on Turkish-Israeli relations, hosted by Turkish Policy Quarterly and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Istanbul, concluded that the "golden age" between Turkey and Israel has ended. The mainstream Turkish newspaper Hurriyet cited "growing nationalism and suspicion of 'the other' increasing to 'the level of paranoia'" in Turkey as the reason for the decline in relations.
The positive interactions between the Turkish and Israeli participants showed that things are not as simple as they seem. The Turkish beekeepers were highly enthusiastic and hospitable toward their Israeli counterparts, and discussions between participants continued well after midnight in the hotel lobby. They exchanged sincere invitations to visit one another in their respective hometowns. In fact, plans are under way for a second Turkish-Israeli beekeeping conference, next year, in Israel.
And yet, the mainstream perception in Israel, voiced both by officials and the general public, is that Turkey went from being a friendly, Israel-loving, secular country to an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, Islamic one. These days, we frequently hear Israelis say they prefer not to vacation in Turkey. Israelis ask us "What's happening with the Turks, do they like us or not?" Such questions beg for a Yes or No answer, reducing the complex dynamic between two countries into a simple equation.
For many Israelis, the rise of the Justice and Development Party in 2002 marked Turkey's transformation from a secular Kemalist country into an unstable Islamic state ready to declare sharia-based Islamic rule. By this logic, the Turks went from loving to hating Israelis almost overnight, and thus are expected to refuse all forms of international cooperation with Israel.
According to this dichotomous logic, a bilateral conference between Turkey and Israel should have been doomed to failure. But, as noted, the conference was a big success. A mere month before the event, organizers anticipated 100 Turkish attendees; in fact, nearly 750 Turkish beekeepers, academics, company representatives and government officials attended. The Israeli delegation was 78 strong. Most of the Turks were from a conservative, religious background - to be expected, since Turkish beekeepers come from rural areas. Almost none spoke English, and they included dozens of imams (religious leaders) from various villages.
If bilateral relations were as bleak as Israelis assume, it would be very difficult to explain the enthusiastic, friendly atmosphere at the conference. Since Turkey is now governed by a party with Islamic roots, Israelis think Turks' attitudes have changed as well. Israelis often forget that Islam always has been an integral part of a Turk's identity, religious or secular. In addition, Turkish public opinion regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been pro-Palestinian.
The fact is that the main opposition party CHP, known for its Kemalist ideology, also displays an "anti-Israeli" attitude. For instance, during a parliamentary discussion about a bill to remove mines from the Turkish-Syrian border, CHP opposed the bill on the grounds that an Israeli company would be contracted for the job. Nevertheless, Turks and Israelis continue to cooperate in many economic, cultural and academic platforms. The key element in Israeli-Turkish relations is mutual interest, and not how religious Turks are. As long as this mutual interest continues, beekeeper imams from rural Turkey will continue to be more than happy to meet with Israeli beekeepers.
Medi Nahmiyaz is the coordinator of the Turkish Forum at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. Nathalie Alyon is an M.A. student in Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University. Both are Turkish citizens.
ABOVE IT ALL
BY GERARD HEUMANN
Fed by self-styled experts, public ignorance, manipulative marketing and naked greed, the fashion of high-rise, luxury apartment buildings is rapidly transforming the character of many cities across the country. Part of a nationwide trend of anti-urban, antisocial building projects of every type, these towers accurately reflect today's Israel, which is concerned less with a good society and more with the good life - or at least with what many consider the good life to be. If architecture can be said to be a faithful reflection of the society it serves, then clearly class and age distinctions are on the increase now, rather than being broken down.
The rich have always sought ways to stand out. Building types symbolize social status. Living high above one's neighbors, separate and superior, seems to answer their need. But as questions of design are little understood by even the most educated and sophisticated members of the general public, it's hardly surprising that they often end up paying a great deal for an inferior product. The ignorance about design standards among those outside the architectural profession has naturally adversely affected the quality of construction work in many cases.
The negative impacts of isolated, free-standing residential towers are many and severe. Set back from the street and self-contained, they kill the life of the surrounding neighborhood. The space around or enclosed by high-rises is often a depressing no-man's land, which in turn heightens security concerns. The buildings' controlled, guarded entrances deter even invited guests. For their residents, the commute to work is often a matter of taking the elevator to the underground parking garage, driving to the office, returning in the evening to the garage and going back up in the elevator to one's apartment, with hardly any opportunity for social contact. And even were young couples able to afford these apartments, they would quickly discover the unsuitability of such a setting for raising children.
Large-scale projects incorporating several towers - usually identical, like photocopies of one another - are commonplace today, and have proven especially destructive. The Holyland Park project, in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, approved in the face of thousands of objections, dwarfs not only its neighbors but the very hilltop it stands upon.
One argument cited frequently in support of high-rises is that they enable the construction of more residential units on less land. This is a myth. In fact there is no connection between building height and density. Structures of six or seven stories can meet the demands for built-up areas and for apartments just as well as an 18-story tower that requires major setbacks. To give an extreme example: Low-rise, high-density housing that is no more than four stories high, such as the brilliant project designed by architect Louis Sauer at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, is a solution that has never been attempted in Israel.
And yet the fact remains: A great many more towers are on their way. If we must have them, is there not a better way to design them, one that would allow their full integration into the existing urban fabric? In terms of the physical environment, one viable option is to combine high and low structures. This would facilitate the creation of a respectful relationship with existing adjacent (low and moderately high) buildings, while creating well-defined, meaningful, public and private open spaces. One successful example of this design strategy is the Lev Ha'ir project in central Tel Aviv, designed by Israel Prize-winning architect Ada Karmi-Melamede. Where several towers are required, each should be designed individually, in response to its unique physical setting and providing accents to an ordered, varied and harmonious architectural composition.
Residential high-rises need not be overbearing, pretentious or repetitive: Their placement should be carefully considered, always within the framework of a comprehensive policy rather than on a piecemeal, site-by-site basis. To preserve a human scale, lower levels - up to tree height - must be treated with sensitivity. Standing out visually carries responsibilities: towers must be of high architectural quality. Needless to say, this is very rarely the case.
But the problem is not just an environmental one. Luxury residential towers clearly segregate rich and poor, young and old, making it impossible for authentic community bonds to be formed. Simply stated, they help destroy social fabric. And it is quite clear that social integration is not among the goals of building developers. Their interests lie mainly in maximum profit in the short term. Social integration demands a full range of housing types, workplaces and shops located near each other, as well as well-placed public buildings - symbols of community identity - and well-defined squares and parks. Market forces cannot be the governing organizer of urban life. Planning and building need enlightened, well-informed governance. This is a critical time.
Gerard Heumann is an architect and town planner in Jerusalem.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
The emergency in Haiti isn't over. It's getting worse, as the outside world's attention fades away.
Misery rages like a fever in the hundreds of camps sheltering hundreds of thousands of the 1.3 million people left homeless by the Jan. 12 earthquake. The dreaded rains have already swamped tents and ragged stick-and-tarp huts. They have turned walkways into mud lakes and made difficult or impossible the simple acts of collecting and cooking food, washing clothes, staying clean and avoiding disease. The rainy season peaks in May.
Worsening the weather crisis are the unchecked sexual assaults and rapes in the camps, where families are squeezed side by side in flimsy quarters and women and girls are left unprotected after dark.
A new report from Amnesty International affirms that security is inadequate, that police and soldiers are often missing, that every nightfall brings terror. Victims stay silent because rapists go uncaught and unpunished; what little policing exists is focused on other priorities.
Both the shelter and safety crises demand an urgent response, and while feelings of urgency abound in Haiti, their impact is only sporadically felt. The little country is swarming with well-intentioned organizations, each trying to do their little bit of help. One group is trying to distribute thousands of flashlights to women and girls. It's a kind and practical gesture, but what they really need are shelters from sexual violence, and adequate policing. Haiti has neither, Amnesty International reports.
