media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month march 27, edition 000466, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
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- GENERAL MANOEUVRE
- GOING GREEN
- MEMORIES OF MARCH 26 - HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
- THE MAKING OF A SAINT - ACHARYA MAHAPRAJNA
- TIME FOR THREE-DIMENSIONAL VIEW - SANJAY KAUL
- HINDUTVA NEEDS PRO-POOR FOCUS - SWARN KUMAR ANAND
- GOMATA PROTECTION GAINS MOMENTUM - BR HARAN COLUMNIST
- QUOTAS SHOULD BE BASED ON NEED, NOT RELIGION
- DELHI POLICE MUST EXPLAIN
- ANOTHER SHEILA SPECIAL
- FOR WHOM ARE THE 2010 GAMES ANYWAY? - BY AMRITA IBRAHIM
- DIGITAL INK - SACHIN KALBAG
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- FOOTLOOSE AND IDEOLOGY FREE
- WHEN IT'S CRASS VERSUS CLASS - CHETAN BHAGAT
- MATTHEW HAYDEN UNVEILS NEW BAT IN IPL
- FIDDLING AROUND TOO MUCH WILL KILL CRICKET - KAUTILYA KUMAR
- CHANGING MINDS TAKES TIME - GAUTAM ADHIKARI
- MORE CAKES, NOT SLICES
- YET ANOTHER COLONIAL HANGOVER - PRATIK KANJILAL
- RENAISSANCE STUDIES - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI
- LET BIG B BE
- CLOSING TIME
- TRACK THE OPTIONS
- RED CHILLI IN HOT OIL - SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI
- THE BLOOD-RED MOVEMENT - ALIA ALLANA
- HERITAGE BURNING
- ECONOMICS GETS EMOTIONAL - DAVID BROOKS
- THE RUMPLED SAGE - ROGER COHEN
- SENSE AND CENSORSHIP - SUNIL ABRAHAM
- TIGHTENING US TIES RUCHIKA TALWAR
- LET BONDS BLOOM
- FASHION UPDATES
- LEGISLATION ALONE CAN'T FIX EDUCATION
- THE CASE FOR CASH TRANSFERS AS OIL SUBSIDY - ASHOK KHEMKA
- AN HOUR OF GLORIOUS DARKNESS - JAYA JUMRANI
- STOPPING BALLISTIC MISSILE
- FINANCIAL LITERACY AND INCLUSION
- CHINA'S STANCE BOOSTS IRAN - ATUL ANEJA
- DO NOT WAIT FOR DISASTER TO STRIKE - BAN KI-MOON
- ETHIOPIA'S MEGA DAMS SPARK PROTESTS - XAN RICE
- CAP AND TRADE IS NO LONGER POLICY OF CHOICE - JOHN M. BRODER
- QUESTION OF QUOTAS
- FLY ME TO THE MOON - PRAKASH CHANDRA
- LOST IN TRANSLATION IN BANGALORE - SHREYA BAYANWALA
- PAK, THE FAVOURED ONE
- BANE OF INDIA
- INGLORIOUS RECORD
- RAW DEAL FOR VETERANS - BY LT-GEN HARWANT SINGH (RETD)
- BEWARE WIVES! - BY SHRINIWAS JOSHI
- A REBEL DEPARTS, DISAPPOINTED - BY MAN MOHAN
- T-20 HARMFUL FOR YOUNGSTERS
- INSIDE PAKISTAN - BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
- MAHARASHTRA'S WITHERING HEIGHT
- ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE - GEETANJALI KRISHNA
- THE WORKING OF INDIA'S DEMOCRACY - BIMAL JALAN
- SEEKING A NEW SWEETHEART DEAL - LATHA JISHNU
- PLAYING WITH FIRE - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- HAROLD EVANS' NEWSPAPER YEARS - V V
- BLOW HOT, BLOW COLD - SUBIR ROY
- LEAVE 'EM ALONE WITH THEIR LAND - DEVANGSHU DATTA
- DOES NREGA REALLY WORK? - SURJIT BHALLA
- PAMPERED DELHI - T N NINAN
- PRODIGALS AND FATTED CHICKENS - KISHORE SINGH
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- INCLUDE BACKWARD MUSLIMS
- TOUCH ME NOT
- SO FAR SO GOOD
- 'BIG SOFTWARE PACKAGES ON LAST LEGS' - CHIRANJOY SEN
- DO WE NEED NEW STATES? - KALA SEETHARAM SRIDHAR
- DO MORE AND REMAIN HAPPY - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- IPO DOCUMENT SHOULD MENTION BAND: MR MAYYA - VIJAY GURAV & APURV GUPTA
- STATES REALISING POWER REFORMS A MUST, SAYS BK CHATURVEDI - AMITI SEN
- AP QUOTA WILL BE IMPETUS TO OTHERS
- WHEN RIVERS MISBEHAVE - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
- INFO PANEL POSTING
- TAKING NOTE OF MS MAYAWATI
- WILL GORDON SING? - BY KISHWAR DESAI
- VINCE CABLE: THE RUMPLED SAGE - BY ROGER COHEN
- CALLING DHAKA
- THE QUICK-FIX OF QUOTAS - BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
- "THE INDIAN GIANT HAS WOKEN UP" - SHINING OR WHINING ?
- BEYOND THE DEBRIS
- THE GREAT UNMENTIONABLE - RAMACHANDRA GUHA
- ENDING A FARCE
- UNSAVOURY GAMES
- STARING INTO A VACUUM - BY SAEED NAQVI
- CONFUSION WORSE CONFOUNDED - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
- VERTICALLY CHALLENGED - BY KAVITHA K
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- A BUDGET FOR NEW YORK'S FUTURE
- MR. OBAMA AND ISRAEL
- LAWMAKERS HEAD WARILY FOR HOME
- PLAYTIME IS OVER - By DAVID ELKIND
- NOTHING IS EASY IN ILLINOIS - BY GAIL COLLINS
- SHADES OF GREY
- FAKE DEGREES
- SPANNER IN THE WORKS - ARIF NIZAMI
- ACHILLES HEEL AND MORE - S KHALID HUSAIN
- BJP: NEW COMPOSITION, SAME STAND - PRAFUL BIDWAI
- LIMITED OPTIONS - DR MASOODA BANO
- DEALING WITH THE DIVIDES - BABAR SATTAR
- GILANI'S U-TURNS - ANJUM NIAZ
- POLITICIANS HAVE YET TO RISE ABOVE VESTED INTERESTS
- FOCUS SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON PAK LOSSES
- FAKE DEGREES: RESIGNATIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH
- STRATEGIC DIALOGUE TO FINALISE AFPAK STRATEGY - GEN MIRZA ASLAM BEG
- LAST WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY - NASIR HAFEEZ
- ELECTRICITY FROM IRAN - AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
- UK BUDGET 2010 - RIZWAN GHANI
- GOING TO EXTREME - PAUL KRUGMAN
- DO THE MATHS, PRIME MINISTER
- A LEADING QUESTION IN NSW
- EXERCISING THE MIND OF THE OPPOSITION LEADER
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- GREAT ART GETS LOST IN A FLOOD OF DOLLARS
- LAST ONE IN'S A ROTTEN EGG
- A HOUSING BOOM DOESN'T MEAN HOUSES FOR ALL
- THE EUROZONE: A CLUB IN CRISIS
- CLERICAL ABUSE: FAITH IN THE FUTURE
- UNTHINKABLE? CURB AID IN HAITI
THE KOREA HERALD
- KNOWLEDGE SHARING
- SUDDEN CHANGES IN N.K.
- REINVENTING DIPLOMACY FOR 21ST CENTURY
- TURNING FRIENDS INTO FOES
THE JAPAN TIMES
- CHINA'S LEADERS WALK A FINE LINE
- FINANCE AND TRADE TREMORS - BY MICHAEL J. BOSKIN
SO KAYANI GETS HIS MILITARY HARDWARE?
Was Pakistan successful in meeting its goals at its strategic dialogue with the United States? At one level, the answer has to be no. Despite the bonhomie, the cloying and patently bogus expressions of mutual fidelity between the Pakistani Foreign Minister and the American Secretary of State, and the Bismarck-style reception for General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the fact is Pakistan's demand of a civilian nuclear deal and its presentation of a mammoth $ 35 billion bill for alleged services rendered during the nine-year war against terrorism were rejected. In their place, Islamabad took home lots of smiles and good words, a promise of three thermal power plants and assurances of help with poverty alleviation and agriculture. Yet, it is worth noting that no rational, calculating actor and by all accounts General Kayani is one would have travelled to a bilateral meeting with such a dead-on-arrival agenda. Pakistan was never going to get the nuclear deal. Even if somebody in the Barack Obama Administration did agree, there would always be firewalls and obstacles within the system: in the Administration itself, in the US Congress, at international bodies such as the Nuclear Suppliers' Group. Neither does the Pakistani military really care for its country's farmers and for poverty removal. Indeed, General Kayani, who masterminded the Pakistani delegation at the strategic dialogue, must also have known there are limits to which he could go in asking the US, to play arbiter between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and on water disputes. What then was he playing at? It is now becoming clear that everything else nuclear deal, Kashmir, Indus waters was a smokescreen and a diversionary tactic. General Kayani was setting up his own Foreign Minister, and the rest of the delegation, for a snubbing by the hosts. What he was hoping to extract, as the concession that the Americans would be pushed to give, was massive supply or conventional arms and military equipment. Grant General Kayani this, it was a brilliant bargaining ploy, and it seems to have succeeded.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has announced a 'security assistance package' that will entail using American taxpayers' money to strengthen the Pakistani Army. Already there is talk of F-16 fighter aircraft that are almost certainly not going to be used against the Tehreek-e-Taliban. Rawalpindi's top brass has also sought drones. Given that Pakistan has officially asked for cessation of American drone attacks on Taliban targets in Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province, it defies logic that it will use any drones it gets for fighting terrorism. Rather, a quiet build-up against India has begun.
India has to deliver a tough message to the increasingly confused, if not chaotic, foreign policy team in the Obama Administration. A bunch of amateurs in Washington, DC, particularly in the White House and the State Department, cannot be allowed to merrily leave the world a more insecure place, thanks to the one-off accident of a four-year term. If nothing else, India should make it clear that arms supplies to Pakistan would have obvious implications on the Indian Air Force's decision to purchase a fighter aircraft from a US company. French and Russian alternatives, among others, are available. Does President Barack Obama want to risk American jobs in this manner? Actually, he's a strange man and will probably find some way of rationalising that bargain as well. General Kayani has just finessed him.
EARTH HOUR, A GOOD IDEA
Global warming or climate change is a serious concern indeed. There can be no denying the fact that decades of unbridled exploitation of the environment has brought us to a point where it is no longer sustainable to continue with activities that are environmentally unsound. The 21st century lifestyle could not have been more out of sync with nature. We have created huge buildings that stretch hundreds of feet into the sky, we use transportation vehicles that are least eco-friendly, we release tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to power all our creature comforts and stand guilty of ravaging most of our natural resources to meet the demands of a burgeoning population. Given our excesses, it would be foolhardy on our part to not expect a reaction from nature. For, the latter will try and restore equilibrium through whatever means it can. And it is this attempt at restoring equilibrium that manifests itself in the form of unexpected climatic reactions such as snowfall in otherwise desert conditions, as was witnessed in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah last year. Global warming too is nothing but one of nature's many ways of telling us that we have got things wrong.
So where do we go from here? Since turning the clock back is not a plausible option, our best bet is to start changing our lifestyle to make it more harmonious with nature. And this is not something that can be enforced by Governments; if the Copenhagen climate summit last December was anything to go by, it proved that Government-sponsored efforts aimed at combating climate change are tricky and mired in politics. There needs to be a bottom-up approach to tackling climate change, and this means adopting small measures at the level of individuals. A classic example of this is the observance of Earth hour. What started in Sydney in 2007 with 2.2 million homes and businesses turning off their lights for one hour to make their stand against climate change has today turned into a global event with more than 4,000 cities in 88 countries taking part in the third Earth hour last year. The concept has caught on here in India as well. The last Earth hour saw Delhi save around 600MW of power. This is huge considering that all it took was an hour of switching off inessential energy consuming devices. Today the world will be observing the fourth international Earth hour from 8:30pm to 9:30 pm local time. It will be fantastic if people can participate in large numbers. For, such small gestures go a long way in creating a great deal of awareness regarding environmental issues, a key ingredient in the fight against global warming. Besides, the future of the battle against climate change depends on community-level initiatives like Earth hour. Let us ensure its success.
MEMORIES OF MARCH 26
For me, the memory of March 26, 1971, would perhaps never fade. I had gone to bed the night before with a deep feeling of unease. East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, was in turmoil. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the architect of the struggle against Pakistan's colonial rule, had thundered at a huge rally in Dhaka's Suhrawady Udyan on March 7, "The struggle this time is for emancipation! The struggle this time is for independence!"
I still remember his stirring concluding exhortation which I have heard in its recorded version: "You must prepare yourselves now with what little you have for the struggle ahead.
"Since we have given blood, we will give more of it. But, Insha'Allah, we will free the people of this land!"
"Be ready. We cannot afford to lose our momentum. Keep the movement and the struggle alive because if we fall back they will come down hard upon us."
News of the Pakistani Army's savage crackdown in Dhaka and elsewhere during the night of March 25, arrived in driblets from the morning of March 26. The reports were sketchy but chilling. The Pakistani Army had attacked Dhaka University's Jagannath Hall and Iqbal Hall. Both hostels were on fire and most of the students living in them were believed dead. Professors GC Deb, Jyotirmoy Guha Thakurta and Muniruzzaman had been dragged out of their homes and killed. People saw dense, black smoke rising from the direction of the university at daybreak.
I was then an Assistant Editor with The Statesman in Calcutta. The newsroom was abuzz. The Pakistani Army, according to the wire services, had attacked the barracks of the East Pakistan Rifles at Pilkhana with mortars, machine guns, rockets, and jeep-mounted 105-mm recoilless guns, and demolished and occupied them after fierce fighting. A large number of EPR jawans, who were seen being herded into lorries, were reportedly killed at an unknown place. The Army had also attacked the EPR barracks at Rajarbag where a large number of the 5,000 jawans were killed in their sleep, as some fought.
My mother, Kalyani Karlekar, asked me over the telephone to find out whether reports of Prof Guha Thakurta's murder were correct, and whether Dr Nilima Ibrahim, who had been one of her favourite students at Victoria Institution, a women's college in north Calcutta, was safe? Could I get news of Dr Tajul Hussain and Dr Jafar Karim? And Dr Asabul Huq? Except Dr Nilima Ibrahim, the rest were all her colleagues in the Radical Democratic Party founded by MN Roy.
As I put the receiver down, I remembered Dr Ibrahim, a widely-respected scholar in Bengali literature and Dr Jafar Karim who, a medical student in 1945-46, collected me on most days from Hare School and deposited me with my mother at the Radical Democratic Party's office above Albert Hall, housing the historic College Street Coffee House. My best efforts to get information drew a blank. Fortunately, all of them, except Professor Guha Thakurta, survived. Not only that, I discovered during a recent conversation with my friend and Bangladesh's High Commissioner in Delhi, Mr Tariq Karim, that Dr Jafar Karim was his favourite uncle, father's youngest brother, and he had passed on in 1992. A small world!
As I stood pondering, I realised that a showdown in Bangladesh had become inevitable long before Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's strident declaration on March 7. The elections on December 7, 1970, had given the Awami League, which had won 160 of the 162 seats from East Pakistan, an absolute majority in Pakistan's 300-member National Assembly. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, which had won 81 out of the 138 seats from West Pakistan, trailed far behind. Yet, neither Bhutto nor the President, General Yahya Khan, would allow the Awami League to form a Government and unleashed savage repression on people of the eastern wing demonstrating for their democratic right.
His patience running thin, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had announced at the Suhrawardy Udyan rally that the Awami League would participate in the National Assembly's session, finally scheduled to begin on March 25, only if martial law was withdrawn, soldiers were sent back to their barracks, the murderers of the people of the eastern wing punished and power was handed over to their elected representatives.
Earlier, at a massive rally at Dhaka's Paltan Maidan on March 3, he had called for the launch of a non-cooperation movement and the shutting down of Government offices, courts and revenue establishments. The response was tumultuous. Accumulated anger was boiling over in Dhaka and elsewhere for a number of reasons the federal Government's callous indifference to the famine that swept the eastern wing shortly after the creation of Pakistan in 1947; the attempt to ram Urdu down the throats of Bengalis that led to the rise of the historic language movement, the defining element in the struggle leading to Bangladesh's emergence; dismissal in May 1954 of the of the democratically-elected United Front Government formed in December 1953 under the leadership of the legendary AK Fazlul Huq; authoritarian military rule following Gen Ayub Khan's coup in 1958; continued economic exploitation, and finally, complete callousness in coping with the aftermath of the terrible cyclone that had devastated East Pakistan on November 12, 1970.
All this had constituted a huge reservoir of grievances which was about to burst. I knew that the crackdown was the last blow and the surge of primordial anger would sweep away the last vestiges of Islamabad's rule. The inevitable happened when, following Pakistan's military defeat at India's hands, Bangladesh emerged into freedom on December 16, 1971. Its troubles, however, continued. The dastardly killing of the father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in 1975, was followed by military dictatorships promoting the rise of Islamist extremism. The latter's exponents unleashed a reign of terror during Begum Khaleda Zia's second prime ministerial innings from 2001 to 2006. The Awami League's victory in the elections in December 2008, has given Bangladesh, whose intelligentsia and common people have fought for a secular and democratic order with remarkable courage, a second chance that history rarely gives a country. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is fighting severe odds with a courage and determination that reminds one of her father, needs all the support that the world can provide.
THE MAKING OF A SAINT
March 28 this year is lord Mahavir's the last tirthankara of Jainism 2,608th birth anniversary. Mahavir was endowed with powers of clairvoyance or avadhi gyan. He was born with direct knowledge or pratyaksh. On the very first day of school, his teacher noticed his transcendental wisdom and declared that he didn't require any schooling. After Mahavir's birth, his family started becoming prosperous. Impressed by this phenomenon, his parents gave him the name 'Vardhman'. Since he was clairvoyant, he came to be known as 'Saman'. Realising his power of tolerance during spiritual practice, he was named 'Mahavir'.
Mahavir's destiny was bound with liberation or moksha. His parents were followers of the 23rd Jain tirthankara, Parshva. the teachings of Parshva left an indelible impression upon Mahavir's mind. When Mahavir's elder brother, Nandivardhan, came to know of his intention to embrace asceticism, he asked him: "Brother, are you thinking of renouncing household life?" Mahavir nodded his head in affirmation. Nandivardhan said: "Why are you doing this now? We have not yet recovered from the shock of separation from our parents; you must stay at home at least for two years, and thereafter you are free to have your own way." Mahavir acceded to his elder brother's request. From a very young age, Mahavir was keen to leave his family and become a wandering monk. But he stayed on for his parents' sake. The past influences the present; it is equally true that the future, too, influences the present.
Mahavir's two-year stay at home was under the shadow of the future, so he lived like a monk. He realised that life is transient and was committed to renunciation. With his brother's permission, Mahavir got initiated into an ascetic life. His objective was to achieve complete samayika (equanimous state of mind or super-consciousness). Mahavir believed in ahimsa. He also personified fearlessness or abhaya. He believed that a person afflicted with fear cannot promote ahimsa. This principle became an integral part of his way of life.
TIME FOR THREE-DIMENSIONAL VIEW
AS NITIN GADKARI UPHELD THE NECESSITY OF HINDUTVA THIS WEEK, SCOTCHING SPECULATION THAT HE IS ABOUT TO DISCARD THE PARTY'S CHIEF MAINSTAY, THERE IS A SILENT CHURNING IN THE YOUNGER FOLD OF THE MOVEMENT TO TAKE THE DEBATE TO NEWER LEVELS
At a recent programme to induct youth volunteers as supporters of the BJP, veteran RSS ideologue MG Vaidya and BJP national president Nitin Gadkari presented their views of the specially chosen topic for the day, 'Hindutva and Politics'. In bringing up a third dimension, I attempted to present the dilemma that is poised before the younger members when they are confronted with the term 'Hindutva'.
What emerged was that there is agreement on the need for transliterating Hindutva for the younger set, if not all citizens, although it would seem that there is ample scope for including many more segments within the reference.
My opening argument was about the conflict and complexity caused around the term 'Hindutva' and how the youth, particularly the more modern in their outlook, were turning diffident about the concept itself under the weight of popular public discourse. The BJP head and a lot of people thought he would duck the issue made short shrift of any illusion people had of any duality in his mind about the subject declared with clarity that the spirit of the BJP was an embodiment of Hindutva and it was not up for debate. Having got that out of the way, his most remarkable achievement on the day, seen from the viewpoint of the youth present, was to project an integrated vision of the meaning of the term and its relevance in the context of the political outlook of the BJP. His brief remarks came before the redoubtable MG Vaidya and yet it did not come as practiced or grandstanding, but with an easy conviction and unpretentious verbiage. The outcome was deservedly calming, as he concluded that understanding Hindutva in the context of an anti-Muslim mindset had to be eroded and the quintessential element of Hindutva vasudhaiva kutumbakam be reinforced within that mindspace.
MG Vaidya evoked the essential nature of Hindutva as a 'joiner' and reiterated the aspects that make nationhood synonymous with the integral concepts of Hindutva as derived from the way of life of the people within the geography of what was called 'Hindustan'. He emphasised the seminal difference between 'nation' and 'state' and his arguments buttressed the position that commonality of views, which is necessary for national security and integrity, must not be confused with distaste for pluralism and given a communal twist.
The cumulative impact of views from three polarities was an interesting exercise in that all of us, almost serendipitously, felt the lacuna in engagement on the issue, and at the same time hit upon the importance of extending these dialogues as its very solution. Both Vaidya and Gadkari emphasised the need to carry on with this series on the subject.
The moot point remains that the entire horizon of discourse on Hindutva and its relationship with politics in public discourse for very long has been slave to big media and the pseudo-liberal cartel. Equally, it would take long-term efforts to engage the new youth and reintroduce the subject with an eye on the realities of the time to strike success. Consequently, there is now growing realisation among many people within and out of the party that Hindutva must be re-interpreted in the context of the contemporary world, and that the symbiotic relationship between Hindutva and the BJP must be explained in more rational terms to an increasingly discerning and young population.
The political ramifications of the unprecedented growth of the BJP and its conjoined relationship with Hindutva remain one of the most tenuous arguments of our time. But my early conclusion remains that Hindutva needs to be owned more fully, rather than less, by the BJP. This would help to speed up the process of denouement that would de-mystify the concept and extend to explaining its rationale in political terms.
Hindutva is the life force of our civilisation. It defines us as distinct from the rest of the world not better or worse, just distinct. This sense of identity is necessary, both for reasons of the concept of nationhood and also as an ideal we give ourselves. It does not dismiss anyone's personal faith: it merely posits a practical reality of the general tenor of this land, its philosophical moorings, its largest, most visible and expansive palette of beliefs and belief systems.
The common weakness to see Hindutva as an assertion of Hindu dominance is mistaken not because it is patently irrelevant, but because it is a regular feature of newly created nations to struggle with a self image, much like an adolescent. Consequently, what is reviled as 'Hindu pride' is merely a growing political consciousness of a people, as the ideas associated with nationhood leach into the idea of statehood. It is not only a natural process of growth, but actually invaluable in the management and protection of the State.
One of the crucial realities of our times is that national integration is still a work in progress. This is hardly ever attended to, but the frequent conflagration of regional and linguistic or geographical demands of identity are only symptomatic of the problem. That allows us only two options as we struggle for an effective means of integration: either a more federal structure that allows increasing freedoms to states, or finding newer points of aggregation. Hindutva is merely the latter until the State figures out what to do with itself on the former.
But more than just an interim arrangement, as the earlier statement might suggest, investing in the most common denominator (commonality) would sound to most reasonable people a logical step to knit up the tapestry of diversity that we call India. It stands to reason that a common refrain like traditionally inherited scriptures, or a cultural continuity of mythical beliefs is a sensible palette to try and integrate otherwise distinct people. Hindutva provides just that medium and barring the difficulties that we have in a few states, this applies across the board. It takes a lot longer to make a man in a remote village in Orissa or Jharkhand to understand the idea of India and it takes no time to make him recognise his common Hindu heritage. Hindutva is thus an overarching natural strategy to unite, using the largest common denominator of cultural affinities that comes out of the lay of the land, not out of any figment of imagined Hindu supremacy.
But after half a decade of cocky secularism and the damage it has done is only now beginning to heal while the essence of Hindutva has begun to take root. It is both a miracle and testament to the indigenous logic of the common beliefs of the people at large of India that the country has not splintered. Those who would like to place the credit for this feat at the door of a Nehruvian vision or Gandhian thought would do better to remember that both streams intrinsically emanated from the fount of Hindutva.
Sanjay Kaul is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party and may be contacted at email@example.com
HINDUTVA NEEDS PRO-POOR FOCUS
HINDUTVA REFUSES TO DISAPPEAR FROM THE POPULAR IMAGINATION DESPITE THE BEST EFFORTS OF FOES AND FRIENDS ALIKE; RATHER ITS RELEVANCE HAS INCREASED AS NITIN GADKARI STRESSED THIS WEEK
SWARN KUMAR ANAND
Nitin Gadkari, confident and raring to go after announcing his new team, was the chief guest at a 'dedication ceremony' of youthful BJP volunteers in the capital this week. The high point of the afternoon was a discussion on 'Hindutva and Politics' and the audience at the packed Mavalankar Hall was keenly awaiting a crossroads-moment speech given the party's recent electoral reverses and proven inability to make a convincing pitch to the youthful electorate about Hindutva's relevance in an age apparently celebrating pluralism.
Gadkari arrived late after giving the organisers a nervous hour, but he removed all misgivings as to his commitment. Hindutva, he announced, was non-negotiable. There may have been several contributory factors to his determination to keep the party's spine intact in spite of adversity. The failures of the UPA government to secure diplomatic success in post-Mumbai diplomacy and its hopeless management of the economy had given the Opposition a shot in the arm. Being the principal Opposition party (the Left is in tatters everywhere), the BJP feels entitled to put its disappointing electoral record of 2009 behind it.
But Gadkari gave no immediate illumination on what he proposed to do with the Hindutva legacy which he has inherited in a tattered form from his immediate predecessor. Will he reduce it to just bi-annual reiterations of the old mandir war cry? Or will he be successful in crafting a new vision that would make Hindutva resonate ith the Bharatiyata ideal which was articulated by LK Advani back in 2004?
The failure of the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh dispensation to deliver on the basic economic aspirations of the people certainly offers the BJP a new opportunity. Since 2004, UPA-I and its new avatar, UPA-II, have made the 'economy' something apart from the aam admi it professes to serve. The encouragement given to forward trading and middlemen have all but killed off the committees set up under the Agricultural Product Marketing Committee Act (APMC). These committees have become the monopoly of powerful political groups who exploit farmers. If the model APMC Act, as developed by the Vajpayee government in 2003, had been taken to fruition by the UPA, it would certainly have solved the prices problem and the poverty of the farmers. On the other hand, the National Rural Employment Guarantees Act's schemes have led to the jacking up of base prices for agriculture and made farming an extremely costly proposition.
Corruption and nepotism have become déjà vu. The yoga guru, Baba Ramdev, has announced plans to step into politics and use his considerable mass support to set up a political base. This has rattled the neo-liberal elite which worships Manmohan Singh as a messiah. They find it embarrassing that the world's second fastest growing economy should appear to be plagued by poverty and ignorance. Ramdev, while not representing Hindutva, certainly stands for indigenous answers to India's post-liberalisation problems, an imposition of foreign powers who treat India as a happy hunting ground for exploitative businesses.
History holds out several examples of people turning to charismatic persons of untested abilities to lead them. The prospect of a repeat in India is quite disquieting as Baba Ramdev, though an expert yoga instructor, is certainly not somebody with experience in political leadership. The very fact that he could throw his hat into the ring speaks volumes for the low level of the political discourse today. The mishandling of the country by the UPA government is responsible for this.
Hindutva should find answers for this. Sanjay Kaul (Main Article) says that it is indeed a miracle and testament to the indigenous logic of the common beliefs of the people at large of India that the country has not splintered. The sub-text in his piece is that the waves of assault launched by the UPA's populist policies are testing the unity and integrity of the country. The Congress-Janata Dal(S) Opposition combine's attitude to the Karnataka government's proposed legislation which seeks to introduce stringent punishment for those caught indulging in cow slaughter is a case in point. B Haran (The Other Voice) points out that protection of cattle is a sina quo non of agriculture, which is the economy supporting 70 per cent of Indians. The vociferous campaign of the Congress in the southern state is obviously aimed at inciting the minorities. Votebank politics is the Congress' chief mainstay and the 'grand old party' will not desist from breaking up India to capitalise on polarisation.
Gadkari should evolve 'New Hindutva'. Talking to the new generation of BJP supporters, one finds a distinct interest in steering clear of symbols of allegiance to so-called "Hindu symbols" of national unity. The BJP has a natural constituency among educated, patriotic youngsters who would not like to leave their motherland out of disgust with the way the UPA is ruining the social and economic fabric, corrupting the polity with tokenism, etc. They know from handed-down traditions the power of the Congress and its acolyte media to pariahise the BJP by applying theories of stigma. So, they would like the youthful leadership of today, the symbol of which is Gadkari, the 'outsider', (he is, after all, from beyond the Hindi heartland) to take up a totally new approach.
The BJP should study the problems of the people of India with a sympathetic eye. It should not make the mistake of 2004 by appearing to be the leader of the 'confident' Indian. Nobody apart from the small community of rich Indians who enjoy per capita income which is higher than Brazil is impressed by tall talks of making India 'powerful' and a 'super power'. Hindutva must address the needs of those Indians who live in poverty resembling that of Bangladesh. In the 2004-09 period, it refused to learn the lesson of the 2004 election disaster. Now that the Congress is making the same blunder, it is time the timelessness of Ram Rajya is applied.
The core economic ideology of the 'saffron' movement has always been Leftist. The BJP made its maximum dent on the national electorate when it followed Left-wing (but anti-Communist) policies in line with Deen Dayal Upadhayay's teachings. The Left space, as repeatedly stressed by Saturday Special in recent times, is now going vacant, thanks to the Communist movement's collapse under its own contradictions. The Congress, far from serving the aam admi, has stripped him off the last vestiges of his self-respect. The BJP must immediately adopt messages aimed at the last man.
What is Hindutva worth without an economic message? This is the message for Gadkari from his party's rank and file today. It is time he deployed his party's economic think-tank to devise a new strategy.
The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer
GOMATA PROTECTION GAINS MOMENTUM
BR HARAN COLUMNIST
If success in banning cow slaughter is the litmus test of any BJP regime's commitment to Hindutva, the Yeddyurappa dispensation in Karnataka has done well but what would be its effect on the BJP's national image?
In its session, which ended last week, the Karnataka Assembly passed the "Karnataka Prevention of Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Bill 2010" by voice vote amidst chaotic protests by the Opposition. It may be recalled that the BJP government withdrew the already existing "Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act 1964" days before introducing this new Bill. Though the government didn't cite any reasons for its withdrawal at the time, the Opposition objected to in the anticipation that a new Bill would be introduced with changes making it more stringent.
Under the new Bill, cow slaughter and transportation would attract imprisonment ranging from one year to seven years and fine from Rs 25,000 to Rs 1,00,000, depending on the nature of the offence. Under the previous Act of 1964, the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and adult buffaloes was permitted on the basis of 'fit-for-slaughter' certificates, which were given only when the animals were over 12 years of age or permanently incapacitated for breeding, draught or milk due to injury, deformity or other causes. Transportation for slaughter outside the state was not permitted and sale, purchase or disposal of cow or calf for slaughter was also banned. The offence was considered cognizable and the penal provision was imprisonment up to maximum of 6 months or fine of up to Rs 1,000 or both.
Karnataka has been ruled by the Congress and the Janata Dal for years and their failure to prevent slaughter of cattle despite the 1964 Act shows the ineffectiveness of the Bill as well as the incompetence of those governments. In an era of corruption and inefficiency, it becomes imperative to deal with offenders and criminals in a more stringent manner to bring down the rate of crime and maintain law and order.
The problem with the present Congress leadership is that it deliberately disregards its own predecessors' opinions. This aspect was pointed out by chief minister Yeddyurappa, who recalled that Indira Gandhi had written to the chief ministers in 1982 asking them to ban cow slaughter and that
Jawaharlal Nehru had also advocated a ban on cow slaughter. Gandhiji, in whose name the Congress does its political business, venerated, worshipped and defended the cow calling it the 'Mother of millions of mankind'. Gandhi termed cow protection as the central fact of Hinduism.
Moreover, Article 48 (Organisation of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry) of the Constitution says: "The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and other milch and draught cattle."
Even as recently as October 2005, the Supreme Court upheld the Constitutional validity of a Gujarat law imposing a complete ban on slaughtering of bulls and bullocks, often misused to get around the ban on slaughter of cows. Hence, the Bill introduced by the BJP government and passed by the Assembly is constitutionally valid and the Congress party's comment that it is 'unconstitutional' is at the most self-deception.
There is a tendency among 'secular' political parties and a section of the mainstream media to project this issue as BJP's 'hidden' and 'communal' agenda, while in fact this law is prevailing in almost all the states except Kerala, West Bengal, Meghalaya and Nagaland. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 also plays a significant role in this issue and the amendment brought in by Central Act 26 of 1982 has paved the way for the establishment of the 'Animal Welfare Board of India', which does a decent job despite corruption, nepotism and political interference.
The Congress has also harped on other phony issues saying that the act will render thousands jobless, affect leather trade, etc. But, the Congress failed to understand that the preservation of cattle will improve agriculture, animal husbandry, dairy farms, ecology and socio-religious affairs. Cow protection as a policy would go a long way in agricultural development, resulting in a flourishing village economy. As India's economy revolves around agriculture, cattle welfare is fundamental to it. Cow-dung and cow-urine have medicinal properties and they also act as manure helping the growth of crops as well as preserving the richness of soil. It can also be used in the production of electricity through gobar gas.
The protection of cow as a 'Movement' has been there for years and the movement gained momentum during the time of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, founder of Arya Samaj and took roots across the country. Most of the freedom fighters wanted the cow slaughter banned. That is why the Constituent Assembly made a separate Article (48) for this while framing the Constitution.
Recently, the "Vishwa Mangal Gau Gram Yatra", organised by the RSS and affiliated organisations, toured the whole country in 108 days and over 10,000 upyatras exhorted each and every village, city and street of the country. Along with Hindus, Christians and Muslims too have extended their support to the cause of cow protection. Thousands of social organisations of the country participated in various functions of the yatra. The signature campaign conducted during the yatra proved the biggest signature campaign ever conducted in the world. Crores of people extended their support to the cause of cow protection through this campaign. The success of the yatra and the signature campaign underline the necessity of a blanket ban on cow slaughter throughout the country.
QUOTAS SHOULD BE BASED ON NEED, NOT RELIGION
THE Supreme Court has done the right thing by referring to a Constitutional bench the constitutional validity of an Andhra Pradesh legislation that grants quotas to backward Muslims, even while it has stayed the order of a seven- judge bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court which struck down the law.
The issue of whether reservations can be granted purely on the basis of religion under the Indian Constitution has grave import and needs to be settled by the highest court of the land. It is true that several states in India have been granting reservations to minorities but this has been done till now under the rubric of quotas for ' other backward classes' ( OBCs).
An elucidation of the constitutionally correct position is, perhaps, best left to the judges, but a few aspects of India's socio- cultural reality need to be kept in mind. One, the quota benefits accruing to SC/ STs and OBCs have been availed of, in the main, by people professing the Hindu religion. This, despite the fact that almost all the minority religions have backward castes and even Dalit communities perhaps because they came to their faith through conversion.
The Supreme Court could redress this situation even as it avoids granting quotas purely on the basis of religion by laying down that certain castes in all minority communities be eligible for reservations under the OBC and SC/ ST category. In an ideal scenario economic status should be the sole criterion for the grant of quotas not caste or religion. But since our governments have not cared to draw up a list of economically weak households in India, resorting instead to the more convenient option of identifying them on the basis of castes, this policy should be made uniform with backward sections of all religions benefitting from the state's affirmative action.
DELHI POLICE MUST EXPLAIN
THE Delhi High Court's decision to award a compensation of Rs 5.62 lakh to Prempal, who was falsely implicated in as many as 18 cases by the Delhi police, would be shocking, were it not for the depressing fact that police high- handedness and criminality is anything but rare in this country.
The trifling sum, as well as the apology that the Delhi police commissioner Y. S. Dadwal must offer him, can hardly compensate for his ordeal which included harassment, torture and seven years in jail. That he was acquitted in 13 cases and convicted in five cases tells its own bitter- sweet story about the quality of our lower judiciary.
The High Court would do the public a great favour if it were to make the follow up of this case a special mission and ensure that the police officers responsible for so monstrously perverting justice are punished. The Delhi police may owe Mr Prempal some money and an apology, but it also owes an explanation for its conduct to the people of this city.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs which supervises the Delhi police, too, needs to look into the issue and take urgent measures to reverse the rot.
ANOTHER SHEILA SPECIAL
DELHI chief minister Sheila Dikshit has built a formidable reputation for piling misery on to others. When she is not at her acerbic best against Leader of Opposition, Mr Vijay Kumar Malhotra, she is raising taxes. On Thursday, it was the turn of one of her cabinet ministers, Haroon Yusuf, the food and civil supplies minister.
To his consternation he found that he had been put in the dock by his own boss and that too on the floor of the legislative assembly.
While the Opposition was grilling him over bogus Below Poverty Line cards, Ms Dikshit suddenly switched sides and demanded to know how he planned to solve the problem.
Fortunately for Mr Yusuf, he was perhaps spared a public dressing down as the Opposition disrupted the proceedings and he did not have to reply. The chief minister has a penchant for doing the unusual. Surely, it would have been better to have asked the question in the privacy of the CM's office? How often have we heard of a prime minister or chief minister turning on their own team in such a public manner on the floor of a legislature?
FOR WHOM ARE THE 2010 GAMES ANYWAY?
BY AMRITA IBRAHIM
BAD PRESS has dogged the Commonwealth Games for a long time; perhaps reaching its most ugly moment with the public Kalmadi- Fennell spat last October. Throughout the past year, accusations of inefficiency and mismanagement have been the lead story on the preparations for the Games. In part, the announcement that the Delhi government will raise further revenue for the Games by raising taxes and cancelling subsidies is an admission of some of the unprofessionalism that has accompanied the preparations.
Starting with a budget of over Rs 5,000 crores in 2006 at the end of the Melbourne Games, Delhi's budget has only been soaring. Currently reports tell us that another Rs 1,000 crore are needed to complete the projects that were promised for the city and the state government has appealed to the central government. At the same time, the state government has also turned to the citizens to contribute to the glory of the city by way of taxes.
There are the usual shouts and murmurs about government insensitivity towards the aam aadmi , particularly at a time when inflation is already tightening household budgets across the city.
However, there are also other causes for dissatisfaction over the Delhi government's appeal for more finances for the Games. There is a feeling among many in Delhi that not only have the various arms that govern the city mismanaged the money that they already had for the Games, but that the push towards making Delhi a so- called world- class destination for sports and tourism has nothing to do with the residents who actually inhabit the city.
In all the fanfare with which plans are being unveiled for the city, the focus seems to lie on ensuring an unsullied tourist experience for the tens of thousands who are expected to descend on the city in October. Some of the antigames graffiti is revealing of the attitudes held by some towards the Games opposite the Nehru stadium, among the mounds of bajri and mud, stencilled onto the wall someone has spraypainted: ' Sometimes I wish the games are a disaster.' The building and expansion that accompanies any international, multisporting event is always subject to debate. Infrastructure must be developed, but with the expectation that what is built today will be part of the recreational life of the city in the future.
The last time Delhi hosted an international sporting event was 28 years ago the Asian Games. Reading the criticism from 1982 is interesting given the context of the 2010 preparations, because it becomes rather painfully obvious that we've learnt nothing from experience or history. Then too, the city was rushed in the last stages of completion; vast populations were displaced and shunted into slums without proper care for their relocation; vast amounts of construction threatened Delhi's delicate ecological balance.
After the Games were over, the stadia that were built for public use went into decline and some like Siri Fort became clubs for a select few, or avenues for high culture. Since then, Delhi's commitment financial or otherwise to developing sports infrastructure or avenues for recreation where young people might learn to hone their skills and talents has been dismal. Now, with the inflow of large sums of money for the 2010 Games, stadia that have been lying neglected for years are being renovated and new ones being built. However, there is nothing in our past experience to suggest that this wave of building will buoy local sports and recreation opportunities, and it is very likely that this spurt of attention to NCR sports and culture will wane as soon as the last Commonwealth tourist leaves India's shores.
The beautification drives are another reason why the preparations for the Games should, and are being, criticised by many in Delhi. Ranging from targeting the homeless, beggars, and itinerant working populations that come to Delhi looking for a better life to screening existing slums from view, these are feudal attempts by the government at showcasing Delhi, and by extension urban India, as a model of urban development.
In fact, these overtly callous and ad hoc measures to merely hide urban squalor rather than address its root causes only serve to starkly highlight how indifferent Delhi is as a city and as a government to those of its residents that give the most to the city their labour. Indeed, workers' living areas are disease infested, without proper sanitation, water, or electricity not to mention the lack of facilities for women workers or their children.
On every single construction site across the city, you will find children ranging from infants to pre- teens, sitting or working among the rubble and machinery, vulnerable to heavy machinery or passing vehicles.
The spirit of the Games was to ' increase the goodwill and good understanding' among nations in the British Empire. Though this rather duplicitous notion of colonial bonhomie has had its day, the Games still induce in its supporters the feeling that it is an occasion for countries with vastly different postcolonial futures to face each other in ' friendly' competition.
The idea of a metaphorical level playing field can open doors for member countries to develop their sports and cultural investments, and also engage each other in international cooperation on many global issues environment, food security, public health and youth development among others. Aside from this, 2010 could have been a real opportunity for India to develop its commitments towards its sports, particularly in athletics, boxing, swimming and the like, which do not command large spectatorships like cricket, football, or now increasingly again, hockey. Being part of the Commonwealth is to take seriously the obligations that come with it to one's citizens and to see as far as possible that the potential for common good can come to pass.
However, the attitude of the Delhi government towards the city and its residents has been anything but one of encouraging potentials, instead displaying a callous and far from democratic avatar . Indeed, the dictatorial attitude of the state government is barely far from the surface sweeping away unsightly populations of the poor by summoning the hideously draconian Bombay Beggary Prevention Act, or looking the other way as contractors make their labourers work overtime without the mandatory extra wages or proper working facilities. The emphasis for over the past year has been on construction and re- construction at breakneck speeds without care for life or limb at these construction sites.
The tourism department is already looking ahead of the Games to make Delhi a world- class destination, which means hiding all that which is ungainly, poor, or likely to reflect badly on the super power image that India is so desperate to be seen as possessing. If one is to take seriously the idea that there is anything to be achieved for Delhi or India through the Commonwealth Games, then one must also seriously question the cruel character that the Delhi government has displayed while preparing the city for this sporting event.The cosmetic development that is taking place for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many contravenes the spirit of ' potential good' that the Games claim to be committed to. It most definitely contravenes the vision of an inclusive Delhi that many of us hope to inhabit one day.The writer is a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University
APPLE MUST PITCH RIGHT IF IPAD IS TO SELL HERE
NEXT week, the most awaited gadget of the year will make its mass market debut. The Apple iPad will launch only in the US on April 3, but it will make its way to India later in the year.
Not that it matters much to India because most probably, the Apple iPad just like the Apple iPhone 3GS which gets launched soon here will be an overpriced product. The sales would expectedly be not even a blip on Apple's multi- billion dollar global business, and it would not have any kind of impact or at most, a minimal one on the Indian technology scene.
Which is why, it would perhaps be a good idea for Apple to pitch the iPad more as a mobile office product in India than a personal device. At least, in the initial stages of product distribution and marketing.
This would mean that corporate houses in India would accept the iPad more as a productivity gadget than a personal entertainment device. In that sense, the BlackBerry smartphone in India followed a similar strategy by default.
Today, BlackBerry leads the smartphone category in India with lucrative tie- ups with several mobile service providers and others have latched on to the trend only now. It is only in the last three months or so that BlackBerry has begun pitching its phones as lifestyle devices for social media and entertainment purposes.
Which is all very well, but with the 3G spectrum auctions coming up soon, Apple would do well by tying up with mobile service providers to sell the iPad through them at discounted rates or at least with innovative subscription schemes. This would mean that companies would buy the iPad for business purposes such as presentations, storing vital company information with a few trusted individuals, or even incentivising key senior staff by providing them with the device.
Apparently, I am not alone in making this pitch for the Apple iPad, no matter how sexy it looks. According to a Zogby poll whose results were published on March 23, a majority of potential 2443 iPad users polled, placed office work and business- on- thego ahead of gaming and entertainment for iPad usage.
The report says: " The role of new tablet devices such as the iPad has been a subject of great debate recently, and while the study shows that entertainment activities such as watching video and playing games are some of the tasks for which consumers might choose an iPad over a smartphone, work- related activities unexpectedly ranked at the top: With the imminent introduc- tion of the Apple iPad, more than half ( 52.3 per cent) of smartphone users polled claimed that they are most likely to use a new tablet device like the iPad to conduct work. Surprisingly, the idea of using an iPad or tablet device for work garnered the most interest from smartphone users, while watching movies and television programmes, and playing games placed a close second and third respectively ( 48.2 per cent and 35.4 per cent). Three- quarters of smartphone users surveyed believe that smartphones and forthcoming devices like the iPad make people more productive at work, with one- third of those feeling that the productivity impact is significant." In India, I guess, it would be the same. We have smart consumers, people who do not adapt to or adopt new technology without it having a significant return on investment or a huge impact on their daily lives. The mobile phone is one such example. In just about 15 years, we have gone from zero cell phones sold to more than 500 million devices in use at present. Why? Because cell phones filled in a gap that MTNL and BSNL could not, and gave us returns on investment multiple times over.
