media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month march 30, edition 000468, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- LEFT WITH ASHES
- ANOTHER REMINDER
- A MISCHIEVOUS ASSERTION - SANDHYA JAIN
- A TRUE GIANT AMONG STARS - RUP NARYAN DAS
- ROAD AHEAD ON HEADLEY - SHASHI SHEKHAR
- IMPOSED POVERTY AND HUNGER - CAROLINE BOIN
- TRIBALS NOT ON DEVELOPMENT MAP - ALOKA KUJUR
- BACK TO THE ' 60S FOR HIPPIE NY
- PATNA BOY KILLED WITH A BAT AFTER FIGHT OVER CRICKET PITCH - BY GIRIDHAR JHA IN PATNA
- SHUTTLE BUS SERVICE TO EASE GURGAON TRAFFIC - FAIZAN HAIDER IN GURGAON
- BAR ON NON- SERIOUS STUDENTS IN IIT TEST - BY KAVITA CHOWDHURY IN NEW DELHI
- HC ASKS MAN TO PRAY AT RAJGHAT FOR LYING
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- BUILDING BLOCKS
- CRIME DOESN'T PAY
- WHY PRECIOUS IS STRATEGIC - BRAHMA CHELLANEY
- BEST WAY TO CLEAR JUDICIAL BACKLOG
- JUSTICE WILL NOT BE BETTER SERVED - KAURVAKI RAO
- LIVING WITH HEIGHTISM - K V KRISHNAN
- CAUGHT IN A POLICY TRAP
- OFF TO A FLYING START
- BROTHERS AND ARMS - VIKRAM SOOD
- RALLYING THE TROOPS
- KHAP UP?
- TWO APART
- INCOMPLETE MAKEOVER - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
- TAKE IT TO THE ROAD - RAGHU DAYAL
- THE EURO'S LOSING CURRENCY
- BANGALORE'S CAMPAIGN 2.0 - SARITHA RAI
- THE ANATOMY OF VIOLENCE
- THE IRAQ STAKES - RAJENDRA ABHYANKAR
- IIP GETS UPGRADED
- AIRLINE SINKING, FREEBIES FLYING
- RBI POLICY - LESSONS FROM THE PAST - SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA
- COMPETITION LEADS TO BETTER EDUCATION - KRISHNAMURTHY V SUBRAMANIAN
- PORT OF CALL FOR CORPORATIZATION JOSEPH VACKAYIL
- WHAT THE MOSCOW BLASTS MEAN
- CLEAN CHIT FOR NOW
- PREPARING FOR A BIG EARTHQUAKE - N. GOPAL RAJ
- "EQUITY" CANNOT BE INEQUITABLE - SURYA P. SETHI
- OBAMA'S AFGHAN SPEECH SENDS MESSAGE HOME - MARK MARDELL
- OVERQUALIFIED? NO, JUST HAPPY TO HAVE A JOB - MICHAEL LUO
- HAUNTED BJP
- LIGHTS OFF
- A NEW N-DOCTRINE - PR CHARI
- NARENDRA MODI, THE SUN KING OF GUJARAT - RANJONA BANERJI
- OBAMA IN KABUL
- CBI ON THE MAT
- UNTESTED VACCINES
- IRAN'S GAS DIPLOMACY - BY BHASKAR BALAKRISHNAN
- CANOPY OF MOMENTS - BY N.S. TASNEEM
- GROWING-UP PRESSURES - BY HARPREET SANDHU
- MANAGING THE GLUT - BY K S CHAWLA
- MUMBAI DIARY - SHIV KUMAR
- THE SCHUMACHER IRONY
- ROAD TO DEVELOPMENT
- SAVING GREECE
- GOING OFF TRACK - A K BHATTACHARYA
- FAITH, FATWAS AND FREE SPEECH - NILANJANA S ROY
- FICCI FRAMES 2010 - THE GOOD, BAD AND UGLY
- VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR
- IS THE EURO OVERVALUED? - MARTIN FELDSTEIN
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- JUST NOT CRICKET
- TREAD WARILY ON NEW BANKS
- FOR TRANSPARENT INSURANCE
- THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
- COWRY SHELLS TO HELICOPTER BEN - ALOK SHEEL
- NOW YOU DON'T, NOW YOU SEE IT - MUKUL SHARMA
- THE DARK SIDE OF RETAIL-SUPPLIER RELATIONSHIP - NIDHI NATH SRINIVAS
- INVESTOR CONFIDENCE'S VERY HIGH HERE' - NIKUNJ DALMIA
- CONTEMPORARY INDIAN ART IS STILL BOUGHT IN A BIG WAY BY THE DIASPORA' - ISHANI DUTTAGUPTA
- WE ARE LOOKING FOR 51% STAKE IN PIPAVAV: NIKHIL GANDHI
- WE'VE REMOVED AC TO BECOME WARM: NIELSEN - RAVI BALAKRISHNAN
- OBAMA IN KABUL:JUST A PHOTO-OP?
