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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

EDITORIAL 29.03.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month march 29, edition 000467, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.





  1. T20 GAMBLE
























  1. $1-tr infrastructure? A lot left to be done







































It has been one of the oldest verities of Indian cricket that national selectors have chosen Test teams on whim and fancy, completely ignoring Ranji Trophy performances and undermining the importance of the first-class game in India. Old habits die hard. Twenty20 may be the buzz today but the ways of Indian selectors remain unchanged. The Indian Premier League is the world's leading domestic T20 tournament. It features Indian and foreign stars and, of course, young Indian cricketers of varying skill and ability. This combination ensures the IPL is the most competitive T20 tournament outside the T20 World Cup played between full members of the International Cricket Council and qualifiers from among associate countries. In the midst of the third season of the IPL, Indian selectors have announced their team for the ICC T20 World Cup that begins in the West Indies at the end of April. They may as well have selected this team three months ago for they have obviously taken very little cognisance of inputs from the IPL and the immediate form and condition of cricketers. Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma have been named despite injuries. This is a replay, albeit a potentially less challenging one, of the T20 World Cup of 2009, when Zaheer Khan and Virendra Sehwag were sent to England carrying injuries. They didn't serve India at that tournament and the team suffered. It can be argued that Gambhir's injury is not as severe and he will recover; perhaps so will Ashish Nehra, though doubts remain about him given his injury-prone career. The real shockers are the non-selection of Virat Kohli, who has been in astonishingly good form in limited overs cricket in recent weeks, and Robin Uthappa, who has been plundering runs at rapid-fire speed for Bangalore's Royal Challengers — the IPL franchise for which Kohli also plays. Murali Karthik is one of India's best known T20 cricketers, with robust experience of the format in English country cricket. He is also among the most successful and inexpensive spinners in this year's IPL, playing for the Kolkata Knight Riders. Yet, he will not be on the plane to the West Indies and Piyush Chawla, who has done little of note, will go as the second spinner.

The selection committee has taken some massive gambles. If they don't pay off, it will end up looking very silly. If Gambhir doesn't recover, if Rohit Sharma continues his on-off run making and if — the great unmentionable — Yuvraj Singh continues his precipitous decline, the batting order will be riddled with holes at the T20 World Cup. Indeed, the performance and attitude of Yuvraj at the IPL should have been an eye-opener for the officials at the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Somebody, perhaps even the chief selector if he could find time from being brand ambassador of the Chennai IPL franchise, should have spoken to him. Yuvraj has knee problems that could be debilitating. Maybe he senses he doesn't have a long career ahead. Overlooked for the India captaincy and replaced as the King's XI captain in Chandigarh, his morale is clearly low and mood bolshie. He has not done much of note at the IPL and has been in the news for breaking his team's curfew laws. In short, he does not represent a mix that inspires confidence going into a World Cup.







IT activism, if one can call it that, against Chinese censorship of the Internet seems to be growing. Following in Google's footsteps, two more American IT companies have announced their decision to suspend their China operations, citing repressive Chinese measures to monitor the free flow of information in cyberspace as the reason. The two companies' —domain name service providers Go Daddy and Network Solutions LLC — immediate grievance appears to be new Chinese rules that would require them to collect exhaustive data on their clients. Go Daddy representatives say that they fear such an exercise will endanger the safety of their clients, who could be targeted by the Chinese Government for their dissident beliefs. Needless to say that all of this has excited human rights activists the world over. IT companies putting aside their commercial interests and taking the moral high ground against an authoritarian Chinese regime sounds like the David and Goliath story of our times. But there is more to it than meets the eye. The primary reason why American companies like Google chose to set up shop in China is the huge Chinese market. It was simply too good to resist. Besides, setting up a business in China is not the fussiest of procedures, provided one agrees to the rules and regulations laid down by the Chinese Government. Thus, for Google and its ilk, the commercial benefits far outweighed the discomfort that they would have to go through in putting up with Chinese restrictions. Therefore, they happily signed on the dotted line, dreaming about the millions that they would be earning.

But things did not go according to plan. Although globalisation is a powerful force, there are instances where it is difficult to dislodge local flavours. From the day Google entered China, its biggest foe in the Chinese search market has been Baidu. The latter presently holds a whopping 77 per cent of the local market share. Google thought it could beat the odds, but it simply could not adjust to Chinese tastes. It is of course debatable whether the overall Chinese set-up gives Baidu an edge. But Baidu operations are subject to the same Chinese Government regulations as Google. The bottomline line is, all things equal, Google could not effectively compete with its Chinese rival. And the same holds true for the other American IT companies who are making a beeline to exit China. This does not mean that censorship of the Internet in China is not an issue. The Great Firewall programme that filters content for Chinese Internet users is both excessive and politically motivated. Hence, the moral of the story is that even though it might seem profitable to do business with no-fuss authoritarian regimes, in the long run it pays to go through the bureaucratic maze of a democratic system, even if it is a little more cumbersome.



            THE PIONEER




Security, as I have written earlier, is a major issue for the immediate future. We have to think clearly in terms of both external threat and internal chaos — the latter a result of the activities of Maoists and other extremist elements within our society. The attitude of the Americans towards the 26/11 terror strikes on Mumbai and the flip-flop on terrorist David Coleman Headley, who was clearly a double agent working for one of the American intelligence agencies, have come about essentially because of the US's pressing need to make a dignified exit from Afghanistan. For this they will need Pakistan's help and therein lies the problem.

It will be extremely unfortunate if the US applies different yardsticks for 9/11 and 26/11. Even though Headley is an American citizen, I don't understand how can plea bargaining in the US give him reprieve from facing the Indian law for committing mass murder in Mumbai? He must be extradited to India, even though this might involve evolving a new legal mechanism.

The recent strategic talks between Pakistan and the US were led by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistani Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha. Are they the new power centres in Pakistan? India has to proceed with caution and one must admit that the Pakistani authorities have done little to bring to book those accused of 26/11. The US too hasn't been able to use its leverage over Pakistan in this regard.

Islamabad has played the 'double game' rather well. Both the Pakistani Army and the ISI have taken full advantage of the fractured political mandate in that country. The outcome of Islamabad's recent dialogue with Washington, DC will indicate the Barack Obama Administration's attitude towards several issues, including its resolve to battle terrorism. The ground reality is that the US and its allies are under intense pressure both in Iraq and Afghanistan where daily suicide bombings are taking a heavy toll. The political fallout of this has also been grave and many have begun to question President Obama's West Asia policies.

Political and public opinion in India will not take kindly to appeasement of the Pakistani Army and the ISI by the US. American weapons have been consistently used by Pakistan against India. President Obama is a superb orator and we wish him well. But his rhetoric does not match the action initiated by his administration that will see Islamabad get more American military hardware. It is safe to say that these weapons will never be used by the Pakistani Army against the Taliban and its ilk. They will simply be diverted to the Indian front.

Back home, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati and the BSP continue to dominate the headlines for all the wrong reasons. After filing an FIR against the 'bee attack' at the BSP's 25th anniversary rally, the Mayawati Administration has now prevented Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav from garlanding a statue. This is a shame and these excesses will only make the job of the Congress simpler as Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh approaches. As I have mentioned earlier, a popular verdict is not a license for settling scores. And Ms Mayawati is no exception to the rule. She must mend her ways if she is to remain at the top of the political game.

The comments of Mr Mulayam Singh on the role of women in Parliament are very unfortunate. Clearly, the time has come for him to make way for other leaders in the SP. But dynastic politics escapes no one and, given son Akhilesh Singh's poor political acumen, succession can be quite a problem. The SP has lost a considerable amount of its vote-base to both the BSP and the Congress, and this will be further dented by Mr Amar Singh's exit. The BJP seems to be stabilising at the national level but continues to flounder in Uttar Pradesh. As things stand, the main battle will be between the BSP and the Congress in the coming State Assembly polls.

There is a family feud brewing within the DMK between Mr M Karunanidhi's sons MK Alagiri and MK Stalin. This is what dynastic politics can do to a party when succession is not clear. The supreme patriarch of the party is getting on in age and we can expect a battle royale between his two wives, the sons, the daughter and the nephews. Each one has the ammunition to fight a long battle. The Congress can do little but observe the battle from the sidelines and consider future options. The PMK might find that it is not trusted by either side while the DMDK might simply align with the winning combination. In all of this, AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa has to do little and simply wait and watch.

In politics, as in life, nothing lasts forever. The DMK is an ideal coalition partner, but only when it gets what it wants in terms of portfolios at the Centre and is able to maintain total control in Tamil Nadu. Despite being in minority, it is running the State Government without any Ministers from the Congress. The DMK will watch with some suspicion the attempts of the Congress to strengthen its own cadre in Tamil Nadu. The party knows better than to underestimate the efforts of Mr Rahul Gandhi.

Many in the DMK family will push for the succession to take place during Mr Karunanidhi's lifetime. It will be difficult to predict the course of events over the next few months if Mr Stalin is confirmed as the successor. And if and when this takes place, Tamil Nadu will surely see some very turbulent times that will engulf all the political parties of the State. Hopefully, it will be a smooth and peaceful transition.







Whipping the dead horse of British Raj continues to be the favourite pastime of intellectuals. They, however, clinically eschew Islam that wreaked havoc on India for six centuries prior to the British ascendancy. They would also refrain from commenting upon how Nehruvian policies resulted in our taking a demurred view of ourselves. Pawan K Verma's interview, "Énglish cannot be given primacy over the language of our culture" (March 25) is another such instance. Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Ananda Coomaraswamy, CP Ramaswamy Aiyar, KP Jaiswal, and RC Majumdar all received colonial education and wrote their works in English. Yet, it is difficult to find a larger constellation of nationalists before or after the British era.

Verma, in his interview, has dropped no hint as to why a Hindu renaissance occurred under the British rule whereas in independent India the appellation 'Hindu' has been stigmatised and made contemptuous. This emasculation is the real reason why our cultural greatness has fallen off the discourse. Verma is equally silent on why the English language, believed to be predatory, stimulated a literary florescence in all Indian languages in the 19th century. Actually, it is the advent of the printing press to India in 1772 and the development of Indian-language fonts and dictionaries by the British that spurred the growth of modern Indian literature more than anything else.

Verma, by being harsh on Raja Ram Mohun Roy, has demeaned a stalwart who re-introduced the Upanishads in public discourse. Verma's assertion that Ram Mohun Roy argued for permanent residency of the British and mixed marriages with Indians is fallacious. Roy, appearing before the Select Committee of the House of Common in 1832, gave a judicious opinion on the advantages and disadvantages of Europeans settling in India. The subject of inter-marriage was not even broached. Roy said, "On mature consideration, therefore, I think I may safely recommend that educated persons of character and capital should be permitted to settle in India ... and the result of this experiment may serve as a guide in any future legislation on this subject".







The abysmal failure of the climate change summit in Copenhagen last December was a huge jolt to climate activists in more ways than one. Not only was the summit marked by the failure to evolve a comprehensive climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol post-2012, it was also marred by a huge scandal that had climate sceptics grinning from ear to ear. It will be recalled that e-mails exchanged between climate experts that were stored on computer servers of the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in Britain — one of the premier climate research centres in the world and whose climate change data were to significantly contribute towards evolving a new climate treaty — were hacked and published on the Internet. The hackers claimed that the e-mails clearly indicated that climate science was being manipulated by scientists and activists for their own vested interests. They affirmed that data supporting global warming were being tweaked.

Needless to say the scandal on the eve of Copenhagen did not help the environmentalists and the activists at all who were already facing an uphill task of trying to convince world leaders to unilaterally commit to significant reductions in carbon emissions. Not surprisingly, the summit was hijacked by politics and the issue of climate change took a back seat. The Chinese and the Indian delegations were concerned about the impact that drastic emission cuts would have on their economy and industrial outputs whereas the Americans wanted greater commitments from these two fast-developing countries. What all of this has essentially done is transform climate change into a purely political issue when in reality it is far from so. If we allow the climate change debate to be completely taken over by politicians, the fight against global warming is doomed.

The cynicism at Copenhagen followed the Indian delegation to the summit back home. Apart from the debate in Parliament as to whether India's interests had been protected at the summit or not, there was the revelation that an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report claiming that the Himalayan glaciers would completely melt away by 2035 was exaggerated and hardly based on scientific evidence. Given IPCC chairman RK Pachauri's Indian roots, the Government automatically became an interested party in the whole affair. Though it criticised the report itself, it backed Mr Pachauri — yet another example of how convoluted the issue of climate change has become.

For the common man, all of this has resulted in a confused picture. And as a consequence, the number of climate sceptics is growing by the day. People like former US Vice-President Al Gore and the data-tweaking breed of climate zealots, who would crucify anyone for questioning their wisdom on climate change phenomena, have actually done a great disservice to the fight against global warming. By exaggerating numbers and portraying a picture that is not quite accurate, they have helped turn those who were sensitive about environmental issues into climate change cynics. And combined with the political impasse at international climate fora, this has meant a nosedive in the enthusiasm for protecting the environment.

None of this means that climate change is not taking place or that global warming is an over-the-top hippie concoction. There are certain things that we simply cannot deny. For example, recently, satellite images confirmed that New Moore Island, or South Talpatti Island if you happen to be a Bangladeshi, has been completely engulfed by the rising sea. The island was a serious bone of contention between India and Bangladesh in the 1980s. In 1981, New Delhi had even sent naval ships to the island and hoisted the tricolour to legitimise its territorial claim. But with the island now completely under the sea, no one seems to be particularly bothered about the loss of this tiny speck of uninhabited earth.

What advocates of climate change must realise is that they don't need to exaggerate data to make their point. Climate change is there for all to see. By trying to tweak the picture in order to sound more convincing, they are simply pushing common folks to the climate sceptic camp. If they are to succeed in convincing Governments the world over to try and do something about climate change, and there is a lot to be done in terms of cushioning the people from the effects of global warming, they must set their own vested interests aside. It is undeniable that there are environmental processes currently underway that are out of sync with the harmonious continuity of nature. In order to understand them and formulate a meaningful response, we have to stop exaggerating the effects of climate change.








Thinking about the Obama Administration's foreign policy makes me keep coming back to the following joke:

Three men are on a small plane, the pilot, a very important person (various names are used when people tell this joke), and a young hiker. The plane's motor goes out and it is going to crash. The pilot tells the two passengers: Sorry but we only have one extra parachute.

The celebrity sneers, "I should get it because I'm the smartest person in the world." He grabs a pack and jumps out of the plane.

"Sorry, son," says the pilot. "We don't have any more parachutes."

"Oh, yes we do," answers the teenager, "the smartest man in the world just jumped out of the plane with my backpack."

If I were a cartoonist illustrating the joke in this case, I'd show a smug Mr Obama jumping out of the plane with the backpack labelled, 'US national interests'.

This reflection is prompted today by a very predictable story — predicted by me repeatedly — that the Administration is now further, and futilely, watering down projected sanctions on Iran in hope of getting Russian and Chinese support. Spring 2010 has arrived and after 15 months higher sanctions, or indeed any credible US deterrent, on Iran hasn't. Even now it isn't clear if the Obama Administration can get the nine votes needed in the UN Security Council to do anything.

Note that this is probably the last material effort the West will make to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Even if it takes Tehran a couple of years to do so, it's unlikely — given how long and hard it is to get even some symbolic sanctions adopted — that low Administration will-power and international support will lead to anything else being done.

Incidentally, the Administration was supposed to be ready for this step, according to its own statements in September and then December 2009. That it still hasn't worked out a broadly based plan is a sign of its incompetence. And remember this was a presidency which supposedly enjoyed strong international support.

Some are saying that sanctions wouldn't deter Iran any way, therefore implying it doesn't matter if nothing much is done at this point. There is some truth in the first part of that statement but not in the second portion. By implementing strong sanctions, an effective President would be forging an international coalition to get tougher down the road, reduce the assets available to Iran in order to slow down their project, scare large elements of the Iranian elite so they would be more cautious even when they get nuclear arms, make the Gulf Arabs more likely to resist Iranian demands and influence, along with other benefits.

That the Administration seems to understand none of these points is part of the problem. Here's a statistic that might shock you: The Obama Administration is almost precisely one-third of the way through its term. If it hasn't learned how to understand the world by now, prospects aren't good for the remainder of its term. The best hope of improvement — that the Administration itself wakes up to the problem — is just about gone.

Let's put it bluntly: The foreign policy of the Obama Administration, especially in West Asia, is a disaster and a future of very dangerous problems is completely foreseeable. Indeed, all of this was pretty obvious before the ast Election Day.

About the only point the Administration and its supporters can claim — even the Guantanamo prison is still open! — is that this Administration has made the US more popular in the world. Actually, the polls don't reflect that assertion to an impressive degree. Even when the numbers went up, they are Mr Obama's personal popularity, not that of the US. And in key countries — Turkey and Pakistan come to mind but there are many others — the changes have not been big ones.

And even then, there is the point that popularity doesn't get you anything material, as the lack of a consensus on Iran shows. In addition, the country which stands up for its interests is always going to be less popular in many places than the one which asks for nothing and gives away too much.

In West Asia, US policy is bad for Iranians who want to be free of their oppressive regime; for Turks who don't want to live under an increasingly Islamist Government; for Arabs who don't want to face Islamist rule, growing internal instability because of a revolutionary challenge, or to bow down to Iranian power.

It is also bad for Israel, but that is scarcely an isolated case. Even if US-Israel relations were perfect every other problem would still be there.

By systematically showing weakness, by favouring enemies over friends, the Administration is destroying US credibility in the region. By unintentionally encouraging enemies, the Government is inspiring them to strike harder and faster. By unintentionally discouraging friends, the Government is signalling them to shut up, back down, and even appease the radicals.

In Iran, the lack of White House support — despite formal statements about repression there — encourages the opposition to give up. In Turkey, the rivals of the regime believe that US policy is on the side of their own Government. In the Arabic-speaking world, the process of avoiding trouble with Tehran and its ally Damascus because the US is not seen as a reliable protector is well under way.

 The writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.)







US Congress has passed President Barack Obama's Healthcare Reform Bill that will give Americans more control over their healthcare by holding insurance companies more accountable. It seems now is the time for big foreign policy moves.

The US President intends to start with nuclear arms. Washington and Moscow say their new START treaty is ready for signing. According to American analysts, it will most probably be signed on April 5 in Prague, while Russian sources think it will happen three days later. The actual date will be announced soon.

Russia and the United States still differ on the document's readiness. Americans say that Mr Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev still need to discuss their differences over the next few days, but that they are not insurmountable.

Mr Obama's meeting with Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Richard Lugar, its ranking Republican, on March 24 as part of ongoing consultations with Congress on

the START treaty is evidence that progress has been made.

Under the American Constitution, all international treaties signed by the President need Senate's approval to become effective. Presidents usually try to establish in advance whether there is likely to be any problem with ratification.

The Senate is to begin START hearings on April 4, before the two Presidents sign the treaty, but this is not a sure sign of an easy passage. In addition to the Republicans, there are also treaty opponents among the Democrats, who have a majority in the Senate.

It means that Mr Obama is trying to speed up his nuclear initiatives, so that the treaty is signed before the April 12 nonproliferation meeting in Washington. The outcome of the NPT Review Conference in May will depend on the Washington meeting and the signing of the START treaty, even though it will take several more months to ratify it.

According to a senior US Administration official, they "have talked to our Czech allies and the Russians about a signing in Prague when the treaty is finished."

"Prague is where the President delivered a speech outlining his arms control and non-proliferation vision last spring and where we always wanted to do a signing," he said.

In view of the Americans' love of symbolic gestures and the White House PR department's desire to add symbolism to the President's addresses, the signing should be expected on April 5, exactly a year since he committed the US to seeking "a world without nuclear weapons" in Prague.

So, Prague on April 5 could see Mr Obama going from word to deed in his foreign policy, where he has recently not been too successful. One of his biggest flops was the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington. Their exchange at that meeting was so candid that the White House banned journalists from attending it, cancelled the planned news conference, and did not post the de rigueur photos taken in the Oval Office.

In short, the START treaty could save the day for Mr Obama. But it will be a breakthrough document only compared to the previous treaty, and a half-opened door as regards everything else.

The 20-page treaty is to seal the sides' commitment to cut the number of nuclear warheads each possesses to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years, and the number of delivery vehicles for them to between 500 and 1,100.

Back in 2002, Presidents George W Bush and Vladimir Putin signed the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions to limit their nuclear arsenals by 2012 to 1,700-2,200 operationally deployed warheads each. Not so very different from the new agreement being prepared for signing.

Analysts agree that the new START treaty should be an appetiser before a main course. If it fails at that, the victory of its achievement will not be significant, since the cutbacks have been kept to a minimum. In fact, the new START treaty is so moderate that the sides are only optimistic because it holds the promise of further work.

"The two sides share a common goal to pursue further nuclear arms cuts. A common path has not yet been established," said Mr Daryl Kimball, the head of the Arms Control Association in Washington.

Perhaps they will do so in Prague.

I would advise reading the treaty provisions carefully and listening closely to what the two Presidents will say in the Czech capital when signing the treaty. In general, Prague, and Eastern Europe in general, is a good place to look for a connection in the agreement between strategic arms control and the ballistic missile shield.

 The writer is a Moscow-based commentator on current affairs.








For most of us the word 'farmer' conjures up images of a man, ploughing his fields, irrigating or tending to his crop. This actually is only half the picture. Travelling through rural areas, rows of women bent over double in ankle deep water in paddy fields is a common sight. If one goes to villages, one can see women tending to cattle and carrying fodder from fields.

All very normal domestic chores associated with a rural woman but in essence these constitute a crucial part of the agricultural sector, a part that remains unrecognised. Women farmers and agricultural labourers while rendering yeoman service remain very much in the background, unseen.

According to the World Bank Development Report 2006, women labour force constitutes 37.5 per cent of 71.5 per cent of rural population (2003-2005). They till the soil, sow seeds, plough and irrigate fields. This is in addition to the routine domestic chores — taking care of children, preparing food, fetching water and collecting firewood.

According to 1991 Census, there were two distinct categories in the agricultural sector: Main and marginal workers. Women usually fall in the category of 'marginal' defined as those who worked for shorter periods. On closer observation, the dividing line indicates that while women undertake a whole range of tasks in the sector, men are largely engaged in marketing of farm produce.

This division comes sharply into focus during periods of crises. Relentless periods of drought, high input costs and low support prices were seen to be some of the contributing factors pushing small and marginal farmers deeper and deeper into debt and ultimately into a death trap. It was obvious that agriculture was not yielding enough, protective mechanisms were inadequate and it was breaking the backs of small cultivators across several regions. It is not a localised problem in Vidarbha or in Andhra Pradesh but an endemic one. This painful phenomenon reveals not only a deep malaise in the agricultural sector, the distress amongst farmers. This acutely reflects the vulnerable position of women at such a time of crises. Suicide or accidental death of farmers leaves their womenfolk in greater distress. They have to cope with additional responsibilities and often mounting unpaid debt.

What is the recourse or relief for these women who had lost their husbands and who were in the danger of losing their land to creditors? Without any credit facilities, women automatically lose their land. Large numbers of affected families do not figure in the 'lists', which meant the woman, recently widowed, with a slew of crushing responsibilities is left completely bereft of governmental support.

Moreover, water-logged fields, lack of irrigation facilities and poor sanitation become a breeding ground for vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue, filariasis etc. Arduous labour in these circumstances takes a toll on them which largely remains unaddressed in the absence of adequate health facilities in rural areas.

Women working in the fields are invariably exposed to chemical fertilisers now widely used in agriculture. Unaware of the consequences or ways to protect themselves, through the use of masks or gloves, they fall easy prey to deadly side effects. Malformed babies, sterility or even breast cancer are some of the horrifying effects of this exposure.

In the wake of the fact that women constitute 2/3rd of the agricultural force whereas they own less than 1/10th of the agriculture land, it's time to uphold equal rights for women farmers.

There is a need to place a system of special allowances and loan waiver schemes for women farmers. For those who have been affected by suicide of their men folk, provision of cheaper loan rates is required. New technologies including organic farming, practices like rotational crops needs to be popularised among women farmers.







INDIAN Police Service officer Anju Gupta's deposition to the Central Bureau of Investigation on L. K. Advani's role in the Babri Masjid demolition case is a perfect example of how political parties subvert the real issue at hand by questioning the credibility of a key witness who could ensure that justice is done for the event that led to so much mayhem and bloodshed across the country.


Though she uses the surname Gupta, Bharatiya Janata Party spokespersons have taken to adding her husband's surname, Rizvi, whenever they refer to her, in a not- sosubtle attempt to insinuate that her testimony is biased.


Ms Gupta is in fact a highly regarded police officer and it is no accident that she had been assigned the duty as Mr Advani's personal security officer at the time of the demolition.


She is currently an officer in India's external spy agency, Research and Analysis Wing ( RAW).


For obvious reasons, of all the people present on the fateful day of December 6, 1992, Ms Gupta is possibly the most qualified to talk about BJP leader L. K. Advani's role in the demolition of the mosque and possibly one of the few unbiased witnesses since all the others were either BJP leaders, or those belonging to the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.


Ms Gupta's testimony is important because it gives the lie to Mr Advani's subsequent claim that December 6, 1992, the day the mosque was demolished, was the saddest day of his life. According to her Mr Advani gave a rousing speech to the assembled mob that tore down the mosque. She has testified that far from preventing the mosque from being destroyed, the assembled leaders, including Mr Advani, celebrated the event.


Though there were more than a dozen senior government officials present in the town on that day, she alone has come forward bravely to give her testimony on the developments of that fateful day.


The Babri Masjid demolition is one of the epochal events in contemporary Indian history.


It led to horrific riots leading to the deaths of hundreds of people, mainly Muslims.


It led to the alienation of a generation of young Muslims who took to extremism whose consequences we still face today.


Hopefully Ms Gupta's testimony will assist in providing an honest closure of the event and help heal the wounds that it has left.







UTTAR Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati often boasts about her tough record in crimefighting in her sprawling state. But the reality seems to be less than edifying. As the MAIL TODAY reported, on Friday, a young man at a food stall in Noida was hit by a stray bullet in his left arm. As of now no one knows where the bullet came from and who was responsible for firing it. Last October, 18- year- old cricketer Gagandeep Singh was shot dead outside a Meerut kabab shop when a customer protesting a delay in service began to fire his gun indiscriminately. Every wedding season we hear of people killed by stray bullets being fired in celebration, often by people who may be drunk.


Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of licensed arms holders in the country; the number of those possessing country- made and unlicensed weapons could be several time larger. Many of those with licences keep weapons for reasons of prestige and do not really know how to handle them safely and have never really practised firing their weapons. As for those with illegal weapons, most of them are people who are likely to be, or already are, on the wrong side of the law anyway.


The UP state government needs to take strict measures to curb the misuse of weapons. On paper the possession of illegal weapons is a criminal act. But the police make little or no effort to seize them. The government should take a leaf out of the book of other countries and issue an amnesty or even a small reward for those turning in illegal arms.


Thereafter it should undertake periodic surprise checks at public places to detect those carrying illegal weapons. This may sound draconian, but only such measures will yield results, especially when the state in question happens to be Uttar Pradesh.







THE battle for the country's most populous state may be two years away.


That is when chief minister Mayawati will face the electorate in Uttar Pradesh.


But going by the headlines, her's is a permanent campaign, fueled by the storm raised by the Opposition and the media about the celebrations of the party's anniversary.


For a formation that has grown by leaps and bounds for a quarter century and, if one counts the union days of the late Kanshi Ram, for even longer by ignoring the media, this is not a major hurdle.


After all, it was its founder's deep insight into the nature of the government workforce that enabled him to create the backbone of a cadre based organisation mainly of Dalits for the first time in north India's history.


The Bahujan Samaj Party was by no stretch the first such party in this country.


But no such effort has had the kind of success it has had. Its single- minded pursuit of power by electoral means has had one major positive impact on Indian democracy. It has shown that a single Dalit woman in her mid- thirties could head a coalition government.


By the age of fifty she could lead her party to a majority in a state where barely three of four adult Dalits are literate . It is this deep contrast between the reality of deprivation in daily life and the possession by its leadership of the instruments of authority that is the challenge facing her in Lucknow.




Last summer, the party and its leader raised expectations of being a power to reckon with in New Delhi. The campaign captured the imagination of many but the small but crucial difference in the vote share between 2007 and 2009 meant the BSP's share of seats was cut almost by half. By the reckoning of the State Assembly polls it should have won over 40 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. It just topped half the figure.


More than numbers, there is the reality of its opponent. The Ambedkar yatras planned by a resurgent Congress under Rahul Gandhi may or may not work wonders.


But they do indicate there is a national party willing to try and slog it out in the districts. The stridency of the attack on the Congress General Secretary is an indicator of how seriously the BSP takes the party it set out to displace from power a quarter century ago.


The problem defies any easy solution.


Unlike the Backward Class movement in south India, which polarised society against Brahmin dominance, the Dalit movement never had it quite so easy.


The Backward Classes in Madras were first led by wealthy merchants and landed gentry, then by middle class scribes and politicos. Arrayed against them was a small if highly influential and educated minority.


In turn, figures like Kamaraj and Annadurai, both of whom reinforced Backward Class power, had the time and the ability to reach out to all sections of society. When asked if, like his rationalist mentor, he would break Ganapati idols, Anna said he would neither break idols nor coconuts. Right from its foundation in 1949, his party eschewed extremism and tried to court the middle ground.


The larger backdrop surely lay in the decades of social and cultural transformation in the societies of the peninsula.


Today, despite the huge gap between the Dalits and the rest, the living standards and educational level, the access to modern amenities and assets in the deep south is light years ahead of that in the Ganga basin.


Perhaps it is the limitations in changing material life that makes the BSP focus so clearly on symbol. Further, there is a danger of the core base of not only the Dalits, but also the poor in general drifting away, and the recent rally and the spate of statue building is to provide reassurance and anchor.




But no one should assume there is no attempt to occupy the centre ground.


Nowhere is this as evident as in the policies vis- a- vis sugarcane cultivators, a major economic interest and a vast number in UP. Not at all the traditional BSP voter and not present in its propaganda at poll time, but subject of key interventions.


The chief minister opposed import of raw sugar, and stood strongly for higher prices from the private sugar mills. Her government also strongly resisted a bid to enforce ultra strict pollution norms that would have simply shut down several refining units.


Second, and away from public gaze, her government has pressed ahead with the Forest Rights Act. UP does not have extensive forests unlike neighbouring states like Madhya Pradesh or Uttarakhand, but some of its poorest people depend partly or wholly on forests for a living. The settlement of rights under that Act is a key step in assuring them of a future. Most of all, it gives them some protection against arbitrary eviction by forest officials.


Whether a host of such specific targeted policy measures add up to a coherent vision is another matter. After all, no non- Congress government had ever lasted a full term in office: every one either fell or was dismissed or was toppled. Things are even tougher when the visible symbol of authority is from a section, which despite impressive strides in education and some steps in the services lacks a bourgeoisie or a landed class.


Yet, there is much that a government, no matter who heads it, can do. The Dalit movement rarely looks to him as a positive figure but within the nationalist camp it was Nehru who stood far closer to Dr Ambedkar's ideas of modernity and the law, not rural community and appropriate technology as the means to emancipation.


It is also easy to forget that the foundational years of the republic saw them work together till differences on the Hindu Code Bill became a Rubicon.




But it is not Nehru the prime minister as much as the chair of the Allahabad municipality 1923 onwards for three years, that is role model for an oppositional current that takes power, however narrow its confines. By the time he demitted office even British officials agreed another person of his calibre would be a long time coming. It was the ability to focus municipal energy and funds to solve day to day issues, some of a pressing nature, that made him stand out.


It is more than a question of governance.


As India liberalises and disparities grow, it is movements with a base among the poor who can ensure stability. The ascendancy of the BSP gives confidence that democracy can open its doors to all.


In turn, it will be by its programmes as much as its politics that Mayawati will be judged. Even its lacklustre performance in the State Assembly polls have to do with the former as much as the latter. In Delhi in particular it failed to articulate a vision distinct from that of the Congress.


But as the Ambedkar yatras roll out, we are in for an exciting summer in north India. As the temperature soars, so will the pace of politics. All of India will be watching.


The writer teaches history in Delhi University








WHO GOES there? Friend or foe? Indo-US relations have been on the up and up ever since Atal Bihari Vajpayee went on an official visit to Washington in September 2000. Just a few months back, the world's two largest democracies celebrated the special friendship as President Barack Obama hosted the first state dinner of his administration at the White House for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur. But now there are signs of the relationship turning sour. The UPA government and the Congress party are now deeply divided on the issue of dealing with the United States vis a vis Pakistan.


As a cynic observed, the Obama administration's mantra seems to be: words of wisdom for India and weapons for Pakistan; treat India as a market to be conquered and Pakistan as a mission to be accomplished. There are red faces in South Block over the red carpet reception given to Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his delegation.


There's much hangwringing over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement that Washington had opened up a "strategic alliance" with Islamabad and her remark that "Pakistan's struggles are our struggles". It has upset even those in the UPA who have traditionally been in favour of strengthening Indo-US ties, whatever the political cost involved.


The prime minister and most of his senior cabinet colleagues like Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar, P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma have been advocates of stronger strategic and economic ties with the US which they think is India's best long term ally.


Under US prodding, the UPA government tried to push through the Nuclear Liability Bill which later had to be abandoned following stiff resistance from the opposition benches. With the US now bending over backwards to accommodate Islamabad's demands for more financial and military goodies, even the pro-US lobby in the government is beginning to have a rethink. Despite its public censures of Pakistan for holding terrorist training camps within its territory, the Obama administration seems to be following Richard Nixon's path: Pakistan is in the wrong, but they are our friends.


Our ministers are not in the habit of indulging in plain-speak on matters relating to ties with friendly countries, but trust Chidambaram to call a spade a bloody shovel. On an official visit to London last week, the home minister minced no words when he squarely put the onus of taming Pakistan on the US and Britain. In an interview to the BBC, he virtually accused Washington and London of doing nothing to force Pakistan to close the terror camps operating in the country. " Certainly we ( in India) have not been able to persuade Pakistan. It's Pakistan's friends, mutual friends who have to put the pressure", he said before signing off with a warning: " Don't think India alone is under threat. Once you allow these terror groups to train, recruit and be able to build capacity to strike, they can strike in India, they can strike in UK, they can strike in Denmark as they were planning out of the Karachi project". New Delhi is also livid with Washington for its tepid response to Indian requests for the interrogation of David Headley who confessed to US authorities of his role in the 26/ 11 attack. There have been contradictory signals from the Americans, with the visiting U. S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake saying in New Delhi last week that Indian investigators could be given access to Dawood Sayed Gilani aka David Headley, only for the US Ambassador in India Timothy Roemer to state two days later that Washington was yet to take a decision on the matter.


Party insiders say the leadership is now convinced that India could do without such one sided friendship. Don't be surprised if India starts cosying up elsewhere.


Recently, Manmohan Singh, while welcoming Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, described Russia as a " tried and tested friend" that has stood by India in " times of need". It was the second meeting between the two in less than three months. Three months ago, Manmohan was in Moscow. He is due to fly to Washington next month. If Obama again mouths those platitudes about " great democracies and shared values", the prime minister should simply turn around and tell the president what he thinks about him.


Crackdown on brokers


IT IS nearly a quarter century since Rajiv Gandhi delivered his inspirational speech to " rid the country of middlemen and powerbrokers" at the Congress Centenary celebrations in Mumbai. But they continue to thrive. Visit any of the bhavans in Lutyen's Delhi that house key ministries and their presence is overwhelming.


This despite the Prime Minister's Office and the cabinet secretariat regularly issuing circulars to all ministers and senior bureaucrats to stay away from these parasites and every now and then, the CBI compiling and circulating a list of " Undesirable Elements" — people who are persona non grata.


But circulars alone cannot keep them away. Things have got so bad that a handful of ministers handling key infrastructure ministries have decided to crack down. Shipping Minister GK Vasan has told officers of his ministry that any official found liaising with such people would be immediately suspended.


As Health Minister, Gulam Nabi Azad has to deal with hundreds of private medical colleges that are mushrooming across the country. Promoters of many of them are hard- boiled businessmen who are in it for the money and wouldn't bat an eyelid before cutting corners. Azad recently sent letters to Vice Chancellors and Deans of medical colleges warning them to keep away from people making promises " of getting things done by proclaiming themselves to be close to me". Azad's letter is as tough a warning as can be. While reiterating his intention to maintain absolute transparency in the functioning of his ministry, he has threatened colleges that engage middlemen with stringent action including withdrawal of recognition and even banning new admissions for a year or two.


Considering that some colleges charge up to Rs one crore for a seat, it is hoped that the promoters of these institutes will think a dozen times before letting the parasites loose in the corridors of power.



HERE'S something to scotch unending speculation that the Congress and the DMK, allies both at the Centre and in Chennai, are drifting apart and will go their separate ways before next year's assembly elections in Tamil Nadu.


The alliance has always been an uneasy one and in the last thirty years, both parties have swapped partners. The Congress has been in alliance with Jayalalithaa's AIADMK while the DMK had embraced the NDA during the Vajpayee regime.


Right now, the alliance looks strong but there is a feeling it will remain so only as long as M Karunanidhi is in the driver's seat.


There are apprehensions that once he hands over the baton to one of his sons, the alliance will come unstuck.


Such speculation gained weight after Rahul Gandhi went on an overdrive to revive the Grand Old Party in the state where it has not tasted power for 33 years now. His Youth Congress enrolment drives have met with spectacular success with over two lakh youngsters joining the party on one day in big cities like Chennai and Madurai. Rahul's initiatives are his own and alarmed seniors in both parties who feel his revival offensive will harm relations between the two parties. So how do you mend the rift? A bit of stamp diplomacy would do, feels the DMK's Union Communications Minister A Raja. He has decided to issue a stamp in honour of C Subramanian, former AICC chief who was also the Union industry and finance minister. The proposal came from Home Minister P Chidambaram and Raja promptly gave his stamp of approval. It's only fitting that the Department of Posts will issue the stamp this year which is Subramanian's centenary year. But in honouring the man who is widely credited as the architect of the Green Revolution and was responsible for Tamil Nadu's rapid industrialisation in the 1960s, the DMK may just manage to wean away some Congress votes.








After President Barack Obama's domestic victory in pushing through landmark healthcare legislation, there's an international feather to his cap as well. The US and Russia, which between them possess 95 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons, have agreed to substantially reduce their arsenals after a previous arms control treaty expired. The breakthrough deal will pave way for Washington and Moscow to each cap their deployed nuclear warheads at 1,550 as against the present limit of 2,200 over the next seven years. Heavy bombers and missiles will be capped at 700 a side. The Cold War enemies have taken a welcome step towards reducing the risk posed by nuclear weapons to the world, which comes not only in the form of their use in warfare but also in the hazard of leakages or theft during storage.

On taking office, Obama had promised to 're-set' relations with Russia. He is also a votary of moving towards a nuclear weapons-free world, a position Rajiv Gandhi famously articulated at the UN in the late 1980s. By pushing this deal through, Obama has achieved some measure of progress on both these counts. But while this is a good start, much more needs to be done. Clearly, deep-rooted mistrust on both sides will not vanish overnight. Russia is on the hop over America's missile defence plans - one of the reasons it holds out against making deeper cuts in its nuclear arsenal.

Indeed, this sore point almost derailed this updated version of START I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which expired in December. The US maintains that its missile defence system is not targeted towards Russia. But when Romania agreed to host interceptors from the new missile defence system, Russia bristled. It is in both Russia and America's interests and in the interests of global peace and security that they continue to engage each other and move further down the nuclear disarmament path.

Such a move would also give the world's two largest nuclear weapons states greater leverage and moral authority in bargaining with problematic aspiring nuclear powers like Iran and North Korea. It could inspire other nuclear weapons powers to cut or cap their own programmes, which will help provide ballast to the disarmament agenda. The argument against nuclear weapons is solid. We can't turn the clock back. But we can by replacing brinkmanship with pragmatic diplomatic engagement chart a safer course for the world.








The Indian team for the T-20 World Cup, which begins end-April, doesn't have too many surprises. The only new face in the squad is Karnataka pace bowler Vinay Kumar, who has had an impressive Ranji season and is doing well in the ongoing IPL. But at least two players would consider themselves fortunate to have made the cut. The choice of legspinner Piyush Chawla as the back-up to Harbhajan Singh is somewhat strange. Over the last few seasons Chawla has done little of note. Besides he has been patchy in the IPL. Both Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha would feel a little hard done by as they have done reasonably well for India in the recent past. The other surprise is Rohit Sharma who has repeatedly shown that he lacks consistency at the international level. There are many who think Virat Kohli, who has done well for India in ODIs, and Manish Pandey, fresh from a super Ranji season followed by an impressive IPL, would have been better choices.

A worry is the selection of Gautam Gambhir and Ashish Nehra, who have both just recovered from injuries. The selectors don't seem to have learnt the lesson from the last T-20 World Cup where Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan, who were recovering from injuries, were picked. Sehwag didn't play a single game and Khan was below par. The other worrying aspect is the mere five-day gap between the IPL and the World Cup. All the Indian players are likely to be fatigued when they head out to the Caribbean for the World Cup. But with the Indian cricket board giving little thought to the packed cricketing calendar, it cannot but be otherwise.









Dissension over the Bill for reservation of seats for women once again threw Parliament into turmoil. Dissension in Parliament is not new, but this time it appears that matters may not settle down very easily or very soon. It is agreed on all sides that women should have a larger role in public life. But there can be more than one opinion on whether quotas is the best way of ensuring a position of dignity and honour in society and politics for them. I do not believe that it is. Further, recourse to mandatory quotas for solving all social and political problems will have adverse consequences for democracy in India in the long run. But that is a subject on which others may honestly subscribe to a contrary view.

What is distressing about the agitation over quotas is that all political parties have acted in bad faith. Leaders of all parties wax eloquent about the injustices suffered by women in the past and the need to give them a larger role in political life in the future. But no political party has done very much to set its own house in order by accommodating more women in its own top echelons.

Communist parties the world over have been the worst offenders. They have been ingenious in devising ways for using women as foot soldiers, but have maintained their politburos as bastions of male dominance. In India, the other parties have acted in much the same way. Where women have occupied important positions at the top, they have come into those positions through the family, as the wife, daughter, daughter-in-law or niece of a political heavyweight. Exceptions such as Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee, who have made it to the top without the prop of the family, stand out because of their rarity. Their achievements have little to do with caste: Mayawati is a Dalit while Banerjee is a Brahmin.

The party, not the state, should take the lead in enlarging the role of women in politics. Unless political parties change their modes of recruitment and operation, no change of lasting importance can come about in the role of women in political life. They have until now shown little initiative in this regard. Deep-rooted inertia leads every party to shift the burden of improving the position of women on to the state.

Quotas for women can bring about only cosmetic changes in their influence on the political process. There are also apprehensions, not entirely without basis, about the kinds of women who will be given tickets to contest reserved seats. Ours is not only a deeply caste-divided society, it is also a deeply class-divided one. Only a fundamental change in the character and composition of the political party can ensure tickets will be given to women on merit, and not because of family connections. In a system in which parties have done little to build women's political capabilities from the bottom upwards, it will be only natural for the vacuum at the top to be filled by wives and daughters.