Any effective solution would need to be coordinated with the government of Haiti, whose leaders have been absent from the lives of Haitian citizens since the disaster. When former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton visited the capital of Port-au-Prince this week, they joined President René Préval in touring the camp in Champ de Mars, across the street from the slumped-over presidential palace. Screams of frustration greeted them. Where have you been? Why have you not helped us?
From the first days of this disaster, someone should have been racing to find places to build sturdy housing away from the densely crowded, quake-shattered capital. But the Haitian government only this week took the necessary step of invoking eminent-domain power to seize land. Sites have been identified, but the number of places available for new housing is still zero. Only a few hundred people have been moved from the camps.
We understand the government has been working hard to prepare for a donor conference next week, where big ideas for the future will be discussed. But back in old Haiti, land of tents and tarps, workers have been putting fresh coats of plaster and blue paint on buildings on the United Nations compound in Port-au-Prince, and the rest of the world is moving on.
Some United States troops have started going home. Overmatched workers for United Nations agencies and nongovernmental organizations are toiling away, many of them heroically. But ultimately progress must be judged by results. New ways must be found to solve problems, and urgency sustained. Haiti is in danger of becoming what it always was, a nagging blot on the conscience, a neglected project that never gets done.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
LOOSENING THE 'DON'T ASK' SHACKLES
The Pentagon is taking a major step to ease the discriminatory burdens on gay and lesbian service members by ending the pernicious use of anonymous tips and biased hearsay to drum them from the military.
With the backing of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Secretary Robert Gates laid down enlightened enforcement changes to provide "a greater measure of common sense and common decency" to a military burdened by the onerous and damaging "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
The changes, effective immediately, point toward the full repeal of the law that unjustly forces able lesbians and gay men to hide their sexual orientation or be dismissed from serving. More than 13,000 skilled and needed Americans have been driven from the ranks since the law was passed in 1993 in a wrongheaded episode in the culture wars of Congress.
Secretary Gates favors repeal, as does his commander in chief, President Obama, but Congress will have to change the law. In the meantime, he ordered "fairer and more appropriate" enforcement to strike down some blatant injustices. Chief among them is the requirement that third-party complaints about members must henceforth be given under oath. Tighter standards were spelled out for what constitutes a "reliable person" whose accusations can instigate discharge proceedings.
In particular, Mr. Gates promised "special scrutiny on third parties who may be motivated to harm the service member." This signaled a welcome retreat from the aggressive pursuit of discharge cases against people whose sexuality is disclosed by jilted romantic partners and others with some secret barracks agenda.
To show the brass's determination behind the new policy, the secretary said that only generals and naval flag officers will be authorized to initiate fact-finding inquiries. He also struck down the outrageous practice of allowing service members' confidential conversations with lawyers, clergy, physicians and therapists to be used against them in fact-finding inquiries.
The changes are heartening progress toward the day when the American military is the equal of those in Britain, Israel, Canada and other nations where gays serve openly. The repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" is favored by a majority of Americans. But with Congress in such turmoil, a considerable push by President Obama is needed to end a shameful era in which gay men and lesbians have been denied standing as patriots defending the nation.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
RECORDS IN REAL TIME
The Freedom of Information Act has done a lot to make government more transparent. But in Washington where need-to-know is the favorite status symbol most agencies still ignore the legal deadlines and take months, even years, to respond to requests.
Senators Patrick Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, and John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, have introduced a bill that would push the bureaucracy to release information more quickly. It is an important and needed fix.
The Freedom of Information Act, which became law in 1966, was intended to open up most government records to the public. It contains some necessary exemptions, including for material that would compromise national security or reveal personal information. And over the years, it has become a critically important tool for public interest groups, journalists, and others seeking to hold government accountable. The American Civil Liberties Union used the law to obtain secret Bush administration legal memos authorizing the use of torture.
Agencies are supposed to answer requests within 20 business days, but they often take far longer. The Department of Homeland Security reported a backlog of 18,918 Freedom of Information Act requests at the end of 2009. The Justice Department had nearly 5,000.
Delays of months or years mean that information is often not available when it is needed to shed light on a current problem or controversy. Slow response times also discourage people from filing requests.
Senators Leahy and Cornyn introduced the Faster FOIA Act last week to coincide with Sunshine Week, which is dedicated to educating the public about the importance of government transparency. The bill would create a bipartisan commission to investigate the causes of delays in responding to information requests, and make suggestions to Congress for speeding things up.
This is only the latest effort by Senators Leahy and Cornyn to strengthen the law. Their Open FOIA Act, which became law last fall, was aimed at fixing another problem: the use of overly broad interpretations of the act's exemptions to deny legitimate requests.
The two senators usually find themselves on opposite sides of most debates. They deserve credit for putting partisanship aside and working to make a good law better. Most of all, they deserve credit for championing the principle that citizens have a right to know what their government is doing.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
REIMAGINING WHAT WASHES UP
BY FRANCIS X. CLINES
The Hudson River was as mean as usual this winter, roughing up the Manhattan shore and playing into the hands of Tom Loback, a sculptor who works in flotsam and jetsam. Nothing pretentious. Just more of his fragile, gone-tomorrow driftwood works to puzzle and please along the river rocks down from the apartment towers north of West 100th Street.
Some resemble gnarled cruciforms or tepee struts rising strange as Stonehenge by the cacophony of the West Side Highway. As a matter of esthetics, Mr. Loback refuses to lash anything together, like his friend El Ropo does in attempting permanence, of all things, in a place like New York. Nor does he envy the rival creations of Mike the Rock Balancer, who also craves something lasting.
Rather, it's celebrating impermanence at the city's edge that seems to drive Mr. Loback, the way the city poet Allen Ginsberg labored to capture "the dearness of the vanishing moment." Mr. Loback's trembling constructions have a wisp of Beckett on human folly: "Try again. Fail Again. Fail better."
The artist had to laugh when a woman on a bicycle twice reprimanded him as he was yanking and propping pieces from the water. "She said I was ruining the city's 'pristine' nature," he said. "Pristine in this city? I had to tell her the shoreline we stood on was a landfill from railroad days."
It's been a decade since the artist quit smoking and needed an anxiety outlet beyond his studio, wandering the river and discovering what it offered. Mr. Loback figures he's done at least 2,000 pieces, beginning with what he terms his early "low-tide work." All his efforts crumble back to urban detritus, but he photographs each for the record and shows some on Flickr.
In talking about his time along the river, he is haunted by some mysterious person he never encountered who would see his pieces and elaborate or complement them nearby in separate works. "I figure it was a woman," said Mr. Loback, with no proof to offer. "What we were doing amounted to a conversation. It had to be a woman," he insisted wistfully, gleaning the riverside. FRANCIS X. CLINES
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE RETURN OF HISTORY
BY DAVID BROOKS
Some brilliant scholar has to write a comprehensive history of modern economics because the evolution of this field is clearly one of the most consequential things happening in the world today.
Act I in this history would be set in the era of economic scientism: the period when economists based their work on a crude vision of human nature (the perfectly rational, utility-maximizing autonomous individual) and then built elaborate models based on that creature.
Act II would occur over the past few decades, as a few brave economists tried to move beyond this stick-figure view of humanity. Herbert Simon pointed out that people aren't perfectly rational. Gary Becker analyzed behaviors that don't seem to be the product of narrow self-interest, like having children and behaving altruistically. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman pointed out that people seem to have common biases when they try to make objective decisions.
This part of the history would be the story of gradually growing sophistication and of splintering.
Then the story would come to Act III, the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009. This act is a climax of sorts because it exposed the shortcomings of the whole field. Economists and financiers spent decades building ever more sophisticated models to anticipate market behavior, yet these models did not predict the financial crisis as it approached. In fact, cutting-edge financial models contributed to it by getting behavior so wrong helping to wipe out $50 trillion in global wealth and causing untold human suffering.
This would bring the historian to Act IV, the period of soul-searching that we are living through now. More than a year after the event, there is no consensus on what caused the crisis. Economists are fundamentally re-evaluating their field.