- TELECOM DRAMA, IN 3G - BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA
- ON FINANCIAL REFORM STICK WITH THE PUNKS - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- TELANGANA VS TRIBAL RIGHTS - BY KANCHA ILAIAH
- HERITAGE ON TRIAL - BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
- YOGA NOT ABOUT KILLING DESIRE - BY YOGI ASHWINI
- PETITION A 'BIBLE'
- ABORTED OVERTURES
- BAGHDADI BUMPS
- NOVELTY OF THE SPIN-OFF - BY NK SINGH
- MASSIVE EROSION OF VALUES - SANTANU SINHA CHAUDHURI
- IRAQ POLL RESULTS 'CREDIBLE' - ANJALI SHARMA
- SECRET CODE
- POLES APART
- A MODEL PROCESS - ASHOK GUHA
- THE AGE OF NEGLECT - MALVIKA SINGH
- NO BETTER THAN A MAD TEA PARTY - THE LURE OF NECESSARY EVIL
- FORBIDDEN FRUIT - INSIYA POONAWALA
- ELIMINATE NUKES
- UNBECOMING OF CJI
- A LABOUR TURNAROUND? - BY JOHN F BURNS
- ALLAWI HAS A TOUGH TASK AHEAD IN IRAQ - BY MICHAEL JANSEN
- QUE SERA SERA - BY G K GUPTA
- RETHINK THE 'TALKBACK' RULING
- THE PLAGUE OF DARKNESS HAS STRUCK MODERN ISRAELITES - BY AKIVA ELDAR
- ISRAEL IS SLIDING TOWARD MCCARTHYISM AND RACISM - BY DAVID LANDAU
- RAYAK'S DAILY BREAD - BY ZE'EV SEGAL
- HER FATHER, HIS DAUGHTER - BY YOSSI SARID
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- PRESIDENT OBAMA IN KABUL
- RIGHT OF PASSAGE
- AN EDUCATION BASIC
- TWO SPRINGS - BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
- THE MAGIC POTION - BY BOB HERBERT
- THE SANDRA BULLOCK TRADE - BY DAVID BROOKS
- MOSCOW UNDER ATTACK - BY SERGEY KUZNETSOV
- 'ALIVE, ALIVE' - BY PETER ALESHKOVSKY
- FOUL PLAY
- STICKS AND CARROTS
- CHILD SOLDIERS
- THE CASE FOR PAKHTUNKHWA - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
- NAWAZ SHARIF'S IMMUNITY - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
- SPURIOUS LAWMAKERS - NAEEM SADIQ
- ECONOMIC GROWTH REVISITED - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
- A VEXING ISSUE - MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
- HOW STRATEGIC WAS THE WASHINGTON DIALOGUE? - DR MALEEHA LODHI
- CIVIL SYSTEM FAST COLLAPSING
- PAK STUDENTS MISBEHAVE IN CUBA
- RAY OF HOPE IN IRAQ
- SINISTER INTENTS ABOUT BALOCHISTAN - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- MNS VOLTE FACE - DR SYED JAVED HUSSAIN
- EDUCATION IN PAKISTAN - DR IKRAM AZAM
- A NAME IS ALL WE HAVE - SHAIMA SUMAYA
- 'AGGRIEVED AAFIA' AND AMERICA - NIGHAT LEGHARI
- PORT TROUBLE
- SAND IN MY SHOES..!
- REFLECTIONS ON THE PRIVATE UNIVERSITY ACT 2010 - PROF M ALIMULLAH MIYAN, PHD
- LEADERSHIP AND VISION FOR A BIG AUSTRALIA
- UNDERSTANDING THE BODY POLITIC
- HU JAILING SENDS A TOUGH SIGNAL
- THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- A HARSH WARNING TO AUSTRALIA
- POLE POSITION FOR THE NANNY STATE
- ONLY ONE TRACK RECORD REALLY COUNTS
- NANNY OR NOT, ROAD RULES EXIST TO SAVE LIVES
- RUSSIA: SHARED SCOURGE, DIFFERENT CAUSES
- ECONOMIC STRATEGY: THE ELECTION DEBATE WE NEED
- IN PRAISE OF SECOND-CLASS MPS
THE KOREA HERALD
- ARE WE PREPARED?
- THE EURO HAS REASON TO STRENGTHEN - MARTIN FELDSTEIN
- THE KREMLIN TEMPTATION TO FRANCE - DOMINIQUE MOISI
- PRECEDENT TO PROMOTE GENERAL WELFARE
THE JAPAN TIMES
- INHERENT CONFLICT OF INTEREST
- WASTE-CUTTING, SECOND ROUND
- DRONE DEPENDENCY TRIVIALIZING AFGHAN WAR - BY CESAR CHELALA
THE JAKARTA POST
- SOS (SAVE OUR SOCCER)
- STOP OPEN DUMPING PLEASE! - OVA CANDRA DEWI
- RI WATER SERVICES SUFFERING FROM A LACK OF GOVERNANCE - MOHAMAD MOVA AL 'AFGHANI
- INDONESIA CAN TAKE THE LEAD IN BRINGING AN END TO DARFUR CONFLICT - MICHAEL DANBY
- AN AUSPICIOUS AUTO DEAL
- FAIR BUSINESS LANDSCAPE
- CHENGGUAN'S WAY OUT
- AN OPEN INVESTMENT RACE - BY ZHANG MONAN (CHINA DAILY)
- BLAME THE PROPERTY BOOM ON CAPITAL - BY FULONG WU (CHINA DAILY)
- ABSURD TRANSCENDENTAL PRETENSE - BY CHUNG-YUE CHANG (CHINA DAILY)
- NEWS ANALYSIS: WILL VOLVO BRAND THRIVE?
- WALKING THE TALK
- WHERE HAVE ALL THE WOMEN GONE? THE QUEST FOR THE 'SUITABLE GIRL'
- NO CHILD OF OURS SHOULD HAVE TO TAKE UP ARMS
LEFT WITH ASHES
A FIRE EXPOSES BENGAL'S LARGER TRAGEDY
It speaks for West Bengal that a fire in a building in Kolkata, one that has so far claimed 42 lives, has more or less paralysed governance. The Fire Services Minister has consistently ducked responsibility. The Chief Minister has blamed the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and said its officials are in cahoots with a builder mafia in the city. In 1984, this nexus led to the illegal construction of two floors atop the old structure of Stephen Court on Kolkata's Park Street. Fire safety norms were ignored, fire escapes not built and access to the terrace not provided to tenants. All this contributed to the tragedy earlier this month and is now well known. What is astonishing is that the Chief Minister of West Bengal and the Mayor of Kolkata, both of them senior members of the CPI(M), have been merrily contradicting each other on the issue of the KMC's culpability. This is not merely civic administration gone horribly wrong. There is a larger message here: The CPI(M) is beginning to fall apart in the State it has ruled, almost unchallenged, for three decades. This sort of a public slanging match, admission of extreme vulnerability and pointing of fingers at party colleagues has happened in other political entities and cultures. In India's premier Communist party, particularly in West Bengal, the Left's impregnable fortress for just so long, it is indicative of something very new almost of a death-wish.
Ever since the crippling defeat to the Trinamool Congress-led Opposition alliance in the Lok Sabha election of 2009, the Left Front has been a house divided. Smaller parties are sensing that Big Brother is crumbling and provoking the CPI(M). The case of the Fire Services Minister is worth citing. He belongs to a tiny Left Front constituent called the Marxist Forward Bloc and has spent the past few days shrugging off accusations and allowing the CPI(M) to take the heat. During a discussion on the Stephen Court fire, he tried to walk out of the State Assembly before the Chief Minister could speak. He had to be physically restrained by a CPI(M) MLA. Within the CPI(M) itself, the cohesion and unity of old has gone. If the Lok Sabha results of 2009 be translated to Assembly segments, the Left Front is left with just about 100 of the State legislature's 294 seats. The alliance between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress wins the rest. There are suggestions that the Left has regained some ground from that low but is still likely to be drubbed decisively in the 2011 Assembly election. As such, a section of the CPI(M) is already preparing for a role in Opposition and of programmatic and personnel changes that will be necessary. It is likely that Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will face a serious rebellion. The manner in which he has been snubbed by a Mayor from his own party is a sign of things to come.