The burden of hierarchy weighs heavily on Indian women. In the past they were kept in control, by what students of Hindu law have called 'perpetual tutelage'. They faced obstacles wherever they tried to move up in public institutions and found it hard to cope with those obstacles unless they had the support of the family. For a long time, that support was provided in a niggardly way, and hence only women of exceptional ability and determination could make a mark through their achievements in education and employment.

In the last 60 years, resistance to women's advancement has eased slowly but steadily. The middle class family has become more supportive of the education of its daughters and their ambitions for professional employment. But this change has been very slow and it has benefited only a small proportion of women, mainly in the educated middle class and that too in metropolitan cities. Women from this class have achieved remarkable success in a variety of professions on their own initiative, with hardly any more support from the family than it would give to its male members.

More than 60 years after independence, it is simply not true that the odds against women are still so high that they cannot achieve any success in public life without the support of quotas. This is no longer true for academic institutions, or financial institutions or the media. In my early years in the university, i was struck by the slow but steady advance of women in institutions of teaching and research. More recently, i have been struck by their success in our banks. It is in political parties more than in most institutions that they remain weighed down by the burdens of the past.

Until leaders of our political parties take a serious and long-term interest in the advancement of women, instead of treating them as pawn in the politics of power and patronage, democracy will play only a small part in the transformation of Indian society.

The writer is professor emeritus of sociology, University of Delhi.






With its sweeping look at the life of street children in Mumbai, Thanks Maa is almost a neo-realist film made in the Bollywood. Director Irfan Kamal spoke to Subhash K Jha:

Thanks Maa is a hard-hitting look at life on the streets. What prompted you to make it?

I had some ideas as to what kind of stories i want to tell in my first film. Being a diehard Manmohan Desai fan, most of my story ideas were based on the theme of 'lost and found'. The story of a kid in search of his parents was one such idea. I discussed it with my friend and co-writer Vishal Vijay Kumar. He connected with it immediately and thus we started thinking about developing it into a feature film.

The theme of abandoned babies is poignant to the extreme.

There was a spate of cases of abandoned babies in the media. These cases attracted my attention and we began following them almost inadvertently. A little research on the issue filled us up with immense awe and shook us up no end. We began meeting the NGOs dealing with abandoned kids and then met thousands of them on the streets, at the railway platforms, in the slums of the city and realised the gravity of this issue.

I was a bit apprehensive about it in the beginning. I wanted my film to be a wholesome entertainer, a full-on commercial venture, a kind of film my father and choreographer Kamal associated with all his life. Thankfully, people like Raju Hirani have successfully shown us that you don't have to be frivolous to be entertaining...issues of social importance can be discussed within the commercial format of storytelling. So we began writing.

How did you cast the children? Shams Patel is your nephew?

Almost all the children are from the greatest talent pool we have in Mumbai, and these are its slums. They all are just wonderful. A little training and a bit of polishing and you have the performers who can put any seasoned actor to shame. But dealing with actors with no permanent address to their name has its risks. You never know who'll disappear and when and put your entire project at risk. This insecurity led me to consider Shams as the lead actor. I asked him to join the workshops conducted by Abhay Joshi, just to see how well he responds to it. He is a sharp kid and impressed my entire team with his natural flair for acting. It was my team that suggested i should go ahead with Shams. If the national award (best child actor) for Shams is some proof, i think they made the right choice.

Your father was one of Bollywood's most distinguished choreographers. But your film doesn't follow the Bollywood formula?

We resort to stereotypes when we treat films as a medium of escapist entertainment. Audience of late doesn't relate much to the over-painted and distorted reality. For our cinema to be at par with international standards we need to find our groove in the real world. Films were, are and will remain an exercise of story telling in a make-believe world. But if that world looks close to reality, the audience finds it easier to relate to characters and the story. Thanks Maa is an entertaining yet effective film only because it looks and sounds raw and real.







Last month, when Sachin Tendulkar blitzed through to his 200 in the Gwalior ODI against a clueless South African side, he completed a linguistic process that was set off in another millennium.

In 1988, Tendulkar was 15 years old, and had scored 326 in the Lord Harris Shield, an inter-schools event. When the stumps were drawn for the day, the first words the English-speaking Republic of India came up to describe him with were, Little Master.

Some 22 years of sustained batsmanship later, and with the ongoing IPL tournament only adding more feathers to an already ornate cap, the torrent of adulatory adjectives has run dry of descriptive energy. There are, after all, only so many synonyms for excellence.


The last definitive word used to describe Tendulkar after his 200 knock in the Gwalior ODI was neither an adjectival phrase nor even a nominal superlative. Tendulkar's genius had transported him to the realm of the inexplicable. He had turned God. Now you see it. You score enough runs and you just stop being human.

In fact, the day after his innings, one newspaper carried a large, frontpage picture of Tendulkar, bat in hand and looking at the heavens either in acknowledgement or identification, with just 'God' written across the photograph. Tendulkar had become the inexplicable.

True, during the Australian tour of India in early 1998, a series in which Tendulkar scored three consecutive centuries, he was already seen as an incarnation, prompting Mathew Hayden to say in all seriousness: "I have seen God. He bats at no. 4 in India in Tests." Evidently, a Christian had become a convert.

Since then, just about every word and phrase in the book for greatness have been tried on Tendulkar and have been found wanting: prodigy, master, master-blaster, genius, super, perfect, terrific, consummate, fantastic, incomparable, saviour, phenomenon, historic, legendary, maximum-man, titanic, humongous, tremendous, incomparable, and immortal. All said; yet, the man is not done. The essence of Tendulkar as a hero remains elusive.

Clearly, we identify Tendulkar with our deep-felt need for a totally desi hero: a small-built Indian with crinkly hair and a snub nose who is happily married, wears T-shirt and drinks Boost. Our own kind of Terminator, the guy who makes us feel OK to be Indian despite frequent bouts of suspicion to the contrary. Not the foreign hulk with 8-pack-abs and 18-inch-biceps, who uses four-letter words and is good at kissing and shooting in the same breath. It is a charmingly indigenous, middle-class notion. Tendulkar himself buys into it big time. He may make close to Rs 120 crore a year in emoluments, but conducts himself with the unassuming grace of a well-brought-up bank officer.

That is why, unlike others, when Tendulkar walks out to the middle, a visored warrior, a ragged nation rises to a man in appeal and hope. Our identification with the hero is complete.

India may lose a match; but if Tendulkar has done well for himself, we could live with the bad news. Tendulkar's art liberates us from shackles of the commonplace. In gratitude, as becomes a naturally garrulous people, we shower him with adjectives. Just as it is normal in the Hindu tradition to praise a deity in a thousand names.

Tendulkar, meanwhile, has evolved from an adjective or a heroic noun to a purer form of being: an act. Words tend to fail where sensations that a verb evokes predominate. Which is why next time Tendulkar plays the big innings, it might be a good idea for us to fall silent, and just meditate on the ball rise and rise towards the heavens.









Sunil Bharti Mittal's acquisition of the Africa operations of Zain Telecom for $10.7 billion is the latest episode in the great Indian takeover. Coming as it does when international capital markets have not yet fully recovered from the worst crash in living memory, Mr Mittal's ability to raise $8.5 billion for the acquisition is testimony to India's rising export of frugal engineering. Zain loses money in Africa despite its customers running up telephone bills twice as large as Airtel users. Mittal's game-changing outsourcing skills -- Bharti Airtel has hived off most of its core telephony operations, making it one of the least expensive telecom service providers in the world -- could help turn Zain around. Particularly for a company that has 42 million customers in the continent against the 33 million Airtel added in India last year in an intensely competitive market.


Mr Mittal has led the surge in telecommunications investment in India that ought to top $80 billion in the five years to 2012. Indian mobile telecom companies have, in the process, signed up 545 million customers of which Airtel has 125 million, but the easy money is behind them. Every new subscriber brings $4.9 of business a month to Bharti Airtel and this number is falling precipitously as India's telecom net- work spreads from its cities to its villages amidst a bruising price war. Africa, where one in three persons has a cellphone but runs up a monthly bill of $8, thus offers Mr Mittal a chance to dip into a revenue pool that he is accustomed to converting into profit. This explains Mr Mittal's continuing obsession with the African market, where he was prepared to pay 40 per cent more for each MTN customer before talks with the South African telecom company broke down last year over ownership issues.


In a way, the writing is on the wall for Mr Mittal and his tribe. The money in emerging telecom markets remains in voice traffic while mature networks are seeking extra dollars from data. India is poised to auction radio frequency for third- generation telecom services like high-speed internet access and streaming video. But on current indications telecom companies that land the extra spectrum will use it to unclog their net- works to carry more voice traffic from even more customers.

Mr Mittal is fervently seeking out the billions at the bottom of the pyramid -- he has taken his company to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh --and Africa should give him the scale to create a new template for an industry at the crossroads.









A new study by the US Environment Protection Agency suggests that waste from showers and baths that include gels, shampoos and other skin products seem to find their way into water supplies, even into drinking water. Apparently, even birth control pills and traces of anti-depressants end up in drinking water.


Now we who live in the sultry climes of India are not likely to take too kindly to having to restrict our bathing activities. Many of us are serial bathers, barring a few who may have seen the horror of Psycho and are chary of stepping into the shower too often. Cleanliness, we were told as children, is only next to Godliness, but clearly the green fundamentalists will have none of that. We are now told that active pharmaceutical ingredients may have a longer lasting impact on the environment than bodily secretions. So, we guess, that we have no other option but to restrict our bathing activities to the bare minimum. Now this may go down well in our metros given that we hardly have power, which means no water, for the greater part of the day. However, this could mean a quantum jump in our use of chemical products like deodorants.


So, apart from adding to greenhouse gases, we will also be polluting our water sources. Well, there's not much choice, is there? Either we envelope ourselves in the best that the French perfumiers can offer or we just jump into the shower. But then again, it takes enormous amounts of clear water to create the best of perfumes of the likes of Chanel etc. So perhaps, aqua fresh is the best bet for the likes of us who can really not afford to douse ourselves in upmarket scents everyday.








I learnt from reading the Indian press recently that the Upper House of the Parliament had passed a Bill reserving 33 per cent of the seats in Parliament for what the press described as the 'fair sex', or more evenhandedly, the 'fairer sex'. Given that this Bill entitles women to at least a third of the most-powerful directly-elected positions in the country, one might want to believe that this was a reference to women's superior commitment to justice. But I suspect that it had a lot more to do with the aesthetics of their bodies.


The passage of the Bill was not easy and its prospects in the Lower House remain fraught. Its opponents —inspired no doubt in part by concerns about the effects of spending too much time in the unhealthy confines of the Parliament on feminine beauty (and the social order) — tied themselves into knots explaining that they really did not have anything against reservations for women, just the particular type of reservation that was being proposed. The Bill's supporters held on to the moral high ground, insisting that women deserve representation commensurate with their presence in the population (but then why not a quota for those born into poor families, who are clearly also underrepresented?). Very little of the argument, on either side, had to do with what I consider to be the central questions: do reservations work? Do they actually empower women? What do they do to the quality of governance?


This is particularly surprising given that India has had reservations in panchayats and municipalities for more than a decade and these have been extensively studied. About 10 years ago, Raghab Chattopadhyay from Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, and my Massachusetts Institute of Technology colleague Esther Duflo asked whether women in panchayats, who got elected because of reservations, were better able to deliver what their female constituents want than their male counterparts? Or were they reluctant stooges for their husbands and fathers, powerless to do anything different from that their male backers would have chosen?
To answer this question Chattopadhyay and Duflo compared villages that were reserved to have a female pradhan with unreserved villages.


Since both Rajasthan and West Bengal chose the villages to reserve by lottery, there was no systematic prior difference among  these villages. The results show a clear difference in spending patterns. In West Bengal, reserved villages spent significantly more on both roads and drinking water, which were the two things that women most asked questions about in panchayat meetings.


In Rajasthan, they spent more on water, which, likewise, was the subject of most questions by women, which was perhaps even more striking, given that many of the women pradhans keep purdah and villagers routinely refer to pradhanpati (pradhan's husband) as the go-to person in the village. The women in power may not show their faces, but they seem to have their hands on the steering wheel.


This, of course, suggests a different concern — perhaps women leaders do exercise power, but do so incompetently. After all they are less likely to be educated and less likely to know the ways of the world. In work with Lori Beaman of Northwestern University, Rohini Pande of Harvard and Petia Topalova of the International Monetary Fund, Chattopadhyay and Duflo look at this question. In West Bengal, households in panchayats reserved for women are less likely to report that they had to pay a bribe to get something done. Using data from 13 states, Kaivan Munshi of Brown University and Mark Rosenzweig from Yale, conclude that women representatives are significantly better at claiming public resources for their constituency.


But if women are so great why do they need reservations to get elected? The answer, Rikhil Bhavnani of Stanford University suggests, is that most people have no experience of women running things outside the home and, therefore, dismiss the possibility out of hand. Once they have experience with women legislators, the prejudice diminishes noticeably.


In elections to the Mumbai municipal corporation, women are five times more likely to be elected in wards that had been reserved for them in the past but were no longer reserved, than in wards with no history of reservation. Beaman and company find the same pattern in rural West Bengal and, in addition, show direct evidence of declining prejudice, though they conclude that it may take two rounds of exposure rather than one to fully get rid of prejudice. The experience is Rwanda, where an initial 33 per cent reservation lead over a few years to a woman majority parliament, is entirely consistent with this view.


The most important reason why we should want reservations may, therefore, be that they help shake people out of their ignorant prejudices against women in politics and open the way for the country to draw upon a much bigger pool of political talent. Indeed, one might argue that politics is one place where, if this Bill were to pass, we might expect to eventually see more talented women than men just because — the movie Aandhi notwithstanding — there is probably less social prejudice against a mother and a wife becoming a politician than a factory manager or a travelling saleswoman.


If this is the right way to think about reservations, then it would be important to have the reservations rotate through across various constituencies so that everyone gets a chance to experience female leadership. And maybe a day will come when people will get so used to voting for women that men will be clamouring for reservations for the (unfair?) sex.


Abhijit Banerjee is Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics and Director, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, MIT


The views expressed by the author are personal.









The deposition of senior IPS officer Anju Gupta highlighting the role of BJP leader L.K. Advani during the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, can be interpreted as a clear pointer to his involvement. But it is not sufficient to hold him guilty. The conclusion establishing either guilt or innocence can only be pronounced by the relevant court after all the depositions are completed. So, it is premature to comment on the final outcome of the case which is an example of the slow pace at which justice is delivered in our country.


It is not the Ayodhya case alone but several other landmark cases where the law has taken more time than necessary without reaching any conclusion. The 1984 anti-Sikh riots cases are pending in the courts and there is nothing to suggest that the guilty will be punished any time soon. Similarly, in the 2002 Gujarat anti-Muslim riots, the judiciary is taking its time to come to a judgement. On the whole, the state of our judiciary needs to be examined so that courts do not sit on cases.

The problem with cases like Ayodhya, the 1984 riots and the 2002 killings is that a perception has been created about the involvement of certain individuals in the crime. It is difficult to convince people who have prejudged the issues on the merits of the law. In a way, the media have helped to strengthen these perceptions and it is, therefore, not easy for any court to come to a judgement that is different from the commonly held view.


It is in this context that it becomes important for the media to understand that it should not interfere in the process of justice by pronouncing people guilty before they are actually given such a verdict by a proper court of law which alone is empowered to pass the final judgement. Interference by the media does impact the progress of the case and it is not in the interest of justice. Anju Gupta's deposition is just one of the many statements before the court. To reach any conclusion on its basis is premature. There are many dimensions to the Babri Masjid demolition case.


It is true that the BJP leaders and those from the VHP were present there. But it has also to be ascertained whether the central government then headed by P.V. Narasimha Rao did enough to prevent the demolitions despite being warned of the threat well in advance. In fact, Rao had been cautioned by his Cabinet colleague M.L. Fotedar but somehow did not take adequate measures to prevent the disputed structure from coming down.

The overall case will, of course, take these points into account. The Ayodhya case has been allowed to drag on because of non-cooperation from many quarters as well as the lack of  will of the state to prosecute the guilty. The same will is lacking in the Gujarat case as also in that of 1984. These cases have political dimensions and each player wants to obviously extract as much as possible. There are vested interests which have been formed and do not allow matters to move forward. Each time such a case comes up in public purview, someone seems to benefit.


In the latest instance, the Hindutva forces must be pleased with so much focus on the deposition of Anju Gupta. The issue has come alive once again. The point is that, on the whole, the judiciary must act fast. Because justice delayed is justice undone. But it certainly does not mean that a trial by perception should be allowed to succeed whether in cases with political dimensions or those that have social ramifications. The truth is a combination of many facts. This must be clearly understood. The judiciary as a whole must pull up its socks and not behave like other organs of our system.



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






Narendra Modi finally steps into the SIT's witness box to explain his role in the 2002 communal violence that engulfed Gujarat, which lives on as one of the most scarring episodes in our recent history. This is a reminder why the trials must be exemplary, and one that holds the state machinery of that time to full answer on their complicity.


This special investigation team, headed by a former CBI director, was set up last year on the National Human Rights Commission's plea to track 14 of the most critical cases from sites like Gulbarg Society, Naroda Patiya and Sadarpur. This is the first, preliminary step to determine whether Zakia Jafri's (widow of a Congress MP killed in one of the communal flashpoints) testimony has enough substance for a full-blown FIR and criminal investigations against Modi and the other accused. Despite the Supreme Court's full backing, the SIT's integrity has been questioned by a range of civil society voices, who claimed that three of the investigating officers are from Gujarat cadre, one even directly implicated in Jafri's list. But both Modi and the SIT director took pains to clarify that his interrogation was conducted by a non-Gujarat officer. The questioning lasted nine hours, though there is little detail on the content of the proceedings.


The legal process on Gujarat so far resembles an obstacle race, and it has created an exploitable vacuum — on one hand, stories about the 2002 violence have been inflated and dramatised by many activists, as if the real violence wasn't terrible enough. On the other hand, Modi's ideological brethren have reacted with defiance, keeping up a mechanical "1984" chant every time the matter is brought up. Of course, the Congress's glibness was also on display, as they dismissed Modi's SIT appearance. "In public perception, Modi has been held guilty," the Congress spokesperson sweepingly claimed — never mind what public perception is of the 1984 accused who have managed to dodge justice this far. Between them, they have managed to reduce the tangible horror of Gujarat into a set of rhetorical talking points. Activists too must resist the temptation to turn every development into a point-scoring opportunity. It would be a great disservice to the victims if we turn the tragedy into a tale told, and distract from the laborious, important work left — that of making sure that we clinically extract a thorough accounting from those in Gujarat's administration during those awful days in








If a fire minister is a curiosity, so is a party like the Marxist Forward Bloc, which may have passed into oblivion, largely unnoticed, when West Bengal Fire Services Minister Pratim Chatterjee's long tenure, someday, came to an end — had it not been for the Park Street inferno in Kolkata last Tuesday. Wisdom may be Chatterjee's phoenix rising from the embers of Stephen Court. But his professions of having learnt a lesson or two from the tragedy wouldn't save him from the judgment of those hapless mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, fiancées and friends scavenging among charred bodies and ashes for their dear departed, if they could care about judging his callous arrogance now. He will have to face judgment, before a nation that watched Stephen Court burn, that is revolted at the image of the minister standing atop the smouldering remains, proclaiming to the world that he has learnt a lesson or two, as if he was about to yell "Eureka!" next.


To be fair, Chatterjee and his department alone are not to blame. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee himself, applauding the firemen, chastised the municipal corporation for authorising illegal constructions — such as the two fatal floors added to Stephen Court in 1984. True. Stephen Court is an instance of the unreformed mess that Kolkata and many urban areas of India are. Yet why, despite being plush with funds, was the fire department so underprepared? And how could a metropolitan fire services keep necessary equipment so far from the city centre? As minister, Chatterjee wasn't expected to go to Stephen Court with a shovel, but he should have had a fire department that came good in crisis, in practice.


Pratimbabu is the newest face of the thoroughgoing civic wreck that Bengal became under Left rule. He is also testament to the state of the Left Front — how a miniscule party of two MLAs could exert pressure and secure for its leader independent charge of a department logically put under the urban development ministry. Bhattacharjee's government may have lost the will to govern, but he must ponder the pitfalls of a spoils system in awarding or creating ministries for coalition partners with little to do.







Come April, when enumerators land up at President Pratibha Patil's with an exhaustive questionnaire, this country's decennial exercise in profiling itself would have begun. The registrar general and census commissioner is mandated with ensuring that every single household is visited and a variety of socio-economic indicators drawn for each individual. The scope of the exercise is mind-boggling enough to bear a recap each decade. So, for Census 2011 there shall be more than 21 lakh enumerators spanning across 5,716 tehsils, 7,742 towns and 60,876 villages. Together, their efforts will once again pixellate the combined profile of 1.20 billion people.


However, the logistics of the Census often obscure how intrinsically the exercise tests a society's democratic roots, its capacity to confront a picture of itself. This year the exercise will be deepened by what Home Minister P. Chidambaram calls "the biggest exercise since mankind came into existence". A National Population Register is to be compiled. So each respondent will have to provide personal details, thereby feeding a database that will be the basis for issuing identity cards to each Indian by the Unique Identification Authority. The National Population Register is a quantum step forward since it gives each respondent an identity — she now has a name and is no longer a statistic.


At a time when many developed countries are moving to sampling instead of elaborate census operations and when many multi-ethic societies prefer to gloss over their complexities, the ferment informing India's Census is revealing. Take, for instance, the recent debate that caste be a parameter. In the end, the debate settled against the overall utility of the measure. But as Ashish Bose, India's grand old demographer, told The Sunday Express, there is scope to streamline data collection for quicker dissemination. Perhaps in 2020.








This is a submission to our Hon'ble Lok Sabha members. Before you embark on this noble journey of empowering our tribe, see where you are going, and who you are going with. This is not an exclusive power trip to New Delhi, for your spouse, daughter, daughter-in-law, relative, protégé, or girlfriend. This is a journey embarked upon by more than half a billion Indian women striving for a destiny denied in their own lifetime, the defining journey of the "Aam Aurat".


Obviously a revolution, if it happens, will happen through social intervention. State schemes like Gujarat's "Kanya Kelawni", Delhi's "Laadli", lower stamp duty for women besides others contribute to the much needed positive discrimination. Women's cooperative movements, Sewa, micro-finance projects have been tools of social transformation for women.


Let the current debate be about the politics of reservation and not the reservation of politics for a privileged few.


Even the most devout Congressmen would admit that Indira Gandhi's lineage was the passport to her entry in politics. Benazir Bhutto, Khaleda Zia, Sheikh Hasina, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and Corazon Aquino were members of the Club of Wives, Widows and Daughters of famous men.


Owing their political legacy to the family they were born into or married into, one wonders what their political journeys would have been like minus the last names. Curiously, the social development indices are appallingly adverse for women in most of their countries.


Moving on to the tough talking, guns blazing chief ministers from prominent national and regional parties such as the BSP and AIADMK, both Jayalalithaa and Mayawati owe their political currency to personal proximity to their male mentors, and Vasundhara Raje Scindia to her royal silver spoon. One is not disputing the political mettle of these power women but talking about a level playing field for all. Success is so often a function of power inheritance.


Supriya Sule, Priya Dutt, Praniti Shinde, Agatha Sangma are fortunate in not having to wait for any reservation for women. They have the right daddy. It does not matter which caste they belong to. They have the right political class and that's all that matters in ensuring a ticket where a far more talented woman leader/ activist/ professional may never make the cut.


Has power trickled down to women through reservation in panchayati raj institutions? It has churned out a few independent women sarpanch leaders, but by and large it is the husbands of the officially elected women sarpanches who have actually been voted to power. Ask the villagers who voted.


The sheer vision of "even more upper caste women" in the Lok Sabha might spoil Lalu and Mulayam's socialist

dreams but when it comes to giving opportunities to backward sections they don't look beyond their backyards.


The idea of affirmative action is to create equity, to skim the creamy layer, not to thicken it. Let's make it easy for a woman who fears the raucous and rowdy hooliganism of local politics but still desires a decision-making role in governance without having to make personal compromises.


Many women party workers would admit to exploitation rampant in circles of power. The real empowerment of women will not come with more women MPs with patriarchal values or with a Pratibha Patil constantly tugging at her pallu as she presides over the House. Instead of just changing the "gender" and the face of power should we not question the dynamics and the very nature of "power"?


Modern India has seen two major seismological shifts in the tectonic plates of gender politics. The sati of Roop Kanwar and the Shah Bano judgment.


No one could have foreseen in 1978 the momentous consequences of a sixty-something Muslim woman's appeal to the courts for maintenance from her husband. Shah Bano, a mother of five, was divorced by her husband in 1978 after several decades of marriage. By now in her sixties, and with little means to support herself and her children, she appealed to the courts seeking maintenance from her husband. Seven years later, when the Supreme Court ruled that Shah Bano be given maintenance money, opinion was practically polarised.


While an intrepid Union minister, Arif Mohd Khan, defended the Supreme Court's decision in a historic speech, quoting the spirit and essence of Islam, the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, chose to succumb to the "mullahdom". It was a move carved out of political expediency but is remembered as the ultimate compromise in the politics of religion and gender in the country.


On September 4, 1987, an 18-year-old, Roop Kanwar, was burnt alive in a village in Rajasthan, by her in-laws, on the funeral pyre of her husband. Reports suggested that she cried for help, to little avail. The Bharatiya Janata Party defended this Rajput tradition. The late Vijayaraje Scindia of the BJP defended it, saying, "Sati to hamara dharam hai" (Sati is our religion/ tradition).


In February 2004, 16 years later, when a special court acquitted, on lack of evidence, 11 persons, including BJP legislator and state party vice-president Rajendra Singh Rathore the then chief minister, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, could not spare the time to meet the delegation which was protesting the acquittal, let alone file an appeal.


While the BJP took a deplorably regressive stand it must be specially noted how a woman chief minister responded to this most horrific murder steeped in "local tradition".


The repository of power can be male or female but the lust to stay in power subverts the cause of empowerment itself. Instead of firing salvos at the men, we need to instead throw down the gauntlet and challenge patriarchy — read male-centric mindsets and male dominated social structures, of which many women are a big part of.


So we start with asking why the Aam Aurat feels, if she can feel at all, numb and bereft of emotion as she has become over the years of continual poverty, that the proposed new crop of women MPs will not grow fatter at her expense. The time is now! Sonia Gandhi rules!


The writer is a freelance journalist and film-maker








Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was reported as saying last week that private sector companies would be allowed to issue tax-free infrastructure bonds to raise money for projects. Earlier in February, as part of the Budget announcement, the minister said individuals would be entitled to tax benefits for investments up to Rs 20,000 in infrastructure bonds, over the benefits that they were already allowed for Rs 1 lakh worth of savings across other instruments. One could infer that we might be close to a situation in which private sector infrastructure firms could raise money through bonds that could be subscribed to by small savers.


Given that India is looking for $1 trillion during the Twelfth Plan period (2012-2017) to fund infrastructure projects, such ideas might sound good on paper. But for a variety of reasons, it's hard to see too much money coming the way of private sector infrastructure firms. For one, infrastructure projects are large, calling for investments of anywhere between Rs 4,000-5,000 crore; typically, a megawatt of power costs about Rs 4-5 crore. It's unlikely private sector companies can raise that kind of money from small savers — and what they can won't go very far. For instance, to raise say Rs 1,000 crore, they would need to tap 500,000 investors. Maintaining a record of subscribers and servicing them would be a cumbersome process even though the work could be outsourced. Typically, the denomination for tax-free PSU bonds has been far higher at Rs 5 lakh, though recently some institutions have reduced it to Rs 1 lakh.


But the bigger question really is whether retail investors would want to put their money into private sector bonds. Apart from the Tatas and Birlas and a few other companies, no private sector company has really inspired that much trust. It is true individuals do put money in corporate fixed deposits, since these typically offer better interest rates than fixed deposits of banks; but, by and large, small savers prefer to stay with established companies that have a track record. Many of the infrastructure projects that are coming up are being set up by relatively new companies, and it's unlikely they will be able to convince investors to invest with them. Also, investing with an HDFC or a Tata Motors that have large and stable businesses is completely different from putting one's money in infrastructure projects that carry a high amount of risk. Even if the bonds are rated by a rating agency, it is doubtful savers will want to take a chance even though they stand to earn a slightly higher return.


Also, infrastructure projects are long-gestation projects and, therefore, the money that savers put in will be locked in for perhaps five years, making the investment illiquid, unlike fixed deposits. While the bonds can be listed on the stock exchanges, the corporate bond market in India sees very little action. So any attempt to sell in an illiquid market could result in a loss for the investor. From an investment perspective, therefore, it's hard to see too much money flowing in directly.


Channelling household savings into infrastructure could be probably done through banks and insurance companies, far better placed to gauge the risk associated with projects. Perhaps investors could buy infrastructure bonds, floated by banks, for which they earn a better return but which are locked in for a longer period too, of at least five years. That money could be lent by banks exclusively for infrastructure projects. With banks doing the bulk of the lending to the infrastructure space these days, they are vulnerable to an asset-liability mismatch since they are financing seven-eight-ten year assets while borrowing for two and three years. To make it easier for them, the government may want to look at allowing them to float non-SLR bonds. In other words, they could be excused from setting aside some amount of the money that they've borrowed, in the form of government securities, which they would normally do for their borrowings.


This could turn out to be a win-win situation; it would help reduce the cost of funds for banks, give them access to longer-term money and allow them to give investors a better return on their bonds. Savers would be more than glad to earn some extra money without taking on any extra risk even though it might mean not being able to use that money for a long time.


Insurance firms, which have access to long-term money, have been reluctant to take on project risk, preferring to buy into non-convertible debentures of blue-chip companies instead. They too need to be incentivised to lend to infrastructure. In the absence of a mature secondary bond market in the country, it is better that household savings be channelled through institutions.


The writer is resident editor, 'The Financial Express', Mumbai








Before there was the Indian Premier League with its millions, its "icons" and Lalit Modi strutting all over TV screens and India's (and South Africa's) cricket grounds, there was something called a Premier Hockey League. In terms of getting foreign players to display their wares in a domestic tournament in India, it was the first. As also was the fact that there were cheerleaders, city-specific teams and the razzamatazz that comes with a sporting event that is more carnival than rivalry.


It started with modest success in 2005, grew a little in 2006 — and, by 2007, was vying with cricket for TRPs and crowd support: played in evenings under lights, lasting a little over an hour, complete with flashy uniforms, team themes and merchandise and, most importantly, making a presence as a family outing, it was perhaps the best formula to revive hockey in the country.


Then, like a dream, it was all over. The league vanished, the teams scrapped, the players gone — all because the Indian Hockey Federation, the controlling authority for the tournament (much like the BCCI for IPL), was suspended in 2008. The same year that the IPL was born, and simply walked into a vacant space and made it its own.


After three years, the IPL has only grown bigger, richer, flashier. The recent auction of two extra teams for a combined value of Rs 3235 crore means the event is ready for the long haul. A measure of its success and importance can be gauged from the fact that the recent hockey World Cup had to be preponed to avoid clashing with its third edition and the organisers had to request Modi to shift a couple of matches on the day of the final.


But, amidst the frenzy of the IPL and the flurry of duplicates coming up all over — there's a Maharashtra Premier League, Karnataka Premier League, a gully T10, a proposed English Premier League and an American Premier League — it may not be a bad idea for the PHL to be revived. While the initial attempt suffered some drawbacks, not the least being the lack of a viable financial model, not enough monetary backing to survive without official support, and too much concentration of powers with the federation, hockey can well be second time lucky, this time having the IPL as a readymade example for success.


The corporates are willing to come in: Hero Honda's sponsorship for the hockey World Cup was approximately Rs 15 crores, without mileage guarantees either. The crowds support the game: the 19,000 capacity National Stadium in the capital was filled to capacity during India games and almost three-quarters routinely at other times. The time span (maximum 90 minutes) suits everyone, the pace allows no time to get bored and the constant change of ends keeps the excitement levels high. The innovations are all there, including strategic timeouts and umpire referrals. Bring in the foreign stars and it's the perfect recipe for success.


It won't be unique either. Across Europe and in Australia, there are professional hockey leagues with standards so high that some of the best players admit to national duty being easier. The Dutch league has about 12 teams with the best in the business plying their trade — the likes of Australian Jamie Dwyer, Germany's Christoper Zeller and Pakistan's Sohail Abbas. The German league is a favourite destination as well and the Australian Hockey League does enough to sort the best from the rest even before they can think of playing for the country.


What neither of them does is bring in the crowds, despite the highest standards on field. And that may well be India's (and the PHL's) USP. The combination of money, crowds, glamour and stardom is possible for a hockey player only in India. With the IPL being now considered the best launch pad for unknown names (think Manish Pandeys, Saurabh


Tiwarys and Swapnil Asnodkars), it may well be hockey's gain in the long run as well. (Shivendra Singh, remember, was a PHL find).


Despite all the hype around cricket, there is enough for hockey to claim a legitimate number two spot, and that may be worth quite a lot.








A gathering of the Arab League tends to bring out the worst of Middle Eastern stereotypes: dysfunctional protocol, empty exhortations denouncing Western evils and pointless acrimony. Yet this week's summit in Tripoli could mark a turning point. The Arab League is increasingly serious and confident, floating the kind of proposals America should back rather than block.


Persistent Western misperceptions about the Arabs support the false frames we use in analysing the region. But the Arab world is wealthy and resourceful, blessed with oil and strategically located at the intersection of Europe, Africa and Asia. It will not be "left behind" by globalisation. To the contrary, the most significant and neglected trend of the past decade has been a positive globalisation within the Arab world due to cross-border investment and satellite media such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.


Unlike the region's previous oil booms, the years since 9/11 have seen Arabs keeping their money to themselves more than ever, fueling job creation. Never before have so many young Arabs participated in student exchanges, activist conferences and Internet blogs among themselves. The Arab world can afford to modernise itself and has shown promising signs of doing so.


We also fail to understand the Arab strategic reality. If Arabs are supposed to be lining up with the US and Israel to contain the hegemonic ambitions of Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then why did Syria host a "war council" of Iran and Hezbollah in Damascus last month? And why is Qatar exploring gas fields jointly with Iran? The fact is that most Arabs prefer a modus vivendi with Iran — just as many tacitly collaborate with Israel on matters of mutual interest.


Rather than seeing themselves as trapped between Israel and Iran, the most common Arab objective seems to be to limit excessive American influence in their region. Americans widely believe that the Arab world was elated by the election of President Obama over a year ago. That is so, but not because the Arabs want strong American leadership in their region; they'd prefer to run their own affairs with minimal American interference. From engaging Hamas to negotiating with Iran, Arab states are taking matters into their own hands. And that's good.


In the run-up to the Arab League summit this weekend, the organisation signaled to the Palestinian leadership that it backs direct talks with Israel on final status issues, and is moving toward creating an Arab peacekeeping force. Dealing with the Palestinians' internal divisions in this way achieves America's objective of subduing Hamas in a far better way than any American efforts to date.


The notion that the Obama administration needs to "re-engage and lead" the peace process is dismissed even by long-time friends of America like the former Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, who recently said, "We don't want any new American plan from Obama. Just help us implement the existing ones." The same applies to dealing with Iran. At every annual Manama Dialogue of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, smaller Gulf nations speak out for the creation of a Gulf Security Conference in which both Iran and Israel would be included — a step that could greatly enhance regional confidence by bringing more transparency to these countries' activities. Yet in the name of preserving a "united front" against Iran, the United States always blocks the idea.


An Arab Parliament and an Arab Security Council are also on the Tripoli agenda, as are ideas for funding more secular schools. If America wants to see fewer theocrats and more technocrats in the Arab world, it should welcome leadership from Libya and Lebanon, Morocco and Qatar. Only if we come to terms with an Arab world that can manage on its own will the region ever reach a natural equilibrium, one that the US doesn't have to artificially sustain with blood and treasure.


Parag Khanna is a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and author of 'The Second World: How Emerging Powers are Redefining Global Competition in the 21st Century'.








The last few weeks have been marked by perceived divergences between India and the United States over l'affaire Headley and Pakistan's request for a civilian nuclear agreement. Of course, very little information on the Headley case is clear-cut. And, as was to be expected, the US signalled an assured 'no' to the nuclear deal, although only at the end of their two-day strategic dialogue. But the damage appears to have been done. Indian commentators, already frustrated by the direction of US-India relations under President Barack Obama, have used the two incidents to question the potential for a long-term strategic partnership between New Delhi and Washington.


Such conclusions may or may not be warranted, but are premature. Whether or not it is widely appreciated, the United States and India do have converging long-term interests with regards to Pakistan. Both genuinely want Pakistan to evolve into a peaceful, prosperous and democratic state, not out of any sense of altruism, but out of self-interest. India's leaders have been remarkably consistent in presenting the external conditions for sustained, rapid economic growth as the country's top foreign policy priority. An adversarial relationship with Pakistan clearly undermines Indian efforts to attain that kind of economic success. Meanwhile, the prospect of an unstable Pakistan presents Washington with its worst nightmare: nuclear weapons in the hands of international terrorists. Clearly, both India and the US want to see Pakistan succeed by normalising ties with its neighbours, enhancing regional economic integration, and establishing a tradition of peaceful, democratic power transitions.


As a result, Washington has made generous offers of civilian aid in a bid to resuscitate Pakistan's economy. It has also stepped up attempts at targeting Pakistan's most wanted militants, such as the Mehsud brothers, and has provided the Pakistani armed forces with some counterinsurgency equipment and training. India, meanwhile, has gone to great lengths to maintain civil relations, despite repeated demonstrations of Pakistan's ill will, including its involvement in bombings against Indian diplomatic targets in Kabul and its complete non-cooperation following the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.


But it is becoming increasingly clear that elements of Pakistan's leadership — both military and civilian — do not share India and the United States' desire to see the country secure itself, develop or prosper. Instead Pakistan's leaders consistently demonstrate an unbecoming arrogance, a penchant for mendacity, and a willful disregard for the well-being of their people and country.


The proof is in the myth-making.


India's decision to retaliate against the Mumbai attacks by merely suspending talks was framed as New Delhi being unnecessarily obsessed with terrorism. The US is blamed for being a fickle ally as if no country, Pakistan included, is ever guided by its own national interests. US requests for cooperation on matters that ought to align with Pakistan's core security objectives and the consolidation of its territorial sovereignty are treated as unreasonable demands. The US offer of a nuclear deal to India in 2005 is presented as playing favourites rather than as a reward for India's political maturity and good proliferation record. And India's development and democracy-promoting efforts in Afghanistan, which align with US and NATO objectives, is portrayed as dangerous and illegitimate.


The fiction does not end there. Pakistan's leaders continue to make loud proclamations of India as a peer competitor, a claim that appears more ridiculous with each passing year. They argue that there was no terrorism in Pakistan prior to American involvement in the region in 2001, another blatant falsehood. And they publicly announce international agreements that their interlocutors never agreed to — such as a nuclear deal with France — something that would shame most politicians elsewhere.


Such self-delusion would be amusing if its consequences were not so tragic. When the country is mired in a rising tide of violence, its leadership's actions and statements reflect a government in that is completely disconnected from the urgency of the problems it faces.


Evidently, the leadership, despite its veneer of democracy and a vibrant domestic media, is not being held to any semblance of accountability. It is worth asking if the responsibility lies, to a certain degree, with Pakistani civil society. Equally disconcerting is what one is to make of supporters in the United States and elsewhere, whose ignorance and naïveté ensure that they continue to make poor excuses for a government that has shown no signs of acting in the interests of regional and global security and stability.


The absence of accountability at home and unwarranted optimism abroad have meant that necessary questions regarding Pakistan's behaviour are rarely posed, let alone answered. Why exactly does Pakistan continue to engage in activities that appear to hurt itself? After all, the disparity in the number of terrorist attacks between Pakistan and India has in recent years assumed grotesque proportions.


A tentative answer must lie in the civil-military balance within Pakistan. Only the security forces retain an incentive to increase Pakistan's sense of insecurity, against evidence to the contrary. In a system where the military still rules, even if not nominally, it shouldn't be surprising the civilian leadership is willing to toe the army's line. India and the US must think through how to alter the Pakistani leadership's incentives, a particularly difficult task given Pakistan's nuclear weapons capability. Empowering Pakistan's civil society to hold its leadership accountable should be part of any long-term plan. But it may also be time to consider using sticks, instead of just carrots. That may be what it takes to save Pakistan from itself.


The writer works at Brookings Institution, Washington DC







On Jan. 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake left more than 230,000 Haitians dead and nearly a million homeless.


That very day, thousands of miles away, a legal drama was unfolding whose victims would be the same Haitian people. Despite the efforts of Swiss authorities, legal constraints prevented the return of stolen assets held by the family of Haiti's ex-dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier in Switzerland, money that could be used for recovery following the natural disaster.


The Swiss Supreme Court had ordered the release of $5.7 million to the Duvalier family, saying that the statute of limitations had expired. As soon as the decision was made public, the Swiss officials ordered the assets frozen on a constitutional basis and announced they were working on legislative reforms to make the return of stolen assets easier. The legal challenges revealed by the Duvalier case are not unique. Countries around the world face legal constraints when dealing with stolen assets — especially developing countries with scarce resources to match the skills and creativity of criminals.


Every year an estimated $20-$40 billion are stolen from developing countries and stashed away in the developed world. In the past 15 years, only $5 billion have been successfully returned to their countries of origin.


The magnitude of the problem suggests that a better approach to combat looted funds starts with preventing assets from being stolen and laundered in the first place. That would place a significant requirement on financial centers and their financial institutions. Absent prevention and early detection, there will always be safe havens for the corrupt.


A recent U.S. Senate investigation revealed that despite efforts to crack down on money laundering, millions of dollars are still funneled into the United States by corrupt foreign officials through U.S. financial institutions, lawyers, lobbyists and other professionals. The Senate report recommended that the U.S. Treasury strengthen bank scrutiny of so-called "politically exposed persons" — high-level public officials and their associates — and to require intermediaries to know their customers and check the source of their funds and wealth.


Laws and regulations do matter, but they are not enough if implementation and enforcement don't follow. This requires active participation from private financial institutions as well as gatekeepers, since experience demonstrates that reputational and business risks are not enough to deter the private sector from associating with the corrupt. Fortunately, the financial crisis has spurred the international community to reduce the financial system's exploitation by the unscrupulous. The G-20 committed to fight this scourge and reclaim stolen capital for development — an endeavor that puts international financial centers at the front line of the battle. At a time of heightened mistrust of the financial sector worldwide, financial institutions would go a long way in addressing their credibility gap by deepening their commitment to fight corruption.