Apple, therefore, would have to be smart about pitching the iPad in India. It would never sell as a standalone e-
reader. It would never sell as a standalone computing or entertainment device. It anyway does not have a camera or a phone. So no point even entering that territory.
What it does have is the ability to combine the power of the Internet with the power of personal computing along with being an entertainment hub, an e- book reader, a social media junction and a photo sharing device, among other stuff. It is this that the guys at Apple may have to exploit.
SPAMMING GETS THE BEST OUT OF INDIANS
TO THOSE of us receiving emails promising a few million dollars in the bank in a few hours and medical treatment that will impress the hell out of your sexy date by enhancing your natural endowments, this may not come as a surprise.
According to Panda Security, one of the leading IT security firms in the world, India ranks second in the world when it comes to sending spam emails. Brazil is the world champion spammer, but not far behind is India. In a community of more than 200 nations with Internet connectivity and email, this is quite an achievement, even if it means that we won't be really popular with those receiving these emails.
A Panda Security blog post says that 13.76 per cent of the world's spam messages originate in Brazil, while India is second with almost 11 per cent. The Republic of Korea is third with 6.32 per cent, with the United States finishing a distant fifth with just 5.46 per cent of all spam, behind Vietnam at 5.71 per cent.
The report was based on the analysis of five million spam messages. In order to collect these messages, we have some mail servers designed to catch spam, called " spamtraps". Then, the messages are processed and we obtain the IP address of origin of the message, that is, the IP address of the computer from which this spam was sent. We can geolocate this IP address, being able to calculate its approximate position in the world. Another amazing data: the spam analysed during these two months came from a total of almost one million different IP addresses. This shows that the spam is mostly sent from zombie computers belonging to a botnet. This way, the computers of the infected users themselves are those which send the spam.
The cybercrooks have thousands of computers at their disposal which do the dirty work for them." Of course, there are a couple of disclaimers to this data.
First, it was conducted only in the months of January and February. Two, it could well be that Russia or China end up being the eventual champions when the yearly data is revealed. Until then, I guess we can feel perverse pleasure in our ' achievement'. And yes, if you wanted to use cuss words against the spammers but could not because you did not know Russian or Chinese, take heart. Send them in Hindi.
ARE YOU STILL USING INTERNET EXPLORER?
ONE of the tragedies of early Internet usage was something called Internet Explorer which, because of Microsoft's domination in the operating systems market, was the largest used Web browser. No longer.
Even in India, which is generally pretty late to adopt new technologies, IE has seen a steady decline in the last year or so.
The Irish metrics firm StatCounter estimates that IE's marketshare has declined by 20 per cent in India in the past two years, while other browsers such as Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera and Apple Safari have gained. IE's marketshare it is still the No 1 now stands at around 50 per cent. It was more than 70 per cent in 2008.
A 3D LAPTOP THAT WOULD BE A GOOD BUY
LAST fortnight, this column asked readers not to buy 3D television sets that are being launched by every big electronics major worth its motherboard. First, there is no 3D content available. Two, the TVs are way too expensive; and three why buy something for which you'd have no use at least for the next three years? But when it comes to 3D laptops, it is different. If you are a gamer and live for nothing else, the ASUS 3D laptop priced at almost Rs 1 lakh is a must- buy.
The Taiwanese major has launched a gaming laptop with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260M/ GTX 360M with 1GB DDR3 video memory, EAX and CMSS audio technology and Altec Lansing speakers. It has an Intel Core i7 processor and 64- bit Windows 7 operating system.
Not to mention the pair of 3D glasses that come with the laptop.
In his sales pitch, Stanley Wu of Asus said: " The Asus G51J 3D gaming notebook is our niche offering for the
discerning gamer. It has been designed keeping in mind the needs of hardcore gamers and offers unmatched performance and style. The NVIDIA 3D Vision technology helps to deliver amazing 3D visuals for an immersive experience." THE ASUS 3D laptop is well worth its high price
THE TIMES OF INDIA
FOOTLOOSE AND IDEOLOGY FREE
Shucks. The Nowhere Men are having all the fun. When you belong nowhere, you roam everywhere. And you can end up with a piece of the action somewhere. Ask Big B. His tent has been unpitched from the samajwadis' camp. But, footloose, Brand UP's ex-Shahenshah was hired on the spot as Gujarat's "tourism ambassador". Not least because SIT-ing duck Modi needs all the friends he can get. Commie-controlled Kerala wasn't as obliging. Though Big B denies allegiance to political saffron, Karat-led lefties see the world only in terms of black and red. If you aren't a card-carrying Karat-e-Kid, go lotus-eat.
But there are other fishing expeditions in the sea. Like in MP where Big B can rent a cause to, say, "save" the Narmada. Orissa's also a potential hirer provided Kalahandi's kept off the itinerary. And look: there's Big B again, next to Maharashtra's CM at the Bandra-Worli sealink! If Congress bosses are furious at his surprise cameo, Big B perhaps saw no harm in short-lived reunion. The NCP, periodically sniping at its state ally, will agree. As for Bollywood-watchers, they're raving less and less about Big B's screen presence than his off-screen omnipresence.
Why not? Jacks of all trades are ideological members of none. All-weather enemies can be fair-weather friends if the cause (or stake) is right. For instance, Haiti has seen a charity-oriented team-up of two of America's Nowhere Men belonging to rival parties with little use for them. For Bush and Bill Clinton, the cause was right: creating a $37 million fund for the quake-hit Caribbean nation. Plus, Billy-boy has another shot at burying Monicagate's irrepressible ghost while ex-war prez Dubya can play a post-Iraq peacenik.
Why let opportunities pass? Take Russia's Nowhere Man Gorbachev, ex-Soviet who pushed glasnost at a time Russians stood in bread queues. His hand in empire's dismantling meant unpopularity. Yet, sometime ago, globe-trotting Gorby endorsed Louis Vuitton luggage in a big-money ad campaign that'd make Marx red-faced. Yes, things like the Berlin Wall do fall sometimes between clashing ideologies, warring nations, duelling netas and other sundry sworn enemies. With marvellous results such as an ex-USSR president Limo-riding past the Wall, as brand ambassador of a super-luxury French fashion house!
India's Marx-men, of course, will cry "capitalist deca-dence". That's why expelled CPM veteran Somnath Chatterjee better think twice about getting rehired should Bengal's Mamata-baited comrades SOS him, as they're reportedly mulling. Why return to being sad old red when a multi-coloured universe needs roving ambassadors?
Beatles Lennon and McCartney once toasted a Nowhere Man sitting in a nowhere land, making his nowhere plans for nobody. They were right in telling that man: "The world is at your command!" The Nowhere Man, the music-makers also said, is "a bit like you and me". Let's do away with a few more walls and iron curtains in our minds to prove them right.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WHEN IT'S CRASS VERSUS CLASS
"Is that a snake daddy?" my five-year-old son asked me upon seeing Mayawati's money garland that flashed on TV screens across the country. Surely my son wasn't making a profound comment on the implied symbolism of what materialism stands for in society today. After all, the garland did actually resemble a snake: a python that slowly suffocates its prey to death. The human ATM that Mayawati turned into will certainly hold its place among the over-the-top things rich Indians regularly do to inform others of their wealth.
While the money-snake was in a different league, one only has to see how affluent people in this country conduct their weddings and birthday parties to see how deeply we want to scream to the world: we have the cash! After all, what is the point of having money if your relatives, colleagues, neighbours and even random strangers don't know you have it?
An under-construction concrete tower, taller than the Qutab Minar, juts out in the Mumbai skyline. Visible from kilometres away, it will become the residence of one business family. I know of a birthday party where all attending kids are given Nike Air sneakers as back presents. I've attended birthday parties with life-size Cinderella carriages and faux formula car racing tracks laid out for four-year-olds.
There is a show on TV called the "The big fat Indian wedding", where rich families allow television crew to cover their weddings. In the only episode i could bear to watch, the wedding functions were spread over a week in Delhi, Rajasthan and Bali with 500 guests shuttled around. At the end, like every wedding, only one boy and girl got married. An international newspaper had a recent frontpage story, this time about a village in Noida. A farmer made a killing selling land to developers, and hired a helicopter for his son's wedding in the village.
An argument can be made defending such behaviour: if someone has earned the money, he has the right to do whatever he wants with it. We should be happy Indians are finally coming into money. So if someone wants to give Mayawati a money-python or a money-elephant, what is anyone's problem?
Yet, at one level, it just doesn't feel right when i see my kids witnessing vulgar display of wealth. Because here's the message running in my child's head: this is what successful people do. This is what life is all about. I'm asked to work hard so that one day i can make money and smear my face with cash and burn money to tell the world i've arrived.
Wealth displays diminish values like self-control and being down to earth, humble and sensitive. Winners inspire the young generation. The loudness created by money dwarfs the contribution made by other people in society teachers, honest cops and doctors, to name only a few who may not be as rich, but still are good role models for children. For this reason, i'd like to request the country's rich people to hold their horses. Calm down, we know you have it. Put it on your website if you really want us to know how much money you have, but don't let it all hang out. We are impressed you made it well done, 10 out of 10, bravo! Now let us plebeians be.
Not all rich people live like this. Warren Buffet, one of the richest individuals in the world, still lives in a simple three-bedroom apartment in Omaha. One of the most respected figures in American society, he didn't have to show it off. In Silicon Valley, hundreds of self-made millionaires go to work in T-shirt and jeans. Flashing wealth is frowned upon. Crassness is not a necessary part of affluence. Grace, while seemingly still a new concept to rich and powerful Indians, is possible to learn.
This doesn't mean wealthy people do not deserve their luxury. Surely, they shouldn't slum it like the rest. However, there is a difference between private and public luxury. They can eat in gold plates and bathe in Evian water at home if that is a source of satisfaction for them. However, when their wealth display goes public, they should think twice. If Mayawati finds inner joy in surrounding herself with currency notes, it is tough to argue with that. She can wallpaper her room with 1,000-rupee bills (the Gandhi images may add a nice touch of irony to the decor). However, she doesn't have to wear million dollar cash garlands and display it to Indian kids. Her sycophants, and people who believe money equals greatness may even admire and applaud her for it. However, there are some, if not many, of us who don't.
We don't want our kids to emulate such behaviour. We want them to emulate true leaders. Leaders who show excellence, benefit society and help people. Leaders who show restraint, poise and humility. Those are the people we truly call rich. On the day Mayawati wore that hideous garland, she did not come across as rich. She came across as a helpless woman, trapped in a bunch of notes, which threaten to strangulate her political career like a python. Hope she can wriggle out of the grip.
The writer is a best-selling novelist.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
MATTHEW HAYDEN UNVEILS NEW BAT IN IPL
In the ongoing IPL, Matthew Hayden's newfangled bat has hogged as much attention as the matches themselves. For those of you who aren't in the know, Hayden unveiled his new bat last week at the Feroze Shah Kotla in Delhi and smashed his way to a score of 93. The bat, whose handle is as long as the blade, allows a batsman to hit harder and further than normal bats. And its frame makes for better timing.
Already purists are crying foul. But what's all the fuss about? All games, including cricket, must keep up with technological innovations. When was the last time you saw a wooden tennis racket? Those rackets, wielded with such finesse by past greats such as Bjorn Borg or Rod Laver, are now history. Instead we now have graphite rackets which can hit the tennis ball with much greater speed and accuracy. So also in cricket, bats and other equipment have moved along with the times.
In contemporary cricket there is not a single batsman who doesn't wear a helmet. But rewind a few decades and the helmet was an oddity. The bat, too, has changed over time. Technology has made possible the production of bats which have a bigger sweet spot and can hit the ball with greater power. Hayden's bat is only the latest in such innovation. There's no point in bemoaning technological changes in playing gear. Much better to sit back and applaud the awesome power of the shots unleashed by Hayden and his ilk.
There are of course some who will complain that the new bats will hammer the bowler into submission making the game an unequal contest. There is no real evidence of that. While more boundaries are being hit nowadays, good bowlers are equal to the task of containing and getting batsmen out. In the current IPL, Hayden's bat hasn't made him invincible. Bowlers have been getting the better of him more often than not.
Ultimately in any game the equipment are mere accessories. It will only be as good as the player. Hayden's new bat or indeed any future innovation won't make batsmen unbeatable. Good bowlers will still get wickets, as they have done since the game began.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
FIDDLING AROUND TOO MUCH WILL KILL CRICKET
The mongoose bat is yet another example of how cricket's turning into a batsman's game. Call it the logic of market forces or the luck of batsmen, cricket today is loaded against bowlers. The game will lose its fizz if it ceases to be an equal contest between batsmen and bowlers. That, surely, could impact cricket in the long run and even kill spectator interest in the game.
The improvisations in cricketing gear are explained away as inevitable innovations. The problem with innovations regarding equipment is that they are lopsided. They only favour batsmen. Many former players vouch that bats have become more and more batsmen friendly. Yes, willow may still be the preferred wood to make bats, but attempts are made to expand the "sweet spot" to make stroke making easier. The mongoose, a bat with an unusually long handle, is expected to add additional muscle to big hitters like Matthew Hayden. Pity, the bowlers who need to battle not just batsmen but even these innovations.
Bowlers have little choice but to invent new skills. Not much innovation is possible with the cricket ball whereas pitches have become more and more batsmen-friendly. There is always a clamour to shave grass off the pitch to reduce pace, bounce and movement. The use of bouncers has been restricted. Better body gear has been invented for batsmen to overcome the fear of fast bowling. The argument is that spectators prefer high-scoring matches. This isn't true. What spectators want is a good contest between the bat and the ball. The job of cricket administrators is to facilitate that. If innovations tend to upset the balance of the contest, they must step in and firmly rule against them.
Too much of innovation will kill the game, mind you. It's time we freeze cricket rules. Let's not allow people to fiddle around with bats, balls or pitches any more. Strong measures are needed to save the game.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
CHANGING MINDS TAKES TIME
Washington: President Barack Obama used 20 pens to sign his healthcare Bill into law on Tuesday morning. He presented the pens to several persons who had played key roles in making it possible for this president to complete in style the last chapter of a social welfare movement begun by Franklin D Roosevelt almost 80 years ago.
It all began with social security started by FDR in the 1930s. Then came Medicare, which gave senior citizens access to affordable healthcare, and Medicaid, which made such care available to poor people, under the leadership of Lyndon Johnson in the 60s. But Obama is the one who will go down in US history as the president who coolly succeeded in introducing a broad healthcare system that will eventually cover nearly all Americans, where many of his predecessors had tried and failed.
Almost overnight, the president looks strong again. Opinion polls have begun to creep up in his favour. He appears calm, determined and ready to take political risks in order to achieve promised goals. Unrelenting opposition from the Republican Party nearly derailed his effort not a single Republican Congressman voted for the Bill on Sunday and his critics said he was being too hesitant in pushing his agenda to change America, starting with healthcare. But, in the end, he emerged a winner.
Change, however, often proves to be a double-edged sword, one that slices through stasis in its quest for progress but can simultaneously leave deep wounds in the body politic of a nation in the throes of transformation. Change in America has been at near warp speed since the 60s if we take a long view of history. Obama's smooth election as the nation's first African-American president is a symptom of the change.
The social transformation that began in the 60s with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, as well as changes in immigration rules, is extraordinary. The technological leaps forward of the late 80s and 90s shrank distance and broke physical and mind-space barriers in ways that are plainly visible in everyday life even as their profound impact on society is being studied and analysed.
But rapid demographic transformation and its evolving consequences for cultural beliefs may be at the root of schisms that have opened up in America's sociocultural terrain. A rise to supreme power of someone like Obama is an admirable outcome for liberals and progressives. It can, however, appear alarming to others.
Demographers predict that by the middle of this century whites in America will become a minority. In the biggest state, California, they already are. This has long been an immigrants' nation even though immigration and assimilation followed each other with a time lag. The Irish faced discrimination in the 19th century, the east Europeans in the early 20th and the Jews when they first came. But they have all merged into the American mainstream while retaining certain distinctive cultural characteristics and practices. This time around it looks different.
'Looks' is the operative word. Hispanics, who are pouring into this country, in many cases illegally, or the Indians, Chinese, West Indians, and Arabs, who have arrived since the 60s, form an expanding part of the population. They look different. They might behave different too, or so fear a diminishing but agitated section of whites, even as a clear majority of liberal whites celebrate their presence.
The Republican Party, which today has moved way to the conservative right, seems to be cashing in on this fear. Listen to the rants of some of their talking heads, such as Rush Limbaugh on radio or Glenn Beck on Fox News. They use words like "bastard" when describing Democrats and call Obama a racist who allegedly hates white people. Or watch how the Tea Party supporters almost all middle-aged or old white folk chastise American liberals for the changes happening under Obama.
On Capitol Hill last Saturday, some Tea Party activists spat on a black legislator, yelled "nigger" to passing black Democrats, and called a homosexual Congressman a "faggot". Changing the law is a necessary step. Changing minds takes a bit longer.
MORE CAKES, NOT SLICES
When a woman wears trousers, she doesn't become a man. The Andhra Pradesh government wants us to think otherwise. It has pitched its provision of 4 per cent reserved jobs and educational seats for 'backward' Muslim groups not on a religion-based quota but one in which socially and educationally backward sections within a religious group will be provided India's most favoured and visible form of a leg-up. This is hardly a surprise, considering that the Constitution quite wisely prohibits the treatment of individuals or communities differently along religious lines. So instead, we have a quota for people who must be Muslims but need other criteria to apply as well. To say that this is not a religion-based quota is as absurd as saying that allowing certain kinds of Indians into the India cricket team is not a nationality-based selection.
There is no doubt that demographically Muslims lag behind the general populace when it comes to social, educational and economic indicators. But the answer to their uplift is not block-booking seats for Muslims (or for that matter any other 'backward' groups) but to enhance opportunities and avenues, something woefully in short supply for Muslims in general. The paltry number of schools and colleges of quality available to Muslims has a direct correlation to the opportunities Muslim youngsters get, which, in turn, is reflected in representations of the community across the board. Also, to earmark quotas for 'backward' Muslims some groups who already qualify for Other Backward Classes (OBC) reservations is to open the floodgates for similar identikit politics. If there are to be quotas specifically for 'backward' Muslims in addition to OBCs in Andhra Pradesh, what stops other states from demanding quotas specifically for 'backward' Christians, Sikhs and Hindus?
In this muddle of percentages, one thing gets short-shrift: the genuine inclusion of all 'backwards' into the mainstream. Add the 'religion-based' angle to it (whatever theological twist you may want to put on it) and we'll have a squabble over slices of a cake while no effort is made to produce more cakes. When the constitutional bench starts scrutinising the 4 per cent 'backward Muslims' quota matter, it should come to a conclusion after mulling over all this.
YET ANOTHER COLONIAL HANGOVER
Life on Kolkata's Park Street will not be the same after the devastating fire in Stephen Court. The hub of social life and entertainment almost since the city was founded, the street has recently been trying to recover from its decline during Marxist rule. Now, its regeneration could falter. Kolkata is an old-style city with a sense of public decency. The tragedy will be mourned for years to come and going out for a bit of fun on the street where so many people died needlessly could feel unnatural.
People are also mourning the destruction of a landmark of the colonial skyline. Interestingly, though Stephen Court was a Raj period building, it was not built by a colonial. In fact, much of the remarkable heritage architecture of the Presidency towns is of Asian provenance. The English mainly built government institutions to rule from, educational institutions to generate manpower and barracks for the military which kept them in power. They built an astonishing number of barracks. In fact, one of Kolkata's satellite towns is called Barrackpore. Ironically, that's where the 1857 rising started, precipitated by the court martial of the turbulent sepoy Mangal Pandey.
Stephen Court was built by the Isfahani Armenian Arathoon Stephen (1861-1927), who arrived in Kolkata dirt-poor and became a real estate baron. His impoverished refugee origin may be an exaggeration, since his family was perhaps already in India when Pandey was turning up the heat. But he was certainly a merchant prince committed to institution-building. His most remarkable property was a Chowringhee boarding house he took over from a Mrs Monk and turned into the iconic Grand Hotel. When business declined in 1938 following Kolkata's great cholera epidemic, it was bought on the cheap by a certain Mohinder Singh Oberoi. The Oberoi Grand was a lucky buy, minting money during the war years when thousands of Allied soldiers were billeted there and partied with single-minded determination as they waited to be shipped out to fight the Japanese. It became the seed of the transnational Oberoi chain of hotels.
The British did not exclusively build the colonial skyline, as we imagine. Mercantile Asians, notably the Armenians, also invested in building modern India. Armenians were trading with the Malabar coast from the 8th century and the seed of the British Empire, the Mughal firman allowing the East India Company to set up shop in Bengal, was brokered by an Armenian named Khoja Sarhad. By the time of Stephen, about 30,000 Armenians were settled in India. And when Armenia was under Soviet rule, this nation persecuted throughout history valued India as a safe haven for its church.
In 2003, the Calcutta High Court ruled that the Company functionary Job Charnock could not be identified as the founder of Kolkata. The evidence against him included mention of the town in Abul Fazl's Ain-i-Akbari and the popular medieval text Manasa Mangal. But the court neglected the most damning evidence: the oldest Christian gravestone in India, in Kolkata's Armenian Church. It is that of an Armenian woman named "Rezabibi, wife of the late charitable Sookias, who departed from this world to life eternal" in 1630. At the time, Charnock was a suckling babe in London. So much for the British creating modern India!
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine.n firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed by the author are personal.
Goodness knows what bitters and sweets the rest of this year, 2010, holds for us but Mandela Freed 20 is one delectation we are assured of. We must revel in it. But will we learn something from it as well?
Mandela's release, 20 years ago, after 10,000 days in jail, sent me to his account of his first imprisonment, prior to the one that found him in the now famous Robben Island. The year was 1956, the day December 5. Just after dawn, 28-year-old Mandela was woken by a loud knocking at his door. 'Hoogverraad; High Treason', the words, he writes, 'leapt out' of the warrant that was held up to him.
Mandela was among 105 Africans, 21 Indians, 23 whites and seven Coloureds to have been picked up and brought to Johannesburg prison, known as the Fort, 'a bleak, castle-like structure on a hill'. Mandela writes in his autobiography that on reaching the prison they were all taken to an outdoor quad, made to strip, and line up against a wall.
Humiliating? Of course. But Mandela being Mandela, he describes the procedure as only he can: "Despite my anger, I could not suppress a laugh as I scrutinised the men around me. For the first time, the truth of the aphorism 'clothes make the man' came home to me. If fine bodies and impressive physiques were essential to a leader, I saw that few among us would have qualified!" The pugilist Mandela was doubtless the clear leader in that involuntarily sunny competition as well.
I did not quite realise until I re-read Gandhi's Satyagraha in South Africa on reaching that country in 1996 that his very first jail term, beginning in 1908, almost half century before Mandela's also began in the same prison, the Fort, Johannesburg. But that is not all. Gandhi had the same initiation as well. I do not know whether it is Indian prudence or prudery that has drawn a veil over the incident.
He writes: "In jail I was asked to put off my own private clothing. I knew that convicts were made naked in jail. We had all decided as Satyagrahis voluntarily to obey all jail regulations as long as they were not inconsistent with our self-respect or with our religious convictions." The emphasis in Gandhi's description is on one's own clothing being substituted by prison clothing, not in the perceived humiliation of stripping.
Obviously, being stripped in public did not embarrass the 39-year-old future Mahatma. Nor was the change-over to prison clothes as such "inconsistent with self-respect" although he writes, "The clothes that were given to me were very dirty. I did not like putting them on at all." But this was a hygiene matter, not a self-respect one. And not one that came in conflict with the principle of non-violent resistance that he had given to his movement.
Like everyone else, I was aware of the aura of the Gandhi movement over South Africa's history, but I was
unfamiliar with the precision of its impact on Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) detail. Until I
heard President Mandela at the credentials ceremony. After presenting my parchment on August 6, 1996, I was struck by what the great leader had to say in his speech. He described the Natal Indian Congress as "the first organised and disciplined political movement in the country" and Gandhi himself as the man who "introduced the first organised and disciplined political struggle in our country". The significance of President Mandela's remarks grew on me during the days that I was privileged to serve in that country.
Mandela was, as I said, a trained pugilist in his youth. He has remained so as a politician. "I did not enjoy the violence of boxing," he writes, "so much as the science of it. I was intrigued by how one moved one's body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself during a match".
This year is also the 80th anniversary of the great Dandi March where one man of extraordinarily agile limbs used an unexpectedly fresh strategy, pacing himself, moving his body, beckoning nothers to follow, to take on an iniquitous system at its very foundations. Organisation and discipline were at the heart of that satyagraha. Countless men and women filled India's prisons as a consequence.
Jail bharo is a programme one hears of, in the context of agitations that are not without merit in them. But, please, our jails are already overfull! Mandela Freed 20 and Dandi 80 (which was followed by countrywide arrests including the Mahatma's own) should help us cast a glance at the condition and number of prisoners in India's jails today, of who the vast number are undertrials.
'Prison-reform' is as old a concept, or almost as old, as prisons themselves. But who can deny that a society's criminality and a State's civility are both to be found in their prisons? Visitor access in conditions of privacy, psychiatric cover and occupational therapies need augmenting in our prisons, now re-named 'correctional homes'. But give prisoners every reform and they will still want that one thing which no reformer has the power to give, and that is release.
One of the most remarkable enactments passed in recent times has been the amendment in 2005 to our Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) which through a new Section 436A enables certain categories of undertrials who have served more than half of the maximum period of imprisonment specified for that offence, to be released from upon giving a personal bond without sureties.
As I write this, comes a report from Moscow that in May, to mark the 65th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany, Russia proposes to grant amnesty to 300,000 convicts and release 45,000 persons imprisoned since World War II. So, if our administrations activate the amended CrPC, they will be doing something which is along the grain of contemporary opinion. They would also incidentally give the best anniversary gifts possible to Mandela and to the man he so respects.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi was the Governor of West Bengal from 2004 to 2009. 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
LET BIG B BE
The Congress party's response to Amitabh Bachchan's presence at a Mumbai function is troublingly shot through with despotism. Upon receiving an official invitation, the actor registered his presence at the inauguration of the second phase of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. The political controversy that has followed is unseemly, and in a way baffling.
Congress leaders have chosen to take exception to the invitation to Bachchan and, presumably, to his cordial
interaction with Chief Minister Ashok Chavan. The official line is the party is upset over the party's welcome to an actor who recently called on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and even agreed to promote tourism in that state. It is not, party leaders strain to say, "personal". It is also speculated that Bachchan is just collateral victim of the Maharashtra Congress's internal politics. In any case, the upshot is that Chavan has undermined his leadership of a diverse state by conveying to the Congress "high command" that he was unaware of Bachchan's possible attendance.
It is not just that this message that an icon of Hindi cinema be alienated by an incumbent government is misguided. It does not befit a democracy to get into the habit of diminishing the achievements, and thereby the stature, of its citizens on political considerations. These lines of untouchability also undermine the role civil society plays in a healthy democracy. Popular personalities, artists, businesspersons, activists populate and nurture a bipartisan middle ground even amidst the most partisan politics. Even as they interact engage, critique, applaud with those in politics, they are entitled to retain their unaffiliated status. It is important they do, because they are well-placed to facilitate a wider dialogue, and by extension more participative governance. The Congress carries an older legacy of inclusiveness. It must hold itself to those standards.
The Maharashtra government's ill-conceived crusade on women working in the state's bars and restaurants continues; and, unsurprisingly, continues to attract opprobrium whenever the absurd and sexist assumptions that underlie it are actually articulated. On Tuesday, in a hearing at the Bombay high court, the state government's counsel was forced by a petition brought by the unlikely combination of a restaurateurs' association and an organisation of "womanists" into once again stating the purported reason for the government-set "deadline" of 9.30 pm for female workers.
The reason was, counsel argued, that women are "exploited" in bars.
Unsurprisingly, the justices weren't taken in. Justice F.I. Rebello, in fact, proceeded to ask a series of questions that were as pertinent as they were exasperated.
After all, the judge pointed out, women can be exploited anywhere. What's so special about bars? Are not, in fact, women rushing home to wash their husbands' clothes after a hard day's work also exploited? Indeed, is it the state's business to interfere in what is clearly many women's choice of profession, one that, after all, isn't such a bad fit with Mumbai's tradition of aspiration and self-improvement?
These are questions that the state government has consistently failed to answer. And that is not a shock: because the government's moral policing is as hypocritical as it is inconsistent. More than one observer has pointed out that the political message that underlies this is, once again, anti-outsider. This touch of xenophobia infects too much of Maharashtra's mainstream politics. When put together with the statist illiberalism that believes that "public morals" can be whipped into line by pointless, cheerless and counter-productive bans, we are presented with the unfortunate spectacle of one of the most inept state governments in India turning its scarce resources towards putting a bunch of young women out of good jobs. A spectacle made only more ridiculous by the government's complete ineptitude at actually ensuring that more jobs are available to the thousands who flow, starry-eyed, into Mumbai daily.
TRACK THE OPTIONS
As Washington and Islamabad reaffirm their commitment to a "wide-ranging, long-term and substantive strategic partnership", New Delhi must resist the temptation to protest. The UPA government must carefully assess the results from the just concluded strategic dialogue in Washington between the US and Pakistan. But India has no reason to be neuralgic about US-Pakistan ties. India's relations with the US are too deep and wide-ranging today for Delhi to make them a hostage to the current unseemly and ultimately unsustainable political bargaining between Washington and Islamabad. Having objected repeatedly to the hyphenation of American relations with India and Pakistan, it would be self-defeating for Delhi to do the same.
A close reading of the joint statement issued in Washington on Thursday suggests that the optics of the strategic dialogue have been more impressive than the results. There is no doubt that the Obama administration, so dependent on the Pakistan army for making a success of American intervention in Afghanistan, wants to make nice. General Ashfaq Kayani has put up a price for the services he can render. The gap between the two positions could either expand or shrink depending on the ground realities in Afghanistan and Obama's political calculus for re-election in 2012.
One concrete result from the Washington talks is the imminent American arms transfers to Pakistan including the F-16 fighter aircraft. Any objection from Delhi that the US arms to Pakistan would change the military balance of power with India would be laughable, especially since our own ministry of defence seems unable to spend money on buying arms. Any Indian retaliation to downgrade military cooperation with the US would be welcomed by Pakistan and its friends in Washington who believe that under the Bush administration the Pentagon had tilted too much in favour of India. In any case, India's problem is not that American arms will tilt the South Asian military balance in favour of Pakistan. What should bother India is the real possibility that America's embrace of General Kayani will embolden his army to step up support for anti-India terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Delhi must make it clear that if Washington cannot persuade Kayani to shut down the LeT, India will be under no compulsion to show military restraint. Delhi must also convey to Washington that if the US accepts Pak primacy in Afghanistan, India will be free to turn to other powers, including Iran, to stop Kayani from turning southern and eastern Afghanistan into a base for violent extremism.
RED CHILLI IN HOT OIL
News TV reportage and IPLlike dried red chillies and hot cooking oil. You add the first to the second and you get crackling, sputtering noises, steam, basically an aurally and visually challenging environment. I can't get out of the kitchen, of course. My professional duties vis-a-vis this column means every now and then I brave the sputter, the crackle and the steam. But, and as any good cook will tell you, there are chillies and chillies. This season, the hottest chilli is Times Now. This is not to suggest NDTV and CNN-IBN IPL shows are exercises in meditative contemplation. But at Times Now, grown-up men have discovered the child in themselves and the point to note is that news TV editorial planning is always more indulgent than parental supervision.
Summer Slam, Times Now's very Times Now-like christening of its IPL programming, is more or less bedlam. Turn the sound off and watch Navjot Singh Sidhu and Times Now's regular sports commentator. I have never seen so many teeth so many times on one show on news TV.
Frenetic hand movements. Turn on the sound. The clichés, oh man. And the counter clichés. And the jokes. The Times Now anchor for the show pops up now and then but he's clearly in amateur league compared to the panelists. The anchor tells Sidhu it's not balle, balle for you today, Sidhu says, it's thalle, thalle, my friend. The chatterthis is a very conservative way of describing what goes on in Times Now's IPL show is accompanied by a background music this, too, is a very conservative way of describing what you hear. Would you call what sounds like sticks on up turned tins music? I have discovered that I can take about four minutes of Summer Slam in one sitting. After that, yes, I can't get out of the kitchen, but I pick a different chilli.
Live-in relationships. A hot button social issue? Not for me, a reflexive libertarian. I mean, what's there to debate. But there's a debate and there's evening talk TV as one of the forums. And so on CNN-IBN, the anchor asks whether elite women create an image trap by wearing excessively short clothes and by smoking and drinking. Okay, the anchor was playing the provocateur, useful in talk TV. But why exactly should smoking, and drinking and wearing short clothes figure in a debate on live-in relationships is something only CNN-IBN can explain. Women who smoke and drink don't get married? Or non-smoking, teetotaler women don't have live-in relationships? I am obviously a far poorer observer of Indian society than CNN-IBN is.
How fitting therefore that the panelist supposedly representing the 'socially conservative' point of view should
argue at one point that live-in relationships are problematic because men will then live-in here, live-in there, with different women. You sometimes wonder whether Indian society is prepared for Indian news TV. News TV has created an intellectual paradigm our society can't create at this point of time, probably will never be able to.
News TV balle, balle, Indian society, thalle, thalleif I may borrow from Navjot Singh Sidhu.
THE BLOOD-RED MOVEMENT
This is no run-of-the-mill protest. Protests in Bangkok seldom are. This is theatrics. Calls from the Red Shirts, the nationalists, were sounded in early March. There was to be a million-man rally. It was hoped that the reds farmers and northern peasants, those who failed to benefit from the prosperous '80s and '90s would convince average Bangkokians to join their cause, sense their inequalities, understand their suffering.
They amassed in large numbers two weeks ago an estimated 1,50,000 gathered. Unlike the clashes seen over the previous years, this protest was peaceful. It did have a hint of black magic though. Magic aimed at the dissolution of government. Thousands donated vials of blood; together they poured their blood around government buildings, on the streets, in front of cameras. They marched over to the newly appointed Cambridge-educated PM's house, calling for Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign then poured blood on his doorstep. The blood would usher in a transformation: he would be forced to quit. And, as ever, the reds were encouraged by their mentor former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin is the heart of the blood-red movement. His years in office saw a populism never previously seen in
Thailand. His constituency were the poor, those who received a mere 5 per cent of Thailand's revenues. During
his tenure he attempted healthcare reform and handed out rural loans. Mild successes were exaggerated.
Yet, he remains a cult figure, still seen on the streets of Bangkok via video-link, although he lives in self-
imposed exile following a warrant being issued against him for embezzlement. From his mansion in Dubai, he calls for a class struggle; he has further divided the elite from the poor by drawing on the historical conflict in Thai society between the ammart (bureaucrats) and phrai (commoners).
Thai society continues divided, now between the Red Shirts and the Yellow Shirts. The yellows, royalists, are Bangkok's elite. Those who came to prominence in the '90s, the ones who felt threatened by Thaksin and the consecutive Thaksin-backed governments. They are the ones who brought Bangkok airport to a halt in March last year, the ones with close ties to the military and that are thought to be responsible for the ouster of last year's pro-Thaksin (elected) government.
But this year the shades of red and yellow have blurred. Rather than convoys of farmers it has been Bangkok's many shopkeepers, waitresses and office workers taking part in the protests. Bangkok's middle class has, for the first time, participated.
What's more: the Red Shirts have stepped out with a very obvious and stated aim: to further add weight to their cause by diversifying their support base. The yellows speak for the elite, the red for the rural. The middle class are up for grabs. Which makes everything much messier. "It is difficult to see a way back to stability. The rural poor will never go back to the days when they simply accepted the rule of Bangkok. Yet the elites remain unwilling to give up any of their power. The anti-Thaksin forces are doing nothing to help calm the situation," says Joshua Kurlantzick, a CFR scholar and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The paralysis of political stalemate is made worse by two pressing issues. The first is that it stunts debate on the very important issue of the royal succession. The king wields considerable power in Thailand. In fact it was King Bhumibhol's involvement that ensured the smooth functioning of Thailand during previous crises. During the 1973 riots, he allowed for a new constitution; after 1992's Black May, he installed a democratic set-up (1992). He is now 83 and in weak health; but Thailand's strict lèse majesté laws mean open debate on a successor is being brushed aside. The ongoing rift does not help either.
The second is the growing insurgency in the predominantly Muslim south. With attention lavished on the streets of Bangkok, the Islamists in the south have had a free rein. 2004 to 2007 saw 1,189 bombs in the south, and 3,253 deaths caused by the insurgents, according to the RAND Corporation. The Krue Se Mosque incident saw 30 militants holed up inside one of Southeast Asia's most prominent mosques, and a Thai government counterattack that left hundreds dead. This insurgency is brewing further; yet attention continues to be fixated to the Red-Yellow standoff.
Bangkok is but one part of the battle in Thailand. The reds' demands for immediate elections are unlikely to be
met. Yet elections are mandated by law next year. Rather than drama and magic on the streets of Bangkok, both government and opposition would benefit from more conventional politics rather than the shaving-heads gestures seen today.
On Tuesday, Stephen Court one of the magnificent Victorian brick buildings in Kolkata went up in flames, killing at least 24 people. It was shocking that such structures were allowed to wither by the state government which saw in them reminders of foreign rule, rather than assets. If there is intent on the part of authorities, the heritage building can be rebuilt and restored. Several historic buildings of Berlin and London were rebuilt after the devastating aerial bombings and fires of World War II.
AFTER US EXIT
The frontpage report 'After the heat, Hillary turns on warmth: Pak struggles my struggles', IE, March 25) reflects the hypocritical behaviour of the US so far as US-Af-Pak relations are concerned. The US, in fact, is looking for a face- saving exit from Afghanistan. With this in view, the US wouldn't mind handing over Afghanistan to the so-called good Taliban and Pakistan. Taliban may soon be returning to Afghanistan. The US, looking after its own interest, is at the old game of divide and rule. Pakistan is taking advantage of the situation, and trying to extract as much as possible. India has no role in Afghanistan other than rendering services medical treatment, power plants, roads, hospitals, etc. After the US exit, we may have to follow suit.
S. Shankar Singh
The present surge of Maoist militancy is the result of the deep resentment of Adivasis, Scheduled Tribes and other minorities from backward classes. Socio-economic problems are the main causes of their poverty. These marginalised groups, after losing their livelihoods, forest access and survival means due to ruthless destruction and exploitation have become pawns in the hands of the Maoists. If the state and Union governments can reach out to these people with a concrete development package and protect them from vested onslaughts, the situation will change soon. But let us not forget that violence cannot be condoned in the name
C. Koshy John
This refers to the editorial 'Fight fire' (IE, March 25). Having burnt his fingers in Singur and Nandigram, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has lost his drive. He is behaving like a caretaker chief minister. Most of his colleagues do not know what to do, nor do they have the willingness to know. With growing extremism, Buddhadeb is depending more on P. Chidambaram for rescuing him from the quagmire. His party's politburo is mostly manned by coffee-house politicians who have little knowledge of ground realities. People of West Bengal are suffering
ECONOMICS GETS EMOTIONAL
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 human nature (the perfectly rational, utility-maximising 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 analysed behaviours 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 behaviour, yet these models did not predict the financial crisis as it approached. In fact, cutting-edge financial models contributed to it by getting behaviour 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 realised 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. 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 RUMPLED SAGE
An unlikely character, bald and blunt, a "good bloke" in native parlance, has emerged as a pivotal figure in Britain's May election, at once the country's most popular politician and a possible chancellor of the Exchequer in the plausible event of a hung Parliament.
A disheveled 66, wisps of surviving hair lifting off from his pate, Vince Cable looks more like a provincial bank manager than a political celebrity. But this is the gloried "sage of Twickenham" (his West London constituency).
The sage is so called for his economic foresight (remaining sober enough to perceive risk when everyone was tipsy on easy credit). He has thereby done much to hoist his Liberal Democrats from their usual third-party peripheral role. Glamorous he's not, but Cable can turn a phrase. Back in 2007, he demolished Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown by noting his "transformation in the last few weeks from Stalin to Mr. Bean, creating chaos out of order rather than order out of chaos."
UK elections have been a bore for more than a decade, too predictable to raise the heartbeat. But this one, expected May 6, is a cliffhanger. The opposition Conservative party, through David Cameron's touchy-feely makeover, has roused itself but its élan has faltered. Labour's 13 years in power look like enough, but Brown, who lived most of those years in Tony Blair's shadow and knows he can only emerge by actually winning an election, is still hungry. As for the Liberal Democrats, they've been boosted because they got the core issue right.
It was back in November 2003 that Cable asked Brown, then chancellor: "Is not the brutal truth that ... the growth of the British economy is sustained by consumer spending pinned against record levels of personal debt, which is secured, if at all, against house prices that the Banks of England describes as well above equilibrium level?" Brown brushed Cable aside. Bubble tunes were still playing.
Now fast-forward five years to the great meltdown (UK version): banks collapsing, families asphyxiated by negative equity, Icelandic weirdness, the government to the rescue late in the day. And here we are, with the economy dominating the election everyone realises somebody's got to pay the huge tab for that bailout someday and a lionised Cable.
I asked him why he had a hold on what the spin and sound-bite saturated 21st-century voter (like my sister Jenny Walden whose worship of Cable first pointed me in his direction) craves: honesty and authenticity. "I'm not a professional politician," he told me with his Yorkshire purr. "I was 54 by the time I became an M.P. I'd lived a life, had less to lose. So I thought I'd say the things that need to be said." Among them were that the credit bonanza would "surely come to a sticky end," especially with "regulators reinforcing the cycle rather than leaning against it." Aye, lad.
Cable went to Nunthorpe grammar school (hardly Cameron's exclusive Eton) and, after Cambridge, was a city councilor in Glasgow. He told me, "I was a very idealistic left-winger when I started, representing a tough working-class ward." (The problem, he says, with Cameron and several of his entourage is "not the fact they went to Eton, it's the fact they haven't done anything really."
Life took him here and there from Labour to the Liberal Democrats, from economic left to center, from the Foreign Office to chief economist at Shell before he won Twickenham in 1997. Today, he sees a Britain that is "baffled, puzzled," worried about its economic future. Tired of Labour, the country is now less focused on Brown and more on what the "conventional see-saw alternative is, the Tories," Cable said. Because the deft Cameron's real intent is uncertain, Cable suggested, the once double-digit Tory lead has narrowed.
I think Cable's analysis is about right. I also think this election is about anger over privilege the MP expense account scandal, the City's excesses, all the "non-doms" (British residents who claim residence abroad for tax purposes including Conservative Party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft) and that Cameron's biggest task will be convincing enough people he's of the people.
Cable has no issues on that score; people trust him even when he prescribes pain. With the deficit at about 13 per cent of gross national product, he's seen as credible on fiscal responsibility, the key to reassuring bond and currency markets. He's been more explicit about possible cuts to defense, some regional development agencies and public sector pensions than his Labour and Conservative counterparts (and Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling's pre-election budget left those cuts for another day). He's also called for a mansion tax to relieve the 3.6 million people earning less than $15,000 a year from taxes, and he lambasted banks that, as he put it, have been "semi-nationalised" and "should now act in the public interest."
Cable's got something going on. Whether it's enough to lift the Liberal Democrats from their 63 seats is unclear. But a hung Parliament, in which neither Labour nor the Tories can form a government, is more likely than in any recent election. That could put Cable in a position of power, about as good an outcome as I can imagine.
SENSE AND CENSORSHIP
Some believe that Google's co-founder Sergey Brin's memories as a six-year-old in the former Soviet Union has inspired Google's crusade against censorship in China. However, as Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of upcoming book The Googlisation of Everything, notes in a recent blog post this "isn't a case of Google standing up for free speech....but about Google standing up against the attacks."
He was referring to the attacks on Google's servers that originated from China mid-December last year. Anyone running a multi-billion dollar enterprise online would be well attuned to the security threats posed by anarchists, crackers, spammers and phishers on a daily basis. So what made the recent Google attacks so special? According to Google, intellectual property was stolen and two human-right activists accounts were compromised during the attack. So which was the straw that broke the camel's back intellectual property or human rights? Google could have spoken out against censorship years ago after all it still censors search results in more than 20 countries, including India. Although there is no official channel or protocol guiding censorship practices in India, Google is regularly contacted by government officials and continues to delete web content deemed sensitive according to various ethnic, political and religious groups. Human rights activists note that Google offers some token resistance and then usually complies with the state's demands. Google's deputy general counsel, Nicole Wong, justifies her cooperation with the authorities citing the Indian way of torching buses during riots. Therefore it is odd that the US government endorses Google's selective idealism in China. One week after the attacks, Hillary Clinton decided to lecture the world on Internet freedom. Then, Google and the National Security Agency announced a collaboration to deal with future cyber-attacks. This was followed by Google honouring female bloggers in Iran, forcing cyber-ethnographer, Maximilian Forte to wonder on Twitter, "Is it just me, or is Google consistently joining the causes of the US State Department?" How is Google's move, and recent White House support for a "free web", to be understood? How is Google's move consistent with the Obama administration's goal of protecting US business interests across the globe? Such questions may tell us why Google is picking a fight with China rather than Saudi Arabia or Burma. The recent privacy disaster incited by the release of Google's new social networking application Buzz became yet another occasion when many began to doubt Google's high rhetoric about freedom of expression. When Buzz first made the social connections of Gmail users public without their consent, blogger Evgeny Morozov questioned the company's logic in protecting the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists (ie, when they are happy to tell the rest of the world who those activists are talking to). According to Morozov, Google has only managed to capture 30 per cent of the Chinese search market, and he believes that Google was willing to sacrifice this market for some much need needed positive PR given after a storm of bad press after projects like Buzz and Wave.