The Stephen Court fire is a tragic incident but, in the normal course, not the subject of an all-consuming political crisis. Yet, it has become a microcosmic representation of the comatose nature of the administration in West Bengal, and of the CPI(M)'s atrophy. Such drift is not desirable at the best of times; it is particularly dangerous when a State Government is meant to be battling a Maoist insurgency. Bengal's night of unremitting darkness just continues.
JIHAD, SUM OF ITS PARTS
The Monday morning suicide bombings at two prominent metro stations in central Moscow are yet another stark reminder of how widespread the scourge of jihadi terrorism is. At least 38 people are said to have been killed in the bombings with dozens more injured. Though no particular organisation has claimed responsibility for the attacks, authorities in the Russian capital believe that the bombings are the handiwork of female suicide terrorists from the North Caucasus region. The said region is home to several Russian republics that have long witnessed separatist movements that aim to overthrow the yoke of Moscow's supremacy. But what is noteworthy is that most of these separatist movements have been hijacked by jihadi groups of various hues. Indeed, Russian investigators have said that the latest bombings could be in retaliation to the recently announced killings of two radical Islamist leaders by Russian forces, both of whom were linked to separatist leader Doku Umarov. The latter, since October 2007, has declared the entire North Caucasus region to be part of a separate Islamic emirate ruled by sharia'h law. Doku Umarov and his cohorts are presently leading an insurgency that encompasses the Russian republics of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.
What the Russian experience essentially demonstrates is the ability of radical Islam to easily morph with local conditions; its ability to prey on the grievances of a certain section of people and turn them into jihadis. This is more or less the pattern we have observed wherever jihadi Islam has reared its ugly head. In Afghanistan, for example, to say that the fight is against a group of backward-looking Islamic radicals would actually be an oversimplification. Criss-crossing tribal loyalties, corruption and opium are factors that are as much intrinsic to the Afghan situation as the Taliban's medieval ideology and barbaric ways. Yet, the Islamists have been able to take all these things and prepare a seemingly homogenous concoction. The fundamental problem is the Islamist world-view, which is completely opposite as opposed to different to ever other world-view out there. It is also this opposing set of beliefs that jihadis have been able to successfully use to create a global network that can assimilate a wide spectrum of grievances and local movements. As a result, even though they have absolutely nothing in common, Islamists in Indonesia feel they have a common bond with Islamists in Chechnya. The only way to deal with this multi-headed monster is to treat it as the sum of its parts. Russia, as well as the international community, must realise that the problem it faces stretches far beyond any geographically bound territory. There needs to be a truly global war on terror. Distinguishing between 'good' jihadis and 'bad' jihadis is counter-productive and will only embolden the terrorists to continue with their nefarious deeds.
A MISCHIEVOUS ASSERTION
The Supreme Court has, for unknown reasons, opened a dark chapter in our modern history by upholding the validity of the Andhra Pradesh Government's decision to give four per cent reservation to backward caste members of the Muslim community. The haste to give such an interim order warrants explanation, as the bench comprising Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and Justices JM Panchal and BS Chauhan has referred the matter to a Constitution bench since it involves important constitutional issues.
As it is unclear how this will ultimately impact the 50 per cent reservation ceiling fixed by the apex court in the Indira Sawhney and Others vs Union of India case, a curative petition seems in order.
With UPA 2.0 hell bent on pursuing its disastrous divisive agenda for the nation, there is now real danger that the recommendations of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (Ranganath Mishra Commission) that seek to club Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity and Islam with Hindu Scheduled Castes for reservation benefits will be implemented.
Despite serious reservations among the affected converts themselves, the religio-political Christian and Islamic leaders are pressing for this, though neither faith recognises the caste system or untouchability. They proffer the specious argument that Scheduled Caste converts to their faiths continue to suffer discrimination at the behest of the new faith community and its leaders! Thus, converts suffer separate churches and/or mosques, separate prayer halls or prayer timings in the same church/mosque, and separate burial spaces. Upper caste/class sections of these communities do not socialise with (lower caste) converts.
It is truly shameful if, as these leaders admit, converts experience no visible uplift in social or economic status in their new faiths, which wrenched them from their civilisational moorings in Hindu society on the promise of a better life; and even now lure fresh converts by promising myriad bounties. Since conversions comprise a multi-million dollar industry for both the Church and the Mosque, the Government of India should undertake a detailed socio-economic audit of foreign and domestic funds received by these religions since independence, and the reasons why their respective laity feels neglected and degraded despite this wealth of funds.
Boldly dissenting from the NCRLM majority view, Ms Asha Das, member secretary, has legitimately pointed out that to begin with, there is no documented research available to establish that the disabilities and handicaps suffered by Scheduled Caste members in the original Hindu social order persist with the same oppressive intensity in Christianity and Islam. As Islam and Christianity came to India along with traders, invaders and preachers and established themselves over centuries, it is difficult to hazard a guess about the number of their native progeny, especially Scheduled Caste converts, in the present population as there are no authentic records. Identifying SC converts will produce innumerable problems and chances of abuse when even listed castes have trouble with false certificates.
Studies by British missionary Rev Samuel Mateer in Kerala and erstwhile princely state of Travancore, Cochin and Madras Presidency, published as Land of Charity in 1870 and Native Life in Travancore in 1883, show that the "slave caste" (present SCs) who converted to Christianity in these States enhanced their social, educational and economic status vis-à-vis their Hindu brethren.
Even today, available social indicators regarding Christians (separate figures for SC converts are not available) reveal that in terms of literacy and education, work participation rate, etc, Christians are way ahead of other major religious groups (barring Jains). The 2001 census shows the literacy rate for Christians at 80.3 per cent against 65.1 per cent for Hindus; 59.1 per cent for Muslims; 69.4 per cent for Sikhs; 72.7 per cent for Buddhists; and 64.8 per cent for all religions. For Scheduled Castes in general, the literacy rate is 54.60 percent.
The grant of Scheduled Caste status to converts amounts to the formal introduction of the caste system in Islam and Christianity. This changes the basic tenets of these faiths, and exceeds the jurisdiction of both Parliament and the judiciary. It is pertinent that Christians and Muslims were never treated as Scheduled Castes in British India or independent India.