The Financial Action Task Force, the international body that combats money laundering and the financing of terrorism, has recently agreed to strengthen its efforts against corruption. It recognised the proceeds of corruption as a significant risk to the international financial system. It agreed to further cooperation between financial intelligence units and law enforcement. It also decided to strengthen its tools to prevent and detect the abuse of the financial system by cronies and their associates. We strongly welcome these developments.


But much more is needed. At the World Bank Group we are working together with UN on the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative to underscore that stronger standards are not enough without adequate implementation. To be effective, the financial system needs to be vigilant, to periodically review politically exposed persons' accounts, to require the declaration of individual owners behind a company and other financial disclosures. Financial institutions must become a central part in efforts against theft to ensure there are no financial safe havens for stolen funds.








This is a submission to our Hon'ble Lok Sabha members. Before you embark on this noble journey of empowering our tribe, see where you are going, and who you are going with. This is not an exclusive power trip to New Delhi, for your spouse, daughter, daughter-in-law, relative, protégé, or girlfriend. This is a journey embarked upon by more than half a billion Indian women striving for a destiny denied in their own lifetime, the defining journey of the "Aam Aurat".


Obviously a revolution, if it happens, will happen through social intervention. State schemes like Gujarat's "Kanya Kelawni", Delhi's "Laadli", lower stamp duty for women besides others contribute to the much needed positive discrimination. Women's cooperative movements, Sewa, micro-finance projects have been tools of social transformation for women.


Let the current debate be about the politics of reservation and not the reservation of politics for a privileged few.


Even the most devout Congressmen would admit that Indira Gandhi's lineage was the passport to her entry in politics. Benazir Bhutto, Khaleda Zia, Sheikh Hasina, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and Corazon Aquino were members of the Club of Wives, Widows and Daughters of famous men.


Owing their political legacy to the family they were born into or married into, one wonders what their political journeys would have been like minus the last names. Curiously, the social development indices are appallingly adverse for women in most of their countries.


Moving on to the tough talking, guns blazing chief ministers from prominent national and regional parties such as the BSP and AIADMK, both Jayalalithaa and Mayawati owe their political currency to personal proximity to their male mentors, and Vasundhara Raje Scindia to her royal silver spoon. One is not disputing the political mettle of these power women but talking about a level playing field for all. Success is so often a function of power inheritance.


Supriya Sule, Priya Dutt, Praniti Shinde, Agatha Sangma are fortunate in not having to wait for any reservation for women. They have the right daddy. It does not matter which caste they belong to. They have the right political class and that's all that matters in ensuring a ticket where a far more talented woman leader/ activist/ professional may never make the cut.


Has power trickled down to women through reservation in panchayati raj institutions? It has churned out a few independent women sarpanch leaders, but by and large it is the husbands of the officially elected women sarpanches who have actually been voted to power. Ask the villagers who voted.


The sheer vision of "even more upper caste women" in the Lok Sabha might spoil Lalu and Mulayam's socialist dreams but when it comes to giving opportunities to backward sections they don't look beyond their backyards.


The idea of affirmative action is to create equity, to skim the creamy layer, not to thicken it. Let's make it easy for a woman who fears the raucous and rowdy hooliganism of local politics but still desires a decision-making role in governance without having to make personal compromises.


Many women party workers would admit to exploitation rampant in circles of power. The real empowerment of women will not come with more women MPs with patriarchal values or with a Pratibha Patil constantly tugging at her pallu as she presides over the House. Instead of just changing the "gender" and the face of power should we not question the dynamics and the very nature of "power"?


Modern India has seen two major seismological shifts in the tectonic plates of gender politics. The sati of Roop Kanwar and the Shah Bano judgment.


No one could have foreseen in 1978 the momentous consequences of a sixty-something Muslim woman's appeal to the courts for maintenance from her husband. Shah Bano, a mother of five, was divorced by her husband in 1978 after several decades of marriage. By now in her sixties, and with little means to support herself and her children, she appealed to the courts seeking maintenance from her husband. Seven years later, when the Supreme Court ruled that Shah Bano be given maintenance money, opinion was practically polarised.


While an intrepid Union minister, Arif Mohd Khan, defended the Supreme Court's decision in a historic speech, quoting the spirit and essence of Islam, the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, chose to succumb to the "mullahdom". It was a move carved out of political expediency but is remembered as the ultimate compromise in the politics of religion and gender in the country.


On September 4, 1987, an 18-year-old, Roop Kanwar, was burnt alive in a village in Rajasthan, by her in-laws, on the funeral pyre of her husband. Reports suggested that she cried for help, to little avail. The Bharatiya Janata Party defended this Rajput tradition. The late Vijayaraje Scindia of the BJP defended it, saying, "Sati to hamara dharam hai" (Sati is our religion/ tradition).


In February 2004, 16 years later, when a special court acquitted, on lack of evidence, 11 persons, including BJP legislator and state party vice-president Rajendra Singh Rathore the then chief minister, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, could not spare the time to meet the delegation which was protesting the acquittal, let alone file an appeal.


While the BJP took a deplorably regressive stand it must be specially noted how a woman chief minister responded to this most horrific murder steeped in "local tradition".


The repository of power can be male or female but the lust to stay in power subverts the cause of empowerment itself. Instead of firing salvos at the men, we need to instead throw down the gauntlet and challenge patriarchy — read male-centric mindsets and male dominated social structures, of which many women are a big part of.


So we start with asking why the Aam Aurat feels, if she can feel at all, numb and bereft of emotion as she has become over the years of continual poverty, that the proposed new crop of women MPs will not grow fatter at her expense. The time is now! Sonia Gandhi rules!


The writer is a freelance journalist and film-maker







The Union Cabinet decided last week to make it mandatory for all unlisted central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) to adhere to best practice corporate governance norms, at par with the norms laid out by Sebi for listed companies. Until now, it was voluntary for CPSEs to follow these norms—amongst other things on the number of independent directors on a board, the composition of the audit committee and composition of the remuneration committee. For CPSE, adhering to new norms will mean fewer government-appointed directors, which, in theory, could provide more autonomy to PSEs. Of course, it is hard to object to any decision that enables greater transparency in companies, so the decision is, indeed, a good one. But there remain serious doubts about how effective such norms will actually be in protecting the interests of stakeholders other than the central government. For listed companies, such norms serve the purpose of protecting the interests of the minority shareholders. However, as we have argued in these columns before, in the case of some listed CPSEs, largely the oil marketing companies, the government has, as the majority stakeholder, continually violated the interests of the minority shareholders. This is because of the administered pricing mechanism for the products of oil marketing companies that over the last decade and more have, at various points, been fixed below the prevailing global market rates, causing massive losses to them.


And that really is the crux of the problem with corporate governance in PSEs, whether listed or unlisted—the continuous subversion of what would be in the best interests of the company, because of populist concerns of the biggest shareholder—the government. The enforcement of best practice corporate governance norms would only have meaning if PSEs, whether listed or unlisted, are allowed to function autonomously, in competition with one another and with other players in the market. That is, after all, what their counterparts in the private sector would do. But the government's insistence on micro-management of PSEs, either to extract patronage or to dole out populist freebies (subsidised oil; there is talk of steel price control every now and then) would render these corporate governance norms impotent. If the majority shareholder continues to exercise overwhelming muscle regardless of the company's interest, other stakeholders, including minority shareholders (in the case of listed PSEs) will loose out. So ideally, along with enforcing top corporate governance norms, the government must also signal its intent to let PSEs be run autonomously and with pure commercial interest.








The idea that growth in domestically driven emerging markets like India could decouple from those in the West had got somewhat discredited when the global economy, in general, went for a tailspin after the Wall Street crisis in 2008-end. It was argued that the decoupling theory did not hold much water because fast growing emerging economies were inextricably linked to the developed ones through trade and capital flows. While there is an element of truth in this assertion, an equally strong case can be made out that certain domestic factors will help India decouple from a continued slowdown in the OECD bloc.


It may be instructive to look closely at some of the domestic dynamics at play which may largely neutralise the impact of lower export growth caused by the non-recovery of GDP growth in the US and EU to their earlier mean levels achieved in the boom years.


What are these local factors that can relatively insulate India's growth rate in the next five years or so? The real surprises could come from some of the domestic drivers of the economy that are not linked to international trade—what we describe as non-tradables. A simple example will illustrate this point. A recent study in Economic and Political Weekly shows that Bihar registered an average GDP growth of 11% for five years starting 2003-04 largely on the back of massive road construction projects. Similarly, many other relatively backward states showed average GDP growth of 9% and above in these years possibly because they have just begun to implement projects relating to roads and other infrastructure sectors where there is massive pent up demand.


Now Bihar's road construction-driven GDP growth has no real link with international trade or the recovery of the OECD economies. Similarly, there is a massive scaling up of power generation going on to meet the target of 70,000 mw of power during the 11th Plan ending in 2012. Even if we achieve 60,000 mw, it will mean massive investments in the medium term. Again, this has to do with pent up demand caused by past GDP growth, and has no link whatsoever with how the US or EU economies behave in the next few years.


What is interesting to note is that India's investment in infrastructure had substantially lagged the overall industrial investment during the boom years of 2003 to 2008. According to one estimate, private corporate investment grew by nearly 10% of GDP during this period whereas investment in critical infrastructure to support such growth grew barely by 2% of GDP.


So the India growth story going forward will be supported by the pent up demand for such infrastructure, which is a non-tradable and therefore might counter some of the negatives caused by a continued slowdown in international trade.


The other interesting facet of this infrastructure driven growth story is that it is happening on a relatively low base. Therefore, one tends to get a fairly high growth rate, especially in some of the backward states.


Therefore, a few hundred kilometres of road and some two or three 1,000-mw projects in these states tend to create a big spike in the GDP growth rate. This is purely a growth opportunity created by the massive historical deficit. It is this historical deficit that has the potential to keep India's GDP growth racing at 9% for at least the next 10 years. However, one need not become ecstatic about such high growth rates from the kind of low base it is happening! It is this large and continuing deficit in infrastructure that is responsible for the currently high growth rates—of 39% in December and 50% in January—in the capital goods production. As pointed out by Mahesh Vyas of CMIE in the columns of FE last week, the growth in capital goods production is quite high even on a seasonally adjusted basis. Data produced by Mahesh also bears out India's robust investment growth story based on infrastructure growth. Between November and January of 2009-10, the production of broad gauge rail wagons has recorded over 500% growth! Again this could be a case of production lagging way behind demand caused in the boom phase. Also, an estimated 21,300 mw of power is coming on stream in 2010-11. The Power Finance Corporation is in the process of releasing massive funds to drive such power projects.


CMIE data also shows that projects worth Rs 4 lakh crore will get commissioned by the end of 2009-10, and this is 36% higher than what one saw in the previous year. It is also becoming clear that India's investment led growth has not suffered following the current global economic downcycle. One recalls when the business cycle was down in the late-1990s Indian industry withdrew into a shell for a long time following the Asian financial crises. The critical difference this time is that businesses have retained their confidence in India's domestic consumption story. The Keynesian "animal spirits" are really alive this time round. That seems to be the key motivator.







The success of the two new bids for the Indian Premier League (IPL) has astonished everyone. To be bid Rs 3,000 crore for two locations—a multiple of the total bid of all existing team bids—is stunning. The growth in revenue is also very high. It looks like the IPL just keeps growing. If it grows at 40% per annum, its size will soon occupy the World, if not the Universe.


This is exactly how bubbles form. There is initial surprise that a venture succeeded beyond expectations. Suddenly the world (that is, the potential investors) realise that an entrepreneur has seen a gap in the market where no one else was able to. Lalit Modi saw the gap and fought off all sorts of obstacles put in his way by the Board of Control for Cricket in India and others. Now everyone wants a piece of the action.


The genius has been that having spotted the gap, the product has been so devised as to appeal to a very large audience. The cricket element is the least innovative. Once Kerry Packer had broken the mould with 50-over cricket, the One Day International (ODI) followed and the Twenty 20 is just a simple extension. Yet, these games were peripatetic and took their time, even the ODI. The IPL began with a single country location—India. This allowed the unique combination of cricket and Bollywood with the third essential ingredient in all money-making schemes in India—politics. (It could be called the Indian Political League!). The diaspora is now widespread and rich enough that the TV rights can be sold widely. IPL also adds to cricket the cheerleaders and the razzmatazz of American football. This enhances the appeal beyond people who just love cricket. Sexually repressed societies—the majority of the world—love this sort of thing.


But the value of the product was proved last year when the prospect of hosting the IPL led to frenzy across the main cricketing nations, who saw the potential revenues dangling at the end of any such chance. South Africa got it and this again proved another thing about the IPL. It has confirmed that the global geography of economic power has turned on its head. It is the South—the once so-called byword for misery, and not the North—powerful and domineering—which now calls the shots.


The appeal of IPL, therefore, goes beyond just India. Bollywood has emerged as a much more universal form, luckily for IPL, so that even with non-Indian, non-diaspora audiences, it has an appeal. This is even more so because IPL offers Bollywood in small bites rather than the full 150 minutes extravaganza.


Still, one has to ask where will the next stage be? What the bidding showed that any and every large- and medium-sized town wants a franchise. Of course, the location does not really matter. English soccer grew up on local loyalty when the main spectators were the local working class residents. This local loyalty survives, but just about. A team like Arsenal seldom has English-born players in it. This has not affected their revenues, because once you have TV and Internet, location is not relevant. What matters are the facilities available to stage the show.


But you cannot have 40 sides in IPL. So, the inevitable will happen. There will be divisions as there are in European soccer. There could be a maximum of 12 or 15 sides in each division and there could be promotions and relegations each season. This is preferable to the model of American baseball with two rival leagues and a face-off in a World Series. (Trust the Americans to call an internal tournament a World Series.)


That is a healthy scenario, whereby a bubble settles down to a slower, healthy growth. But as I have no money at stake, I think I should point out the possible drawbacks. Bubbles do burst if they fail to slow down, or if they are suddenly pricked. The IPL faces several dangers from these two angles. The biggest threat is its association with politics.


Thus far, IPL has managed to keep politicians on its side. But the failure of many smaller towns to get a franchise may lead to a Mandal-type attack. There would be cries for reservations by regions or languages. If this gets ugly there could be demonstrations against IPL, with demonstrators digging up pitches. But there are also internal problems. Drug scandals are one and sex scandals are another. I speak from the knowledge of soccer. The brand can be adversely affected by such image problems. Last but not least is the possibility that there could be too much cricket. It does not seem plausible now, but I expect two more teams are going to strain the patience by next year. The remote is the biggest threat to the IPL.


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer








Bharti Airtel initiated what has become the second largest acquisition by an Indian company when it chose to bid for all of Zain's African assets for a combined value of $10.7 billion. On the positive side, Bharti has been fortunate to be able to acquire such a large number of assets in an attractive market in one go. The size of Zain's business diversifies Bharti's risk portfolio away from its concentration in South Asia. The combined businesses will be able to withstand global business shocks much better and will give it additional leverage in capital investments and with key vendors. This deal provides Bharti the opportunity to apply its learnings (particularly its rural strategy) into a similarly large and developing market. However, centralisation and outsourcing of specific services will have to consider regional languages, customisation in service delivery, regulatory aspects and brand issues.


One of the key challenges for Bharti is the heavy debt component for the funding of this deal, which includes an existing debt of $1.7 billion on Zain's assets that will be transferred to Bharti. This would lead to a strain on Bharti's balance sheet in the short term. The political and regulatory uncertainty in the countries where Zain operates has been an additional cause for stakeholder nervousness. The next 15-18 months will also reveal the quality of Zain's assets once they enter the Bharti fold.


Another key challenge will be on the brand building side. It is ironical that post the completion of this deal, Bharti will also wear the cap of being MTN's key competitor in the African market. While MTN's African footprint is much larger than Zain's, Zain leads in nearly two-thirds of the markets it is present in. Infrastructure remains a constant right across the continent and this will test Bharti's ability to roll out services. Bharti has developed a strong management cadre through its circle level operations in India. This management cadre has hands on experience in resolving ground level issues and this will come in handy to develop Zain's businesses. Combination of Zain's local talent right across Africa and Bharti's experienced management cadre will prove to a competent mix to deal with all ground level issues.


The author is national head, telecommunications sector advisory services, KPMG. These are his personal views








Fire accidents happen with dismaying regularity in buildings in Indian cities causing heavy casualties. Nine people were killed and 68 injured in Bangalore last month when a fire broke out in a commercial building. This week, in a worse accident at Kolkata's Stephen Court building, 34 lives were lost. Authorities are still looking for some more people who are missing. Some of the bodies were so charred that family members were unable to recognise them and sought the help of DNA examination to ascertain identity. As in most previous accidents, precious lives would have been saved had fire safety norms and building rules been followed. The fifth and sixth floors, which were gutted, have been found to be unauthorised constructions, with the fire safety rules flouted with impunity. Much of the Bangalore tragedy could have been averted had the corridors leading to staircases not been encroached upon, had fire exits been kept open, unsafe old electrical cables replaced, and the hoardings removed. What is clear is that lessons have not been learnt from the heart-breaking calamities of Kumbakonam (2004), where more than 90 children were burnt to death, and Uphaar Cinema, Delhi (1997), where 59 people lost their lives.


There is little point in the State government rushing to adopt a new set of fire safety regulations, of which there is no dearth. The National Building Code (NBC), published in 1970 and last updated in 2005, prescribes the minimum fire safety and rescue measures to be provided in buildings. In addition, cities have their own rules for multi-storey structures and procedures for periodical checking of fire safety systems. What is missing is a real and measurable improvement in the enforcement mechanisms. Simultaneously, transparency in giving building permissions must be enhanced and public access to building safety data, a practice common in other cities of the world, made easier. Governments must also desist from protecting unscrupulous owners and builders who violate norms. Ordinances such as the ones passed in Delhi and Chennai, which protect unauthorised constructions including those flouting fire safety norms, must be discouraged. The tragedy at Stephen Court, a 150-year-old heritage structure, reminds us that many such old buildings made of combustible materials and lacking fire exits need urgent retrofitting. Foreseeing this, the NBC has classified heritage buildings as a special category and stipulated separate norms. The old and the new structures must comply with the mandated rules. The duty of the state is to ensure enforcement and compliance.







On April 8, the United States and Russia will sign a landmark arms agreement to slash their nuclear arsenals by no less than a third. The significance of the pact goes beyond the number of warheads and missiles the two sides have agreed to cut. It is the first legally binding and verifiable nuclear reduction pact the U.S. and Russia have negotiated in two decades after the end of the Cold War. It reinstates the U.S-Russian nuclear security regime that would have otherwise fallen apart after the 1991 Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty lapsed in December 2009. The follow-on agreement revives the arms reduction process and opens the way to further cuts by the two nuclear superpowers, which account for more than 90 per cent of the world's nuclear armaments. It creates momentum for the "reset" announced last year by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev to build a new bilateral partnership. The new START was negotiated in a spirit of give-and-take. Mr. Obama had a real problem: he had to overcome strong opposition from his conservative critics at home who contended that Washington need not sign the treaty at all as Moscow was dismantling its ageing missiles anyway. In turn, Russia relaxed its insistence on imposing specific constraints on U.S. missile defence programmes — to facilitate treaty ratification in the Republican-dominated Senate.


The new treaty will breathe life into the vision of a nuclear-free world embraced by Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev. Everyone knows the road to this will be extremely long and tortuous. Already, the two sides have differed in their reading of the treaty's provisions. The Kremlin says it will establish a "legally binding linkage" between strategic offensive weapons and strategic missile defences. The U.S. State Department, however, asserts that it enforces "no constraints" on U.S. missile defence programmes. These clashing interpretations point to a fundamental chasm between Washington and Moscow. The U.S. broke a rigid link between offensive and defensive weapon systems when George W. Bush, of all Presidents, scrapped the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Russia says that unless the linkage is restored, no further nuclear cuts will be possible. Moreover, it warns that it will walk out of the START follow-on treaty if the U.S. proceeds to build a global missile shield, as this would upset the strategic nuclear balance between the two nuclear superpowers. Mr. Obama has put on hold any major ballistic missile development programme. He should follow up by accepting the Russian proposal to jointly build a missile defence against any future threats. This will create a strong foundation of trust the U.S. and Russia need to build on as they embark on the path of a nuclear-free world.










In his latest budget speech, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced: "We are now ready with the draft Food Security Bill which will be placed in the public domain very soon." Although no official draft has been made available as yet, several organisations and individuals have questioned the adequacy of the steps proposed to be taken under the Act to achieve the goal of a hunger-free India. Based on Article 21 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has regarded the right to food as a fundamental requirement for the right to life. Many steps have been taken since Independence to adopt Mahatma Gandhi's advice for an antyodaya approach to hunger elimination. In spite of numerous measures and programmes, the number of undernourished persons has increased from about 210 million in 1990-92 to 252 million in 2004-06. India has about half the world's under-nourished children. Also, there has been a general decline in per capita calorie consumption in recent decades. Grain mountains and hungry millions continue to co-exist.


Fortunately, we are moving away from a patronage-based to a rights-based approach in areas relating to human development and well-being. Acts relating to the Right to Information, Education, Land for Scheduled Tribes and Forest Dwellers, and Rural Employment are examples. The Food Security Bill, when enacted, will become the most important step taken since 1947 in addressing poverty-induced endemic hunger in India. The impact of under-nutrition on health and productivity is well known.


Numerous programmes have been introduced by the Government of India from time to time to improve nutritional status. Under the Ministry of Women and Child Development these are Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the Kishori Shakti Yojana, the Nutrition Programme for Adolescent Girls, and the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls. Under the Ministry of Human Resource Development come the Mid-day Meals Programme and the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has the National Rural Health Mission and the National Urban Health Mission. The Ministry of Agriculture has come forward with the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, the National Food Security Mission and the National Horticulture Mission. The Ministry of Rural Development has initiated the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission, the Total Sanitation Campaign, the Swarna Jayanthi Gram Swarajgar Yojana, and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme. The Ministry of Food has introduced the Targeted Public Distribution System, the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, and Annapoorna.


In spite of such an impressive list, the situation in the field of child nutrition remains bleak. The percentage of children below five years of age who are underweight is now 42.5 per cent. The percentage of children below three years who are undernourished is 40 per cent.


To ensure food security for all, we should be clear about the definition of the problem, the precise index of measuring impact and the road map to achieve the goal. Today, the discussion mainly centres on the definition of poverty and methods to identify the poor. India has the most austerely defined poverty line in the world and the official approach appears to be to restrict support to BPL families. The number of BPL families calculated (taking four persons as the average size of a family) varies from 9.25 crore (Suresh Tendulkar Committee) to 20 crore (Justice D.P. Wadhwa). Food security, as internationally understood, involves physical, economic and social access to a balanced diet, safe drinking water, environmental hygiene and primary health care. Such a definition will involve concurrent attention to the availability of food in the market, the ability to buy needed food and the capability to absorb and utilise the food in the body. Thus, food and non-food factors (that is, drinking water, environmental hygiene and primary health care) are involved in food security.


In addition to the Central government schemes dealing with nutrition support, drinking water, sanitation and health care, most State governments have schemes such as extending support to mothers to feed newborns with mothers' milk for at least the first six months. Tamil Nadu and Kerala have universal PDS. Unfortunately, the governance of the delivery of such programmes is fragmented; a "deliver as one" approach is missing. A life-cycle approach starting with pregnant women and ending with old and infirm persons is lacking in the development and delivery of nutrition-support programmes. India's unenviable status in the field of nutrition is largely because of the absence of a good governance system that can measure outlay and output in an unbiased manner. Therefore, more than new schemes the governance of existing schemes needs attention.


The National Food Security Bill should be so structured that it provides common and differentiated entitlements. The common entitlements should be available to everyone. These should include a universal public distribution system, clean drinking water, sanitation, hygienic toilets, and primary healthcare. The differentiated entitlements could be restricted to those who are economically or physically handicapped. Such families can be provided with wheat or rice in the quantity decided at Rs.3 a kg, as is being proposed. Even to BPL families, the availability of cheap staple grain will only help address the problem of access to food at an affordable price, but not economic access to a balanced diet. At the prevailing price of pulses, such families will not have access to protein-rich foods. Similarly, hidden hunger caused by the deficiency of micro-nutrients such as iron, iodine, zinc, vitamin A and Vitamin B12 will persist. The question then is: what do we want to achieve from the Food Security Bill? Should it enable every child, woman and man to have an opportunity for a healthy and productive life, or just have access to the calories required for existence? If the aim is the latter, the title "Food Security Bill" will be inappropriate.


Brazil's "Zero Hunger" programme takes a holistic view of food security. The measures include steps to enhance the productivity of small holdings and the consumption capacity of the poor. Our farmers will produce more if we are able to purchase more. Emphasis on agricultural production, particularly small-farm productivity, will as a single step make the largest contribution to poverty eradication and hunger elimination. While universal PDS should be a legal entitlement, the other common entitlements could be indicated in the Bill for the purpose of monitoring and integrated delivery. This will help foster a "deliver as one" approach. The involvement of gram sabhas and nagarpalikas in monitoring delivery systems will improve efficiency and curb corruption.


What is desirable should also be implementable. The greatest challenge in implementing the common and differentiated food entitlements under the Bill will be the production of adequate quantities of staple grain. The untapped production reservoir, even with the technologies now on the shelf, is high in irrigated and rain-fed farming systems. Doubling the production of rice and wheat in eastern India and pulses and oilseeds in rain-fed areas is feasible in this decade. The 2010-11 budget indicates measures to initiate a "bridge the yield gap movement" in eastern India, and stimulate a pulses and oilseeds revolution through the organisation of 60,000 Pulses and Oilseed Villages. Here, concurrent attention will be given to conservation of soil and water, cultivation of the best available strains, consumption of local grain and commerce at prices that are fair to farmers. National and State efforts should be supported at the local body level to build a community food security system involving seed, grain and water banks.


The National Commission on Farmers (2006), in its recommendations on building a sustainable national nutrition security system, calculated that about 60 million tonnes of foodgrains will be needed to sustain a universal PDS. The differentiated entitlements for BPL families for foodgrains at low cost will involve only additional cash expenditure. In fact, food stocks with the government may touch 60 million tonnes by June 2010.


For the government to remain at the commanding heights of such a food security system combining universal and unique entitlements, the four-pronged strategy indicated in Mr. Mukherjee's budget speech should be implemented jointly by panchayats, State governments and Union Ministries speedily and earnestly. Just as the Golden Quadrilateral initiative of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government electrified the national road communication infrastructure, we need a "golden quadrilateral" in the development of a national grid of modern grain storages. Will Manmohan Singh, too, leave his footprints on the sands of time by taking steps to ensure the safe storage of foodgrains and perishable commodities as an essential requirement for food security?


India should not lose this historic opportunity to ensure that it takes to a development pathway which regard to the nutrition, health and well-being of every citizen as the primary purpose of a democratic system of governance.


(Professor M.S. Swaminathan, eminent scientist and institution-builder, is a Member of the Rajya Sabha.)





The prophets of doom have been increasingly proving themselves right in the media world. The print media in the developed world find themselves in a deep crisis. They have suffered a two-pronged attack, from the global economic slowdown as well as the growing challenge of the no-longer 'New' Media. It is an irony that in an era where the digital divide across the world and within societies is a major concern, developed countries or 'mature media markets' are the worst affected by a revolutionary technological development, the worldwide web and the Internet, powered by broadband, 3G, and so forth.


A study in contrast


In the developed world, a number of newspapers have been pushed into bankruptcy. Others have laid off large numbers of employees in an attempt to stem unaffordable losses. Thousands of journalists and non-journalist employees of newspaper offices have been benched or retrenched. Newspaper circulations and readership have dropped, and are dropping, right across the developed world.


And readers are being increasingly attracted to newspapers online. The positive news is that good newspapers like The New York Times, The Guardian, TheFinancial Times and The Wall Street Journalnow provide better, richer, and more diverse content in their Internet editions and on platforms such as the iPhone. The bad news is that the print media are yet to find a viable, let alone profitable, revenue model for their Internet journalism. Although some media organisations, led by Rupert Murdoch and The New York Times, are moving towards charging in some way for their online content, they face the harsh reality that news has become "increasingly a free good, provided online without charge," to quote former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.


This is in striking contrast to the situation in several regions of the less-developed world, led by the Asian giants, China and India, and also some South-East Asian nations. The global economic slowdown has adversely affected media organisations in these countries also. Their newspaper and television industries suffered a 25 to 30 per cent decline in advertisement revenue during the worst part of the slowdown. Yet circulation and readership of newspapers have maintained a steady and in some cases rapid growth.


There has also been rapid growth of Internet use and broadband development in many of these countries — with China setting a scorching pace with its 385 million Internet users, over 90 per cent of whom are served by broadband. These trends should help keep the news media in these countries in good physical trim and primed to enter the next phase of media development with some confidence. In terms of Internet use and penetration of the population and also broadband development, India with an estimated 80 million users and indifferent bandwidth in most parts of the country lags far behind China and South-East Asian nations. But this below-par growth gives more time to the traditional news media, especially newspapers, to get their act together.


Another first


The Hinduwas among the first Indian newspapers to launch a website as early as 1995. The very next year, the weekly international print edition of the paper (in magazine format) carrying select news items under different heads mainly for the benefit of Indian readers living in different countries was discontinued and the content went online . The Hindu'sAssociate Vice President, H.R. Mohan, who heads the Systems department, recalls: "After sending the pages of the weekly, we were all waiting for the response. And then comes a reader's response. It read: 'We are very happy to receive 'Mount Road Mahavishnu.'"


The websites of The Hindu and other Group publications, notably Business Line, have come a long way since then. Over the years, these websites have built a considerable following internationally and increasingly within India. Internet Editor G. Ananthakrishnan says: "The Beta site,, received 8.1 million Page Views and 1.7 million Unique Visitors in February 2010. The corresponding figures for the existing site of The Hindu,, are 6.8 million and 2.7 million."


Changing profile


In the beginning, some 90 per cent of the visitors to the website were non-resident Indians (NRIs). That reader

profile took several years to restructure itself. Indian visitors account today for 40 per cent of the total visitors; readers in the U.S., mostly Indians, for 40 per cent; and others for 20 per cent. Print newspapers are expected to remain the most preferred vehicle of communication for very large numbers of readers in a context where access to computers and the Internet is still low. But the inevitable will happen here too, nobody knows precisely when.


Beyond a point, technological advance, with its complex implications for society, will not slow down to allow the traditional media the luxury of time and space to adjust. The explosive growth of mobile telephony in India – the world's fastest growing major market for mobile phone voice services — makes this clear. Accelerated growth of online access to information and knowledge will surely compel Indian newspapers and also broadcast television to work harder to find a successful business model.


'Open Page', a winner


This brings me to The Hindu'sOpen Page. After it became a full page recently, the number of contributions, and letters to the editor commenting on them have been increasing by the day. Editor-in-Chief N. Ram looks ahead to opening up much more space for readers online. "One clear benefit online editions can provide," he says, "is the scope this gives for accommodating more and longer articles from readers. There need be no space constraints, as in the print edition. We now do a lot of balancing. We often have to forego good items, national, international, business, sports, science and technology, and so on. To provide a full Open Page, we had to sacrifice some features." Opening up new space online will throw up more challenges, especially because digital-media-savvy journalists need to be found, trained, and employed. "There should be some filtering," Ram opines, "what is known as 'moderation' of comment on the web. For this, the usual norms apply. There can be no place, in print or online, for offensive, abusive, and obscene content, or for defamatory writing. We also don't want to inflict on our readers what is known as 'noise.' Authenticity and accuracy must be reasonably ensured. These are the basic requirements."


There are huge opportunities out there in the digital realm. Comment may also be invited on more of the articles published. "We are working on it," says Ram.







Melinda French Gates is co-founder and co-chair — along with her husband, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and his father William — of the Gates Foundation. It is one of the largest philanthropic trusts in the world, with an asset trust endowment of $33.5 billion, grant payments amounting to $3 billion in 2009, and grant commitments since inception totalling $22.61 billion. The Berkshire Gift, announced by Warren Buffett in June 2006, was a massive augmentation. The Foundation has been a major player in India, investing substantially in health-related fields, especially HIV-Aids prevention and maternal and newborn health.


Melinda Gates was in India in March 2010, visiting villages in Uttar Pradesh and talking about new investments and a Memorandum of Understanding with Chief Minister Mayawati and figuring out what needed to be done, including "cultural change," to bring down the death rate among children under five in U.P. and Bihar.


She spoke to N. Ram about what she saw and learnt, the focus of the Foundation's investments in India, what Warren Buffett's Berkshire Gift has meant to the Foundation, and the Gates' philosophy of giving. Excerpts from the interview:


Melinda Gates: Hello. Bill enjoyed meeting you last time he was here.


N. Ram: We had a chat. Mainly on the Foundation, a bit about the media, and two per cent on Microsoft.


Melinda Gates: Really [laughs]? That was a switch from before.


If I may now ask you about the purpose of your current visit. I also read Bill Gates' Second Annual Letter at the Foundation website. What is really striking is this: "The health statistics from northern India are terrible – nearly 10 per cent of children there die before the age of 5." Your Foundation, which believes "All Lives Are of Equal Value," seems determined to do something about that. Can you give us your reading of the situation?


Bill and I both have been travelling to India. He was in Bihar last time he was here and I came to U.P. exactly for that reason — which was to look at the issues around maternal and child deaths. As a world, we have come down from 50 million childhood deaths under the age of 5 back in1960. Now we're down to nine million deaths of children under the age of 5 every single year. So a huge drop but nine million is still way too many.


So when you parse that and say, a portion of them die from one month to five years and another portion, a large portion, of them die in the first 28 days, in the first month of life. When you look at India as a percentage of that, it has basically a million kids who die between the age of one month and five years, predominantly in U.P. and Bihar. And 900,000 of the deaths in the first 28 days of life are in India. So for us, India is a really important place where we can invest.


India's commitment to the National Rural Health Mission is what gives us all a chance to even make progress against these deaths. The infrastructure that's being laid in that system is crucial. Because when Bill and I look at these huge issues, our money can only be catalytic. The issues that we're taking on are really governmental issues. But some of the things we can do — I'll give you two examples.


I was in Barabanki and Rae Bareli districts in U.P. In Barabanki, I wanted to see this 'Sure Start' programme of PATH [an international non-profit organisation in which the Gates Foundation is a partner], where they really get together the young women who are in those child-bearing years and their mothers-in-law — to try and effect cultural change and to talk about this: 'It's really important to breastfeed. Right away. Don't wait till Day 3.' They wait for the priest who comes and picks the auspicious day. 'Start right away because that colostrum with all the antibodies is really, really important for the baby. Exclusive breastfeeding. Don't give water even in the summer months. You don't want to introduce dirty water and goat's milk.'


'And keep your baby warm, even in the summer months, when it's delivered. Not to let it be set aside while the birth attendant goes to help the mother, but to really keep that baby warm. And not wash the baby and cause abrasions.'


Those are literally cultural change things that can bring down this death rate.


And in Rae Bareli, I went to see a project called Shivgarh. This is a research site that Johns Hopkins has, that we and USAID funded, to really get infant mortality down. That site has proven that if the women keep the baby warm, they can reduce infant mortality by 54 per cent. They proved that over 18 months. That's a practice that can spread. It's so simple for a woman: when you teach her to keep her baby warm and on her chest, she naturally starts to breastfeed, all the right things happen, the baby doesn't get chill. That's something we can spread all over India, where it needs to happen. But we can spread that practice around the world.


This is what Bill [Gates] calls innovative practices.


Those are absolutely innovative practices. A lot of times people think the Foundation is absolutely about innovations in science, in technology and biotechnology. We believe in that innovation but another piece of big innovation is social, cultural change. How do you talk to the women in a way to understand why they've been doing what they've been doing? They have good reasons for why they believe what they have been doing is the right thing. But how do you talk to them in a way that appreciates their culture but helps them understand what will keep their children alive? There are innovations to be done there. That's what we're learning out of Shivgarh and Sure Start, which we'll spread in other places.


When you first encountered these realities, were you shocked, morally and culturally shocked? Or were you prepared for it?


No, I don't think you're ever prepared for it. And I am still shocked when I travel. I travel to a lot of places: Bangladesh, Malawi, I was there eight weeks ago, I was in Ethiopia twice last year. I've been to India now several times. It's always shocking, even on this trip. To be in these villages and see what these mothers and these dads are up against and to try and understand.


The thing that you constantly come back to when you talk to the women is they want to do the right thing. They are always saying to themselves, 'How do I keep my children alive and what lengths would I go to!' And when they understand that immunisation works, they'll come. When they understand that these cultural practices will start to work, they'll come. Literally when you survey these communities by a raise of hands — we have the whole community gathered in Shivgarh and you just say, 'How many of you lost a baby before?' And they would raise their hands. 'How many of you lost a baby these last two years?' The numbers go down. So they're seeing the change. So for me when I see the pieces that are very heart-breaking and then see the things that are actually working and know that change is possible, that's what gives me optimism. That's what I carry back to the Foundation: how do we spread these things?


The third round of India's National Family Health Survey (2005-2006) reported some good news and some serious bad news, namely that 'good health States,' States that were relatively advanced and were industrialised, high-growth States, slipped when it came to full immunisation coverage. NFHS 2005-2006 shows this for Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Punjab. Those figures go back five years. But you seem to be hopeful in the midst of what the statistics reveal, a mixed picture.


It is a mixed picture. But I think there's so much to build on in India. You have to understand that in the other places I travel to there isn't this infrastructure. The Indian government has put in place this commitment to the National Rural Health Mission, the discussion that they'll do eventually for the National Urban Health Mission, the fact that they're starting to say, 'Let's get the real data about vaccinations, let's not kid ourselves and say that the vaccination rates are higher,' the fact that they are willing to say, 'Let's look at this and see where the gaps are,' then it gives you a chance to improve upon it. The fact that they've got a system and we can build on what's there, that's what gives me the hope. So we'll put in a number of grants in both Bihar and U.P. to try and raise that immunisation rate. It's got to get raised.


We've seen this even in other developed nations where they'll keep moving along, these immunisation rates, it'll start to dip, and then you've got to re-commit to it. That's where India is, in some States that have come further along. They need basically to recommit, saying 'This is important to do.' The fact that that gets publicised is fantastic. And the fact that you've also got competition amongst the States, even for the ones that have come the farthest along to say, 'I want to do better than that State,' that's a very positive thing.


The South seems to be somewhat better off, particularly the State where I come from, Tamil Nadu. There have been good reports about what primary health centres have done, particularly in the area you're looking at now — maternal and child health and mortality rates, bringing them down. Obviously, that's not your priority — where they're doing well?


Right. Our priority is to try and go where the deaths still occur and say, 'What is it about those States? What is it about the way the infrastructure is set up? What is it about the cultural practice?' My understanding, after talking to a lot of people, is that it's somewhat different for a woman living in the South versus the North. In terms of how she can negotiate: if she even knows that the right thing to do is to get to a clinic, can she convince her mother-in-law? Can she convince her husband to do that? They're the ones who are going to transport her there. You know, taking some of those practices from the South and trying to learn what's worked well there and get those to the North is important. But also I think this piece of cultural change is going to be really, really key.


Bill and I believe in equality. The whole Foundation premise is 'All Lives Have Equal Value.' No matter where they live on the planet. No matter what State, city, country you're born in, whether you are male, female. We care about keeping all kids alive and that really is our focus.


'All Lives Have Equal Value' — how did you come to that mission? Who thought of that phrase?


It's a coming to it, I would say, over time. One of the things you have to understand is that both Bill and I grew up in families that really believed in giving back. So we came to the marriage knowing that the money that had been amassed from Microsoft would be given back to society.


In fact, when we were engaged, we took our first trip together to Africa — neither of us had been to Africa before — and we went on a safari to see the animals. But we came back very touched by the people. You know, you can't go to Africa and not ask yourselves: 'What's going on here? Why are these people walking in droves? Why do the women not have shoes on their feet but a lot of the men do? Why do you see so many women who are pregnant with a child on their back and some bunch of sticks on their head?' So it was that trip to Africa that really, I think, stimulated us to start getting us asking the questions, 'What's going on? What's going on in health? Where're the gaps? Who's not filling the gaps?' And from that is when we came to this belief — that this is where we want to work.

And we started first in childhood vaccinations and population stabilisation and branched out from there.


Your or Bill's copyright, this phrase ['All Lives Have Equal Value']?


Neither of us owns the copyright! I don't even know. It's funny because if we both go back and ask, 'When did we come to that specific naming of it?' it would be hard to say. It was in the first two to three years of the Foundation.


You had a meeting with an interesting political leader, Chief Minister Mayawati, who is a very distinctive and powerful politician in India. What did you really talk about? Did you find her receptive?


She wanted to talk all about development issues. So she really came in talking about them. She knows what's going on in her State. She knows we're committed to working there. She wanted to talk about what our focus is, so we talked about that; and what our investments would be. We talked about polio with her because it's still in 66 blocks in U.P. The two places where polio still exists in India are U.P. and Bihar. If we can get it done there and show the momentum from India that this can be eradicated, it's really, really key for the world. We talked about what I was seeing in immunisation. And then we talked about these maternal and child issues, and just development overall in her State.


And you're going to put in a lot of resources from the Foundation into this?


We are committing $55 million in the State of U.P. [over the next three to five years]. And we're going to work on a Memorandum of Understanding with the government. It was one of the things that came out of that meeting.


I asked Bill Gates about some questions that came up from the Lancet articles. You must have read that research reported in Lancet, which while praising the work of the Foundation said that the money could have been used better, that there were certain imbalances in its flow or in its distribution. There was criticism of what they called disproportionate allocations, to GAVI perhaps. Would you like to tell us what you think of this?


Yes. We are very interested in GAVI as an institution, the Global Alliance for Vaccine Immunisation. So we put our original investment in: it was $750 million over five years. And we felt so good about that investment that we came back and put another $750 million investment over ten years.


You know the great thing about GAVI is that it has this focus on two things. One is raising the immunisation rate around the world. And with that it means a decrease in the lead-time when we get a new vaccine in the U.K. or the U.S. or Japan, getting that out to the developing world. The other focus is that we work with pharma and biotech to come up with new vaccines specifically focussed on the developing world.


There's a new one out around rotavirus, which is a diarrhoeal disease, one of the biggest killers of children. There's another new vaccine coming out for pneumococcus, which is pneumonia disease; it kills thousands of children in India. Those are two new vaccines GAVI will help get out in the countries. That's the big mechanism we use, GAVI, so we really believe in it.


The last question really is on the future of your Foundation. It's astonishing, the scale of your gifting and your actual work. As though this were not enough, Warren Buffett has augmented it. Could you tell us what this means, what the terms mean?


Bill and I were thrilled when Warren made that gift to the Foundation. What it allowed us to do is: we already were deep into this Global Health work. We'd already started doing things in Global Development, which were things like agriculture. Once people are living a healthy life, helping them have some means of lifting themselves out of poverty. So the agricultural work and the financial services for the poor work and some of the work in clean, modern sanitation, we'd started to do some pilots and experiments. When Warren's money came along, it really allowed us to start to scale that up. Because we'd always wanted to take our health work and do development around that as well. It's not really enough to help somebody live a healthy life. You want to help them lift themselves out of poverty. Warren's money allowed us to accelerate this group we call Global Development. It's absolutely fantastic.