It is clear that Google will have to fight such pressures towards greater control of the internet across the globe, China being no great exception. This week, Google and Yahoo have come out strongly in opposition to Australia's plan to implement a mandatory ISP filter. Sometimes, a particular form of censorship serves a useful and necessary purpose for example, Google and Microsoft were forced by the Indian Supreme Court in September 2008 to stop serving advertisements for do-it-yourself foetus sex determination kits. Given our daughter deficit, I would not have it any other way. However, in Thailand, such filtering takes the form of overly expansive lèse majesté laws which force ISPs to reveal details of individuals posting content deemed insulting to the monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej this practice leading to self-censorship and over-moderation on forums and mailing lists in Thailand.
Also, soon as traffic was redirected from Google.cn to Google.com.hk, Google advised its enterprise customers in China to use VPN (virtual private networking), SSH (secure shell) tunneling, or a proxy server to access Google Apps. These are circumvention technologies of choice for many Chinese cyber-activists, says Rebecca McKinnion, founder of Global Voices Online. In her recent congressional submission, she also points out that in China, online defiance has a very different history, perhaps best illustrated by the Mud Grass Horse Internet meme which was an obscene pun on a government media campaign aimed at national unity and harmony. In China, aesthetics rather than technology is the primary tool for subversive political speech. Also like in Burma and Saudi Arabia, offline piracy and pirated satellite television ensures that most citizens are able to access censored content. And the average Chinese netizen cannot tell the difference between Google censoring its own results and the Great Firewall censoring Google. Google's recent actions has very little real impact on the state of censorship in China.
The writer is director, policy at the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society
TIGHTENING US TIES
Pakistan's much-anticipated strategic dialogue with the US aimed at presented a multi-pronged strategy to redefine US-Pakistan ties, as reported by the Pakistani press. Military issues gained centrestage, however, with the army chief General Ashfaq Kayani being seen as the "chief guest" of the meeting.
Dawn reported on March 23: "The dialogue, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says will forge even closer ties between the two allies. Meanwhile, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani concluded his consultations with senior American military commanders and went straight to the Pentagon for talks with US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates. Kayani will also attend the opening ceremony of the talks between Clinton and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the State Department." Quoting The New York Times , it added: "a strong military presence in the talks indicated Kayani 'will be the dominant Pakistani participant in important meetings in Washington this week'."
Apart from military parleys, Pakistan also presented a civil engagement wishlist to the US, as The News reported on March 22: "Pakistan seeks economic concessions from the US... These include payment of its CSF dues on time, investment in power and agriculture and for the US to persuade major global trading blocs to extend preferential treatment in trade to the country that is paying a huge price in the ongoing war against militancy...Pakistan is also to seek US intervention to help resolve its water disputes with India." Another report added: "The army spokesman said Pakistan would be 'conveying very clearly' its displeasure with India's offer to train the Afghan army at the behest of American and NATO forces."
Dawn, on March 24 stated a possible outcome of the dialogue: "Pakistan hopes talks will lead to assurance from Washington that it no longer seeks to undo the Pakistani nuclear programme. Another result could be the announcement of US funding for a major hydel project..." Soon enough, Hillary obliged, as Daily Times reported on March 25: "She said she recognised the need for cooperation with Pakistan in dealing with the country's water and energy shortages, and announced $125 million to help Pakistan overcome the power crisis."
However, the most surprising statement came from an unexpected quarter, as reported by Dawn on March 26: "I told Senator John Kerry and Senator Richard Lugar that in order to make sure Pakistan's economy and energy needs are met, we are willing to forgo the military equipment we have asked for." The quote was attributed to none other than Gen Kayani.
March 25 was expected to be a day of celebration in Pakistan, with an ambitious constitutional reforms package. Dawn laid out the groundwork in its March 22 editorial: "The special parliamentary committee tasked with drawing up recommendations on amending the constitution is said to be nearing completion of its task. Some parties have written 'dissent notes' but no significant hurdle to the passage of the package has been thrown up. The big unresolved problem is the renaming of NWFP... but the issue is unlikely to be a deal-breaker." The News added on March 24: "The package envisages removing the third-time restriction on becoming PM... It also envisages removing the 37-year-old privilege of the president being the 'Executive Authority of the Federation', as now this power is being shifted to the PM." On March 25, Dawn added: "In order to stop military interventions, the committee has suggested an amendment proposing that any person validating military takeovers will also be charged with treason. Besides judicial reforms, the committee also proposed changes to make the Election Commission more independent."
Dawn broke the bad news on March 26: " Parliament reacted with a stony silence on Thursday to a U-turn of PML-N over at least one key issue in the reforms, whose planned presentation this week now appears deadlocked."
Daily Times reported on March 24: "Citizens gathered at Shadman Chowk to mark the 79th martyrdom anniversary of Bhagat Singh Shaheed... It was here that the British hanged Singh on March 23, 1931. They demanded the government rename Shadman Chowk as Bhagat Singh Chowk."
LET BONDS BLOOM
With an estimated requirement of $514 billion for infrastructure development in the current Five Year Plan and double the amount in the next plan, the government, as reported in The Financial Express on Friday, is considering to raise the $15-billion ceiling on foreign investment in corporate bonds. Though a greater flow of foreign money into the bond market will help develop the secondary market for bonds, the existing limit has never been used up. In fact, data from Sebi show that from November 1992 to March 25, 2010, foreign institutional investors have invested $11.5 billion in debt. Unlike shares, foreign funds have to seek permission from the regulator every time they buy government or corporate bonds, which is a real irritant. There should be a natural lock-in for foreign investors investing in infrastructure projects in the construction phase, which will prevent sudden flight of capital. Moreover, to encourage foreign money into infrastructure, projects must be completed on time and not get stuck in regulatory bottlenecks and land acquisition issues. This will give the confidence to foreign investors to commit money for longer durations. Also, the government's reported move to exempt bonds, floated by banks to raise funds for infrastructure lending, from both SLR and CRR requirements will address the issue of asset-liability mismatch faced by banks and ease the constraint in raising long-term resources.
The corporate bond market in the country is still at a nascent stage and accounts for just 0.4% of the GDP, and state-owned public sector companies account for around 80% of the total market. The bulk of the corporate debt has been raised through private placements and they limit transparency in the primary markets. Interestingly, since the beginning of this year foreign institutional investors have bought bonds worth $4 billion, the highest ever amount in the last two years and the pick up is seen in short-term corporate debt papers since yields on short-term debt by companies is now lower than yields on certificates of deposits issued by banks. This trend will further help foreign investors to commit money in commercial papers. Globally, pension and insurance funds are increasingly looking at long-term infrastructure projects for new source of returns, better yield and better diversification of investment risk. In Europe, according to an OECD report, pension funds have invested $1 trillion in 900 projects in the last ten years. By 2030, the report says the global annual infrastructure requirements is likely to average 3.5% of world GDP and over half of the world's infrastructure investment will now take place in emerging economies. A substantial part of infrastructure finance will come from insurance and pension funds. So, it's time the government allowed insurance and pension firms, both domestic and foreign, to buy debt paper of infrastructure-focused companies and become active participants in long-term infrastructure financing in the country.
The opening of the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week received the usual amount of attention this week, but for all the wrong reasons. Everyone from designers and models to buyers and other guests found themselves turfed out of the venue. The Fashion Design Council of India, that has organised the event for years now, had failed to get the requisite no-objection certificate from the fire department. The organiser's defence was not without meritthe fire department surely didn't have to wait till the last minute to raise its objections. Scheduling issues have been sorted out, and the fashion week extended by a day to accommodate the late start. Still, it's tempting to see the scuffle as a metaphor for the muddled state of the Indian fashion industry. Remember, the week also saw fashion weeks take place all the way from Seoul to Ottawa, from Los Angeles to Beijing and Tokyo. None of these arenas reported like fracas. For more than a decade now, we have been tom-toming the great promise of domestic talent. Fashion weeks have mushroomed in the interim. The Lakme Fashion Week that took place earlier this month grabbed a lot of attention and so has the Wills one. Spokespeople radiate confidence, optimism. Is this just a façade? Yes and no.
Business has grown. One study claims that the Indian fashion industry will leapfrog from Rs 180 crore at present to Rs 1,000 crore over the next decade or half. When the global slowdown left big western brands breathing hard, their Indian counterparts remained insouciant on the back of sustained demand from the domestic market as well as alternative ones like the Middle East. But consider how repetitively one Indian designer or the other makes headlines by claiming that he or she is the only one to have truly gone globalthis could be by way of a virgin show in London or a retail appearance at a New York boutiqueand you realise that this is a business whose numbers are much more opaque than those of other businesses. Some designerssuch as Sabyasachi Mukherjeeare straightforward about the fact that 90% of their turnovers come from India. But many try to disguise how matrimonial bling plays just as important a role in today's repertoire as it did when the likes of JJ Valaya were starting off. The US First Lady Michelle Obama has made us all feel good by wearing a Naeem Khan and a Prabal Gurung (he happens to be an alumnus of NIFT, Delhi). But none of this establishes that Indian designersas a breedhave become global players or that proliferating Indian fashion weeks have acquired the business mojos that similar events in, say, Tokyo and Beijing boast.
LEGISLATION ALONE CAN'T FIX EDUCATION
Education rules are evolving. The Right to Education Act comes into force on April 1, and a Bill to create a National Commission for Higher Education and Research has been proposed. The Cabinet cleared the Foreign Universities Bill as well as three other proposals that create a National Education Tribunal, curb false advertising and capitation fees, and mandate accreditation for higher education.
The flurry of legislation is a start but cannot be the end. Next, focus must be on motivating quality education. The challenge is that the education system is a 'coping organisation': outputs (teaching) and outcomes (education) are essentially invisible for managers. One can visit a classroom to observe teaching. But most teacher-student interaction takes place without external monitors. On the visit day, we can test children for knowledge but not for what their teachers taught themthe test cannot distinguish between pre-existing knowledge and the additional wisdom the school imparts. Signs of a failing education system are obvious: teacher absenteeism, student truancy, illiteracy, innumeracy. Marks of a successful education system show up over time and across a broad set of indicators.
Education systems around the world have grappled with the challenges of large-scale management of the invisible factors. Three categories of solutions have emerged, each of which India could exploit effectively. The first option is to professionalise education but leave schools and teachers more or less alone afterwards. India is following this preventative approach for the most partthe rules on the books for accrediting schools exclude potential failures but do little to motivate success.
Efforts to professionalise individuals in education are sporadic and somewhat misplaced. They leave loopholes for primary education teachers (where market discipline for schools and teachers is the least) but impose strict gates for leadership in higher education (where the pool of customers is more mobile, giving schools an incentive to police themselves). The proposed National Council for Higher Education and Research, for example, would determine who is eligible to be a vice-chancellor of a university or institution of national importance. The system seems to be set up for discretion: it provides for minimum qualifications, but gives no recourse for people with these qualifications who are rejected.
Testing outcomes is a second option. Tests run the risk of creating artificial targets for learning unless they are constantly evaluated for their ability to assess skills needed for an increasingly complex global context, but they are a good option for primary education. We can all agree that literacy and numeracy are essential skills. Testing on a large scale with some collection of student data could create the statistical power to separate school effects from student abilities and assess school, if not teacher, performance.
India is explicitly not doing this, at least as a matter of public policy. The RTE Act doesn't even leave the question open; it states, "No child shall be required to pass any Board examination till completion of elementary education." NGOs such as Pratham and Educational Initiatives are picking up the slack, but this is not a substitute for the resources that the public sector can mobilise.
The third option is market discipline. Parents are often the people with the best ability and the strongest incentives to observe the quality of education that their children are getting. Letting them choose which schools to support, converts this knowledge into performance pressure . Employers can also motivate performance indirectly if their hiring affects parents' and pupils perceptions of school quality. In principle, this is the best of the lot: parents adjust the 'test' they apply to keep up with the times and the range of 'evaluators' ensures that multiple dimensions of education are valued. Incentives are alignedparents, unlike regulators, have a stake in the outcome. Parental duty aside, children are often retirement plans.
Market discipline offers the most ground for India to gain by providing control, along with a voice, and reducing the information asymmetries that prevent parents from being effective monitors. Voice is present, control is not. The RTE Act includes parents on School Management Committees, but gives them no authority to do more than recommend changes. Parental intention is there, ability is sometimes not: India has changed fast and parents are not always able to monitor their child's progress in reading, writing and English, let alone higher education. Parental oversight is likely to be weakest at the schools whose teaching determines inter-generational upward mobility, the schools we would most want to perform. Small steps such as requiring non-binding primary school testing and mandating that the data be shown to parents, could help reduce this generational gap. The move to curb false advertising in higher education will help support oversight, but requiring credible reporting of placement details and alumni trajectories to all prospective students will help reduce the quality mystery.
Improving the invisible is always a tall order, but ignoring it is worse.
The author is director, Centre for Development Finance at the Institute for Financial and Management Research, Chennai
THE CASE FOR CASH TRANSFERS AS OIL SUBSIDY
The under-recoveries of OMCs in the last six years from 2003-04 to 2008-09 were Rs 3 lakh crore, 48% of which was compensated for in the form of oil bonds by the government, and another 37% by upstream oil PSUs in the form of subsidised oil prices. The under-recoveries are only estimates benchmarked to the import or trade parity prices of oil and are not additional revenues, which would have accrued to the OMCs if the prices were purely market determined in a perfectly competitive domestic oil market without the intervention of the government. The bottom line is that the bill for half the difference between the trade parity price of oil and the average domestic administrative price was footed by the government in the form of oil bonds. This subsidy promoted over-consumption by the current generation and the bill for redeeming this over-consumption will have to be picked by our future generations, giving rise to inter-generational equity concerns. The selective financing of the under-recoveries of public OMCs also led to the closure of private OMCs, causing a setback to the competitive structure of the domestic petroleum products market.
To address these concerns, the Kirit Parikh report recommends freeing up the markets for petrol and diesel and making them totally market driven. The price for PDS kerosene is recommended to increase from Rs 9 to Rs 15 per litre and the quantity allocation of kerosene for PDS is recommended to be reduced by 20% by making it available to non-electrified BPL households at 5 litres per month and to electrified BPL households at 2 litres per month. The report also recommends a fixed quantity of LPG at a subsidised price is proposed to be increased by a flat Rs 100 to households beyond which the market prices would operate. The report estimates the annual sales volume to be 11.7 billion litres of PDS SKO and 788.3 million domestic LPG cylinders. At an international crude oil price level of $70 per barrel, the under-recoveries of public OMCs financed from the government budget (as per the suggested formula) is estimated at Rs 19,780 crore. The maximum amount needed to be financed by the government at the international crude oil price of $100 per barrel is estimated at Rs 23,340 crore. The difference will be borne by the upstream oil companies who were allotted blocks on nomination basis with the levy of a windfall profit tax of up to 80% for prices exceeding $90 per barrel. In effect, upstream oil companies will be able to take a maximum price of $78 per barrel, plus 20% of the incremental crude oil price above $90 per barrel, which will adversely affect the investments in the E&P sector. For example, at a crude oil price level of $200 per barrel, upstream oil companies will be able to receive half or $100 only, with the balance $100 going to subsidise the under-recoveries of the OMCs. At a price of $300, the upstream oil companies keep only $120, with the balance $180 going to the OMCs to part finance their under-recoveries. It does not require much rocket science to guess as to how workable such a formula would be in case crude oil prices shoot up.
The objective to bring about stability in domestic petroleum product prices is itself flawed. Administrative price fixation by the government may provide a semblance of stability in the short run, but any desirability of stability in fossil oil prices with finite global supply in the long run is a chimera. The experience of Peru, which ran a deficit of $1.5 billion in its price-smoothing fund during 2006-08 due to demand and supply imbalances, cannot be ignored. There are major problems with the setting of administrative prices like efficiency in usage, consumers' choice of alternative fuel substitutes and choice of techniques. There are certainly alternatives to setting administrative prices to encourage the consumption of merit goods, like SKO and domestic LPG, that have positive social and environmental externalities amongst poor BPL households.
The total under-recoveries to be financed jointly by the government and the upstream oil companies due to the policy of encouragement of consumption of merit goods like PDS SKO and domestic LPG is estimated in the report at Rs 21,440 crore, at international crude oil prices of $70 per barrel. This is further estimated to rise by Rs 630 crore for each dollar increase in international crude oil prices beyond $70. With roughly six crore BPL households in the country, the direct cash transfer equivalent is nearly Rs 3,600 per year or Rs 300 per month at average crude oil price level of $70 for each BPL household. This cash transfer would increase by Rs 105 per year or Rs 8.75 per month for each dollar increase in crude oil prices beyond $70. Direct cash transfer would not only prevent distortion of the energy markets, but also promote consumers' choice amongst various alternatives, efficiency in oil usage, besides promoting producers' efficiencies through innovations and competition. Bold thinking is called for to do away with a fossilised mindset and to bring about true reforms in the energy markets.
The author is a civil servant. These are his personal views
AN HOUR OF GLORIOUS DARKNESS
Today, over 1,100 towns and cities will share Earth Hour (EH)a grassroots movement aimed at raising climate consciousness. You switch off your lights for 60 minutes to become a part of it. Starting at 8.30 pm local time, EH will once again traverse the globe and more than 1,200 of the world's best landmarks will kill their lights, in what the organisers describe as a "24-hour wave of hope and action."
Since its inception in Sydney in 2007, EHorganised by WWFhas captured the entire world's imagination and become a global phenomenon. India joined EH in March 2009, with Delhi as its lead city. In India alone, approximately five million people turned off the lights and saved about 1,000 mw power (750 mw in Delhi).
EH 2010 is hoping to see nearly one billion people participate across 92 countries on all continents. Seventeen new countries and regions are first-time participants. Over 57 capital cities and all G-20 member countries will be making a mark this time. The low-lying state of Tuvalu, which is threatened by rising sea levels, will be pulling out the plug for the entire nation. In India, the initiative has gathered a lot of attention with over a million people signing up on the Web site to pledge support. A raft of MNCs like Google, Coca-Cola, Infosys, McDonalds, Canon and HSBC have endorsed EH 2010 and pledged their support. Public institutions like BSES and NDPL have also promised to extend support.
EH has its critics. Sceptics say that an hour-long blackout is not enough to turn the tide on climate-changing carbon emissions. There even exists a group called 'Human Achievement Hour' that was started in opposition to EH. It encourages participants to celebrate this hourwhich coincides with EHby turning on all their lights and using as much electricity as possible to celebrate the fact that they can. But climate change is a political issue and symbols are important to the language of politics. So, critics need to understand that the purpose of EH is to let world leaders know that people support mitigation efforts. Folks participating in EH proclaim that they care about what happens at big global jamborees like Copenhagen 2009 or Mexico City 2010.
STOPPING BALLISTIC MISSILE
The deployment of India's planned ballistic missile shield is to start in two years' time. The Defence Research and Development Organisation, which is developing and testing the complex system, intends to roll it out in two phases and have all of it up and running by 2016. The first phase will deal with missiles having a range of less than 2,000 km, and the second will tackle missiles with a longer range. The latter will be travelling much faster than the former and are therefore less easily targeted. There will be interceptors to destroy the incoming missiles at heights of over 50 km as well as much closer to the ground. Such a tiered defence is intended to boost the chances of knocking out an incoming missile before it hits the target. The problems encountered with a Prithvi missile simulating an enemy attack in a recent test is not likely to be a serious setback to these plans. India is not the only country that seeks to protect its citizens from enemy missiles carrying nuclear and other lethal warheads. The United States has been developing anti-ballistic missile systems for over 60 years. Its highly ambitious missile shield aims to destroy ballistic missiles during all stages of their flight. In February 2010, the U.S. successfully tested an airborne laser carried aloft on a modified Boeing 747, which was used to destroy a missile less than two minutes after it was fired. Israel, Japan, and the Taiwan regime too intend to establish missile defence capabilities. China, which demonstrated its anti-satellite capability in 2007, successfully conducted a mid-course missile interception test in January this year. Russia has a system of its own that was developed during the Cold War.
A big unanswered question is how effective any of these missile shields, including the Indian one, will be in an actual conflict situation, especially if it is between nuclear-armed nations. The technical evaluation of the U.S. system carried out by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000 is instructive. It found that there were a range of countermeasures an attacker could take to "confuse, overwhelm or otherwise defeat the defence." Any country capable of deploying a long-range missile would be able to use them. Decoys could overload a defensive system and allow attacking missiles to slip past. Besides, even the U.S. system is intended to be effective against only a "limited ballistic missile attack." The Indian defensive shield too will have similar limitations: if a single nuclear-tipped missile gets through, the consequences will be calamitous. This country would do better to rely on diplomacy, rather than a chancy missile shield, to increase its security.
FINANCIAL LITERACY AND INCLUSION
At a very basic level, financial education is about disseminating knowledge and information about the products and services offered by banks and other institutions. The objective is to make people aware of the risks and rewards so that they can make an informed choice. Financial literacy, in that sense, enables an individual to improve the management of one's finances and avoid distress. As the Reserve Bank of India Governor D. Subbarao said recently, financial education should begin at a very early age and be built into the curriculum of schools and colleges. Obviously, answers to questions such as when to save, what to save and how to save, will determine the level and quality of savings. The country naturally benefits through higher savings and investments. Realising the imperatives as well as the advantages, several countries have set up specialised bodies to spread financial literacy, supplementing the work done by regulators, financial institutions, non-governmental organisations and other less formal agencies. India has no nationwide structured financial education programme, but significant work is being done by the RBI, SEBI, Indian Banks' Association, various self-regulatory organisations and the Banking Code and Standards Board of India.
In India, financial literacy and awareness should go hand in hand, if the very important socio-economic objective of financial inclusion is to be achieved. The task is challenging because the majority of the population is still beyond the pale of the banking system. Alternative financial delivery channels involving the use of modern technology are being tried out but these will succeed only if financial literacy deepens. It is heartening that a few banks have set up dedicated centres to promote financial literacy and, eventually, inclusion. The other banks will do well to follow this lead, for they will all benefit from the feed back received. They can better understand their relatively new markets and offer region-specific products. Several related benefits also will flow from a concerted programme of spreading financial literacy. Consumers who are better-informed will demand accountability and seek redressal of grievances. That in turn would enhance the effectiveness and integrity of financial markets. As financial education empowers the common person, it reduces the government's burden in the matter of protecting him or her from the elements of market failure arising from information asymmetries. For these and other reasons, the RBI Governor has said financial literacy is not just a public good but a merit good too.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
CHINA'S STANCE BOOSTS IRAN
PRESSURE AND SANCTIONS ARE NOT THE FUNDAMENTAL WAY FORWARD TO RESOLVING THE IRAN NUCLEAR ISSUE AND CANNOT SOLVE IT, ASSERTS CHINA.
Encouraged by China's firm resistance to "crippling sanctions," and the resonance this view has found among regional heavyweights, including Brazil, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Iran is reasserting its long-held view that the era of western dominance, led by the United States, is entering its terminal phase. After sending mixed signals for some time on Iran, India has also firmly spelt out its opposition to fresh sanctions. Speaking on March 15 in Washington at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said: "It continues to be our view that sanctions that target Iranian people and cause difficulties to the ordinary man, woman and child would not be conducive to a resolution of this [Iran] question."
Iran has taken three major steps in recent weeks to show doubters within its own establishment and in the rest of the world that the Americans and some of their key allies, caught in the quagmire of global recession and still feeling their way for an honourable exit from Iraq and Afghanistan, are beginning to morph unambiguously into full-blown paper tigers.
The Iranian establishment has also arrived at the conclusion that within the framework of a global power shift, West Asia is transforming rapidly. There is a growing perception in Tehran of an emerging power vacuum in the region. This situation, in Tehran's view, has arisen mainly on account of the growing weakness of Israel, especially after the debacle it suffered at the hands of the Iran-backed Hizbollah in the 2006 summer war in Lebanon. Iran firmly believes that eventually it would be joined by Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, and possibly Saudi Arabia, which is already working with Syria to stabilise a polarised Lebanon, to engender a new security order in the region. Many in the Iranian establishment are of the view that China and Russia are poised to emerge as the new global players in West Asia.
Faced with a spirited opposition for several months, the Iranian government recently went into overdrive to interpret the events of February 11, which marked the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, as a turning point. For the first time since the June 12 presidential elections, and the spate of protests that followed, the government that day arrived at the conclusion that it had established firm control over the streets of Tehran. The regime's confidence was based on its success in mobilising millions of supporters, who thronged Tehran's iconic Azadi square to mark the Revolution anniversary. In sharp contrast, the opposition on February 11 failed to make an impression, belying expectations, in the western media and academic circles, of a strong showing. Confident that he was back in the saddle after the show of strength, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went ahead with significant statements on the nuclear issue, which suggested that a new phase of confrontation between Iran and the West began. . In his address at the Azadi square rally, Mr. Ahmadinejad announced that Iran had already enriched the first batch of uranium to 20 per cent purity.
In effect, his declaration closed negotiations that commenced during the Vienna nuclear talks held earlier in October last.
At the Vienna talks, in which Iran, the U.S., Russia and France participated, Mohamed ElBaradei, former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), made a proposal. He circulated a draft calling for swapping the lightly enriched uranium domestically produced by Iran with nuclear fuel rods made by France. These fuel rods were required to run a Tehran research reactor, engaged in production of medical isotopes to treat cancer patients.
According to the IAEA proposal, Tehran would transfer the bulk of its stocks of Low Enriched Uranium, purified to a 3.5 per cent level, to Moscow. Russia, in turn, would enrich the material to a 20 per cent level, and send it to France for fuel fabrication. The arrangement suited the West well. Once the material was converted into fuel rods, Iran would have found it technically impossible to use it for making atomic weapons the primary concern of global powers.
On the contrary, Iran, citing past experience, expressed serious doubts about receiving timely and assured supplies of fuel rods for its reactor.
By announcing that Iran had already carried out 20 per cent enrichment on its own, Mr. Ahmadinejad levelled the entire terrain of negotiations with the global powers. On February 13, atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi elaborated on Mr. Ahmadinejad's position, announcing that Iran would be ready to produce the required fuel plates within "the next few months."
In early February, Iran also declared that it was well on its way to acquiring military deterrence based on the indigenous development of advanced weaponry. On February 2, it successfully fired the Kavoshgar-3 space launcher. Despite Iran's emphasis that the vehicle would be used for civilian purposes, such as sending satellites into space, the launch was seen as a manifestation of its capability to develop long range ballistic missile technology.
The launch of Kavoshgar-3 capped several successes Iran has recorded in the development of missiles. Most significantly, it had test-fired the Sejil-2 missile. The family of Sejil missiles uses solid fuel for propulsion.
Solid-fuelled missiles usually make better battlefield weapons. They pack in larger quantities of the propellant, thereby acquiring a higher range. Moreover, unlike liquid-fuelled missiles, solid-fuelled weapons are less exposed to aerial attacks before takeoff, as they can be readied for the launch on the ground within a shorter period.
In December 2009, the Iranians announced that they had optimised the Sejil-2 system, coating it with radar evading material.
In recent years, Iran has also successfully tested the comparatively less sophisticated 2000-km range Shahab-4,
and Shahab-3 missiles, which can strike at targets around 1,500 km away.
The Iranian accomplishments in military hardware include the development of radar evading drones and the
designing of stealth fighter jets. Their military advancements notwithstanding, the Iranians are fully aware that they are in no position to match the quality and sophistication of western military hardware. Consequently, they have worked seriously on the doctrine of "asymmetric warfare," which, they believe, will give them sufficient fire power to inflict significant military, political and psychological damage on their foes.
Riled by Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology, Israel has called for "crippling sanctions" on Tehran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded "not moderate sanctions or watered-down sanctions," but "crippling sanctions and these sanctions must be applied right now."
On their part, the Americans have taken the unilateral step of imposing additional sanctions on the Iran's elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). However, chances of the imposition of new international sanctions authorised by the United Nations Security Council, are receding fast. Yang Jiechi, Foreign Minister of China, a veto-wielding member, spelt out clearly his country's opposition to fresh sanctions in early February, during a major international security conference held in Munich. Later in March, at a press conference held on the sidelines of China's National People's Congress, he reinforced his views: "As everyone knows, pressure and sanctions are not the fundamental way forward to resolving the Iran nuclear issue, and cannot fundamentally solve this issue." Citing the Iranian threat to the oil rich Gulf, the U.S. has beefed up ballistic missile defences in four Gulf countries.
Anti-missile weapons have also been positioned on some American ships deployed in the region. Besides, the Americans have launched a diplomatic offensive on Iran, evident in the recent visits to Qatar and Saudi Arabia by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The growing tensions in the region over Iran have escalated the war of words between the two adversarial camps. For instance, Israel and Syria, a key Iranian ally, have been engaged in a new round of sabre-rattling. On February 1, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned Syria that the two countries might find themselves "in a forceful conflict that could lead to an all-out war." Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem retaliated: "Israelis, do not test the power of Syria since you know the war will move into your cities." He warned Israel that it should be prepared for a wider conflict even though it imposed its war only on southern Lebanon or Syria.
Echoing the Syrian response, Hizbollah, Iran's major ally in Lebanon, launched a full-scale verbal offensive on Israel. Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hizbollah, recently warned of a strike at Tel Aviv, something which was not done when the two clashed in the summer of 2006, in case Israel attacked any part of Lebanon.
With neither the Iranians nor the Americans in a mood to budge, West Asia is witnessing a tense standoff, which seems unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
DO NOT WAIT FOR DISASTER TO STRIKE
INVESTING IN SYSTEMS FOR DISASTER REDUCTION, PREPAREDNESS AND MANAGEMENT HAVE BROUGHT DOWN DEATH TOLLS AND PROPERTY LOSS IN MANY COUNTRIES.
No country can afford to ignore the lessons of the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti. We cannot stop such disasters from happening. But we can dramatically reduce their impact, if the right disaster risk reduction measures are taken in advance.
Recently, I visited Chile's earthquake zone and saw how countless lives were saved because Chile's leaders had learned the lessons of the past and heeded the warnings of crises to come.
Because stringent earthquake building codes were enforced, much worse casualties were prevented. Training and equipping first responders ahead of time meant help was there within minutes of the tremor. Embracing the spirit that governments have a responsibility for future challenges as well as current ones did more to prevent human casualties than any relief effort could.
Deaths were in the hundreds in Chile, despite the magnitude of the earthquake, at 8.8 on the Richter scale, the fifth largest since records began. In Haiti, a less intense earthquake caused hundreds of thousands of deaths. Haiti had non-existent or un-enforced building codes, and very poor preparedness.
The lessons are universally applicable. No country is immune from disaster, be it earthquakes or floods, storms or heat waves. More and more intense natural disasters are affecting all five continents, we believe as a result of climate change. Many of the world's poorest people live in high-risk densely populated cities in flood or earthquake zones, or both.
The culture of disaster risk reduction must spread. I am encouraged that we already have a head start in this regard.
The Hyogo Framework for Action, a 10-year plan to make the world safer from disasters triggered by natural hazards, was adopted by 168 governments in 2005.
Hyogo gives national authorities a blueprint to assess and reduce risks through planning, training, and better public education. For example, making sure that schools, hospitals, and other key public infrastructure meet certain safety standards.
Based on the Hyogo Framework, the U.N. has made disaster risk reduction a priority. I have appointed a Special Representative for implementation of the Hyogo Framework of Action. Last year I launched the first global assessment report on disaster risk reduction in Bahrain.
There has been progress. Bangladesh lost more than 500,000 people during Cyclone Bhola in 1970. It subsequently built 2,500 cyclone shelters on elevated concrete platforms and trained more than 32,000 volunteers to help in evacuations. When Cyclone Sidr struck in 2007 with an enormous sea surge, the death toll was less than 4,000. Cyclone Nargis, a similar event in unprepared Myanmar in May 2008, cost 140,000 lives.
Cuba weathered four hurricanes in 2008. It sustained $9 billion of physical damage but very few lives were lost.
The evidence is overwhelming. Yet the lessons of these disasters are forgotten with depressing speed. Many governments have failed to follow through on the practical measures Hyogo proposes.
Some states argue that they cannot afford to embrace the prevention model. I say no country can afford to ignore it.
We know prevention actually saves governments money in the long run. When China spent $3.15 billion on reducing the impact of floods between 1960 and 2000, it averted losses estimated at about $12 billion.
Similar savings have been recorded in Brazil, India, Vietnam and elsewhere.
Everyone has a role to play.
Governments, central and local, have to do what it takes to make communities able to cope with both continuing challenges and sudden shocks.
In flood and earthquake-prone areas, the solution is to enact and enforce building regulations. For flood prone areas, it is to move or improve squatter settlements, restore natural coastal barriers such as mangrove swamps, provide more suitable land and better infrastructure for the urban poor and install effective early warning systems.
These measures will keep many thousands of people alive who may otherwise perish. The U.N. is ready to help governments build preparedness at the country and regional levels. Donor nations need to fund disaster risk reduction and preparedness measures. Adaptation to climate change in particular means investing in systems for disaster reduction, preparedness and management.
The Chile and Haiti earthquakes showed us once again why action before disasters makes all the difference. To prevent natural hazards turning into disasters, we must all act sooner and act smarter.
(Ban Ki-moon is Secretary-General of the United Nations)
Courtesy: U.N. information Centre, New Delhi
ETHIOPIA'S MEGA DAMS SPARK PROTESTS
ETHIOPIA HOPES TO INCREASE ITS POWER GENERATION CAPACITY 15-FOLD AND BECOME A SIGNIFICANT EXPORTER OF ELECTRICITY TO THE REGION.
At the foot of a towering gorge slicing through southern Ethiopia, the Omo river suddenly disappears into a tunnel bored into the rockface. Excavators claw at the soil and stone in the exposed riverbed beyond, where a giant concrete wall will soon appear in the ravine.
At 243 metres, the Gibe III dam will be the highest on the continent, a controversial centrepiece of Ethiopia's multibillion-pound hydroelectric boom.
The country that prides itself on being the "water tower of Africa" plans to end an energy shortage by building a network of mega dams on the web of rivers that tumble down from its highlands.
By 2020, with the help of Italian and Chinese construction firms, Ethiopia will, it hopes, have increased its power generation capacity 15-fold and become a significant exporter of electricity to the region.
"For a developing country like ours the dams are a must," said Abdulhakim Mohammed, head of generation construction at the Ethiopia Electric Power Corporation (Eepco). "Power is everything." But the pace and scale of the hydro projects have alarmed environmental groups, who say proper impact assessment studies are not being carried out.
Gibe III, which will have a generating capacity of 1,870 MW double what was available in all of Ethiopia last year has sparked the greatest opposition.
This week a coalition of campaign groups, including International Rivers, based in California, and Survival International, launched an online petition with the aim of stopping the dam, warning of potentially disastrous social and economic effects for tribes downstream.
"It's an unnecessary, highly destructive project," said Terri Hathaway, Africa campaigner for International Rivers.
Nobody disputes the urgent need for additional electrical power in Ethiopia. In rural areas, where most of the 80 million Ethiopians live, only two per cent of households get access to electricity. A fast-growing economy and high population growth has caused the demand for electricity to rise by 25 per cent each year, according to Eepco.
The country's typography makes hydropower an obvious solution. Lake Tana, in Ethiopia, is the source of, and provides 85 per cent of the water for, the Blue Nile. The country also has another dozen large river basins. By some estimates, the country has got the potential to generate 45,000MW of hydropower.
While Ethiopia has approved plans for several new hydro schemes in the coming years, including a giant 2,100MW project on the Blue Nile, which will also serve Sudan and Egypt, a number of dams have already been built, or are almost complete. The 150-km-long reservoir created by Gibe III will stretch to the tail of the 420MW Gibe II power project, which was opened in January by the Italian builders Salini.
Further north, Salini is also constructing a power plant near Lake Tana, while Sinohydro, the Chinese firm that helped build the famous Three Gorges Dam, has just completed another.
Foreign currency source
The dam-building frenzy is, for some, about using the country's rivers as a valuable source of foreign currency. In the next few years Ethiopia plans to start transmitting power to its neighbours. Building of transmission lines to Djibouti and Sudan has begun, and a supply agreement has been reached with Kenya.
"The potential [for selling electricity] is tremendous," said Mr. Mohammed. "We will eventually connect to Egypt and possibly on to Europe."
The government strategy, though, faces a funding problem. With a price tag of £1.39 billion, Gibe III was always going to need external credit. But Ethiopia went ahead before financing was secured, and awarded the contract to Salini without tender and without completing an environmental impact study or consulting communities. The process violated the transparency policies of potential lenders. In 2008 an environmental study was finally published, and the African Development Bank, which is considering a loan, is now doing its own review.
While few people will be displaced by the dam, up to 500,000 people living further down in the Omo valley and around Kenya's Lake Turkana, which is fed by the Omo, could be adversely affected, says International Rivers. The dam will end the river's natural flood cycle, which herders and farmers have relied on for centuries, and cut the water level in Lake Turkana.
But the government has dismissed environmental concerns about Gibe III. And it is looking east for help. The Chinese state-owned Sinohydro has agreed to build the 1,600MW Gibe IV dam further down the Omo, with the Chinese government to provide the finance.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
CAP AND TRADE IS NO LONGER POLICY OF CHOICE
JOHN M. BRODER
- Its opponents have effectively branded it "cap and tax"
- It was done in by the weak economy and its own complexity
Less than a year ago, "cap and trade" was the policy of choice for tackling climate change.
Environmental groups and their foes in industry joined hands to embrace the approach, a market-driven system that sets a ceiling on global warming pollution while allowing companies to trade permits to meet it. U.S. President Barack Obama praised it by name in his first budget and the authors of the House climate and energy bill passed last June largely built their measure around it.
Today, the concept is in wide disrepute, with opponents effectively branding it "cap and tax", and Tea Party followers using it as a symbol of much of what they say is wrong with Washington. Mr. Obama dropped all mention of cap and trade from his current budget. Why did cap and trade die? The short answer is that it was done in by the weak economy, the Wall Street meltdown, determined industry opposition and its own complexity.
The idea began as a middle-of-the-road Republican plan to unleash the market to reduce power plant pollution and spur innovation. But when lawmakers tried to apply the concept to the far more pervasive problem of carbon dioxide emissions, it ran into gale-force opposition from the oil industry, conservative groups that portrayed it as an economy-killing tax and lawmakers terrified that it would become a bonanza for Wall Street traders and Enron-style manipulators.
"Economy-wide cap and trade died of what amounts to natural causes in Washington," said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defence Fund, who has been promoting the idea for more than two decades. "The term itself became too polarising and too paralysing in the effort to win over conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans to try to do something about climate change and our oil dependency."
Cap and trade was first tried on a significant scale 20 years ago during the administration of the first President George Bush as a way to address the problem of airborne sulphur dioxide pollution widely known as acid rain from coal-burning power plants in the Eastern United States. A limit was imposed on emissions from the plants, and utilities were allowed to buy and sell permits to comply. Today it is considered one of the most effective environmental initiatives.
Environmentalists and industries resurrected the idea in recent years as a centrepiece of measures to address global warming and growing oil imports. Representatives Henry Waxman, and Edward Markey built their climate change bill last year in large measure around it.
But in trying to assemble a majority to pass it, Mr. Waxman and Mr. Markey dished out a cornucopia of concessions and exemptions to coal companies, utilities, refiners, heavy industry and agribusinesses. The original simplicity was lost, replaced by a bazaar in which those with the most muscle got the best deals.
Opponents labelled it a tax-and-redistribution scheme.
The House narrowly passed the bill last June, but the Senate has moved slowly to take it up. Kerry and Graham, along with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, have been trying to find support for a comprehensive measure. They, too, have been forced to seek compromise, offering incentives to oil drillers, nuclear power advocates, anti-tax groups, coal companies and utilities.
Senators Maria Cantwell and Susan Collins have proposed an alternative that they call cap and dividend, under which licenses to pollute would be auctioned to producers and wholesalers of fossil fuels, with three-quarters of the revenue returned to consumers in monthly checks to cover their higher energy costs.
© 2010 New York Times News Service
QUESTION OF QUOTAS
A few years before he became vice-president, Hamid Ansari, said in a newspaper interview that if Muslims who comprise about 15% of the population were to remain economically backward, then it will be a dampener on India's overall economic growth and it will pull back the country. He was speaking immediately after the Sachar committee report, which had highlighted the depressing social and economic status of the community in different regions, was made public. The Supreme Court has on Thursday lifted the
Andhra Pradesh high court's stay on the state government implementing 4% reservations for 14 socially and economically backward Muslim groups, with the crucial observation that the beneficiaries should not be identified as Hindus or Muslims but as merely backward. The apex court has also referred the case to a full bench to consider the constitutionality of making reservations on the basis of religion, the point on which the high court had twice quashed the state government's decision.
The court's decision could easily slip into the stereotypical Hindu-Muslim-Christian, or a majority versus minority issue and most likely the media will generate a noisy debate on religious divides which will focus on intangible generalities and avoid the specifics of the issue. While rational Hindu arguments would insist on avoiding a religious divide in a secular polity, rational Muslim arguments would harp on the unfairness of ignoring a large and conspicuous religious minority formation like the Muslims while recognising other groups like the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes (OBCs), and even women on the basis of gender.
The way out is to look reality in the face. Reality is that a large number of Muslims in the country are dangerously near the bottom of the pit and easy prey to communalists those who want to use religious identity to stoke fires of hatred and the usual opportunists. If the goal is to help the socially and economically disadvantaged classes, the fact that those people happen to be Muslims should not come in the way. The help being sought and that being given should not be to please or appease Muslims or any other religious minority but to get the social accounting right. No group religious or otherwise should be left behind or left out.
The Congress, DMK, communists and sundry other secular parties want to be seen as helping Muslims because of the electoral dividend, and parties like the BJP would want to oppose it because they need to hold on to their political corner. The courts can clear the air by stating unambiguously the fairness of affirmative action and rule out questionable reservations.
FLY ME TO THE MOON
Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars
More than 50 years ago, Arthur C Clarke envisioned a permanent base on the moon that would be a gateway to the outer solar system. This vision may soon be realised with the discovery of ice in lunar craters by India's Chandrayaan-I. Announced last month at the 41st Lunar and Planetary Science Congress in Houston, USA, the finding was made by a NASA payload aboard Chandrayaan-I called Mini-Sar (a miniature synthetic aperture radar). Mini-Sar detected the presence of as much as 600 million metric tonnes of water ice in more than 40 craters on the Moon's north pole.
Water in some form is crucial for establishing a moon base, which would otherwise be entirely dependent on supplies from earth. Lunar ice could be melted into drinking water, or split into oxygen to provide air for breathing and hydrogen for fuel. The moon's south pole is a promising site for a base with its abundant sunlight. Lunar days last much longer than on earth. Solar panels at the pole could convert the sunlight into electricity, while Helium-3 rare on earth and contained in 'cold traps' at the pole, could be tapped for nuclear fuel. The remarkable lunar geology even makes it possible to squeeze breathable air from moon rocks, because of their unique structure that traps oxygen.
We earthlings could benefit from all the sunlight the moon soaks in some 15,000 terrawatts. It could be trapped and beamed earthwards through microwave bridges. Just 1% of this solar energy would suffice to replace all the fossil fuel plants on Earth with clean, low-cost, electric power. By 2050, there will be approximately 10 billion people on Earth, demanding five times the power now available. Solar power from the moon could just be the answer.
Contrary to popular belief, the moon does have an atmosphere. But it is so thin that all the molecules in a cubic centimetre of it would fit inside the period mark at the end of this sentence! This will be useful for studying the alien planetary atmospheres that we encounter in our space exploration. In fact, a lot of amazing science can be done on the moon, given its absolute sterility, very weak magnetic field, high vacuum, extreme temperature variations, and seismic stability. The absence of radio interference on the moon's 'far' side (that constantly faces away from earth, as both the planet and the moon have synchronised rotations) alone holds immense potential for developing new radio technologies.
Moon-based astronomical instruments can yield deep scans of the universe far beyond the capability of terrestrial telescopes as the surrounding infrared background radiation is negligible. Many a cosmic mystery could be solved if such telescope farms were established there. In fact, the moon is an ideal staging post for interplanetary exploration. With its low gravity a sixth that of earth it requires far less energy to send rockets from the moon to
Mars than it does to launch them from Earth. All this could dramatically impact production chains here on earth.
The confirmation of abundant water on the moon should spur man's return to the moon and help realise its rich scientific and economic dividends. Fortunately, no significant research is needed to set up a moon colony, as several blueprints already exist. NASA plans to put robots at the helm for assessing lunar habitation zones and a permanent manned base by 2024. With India and China also having designs on the moon, the "magnificent desolation" of Earth's lone satellite as moonwalker Buzz Aldrin once described it is about to end.
The author is a senior journalist with a passion for science writing
LOST IN TRANSLATION IN BANGALORE
Mumbai: I have always been a true Kolkata-bred Marwari girl. The one who has grown up among metro rail, puchka (aka paani puri), frequent power cuts, hand-rickshaws and the Hooghly river; the one who has seldom ventured out of Bengal in the last two decades and that too for short holidays; the one who can hold her ground and fight with rickshaw drivers and vegetable vendors and live to tell her tale. Having toughed it out on the streets of the 300-year-old city, I was convinced that moving to the IT city of India after marriage will be a piece of cake for me.