"Where were the intellectual agenda-setters when this crisis was building?" asked Barry Eichengreen of the University of California, Berkeley, in The National Interest. "Why did they fail to see the train wreck coming?"
In The Wall Street Journal, Russ Roberts of George Mason University wondered why economics is even considered a science. Real sciences make progress. But in economics, old thinkers cycle in and out of fashion. In real sciences, evidence solves problems. Roberts asked his colleagues if they could think of any econometric study so well done that it had definitively settled a dispute. Nobody could think of one.
"The bottom line is that we should expect less of economists," Roberts wrote.
In a column called "A Crisis of Understanding," Robert J. Shiller of Yale pointed out that the best explanation of the crisis isn't even a work of economic analysis. It's a history book "This Time is Different" by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff that is almost entirely devoid of theory.
One gets the sense, at least from the outside, that the intellectual energy is no longer with the economists who construct abstract and elaborate models. Instead, the field seems to be moving in a humanist direction. Many economists are now trying to absorb lessons learned by psychologists, neuroscientists and sociologists. They're producing books with titles like "Animal Spirits," "The Irrational Economist," and "Identity Economics," about subjects such as how social identities shape economic choices.
This amounts to rediscovering the humility of an earlier time. After all, Adam Smith was a moral philosopher, Friedrich von Hayek built his philosophy on an awareness of our own ignorance, and John Maynard Keynes "was not prepared to sacrifice realism to mathematics," as the biographer Robert Skidelsky put it. Economics is a "moral science," Keynes wrote. It deals with "motives, expectations, psychological uncertainties. One has to be constantly on guard against treating the material as constant and homogenous."
In Act IV, in other words, economists are taking baby steps into the world of emotion, social relationships, imagination, love and virtue. In Act V, I predict, they will blow up their whole field.
Economics achieved coherence as a science by amputating most of human nature. Now economists are starting with those parts of emotional life that they can count and model (the activities that make them economists). But once they're in this terrain, they'll surely find that the processes that make up the inner life are not amenable to the methodologies of social science. The moral and social yearnings of fully realized human beings are not reducible to universal laws and cannot be studied like physics.
Once this is accepted, economics would again become a subsection of history and moral philosophy. It will be a powerful language for analyzing certain sorts of activity. Economists will be able to describe how some people acted in some specific contexts. They will be able to draw out some suggestive lessons to keep in mind while thinking about other people and other contexts just as historians, psychologists and novelists do.
At the end of Act V, economics will be realistic, but it will be an art, not a science.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
GOING TO EXTREME
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
I admit it: I had fun watching right-wingers go wild as health reform finally became law. But a few days later, it doesn't seem quite as entertaining and not just because of the wave of vandalism and threats aimed at Democratic lawmakers. For if you care about America's future, you can't be happy as extremists take full control of one of our two great political parties.
To be sure, it was enjoyable watching Representative Devin Nunes, a Republican of California, warn that by passing health reform, Democrats "will finally lay the cornerstone of their socialist utopia on the backs of the American people." Gosh, that sounds uncomfortable. And it's been a hoot watching Mitt Romney squirm as he tries to distance himself from a plan that, as he knows full well, is nearly identical to the reform he himself pushed through as governor of Massachusetts. His best shot was declaring that enacting reform was an "unconscionable abuse of power," a "historic usurpation of the legislative process" presumably because the legislative process isn't supposed to include things like "votes" in which the majority prevails.
A side observation: one Republican talking point has been that Democrats had no right to pass a bill facing overwhelming public disapproval. As it happens, the Constitution says nothing about opinion polls trumping the right and duty of elected officials to make decisions based on what they perceive as the merits. But in any case, the message from the polls is much more ambiguous than opponents of reform claim: While many Americans disapprove of Obamacare, a significant number do so because they feel that it doesn't go far enough. And a Gallup poll taken after health reform's enactment showed the public, by a modest but significant margin, seeming pleased that it passed.
But back to the main theme. What has been really striking has been the eliminationist rhetoric of the G.O.P., coming not from some radical fringe but from the party's leaders. John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that the passage of health reform was "Armageddon." The Republican National Committee put out a fund-raising appeal that included a picture of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, surrounded by flames, while the committee's chairman declared that it was time to put Ms. Pelosi on "the firing line." And Sarah Palin put out a map literally putting Democratic lawmakers in the cross hairs of a rifle sight.
All of this goes far beyond politics as usual. Democrats had a lot of harsh things to say about former President George W. Bush but you'll search in vain for anything comparably menacing, anything that even hinted at an appeal to violence, from members of Congress, let alone senior party officials.
No, to find anything like what we're seeing now you have to go back to the last time a Democrat was president. Like President Obama, Bill Clinton faced a G.O.P. that denied his legitimacy Dick Armey, the second-ranking House Republican (and now a Tea Party leader) referred to him as "your president." Threats were common: President Clinton, declared Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, "better watch out if he comes down here. He'd better have a bodyguard." (Helms later expressed regrets over the remark but only after a media firestorm.) And once they controlled Congress, Republicans tried to govern as if they held the White House, too, eventually shutting down the federal government in an attempt to bully Mr. Clinton into submission.
Mr. Obama seems to have sincerely believed that he would face a different reception. And he made a real try at bipartisanship, nearly losing his chance at health reform by frittering away months in a vain attempt to get a few Republicans on board. At this point, however, it's clear that any Democratic president will face total opposition from a Republican Party that is completely dominated by right-wing extremists.
For today's G.O.P. is, fully and finally, the party of Ronald Reagan not Reagan the pragmatic politician, who could and did strike deals with Democrats, but Reagan the antigovernment fanatic, who warned that Medicare would destroy American freedom. It's a party that sees modest efforts to improve Americans' economic and health security not merely as unwise, but as monstrous. It's a party in which paranoid fantasies about the other side Obama is a socialist, Democrats have totalitarian ambitions are mainstream. And, as a result, it's a party that fundamentally doesn't accept anyone else's right to govern.
In the short run, Republican extremism may be good for Democrats, to the extent that it prompts a voter backlash. But in the long run, it's a very bad thing for America. We need to have two reasonable, rational parties in this country. And right now we don't.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
FIX HEALTH REFORM, THEN REPEAL IT
BY PAUL RYAN
ON Thursday night, Congress sent to President Obama the reconciliation package to remove some of the embarrassing provisions in his signature legislative achievement, health care reform. But a serious fix for what ails health care in America will entail far more than merely tweaking the new law of the land; we will need to repeal the entire faulty architecture of the government behemoth and replace it with real reform.
To be clear: it is not sufficient for those of us in the opposition to await a reversal of political fortune months or years from now before we advance action on health care reform. Costs will continue their ascent as the debt burden squeezes life out of our economy. We are unapologetic advocates for the repeal of this costly misstep. But Republicans must also make the case for a reform agenda to take its place, and get to work on that effort now.
So what can we do?
Health care experts across the political spectrum acknowledge that a fundamental driver of health inflation is the regressive tax preference for employer-based health insurance. This discriminatory tax treatment lavishes the greatest benefit on the most expensive plans while providing no support for the unemployed, the self-employed or those who don't get coverage from their employer.
Reform-minded leaders like Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, pushed legislative proposals that would directly address this issue. I helped write a plan that would replace the bias in the tax code with universal tax credits so that all Americans have the resources to purchase portable, affordable coverage that best suits their needs, with additional support provided for those with lower incomes. All these ideas, though, were dismissed early on, as they didn't fit with the government-driven plan favored by the majority. But going forward it's important that we reconsider this regressive tax issue.
Then, when helping Americans with pre-existing conditions obtain coverage, we should focus on innovative state-based solutions, including robust high-risk pools, reinsurance markets and risk-adjustment mechanisms. I intend to continue advancing true patient-centered reforms like attaching tax benefits to the individual rather than the job, breaking down barriers to interstate competition, and promoting transparency and consumer-friendly coverage options.