We, like Warren, completely want to take the resources that we have from Microsoft and his Berkshire Gift and spend that basically on the problems of our lifetime. None of the three of us thinks there's a crystal ball that says 500 years from now…


You are not looking to immortality?


We are not looking to immortality, none of the three of us! So Bill and I have made a commitment that 50 years after the last of the two of us has died — I'm pointing to myself because I'm younger but you never know — all our money would have been given away.


Having that premise, knowing that about Warren's gift, gets us to accelerate the work and makes us measure very, very carefully: 'Is this another place we want to invest?' If you think there's some pressure in giving your own money away, believe me, giving out somebody else's money makes you really want to focus on 'Are we getting the results?' And it's helped us think through the measurement and the evaluation as we go along.









The significance of the US-Russia nuclear arms reduction agreement, reached in Moscow last Friday, goes beyond the numbers of missiles and launchers that the two sides have agreed to slash. The agreement is dubbed Start-2 (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks), a follow-up to the Start-1 pact which expired in December.


The concerns are not any more that the two countries with the largest nuclear stockpiles would trigger a world war that would annihilate us many times over. Those were real fears at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s. Today such probabilities are remote.


The reason that Americans are both anxious and keen to flaunt this new treaty — and the Russians too feel they are part of the game — is that the danger of nuclear attacks is now emanating from rogue states and rogue non-state actors and not so much from the former ideological rivals. In the American view, it is Iran, North Korea and some Islamic terrorist groups like the Al Qaeda that constitute this danger.


That is why Americans want to build anew international framework to cope with it. There is a crucial meeting that US president Barack Obama is hosting next month on the issue of nuclear arms control which prime minister Manmohan Singh will be attending. Obama seems to have felt the need to have this treaty in his bag to boost American credibility while putting forward proposals to check nuclear arms proliferation.


India will be drawn into this phase of negotiations because it is an unrecognised, along with Pakistan, nuclear weapons state. The Americans and others in Europe have a deep fear that it is the nuclear weapons in Pakistan that might fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. Any pressure on Pakistan in this matter will involve India because Pakistan would insist on its neighbour and rival taking commensurate measures.


India might argue that it is already observing a voluntary moratorium and that it is bound by its minimum credible
deterrent doctrine. That may not be a sufficient defence plea. India will be under immense American and international
pressure when talks get going. Ramifications of the Moscow agreement need a closer look in New Delhi.


In the changed world, the issue of nuclear arms is not something of concern elsewhere. It has moved into the







India's successful thwarting of an American firm's attempts to patent the well-known Indian medicinal plant ashwagandha (withania somnifera) must be applauded. However, it only underlines how susceptible our natural heritage is to bio-piracy. This is not the first time that traditional Indian plants have been under threat from foreign companies trying to patent them — basmati rice and turmeric, for instance, for which India had to fight off attempts to hijack them.


Ashwagandha, also known as the Indian ginseng or the winter cherry, is not just famous but is commonly used to treat depression, diabetes and insomnia, among other conditions, in Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani forms of Indian medicine, with documentation that goes back to the 12th century.


The American firm, Natreon Inc, had applied for a patent with the European Patent Office (EPO) in 2007. After documentation was received from the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), the EPO decided to withdraw Natreon's application.


The TDKL was eight years in the making and represents a collaborative effort between the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Ayush department of the health ministry and the ministry of science and technology. This is a vital step towards not just protecting our traditional forms of medicine and our natural resources, but also to promote their use in India and across the world.


Ayurveda and other traditional forms of medicine often get bad publicity because of the unscrupulousness of some practitioners and the lack of regulation when it comes to medical formulations sold commercially. But the world over, the wisdom of the ages is being recognised and foreign pharma companies are keen to harness and exploit India's treasury. The gains from these plants far outweigh the problems caused by the chicanery of a few.


The department of Ayush is trying to promote traditional forms of medicine and successes like this, together with increased awareness as well as scientific rigour, may well lead to India playing a major role in the world market of medicine. Research and development has long been the bane of our scientific reputation in the world. But our past contains substantial research on various "wonder" plants which can be used to our benefit — many of these are known and used in folklore but somehow lack legitimacy. It now behoves us to examine, explore and exploit these intelligently, before the rest of the world beats us to it.







The government has decided to open up the education sector, particularly of the higher education variety, to foreign universities and a bill is expected to be introduced in Parliament in the current session. It is a continuation of our decision earlier to provide more than Rs50 crore to Cambridge and Harvard universities.
For Cambridge it was to honour the entry of Nehru. In Harvard it was to commemorate the 75th birthday of Amartya Sen.


The major arguments given for the bill are that it will minimise the number of students going abroad and save billions in foreign exchange and enhance competition. It will open the windows for foreign expertise and facilitate globalisation. Many of the students going for beautician or bread-making courses in Australia are primarily interested in getting residence permits and becoming citizens of that country. They are not interested in learning per se. Hence, the arguments regarding saving foreign exchange are not without basis.


Let us look at what has taken place in the last six decades in higher education after the arrival of institutions of higher learning like the IITs, NITs (formerly RECs), the IIMs and various other institutions in medicine and law. The lower and middle classes could have access to education based on merit since most of these institutions, particularly government-owned ones, were following rigorous criteria for entrance tests. The traditional feudal elite, belonging to what can loosely be called the Delhi/ Mumbai caucus which thrives on the recommendations (sifarish) culture, found the going difficult.


Not only that, most of the children of business magnates could not get into prestigious Indian institutions due to strict entry norms. They were sent abroad for higher education by the elite by paying a hefty sum as fees.


As it is well known, one of the important criteria to get into these world-class institutions in the US and UK is the amount of money you can give as fees or as gifts in the form of grants. The elite thrived on the illegal money stashed abroad in various tax havens to educate their academically-challenged progenies even as the less monetarily endowed classes were ascending the hierarchy by merit, capability and competence.


The elite suddenly realised that the cost of sending their children is increasing and the newly ascending bankrupt classes are becoming powerful in terms of their positions in many organisations. These are the children of the middle classes.
So the elite decided to hit back and take things in their own hands. The result is this foreign university bill. These so-called quality institutions will look for larger donations and then give admissions based on "legacy". That is the children or sponsors of alumni get preferences based on "donations".


These institutions in the UK and US are broke and many departments are getting closed. "Some are admitting more out-of-state students, who pay higher fees. Several institutions have also started to cut the number of students they enroll in order to save money. California State University (CSU), a public university system that has 23 campuses in California, will reduce enrolment by 20,000 students in the next academic year because it has lost $564 million, or around 20%, of its state funding, according to a report in The Economist, London.


We find that the discussion and debate in the media after the bill has been approved by the cabinet is regarding "market", "business" and "return." That is the main reason for the interest of global companies/institutions to get into these activities. It is not for imparting education or knowledge.


Today if anyone talks of globalisation, it is on Indian and Chinese terms. The axis of power has shifted and the West is in terminal decline, or monotonically declining, for those who are mathematically inclined. When the West is in decline on all fronts and when its Weltanschauung is not being bothered about, what is the necessity for India to try to copy their educational system? It is broke from the financial point of view as well as the philosophical one. Their models have not worked, including their family system, community system and social security system.


Even their church has suffered due to therecent outbreak of scandals. This is one reason why Martin Wolf of the Financial Times suggests that Britain should give up its permanent seat in the Security Council in favour of India.


It is up to our Parliamentarians to decide what India wants and what they would like to leave for the future generations. One only wishes that some Gandhian institution will distribute copies of the original Hind Swaraj of Mahatma Gandhi — published hundred years before — to our Parliamentarians to understand that we are proud children of Nalanda and Taxshila.

(Views expressed are personal)







Even before a line of script has been written and the first shot canned, Milkha Singh's act of selling his life's story to filmmakers for just Re1 has already been extremely inspiring. An orphan of the Partition who struggled against trauma and adversity, the very mention of his name creates a wave of excitement. Therefore, when the Flying Sikh (so nicknamed because of his splendid athletic record at the Tokyo Asiad (1956), Cardiff Commonwealth Games (1958) and the Rome Olympics, 1960) decided to help capture his life on film there was jubilation all around.


His passion and a burning desire to see his country prosper in sports are evident and he has been pained by India's dismal performance in international sports, especially athletics.


The film will, no doubt, be a source of inspiration to many, but whether it will translate into medals is a moot question because inspiration alone is not enough. The ground reality is such that India is unlikely to get medals till professionals take charge and politicians are restricted to ceremonial duties in sports.


Last year, Indian Olympic Association chairman Suresh Kalmadi supervised the spending of nearly Rs200 crore on creating a magnificent, international class sports complex in Pune for the Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG). Post-CYG, the infrastructure has not been of much use to most sports associations in the city who are unable to hold training camps or tournaments there because of high rentals. This same complaint is heard from national associations also. Thus, very often, the CYG complex is hired for entertainment shows or college youth festivals.


Although Pune has been famous as the cradle of Indian hockey, having produced such legends such as Babu Nimal, Joe Philips and Dhanraj Pillay, the city lacks a decent hockey ground for its children. Till recently, a newly constructed hockey stadium was left neglected to the extent that the ground could not be played on and the fittings and fixtures were stolen and vandalised. The irony is that this did not bother any of Pune's politicians — including Kalmadi — even after it was brought to their notice.


The lack of grounds with synthetic surfaces such as astroturf for junior teams at the inter-school level — inspite of heavy government subsidies — is part of the reason for India's poor performance in international hockey. A small country like Holland has 400 such grounds across schools. Indian professionals say that the game is lost by the time our best players reach the national team because of inadequate practice on synthetic surfaces in the formative years. India needs such grounds in every promising city and European coaches to elevate standards in hockey.


As has happened in cricket, the day-to-day running of various associations has to be left to professionals and a steady stream of talented players has to be identified and trained to consolidate team strength. Too much dependence on just a handful of star players is not good for Indian sports. Professionals also lament the complete lack of a long-term national vision and a road-map to achieve specific goals in sports. There's plenty of money today, but no direction. Politicians are efficient when it comes to spending crores of rupees in constructing stadia and sports complexes; but disastrous in sports administration and management.


Indian sport needs Milkha Singhs by the hundred to inspire and guide budding talent,along with visionarieslike Sam Pitroda to chart a roadmap for revolutionary change. We have done it in telecom; we can do it in sports.


Till that happens and till politicians are kept at bay in sports, we can only dream of winning medals. An inspiring film will make us feel good. Winning medals is an altogether different ballgame.










It is all very well for India to seek the extradition of Mumbai terror accused David Coleman Headley into this country to stand trial for the ghastly events of 26/11 of 2008 when a group of Pakistan-trained terrorists virtually held the country's financial capital hostage.


 But going by the painfully slow process of the Indian criminal justice system and the proclivity of many hardened criminals to secure acquittal by browbeating the witnesses not to depose against them or to turn hostile at crucial stages of the trial, one is left wondering whether it would be prudent for Headley to be pulled out of trial in a country (the US) where trials are much more clinical and swift.


There have been specific cases in the past of dreaded terrorists extradited to India from Dubai being allowed to go scot-free because the charges against them could not be proved due to witnesses being too scared to depose against them. In terrorist-affected Punjab at the height of insurgency in the 1980s, there was not a single conviction of a terrorist by the courts due to the fear psychosis that they generated and the failure of the establishment to protect the next of kin of innocent victims of terror. In the circumstances, the credibility of the criminal justice system in India in seeking convictions is abysmally low. Dreaded gangster Abu Salem was extradited by Portugal after protracted Indian efforts in 2005 but the cases against him are yet far from being decided.


As it stands, while capital punishment in India is given out in the "rarest of rare" cases, life imprisonment in India, though on paper meant to last the convicted man's lifetime, usually comes to an end in 14 years or even earlier after commutation for good conduct. Contrast this with the United States where Jack Ruby, who gunned down the suspected killer of Lee Harvey Oswald who in turn was the assassin of President John F. Kennedy, was sentenced to 500 years in prison in the 1960s. It is, therefore, imperative that India, while interrogating Headley in the US to expose his links with other terrorist offenders, allows him to be sentenced there for exemplary and swift justice to be meted out.








The whole controversy over the invitation extended to cine megastar Amitabh Bachchan during the inauguration of the second phase of the Bandra-Worli sea-link by Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan is churlish. What the Congressmen should have borne in mind is that it was not a party function and nor was Mr Chavan there as a party leader. 


It was an official engagement and whenever such functions are held, even Opposition leaders are invited. So, there was nothing wrong in inviting one of Mumbai's most important celebrities. Mr Chavan himself made matters worse by expressing regret at having to share the dais with Bachchan and saying that he did not know that Bachchan would be at the venue; otherwise he would not have attended the function. The fact remains that Bachchan was issued an official invitation and at least the Chief Minister should not have added fuel to the fire started by some small-time politicians.


Officially, the Congress has denied that any pressure was mounted on Mr Chavan. But there are ample reasons to believe that he has been "directed" to steer clear of the star. For public consumption, it is being made out that they are objecting to the presence of this particular star because he has been appointed the brand ambassador of Gujarat where Narendra Modi is the Chief Minister. However, the whole storm in the cup is over the fact that the Bachchan family has fallen out with the Sonia Gandhi family and is also associated with the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.


Political differences should not be blown out of proportion to such an extent that they make even routine interaction difficult. Amitabh Bachchan is right in pointing out that it is petty to blacklist somebody just because he is associated with Gujarat. Modi is not Gujarat and Gujarat is not Modi. That way, even Ratan Tata, Anil Ambani and many others are investing in the state and running successful factories and ventures there. It is time civility and magnanimity reappeared in public dealings. 








For the second time in less than six months, the Punjab government stepped back last week from tabling Bills in the Vidhan Sabha to enhance the pay and perks of legislators and ministers. The government had first circulated and then introduced the two Bills in December last year, one to enhance the salary and allowances and another to increase the pension and medical allowance, before developing cold feet and withdrawing the Bills.


In the just-concluded budget session too the Bills were not listed for 'technical reasons', ostensibly because the government had failed to obtain the assent of the Governor. 


It certainly does not reflect well on the efficiency of the government, specially since the proposal was cleared by the Cabinet 15 months ago. True, raising the pay of politicians causes outrage in most parts of the world, largely because of the widely held belief that politicians in any case end up building a fortune. They certainly have more opportunities than most to make money and twist rules to their advantage. Several Members of Parliament in England did take advantage of their allowances to hire spouses and family members as secretarial staff and passed off their own houses as their temporary abodes. The public scandal led, however, to public humiliation and their virtual exit from politics.


Even then there is a case for paying them more from the public exchequer so that they do not have to raise resources through dubious means or cite insufficient funds at their disposal as an excuse for not doing what is expected of them. Legislators are known to be accessible to their constituents only at election time and not many of them are known to maintain permanent offices with secretarial staff in different parts of their constituency. They are required to study and travel, hold consultations with experts from different fields, attend both public and private functions and play host to hundreds of people every day. In all fairness, these are expenses which should not be met from their personal income.


The issue does require a public debate but while Punjab should take the lead in putting in place a system of checks and balances and make legislators account for every paisa they are paid, the state also has the opportunity to ensure that the people's representatives function better and more effectively.
















Not without good reason, China now attracts attention almost every day in world capitals. Its economic growth at 10 per cent plus is creating growing self-confidence in a country which has experienced great power status and prosperity in the past. It is clear that by 2030, China's GDP, even with slowing momentum, will be almost at the US level in real dollar terms.


 There is a visible urge to match this power with military strength. China's defence expenditure, estimated around $120 billion last year, may touch $600 billion or so by 2030, which is quite formidable even if less than what the US will spend in 2010. So, even as forecasts of military parity between the two are clearly misplaced, China is rapidly distancing itself from all others.


Take the case of India. Its GDP stood at $1.3 trillion last year. Given an 8-9 per cent sustained annual increase over the next two decades, this figure could reach $8 trillion by 2030, still well short of China's. Similarly, India's military expenditure, $30 billion last year, could, at best, grow to $150 billion in the same time-frame, about the same as China's today. In short, even as India may figure among the top three global economies in 2030, it would still be some distance away from China, both economically and in terms of military power. Other countries like Japan, France, Russia, Germany and the UK will fall even further behind. This is the real context in which the implications of China's rising power should be seen.


Growing power brings with it attitudinal changes. There is increased confidence domestically despite relative poverty, especially in the rural areas, which acts as a catalyst in prodding the government to be more assertive internationally. Some of its manifestations have been seen recently in China's interfaces with Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea. The was visible in the stridency of tone, protesting against US President Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama, and the sale of American arms to Taiwan. It is not that China has not been proactive in the past — the force-landing of an American reconnaissance aircraft a few years ago and the interception of a US Navy oceanographic research ship being two such occasions — but there was use of intemperate language in the recent posturing. Satisfying the domestic audience that the government is acting in accordance with its growing power may well be motivating these actions. Some argue that visions of again becoming the Middle Kingdom that China once was, a manifestation of destiny, are not mere fancies that can be brushed aside.


The same assertive posture is becoming noticeable with the growth of maritime power. From its earlier doctrine of first becoming capable of operating credibly in what was termed the "First Island Chain", which covered Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines, and then the "Second Island Chain" covering sea areas up to Guam, the operating philosophy now focuses on maritime capabilities to safeguard interests over a much wider and undefined space. Some time ago, a senior PLA Navy Flag Officer reportedly told the visiting US C-in-C, Pacific Command, that the US Navy could "look after" the Pacific Ocean and the PLA Navy would mind its role in the Indian Ocean. Even if made in jest, the statement typifies the new state of mind reflecting arrogance.


Given the strong focus on the development of capabilities in the air, in space and at sea, all critical to operations at extended ranges, and the ship and aircraft building plans in motion, especially of submarines, with aircraft carriers not far behind, it needs little guesswork to see that China will be a formidable military power in the years to come. It will then be able to operate credibly well beyond the constraints that the "island chains" doctrine involved. Signs of the same self-confidence, seen on disputed maritime issues in the East China Sea, might soon manifest themselves in the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea.

This assertive approach is beginning to create uneasiness in the region. India is one country that needs to be more watchful than most others. It is true that there has been improvement in bilateral relations between the two countries across a broad front. Bilateral trade grew from $0.5 billion in 1995 to over $50 billion in 2008 and is likely to cross $100 billion before 2020. The two countries have cooperated in WTO and climate change negotiations.


China has not protested against our long-range ballistic missile project, Agni. There are commonalities in positions in regard to Afghanistan where both countries seek a moderate and independent nation. These are signs of a maturing interface. Yet, there are long-pending issues over the unresolved boundary dispute. China's claims, often sought to be highlighted through seemingly innocuous but obviously planned incursions and politically hostile statements, continue to cause anxiety.


China has also been insensitive to India's security interests, providing military assistance and making political overtures to countries in its immediate vicinity. At the same time, it is very unlikely that the Chinese will take recourse to military confrontation, not only because this might come in the way of achieving their larger strategic objective of reaching parity with the US as early as possible but also because they are doubtful if this would succeed. This would lend substance to the thesis that the harshness of views expressed by commentators on the government-controlled Chinese media is largely deliberate rhetoric. Nevertheless, the need to be watchful and to be prepared militarily cannot be overstressed. In this context, the recent statement of a retired PLA Navy Rear Admiral as posted on a Defence Ministry website, that China should establish facilities on a "permanent basis" to support counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, is disturbing.


Efforts to "contain" China in concert with others, even if possible, are not consistent with India's strategic interests. It is evident that China will be a major global player very soon, if it is not that already, which all major countries must engage. Cooperation, while remaining prepared for unforeseen contingencies, is, therefore, desirable. Maritime forces of both countries are engaged in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Even otherwise, defence cooperation, albeit just starting, has begun with joint exercises linked with port visits and the exchange of high-level delegations of the two militaries.


The Chinese, on their part, are not unaware that India's growth as a major Asian entity cannot be wished away. They are also conscious that their growing power, unlike that of India, is arousing suspicion in regions like South-East Asia and must be tempered for greater acceptability. The US is not going to lose interest in Asia anytime soon and Japan is also not going to be just a passive onlooker.


In short, these are the times when almost every country, for its own reasons, is watching the moves that China makes. How the Indian democracy and the totalitarian Chinese regime interact, as both pursue their respective growth trajectories, and the effects of this interface on the emerging world order will be of consuming interest, not just to these two countries but to all others, especially in Asia.n


The writer is a former Director-General, Defence Planning Staff.








A WEEK into my job as a journalist way back in 1998, I decided to go office-hopping in my beat lest I miss out on a story merely for not knowing the "person in the chair". Having sent a slip with my name and that of my newspaper to an officer, I was planning my introduction when the peon ushered me in.


Even before I greeted the officer, he looked up, one eyebrow raised, and inquired, "Where's the other one?" Confused, I asked, "Who 'other one'?" As he reached to pull out my slip, I understood. He had assumed there was a Geetanjali and a Gayatri and was looking for the "other one" not knowing which of the two I was.


As we laughed our way through that meeting, my name served as the perfect ice-breaker and marked the beginning of a friendship which gave me the every-story-first advantage over my contemporaries.


This is only one of the umpteen times I have had to explain my name. That I am not one or two persons but a three-in-one package deal is news to anybody I meet. And, they wonder how? So, here's how — my mother wanted three daughters — Geeta, Anjali and Gayatri (like my boss said, "Your mother must be the only one wanting three daughters!").


My brother came after me and my mother realised that two children were enough trouble. Thus, I came to be Geeta-Anjali Gayatri all through school before my family decided to allow me the liberty of becoming Geetanjali Gayatri.


As if this is not baffling enough, my skin tone, too, seems just everybody's dilemma. First-timers meeting me can't resist the urge to pop the where-do-you-come-from question because my name coupled with my complexion gives the impression of "being" South Indian. If I've spent half the introductory rounds explaining my name, the other half invariably are devoted to "my roots".


During an assignment in Haryana recently, our photographer accompanying me was astonished at the number of times my roots were "questioned". My reply, as always, conjured up disbelief! At all such occasions, I remind myself, people are people after all.


That I'm Punjabi is just not palatable, as if it's a crime to be dark-skinned in Punjab. I have even had to speak in Punjabi to lend credence to my claim. And, frankly, over the years, I have begun to enjoy this quizzing round that's become the easiest conversation-opener for me.


People believe I am south Indian because I look, speak and eat like one (wonder what that means!), am a Bengali because I wear a big bindi and even have glimpses of a Marathi. But a Punjabi, no way!


As much as I enjoy this, I believe identity is not skin deep or surname-centric, and people cannot be easily stereotyped into particular communities, castes and regions based on their names, skin tones, food preferences or dressing styles.


I am not a south Indian or a Punjabi, neither a Bengali nor a Marathi, I am an Indian first. And, I think I am more so because I "belong" to all corners of my country, truly representing the united colours of India. Maybe that's why my mother named me Geetanjali Gayatri!n








What a paradox: People who produce food in India often go hungry. Villagers produce foodgrains, which first go into the Centre's kitty and are then brought back to them through the corruption-ridden public distribution system (PDS).


Food often does not reach those it is meant for. It is siphoned off by middlemen in the convoluted PDS chain to adjoining countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and even Myanmar, thereby maintaining the hunger status quo for a majority of the very conservative official figure of 260 million poor people in the country.


One-third of the world's hungry live in the country where foodgrains often rot due to lack of coordination between the Centre and states and 80 per cent of the PDS foodgrains are drained off before reaching the ration shops.


No surprises, therefore, that a study by the International Food and Research Institute placed the food bowl of the country, Punjab, the best-performing state in the country, below Gabon, Honduras and Vietnam – in the first-ever India State Hunger Index (ISHI) in 2008.


India was ranked 66 out of 88 countries on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) while the India-specific survey pinpointed the most severe level of hunger in Madhya Pradesh followed by Jharkhand and Bihar. Punjab and Kerala scored the best, but not good enough to beat even a little-known African country like Gabon.


Twelve states were placed in the "alarming" category and Madhya Pradesh in the "extremely alarming" category of hunger. Not even a single state in India was either in the "low hunger" or "moderate hunger" categories.


Four states – Punjab, Kerala, Haryana and Assam – were in the "serious" category. When compared with countries, Madhya Pradesh ranked between Ethiopia and Chad with the states' rankings ranging from 34 (Punjab) to 82(Madhya Pradesh). But one fact was common – that all Indian states face a "serious" level of hunger.


This is the situation the UPA government hopes to retrieve through the National Food Security Bill, which promises to make food a legal right of the people. While the Bill, an initiative of Sonia Gandhi, has its heart in the right place, questions are being raised about the quantity of foodgrains to be given as also the number of beneficiaries.


The Right to Food Campaign, a network of civil society groups and individuals, says the reduction of foodgrain entitlement in the draft Bill is objectionable.


"The Bill proposes an entitlement of 25 kg of foodgrains at Rs 3 per kg to each below-poverty-line (BPL) household, which is lower than the current entitlement of 35 kg per household as mandated by the Supreme Court," says Colin Gonsalves, a Supreme Court lawyer and Right to Food Campaign activist.


Gonsalves adds that the draft Bill not only fails to address any of the nutritional needs of the people of India but also commits contempt of the court. "The legislation promises a right but in reality reduces the existing entitlement, which is completely unacceptable to the people of India and is an affront to their dignity".


Quoting a report released recently by Justice DP Wadhwa, Gonsalves says the report recommended that every Indian with an income of Rs 100 a day be made eligible for the official subsidies, including 35 kg of foodgrains.


Experts fear that the way the Bill is being designed, it will only add to the hunger, not reduce it. "This, in fact, is a food insecurity Bill," food policy analyst Devinder Sharma says.


Doubts are also raised about the delivery mechanism. Gonsalves points out that the Wadhwa committee report clearly says that the PDS system has collapsed. "MPs, MLAs and food department officials appoint ration shop dealers on political considerations. The same MPs, MLAs and officials sit on vigilance committees," he says, adding that for the PDS to run effectively, politicians on vigilance committees should be replaced by representatives from gram sabhas and NGOs.


The Bill may, in fact, help the government reduce its food subsidy bill. While its cost implications are still not clear as there is no clarity on the number of people it intends to cover, Sharma says that instead of increasing the food subsidy bill, the UPA's "aam aadmi" endeavour may end up reducing it by almost 50 per cent.


It is imperative, therefore, to first have a realistic look at the number of the poor by redefining poverty and revamp the food distribution network.


Sharma suggests two cut-offs, one at the 37 per cent of the population who desperately need food intervention, and the second at 77 per cent, the poverty line. He says the government has enough foodgrains and money to take care of all this without adding to its burden.


Besides, six lakh villages should be made self-sufficient in food requirement. "If you make villages hunger free, you can reduce the burden on the PDS, make it less corruption-prone and urban-centric," Sharma adds.








Men, marriage and children just about define average Indian women. So what is Jaya Bachchan talking about? She has grandiosely declared, "Girls today needn't marry to fulfil their desires as women. It is fine not to have kids".


In a nation where the "Mrs" title (never mind that now it is politically correct "Ms" that prevails) is a woman's essential qualification, if not her biggest achievement, a "social passport" of sorts that allows her access and mobility in various social spheres, has the perky actor, who never shies away from saying what she feels, stirred a hornet's nest?


Or is it a progressive comment in line with the newly emerging social order that is witnessing new social trends, including the acceptance of single women?


Advaita Kala, the author of a hugely successful book "Almost Single" not only thinks Jaya's remark is progressive but also inclusive. In fact, social exclusion is one of the many problems that single women face.


The absence of public dialogue is what prompted Advaita to pen her book in the first place for she felt an acute sense of frustration on behalf of these silent women, otherwise often denied discourse.


Of course, Advaita is not the only one who has lent voice to single women's concerns. In fact, much is being written about her. Penguin published a book "Chasing the good life: On being single" that included both male and female writers, sharing their experiences on remaining single.


London-based Punjabi writer Veena Verma has been writing about single women for a long time and most candidly and fearlessly at that, challenging the stereotyped notions about single women and how they ought to behave.


As against the "celibate model" of single women that society upholds, sanctions and even idolises, she has deliberated upon her needs, yes sexual too. The title of her story can be "Galat Aurat", she will not apologise for her bold stance. Plus she is adamant, "A woman is complete in herself. Marriage and children are merely extensions of her being."


Indians may go overboard in extolling the virtues of motherhood, many studies bear out her assertion. A study conducted by the Institute of Women's Studies, Lucknow, that not only covered successful women like top executives but also daily wage earners, found that being single could be fun.


Besides, an overwhelming majority of single women surveyed felt that they deliver better at workplaces and have a stronger desire to be achievers. So a successful man may need a woman behind, women don't quite need male partners to chart their own course. Studies in the West have found that women are happier being single than men.


Other researches closer home propound that more and more women are deciding when to marry, when to have children and in the metros as well as smaller cities not to have children as well.


Of course, mindsets are changing and remarks such as Jaya Bachchan's and the Supreme Court's recent observations on "live-in relationships" are pointers that views on the exalted institution of marriage are being reviewed, if have not already changed.


But for every heartening study there is a plea to save the institution of marriage. Then there is this prototype image of single women as destitute abla naari, often not without reason.


For while women in India face discrimination, the predicament of single women is more acute, complex and involves many more concerns like safety and financial independence. A news report pointed out how single women in Himachal Pradesh "living in no man's land" were denied bona fide certificates and even ration cards.


Any wonder, single-hood, feels Advaita, is a luxury that only women living in the metros can afford. "Were I living in Kanpur and still single at my age, eyebrows would surely have been raised."


E. Kay Trimberger, author of the insightful book, "The New Single Woman" however, has opined in an interview that single women in India may face more overt discrimination but are culturally more accepted and psychologically it is easer to be a single woman in India.


Of course, single women in India are a minority. In the US the percentage of "never married" women is higher than that in India. But single women, who include divorcees and widows too, do not necessarily spell anti-marriage per se.


Single or not, the desire to, as Advaita puts it, "engage emotionally" remains. And even in big cities she asserts the question "When are you getting married?' has not been replaced by any other pertinent query.


Yet at the same society has opened up and single women, especially the high-end achievers, are no longer the "social untouchables" made out till now.








It is quite an experience to visit the Ice-bar, recently opened up in the capital where the temperature is minus 10 degrees. "Freeze", as it is called, has a small changing room before you enter the bar; it is stocked with thermal jackets, gloves, scarves, caps which you have to wear before you enter the bar.


Inside, all look like Eskimos. It's not a very big bar but very interesting. There are ice walls, ice tables, ice sculptures, everything was of ice. It was freezing, but the atmosphere was happy and charged as the DJ has some foot-tapping music on. It is difficult to locate your friend if missing because everybody looks just the same.


This is the new wannabe place in Delhi at the moment. Delhi-ites will queue up to get an entry even at Rs 1,000 per head. The maximum time to stay in the ice bar is 45 minutes. At the moment there are two ice bars in the capital but "Freeze" has an edge as it is the only one that serves food inside the bar. So we no longer have to go Stockholm or London for such an enthralling experience of walking in from 45 degrees to -10 degrees in a matter of minutes. And this has got nothing to do with Commonwealth Games.


Sheila faces the heat


Having won her third consecutive victory the Sheila Dikshit government is keen to raise resources. The new budget raises the prices of LPG, tea, milk and other items of daily use. This has provoked the Opposition to raise a ruckus.


But it looks Sheila will hold her ground – largely. The government believes that Delhi's citizens are getting a brand new city almost. Even though it is on account of the Games – several big infrastructure projects, new buses, new metro lines and new airports are suddenly changing the face of central Delhi.


Sheila claims that even after the LPG price hike she is still providing it cheaper than the neighbouring states. And fortunately the Congress government at the Centre is stable and the Delhi are elections far away. Those in the know believe that Sheila's strategy of replacing subsidies with direct hand-outs to the poor is a model that could inspire others.


Live and let live-in


Puritans are upset over the Supreme Court's judgment on living together. The three-judge bench has dismissed the plea to make pre-marital sex and live-in relationships as an offence.


Activists may not want to engage in a discussion with their own children on this subject lest they should discover that if the court had not dismissed the notion of criminality, their children could pretty much be in hand-cuffs.


What is encouraging is that the government has stayed totally out of this emotional show.  For an otherwise conservative Supreme Court, this is a remarkably forward-looking judgment.


Actress Khushboo who was the prime target of the case, is not going to be the only one feeling relieved. Human rights activists are also going to be thrilled that the apex court has clarified that the right to live in is an integral part of the right to life.










We are living in an age shaped by science and technology. Our economy is described as the knowledge economy because of the enormous value contributed by science and technology in practically every aspect of our daily life.

Science has made so much progress because of some special key features that distinguish it from other sectors of human activity. Science arises out of innate human curiosity about nature. It is the effort of the human intelligence and reasoning skills to understand natural phenomena and the scientific laws behind them. Applying this knowledge to invent new devices is technology.

The fundamental reason why science and technology have grown so impressively is thanks to the cast iron rule of provability of fallibility. In science it is not who that articulates a rule or principle that matters. It is whether that rule or principle can be backed by empirical proof. That is how the Euclidean paradigm was replaced by that of Newton in the 17th century. In the 20th century Newton's paradigm itself was replaced by Einstein's concept of relativity and the time-space continuum. The more science and technology affect the lives of people the more it becomes like politics. It is not what is claimed as scientifically correct that matters, it has to be also accepted by a majority of the people.

Two recent developments have underlined the increasing element of politics in what should be purely scientific issues. This is not surprising because these issues are no longer confined to science but affect large populations.
   The first is the global issue of environmental degradation. Starting with some far-seeing scientists in the 1960s, the green movement has now emerged as a major force in the politics of the world. The seal was set when Al Gore, the former US Vice President who lost the 2000 presidential elections, impressed the world with his strong advocacy about global warming through his powerful documentary An Inconvenient Truth. In the process he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr R K Pachauri, who heads the United Nations International Commission on Climate Change (IPCC) also shared the prize.

 Subsequent revelations about incorrect claims like the melting of the Himalayan glaciers in the massive IPCC document on climate change have become a major source of embarrassment and a matter of controversy in recent times. While Dr Pachauri is making a valiant effort to save his reputation, the issue of global warming itself has become a question mark. One thing is clear. The issue is no longer merely scientific. A whole lot of powerful business and other vested interests are involved. Companies claiming to have green technologies and solutions to the problems of renewable energy as well as insurance companies eyeing the billions of dollars involved in carbon trading are the current champions of the green movement.

   The second issue is not only a global one but also directly concerned with food. The controversy over genetically modified brinjals (Bt Brinjal) has now become an interesting conflict between the approval given by the official committee of the government of India on genetically modified food and the activists who see the hand of profit hungry multinationals like Mon Santo behind GM products. Our minister for environment Jairam Ramesh has called for a ceasefire by postponing the decision till further tests are conducted and more evidence is collected.

Are we entering a new era where even science ultimately becomes an issue of politics? After all, the basic and fundamental principle in science is the commitment to truth, which can be empirically tested. But in cases like genetically modified food or environment the time horizons are such that it may not be possible to have conclusive proof. This means that such issues have to be decided on the basis of the best evidence available.

Total transparency and an open mind are the best guarantee so far as such scientific issues are concerned. A healthy scepticism may be the best attitude to adopt in such cases. The child in the story of the emperor's new clothes should be the ideal for our times.








Once upon a time, long, long ago there was an airline in India that was the cynosure of the global civil aviation industry. Its mascot was a proud but friendly Maharajah, who wore a smile and bent forward, rather than look uppity and self important, and welcomed satisfied passengers aboard. The air hostesses were smart and friendly, the food was good and the world liked travelling on the Maharajah's magic carpet. Then India's new maharajahs and their darbaris came along. The smiling Maharajah was dethroned, derobed and demoralised. The kingdom was lost but the courtiers of the new feudals ruled the roost and had a good time. And they still do! Nothing embodies the pathetic feudalism of India's civil aviation ministry and the culture of the Delhi darbar better than the latest decision of the ministry to extend lifelong upgrade option to former civil aviation secretaries. The real joke is the defence of this move offered by a former civil aviation secretary who justified it on the grounds that such a facility was already available to former civil aviation ministers and to former chairmen of the airlines. If the ministers who downgraded the airlines can get upgrades, why not the secretaries who helped them?! Just in case there are murmurs of protest in other wings of the government or the media, the ministry and the airlines are quite happy to offer upgrades to sundry officials, diplomats, politicians and, of course, journalists.

Air India and Indian Airlines have been destroyed by the cronyism, the feudalism and the bureaucratism of successive governments. Public ownership is not necessarily the villain of the piece. Consider the fact that one of the world's best airlines, Singapore Airlines, is also publicly owned. Singapore's politicians and civil servants do not interfere with the airline the way India's do. A professional management runs the business with pride and competence, and no one gets an upgrade! Singapore's prime minister flies around the world like any other passenger in regular commercial flights and Singapore's civil servants do not have cronies carrying their bags and walking them through security at the airport. And, India is supposed to be the democracy!

The revival of Air India should begin with demerger of AI and IA, undoing the damage inflicted by the present ministerial dispensation. Next, the civil aviation ministry should be wound up, or at least cease to have any managerial jurisdiction on public sector airlines. But none of this will make much of a difference if New Delhi darbari culture of bureaucratic and political overlordism does not end. India has experienced a paradoxical drift towards bureaucratism in government and the public sector along with rise of public-private partnerships and crony capitalism, with cronies becoming the new feudals who flout airport security and other rules with impunity. Since civil servants have not been able to halt this slide, they seem to have now decided to jump on board the gravy train and serve themselves a share of the icing. None of this augurs well for the so-called national carriers.






India Inc has made its biggest foray yet into Africa, with Airtel waiting to sew up its $10.7 bn acquisition of the African assets of Zain Telecom. The deal will ensure the combined entity has 171 million subscribers in 19 countries, and will make it the seventh largest in the world in terms of the subscriber base (in terms of revenues, of course, the combine will be much lower down the pecking order — Verizon which is the 9th in terms of subscriber has a revenue of $108 bn, as compared to $66 bn for China Mobile, which has the largest subscriber base in the world at 533 mn). The deal, once all the paperwork is completed — Zain's board approved the deal last week — will make it the second-largest outbound M&A deal from India after the Tatas bought Corus in the UK; despite how the stock markets have greeted the deal, Bharti was able to raise the required debt of $8.5 bn at levels which were very attractive, signalling that both India and Bharti retain a large part of their flavour in global financial markets. This is Bharti's third attempt to get in to the African market — twice for MTN — but this is not the only company that's attempting to do so since, after India, Africa represents one of the most under-penetrated markets for a host of services. While Bharti's looking at the telecom side, the Tatas, Mahindra & Mahindra, Essar, Marico, Godrej Consumer Products are all in Africa. Mr Sunil Mittal has shown he can take a big bite, now he must show he can chew and digest it as well.

 The problem with the Zain deal, of course, is that it loads the company with debt and that's the reason why stock markets the world over don't like big deals — they make the acquirer company vulnerable to fluctuations in interest rates. There is also the problem that most M&As seem to have, of making them deliver what looks so easy on rosy spreadsheets — in the Zain case, Bharti will have to deal with 15 different regulators and 15 national governments, 15 different sets of work forces, and so on. The additional issue that has made markets jittery is the foreign exchange risk. While Mittal is raising funds in dollars to finance the deal, Zain's Africa revenues are deeply susceptible to currency fluctuations — while Zain's overall revenues rose 14 per cent and ebitda grew 26 per cent in the first nine months of 2009, Africa revenues fell from $3,067 mn in the first nine months of 2008 to $2,697 mn in the same period of 2009; ebitda fell from $1,046 mn to $900 mn. That all of this happened due to currency fluctuations makes Mittal's task that much tougher. At current levels of operations/efficiencies, the deal is unviable — at current ebitda, the multiple is over 11 as compared to Bharti's ebitda multiple of 6.5, RCom's 4 and Idea's 5.5. If, however, ebitda rises to $2 bn next year as Mittal is confident it will, the ebitda multiple will look reasonable. This is where Bharti's ability to replicate its Indian operations — the so-called 'minute factory' where, with low tariffs, revenues are maximised — come in. The deal is a play on both Africa and Bharti's ability to replicate its operating model — it is an experiment worth watching.







Many Indians firmly believe that their future is decided by the constellation of stars at the time of their birth. The moment a child is born, parents and grandparents rush to an astrologer to get the newborn baby's horoscope made, and then spend their lives to fit into the foretold pattern. So what is the future foretold for India, which is no longer a newborn country but could be termed a youth in the recent history of nation states?

 I was reminded of this in a recent discussion on the Indian economy with the chairman of a large US-based MNC who was visiting India. We discussed how India seemed to have come out of the economic crisis stronger than most nations, perhaps by a combination of luck (we had the right stars in our corner!) and design. But, more important was the simple question he posed to me: Was India's remarkable growth story of this decade "capped out" or was it the beginning of the next wave of growth, a destiny perhaps foretold by the stars?

To set the context for this interesting question, let us first take a short historical tour of India's GDP growth in the last 45 years. In the first decade of this period (1965-74), the average GDP growth was 3.1 per cent. The next 30 years saw the average GDP growth increase in each decade (1975-84, 1985-94, 1995-04) to 4.9 per cent, 5.5 per cent and 6.1 per cent, respectively. The first five years of the current decade (2005-14) saw the GDP growth increase further to 7.9 per cent despite one of the worst economic crises of our lifetime. India has emerged from the crisis remarkably unscathed and much stronger than many other countries, and this was reflected in the optimism of our finance minister's recent Budget speech where he did mention the magic figure of 10 per cent-plus GDP growth. Of course, he did leave the timeline somewhat undefined as "within the next few years".

We all know that many of the drivers of our economic growth are in place. The 11th Five Year Plan calls for more than doubling investments in infrastructure to over Rs 20,00, 000 crore as compared to the 10th Five Year Plan. The government proactively talks about the need to reduce transaction costs through policies like goods and services tax (GST), and achieve financial consolidation through implementation of the Finance Commission recommendations. Equally well-known is the fact that foreign direct investment (FDI) into India has been growing rapidly and we have seen the second wave of big overseas investments in the last three years. On this score, it is interesting to note that for the first time in 2008, FDI from Japan into India exceeded that into China.

Let me point out two interesting elements of our economy's journey in next five years. We know that among many differences between Indian and China's economy, a key difference is the fact that the Indian economy is much more consumption-driven while China's is an investment-led economy. This difference will play a big role as we should see a big impact on the Indian economy because of dramatic growth in consumption in many products — this is called "hockey stick" growth — due to a historic combination of changing dependency ratio and growth in middle class. Dependency ratio, which gives the ratio of typical dependents in a society (age below 19 years and over 60 years) to working-age population (20 to 59 years), will see a historic shift in India from 1.04 to 0.76 in the next five years, with the largest part of our population entering the working age of 20 years. Combine this with growth of 15 per cent in the number of middle-class households in India in the same five-year period and a "consumption hot-spot" is created.