Reality hit me on the very day I reached Bangalore. I found myself amidst a lively conversation just outside Bangalore's railway station when my husband was explaining the route to our destination to the auto rickshaw driver and bargaining on the fare. I could only catch a few words like 'extra' and 'ten kilometers', but the rest of it was in a language which didn't resemble anything I have heard in all these years. I am positive that I could have taught that greedy driver a few lessons. But how do I show my negotiation skills to someone when I can't speak the language?
When I got home, I said to myself: "The worst is over." Oh how wrong I was! In a matter of minutes, I met my greatest adversary, the housemaid! My domestic help is a middle-aged lady who speaks only Kannada and has been here for aeons since the time the neighbourhood resembled a village.
I often feel that she has convinced herself that she is better at managing my house than myself and finds me a nuisance. And till this date, while I still struggle to make her understand the way things should be done, she communicates a lot more with that one disapproving glare she bestows upon me almost everyday.
After almost a week of settling down in the new city, I felt my confidence coming back again. I had restricted my mode of transport to autorickshaws between office and home. And barring a few instances when I broke into Bengali with the drivers, things were smooth. One day I decided to avail a bus to home.
Thanks to the multilingual signboards across the depot, I located the bus heading my way.
Once onboard, I decided to check with my co-passengers for the right stop for my home. To my surprise, I was met with a reply not so encouraging! "Really? Oh my God!! I was just about to ask you about my stop. I just moved to Bangalore last week", she says to me. Both of us decided to ask the distinguished-looking gentleman (and hence assumed to be local) standing next to us only to realise that he too has moved from the Hindi heartland to the IT hub a few weeks ago. Just then, the conductor yelled out the name of the next bus stop which turned out to be mine and I got down with a thought: Where are the original inhabitants of the city?
Have they moved out due to the IT invasion? Have the non-Bangaloreans outnumbered them? Or may be they just don't take buses anymore.
The next part of my adventure was the most crucial to find the way to my home. It is strange how roads look different when you are in an auto rickshaw or a motorbike and in broad daylight. In desperation, I approached a lady passing by for directions. She was kind enough not only to give me directions, but also a few suggestions which would come handy for my future bus rides.
I finally made it to home, unlocked it and sat down thinking if I would really survive the streets on my own. Just then, my landlady entered with a steaming cup of tea and a plate of snacks. With a motherly smile and broken Hindi, she enquired about my day and asked if I needed any help. A smile came to my face. I realised that may be it's nothing like Kolkata, but a few generations ago, Kolkata was an alien land to my family too, and yes, just like Kolkata, this city too will become a part of my being sooner than later.
PAK, THE FAVOURED ONE
US LARGESSE MAY BE MISUSED AGAIN
India is mature and strong enough not to be overly concerned about the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue, but certain straws in the wind are disconcerting. Apparently, an attempt is being made to re-hyphenate India and Pakistan in the name of "incentivising" the latter. The way US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has deftly skirted around questions about the nuclear deal with Pakistan has set the alarm bells ringing. Any such deal would be disastrous, given Islamabad's role in proliferation. India's case is entirely different, considering that its record has been consistently exemplary. Not only that, there are also genuine concerns about the capability of the present Pakistani dispensation to safeguard nuclear facilities, because if those fall into the hands of terrorists, the whole world will have to pay an incalculable price.
For form's sake, Pakistan is a frontline partner of the US in the ongoing war against terror. But it is no secret that it has been aiding and abetting terror at the same time, as amply confirmed by the Headley confessions. The US needs to seriously analyse whether the war can at all be won when its ally is itself playing a double agent. Various groups of terrorists are so well intertwined that you cannot vanquish Al-Qaida while turning a blind eye to the activities of others like the Lashkar-e-Toiba.
Equally unfortunate is the US military largesse for Pakistan. It would have been understandable if Washington had tried to beef up its counter-insurgency strength by giving it helicopters etc, but it seems to be preparing the ground for the supply of F-16s along with laser-guided bomb kits besides other sophisticated equipment. All along, such military might has been used against India. Things may be no different this time. Delhi has done it well to let it be known that such a transfer may have an impact on the $10 billion-plus tender floated by it for the acquisition of 126 multi-role combat aircraft, for which two US companies are bidding. Since the US has been insensitive to Indian concerns, it is pragmatic to use the huge deal as a bargaining chip.
BANE OF INDIA
QUOTAS IN PERPETUITY WON'T DO
As the three-member Bench headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan has referred the issue of granting 4 per cent job and educational quota to 14 backward classes among Muslims in Andhra Pradesh to a five-Judge Constitution Bench to examine questions of constitutional law, its interim ruling, staying the Andhra Pradesh High Court judgement that quashed the quota for Muslims, was wholly unwarranted. It is nobody's case that the backward classes should be deprived of the benefit of affirmative action. Indeed, the nation can grow only when every citizen, irrespective of caste, creed, sex and religion enjoys the basic economic minimum. However, reservations on the basis of castes such as Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes or even on religion (which has no constitutional sanction) are known to exacerbate social unrest and tension in the country. Quotas by their very nature directly benefit only a few individuals and their extended families. The reservation system has created widespread resentment among the hapless many against the resourceful few who have learnt to manipulate the regime of quotas to their own advantage.
The Tribune has always been championing the need for meritocracy. It had opposed reservation for the OBCs on the ground that merit will be the worst casualty and that those belonging to upper castes will suffer. It is common knowledge how quotas in the civil services, IITs and IIMs have severely hampered the prospects of many. If quota is a tool of advancement and empowerment, why cannot it be given to people on the basis of their economic backwardness instead of caste affiliation? Even this kind of affirmative action will have to be time-bound. Quotas cannot continue in perpetuity.
Unfortunately, politicians have a vested interest in perpetuating the reservation system. Castes, sub-castes and religions are big vote banks for them. What was initially meant to be a 10-year quota for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Fifties has now become a permanent affair! Successive governments at the Centre have been peremptorily extending reservation for them every 10 years. The states, too, do not lag behind in giving quotas to more and more castes and sub-castes. Indeed, there is no end to this competitive populism. It is time to review all kinds of quotas.
ARJUN TANK LONG TIME IN THE MAKING
For 36 years India has been struggling to develop the Arjun main battle tank. This three-and-a-half decade-long quest since 1974 is perhaps the longest in the world's history of the development of this land-based mechanised weapon system that facilitates rapid mobility for any army. For the Indian Army in particular, which has a long, vast and vulnerable border to defend in the plains of Punjab, Rajasthan and parts of Jammu, tanks comprise a crucial fighting instrument to both mount a counter-attack or blunt an offensive in the plains.
But while the Arjun tank may be a proud symbol of technology demonstration at the Republic Day parade every year, it continues to be elusive as both an indigenous product and, more importantly, a weapon system for large-scale induction into the army. Almost 60 per cent of the tank, including its engine, tracks, transmissions and the gun sighting system all of which are critical components are imported. Yet, despite two decades of trials, the tank is still awaiting the army's nod for approval. The Arjun tank presents a microcosm of the enormous difficulties India is facing in its quest for indigenisation of weapon systems and platforms. From questionable capabilities in strategic technologies, constantly changing qualitative requirements by the army that seeks the best and the latest, to extensive and extended user trials that have spanned almost two decades and, on occasions, imposition of technology denial regimes, it has been a constant struggle for India's defence research and development organisation and its affiliated units.
There is no doubt that for India to be a credible independent military power, it is imperative to become self-reliant. Currently, India imports 70 per cent of its weapon systems, which is hardly a satisfactory situation for a country that aspires to a place as a geopolitical power and gets regularly commented on by the defence minister and in successive parliamentary standing committee reports. India needs a thorough re-examination of its military-industrial complex and greater realism about the projects it undertakes.
RAW DEAL FOR VETERANS
DEMYSTIFYING ONE RANK ONE PENSION
BY LT-GEN HARWANT SINGH (RETD)
Veterans recently went to Rashtrapati Bhavan to return the sixth pack of medals to the President of India. But the President could not be there to receive the medals, so they came back disappointed. For a veteran, his medals are his most valued and cherished possession. These are heirlooms for their families.
Medals are earned under difficult conditions. Some by laying down life during war and in fighting insurgents, others for gallantry in the face of the enemy and yet some others for wounds suffered during operations. For veterans to part with their medals is an extreme step of desperation, caused by frustration and distress. Why have the veterans been driven to such a state of anguish!
Successive Central Pay Commissions (CPCs) repeatedly and viciously lowered the pay and status of defence personnel. To mention just two cases, DIG of police, whose pay and status was in between that of a Lieutenant-Colonel and Colonel now stands equated with a Brigadier for pay etc. DIG rank comes after 14 years service while that of a Brigadier after 26-28 years. So absurd has been the dispensation that a Brigadier was given more pension than a Major-General. The Sixth Pay Commission introduced a dozen more anomalies.
The Fourth Pay Commission granted rank pay up to the rank of Brigadiers. Through sleight of hand, the Ministry of Defence deducted the amount of rank pay from the basic pay. Later, the Supreme Court has finally set it right. The Supreme Court had also noted, in an indirect manner, the untenability of granting different pensions to persons of the same rank, irrespective of their date of retirement.
The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) at Chandigarh has drawn the government's attention to the Supreme Court's point and has given the Central Government four months to resolve the issue. Left to bureaucracy, nothing much can be expected. Therefore, the veterans decided to continue their struggle for One Rank One Pension (OROP).
Successive Presidents, Prime Ministers, Defence Ministers and the chairperson of the Congress party, at various times, accepted the grant of OROP. However, the bureaucracy has been frightening the political executive that giving OROP to the defence services will open a Pandora's box. Every other government employee will ask for the same. This is patently false and mendacious contention.
In all, 83 per cent of defence services personnel retire between the ages of 34 and 37 years. Another 5 to 12 per cent retire at the ages between 44 and 52 years. Only 0.35 per cent retire at the age of 60. While all civil employees serve up to the age of 60 years, they step up to the top of their respective pay bands, get all the three Assured Career Progressions (ACPs) and consequently not only draw increasing pay but end up with much higher pension.
The 83 per cent of military personnel who retire at 34-37 age, that is after 17 years service, do not qualify for even the second ACP which comes into play only after 20 years service. Since some may not grasp the import of this gross injustice, more appropriately a mischief, spelling out the monetary position would be in order, but a little later.
Subsequent to the ham-handed dispensation of the Sixth Central Pay Commission which drew strong response from the defence services headquarters, the government appointed a Committee of Secretaries to go into these anomalies. In the Sixth Central Pay Commission, the villain of the piece was the IAS officer on this Commission.
Now when the Committee of Secretaries was constituted to address the anomalies, the same IAS officer also formed part of this committee. Thus, it became a case where the prosecutor also formed part of the jury! The committee endlessly dragged its feet and finally omitted OROP in its recommendations.
A comparison of the total amount drawn in terms of pay and pension by a soldier and pay by his counterpart in the civil by the time both reach the age of 60 years is Rs 33.3 lakh more for the civil servant; this figure at the age of 70 is Rs 42.670 lakh. At age 75, it is Rs 47.310 lakh. In the case of a Havaldar, his equivalent in the civil, at age 60, would get Rs 20.261 lakh more and this figure is Rs 26.639 lakh at age 70 and at 75 it is Rs 29.828 lakh. In the case of a Subedar, these figures at ages 60, 70 and 75 years are Rs 13.979 lakh, Rs 18.911 lakh and Rs 21.277 lakh respectively, more for the civil servant.
A soldier retiring at 35 years of age will live through at least four Central Pay Commissions and suffer their dispensations for retirees. Whereas his counterpart in the civil will not only continue to benefit from successive CPCs while still in service for an additional 25 years, but on retirement will be effected by just one CPC, assuming 70 years as the average age expectancy. Therefore, even if OROP is granted, defence personnel will continue to suffer these gross disadvantages.
Similar figures are available for officers. The disparities are due to early retirement, delayed and extremely limited promotions in higher ranks. All these features are service imperatives. Within the defence services, earlier retirees are further disadvantaged. A soldier who retired prior to January 1, 2006 will get far less pension than a soldier who retired after this date. For a Havaldar who retired prior to this date, his pension is less than a Sepoy who retired after this date.
The ad-hoc compensation promised to the other ranks is completely inadequate and fails to address the core issue of OROP. Similar situation prevails in the case of officers. Only one with severely impaired vision, limited intelligence and/or deep seated bias can miss the incongruity in this working.
The above disparities are independent of X factor which apply to only defence personnel. About 15 per cent of soldiers get the opportunity to live with their families for a period of one to two years in their entire service. In the case of others (including officers), only 40 to 50 per cent of their service, they live with their families. Then there are other travails of service such as harsh living conditions in uncongenial and high altitude areas which results in approximately 5000 of them being annually boarded out on medical grounds. Thousands live with ailments and continue to serve.
Then there is the curtailment on fundamental rights and harsh military law to contend with. Entry into the officer cadre has become the last career choice for the country's youth. Consequently, huge shortages persist.
Few seem to realise the strong bonding that exists between the veterans and the serving. There is continued interaction between units and their retired personnel and that is how units sustain the regimental spirit and traditions.
During leave, the serving come in contact with the retired and the dissatisfaction of the later gets passed to the
serving. Therefore, there is the danger of spill-over effect of this disenchantment and disgruntlement of the
veterans passing on to the serving. It will indeed be a sad day for the country when this distress is fully transferred to the serving.
The demand for OROP is fair and just and is only a part-compensation for early retirement, extremely limited promotions and a miniscule recompense for a hard and risk filled career. The political executive ought to realise the injustice being done to the soldier and accept in good grace, what is fair and what is just.
BY SHRINIWAS JOSHI
One day Buddha visited the home of famous gahapati of Shravasti. There was noise in the home created by his unruly daughter-in-law, Sujata. The gahapati requested Buddha to counsel her who told her about the seven kinds of wives.
First is the vadhak (slayer) who always quarrels and kills all joys of the home by total neglect. The Bible also names such wife as "a dripping tap on a rainy day".
Buddha moved to the other categories as "the chorsama (thief-like) who spends extravagantly without caring for the hard ways of earning and thus impoverishes the household; the ayyasama (mistress-like) is lazy, loves gossips, wastes time and money, talks in loud tones; the matusama (mother-like) takes good care of the entire family as a mother takes care of her children; the bhaginisama (sister-like) gives respects to each member of the family as a sister to her elder brother; the mitrasama (companion-like) is faithful, happy with and helpful to the members of the family; the dasisama (slave-like) is calm, patient and obedient.
Buddha concluded that the first three types go to hell when they die and the rest go to heaven. The liberated woman, today, disregards six of these seven categories and wants to be "mitrasama" provided the entire household is also "mitrasama" to her but my fear is if that comes true then path to heaven would be too congested.
I am ignorant of the texts classifying husbands but Lyndon B. Johnson, the former US President, giving advice to the male spouses had said, "I have learned that only two things are necessary to keep one's wife happy. First, let her think she's having her way. And second, let her have it."
I do not know where the late Claudia Alta "Lady Bird' Taylor Johnson is but with caprice, greed and adultery on the increase among wives, if the TV serials are to be believed, then I am relieved that with Lyndon's advice my earlier fear is unfounded and I foresee a crowded hell but that is hell.
What type of wife, of the seven categories, would you like to have? The "Sunday People" of England conducted a survey and most people ignoring the Buddha's ways wanted a wife to be "a cook in the kitchen and whore in bed". And woe fell on those whose wives were whores in the kitchen and cooks in the bed!
I am willing to tolerate the ire of women by not asking from them the type of husband they would like to have because I know that they want one who plays a lead role on the wedding day and supporting role for rest of the wedded life. A bureaucrat friend tired of playing a supporting role got a chance of going to Paris on an official tour. I asked him why he was not taking Bhabhiji along, he replied, "You do not take paranthas to Governor's dinner, do you?" Beware wives!
A REBEL DEPARTS, DISAPPOINTED
KANU SANYAL WAS UPSET WITH MAOIST VIOLENCE
BY MAN MOHAN
The death of the oldest red guard, Kanu Sanyal (78), on Tuesday rekindled the memories of people across India about the beginning of the Naxal movement in the 1960s. Sanyal was then portrayed as a "great revolutionary" and compared by the pro-left media to the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Jatin Das largely because of his charisma and his public showmanship such as his displays of "wealth renunciation" and his publicity campaigns where he tried to identify with the proletariat.
But the new avatars of the Naxal movement, known as the Maoists, seem to be too busy in their violent world, carrying out the so-called protracted people's war against the State. Hardly any of them has shed a tear over his death. While the Maoists are not going to miss Kanuda, as bachelor Sanyal was lovingly called, students of history will always remember him.
Sanyal was found hanging in his room at his house in Seftullajote, 25 km from Kolkata, which was also the headquarters of his party the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) of which he was the last surviving founder member. For many years he had not been keeping good health. But he always refused to take help from the Left Front parties and their successive governments in West Bengal.
The irony is the man who in his younger days was considered as a daredevil chose to hang himself to end his life. Another irony is that he chose to fade out from this world quietly at a time when the Maoists' fighting machine is being engaged under "Operation Green Hunt" by the para-military forces in the Naxal-affected tribal belt known as the "Red Corridor" in Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
According to a confidential report of the military intelligence, India's 231 districts in 13 states, including three in the NCR, are now being targeted by the Maoists. Their aim is to seize power in Delhi by 2050. One would assume that it must have made Sanyal proud. But it was not the case. In fact, for many years he had been disillusioned and upset over the way the Naxals were operating, indulging in violence, targeting public property, especially the Railways and killing opponents.
Chhattisgarh's Director-General of Police Vishwa Ranjan from Raipur told The Tribune: "Sanyal in his last days was a sad man as his Naxal movement had gone astray."
Many Maoists have become billionaires. Mao Zedong's socio-political belief was based on "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." But the Maoists in India seem to have redefined it: "Money power grows out of the barrel of a gun." It is ironical that in the name of revolution, the Maoists are collecting money by levying "taxes".
This criminal aspect of the Maoists had been upsetting Sanyal for quite some time, say his old colleagues. Some of them feel that the suicide of the Naxal movement's founder might prove to be an eye-opener for the educated but disillusioned young Maoists who have unleashed terror in different parts of the country.
Old timers still remember those days of the mid-sixties when it was a fashion to be known as a Naxal. Soon after the beginning of the Naxal movement, Radio Peking (in China) on June 28, 1967, called it "The Spring Thunder".
Independent India's first "red revolution" started in May 1967 in north Bengal's Naxalbari by a small breakaway faction of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Later, on April 22, 1969, the birthday of Russian revolution leader V.I. Lenin, the rebels led by Sanyal formed the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).
Sanyal actively solicited help from the Communist regime in China to further his goals. But "the thunder" fizzled out by 1972. After that, Sanyal went into hiding. The death of his colleague Charu Majumdar was followed by a breakup of the Naxalite movement. Sanyal abandoned violent means and accepted the parliamentary practice as a form of revolutionary activity. He was arrested in August 1970. The news of his arrest sparked violence by CPI (ML) cadres.
For seven years Sanyal was imprisoned in a jail in Visakhapatnam. Sanyal was released from jail in 1977 following the change of government at the Centre as well as in West Bengal. Sanyal soon publicly repudiated the original strategy of armed struggle of the CPI (ML). In 1985, Sanyal's faction along with five other groups merged to form the Communist Organsiation of India (Marxist-Leninist).
Sanyal's "last actions" were in 2006 when he became a prominent figure in the opposition to land acquisition in Singur. On January 18, 2006, he was arrested for disrupting a Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express train at the New Jalpaiguri railway station in Siliguri while protesting against the closures of tea gardens in the region.
Azizul Haque, one of Sanyal's closest confidants in the violent days of the 1960s and the 70s, said: "There is a message hidden in Kanuda's death. It is not a simple case of suicide. It is a protest by a born revolutionary."
Haque believes that Kanuda's suicide is a message to the modern-day Maoists that what they are doing ultimately affects the poorest sections of society for which they claim to have taken up arms.
"I am convinced that this thing kept troubling Kanuda and he ultimately decided to take the extreme step in protest," says Haque, hoping Sanyal's death would open the eyes of the Maoists I don't believe Kanu Sanyal committed suicide we all murdered him, the present society being his killer the peasants' movement across the country lost its parent today "
Did the founding father of the Indian red revolution receive enough respect at the end of his journey? Many believe that the country, irrespective of his ideology, did not honour his sacrifice. After all, as they point out, Kanuda was a people's man he deserved the "Lal Salaam"!
T-20 HARMFUL FOR YOUNGSTERS
DP Azad is the first cricket Dronacharya awardee of the country and has produced international cricketers like Kapil Dev, Harbhajan Singh, Chetan Sharma, Ashok Malhotra and Yograj Singh. At present he runs his academy at St.Stephen's School, Chandigarh.
While watching the match beween Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in Mohali on Wednesday, Azad spoke to Tribune correspondent Akash Ghai passionately about the game and T-20. Here are excerpts:
The innovative T-20 cricket just upsets me. At present we are not aware but surely we, especially the budding cricketers, are bound to pay a heavy price in the coming times.
At the learning stage, which is the time to learn the basics and fundamentals of the game, the future cricketers are just imitating the "improvised" shots, which are suitable only for the 20-20 format.
Instead of the traditional shots like cover drive, square drive and defensive shots, which only help in building the long innings and long stay at the crease, our future stars are trying to play "switch hitting" and scoop shots, which are never recommended at the learning stage in any coaching manual anywhere in the world.
This type of cricket is never going to to benefit the young players but is drifting them from the game. In fact the ill-affects of this fast format have started telling upon the game of those youngsters who try to apply the "improvised" shots during their innings.
Nowadays one shocking fact that has started coming into light is that the players under the 14,16 and 19 age groups hardly consume the allotted quota of the overs/days in the longer version of the game.
They just want to make quick runs and I think this certainly is detrimental to their game.
One can argue that cricket god Sachin Tendulkar and cricket icon MS
Dhoni too play these shots. I would like to comment that they have reached that stage by learning the fundamentals and basics of the game by playing the traditional cricket. So their playing such shots would not harm their game.
I want to clear one thing that I am not against the T-20 format as the players and a lot of other persons related to the game are earning lots of rupees from it. But at what cost? That's a million dollar question for the future of budding cricketers.
I suggest that steps should be taken to ensure that the T-20 format should carry a warning just like the ones on
the cigarette packs and liquor bottles "It is injurious to the game of teenage cricketers".
SHARIF'S STUNNING STAND
BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN
PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif stunned the Pakistanis when he declared on Thursday that the proposed constitution amendment package could not be presented to parliament as there was "no consensus" on it among the political parties. This was contrary to expectations as the Parliamentary Reforms Committee, headed by Senator Raza Rabbani, had included the PML (N)'s proposals "regarding the appointment of judges", one of the contentious issues, according to Daily Times (March 26).
Mr Sharif's announcement that a consensus had still not been reached was "dramatic", as Dawn commented. The paper further said, "it was thoroughly unexpected, it was, sadly, vintage Pakistani politics. Curiously, Nawaz Sharif did not focus on the one issue that was known to be still unresolved: renaming the NWFP."
According to Daily Mail, Mr Sharif said: "The authority to appoint judges should not rest with an individual and for that matter not even with the President or the Chief Justice of Pakistan."
The PML (N) stand has led to the Pakistan National Assembly joint session, scheduled for Friday, getting postponed. Mr Sharif has his own game plan. He does not want to give the PPP an opportunity to improve its image, which could have happened after the adoption of the constitution reform package by parliament.
Killings in Balochistan
The shooting down of a principal of a college in Quetta is not an isolated act of a madcap, nor should the lawyer slapping a judge in his face right in the court come as a surprise. These callous outbursts of violence and intolerance have become, sadly, the order of the day ." This is how The Nation commented on the killing of educationist Fazle Bari in Quetta on Monday while he was on the way to his college in his car. Such incidents have been occurring frequently in Balochistan for some time. The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) has claimed responsibility for the highly popular principal's murder as it did for most of the killings in the past.
The BLA has been targeting settlers in Balochistan particularly after the elimination of three Baloch leaders in April 2009. The BLA suspects the "outsiders" settled in Balochistan have been helping intelligence agencies in victimising the locals. They accuse the intelligence agencies of the murder of the Baloch nationalists.
Tempers have been running high with widespread protests organised off and on since then. Business Recorder says, "As things stand, Balochistan has been completely relegated to lawlessness. One does not know who is running the Balochistan affairs..."
NRO verdict and after
The success of the movement for judicial independence had led to the belief that now no individual or institution would dare go against the rule of law. That is why people believed that the historic judgement of the Pakistan Supreme Court scrapping the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance would be implemented in full irrespective of who the affected individuals were. But that was hoping against hope.
The rulers in Pakistan continue to send across the message that individual interests will continue to get precedence over institutional interests in their country in accordance with the so-called doctrine of necessity. That is why the PPP-led government in Islamabad, in a petition filed in the Supreme Court against the NRO verdict, has pleaded that reopening of the cases relating to the Swiss bank accounts of Pakistanis will amount to putting the late Benazir Bhutto on trial.
The News has described the pointless explanation as "unnecessary melodramatic". It points out that "the conduct of justice is, after all, an affair governed by rules, which do not take into account emotion or other similar matters." The system of dispensing justice cannot be fair unless it ensures that the law applies equally to everybody.
"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 (Mr Zardari) 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", as Ameer Bhutto, Vice-Chairman of the Sindh National Front, asserted in an article in The News on March 26.
MAHARASHTRA'S WITHERING HEIGHT
ON MANY DIMENSIONS, THE STATE IS LOSING THE PRE-EMINENT POSITION THAT IT ENJOYED IN THE PAST
Next month, the state of Maharashtra turns fifty. So does its twin brother Gujarat. These two twins together account for a substantial portion of India's economic output (GDP) and also annual investment, including foreign investment. But after five decades the twins have developed distinct personalities, and comparisons become inevitable.
Gujarat is half the size in terms of population and GDP, but its growth rate is much higher. Per capita availability of electricity is about 50 percent higher, and that too without power cuts. Vidarbha's cotton region has been unfortunately known for farmer suicides, but just a few hundred kilometres away, Gujarati farmers are producing bumper harvest of cotton. Gujarat has tribals and some backward districts, but no Naxalite affected districts like Gadhchiroli.
But this column is not about comparing the two sibling twins, but rather about comparing Maharashtra with itself. How is it doing compared to, say, ten years ago? It used to be among the fastest growing states in the country, now it is barely median. Even Bihar has been growing faster in the past five years. It used to manage its finances much better. In the past six years, the state's debt has more than doubled to 2 lakh crore.
As a proportion of state's GDP, it is almost one-third. In terms of people below the poverty line, Maharashtra is third from the bottom, after Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. One-third of the state's population is officially below the poverty line. If you look at rural and urban poverty separately, then rural poverty ratio is probably among the worst four states in the country.
Poverty is measured in terms of rupees (or income), but a more comprehensive measure of people's quality of life is the Human Development Index (HDI). You can calculate HDI at the district level. If you rank all the 600-odd districts of India by their HDI, at least 12 out of 35 districts in Maharashtra are among the lowest third of the country.
Some districts in Vidarbha and Marathwada get compared to backward districts of Orissa and Jharkhand. Even if you look at urban areas, the situation is not rosy. Urban poverty is high, housing is unaffordable, more than half the people live in slums, infrastructure is creaking and cities have no money for drainage. There is acute shortage of water and power.
Ok, you may say that this is looking at the glass as half empty. The glass is also half full. What about the fact that the state contributes 13 percent of India's GDP, and 18 percent of industrial production? What about the fact that the state has maximum number of Special Economic Zones? A vibrant auto and IT industry? Virtually all of India's wine, and one-third of its sugar is produced here. The state has cordial labour relations, and no major industrial disputes (which is why a lot of labour likes to migrate to Maharashtra).
Despite these and few other achievements, it cannot be denied that the state has lost its preeminent status that it enjoyed in its youth. It is no longer the undisputed leader in industrial investments. Several other states now claim that position. It pioneered decentralisation in early 1960's, but today other states have decentralised much more. It pioneered rural employment guarantee as an innovative response to droughts in the 1970s, but today is unable to prevent farmer suicides.
It was known for its financial propriety and fiscal prudence, but is now in a debt trap. It pioneered balanced regional development, giving incentives for backward areas, but today regional inequality within Maharashtra is possibly among the most skewed in India. Industrial climate and investor friendliness are not automatically prefixed to the state. It used to be a tall state, but its height is withering.
ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE
It was just another day in paradise. The skies were blue, the sea, a shimmering aquamarine, and the silence on Elephant Beach, blissful. Sleepy waves slapped our bodies, as scores of flying fish gave a synchronised swimming performance a distance away. Then, it changed. A boat gunned its motor, spewing noxious diesel fumes. I saw it drop anchor uncomfortably close to the reef. "Could the anchor damage the coral reef," I asked the diver who was helping snorkellers view the reefs and the amazing life that existed within them. He sighed and said, "Of course but in the Andamans, people tend to take nature for granted!"
A little while later, we went into the sea to look at the reefs. I was entranced by the world I saw beneath fantastic coral formations, fish of all hues flitting past me. My guide tugged my arm. I reluctantly took my head out of the water. "Look!" said he, pointing at some craggy bleached formations on the sea bed, "that's all dead coral " The contrast between the vibrant, iridescent life and bleached death was vivid. "As the number of people living on these islands has increased, the water has changed. The corals just can't survive in it as well as they did earlier," he said.
Apparently, the change has been most apparent in the last few decades. The number of tourists viewing these reefs has increased. "There are plastic bags and tetra packs floating around," said he, "although we're all particular about picking up all the garbage we see." To cater to the tourists, many local fishermen and divers have begun to trawl the reefs for shells and coral. As they step on the reefs, they risk breaking pieces of coral. "Our local belief is that if a human being touches a coral, it dies. Yet, locals walk on the reefs, break bits of coral to use in aquariums and pluck shells to turn into cheap souvenirs and jewellery ," said he. Another not-so-obvious threat to the reefs, I later read, was from soil run-offs caused by increased construction and road-building activities on the coast. The soil reduces the amount of light that the coral needs for optimal growth. Further, the soil settles on the reef, effectively choking it to death.
"Natural disasters have also wrecked some of these reefs," said the diver, adding, "They bore the brunt of the 2004 tsunami, for example. And while they say that the islands with the healthiest fringing reefs were the least affected by the tsunami, the reefs themselves did get quite severely damaged " About 12 years ago, the coral reefs of the Andamans were also ravaged by the phenomenon of coral bleaching, which occurs when the algae that impart colour to the coral, disappear. The coral reef loses its colour, and eventually dies, its white calcium skeleton exposed. "We literally saw the colourful reefs of our childhood disappearing before our eyes," said he.
We floated on the sea for a while, letting curious fish nibble at our toes. The tales of doom that the diver had told seemed far removed from the vivid reef beneath us, where sun-dappled corals and the fish that hid within their crags, were clearly visible. All too soon, it was time to go. I looked back for a last glimpse of the mangroves fringing the water. The flying fish rose up in harmonious accord for a final salute. As I said, just another day in paradise.
THE WORKING OF INDIA'S DEMOCRACY
Not so long ago, in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president of the US, all of us in India and the rest of the world hailed it as the triumph of American democracy. For the first time, after the adoption of the US Constitution in 1787, a person of African origin was elected to the highest office of the state with a sizeable majority.
However, the universal feeling of triumph about the working of American democracy soon yielded place to a sense of despondency. The fate of a popular health Bill proposed by President Obama for approval by the US Congress in 2009 became highly uncertain in view of the power of business lobbies and the ideologies of a few legislators. Fortunately, a few days ago, the Bill was approved by a very narrow margin.
This is not all. In the context of a deep financial crisis and bailout of banks by the government, the US Congress has been considering some legislative proposals to put in place a more efficient regulatory system. The legislative process to introduce such a system has not yet been completed because of a handful of Senators.
In the words of Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, in a recent article, "The US is paralysed in the face of mass unemployment and out-of-control health-care costs. Don't blame Obama. There's only so much one man can do, even if he sits in the White House. Blame our political culture instead, a culture that rewards hypocrisy and irresponsibility rather than serious efforts to solve America's problems." ("March of the Peacocks", Business Standard, January 30).
Among large democracies, the US is not alone in facing a crisis in delivering what people want. The UK is another example, where the government is getting bigger, with the state's share of GDP rising from 37 per cent in 2000 to 52 per cent in 2009. The average citizen, on the other hand, has become poorer with a higher level of unemployment. The same is the case with Japan, and countries in the European Union (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain, the so-called PIGS !).
In the midst of all this "darkness", as it were, where does India stand? The short answer is that our position is not any better. In addition to "systemic" problems, like erosion of collective responsibility, excessive centralisation and widespread political corruption, the faith of the ordinary citizen in the working of their elected government has been further shaken by two landmark events in the last three months.
In December 2009, there was a sudden announcement in favour of a separate state of Telangana, followed by an equally abrupt decision to postpone it. And now, a few days ago, we had the spectacle of some MPs being forcibly carried out of the Rajya Sabha so that the landmark legislation on women's reservation could be approved the same day. And then, the pause and announcement that this Bill will be introduced in the Lok Sabha later after consultations with all parties !
What are we to make of all this? There is no straight or unequivocal answer. I, however, believe that in the light of recent events, it is even more urgent now to take some relatively simple measures to strengthen the working of India's politics. In view of constraints of space, let me just mention a few such measures that can be introduced if there is a consensus among three leading party formations in Parliament (the Congress party, the NDA and the Left). The emergence of such a consensus was the most gratifying development in respect of the Women's Reservation Bill.
An unintended consequence of some recent amendments to the Constitution (i.e. the 52nd Amendment of 1985 and the 91st Amendment of 2003), combined with the power of parties to issue whips, has been to make individual members of Parliament fully subordinate to their leaders. The power of party leaders vis-a-vis elected members has been further compounded by an amendment in 2003 in the Representation of the People's Act which removed the domicile requirement for election to the so-called Council of States (Rajya Sabha). An immediate priority is to revoke all amendments, which are designed to "dis-empower" elected members.
Cutting across political parties in power and in Opposition nearly 25 per cent of elected members in the Lok Sabha have criminal antecedents. An important reason for the attractiveness of politics as a career of choice by persons with criminal records is the enormous judicial delay in deciding such cases, and the power of political leaders to further delay the investigation and prosecution.
This incentive may be completely reversed by a relatively simple measure by providing that elected candidates with pending criminal cases cannot take the "oath of office" until their cases have been heard by courts, and that such cases would have priority over other pending cases. Just consider the impact of this "reverse incentive" in order to avoid immediate hearing of cases, the incentive would be to avoid getting elected to Parliament or state legislatures!
A related measure to make politics less remunerative is to reduce the power of ministries to "allocate" public resources, such as mineral rights, spectrum, gas etc. If an autonomous Election Commission, appointed by the government, can organise free and fair elections in the largest democracy in the world, similar agencies can be established to allocate public resources as per policies approved by the Cabinet.
Finally, the prevailing practice of passing several Bills at the end of the day at the discretion of the executive branch, without discussion or actual voting, has to be simply abolished except in an emergency to enable Parliament to perform its assigned role under the Constitution.
I believe that if the above measures are taken, or at least considered by Parliament, the working of Indian democracy by the people would become less oligarchic and more accountable.
SEEKING A NEW SWEETHEART DEAL
India needs to be creative to make the most of a dramatic shift in the global LNG market.
Energy conferences seldom occasion surprise. The contours of the market are fairly well known to the participants, and barring the variation in the forecasts made by different consultants, everyone knows what's on the table. The recently concluded Asia Gas Partnership Summit in Delhi, however, had its moments of frisson because the world's largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter was represented by its deputy premier and minister of energy & industry and in a change of roles was actually seeking custom from India instead of the other way round. Qatar's sudden offer to sell India an additional four million tonnes of LNG on the eve of the conference is the clearest indication that the global LNG industry is changing dramatically from a seller's market to a buyer's market. As the industry gets set for a surplus, it is also waiting to see how radically it will alter traditional buyer-seller equations.
WAY TO BECOME A GAS GUZZLER mmscmd)
Gas demand 2008
Gas demand 2015
McKinsey says India can overtake Japan in natural gas consumption by 2015 if three conditions are met: adequate natural gas is supplied to consumers at $10-11 per mmBtu or million British thermal units (customer gate); gas pipeline infrastructure is laid according to target and gas-based peaking power projects take off
The buzz at the gas summit, organised by Ficci and the International Gas Union centred on the price that India would be willing to fork out for the additional Qatari gas that's on offer. Would India give in to Qatar's demand for an oil-linked rate that would price its gas close to $11 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) when the Henry Hub (US market rate) is just $4 per unit? Prices in Asia have customarily been much higher than in the US and Europe, and this is why Qatar wants to divert cargoes it had committed to these markets to Indian and other Asian buyers at a time when its traditional markets are facing a glut.
A combination of factors is contributing to this dramatic shift: Vast LNG capacity addition; huge discoveries of shale gas in the US in 2007 and 2008 (equivalent to 30 years of domestic gas production in the last five years) and the impact of a recession-induced dip in demand in the large traditional markets of North America, OECD Europe and OECD Asia.
The good news for India is that surplus is certain to last the next three years and, according to some forecasts will extend to another two-three years. How well-positioned is India to take advantage of this situation? Experts say that Delhi needs to think creatively to make the most of the situation.
The biggest point in its favour is that India's gas consumption is expected to soar in coming years, making it an attractive long-term proposition for suppliers. In its latest report, McKinsey forecasts that demand will almost double from the current 166 mmscmd (million metric standard cubic metres daily) to 310-320 mmscmd by 2015 if the price can be contained at $10-11/mmBtu (at customer gate) and if peaking power demand can be unleashed. Demand of this scale would make the Indian market as large as that of Japan if not slightly larger by 2015, second only to China which is expected to see demand of 452 mmscmd by 2015, according to Director Vipul Tuli. The McKinsey forecast is clearly on the upside compared to some domestic projections. Prosad Dasgupta, managing director and CEO of Petronet LNG, for one, pegs demand at 271 mmscmd by 2017 and expects it to touch 322 mmscmd only by 2022. What is clear is that the gas demand is set to grow, the only concern being at what point the price becomes too sensitive. "In many ways, India is an ideal market because it has huge potential and has shown its willingness to pay international prices," says Fereidun Fesharaki, chairman of FACTS Global Energy, a leading energy consultancy. Although India has been spoiled by cheap domestic gas under the administered price mechanism or subsidised gas, the perception is that habits are changing. According to his calculation, India can consume quite a lot of LNG at $ 6 mmBtu but much less at rates that are in the $8-10 mmBtu.
There is also the tricky question of domestic gas prices. With gas from Reliance's DC-6 field fixed at $4.20 per mmBtu, the government needs to walk a fine line on LNG prices, too. So what can India and Qatar do to break the impasse? For Qatar, which is already supplying the country some 7.5 million tonnes annually, India's strategic location should be a key consideration along with the fact that it could become a promising base-load market for its gas reserves. But would the Gulf state be willing to pay a price to help develop this market before charging it the full international price, as Fesharaki advises?
As for India, it should seek to stagger its purchases with short-term contracts accounting for 50 per cent of the deal, suggest oil experts. In other words, India should not rush into any long-term deals just now, specially straight-line long-term contracts. As some consultants point out, 20 years is too long a timeframe because the situation can change dramatically as it indeed has in the past three years. In fact, there is a lesson to be gleaned from the first deal signed with Qatar in 2003. Because the Gulf state agreed to supply LNG at the extremely low price of $ 2.53 per mmBtu (with additional charges for transport), it was termed a sweetheart deal. But what is forgotten is that the $2.53 was for a fixed five-year period. According to well-informed industry sources, during the subsequent five-year "transition" period, the fixed element is reduced while a market-linked component comes into play. In 2014, the price becomes entirely market-based or linked to the crude price. This could translate to a high of $14 per mmBtu! Industry sources claim Petronet LNG's agreement signed in August last year with two Australian subsidiaries of oil giant ExxonMobil for 1.5 million tonnes of LNG annually from the proposed Gorgon project in Australia is more careful on this count although no one is willing to reveal the value of the deal.
Gas industry experts say sellers are slowly learning that oil-linked prices can dampen demand and stifle potential growth. Markets are, therefore, moving towards oil-linkages with fixed floors and ceilings or realistic S curves. Eventually, there is bound to be a complete decoupling of prices since gas is being found in increasing abundance and is coming from unconventional sources the US for instance, can meet all its requirements with its shale discoveries.
New LNG processing capacities that are coming up across continents indicate that competition will hot up among suppliers. While Qatar itself has 23.4 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) under construction that will take it total to 77 mtpa, Australia has 20 mtpa under construction and another 59-110 mtpa planned that could make it the market behemoth. Nigeria and Iran, too, have huge capacities of 40-50 and 72-78 mtpa on the cards.
India could thus offer to buy gas at $1-2 above the Henry Hub price and suggest a staggering of the supplies to enable it develop new LNG facilities as current capacity is not sufficient. Petronet's LNG terminal at Dahej is locked in for the foreseeable period, while Kochi will not be ready till 2012. In other words, India can afford to wait for a new sweetheart deal. India unlike the other big economies of Asia is not yet hooked on gas, and as such it could well do without gas.
If Qatar's first deal helped India develop a taste for gas, a new sweetheart deal could ensure that it builds up a hearty appetite for this cleaner fuel.
PLAYING WITH FIRE
THE KOLKATA FIRE POINTS TO GROWING CORRUPTION AMONG CIVIC AUTHORITIES
SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
The Indonesian phrase Semunya bisa diatur Everything can be arranged comes to mind as I read of the factors that helped to transform Calcutta's Stephen Court into a towering inferno. Clearly, there's nothing money can't buy.
This is the compelling impetus of the tradesmen who have taken over Calcutta. This is still a city that thinks today what Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and other Indian cities will think tomorrow, but those thoughts are obsessively focused on maximising profits, never mind that the cost is in precious human lives. Development and re-development are the pernicious mantras of the new breed of businessmen whose driving purpose is lapsing into American jargon to make a fast buck.
That was not the way with Stephen Arathoon, one of Calcutta's Armenian pioneers, who built a grand mansion at the corner of Park Street and Middleton Row. Arathoon was long dead when two new stories were added to his mansion in 1984. By then, many of Stephen Court's wide corridors and expansive rooms had been partitioned and repartitioned into tiny wooden cubicles, the broad stairs were piled high with filth. The additional two floors were an eyesore, destroying the pillared grandeur of a classical facade. Worse, they were illegal. The corporation objected but Semunya bisa diatur, it agreed, on payment of a penalty, to "regularise" the new floors.
No doubt some of the penalty money stuck to the fingers of the hands through which it passed and which sanctioned or signed the regularisation order. But legality doesn't mean safety. No one really established whether the old building's ancient foundations could support two new floors. No one bothered that the additional structure's narrow stairs and rabbit warren of rooms maximising the use of space to generate profit were a health hazard.
That wasn't all. Like all self-respecting buildings of that age, Stephen Court had spiral staircases at the back. They were intended for jemadars to sweep and swap bathrooms in a more gracious age. They were also an escape route in case of fire or other danger. The old spirals served only the first five floors. The contractor or promoter (terms that are becoming synonymous with criminal as our cities sprawl out and thrust upwards) didn't bother extending the stairs to the two new floors. To do so would have cost money. Instead, he and his friends in the corporation found a loophole in the law a regularised building need not apply for the mandatory fire-safety certificate.
Presumably, it is assumed that the act of regularisation includes taking care of all such considerations. But the British who drew up these rules and regulations did not in their simplicity make allowance for Indian ingenuity or the cunning of the new class of businessmen whose money bends or buys up the politicians and civil servants who formally rule the country.
There was a third flaw which, too, is repeated in building after building. Condominium terraces are meant for all residents; the law allows a promoter to sell only a certain percentage of the open space. But many promoters make more money by selling the entire terrace to a rich resident, thereby not only illegally denying the rest of their right to space but also contributing to hazards by blocking off a major point of exit and entry. They may not have sold the Stephen Court terrace which held 10 or so cellphone towers powered by diesel generators which were another fire hazard; instead, they did what was worse by keeping it under lock and key. Tuesday's victims might have escaped the smoke and flames that way but could not. Seventeen charred bodies were piteously sprawled on the stairs leading to the locked terrace gate.
The episode is significant on several counts. It confirmed the criminality of businessmen and builders, exposed the ineffectiveness of Calcutta's police and fire brigade, and reminded us again of the callousness of mayors, ministers and civil servants who collude with promoters. It recalled Churchill's grim warning that "rascals, rogues and freebooters" would take over "the destiny of hungry millions" after independence.
The British framed building rules for a specific purpose. Disregarding that objective, today's administrators treat rules only as a means of extortion. Businessmen retaliate by bargaining, and in the haggling that follows no one cares for the original purpose. If the trend is most pronounced in Calcutta that is only because Calcutta led the way. The first to climb the peak of modernity is also the first to fall. Other cities are waiting to follow that descent.
HAROLD EVANS' NEWSPAPER YEARS
All autobiographies tend to become the autobiography of the self-made man. They are likely to tell us of some "turn" in their experience when they were thrown back on their own resources that started them off on their journeys to fame and fortune. Harold Evans, one of the great figures of modern journalism, has given his life story, as he turned 80, in My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times (Little Brown, special Indian price, Rs 1,035) as the old school of team-based investigative journalism passes into history with the rise of globalisation and digitalisation, and the relentless pursuit of advertising revenue or what has been described as "paid journalism".
This is an autobiography in three parts, or rather three books in one: Childhood, Boyhood and Youth and Beyond. The book opens with Evans' rise from an upper working-class home in Manchester. After an early disappointment for failing his plus 11 exam, which was a passport to university, he became a cub reporter with a local weekly. The reporting bug bit him and Evans soon hit the high road to become the editor of the Northern Echo. He speedily re-energised a falling newspaper with fresh design, sharper reporting and editorials on local issues. Evans realised early that packaging (layout and design) mattered if only to make the paper "user-friendly".