We should ensure that health care decisions are made by patients and their doctors, not by bureaucrats, whether at an insurance company or a government agency. By inviting market forces into health care, we can encourage a system where doctors, insurers and hospitals compete against one another for the business of informed consumers.
We must also immediately begin dealing with our crushing debt burdens, which this legislation will worsen. The Democrats' fiscal arguments never did add up: they claim that their program will reduce the deficit even though the federal government will pick up the tab for more than 30 million uninsured Americans and subsidize millions more. Even after accounting for the $569 billion in tax increases and $523 billion in Medicare cuts, the true costs of this legislation concealed by timing gimmicks, hidden spending and double-counting will make the deficit explode, plunging us deeper into debt.
Washington already has no idea on how to pay for its current entitlement programs, as we find ourselves $76 trillion in the hole. Our country cannot afford to avoid a serious conversation on entitlement reform. By taking action now, we can make certain that our entitlement programs are kept whole for those in and near retirement, while devising sustainable health and retirement security for future generations.
The case for attempting health care reform was not difficult to make. Skyrocketing health care costs are driving more and more families and businesses to the brink of bankruptcy, leaving affordable coverage out of reach for millions of Americans and accelerating our path to fiscal ruin. The challenge was how to deal with the seemingly inexorable increase in health care costs.
Yet the Congressional majority went at this goal backward: with the force of the federal government, cover all Americans then figure out which screws to twist to contain costs. Democrats opted for this approach because their concern was never about costs. It was about expanding coverage through an expansion of government.
As the dust settles from this historic and fiscally calamitous week, we have to try to steer this country back in the right direction. The opposition must always speak with vigor and candor on the need for wholesale repeal and for real reform to fix what's broken in health care.
Paul Ryan, a Republican, is a representative from Wisconsin.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
NOW COMES THE HARD PART
BY JONATHAN COHN
Ann Arbor, Mich.
HEALTH care reform, the most ambitious domestic policy initiative of our time, is now law. And already there is talk of how to make it even better. Some want to improve the subsidies and financial protections, so that people aren't as exposed to high medical bills. Others would like to add some sort of public option, whether it's a new stand-alone government-run plan or expanded access to Medicare.
Those are good ideas. But making the most out of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will also depend on something a little less exciting: putting the existing plan into action. The challenges ahead fall into four categories.
DELIVERING THE DELIVERABLES President Obama promised that some of the benefits of reform would appear in the first year. For starters, within 90 days the Department of Health and Human Services must set up a high-risk pool as a temporary source of insurance for people who have pre-existing conditions.
Some of the new consumer protections will take effect within six months; first, though, federal officials have to translate that law into regulation. The government is also supposed to provide a new, easy way for consumers to compare benefits from insurer to insurer.
EDUCATING THE PUBLIC It's one thing to create a health insurance program and quite another to get people to sign up for it. Today, many more people are eligible for Medicaid than actually enroll, in no small part because some states wary of adding too many people to the rolls make it hard to apply for and stay in the program.
That said, more than 97 percent of people in Massachusetts now have insurance, thanks in part to an aggressive public relations campaign that enlisted the Red Sox to raise awareness about the state's own health care overhaul. A similar effort to increase public knowledge and to undertake direct outreach to individuals will be necessary. While states and nonprofit organizations will play vital roles, the federal government should probably take the lead.
HANDLING THE INSURERS Speaking of Massachusetts, that's the one state with a fully working model of an insurance exchange: a place where individuals and small businesses can buy relatively affordable coverage, with clearly defined benefits and no exclusions or mark-ups based on the health of the people applying. And the model seems to work overall. But replicating that in 49 other states won't be easy.
It requires appointing people to run the exchanges and figuring out how Americans will use them, but it also means preparing to regulate insurers more closely than anybody regulates them now. The law creates minimum standards for what insurance covers and requires insurers to spend most of their money on actual patient care, to name only two obvious changes. The states will have primary responsibility for enforcing these standards, but first the federal government will have to write them.
BENDING THE CURVE Dozens of new initiatives are intended to control, or at least reduce, the cost of medical care. But most of them require work to get up and running.
Everyone hopes that wider use of electronic medical records can improve quality while reducing expensive duplication. Again, somebody first has to set up a standard for the records. Studies show we'd save money if we stopped paying for so many treatments that don't work (or don't work better than the alternatives). But we can't start paying for treatments more intelligently without better information about what drugs and procedures do work, not to mention which ones doctors and hospitals already use.
Progress on many of these goals is already under way. (Development of electronic records, for instance, began with the stimulus.) But there are obstacles ahead: some states are eager to do their part; others are busy suing the federal government because they don't like the law. The Obama administration also needs to find the right people to manage these programs.
Getting reform right may ultimately require making sure one official is responsible for coordinating activity among the different agencies and levels of government. It should probably be someone who reports to the White House but is also accountable to Congress; someone with a head not just for politics but also for the world of insurance, regulation and medicine; someone who can push the many groups and institutions that will need pushing, while also listening to people's concerns.
Much as the Iraq war wasn't over when American forces conquered Baghdad, so health care reform didn't end when President Obama signed the bill. If carrying out the legislation doesn't get the same sustained attention that passing it did, then this week's historic victory will lose much of its luster.
Jonathan Cohn is a senior editor of The New Republic and the author of "Sick."
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
POWER, PROMISE AND PEOPLE
The repeat US promise of $125 million (still a promise) for the power sector in Pakistan coincides with the first major riot of the summer, in the Azad Kashmir town of Mirpur, where people protesting power cuts clashed with the police. Forty were injured. We hear that following the violence WAPDA has exempted Mirpur from loadshedding. We wonder if the same rule will apply to Karachi, Lahore, Kohat, Hyderabad or all the other places where we are bound to see prolonged loadshedding. It is also a matter of some doubt if the rather illogical pledge made to banish power cuts from Mirpur will be kept; if it is, then there might be many who will consider moving to that town, at least for the summer! Sometimes staying comfortable takes priority over all else.
The US commitment to aid in the energy sector is therefore crucial, but it needs to be translated in action urgently. We can anticipate scenes of considerable violence in many places in the country. It is quite clear that public patience has run out and people are not willing to simply sit and swelter. The consequences of this can be a great deal of destabilisation. One of the issues that will, and indeed should, arise over the coming days is how the US aid should be used. The money that will, at sometime time in the near future, be deposited in government bank accounts, is intended to bolster thermal power plants. We need open discussions by experts on how this can be used to improve power generation to benefit people across the country. Of course nuclear-powered plants could have achieved this more efficiently, but the US secretary of state has made it quite clear that an agreement on this is not likely anytime soon. One of the issues that have aggravated the power crisis is the lack of transparency on exactly what is amiss. We need open dialogue on how to use the power we have and how enhanced funding for thermal power plants can bring real gains. It is important that no further doubts are created. If this happens it will only increase suspicions and add to the possibility of massive protests that might make the summer even hotter than indicated by the temperatures on the scale.
I. THE NEWS
NEITHER FREE NOR FAIR
A NAB prosecutor has resigned due to the pressure faced by him from the PPP government. This is an ominous development. It indicates that the body for accountability in our country is neither free nor fair. According to a report in this newspaper, other members of the NAB setup have also faced similar attempts to coerce them into making particular decisions. This is a disturbing state of affairs. We hear that the acquittal of persons accused by NAB in various cases is also based on their connections to those in power rather than on their innocence. It is quite conceivable that evidence has been deliberately concealed and courts left with no options but to free those accused.
This of course is hardly a new phenomenon. Each body set up for the purpose of accountability has been accused of wrongdoing along the same lines. This is a disaster. Nations that have dealt successfully with corruption have gained a great many benefits. Pakistan needs to find ways to join their ranks. The only way to do so is to put in place an accountability body that is genuinely free from government control. And this of course is something that no government is keen on doing, for reasons we are all aware of. But the issue of corruption has now become one that involves national progress at many levels. The links between good governance and development are well-established. We need to set up sound accountability bodies that can serve the interests of their country and not just their political masters.