The other interesting element is the role of the manufacturing sector. Few years ago, I remember pointing out proudly to overseas visitors the fact that over 50 per cent of India's GDP was contributed by the services sector, an economic structure similar to that of more developed economies. The unspoken implication was that India had perhaps jumped the traditional stage of economic development and was well on its way to a more mature economic structure. We now realise that view was erroneous. I was pleasantly surprised by the statement made by the finance minister in his Budget speech this year that manufacturing sector is the growth driver for the Indian economy. Clearly, there seems to be a significant change in the thinking of the government on the role of the manufacturing sector and its contribution to our economic development. This sector has to play the critical role in creating significant share of the 220 million new jobs that India needs in the next 15 years, which will be crucial to our economic growth.

So, what has this economic discourse got to do with astrology and stars, and with the question posed by the MNC CEO on the GDP growth? I am not an astrologer, though at the prodding of my wife I must admit I have been to see some of them and, to just please my wife, tend to agree with her when she says confidently that some event in our lives was predestined. Despite the natural instinct of a rationalist, let me don the hat of an "economic astrologer" and say that whatever we do (or don't do), India's stars are so arranged in their constellation that we are destined to achieve an average GDP growth rate of over 10 per cent in the next five years!

Let me explain why. In recent years, the only country that has delivered a consistent 10 per cent-plus GDP growth rate is China. So, to answer the question about what will take India to 10-per cent GDP growth, I looked at China for some pointers. If you look at its performance in the last 10 years, it had been growing at about 7-8 per cent till about 2002 when it switched gears to a growth trajectory of 10 per cent-plus GDP (the highest was 13 per cent in 2007). I looked at its economic characteristics in 2002-03 when this change happened and compared these with India in 2010 to draw any parallels. I was quite astonished to see the parallels — India today is exactly where China was six-seven years ago when it moved to the 10 per cent growth trajectory. Let me share four key data points to illustrate this.

   China's average income level in public private partnership (PPP) terms in 2002 was close to $3,000 — this is same as India's per capita income in PPP terms today.

   China's FDI in 2002 of around $39 billion is very close to India's FDI levels today. India's investment as a percentage of GDP, which used to be around 23-24 per cent for many years, has grown to about 38-39 per cent in 2009. Guess what China's investment was as a percentage of GDP in 2002? It was 38 per cent!

 ·  The final parallel is on exports. China's exports, which have been one of the key drivers of its GDP growth, are around 36 per cent of its GDP today. When it took off in 2001, it was just 23 per cent. Guess what India's exports were in 2009? They were 23 per cent of its GDP!

Sceptics will claim that these are just numbers, and coincidences occur in only reel life, not in real life. The believers will see this as signs from heaven that India's future destiny is written in the stars, and despite all the challenges we face (and I am sure China faced its own set of challenges in 2002), we are on our way to the 10 per cent growth trajectory. So, are we going to fulfil our destiny or let the challenges steal our future away?

You decide.

The author is managing director,The Boston Consulting Group, India








Will Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee get more than the Rs 35,000 crore he had budgeted for from the auctions of 3G and BWA spectrum that will take place next week, considering that there's one less 3G slot this time around? As compared to four 3G slots apart from one given to BSNL/MTNL that were supposed to have been auctioned initially, there will only be three slots apart from BSNL/MTNL. Making predictions is foolhardly, but a few points can be made as to why Mukherjee's target may well turn out to be conservative:


  On average, the GSM firms have around 7 MHz of spectrum and will get 5 MHz more if they win the 3G spectrum — this will raise their operational efficiencies by 30-40 per cent, so firms will pay to get this. 


  There are nine bidders for 3 3G slots, of which six are existing players. Those who don't get 3G spectrum will likely lose premium customers who generally like to use data. Modems sold by RCom and Tata Tele, that operate at 3G speeds, today give them revenues of around Rs 600 a month, or 3-4 times what normal voice customers pay. 


  If you look at the valuations paid by firms like Telenor and Etisalat for buying part of Unitech and Swan, this suggests you could get valuations of around Rs 40,000 crore or so. 

  If a firm has access to lower-cost capital, this hugely raises its ability to bid — according to Kotak Institutional Equities, a reduction in the Weighted Average Cost of Capital (that's cost of debt and equity) from 15 per cent to 13 per cent (that's by 13 per cent) will raise the amount the firm can bid by as much as 24 per cent. 

Part of the value that firms will pay is clearly driven by the extra revenues they will earn from 3G spectrum — so, if customers pay extra for being able to use high-speed data which 3G allows them, a firm will pay that much more for the spectrum. So, the critical parameters here are how many customers will start using 3G services and how much more they will pay for using them. Estimates vary, but two that I have seen recently, by BDA and Kotak Institutional Equities, project 90-100 mn users in the next 5 years. BDA has separate numbers for the RCom/TataTele-type modems that will run on 3G, while Kotak assumes a lower $4 of extra revenue (Rs 180) per month from 3G subscribers in metros/A circles, going down to $2.4 in C circles. Based on the revenue stream that this generates and after discounting it, Kotak assumes all firms who bid will gain an extra $6 bn from 3G operations. 

(or why firms will pay more than they should for 3G licences)


Value creation
due to 3G*

Value destruction
without 3G**

Total  'value'
for firms





































* Due to greater revenues from 3G services; ** Due to customers leaving if operator doesn't offer 3G services; Against its 'value' of $4.6 bn, Bharti will pay $2.5 bn; Vodafone will pay $2.4 bn against its 'value' of $3.6 bn; BSNL/MTNL, however, will pay $2.5 bn (to match Bharti) while their 'value' will only be $0.7 bn. Source: Kotak Institutional Equities

It is after this that the Kotak analysis gets interesting. The report points out that firms also stand to lose customers if they don't offer 3G services — I would, for instance, move from Vodafone if it never offered 3G speeds on my phone while Airtel did. So Vodafone, in this case, has to bid to not just capture the increased revenue I will provide it by using 3G services, it has to take into account the loss it makes if users move away to rivals. Kotak suggests both figures are roughly equal. While firms like Bharti/ Vodafone/ RCom/ TataTele will bid less than this 'value' — Bharti will pay $2.5 bn and Vodafone $2.4 bn as compared to their potential earnings/losses of $4.6 bn and $3.6 bn — those like BSNL/MTNL will pay much more since they have to match the top bidder but, says Kotak,won't derive as much value from their subbscribers. All told, Kotak estimates the net present value of the gain from 3G services is $6.1 bn and the loss from not bidding for 3G is $6.3 bn — the total 'value' of the 3G spectrum for firms is $12.4 bn. It projects firms will bid a bit lower, at $10.3 bn and $1.1 bn for BWA spectrum.

You could quibble with the numbers. BSNL/MTNL may make more money than Kotak thinks, firms may not bid anywhere near $6.3 bn to protect the loss of customers/revenues and BWA bids may be much higher since each licence offers double the spectrum that 3G licences do even though it offers less flexibility of use, at least for now. Either way, it does appear likely the FM's growth target will be surpassed quite handsomely.







The climate did change in Copenhagen. There is a new warmth in China's tone towards India. The 'new assertiveness' of 2009, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put it, has given way to a new softness. On the eve of the 60th anniversary celebrations of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two Asian giants, the mood may still be far from the 'Hindi-Chini bhai bhai' days of the 1950s, but, as the media has already noted, the slogan now is 'Hindi-Chini buy buy'.

After the brinkmanship of 2009, on Arunachal Pradesh and Dalai Lama, both sides seem to want to return to a more normal template of pragmatic engagement. Both India and China are re-examining their relations with the United States, waiting to see what President Barrack Obama's Af-Pak strategy, on the one hand, and his economic policies, on the other, really mean for them.

The Obama-Holbrooke view of "our terrorists vs your terrorists" has upset China as much as it has India. Why do you want us to help fight 'your terrorists' in the Af-Pak region if you will not stop encouraging our terrorists in Xinjiang, ask the Chinese. It is the same question India has asked for a long time, including of the Chinese who are still not on the same page with India in their understanding of who is a terrorist and who is a freedom-fighter.

The multi-polar world is here. Every pole in this many-sided dynamic equilibrium is constantly re-assessing equations with the other. In the ensuing global musical chairs, where friends and enemies change places all the time, enduring national interests will bring some players closer at one point of time and pull others apart at another. Right now, with the George Bush phase of the India-US embrace over and the United States pre-occupied with its own problems, the thaw in India-China relations has opened up new possibilities of cooperation between the two rising neighbours.

All this came through clearly from my interactions with various influential interlocutors in Beijing last week. Responding to complaints from India that China has built up a massive trade surplus vis-à-vis poorer India, with an imbalance in which India exports raw materials and imports finished goods, thanks in part due to non-tariff barriers against Indian manufactured goods, Chinese business and government leaders are now offering a way out. India should permit Chinese companies to invest and manufacture in India so that the value addition can be done in India and India's manufactured exports to China can be stepped up.

Let us do more business and enable closer people-to-people (P2P) and business-to-business (B2B) contact, is the new government-to-government (G2G) message from Beijing. China's policymakers understand that it is the P2P and the B2B aspect of the India-US relations that helped improve the G2G side. So let's walk that route is what the Chinese seem to say. Are we ready for it?

The head of a Chinese steel company told this writer that he would be quite happy to stop importing ore from India if he could set up a manufacturing base in India where he could process the ore and import the steel! Will India bite? But, the Chinese have a caveat. Like the Japanese and most other foreign investors they too want India to become less bureaucratic, have better infrastructure and be more welcoming of foreign investors!

India may be prepared for the 'hard power' challenge of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) but is it ready to take on the 'soft power' challenge of 'people like us' (PLUs) from China? China's diplomats and policy wonks complain that the Indian media focuses far too much on the assumed military threat from China without adequately recognising the economic opportunity. China is a growing market and a source of investment. It is both an exporting power and an importing power, a destination for and a source of foreign direct investment, they claim.

Since 2005 there has been a sharp rise in China's outward investment, much like what we have seen in India. Studies show that at least till 2009 most of Chinese FDI went either to Hong Kong and Taiwan, or to tax havens or to South-east Asia and Africa. So the most important Chinese firms engaged in outbound investment were in fields such as energy, telecommunications and raw materials processing, with inward FDI in China located primarily in manufactured goods.

In 2009-10 China is shopping around the world for investment opportunities in a wide range of sectors including electronics hardware, aviation, tourism and banking and financial services. Stop thinking of China as only a manufacturing nation. It is fast emerging a major services economy too.

For an economy dominated by the government and the ruling party, China is a remarkably consumer-friendly place. China's people-friendly face presents itself at the immigration counters at Beijing's international airport! Compared to the aging, tired, slow and grumpy Indian immigration and emigration officials, visitors to China face a young, smiling and efficient staff sitting at counters equipped with four buttons that every arriving or departing traveller can press. The buttons are for "happy, satisfied, not satisfied, unhappy" — to denote the service quality of the official.

Thanks to the Beijing Olympics, the focus on the tourism and hospitality industry and now the Shanghai expo, China is rapidly improving the quality of its services sector — from taxis and taxi drivers to hotels, shopping malls and banking services. The day is not far off when China would want to enter India's services sector — investing in hotels, banking and retail — leveraging its enormous skills in these areas.

In the past few years Indians have been learning to cope and deal with China's "assertiveness" and its unfriendly face. In the next few years they may well find dealing with China's friendly face equally challenging!








ABBA said So Long and split up 30 years ago but their appeal goes On and On and On, obviously. Now that there is talk once again of their getting back together, The Way Old Friends Do, sometimes, there is a predictable chorus of Gimme, Gimme, Gimme from a new bunch of fans, though their only contact with ABBA's ouevre is via Mamma Mia, the Bollywoodesque musical revue starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan.

If the defunct band that comes nearest to equalling the near-fanatical devotion commanded by Beatles is indeed trilling Take a Chance on Me... (again), we could see a resurgence of the spandex, satin and sparkles mania that defined the ABBA decade and spurred the sale of 375 million records worldwide.

The chances are, however, that it's more a case of 'any publicity is good publicity'. With just a fortnight to go till the London premiere of a musical created by the two male members of the former hit quartet, speculation of an ABBA comeback seems a tad too welltimed.

So, what's the Name of the Game? It's not obviously not a case of Money, Money, Money as a decade ago, Anni-Frid , Bjorn, Benny and Agnetha had turned down a $1 billion tour deal. The comeback hint was dropped probably because People Need Love, particularly members of bands that dominated their time.

Who can blame ABBA for wanting to Live a Little Longer in the hearts of their fans? As they sang in Voulez Vous way back in 1979: Here we go again, we know the start, we know the end/Masters of the scene/We've done it all before and now we're back to get some more/You know what I mean.

The danger of a comeback, of course, is that even if they Let the Music Speak, it may prove to be their Waterloo. Instead of falling Head Over Heels for ABBA's middle-aged avatar, fans could decide they are simply not As Good As New, considering they are all pushing 60. In the interest of their great legacy, it would be best to for fans to say Thank You For The Music and indicate it is Time to Move On.







The newly-formed industry body, Solar Thermal Federation of India (STFI), feels India is likely to miss the official target of having in place 20 million square metres of collector area by 2022.

It adds that 18.7 million sq m would be a more realistic target. But given the huge potential for technical change and efficiency improvement in the field of solar power in the next decade and beyond, telescopic projections by STFI may turn out to be underestimates; nationally the installed-capacity of collectors is already 3.5 million sq m.

However, what cannot be gainsaid is that we need proactive policy and stepped up allocation of resources to rev up commercial usage of solar energy. Specifically, we need to boost demand for solar power so as to increase energy supply, improve efficiency and cut down costs with economies of scale.

Consider, for instance, cellular towers that keep mobile networks up and running and consume about 2,000 MW of power annually, mostly from diesel. The preferred fuel in such towers could well be solar power. Or, take for example the plan to deploy 20 million lighting systems in rural areas by 2022.

It's possible to reach the target much earlier, if the subventions available for rural electrification and subsidised kerosene, meant essentially for lighting and costing upwards of Rs 20,000 crore per annum, are gainfully used to shore up solar power.

Meanwhile, China has smartly overtaken the US in sheer investment in the renewable energy sector. China's latest estimate of investment in green technology is $34.5 billion, twice that of the US. Of course, stepped up funding is a necessary but not sufficient condition for innovation in solar power. The latter calls for thriving markets, hardbudget constraints and demanding customers, to significantly boost solar usage.

STFI, rightly, has suggested awareness programmes to promote solar thermal products like water heaters and cookers. Bank finance for such products could be brought under priority sector lending, it adds. Besides, corporates firming up plans for solar power should reap first-mover advantages.







The apprehension, underlying some recent forecasts, of the Indian information technology (IT) sector losing zip appears to be grossly exaggerated.

Markets abroad are likely to show far greater vigour than these forecasts anticipate. And the domestic market for IT products and services would appear to be on the verge of a quantum leap to a new order of magnitude.

Indian software companies weathered the financial crisis that froze IT budgets in their traditional markets. It reflects the resilience of the sector that garners over half of its revenues from North America. The demand for global IT services will rebound with economic revival.

In fact, tepid growth in Europe and North America need not mean tepid growth in these markets' demand for IT services. On the contrary, the assurance that things are on the upswing, offered by the tepidest of growth, combined with the need to cut costs further in an environment of slow top-line growth makes slow recovery a surer booster of demand for India's IT services than an environment of rapid revenue growth around the world.

US-based companies will outsource more work to Indian firms to cut costs and improve margins as their incomes struggle to rise. Indian companies should therefore adopt new business models to offer business transformation opportunities through integrated consulting, business intelligence and knowledge services. Innovation should be their watchword.

Domestic demand for IT services will also look up, with large e-governance initiatives by the Centre and state governments: the unique identity card program, computerisation of tax departments and the central record keeping infrastructure for the new pension scheme.

A second round of upgradation in banking IT infrastructure and IT solutions for the organised retail chain will also have positive spin-offs for the sector. The gradual tapering off of growth in call revenues for the telecom sector generates demand for a variety of value added services.

Broadband wireless access is about to undergo a sea change, creating the infrastructure for delivery of new, data-intensive services. The prospects for India's IT industry never looked better.








The government has drawn up an ambitious divestment plan by which it intends to unlock value in its prized state-owned companies and expand the shareholder base. A sound proposition indeed!

Besides encouraging the equity culture in the country, allowing PSUs to discover their true value is a laudable move. But the divestment drive is bound to fail in meeting its objectives if the government is not sure or consistent with its sectoral policies.

The government, for one, despite being the majority shareholder (as it would own a minimum 51% in all profitable PSUs as per the policy) has to allow companies to run on commercial terms and taking into account the interests of all its stakeholders.

There is little doubt that most of the PSUs being put on the block for divestment are fundamentally strong companies that hold the largest market share in that space. Why then are retail investors wary of putting their hard earned money in these companies?

Unlike the other savings instruments and options which the government has provided for that assures the investor of a stable return (even if it is a tad lower than riskier market investment options), the equity option in PSUs is largely dependent on the government's policies in that particular sector. This more so in areas where the PSU companies enjoy a near monopoly and the government flip-flops on its policies raising huge uncertainties over returns on equity investments.

To take an example is an investor of market leader ONGC. Despite being the largest oil producer in the country, a retail investor will perhaps be better off holding shares in private competitors like Cairn India or Reliance Industries. Why so?

ONGC operates in a fully regulated regime where almost 30-40 % of its profits are shaved off bearing subsidy burdens for its brethren in the refining and marketing space. Also, the subsidy sharing is totally ad hoc, where the company or the investor is left to guess how much of the company's earnings will go towards subsidies.

As per the policy ONGC like every other oil producer is permitted to sell crude oil benchmarked to the internal oil price. Thanks to the government's skewed pricing policy ONGC ends up selling oil at a discounted price anywhere between 20% and 30%, if not more.

Even this could be acceptable as oil producing companies, in other countries as well, chip in to share the subsidy given to consumers at abnormal times (when crude oil prices are abysmally high) through special profit petroleum tax.

But what irks investors is the uncertainty in the policy and the complete lack of transparency. Institutional investors of ONGC have raised issues over corporate governance and the company has struggled to find convincing answers.

Every quarter, a set of bureaucrats and refinery companies representatives sit together to calculate what should be ONGC or Oil's share of the subsidies that has a direct implication on it's the company's profits. Shareholders of such a blue-chip government company thus have to live with this uncertainty over their returns as the government continues with its non transparent ad hoc subsidy policies.

And this is not restricted to just the oil and gas sector. The power sector is another example. It was only a few months back that the government announced that market leader NTPC, a government owned company that recently floated an FPO can put up merchant power plants and sell such power.

This would come as a major boost to the company as it would be in a position to sell some part of its generated electricity at market rates, fixed from time to time depending on the demand and supply.

Merchant power plants in the private sector have been operating for a while now and the electricity sector has even moved on to power trading and power exchanges where companies buy and sell kilowatts of power at different rates. Allowing NTPC to set up such plants was thus a welcome step. It is in the process of developing two such plants at Farakka and Korba.

The power ministry now has developed cold feet as it feels that companies like NTPC have to meet social goals and not make extra profits. Officials of the ministry have reportedly said that NTPC is already making profits and it does not need to make more by setting up plants that sell electricity at market rates. Where does this leave the investor of NTPC?

Issues of corporate governance is yet another factor. It is not just about filling company boards with the mandatory number of independent directors. In several cases, there have been instances where these candidates are nominated (albeit unofficially) by ministers of the administrative ministries.

PSU bosses owe their jobs to the government's recruitment process where often merit is a casualty. There are numerous examples of how a company chairman is kept waiting in an acting role, rejected by the appointment committee due to some mysterious vigilance cases that crop up and then reinstated or dropped completely from the race.

The government will need to clear up these cobwebs if it wants to get serious investor interest into government companies.







Here's a caricature of the standard monetary policy logic: keep monetary conditions soft to support growth, tighten to moderate it. So with investment in India still dormant, global economy fragile, and domestic inflation largely supply driven, the RBI's tightening must be anti-growth?

It isn't. Sometimes tightening is good for growth. And the reason is that monetary policy is forward looking. Policy actions taken today affect the economy six-to-nine months later, fading out in 15-18 months.

Most baseline scenarios (including that of the governments and the RBI's) portend continued strong growth in India over the next 12-18 months even with modest global demand. In recent months almost all demand side indicators have turned hot, with export and industrial production dazzling and non-oil imports surging.

However, India's main growth driver, corporate investment, has remained dormant. In the 2003-08 periods, investment growth averaged 16%, this year it has clocked 7%. So no substantial industrial capacity has been created in the last 12 months.

Investment will likely rebound once investors find a bit more conviction in the global recovery, but one has to wait another 12-18 months before the capacity it creates comes on stream. So if industrial production continues to surge on the back of exports and domestic demand, capacity constraints are likely to bind very quickly in the second half of this year. If this happens, then non-food inflation, already on the rise, could spike sharply.

What about food inflation? We seem to be blissfully complacent that the current high food prices are because of the poor monsoon and once new supply hits the market they will come down. Think again. It is not that food inflation won't subside, in fact it has already begun to moderate, but it is unlikely to go back to the 2005-06 levels.

The reason being that the underlying driver of food inflation is not poor rains last summer but continued rising incomes over the last five years. Food prices have been on a trend rise since mid-2007. Consistently income growth has outstripped food production and with households eventually beginning to believe that the rise in income is permanent, consumption has increased. Supply-side factors only worsened the inflation, it was not the cause.

Separately ask yourselves why with food inflation at its highest since 1984 there is no blood on the streets? The easy answer is that the opposition is in disarray after the electoral defeat last May. But nothing could make the opposition salivate more than a 20% food inflation to reassert themselves.

The real answer, perhaps, lies in a significantly smaller share of food in the consumption basket than suggested by the 45% weight of food in the CPI and rising permanent income. And this is good. It goes to show that growth has indeed trickled down and despite all the leakages the government's rural safety net and infrastructure programmes are working.

What is bad is that there does not seem to be any urgency within the government to restructure and reform agriculture. After three droughts in the last seven years and 20% food inflation the best the government could come up was a target of 4% growth for agriculture in the medium term?

So suppose the RBI did not tighten now. Then sometime in the second half of this year we could be staring at a very real possibility of a hard landing, that is, monetary conditions would have to be tightened very aggressively very quickly to tame inflation.

Such an aggressive tightening would run the risk of stalling the main drivers of the current recovery, industrial production and the expected upturn in the investment cycle, bringing growth to a sudden stop. More importantly, even before non-food inflation spiked fearing the possibility of hard landing investors could begin exiting India.

Thus, leaving a potential inflation problem unattended would not be good for near-term growth. Indeed it could be decisively negative. Far from being anti-growth, this tightening is needed to protect and extend the recovery into the medium term and ensure its sustainability.


Many would be concerned that tightening before the Fed will only encourage more capital inflows. These fears are exaggerated. India is not Brazil. Foreign participation in our debt markets is limited to $20 billion (government and corporate) of which around $15 billion is already used up.

And we can do with a bit of currency appreciation. How equities respond to the tightening will depend on how the market views it. If investors only focus on the near-term tightening, consumer goods and interest-sensitive sectors will be on the firing line. But if the equity market sees through the trees to focus on the forest, it will realise that the tightening minimises the likelihood of a hard landing and extends the recovery. And this must be good for valuations.

Clearly there are still uncertainties over global growth. While a synchronised global recovery is underway, recent data has rudely reminded us that material economic and policy risks are palpable. One is still confident that globally policy will remain highly accommodative and limit the contagion of market stresses emanating from Greece, but beyond this year there is little clarity that policy will be normalised smoothly.

And the global economy is increasingly becoming a key determinant of India's growth as exports of goods and services, which has more than doubled in the last five years, remains the fastest growing component of demand. Indeed, much faster than domestic consumption.

Given this balance of risks, moving quickly to a neutral monetary state from the extraordinarily soft conditions affords the luxury of tightening modestly if non-food inflation picks up in the second half of the year or loosening policy if global growth falters. And this is why the RBI has begun to tighten and needs to tighten more.

This is also why three of the BRIC countries (China, Brazil, and India) will likely have raised policy rates by end-April, way ahead of the Fed or ECB.

(The author is India Chief Economist, JP Morgan Chase. Views are personal.)








For relatively pain-free transactions in this world of men and matter, it is necessary to accept the fact that gratitude and reciprocal feelings are not only rare but also that the opposites of these are only to be expected and are inevitable. In this rat-race living, insensitivity abounds not only towards well meant acts but also towards various sublime virtues such as altruism, empathy and social responsibility, besides even to science, music and arts.

Unwillingness to even notice, let alone acknowledge help received, is consequent on an unhealthy ego and also that self centredness, which often takes things for granted, as if others' feelings don't matter.

An incident in the life of Gandhiji is illustrative. After his lunch in a hotel, while in South Africa, Gandhiji thanked the waiter for his excellent service. "Sir,", replied the waiter, "I'll never forget you because in my 25 years of sincere service, I never heard a word of thanks".

Comprehension of the obvious and the related issues would enable the wise to accept this "insensitivity bug" as an inevitable hazard of life. More importantly, he would be inspired to guard against himself falling a victim to this. Self-honesty and self-analysis would enable him to divine where he too may have defaulted. He would know that just as it is easy to see a spot in others' backs but not on one's own, it is indeed difficult to observe faults within oneself.

This approach would enable this seeker to remember all those who had contributed to his welfare. He would thus think of his parents, elders, neighbours, bosses, subordinates, simple workers, servants, his own siblings, children, even pets, whosoever.

Having received the butt of unfair treatment from others, who he may have genuinely helped, he would tell himself, "all these have happened just to teach me that at least I should not be like this. I should not merely acknowledge but express my gratitude abundantly in both words and action".

This also is the process of being "hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise". This not merely saves you from the "insensitivity bug" but more so, is a service you do primarily to yourself, where you would be the principal beneficiary. You would thus not merely feel fulfilled and at peace, but, as Dale Carnegie notes, also "win friends and influence people". What could be more rewarding than this supreme blessing!








The other evening, I was at one of those things where Lord Davies, UK's trade minister, was giving a speech. We were chatting up later, and well, it might well be because he's a minister, but he's one of the few people around these days who's bullish about Britain.

When the inevitable subjects come up, the state of the sterling and sovereign debt, he grabs my notebook and scribbles down a whole list of UK's inherent advantages, things he insists will ensure the country's long-term economic health: a diverse industrial base, an open economy, a skilled workforce, a strong education system and very low barriers to trade.

I ain't saying that, it's what Lord Davies wrote. But talk to almost everyone else in Britain, and pretty much the only high note is sovereign debt. If sub prime and credit crunch were the buzzwords of 2008 and 2009, 'sovereign' everything is the dominant theme of the Spring collection in 2010, dominating every economic debate. One columnist recently likened the UK economy to the Giant Panda, which, having wandered down an evolutionary dead-end, can't make an about turn to return to a more profitable route. Whatever.

The local reaction to Alistair Darling's pre-election Budget, which some are already rudely writing off as his last, goes on about it. But to me, that whole subject is beginning to get rather tiresome. You could disagree with Lord Davies about some of his assertions, but I'm totally with him that a lot of this hand wringing about sovereign debt in the media and markets is over-reaction.

Yeah, so UK has a horrible deficit looming, and will have to deal with it sooner or later. We all, even the woman on the street, pretty much know what that means for us ordinary folks.

Taxes will go up, there will have to be cuts in public spending, the only question is on whom the axe will fall, and life is going to get a load more difficult before things get better. Whether it's Labour or Conservative, any government is going to have a difficult time sorting out the uncomfortable and no-longersymbiotic relationship between the City of London and the rest of the country.

I can't really get as excited as these silly stock market traders about UK's government borrowings, since erudite economists have been routinely setting off smoke alarms about India's deficit forever, definitely for my entire working career, and probably much longer.

Forget the UK economy, sometimes I'm tempted to the view that the players in the financial markets, stock, currency, debt, derivatives, commodities or whatever, are the ones that have gone down an evolutionary dead-end.

Take the whole palaver about Greece, which I'm told is dominating those incessant market analyses media these days, even in India. Now, that I find intensely funny. Given the usual insular nature of almost all Indian attitudes, this is probably the first time Greece has figured in a BSE punter's world-view.

And overnight, everyone's an expert. Whoa. The thing with Greece, as pretty much everyone knows, is that sooner or later, the Eurozone will have to stop that bleeding wound in its side. Right now, various European mandarins are busy working out just how many pounds of flesh they can gouge out of the poor Greeks for the operation. I mean, hello, they're going to let the Eurozone take a shock like Greece cracking up to its rather delicate system?

Now, why that doesn't seem obvious to the players who are having daily tizzies in global markets is beyond me. And no, I'm not alone, some rather terribly senior policymakers, and not from the UK, are of the view that in the post-recessionary world, regions will have to be neighbourly, since nobody can afford an economic flu infection in their backyard: whether it's Scandinavia and Iceland, or Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I'll do some more on that another time.

I darkly suspect that any future economic histories that look back at this era will treat it with the same bemused wonder that today's historians have for things like the Tulip Mania or Gold Rush. From my ringside seat as the biggest economic crisis of this century is playing out, there hasn't been a single occasion, or crisis trigger point, in which the global financial markets, which isn't some kind of supernatural entity, it's made up of individual players and their algorithms, haven't behave totally clueless, self-obsessed, blinkered and moronic.

It is a bit ridiculous that a country should be held to ransom by day-traders out to make a quick bonus panicking about sovereign debt derivatives. Which, by the way, has suddenly come into fashion over the past few months.

Now that subprime and property derivatives have bitten the dust, the same bunch of punters are playing around with sovereign derivatives. As if governments and central bankers don't have enough to deal with, without having to deal with managing their 'share prices', as it were.

Yes, alright, I've heard the economist's and analysts arguments ad nauseam. They are probably all correct, and I'm probably all wrong, but it seems to me, and to most policymakers, that each country has far more immediate and crucial







Nikhil Gandhi, CMD, Pipavav Shipyard in an interview with ET NOW confirmed that SKIL Infrastructure Group has done deal with the Punj Lloyd to buy their 19.6% stake in the company and the regulatory authorities have also been informed about the same. It would be paying an accumulative price of 656 crores to buy the Punj stake and over and above, it would be going for an open offer which would be about 24% above the price paid to Punj Lloyd.

Can you please confirm that via SKIL Infrastructure, you are buying out Punj Lloyd's 20% stake. If so, at what price and how much will you be paying for it?

Yeah, this is to confirm you that SKIL Infrastructure Group has done deal with the Punj Lloyd to buy their 19.6% stake in the company and we have informed the regulatory authorities about the same. We would be paying an accumulative price of 656 crores to buy the Punj stake and over and above, we would be going for an open offer which would be about 24% above the price we have paid to Punj Lloyd whereby the total commitment of the SKIL Infrastructure is likely to be in excess of 1450 crores approximately.

Could you tell me why Punj sold out? There were some news reports that they perhaps needed the cash, they cannot really hold onto this but did they tell you why they want to sell of? Did they try to find another buyer or did they come straight to you or did you want to buy it? How did this transaction work out?

First of all both SKIL and Punj have been great partners and we enjoy great relationship with each other. Punj wanted to talk to us straight and we did the deal by discussing with each other, this was No. 1. No. 2, they also had a three-year lock-in period.

It is just about below two and a half years that they have invested into the Pipavav Shipyard. No. 3, when you have lock-in shares, there is always discount to the market price and fourth, yeah, Punj would be investing cash into the core competencies infrastructure because post budget, there has been a lot of impetus and lot of support by the government for public private partnerships and private sector investments and government investments and things like that. So Punj would be efficiently putting the money to work.

That is what I understand. One more thing that just over two years, the Punj is making a neat profit of nearly 300 crores on a 350-crore investment, nothing withstanding that one year which was last year which was very bad for everyone in the world. They could still muster a very handsome profit and that is good for them and for us, we can consolidate our stake and demonstrate our higher degree of commitment to this company. So it is a win-win for both.

I am with you on that. I believe they sold the stake for you at 4930. I have two related questions. One we saw in the case of Fame Adlabs that a third party can come in and say now we do not like the valuation, why was this done at this price. We think shareholders should have gotten more wealth out of this. We have seen this happening. This battle has played out for the last one or two months. How do you feel with something like that and how did you arrive at that valuation? If you can just walk us through what was going through because this was a major stake and I would say Punj did not invest this as an investor but they want to be in shipbuilding. For them to get out, there must have been some thought process.

No. 1 is that we arrived at a valuation based on number of factors. First and foremost is that currently if they wanted to do the deal, it could be a promoter to promoter transfer. No. 2, they also recognise that it is a large deal and large sum of cash is required to be put on the table. No. 3, if we were to buy the entire stake together, we will also be obliged to put another 20% off table. You will appreciate that this was the first time corporate India that five months after raising 500 crores from the public, the promoters are putting in 1500 crores on the table. This is not a small commitment, it is a huge. So all those things taken into account, this price both parties felt it was fair. No. 2, insofar the public shareholders are concerned, we are putting in a great offer. It is a great offer to the public.

If Punj wanted to sell, they could have gone and sold it to somebody else, so is there a regulatory requirement that they sell to you and is the market so weak that they had to sell it at 4930 and they could not find perhaps a higher value than the market value that exists today?

It was not only buying of the Punj stake but it was buying of 40% stake. Please realise this case and the other case you are referring to are two completely different ballgames. As I said there is a degree of discount because the commitment which SKIL will bring on the table would be far larger compared to anyone else in this kind of situation in the country before. So it is a very fair deal and both parties are very happy and I am sure if you are my shareholder, you will be very happy because if I am buying at 61.5, I know what I am doing because the company is going to do better and better and then their shareholding values will further go up.

30 years after whatever work we have done and whatever we have achieved in life, we are not going to risk our credibility and money and particularly shareholders' money. Both the parties have achieved very smart deal both in terms of buying Punj and putting an open offer. So rest is on the shareholders that how they want to take it forward.

The stock of course has reacted to this news at last count, it is at about 66, up about 3.5%. The open offer price at Rs. 62 per share, do you want to consolidate your stake further from here in the company, what are the plans going forward because there might be a case where at 62 the price may not look as attractive, would you be comfortable with 40% if shareholders decide to not tender on the open offer ?

If shareholders decide not to tender that would mean that they are supporting my plans and if they want to sell or some of them want to sell, I will be happy to consolidate up to 51%, that is No. 1. No. 2, we are betting big on India's oil and gas sector, defence production and defence offset. The government policies are very transparent and robust. This area has a huge untapped potential. We want to make sure that we are in for a long haul.

We want to demonstrate this very strongly and that is the reason we are putting in this kind of commitment. No one does like this as we are doing. That is raise the 500 crores five months ago and put in 1500 crores off the table. So we are basically here for a long haul. We will be taping the untapped potential in the oil, gas and defence offset market and shareholders will be delighted to see the performance of Pipavav Shipyard going forward.

SKIL Infra if it had this kind of money, why did Punj not get out before the IPO because at the end of the day, they were co-promoters and how are you raising the money and how much you need to raise? I am just trying to figure out how are you paying for it and what was the whole rational of the IPO?

You cannot predict tomorrow, otherwise we would have all been God. The question is that situation develops very fast and post-IPO lot of situation developed whereby both the shareholders thought that how they can continue with their commitments in the respective areas and Punj found it nice to sell make profits, use the cash, put them to work for some better purposes. We thought that at this rate what we see is somebody else may not be able to see. So we want to take it forward by putting in more money. It should be seen in a good life because I am not selling away the company. I am actually investing more money. You guys should be happy, in fact if you have not bought my shares please go and buy one.

Do you as a promoter suggest that they should not tender their shares in open offer, you think you have got a lot of value to offer to them, they should sit with it and they will make a lot of money. Open offer is a regulatory requirement, so would you say don't sell of, don't worry, I am here, this company will deliver more than you can see, just stay with me?

Do you think I have ability to advise the wise people, wise investors? Investors are the wisest community.

What is your view, you are the promoter, you are running the company, I am just saying what is your view?

Having said that, when I am putting such a large capital, surely I know what I am doing. There is a lot of potential what I can see. Maybe some people may not be able to see today but I am sure they will realise tomorrow and they will all gain and benefit. So I would certainly say that those investors who have put faith in me, stay with me and have the excitement and fun in times to come because we are not to create value always. Even if the Punj Lloyd over the two years, they have made 300 crores profit for 350 crores investment. I am sure those investors who are coming now like for example somebody bought last week on Friday, some 25 million shares change hands. So I am sure if they have bought at this price, they are going to be benefited and benefited big time.

On the order book position from an FY11 perspective, where do you see your order book position standing and how much would you be able to monetise of that in terms of revenues and profits by FY11 and also there is some buzz in the market about 20% of the current order book position being under pressure and some execution delays on that front, very quickly run us through those two updates.

No. 1, our order book is very comfortable and we are expecting some more development during the course of next two quarters in terms of the order book. No. 2, we have the order book fully intact with 1000 crores advances from the customers. We have constructions of the ships going full swing. In fact last week as we speak, we laid the keep for all the 12 ships for the ONGC far ahead of time which actually pleasantly surprised the analysts and everyone else because when the contract was awarded there was a lot of buzz like what you are doing right now that we are under pressure, the price is low and so on.

So we are far ahead of time and we have the best of man and machinery to deliver the goods to the customers and on time within the specified cost.








Yahoo! India is on a roll. After a successful brand campaign launched last October, the brand is close on the heels of launching a new business-to-business advertising campaign. The company is not only developing the online advertising market, but also driving innovations in the field and convincing advertisers to spend more ad dollars on the medium. In an interview with ET , the marketing director of Yahoo! India, Nitin Mathur , discusses how the company is looking at changing consumer perception of being just a search engine. Excerpts:

What are the strengths that the Yahoo! brand has in India? How is the entry of competitors like Microsoft's Bing expected to change the game?

One of the biggest advantages we have over other websites is that we have a huge base of loyal internet users in the country. Our brand reaches out to 73% of the internet users in India. Every month, the Yahoo! homepage registers more than 22 million users and our front page is viewed by 36 million active internet users every month. These are pretty big numbers when you see that there are 50 million internet users in the country. We intend to portray and build on this strength in the future. We have a long-term partnership with Microsoft whereby they will continue to power our searches globally.

Your brand has been quite active and visible through advertising lately. What thinking drives this marketing strategy?

Advertising and marketing exercises involve substantial funds and, therefore, in our case are well thought out and planned. India, with its huge set of fast growing active internet population is a priority market for us globally.

So, we had a consumer campaign in October last year, informing users that the Yahoo! Brand is about them and how it is a genuine enabler. We seek to create Yahoo! in such a way that it tells internet users what they can do with the internet and not merely what the internet can do for them. The intent is to change perceptions of consumers, media and advertisers and saying that we are really much more than a search engine.

The second leg of that campaign will unfold shortly and will be advertiser focused. It is a unique way of advertising the brand and involves a partnership driven approach. We have partnered some of our leading advertisers like Maruti Suzuki, Citibank, Reliance Communications and Pepsi and are telling other brands how Yahoo! has benefited these advertisers. The third leg of the campaign will highlight the range of consumer products that we have on offer. Products like Yahoo! Messenger, Yahoo! Mail and Yahoo! Search, our Cricket and Movies websites will be in the spotlight.

How are Indian online consumers different from those in other markets? What are the trends that power innovation at Yahoo!?

Our target consumers in India are in the 16-24 years age group, much younger than those in, for example, the US. We realise that India is a young country and that the median age of Indian internet users will remain 25 years for the next 20 years. So, we have focused on keeping things youthful, cheerful, vibrant on the website.

Then there is also the observation that Indian internet users like to share a lot of their lives online. Everything from family pictures and videos to their work lives finds its way on the internet. So, we try to tell consumers to be wary. But that awareness will come in due time. Indian consumers are also very open to experimentation and trying out new things online, which gives marketers more room to make a mark.

While being the preferred consumer of several brands across categories, youth are also known to be impatient, demanding and no-nonsense in attitude. How is the brand reaching out to them in a least obtrusive way?

We realise this fact and are, therefore, constantly looking for new, interesting ways to get their attention and leave a favourable imprint on the youth. So, we have tailor-made our offerings to suit their needs. Everything on the homepage is extremely user-friendly and customisable.

We also have a string of content partnerships that ensure that we continue to have content that appeal to consumers. One such example is our partnership with the ICC that has led to Yahoo! Cricket being the most visited cricket website. We are on the lookout for other opportunities to carry forward this strategy, as it has proved effective.








An unprecedented rise in the demand for power and bigger possibilities in nuclear and solar energy have led to Bharat Heavy Electricals (BHEL) revisiting its working plan. Company's chairman and managing director, B P Rao, discusses the challenges before the engineering major in an interview with ET Bureau.

Is BHEL prepared for explosive demand for power equipment?

No doubt the country will add more power generation capacity in the Eleventh Plan than it has ever seen in the past. We have adopted a three-pronged stategy to cater to this level of growth. First, we have expanded our manufacturing facility to produce 15000 MW of main plant equipment annually. This capacity has been developed for all fuels, be it thermal, hydro, gas. Second, we have concentrated on vendor development and added more than 700 vendors cutting across various products in last year alone. This has ensured that our manufacturing does not suffer due to inadequate support from vendors. Third, we have expanded our own resources. We are adding around 4,000 people a year to ensure that manpower does not become a constraint. We have also focused on material supply and have upgraded castings and forgings plant to reduce dependence on imports. The UK-Based Sheffield has also become a technology partner in this initiative.

BHEL has often been blamed for most of the problems being faced by the power sector. I s the criticism justified?

We are mostly working on main plant equipment. The engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) job is being done by somebody else. There have been projects where all the major equipment is in place but commissioning gets delayed as some input from vendors or some balance of plant work remains stuck. Still several special grade of steel and castings and forgings required for plants needs to be imported. But, I would not say all is well from our side. We have major problems from our contractors. They are not able to mobilise people required for projects thereby causing delays. There is increasing realisation among the customers that it is not always that projects are delayed solely because of BHEL.

How have your nuclear power plans progressed?

We have signed a pact with Nuclear Power Corporation (NPCIL) for making turbo generators required for high capacity nuclear power plants. In this regard, we plan to convert this MoU into a tripartite venture along with an overseas partner that can bring in the requisite technology. We are in the last stages of finalising the partner and an announcement will be made soon.


How do you see the competition from Chinese equipment suppliers?

See, any competition you cannot take lightly. Well yes, they have taken some orders in the past. And a number of steps have been taken by BHEL to see that this competition is countered. We have also been developing equipment that can give better efficiency without costing anything extra to the customer. The changes have also brought back some customers that had gone for Chinese equipment. In fact, most orders of 2009-10 have been from customers who had Chinese equipment earlier. Our customers have also realised that BHEL equipment gives higher plant load factor than any other product available in the market.

How has company's initiative to expand into renewable energy progressed?

We are already present in both wind and solar energy. BHEL was developing wind mills on its own in the past but later discontinued that operation. Now, we want to again manufacture wind mills of large size and are looking at suitable technology partner. On solar side, we have signed a MoU with BEL for setting up an integrated facility to manufacture photovoltaic cells and also produce silica that is currently imported. With government announcing the solar mission and plans to add at least 5000 mw capacity this is a big opportunity. The BHEL-BEL partnership is also looking for a collaborator to provide technology in the solar power space.

Transportation and transmission are also big areas of expansion for BHEL.