Success or failure came with how well local concerns were addressed because by its very nature, journalism was the immediate and ephemeral. Because his working class audience wasn't really interested in abstract philosophies like the classics of Macaulay and Keynes in politics and economics, they wanted stories that touched their everyday lives, with simplicity, clarity and purity of line. Evans provided this diet (Evans' Pictures on a Page, which is a kind of primer for designers and typographers, and other books on newspaper production were born out of his early experiences and considered as classics by schools of journalism even to this day).
A stint at Durham University and a two-year break in America brought him to the Sunday Times in 1966 where he built a national reputation for himself. This was the great glorious time in Evans' career and the most glorious aspect of it was done by the paper's Insight team; it included journalistic espionage (often directed at government spy agencies), scientific research (on topics like airline safety and drug safety) and the sort of campaigning that he had perfected in his early days of newspaper reporting. "It is no use printing the truth once because running sores in a society require more than one-time band-aid No campaign should be ended until it had succeeded or was proved wrong," he was to say later in a lecture on the Freedom of the Press in an Age of Violence.
There were four campaigns that Evans will always be remembered for. First, the birth defects caused by Thalidomide drug and the lack of justice for its victims; second, the infiltration of the British intelligence services by upper-crust spies; third, the wars and human rights abuses around the world, and fourth, the publication of diaries of a Cabinet minister that violated the Official Secrets Act all in the face of government restrictions on the press which were quite severe and could lead to, if pressed beyond a point, closure of the paper or heavy fines that would cut into the paper's profits.
Specifically, the Thalidomide drug that was given to pregnant women in the early days of pregnancy as antidote to sickness but resulted in deformed babies. No compensation was provided by the pharma company, though it was proved that the drug was responsible for the deformities. The Kim Philby spy ring (better known as the Cambridge spies) was busted by the Sunday Times, and, of course, with more than a little help by the CIA; the publication of Cabinet Minister Richard Crossman diaries that led to a loosening of the Act that allowed publication even if it hurt what is described as "national interest". As far as the campaign against abuse of human rights is concerned, it is a continuing process but a lot depends on how respective governments respond to it.
There are two questions that remain unanswered at the end of the story. First, is it possible for an editor to carry out a campaign today if the owner says, "Enough"? Specifically, what happened between Evans and Rupert Murdoch when he bought the Sunday Times and, from all accounts, "sacked" Evans? Second, when newspapers are in a financial crisis (not so much here as in the West because of the Internet and falling advertising revenues), is it possible to give priority to news (and editorial comment) over advertising revenues? More and more it seems, as Lord Northcliffe, the owner of The Times before Evans' editorship, observed that "news is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; everything else is advertising". Indeed, the line between news and advertising is becoming thinner and thinner with every passing decade.
But there is one piece of advice that applies to all journalists: never come too close to power. It sucks.
BLOW HOT, BLOW COLD
In this topsy-turvy world, our heatwave and their coldwave are the creation of the same unseen hand. Snow or dust, it is all due to global warming.
We need an AC car, the wife declared with absolute finality as she plonked herself down on the sofa, looking totally exhausted. Then she added with a gesture of immense concession, doesn't matter even if it is an Alto.
But we already have an AC car, I replied with as much of the meekness of the harried Bengali male as I could muster while engaging with the superior of the species. Her look said that was not funny and it wasn't. Our car was resting peacefully in the garage in Bangalore and we were in Kolkata trying to debug our new flat before returning to Bangalore.
I know we need not just an AC car but an AC loo too, but what's the latest provocation, I asked as civilly as possible. She gave me a withering look equal to the withered condition of her being and informed that it had taken her taxi an hour to traverse three kilometres, courtesy a massive traffic jam in high noon, and that she had almost fainted.
I put aside my superciliousness and agreed that this summer was turning out to be particularly bad and it was only March. Even I shuddered at the thought of what would happen in April and May, and the trauma that would follow if the rains failed to come on time was well too traumatic to contemplate.
It's not as if Kolkata is the sole culprit. Both the wife and the daughter have been to Delhi this last week and the daughter, who has moved around in public transport, asserted that it was near heatwave conditions already, and the rains come to Delhi, when they choose to, much later than in the rest of the country. The wife, of course, didn't feel it at all as for her it was AC guest house to AC office via AC car and back the same way.
The thought of going back to Bangalore soon filled me with psychological cool and the heat around became a bit bearable. But here also bad news was on hand. A friend called from Bangalore to say that it was hot as usual for this time of the year, a respectable 35.5 degrees maximum temperature in the air-conditioned city, if you please. He didn't care if it was above or below normal I don't like to be ruled by statistics, he declared but affirmed that like every recent summer, it tends to get hotter every year and, what is worse, there is no sign of the relieving April showers even though April is round the corner.
So, where do we escape from it all, I asked myself rhetorically in silence. I knew the answer of course, the one I was prompting to myself. I will retreat to my favourite Himachal, amidst the deodars at 6,000 ft plus, and smile down benignly at the pitiful mortals who had not yet attained the nirvana of retirement which could enable them to go wherever they pleased, at whatever time of the year they liked. As for earning your pin money, the Internet was there to carry your columns, bless the telephone lines laid in abundance by local boy Sukh Ram who, in local eyes, could do no wrong.
But daydreams do not take away the heat except for a fleeting second and recent news items tumbled out of memory. The apple crop was in poor shape, courtesy low precipitation it does not snow in Himachal the way it used to and the excessive heat in recent years has made it difficult to grow apples at sub-6,000 ft.
But then, is there no Shangri-La? Yes there is, in Ladakh. That's where the apple orchards are migrating, in search of a bit of cool and a drop or two more of snow. I will relocate to Ladakh, I told myself rebelliously, assuming that the doctor would say the heart, which was the heart of the matter, would be able to take the air at 10,000 ft or more indefinitely.
So, when are you getting the AC car, the wife repeated, making me break out of my wonderful reverie of grey slopes and blue skies, trudging monks in orange robes and frozen lakes blue-white in the sparkling sun. You won't need an AC there, I mumbled, and immediately realised that I had taken one more step towards being certified. Rescuing myself as quickly as I could, I said as evenly as I could, why hang around here, why not go to the hills.
She said something about my going gaga without getting that old and asked which super speciality hospital I hoped to find there if I needed a bypass or even a stent at short notice. Having taken what I thought was more than my due, I decided to fight back with journalistic knowledgeability, and replied airily that she was right.
We could have instead, if we had the money, simple gone to the States to live amidst snowstorms, the staple there earlier this year, to escape the heat. In this topsy-turvy world, our heatwave and their coldwave were the creation of the same unseen hand. Snow or dust, it was all due to global warming.
LEAVE 'EM ALONE WITH THEIR LAND
The Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) gathers mountains of data to track income distribution. A shortcut: buy something in the Rs 30-50 range (soap, toothpaste) at a kirana store and hand over a high-denomination note. In South Delhi where I live, the shops change Rs 500 without blinking.
The nominal rental yields in my apartment complex are roughly 3-4 per cent. If the land was redeveloped for commercial use, it would generate more revenue. Land value would also rise. It, therefore, makes sense for the government to seize my complex, reclassify it from residential to commercial and redevelop.
This is not flat-out impossible, though very unlikely. Despite flat-owners holding clear titles, the Right to Property ceased to be a Fundamental Right in 1978. Under the Land Acquisition Act (LAA), 1894, land can be acquired for any public purpose and surely, bolstering public finances is a public purpose.
Under LAA, compensation is paid. That compensation is assessed by the acquiring agency. It explicitly precludes considering "any increase in the land value likely to accrue from the use to which it will be put when acquired". This translates into instant profits. Post-seizure, compensation may be paid at the former residential or agricultural rates, while the land is resold (or leased) at commercial rates.
My neighbours and I would all scream very loudly if we were served LAA notices. Being white-collar folks, we wouldn't need to get violent. We could ensure strong public scrutiny and seek to legally stay the process. If somebody tried to scare us into vacating possession, the local police would register FIRs on our behalf.
In the villages of Lalgarh and Jhargram, where the lalajis struggle to change Rs 100, the LAA profit margins are higher. Land cleared for commercial use is worth several multiples of agricultural land. The windfall multiplier comes from a stroke of the pen. Also, fewer people qualify for compensation. Titles are unclear, and in the tribal belts, individual ownership is rare. By default, most "tribal land" belongs to the state, even if it has been used for millennia by local tribes.
The dispossessed land-users (who have no legal claims) have no legal recourse. Governance, which is no great shakes in Delhi, is an alien construct in such places. They face extreme violence if they don't vacate. So, faced with zero recourse and zero compensation, they pick up guns.
The imperial legal framework has created a massive opportunity for wealth generation. The downside is that, coupled with poor local governance, it has also helped trigger Maoist insurrections. The real costs are paid in blood and bitterness, and bloated internal security budgets. The Maoist violence has long crossed the point where it can be countered by non-violent means. It must be suppressed before improvement in governance can even be contemplated.
But the violence is a symptom, albeit one that must be addressed. The underlying disease requires multi-pronged treatment. Clean up land titles. Reintroduce the Right to Property as a Fundamental Right. Define public purpose stringently. Recognise and reconcile community rights to land in some fashion. Scrap official classification for land-use and let owners do what they want with their land. Rework compensation formulae to include upsides from future value-addition and get third-party compensation valuation.
The windfall profits would reduce. But there would be wealth-generation as mining, steel plants, national parks, paper mills, etc, replace subsistence farming. Resentment will abate only as and when dispossessed locals get a stake in that wealth-generation.
Side by side, governance must improve. The loss in instant profits would be compensated for by lower policing costs and rising tax revenues as economic activity increases. One tangible sign of improvement would be the lalajis in Jhargram making change for Rs 500 notes.
DOES NREGA REALLY WORK?
Despite tall claims, the NREGA programme is just a dud as most other "in the name of the poor" expenditures - and as much of a dud as predicted by Rajiv Gandhi
A decade or so ago, Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy claimed that the building of dams in India had displaced more than 50 million people. This implied that one out of every three rural Indians had had to move because of the construction of dams (remember the population was a lot lower when most of the dams were built in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s). Upon closer examination, it turned out that the number of people displaced was more than a tenth lower, with the likely estimate of around three million.
It is poetic and novelist licence to indulge in hyperbole; it is quite another matter when official agencies of the government do the same. And especially in the good-governance era of 2010 and beyond. The latest report of the Ministry of Rural Development, the one in charge of implementing the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), makes an Arundhati Roy-like claim: that as of December 2009, 43 million households had been provided with NREGA employment in 2009-10. The last quarter of the fiscal year is the largest for such employment: around a third of total NREGA jobs. The projected employment for 2009-10 is likely to be close to 50 million households. There are about 150 million rural households; this Congress party claim is the same as Ms Roy's: one out of every three households in rural areas will have worked under the NREGA! Even more remarkable the jobs are meant to be hard work, menial, at minimum wages and for the poor. In 2004-05, official estimates place rural poverty in India between 20 and 25 per cent. Assuming no improvement in poverty at all an extraordinary accomplishment for a government that prides itself on inclusive growth 22.5 per cent poor households mean 34 million. So, the government is claiming that every poor household is covered, and for good measure, 50 per cent more are provided employment.
This superlative achievement is credited by many both within the Congress party and the Opposition for the Congress party's surprise win in the 2009 elections. Some of us had predicted such a win, but without recourse to this super weapon of opposition destruction. It was because we had not looked at the government data. In 2006-07, the first full year of implementation, the government claimed to have provided employment to 21 million households. In the space of just three years, the government is claiming to have increased jobs for the poor to 50 million. No wonder the Congress party won, and won so emphatically. The poor just love the Congress party, because it has stood tall for them.
But has it? It was not so long ago that Rajiv Gandhi had stated that he had found well-meaning programmes meant for the poor not reaching the poor. Without much scientific basis, he came out with the assertion that only 15 per cent of the expenditures meant for the poor actually reached them. Experts who have tried to test this assertion have found more truth in that statement than almost any other forecast of an economist, defunct or otherwise.
There is a way to test the veracity of Rajiv Gandhi's assertion, and the Congress governments' claim on reaching the poor. In 2006-07, in the 63rd round of the all-India NSSO survey, a special question was asked of those above the age of 15: Did you work in a public works programme during the last 365 days, what wage did you get and how many days did you work? Answers to these questions are reported in the Table (above) along with the statistics from the Ministry of Rural Development. The latter are for the period of April 2006 to March 2007; the NSSO figures are for the period of July 2006 to June 2007. To the extent rapid expansion of the NREGA is true, the NSSO figures are an over-estimate of the "true" financial year figures.
TESTING NREGA ACHIEVEMENTS, 2006-07
Ministry of Rural
as % of
as % of
1. NREGA FINANCIAL DATA (IN RS CR)
Total funds available
Funds utilised (MRD - **)
Funds utilised as wages (*)
Wages on poor
Rajiv Gandhi Index (% of funds reaching the poor - **)
Average wage, per day per person (In Rs)
Average wage per day per household (In Rs)
2. NREGA PHYSICAL DATA
No. of households (in Cr)
No. of workers (in Cr)
Person days (in Cr)
Person days per household
Person days per worker
Note: The poor identified in NSSO 63rd round, 2006-07, according to monthly per capita expenditures, being below the official 2004-05 poverty line for different states and extrapolated for 2006-07 according to the rise in the CPIAL index.
The first figure of note is the fact that the NREGA was not able to spend all the money allocated for it; indeed, it spent less than three-fourths of what was allocated. Of course, those were early days of the programme, but even in 2008-09, when allocations reached Rs 30,000 crore, the NREGA authorities were able to spend only 73 per cent. The ministry claims only Rs 8,823 crore was spent in 2006-07, and two-thirds of this amount (Rs 5,842 crore) was spent on wages. The rest are administrative costs, capital equipment, etc i.e., Rs 3,250 crore was spent to facilitate expenditures. But was this money ostensibly spent as wages Rs 5,842 crore received as wages by NREGA workers? According to the NSSO, only half of the expenditures allocated as wages was received as wages Rs 3,000 crore received versus Rs 5,842 crore meant to have been received. Even less went to the target poor worker. The NSSO reports that NREGA wages received by the poor were only Rs 1,270 crore.
Let us ponder over this figure for a little while. The government announces with much fanfare that it is spending a lot to fight hunger, poverty, injustice and inequality. Despite repeated evidence for the last 20 years that "in the name of the poor programmes" reach everybody but the poor, the well-meaning socialist but not-so-realist Congress party renamed and expanded existing food for work programmes under its own Congress brand as NREGA, and now MREGA. (Ironically, but poetic-justice style, the latter acronym also means "to die"!). It spends Rs 8,823 crore on the programme in 2006-07 (and Rs 39,000 crore in 2009-10) and is able to actually deliver only 14.7 per cent (Rs 1,270 crore) to the targeted audience?! The figures suggest that Rajiv Gandhi, the enlightened pragmatic realist, was extraordinarily right.
The author is the chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm
T N NINAN
Suddenly, Delhi's residents have woken up to the cost of the Commonwealth Games. The state government has raised taxes, or slashed subsidies, on everything from cooking gas to diesel, and from mobile phones to clothes, to raise Rs 850 crore (about Rs 2,000 per family over the year). That has many people mightily upset, and anti-Games all of a sudden. As it happens, the state had asked the Centre for Rs 2,000 crore, or thereabouts, for investing in Games-related infrastructure, but got only half the sum from Pranab Mukherjee's Budget. If the Centre had given nothing (and it could be argued that Bihar deserved the money more), then the increase in Delhi taxes would have been twice as much. As ever, the city is pampered, but does not recognise it.
So, what does it cost to host the Games? The initial figure was Rs 767 crore, as mentioned when the city bid for the Games five or six years ago. That number more than doubled by last year, to Rs 1,620 crore, and recent reports suggest that it has climbed again. Against this, the state chief minister says the cost of hosting the Games is Rs 15,000 crore which includes the cost of the investment in the city's infrastructure, like the new low-floor buses, metro lines, flyovers, brighter streetlights, better street furniture, redone kerbsides, and so on all of which makes at least the showcase part of the Capital such a contrast to every other city in the country. Why, the promise is that the city will even be power-surplus in six months!
Even at Rs 15,000 crore, the outlay seems modest when South Africa is spending $6 billion (Rs 27,000 crore) to host this summer's World Cup football. The difference is that the World Cup involves more than one city, and lasts longer than a fortnight, while the Games involve many more participants. Comparisons being difficult, the operative question (as with the Asian Games in 1982) is: Should one count the expenditure on the city's additional metro lines or buses (some of them air-conditioned) as part of the cost of the Games? After all, the outlay on Delhi's public transport next year will be Rs 4,224 crore, which is certainly not normal.
The issue here is whether Delhi residents are picking up the tab, or the rest of the country. A city's residents are entitled to spend on themselves out of their own revenue. But if the money is coming from the Centre as a gift, money that could have gone to more needy states, then questions can and should be asked. It is worth noting that Delhi got Rs 2,496 crore from the Centre for its current year's budget, three times the figure for the year before. So, it does seem that the rest of the country is paying in some way.
As it happens, prosperous Delhi has a total budget of Rs 26,000 crore substantially more than the beleaguered Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's Rs 20,000 crore. The other difference is that an unusually high 43 per cent of the Delhi budget goes into Plan expenditure (new schools, new hospitals, a new ambulance fleet). Indeed, while West Bengal's total budget is three times bigger than Delhi's (for nearly five times the population), its Plan outlay is only 50 per cent bigger. Seen in context, the additional Rs 850 crore that Delhi residents are being asked to pay is small beer. Given the makeover that the Capital city is getting, and the financial support that the Centre is providing, Delhiites should keep quiet and count their blessings.
PRODIGALS AND FATTED CHICKENS
It had been a long term at college, so when our son rang to ask if he could visit home for a while, I said I'd allow it provided he spent some of it with us instead of exclusively in the company of his friends. Since he'd planned his vacation for a week, we agreed that he'd stay home on four evenings; we'd have a dinner for our friends who wanted to meet him one night; go out to a restaurant on another, and leave him an evening free for his buddies.
On the first day he slept waking, my wife said, to have lunch before going back to bed again, from which I had to shake him awake when I got back from work. "It's good to be home," he stretched, "but now I must go out since it is a friend's birthday tomorrow, and we have decided to wish her at midnight." He said he couldn't have dinner with us since his other friends would insist on eating together, besides they had to be picked up from their houses in different parts of the city, so we should go to bed and not wait up for him. My wife put the chicken she had made for him back in the fridge.
The next night he promised he'd be back for dinner, but that we should go ahead and have ours as he could get late. It wasn't so much that he was out as he was just hanging out with friends and didn't want to break up the group. The chicken got put away again and all I saw of my son as I left for office the next morning was his sleeping head. That third day, he promised to spend with his mother provided she took him out shopping, and so when I got back, he was in a cheerful mood and we'd barely sat down over a drink when a friend called to say he'd broken up with his girlfriend could my son go over to lend a shoulder in his hour of crisis? My wife didn't even bother to take out the chicken casserole.
The next day, even though I had taken the day off from work, he went out biking with my brother, and then said it would seem rude if he did not spend the evening with his uncle, so to escape another evening snapping at each other, my wife and I decided to go to dinner to our neighbours. The next morning, our son said it saddened him that his parents now had their own life in which, clearly, he enjoyed no more space, so if it was all right he would like to quit the evening's family dinner at a restaurant in favour of an all-boys' night out at a pub, but we should go ahead and not cancel the programme on his account.
The sixth night was the dinner we'd planned at home for our friends, and it was well after 10 when most of them fetched up. "I'm shocked," said my son, even though he'd grown up seeing them come at even odder hours, "I thought you oldies would be in bed by 11, so I'd made plans to go out for dessert with some pals," leaving us to celebrate his homecoming in his absence.
The chicken remained uneaten on the seventh night on account of it being the one free evening, my son said, we'd built into his visit. When we saw him off the next morning, he said, "I hope you realise you're a little claustrophobic as parents, so the next time I'm home I'd like a little out time with my pals." "Come, come," said my wife sympathetically to me, "there's chicken at home for dinner."
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INCLUDE BACKWARD MUSLIMS
On the basic issue of whether the socially- and educationally-backward sections of Muslims deserve to have the benefit of reservations on par with their Hindu counterparts, there is little scope for dispute. A section of the downtrodden should not be treated differently just because it is non-Hindu . Several state governments, in fact, extend the benefit of reservation in jobs and college admissions to the backward sections of Muslims by adding these groups to the list of socially- and educationally backward classes (SEBCs) for whom quotas were created as part of implementing the Mandal Commission report. This should have been the ideal procedure in Andhra Pradesh as well. A separate Andhra Pradesh Reservation in Favour of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes of Muslims Act of 2007 makes sense only in terms of the politician's desire to dispense patronage. All the more so as the backward sections of Muslims extended the benefit of reservations through the Act, struck down by the high court and now given provisional reprieve by the Supreme Court pending a final decision by a Constitution Bench, were identified by the state's Backward Commission (sic) that had identified other SEBCs. The Constitution explicitly envisages the state making special provision for the advancement of SEBCs. Clearly, such classes cut across religious and other divides and should get similar affirmative treatment at the hands of the state.
In today's globalising world, quotas play a limited role in advancing the cause of the traditionally oppressed. The disproportionate focus on quotas disrupts the task of realising rapid growth, transformation of the economic structure and empowerment of the traditionally marginalised to take advantage of new opportunities, by creating divisions among the deprived. Only identity politics gains.
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TOUCH ME NOT
What is it with a peculiar breed of conservatives and notions of hygiene and cleanliness? One doesn't, obviously, mean a healthy preoccupation with keeping oneself clean. Rather, a decidedly unnerving sense among some people that everyone else is somewhat icky compared to their own pure selves. Sure, we elevated it to the refined art of the caste system, but then others too seem to play tango with the idea. And, almost always, it is people who have a very highly developed sense of their own proximity to a higher moral calling that the rest are not privy to. Take former US President George Bush. The man who, among other things, liked crusades, and riddin' the world of 'em nasties quite a lot. Who, accordingly, once leant over into a microphone and, apparently quite moved by the divinity of it all, announced that he 'had a mission from the stars ...' The gentleman, a report as well as a video apparently doing the rounds reveals, quietly wiped his hands on fellow former President Bill Clinton's shirt just after shaking hands with a Haitian man. Now, the two former leading men might have been in Haiti after a request from President Barack Obama to spearhead US aid efforts after the massive January earthquake. But it is moot whether this latest, post-presidency Bushism of sorts will lead to some sort of racial tremor. For, reports also quoted Obama's memoirs to reveal that Bush, when he first met Obama in the White House in 2005, also used a hand sanitiser after, well, shaking hands.
Or perhaps it isn't anything racial. Bush, the war mongering president, might be a ritual hand scrubber for another , more subterranean reason: guilt. A la Lady Macbeth , with her perpetual washing of hands, which could not be sweetened even by "all the perfumes of Arabia". Murder, most foul, attended both that Shakespearean tragedy and the Bush-years farce. But to add the older racial , casteist twist, not for nothing does Mayawati try to undercut Rahul Gandhi's Dalit outreach by claiming the 'prince' uses 'perfumed soap' to clean up after each village trip. The insinuation is all too clear. The question, though, is: does it really stick? Or, perhaps, does it really sting?
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SO FAR SO GOOD
The Financial Stability Report (FSR) released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is mostly reassuring. It confirms what the Committee on Financial Sector Assessment, headed by then-deputy governor Rakesh Mohan, had concluded almost exactly a year ago. The Indian banking sector is largely healthy. Banks are well-capitalised as far as regulatory capital adequacy ratios go and stress tests for credit and market risk show they can withstand 'unexpected levels of stress' . The problem, as the financial crisis showed, is that in the financial sector, it is hard to quantify the 'unexpected' , and when things begin to unravel, it doesn't take long for even the big boys to go under; Lehman Bros being the classic example. So, while it is good to know that even if all the restructured loans were to turn non-performing , there would be no risk to the system and banks would continue to be well-capitalised , it would be naïve to ignore the reality that in the Indian context, a great deal of this robustness has to do with perceived confidence that comes from public ownership of close to 70% of the banking sector. Thus, even when Indian Bank's capital was entirely eroded, there was no run on its deposits; in contrast to the bout of public anxiety over ICICI Bank, though its financial position was not endangered . Hence, as private sector players become larger, the RBI will need to be extra vigilant.
For the rest, the areas that need special attention include the potential asset-liability mismatch inherent in banks getting into infrastructure finance in a big way. As the report points out, a significant part of recent credit growth has been in infrastructure and commercial real estate , both requiring longer-term funding. However, bank deposits are essentially short term and, more important, are repayable on demand. Another area of concern is over-reliance on bulk deposits of the here-today-gone-tomorrow variety. Post the crisis, central counter-parties (exchanges) are being hailed as the answer to risks posed by trading in derivatives. However, as with securitisation, once seen as a win-win answer to risk mitigation, it would be unwise to see central counter-parties as fail-safe . They need to be regulated and monitored no less than banks and other financial sector players, as also rating agencies.
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'BIG SOFTWARE PACKAGES ON LAST LEGS'
Company annual reports talk about sustainable development or socio-economic justice these days. But very few actually make it a pillar of their business strategy. ThoughtWorks, set up in 1992 by the maverick Neville Roy Singham, is one. The firm, which boasts of Daimler, Siemens and Barclays as its clients apart from its social tilt also talks of a new way of creating code using the Agile method . Recently, ThoughtWorks opened its second office in Bangalore, a market where it expects to grow 45% this year to $32 million.
ThoughtWorks' business model is based on three pillars: running a sustainable business, being the champion of software excellence, and advocating social and economic justice. "Pillar No. 1 is different from maximisation of shareholder wealth, because sustainable business implies managing the ecosystem of the whole system correctly. That, in turn, may result in maximisation for shareholder but is not our primary goal," Mr Singham says.
The second pillar is more in line with what ThoughtWorks does. The company believes that the fundamental way software is written is flawed and is turning out to be a non-productive exercise. And, somebody has to show the best way to write software, to build software , and to provide the maximum benefit that software can actually deliver.
"If you ask a traditional or a large firm, they would say they believe in software delivery but excellence is greater than delivery. Excellence in software is not about unleashing individual productivity by introducing Excel or Windows. It is about helping Unicef curb malnutrition among children or making retail as a sector become more productive."
The third pillar is passionately advocating social and economic justice. Most people would say such a pillar does not belong to a business, it may belong to an NGO. We are, therefore, a hybrid organisation a cross between an NGO and a software powerhouse. There has been a lot of pressure on the nonprofit sector to adopt more business techniques so that they have a double bottom line. "In this sense, we have a triple bottom line: how do we measure whether we have improved software for the human race? How do we measure whether we have advanced the cause of humanity? And how do we know that we are also surviving as a business?"
But how does Thoughtworks drive business value despite focusing on lean software methods and social charities? Mr Singham identifies certain trends that helped the company grow.
"We are at the end of a 16-year cycle of the domination of large software packages. And, that is because CIOs have realised that those things cost a lot of money and add very little benefit. They have realised that such packages do not provide competitive advantage."
"There has also been a movement among developers who believe in open source, believe in Agile, believe in new languages, and you will see that there is a zero co-relationship between the intellectual capital paraded in the software community versus what happens in the business world."
Perhaps to prove his conviction right, ThoughtWorks has emerged from the recession in a robust manner. Over the last 18 months, the company has successfully grown its global employee base by 30%, opened four new offices and signed up a whole raft of customers . "I have never felt so overwhelmed in these 17 years. We are oversold till the next year. We will continue our global expansion through an ambitious recruitment drive and the opening of new offices."
Mr Singham points out that innovators across the world have rejected large business tools. One, nimble startups are looking at faster time-to-market and better quality of code, he says. Second, innovation has moved out of the US or Western markets to newer geographies like Brazil, China and India, which are more adaptive towards open source.
But what is Agile and how is it different from the regular stuff? It is more about small rather than large, about visibility and collaboration . In regular software, you have such rigid division of labour and specialisation that it results in noise and quality degradation. In Agile, we go after poly-skilled workers and have as much communication between the business user who understands the domain and the developer ; eliminate everything else. "Agile emphasises face-to-face communication over written documents when the team is all in the same location. When a team works in different locations, they maintain daily contact through videoconferencing, voice and email."
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DO WE NEED NEW STATES?
KALA SEETHARAM SRIDHAR
The ambivalence at the Centre with regard to the creation of a new state of Telangana is interesting . This is because severe intrastate disparities usually lead to the demand for new states as it happened in the case of Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand in 2000. The question to ask is whether these newer states would become better off after splitting from their parent states. While one group is of the view that small states cannot ensure that everyone will be uniformly better off, some other evidence suggests that smaller states are 'governed' better.
There is some evidence that the newer states performed better. The Eleventh Plan document provides some data which support that the smaller newly carved states specifically Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh grew at a rate faster (at 9.31% and 7.35% respectively during the period 2004-05 to 2008-09 ) than their parent states (Uttar Pradesh which grew at 6.29% and Madhya Pradesh which grew at 4.89% during the same fiveyear period). Here one can also read 'State hood for Telangana' by C H Hanumantha Rao (ET, Jan 9).
There are also several other advantages in the creation of new states. The existence of new states would mean the creation of new capital cities (such as Ranchi, Raipur and Dehra Dun) and the associated infrastructure. It is widely understood that capital cities attract firms for various services and agglomeration economies, notably infrastructure of national /international standards such as highways, mass transport, high teledensity , international airport, relatively large international community and culture , and world-renowned cultural institutions and universities. As argued by several studies persuasively, governments' favouritism frequently allocates local public services in favour of capitals, where decision makers live. The provision of such infrastructure has the effect of raising property values in capital cities in addition to creating new demand for construction activity which has multiplier effects on the local economy.
It is interesting to note that 44% of firms which were surveyed by the World Bank's Investment Climate Surveys (ICS) in India conducted in 2000, 2002 and 2005 were located in capital cities. However, recent research, fitting ordered logistic regressions on firm location choice in India's cities (along with those in China and Brazil) shows that Indian firms refrained from locating in capital cities (especially when they are large, i.e., having population over three million). This is a surprise given the advantages of capital cities which are the favourite of the policymakers in terms of provision of infrastructure and other public services.
In this context, it is important to note that the existence of capital cities in states is one important cause of disparity with their surrounding and other areas being neglected. Hence, there are proposals to convert large capital and metropolitan cities of the country such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Hyderabad as union territories and grant partial statehood as in the case of Delhi. It is needless to say that with the creation of new states, a new bureaucracy is needed. Hence a large number of jobs are created for which politicians and bureaucrats are appointed.
ADDITIONAL states may not always mean additional claims on central finances. In the Thirteenth Finance Commission devolution formula, for instance, the fiscal capacity distance has the greatest weightage (47.5%) in the devolution formula, followed by population (25%). Fiscal distance is obtained for each state by the distance of its estimated per capita revenue from the estimated per capita revenue of Haryana , the second highest in the per capita income ranking after Goa.
The distance so computed for all states, barring Haryana and Goa, defines the per capita revenue entitlement of each state based on fiscal distance. So, there is no particular reason for the share of the states in the divisible pool to go up just because of an additional state. What the above implies is that additional states may not always mean additional claims on central finances; if a state's fiscal distance from the second highest in the ranking is greater, it stands to get a higher share and additional grants would be marginal.
There are, however, several problems with creating new states. Whether or not smaller states are successful in developing their regions is dependent on the extent of decentralisation. For instance, if a small state is unable to devolve enough funds and physical resources to a far-flung area of the state to maintain its roads, the result would be inadequate quality of public services (such as schools, colleges, roads or irrigation ) with the population in the remote area feeling as neglected as before . Further, the creation of one new state will lead to the demand for and creation of other new states.
What should be the basis of reorganisation of states? It can be either economic homogeneity or cultural homogeneity . Based on the experience thus far, linguistic homogeneity has not proven to be effective in keeping the states integrated (the cases of Bihar , UP and Madhya Pradesh). Economic (i.e., developmental) factors appear to be at the heart of the demand for new states in resurgent India. The US has one-third the population of India , but has 50 states, in contrast to ours which only has 28. However one needs to know that newer states in the US were new additions and were not carved out of existing ones, as it has happened in the case of India.
The more long-lasting solution to regional and intra-state disparities is to create viable proposals for reducing them within the existing framework of governance rather than create new political entities. Unless there is substantially better governance, there is no guarantee that a new political entity will lead to better economic performance.
(The author is senior research fellow, Public Affairs Centre. Views are personal.)
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DO MORE AND REMAIN HAPPY
VITHAL C NADKARNI
EB White, the American writer, once asked James Thurber, his cartoonist friend, about his mother-in-law : "How's she now?" "As compared to what?" Thurber shot back.
Thurber's reply raises all sorts of scenarios: Do you have that old nag, a smiling saint or a tarantula in mind? So, for instance, what should one expect to get when one compares a person who's just won a million-dollar lottery to a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic. In 1978 a trio of psychologists curious about happiness did just that. In their first group were winners of the Illinois state lottery. These men and women had received jackpots of between $50,000 and $1 million. In the second group were victims of devastating accidents. Some had been left paralysed from the waist down. For the others, paralysis started at the neck. A third bunch of Illinois residents randomly selected from the phone book served as their control group.
The subjects were questioned about the state of their happiness past and present and future expectations. It was a no-brainer to find that, in short term, the winners raved about their lottery in highly positive terms while the victims gave their accidents a big thumbs down. But that only made the subsequent results more puzzling: The winners considered themselves no happier at the time of the interviews than the members of the control group did. In the future, the winners expected to become slightly happier, but, once again, no more so than the control-group members. (Even the accident victims expected to be happier than the lottery winners within a few years.) Meanwhile, the winners took significantly less pleasure in daily activities including clothes buying than the members of the other two groups.
Does that mean things remain the same the more they change? Or does it simply mean that Time is a big eraser when it comes to vagaries of fortune? Happiness researchers found something more counter-intuitive that people routinely mispredict how much pleasure or displeasure future events bring. So should you stop buying insurance or lottery tickets? Should one just sit back in the wheelchair wait for the cloud of misery to pass? Derek Bo, a former Harvard University president, considers such questions in his new book, The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the NewResearch on Well-being. Do more is the short answer.
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IPO DOCUMENT SHOULD MENTION BAND: MR MAYYA
VIJAY GURAV & APURV GUPTA
From executive director of the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) to an independent director of Central Depository Services (CDSL) and now an author of the book 'Glimpses of Indian Stock Markets', MR Mayya has donned many caps during his long career in the capital market. Age has been no barrier for the 79-year-old Mr Mayya whose association with the stock market seems to have only strengthened with every passing year. In a free-wheeling chat with Vijay Gurav & Apurv Gupta, he shares his views on different aspects of the stock market and key issues of interest to retail investors.
You have been advocating elimination circuit filters. Why do you think circuit filters should be done away with?
There is no need for circuit filters in the market. I am against the principle of circuits because they reduce the scope for price discovery and are detrimental to small investors' interests. It is only the retail investors who get stuck on the wrong side of the direction. There are no circuit filters in 16 out of the top 40 stock exchanges in the world.
Most of the recent IPOs failed to evoke a good response from retail investors. What steps should be taken to increase their participation in the primary market?
There are many issues which should be considered immediately by the regulator. One major area of concern is pricing of new issues. As the price band is announced just a few days before the opening of an IPO, it keeps investors guessing about the likely offer price which is one of the crucial factors influencing investment decision. It becomes very difficult for retail investors to analyze any issue if the price is not available. The offer document should mention the price.
Do you think the market has benefited from extended trading hours?
I don't think that there was any need to extend market hours. Few players are happy with the move. Is it a casino that needs to be operational round the clock? Moreover, in most global stock exchanges where trading hours are as long as those in India, there are also lunch hours. Stock exchange business in India has completely been oblivious of the interest of a large number of people in cities like Mumbai. Also, extended trading is resulting in a higher impact cost for market participants, as they spread their orders over a larger period of time.
Which are the other issues you think Sebi should expedite?
Major efforts should be made to activate the IDR market. Every week, we see senior officials of foreign stock exchanges visiting India to encourage listing of domestic companies in their markets. There is no reason why Indian exchanges can't market India as a destination for listing. While we may see IDR offerings in the near future, not enough efforts are being made to promote the market.
What do you think will be the fate of regional stock exchanges?
A few regional stock exchanges like Inter-Connected Stock Exchange (ISE) have floated subsidiaries to become members of the big larger stock exchanges like NSE and BSE. These subsidiaries, particularly that of ISE, have a large network of sub-brokers through which they are attracting good volumes. Most other regional stock exchanges, however, have been struggling to survive.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
STATES REALISING POWER REFORMS A MUST, SAYS BK CHATURVEDI
The private sector is beginning to invest in infrastructure in a big way, albeit in select sectors only. At the same time, the availability of long-term finance continues to be a concern. The man entrusted with shaping the policies for the infrastructure and energy sectors, BK Chaturvedi, member, Planning Commission, discusses with Amiti Sen the status of the ongoing projects, the attitude of states on reforms and what lies ahead for the nation. Excerpts:
Lack of funds is a concern for infrastructure sector. What are the possible solutions?
In case of infrastructure, one has to match the tenure of funds with investments. Most of the deposits in banks are medium-term fundsfixed deposits of five or seven years. Infrastructure would require 10-year-type funds. Only pension funds have such long tenure. The UK subsidiary of IIFCL (India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd) is one way for financing. Take-out finance mechanism is another. Moreover, there are projects run by AAA-rated companies. Those have good possibilities. Using external commercial borrowings is another possibility. We have large amount of foreign exchange resources. These are some of the measures that need to be taken for meeting finance needs. Some ideas would click, others won't.
The roads ministry has set an ambitious target of building 20 kms of roads every day. Is it feasible?
It is feasible, but it has not been done so far. They will have to have three times as much in the project pipeline as roads take up to three years to build. So far, they have not sanctioned that many projects. Though we are worried on that count, we hope it will pick up. There is an implementation issue. The ministry is looking at it. The Planning Commission has resolved their problems. I had given a report that has been approved. I have now given another report. I think it is time that we move fast on the sanctioning part.
The Thirteenth Finance Commission (TFC) report has shown that things in the power sector are critical. How can we get states to reform?
True, things are difficult in the power sector. The overall transmission and distribution losses are increasing. As a percentage, there has been a deterioration. Still, the capacity expansion is quite large. And this has happened despite lack of political support for reforms in many states. But, I think states are realising that there is a need for reforms. It may take time because power is a politically difficult subject. Power goes to farmers and to a large number of other people with low income. You have seen how difficult it has been to raise prices of fuel even though both petrol and diesel cars are used by well-off people.
My experience in the last couple of years is that there has been a realisation in states that something needs to be done. That is why experiments like Bhiwandi (Maharashtra) have happened where distribution has been given to a franchise. This model is being copied by Haryana in two districts. UP is thinking of a bigger model. Other chief ministers have followed the Gujarat model where they have separated the feeders. Andhra has done it and Rajasthan is doing it. Practically, every state we are having a dialogue with these days are thinking of separating the feeders as that reduces the losses. Even states like J&K, which have insurgency problems, are doing that. I see a gradual realisation. Unfortunately, this movement remains to be taken on the fast forward mode.
Do you think there may be a situation where states will need a bailout?
In our discussions, we did emphasise on the losses. The Planning Commission is watching the situation and we will see whether a bailout situation will emerge or some harsher measure will be required. We will keep a close watch on it. Some measures have to be taken, but they will have to be incentivised.
Have states been able to attract private investments into infrastructure?
Investments are already coming into the infrastructure sector. We are reaching out to different states to discuss what needs to be done to increase inflows in various sectors, including power, road, ports, railways and airports. It has to be realised now that major investments have to come from the private sector, which is now the driver of growth. We have to see how we can stimulate them to bring in larger money. We also have to examine the areas with the states and see what their experiences have been so far. Many states are making investments in non-major ports and we have to see what all they are planning to do with such investments. We have to think about ways to further stimulate investments in Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi. The idea behind holding discussions with states is to find out about their ideas. We also want to see how the Central utilities can step up their investments.
If large investments are coming into the power sector why are we falling short of targets?
Well, you may have 50 projects but they may not be complete. The projects will fructify in coming years. In the power sector, we have 110,000 mw at different stages of completion.
What are your views on oil price deregulation?
Well, they are on similar lines as supported by earlier committees. I feel once again that oil prices need to be deregulated.
AP QUOTA WILL BE IMPETUS TO OTHERS
The Supreme Court's interim order on Thursday allowing four per cent quota for backward classes among Muslims in Andhra Pradesh assumes significance, both political and social, for the principal minority community in post-Independent India. It has also come as a major political and electoral breather for the ruling Congress in Andhra Pradesh and the UPA at the Centre. With many political parties, including the Communists, now talking about the need for quota for Muslims, the Supreme Court's order, though interim in nature, has boosted the chances of the minority community securing reservation in other states too. The Congress-led UPA, which had promised reservation for Muslims just before the general elections, may now speed up the pace towards the minority quota. The order is also a shot in the arm for the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government in West Bengal, which announced 10 per cent reservation for Muslims. The debate on whether Muslims as a community, or the backward classes among them, should get reservations in educational institutions and government jobs is as old as Indian Independence. Soon after Independence, Muslims were grouped along with the Scheduled Castes for the purpose of political reservations, only to be declared a "minority" community. The late chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy revived the Muslim quota issue almost six decades later when the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh announced reservations for backward sections of the community. The talk of a Muslim quota also gained momentum with the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee and Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission favouring reservations for Muslims. The Andhra Pradesh government hastily rushed through the legislation, throwing it open to legal wrangling. However, the Congress government has proved third-time lucky on the Muslim quota. The AP government, in its eagerness to win over Muslims, did little homework to overcome legal hurdles. It had created an exclusive group in the list of 15 groups eligible for reservation by coining the term "any other Muslim group excluding..." The SC has removed the 15th group while allowing the other 14 listed groups for the purpose of quota. By creating the 15th group, the AP government had indirectly sought to provide reservations to almost all Muslims, while states like Kerala, Karnataka, Manipur and Tamil Nadu took enough care to exclude the forward classes in the principal minority community. The Kerala and Karnataka governments took extreme precautions before providing quotas to certain sections of Muslims. They gathered volumes of scientific data on these Muslim groups to stand legal scrutiny. They focused on the socio-economic status of Muslim groups in their states without political consideration. This explains their success. The state government now has to effectively argue before a Supreme Court Constitution Bench and clinch the issue of reservation for Muslims in its avowed policy of social justice. An successful argument by the AP government will, in the final analysis, decide the case in for nationwide reservations for Muslims as well.
WHEN RIVERS MISBEHAVE
BY FARRUKH DHONDY
"Bachchoo was the rolling stone
Who gathered fields of moss"
From His Confessions
Quiet flows the Cam. From the grassy slopes behind the august colleges with their dreaming spires one may see the undergraduates punting away on the serene river, a picture of infantile boisterousness, affecting indifference to their surroundings if they are in gangs, or the model of romantic devotion if He is poling his Beloved to Grantchester... and of course, the magpies guzzling dropped ice creams and scavenging the discarded cartons of Kentucky Fried Chicken with the portrait of their philosophic patron embossed in red and white, on the grassy banks and the Japanese tourists relentlessly caging the fleeting moment in their digital prisons or so it was till yesterday.
I remember my first encounters with the Cam all those years ago. What would, in the India from which I came, be considered a very clean and well-kept gutter was here deemed the river on which the university town had been built, with picturesque bridges, the one designed by Newton in Queens, one of the colleges whose courts lie on either side, entirely of self-supporting wooden beams, and the humped stone ones over which one threw the bicycles of rivals and others too pretty to describe in this space or too numerous to mention. I brought with me an idea that rivers were unruly, strange brown gods who could change course at a whim and leave a specially-built compound of pavilions, such as Fatehpur Sikri, without water and sustenance, changing the course of empires.
My first adventure on the Cam came when, walking with a Pakistani undergraduate whom I had befriended in my first days there, we came upon, even in the cold autumn, on the opposite bank a group of boys and girls one of whom, for what must have been a dare, stripped off her clothes and dived cleanly into the water. We witnessed the performance from close quarters and whilst I absorbed the phenomenon as indicative of the bohemian weltanschauung I so wanted to cultivate in myself, my Pakistani friend went berserk, jumping up and down and calling to anyone in range, "Arrey nangi ho key kood gayee, yaar, bilkool nangi ho ke kood gayee..."
The poor man didn't have a happy first term. Towards its end, the Cam's waters getting icy in the November cold, I was sauntering down hand in hand with an undergrad girlfriend when the same Pakistani, walking alone, huddled in a great coat spotted us from across the river and shouted "Farrukh, yaar mujhe bhi dilaadey!" Whatever could he have meant?
But flowing summer or icy winter, the river was always the scenic spine of the town. So unlike the Mulla-Mutha, the two rivers becoming one on whose confluence my native town of Pune is built, with the rusting, dusty maroon-going-on-khaki railway bridges that ford it and the Bund garden where I used to be taken by my ayah as a child and where I witnessed to my horror my first murder as a fellow came by on a bike with a bed sheet turned into a tied bundle suspended by a rope, full of puppies which he had been assigned to drown. One of the puppies escaped as he parked his bicycle and we watched him chase it, bring it back and stuff it into the execution parcel with the other now squealing puppies, before taking his murderous bundle down the stone steps from the parapet to drown them.
My ayah's friends, other servants who had brought their charges to the riverside garden to take the evening air, must have made me aware through their exchanged comments as to what was going on. My ayah tried to shield us from the horror of it and wouldn't answer us when we asked why the puppies had to be drowned, why wasn't life big enough to accommodate them? What had they done to deserve this?
I have never returned to Bund garden without the nauseous memory returning.