I. THE NEWS
SLAUGHTER AT THE ALTAR
The three little girls slaughtered at a temple in Mirpurkhas by their father become the latest victims of superstition and ignorance. They will never again walk to school; enjoy a roadside treat or one day pose for wedding photographs. Some reports in the media have emphasised that the family was Hindu, and used this to account for the event. In some reports the bias stares out from the newsprint. The fact is that such murders are unforgivable, no matter who commits them. Not long ago we had a similar case of human sacrifice in Karachi.
We must also ask if it is indeed a mere coincidence that in most such cases it is little girls who are killed. The fact is that across our society and regardless of religious belief, ethnicity and other factors, girls continue to be seen as a social burden. Parents perceive them as a drain on family resources; for the most part less is spent on their food, health and education than on boys. In some cases they are murdered. This latest act of violence, with its pseudo-religious overtones, may be a part of this broader trend. The only way to prevent such acts of brutality is to fight ignorance and superstition by promoting literacy and raising the status of women and girls across society.
I. THE NEWS
BRAVE NEW WORLD OR THE PAST REVISITED?
If there's a cross on which Pakistan has found itself frequently crucified, it is the one carrying the legend 'strategic'. What follies have we not committed in the pursuit of strategic goals? Even our present preoccupation with terrorism is a product of our strategic labours in times past (hopefully, never to return).
So when a fresh batch of graduates out of higher strategy school speak of a 'strategic dialogue' with the United States -- our principal ally and, often, the cause of our biggest headaches -- there is reason to be wary.
We have been here before, travelled down this route many times, our obsessive insecurity driving us time and again into American arms, each time to be left high and dry when the initial enthusiasm, or necessity, had passed. But we never seem to learn and each time begin our quest for the holy grail -- of permanence in our American connection -- as if there were never any heartbreaks before.
Barely six months ago the US viewed Pakistan through sceptical, even distrustful, eyes. The army had yet to go into South Waziristan and the phrase Quetta Shura was on the lips of every half-baked security analyst across the Atlantic. South Waziristan, the unspoken acceptance of drone strikes and greater cooperation with the CIA in nabbing shadowy Taliban figures in Pakistan changed all this. American faces now light up at the mention of Pakistan, no smile more beaming than on the face of Gen David Petraeus.
As part of this mood swing, the Americans have taken to lionizing Pakistan's army commander, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, who is very much the flavour of the moment, just as -- frightening thought -- Pervez Musharraf was once upon a time. It is sobering to remember that when Musharraf signed on with the US post-Sept 11, conceding far more than anyone in the Bush administration was expecting, no leader on earth was more feted than him.
So we should try and keep things in perspective. The Americans may be gushing over us now but that's only because we are crucial, perhaps indispensable, for the success of their mission in Afghanistan. Or even for a face-saving exit from that quagmire. There are two fronts to this war, the one in Pakistan being by far the most important.
The 'strategic dialogue' is thus not pegged to any abstract love for Pakistan. It arises from the grim necessity of the war in Afghanistan. We should be under no illusions about the window of opportunity that this dialogue offers. This window will remain open and serviceable only up to the moment when the Americans begin withdrawing from Afghanistan. To assume otherwise, and give way to misplaced euphoria -- something at which we are rather good -- is to court the ways of folly and set ourselves up for another 'betrayal' at American hands.
The wish-list Pakistan has carried to Washington has Kayani's thumbprint all over it. It has not been lost on anyone that in the driving seat as far as our delegation is concerned sits not the foreign minister or anyone else but him. It would also not have been lost on anyone that the brief prepared by our side for the talks was put together not in the prime minister's office or anywhere else but in General Headquarters, with key federal secretaries in attendance and Kayani, not the prime minister, presiding.
Kayani is a smart man, very articulate and extremely good at putting his point of view across (his presentation at Nato Hqs in Brussels has been widely talked about). But what is this we are hearing about the shopping list prepared under his aegis? Which world are we living in? Which planet does GHQ still inhabit?
We have just a year and a half, not eternity, to get what we want from the US. It behoves us ill to ask the US to help restart our composite dialogue with India. If India is playing hard-to-get on this count, we should be able to keep our cool and wait for India's attitude to change. Even if the composite dialogue doesn't get going for the next two years, the glaciers will not melt and the Himalayas will not march down to the seas.
We should be mature enough to understand a few things clearly. America is not going to ask India to talk Kashmir with us. It is not going to solve our water problems with India. It is not going to give us the kind of nuclear deal it has concluded with India.
To go by the hype generated in official quarters, it almost appeared as if we were expecting a string of nuclear power plants from the US. And what happens? Hillary Clinton announces a gift of 125 million dollars to set up thermal power plants. A colder splash of water on the fires of our misplaced ardour could not have been poured. What Burke said of England in the context of America's war of independence: "Light lie the dust on the ashes of English pride" -- we can use to define our predicament: light lie the dust on the embers of our strategic relationship.
Sooner or later we will have to discover the reasons for this talent for selling ourselves cheap. We have always behaved thus in our dealings with the US, assuming obligations unthinkingly, never asking for the right price and then moaning about betrayal and the like when the Americans, taking us at our word, leave us with very little.
Mobarak got Egypt's American debt (7 billion dollars, and this was in 1991) written off when he joined America's first Gulf war. The Turks asked for 25 billion dollars to allow American troops territorial passage prior to the Iraq war in 2003. That the US refused is beside the point. The Turks did not allow themselves to be taken for granted. We settle for peanuts and call it a 'strategic relationship'.
Kayani, as I have said, is a smart man. But there is too much of India and Afghanistan in his world-view. More than with the US, we need to be conducting a strategic dialogue with ourselves. Why can't we rid ourselves of the fixation of managing things in Afghanistan? We can't manage ourselves, yet we want to fix the neighbourhood. Managing Afghanistan may be a worthy ambition. But it is poor compensation for mismanaging Pakistan.
GHQ is aghast at the thought of the Indians training the Afghan army. In Kayani's phrase, even when trainers depart, they leave their mindset behind. Given the vehemence of our position on this point, maybe the Americans give us ground on this. And we will hail it as a major victory. But we should be playing for higher stakes instead of tilting at windmills.
We should have been gunning for something tangible. We are a debtor nation, strapped for cash. It is money we should have been asking for. In concrete terms, a writing off of all our debt. A one-point agenda, clearly stated and firmly put, without all the mumbo-jumbo of a 'strategic relationship'. Water, energy, India and Afghanistan were best left out of our wish list, more an exercise in fantasy than anything to do with the real world.
This government is too scatterbrained and too preoccupied with other problems to have been able to get things right and concentrate on the essentials of this 'strategic dialogue' right. The vacuum created by its ineptitude was filled by a GHQ pluming itself on the laurels won in Swat and FATA. But for all its slickness under Kayani, GHQ, alas, remains trapped in the morass of its old conceits and prejudices.
So the old questions remain: how to emerge from the darkness into the light? How to manage Pakistan's affairs better? Most important of all: whence will come the liberation of the Pakistani mind? One thing is for sure: not from GHQ.
Afterthought: the army had denounced the Kerry-Lugar Bill. What's so great about the 'strategic dialogue'?
I. THE NEWS
DEFYING POLITICAL OBITUARIES
When it comes to rolling with the punches, Mr Zardari is a master. He has been hit everywhere and, very often, below the belt, which must have hurt. But he has not winced and only rarely yelled foul. He has stoically borne the pummelling with the now-famous grin. The banishment of a prominent TV anchor was the one occasion that his temper got the better of him, but he seems to have relented. His critics, whose number remains legion, and growing, are all happily plying their trade, none the worse for taking him on. So much so that it has now become a fad to disparage him. Apart from those who are compelled to speak well of him, like elected party officials or paid employees of the state, none else stoop to praise him. Even the loathsome Ziaul Haq probably had a greater following.