The railways are looking at this area in a big way and BHEL is already a major supplier to them. We have been helping Railways to produce locomotives and also providing systems required for both disel and electric locos. Railways want to source about 200 locos from BHEL annually. We have recently bagged Rs 990-crore order from them to supply and additional 150 electric locomotives in addition to orders for 50 locos that we are executing currently. The orders from railways have given us the opportunity to further ramp up our facility at Jhansi. In addition, we are contenders for railways tender for setting up electric locomotive manufacturing facility at Dankuni in West Bengal. We have tied up with Alstom for this venture. Besides, we have tied up with GE to bid for the proposed diesel loco facility in Bihar and are looking for another partner for electric loco plant too.







MAX New York Life has been in the news after it managed to bag Axis Bank as its corporate agent. The buzz in insurance circles is that the relationship will be far deeper than a pure distribution arrangement with rumours that Axis Bank is likely to pick up a stake in the insurance company. In an interview with ET Bureau, Max New York Life managing director & CEO Rajesh Sud speaks on the insurer's future plans.

What was the secret behind Max New York's success in acquiring Axis Bank as a distribution partner. There have been reports that Axis Bank will pick up a stake in Max New York Life as part of distribution arrangement.

The Axis Bank tie-up is a vindication of our customer-centric strategy. The other thing that went in our favour is that we have a process-oriented approach and a focus on quality of resources, which includes our training programme. There are deeper relationships we seek with the bank and we are in discussions with them. We have always said bancassurance relationships have to move to the next generation of relationships where they are not just distribution arrangements but they have to become more holistic in the way they are constructed. We have always wanted to do something that is more symbiotic.


The life insurance industry is divided on the issue of whether banks should be allowed to distribute products of multiple companies or should have dedicated relationship with one insurer. What is your stance?
We feel that the two can co-exist. Just because a bank, which sees value in distributing holistically, enters into a long-term distribution deal with one insurer, it does not prevent that bank from engaging with multiple insurers. So we think that allowing some amount of choice for the customer is the right thing to do. We also want to be sure that we do not lose control on the way insurance sales is conducted in bank branches. If that is taken care of, we are all for choice for the client. To give an example, we have specialised in whole-life policies which require a lot of engagement between a sales person and a client. This is a strength area for Max New York Life. If a bank feels a segment of its customer is ideally suited for this product design, then the bank must have the choice of looking at us and doing business with us.

When do you see break even?

Our goal is to break even by the end of 2010-11. We are forecasting business growth of 15-20%. But our revenue growth is going to be much stronger because our renewal premiums are much higher. For instance, although in 2009, our new sales were flat, on a revenue basis we grew 24%. It should be the same for the current financial year.

You have outsourced a lot of your operations. What was the thinking behind that and what has your experience been?

What we have done is to have a hard look at our business and work on what our core competencies. One competency clearly is investing in distribution such as agency training, which we do not outsource. The second thing we recognised was the underwriting process. The third area where we have done very well is fund management. What we have outsourced are essentially areas where we felt that economies of scale could be derived from leveraging what has already been built outside by other experts. This basically came around to things like data entries, contact centres and some amount of policyholder services — routine non-complex transactions like reminding people through renewal notices. These are the tasks that we have outsourced. We have used two partners, Genpact and Aegis, to distribute the work between them. We started transiting in November-end and we transited the last process in February. It is too early to speak about the experience but we do expect a rise in customer satisfaction and to some extent a reduction in costs as well.

Are you ready to meet Irda's disclosure norms?

We have represented against some of the requirements. Our arguments are that some amount of disclosure to people interested is good. But to give it to the public at large, which may or may not be interested, or who might be able to decipher it, is a different matter. We support transparency and are willing to share this information with people who understand the numbers and can work with them but it is another thing to be forced to put it out in large balance sheet formats in the press.

When do you plan to go public?

There are no plans right now. We are well capitalised and both our promoters are very supportive of the business we are building. Max India, our holding company, is already listed and they are capturing the value of the insurance business in that sense and there is no pressure on us to get listed. There is an option for New York Life to increase its stake as and when regulations change. New York Life can increase its stake up to 49% as and when the regulations come. There is pricing formula. The only thing we have done is that as a relationship discount, Max India has agreed to give a 10% discount on the market value.








Higher interest rates need not always be perceived negatively, as they also underscore the growth in the economy, says Tridib Pathak, director-equity, IDFC Mutual Fund. He says the rate hike has taken the market by surprise, but inflation and higher interest rates are not the biggest concerns for the market. In an interview with ET Bureau, Mr Pathak says he is bullish on the consumption theme.

What is your outlook on earnings growth and the market in the near to medium term?

Near term, the market is unlikely to rise much, as it is fairly valued at (roughly) 17 times estimated '10-11 earnings. Earnings growth and earnings upgrades will be crucial. Significant earnings upgrades in the short term look unlikely, but a steady economic recovery and a resultant upgrade in corporate earnings forecast by the end of next year will be the key driver from here on. Investors will be choosy and focus on companies a consistent operational performance. So, we will see increasing divergence in performance among companies within a sector.

How will higher input costs and inflation affect operating margins and consumption patterns, respectively?

For the past few quarters, companies have grown their earnings by controlling costs. But rising input costs will make it difficult for companies to sustain their operating margins. Topline will be the main driver for earnings growth and (earnings) upgrades, going forward. Inflation, so far, has been driven by food and agri inflation. This is having a very benign impact on rural incomes which are agriculture related. And so, rural consumption has not been hit as badly as many people thought it would be.

But isn't it evident from the interest rate hike that inflation is a major worry for the Reserve Bank of India?

RBI's decision to raise rates only affirms the confidence in our economic growth momentum, and growth is always good for the equity market. While the recent rate hike surprised the market, we don't see inflation and interest rate hikes as big worries. The risk is only if there is a spate of sharp rate hikes in a short period. That will hurt the equity market, because of fears of slower economic growth and lower corporate earnings growth.

What are the global factors you think can damage investor confidence?

There are a few of them. Sovereign debt default is prime among them. The total debt in most developed countries is twice the size of their GDP and their fiscal deficits are rising fast. This is happening because of huge stimulus packages that governments and central banks had to pump to revive economic growth. But it looks now that the growth in these economies have become dependent on the continuation of the stimulus. This could cause higher interest rates and lower growth in the developed world, and in turn, affect risk appetite and sentiment for equities in the short term.

Do you think that emerging markets like India will be a safe haven for foreign investors?

This is a long-term process and will surely happen over the next few years. The definition of risk, and by extension, risk aversion, will change gradually. And at the same time, the perception of which markets are riskier, too, will change. The developed world is facing structural, not cyclical, issues of high indebtedness and low growth. India now certainly stands out as one of the few countries withdrawing the fiscal stimulus without hurting economic growth, a difficult task for most developed economies. This will surely boost India's appeal as an investment destination. India's relative position has improved in the past couple of years and it has emerged as one of the few countries with a fast-growing economy and in comparatively better financial health. But it may take many years for India to become a safe haven for foreign investors.

Which are the sectors you are bullish on and which ones would you avoid?

We are overweight on consumption theme. This would include sectors like pharma, auto, media, banking, FMCG. They would benefit from the economic recovery with a good topline growth and without much margin compression. Within the investment space, we like capital goods, especially those related to the power sector. We are also overweight on IT services, as outlook for outsourcing continues to improve. We are beginning to like telecom, as we feel that competitive pressures are easing. We are underweight on realty, as property prices continue to remain high and unaffordable. We are also underweight on metals, as the sector is dependent on the global recovery.





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL


$1-tr infrastructure? A lot left to be done


The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh's ambitious target of spending $1 trillion on infrastructure by the 12th Five-Year Plan will require a tremendous change in the way infrastructure projects are being handled, and in tackling on a war footing the reasons for delays in current projects getting off the ground or being left unfinished. A study by the Project Management Institute and KPMG estimated that 82 per cent of infrastructure projects from April 1992 to March 2009 were not able to meet deadlines; with the result that 41 per cent of them faced heavy cost overruns. One such project was Mumbai's iconic Bandra-Worli Sealink, whose cost almost doubled by the time it was completed due to unforeseen environmental problems. The total loss caused by project delays across the country is estimated at a staggering Rs 54,000 crore. India is already expected to miss the target set for 2012 by 25-33 per cent. Of the targeted $100 billion per annum projected to be spent under the current Five-Year Plan, barely $60-70 billion was actually spent. Similarly, the ambitious target set by the roads and highways minister — of 20 km in new roads every day and 47,000 km of highways by 2015 — appears to be a distant dream. One reason for this, besides environmental and other problems, is the shortage of skilled labour, managers and supervisors. While there is no shortfall expected in capital availability for infrastructure, private equity funds face a problem in not having enough bankable projects to invest in. The result is that returns on investments is less than it should be, and — as several studies have noted — there is too much money chasing too few good projects. India is a tremendously attractive destination for infrastructure development as it is the second-fastest growing economy in the world. Its need for roads, ports, airports, warehouses and other infrastructure is almost limitless. But there are also tremendous challenges facing this sector. Among the key hurdles and challenges which investors face are political/bureaucratic red tape, lack of transparency in the bidding and award of public-private partnership projects, taxation issues and the absence of a regulatory authority such as the Securities and Exchange Board of India or the insurance regulatory authority. One of the most contentious issues is land. Several projects have been held up because those who own the land — farmers or peasants — are not willing to give it up. Projects have either been abandoned altogether in many of these areas or they have got delayed so long that investors have lost interest. The current formula — under which one job is given to each family deprived of its home and livelihood by these projects, besides monetary compensation — is no longer acceptable to many of those about to be displaced. India's business chambers have over the years come up with a variety of solutions and proposals on infrastructure development and financing: while some have been accepted, most remain on paper. These can be handled project by project, either regionwise or zonewise, to determine how solutions to problems in each instance can be found. There is no one solution that suits all. This could perhaps be a more productive and realistic way of resolving bottlenecks in infrastructure. Many of these organisations have done commendable service in working with the government to create skill development centres, but much more than that needs to be done if the Prime Minister's $1 trillion infrastructure target is to be transformed into reality.








I am not going to mince words. I will come straight to the point: the idea of paid news scares me endlessly. It is a virus which, if allowed to grow, will not just change our politics but worse not just institutionalise corruption in the media but actually subvert our democracy.


This is a depressing thought. Less than a year after our Lok Sabha election — one that saw 415 million people vote in 8,35,000 polling stations in the largest democratic exercise of its kind anywhere in history — this "paid news" crisis is also a monumental embarrassment for us. It is not time for name calling here. This concerns us all: politicians and journalists, political parties and media houses, and every citizen of this country.


What is "paid news"? The term is used to describe a situation where a newspaper or television channel or media

house signs a deal with an individual candidate, agrees to publish a combination of advertisements and laudatory news items about him, assures him a fixed quantum of coverage and, for an additional fee agrees to run a negative campaign against or completely black out his rival.


Sometimes such "packages" are offered to a party.


Such occurrences are familiar in smaller towns and individual constituencies where local and regional language newspapers or channels do deals with candidates. However, in the 2009 Lok Sabha election the "paid news" device became a sort of stimulus package for sections of the national media. Television channels formed a cartel and hiked their rates calling it an "election premium". That is the background and that is known. Yet, there are some things that are not known, or are being wilfully ignored. I want to focus on a few of them. Paid news packages include the following:


* News stories

* News stories and advertisements

* News stories, advertisements and profiles

* News stories, advertisements, profiles and negative items about the other side.


These are meant to be a wholesale deal and more useful to either side than retail deals. P. Sainath wrote in the Hindu on October 26, 2009: "The game has moved from the petty personal corruption of a handful of journalists to the structured extraction of huge sums of money by media outfits".


It is not my case that all journalists are of the type that cater to or allow paid news. Many journalists remain scrupulously honest and devoted to their calling — and at its most idealistic, basic-level journalism, like politics, is not a profession but a calling. In the past few weeks, I have read, heard and spoken to many senior journalists absolutely mortified by the idea of "paid news" and concerned it will kill the media's credibility forever.


We have to strengthen these voices and sensibilities and isolate those — whether in media management or editorial operations — who have made "paid news" such a lucrative grey market. In politics too, we have to isolate those individuals and candidates who exploit this mechanism and, in effect, spend illegally in cash transactions, on extra advertising and coverage.


Yet, the onus lies with the media, the reason being for a journalist or a newspaper or a news channel, credibility is a key, compelling and non-negotiable attribute. It's either there or it's not there. If it goes it doesn't come back. The media can barter away brand integrity for a short-term, election-time "paid news" bonanza. Six months later there may be a desire to return to rock-solid, old-fashioned journalism which makes better business sense. But it will be too late... "Paid news" is the path of no return.


The coming together of some television channels to collectively offer paid news packages to political parties at the time of the 2009 elections was an example of cartel formation. In business and industry any cartel of sellers usually results in a cartel of buyers and in many rounds of hard bargaining.


The consequences of this in the realm of political advertising are stupendous. Do we want a situation where a committee of marketing representatives of news channels with a few editors and owner-editors thrown in starts negotiating rates with a joint panel of several major parties before every major election? Will offers, counter-offers, rate cards and the promised ad-edit ratio remain a secret?


Consider the implications. We will make a joke of our democracy. As newspaper readers or television watchers or simply as voters, citizens will feel cheated. They will lose faith in political parties and in the media and in the broader process of democratic engagement. These developments should terrify all right-thinking citizens.


Further, it is significant that the media is unique in that it is a profit-seeking business that has constitutional guarantees and protection. No other business — from automobile manufacture to banking — enjoys this privilege.


During the parliamentary debate on this issue members of Parliament were clear that "paid news" was not real news and did not deserve constitutional guarantees under the right to freedom of speech and expression.


There were calls to bring cash transactions leading to "paid news" under income tax audit. There were suggestions that a regulatory system be set up to listen to and act upon complaints of "paid news", seek oral and circumstantial evidence and take punitive measures.


However this is easier said than done. If a case of "paid news" has to be established, it will require corroborative testimony. This could be a confession from one of the parties or it could require eavesdropping on the deal making between political and media house representatives.


There is scope here for sting operations, phone tapping, bugging, wire taps. Remember, it was just such phenomena that led to the Watergate scandal in the 1970s in America. It will all get very murky.


That aside, making out that a particular news item was not genuine but written on other, pecuniary considerations is like walking on a bed of burning coal.


It is within a journalist's brief and a newspaper's mandate to make an assessment of electoral candidates or even as per individual or institutional judgment favour one over the other. This often results in commentary or analysis being written. How does one tell which one is honestly intended and which one paid for? This is a tricky area.


While these tricky issues are being debated perhaps media companies can declare a voluntary moratorium on "paid news". This would be a huge step towards protecting fundamental values in our democracy.


- Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own








If you think this latest Israeli-American flap was just the same-old-same-old tiff over settlements, then you're clearly not paying attention — which is how I'd describe a lot of Israelis, Arabs and American Jews today.


This tiff actually reflects a tectonic shift that has taken place beneath the surface of Israel-US relations. I'd summarise it like this: In the last decade, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — for Israel — has gone from being a necessity to a hobby. And in the last decade, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — for America — has gone from being a hobby to a necessity. Therein lies the problem. The collapse of the Oslo peace process, combined with the unilateral Israeli pullouts from Lebanon and Gaza — which were followed not by peace but by rocket attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas on Israel — decimated Israel's peace camp and the political parties aligned with it.


Israel's erecting of a wall around the West Bank to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from entering Israel (there have been no successful attacks since 2006), along with the rise of the high-tech industry in Israel — which does a great deal of business digitally and over the Internet and is largely impervious to the day-to-day conflict — has meant that even without peace, Israel can enjoy a very peaceful existence and a rising standard of living.


To put it another way, the collapse of the peace process, combined with the rise of the wall, combined with the rise of the web, has made peacemaking with Palestinians much less of a necessity for Israel and much more of a hobby. Consciously or unconsciously, a lot more Israelis seem to believe they really can have it all: a Jewish state, a democratic state and a state in all of the Land of Israel, including the West Bank — and peace.


Why not? Newsweek's Dan Ephron wrote in the January 11, 2010, issue: "An improved security situation, a feeling that acceptance by Arabs no longer matters much, and a growing disaffection from politics generally have, for many Israelis, called into question the basic calculus that has driven the peace process. Instead of pining for peace, they're now asking: who needs it?... Tourism hit a 10-year high in 2008. Astonishingly, the International Monetary Fund projected recently that Israel's gross domestic product will grow faster in 2010 than that of most other developed countries. In short, Israelis are enjoying a peace dividend without a peace agreement".


Now, in the same time period, America went from having only a small symbolic number of soldiers in West Asia to running two wars there — in Iraq and Afghanistan — as well as a global struggle against violent Muslim extremists. With US soldiers literally walking the Arab street — and, therefore, more in need than ever of Muslim good will to protect themselves and defeat Muslim extremists — Israeli-Palestinian peace has gone from being a post-cold-war hobby of US diplomats to being a necessity.


Both the US vice-president, Mr Joe Biden, and Gen. David Petraeus have been quoted recently as saying that the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict foments anti-US sentiments, because of the perception that the US usually sides with Israel, and these sentiments are exploited by Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran to generate anti-Americanism that complicates life for our soldiers in the region. I wouldn't exaggerate this, but I would not dismiss it either. The issue that should make peacemaking a necessity rather than a hobby for both the US and Israel is confronting a nuclear Iran. Unfortunately, Israel sees the question of preventing Iran from going nuclear as overriding and separate from the Palestinian issue, while the US sees them as integrated. At a time when the US is trying to galvanise a global coalition to confront Iran, at a time when Iran uses the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict to embarrass pro-US Arabs and extend its influence across the Muslim world, peace would be a strategic asset for America and Israel.


Ari Shavit, a columnist for the Israeli daily Haaretz, last week argued that Israel should adopt a more integrated view — which he calls a "Palestine-Iran-Palestine" strategy: Israel should take the initiative with an overture to the Palestinians, which would make progress on that front easier, which would strengthen the US coalition against Iran, which could ultimately weaken Tehran and its allies, Hamas and Hezbollah, which would open the way for more progress on the Palestine-Israel front. He suggests that Israel reach an interim agreement with Palestinians on the West Bank or even consider a partial, unilateral withdrawal there.


"One way or another", said Shavit, "Netanyahu should have made a genuine move on the Palestinian front that would have made genuine moves on the Iranian front possible, that would have made dealing with the core of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute possible at a later stage".


Indeed, Jerusalem, settlements, peace, Iran — they're all connected and pretending you can treat some as a hobby and one as a necessity is an illusion.








It pays to think on one's feet. But sometimes even such skills cannot extricate you from a royal mess. Or ask the Rajasthan home minister, Shanti Dhariwal.


The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) recently lambasted him for using the word "Saala" while referring to one of their MLAs. Now the word "Saala" is originally from Prakrit and is used in Hindi as well as in Urdu to refer to brothers-in-law too. But it is also a term of abuse. Everything depends on the sense in which you use it.


In this case, it was the Congress MLA, Saleh Mohammed, who finally came to the minister's rescue, so to say. Under attack from the BJP, Mr Dhariwal suddenly came up with an explanation. "I was just saying I would solve a problem in Saleh's constituency". (Maine itna hi kaha ki Salehji sab theek kar dunga). But the BJP was not impressed and the issue was resolved only after three days and the intervention of the chief minister, Ashok Gehlot.


Not your pyjamas, sir


This seems to be the season of wrong words used at the wrong time. Deepak Singhal, joint secretary in the fertiliser ministry, also fell victim to this trend. At the Sixth Asia Gas Partnership Summit, he was trying to explain why gas should be priced at affordable rates. "If the trousers are priced at one million dollars, I will say sorry I will wear pyjamas", he said. But Mr Singhal soon realised that the chief guest of the occasion, the minister of state for petroleum and natural gas, Jitin Prasada, also wears traditional kurta-pyjama. Fearing that Mr Prasada may think he was making fun of people wearing pyjamas, Mr Singhal quickly clarified: "Pardon me Sir, I didn't say it in your context". Mr Prasada nodded smilingly to ensure Mr Singhal that his clarification was accepted.


Naveen the wily


Nearly 12 years after making his debut in politics, the wily chief minister of Orissa, Naveen Patnaik, no more bears the tag of a greenhorn. At least the Orissa Government Employees Association will vouch for this.


The association invited the chief minister and a couple of his ministers to address a meeting of its members at Bhubaneswar recently.


To ensure a huge gathering of employees in the meeting, the association office bearers had also spread "rumours" that the chief minister would announce extension of retirement age of the state government employees from the present 58 to 60 years.


However, Mr Patnaik reportedly got wind of all this. His spies also told him that the association leaders were gearing up to raise farmers' suicide cases and mines scams on the occasion to embarrass him in public. The chief minister then decided not to attend the meeting, and also asked his colleagues to stay away.


The association leaders were disappointed when Mr Patnaik did not turn up and expectedly, the meeting turned into a platform for Naveen bashing.


Bee jokes aplenty


Uttar Pradesh is now in the grip of "bee jokes". Ever since the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati found a swarm of bees hovering over her at a recent Bahujan Samaj Party rally, she has been fuming with rage. She ordered an inquiry against the bee attack and officials — apparently at their wits' end — even registered a case against "unnamed persons" (bees?) at the police stations.


This has triggered a torrent of bee jokes. Sample some of them:


* Do you know why the bees went back without harming Ms Mayawati? Well, they found she was the Queen Bee.
* Why did the bees rush to the dais? Well, they couldn't resist the charm of the currency garland.
Meanwhile, the police officer who was asked to probe the bee incident, has also been shying away from public because of the volley of questions that confront him. "Where are you going to keep the bees after their arrest? Will you handcuff them?" Anyone in his place would obviously make a beeline for the nearest door.


Unholy machinations


Assam politicians have added a new dimension to deal making in the prelude to the March 26 Rajya Sabha elections.
Money is flowing from all the corners to placate MLAs who seem to have identified the Rajya Sabha elections as a lifetime opportunity to make cash.


All this machinations are on because the ruling alliance does not have the strength to win both the seats. If insiders are to be believed, three independent MLAs were "bought" at Rs 2 crores besides a commitment to invest three years MP LAD fund (Rs 6 crores) to their respective constituencies. The legislators are said to have already been paid Rs 50 lakhs in advance.


The chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, and his minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, have also openly said that MLAs are approaching them for government projects to develop their respective constituencies in return of their vote in the Rajya Sabha elections. It is for the Election Commission to say if offering developmental projects for vote comes under the purview of corruption.


Hunger for perks


If a recent development is any indication, the MLAs of Orissa are more concerned about their salaries and perks than they are about starving people in the state. The Orissa Assembly was to discuss an adjournment motion on hunger deaths in the state on March 15. The Opposition Congress had moved the motion to goad the state government to act on rising poverty levels in the backward district of Bolangir which allegedly has led to a number of hunger deaths.


However, the issue, which was to come up for discussion after Zero Hour, was ignored as the entire House focused its attention on the demand for hiking salaries of MLAs, raised by a ruling Biju Janata Dal member, Pradeep Maharathy. MLAs, cutting across party lines, tried to put forth their points in support of the demand for an astronomical hike in their salary and perks. Some expressed fear that they would die of hunger if the government did not effect a hike in their salary — from the present Rs 21,500 per month to at least Rs 1 lakh. In the process, the real hungry lot was conveniently forgotten.


Serenading the Bachchans


Apart from their love for each other, what was the common passion that Amitabh Bachchan and his wife Jaya Bachchan shared during the days of their courtship?


Nearly 37 years into their marriage, Jaya revealed that secret, turning nostalgic at the inaugural function of "Gurukul Vrindaban", the classical music school set up by flute wizard Hariprasad Chaurasia, on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar on March 21. "I am revealing before this august gathering a secret of our life. The mesmerising creations of Santoor maestro Pandit Shivkumar Sharma kept us together. The soul-stirring music of Panditji gave a meaning to our love", said the Guddi girl.


"When we were not together in those days, we used to feel each other's presence by playing Panditji's discographies", recalled Jaya. Pandit Sharma, who also graced the occasion, appeared overwhelmed by the euology.









Yup, we need a Nope.


A nun who is pope.


The Catholic Church can never recover as long as its Holy Shepherd is seen as a black sheep in the ever-darkening sex abuse scandal.


Now we learn the sickening news that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, nicknamed "God's Rottweiler" when he was the church's enforcer on matters of faith and sin, ignored repeated warnings and looked away in the case of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, a Wisconsin priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys.


The church has been tone deaf and dumb on the scandal for so long that it's shocking, but not surprising, to learn from the New York Times' Laurie Goodstein that a group of deaf former students spent 30 years trying to get church leaders to pay attention.


"Victims give similar accounts of Father Murphy's pulling down their pants and touching them in his office, his car, his mother's country house, on class excursions and fund-raising trips and in their dormitory beds at night", Goodstein wrote. "Arthur Budzinski said he was first molested when he went to Father Murphy for confession when he was about 12, in 1960".


It was only when the sanctity of the confessional was breached that an archbishop in Wisconsin (who later had to resign when it turned out he used church money to pay off a male lover) wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger at the Vatican to request that Father Murphy be defrocked.


The cardinal did not answer. The archbishop wrote to a different Vatican official, but Father Murphy appealed to Cardinal Ratzinger for leniency and got it, partly because of the church's statute of limitations. Since when does sin have a statute of limitations?


The pope is in too deep. He has proved himself anything but infallible. And now he claims he was uninformed on the matter of an infamous German paedophile priest. A spokesman for the Munich archdiocese said on Friday that Ratzinger, running the diocese three decades ago, would not have read the memo sent to him about Father Peter Hullermann's getting cycled back into work with children because between 700 to 1,000 memos go to the archbishop each year.


Let's see. That's two or three memos a day. And Ratzinger was renowned at the Vatican for poring through voluminous, recondite theological treaties.


Because he did not defrock the demented Father Murphy, it's time to bring in the frocks. Pope Benedict has continued the church's ban on female priests and is adamant against priests' having wives. He has started two investigations of American nuns to check on their "quality of life" — code for seeing if they've grown too independent. As a cardinal he wrote a Vatican document urging women to be submissive partners and not take on adversarial roles toward men. But the completely paternalistic and autocratic culture of Il Papa led to an insular, exclusionary system that failed to police itself, and that became a corrosive shelter for secrets and shame. If the church could throw open its stained glass windows and let in some air, invite women to be priests, nuns to be more emancipated and priests to marry, if it could banish criminal priests and end the sordid culture of men protecting men who attack children, it might survive. It could be an encouraging sign of humility and repentance, a surrender of arrogance, both moving and meaningful.


Cardinal Ratzinger devoted his Vatican career to rooting out any hint of what he considered deviance. The problem is, he was obsessed with enforcing doctrinal orthodoxy and somehow missed the graver danger to the most vulnerable members of the flock. The sin-crazed "Rottweiler" was so consumed with sexual mores — issuing constant instructions on chastity, contraception, abortion — that he didn't make time for curbing sexual abuse by priests who were supposed to pray with, not prey on, their young charges.


American bishops have gotten politically militant in recent years, opposing the healthcare bill because its language on abortion wasn't vehement enough, and punishing Catholic politicians who favour abortion rights and stem cell research. They should spend as much time guarding the kids already under their care as they do championing the rights of those who aren't yet born.


Decade after decade, the church hid its sordid crimes, enabling the collared perpetrators instead of letting the police collar them. In the case of the infamous German priest, one diocese official hinted that his problem could be fixed by transferring him to teach at a girls' school. Either they figured that he would not be tempted by the female sex, or worse, the church was even less concerned about putting little girls at risk.


The nuns have historically cleaned up the messes of priests. And this is a historic mess. Benedict should go home to Bavaria. And the cardinals should send the white smoke up the chimney, proclaiming "Habemus Mama".








When you get tired or maybe simply bored, you long for a cup of coffee that will make you alert. After a steaming cup of coffee the level of adrenaline rises and you feel energetic. And slowly you start depending on the rush of adrenaline generated by the caffeine.


A recent study at the Duke University Medical Centre in America, found that "coffee is an anti-nutrient, it hampers the absorption of essential minerals including iron, magnesium, zinc and potassium, as well as the B vitamins". So, for example, drinking a cup of coffee while eating a hamburger can reduce the amount of iron you absorb by 40 per cent. This second favourite drink of the world constantly stimulates the production of adrenaline and puts excessive wear and tear on the adrenal glands.


Modern people need an artificial booster because they don't know how to tap their own source of energy to combat daily stress. That source is meditation. There have been lots of research to find out whether the effect of meditation can be measured or it is just a fantasy of spiritual seekers? A new study suggests that the benefits of meditation are measurable. In fact, meditation has proved more effective than naps, exercise or caffeine to make people more alert. These are the results of recent research when researchers tested the alertness of some volunteers in Boston. The results were presented at a recent conference of the Society for Neuroscience.


Sara Lazar at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and her colleagues have found that meditating actually increases the thickness of the cortex in areas involved in attention and sensory processing.


That means ancient yogis weren't just sitting in the caves for nothing! Meditation is a highly creative and subtle activity that develops the capacity of the brain and nourishes it. Up to now science was not well-equipped to measure these effects and therefore meditators were looked down upon as "good for nothings", but now slowly it is being proved that meditation has a very positive influence on the brain. In fact, in these stressed times everybody should devote some time to meditation, to regain their peace and sharpen their intelligence.


Meditation has not been accepted by the mainstream because it is associated with renunciation, religion or escapism. It is thought to be the prerogative of the chosen few. Actually meditation is the fitness of body-mind-soul which has to be included in your daily fitness regime.


Osho prescribes meditation unequivocally to everybody. He has created hundreds of methods which can be offered to people as their individual health tonic. Osho says: "The mind of a meditator is far more brilliant, far more intelligent, far more alive and sensitive, than the mind of a non-meditator, because the mind of a meditator has few periods of deep rest that rejuvenates it. If you see a meditator and he is not intelligent, that simply means he is not a meditator at all. A meditator cannot be stupid, a meditator cannot be mediocre; that is impossible. If one meditates regularly, then s/he will radiate sharpness, intelligence and brilliance. S/he will be a genius and creative. In fact, if we can create more and more meditators in the world, in every dimension of life, there will be more creativity, more intelligence, less stupidity, less lethargy".


This seems like a sure-shot remedy to improve the quality of human life. So have a cup of meditation every morning and gear up for the day.— Amrit Sadhana is in the management team of Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune. She facilitates meditation workshops around the country and abroad.








A week that unfolded with the watershed Healthcare Bill concluded with another historic breakthrough. Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev have agreed to sign an arms control agreement in Prague on 8 April, one that promises to be the most comprehensive since the Cold War. Pre-eminently, the USA and Russia have agreed that strategic warheads are to be truncated by a third, a reduction that will be matched with substantial cuts in missiles and long-range delivery systems. And the reductions will be significantly lower than those achieved by the START treaty (1991) and the Moscow pact in 2002. It has taken decades to break the deadlock and the agreement must rank as a milestone in international relations. On the face of it, the military aspect of last Friday's nuclear disarmament deal is quite the most critical. No less profound, one must add, is the achievement in political and diplomatic terms. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that Presidents Obama and Medvedev have ensured that the legacy of the Cold War lapses in the limbo of history. Both leaders have signalled a new chapter in US-Russian relations. 

Doubtless more than Medvedev's, it is a twin achievement for Obama. Friday marked a momentous triumph in foreign policy just as last Sunday's vote on the Healthcare Bill was a victorious affirmation of his domestic agenda. Even his critics will concede that rhetoric has been translated into action by a President whose popular ratings had plunged to 46 per cent. He certainly has shored up his image internationally not least with his uncompromising position in talks with Israel's Benjamin Netanhayu ~ another coincidence of a memorable week. Pledges in domestic as much as foreign policy have been fulfilled. The Obama administration has delivered on its resolve to "re-set" equations with the USA's former superpower rival. 
The breakthrough is still more critical as it comes ahead of next month's  nuclear security summit in Washington and the UN's nuclear non-proliferation review in May. A world without nuclear weapons ~ Obama's pre-election pledge ~ is still a long way away.  But a message has been delivered to Iran and North Korea. The irony must be that he has fructified his peace pledge only after winning the Nobel Peace prize. He scarcely seemed deserving of the award last October. If the world was then stunned, it must now begin to get impressed. 







THE Communist Party of India (Marxist) appears to be on course for a reinterpretation of history. Of course, a social science discipline is open to subjective reflection; yet any re-evaluation of an event or historical process must go beyond an exercise in renewed tinkering. More the pity, therefore, that in this renewed exercise, the party has confined itself to a rapid-fire survey primarily to live down the image of the Forties when the undivided entity was branded by certain sections as "a traitor to the national cause". Notably, the topics that aroused controversy were the party's perception of Netaji, the Quit India movement and Independence. The last, it bears recall, had provoked the party's barb, yeh azaadi jhooti hai. Still later, the India-China war (1962) was the subject of a contentious debate, leading to the split in 1964. The booklet mentions a "section in the party" that advocated "support for the Congress" in 1953. The ruling classes have been blamed for having "utilised the divisions" in the wake of the China war. 

Much of this known. Yet, Prakash Karat is "aiming at the youth". Ergo for the generation then unborn, the party has released a booklet, Com. Harkishan Singh Surjeet: Highlights of an Inspiring Life, the first in a series that will examine the role of the leaders in the freedom struggle and "put facts in the proper context". It is the underpinning that is terribly critical, pertaining largely to the party's perception of the freedom movement. Logically, the exercise follows Basu's re-evaluation of Netaji in a more objective and respectable paradigm than the original below-the-belt epithet of  "Tojo's dog". It bears recall that a similar attempt to reinterpret the Quit India movement ~ though not very effectively ~ was made by the Bengal lobby on its 50th anniversary (1992). 
Was the party gravely mistaken on several landmarks of Indian history? As yet there is no such admission of blunders. At the launch, the former MP, Nilotpal Basu, made a somewhat strenuous effort to rectify distortions. "Several of our leaders were satyagrahis in the Congress. It is important to tell the youth about our proud legacy and counter the propaganda about our role in 1942 and 1962." In history, both fact and "propaganda" need to be substantiated through documented footnotes. And if  the party attempts to project its updated perception through slim booklets, the exercise will be inadequate, almost perfunctory. It has to be a thorough work of reassessed history, a task that ought to be entrusted to the band of fellow-traveller historians. 








'SUCCESSFUL' conduct of the World Cup has brought presumed rewards. The international body, FIH, has announced allocating India one world-level competition (for men or women) a year for the next four years. Yet what constituted success? An unimpressive eighth place for the home side that flattered to deceive when it performed brilliantly against Pakistan, a fixture in which there has ever been more than hockey at play? Surely not conditions at the refurbished National Stadium where the re-laid synthetic surface has yet to settle, and from where a host of glitches were reported? Nor could it be the turnout, there was a "gallery" only when India was playing, hardly a reflection of genuine sporting appreciation? No, what caused the FIH to be suddenly "sold" on India were the commercial returns the event generated. Money, just that. Only in theory could it be argued that more international exposure would raise domestic standards ~ it would not require a Dhyan Chand to diagnose the malady as something radically different. Apart from the several shortcomings pointed out by coach Brasa, or the lament over a dearth of artificial pitches, the true state of the game is portrayed by what is no longer served up at the Beighton Cup, Aga Khan, Gold Cup, and Nehru Memorial tournaments. The rot has percolated down to the grassroots. Even the contention that big bucks will always be forthcoming appears skewed, the World Cup money-spinner could have been a one-off affair. If FIH has the good of Indian hockey at heart it must not back off from its insistence on the election deadline. Alas, there can be no discounting the possibility of a manipulated poll. There is, however, something that whoever takes control of Indian hockey must learn from the BCCI ~ how to use its money-supply to advantage. If India does indeed provide a major chunk of FIH's funding, why has it allowed so much trampling underfoot of the subcontinent's unique hockey skills? Just about every change in the rules ~ Dhyan Chand and his contemporaries would be hard-pressed to comprehend the contemporary game ~ has favoured the highly physical European style of play. Such acquiescence from those providing the financial spine defies explanation. So it would help if the IHF sought some tips from Jagmohan Dalmiya, I S Bindra, Sharad Pawar, Lalit Modi… That brand of Boardroom "stickwork" is critical to the revival of what we once called our national sport.








Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in their joint press conference displayed bonhomie that bordered on an embarrassing display of flirtation. "We had a PPP meeting," Qureshi gushed. "That means it was a Public Private Partnership!" This inane schoolboy humour aroused gales of laughter from Clinton. One doesn't know whether it was Cupid or Chanakya at work.
This public display of extra warmth did not quite obscure the denial of a Nuclear Civilian deal to Pakistan. Nevertheless Indian analysts are dismayed by the US attitude towards nuclear-proliferating Pakistan. Pakistan is promised dollars and arms that can be used only in conventional war. But the critics should not resort to hasty condemnation. They should await the end result of the US-Pak interaction. It has to be seen whether the US has finally gone under or whether it is very, very belatedly trying to extricate itself from the deep hole that it dug itself into. The critics themselves have woken up to the subversion of America's national interest by its leaders very late. This scribe has been warning for over a decade about the distortions of US policy that is now exposing Washington's impotence. A quick recap of those warnings would be in order.

Unholy combine

This scribe described the US corporate-China nexus cemented by their joint approach to Pakistan as the real axis of evil. Initially Israel was part of this axis. Befriending China to split it from the Soviet Union made strategic sense in the early 1970s. But this axis soon degenerated into an unholy exploitative combine that helped spread nuclear proliferation and encouraged terrorism. Israel, which helped China become a nuclear power, may be having second thoughts now. It may have to rue the day when it strengthened China. In the years to come China could dump Israel because it no longer needs its arms or technology. China needs energy which is provided by Islamic nations bitterly opposed to Israel. Nixon as the co-architect of this axis along with Kissinger was tainted and discarded. Out of power he confessed to columnist William Safire that by building up China, the US had created a Frankenstein's monster. While Nixon sank into oblivion, Kissinger's power and influence grew with each succeeding presidency. He remains the point's man of the US-China axis. Thanks to this axis, America today is not only a huge debtor to China but is also impotent to counter Beijing's excesses in promoting nuclear proliferation and terrorism. The establishments in America and China are both corrupt. But in China power-driven politicians are in the driving seat. In America profit-driven bankers are in the driving seat. That is why China has been prevailing over America. Enough evidence to substantiate this truth has been provided in the past by this scribe. It does not bear repetition. Now America has to extricate Pakistan from the total control exercised over it by China without upsetting its own economic applecart. Chances appear remote but are not impossible.  

The confusion surrounding the David Coleman Headley case is symptomatic of the complexities attending the US crisis. Headley could not have operated without strong logistical support from sections within the US establishment. He could be part, therefore, of a powerful fifth column that aids terrorism and has established presence in the governments of America, India and Pakistan. Headley has implicated serving Pakistan army officers in 26/11. The FBI exposed Headley and arrested him. It forewarned the Indian government of the 26/11 attack. Yet it could not prevent the attack. One prominent Indian columnist described the intelligence provided to India by FBI as "vague". Identifying the hotels that were to be attacked and the fact that the terrorists would come by sea was anything but vague. Indian agencies provided security to the hotels. But a few days before the attack occurred the security was mysteriously removed. More ominously, permission to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to attend a function in one of the targeted hotels before 26/11 occurred was granted by security agencies. Why? Was this monumental ineptitude or sabotage? No inquiry into this lapse has come to light. The bottomline is that either deliberately or by default the operations of Headley were facilitated by America, India and Pakistan. So, is there or is there not an evil axis at work?

 America wants the civilian democratic government in Pakistan to exercise its authority over its army. According to reports some far-reaching amendments to the Pakistan constitution are likely to be introduced within the fortnight to achieve this goal. The results of this effort must be seen before any final judgment on the US achievement in Pakistan can be made.

Civilian democracy

However, for argument's sake, even if civilian democracy does get strengthened at the expense of the army in Pakistan that will not necessarily solve India's problems. The litmus test for India will remain Pakistan's attitude to China vis-à-vis India. Both Prime Minister Gilani and Foreign Minister Qureshi have indicated their total compliance with China's anti-Indian role in South Asia. American and Indian interests in Pakistan may not, therefore, coincide. US-Pakistan relations are presently in a flux. A clearer picture must emerge before defining India's own policy. If present trends continue and both America and Pakistan continue to kowtow to China at India's expense, New Delhi must make fundamental changes in its foreign policy. Alternative options are available. India can dump America, curb China and tame Pakistan. But it would be futile to outline the measures necessary to achieve this as long as we are ruled by a political class that can neither conjure the vision to aspire, nor summon the will to act.  







SIR, ~ The US healthcare legislation is more than a Bill. It seeks to break an entrenched mindset.  The ghost of neo-liberalism was exorcised by Senator McCarthy in the 1940s. Some in America may be wondering whether the Healthcare Bill marks a measure of socialism. The country was shortchanged by two wars, was severely hit by capitalism in 2008 and is now struggling to recover. The majority of Americans consider socialistic-liberalism as the ultimate of evils. You cannot blame them as in the span of two centuries this country has witnessed more of prosperity and less of setbacks.
  The economy is marked by unrestrained individual enterprise and profits. Given this  record of wealth creation, the economy does not envisage a role for the State in an equitable distribution of wealth.
By getting the Bill approved, Barack Obama has countered dogma with change.

;Yours, etc., R Narayanan, 

Ghaziabad, 16 March.

Political tokenism

SIR, ~ In her article "Sound of silence" (11 March), Anisha Bhaduri has very correctly stated that the Women's Reservation Bill is a brand of "politically correct tokenism to defeat the silence of inaction sometimes". One has to agree with her that a sense of entitlement is a very helpful thing. She has raised a simple but vital question. If the top urban educated polite faces tell us that Indian women have progressed a lot they, however, cover only a small segment of Indian women. There are millions who are not even aware why this historical Bill is relevant for them.
The first precondition for a democracy to develop is to make its people aware through education and communication. It does not happen suddenly. It calls for sure and steady steps and the political will.

However, in the Indian brand of democracy, the first failure was the unwillingness to educate the people in the real sense of the term. Hence the gender disparity. Mothers, wives, daughters all had their voices choked. Determined men continued to play with the destiny of women.


Even today, educated and working women too, feel secure when they have a husband to look up to. Moreover, 33 per cent reservation will not provide the opportunity to women whose voices matter most. They are not articulate enough to focus their aweful existence or bring to light the abuses they suffer. Even if they get a nomination, an illiterate Dalit woman will be pressured to toe the line of her boss.

There is hardly a political leader who effectively upholds the cause of women. Empowerment and entitlement will remain a paper success to flaunt internationally.

; Yours, etc., Manjusri Banerjea, 

Kolkata, 12 March.