And then down the road, set away from the madding crowds, is the Pune Boat Club where I once, aged 16, arranged to meet the poet Adil Jussawalla so we could exchange verses and views. Adil lived in Mumbai and was visiting relatives in Pune and I had looked forward to the encounter only to find that a little before we got there, the currents of the river had claimed a life. A lone boatman had drowned and there were people dredging the river for his body. The verse was left unread. A bad omen if one believed in omens, which I didn't, but still a bad taste in the mouth, a sensation not dependent on belief.
A year after that the river was hit by the green blight water orchids that bred with the speed and beyond the capacity of the proverbial rabbits, covered every inch of the river and penetrated its shallows with the thick dark snaky roots of the green infestation. It clogged up the river for miles and was greeted by the town as the citizens of Egypt must have greeted the infestations sent by the God of Moses.
Botanical experts were called in to say where the scourge originated and how it could be removed because apart from clogging up navigation on the river, it was killing the plants and fish that lived in the river by denying them air and sunlight.
Cranky inventors wrote letters to the local newspapers patenting methods of using this aqueous field of plants to extract oil, make petrol, use as fodder or as a fertiliser. The schemes came to nothing. The river continued to be choked and the plague, as though to flaunt its mockery, began to put out on the dark green broad-leafed surface, a carpet of bright flowers. It was the stuff of science fiction films about alien invasion.
And then there were the floods. A dam up river from Pune at Khadakvasla, whose sluices had rusted and not been maintained, broke and released the waters of Khadakvasla lake into the river which flooded its banks, drowned people and cattle and dragged and scattered the grain out of granaries on the bank so that the town stank of death and rotting grain for months.
It was three years before I came away from Pune believing that rivers and politicians behaved badly only in India.
This week there are reports that the Cam has been hit by a blight of water orchid, which will kill the fauna and flora and suspend all diving and punting.
INFO PANEL POSTING
Should Mr Jannat Hussain choose to throw his hat into the ring for the post of Chief Information Commissioner, it is not certain that he will be the candidate of choice. For one thing, there is growing resentment among non-governmental organisations working on the Right to Information Act to the appointment of retired IAS officers as CICs. They argue that officers who have been part of an administrative set-up that is averse to sharing information with the public, are unlikely to suddenly change. In Mr Hussain's case, it may be difficult to kick the habit of 30 years of administrative secrecy. Second, the leader of the Opposition must approve the choice of the government. The RTI stipulates that a committee of the CM, leader of the Opposition and a Cabinet minister appointed by the government should pick the CIC and other commissioners.
Different desams in the TD
Telugu Desam leaders may be a confused lot themselves, but they have now started confusing others with their contradictory statements. They have hailed former speaker K.R. Suresh Reddy for being a hundred times better than the present Speaker, Mr N. Kirankumar Reddy, conveniently forgetting that they had once moved a no-trust motion against Mr Suresh Reddy! A little later, TD members met Mr Kirankumar Reddy and complained to him about his deputy, Mr Nadendla Manohar's autocratic behaviour. They said that Mr Reddy is a hundred times better than Manohar in conducting the house. The TD chief, Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu, too, has been making contradictory statements. In a press conference he stated that the late Rajasekhar Reddy was better at running the Assembly than Mr K. Rosaiah. Somebody needs to remind Mr Naidu that he had hailed Mr Rosaiah as the best Chief Minister during the early days of Mr Rosaiah's regime.
Thinking twice before gifting legislators again
Showering gifts on fellow legislators may not always have the desired results. Women legislators who received saris as gifts from some of their male counterparts in the Assembly and council thanked the TD Rajahmundry rural MLA, Mr Chandana Ramesh of Chandana Bros, Venkatagiri MLA, Mr Ramakrishna, and others, for their generosity. The MLA, Mr Anam Vivekananda Reddy called Mr Ramesh and asked him jokingly why he had singled out women legislators. He then told Ramesh that it was not always wise to shower gifts on MLAs. "A former woman MLA who presented us fruits and chocolates regularly did not get elected again." That must have made Mr Ramesh think again.
A fatal 'slip' from among CM's slips
The Chief Minister, Mr K. Rosaiah's novel method of forwarding representations made by the people's representatives is causing the said reps some anxious moments. Where previous chief ministers would scribble directions such as "discuss", "pursue", "consider" or "take appropriate action", Mr Rosaiah signs on a separate yellow slip and pastes this onto the representation; the Chief Minister's Office later verifies with him the category of priority. The applicants are worried that if the slip is not pasted firmly and falls off, their representation could be in limbo. Never has the quality of adhesive been more important in the affairs of state!
TAKING NOTE OF MS MAYAWATI
I like Mayawati's style always have. Polyester pink salwar kameezes in the sweltering heat of Uttar Pradesh? Why not? If the peasants can sweat it out at the lady's rallies in nylon, that's the least she can do in return. Dime-store pearls and rhinestone rings? Of course. Plastic purses and polythene sandals? Absolutely. Does that make Ms Mayawati the new style icon? Fashion's new darling? I think so. I hope so. And I swear I am not being mean. I would love to do a line inspired by Ms Mayawati myself!
I remember attending a fashion show some years ago where the hugely talented Raghuvendra Singh Rathore had got his male models to strut down the ramp wearing a pretty snazzy line of safari suits. You know the kind I mean? The ones that stank of perspiration and Dilli Babudom (literally!). Safari suits were synonymous with babus way back in the '70s and '80s. These utterly ghastly "uniforms" of bureaucrats across India had been given a fresh but very sardonic twist by Raghu. It was obviously a send up but I fear his "in joke" was lost on most people in the audience who were (and remain) uninformed and indifferent to anything even remotely cerebral. The puzzled front row crowd stared non-comprehendingly at the garments, clapped uneasily at the end of the show and congratulated Raghu profusely for creating a new silhouette! How I laughed. And how Raghu must have laughed at those fools.
Ms Mayawati is no fool. Nothing about her is accidental. Not even her latest stunt with the thousand rupee notes garland. She got world press, remember? She made the front page of nearly every important paper in India. And her followers were delirious with pride and joy. What more does a politician want? The mistake most critics are making is exactly the same mistake she wants them to they are reading her wrong. They mock her for superficial reasons. They are obvious and shallow in their criticism. They focus on non-issues. That must really please her! Ms Mayawati has everybody by the short and curly just as she likes it. She really doesn't give a damn whether or not the chi chi crowd in Delhi is unwilling to host soirees in her honour. Their sprawling salons may not welcome her, but the maidans of the capital spill over when she grabs that mike and bellows into it. That is Ms Mayawati's turf. And she knows as much, instinctively. As for her infamous fashion faux pas, she is unfazed and unapologetic. Her synthetic purse (same one she refuses to let go), is a far cry from the orange Birkin every desi socialite craves for, but it is perennially stuffed with currency. And that counts for more in her book. Ms Mayawati is the original Bag Lady.
I was in France last week to promote the French edition of one of my books. The publishers had set up several interviews with mighty newspapers and magazines, plus interactions with readers at bookstores. Interestingly enough, a lot of the questions asked revolved around caste issues in India and Ms Mayawati. I tried in vain to decode both. First came the language barrier (how does one translate "dalit"?), then the complexities. Caste was easier to handle. I only had to discuss race and related racist problems in France for most interviewers to quickly change the subject. But "explaining" a phenomenon called Mayawati proved to be much tougher.
It's hard enough deconstructing her in India. When I devoted generous space to her in my last book, Superstar India, there were several journos who asked me whether I was an active supporter even Ms Mayawati's champion. I gave up responding to that sort of immature, trite provocation years ago. So, I'd smile and let the journos draw their own conclusions. With the French, it is not so easy to fob them off. As we well know, every French person thinks of himself/herself as an intellectual (much like the Bengalis here). If Ms Mayawati has to be mentioned in their story, she needs to be dissected and served up like a perfectly carved guinea fowl. Tres difficile, as you can imagine. I tried to get away with a careless Gallic shrug and lots of face pulling, but those guys were not about to let me off the hook so easily. "What about the garland of notes?" they'd persist. Well what about it?
Ms Mayawati's arrogance stems from her absolute belief in herself. If that garland did indeed offend people and has broken laws, charge her! Why didn't anybody do it? Why wasn't she arrested? See what I mean? Who could be daring enough to take action against her for such an act? Nobody. And the reasons for the inaction are obvious. Ms Mayawati did in public what nearly every politician in India does in private. She brazenly displayed money power in all its naked glory. Those statues!! She did it in a manner so blatant and so defiant that she left critics and observers gasping.
It was almost as if she was egging them on to take her on. It was a brilliant gamble and she pulled it off. Unlike most of her ilk in public life, Ms Mayawati has errrrr, testicles of steel. You mess with Ms Mayawati at your own peril.
Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com 
WILL GORDON SING?
BY KISHWAR DESAI
Love Never Dies... or does it? As you can probably guess I've just been to see the sequel of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera, which premiered recently at the Westend. Love Never Dies has had a difficult launch, plagued by consistent panning by the critics and by die-hard supporters of the original Phantom. Phantom is a hard act to follow as it has been running successfully for more than two decades at the Westend. A box office bonanza, Phantom has always drawn an avid viewership, and that, too, makes one marvel at the ever-increasing hordes of theatregoers, many of whom are willing to pay up to £60 (roughly about Rs 5,000 per ticket) to see a show which is now as much a part of the London tour as is perhaps the Tower of London or Madam Tussauds' waxworks. Of course, the special effects in the show are ethereal as when the boat on stage glides through the lamp posts which pop up in the mist. One is simply left enchanted. The production moves like clockwork not a note out of place. The tragic tale of the terribly disfigured, masked Phantom yearning hopelessly for his Christine (who can forget the wonderful song, The Music of the Night) but unable to attain her, is directly meant to woo simple hearted folk like me.
Moreover, we empathise with the talented, lonely Phantom as only Christine understands his music and can sing it the way he wants. But when Christine walks off into the sunset with Raoul, the perfect man, it is a bitter-sweet ending to a very romantic musical.
Obviously it is this cruel separation of the doomed lovers that haunted Webber, too, and since 1990 he had been thinking of a sequel (now before us as Love Never Dies) in which the Phantom and Christina are united again. But unlike the setting of the original Phantom, the story in Love Never Dies has moved to America's Coney Island, with all its freaks and oddities at the turn of the 19th century.
In a way it is a perfect place for someone with a secret to hide from the world, as it has extravagant hotels and amusement parks and some rather strange inhabitants. Even Houdini is said to have started his career here. An impresario who abhors reality would be very welcome in this place.
The play opens with the lonely Phantom living here as a recluse in a house full of strange robotic creatures, distant from love and relationships. But after 10 years of his self-imposed exile, the Phantom finally invites Christine, without revealing his own identity, to come and sing in his production. She arrives at Coney Island with her husband Raoul and child Gustave. When she learns who her new employer actually is, she too shares a secret: Gustave is actually the Phantom's son.
So far, so good. Being a sucker for love stories I bought it all. Even though the music wasn't of the same calibre as that of the original Phantom and I could not hum along with a single tune (my idea of good music is something I can remember) I still loved the production, and the amazing special effects. Scott Penrose is actually a "Magic Consultant" for the production and that has gone a long way in creating a spectacular show, with a bizarre yet burlesque appeal.
I suspect I also enjoyed the first half of the show because it closely resembles a Bollywood film. But alas, just like most Bollywood films, it loses its way in the second half. Therefore, as in the moralising films of the 1950s in which all adulteresses had to die, the same rough justice is ultimately meted out to poor Christina, who gets shot. And just like in those 1950s films, she had to sing and sing and sing before she finally dies. So finally the Phantom is left alone with his son which, I suppose, could give rise to yet another production featuring the Phantom, Christina's ghost and her son, and it could be called Love (Really and Truly) Never Died, Believe Me.
STRANGELY ENOUGH the show reminded me very strongly of the politics which is now being played out in the UK. Prime Minister of UK Gordon Brown is aiming for a sequel of the Labour government called "A Future Fair For All" (a slogan which sounds more like an advertisement for a bleaching cream) and in his case the tormented, tortured love he bears is for the premiership. He is trying everything he can even creating an illusionary Coney Island (if I can take the metaphor of the play a little further) through all kinds of clever tricks in the recently-announced Budget to lure the prime ministership a little closer. The Magic Consultant in his case is Lord Peter Mandelson who has been credited with creating the illusion of a "feel good" Budget even though UK's debt is said to be clocking up an average of £500 million every day. Everyone seems to have liked it. The allegory may not be all good news though: because if we follow the Love Never Dies plot, the premiership gets shot to pieces, even if there is a swan song to look forward to. So perhaps we shall finally see Gordon Brown sing?
However, the good news is that Love Never Dies ends with the Phantom hanging onto his son and crying. So it now depends on whose "son" we are looking out for? Who is going to be the real inheritor of the realm? Remember Gordon Brown is Phantom II; Phantom I, whose show ran for 10 years was, actually, Tony Blair. So if it is Gordon's dynasty that moves forward we will probably get Ed Balls, the current holder of the education portfolio. And if it is Tony's successor then we could get David Cameron, the Leader of the Opposition. It all gets quite complicated, and which is why unless Lord Mandelson (who is masterminding this show) can think of a solution or even a song rather quickly, we will move into a sequel of a hung Parliament which will be called The Love That Labour Lost.
Which is why I like the Indian style of politics. We know who the Prime Minister is right now, and we also know who the next one is. And we don't even need an election for it. It is all so straightforward. This show, if ever Webber can be persuaded to do it, will be called The Love That Just Goes On And On And On
- The writer can be contacted at email@example.com 
VINCE CABLE: THE RUMPLED SAGE
BY ROGER COHEN
LONDON, United Kingdom
An unlikely character, bald and blunt, a "good bloke" in native parlance, has emerged as a pivotal figure in Britain's May election, at once the country's most popular politician and a possible chancellor of the Exchequer in the plausible event of a hung Parliament.
A dishevelled 66, wisps of surviving hair lifting off from his pate, Vince Cable looks more like a provincial bank manager than a political celebrity. But this is the gloried "sage of Twickenham" (his West London constituency).
The sage is so called for his economic foresight (remaining sober enough to perceive risk when everyone was tipsy on easy credit). He has thereby done much to hoist his Liberal Democrats from their usual third-party peripheral role.
Glamorous he's not, but Cable can turn a phrase. Back in 2007, he demolished Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown by noting his "transformation in the last few weeks from Stalin to Mr Bean, creating chaos out of order rather than order out of chaos".
UK elections have been a bore for more than a decade, too predictable to raise the heartbeat. But this one, expected May 6, is a cliffhanger.
The Opposition Conservative Party, through David Cameron's touchy-feely makeover, has roused itself but its élan has faltered. Labour's 13 years in power look like enough, but Brown, who lived most of those years in Tony Blair's shadow and knows he can only emerge by actually winning an election, is still hungry. As for the Liberal Democrats, they've been boosted because they got the core issue right.
It was back in November 2003 that Cable asked Brown, then chancellor: "Is not the brutal truth that... the growth of the British economy is sustained by consumer spending pinned against record levels of personal debt, which is secured, if at all, against house prices that the Banks of England describes as well above equilibrium level?"
Brown brushed Cable aside. Bubble tunes were still playing.
Now fast-forward five years to the great meltdown (UK version): banks collapsing, families asphyxiated by negative equity, Icelandic weirdness, the government to the rescue late in the day. And here we are, with the economy dominating the election everyone realises somebody's got to pay the huge tab for that bailout someday and a lionised Cable.
I asked him why he had a hold on what the spin and sound-bite saturated 21st-century voter (like my sister Jenny Walden whose worship of Cable first pointed me in his direction) craves: honesty and authenticity.
"I'm not a professional politician", he told me with his Yorkshire purr. "I was 54 by the time I became an MP. I'd lived a life, had less to lose. So I thought I'd say the things that need to be said".
Among them were that the credit bonanza would "surely come to a sticky end", especially with "regulators reinforcing the cycle rather than leaning against it".
Cable went to Nunthorpe grammar school (hardly Cameron's exclusive Eton) and, after Cambridge, was a city councilor in Glasgow. He told me, "I was a very idealistic Left-winger when I started, representing a tough working-class ward". (The problem, he says, with Cameron and several of his entourage is "not the fact they went to Eton, it's the fact they haven't done anything really".)
Life took him here and there from Labour to the Liberal Democrats, from economic left to centre, from the Foreign Office to chief economist at Shell before he won Twickenham in 1997. Today, he sees a Britain that is "baffled, puzzled", worried about its economic future.
Tired of Labour, the country is now less focused on Brown and more on what the "conventional see-saw alternative is, the Tories", Cable said. Because the deft Cameron's real intent is uncertain, Cable suggested, the once double-digit Tory lead has narrowed.
I think Cable's analysis is about right. I also think this election is about anger over privilege the MP expense account scandal, the City's excesses, all the "non-doms" (British residents who claim residence abroad for tax purposes including Conservative Party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft) and that Cameron's biggest task will be convincing enough people he's of the people.
Cable has no issues on that score; people trust him even when he prescribes pain. With the deficit at about 13 per cent of gross national product, he's seen as credible on fiscal responsibility, the key to reassuring bond and currency markets. He's been more explicit about possible cuts to defense, some regional development agencies and public sector pensions than his Labour and Conservative counterparts (and Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling's pre-election budget left those cuts for another day). He's also called for a mansion tax to relieve the 3.6 million people earning less than $15,000 a year from taxes, and he lambasted banks that, as he put it, have been "semi-nationalised" and "should now act in the public interest."
Cable's got something going on. Whether it's enough to lift the Liberal Democrats from their 63 seats is unclear. But a hung Parliament, in which neither Labour nor the Tories can form a government, is more likely than in any recent election. That could put Cable in a position of power, about as good an outcome as I can imagine.
OUTDATED 'SOCIALIST' HYPOCRISY
ONLY those titillated by inexpensive politicking will find "meat" in the revelation ~ procured courtesy an RTI application ~ that during his four years in office the previous railway minister used a saloon (to which he is as legally entitled as the defence minister is to an IAF aircraft) on no fewer than 369 occasions. Significantly, the information provided to the media indicated that the present minister has never used a saloon even once. Also significantly, the costs incurred on the saloon-sojourns were "yet to be calculated". For if the expenses were as meticulously tabulated as the number of trips, and to which destinations Lalu took the saloon, it might just suggest that less money was spent than might have been utilised (squandered?) had he travelled by air and lived in hotels.
It would also be interesting to know how much of the government's time and effort was consumed collecting that loaded information; obviously some folk in Rail Bhavan are under-employed. This is not to enter a Mamata-Lalu slanging match: a similar calculation of the time Mamata spends in her home state would lend itself to some interesting conclusions about diligent execution of ministerial responsibilities. The point in question is the validity of the projection of the use of a railway saloon as conspicuous ostentation. Just one more of those obsolete, socialistic, populist fads: akin to Pranab Babu directing ministers to fly "cattle-class". A whole load of "politically correct" bull Not that this is something new, another antiquated legacy of the jargon-rich garibi hatao era.
The true casualty of saloon-slamming has been quality supervision of railway functioning. Before the futile furore officials used saloons (office-cum-home) to take extensive tours of their divisions. They spent time at small stations where few facilities were available and sorted out problems. Now they take the morning train, make a cursory inspection, catch the first one back to their base. Or stay in hotels at taxpayer's expense. Not all saloons are luxurious or suited to high speed travel; ~ the "vintage" of the particular car in question would tell a tale ~ building them was suspended decades ago. Yet they remain the targets of the hypocrisy practised in the name of aam aadmi.
HIGH COURT TO THE RESCUE
A major crisis in West Bengal's job market ~ a mess of the government's creation ~ has been averted with the intervention of the judiciary. Tuesday's ruling of a Division Bench of Calcutta High Court (coram: Shah, CJ; and Ghosh, J) will protect the careers of no fewer than 30,000 primary teachers whose certificates had been declared "invalid''. And the administration is almost entirely to blame for the predicament. Of the 138 teachers' training institutions in the state, as many as 120 were declared unauthorised in March 2006 by another Division Bench precisely because these centres had not been approved by the National Council of Teachers' Education. The lapse was clearly the government's and it had been rapped on the knuckles by the court. The school education department could not have been unaware of the basics. It ought to have ensured that the mandatory requirement of recognition by the NCTE was fulfilled before allowing these training institutions to function, to pursue the courses on offer and eventually award the diplomas/certificates. As the all-India council was given the short shrift, it was almost an institutionalised illegality. The state had no excuse to offer when the careers of tens of thousands of teachers in the make was in jeopardy. Happily, the latest order of the Bench will protect the candidates who had passed out between 1998 and 2004, and they number no fewer than 30,000. The validity of their certificates has been upheld.
In a sense, the school education department has also been rescued though it will not be easy to refurbish its standing. It was verily made to look silly when the primary teachers' training institutions were de-recognised. One can almost hear the collective sigh of relief. Nonetheless, the prospects of those who passed out after 2004 remains ever so uncertain. Despite a change of ministers, the department has failed to clear the mess in its own backyard. Yet it has the gall to consciously play ducks and drakes with training courses. Thousands belonging to the post-2004 batches remain to be bailed out, perhaps with alternative employment. It is a bread-and-butter issue, and the state owes it to them.
BEST TIME TO REMOVE OLD IRRITANTS
India's willingness to offer Bangladesh a unilateral declaration of "no fire'' on the border for a year and visa relaxations to its citizens who have travelled to India in the past can be viewed most appropriately in the context of more healthy relations. During the years when Khaleda Zia was at the helm of affairs, there had been nagging suspicions that Bangladesh soil was being utilised by outfits causing disruptions, and worse, in India. The standard response from Dhaka then was a denial, much like the reluctance of the Pakistani authorities to acknowledge the existence of groups that masterminded 26/11 and continue to conduct hate-India campaigns. Operations from Bangladesh were evidently fewer and more clandestine, but could have been dealt with by a friendly government such as the one now headed by Sheikh Hasina. But while India may take advantage of the new political climate in Dhaka and the assurances received from the Bangladesh Prime Minister during her recent visit, there is no reason to believe that terrorist outfits will no longer look for Indian targets from across the border. At the same time, the fresh overtures cannot wish away the old menace of illegal immigration which has caused social tensions not only in the border districts but also in big cities, including Delhi and Mumbai.
The unilateral offer of "no fire'' can be construed as a welcome gesture justified by what the Indian government claims to be the need to prevent civilian casualties if, simultaneously, the 4,000-km border can be plugged so effectively as to check unauthorised traffic. Not to speak of identifying the thousands (no estimates are available) who have merged with the Indian population. So far neither the Centre nor West Bengal has found an answer to a problem with old roots. The ruling Left in Bengal has thrived on an immigrant vote-bank and, when the state is gearing up for elections, it is unlikely to plunge into any deterrent action. It is thus up to the Centre to combine its initiative on visa relaxations and sharing of Teesta waters with a reciprocal arrangement to check the illegal flow. The positive signal is that there is new spirit of accommodation on both sides. This is the best possible setting for removing the irritants and making room for more meaningful exchanges.
THE QUICK-FIX OF QUOTAS
POVERTY, NOT RELIGION, SHOULD BE THE CRITERION
BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
There is a provision for reserving a fixed percentage of seats for the Scheduled Castes, Tribes and other backward classes in government offices and educational institutions. In addition, the West Bengal government declared on 8 February that a 10 per cent quota would be reserved for the Muslims.
The Supreme Court has observed that quotas in public offices and other organisations can, at best, be 50 per cent and, in no case, should it exceed this specified limit. Second, the "creamy layer" of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes will not be eligible for such reservation in public offices. Third, the same principle will apply in the case of OBC candidates. Fourth, the promotion of those in reserved posts must not impair the efficiency or standard of public services. In other words, the government cannot promote inefficient employees to higher posts in the name of doing justice to the backward classes. Finally, before promoting a person on social or economic grounds, the authorities must make sure that the incumbent belongs to a caste or class which has been denied a rightful opportunity to join the advanced sections of the populace.
The observations of the apex court ought to guide the authorities who are anxious to help out the backward communities. More often than not, the reservation policy is followed only to achieve electoral ends. This explains the attendant problems. The Constitution has been amended on several occasions without sparing a thought on the adverse impact on national life.
IN its original form, the Constitution offered no scope for reservation. Indeed, Article 14 guaranteed "equality before the law and equal protection of the law" to every person. However, the framers realised that women and children might require special privileges. Hence another Article declared: "Nothing in this Article shall prevent the state from making any special provision for women and children." The framers were convinced that "special treatment" would not affect the right to equality as declared in the Preamble and guaranteed by Article 14.
Before long, it was further realised that some people have historically been humiliated and exploited. Illiteracy and poverty are central to their backwardness. In the Government of India's reckoning, special privileges will improve their social condition. The policy ran counter to Article 14 of the Constitution. The Tamil Nadu government's attempt to reserve seats for SC/ST candidates in medical colleges was invalidated by the Supreme Court (Champakam Dorairajan vs Madras, 1951).
In order to surmount such legal obstacles, Clause (4) was added to Article 15 by the First Amendment (1951). It reads: "Nothing in this Article or Clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the state from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes." Thus was the legal path paved for giving special privileges to the Scheduled Castes, Tribes and other backward classes.
In this way, Article 15(4) has offered an opportunity for the government, both central and state, to reserve seats in the public bodies and educational institutions. However, the provision was made for only 10 years, because it was believed that, in the meantime, people of such sections would, by utilising the special privileges, come forward and be at par with the advanced section. It was subsequently felt that the 10-year timeframe was insufficient for so huge a task. The gestation period was repeatedly extended and has now become a permanent feature.
Despite the benefits, the reservation policy has created problems. The temporary provision has become a perpetual privilege for some persons, resulting in disparities between two sections of the people. Second, a peculiar class consciousness has emerged. This has affected the process of national integration. The upper strata complains that excessive quotas for the undeserving members of the backward classes deprive the former of their rightful claim. The other section regards the reservation as a basic privilege. Even the Supreme Court has observed that a section of the privileged people has achieved sufficiency and no longer deserve reservations (Jayasree vs Kerala, 1996). In the case of Sawney vs Union (1992), the Bench held that a "creamy layer" has appeared in the backward section, leading to an uneasy existence of two groups in the same community. Clearly, only a part of the backward sections deserves the special privilege.
Quality of service
Caste cannot be the sole criterion. The economic condition along with social backwardness ought also to be taken into account. Excessive reservation for the backward classes may hamper our progress. It may amount to gross injustice to others, thereby affecting the efficiency and quality of public service.
It is a fact that Muslims are not adequately represented in public offices and educational institutions. But religion is not the reason. The reason is historical. When the British supplanted Muslim rule in India after the Battle of Plassey (1757), the Muslims felt alienated. When the British introduced English education, the Muslims did not accept it. They relied on their own language and system of education. The Hindus, influenced by Raja Rammohan Roy and other reformist leaders, cooperated with the British and the package of modern education, culture and science. The Muslims, in general, remained unresponsive to the changes being brought about. However, through the Aligarh Movement (1877), Sir Sayid Ahmed made an attempt to rectify the mistake. But the gulf was not bridged.
Even today, madrasa education has not been modernised and, hence, the minority students have to face an unequal competition. This is rooted in educational conservatism. Reservation for the minorities can never be the real solution. Poverty alone should be the criterion for special treatment. The radical measures to ensure uplift are financial assistance and educational reformation. Reservation is not the panacea.
There can be no scope for "discriminating privilege". The Constitution seeks to ensure "equality of opportunity". For the sake of improving the lot of the backward sections, other groups cannot be denied their rightful claims. Neither birth nor religion but backwardness and poverty should matter.
The writer is former Reader, New Alipore College, Kolkata
"THE INDIAN GIANT HAS WOKEN UP"
Thomas Matussek took charge as Germany's Ambassador to India in November 2009. Prior to this posting, he headed Germany's Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. He had served as Press Counsellor at the German Embassy in New Delhi between 1983 and 1986. During his tenure at the UN, he worked closely with his counterparts from India, Brazil and Japan for reform of the UN Security Council. Mr Matussek has also served as the Chief of Cabinet to Germany's Foreign Ministers Mr Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Mr Klaus Kinkel; as the Director General of the Political Department at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, and as Germany's Ambassador to London. In this interview with SIMRAN SODHI, he talks about Indo-German ties and the Afghan-Pak situation.
How would you describe Indo-German relations today?
Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh called the Indo-German relationship strategic and there is some substance to it because we go back a very long time together. The common roots are basically in the cultural fields. German philosophers, writers, poets always harboured a deep admiration for Indian culture and traditions. On the other hand, Indians felt that Germany was a natural ally because it did not have a colonial past and greatly appreciated the interest that German intellectuals took in India. As a matter of fact, culture opened the doors for business here. Now when I talk about a strategic relationship, it includes a reform of the United Nations system and better financial regulatory systems. It also includes the fight against international terrorism and arms proliferation.
In what ways has Germany extended support to India post-Mumbai 26/11?
After the attacks of 26/11, German Interior Minister Schaubles was the first to come here, not only to offer our condolences but also to offer very practical help. Since then we have vastly improved our system of intelligence sharing, we have helped train Indian anti-terrorism experts.
How does Germany view the situation in Afghanistan and that of its President Hamid Karzai? What is the roadmap for the future there?
I think with the redefinition of our objectives we are on the right course. The aim is to help Afghanistan get into a position where they would be able to take care of their own security so that the real peace dividend can reach the common man.
We feel that stability in Afghanistan can only be reached if Pakistan is fully involved and if you bring to the negotiating table, elements which so far have been lured away by the Taliban. I am not saying that every Taliban can be won over but there are a lot of fellow-travellers who feel disgruntled with the present system or who are no real enemy of the state and can be lured back to help play a role in the construction of their own country. I think to have Pakistan fully engaged, fully involved in the fight against terrorism is very important. And here I also would like to stress that the role India is playing is very laudable. India is very active in the fields of infrastructure, education and India does not have combat troops there for very obvious reasons.
So do you favour talking with the Taliban?
I think we can talk to sections of the Taliban, and then there are those that are beyond talking. The difficulty is in the thin red line, we have to operate here in a grey area but I think it is worth trying to talk to and to convince as many of these elements as possible. I agree that there is an element of risk involved whether this strategy will succeed but this is the best strategy we have. The alternative would be that Afghanistan lapses back into the situation we have seen before.
Karzai's credibility is quite low. Do you think the international coalition is doing the right thing by engaging with him?
Well, Karzai was the man who was elected even though I have to agree that the elections were not up to the standards we would have liked to see. But in a country with a recent history of turmoil and civil war, you cannot expect perfect professionalism. I think Karzai is the best choice we have, he is the one we are cooperating with and instead of undermining his position, he needs all the help that he can get.
How does Germany view Pakistan and the current scenario prevailing there?
Pakistan is in a very difficult situation and the problem of Afghanistan cannot be seen as isolated. Pakistan's democratic institutions are relatively weak. I think in Pakistan the West has to be engaged in the long haul. Pakistan's main enemy is not India but terrorism and the situation is not made easier by the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear power. And if you have instability then the danger increases that one day these nuclear weapons might fall in the wrong hands.
What are the chances of Turkey becoming a member of the European Union?
Turkey is a very important country and it has many important assets among which are its young and dynamic population. Turkey can be a valuable partner in our dialogue with the whole Islamic region. Turkey, at this moment though, is not at the level of economic development that it would fit very well into the present European Union. This is not a black or white case; there are very good arguments against Turkey's membership and also very good arguments for its membership. So we will have to see further down the line where this is developing.
Next year is the year of Germany in India. How far do you feel these cultural interactions go in developing relations?
Yes, the idea is to celebrate together with our Indian partners the 60 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations. We also want to celebrate hundred years of Hermann Hesse in India and the birthday celebrations of Rabindranath Tagore, who is held in very high esteem in Germany. We want to do that by showcasing Germany in all its facets, culture, science and economy with the purpose of how we can together solve problems. The motto for the festival is "city-spaces'' since one of the emphases is on problems connected with urbanisation. One of our main targets is the young urban elite in India.
This is your second posting to India. How different do you find India today as compared to your previous visit?
The change is enormous. But the important thing is not so much the physical changes, like the new roads and the new buildings. The real change, I think, is in the mindset of the people. India, when I left it 25 years ago, was a sleeping giant. The giant has woken up and there is a spirit of optimism and candour in the air. I had the chance to speak to Rahul Gandhi last week and I was very impressed with his vision of where he wants to see India in the future. I am very happy to be in India to be a witness to these crucial changes.
SHINING OR WHINING ?
North Block is never tired of blowing its own trumphet. It talks unabashedly about overtaking China in four years, of double digit growth "in the foreseeable future". Are good times really round the corner?
According to pundits, not so. The public debt vis-a-vis GDP is rising above the declared 82 per cent. The UK and US are far behind. In the current Budget, the Government piously announced its commitment to reduce the fiscal deficit to 5.5 per cent. A similar promise last year saw the deficit end up at 6.9 per cent. The failure to meet stipulated targets is facilely attributed to either a weak monsoon or other transient factors.
Why is this so? The RBI has been forced to maintain easy monetaryconditions to benefit the burgeoning private sector which has made inroads into all political parties. To camouflage the real scenario, they all talk about the need for high growth. Undeniably true. But food prices have soared and inflation is showing no substantive sign of relenting. The clamour for FDI is rising. But how many are aware that the foreign share in infrastructure projects is negligible ?
Arab, camel & steel
Every other day, there is news about greenfield steel projects, punctuatedby report of problems involving land acquisitions, environmental clearance and rehabilitation. NGOs spearheading many a campaign are looked at with suspicion about their real intentions and who their backers are.
A reality check provides a shocker. India plans steel production of 124 million tonnes by 2011-12. With barely a year to go, the figure is much less than 50 per cent of the target. Most of the projects are in limbo.
To start with, the problem lies with land requisition. Name the steel giant and their requisition is more than double the actual land needed for the project.
And with it come umpteen requests for waivers, tax benefits, consessional tariffs and a host of things. And companies which have no captive resources back home desperately demand dedicated mines.
The government, in a bid to seem investor-friendly, dithers and at times stumbles. And the projects go for a tailspin. Pressure from PMO gives a new lease of life, but by then charges and counter charges fly like straws in the wind.
The scene is invariably the same in all the mineral-rich states. So the latest strategy, or ploy, is to tie up with a PSU. With reason having dawned on some, one has teamed up with SAIL in Jharkhand and another has signed a JV with NMDC. But will this be like the story of the Arab and the camel?
Union ministers of state have always been baggage. But nowadays they are seen as a liability in many quarters with their out-of-turn remarks. Left with nothing to do but swat flies, their demur has not brought about any improvement in their status. A prime ministerial intervention did little to alleviate their idleness. Being left with precious little to do other than make innocuous statements or twitter about, they spend more time in their home state.
One chief minister of a southern state is particularly annoyed with the manner in which MoSs from his state keep sauntering around, inaugurating all and sundry things and contributing to the political turmoil. The octogenarian never misses an opportunity to rub salt in wounds by slighting them about their dispensability in the capital.
But the problem is not so simple. One minister from the same state sought the good offices of an associate of his cabinet minister who represented his plight that no file reached the MoS. She heard him out sympathetically and then delivered the coup de grace: "I have seven MoS in this government. You are talking of files, but not a shred of paper reaches my partymen. Go tell the PM". The ensuing silence was deafening.
Is it unparalleled incompetence? David Headley alias Dawood Gilani was named by FBI as early as in 2002. After which this man walked in and out of every nook and corner of India without any hitch. Our super-sleuths were caught napping till they were rudely woken up by disclosures in the U.S after 26/11. Even after Pune was stated to be one of the targets for which Headley had done a recce, the cops were busy ensuring the release of a Bollywood blockbuster when tragedy struck again.
The accountability issues are skirted when it comes to fixing responsibility. Strangely, those who have a lot of answering to do are comfortably ensconced in the colonial Raj Bhavans across the country. In fact, some nagging questions linger ominously. The hijacking of IC 814 surfaces quite often in the media, but the haunting mystery of why the aircraft was allowed to take off from Amritsar in the wee hours of the morning has never been unravelled so far. Or was it that the top functionary could not be woken up from his slumber ? Again, why did it take ten hours for the NSG to reach the scene of terror attack in Mumbai?
Or are we condemned to see history repeating itself?
Wanted: a regulator
Will the government lock the stables after the horses have bolted? In other words, will the government set up the Coal Regulatory Authority after all the mines have been allocated? Natural resources are like gold, and there is a mad rush for them among our enterprising and resourceful barons.
The authority was proposed in the Annual Budget of 2008. And it was underscored in the current Budget as well. Mr Jaiswal, the coal minister, asserted that the regulator will be in place by 15 March. Nothing has happened yet again. The hawks in the power and steel sectors have been demanding coal mine allocation as a birthright. Is there something more to this than meets the eye?
Who is to blame ?
Some corporates have controversies attached to them. Some court trouble as they go about expanding their business. One such case is that of London-based Vedanta group which has grandiose plans in India. It is always under the scanner for the right or wrong reason. And many a time, corporates get into trouble for being aligned with some political party or a politician. This becomes anathema to some others.
In this instance, a high profile minister is (or was) reportedly close to the group. And so a cabinet colleague never misses an opportunity of putting it in the dock, with or without justification. The charges are serious, as the Church of England believes. But it's interesting how members of the same flock are at cross-purposes.
This is not to exonirate either the corporate or the dramatis personae but to highlight the idiosyncracies that characterise public life.
Heard on the street
It might be curtains for the British House of Lords. In a new avatar, the selection process will resemble the US Senate. Similarly, India emulated the British parliamentary form and has a House of Elders called Rajya Sabha. Now will India follow suit ?
BEYOND THE DEBRIS
Certain episodes are unforgettable because they are enactments of unbearable agony, horror and suffering. This alone would have marked out the Stephen Court fire in the memories of Calcuttans. But woven in with the memory is also the knowledge that the tragedy need not have taken place at all. And that even after the fire began, many lives could have been saved had the fire services been up to the mark. The Stephen Court fire and its consequences are the result of a series of critical failures that began with the 'regularization' of the illegal addition of floors on top of the original building. Regularization is a loophole in the building law, which permits additions outside the legally sanctioned plan with the payment of a fine. Stephen Court is in the exalted company of numerous structures either wholly or partially illegal, including the Nandaram Market, which burnt for 100 hours in 2008.
But illegal building is defined as such because of the dangers it poses. Paying a fine does not remove the dangers; it merely feeds the vested interests of house-owners, promoters and the politicians and officials they are close to. Something can yet be salvaged from the Stephen Court tragedy if the state government and the municipal corporation at last decide to override all other interests for the sake of the safety and health of the citizens. This could become a turning point if the administration began to demolish all forbidden structures, prohibit new ones, and ensure basic fire-safety measures for all multi-storeyed and old buildings. Using the law as an excuse, as the mayor of Calcutta has been doing with his usual slippery expertise, will not do. The law can be reviewed and amended. But again, that should not be a fresh pretext for stalling action. Just as the new committees and commissions of inquiry being formed should not be used to stuff the question of people's life and death back into the closet. Cleaning up should begin immediately. It can be done; it only needs determination and the will to good.
That will is all-important. An illegal structure that the Supreme Court ordered to be demolished in 1996 is still standing. So are the illegal sections of Nandaram Market, ordered to be demolished 23 years ago. In the case of Stephen Court, the story is slightly different. The civic authorities want to demolish the damaged floors because of the danger they pose, but the Calcutta High Court originally ordered a stay on the basis of a petition from some residents. In a modified order, after the Calcutta Municipal Corporation explained its reasons, the court has not stopped the demolition but has deferred it. It was indeed a strange situation where a court could actually contemplate staying the demolition of an illegal structure. This entire painful predicament need never have arisen if everyone was in the habit of abiding by the law and safety regulations in the first place.
THE GREAT UNMENTIONABLE
THE CONGRESS WISHES TO OVERLOOK NARASIMHA RAO'S ACHIEVEMENTS
POLITICS AND PLAY - RAMACHANDRA GUHA
The first meeting of the Indian National Congress took place in Bombay in the last week of December, 1885. Late last year, the Congress held a function in New Delhi to mark the beginning of the year in which the party was to celebrate its 125th anniversary. At this meeting, the Congress president observed, according to a magazine report, that "Rajivji did not stay with us to see his dreams being realised, but we can see reflections of his thoughts in the party manifesto for the 1991 elections. That became the basis for economic policies for the next five years. These policies gave a new direction and strength to our economy and our society".
I do not have a copy of the Congress election manifesto for 1991 at hand. It may perhaps have mentioned the need to liberalize the economy. In his first term in office, Rajiv Gandhi had removed government controls from key areas, such as computers. But he was at that time a cautious and hesitant liberalizer. The real dismantling of the licence-permit-quota raj took place under the leadership of P.V. Narasimha Rao, prime minister of India between 1991 and 1996.
Sonia Gandhi's assertion at that anniversary function was a clear attempt to deny Narasimha Rao the credit for freeing the economy from the shackles of State control. Sitting next to her on the dais was our current prime minister, who, of course, served as finance minister in Rao's government. One does not know what he was thinking when his party president ascribed the reforms to her late husband. For the fact is that had Rajiv Gandhi not been assassinated, and had he come to serve a second term as prime minister, someone other than Manmohan Singh would have been assigned the finance portfolio. Singh was hand-picked by Rao, who then gave him the freedom to implement the policies of economic liberalization with which he has since been associated. Had it not been for Rao, then Singh may now have merely been a Professor Emeritus of the Delhi School of Economics (which had offered him a position weeks before he joined the government in the summer of 1991).
Narasimha Rao may be denied the credit by the present Congress leadership for taking the Indian economy well above the 'Hindu rate of growth' of two to three per cent per annum. But they do not let the public forget his greatest defeat, which was his failure to stop the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December, 1992. Rahul Gandhi once remarked that had his father been alive, he would have placed his body between the kar sevaks and the building they brought down. The implication was that if Narasimha Rao wanted he could have done likewise.
Apart from sustaining the process of economic liberalization, Narasimha Rao was also responsible for our 'Look East' policy, where we balanced our traditional orientation towards Europe and America with the forging of closer ties with the rising nations of Southeast Asia. That policy has been furthered by the present government, again without reference to its originator.
From the point of view of the present Congress leadership, Rao's problem was not just that he was not a Nehru-Gandhi, it was also that as prime minister he did not genuflect enough to the Nehru-Gandhis. In the past, he had been content to silently (and perhaps slavishly) serve Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. But when he unexpectedly became prime minister, he sought to break out of the shadows of the dynasty and become his own man. His speeches rarely invoked Indira or Rajiv. He rarely called upon Sonia Gandhi, either, and in any case never took her counsel.
Now that the Nehru-Gandhis once more control both party and government, P.V. Narasimha Rao has become the great unmentionable within Congress circles. I should modify that statement Rao can be mentioned only if it is possible to disparage him. Thus his contributions to economic growth and to a more enlightened foreign policy are ignored, while his admittedly pusillanimous attitude towards the kar sevaks in Ayodhya is foregrounded. It appears that Sonia Gandhi has not forgiven Rao for setting aside decades of subservience to the First Family and asserting himself when he was prime minister. The message has gone down the line thus senior ministers do not ever mention a prime minister they worked with and were sometimes indebted to. The party spokesmen, meanwhile, are free to charge him with crimes he may have committed, as well as with those he may not have committed.
Back in the days of the Soviet Union, there was something known as the 'Stalinist falsification of history'. When Joseph Stalin became general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he proceeded to purge the party and the government of opponents and critics, real, potential, or imaginary. These men (and less often, women) were first thrown out of their jobs, then sent to prison, and finally, executed. Among Stalin's victims were many authentic heroes of the Bolshevik Revolution, such as Leon Trotsky and Nikolai Bukharin. By the late 1930s, Stalin was verily Russia's Great and Unchallenged Dictator. But he was not content with controlling the present he wanted also to control the past. Under his direction, history books and encyclopaedias were rewritten to blacken out the names and contributions of Trotsky, Bukharin, and others. Photographs were also doctored so, for example, Stalin was made to appear much closer to the founder of the revolution, V.I. Lenin, than he actually had been.
Our leaders are no Stalinists. They are far more confused and weak. Moreover, they operate within a democratic system. But where they do resemble Stalin is in their vanity and insecurity. They cannot purge or kill former colleagues, but they can at least disparage their contributions, while magnifying their own.
In this, its anniversary year, how will the Congress seek to write or re-write its own history? In the 125 years of its existence, the party has produced a series of impressive and important leaders. In the books, pamphlets or publicity materials brought out this year, how will these leaders be remembered and recalled? How much will the Congress worker of today be acquainted with the life and work of that remarkable Pune twosome, the liberal Gopal Krishna Gokhale and the radical Bal Gangadhar Tilak? Now that a woman is president of the party, will its historians and propagandists recall the great women leaders of the past, such as Sarojini Naidu, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, and Sucheta Kripalani? And how will they remember those Congressmen who played a key role in nurturing the party during the freedom struggle but parted ways with the organization after Independence? Will, for example, such charismatic and greatly influential individuals as J.B. Kripalani, C. Rajagopalachari, Jayaprakash Narayan and Rammanohar Lohia be mentioned at all in the speeches and commemorations of this anniversary year? And how much space will the party's collective memory now find for its most outstanding president, K. Kamaraj, and its brilliant prime minister who died early, Lal Bahadur Shastri?
Indians are an unhistorical people. It may be that it is ignorance rather than malign intent which will lead to these (and other) names from the Congress's past being overlooked in the party's ongoing celebration of its very long life. But the treatment of Narasimha Rao by the party he once led is another matter. To forget his achievements, but to remember his mistakes, is a product of cold and deliberate calculation.
ENDING A FARCE
'AUSTERITY WAS ONLY A POLITICAL GIMMICK.'