And for good reason. As mistakes go, many of Mr Zardari's have been howlers for which he has deservedly been taken to task. Following the face-off over the restoration of the judges and the quarrel with the judiciary over the NRO, those of us who had written his political obituary felt that we were going to be vindicated. Even now many feel there are a number of concealed dangers, any one of which may prove his undoing. The plethora of cases that still require consideration, including those challenging the immunity that he claims as president, makes clear and evident the real danger that his end could be a bad one. And if one were to wager today whether he would complete his term, the odds that he would not would probably be quite high.
All that, however, is a far cry from the odds that were on offer a short while earlier. Then, it seemed, a no-brainer. His departure was expected momentarily. There were discussions as to how he would leave. A quick and surreptitious getaway to Dubai was the most popular conclusion.
But we were wrong. Mr Zardari has emerged after two years battered and bruised, no doubt, but still intact. He continues to successfully preside over a curious revolution in the politics of Pakistan, which can perhaps best be described as an abrupt change in misgovernment. Even as he has grown stronger in office, things have gone from bad to worse. It is a puzzling phenomenon and quintessentially Pakistani. Just as there is no explanation for this paradox there are many others which are equally inexplicable.
Mr Zardari started off standing on his head and appears to have finally landed on his feet. And it goes to his credit that he will shortly preside over the dismantling of an amalgam of laws that had created a constitutional dictatorship. No man elected with dictatorial powers has divested himself of such powers quite as completely and rapidly as Mr Zardari will have done (although some argue that he had no option) while retaining office.
For all his chirping about ushering in democracy, Musharraf remained, till his last day in office, a dictator. So did Ayub Khan; and Ziaul Haq died both a dictator and a usurper. General Franco, a despot among despots, made Spain's emergence as a constitutional monarchy conditional on his death. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did give the nation a democratic Constitution but retained his dictatorial powers by immediately moving to amend and suspend certain key clauses, including those which ousted the jurisdiction of the courts, once the Constitution had been approved by parliament. Of course, erstwhile prime minister Nawaz Sharif did nearly make it to become an Amirul Momineen, a pseudo-religious kind of dictator, before he had a belated change of heart and converted to democracy.
Hence, in this politically blighted land, whence his predecessors lived by what they knew to be a lie, and others by what they, falsely, believed to be the truth, Mr Zardari is choosing to live by what we all recognise to be right. To reiterate, in a matter of days the much maligned Mr Zardari is about to do what few others have done and, one daresay, could have brought themselves to do, and that is surrender power--"the ultimate aphrodisiac."
The question often asked is, what next? And the answer to that depends on another question. Can Mr Zardari, who will shortly be hard-pressed to grant an extension to his cook (if he is a government employee), be able to exercise power over himself? Will he be content to become an empty suit and open flower shows? Or will he try to seek power where it now rests with the prime minister?
In these two years Mr Zardari should have come to some definite conclusions. Hopefully, he would have recognised that governance is not his forte. Moreover, his judgement and ability to make important decisions on imperfect knowledge in a limited amount of time--the art of politics, so to speak--is not up to the mark. Besides, he has all the qualities which create bad publicity. In any case, administrative ability and the management of men are not skills that can be learnt on the job. Charisma too, of which he is sorely deficient, cannot be acquired. Nor is Mr Zardari a gifted speaker. And, while it is true that of the present crop of Pakistani leaders all suffer from similar deficiencies and, in the case of some, in even greater measure than Mr Zardari, that is small consolation and not enough reason to seek public office.
Mr Zardari would be better advised to trade power for influence. He has a party to run and the party is, frankly, badly rundown. Besides it is no longer the Presidency where power resides but rather in grooming and choosing the next crop of party candidates for future elections. Kamraj, an old Congress boss, had more power than Mrs Indira Ghandi at one time, although he was not the prime minister. So too Sonia Ghandi, a stellar example of how influence counts far more than formal power.
Another reason is that the PPP happens to be the only national party left in Pakistan. A heavy defeat for the party in the other provinces, excluding, of course, Sindh, would rob the party of its national complexion, and the federation of an important, nay, crucial, binding force. And that would be a far greater loss to all of us than his decision not to hang on as a figure head president.
Finally, there is the question of timing. With the adoption of the sanitised Constitution Mr Zardari would have fulfilled in great measure the implementation of the Charter of Democracy. He would have obtained for his beloved wife the democracy she sought and, which she maintained, was the best revenge. He could in the process also do himself a favour, which many consider no less a revenge on their enemies, and that is to live well, unburdened by the cares of office.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
BUYING TIME TO SURVIVE
On March 22 the government filed a revised review petition in the Supreme Court against the NRO ruling. It is moved on the premise that the government was denied the chance to be heard, which is not true as the government voluntarily waived its right to present a defence. It is contended in this petition that the NRO allowed for the restoration of democracy and national reconciliation, allowing the exiled leaders of main parties to return and contest elections. It also argues that the NRO was responsible for the removal of a military dictator.
Democracy, meant to be the revenge for the murder of Benazir Bhutto, has turned into revenge against the hapless nation which the people can no longer suffer. As for reconciliation, it was only between the erstwhile prosecutor (Musharraf) and the prosecuted (corrupt politicians) under the tutelage of their mutual foreign masters. The nation never entered into the equation, but the NRO facilitated the return from exile of the PPP leaders. Nawaz Sharif had already tried to return to Pakistan but was not allowed to do so. But the PPP leaders made their grand re-entrance only after the deal with Musharraf was struck.
Making disreputable, under-trial accused persons, who were absconding or hiding behind certificates of mental illness legally eligible to hold the destiny of 170 million people in their unfit hands, run amok over the laws of the land and universally accepted norms of decency and once again indulge in loot and plunder, is hardly a glowing merit of the NRO. As for Musharraf, the Peoples Party lent legitimacy to his rule by entering into a deal with him, playing an indirect role in his re-election, contesting elections under his administration and even serving in government under his presidency after the 2008 elections for several months. He was ousted not by the NRO but by his western puppet masters for whom he lost all utility and instead became a liability.
The government believes that reopening the Swiss cases would be like putting Benazir Bhutto's grave on trial. In every crisis and every dead end this government blunders into, it misuses the Bhutto name and legacy to bail itself out because that is all they have. The issue at hand transcends the trial of any one person. It concerns the looting of national wealth. If one of the accused has passed away, that cannot justify pardoning the crime and sweeping the matter under the rug, particularly when the other main accused is very much alive and presently occupying Aiwan-e-Sadar. If he is guilty then serious questions regarding his fitness and eligibility to hold such high office must be addressed and the looted millions must be recovered. The guilty cannot be left untouched to enjoy the fruits of their corruption just because one of the accused was tragically murdered.
The petition purports that the nation as a whole has benefited from the NRO. Pakistan has paid a very heavy price for the return to power under the NRO of such elements that should have been barred from politics rather than be unleashed on the nation again. Since this government took over, prices of basic essential commodities have skyrocketed. The nation has faced crippling shortages of water, power, sugar and flour. This coupled with rising unemployment and lack of opportunity has pushed many into the abyss of desperation, leaving them no option but to sell their children in open markets or commit suicide. According to a recent PCRWR report, 84 per cent of the people in this country are drinking contaminated water unfit for human consumption. Violent crime has dramatically increased and the common man is unsafe even behind locked doors.
The writ of law and constitution has lost all meaning and force. The judiciary has come under serious attack from the government, first in its refusal to restore the judges until the long march, then in the matter of the appointment of the judges and the non-implementation of the NRO verdict. As if taking the cue from the government, recently a lawyer in Faisalabad manhandled a district civil judge during court proceedings. This is symptomatic of a collapse of institutional writ and authority that can bear devastating consequences for the system.