The British adopted the rationale (continued in Order 1950) of identifying depressed classes/scheduled castes on the basis of untouchability-related disabilities peculiar to Hindu society's caste system. The SC Order of 1936 was based on 'caste'; it clearly states: "No Indian Christian shall be deemed to be member of a Scheduled Caste" (conversions being aimed at destroying Hindu society). The 1956 and 1990 Amendments included Sikh and Buddhist SCs as both faiths were homegrown sects within Hindu religion, and Explanation II below Article 25 provided that Hindu in sub-clause(b) of clause(2) would include persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion.
The Constitution also abolished untouchability by Article 17 and forbade its practice in any form. To expand the list of untouchables after 60 years of affirmative action would undo all national effort to end this scourge, a retrograde step contrary to the constitutional commitment of non-discrimination. The allegation that converts suffer because they continue to be part and parcel of Indian society is specious as the discrimination against them is intra the new faith community. Equally fallacious is the claim that denial of SC status deprives converts protection under the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The Protection of Civil Rights Act of 1955 is religion-neutral and applicable to all "religions and religious denominations throughout India."
During a workshop organised by the Commission, Muslim scholars argued that as per the three globally accepted determinants of socio-economic backwardness child mortality, degree of urbanisation and average life expectancy at birth the Muslim community was far ahead of the majority community; hence religion-based reservations to Muslims were constitutionally and ethically unjustified.
India is in grave danger; the BJP should rise to the occasion and demand that if SC converts are not given equal status and rights by their new faiths, the Supreme Court should declare the conversion process incomplete or illegitimate and pave the way for the return of these misguided folk to the mother Hindu faith. They will receive all the social advancements that Hindu society has given to SC groups that stuck it out through thick and thin. It may be worthwhile to consider bringing down the Government before this partition-centric proposal is imposed upon the nation.
A TRUE GIANT AMONG STARS
RUP NARYAN DAS
Amitabh Bachchan, for more than three decades, has enthralled and mesmerised the masses. He is nothing less than an icon and continues to hog the headlines for one reason or other. His charisma and stellar personality have been awe inspiring. Not long ago, in the seventies, the youth identified themselves with the six-foot-tall angry young man, fighting for justice in this cruel world. But Bachchan's personal life journey has been a mixed bag of agony and ecstasy, tragedy and triumph, all of which he embraced stoically. It was his remarkable resiliency that ensured that he was able to resurrect himself after every fall. With his production company ABCL, he incurred huge financial loses. But within no time he made good the loss with Star TV's super hit show Kaun Banega Crorepati.
With age, Bachchan has matured like a fine wine. He continues to maintain the zest for life, grooming his persona with intellect and razor-sharp wit. Even though he has won numerous accolades such as the French Legion of Honour Award and other international awards, apart from the multitude of national awards, he has no qualms about dabbling in small-time promotional advertisements.
The variety of characters Bachchan has portrayed throughout his career in films is simply mind-boggling. But success has never gone to his head. He continues to be one of the most humble and modest celebrities. Though some have called him a superstitious person, perhaps one can understand and appreciate this aspect of his personality in the context of queer happenings in his life. It may be recalled that he has survived both physically and emotional injuries throughout the course of his life. Crises that he has overcome speaks eloquently of his resilience and fortitude, impelling his faith in the power of the supernatural. He himself has candidly admitted to the infinite power of destiny which can make a prince a pauper in no time.
At a time when India is passing though a cultural flux, Bachchan represents the continuum of India's transition from tradition to modernity. To the people of India, he is a symbol of hope and enterprise, of perseverance and hard work. He is truly a national treasure.
ROAD AHEAD ON HEADLEY
DAVID HEADLEY HAS PLEADED GUILTY ON 12 COUNTS, INCLUDING THE 26/11 MUMBAI ATTACKS AND THE DANISH PLOT. HOWEVER, NOT MUCH IS KNOWN OF HIS ROLE IN THE WAVE OF ATTACKS IN INDIA BETWEEN SEPTEMBER 2006 AND JULY 2008. THIS SHOULD BE AN AREA OF FOCUS FOR INDIA IF AND WHEN IT GETS TO INTERROGATE HIM
The Chicago conspiracy case has taken a curious turn with the plea agreement between the US Attorney's Office and David Coleman Headley. The 35-page plea bargain document filed with the US Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, makes for interesting reading. While the earlier chargesheets had covered several details on the transcripts of conversations and e-mails exchanged between David Headley and his Pakistan-based controllers from both the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Brigade 313, the plea bargain reveals some new facts.
While it was known previously that Headley had attended training in Lashkar camps in Pakistan in 2002-2003, the plea bargain details specifically what training was received and when. In February 2002 Headley is said to have attended a three-week course on indoctrination on the merits of jihad. Following this he further attended another three-week course in August 2002 on handling weapons and grenades. In April 2003 we are told he attended a three-month course on close combat tactics and survival skills. In August 2003 we are told of another three-week course on surveillance.
It is interesting to note that Headley's focus on India begins around the same time as the wave of terror starting late-2005 with the Delhi blasts. It is also interesting to note that planning for Headley to be based in India started as early as February 2006 with several trips to Pakistan and Chicago in the months leading up to the 7/11 Mumbai blasts. While it is not until September 2006 that Headley arrived in India, it is interesting to note that surveillance of potential targets in Mumbai and other cities had started in 2006 itself.
While 12 counts on which Headley has pleaded guilty cover the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and the planned attack in Denmark, not much is known of his role in the wave of attacks in India between September 2006 and July 2008. This should be an area of focus for India if and when it gets to interrogate him. The identities of the four Lashkar operatives that Headley interacted with also remain unknown at this time. It is important to note that while Lashkar members A, B and D and more specifically A &D find mention meeting with Headley on several occasions, not much is revealed on the specific role played by Lashkar member C and the circumstances of Headley's interactions with Lashkar member C.
It is interesting to note that according to the plea bargain the Danish attacks were initially proposed by Lashkar member A. Headley's overt collaboration with Ilyas Kashmiri's Brigade 313 on the Danish attack did not start until November 2008. It is also claimed that Headley was initially unaware of the fact that Abdur Rehman's controller or sponsor for the planned Danish attacks was Ilyas Kashmiri, even though he previously knew that Abdur Rehman was working for Ilyas Kashmiri.
An insight into the dynamics between the Lashkar and the Brigade 313 become apparent from a reported conversation from February 2009 when Ilyas Kashmiri is said to have advised Headley that Lashkar's support was not required to conduct the Danish attack. It is also interesting to note that Lashkar too advises Headley of putting the Danish plans on hold on account of increased heat on Lashkar following 26/11.
Kashmiri's suggestion that Lashkar's services were not required at around the same time that Lashkar itself had decided to put its plans on hold, could perhaps be suggestive of something more than a mere coincidence. While this narrative leads to believe that Brigade 313 and Lashkar had distinct priorities, it must also be asked if the Brigade 313 was working in tandem with Lashkar to take the heat off Lashkar.