Yalta & Potsdam 

SIR, ~ Professor Sobhanlal Mukherjee's tribute to the late Amlan Datta, "Newer Dimension of Humanism" (19 March) was highly readable. However, I have an issue with certain points in his article. First, he says: "We were shocked that even Stalinist Soviet Union, committed to Marxism-Leninism, did not oppose the American strategy of dropping the bomb." The allied powers were preparing to participate in the Potsdam Conference, when, on 16 July 1945, the experimental explosion of the bomb was successful at Alamogordo, New Mexico. The Potsdam conference began on 17 July 1945. The dropping of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a unilateral decision on the part of Truman. In fact, the attitude of both Truman and Churchill underwent a complete change after the successful atomic explosion.
Secondly, the Yalta conference was not a complete failure, as Prof Mukherjee reckons. The leaders agreed to divide Europe into two "spheres of influence". Churchill reached an understanding with Stalin to conclude a secret agreement by which he proposed 90 per cent predominance in Romania for Russia, the same for Britain in Greece, and Russian control over Bulgaria. The Churchill-Stalin agreement was worked out in Moscow in October 1944. But within a year, when Stalin was placing Communists in power in Bulgaria and Romania through rigged elections, the US Secretary of State, James Byrnes, started criticising the USSR. At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, the United States asserted that the "obligations assumed in the Yalta Declaration had not been carried out." The Russian response was an attack on the British intervention in Greece citing British and American press reports that there were greater excesses than in either Romania or Bulgaria. Stalin was silent while the British brutally suppressed the movement of the Greek Communists. 
Prof Mukherjee says that "primitive men needed standards of values, like equality and social justice". Writers like Ernest Mandel have shown that primitive men had a high degree of equality among themselves irrespective of the status of an ordinary tribesman.


;Yours, etc., Rabindranath Basu, Kolkata, 21 March.



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Rulers always needed money, especially the conquerors; so governments and bankers were inseparable. Some of them became privileged enough to become the governments' exclusive bankers. It was only in the 19th century that governments began to realize that all finance was interrelated and that a single bank failure could bring the entire financial system toppling down. The realization led to the emergence of the lender of last resort, the central bank. Central banks would rather be safe than sorry; so they invented precautionary rules. Cash reserve ratios and minimum capital requirements were the first such impositions. India's government had an insatiable thirst for borrowings, so the Reserve Bank of India added a third parameter, the statutory liquidity ratio, to force banks to buy government bonds. Government banks bought government bonds far beyond what they had to hold. So, in effect, they ended up holding more than two-thirds of their assets in government loans. Financing feckless governments became their main business; financing growing businesses was only a side business.


Meanwhile, governments of developed countries moved to unfetter their banks; banks moved into new businesses, at home and abroad. World finance became more interrelated, and systemic risks increased. This suddenly came to light when, following the Lehman Brothers, the big financial institutions of the United States of America hurtled into crises, and a laissez-faire government had to rescue one bank after another. The crisis also gave a new lease of life to the International Monetary Fund. The IMF developed a methodology to estimate systemic riskiness, and found a ready market for it amongst the Group of 20 countries, which have, in effect, appointed themselves the world's stabilizers. Its new tricks have given ideas to the RBI, which has now come up with its own financial stability report. Not surprisingly, it gives high marks for stability to the system that the RBI oversees.


The RBI's way of making any financial activity safe is to ban it. The result is that Indian financial markets are extremely undeveloped; in particular, new financial instruments have borne the full brunt of the RBI's hostility. So India's financial system has remained small and served its growth needs inadequately; it has been dominated by the RBI's favourite government banks, and their margins are about the fattest in the world — India pays heavily for a pittance of credit. These facts will not be exposed in the RBI's beautifully produced reports, and will never be mentioned in the corridors of the North Block. Nor will the IMF ever dare refer to them. But the fact is, financially the government has served India poorly.








It is not a court's job to bring M.F. Husain back to India. But it is a little bizarre that the Supreme Court should have to waste time saying so. A public interest litigation had requested the court to quash the cases against the artist so that he could return to India and live with dignity. For one, the court said that it could not simply quash cases filed by individuals. And second, Mr Husain could come back to India and live with dignity if he wishes — he can live with dignity wherever he chooses. Neither the court nor the prime minister — whom the PIL asked to intervene — can force Mr Husain to come back, just as no one can force him to stay in Qatar.


The absurdity of the PIL raises questions about Indians' understanding of law and justice. Undoubtedly, there are some passing thrills to be got from filing a PIL of this sort, demonstrating both an overwhelming concern for Mr Husain as well as a patriotic fervour meant to shame the chauvinists whose depredations drove him to self-exile. But the court is not the place to air such sentiments. Mr Husain's return or otherwise does not depend on law. And it would be an injustice to Mr Husain if it is implied that he does not know what is best for himself. The PIL was developed after the Emergency so that civil society groups or concerned citizens could file cases cheaply on behalf of poor or otherwise disadvantaged people whose rights were being violated. Mr Husain does not fit the category. The abuse and frivolous application of this tool had led the Supreme Court to lay down strict guidelines for the filing of PILs. It seems truly strange that the PIL for the quashing of Mr Husain's cases should have slipped past those guidelines, for it does not merit PIL status at all. There must be a rigorous screening procedure that would prevent such petitions from reaching the courtroom and wasting the court's time. With India's enormous and overdue caseload, its courts cannot afford to waste time on the obvious.









Policymakers in New Delhi have had enough of the poverty lobby, which keeps whining about how 200 million or more Indians subsist below the level of poverty. Do not these people see anything but the flip side of things? Here then is a stick to beat this lobby with. Two of the ten top billionaires in the world, the Forbes magazine has just announced, are from India. Is not that a fact even starving Indians should be proud of?


An equally encouraging report, has emanated from United Nations sources. India has finally made it as one of the world's top ten industrial nations. China has succeeded in emerging, right after the United States of America, as the second largest industrialized country, pushing Japan down to the third position. A cluster of five European nations occupies the next five slots; India is ninth in the list followed by the lone Latin American nation, Brazil.


Those in the country who have been dreaming of matching China in economic and industrial performance may be a shade disappointed. Even so, to be one of the industrial titans in the world is no mean achievement. And there will be others to point out that the greater concern should rather be about whether we can hold on to where we have already arrived, whether we would be able to maintain in the coming years the currently reigning momentum of industrial growth.


For it is an unusual framework of industrial development policy-formulators have been experimenting with. Growth has been mostly propelled by activities, which either cater to exports or meet the consumption — and consumption related — demands of the top 10 to 15 per cent of the community. Can this arrangement be viable over any reasonable stretch of time?


The issues are fairly straightforward. The country's upper and upper middle classes control the polity and therefore exercise control over its economic agenda. They have an enormous hunger for consumer durables, including glitzy automobiles and a whole range of luxury items covering textiles, food, drinks, tourism and entertainment. There is always a sliver of apprehension: what if a saturation point is reached in this brand of grand consumption demand generated from such a narrow section? Such an eventuality could give rise to what economists describe as demand deficiency.


A slack in the domestic demand for industrial products might of course be made good, either wholly or in part, in case a spurt takes place in exports. Here too, though, problems abound. India produces a wide range of manufactures and service items for which a clientele has grown steadily in different parts of the world. The key factor still continues to be exports to the US. That country is trying to dig itself out of the hole it found itself in two years ago. But progress is halting. If the American economy grows by barely one per cent or thereabouts in the foreseeable future, India would have little prospect of raising significantly the level of its exports there. China with its superior productivity in several areas might also nibble into India's potential share in the American market.


That apart, hanging like Damocles' sword will be the issue of outsourcing, which has contributed in a major way to the income — and consumption — explosion of the Indian middle class. There is a built-in resentment within the American nation at the fact that the country's administration is yet to come down heavily on the practice of outsourcing which, it is claimed, robbed qualified American citizens of employment opportunities and, instead, rewarded foreigners. Should the US economy fail to pick up soon, opposition to job losses through outsourcing might get shriller and shriller and force the authorities there to some action that could cast a pall on the prospects of demand that is crucial to sustain India's industrial growth rate.


Problems on the supply side can hardly be ignored either. The tempo of growth in manufactures can be maintained only if productive capacity is adequate. In the past, the public sector had contributed substantially to the expansion of industrial capacity via investments on a large scale. Neo-liberal economic philosophy is now the ruling ideology and the role of the public sector is shrinking fast. Disinvestment, in fact, is the dominant slogan, and even the so-called Navaratnas among the public sector undertakings are being forced to shed their equity to private entities. In the circumstances, further capacity creation in the industrial sector, including in the sphere of infrastructure, will largely depend on private initiatives. This is where concern is inevitable. With tax on dividends off and continuous lowering of the overall direct tax burden, it is carnival time for India's stock exchanges. In addition, international finance capital has arrived in strength, inducing share prices to reach dizzy heights. Even ordinary householders are borrowing from the banks to partake of the share market banquet. It is an old adage that has not yet lost its validity: when share prices rule high, savings contract and capital investment in productive assets receives the short shrift. The rate of private investment has, in fact, levelled off in recent years; investors are most reluctant to invest in industrial capacity expansion in the time of share market buoyancy.


There is apparently no easy way out. The country's elite never had it so good, they are determined not to vacate the vantage position they have come to occupy. It will be excruciatingly difficult to convince them that disturbing the present arrangements, such as dampening the share market and suspending the regime of low direct taxes, is called for, really for their own sake: to ensure the viability of the class-biased economic growth model thrust upon the nation.


If persuasion fails and the upper and upper middle classes refuse to abdicate the advantages they have come to corner, another way out of the looming investment crisis can be thought of. This will entail refocusing attention on the farm sector. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries continue to provide livelihood to more than one-half of our countrymen. The principal policy plank of economic liberalization has been a purposive withdrawal of the State from all spheres of economic activity, including from the farm sector. With public investment languishing and no private parties ever dreaming of putting their money on such projects as irrigation, land reclamation and rural roads that are exceedingly low-yielding in nature, what could be expected has happened: the rate of farm growth has declined ominously since the mid-1990s. In case the dogma of refraining from public investment is discarded and farm production and productivity revived through State initiative, the spin-off could be a rise in the income level of more than one-half of the national population, which in turn could lead to a significant strengthening of the demand for industrial goods as well.


But where is the government going to find the money to invest in agriculture? Financial orthodoxy is the ruling deity: this year's budget has actually promised to cut back the fiscal deficit to 5.5 per cent of the gross domestic product. Providing for public investment in agriculture is likely to be an awesomely difficult task. Should the authorities seek to put the squeeze on some other areas in order to arrange funds for agriculture? But what are these areas? The defence and security budget, for instance, can hardly be tampered with; any step towards that direction will infuriate the domestic jingos and alienate both the Americans and the commission agents. Should the government then propose fresh taxation measures? We are thus back to the original problem. The direct tax burden has been purposely lowered in recent years to encourage elite consumption. Any rethinking in this sphere will be regarded as outrageous by those who matter. Is the way out then in more indirect imposts, leading to further price rise and greater immiseration of the poorer classes?It is an awkward trap of a political economy that the ruling classes have walked into; adding to the number of native billionaires will be of little avail for getting out of it.








At the same time, the British government was warning its citizens that they risk having their passports cloned if they travel to Israel. Twelve members of the Israeli hit-team, which murdered the Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai, used passports that had been cloned by Israeli officials at Ben Gurion airport from genuine British passports."Such misuse of British passports is intolerable," said the foreign secretary, David Miliband. "The fact that this was done by a country which is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural, business and personal ties to the UK, only adds insult to injury." He then ordered the expulsion of the head of the intelligence services at the Israeli embassy in London. The French and German governments may do the same thing, for the Israeli assassins in Dubai used French and German passports too. But none of that will bother most Israelis, since they already see the Europeans as hypocritical and disloyal.


But falling out with the loyal Americans is a different matter. Israel depends heavily on the United States of America for weapons, financial aid and diplomatic backing, and now Netanyahu finds himself in a contest of wills with Obama. His problems with Washington became acute with the announcement, during the US vice-president's visit to Israel, that 1,600 more homes for Jews would be built in occupied East Jerusalem. It was an "insult to the US," said the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, as it deliberately sabotaged American attempts to restart the peace negotiations.


Several options


That is Washington's interpretation of the event, and it certainly does resemble Netanyahu's tactic during his previous stint as prime minister. His goal has always been to expand Israeli settlement and control in the occupied territories and ward off any peace deal that hinders that process. Now that he finds himself in a confrontation with the White House, what are his options?


One, obviously, is simply to give in and stop expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. That would cause the immediate collapse of the far-right coalition government Netanyahu now leads, but an alternative coalition including the centrist Kadima Party would not be hard to construct.The main obstacle to that option is Netanyahu himself. Despite his reputation as a slippery character, he has always been rock-solid on the issue of land, particularly with regard to Jerusalem.


What other options does Netanyahu have? He can just wait for the wind to change in Washington. The mid-term Congressional elections get closer by the month, and Democratic members of the Congress, who fear that the powerful pro-Israeli lobby will subsidize the campaigns of their opponents, will be begging Obama to let Netanyahu have his way.


It would be humiliating for the White House, but it's almost traditional for American presidents to be humbled by Israel, and they all survived the experience. If Obama sticks to his guns and the confrontation becomes a political liability for Netanyahu, he can always change the subject entirely by attacking Iran. Washington would be privately furious that Israel had embroiled it in a dangerous confrontation, but publicly it would have to back Israel's play. So perhaps we should hope that Obama backs down at some earlier stage in the proceedings. After all, it's not as if the Israeli-Palestinian "proximity talks" were going to produce anything useful.









The questioning of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi by the Special Investigating Team (SIT) is a step towards unearthing some terrible truths related to the 2002 communal pogrom in the state. Modi has been questioned in connection with a case involving a mob attack on the Gulbarg housing society in Ahmedabad in which former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri and 68 others were killed. This is the first time that Modi has been questioned for his complicity in the pogrom. He is the first chief minister ever to be questioned in a criminal complaint of mass killings. Whether this will result in his trial or arrest or even at a minimum in an FIR in which he is named remains to be seen. The quest for justice in the Gujarat riots has never been easy. Previous investigations ordered by the Gujarat government let police and politicians off the hook. Fast track courts in Gujarat acquitted dozens of accused. There have been strong allegations levelled against the composition and functioning of the present SIT too. The special public prosecutor has accused the SIT of bias and of providing weak support to the prosecution team. One wonders then whether the questioning of Modi is an eyewash aimed at refurbishing the SIT's sagging credibility or whether hard questions were put to him to establish his true role in the riots.

Past experience suggests that the SIT investigations might not actually lead to convictions of those at the top during the riots. Yet there have been several court orders and rulings as in the Bilkis Banu and Best Bakery cases that provide hope that justice does ultimately prevail. Where Modi's questioning by the SIT will go is unclear. Still, that he was subjected to questioning is a step forward. Such questioning seemed impossible even a few months ago. It serves as a reminder to those in positions of power that they are answerable for their acts of omission and commission and that they cannot always expect to get away.

The Congress has adopted a holier-than-thou position in its response to Modi's questioning. This is astounding given the fact that it was a Congress government that presided over the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. It is a matter of shame that Congress leaders linked with the riots still walk free. If public confidence in India's justice mechanisms should be restored, it is essential that all, irrespective of position, power or political leanings, should be tried and convicted for their role in riots.







The Labour government's move to abolish the House of Lords may be seen as part of Britain's democratic evolution, though electoral considerations may have influenced its timing. The unelected House has been an anachronism for long in a vibrant democracy like England. Though the House once had a role in restraining the monarch's powers and making the idea of accountability to parliament accepted, it had long since outlived that purpose and become a body of the monarch's own men and women. The British love for custom and tradition had kept the House alive and made it a part of the parliamentary system. The bill being planned by the Gordon Brown government will replace the House with an elected body, much on the lines of the US Senate.

The new Upper house is proposed to be elected on the basis of proportional representation and the elections will not be on party political lines. It will be much more compact with just over 300 members as against the present strength of 704 peers. One-third of the House would be elected for 15 years at the time of general elections. There may even be some mandatory representation for women and other social groups. There is a welcome provision for recall of the members too. The main weakness of the present system is that the members  are hereditary claimants or appointees. Hereditary entitlements had been reduced over time to less than 100 but since the membership was through appointments the House lacked democratic character.

The House of Lords had progressively lost most of its powers through centuries and last year it lost its functions as a court of last resort with the formation of the supreme court. A total abolition was only a matter of time and though the Lords are certain to oppose there is no way they can prevent it. There is sympathy for the House among some Conservatives but they cannot afford to be seen on the wrong side of history when the general elections are imminent. The abolition of veto power enjoyed by the House of Lords was in 1911 when the Parliament Act was enacted by the House of Commons. When that radical measure which changed the balance of power most decisively between the two Houses is about a century old, the House of Lords is itself set for abolition. It had a historic role but will now recede into history.








Which is the bigger crime in politics, hypocrisy or stupidity? On careful consideration it must be the second, since hypocrisy is not merely useful but often necessary. Only a very foolish minister or Member of Parliament would tell his or her constituents that the petition scribbled on an untidy piece of paper is either meaningless or untenable. A good politician never gets a stiff neck, because he is constantly exercising it downwards, nodding 'yes' vigorously when what he really wants to indicate is a calm and decorous no.

Hypocrisy can be, in specific circumstances, productive. Stupidity is always counterproductive. Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan opted for stupidity when Congress leaders began to pile upon him, obviously after instructions from the top, after he was civil to Amitabh Bachchan during the second opening of the Bandra sealink in Mumbai. (In the old days, inaugurations used to come in two varieties: either they were fraudulent exercises in laying a foundation stone when there was no prospect of anything being built later. Or they were one-off affairs in which a grandee cut a ribbon, smiled for the cameras, made a speech and went home. Now they are designed for multiplier effect; the same project keeps getting re-opened in parts.)
Under attack, Chavan claimed that he would never have gone to the function had he been aware that Amitabh, an international superstar for two generations, had been invited. This makes two things clear: the chief minister of Maharashtra does not read newspapers; and his security detail doesn't mention who will be beside him at a high-profile event. He also expects you and I to believe this. When you set out to tell a lie, you should at least have the decency to tell an intelligent one.

The trouble with public functions is that there are pesky photographers and they take pictures. They wait for the moment when you are animated and smiling; it makes for a better picture. Chavan was doing both as he sat shoulder to shoulder with Amitabh. There was nothing to suggest that he considered Amitabh toxic, somewhere between contagious flu and bubonic plague. Both Amitabh and Chavan were, in fact, being courteous and decent, which is what, I am sure they are as human beings. Amitabh continued to exhibit those qualities after the event; politics dragged Chavan into a bog.

The Congress rationale for bad manners is that Amitabh has agreed to be a brand ambassador for Gujarat by promoting the state's tourism, and was photographed in the company of Narendra Modi. Fine, but why is such political morality an exclusive exercise? There has been no such diktat about Ratan Tata, who not only took land on handsome terms from Narendra Modi for his Nano project but praised Modi as just the kind of chief minister he likes. Many industrialists are as close to Modi and the BJP as they are to Congress, and this is not taken personally.

In any case, it ill behoves a party to take a moral stand when it protects a Sajjan Kumar for nearly three decades, and still manages to ensure, through its control of the executive, soft and biased treatment by the police. Modi must be held accountable for the unforgiveable Gujarat riots, and there must be constant pressure on the judicial process to hasten what has been, so far, only a slow and winding route to his doorstep. But it has at least been faster than the journey after the anti-Sikh riots.

There is a rational reason why Ratan Tata, or any other industrialist, cannot be condemned for sitting in the same frame as Modi. No one in his senses expects a businessman to stop investing in Gujarat just because Modi is chief minister. Democracy has processes through which crime and punishment are measured. Businessmen will not pass judgement at the expense of their balance sheets.

The only regrettable element in this overblown and completely unnecessary fracas is that a public event has been vitiated by personal preferences. This destroys the culture of democracy. Politics provides for wide leeway. Is it secular for Sharad Pawar, for instance, to call on Bal Thackeray with a bunch of flowers and should that be the cause of a rupture in the Congress-NCP alliance in Maharashtra? Even Muslim voters, who have no sympathy for any Thackeray, would laugh at such silly dogmatism.

Ashok Chavan would have done himself a lot of good had he simply told the truth in a controversy where truth served him best. All he needed to say was that he had not sent out the invitations; and that he had been taught the virtue of good manners, which require civil behaviour. He was not offering Amitabh Bachchan a place in his Cabinet; he was only conversing with a man whose films he had seen and enjoyed, and who has, through his screen presence, become a worldwide icon. But that would have required self-confidence and self-belief. Neither can be purchased off the shelf.








The victory in Iraq's March 7 parliamentary election of the secular Iraqiyq bloc headed by former premier Iyad Allawi was a blow against the ethno-sectarian regime in power in Iraq since 2003. Iraqiya won 91 seats in the 325-member national assembly while Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shia sectarian State of Law took 89 seats.

Allawi should be given the first chance to form the next government. But Maliki is pulling out all the stops to prevent this from happening. He is charging fraud and vote rigging although the electoral commission, the UN, and US declared the vote free from major tampering. He warned that unless there was recounts, there could be violence. He convinced the supreme court to allow blocs formed after the election to compete for the top job and is seeking to recruit to his bloc other parties and winners with the aim of securing the most seats before parliament sits in June.

Officials loyal to Maliki could disqualify 55 candidates on the ground that they are covert members of the outlawed Baath party. Since some of those banned could be on Allawi's list, their exclusion would deprive him of his plurality.


Changing path

Ahead of provincial elections last year, Maliki took a secular line and tried to project himself as an Iraqi nationalist. However, as soon as his candidates took office, he reverted to the political Shiism of his Dawa (Enlightenment) party which ran on as a moderately sectarian Shia entity in the poll. Now is he trying to manoeuvre himself into the premiership by making alliances with the fundamentalist Shia Iraqi National Alliance (INA), which won 70 seats, and the Kurdish bloc, with 43 seats.

Maliki is determined to thwart the will of 30 per cent of Iraqis who are secular or Sunni. While Maliki's tactical aim is to retain the post of premier in the new government, his drive to achieve this end also promotes the strategic objective of maintaining the ascendancy of Shia fundamentalists and Kurdish secessionists given power by the Bush administration with the aim of dividing and ruling Iraq.

Allawi is an obstacle to Shia-Kurd ascendancy and this game plan. He personifies the unified, tolerant 'old Iraq' destroyed by the US invasion. He was born in 1945 into a privileged Shia commercial family. His mother belonged to a leading Lebanese Shia clan, his father was an Iraqi doctor and legislator. His grandfather had taken part in negotiations for Iraq's independence from Britain in 1932.

Allawi studied at Baghdad College, the school of Iraq's elite, joined the secular nationalist Baath party as a teenager, trained as a doctor in Baghdad and specialised in London. His first wife was a an Iraqi Catholic; his sister married a Sunni. People of the 'old Iraq' were not ruled by distinctions of sect or ethnicity. It was common for Iraqis of different communities to intermarry and intermarriage was encouraged between Shia and Sunni tribes as a means to promote good relations.

Allawi's background and world view contrast with those of Shias who joined clandestine religious movements. They developed a narrow, sectarian outlook and strove to overthrow the 'old Iraq'. The objective of the tribal Kurds was secession and a Kurdish state embracing  Kurds in Iran, Turkey and Syria as well as Iraq.
The reassertion of ethnic Kurdish and fundamentalist sectarian Shia blocs in Iraq could not only destabilise that country but also countries in strategic West Asia where Shias and Kurds are restive.

Shias are a majority in Saudi Arabia's oil producing Eastern Province. In recent years, the Sunni Saudi government has used both carrot and stick to maintain quiet in this region but tensions have been rising.  Yemen, next door, just achieved a ceasefire with Shia rebels, located on the Saudi border, who have been fighting the secular government in Sanaa for the past six years. Shias, the largest community in Lebanon, in a state based on sectarian power sharing, could exercise their muscle, thereby undermining the country's fragile stability. Shias are demanding political power in Bahrain, a Shia majority country ruled by a Sunni king. Kurds in Iraq's neighbours are clamouring for their right to self-determination. Behind much of the Shia unrest is Iran, which, thanks to the US, finds its ally, Maliki, and INA surrogates in power in Iraq.

Tehran has a major stake in keeping its Iraqi allies in power.  From the day of its founding, the Iranian Islamic Republic has attempted to export its Shia revolutionary ideology. It failed until 2003 when the US overthrew Iraq's secular Baathist regime and installed in power in Iraq Iran's allies. Constantly challenged by the US and under  threat of attack from US ally Israel, Tehran is in no mood to allow its Iraqi allies to be beseted by a secular party headed by secular nationalist Allawi, once an asset of the US CIA.








Those fans of Alfred Hitchcock, now in their 70s, will recollect the great movies of that master of suspense, like 'North by Northwest,' 'Psycho,' 'The Birds' and others. But what fascinated me most was 'The Man Who Knew Too Much,' released  in India during the late 1950s.

This is the only Hitchcock movie with a song. The song  'Que Sera Sera' (Whatever will be, will be)  sung by Doris Day has not been outdated by the ravages of time nor its impact  abated. Written by Livingston and Evans, the song received the 1956 Academy Award for the best original song.

The song was an instant hit in the USA, the UK and equally popular elsewhere. Doris Day made it the signature-song for her popular TV shows. Popularity was such that 'Que Sera Sera' was the name given to the first US aircraft which landed at South Pole in 1956. A duet in the Hindi movie 'Pukar', released in 2000 has so aptly borrowed the refrain of this song — 'Jo bhi ho, so ho...'

'Que Sera Sera' is so admirably fused into the fabric of the plot. It is said that Hitchcock was keen to have Jimmy Stewart for 'The  Man Who Knew Too Much.' But the agents insisted that with Stewart he will also have to take Doris Day as co-star. When Hitchcock agreed, Doris Day demanded a song. Hitchcock put a condition that the song should be such that a mother would sing for a child.

Doris Day was reluctant to sing a child's song, a lullaby, which she thought could never be a hit. Not enthused, she did that in one take but it became the biggest hit of her career. What makes 'Que Sera Sera' so very special is undoubtedly its great simplicity, deployment of quaint foreign phrase and the imagery.

The element of fatality that runs throughout the song may have answers to the currently raging questions: How long will the current global economic crisis last? Will there be an end to the violent acts of terrorism in many parts of the world? How long will it take to completely overcome the Somali pirates now operating in the Gulf of Aden?
Well, the answer to all these and the other so-called million-dollar questions is convincingly simple — Que Sera Sera — whatever will be, will be...








In the list of demands posed by Barack Obama to Benjamin Netanyahu for advancing the peace process, a non-substantive one should raise concern. The U.S. administration demanded written Israeli commitments. Thus the lack of trust in the Israeli prime minister has reached a new low. The U.S. administration has been burned all too often by Israel's "wink and fudge it" policy, and believes that if the spoken word has no meaning, perhaps the written word will have greater validity.

Experienced Israelis and Americans need not search the archives to find documents and agreements that the Israeli government signed but in the end became no more valuable than wrapping paper. The problem is not in the formulation of documents but in the adoption of positions; in other words, in the unbridgeable gap between the right-wing elements in the government like Avigdor Lieberman, Eli Yishai, Moshe Ya'alon and Netanyahu himself, and the concept of "the peace process." In the unbridgeable gap between those supporters of the construction fait accompli who have not given up on the idea of the Greater Land of Israel, and those who truly believe in a two-state solution.

It may be that Netanyahu's failed visit to Washington has made it clear to him that what is landing on his head is not exactly rain, but as long as he believes that the political composition of his coalition will save him from a decision, it seems he would prefer to wipe his forehead and continue maneuvering.


Once again, this is the Labor Party's moment. That same yellowing fig leaf that has granted the prime minister, during his first year in power, an effective cover for his follies and the madness of his partners on the right must now produce a single conclusion: This partnership cannot continue because the party is becoming a partner to the endangering of Israel's security. Ehud Barak and his partners must cease playing the role of Netanyahu's agents. They must stop being dragged after him like some garnish to a policy that is fraught with danger. Israel is already deep in the abyss and only a genuine threat to the government's integrity may somehow rescue it.

Labor must make it clear to Netanyahu that there is no third way. The government must adopt the American demands or risk breaking up. It is not a question of prestige and national pride, but of existence.








If there's a photo the White House should issue after Benjamin Netanyahu's visit, it's a group portrait of the prime minister, his Iraqi counterpart and the president of Afghanistan embracing Barack Obama together.

They are all heads of governments attached to the U.S.'s umbilical cord. They all experience insecurity in the region, and the world is concerned about each of the three's security. Washington manages domestic policy for each of them, since each poses a danger to American foreign policy. In Iraq, Washington is involved in disagreements among Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds. In Afghanistan, Washington dictates conditions to the president to help advance its war against Al-Qaida. And when it comes to Israel, the United States showed clearly last week that it will not allow domestic Israeli politics to interfere with American foreign policy.

The group photo is a fitting picture of how Israel's situation has deteriorated during Netanyahu's short term in office. We're not talking about yet another clumsy Israeli foreign minister whom no one wants to meet, or irksome building permits. Netanyahu poses a threat to Israeli security because he tips the balance of U.S.-Israeli relations, which are essential for our survival. And not only these relations. If Washington gives Israel the cold shoulder, it will be showing the way for other important countries, from Britain to Egypt and Brazil to Turkey, to do the same. Israel is no longer an exotic citron, but has been exposed as just another lemon.


We may mock Netanyahu for the impolite reception he received in Washington; we can snipe about the late hour of his meeting with Obama, past Israeli television's prime time, and ask why Obama abandoned the talk for dinner with his children. But then we remember that this isn't some other country's prime minister who is being kicked around; this danger on wheels is our own.

In a properly-run country, concerned about its own survival, thousands would have met the prime minister on his return, calling for his resignation. In such a country, gangs of squatters who steal land and buildings in Jerusalem would be considered organizations opposed to the nation's security interests. They would be taken to court, at least. In Israel, they are a symbol of national pride.

This arrogant government is sure that ever since it annexed the occupied territory in Jerusalem, it granted Israel control for all eternity. Jordan's King Abdullah can tell the lovers of eternity what happened to the so-called legal annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem to Jordan. This is the same Jordanian East Jerusalem that Washington will recognize as the capital of Palestine.

For generations the settlers have been blamed for posing an obstacle to peace, for acting against the policy of the government, which, poor soul, can't stand up to these bullies. And so, while Washington believed that the Israeli government wanted to take action against such subversive organizations but had problems, it showed restraint, gave in a little about the construction freeze, patted Netanyahu on the shoulder and granted extensions to the government so it could manage its own affairs.

There is no longer any basis for this approach. The Israeli government, and the seven wonders in charge of it, are inseparable from the bullies. And so Washington had to conclude that the government and prime minister were simply lying.

Washington's main interest is no longer whether the peace process will advance, because there are no guarantees that even direct talks with the Palestinians will end in an agreement. Washington's interest is to preserve its standing in the world against a small state and its crafty government, which made it a laughing stock. This will be a true test of the United States' ability to apply foreign policy. What is good for Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington figures, will also suit Israel now, because if Israel rebuffs Washington, Iraq and Afghanistan will, too.

And so the American formula is the same for all three. The United States will take care of the security of Israel/Iraq/Afghanistan, but security will not be measured only in the number of weapons sold to them, but also in the creation of conditions that will avoid the need to use them. To a certain extent, it will also be measured by these countries' willingness to agree to U.S. policy. In this way, a new condition has been created that should have been applied a long time ago. According to it, any country that is willing to harm the international standing of the United States is gambling on its own security. This is not a threat, but a clarification.








If Israel had a real peace camp, if the silent majority had broken its sickly silence, if more Israelis approached the situation as a collective rather than individuals yearning for the next holiday or car, if more Israelis refused to accept blindly the deceptions of Israeli diplomacy and propaganda, Rabin Square would have been filled with demonstrators yesterday. Among the banners and flags, one sign would have stood out in this hour of risks and fateful decisions: "Thank you, friend." Thank you, Barack Obama, friend of Israel.

The tidal wave of slurs and slanders, the unitary portrayal of Obama as someone trying to subjugate and humiliate Israel should have been answered with a dissenting voice saying that Obama was doing exactly what a true friend would do. Yes, it's unpleasant, but after 43 years there's just no other way. After a regrettable one-year delay and despite constant doubts and question marks, there now seems to be a chance that the 44th president of the United States will prevail where all his predecessors failed. There's a chance Obama will pull Israel out of the crisis it created and work to achieve a better future, a future where it will claim what's its own, but only what's really its own.

The first step is encouraging and hope-inspiring. Among Obama's modest demands - a construction freeze in Jerusalem and extending the freeze in the settlements, two basic conditions for "negotiations without preconditions" and for anyone who really wants a two-state solution - there's a demand that the Israelis themselves should have made long ago.

Obama is asking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and through him every Israeli, to finally speak the truth. He's asking Netanyahu and the rest of us: What on earth do you actually want? Enough with the misleading answers; the moment of truth is here. Enough with the tricks - a neighborhood here, a settlement expansion there. Just tell us: Where are you heading? Do you want to go on receiving unprecedented aid from the United States, do you want to become part of the Middle East, do you want to achieve peace?

If you do, please start behaving accordingly, including halting all construction in all settlements, everywhere, for all time, and begin evacuating them instead. Any action by Israel would be reminiscent of the three no's of Khartoum: No to ending the occupation, no to peace, no to friendship with America.

Obama's demands are minimal. Not just continuing the construction freeze, but dealing with the core issues, a two-year deadline to reach a solution and the demand that Israel speak the truth to others and itself. All these things should have been obvious if Israel were really aiming for a solution. Earlier presidents let Israel off and did not press for answers. Obama, faithful for the time being to the great promise he made when he was elected, is no longer willing to put up with the deceit. We now need to see if he'll withstand the pressure and keep up his pressure on Israel.

The Israelis should be thankful to Obama for holding a mirror in front of them and saying that this is how your continuous deception looks. The Israelis should be just as thankful to Obama for being the first president ready to make Israel pay for its responsibility in maintaining the status quo. This is an American innovation supported by a shifting mood in world politics.

Take heed: The world is beginning to demand that Israel take responsibility for its actions in Dubai and Sheikh Jarrah, in Operation Cast Lead and Ramat Shlomo. From America and Europe, the time of responsibility and payback has arrived.

After 43 years of a vicious occupation, these, too, are minimal demands. Obama didn't humiliate Israel. Israel humiliated itself for a generation, thinking it could do whatever it wanted - talk peace and build settlements, entrench an occupation and still be considered a democracy, while living on American support and rejecting its requests. Since all of Obama's demands should have come from Israel itself, Obama is merely acting the way a friend should act. And for that he deserves those three words, from the bottom of our hearts: Thank you, friend.









Central Park was opened in 1859 to give New Yorkers a refuge from the din of the city - the noise of its factories and the clatter of horse-drawn carriages. The result was an enclave of pastoral bliss in the heart of a fast-developing metropolis.

In the more than 150 years since that attempt to reconcile modernization and tranquillity, the relationship between technology and the private space has changed dramatically. Radio, television, the telephone and the Internet have all helped the public arena infiltrate the private space. The noise generated by these items have infiltrated every corner of society, from the bedroom to the street, cafes and public venues. And there is also a bevy of useful but loud machines, modes of transportation, and industrial and maintenance equipment. These innovations - created to help transfer information or perform essential functions - have themselves become nuisances.

In 2010, Israelis are also beginning to realize that the public is becoming increasingly subjected to earsplitting sounds. Bellowing street-cleaning vehicles and motorized gardening tools, as well as deafening music emanating from homes, are some of the main reasons behind the Environmental Protection Ministry's recent proposal to enact noise-pollution legislation.

The bill presents an opportunity to further discuss the place of noise in modern life. Alongside its undeniable advantages, the use of electricity creates daily disturbances in even the most intimate of spaces. One person's noise forces others to create their own, thus encouraging people to isolate themselves - both physically and mentally.

Many examples of this phenomenon can be found. Choosing a restaurant is not always related to the menu, but often to the volume of the music there. Talking on a mobile phone while walking down the street or using public transportation forces everyone within earshot to take part, however unwillingly, in the speaker's private life. On many a night I have overheard intimate conversations coming from the building next door, the details of which have both embarrassed and amused me. The neighbor who regards his home as his fortress and his sound system as his defensive shield would be in for quite a surprise.

The double-paned windows in many apartments and the 50-pack earplugs sold at pharmacies testify to society's difficulties in dealing with the auditory pressures it has brought upon itself. The new bill may limit the labor hours for maintenance workers and reduce the noise created by gardeners and construction workers, but it does not address the wider problem of lack of consideration and the fact that noise can easily turn into a weapon of war. Drivers who honk their car horns are waging an assault on everyone around. Young people who speak as loud as they can in public parks in the early morning are violating the brief and precious nocturnal cease-fire. Implementing legislation to lower the volume on these activities will not solve the problem; instead, we need to raise awareness of this kind of aggressive, provocative behavior.






******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES




No sooner had President Obama signed comprehensive health care reform than the attorneys general of 14 states scurried to the federal courts to challenge the law. Their claims range from far-fetched to arguable and look mostly like political posturing for the fall elections or a "Hail Mary" pass by disgruntled conservatives who cannot accept what Congress and the president have done.


They seem unlikely to succeed because the law was carefully drafted to withstand just this kind of challenge.


There are two separate suits by the attorneys general. The main one, led by Bill McCollum, a Florida Republican, has been joined by 12 other attorneys general, all but one Republicans. Many if not most are either running for higher office or seeking re-election. A separate suit by Virginia's Republican attorney general is based on that state's attempt (sure to be ineffective) to nullify the federal law by enacting a state law declaring that Virginians need not obey it.


A central contention of both suits is that Congress has no power under the Constitution to compel individuals to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. Congress has never before compelled people to buy anything from a private company, so there is no precisely apt Supreme Court precedent. Still, two provisions in the Constitution give Congress broad powers to regulate economic activity — the power to impose taxes for the general welfare and the power to regulate interstate commerce.


The new law has been framed to fall within both of those provisions. The penalties for not buying insurance have been structured as a tax, to be collected by the Internal Revenue Service. And the law's text includes a series of Congressional findings: that health insurance and health care comprise a significant part of the economy, that most policies are sold and claims paid through interstate commerce, and that the mandate is essential to achieving the goals of creating effective health insurance markets and achieving near-universal coverage.


Such findings don't make the new law bullet-proof, but they help to insulate it from attack. It seems a long shot that the Supreme Court would invalidate the mandate, if the cases ever reach that level.


A second contention, emphasized by the 13 state attorneys general, is that the new law amounts to an unprecedented encroachment on the sovereignty of the states. It will require them to greatly expand their Medicaid programs, imposing substantial costs, and add administrative burdens in setting up new insurance exchanges that will offer an array of private policies.


That seems a stretch. No state is required to set up an exchange. If states fail to do so, the federal government will take over. Nor is any state required to participate in Medicaid, a joint federal-state program in which Washington pays half or more of the costs.


It is true, as the suit contends, that it may not be practical for states to drop out of a Medicaid program that serves many of their poorest residents. But it is well established that Congress can attach conditions to the money it supplies, and Congress has long imposed Medicaid requirements that states must meet.


The attorneys general are doing a disservice to their constituents by opposing Medicaid expansion and a mandate that everyone buy insurance, with subsidies for low- and middle-income people. The mandates are needed to push enough healthy young people into insurance pools to help subsidize the cost of covering sicker people and make it feasible for insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions. Alternative approaches to entice people to obtain coverage would likely be less successful.






At least there is one area in Congress where bipartisanship is possible. The 2010 census started only two weeks ago, and a bipartisan group in Congress has already introduced a smart bill to improve the 2020 count.


Now is precisely the time to act. Memories are fresh of the chronic mismanagement and political missteps that nearly derailed the 2010 count. In 2006, both the Census Bureau director and deputy director abruptly quit, calling attention to the Bush administration's lack of support for the census. In 2008, equipment failures that were long in the making created 11th-hour delays and cost overruns. In 2009, the late nomination and slow confirmation of a new director left the agency without a leader for much of the crucial year before the count. Similar problems have also plagued earlier censuses.


The bill would strengthen the role of the bureau director with the aim of ensuring steady leadership over the census's 10-year planning cycle. Currently, each president appoints a new bureau director. The bill would extend the director's term to five years so that census preparations are not upended by presidential elections. The first five years would be the planning phase and the next five years, the operational phase.


Even more important, the director would be granted the autonomy that is now lacking. He or she would report directly to the commerce secretary, and would be allowed to communicate views to Congress that are not necessarily those of the administration. The bill would prohibit the director from being required to testify on views that he or she does not agree with. It would also give the director more clout and independence in budgeting, hiring and managing the bureau staff.


Seven former bureau directors from both parties have signed a letter supporting the bill, noting that Congressional oversight of the census would be enhanced by a free-speaking director. Greater independence would also put the director in a stronger position to resist any undue meddling by an administration or Congress.


The census shouldn't be a cliffhanger. This bill — kudos to Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, and Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania, in the House; and Thomas Carper, Democrat of Delaware, and Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, in the Senate — would help ensure a successful count in 2020 and beyond.







"Cookin' Cheap" was true to its name. It was a TV show about cookin', and it was cheap. It came from a public television station in Roanoke, Va., in 1981, and went national for a while on PBS. That was when I saw it, and was floored.


I wish I could tell everyone I know to tune in, but you can't anymore. The show went off the air in 2002, and the master tapes were thrown away. It survives only in a few YouTube clips and a DVD that I recently bought online. It has four episodes out of hundreds — shards from a lost monument of cooking-show greatness.


"Greatness" in this case needs explaining.


It isn't the food. The recipes come from viewers, the ingredients from freezer, can and cardboard box. In the clammy studio light, the dishes — casseroles and meatballs, bean salads and dips — often end up looking like glop.


It isn't the culinary skill. The hosts, Laban Johnson and Larry Bly, were amateurs. They struggle to open zip-lock bags and fumble in their oven mitts the way you or I would. Their kitchen gets messy and sometimes dangerous, as they juggle hot trays and gesture while chopping. They puzzle over pronunciations and employ questionable knife techniques. They spend a lot of time on boring prep work, because, as Larry confesses, if they didn't, the show would be a lot shorter.


No, what makes this show so good is all of the above, plus the chemistry of Laban and Larry. They are tall (Laban) and short (Larry), chunky and skinny, and they bicker, josh and giggle (and sometimes dress) like a couple of old ladies. What they created is honest and funny, a surreal parody of a cooking show that is also a heartfelt display of genuine Southernness.


What I love most is that it's not just more of that fake Southern thing, which is all around us.


Laban and Larry are the real Virginia deal. When they get to their regular cross-dressing segment, dispensing

advice as the Cook Sisters, there's a strong suggestion that something here is not being discussed, but their matter-of-fact self-assurance feels candid anyway. Somebody once wrote an academic paper about the show. It said the men embodied the old Southern archetype of the gentle mama's boy, an emblem of that region as traditional as that of the beer-swilling good ol' boy, though far less celebrated.


Maybe. But enough of that, let's watch Laban take the skin off some chicken thighs for a baked dish sent in by April from Norfolk. It's a slimy struggle, and Laban gets distracted and then irritated by the advertising card at the bottom of the foam package. He pauses to honor the memory of the three chickens who gave their legs for his supper. This is taking a while. Then he wipes his hands and stops. "That's all I want to do right now," he says. Now it's Larry's turn. Larry starts making cobbler.