With drones routinely violating our airspace and killing hundreds if not thousand of innocent civilians and the undeterred imposition of the will of the foreign powers over our own national interests, national sovereignty has become a faded memory. Through this maelstrom only the fat cats in power, or jiyalas close to them, have benefited while the rest of the nation has suffered. Can all this be counted as benefits the nation derived from the NRO?
It is further contended in the petition that, in ordering the reopening of the Swiss cases, the Supreme Court failed to take cognisance of the order of the public prosecutor of the Republic and Canton of Geneva, dated 25 August 2008, in which he ordered the closure of the proceeding not due to the attorney general's letter but on the merits of the case. This is not so. The Swiss Prosecutor General, Daniel Zapelli, is quoted in New York Times (27 August, 2008) as saying, "For money laundering to be proven, you have to show it was the product of a crime." But since Pakistan's attorney general made it clear in his letter that Pakistan no longer wished to prosecute Zardari, Mr Zapelli went on to add that "we don't have any evidence for a crime committed in Pakistan." That can hardly be called an innocent verdict. Daniel Devaud, the Swiss judge who initially investigated the money-laundering allegations, was shocked at the termination of the proceedings, saying that the withdrawal of the cases should not be interpreted as a sign of Zardari's innocence. He said, "It would be very difficult to say that there is nothing in the files that shows that there was possibly corruption going on after what I have seen in there. After I heard what the general prosecutor said, I have the feeling we are talking about two different cases."
It is prayed in the petition that the NRO ruling be set aside because it adversely affects the supremacy of parliament. Firstly, parliament in a federal system with a written constitution cannot be supreme. Secondly, there is nothing in the NRO verdict that can be perceived to be an infringement on parliament's legislative authority. A grievous wrong was perpetrated against the nation in the form of the NRO and the Supreme Court simply sought to undo it and the illegal consequences arising from it that some benefited from.
Instead of buying some time by filing review petitions or hiding behind an immunity that is as unethical as the NRO itself, the NRO beneficiaries would do well to accept the apex court's ruling as a death knell and call it a day. But, of course, they will not.
The people will have to rise and save the country from an unimaginable fate. Change can come through a number of ways but only change brought about by the people is morally appealing and durable. Even though a cloud of complacency sits over the nation at present, things can change very quickly. In 18th century France, aristocrats used to hunt poor peasants with their dogs. More recently, the Shah of Iran seemed unshakable with firm US backing. But a sudden awakening of the masses changed the course of history in both instances almost overnight. If ideology and principles fail to move us, then maybe hunger will. All the lofty ideological revolutionary rhetoric notwithstanding, has hunger not been the primary driving impetus behind revolutions in history?
The writer is vice-chairman of Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.
I. THE NEWS
SETTLEMENTS IN EAST JERUSALEM
DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
This weekend, many Arab leaders will be meeting at Sirte, Libya, for one more meaningless, impotent, and ultimately pointless summit, this time at the invitation of none other than the man who has often ridiculed these summits -- Libya's maverick dictator Muamar al-Gaddafi -- in order to "rescue" Jerusalem. One wonders how they would rescue it from the ever-expansionist plans - now firmly in place, in violation of all international commitments -- by Israel. What would these leaders actually do to the 1,600 new homes for settlers, which will spring forth in the next few months and will be barricaded, cordoned off, and protected by armed soldiers, and then, in a very short time, these will be recognised as established "old" settlements?
Once these settlements have become "old", Israel will bring forth another plan, already leaked last week, to construct 8,000 more homes in East Jerusalem. The world, including the United States, will condemn again. The Arab leaders will meet again, and the settlements will be settled again. This process of routine condemnation has become standard procedure by now. This time, Joe Biden, the vice-president of the US, first "condemned" Israel for approving plans to build hundreds of new settler-homes, then, a day later, urged Israel and the Palestinians to restart direct peace negotiations, saying "the only path to finally resolving the permanent status issues, including borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem, are direct talks." And then he specifically said: "The US had no better friend than Israel." Case closed.
The secretary general of the 22-member Arab League, Amr Mussa, rushed to add his two cents, suggesting that all peace talks with Israel, direct or indirectly through US mediation, be suspended, as if this would also stop the construction plans. Hagit Ofran, a settlement expert at Israeli group Peace Now, compiled a list of planned East Jerusalem settlements that are at one of the several stages of approval. She counted 8,253 proposed homes, including the 1,600 new homes announced on March 23, for the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Ramat Shlomo.
Israel has done an amazing job of bypassing the entire world. Amidst the uproar against the 1600 homes, it has "leaked" to the world plans for as many as 50,000 more homes, which are said to be in various stages of planning and approval for East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 War and declared it as its sovereign territory, which is not recognised by the international community.
And amidst this new uproar, I also recall the taxi driver who took me to al-Khalil two years ago for a visit to the graves of Prophet Ibraheem and Prophet Ishaq, upon them peace. He spoke of the "difficult times" and the impossibility of peace in the Holy land due to the extremists who do not like peace. He himself, he said, would love to have peace in the Holy land, but he did not know what was wrong with the Arabs, who just crowd and "mess around". There are so many Arab countries around Israel, he said, why don't they take a few million Palestinians, who live like animals in crowded and infesting homes in Gaza? As for himself, he has nowhere to go, he said. He was born in Jerusalem and that is the only place on earth where he can be. It is true that his parents came from Poland, but that was before he was born. But Arabs, they can go anywhere; there are so many places in the world. He was absolutely convinced that the only way to have peace was a reduction in population and the only way to have a reduction in population was for the Arabs to leave!
We had to suddenly stop at the checkpoint. He rolled down his window, showed his official card, speaking in Hebrew. The soldiers looked at me, asked him a few more questions in Hebrew and then let us go. "They just wanted to know who you were," he said, once we had passed the checkpoint, "very nice soldiers. They stand here day after day, protecting our lives."
As we approached al-Khalil, we started to see Palestinians going about their daily routines. An old woman crossed the road in front of the taxi; that infuriated the driver. "Do you see this," he said, "how they walk. They have no sense of how to cross the road, they walk so gingerly as if they have the whole day to cross the road. These Arabs."
The road narrowed and then came to an abrupt end near a bazaar. The driver parked the taxi and we started to walk through the bazaar to reach the shrine. As I walked silently reciting the darud, many shopkeepers invited us to have tea. The driver walked a few paces ahead of me in his agitated state.
Fast forward two years later to March 27, 2010: the Arab leaders have concluded their summit at Sirte. They have issued one more proclamation, which is thrown in the dustbins the next day. They have gone home. New homes have been built in East Jerusalem. Soldiers stand at the entrance. Palestinians are further squeezed. One more settlement has been established. New plans are announced for new homes. The Arab leaders plan one more summit; they gather in their impotent rage, fume, fight over words of the resolution, eat enormous amounts of food, and then go home.
The writer is a freelance columnist.Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
PAK-US TALKS A GOOD BEGINNING
The optics after the first round of the strategic dialogue in Washington are better than the results announced.
If ever a picture said a thousand words, it was that of a beaming Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan's foreign minister, and the American secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. No stiff body language here; much camaraderie, many words of friendship.
The results at first glance appear meagre: a few energy projects, assistance for the Benazir Income Support Programme and a fast track to some military hardware. Also, an apparent firm no to nuclear power plants, and hands off on an American role in promoting India-Pakistan dialogue.
This does not seem like a breakthrough or the beginning of a new strategic relationship. If anything, after the hype that preceded the dialogue, it seems more like a stalemate. But there is obviously more to it than meets the eye.
A few ground realities have to be recognised. The US needs Pakistan and Pakistan needs the United States.
First, why is Pakistan vital to US interests in this region? On two levels, the possibility of honourable settlement for it in Afghanistan hinges on Pakistan's cooperation. The supply line of its troops and that of the Nato forces runs through this country. Without Pakistan's cooperation, it can grind to a halt. And there are no viable alternatives.
Secondly, the conflict in Afghanistan is not of a kind where a straightforward military victory is possible. The fighting can only prepare the ground for a political settlement that allows the Americans to declare victory and leave. Pakistan has a role in both.