The plea bargain filings don't throw much light on the circumstances that first brought Headley in contact with the Brigade 313's Abdur Rehman. A significant omission considering that specific dates on Headley's indoctrination into Lashkar spread over two years had been revealed. This ought to be an area for the Indian team to probe further to uncover the true nature of the Lashkar's relationship with the so called Brigade 313 lead by Ilyas Kashmiri.
It must be recalled that there was practically no reportage on Ilyas Kashmiri for nearly three years after he was arrested and let off by Pakistan in 2004. It was not until 2007 that Ilyas Kashmiri's Brigade 313 made news for its operations in Waziristan with retired Pakistan military officers and former Lashkar members in its fold. It must also be recalled that the blame for assassination of Pakistani Major-General Amir Faisal Alvi a week before of 26/11 was initially ascribed to the Lashkar before it was claimed that the accused Major Haroon was an ex-Lashkar working for 313 Brigade at Ilyas Kashmiri's behest.
Interestingly all through 2009, Ilyas Kashmiri's graph has been on the rise with his alleged escape from the jaws of death and the claims of his becoming the chief of Al Qaeda's Shadow Army of Lashkar al-Zil. The apparent Takfiri faultline between the Lashkar and the Brigade 313 notwithstanding, there has been cross pollination between the two outfits in the form of ex-members of Lashkar and retired Pakistan Army officers. This cross-pollination should be reason for Indian investigators to be far more circumspect on the true nature of the Lashkar-operated syndicate within and outside the Pakistan military jihadi establishment than we have been lead to believe.
The writer, an expert on security affairs, tracks terrorism in South Asia.
IMPOSED POVERTY AND HUNGER
Those calling for radical change to feed a growing world population ignore that the poor are not undernourished due to food shortage but because of Government policies
How to feed nine billion people by 2050 has been a big worry since food prices rose drastically in 2007-08. But any fight against hunger must deal with the one billion people who lack food right now.
Calls for 'new thinking' and a lot more money appear in a report for a 1,000-delegate Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development, this week in Montpellier, France. The world could need 70 to 100 per cent more food over the next four decades to meet demand from population growth and from higher incomes in such countries as India and China.
But those calling for radical change ignore two things.
First, the world has drastically increased food output before. With discoveries like hybrid seeds, we were able to grow twice as much cereal on the same land. China increased food production by 3.5 over the past 50 years.
Food production far outstripped population growth in the 20th century, despite widespread pessimism. And the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says there is enough land and water to allow this to continue through the 21st century.
Second, hunger is mainly caused by bad Government policies, from import restrictions to internal duties and lack of property rights, keeping prices artificially high.
Barriers to trade are four times higher in developing countries than in rich countries: The average tariffs on agricultural products in the developing world were 15.2 per cent in 2001 compared to 2.8 per cent in high-income OECD countries. These counter-productive and cruel policies push up the price of food amid widespread malnutrition.
In India, for example, Governments have consistently punished agriculture. Price fixing, subsidies and restrictions on land ownership and transfer keep farming largely manual and inefficient. With no incentives, there is little investment in infrastructure and research.
These policies also cause waste. Some 30 to 40 per cent of food in India, Africa and other developing regions is lost because of poor infrastructure, poor storage and bureaucratic delays, especially at customs.
Rarely has Government interference been as damaging as throughout the food crisis. The price of wheat, maize and rice more than doubled in less than two years. Despite adequate supplies, rice peaked above all others due to an Indian ban on rice exports which caused panic buying among importers.
Despite widespread condemnation from the UN, the World Bank and heads of states, export bans and restrictions were common throughout and after the food crisis. In fact, over 40 countries including 15 in Sub-Saharan Africa have restricted food trade in the past year, helping prices stay around 20 per cent higher than before the crisis in many developing countries.
Although the subsidies that the US and EU lavish upon their already wealthy farmers do indeed disadvantage poor farmers around the world, developing countries have the most to gain from liberalising their own agricultural sectors, a World Bank analysis of the stalled World Trade Organisation's Doha Development Round shows. Simply put, there is no need to wait for the West to deal with its own vested interests.
Hunger is caused not just by barriers against the movement of food itself but barriers against technology.
Although technology such as hybrid seeds and drip irrigation are making a big difference by increasing yields and lowering food prices in countries such as Malawi, tariffs and other harmful policies elsewhere have driven up their price and put them out of farmers' reach. As a result, only four per cent of arable land in sub-Saharan Africa is irrigated, compared to 38 per cent in Asia. Fertiliser application in Africa is a tiny average of eight kilos per hectare, compared to a developing-world average of 107 kilos. Food production has actually fallen in Africa over the past 30 years.
Before dreaming up complicated and expensive investments and research for the future, Governments should spare a thought for those who are going hungry today because poverty and hunger are imposed on them. Removing barriers to the production and movement of food and technology would be a cheap and easy step towards feeding the world.
The writer is a Project Director at International Policy Network, London, an independent think-tank working on economic development.
TRIBALS NOT ON DEVELOPMENT MAP
THERE IS A TOTAL DISCONNECT BETWEEN POLITICIANS AND THE COMMUNITY IN JHARKHAND, WRITES ALOKA KUJUR
Mineral-rich Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar in 2000 to ensure better governance and development. It's a pity that nearly 10 years after its inception the fruits of development are yet to reach the tribals of the State. Today, they watch their own tribal leaders caught in a whirl of deception, corruption and negligence while they struggle with basic issues of infrastructure and livelihoods.
How come the tribals remain bereft of the fruits of development and benefits from a political formation which came into being riding on their cause?
Apparently, it is the total disconnect between the leaders who themselves are adivasis and the community which they are meant to represent.
Areas like Band Toli, Jamjharia, Bahar Toli, Loa Toli, Dad Toli, Rohini Toli, Girja Toli and Saat Toli villages of Jaldega block of Simdega district are testimonies to this political disconnect.
This is the region from where MLA Enos Ekka, once the State's Rural Development Minister, hails. During his tenure not even a single road connecting these villages spread around 65 km of forests was built. The area remains poor, backward and its population of about 1,000 continues to eke out a hard living through forest produce and farming.
Jharkhand has seen seven Chief Ministers in nine years of its formation. While the entire nation is on the development path, this State seems to lag behind. All development schemes continue to be on papers. Plans related to women empowerment and forest conservation are pending and the political leadership seems to be consumed by self-interest and continues to be unresponsive to ground realities. There are corruption charges against State's former Ministers.