Back and forth they go, step by step, till they finally carry dishes over to a side table under a poster of a pig napping in a hammock. There they sit a while, chewing, trying to decide if they like what they just made. This is not always the case. "Well, it's unusual," Laban says of April's chicken. Larry tries some. He looks in the camera: "April, it's O.K., don't give up. Work on it a little, but don't give up." Then he declares the cobbler not bad.


Perfection belongs to God, not us, the Southern author Flannery O'Connor would have told you, her eyes boring

holes in yours as she poured Coca-Cola in her coffee. Our world is for frozen green beans, slimy chicken skin, a not-bad cobbler. It's for the mayonnaise that refuses to set as Laban, with the blender cover off and the motor on too high, pours oil from a measuring cup. It's tilted at that awkward angle where oil dribbles off the cup's lip and bottom edge at the same time, in two messy streams that Laban tries to keep centered over the blender as oil splatters everywhere.


Maybe he knows there's a smarter way to do it, maybe he doesn't, but this is the way he has chosen. He's not an idiot, he's just cookin', and making Larry laugh. They both know it will turn out good, or at least good enough, which, at this moment, to this viewer, is great.







During a frustrating argument with a Roman Catholic cardinal, Napoleon Bonaparte supposedly burst out: "Your eminence, are you not aware that I have the power to destroy the Catholic Church?" The cardinal, the anecdote goes, responded ruefully: "Your majesty, we, the Catholic clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last 1,800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you."


Two centuries later, the clergy has taken another shot at it. What the American and Irish churches have endured in the last decade and what German Catholics find themselves enduring today is all part of the same grim story: the exposure, years after the fact, of an appalling period in which the Catholic hierarchy responded to an explosion of priestly sex abuse with cover-ups, evasions and criminal negligence.


Now the scandal has touched the pope himself. There are two charges against Benedict XVI: first, that he allowed a pedophile priest to return to ministry while archbishop of Munich in 1980; and second, that as head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the 1990s, he failed to defrock a Wisconsin priest who had abused deaf children 30 years before.


The second charge seems unfair. The case was finally forwarded to the Vatican by the archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, more than 20 years after the last allegation of abuse. With the approval of then-Cardinal Ratzinger's deputy, the statute of limitations was waived and a canonical trial ordered. It was only suspended because the priest was terminally ill; indeed, pretrial proceedings were halted just before he died.


But the first charge is more serious. The Vatican insists that the crucial decision was made without the future pope's knowledge, but the paper trail suggests that he could have been in the loop. At best, then-Archbishop Ratzinger was negligent. At worst, he enabled further abuse.


For those of us who admire the pope, either possibility is distressing, but neither should come as a great surprise. The lesson of the American experience, now exhaustively documented, is that almost everyone was complicit in the scandal. From diocese to diocese, the same cover-ups and gross errors of judgment repeated themselves regardless of who found themselves in charge. Neither theology nor geography mattered: the worst offenders were Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles — a conservative and a liberal, on opposite ends of the country.


This hasn't prevented both sides in the Catholic culture war from claiming that the scandal vindicates their respective vision of the church. Liberal Catholics, echoed by the secular press, insist that the whole problem can be traced to clerical celibacy. Conservatives blame the moral relativism that swept the church in the upheavals of the 1970s, when the worst abuses and cover-ups took place.


In reality, the scandal implicates left and right alike. The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the '70s deserves a share of the blame, as does that era's overemphasis on therapy. (Again and again, bishops relied on psychiatrists rather than common sense in deciding how to handle abusive clerics.) But it was the church's conservative instincts — the insistence on institutional loyalty, obedience and the absolute authority of clerics — that allowed the abuse to spread unpunished.


What's more, it was a conservative hierarchy's bunker mentality that prevented the Vatican from reckoning with the scandal. In a characteristic moment in 2002, a prominent cardinal told a Spanish audience that "I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign ... to discredit the church."


That cardinal was Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI. Since then, he's come to grips with the crisis in ways that his predecessor did not: after years of drift and denial under John Paul II, the Vatican has taken vigorous steps to promote zero tolerance, expedite the dismissal of abusive priests and organize investigations that should have happened long ago. Because of Benedict's recent efforts, and the efforts of clerics and laypeople dating back to the first wave of revelations in the 1980s, Catholics can reasonably hope that the crisis of abuse is a thing of the past.


But the crisis of authority endures. There has been some accountability for the abusers, but not nearly enough for the bishops who enabled them. And now the shadow of past sins threatens to engulf this papacy.


Popes do not resign. But a pope can clean house. And a pope can show contrition, on his own behalf and on behalf of an entire generation of bishops, for what was done and left undone in one of Catholicism's darkest eras.


This is Holy Week, when the first pope, Peter, broke faith with Christ and wept for shame. There is no better time for repentance.







Health reform is the law of the land. Next up: financial reform. But will it happen? The White House is optimistic, because it believes that Republicans won't want to be cast as allies of Wall Street. I'm not so sure. The key question is how many senators believe that they can get away with claiming that war is peace, slavery is freedom, and regulating big banks is doing those big banks a favor.


Some background: we used to have a workable system for avoiding financial crises, resting on a combination of government guarantees and regulation. On one side, bank deposits were insured, preventing a recurrence of the immense bank runs that were a central cause of the Great Depression. On the other side, banks were tightly regulated, so that they didn't take advantage of government guarantees by running excessive risks.


From 1980 or so onward, however, that system gradually broke down, partly because of bank deregulation, but mainly because of the rise of "shadow banking": institutions and practices — like financing long-term investments with overnight borrowing — that recreated the risks of old-fashioned banking but weren't covered either by guarantees or by regulation. The result, by 2007, was a financial system as vulnerable to severe crisis as the system of 1930. And the crisis came.


Now what? We have already, in effect, recreated New Deal-type guarantees: as the financial system plunged into crisis, the government stepped in to rescue troubled financial companies, so as to avoid a complete collapse. And you should bear in mind that the biggest bailouts took place under a conservative Republican administration, which claimed to believe deeply in free markets. There's every reason to believe that this will be the rule from now on: when push comes to shove, no matter who is in power, the financial sector will be bailed out. In effect, debts of shadow banks, like deposits at conventional banks, now have a government guarantee.


The only question now is whether the financial industry will pay a price for this privilege, whether Wall Street will be obliged to behave responsibly in return for government backing. And who could be against that?


Well, how about John Boehner, the House minority leader? Recently Mr. Boehner gave a talk to bankers in which he encouraged them to balk efforts by Congress to impose stricter regulation. "Don't let those little punk staffers take advantage of you, and stand up for yourselves," he urged — where by "taking advantage" he meant imposing some conditions on the industry in return for government backing.


Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, promptly had "Little Punk Staffer" buttons made up and distributed to Congressional aides.


But Mr. Boehner isn't the problem: Mr. Frank has already shepherded fairly strong financial reform through the House. Instead, the question is what will happen in the Senate.


In the Senate, the legislation on the table was crafted by Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. It's significantly weaker than the Frank bill, and needs to be made stronger, a topic I'll discuss in future columns. But no bill will become law if Senate Republicans stand in the way of reform.


But won't opponents of reform fear being cast as allies of the bad guys (which they are)? Maybe not. Back in January, Frank Luntz, the G.O.P. strategist, circulated a memo on how to oppose financial reform. His key idea was that Republicans should claim that up is down — that reform legislation is a "big bank bailout bill," rather than a set of restrictions on the banks.

Sure enough, a few days ago Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, in a letter attacking the Dodd bill, claimed that an essential part of reform — tougher oversight of large, systemically important financial companies — is actually a bailout, because "The market will view these firms as being 'too big to fail' and implicitly backed by the government." Um, senator, the market already views those firms as having implicit government backing, because they do: whatever people like Mr. Shelby may say now, in any future crisis those firms will be rescued, whichever party is in power.


The only question is whether we're going to regulate bankers so that they don't abuse the privilege of government backing. And it's that regulation — not future bailouts — that reform opponents are trying to block.


So it's the punks versus the plutocrats — those who want to rein in runaway banks, and bankers who want the freedom to put the economy at risk, freedom enhanced by the knowledge that taxpayers will bail them out in a crisis. Whatever they say, the fact is that people like Mr. Shelby are on the side of the plutocrats; the American people should be on the side of the punks, who are trying to protect their interests.







Tübingen, Germany


THE European Monetary Union, the basis of the euro, began with a grand illusion. On one side were countries — Austria, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands — whose currencies had persistently appreciated, both within Europe and worldwide; the countries on the other side — Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain — had persistently depreciating currencies. Yet the union was devised as a one-size-fits-all structure. As a result, some countries had to use creative accounting to satisfy the fiscal criteria for entry — Greece, it's long been known, went so far as to falsify its debt and deficit numbers.


Germany and other "euro-optimists" hoped that the introduction of a common currency and the global economic competitiveness it spurred would quickly lead to sweeping economic and societal modernization across the union. But the opposite has occurred. Rather than pulling the lagging countries forward, the low interest rates of the European Central Bank have lured governments and households, especially in the southern part of the euro zone, into frivolous budgetary policies and excessive consumption.


The Greek crisis is only the first of what could be several tremors resulting from the euro's original sin. While few are willing to say it yet, the solution is clear: the only way to avoid further harm to the global economy is for Germany to lead its fellow stable states out of the euro and into a new and stronger currency bloc.


The notion of a single euro zone economy is false. Unlike their northern neighbors, the countries in the zone's southern half have difficulty placing bonds — issued to finance their national deficits — with international capital investors. Nor are these countries competitive in the global economy, as shown by their high trade deficits.


These problems are only worsened by euro membership. If Greece were outside the euro zone, for example, it could devalue its currency to make it more competitive, and its foreign debts could be renegotiated in an international conference.


Instead, the fiscal strictures of the euro zone are forcing the country to curtail public expenditures, raise taxes and cut government employees' salaries, actions that may push Greece into a deep depression and further undermine its already weak international credit standing. The alternative to this collapse, having other members of the euro zone assume its debt payments, is no better. Doing so would be a signal to other debtor countries that they could abandon their own remedial efforts and instead count on foreign assistance. The creditor countries would be brought to their knees.


In short, the euro is headed toward collapse.


Despite a ban on bailouts within the monetary union, last week the euro zone states agreed on a plan to provide Greece with an economic relief package if no other solution is found in the next few months. The plan not only undermines a core justification for the euro — continental fiscal discipline — but, according to a 1993 ruling by the German Federal Court, it would violate the monetary union's founding treaty and therefore allow member states to withdraw.


If Germany were to take that opportunity and pull out of the euro, it wouldn't be alone. The same calculus would probably lure Austria, Finland and the Netherlands — and perhaps France — to leave behind the high-debt states and join Germany in a new, stable bloc, perhaps even with a new common currency. This would be less painful than it might seem: the euro zone is already divided between these two groups, and the illusion that they are unified has caused untold economic complications.


A strong-currency bloc could fulfill the euro's original purpose. Without having to worry about laggard states, the bloc would be able to follow a reliable and consistent monetary policy that would force the member governments to gradually reduce their national debt. The entire European economy would prosper. And the United States would gain an ally in any future reorganization of the world currency system and the global economy.


Moreover, should the United States fail to put in place a politically credible strategy to lower its own debt and move away from its zero interest rates, the new, more powerful euro could easily supersede the dollar as the global safe-haven currency.


This is not necessarily in anyone's interests. Though it might benefit Europe in the long run, a move away from the dollar would cause global economic instability that would hurt surplus and debtor nations alike. But with the United States nowhere near to reducing its debt, the possibility of a catastrophic plunge in faith in the dollar cannot be ignored.


Better, at least, to have a solid fallback currency to which global investors could flee. The euro, as it now exists, could not be that currency. But a stable, revitalized euro could.


Joachim Starbatty is a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Tübingen. This article was translated by John Cullen from the German.




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Rarely can an 'office of government be pointed out as being worthy of support and preservation, yet the now defunct Competition Commission of Pakistan is one such. Its demise will be applauded by all those who have felt it nip at their ankles. The not-so-great and the considerably-less-than-good from the president downwards have been investigated by the CCP team, found wanting and fined. The fines are unpaid and the CCP treated with contempt; and now one of the few effective mechanisms we had to challenge and fight corruption is no more. During its relatively brief life the chairman of the CCP has been threatened by individuals representing entities which were under investigation or being actively prosecuted. Huge bribes were offered too. That bribes were refused and threats ignored should be a matter of pride because there is little left in our battered and politically-influenced bureaucracy that we can be proud of.

Consumer rights rarely get the attention they deserve. The CCP deserves our thanks for the way it has pursued businesses and other entities to comply with legislation after they were warned about their behaviour or put 'on notice'. Businesses and bodies that had thought their power and privilege placed them above accountability were rudely awoken by the men of the CCP. The have all felt the CCP's teeth sink into them. The CCP was wound up on March 26, and its chairman was anyway due for retirement. Other worthy men doing a good job have recently had their tenures extended, their positions protected, their value to the state acknowledged – so why not Khalid Mirza and the CCP? Allowing the Competition Ordinance to lapse is no way to promote public confidence in the government, which will once again be seen to be protecting assorted vested interests. This government already labours under a considerable self-created trust deficit, with public confidence in politicians at rock bottom. If it really wants to recover the trust of the people, it should confirm the summary for the re-promulgation of the Competition Ordinance which, it is said, has already been sent to the prime minister. If reconfirmed, then the same men should be brought back into post to continue the work they were doing so ably. The CCP may be uncomfortable for some to live with, but then nobody ever said that accountability was a bed of roses.













Almost daily reports over the past week of corruption and mismanagement marring the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examinations in Karachi show how deep we have sunk into mire. Violence broke out on Saturday, when a group of students who had gathered outside the Board of Secondary Education Karachi (BSEK) to protest the postponement of the Islamiat paper after the board learnt that the paper had been leaked, stormed the board office. Angry students also protested in other parts of the city. About 150,000 candidates and their parents were confused and panicked, wondering whether the paper had been cancelled at all centres and when it would be held again. The BSEK was quick to accuse the 'mafia' and called for an inquiry. A day earlier, on Friday, SSC General Group candidates had complained of receiving the question paper late and the authorities blamed it on traffic jams! Earlier in the week, the board had cancelled the first two papers of classes IX and X on the directives of the Sindh governor after thousands of students protested at not getting admit cards.

Who is responsible for this mess? Students blame schools, which in turn blame the BSEK; and the board suspects involvement of the mafia. The provincial education minister says his hands are tied and he is helpless; that 'political compulsions' not only stymie improvement in the affairs of the education department but also impede efforts to eliminate the use of unfair means during examinations. In a meeting on Saturday, with the governor, who is the controlling authority, three top BSEK officials admitted failure to properly manage the examinations. But the governor ruled out any action against them and contented himself with ordering an inquiry into the matter. Stringent action is needed urgently if we want our children to get a proper education. Heads must roll as a warning to any officials involved in the business of selling the future of our children.








Muck floats on the top of the water, making it easy to see but spoiling the refreshing drink below. We have a fine example of this in a recent incident in Lahore where a son of the DG Punjab Rangers ordered the thrashing of a police constable after he told him to move his vehicle as it was illegally parked in a no-parking zone. The DG's son called over some rangers and 'ordered' them to thrash the constable in order to better instruct him on how to treat the children of senior officials. Six or seven rangers then beat the constable. Beating over, the constable was thrown into a Rangers vehicle, carted off and 'disappeared' for several days.

Predictably very little has happened since beyond the ritual appointment of an inquiry to look into the matter. The inquiry is tasked to find responsibility – but almost certainly will not and the matter will be forgotten within days. Subsequent events have probably rendered any inquiry irrelevant. Constable Khalil (but not his mobile phone or uniform) was released on Friday and he appeared at a press conference to the obvious relief of his family. Two rangers who had been detained have now also been released on bail. Case closed. This is not the first time that the children of the said DG have behaved thus. In May 2009 a car bearing a fake number plate was stopped by police in Islamabad. It was being driven by a friend of another son of the DG. This son too threatened the police with dire consequences if they did not let his friend go.

He eventually called Rangers who surrounded the Tarnol police station until his friend – and the car – was released. Such highhandedness is endemic to our culture, and the system that supports it is going to do nothing to see it eradicated. The scum that floats on top poisons the water for all of us. Perhaps it is time to form a new taskforce, one with real teeth and real power to fight grime rather than crime. Time, perhaps, for scumbusters.







Barring the Quaid-e-Azam, almost every president and prime minister of Pakistan has winged his or her way to the US after assuming office. For most, an official visit to the US has been as much a compulsion as performing umrah at government expense, with a large entourage of freeloaders.

However, of the countless visits, only two, that of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1950 and of President Ayub Khan in 1961, stand out as state visits where the host, the US president, appeared honoured to greet the Pakistani visitors. In those days the prime purpose of Pakistani leaders' foreign visits, particularly to the US, was to further the country's interests and not, as has become the custom in recent years, one's own interests, or the party's.

During Liaquat's visit, the first by a top Pakistani leader to the US, a new US-Pakistan relationship was constructed, which was a manifest need of that time. It was, in essence, a relationship of "reliance" on the US for defence.

If the country had progressed as a democratic entity, and not regressed as a personal fiefdom of its feudal leaders and military dictators, or of civilian leaders reared by military dictators, the relationship would have evolved into one less of reliance and more of shared principles and interests. This was not to be, and Pakistan today is more dependent than ever on the US and on other foreign donors for everything – defence, money, food, day-to-day sustenance.

Liaquat Ali Khan made sure the defence-oriented relationship with the US did not betray the country's honour. Pakistan continued to back the just Muslim causes in North Africa and Palestine so forcefully its advocacy of these became the dread of French, US and Israeli diplomats in the UN and other international forums. The admiration of the Arab world was shown by many new-borns in North Africa and the Middle East being named Zafarullah, after Pakistan's foreign minister.

The succession of incompetent civilian and military rulers who followed Liaquat Ali Khan, many with serious character flaws, not only failed to lead Pakistan out of its dependence on the US, but made the relationship so compliant that it is today devoid of all respect for this country.

During the incumbent president's US visit in May 2009 nothing was said on Kashmir, the water dispute with India or any other issue important to Pakistan. Seeking US support for the self, for "my" democracy, "my" government, and taking the son to official meetings transcended all other issues, and in line with which the agreement was signed under US auspices with President Karzai for talks on transit trade which will in time allow India to use the Wagah-Khyber route to Kabul. This is the same as unhooking Pakistan from its issues with India and hooking it to Indo-Afghan interests.

The second US visit of any consequence by a Pakistani head of state was that of President Ayub Khan. Forgetting for a while that Ayub Khan was the harbinger of martial law in the country and the resultant disasters, his US visit as president was a gain for the country in many ways, including his breakthrough with the Democrats, who traditionally have been more supportive of India. Getting the Democrats to also think of Pakistan's standpoint and concerns was more than a useful outcome; it was reducing a prejudicial imbalance against Pakistan in the US Congress.

Liaquat Ali Khan was known to favour a policy of nonalignment, but was grappling with a model that would not result in Pakistan being overwhelmed in the "neutrals" camp by India. Pakistan would have accepted the role of a "senior" for India if it had conducted itself as one, but that was never to be, and Pakistan has always had to look for safeguards against the hostile intents of a bigger neighbour.

The country was not then entangled in alliances and pacts, and Liaquat Ali Khan impressively led his hosts to recognise that Pakistan could be a friend, not a contrivance, for US influence in South Asia.

The masterstroke was his visit to India in April 1950, a few weeks before his US trip, where Liaquat signed the famous Liaquat-Nehru Pact. This was widely covered in the US media and he came out looking very much a man of peace. When he arrived in the US, in May 1950, his reputation preceded him. For all purposes, Liaquat stole the show from Gandhian India as a peace-monger.

Liaquat's visit was an experience for the Americans. President Truman was so taken in by his speeches, and their competent delivery by him, he is said to have wondered if the Pakistani prime minister's speechwriter and elocution "coach" could be persuaded to stay back.

His was an all-Pakistani show. No foreign speechwriters, no foreign grooming and dress consultants, no foreign elocution instructors, who probably wept as their most recent charges from Pakistan spewed words that must have made parrots blush.

Ayub Khan visited the US in mid-1961, soon after John F Kennedy assumed office. Americans were mesmerised with the charm, glamour and lustre which Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, and the Kennedy clan brought to the US presidency. America was agog because it was like royalty, something Americans always envied their first cousins in England for.

Into this environment arrived Ayub Khan, with his striking personality and commanding presence, and his attractive daughter Nasim Aurangzeb in her captivating Pakistani outfits. Both almost stole the show from Jack and Jacqueline. The Kennedys broke tradition by holding the state dinner for Ayub Khan and his daughter outside the White House, at Mount Vernon. It was the social event of the season, and it is hard to say who carried the evening – the Kennedys or Ayub and his daughter. It almost seemed the guests were more anxious to be photographed with the president of Pakistan and his daughter than with their own president and his wife.

One of the most successful official visits by a Pakistani was by Bashir, the camel-cart driver from Karachi. US vice president Lyndon Johnson, on a visit to Pakistan in May 1961, ran into Bashir when he stopped his motorcade on the street to chat with drivers of a row of passing camel-carts, and said to him in typical Texan drawl: "Yeah, now you come to see me in Texas, y'hear?" The reporters turned the routine Texan expression into an invitation from Johnson for Bashir. There was no getting away for Johnson.

Bashir arrived in the US in October 1961 and was an immediate hit. Johnson received him and apologised for the chill. Bashir's response, "where there are friends like you there can be no chill, only warmth," rocked America. From then on, the media hung on to every word Bashir uttered. All of America read and heard Bashir's comments and loved him, and his country. Time magazine wrote that Bashir's fluent homilies seem to come from the heart and "flow like the Rubaiyat."

It is hard to believe Bashir was coached and was repeating what he was told. His comments came spontaneously and were translated by the State Department translator, who said he had a hard time keeping up with Bashir's fluency. Former president Harry Truman, according to Time, was so taken that he addressed Bashir as "Your Excellency."

Bashir's comments touched hearts in America like no speech of a visiting Pakistani honcho ever did. Bashir's US visit was undoubtedly one of most successful by anyone from Pakistan.

The writer is a former corporate executive. Email: husainsk@cyber.







The Obama administration now slightly understands the ground realities in Afghanistan. This is evident from Obama's speech in January this year, which shows clarity of thinking on the objectives. The objectives are denying Al-Qaeda a sanctuary to resurrect itself, and establishing a broad-based government before a US-NATO exit from the country. The new approach towards Pakistan and the new era of strategic dialogue also supplement the idea of change in the US approach towards Afghanistan. The administration's point men for the region are busy defining the contours of the tactics to achieve these objectives.

The US also realises the fact that it cannot honourably extricate itself from the quagmire without involvement of regional and neighbouring countries. These reduced objectives are now slated for regional consensus and international backing. But there are multiple regional and neighbouring players who scramble for securing their interests in the future setup. The current regional approach to finding a durable solution to the crisis, though realistic, is fraught with dangers if the players are not involved according to their stakes, roles and influence in Afghanistan. In this context, most of the stakeholders have similar interests, but their expected roles must be on grounds of historical engagement, cultural affinities and geographical proximity to Afghanistan.

For example, Pakistan, a smaller country in size and economy as compared with China and India, has to be given a greater role in the future reconciliation process, for obvious reasons. This country is deeply involved in Afghanistan since the USSR intervention in Afghanistan. During the process, it has cultivated deep relations with many Afghan factions and as such is matchless in terms of influence on most of these important players in the current conflict.

In terms of stakes and influence in Afghanistan, Iran rightfully enjoys the second place after Pakistan. Therefore, this country needs to be given a say in the strategic level decision on the future of that country. However, with the US determined to engineer a "regime change" there, this important player is least expected to offer a helping hand to the US-NATO alliance and Kabul.

The US-Iran tensions on the nuclear issue and the recent arrest of Jundullah leader Abdul Malik Rigi have increased them. Similarly, the Western intention to involve Saudi Arabia was also not received well in Tehran. All these factors have annoyed Tehran to the extent that for the first time it boycotted the London Conference on the future of Afghanistan.

In this backdrop, the mounting tensions between Kabul and Tehran are visible. In a joint press conference with Karzai during a recent visit to Afghanistan, Ahmedinejad dubbed the US presence in the region as the root cause of all problems. All these should be reason for the Western alliance to try to bring Iran back into the fold.

The Russians, the Central Asian Republics and China claim to have stakes in the Afghan issue as well. All these countries, though US partners, vie for securing their stakes through a role in the reconciliation process. In the same vein, the Americans cannot be oblivious to the European and NATO agenda in the war battered country.

In a recent lecture in the US, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband emphasised the role of India and Turkey in the future reconciliation process. In this connection, the role of Turkey is understandable due to the fact that it is a Muslim Nato member actively involved in Afghanistan. Turkey also claims ethnic relations with the Uzbek population of Afghanistan. However, India's role cannot be comprehended as it enjoys none of the Turkish advantages. So how could this country claim a role in the peace process in Afghanistan? It also needs to be appreciated that if India is given any role, Pakistan, with its deeper influence and higher stakes, will never let India have its way on any important issue to the peace process. In such an event, the whole process will become hostage to India-Pakistan antagonism.

Certainly, the strategic decision to initiate a new process for reconciliation and peace in the region rested with the Americans and its Western allies, but the keys to such an objective lies with regional players. All the stakeholders would like the Western alliance to clearly define various interests of stakeholders and then take genuine initiatives to address them systematically. They must be involved in strategic decision-making at the regional level. After accommodating these interests, the initiative for reconciliation process must be handed over to the Kabul government and the insurgents. This initiative needed to be a purely Afghan initiative between Afghans and the stakeholder, except that Pakistan should be kept out of the negotiation process.

All previous attempts show that when stakeholders were involved in the reconciliation process, the process failed due to the inability of the stakeholders to trust each other. On the negotiating table, everyone would lobby for his favoured proxies. This entire scramble leads to a non-durable solution.

However, there is one exception, Pakistan, to this rule. History, close relationship with Afghan Mujahideen, proximity and consequent fallouts of all Afghan wars, huge sacrifices, frontline role in fighting the terrorists and security concerns places Pakistan in a unique position. Its ability to influence any afghan event is matchless. Among all stakeholders in the region and immediate neighbourhood, Pakistan is the only country which is equally suffering from terrorism and bloodshed alongside Afghanistan. On his recent trip to Pakistan, President Karzai rightly dubbed both countries as "conjoined twins" who are destined to prosper and suffer together.

Recognising this fact, the Obama administration had hyphenated Pakistan with Afghanistan in its "Af-Pak" strategy. Why not Af-Iran or Af-India, because the world also considered Pakistan the equal sufferer. That's why the wise people suggest that only Pakistan should be make part of the reconciliation process with Afghan factions.

The writer works for Geo TV. Email:







Former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala will be remembered as a democrat who strode through Nepal's modern democratic era of two decades, whose commitment to pluralism remained unwavering. Although he was an autocrat within his Nepali Congress, where he wielded total control from 1990 until recent months, his basic democratic convictions made Koirala stand resolute against royal adventurism.

At 86, Koirala was the very last national-level politician of South Asia, whose activism started with the Quit India movement of the 1940s. In this sense, Girija Prasad Koirala's death marks the passing of an era.

He was groomed in political culture by his brother Bisweshwor Prasad Koirala, who walked the world stage as a socialist of the Nehru-Nasser period. It was from "BP" that "GP" received his pluralism mantra, which made him uncompromising in matters like civilian control of the military, separation of powers and supremacy of the judiciary. These were the "simple convictions" (to refer to his book Simple Convictions: My Struggle for Peace and Democracy which helped Koirala steer the polity after the fall of the 30-year royal Panchayat regime, at a time when some believed the country would disintegrate in the absence of absolute monarchy.

Within the Nepali Congress, Koirala emerged as the sole power centre soon after 1990, ruthlessly sidelining the other two of the triumvirate which inherited the mantle from BP, Ganesh Man Singh and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. He was able to maintain a strong base by building a direct relationship with party workers through continuous travel.

Koirala was a five-time prime minister in the democratic era after 1990, and by that token also made more mistakes than others, besides earning the animosity of the mainstream left which opposed him in parliament and on the streets. Koirala can take some of the credit for the advances made during the dozen years of democracy till 2002, including the advance of community forestry, press freedom, the FM radio revolution and the brief interlude with local government. He was a true believer in open society. And yet, he was party to the ills that dog us to this day, from energy shortage, a static economy and the impunity that has spread like wildfire.

Koirala's presence at the helm of political affairs for two decades after 1990 can be said to have helped Nepal ease itself into the modern democratic era. He was prime minister when the royal palace massacre occurred on June 1, 2001, and his personality probably helped stave off total anarchy that the then-underground Maoists were set to take advantage of.

Koirala led an austere life, living in a makeshift rooftop apartment of his nephew most of the time that he was out of power. The corruption charges levelled against him during his prime ministerial tenure would have mostly to do with the income he had to generate for the Nepali Congress, in a polity where there is no sanctioned party-finance mechanism.

But his one definite weakness was regarding his daughter Sujata, and he was not beneath promoting graft on her behalf. Koirala always kept assistants, but never allowed anyone to get close enough to think he was a confidante. Over time, a family coterie came to surround the ageing leader, and able associates drifted away from the inner circle.

Koirala's "second coming" was after 2002, when the new (and last) king of Nepal made a grab for power. While the other democratic leaders, nearly to the last man, fell like ninepins against the royal coup, Koirala held firm. He resisted King Gyanendra resolutely, and insisted on the reinstatement of the dissolved parliament as the only release that would be acceptable. Few others were with him, but Koirala's doggedness won the day. Gyanendra had used the excuse of the Maoist insurgency to take full charge, but starting in 2003 Koirala initiated contact with the underground rebels and in the fall of 2005 led the seven parliamentary parties to signing the 12-point agreement, which was to spark the massive People's Movement of April 2006.

During the time when Koirala was both head of state and government till the elections of April 2008, it was under his watch that we saw the entrenchment of impunity and the further-weakening of an already feeble state. And yet there is no denying that the successful effort to bring the Maoists above ground had ended the "people's war," which had taken more than 16,000 lives over a decade. For long having projected himself as an anti-communist, Koirala found it possible to make common cause with the mainstream-left CPN (UML) party to negotiate with the CPN (Maoist).

In his last days, weakened by emphysema caused by a lifetime of chain-smoking, Koirala would have liked to have seen the country on the path to political stability, marked by a successful conclusion of the peace process and promulgation of a new constitution. The former should have meant the disbandment of the Maoist cantonment and the "attachment" and rehabilitation of the more than 19,000 ex-rebel combatants. The deadline for the constitution to be drafted is May 28, 2010, but Koirala would have died knowing that this deadline was impossible to meet, given the distance between the Maoists and the rest on key draft provisions.

Koirala compromised his own legacy towards the very end by brazenly pushing daughter Sujata to lead the Nepali Congress in the government of Madhav Kumar Nepal – an act which in one stroke weakened the cabinet by filling it with juniors. Such was his commanding presence that not one leader in the Nepali Congress dared challenge this nepotism. Koirala forced Prime Minister Nepal to elevate Sujata to deputy prime minister. This favouring of a neophyte politician with rip-roaring ambition had the impact of drastically reducing Koirala's stature within his own party over the past year.

Koirala was born in Bihar, where his family was in exile for challenging the Rana regime. He began his political career six decades ago as a labour-union activist at the Biratnagar Jute Mills, and he epitomised the "secular" values of liberal democracy which many others merely mouth, whether it was in matters of faith, gender, human rights, press freedom or civilian-military relations. While he was regarded highly in India as a man of the "independence generation," his strength within Nepal lay in relentless party work and the understanding of power-play.

Koirala died with the knowledge that a politically stable, peaceful and prosperous Nepal was very much a work in progress. And that is the sadness of his passing, of promises unfulfilled, and him knowing it. A reliable and towering democrat has been removed from the field at a time when the country's peace process is incomplete and the constitution unwritten. Will the jolt of his death force the Maoists and the parties arrayed against them to work to finish the peace process and constitution drafting by 28 May? That seems unlikely.

The departure of Koirala weakens the social-democratic middle ground of Nepali politics. Spring is the "season of discontent" when Nepal sees political upheaval, and the Maoists could decide to use Koirala's departure as the opportunity to escalate the radical agenda that they have been voicing in public and private. If they do go in the direction of urban revolt as suggested often and loudly, it is bound to embolden the germinating rightwing of Nepali politics. Amidst such a scenario, it is required of democratically inclined politicians of all parties — including the Maoists — to work with the broader civil society to keep the middle ground from encroachment from either side.

Dressed immaculately in white daura-suruwal and Western jacket, smoking incessantly from a cigarette holder, white handkerchief in hand, his middle finger extended in oratory fashion, drinking tea from a glass tumbler — that is the lasting image that Girija Prasad Koirala leaves behind. And the hope that the "simple convictions" he carried will ultimately weaken the forces of political anarchy, and make way for peace, political stability and economic progress.

The writer is a journalist based in Kathmandu. Email:







Seeing the official Pakistani wish list fort the Strategic Dialogue you'd think Pakistan's managers are outsourcing Pakistan to America. If Washington is supposed to solve all of our energy, educational, strategic, military and economic problems, what are we here for? To get commission on aid grants?

The United States came to the Strategic Dialogue with a gun to its head. We are grateful to Washington for giving us a fair hearing. But can we force a change of mindset in Washington just because the US is facing a temporary setback in Afghanistan and needs Pakistan – again – to cut its losses?

The Bush administration caused a lot of damage to Pakistan's geostrategic environment in the past eight years. Far from receiving any benefit, we saw our ally empowering our enemies. Even now, our ally reluctantly launched a strategic dialogue. The fear is that Pakistan is being taken again for a ride just as George W. Bush did when he dubbed us a Major Non-Nato Ally promising a new day that never came. This is why Pakistan's military commanders need to be congratulated for driving a hard bargain on Pakistan's role in any new arrangements in Afghanistan. This snatched some victory from the jaws of what looked like sure defeat.

But our bargain is still not hard enough. For a nation that has suffered more than US $ 35 billion in losses and more than five thousand dead, one fifth of them due to US bombings in our tribal belt and others due to other regional intrigues, our position is still not fully recognized. There is an impression in the air that Washington is somehow doing a favor to Islamabad by holding a strategic dialogue.

We need to strengthen the hands of Pakistan's friends in Washington and work with them to roll back the damage done to Pakistan's interests. But for this our political and military leaders need to level with their American counterparts on a number of major issues.

Will the US;

• End its policy of encouraging the expansion in Indian military footprint in the region?

• End its policy of demonizing Pakistan in the media?

• End efforts to create pliant governments in Islamabad cultivate political proxies?

• End efforts to contain Pakistan's military and intelligence infrastructure?

• End efforts to make Pakistan's interests subservient to those of India's in the region?

• End its policy of ignoring Kashmir?

• End its policy of not accepting Pakistan's nuclear power status?

There is no hint on any one of these issues in the joint statement issued at the end of the talks. This is why the jubilant statements by our prime minister and the foreign minister after the first few rounds of the dialogue were premature. They reinforced the impression that the Pakistani government will be happy with crumbs. There was no mention of a free trade agreement or even a hint on a civil nuclear energy agreement. And yet our government took the exceptional step of moving the courts to reopen cases against Dr. A. Q. Khan, which appears like a lousy attempt at appeasement and is not a good precedent for the future.

Up to one thousand Pakistanis or more have died as collateral damage during CIA's drone operations in our tribal belt, not to mention of the thousands of affected families of our civilians and soldiers. Pakistani officials should have arranged to introduce some of these families to the US public to sensitize it. The US media has been too anti-Pakistan to let the good ordinary Americans see and understand the Pakistani perspective.

How can we convince anyone of our arguments when clear divisions exist in Islamabad on major issues? A public event sponsored by some of the coalition members in the Pakistani government a few days ago in Peshawar actually called for increasing CIA drone activity inside Pakistan. Pakistani officials are also yet to take a stand on the fact that key leaders of terrorism inside Balochistan continue to enjoy the Afghan safe haven. The United States is yet to take measures to curb this.

Seen in the right perspective, the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue should correct the imbalances of the initial deals that framed the joint cooperation after 9/11. The next rounds of the dialogue should deal with these major flaws in the US-Pakistani alliance instead of creating the impression that we are outsourcing our problems to American bureaucrats.

The writer works for Geo TV. Email: aq@







The writer is a former member of the PakistanForeign Service.

Strategic relationship, Holbrooke admitted on his last visit to Pakistan, was a much-abused term. But he declared that Washington now really wanted such a partnership with Pakistan for the long term. Not many Pakistanis were convinced. After the "strategic dialogue" in Washington last week, their skepticism has been proved right.

Neither the term "strategic partnership" nor "strategic dialogue" is quite new in the history of Pakistan-US relationship. Not many of us recall that a "strategic partnership" was first announced by President Bush and Musharraf at their summit in March 2006. Three rounds of "strategic dialogue" were held between Pakistan and the Bush administration in the framework of this new partnership. Each of those meetings ended with the usual verbiage about the commitment of the two sides to a wide-ranging and long-term strategic partnership. A reaffirmation of this commitment was also contained in the joint statement issued after Gilani's meeting with Bush in Washington in July 2008.

Under the Obama administration, the focal point of US foreign policy has shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan has acquired a place in Washington's strategic calculations that it has not had since the Afghan jihad against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. During his visit to Pakistan last November, Gen James Jones, Obama's national security adviser, conveyed a blunt warning that if Pakistan did not move aggressively against the Afghan Taliban on its soil, Washington itself would take action on the Pakistani side of the international border.

At the same time, in a classical case of carrot-and-stick diplomacy, Washington told Islamabad that if it complied with US wishes and stepped up "counterterrorism action," Pakistan would be offered an expanded strategic partnership. This offer was made in a letter from Obama to Zardari. As the New York Times reported then, Obama promised Pakistani leaders what one US official described as a partnership of "unlimited potential" in which Washington would consider any proposal Islamabad puts on the table.

As usually happens on such occasions, the talks last week in the fourth round of the strategic dialogue, the first at ministerial level, were long on rhetoric. Hillary Clinton spoke of a new stage in bilateral relationship and our foreign minister proclaimed triumphantly, "We have upgraded the dialogue." Qureshi needs to be reminded that upgrading the dialogue was not the end. The test of success is what we achieved at the dialogue, and the foremost issue on which success in forging a strategic partnership should be measured is the progress we make in getting access to civilian nuclear technology.

It should be clear to everyone from the outcome of the talks in Washington that the Obama administration is not prepared to seriously consider Pakistan's demand for civilian nuclear cooperation, although it does not want to reject it outright publicly. At the joint press conference after her talks with Qureshi, Clinton said the US was prepared to listen to the Pakistani delegation on whatever issues it raises. But she carefully stopped short of saying that Washington would consider the Pakistani request.

Since then, an unnamed senior US official has made it clear that a civilian nuclear agreement with Pakistan is not on the table and that there are no plans for any formal talks on this issue. He noted that there was no reference to it in the joint statement issued after the talks. Kerry and Lugar, two leading US Senators, both of whom Qureshi met during his visit to Washington, have taken a position similar to that of the Obama administration. The reason, clearly, is that since Washington can buy Pakistan's cooperation on Afghanistan quite cheaply and easily by giving increased economic and military assistance, it does not need to offer nuclear cooperation, a course that would put Washington's newly forged strategic partnership with Delhi under great strain.

Some sections of the US media have openly voiced opposition. The Washington Post wrote in an editorial that a nuclear deal for Pakistan should be a non-starter for a host of reasons, including Pakistan's failure to come clean about its involvement in the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Iraq and North Korea. The newspaper chose to ignore the steps which Pakistan has taken in the last five years to strengthen export controls in the country and which have been acknowledged internationally, including by US officials.

Among the US think tanks too, there are strong reservations over Pakistan's request for peaceful nuclear technology. A major consideration is that it would upset India. At the same time, there are also some who favour using a possible nuclear deal as a bargaining tool ("a dangling carrot") to get more cooperation from Pakistan.

Getting access to civilian nuclear technology will by no means be an easy task. There will be many hurdles we will have to cross: the reservations of the US administration, opposition in the Congress, the India lobby, the protagonists of non-proliferation and finally the NSG. India had the advantage of support from the nuclear industry which we will not have. We will therefore need a long and sustained effort. But we have not even started.

Pakistan is not without leverage in pursuing its demand for nuclear energy. Not only does Pakistan have a central role in the stabilisation of Afghanistan, our participation is needed in two key nuclear disarmament accords, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Fissile Material Treaty (FMT). The CTBT cannot enter into force without Pakistan's ratification and Pakistan's consent is needed to start negotiations on the FMT in the Conference on Disarmament. If Pakistan is not given access to peaceful nuclear technology, it will have very good reasons to refuse participation in both.

Pakistan has in the past linked its signature and ratification of the CTBT to India taking the same steps. That was before the nuclear deal with India. In the changed situation, our national leadership should make an unequivocal declaration that our becoming a party to the CTBT would furthermore be conditional upon Pakistan getting a similar nuclear deal.

As regards the FMT, as our permanent representative at Geneva has told the Conference on Disarmament, Pakistan's concerns over a treaty that would freeze existing imbalances in fissile materials stockpiles have been heightened by the waiver given to India in 2008 from NSG guidelines. The waiver would enable that country to dedicate its own indigenous stocks for weapons production and thus threaten Pakistan's security. Pakistan is therefore perfectly justified in opposing the commencement of negotiations on an FMT unless these concerns are addressed.

Our problem is not only US opposition to nuclear cooperation with Pakistan but equally the lack of commitment of our own national leadership. Musharraf was far too interested in retaining Washington's support for his rule to raise a difficult bilateral issue. As William J Burns, then under secretary of state, said at a press conference, Musharraf conveyed to the US administration that he was "not unhappy" with the India-US nuclear deal.

Since Musharraf's ouster, neither Zardari nor Gilani has taken up this subject with Obama. Zardari failed to bring it up, as he should have, in his reply to Obama's letter last November in which the US president had offered a broader strategic partnership with Pakistan. Fortunately, there will be another opportunity very shortly at the Nuclear Security Summit being hosted by Obama in Washington next month.

Gilani should tell the US president and the other participating leaders that (a) unless Pakistan is given firm assurances of a waiver from NSG guidelines within a finite period, it would continue to oppose FMT negotiations in the CD; and (b) Pakistan would only sign or ratify the CTBT after India has done that, and after Pakistan gets access to civilian nuclear technology on the same terms as India. If Gilani does these things, he will not only compel the supplier countries to rethinks their duplicitous (munafiqana) nuclear policies towards Pakistan but also make his name in the country's history.







Leaving aside that Murree is a development disaster with unregulated buildings going up all over the place that another earthquake would mostly flatten, Murree is up and running as a domestic tourist option. A day-trip turned into a vertical-slice view of the middle class at play – and there were a lot of them and they were having a merry old time. Perhaps the first thing that struck my friend and I was just how relaxed Murree was – it may have been bustling and crowded, but there was no sense of tension. The streets were notably clean and the prominent rubbish bins were used by people who would normally throw their litter wherever they liked. There was a sense of civic pride a