On the military side, it can, and has begun, to tighten the screws on the Afghan Taliban. It is no longer willing to provide them safe havens when the pressure gets to be too much in Afghanistan. This is designed to force them to think dialogue.
Politically, Pakistan started to circumscribe the space available to the Afghan Taliban leadership in this country. Whether the arrest of Mullah Baradar and others is part of a chess game to stop them from cutting separate deals or a genuine attempt to hold them to account, the fact remains that as a player in the "dialogue with the Taliban" equation, Pakistan cannot be ignored.
The other side of the Pakistan-US relationship is also equally important. Pakistan needs US support and assistance in a number of areas. In Afghanistan, it has a vital interest in its stability and a government that is not hostile to it. The much-maligned strategic depth concept, in its current formulation, is nothing more than an Afghanistan friendly to Pakistan.
This is where India's presence in Afghanistan becomes an issue for Pakistan. As long as the current state of hostility exists between the two, Pakistan fears that India would make every attempt to turn the Afghans against it. It would also use its presence to foment trouble in Balochistan and, in a manner of speaking, encircle the country.
As an occupying power in Afghanistan, Pakistan believes, the United States can restrict Indian presence in that country. It can also ensure that no anti-Pakistan activity takes place on Afghan soil. This includes denying sanctuary to Baloch dissidents like Brahmdagh Bugti.
The India-Pakistan rivalry has thus become an important subplot for the US in the Afghan situation and in the region as a whole. Pakistan wants to leverage this to make India move forward on the composite dialogue process and on Kashmir. The US has been doing precisely that, without acknowledging it publicly.
Pakistan also wants the US to accept its nuclear status and conclude an arrangement similar to that it has with India. This is a tricky area and may not happen, but it helps to seek some alternatives, such as a nuclear power plant or conventional armaments. At least on the arms side, it appears that some progress has been made.
The big elephant in the negotiating room is Pakistan's dire economic straits. This has many dimensions, including budgetary deficits, energy problems, poverty issues and support for infrastructure projects. The current US commitment of $1.5 billion is too little, given the size of the problem, and Pakistan would be seeking more.
US help would also be vital in multilateral forums. It is not a secret that without its nod institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF do not move. Pakistan would be seeking more assistance and an easing of conditions. The last aspect is vital because IMF support is conditional and some of the stringent ones are hard to meet.
To sum up, both Pakistan and the US need each other. The game is to leverage advantages and play on the vulnerabilities to gain the maximum. There are no friends among nations, just a coming together of mutual interests. There seems to be recognition on both sides that such congruence is possible. Hence, the happy optics.
A few words on the process. According to press reports, Pakistan, for once, did its homework and prepared a comprehensive document, as many as 56 pages, to outline its interests. This was made available to the Americans well before the talks giving, them time to circulate it within their system. This ensured proper consideration and well-thought-out responses.
The management of the dialogue was also done better. Instead of cursory meetings with various centres of power and little cohesion, the talks were attended by all the principle agencies and interlocutors. The fact that the secretaries of state and defence, plus representatives from the military, the National Security Council and aid agencies, were present made the process meaningful.
The presence of Gen Kayani from the Pakistani side was equally important. This was reflected in the meetings he had prior to the talks, which prepared the ground for a meaningful military cooperation. It may not correspond to pristine notions of democracy, but the military is the most powerful institution in Pakistan. The participation by its chief gave the talks the necessary gravitas to make them consequential.
What happens next? Are we entering a new and more substantive phase of Pakistan-US relations? The truthful answer is that it is too early to tell. Some broad principles may be agreed to in the Washington talks, but this will just be a beginning. It is the follow-up, working-group-type meetings that will determine the outcome.
Reports are that the next phase is likely to be in April, and probably in Islamabad. My guess is that this will not be as high-level as the current meeting, but more detailed, and will get into nuts and bolts. It is only then that the final contours of any long-term strategic partnership will become visible.
I. THE NEWS
Many would say that spending several years in one organisation will be terribly difficult for a professional in today's world, which is marred by impatience, unrelenting appetite for money and a somewhat hit-and-run psyche. This would require either high-end perks and privileges or some abstract commitment to continue for this long. Particularly, when it is the summit position in a national civil society organisation and there is no rung left above you to climb up or more salary increments to strive for. But working with Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO), a non-profit company, was no less than an addiction. Even after almost eight years, leaving such a thriving institution, full of human warmth and brimming with dedication to its cause, took a bit of psychological strength on my part.
In our country the human rights debate, with a focus on civil and political rights, and the social sector agenda, which concentrates on physical and human infrastructure development, are mostly discussed as mutually exclusive. We have rights-based NGOs like Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Aurat Foundation and Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), Rozan and the likes on the one hand and the rural support programmes, including NRSP, SRSP, TRDP, and Trust for Voluntary Organisations (TVO), etc. on the other. SPO brings the two streams together by bridging the gap between social action and real political change.
Pakistan has experienced incapacitated governance processes due to several factors, including military-led political dispensations and compromised forms of resistance from the politicos who mattered. A combination of feudal structures, comprador capitalism and utter failure of the state apparatus to deliver has taken our canoe up the creek without paddles. But some individuals and institutions refuse to give up. Through its work with community institutions of all hues and colours, including local body systems and political workers from a range of parties, women groups and civil society networks, SPO contributes substantially in strengthening the Pakistani state by striving for it to become modern, proud of its culture and languages, socially progressive and providing equal economic opportunities to every citizen. At an ideational level, SPO finds itself in the company of those organisations that continuously challenge the role assigned to civil society by neo-liberal economic managers of the contemporary world and choose to subscribe to the Gramscian view, i.e. civil society as a medium for alternative and independent political expression for realisation of basic rights in a market-led economy.
But to come this far, SPO has travelled a long winding road, both in terms of its thinking and in its operations. Primarily, a capacity-building and advocacy organisation in the areas of democratic governance, social justice, better education and health management and peace across diversified groups in the society, SPO works all over Pakistan through its seventeen offices and has also played a significant role in disaster relief and risk reduction work.
It should perhaps be understood by all development workers and social activists that they could ever resume the role of neither government agencies nor political parties. There work is to bring change in the attitudes, values and overall societal systems in Pakistan so that the ground is levelled for a sustainable pro-people structural change. Different kinds of sensitisation and capacity development work are needed for rights-holders and duty-bearers. Transforming society is no less a challenge than a political revolution. There is a Chinese proverb which we used to tell each other in SPO, "With time and patience, a mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown."
The writer is a poet and advises national and international institutions on governance and public policy issues. Email: harris @spopk.org
TWO YEARS DEVOURED BY TERRORISM
AS the incumbent Government has completed its two years in office, there is stocktaking by the administration, media and thegeneral public about its performance and achievements during this period. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, while speaking in the Senate on Wednesday, rightly took pride in pointing out that despite adverse circumstances the Government moved ahead towards implementation of the agenda announced after taking vote of confidence from the National Assembly.
It is true that the Government has a number of good things to its credit and some of them are of historic nature and importance yet on the whole one can say that these two precious years have been devoured by the monster of terrorism and extremism. The issue had eaten up scant resources of the nation, inflicted unprecedented damage in men and material and dangerously hampered the developmental process. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it adversely affected the very fabric of the state and threatened its existence. There was a time when the possibility of militants marching down the Margalla Hills was being talked about even by serious and seasoned people. No doubt, the Government succeeded in warding off the danger but at a price, which countries have to pay to defend their security and solidarity. In this backdrop, it is satisfying that the Government not only succeeded but took the democratic process forward and there have been advances in various sectors. It is all the more encouraging that the Prime Minister, who is Chief Executive of the country, has successfully maintained unity and harmony in the nation and ensured that the coalition governments carry on at the centre and in the provinces. He indeed deserves appreciation for making strenuous efforts to ensure friction free relationship with other state institutions especia