Bhundupani village in Simdega district, where people produce everything that they require except salt which they buy the market, has no electricity. Bhandupani village can be seen as a worst case in more ways than one. Healthcare facilities are established in rural areas of Jharkhand but this village is deprived of public health centre. Bhandupani village is one of the numerous villages where development has not reached yet.
Salmo Barla, a villager, said, "Healthcare is the most common problem here. But nobody cares for this village. Women faint all of a sudden sometimes, elders fall sick and there is no medical facility."
The tribals, who for centuries have lived off the forests, have opened their eyes to the new reality that electing a candidate who has emerged from their own local area does not mean that their interests will be protected. Seteng Barla, an adivasi woman, says, "Corruption amongst MLAs and politicians of the country has created a directionless society. We thought that our Adivasi MLA will help us improve the conditions here, but that did not happen. We are still struggling for water, healthcare and education."
The sense of frustration is palpable. Edline, a student, rues, "We are unable to use what we learnt as there are no educational facilities in the village. We want to use our education but can't."
Jira Munda, another villager, says, "The formation of Jharkhand has deteriorated the situation of villages further. For last nine years, my village is facing the same set of problems as it used to be"
Everything now seems to hinge on the sincerity and will of the politicians who rode to power with the support thousands of people like Barla and Munda. Will they deliver on the promises they made to their people or will the tribals of Jharkhand once again be betrayed by those who they reposed their trust in?
BACK TO THE ' 60S FOR HIPPIE NY
MAYOR AS HE LETS HIS HAIR DOWN
IT'S HARD to find New York mayor Michael Bloomberg donning anything but crisp business suits with his well- practised " politician's smile" firmly in place.
It was a different story on Saturday night, though, when the mayor let down his hair quite literally for a fund- raiser.
Bloomberg ditched his Armani suits for hair extensions and the hippie garb reminiscent of the " flower power" age as he attended the Inner Circle Dinner in New York.
The flamboyant politico put on tinted shades, a flowery shirt, ripped jeans and a headband for his eighth and definitely the wackiest appearance at the annual event.
He also performed a skit with the cast of Hair, a popular Broadway production, during the ' 60s flashback at the Hilton Hotel.
After riding on to the stage in a van filled with pot smoke, Bloomberg sang along to Age of Aquarius ( yes, he is an Aquarian) before going full- on with is performance in the skit, Mair: 3 Terms of Peace and Music.
In the past, he has performed with the Broadway casts of The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins and Spamalot at the fund- raiser.
The peacenik leader, true to his radical spirit, boasted of fighting crime saying: " I've already brought crime down at frat parties... Peeing in the bushes has dropped 15 per cent." Earlier at rehearsals, Bloomberg joked with former American Idol singers Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young, showing off his bellbottomed jeans and flashing a peace sign.
But Bloomberg's psychedelic makeover failed to eclipse the grooviest mayoral performance at the event. That title, by popular vote, still belongs to Rudy Giuliani, who donned a dress, a blond wig and lipstick and then sang in a high- pitched falsetto for his 1997 spoof with the cast of Victor/ Victoria.
A MAN OF MANY SHADES
Michael Bloomberg was named the eighth richest person in the US by Forbes with a $ 16- billion fortune
In 2008, he successfully campaigned for an amendment to New York's term limits law so he could run for a third term as mayor
Bloomberg has sung, and danced with the Broadway casts of Chicago, Spamalot, Little Mermaid and Mary Poppins for the Inner Circle Dinner
He once rode out on a donkey that he dubbed ' The Burro of Manhattan' during his performance
PATNA BOY KILLED WITH A BAT AFTER FIGHT OVER CRICKET PITCH
BY GIRIDHAR JHA IN PATNA
CRICKET took a deadly turn in Bihar when a 12- year- old boy was hammered to death with bats and stumps following an altercation between two groups of students over a pitch.
Class VI student Akash Kumar was attacked by a group of boys on the cricket ground of Patna University's B. N. College after a dispute over a particular pitch.
The Bihar Police on Monday arrested the prime accused, Faisal, on the basis of an FIR lodged by Akash's father, Ajit Kumar Yadav.
The police said Akash, a student of the local Vivekanand School, was playing on the ground with his friends from Patna's Nataraj Gali area on Sunday evening when some boys from the nearby Bakerganj locality arrived.
They asked Akash and his friends to vacate the pitch, saying it was their playground.
Akash and his mates argued but eventually agreed to get off the pitch and started playing on the outer ground.
But both the groups clashed again when the ball of one group went into the " area" of the other team.
In a fight that ensued, Akash was assaulted with bats and cricket stumps by the group allegedly led by Faisal. When Akash's brother, Avinash, tried to save him, he was also beaten up, the police said.
Akash was rushed to the Patna Medical College Hospital ( PMCH), where he was declared dead on arrival.
The incident sparked tensions in the area, with shopkeepers downing shutters sensing trouble.
Enraged residents of Nataraj Gali blockaded a road in protest against the incident and demanded that the accused be arrested.
The locals alleged that the police were dilly- dallying in taking Faisal into custody. They also indulged in stone- pelting.
But the Patna police acted swiftly and brought the situation under control.
Ajit, Akash's father, said, " My son had done no harm to anybody to deserve this punishment." While Faisal is now in custody, the police have launched a manhunt to apprehend the other unnamed members of Faisal's group who had also allegedly assaulted the boy.
SHUTTLE BUS SERVICE TO EASE GURGAON TRAFFIC
FAIZAN HAIDER IN GURGAON
TO AVOID jams during office hours, multinational companies ( MNCs) in Gurgaon are planning to start shuttle bus service to the Capital for their staff.
" A six sigma project is on to study the ways in which traffic can be managed in cyber city.
We will first study the feasibility of a shuttle bus service between Dwarka and Gurgaon. The plan is in its initial stage," said Subinder Khurana, the president of the Cyber City welfare society.
The issue was also discussed at a traffic management meeting chaired by Gurgaon police commissioner S. S. Deswal.
" The number of vehicles coming to the cyber city will be reduced if the shuttle service plan worked. And that would lead to fewer traffic jams. We are working with the authorities to ease vehicular movement in the area," Khurana said.
Shankar Chowk, one of the busiest crossings, is chock- ablock with cars during peak hours and vehicles get stranded for up to 10 minutes on an average.
On some days the wait extends to even one hour.