It was not expected that the austerity measures announced by the government in October last year would continue for long. They are to come to an end this month and it will be back to business from April 1. The original announcement had said that they would be in force till the end of the financial year and now it has been decided that there is going to be no renewal of the order. The spending restrictions will continue in certain areas like the eligibility for leave travel allowance but they are also sure to be lifted within an year so that no one may actually lose anything. All government personnel, including ministers and officials, will be happy that they will not have to travel cattle class and won't have to stay away from five star ambience on official engagements and functions. Even great practical problems like the lack of leg space in economy class were cited in cabinet meetings, which discussed the austerity measures, as reasons for discomfort but now there should not be any complaint.
Even while it lasted the austerity measures were no better than farcical. Compared to the huge wasteful expenditure that goes on in government departments, their impact was almost nil. It is estimated that the government may have saved about Rs 2,000-3,000 crore. The budget estimate for non-Plan expenditure for the current financial year was Rs 6.95 lakh crore and it was to be reduced by 5 per cent. But, instead of a reduction of Rs 35,000 crore, the revised estimates show an additional expenditure of Rs 11,000 crore. So how does a saving of about Rs 3,000 crore make any difference?
The October order had cited the difficult fiscal situation and drought and the consequent pressure on government resources as the reasons for the introduction of economy measures. The situation might have improved now with the prospects of industrial and agricultural production looking better. But it is still not rosy, as the budget estimates prove, and the grounds mentioned in October have still not lost their sting and validity.
All that makes such a forced austerity regime only a political gimmick. It is easy to highlight the value of austerity and preach the need to make it a way of life. But the truth is that for most in the government it is a punishment. Unless austerity comes out of conviction, it promotes only hypocrisy.
'DRIVING OUT THE POOR SHOULD NOT BE PERMITTED.'
The scandalous delay in the preparations in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games to be held in October received much attention last year. It also resulted in an unsavoury controversy involving verbal exchanges between the games federation and Indian authorities. There were assurances that all infrastructure would be in place and the facilities would be completed well in time. Many arrangements which needed to be made months in advance are yet to be made and there are serious doubts about the completion of work. Deadlines have repeatedly been extended including those for the construction of the main stadium and the swimming venue. The government has released additional funds to expedite the work but there are still genuine fears about timely completion and quality of work.
There is another disgraceful aspect which has hardly received attention. The Delhi high court has, on investigation ordered on the basis of a public interest litigation, found that 43 labourers have till now lost their lives on work sites. The court found that the working conditions are abysmal. No list of the workers is maintained, there are no wage slips, minimum wages are not paid and accidents are not reported. The sites are unsafe and unhygienic. No one is held accountable for the violations of the law and denial of basic human rights. The authorities are in a hurry. They have given complete freedom to the contractors to do whatever they want in order to complete the work. These illegalities and inhumanities should not be allowed. If the authorities are unwilling to take action, the court should ensure that the culprits are punished. How can we be proud of the Games when the poor are so exploited and when there is so much blood and tears under the stadia?
Some parts of Delhi are being cleared of the poor so that the visitors will be taken in by the cleanliness, the riches and the glitter of India's capital. Slums and poor quarters are considered to be eyesores that create a bad impression and so should be out of sight. This idea also is inhuman and should not be allowed to pass. It is shameful and criminal to drive away the poor for the sake of false pride. Ultimately it won't deceive anybody and will only expose us.
STARING INTO A VACUUM
THE EMERGING CONVENTIONAL WISDOM IN NEW DELHI SEEMS TO BE THAT THE ONLY DURABLE INSTITUTION IN PAKISTAN IS THE ARMY.
BY SAEED NAQVI
An impression is gaining ground that talks with Islamabad, at the official level as of now, may help take the sting out of Pakistan's propaganda that India was being difficult but in reality these cannot achieve much. Just the fact of a transparent 'contact' between the two countries is, for the time being, an end in itself because it will help avert possibly disastrous misunderstandings.
If the two prime ministers meet on the margins of SAARC summit in Bhutan at the end of April, the occasion will produce positive photo ops but nothing much of substance. Call it realism or pessimism, but it is rooted in the reality that there really is no 'durable' civilian authority in Pakistan with whom business can be done.
The stage for a near breakthrough in Indo-Pak relations was set when Atal Behari Vajpayee was prime minister. Since he had evolved from the Hindu nationalist RSS, he could, with a wave of the hand, ask the Hindutva brigade to pipe down. The allegation of a 'sell-out' could never attach to him.
Prime Minister Manmohan carried forward this policy with sincerity I am all too personally familiar with.
It remains his dream to improve Indo-Pak relations, to visit Gah the village where he went to school. But he is handicapped by traumatic events like Mumbai terror attacks at a time when the BJP sits in the opposition minus Vajpayee, who is ailing.
On the Pakistan side, there was Gen Pervez Musharraf, author of Kargil (so no one could accuse him of a sell-out either), but mellowed with extended authority. He could match steps with both Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.
For President Bush, he was a 'reliable ally,' so reliable in fact the US looked the other way even as Musharraf played both sides of the street in the war on terror. The Lal Masjid, after all, was an extremist facility under the noses of both Musharraf and the Americans. With the 2008 elections approaching in the US, and the seven-year-old war in Afghanistan showing no results, pressure on Musharraf was stepped up.
Musharraf, feeling the heat from Washington, blundered into sacking the chief justice causing the lawyers' agitation. He was shown the door and Benazir was assassinated soon upon arrival.
With the US Congress eager to deliver a democracy in Pakistan in the absence of a victory in Afghanistan, a half-baked election brought Zardari to power, even though Nawaz Sharif emerged the more popular among the people largely because he did not carry the odium of being a US nominee.
Zardari, 'Mr 10 percent,' inept administratively and corrupt, is possibly the most unpopular leader Pakistan has had. Sooner or later, he will be on his way out.
So, who does New Delhi talk to? If another election brings in Nawaz Sharif, the Americans should be pleased to the extent that, not being a US nominee, Sharif will be popular and by that token be able to check rampaging anti-Americanism.
But on India he will operate under the double constraints of competitive politics and the red line which the army will draw.
Sad, but the emerging conventional wisdom in New Delhi seems to be that the only coherent and durable institution in Pakistan is the army. What then does New Delhi do? It cannot be seen to be undermining Pakistan's democracy. And yet there is this creeping realisation that in the ultimate analysis power rests with the army which repeatedly declares itself as 'India centred.' Where does one go from here?
Situation is even more complicated because the US does not seem to have a long term strategy for AF-Pak, only tactical moves.
"Reduction of Indian presence in Afghanistan" would relieve pressure on Pakistan and they would therefore be more focused on the war on terror; give them $8 billion every year; they need laser guided bombs; soften up their eastern front... and so on. The bottomline is that 'Pakistan is too nuclear' to fail!
All of this has caused the sceptics in the Delhi establishment to wonder if placing all the eggs in one basket was such a good thing. The torrid love affair during those years of nuclear debate is turning cold. Some of the eggs are now being distributed to other baskets as well.
Americans must know, of course, that the Indo-US strategic partnership does not hinge merely on inconveniences on AF-Pak. The two are comprehensively enmeshed on several vital issues nuclear, military, space technology, intelligence; business and so on. Not to forget the sons and daughters of a vast section of the Indian establishment parked in US campuses, with many of them looking for permanent residence and Green cards, recession or no recession.
This confidence in Washington that a testy statement here and there by Holbrook or Gen McChrystal, the centrality of Pakistan to the US, none of these can derail the 'comprehensive Indo-US' relations, must, occasionally, leave Indian policy makers feeling somewhat stranded.
CONFUSION WORSE CONFOUNDED
THE FACT THAT PAKISTAN AND BANGLADESH HAVE MORE WOMEN IN LEGISLATURES THAN WE DOES NOT IMPRESS ME BECAUSE IN BOTH COUNTRIES PATRIARCHAL CUSTOMS PREVAIL AND IN FACT THEIR WOMEN ARE WORSE OFF THAN OURS.
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
I go through six papers every morning and read three magazines every week. The more I read about conflicting views on major issues confronting the country, the more confused I get.
The first that leaves one baffled is the proposal to reserve 33 per cent seats for women in legislatures. I am against reservations of any kind. All reservations are at the cost of merit and we must not sacrifice merit and patronise mediocrity. There are other ways of elevating people left behind in the race towards excellence than put them ahead of faster runners. What will electing more women in parliament and state legislature amount to? Nothing more than putting on masks to hide the ugly reality that our women are discriminated against and we must find means to end the discrimination.
The fact that Pakistan and Bangladesh have more women in legislatures than we does not impress me because in both countries patriarchal customs prevail and in fact their women are worse off than ours. Yet I support the Women Reservation Bill because it is admission of guilt and a promise to mend our ways. How much more confused can I get in my thinking?
The next in my mind is our treaty on nuclear empowerment with the United States and other nations. I fully endorsed the proposal more so since our communists led by Prakash Karat, his wife Brinda and Yechury were strongly opposed to it because of their rabid dislike of everything American. As soon as I learn of what they disapprove of my knee-jerk reaction is to be on the other side. Now like the government I am in two minds: Should not nuclear powers which help us put up plants, provide material and expertise to run them also fully guarantee us against accidents that occur? They are reluctant to do so. But surely that is a matter of detail which can be sorted out. So I am both for the nuclear deal the sooner the better and have reservations about fixing the scale of indemnity in case of accidents. I have become a classic case of confused thinking.
As others saw us
Francois Bernier (1620-88), France, a doctor arrived in India in 1658. After being personal physician to Prince Dara Shikoh, he became doctor of a Nawab in Emperor Aurangzeb's court and was in the entourage of the Emperor on his visit to Punjab and Kashmir.
He was much taken by Kashmir, the skills of Kashmiri artisans and the beauty of their women. In his diary he recorded: "The Kashmiris are celebrated for wit, and considered much more intelligent and ingenious that the Indians. In poetry and the sciences they are not inferior to Persians. They are also very active and industrious. The workmanship and beauty of their 'palekys', bedsteads, trunks, inkstands, boxes, spoons and various other things are quite remarkable, and articles of their manufacture are in use in every part of Indies. They perfectly understand the art of varnishing and are eminently skillful in closely imitating the beautiful veins of a certain wood, by inlaying with gold threads so delicately wrought that I never saw anything more elegant or perfect."
"But what may be considered peculiar to Kashmir, and the staple commodity, which particularly promotes the trade of the country is the shawls, which gives occupation even to the little children. These shawls are about an ell and a half long, and an ell broad, ornamented at both ends with a sort of embroidery, made in the loom, a foot in width. The Mogols and Indians wear them in winter round their heads, passing them over the left shoulder, as a mantle. There are two sorts manufactured: one kind with the wool of the country, finer and more delicate than that of Spain; the other kind with the wool, or rather hair (called touz) found on the breast of a species of wild goat which inhabits Great Tibet. The touz shawls are much more esteemed than those made with the native wool."
"Great pains have been taken to manufacture similar shawls in Patna, Agra and Lahore but notwithstanding every possible care, they never have the delicate texture and softness of the Kashmir shawls, whose unrivalled excellence may be owing to certain properties in the water of that country. The superior colours of the Maslipatnam chittes or 'cloths, painted by the hand' whose freshness seem to improve by washing, are also ascribed to that town."
The people of Kashmir are, proverbial for their clear complexions and sine forms. The women especially are very handsome; and it is from this country that nearly every individual, when first admitted to the court of the Great Mogol, selects wives or concubines, that his children may be whiter than the Indians and pass for genuine Mogols."
Santa's aged mother was taken seriously ill. He took her to a doctor. The doctor examined the old lady thoroughly and told Santa, "I am sorry I will have to put your mother through more tests". Santa was dismayed and said: "But Doctor sahib, how can you put her through tests. She is illiterate and can't read and write."
(Contributed by Harjeet Kaur, New Delhi)
A WORM'S VIEW OF LIFE IS AS INTERESTING OR EVEN BETTER THAN A BIRD-EYE VIEW.
BY KAVITHA K
If you are a vertically challenged bus commuter in Bangalore, here's a piece of unsolicited advice: give that slinky, gorgeous, flaming red beauty called the Volvo a miss. Not having been tipped off earlier, I stepped into one and lurched about drunkenly for an hour until I was hurled out at my destination. The journey, though intoxicating thanks to the paan fumes and the BO of guys who throng the footboard by virtue of their bonding with the driver, made me quickly realise that someone, somewhere in the shadowy labyrinths of the state transport corporation doesn't exactly love short people.
Why else aren't the straps, rods or whatchamacallit devices that folks normally hang on to in a crowded bus positioned at a 'normal' height? Each of these shiny, yellow thingummies is placed tantalisingly out of reach for anyone under 5 ft 10 inches, leaving us 'shorties' with little choice but to lean over the seated commuters, in a rather over-familiar manner, while attempting to grab the seat bars every time the driver jams the brakes or steps on the gas.
Most folks, especially the near but not-so-dear Volvo drivers are sure to disagree, but the truth is that despite my weakness for sequinned shoes and hot pink pants, I am not a circus attraction. True, I'm five-foot-nothing! And, I've lost count of the number of times total strangers have stopped me on the street to ask me how tall I am, rather how short I am.
Time was when teetering on high heels, I envied the tall girls in class their athletic looks, their basketball skills and their back-bencher status. My attitude screamed 'victim,' but the whingeing skidded to a stop when I discovered that I'd never ever be interrupted through TV soaps or telephone marathons to fetch sundry stuff from high cabinets in the kitchen or change light bulbs. A bird-eye view, I may never have but let me tell you, a worm's view of life is as interesting or even better!
However, a ride, taken in a speeding Volvo, tempts me to revisit my 13-something angst. No, I won't go to such absurd lengths as Australian politician Hajnal Ban, who, I'm told, spent nine months in excruciating pain after having her legs broken and stretched to tower over her male counterparts. But I am beginning to suffer a personal crisis I never anticipated even as I surrender to the universal truth that height is not just a number unless you ride in a bespoke Rolls Royce Baby Ghost and not a BMTC Volvo.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
A BUDGET FOR NEW YORK'S FUTURE
Like New Jersey, California and almost every other state, New York faces a devastating budget deficit this year a shortfall estimated at $9 billion and growing. Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch warns that if the budget isn't realigned soon, the state will be out of cash by June 1, maybe earlier.
To avoid a flutter of i.o.u.'s from Albany, lawmakers will have to make themselves unpopular by cutting education, health care and other important state programs. There are three budgets on the table. The Assembly's plan and Gov. David Paterson's start to tackle the fiscal realities. The Senate's does not.
Mr. Paterson proposes drastic cuts everything from shutting 55 parks and historic sites to cutting the revenues that Albany sends to New York City, which would threaten 19,000 jobs, close senior centers and imperil other programs. His budget is the toughest: $134 billion compared with the Senate's $136.2 billion and the Assembly's $137 billion. And he forthrightly accepts the need for higher taxes.
The Senate and Assembly restore many popular programs too many, in fact and the Assembly shies from necessary cuts in education and health care. But at least the Assembly is prepared to impose a modest tax on cigarettes. It also endorses a responsible plan for short-term borrowing. The Senate ducks taxes altogether, and chooses instead to fill the budget gap with dicey long-range borrowing based on tobacco receipts.
Here are suggestions for making the 2010-2011 budget realistic and fair:
DON'T CODDLE THE LOBBYISTS Frightened by the powerful soft-drink lobby, both houses reject Mr. Paterson's proposed tax on sugary drinks. This necessary tax would eventually raise $1 billion a year. It also would help address the obesity epidemic, especially among young people.
Both houses appear to be cowering before the rich and powerful liquor lobby. The governor would allow wine to be sold in grocery stores, raising millions annually. The liquor crowd opposes this idea because it would challenge its grip on wine distribution, and the Senate and Assembly have obediently gone along. In effect, the Legislature is willing to close senior centers to keep campaign funds flowing from the liquor lobbyists.
CUT FAIRLY, NOT EQUALLY Education will take a substantial hit, no matter what $1.4 billion in the governor's and the Senate's proposals, half that in the Assembly's. The bigger issue is fairness.
By one estimate, the governor's proposal would limit cuts to an average of about $16 per pupil in needy districts, as opposed to $245 per student in the wealthier ones. Some suburban legislators demand that each school district be treated the same. Wrong. New York should send more money to places like the impoverished Salmon River district upstate and less to Scarsdale.
SHRINK THE STATE WORK FORCE The state employs almost 200,000 people more than it can afford. Mr. Paterson has already struck a bargain with the unions: minimal layoffs in exchange for smaller pensions for new workers. Left unresolved is the question of whether to fill slots that become vacant.
About 16,000 full-time employees will depart this year. Mr. Paterson says that all but about 700 will be replaced. That makes no sense. It's time to slow down the Albany patronage train and replace only the most vital workers. If only half were rehired, it would save at least $400 million. It's also time to address the unions' fringe benefits that are a big part of the structural deficit Mr. Ravitch has been battling.
BORROW WITHIN THE RAVITCH PLAN The state debt is huge, almost $60 billion. The Senate's proposal to refinance tobacco bonds would shove today's debt into the future a good deal for bond merchants but not for the state. In contrast, Mr. Ravitch proposes $2 billion in short-term borrowing to relieve the deficit.
But Mr. Ravitch's plan makes sense only if lawmakers accept a more disciplined budget process including, among other measures, accounting principles that make it harder to hide future deficits, a board of experts to oversee the budget and a new fiscal year to give lawmakers a better handle on incoming revenues.
It will almost certainly be impossible to do all this and fill a $9 billion hole by April 1, the budget deadline. But New Yorkers could forgive missing that date if the result is a no-tricks, no-favors, no-frills budget and a good-faith effort to start cleaning house.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MR. OBAMA AND ISRAEL
After taking office last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel privately told many Americans and Europeans that he was committed to and capable of peacemaking, despite the hard-line positions that he had used to get elected for a second time. Trust me, he told them. We were skeptical when we first heard that, and we're even more skeptical now.
All this week, the Obama administration had hoped Mr. Netanyahu would give it something to work with, a way to resolve the poisonous contretemps over Jerusalem and to finally restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. It would have been a relief if they had succeeded. Serious negotiations on a two-state solution are in all their interests. And the challenges the United States and Israel face especially Iran's nuclear program are too great for the leaders not to have a close working relationship.
But after a cabinet meeting on Friday, Mr. Netanyahu and his right-wing government still insisted that they
would not change their policy of building homes in the city, including East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope to make the capital of an independent state.
President Obama made pursuing a peace deal a priority and has been understandably furious at Israel's response. He correctly sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a factor in wider regional instability.
Mr. Netanyahu's government provoked the controversy two weeks ago when it disclosed plans for 1,600 new housing units in an ultra-orthodox neighborhood in East Jerusalem just as Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. was on a fence-mending visit and Israeli-Palestinian "proximity talks" were to begin.
Last year, Mr. Netanyahu rejected Mr. Obama's call for a freeze on all settlement building. On Tuesday just before Mr. Obama hosted Mr. Netanyahu at the White House Israeli officials revealed plans to build 20 units in the Shepherd Hotel compound of East Jerusalem.
Palestinians are justifiably worried that these projects nibble away at the land available for their future state. The disputes with Israel have made Mr. Obama look weak and have given Palestinians and Arab leaders an excuse to walk away from the proximity talks (in which Mr. Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, would shuttle between Jerusalem and Ramallah) that Washington nurtured.
Mr. Obama was right to demand that Mr. Netanyahu repair the damage. Details of their deliberately low-key White House meeting (no photos, no press, not even a joint statement afterward) have not been revealed. We hope Israel is being pressed to at least temporarily halt building in East Jerusalem as a sign of good faith. Jerusalem's future must be decided in negotiations.
The administration should also insist that proximity talks, once begun, grapple immediately with core issues like borders and security, not incidentals. And it must ensure that the talks evolve quickly to direct negotiations the only realistic format for an enduring agreement.Many Israelis find Mr. Obama's willingness to challenge Israel unsettling. We find it refreshing that he has forced public debate on issues that must be debated publicly for a peace deal to happen. He must also press Palestinians and Arab leaders just as forcefully.
Questions from Israeli hard-liners and others about his commitment to Israel's security are misplaced. The question is whether Mr. Netanyahu is able or willing to lead his country to a peace deal. He grudgingly endorsed the two-state solution. Does he intend to get there?
THE NEW YORK TIMES
LAWMAKERS HEAD WARILY FOR HOME
Members of Congress are heading into recess with no guarantee that the hateful rancor and violent incidents that marred passage of health care reform will not haunt them anew in their home districts. Democrats subjected to death threats and vandalized offices will have discreet police protection.
"Remain vigilant" was the e-mailed caution from the Senate sergeant-at-arms as members and employees headed out from the Capitol.
A critical issue for Republicans is how far they will go in sidling up to the Tea Party and its more extremist protestors. In a regrettable moment last weekend, Republican lawmakers proudly took to a House balcony to fan the anger of a throng, some of whom spit on Democratic members and shouted racist and homophobic jeers. "If Brown can't stop it, a Browning can!" was one of the crowd's more ominous signs, referring to Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
The nadir in rabble-rousing occurred on the House floor when Republican members cheered hecklers interrupting debate as law was being enacted by a duly elected majority.
Fearing political hangover, Republican leaders are disassociating themselves from extremists on their flanks. But the record includes too many provocative comments from party officials.
"Let's start getting Nancy ready for the firing line this weekend," Michael Steele, the Republican National Committee chairman, declared before the debate. Harmless rhetoric from Republicans in their relentless demonization of Speaker Nancy Pelosi? Who can say?
Representative John Boehner, the House minority leader, pronounced one Democrat a "dead man" for supporting reform, later explaining that he meant that politically. Mr. Boehner had talked of "Armageddon" stalking the nation because of the Democrats.
And even when he denounced violence directed at members as "unacceptable," Mr. Boehner stressed, as if in explanation, "I know many Americans are angry over this health care bill."
The nation does not need more home-district fracases like those of last summer when zealots strutted with sidearms. One test of whether Republicans are having second thoughts may occur this weekend in Searchlight, Nev. Tea Party activists plan to descend on the hometown of Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, for a "Showdown in Searchlight."
Prominent Republicans, including Gov. Jim Gibbons, plan to work the crowd. The headliner is Sarah Palin, the party's vice presidential nominee in 2008. Her messages lately display rifle cross hairs on 20 targeted Democratic Congressional districts and the exhortation: "Don't retreat, just reload!"
The nation deserves more reasoned opposition than that.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PLAYTIME IS OVER
By DAVID ELKIND
RECESS is no longer child's play. Schools around the country, concerned about bullying and arguments over the use of the equipment, are increasingly hiring "recess coaches" to oversee students' free time. Playworks, a nonprofit training company that has placed coaches at 170 schools from Boston to Los Angeles, is now expanding thanks to an $18 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Critics have suggested that such coaching is yet another example of the over-scheduling and over-programming of our children. And, as someone whose scholarly work has consistently reinforced the idea that young people need unstructured imagination time, I'd probably have been opposed to recess coaches in the past. But childhood has changed so radically in recent years that I think the trend makes sense, at least at some schools and with some students.
Children today are growing up in a world vastly different from the one their parents knew. As the writer Richard Louv has persuasively chronicled, our young people are more aware of threats to the global environment than they are of the natural world in their own backyards.
A Nielsen study last year found that children aged 6 to 11 spent more than 28 hours a week using computers, cellphones, televisions and other electronic devices. A University of Michigan study found that from 1979 to 1999, children on the whole lost 12 hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities. One can only assume that the figure has increased over the last decade, as many schools have eliminated recess in favor of more time for academics.
One consequence of these changes is the disappearance of what child-development experts call "the culture of childhood." This culture, which is to be found all over the world, was best documented in its English-language form by the British folklorists Peter and Iona Opie in the 1950s. They cataloged the songs, riddles, jibes and incantations ("step on a crack, break your mother's back") that were passed on by oral tradition. Games like marbles, hopscotch and hide and seek date back hundreds of years. The children of each generation adapted these games to their own circumstances.
Yet this culture has disappeared almost overnight, and not just in America. For example, in the 1970s a Japanese photographer, Keiki Haginoya, undertook what was to be a lifelong project to compile a photo documentary of children's play on the streets of Tokyo. He gave up the project in 1996, noting that the spontaneous play and laughter that once filled the city's streets, alleys and vacant lots had utterly vanished.
For children in past eras, participating in the culture of childhood was a socializing process. They learned to settle their own quarrels, to make and break their own rules, and to respect the rights of others. They learned that friends could be mean as well as kind, and that life was not always fair.
Now that most children no longer participate in this free-form experience play dates arranged by parents are no substitute their peer socialization has suffered. One tangible result of this lack of socialization is the increase in bullying, teasing and discrimination that we see in all too many of our schools.
Bullying has always been with us, but it did not become prevalent enough to catch the attention of researchers until the 1970s, just as TV and then computers were moving childhood indoors. It is now recognized as a serious problem in all the advanced countries. The National Education Association estimates that in the United States, 160,000 children miss school every day because they fear attacks or intimidation by other students. Massachusetts is considering anti-bullying legislation.
While correlation is not necessarily causation, it seems clear that there is a link among the rise of television and computer games, the decline in peer-to-peer socialization and the increase of bullying in our schools. I am not a Luddite I think that the way in which computers have made our students much more aware of the everyday lives of children in other countries is wonderful, and that they will revolutionize education as the new, tech-savvy generation of teachers moves into the schools. But we should also recognize what is being lost.
We have to adapt to childhood as it is today, not as we knew it or would like it to be. The question isn't whether recess coaches are good or bad they seem to be with us to stay but whether they help students form the age-old bonds of childhood. To the extent that the coaches focus on play, give children freedom of choice about what they want to do, and stay out of the way as much as possible, they are likely a good influence.
In any case, recess coaching is a vastly better solution than eliminating recess in favor of more academics. Not only does recess aid personal development, but studies have found that children who are most physically fit tend to score highest on tests of reading, math and science.
Friedrich Fröbel, the inventor of kindergarten, said that children need to "learn the language of things" before they learn the language of words. Today we might paraphrase that axiom to say that children need to learn the real social world before they learn the virtual one.
David Elkind is a professor emeritus of child development at Tufts University.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
NOTHING IS EASY IN ILLINOIS
BY GAIL COLLINS
Now that the health care bill is passed, what are we going to do with our time?
]Lots of other exciting stuff is going on! For instance, on Saturday, all eyes well, some eyes will turn to Springfield, Ill., where Democrats are going to decide whom to nominate for lieutenant governor.
Illinois is a reminder of how important this post is. True, in most states the lieutenant governor has nothing whatsoever to do except hang around in case No. 1 dies or has to resign because of scandal. However, this resigning thing has been happening quite a bit.
As in the case of Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois who goes on trial in June for allegedly trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat. In the meantime, he's appearing in "The Celebrity Apprentice." What do you think would make the residents of Illinois feel worse? If their disgraced former governor failed to impress Donald Trump in a series of fun challenges? Or if he actually seemed to have an aptitude for that kind of thing? In the first episode, Blagojevich carved out a worst-case scenario by letting the food get cold in a hamburger-selling contest while he attempted to convince the customers that he was innocent of all pending corruption charges.
But about the lieutenant governor.
I have always been particularly interested in this office since I nurture a secret ambition to become a lieutenant governor one day myself. I am really pretty well qualified since I am extremely good at waiting around for something to happen.
Gov. David Paterson of New York, a former lieutenant governor who moved up after another scandal-resignation, is now engulfed in all sorts of scandals himself. If he decided to resign, it might open up a window to my long-cherished dream, while also allowing my state to finally beat Illinois in the race for the most dreadful political culture in the country.
However, Illinois has not been standing still. It held the primary for state offices at the beginning of February, which is not a time when people are in the optimal mood to go to the polls. The Republicans wound up with a gubernatorial candidate who once called the minimum wage "government intrusion." For the Senate, Democrats got the son of a Chicago banking family whose bank seems about to fail.
Then there was the No. 2 slot. In Illinois, the candidates for lieutenant governor run all by themselves in the primary. Then the winner is yoked to the gubernatorial nominee on the ticket in November. Would-be lieutenant governors tend not to be household names, so the results of these primaries can be peculiar. (In 1986, Democratic voters nominated a 28-year-old follower of the extremely strange Lyndon LaRouche. This happened on a night that the Chicago LaRouchians were busy holding a mock exorcism in front of the home of a religion professor they had decided was a warlock. The gubernatorial nominee, Adlai Stevenson III, was so horrified that he bolted the ticket and ran as a third-party candidate. Everybody lost.)
This year, on the Republican side, the lieutenant governor winner was one Jason Plummer, a 27-year-old heir to a lumber fortune. He had virtually no prior political experience but stressed his leadership training as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserves. Postelection scrutiny showed that Plummer had received his commission three days after announcing his candidacy last September.
Democratic voters, meanwhile, picked Scott Lee Cohen, who turned out to be a pawnbroker with a former steroids abuse problem whose ex-wife charged him with failure to pay child support and whose ex-girlfriend once claimed he threatened her by holding a knife to her neck.
On the plus-side, the results inspired the Legislature to move the primary to March.
Eventually, Cohen was pushed out. The chastened Democrats then announced that the search for a new lieutenant governor would be all about "transparency," and around 250 people applied for the job via a Web site. The party then reduced that number to 116, then 17, by a mysterious process that no one seemed prepared to explain.
On Saturday, the State Central Committee will make the final choice. Gov. Pat Quinn, who will be on top of the ticket, wants Sheila Simon, a downstate law professor. She is the daughter of Paul Simon, the late, revered United States senator a very big plus in a state with a crying shortage of revered politicians. On the other hand, her biggest previous foray into politics was losing a race for mayor of Carbondale to the guy who just came in fourth place in the race for lieutenant governor, which was won by Jason Plummer.
Her main opponent, State Representative Art Turner of Chicago, argues he should be the choice because he came in second to Scott Lee Cohen.
I'm sure whoever wins will be a big improvement. Who says that in American politics, things only get worse?
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
SHADES OF GREY
It is hard at the moment to fathom quite what Mian Nawaz Sharif is up to. There is so much grey in the picture that it has become hard to distinguish black from white. But the PML-N chief's last-minute announcement whatever the motives behind it has certainly acted to dampen spirits and hold up a package of constitutional reforms that could have put us in stride towards a brighter future. Most of us are quite bitterly disappointed. Indeed, even within the PML-N there was an element of surprise and perhaps disquiet over what happened. Sharif's call for 'consensus' made little sense given the mode for the appointment of judges was one agreed to by his party with the PPP at the time they signed the Charter of Democracy. This of course is a document that Sharif has repeatedly and vociferously demanded should be implemented at all costs. It is true that differences continue to exist on the matter of a new name for NWFP, with the PML-N and the ANP not seeing eye to eye. But of this divide in opinion we had known for weeks. Nothing had occurred to alter the scenario.
Why then the last-minute stalling? Are we seeing a case of the opposition playing its 'traditional' role and acting to ensure that the government cannot succeed in what would have been a historically important achievement? Or is there something more sinister afoot? There is really no way of saying where the truth lies. But as things stand, we, as citizens, have been denied a change that could have helped correct some of the ills that have gradually crept into our political system and so badly distorted it. The passage of the 18th Amendment would have reduced the president once more to the ceremonial role he should play in a parliamentary system. This measure alone would go a long way in clearing up the distrust and suspicion that currently mar our politics. We must hope matters can be sorted out and the joint session of parliament, which had been scheduled for Friday according to media reports, rescheduled for a later date. The situation we have at present will only add to the tensions in the air. This is bad for our nation. For once, its interests need to be put ahead of everything else. Our politicians regardless of their affiliations must accept it as vital that they sacrifice their own interests for the sake of Pakistan. It is now in too precarious a state to withstand too much game-playing. What must be considered by all the parties is whether the proposed package of constitutional reforms can benefit the country. If it can, this is sufficient reason for parliament to pass the bill. Nothing else should stand in the way of this and no intervention permitted.
I. THE NEWS
Three legislators, two from the National Assembly and one from the Punjab Assembly, have stepped down after admitting that they held fake degrees. The public representatives, one from the PPP and two from the PML-Q, had been facing disqualification by the Supreme Court. This of course is not a new matter. Other public representatives have faced similar ignominy in the past. The issue of requirement of a degree in order to sit in the assembly is also one that has come up before. It appears in many ways to go against all the natural laws of democracy particularly in a country where nearly 50 per cent of people remain illiterate or almost so and as such is an issue that needs to be resolved after a debate in parliament. There is no firm evidence that the educational requirement for MNAs imposed by General Musharraf has in any way acted to raise the standard of debate or discussion. Indeed, what we need more than education is the raising of ethical standards within our assemblies.
The three men now ousted from the assemblies violated basic rules of election. In doing so, they set a terrible example. The claim of one MNA that he had quit merely to change parties is impossible to believe. The fact that the other two representatives claimed to hold 'degrees' from religious centres also once more raises the issue of accepting these as being equivalent to certificates awarded by institutions of higher learning. This single step in itself has paved the way for fraud and deceit of all kinds. It is important that our representatives set the right precedents. The declining ethical standards in our country have had a quite disastrous impact on many aspects of life. It is also alarming to see how far standards have slipped. Those who knew Pakistan in its earlier decades of existence report far better practices at work; in business, in the educational sector and in other spheres of life. Our parliamentarians need to play some part in restoring such norms of honesty. This alone can play a huge part in introducing the reform we need. It is possible that other such people sitting in the assemblies have not been caught. Perhaps they should consider quitting voluntarily, saving themselves the embarrassment faced by their peers and setting an example for others everywhere to follow.
I. THE NEWS
SPANNER IN THE WORKS
The repeal of Musharraf's controversial 17th Amendment is expected to usher in a new era of parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. All political parties in parliament deserve credit for reaching a consensus on a new constitutional accord, and President Zardari more so for giving away his powers.
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif's last-minute about-face over judicial appointments, throwing the spanner in the works, is rather unfortunate, to say the least. When the time came to walk the talk on the much-touted CoD (Charter of Democracy), Mian Sahib, true to his style, blinked.
An independent judiciary is an integral part of democracy but the tail cannot wag the proverbial dog. The PML-N, in its anxiety to keep the superior judiciary on its side, is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Consulting the chief justice of Pakistan about a matter that is strictly the parliament's domain is not an advisable course. Going by this flawed logic, another party can suggest consulting the COAS to break the deadlock over renaming NWFP. Hopefully, better sense will prevail and a last-minute compromise will be worked out.
Most of the proposed amendments are meant to strengthen the prime minister as chief executive and to establish supremacy of parliament. The 18th Amendment also proposes to impose structures to prevent any coup leader subverting the Constitution. By amending Article 6 of the Constitution any judge validating a coup and any person abetting a coup, apart from the coup leader himself, will be tried for high treason. It will be mandatory for parliament to propose punishment for those responsible.
As if history can be erased form the collective memory of the nation by merely making changes in the Constitution, the amendment proposes to remove the name of the late dictator Ziaul Haq as president. The legacy of Zia lives on not only in the form of the Talibanisation of our society but also in the form of a particular mindset that permeates our body politic. Some of our mainstream political parties, despite paying lip service to lofty principles of democracy and claiming to struggle against dictatorship, suffer from this malaise.
The recent faux pas by Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif was a Freudian slip, betraying pro-Taliban proclivities and a peculiar brand of rightwing politics of the Sharifs. Harking back to the polarisation of the eighties leading to the formation of an anti-Bhutto alliance in the form of the IJI (Isalmi Jamhoori Ittehad) midwifed by the ISI, they still believe that conservative forces in the society are their natural allies. Hence, in their view it pays to pander to the obscurantist forces, no matter how great the collateral damage.
Mian Shahbaz Sharif is on the back foot after his controversial statement trying to curry favour with the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan), begging them to spare Punjab from their terrorist activities. But he has not denounced their policies in unequivocal terms, without ifs and buts. What is even more shocking is his rushing to Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Kayani, apparently to explain his position. According to media reports, which have not been denied, the general gave him a dressing down.
One is entitled to disagree with the politics of the PML-N and its self-serving stance on the TTP. But does this give the military hierarchy the right to question any politician about his political stance? Being involved in a war of attrition with the terrorists the armed forces deserve the nation's wholehearted support, but they should not be given a carte blanche to dabble in matters falling in the political domain. If the chief minister of Punjab sought this meeting to clarify his position he only compounded his mistake. If the army chief summoned him, it is even worse.
The removal of Bonapartism from our politics will take much more than removing names of past dictators from the Constitution. The courts in the past have served as handmaidens of successive military dictators. But the politicians cannot be condoned for their failure to strengthen democratic institutions.
Democracy can only thrive in a culture of tolerance and by developing the ability to respect the other point of view. In our feudal milieu, winning elections is often confused with having free rein to rule. Accommodating dissenting view and tolerating the opposition is the path rarely taken. Whether it was the "heavy mandate" rule of Mian Nawaz Sharif or before him successive PPP governments under the late Ms Benazir Bhutto both the government and the opposition considered politics a zero-sum game.
The leaders of the PML-N and the PPP realised the disastrous consequences of their short-sighted policies only while in exile suffering under the yoke of the long period of Musharraf's dictatorship. Hence, the CoD was born. It is heartening to note that the Raza Rabbani committee has made phenomenal progress in the light of this document. In spite of having a deep distaste for each other, both President Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif must realise that neither of them can afford to upset the applecart.
There is broad agreement on the major amendments proposed by the Raza Rabbani committee. As proposed by the PML-N a seventh member, a retired judge nominated by the chief justice of Pakistan, has been added as a member of the judicial commission. The third-term bar for a prime minister is also being removed.
Another stumbling block are the PML-N's objections to the renaming of NWFP, as Pakhtoonkhwa is another stumbling block. The ANP, supported by the PPP, is adamant on the new name. The PML-N wants to pander to the not inconsiderable non-Pashto speaking supporters in the province. The PML-N supremo will have to rise above his Punjab-centric politics to break the logjam especially when by virtually all his proposals have been accepted by the committee.
The most sacrosanct principle of democracy is civilian control over the armed forces. Unfortunately, we in Pakistan are far from this lofty goal, as successive politicians have willingly kowtowed to the GHQ for guidance. Most military strongmen in the past have had no compunctions about dabbling in politics, directly or though their proxies.
Although The New York Times termed it as unprecedented, hardly any eyebrows were raised when certain federal secretaries were summoned to a meeting with the COAS to prepare for the on-going strategic dialogue in Washington. The paper correctly pointed out that, although Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is leading the Pakistani delegation, there is no doubt in anyone's mind that Gen Kayani is running the show.
Pakistan's 56-pages wish list handed over to Washington much before the Strategic Dialogue has been by and large ignored in the talks. Although US Secretary of State Ms Hillary Clinton has termed the talks the "beginning of something new," the US president's special envoy for Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, refused to utter the "K" word, declaring that the current dialogue was not about India-Pakistan relations. On the US-Pakistan nuclear deal proposed by Islamabad Ms Clinton was candid enough to say that Islamabad should not expect such a deal.
On the domestic front, our politicians, who willingly abdicate their responsibilities and functions to the military, share the major part of the blame for this rather unfortunate state of affairs. The tentacles of the so-called establishment have been so widespread and well-rooted that eventually those in power taking the path of least resistance are forced to peruse its agenda. As a result, our already atrophied political institutions do not develop the capacity to assert themselves.
Initially, when democracy was ushered in as a result of the February 2008 elections, both Mr Zardari, as head of the PPP, and Mian Nawaz Sharif were keen to offer an olive branch to India even at the cost of putting the Kashmir issue on the backburner. However, in the post-Mumbai attack in November 2008 the euphoria wore off and since then India-Pakistan relations are back to square one. Whether it is relations with India, the USA or Afghanistan, the guarantors and monopolists of the so-called national interest is the ubiquitous establishment, and certainly not the politicians.
Pakistan is still a democracy in transition and the new constitutional package along with the Balochistan package and the NFC Award are important milestones towards the goal of a federal parliamentary democracy. Nevertheless, there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip, as no constitutional arrangement can replace democratic traditions.
The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
ACHILLES HEEL AND MORE
S KHALID HUSAIN
The nation was promised a "gift" before the end of the month by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. The "gift" apparently had a lot to do with shedding of powers by the president. This is proving as excruciating for him, if not more, as it was for President General to give up his uniform, which was his "second skin." The powers presently vested in the president, because of the 17th Amendment inserted into the Constitution by the military dictator, are his Achilles heel, or so the president believes. Would Achilles have let an arrow lop off his heel, and drain him of all power, without the stiffest and longest possible resistance? Not likely.
The call by the president to parliament in September 2008 to set-up a committee to revisit the Constitution to review the powers vested in it to the president, was the first wall of resistance put up by the Presidency. It bought him precious time.
If the honest intent was to cleanse the Constitution of undemocratic pollutants, particularly relating to presidential powers in the form of amendments added to it by Ziaul Haq and Musharraf, there was no reason for such call.
Under the original 1973 Constitution the president is elected in a joint sitting of parliament. This is usually the practice in parliamentary democracies. However, this mode of election is for a president who, under the Constitution, has little or no powers, performs a ceremonial role and symbolises the federation. or national unity and oneness.
This mode of election is not for a president who is all- powerful, actively directs state affairs and policies, dominates the prime minister not unlike an "ustad" dominates his "chota." And far from symbolising the federation, or oneness, is also the active co-chairman of his Pakistan People's Party, ever ready to play the Sindh card.
The more appropriate election modes for an all-powerful president, such as Ziaul Haq or Musharraf were, or Zardari is, are direct elections, not elections through a narrow electoral college. Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf used the election mode meant for figurehead presidents to have themselves declared "democratic" presidents of the country.
Both also buttressed their positions through farcical referendums. Except for the referendum, President Zardari has followed in the footsteps of Zia and Musharraf. If his party claims that he is a people's president, so were Zia and Musharraf, then.
If the slogan "democracy is the best revenge" is not another empty catchphrase like "roti, kapra aur makan," President Zardari should have taken the following sweet revenge: instead of calling on parliament to "revisit" the Constitution, declaring in his address that "never before in the history of the country has a president stood here and given up his powers," he would have just asked parliament to work to restore the 1973 Constitution to its pre-Zia status.
And he should have said this in simple words and in a simple tone, with little or no attempted drama. That would have got rid of all the tarnishing of the Constitution by Zia and Musharraf. With the mutilations of the Zia and Musharraf eras out of the way, the new parliament could then have proceeded with the needed updating of the Constitution.
But all the above was not to be. A parliamentary committee was constituted. It had a nice long "visit" with the Constitution, the wrangling continued. Undoubtedly also some deal-making within the committee, which included members of other parties besides the Pakistan People's Party.
The "visit" kept getting prolonged, until one year and six months to the button from the date of the president's call to parliament to "visit" the Constitution, the committee was ready with a report for parliament.
It was a valuable one-and-a-half year in which the president kept his powers, under the dictator's 17th Amendment, intact. He would have not objected too strenuously if the committee was able to buy more time, but the "natives," meaning important blocks of the power pyramid of which the people are least important, were beginning to get restless. A report was finalised and all made ready for it to be presented before parliament.
Then occurred the proverbial slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. Such a slip is more to be expected if, as in this case, the hand raising the cup, and the lips, do not belong to the same person. Why did Nawaz Sharif, after everything was agreed, and all seemed honky dory, spill the cup brought so near his lips by the Raza Rabbani committee on its constitutional reforms proposals is something no one, not even Nawaz Sharif himself, can logically explain.
As always happens in such strange goings-on, speculations take over. So they have in this case, and however farfetched some may appear, in the game of Pakistan politics, nothing can be ruled out. Some of the speculations, entirely credible judging from the track record of those involved, are:
Nawaz Sharif would rather have President Zardari with his present powers, so would Zardari prefer to remain, than an all powerful Prime Minister Zardari, which Zardari would most likely become if the 17th Amendment is scrapped. In a last-minute deal between the two, the change of the governor of Punjab was thrown in as a bonus for the PML-N.
Nawaz Sharif is running scared because of the recent positive happenings for the PPP, such as Gilgit-Baltistan as a new province, the Balochistan package, the financial accord between the provinces and positive signals from the US of on-going "Strategic Dialogue," and he did not wish to add more feathers to the PPP cap.
Nawaz Sharif, who is smarting from the highly adverse impact of his party's "energy theft" for his public meeting, and Shahbaz Sharif pleading with the Taliban, acted impulsively in a bid to deny the glory of constitutional reforms to the PPP. He did not, as a habit, think of the blowback consequences to his party.
Nawaz Sharif is seriously concerned about the PPP's manoeuvring in all possible ways to gain a measure of control over the judiciary. He will negotiate to support the constitutional reforms against the PPP backing off its hidebound doggedness to subdue the judiciary. And the speculations go on.
The writer is a former corporate executive. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
BJP: NEW COMPOSITION, SAME STAND
Is the Bharatiya Janata Party obsessed with proving itself the sectarian, confrontationist oddball of Indian politics? Last fortnight's developments suggest so.
Take the shenanigans of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. A Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court to probe the 2002 Gujarat pogrom summoned him to question him about his role in the killings. Many questions had been raised about his role by former Gujarat Director General of Police RB Sreekumar, countless victims, independent inquiries, and sting-operation disclosures by Tehelka magazine.
In response, Modi questioned the SIT's legality on unconvincing grounds, and only later agreed to appear before it, gracelessly. Such disregard for constitutional values is of a piece with Modi's past conduct. In 2002, he accused JM Lyngdoh -- chief of the Election Commission, another statutory body -- of an anti-Hindu animus because he happens to be a Christian. Modi was instrumental in creating the myth that the Godhra train fire was planned by Muslims, and in using the state apparatus to unleash mass-scale violence on them "in retaliation".
As if to underscore Gujarat's abnormality, the state BJP felicitated its newly appointed president Ranchhodbhai C Faltu by weighing him against 75 litres of blood collected from volunteers. This literal solidarity among "blood brothers" expresses militarism typical of extreme right-wing groups who define their politics primarily through hatred and "holy war" (whether dharmayuddha or jihad).