Some of the MNCs located in DLF phase- III near Shankar Chowk, as advised by the traffic police, introduced ' flexi- timings' for their staff to ease traffic on the roads. " When we changed office timings, many others followed suit. But the only benefit was that we faced traffic jams only in Gurgaon and not all the way," said Alok Singh, the director ( administration) KPMG, a global network of professional services firms.
" The main problem is approach.
There is only one road that links the M. G. Road and NH8 and lots of people are using it to reach their offices," a DLF employee said.
BAR ON NON- SERIOUS STUDENTS IN IIT TEST
BY KAVITA CHOWDHURY IN NEW DELHI
THE Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) system for admission to IITs is likely to be overhauled, as these premier educational institutions are keen to reduce the number of aspirants appearing for the test. A four-member committee set up by the human resource development (HRD) ministry to suggest reforms in IIT-JEE is working to ensure that nonserious students are not allowed to appear for the test.
The committee, headed by IIT-Kharagpur director professor Damodar Acharya, is working out the formula based on which competition could be limited to a smaller group of students that is really serious and has the potential.
IIT-Madras director professor M.S. Ananth said: "At present, about 4 lakh students apply for the JEE for admission to 15 IITs that have about 10,000 seats. This means about 40 students are competing for one seat in these prestigious institutions.
The idea is to reduce the competition to 10 students for one seat. Those who are really serious should only apply."
The committee is looking at various options, including raising the eligibility cut-off, to restrict the number of applications. It is also looking to give greater weightage to Class XII marks while preparing the cut-off list for admission to the IITs.
Sources said the percentile system might not be a workable option as different boards across the country have different percentage criteria.
" Percentages and percentiles cannot be collated," the source added.
Professor Ananth said: " The present system of examination tests knowledge but not the aptitude of the students. We are working towards a system that will not only test their knowledge of physics, maths and chemistry, but also their aptitude." At the last IIT council meeting, HRD minister Kapil Sibal's statement that cutoffs should be increased from the existing 60 per cent to 85 per cent had met with strong reservations from including the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. Kumar wrote to Sibal that such a move could lead to elitism.
A large number of students from non- elite backgrounds too make it to the IITs, it was argued.
According to the terms of reference the HRD ministry issued to the Acharya committee, the panel should look at modifying the JEE format to make it a comprehensive test that can replace the All India Engineering Entrance Exam and the state- level entrance tests for admission into engineering institutions.
The JEE could be called an aptitude test. The committee is expected to submit its report in two months. The final decision on the JEE will be taken in the next meeting of the IIT Council.
HC ASKS MAN TO PRAY AT RAJGHAT FOR LYING
A MAN who lied before a court has been asked by the Delhi High Court ( HC) to offer prayers at the Rajghat daily for two hours and clean the areas surrounding the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi as an atonement for his sin.
The Delhi HC, however, directed the samadhi management committee to pay a compensation of Rs 35,000 to Kanhaiya Lal, who worked as security guard there, for illegally sacking him.
" This court would not recommend any action of initiating perjury proceedings against him and would rather direct the petitioner to offer his daily prayers for at least two hours for a period of one month to seek atonement for committing the sin of being untruthful to the Court of Law," Justice Kailash Gambhir said in the judgment. The court also asked Lal to clean the samadhi for one month.
" It is no doubt that falsehood is easy and truth difficult. But that does not entail that the virtue of truthfulness be worn like a garment, worn and removed at our own will. It would not be wrong to say that in the time of universal deceit today, speaking truth seems like a revolutionary act," the court said.
The court, meanwhile, directed the samadhi committee to pay Lal a compensation of Rs 35,000 for firing him
without following the proper procedure of law. Lal filed a petition seeking a direction to the Rajghat Samadhi Committee to re- instate him. The petitioner claimed he was working there from 1990 to 1999. However, the court found discrepancy in his version.
BACK IN CONG FOLD
FORMER Madhya Pradesh minister Akhand Pratap Singh has rejoined the Congress after a gap of several years.
Singh described his return to the party as " homecoming" and said he would work hard to strengthen the party in the backward Bundelkhand region. He rejoined Congress after the AICC put a seal of approval on his re induction into its fold. Singh, who joined the BJP after being sidelined in the Congress, was elected as MLA ( 2003-' 07) and later become minister for food and civil supplies in the chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan's cabinet. However, he lost the assembly polls in 2007 from Tikamgarh and later quit the BJP.
A happy Gandhi
Varun Gandhi is on cloud nine these days. The young Gandhi claims that his cousins, Priyanka and Rahul, had wished him on his birthday recently.
Varun reportedly got another call from Rahul after he became a national secretary of the BJP.
Shield for babus
THE Centre has constituted a group led by a cabinet secretary to filter out frivolous complaints against secretaries of Union ministries and take appropriate action based on their gravity, seriousness and nature of the allegations.
The group will also comprise secretaries to the Prime Minister, coordination wing in the cabinet secretariat, department of personnel and training and central vigilance commission. The move is an attempt to lower the burden of the department of personnel and training ( DOPT), which receives all the complaints against secretaries at the Centre.
Some of them are frivolous or vague.
THE US aviation security authorities or the Transport Security Administration ( TSA) has in principal agreed to exempt top Indian VVIPs from pre- embarkation security checks.
They include the President, Vice- President, Prime Minister, former Presidents, former Prime Ministers and current Union ministers. To demonstrate its intent, the US authorities recently extended full protocol to visiting aviation minister Praful Patel and exempted him from all pre- embarkation security checks. He was not frisked at US airports, a civil aviation ministry official said.
Politics of profit
SHRI Mohan, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad ( VHP) Delhi state general secretary, organised a demonstration
outside Jantar Mantar on Monday to protest against " branding" of the love between Radha and Krishna. Mohan demanded that the Supreme Court withdraw the mention of Radha and Krishna as a live- in couple. While twisting out of context a remark about the mythological couple by one of the judges in a case pertaining to actress Khushboo's comments on virginity is typical of the Sangh Parivar, it alternatively reflects the desperation to stay relevant. Radha and Krishna have stepped in when Lord Ram and Ramjanmabhoomi have stopped fetching political dividends. Perhaps studying the law of diminishing returns would be politically more profitable for the out- of- work Sangh foot soldiers.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
It's good that the authorities are speaking in one voice about the urgent need to ramp up infrastructure. The prime minister and the Planning Commission have both recently pointed out that desired 10 per cent growth mandates a doubling of infrastructure spending to $1 trillion under the 12th five-year plan starting 2012. Roads and transport minister Kamal Nath, on his part, describes the next decade as India's "decade of infrastructure". To translate talk into action, policymakers must move quickly to set in motion a virtuous cycle by which infrastructure development fuels economic growth which, in turn, boosts investment in new projects.