These episodes demonstrate the BJP's rightward evolution after its two consecutive routs in national elections, and major leadership changes with LK Advani's resignation as the Leader of the Opposition and the replacement of party president Rajnath Singh by Nitin Gadkari.
The same direction is evident in last week's organisational reshuffle executed by Gadkari. It bears recalling that Gadkari, a Maharashtrian Brahmin, with a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh background, but with no political experience outside the state's Vidarbha region, was nominated to the BJP's top post by RSS sarasanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat, also a Maharashtrian Brahmin. Gadkari has repeatedly sworn his loyalty to Hindutva.
The RSS is pleased about this. Sangh ideologue MG Vaidya expressed his satisfaction with Gadkari: "After 2009, [the BJP says] Hindutva is their soul. The soul is invisible but gives urja (energy). It's good that the same energy is being remembered in 2010." That sums up the substance of the BJP leadership's generational transition after the Vajpayee-Advani duo's eclipse: the BJP is back on a track which allows the RSS to exercise greater control over it.
When Gadkari became party president three months ago, he emphasised the importance of managerial-style efficiency, besides Hindutva. Cadres would be judged entirely on their performance and merit. Gadkari promised to put the party back on an upward trajectory. But the composition of his new team, with a 121-strong national executive, belies that pledge.
The new team is glamorous (after a fashion), but inept and inexperienced. Faded Bollywood celebrity Hema Malini was made a party vice-president. Character actress Kiron Kher and soap opera star Smriti Irani were appointed to the national executive. Navjot Singh Sidhu, known for his tasteless humour and poor parliamentary performance, and charged with beating an old man to death, has been elevated to the post of secretary. So was Varun Gandhi, the BJP's shoddy version of dynastic politics.
Gadkari was evidently keen to reserve 33 per cent of top BJP posts for women. So, five of the 11 vice-presidents are women, including relative non-entities like Karuna Shukla (Vajpayee's niece) and Kiran Ghai. Similarly, there is greater symbolic representation for Muslims and Dalits.
But even more important is the enlarged presence of RSS cadres among BJP office-bearers, such as Ram Lal, made general secretary (organisation) with two joint general secretaries V Satish and Saudan Singh under him. Not to be missed is the appointment as secretary of B Muralidhar Rao, of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an RSS front.
Gadkari's choices reflect the RSS's preference for separating the party organisation from its parliamentary wing. This would strengthen its control over the party.
Yet, as things stand, the party's Parliamentary Board, including Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Venkaiah Naidu, Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley, enjoys a higher stature and more power than Gadkari's team. Given the disproportion between effective influence furnished by parliamentary representation, and organisational posts in a party that's out of power, this won't easily change.
Things aren't hunky-dory even within the new organisational set-up. Shahnawaz Hussain and Prakash Javadekar, two of the BJP's seven spokespersons, boycotted their first meeting. Hussain wanted a party general secretary's post. He has said he would go to Mecca and Medina, "offer my prayers, and also repent for my sins". Javadekar is miffed because he was expecting a "bigger role". The Thakur lobby too is unhappy at its low representation.
The southern states are poorly represented amongst BJP office-bearers through Venkaiah Naidu, Ananth Kumar, Muralidhar Rao and Nirmala Sitharaman. Although the BJP rules in Karnataka, and regards it as its gateway to the South, its sole notable representative from there is Ananth Kumar.
By contrast, tiny Himachal Pradesh is over-represented. Gadkari has a lame response to this: "I personally feel I tried to accommodate everybody. I can't satisfy everybody. If anyone has any problem he has a right to discuss it with me."
The new team compares extremely poorly with the BJP's standard-bearers during its heyday, with top leaders Vajpayee and Advani, supported by second-generation leaders like K N Govindacharya, Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley and the pre-2002 Narendra Modi.
Govindacharya's absence is especially significant. One of the ablest strategists produced by the sangh parivar, he was the architect of "social engineering" which created a confluence between Mandal (OBC parties) and Kamandal (Hindutva politics) and powered the party's rise to power first in Uttar Pradesh, and then, nationally.
Of the BJP's ten general secretaries, only two -- Vasundhara Raje (who was forced to resign as the Leader of the Opposition in Rajasthan), and Ravi Shankar Prasad -- have anything approaching a national profile. All this testifies to the dearth of talent in the BJP.
Talent apart, the BJP lacks something more fundamental: a political strategy to overcome its decline over the past decade. From a party well-entrenched in the Hindi heartland and about a dozen other states, its presence now is sizeable only in the central and western states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, in the small states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and more shakily, in Karnataka and Bihar, where it plays second fiddle to the Janata Dal (United). The BJP has suffered erosion both nationally and in major states like UP, Maharashtra and Bihar.
Only a combination of factors can stem the BJP's decline: an ideology independent of the ultra-sectarian and communal RSS; inclusive policies and programmes; and a political mobilisation strategy that can help it rebuild its shrunken base.
The BJP lacks all three. It has decisively failed to break with Hindutva. If it couldn't sever the umbilical cord with the RSS during its years in national power, it won't do so now. It has no imaginative policies that can attract mass support. And it has no political strategy on any issue, including the Ayodhya temple. The future appears bleak for a party trapped between killers (like Modi), crooks (like some of its chief ministers) and clowns (like Gadkari).
The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
DR MASOODA BANO
While opening the so-called, first of its kind 'strategic dialogue' with Pakistan, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued that the United States had started a 'new day' with Pakistan. Her speech had a tone of optimism about the future cooperation between the two countries. She emphasised that the US government recognised the need to build a long-term reliable relationship with Pakistan's masses as opposed to seeking strategic alliance with the government in power driven by short-term US interest. There was appreciation for the attempts made by Pakistan to combat militancy. There were also promises of continued economic and development assistance to Pakistan.
All of this seems good in theory. No one would advise Pakistan to be at war with the US. However, the problem is that the Obama administration has failed to demonstrate that it actually is working on developing a long-term partnership with the people of Pakistan.
The question is if the US policy towards Pakistan has changed in practice under the Obama administration as compared to the Bush administration. The honest answer is that it is very difficult to identify such a difference. In terms of how the US views Pakistan, the Obama administration, by continuously emphasising the term 'Pak-Afghan' policy, has actually confirmed that it sees Pakistan as a major problem rather than a country with which it will likely form strategic long-term partnership. Like Afghanistan, Pakistan is facing the problem of militancy, but beyond that the comparison between the two countries ends. One is a war-torn country, with all its formal state institutions as well as social infrastructure eroded due to the long period of instability; while the other, despite its development challenges, still is a fully functional country with a proper state system in place. While the former needs institutionalisation of entirely new processes to run the state system, the latter only requires reforms.
The two countries are very complex and different. By lumping the two together, the Obama administration actually gives away its negative perception of Pakistan. A dialogue attempted in a context where one party knows that the other one is actually seeing it as a major problem is unlikely to bear fruit. There is more to Pakistan than militancy. Insisting on treating Pakistan under the banner of a generic Pak-Afghan policy, however, shows that the US is not willing to deal with Pakistan beyond the limited lens of militancy. In such a context, the claim that the present US administration is actually focused on building a long-term relationship with the people of Pakistan fails to convince.
The other indicator that shows that the policy of the current administration fails to record any major shift towards Pakistan than that of the previous government is the emphasis on drone attacks. The number of drone attacks carried out in the tribal belt of Pakistan has increased dramatically under the present US government. Many of those who die in these attacks are civilians. However, the US administration is consistently using this strategy and sadly the current Pakistani government has given its full consent to do this. Again, the emphasis on the use of drone attacks does not reflect a strategy of winning hearts and minds of ordinary Pakistanis; the drone attacks in the tribal areas can hardly create friendly feelings for the US, especially in people who are losing their family members in these attacks To keep on using military force to combat militancy is basically a simple extension of the Bush doctrine. It is difficult to see how the Obama administration claims to have developed a new policy towards Pakistan when its strategy is overwhelmingly based on the use of military force.
Finally, the third indicator that the policy has not changed much is evident by the slow progress recorded in development programmes assisted by the US. The US might have allocated increased economic and development aid to Pakistan last year, but the problem is that it has made very little practical effort to ensure that this aid is used effectively. The USAID does run many projects in Pakistan but the increased US aid for Pakistan since 9/11 has clearly failed to create any visible difference in the development sector. The education sector, which has received most of the development aid, still paints an extremely sorry picture. Had the US government put as much emphasis on ensuring that the development aid given to Pakistan was used efficiently as it did on ensuring that the Pakistani government continued to undertake military operations, there would have definitely been some progress in the education sector
The reality thus is that the Obama administration has failed to turn a new page in its relationship with Pakistan. The Bush administration worked through patronising Musharraf rather than building relationship with the people of Pakistan; the Obama administration is doing the same by patronising the sitting government. The strategy is exclusively that of the use of military force; mechanisms for ensuring long-term development of Pakistan, or gaining trust of the ordinary Pakistanis are still nowhere in sight.
The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University. Email: mb294@hotmail .com
I. THE NEWS
DEALING WITH THE DIVIDES
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
In October 2009, concerned citizens and activists from all four provinces and Islamabad congregated in Murree to develop a shared vision for peace in Pakistan and consider the role of the civil society in promoting it. The initiative entitled "pathways to peace", led by the Omar Asghar Khan Foundation, underscored the urgent need for ordinary citizens to shun their sense of helplessness (or apathy), and take responsibility to strive for peace and eradicate the roots of violence. The participants elected to call this citizen movement 'Aman Ittehad'. As a first step, Aman Ittehad observed 'solidarity day' on January 1, 2010, at 53 locations around Pakistan, to swear allegiance to unity amongst citizens on the basis of peace and tolerance.
Buoyed by the enthusiastic response of citizens to the spirit, purpose and mission of Aman Ittehad, it was decided to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Lahore Resolution with introspection. The idea was to hold citizen assemblies and propose a peoples' resolution aimed at reorienting the society and reinventing the state to realise the original dream that led to the creation of Pakistan. Pakistan Day and its traditional pomp meant to memorialise the Objectives Resolution passed in Lahore on March 23rd, 1940, rightly invokes some cynicism with many wondering if there is much to celebrate about the state of our union. Instead of giving in to defeatism, Aman Ittehad invited ordinary citizens to reiterate the resolve to create a progressive nation-state that the industrious citizens of Pakistan truly deserve.
The scale of the initiative can be gauged from the fact that almost 80 assemblies were convened in the week leading up to Pakistan Day across the four corners of Pakistan: Mingora, Mardan, Takhtbai, Batkhela, Swabi, Abbottabad, Peshawar, Balakot, D.I.Khan, Garhi Habibullah, Bisham, Allai, Haripur, Lora, and Mansehra in the NWFP; Dadu, Karachi, Sukkur, Nawabshah, Sanghar, Tharparkar, Jamshoro, Badin, Hyderabad, Shikarpur, Ghotki, Larkana, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, and Khairpur in Sindh; Loralai, Sibi, Noshki, Jaffarabad, Naseerabad, Quetta in Baluchistan; Lahore, Dera Ghazi Khan, Faisalabad, Multan, Mianwali, Layyah, Toba Tek Singh, Rajanpur, Bahawalpur, Gujranwala, Sargodha, Okara, Bhakkar, Lodhran, Murree, Attock, Taxila, and Rawalpindi in Punjab; Khyber Agency, Mohmand Agency, and Kurram Agency in FATA; Skardu and Gilgit; and Islamabad.
This unprecedented consultative process and brainstorming culminated into a peoples' resolution that was formally adopted by a citizen's assembly convened in Lahore on the eve of Pakistan Day. It was agreed that the country needs an executive that is transparent in its functioning and accountable to the wishes of the people, a parliament that incorporates laws, policies and governance mechanisms in order to transform Pakistan from a security state to a welfare state, and a judiciary that makes the promise of legal equality a reality for each citizen and dispenses justice to all with independence and equity. It was resolved that Pakistan "ought to become a state that provides justice, quality healthcare and education, and livelihood for all citizens and a state that lives in peace and actively enables its citizens to do so."
The peoples' assembly also forewarned that "no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to its people unless provinces are autonomous and governed according to the aspirations of people of the province that exercise complete control over their resources that are used equitably for the benefit of the citizens." And further demanded that "a social contract must be framed between citizens, and between citizens and the state" and that "all policies, international and inter-provincial relationships [of the state] must conform to the collective will of the people expressed as the new social contract".
Peace talk or the shared resolve of ordinary Joes to fix their country through incremental change is just not sexy enough to make headlines. But if the rule of law movement offered one lesson, it was that only an effective social movement led by ordinary citizens will usher progressive change in Pakistan and not elites that are current beneficiaries of our skewed legal, political and institutional structures. Ruling elites only submit to change once a committed group of citizens, disinterested in seeking power for themselves, uninhibited by skepticism or 'conventional wisdom', and imbibed with an unwavering desire to venture into cloud-cuckoo-land, create a social movement that resonates with the citizens-at-large and becomes popular. Given the structure, composition and dynamics of Pakistan's political and state institutions, the change we crave will have to bottom-up.
While there are no quick fixes for the multifarious problems afflicting us, it doesn't take a rocket-scientist to identify the direction of desirable reform. Let us start with the three major fault lines that bedevil our polity and inspire fear, hate and violence: our civil-military imbalance; the center-province divide; and the conservative-liberal disconnect.
If Pakistan is to be a stable sustainable democracy, the army chief simply cannot continue to be the most powerful individual in the country. Notwithstanding scandals of corruption and the low esteem in which our khakis hold our politicos, the principles of democracy and constitutionalism require that our generals must be completely accountable to us through our elected representatives. The prerequisites for readjusting the distorted balance between civilian and military institutions in Pakistan include an end to the army's monopoly over Pakistan's national security discourse, and rationalisation of its commercial interests and jealously guarded control of vast public resources including land. Pakistan's transformation to a welfare state will not begin so long as the contours of national security and national interest are defined exclusively by khakis.
If Pakistan was envisioned as a union of Muslim majority provinces and is described as a federation under the Constitution, the federating units must be afforded necessary freedom and autonomy. Will this reduce the ability of the center to control the provinces and what they do within their boundaries? Will reorganisation of the concurrent list cut the federal government to size? Absolutely. Is that not what the concept of a federation is fundamentally about? Must we continue to nurture the paternalism inherited from our colonial masters and predict doom if heaven forbid the provinces become the masters of their fortune?
And if Pakistan is to emerge as a peaceful and tolerant Muslim state do we not urgently need to disband the self-appointed guardians of morality and religion who believe they have a monopoly over the understanding of God's scriptures and the right to impose their will on others? Can our parliament really emerge as the bedrock of democracy unless the primary focus of MPs shifts from dispensing patronage to writing laws? Can the chief justice single-handedly defend the constitutional rights of each citizen, notwithstanding the number of suo moto actions he takes each day, if district courts remain in the state of disarray that they presently are? And can any government convert a predatory state into one focused on citizen welfare when budgetary allocations for education and public health remain miniscule and PSDP is the expense of choice to get slashed in face of any deficit?
As a state and a society we need to give up our obsession with control and get comfortable with difference of opinion and dissent. We need to build the foundations of a peaceable society on an education system that engenders tolerance and a justice system that defends the constitutionally guaranteed rights and choices of each citizen. But none of this will come about so long as we await a messiah to come along and rescue us from evildoers. Citizens will have to take responsibility for auditing the performance of state and political institutions and actors even outside the formal representative processes. The hope for change primarily springs from the unwillingness of Pakistan's youth (that forms a majority of our population) to squander and sacrifice its future to the corrupt and bigoted social and political ethos that our older generation has grown comfortable with. And it is citizen movements such as Aman Ittehad that have the potential to become agents of change.
I. THE NEWS
S Y R Gilani is dangerously close to being chiselled a 'light weight' who can become an ace racer adept in taking sharp U-turns rather than a prime minister. He's made so many U-turns that we're beginning to get bored. The prime ministerial seal is not worth the paper it's stamped on as happened recently when Nawaz Sharif put the kibosh on the 18th Amendment. Nor are Gilani's "good news" forecasts ever accurate. They are duds as happened in Washington DC when the US refused us its civil nuclear energy. Can the prime minister please stop using the 'good news' piffle? The nation is not amused.
A day earlier, the prime minister, under immense pressure, cancelled the $71 million scanners deal with China which contained kickbacks.
East, west and at home, deals fly out of the prime minister's window making him weightless. How long can he alternate between floating and falling? It's impossible to introduce 'good governance' when the prime minister is not only taking U-turns, but is a fire-fighter putting out the flames of corruption rising from the presidency and his cabinet ministers.
So far, Gilani's 'governance' has been reactive, not proactive. He moves after the fact; when the deed is almost done. Pull out his two-year track record and you'll notice that whatever decision the government (read President Zardari) takes is undone after the prime minister comes under public or media pressure. The restoration of the judiciary and more recently the judges' appointments are two obvious examples. But the latest is his squelching of the scanners scam revealed by this newspaper recently.
Whose big idea was it? After becoming president, Zardari took off for China and concluded the deal. Since then, he's been a regular visitor to China. "The president is the first businessman president of Pakistan" to meet Chinese business leaders from such industries as finance, infrastructure, energy, materials and telecommunication, announces an official Chinese website.
That's very well, but to agree to take a loan from China and with that money buy their faulty goods which no other country will have is disastrous. Long after Zardari is gone to his Manhattan pad, we the taxpayers will be left with the debris the bummers i.e. scanners, plus the debt plus the interest.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik had earlier denied any commission or kickback in the scanners deal. "I have warned the dealing agents from both sides -- Pakistan and China -- that severe action will be taken if any individual or company was found involved in such illegal activity," he is reported as having said. Well now, the cat is out of the bag and someone was about to walk away with a cool $12 million plus as kickbacks. Who is that someone? While it's not rocket science to name those involved, the prime minister pretends he does not know. So, he has appointed his three musketeers for the voyage of discovery. They are 'Dr' Babar Awan, Amin Fahim and Dr Hafeez Sheikh. What special qualifications do Messrs Awan and Fahim hold in the field of forensic finance? Will they be able to follow the money trail and more tellingly name the villains?
Are you kidding me?
Prime Minister Gilani is simply whiling away time by pulling wool over our eyes.
Equally culpable is Chaudhry Nisar, chairman Public Accounts Committee. The PAC is the biggest eyewash that ever was. Benazir Bhutto had appointed her father-in-law Hakim Ali Zardari as the chairman and he could not catch a single criminal. Ditto for Nisar. The opposition leader presents himself as a sheriff. He's nothing but hot air.
It's going to be a long hot summer. The loadshedding will worsen. The budget will be a death knell. Gilani will continue his U-turns. Zardari will rule with or without the 18th Amendment. The Sharif brothers will play the Punjab card. The Americans will keep us engaged without parting with much money, technology or arms.
Change? What change?
Email: anjumniaz@rocketmail .com
POLITICIANS HAVE YET TO RISE ABOVE VESTED INTERESTS
THE dramatic and unexpected developments relating to the constitutional reforms have shocked the nation and triggered a fresh cycle of rumours and conspiracy theories. It was really surprising as to what prompted the major opposition political party, the PML (N) to throw spanner in the works by raising the otherwise settled issue of appointment of judges. It is known that the procedure unanimously agreed upon by the parliamentary committee on constitutional reforms had to be revised at the instance of the PML (N) in a spirit of accommodation and reconciliation. It was also widely reported that the Committee has been successful in formulating consensus recommendations barring differences over renaming of the NWFP.
So in this backdrop, the decision of the PML (N) to put a big and sudden hurdle in the way of adoption of the recommendations by Parliament is not understandable. This is particularly so when it is known that the biggest concern of the PML (N) ie removal of the ban on the third term for the Prime Minister is also included in the comprehensive package of reforms. Otherwise too, PML (N) was in the forefront of those making concerted demands that the controversial 17th Amendment should be undone and powers unduly concentrated in the presidency should be handed over back to Parliament/Prime Minister. Then what went wrong and where? This mysterious development has landed the entire nation into a state of uncertainty and confusion and it is understood that Chairman of the Committee, Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, who meticulously worked to steer ahead the process of constitutional reforms, was the most shocked person. This is because the move has the potential to derail the entire process, as no one knows what is in store in the times to come. It was perhaps for the first time after 1973 that there was unanimity of views on the import constitutional issues and the parliamentary party consisting of representatives of almost all political entities formulated broad-based and far-reaching recommendations to reform the document that has been disfigured and deformed by different rulers to suit their personal and vested agenda and interests. It was because of all this that all guns on Thursday were directed at the PML (N) as political leaders, analysts and commentators saw possible disruption of the exercise and that too at the eleventh hour. Mian Nawaz Sharif is being accused of an unnecessary somersault and it is for the party leadership to come out with plausible explanation of what happened. However, this U-turn demonstrates that all is not well with our political system. In fact, from the day one there was trust deficit between the PPP and the PML (N), which also existed during the period when the latter joined the Federal Government and deepened after its decision to quit the coalition. We are sorry that once again the focus would shift back to politics and the real issues confronting the people would evade proper attention by the Government and the media.
FOCUS SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON PAK LOSSES
IN the joint statement issued at the conclusion of the much-talked-about and attention grabbing strategic dialogue, Pakistan and the United States have expressed their resolve to foster broad-based and enduring partnership, signifying a qualitative improvement in bilateral engagement. It talks about, among other things, greater market access and realization of the long-delayed plan of establishing Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs).
One can say with certainty that the dialogue this time was quite different from the three rounds held in the past and the two countries have moved further in cementing their ties in different fields. It is also gratifying that Pakistan's demand for sectoral focus has been accepted and a Policy Steering Group established to identify and expand the dialogue process in the fields of economy, trade, energy, defence, security, strategic stability and non-proliferation. Though there is no mention of the Pakistan's desire and demand for civilian cooperation in nuclear energy, one hopes that during discussions on energy issues, this would also be taken up and considered in the backdrop of ground realities. The United States has apparently accepted Pakistan's oft-repeated demand that it should have greater market access but strangely enough the joint statement mentions the need to work towards the goal, which clearly means that something substantial is still far off. But it is also a fact that in the present circumstances, Pakistan was unlikely to get any meaningful advantage of the market access even if immediately provided as the economy is in total shambles because of the absolute war on terror and the resultant security and law and order breakdown. There is no worthwhile investment and the already established industries are closing down either because of the security concerns or rising cost of production. Under these circumstances, the immediate focus should have been on Pakistan's losses in the war on terror and the increased assistance to compensate these damages. Though the Government circles calculate these losses at about $35 billion yet our estimates, based on feedback from different stakeholders, run beyond $60 billion. And one cannot quantify the losses that Pakistan is suffering because of brutalization of the society and weakening of the social fabric. We hope that during his forthcoming visit, the Prime Minister would hammer out this point during his interaction with American leaders and meetings with other world leaders on the sidelines of the nuclear summit.
FAKE DEGREES: RESIGNATIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH
TWO members of the National Assembly and an MPA resigned from their seats to avoid any legal action after the Supreme Court on Thursday, while hearing petitions regarding their disqualification on the basis of fake degrees, observed to take strict action against them. MNAs Nazir Ahmad Jat of PML (Q) and Jamshed Dasti of PPP and PML (Q) MPA Muhammad Ajmal failed to prove their stated qualifications and hence were liable to attract disqualification.
Resignations by the three is a clear admission of the guilt and a tacit acknowledgement that they have nothing to substantiate their claims of having obtained graduation degree through legal means. By quitting they have only saved their skin and also saved their political career, as they can still contest elections because the condition of graduation now stands abolished. This means that those who themselves have admitted to have committed a fraud can again make their way to the Assemblies. This is a sorry state of affairs as political leaders and Members of Parliament are supposed to be the role model. Therefore, things should not remain to their resignation alone and action should be initiated against them both by their parties as well as the courts of law. Exemplary punishment, if meted out to them, would send right kind of message to others and serve as deterrence against recurrence of such practices in future.
STRATEGIC DIALOGUE TO FINALISE AFPAK STRATEGY
GEN MIRZA ASLAM BEG
Obama's first and second Afpak Strategy failed and now the third strategy "to extricate from Afghanistan", is to be finalized in Washington. Giving the details of the new strategy, David Miliband said: "The objective is to build a self-governing, self-policing, but heavily subsidized Afghanistan." Richard Hallbrooke stressed the importance of neighbouring countries and a "non-centralized Afghan State, because, the way forward is to work more with the tribes in a more de-centralized Afghanistan." Pakistan, apparently endorsed this strategy and hopes to gain "strategic advantages."
Unfortunately, Pakistan, since independence has failed to evolve a pragmatic Afghan policy. Particularly for the last thirty years, it followed a policy, subordinated to American interests. General Ziaul Haq supported the American war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan but was abandoned by the Americans, to experience the painful fall-out of Afghan quagmire. General Musharraf, without a second thought, accepted all the conditionalities forced on him and decided to join the American war on Afghanistan, with no moral or legal justification. As a result Pakistan has continued to suffer the consequences of such jerky decisions and has been forced to fight the war on reversed fronts. As if this was not enough, the Pakistan government now has decided to support the Afpak exit strategy, worked out by Karzai and approved by the Americans at the Maldives meeting held last month. It envisages a government comprising Karzai supporters, the Northern Alliance and some Taliban dissidents, under the leadership of Mustafa Zahir Shah. Karzai hoping to gain the approval of this set-up, through a loe-jirga, he will be calling next month.
Surprisingly, the ground work has already been laid, to implement the Maldives Plan. On all counts, Pakistan has already started "delivering brick-by-brick demolition of Jehadi infrastructure." Washington has given its endorsement of Pakistan's "genuine interests" in Afghanistan and the assurances that America will "not walk away from Pakistan, and would guarantee Pakistan's political and economic interests in the region." In order to allow Pakistan, to disengage its forces from the eastern borders and move them to the north western borders, America is helping to defuse tension with India by inducing 'composite dialogue' and would also telling India to curtail activities in Afghanistan, which are causing concern to Pakistan. The stage therefore is set to prop-up a coalition government in Afghanistan, minus the Taliban, who control 33 provinces, out of 35 in Afghanistan, because Hallbrooke calls it a "non centralized Afghanistan", denying the reality of control by the Taliban, who are the real arbiters of the destiny of the people of Afghanistan. Thus the America will be repeating the mistake of 1989-90, of abandoning the Mujahideen, which created a mess in Afghanistan and continues to afflict the entire region. It is interesting to see that the American policy makers having found the shift in Pakistan's policy, visited Pakistan and Kabul; Karzai to Islamabad; ex DGISI to Saudi Arabia and the Foreign Minister and the COAS to Washington. There is an urgency to actualize the Maldives Plan, whereas the Taliban are discreetly watching this game and appear so calm, cool and collected, in their scheme of things, waiting for the occupation forces to leave Afghanistan and the Taliban to demolish the Maldives Plan, bit by bit and establish their rule. Once again Afghanistan will be plunged into turmoil and a second front will be opened, with no guarantee for Pakistan. The Washington conference, therefore is not a peace conference either. In fact, it is a search for an "easier and less expensive American war and to extricate ourselves from our burden."
Pakistan appears willing to implement the Maldives Plan, without any understanding with the Afghan Taliban. The Taliban are the real arbiters of the destiny of the people of Afghanistan and must not be kept out of the plan for peace. No doubt, Pakistan Army has been able to establish the writ of the government along the entire border region, including the FATA areas, and for the first time, our borders with Afghanistan have acquired strategic significance. The integrity of our borders therefore must be maintained, only when we are at peace with the future government in Kabul, which will be none else than the government by the Taliban, who control 90% of Afghanistan. Therefore Pakistan has a clear choice to have a friendly Afghanistan, and peaceful borders or a hostile Afghanistan and a situation of two front war. There exists a serious "Trust Deficit" between Afghan Taliban and USA, Pakistan Government, Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies, who betrayed the Taliban in 1988-90. Pakistan later on joined the American war against Afghanistan in 2001.
Majority of the Taliban therefore consider Pakistan as their enemy. Whereas the Pakistani Taliban narrate the story of betrayal by the Musharraf government, not once, but several times. Their minds are also being polluted by Indian tirade of brutalities of the Pakistani Army of rape and arson in Swat, Bajaur and Waziristan areas. They have no trust in the present government either. The question therefore arises: who has the courage and the ability to break the Trust Deficit, and engage in dialogue with the Taliban, on both sides of the border and negotiate peace. This is the dilemma, facing all the stake holders in Afghanistan. "Without triggering bigger chaotic conditions, and to avoid terrifying prospects of defeat," it must be understood that "neither extra troops, not extra aid, not more hugs not slugs counter insurgency nonsense, is the answer." (Ralf Peters).
The geo-political and geo-strategic environment of Afghanistan of the next decade, will be determined by the converging interests of its neighbours, ie, Russia, China, Iran, the Central Asian States and the United States of America. If we are looking for peace in Afghanistan, we have to accommodate the interests of others. And therefore, Pakistan needs to "recalibrate its position on Afghan. It means harmonizing Pakistan's geo-strategic interests with Afghanistan and regional neighbours and real accommodation of some US & NATO interests."
The writer is former COAS Pakistan.
LAST WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
The process of strategic dialogue between Pakistan and US was launched in 2006 when US president George W Bush visited Pakistan. It was decided that under the strategic partnership the dialogue will be held regularly co-chaired by US under secretary of state for political affairs and Pakistan 's foreign secretary to review issues of mutual interest. Commitments were made to move forward in the areas of economic growth and prosperity, energy, peace and security, social sector development, science and technology, democracy and non-proliferation. The level of the dialogue was at a much lower level (i.e. at the third tier officials bellow the secretary of state) so was of very less consequence.
The last round of talks was held in Dec 2007 between deputy secretary of state John Negroponte and Pakistani foreign secretary Riaz Muhammad. With General Musharaf in charge and handling matters personally no substantial progress could be made on any agenda point except for routine discussions. Now with the change of administration in US and establishment of political governments in Pakistan the scene has changed. The latest review of US Afghan policy and the out come of London conference have made this dialogue much more important. Consequently the delegations on both sides is expanded and of higher stature than before. It is important to note that the recent US policy shift in Afghanistan of reconciliation and mediation with Taliban has opened a new window of opportunity for Pakistan . It is now up to us as to how can we maximize our gains and make good the losses which we have suffered so far.
Let us first examine what both sides are expecting from the dialogue. Richard Halbrooke has very clearly explained the purpose of strategic dialogue during his briefing on 19 Mar as to discuss three core objectives. 1. Destroying Al Qaida; 2 Helping Afghans become self reliant so that they can take care of their security; 3 strengthening Pakistan's ability to deal with its own security, development; strengthening democratic institutions. On the Pakistani side PM Yousaf Raza Gilani while talking to US ambassador has highlighted power generation, water conservation, education, strengthening of the capacity of Pakistan's law enforcement agencies through training and provision of equipment besides fast tracking of the economic assistance committed through Kerry Lugar Bill and under CSF and foreign military funding as the areas where the delegation will focus. Foreign minister Qureshi has further pointed that economic and development issues must not be relegated to the back burner hinting at our core concerns.
US obviously is going to focus on security issues while Pakistan will try to draw maximum economic advantage out of the partnership. The potential danger is that much of Pakistan 's economic aid desires though may be on the agenda but will be overshadowed by the security dialogue for which Army chief, DG ISI and DG MO along with other security experts are part of the delegation. This divergence of interest must be narrowed quickly to yield optimum result and avoid domestic disappointment and negative political fallout. Indian Lobby which is not happy with the increasing interest of US in Pakistan is already working hard to influence negatively, therefore greater care must be taken to accept responsibilities and take up positions.
Now coming on to the security issues where US needs our support. Destroying Al Qaida is not an easy task as it is an international organization with world wide membership and influence. Can it be done by invading countries, changing regimes, killing or capturing top leadership, imprisoning and torturing noncombatants in distant CIA prisons and basis? The strategy so far adopted has to the best minimized their influence and activities but have failed to destroy them. There is a requirement to go beyond the normal and accept reality piercing through prejudices and self interest. We all know that the mission and demands of Al Qaida are neither political nor economic rather are merged with popular and legitimate demands having great acceptability in Muslim world. The best way to defeat the organization is to defeat their sense of purpose by resolving the issues which are being used to attract recruitment. These are genuine Muslim concerns which must be resolved. Visible progress with clear road maps not mere rhetoric can help reduce the influence of extremist organizations and ultimately defeat them.
The next objective is reintegration of Afghan society to end hostilities so that Afghan National Army (ANA) can take over the security of their country and US along with coalition forces can march out victorious. Afghan society has never been cohesive under strict central control and authority. They are not akin to the western styled democracy and elections. Moreover the prolong war has totally shattered the social fiber and new power groups have emerged which must be recognized and given due importance. Taliban who have lost their legitimate government and are fighting the foreign occupation forces will not easily reintegrate and disarm. There has to be an end to all military operations to build mutual trust and ease the life of common man in the country. A process of confidence building and normalization under the auspices of a neutral third party to broker peace is an urgent need. US forces along with ISAF are ill suited for the task. There is a requirement of involving UN peace keeping forces which are accepted to all the warring factions. Muslim countries under OIC can contribute to bring peace to the region. Pakistan can also help in this regard and has already shown interest in training the ANA. Our position has been repeatedly stated to support all efforts for a stable and peaceful Afghanistan but not to accept any Indian influence in this regard.
With regards to the economic and financial aspects of the dialogue the basic question is why should US be interested to spend their tax payers money in Pakistan to solve local problems when there are serious financial difficulties at home? We must understand that US Agency for International Development (USAID) is a parallel body working along secretary of state and has a direct link with the foreign policy objectives. So thinking of Aid without strings is out of question. Pakistan should not concentrate on Aid rather demand the legal and promised CSF and the war retributions as cost suffered due to the ongoing GWOT. All future cooperation should be subject to progress on the payment of outstanding dues. Kerry Luger Bill has been criticized extensively in the country so should not be the prime concern. Moreover the government is not likely to get any benefit out of it. Once we demand our due share we should also be very clear that we have not been efficient in managing Aid money which so far has been received and the world is aware of this. US congress has taken notice of it and will not allow any transactions without the critical financial oversight and disciplinary measures. Mr Halbrooke has talked of the lack of absorptive capacity which challenges the ability of our institutions. Good governance and efficient management of funds is therefore important to build donor's confidence.
Pakistan is the front line state in war against terror and is a major non NATO ally enjoying strategic partnership with US. At the same time it is the most distrusted and targeted country with ongoing drone attacks and covert operations involving many international intelligence agencies breeding conspiracy theories. This contradiction must end now. Strategic partnership must bring transparency and prosperity which so far has not happened. It should be recognized that Pakistan cannot accept and implement a strategy which is against herself or its people. Muslim world has consensus of opinion against acts of terrorism but the suffering of Muslims in Palestine , Kashmir and now in Iraq and Afghanistan are compelling to think otherwise. US must help resolve these issues urgently. Let the people of Iraq and Afghanistan elect their own government and lead their lives as per their own wishes which will be real freedom. If this happens the people will not hate America rather will be thankful and will work even more ardently to let it progress fast in 21st century to reach the farthest bounds of the universe. Muslims are an ideal pluralistic society which has historically absorbed and lived comfortably with divergent cultures and religions. Muslim Spain and Muslim India are classic example of their compassion. It can still behave in similar manner and contribute positively provided US leads us all in a just manner.
ELECTRICITY FROM IRAN
AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
Iran's Ambassador to Pakistan HE Masha'allah Shakeri has met the Water and Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf several times in an effort to follow up the MOU for the supply of 1135MW electricity from Iran, into the energy starved Pakistani grid. This MOU was signed between the two countries several months back on Pakistan's request. It is worth mentioning that Pakistan is suffering from an acute short of electricity since two years.
The lethargy, inefficiency, corruption and lack of vision and effort of the Ministry and WAPDA, headed by the controversial minister, who has been bluffing all along has done untoward damage to the power sector. Today Pakistan's industry is on its knees, with thousands of mills and factories shut down, and Pakistani's made to live and sweat in intense heat from up to 18 hours of power blackouts. With so much damage done to Pakistan's economy, it is amazing that the minister has not heeded and responded to Iran's sincere effort to provide 1135 MW of electric energy and to double it to 2270 MW at a later date if required by Pakistan. Iran is rightly displeased with Pakistan's indifference to its offer to export electricity to Pakistan. This indifference is unjustified and in fact callous. The Iranian ambassador in Islamabad, naturally finds no justification for lack of progress in reaching an agreement on the matter. His statement reproduced below is indicative of efforts by elements in the federal government, who are trying to sabotage Iran's goodwill towards Pakistan, and create bitterness in Tehran to please their foreign masters. Ambassador Masha'allah in his recent press statement said ,"I'm perplexed. I can't understand what's wrong with the Iranian offer," Iran signed a memorandum of understanding with Pakistan in December 2008 to provide 1,135MW of electricity with an offer to double the export, if needed.. Over the past 15 months ambassador Masha'allah had met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, officials of the Board of Investment and Private Power and Infrastructure Board, but was yet to hear anything from them on the subject of reaching an agreement for the supply of Iranian electricity. He remarked, "Time is of the essence. Should Iran wait forever!" He bitter remarks must be taken most seriously by the concerned authorities. The PM's office needs to investigate the matter. What was the need to sign the MOU, if follow up action was not planned, and the Memorandum of Understanding was to be shelved and sabotage?
The power shortage in Pakistan have risen to 5000MW causing outages of up to 10 to 18 hours across the country. Mr Shakeri is astonished, as we all are and like him the nation is at a loss to understand what has stopped Pakistan from moving forward on the Iranian offer. Iran is a regional power hub being the world's 19th largest electricity producer. Russia, India, Qatar, the UAE, Jordan, Syria and Omanwere interested in Iranian electricity. Turkey, Armenia and Afghanistan are importing electricity from Iran, which produces 50,000MW and is expecting to add another 4000-5000MW in coming years from hydel sources. Islamabad will have to overcome organizational, administrative financial and diplomatic lethargy, and grasp Iran's offer without delay, to forestall the possibility of frustrated Iran pulling out of the MOU. Iranian ambassador has gone out of the way to help Pakistan, and his frustation and impatience over lack of interest and response by Islamabad is understandable.
The PPP governments hesitation may be attributed to US pressure from its tentacles viz IMF, the World Bank, Asian Development Bank. The PPP government has boldly signed the gas pipe line accord with Iran, disregarding Washington's sensitivity of close Pakistani ties with Iran. So there cannot be any truth that Islamabad is stalling the implementation of the MOU with Tehran, so as not to displease Washington. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton , and Anne W. Patterson the US ambassador are fully cognizant of Pakistan's energy crisis. They have reacted sympathetically and positively to help Pakistan to overcome the energy shortfall. Hillary Clinton has tried to side track supply of nuclear power plants, but is vocal about US help to jump start shut or repair shut down power plants. US would help repair and improve Pakistan's inefficient power grid. But such US assurances will not solve the acute shortage of urgently needed electricity energy, because the Ministry of Water and Power and WAPDA bureaucracy and officials are mired in corruption and lethargy, and need to be woken up and start working. Iranian offer merits immediate attention, because it could solve the energy crisis in the short and long term.
According to one media source, Progress on the Iran-Pakistan MOU had been impeded by lack of financial resources, absence of required infrastructure and differences over tariff. Ambassador Shakeri, however, said Iran was ready to help Pakistan overcome these hurdles. "Honestly we would like to go with Pakistan. Our objective is to address Pakistan's immediate electricity needs. We are ready to build infrastructure. Our cooperation can even include financial assistance." The ambassador of Iran to Pakistan Masha'allah Shakeri said this , after his meeting with the Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on January 28, 2010.
The people and the media must impress on the federal government to accord top priority to enusre that the MOU with Iran is implemented, and all hurdles are removed in a transparent manner. Iran is a well wisher and will help out to overcome the financial crunch. Joint commission and joint working groups of engineers and specialists be created immediately to work out in a transparent manner all modalities of the Iran-Pakistan Energy Supply Project. The government of Pakistan is likely to become suspect, in case of untoward delay and hurdles deliberately placed to shelve the urgently needed electricity supply from Iran. Iran will never pay bribes to corrupt Pakistani officials. Tehran will not do underhand deals either. Intelligence agencies must move in quickly to expose corrupt elements, and practices, and negative delaying and stalling tactics that may sabotage the MOU and harm brotherly relations with Iran.
UK BUDGET 2010
Going by the post-budget speech of David Cameron as the opposition leader, Alistair Darling's so called election (year) budget should hasten Labour's end. Cameron in his speech asked for elections to put "Labor out of misery" after scathing criticism of the budget proposals related to banks, business and stamp duty. His eagerness for general elections as opposition leader is understandable, because it is due in six weeks' time. The current parliament's five-year term will expire on 10 May 2010. Nick Clegg, leader of Liberal Democrats took Darling and Cameron to task over their hypocrisy on coming clean on issues close to public hearts including public housing, jobs and taxes.
Budget has doubled across the board pensions from £62 per week to 132 .60. It will help old pensioners especially at a time when Sarkozy is all set to increase retirement age from 60 to 65 despite his party faced humiliating washout in 21 out of 22 regions (Sarkozy pushes pension overhaul after election defeat March 23, Bloomberg Business week). Stamp duty cut has been increased to £ 2,50,000 on property purchase and first time buyers have been exempted from it. Unlike Sarkozy who cut 100,000 civil service jobs, Darling has announced moving out of every third civil servant from London to suburbs to cut public spending. The move however is a part of election battle to create jobs in north and northeast. Allowances will be withdrawn for salaries over £100,000 and more. There is going to be a two-year freeze on increase in these salaries. There is going to be lot of taxes on these salaries in days to come.
But these positives have been overshadowed by the negatives, and that is what is going to bring decide Labour's fate. Cameron had an excellent opportunity to reach the British grassroots but like Darling, he too decided to play politics instead of coming clean on banks, education, taxes. Clegg took his shots but then like Imran Khan of Pakistan's Tehreek-e- Insaf his truth lacks number of voters. This explains why political pundits are predicting a hung parliament after coming UK elections. Labor and Conservatives are unwilling to standup for the masses both in economic policies and foreign policies and Lib Dems aren't big enough to lead on their own.
It brings us to banks, which are holding UK from generating jobs, financing small and medium businesses. It has pushed Labor to go for higher taxes, which is going to push the country into deeper unemployment and turn away of multinationals and foreign investors. Let me use the figures to explain this failure. Every fifth person of employable age in UK is unemployed today. According to independent estimates Gordon Brown pumped public's billions of tax pounds in the bank stimulus package on the promise that banks will revive the economy. Despite promises of £41 bln for businesses banks only coughed up £2 bln. Cameron therefore was right to point out that UK's two million unemployed and eight million economically inactive people are not ready to trust Labour again with its promise that two banks will give £100 bln business loans to small and medium businesses. British banks are hoarding stimulus package to clear their inventories instead of reviving the economy. Labour has failed to control banks as they return to their old greedy practices with public money, and Conservatives aren't ready to enact financial regulations to protect Main Street vis-à-vis Wall Street. Clegg's proposal of 10 percent tax on bank profits might not see light of the day ever. Labour's proposal of forming an infrastructure development bank is a food for thought.
Personally, I am of the opinion that Bretton Wood System of monetary management for commercial and financial relations between world's major industrial states could only produce bubbles of prosperity and that too at the cost of poor. Ruling elite adopted it to secure individual benefits at the cost of socialist, Islamic and communist economic models. The number rich and abject poverty in capitalist countries including US, Europe and rest of the world are cases in point. Without cash, capitalism is a fable. After failure in Iraq-another India for British Raj- the cash starved Labour has come down to taxing hapless British poor, who are paying 40 percent tax while rich pay only 34 percent tax. Alistair's tax freeze will favor the rich and further squeeze the poor, with whose money British economy will sputter along.
Labour by ignoring to give a public housing policy has abandoned 1.8 million poor on housing waiting list. Conservatives are not coming clean on public housing. And why should they? Queen herself is selling her 1280 London houses and flats. These "fit for returning servicemen after WWI" setups were rented on decent rates to ordinary public. But reportedly "Project Blue" or selling of this Crown property aims to make profit instead of caring for the welfare of ordinary families living in those homes (Queen's rotten estate, March 10, The Mirror). Experts have rejected Darling's claims of 3.5 percent annual growth. BoE has said it will stay around 3.1 percent. UK is the fifth largest economy in the world, and its budget deficit is largest in the developed world. It is clear that few would support Darling's plan of cutting the deficit in half in next four year without tackling borrowing, generating jobs and expanding business. Cameron rightly pointed out that when Labour took over UK was 4th in taxes in the world and today it is 86yh. Business community is fuming at the bleak future of business prospects in UK following 2010 budget. Small businesses pay 20 percent tax, and large corporate sector pays 28 percent tax. More taxes on small business will severely undermine country's ability to generate jobs and revive economy. Plan to recover £4 bln from tax evaders is too little, too less and too late. Opposition needs to go beyond Dominica, Grenada and Belize to other six tax havens in the world to bring back stashed away money that ought to be in national chest. It will help 3rd world country to recover its plundered wealth on lines of $1.8bln Thaksin Thai Court verdict. Finally, Darling has failed to present a Budget that uphold aspirations of ordinary people. It means that Labour has given up its hope to win the election. Cameron's failure to offer solid practical alternates on jobs, taxation, tax havens, public housing and business friendly policies is equally bad. If Lib Dems play their cards right on these issues they could wring pro-public policies from both parties. It will not only bolster their numbers in the house but will set a positive precedent for third world countries. If I were to push for real change for the public, it would be with the support of unions and British Airways is just the kind of start any political party would need to connect with the masses. Provided it is ready to uphold public interest.
GOING TO EXTREME
VIEWS FROM ABROAD
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. 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.
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