Where road and highway building is concerned, Centre-state coordination is sadly lacking, not least thanks to political stymieing in opposition-ruled states. Nath's ministry and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) can't be faulted for deciding to pursue project implementation by bypassing states in go-slow mode or where land hasn't been acquired. By focusing on states that have done the necessary spadework, the authorities can press the accelerator. That's the best way to make recalcitrant states see sense. Moreover, Nath has said progress should be calculated in terms of actual kilometres built, not contracts awarded. Indeed, stress on quantifiable targets must be visible across sectors given that, barring telecom, all projects are slated to miss 11th plan targets. Again, schemes can't even get off the ground if obtaining environmental clearances can take up to two years. The plan panel is to frame new rules to speed up the process and the sooner that's done the better.
Investors, domestic and foreign, need to see movement on existing projects, given infrastructure-building in India has come to be associated with delays, missed targets and cost overruns. NHAI has done well in this regard to tweak bidding rules to compel existing players to finish projects and to encourage debutants in the field. Developers have been kept from taking on new jobs unless three or more projects under their watch have seen financial closure. Reassuringly, private investment has risen in recent years, and could shoulder nearly half the targeted $1 trillion expenditure. But there's still a huge gap between big-ticket funding for, say, telecom and the trickle for land-dependent roads or railways.
Clearly, we need a reformed land acquisition framework, land being the rock against which all infrastructure projects can flounder. The UPA must put the concerned Bill on the front-burner, and work on its non-cooperative ally Mamata Banerjee to come on board. By one estimate, poor infrastructure can pull down India's growth by around 2 percentage points by impeding business and trade. So it'll cost us big time if infrastructure growth is held hostage by political myopia.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
CRIME DOESN'T PAY
The Mayawati government's move to book legislators with criminal record is a step in the right direction. Political motives have been attributed to the decision, but BSP leaders argue that their own MLAs have not been spared. Crime is the single-most important factor that debilitates development in a region. Any impartial action to improve law and order is welcome. Such a step is most likely to find a positive response among voters as well. A key factor that helped Mayawati win the 2007 assembly elections in UP was her promise to crack down on criminals if voted to office.
The focus of the Mayawati government, so far, has been on statue building and other megalomaniacal projects, which are a waste of public funds. A new trajectory is needed for UP to improve its lot. Mayawati only needs to look across the state borders to see the change in Bihar. This state, an economic laggard for many years, has seen spectacular growth recently. A major reason for the turnaround is the success of the government in improving law and order in the state. There is a lesson here for UP. Many factors fuel economic growth and development. But a key trigger is the freedom to work without fear. The prime job of the government is to secure the state from law-breakers for people to make best use of their creative energies and entrepreneurial skills. Jobs and investment will follow in due course. If Mayawati succeeds, the impact will be far-reaching. Bihar and UP would be taken out of the 'bimaru' grouping and join the mainstream of India's development.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WHY PRECIOUS IS STRATEGIC
Water, food, energy and minerals are highly strategic resources. They are essential to human development and, in the case of water and food, to human survival. Food production is, meanwhile, closely intertwined with water and energy, while water and energy, for their part, are intimately linked to climate change. While the way we produce and consume energy makes up about two-thirds of all human-induced greenhouse gases, the availability of water resources will be directly affected by global warming.
Growing populations, rising affluence, changing diets and the demands of development have already, however, placed significant pressure upon these strategic resources. The global food system is already struggling to meet the present demand for food, yet the World Bank projects a rise of 50 per cent in global demand for food by 2030. To grow more food will require more water - a resource now also under great strain, as pollution is threatening the world's freshwater resources.
The 2030 Water Resources Group, a consortium of private-social sector organisations, has pointed to a growing "water gap" in which global demand for water will be 40 per cent more than supply by 2030. Today, agriculture alone accounts for approximately 3,100 billion cubic metres or 71 per cent of global water withdrawals; by 2030, without water-efficiency gains, such withdrawals will increase to 4,500 billion m3. Water withdrawals by industry are projected to rise from 16 per cent of today's global demand to 22 per cent in 2030, with the greatest growth in use coming from China, the world's factory.
As for energy, the imperative to combat global warming goes against the current trends of rising consumption of energy, much of it produced with fossil fuel. Such is Asia's appetite for energy that its share of global consumption is projected to almost double over the next 20 years - to about 48 per cent for oil and 22 per cent for natural gas. Yet, given its limited oil and gas reserves, Asia is particularly vulnerable to sudden supply shortage or disruption.
A further aspect regarding competition over resources is the intensification of resource geopolitics. Europe, for example, has worked hard to shape the direction of some of the Caspian Basin and Central Asian oil and gas pipelines because it has a stake in the issue of the routing. If Central Asian and Caspian Sea energy supplies are routed to the European market, that would help Europe diversify its imports and ease its dependence on Russia.
Within Asia, China has emerged as a key player in pipeline politics. Beijing has built its own pipeline to bring oil from Kazakhstan and is seeking two gas pipelines from Russia. These pipelines are a lynchpin of China's strategy to diversify its imports away from over-reliance on the volatile Persian Gulf region, the current source of more than half of Chinese overseas purchases. In contrast, energy-poor India and Japan do not have a similar option. Lacking geographical contiguity with Central Asia and Iran, India will remain largely dependent on oil imports by sea from the Persian Gulf region.
China, with the world's most resource-hungry economy, fears that in the event of a strategic confrontation, its economy could be held hostage by hostile naval forces through the interdiction of its oil imports. That same concern has prompted Beijing to build a strategic oil reserve, and China is now seeking to fashion two strategic corridors in southern Asia through which it could transfer Persian Gulf and African oil for its consumption by cutting the transportation distance and minimising its exposure to US-policed sea lanes.
The new Chinese-built port at Gwadar, Pakistan, represents China's first strategic foothold in the Arabian Sea. Gwadar, at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, will link up with the Trans-Karakoram corridor to western China. China is also establishing a similar energy corridor through Myanmar.
The blunt and incontrovertible truth is that energy demands in Asia are beginning to influence strategic thinking and military planning. For some states, a rising dependence on oil imports has served to rationalise both a growing emphasis on maritime power and security as well as a desire to seek greater strategic space. Concerns over sealane safety and rising vulnerability to disruption of energy supplies are prompting some countries to explore avenues for joint cooperation in maritime security.
Water presents a unique challenge. While countries can scour the world for oil, natural gas and minerals to keep their economic machines humming, water cannot be secured through international trade deals. Sustainable and integrated management of national water resources is essential to prevent degradation, depletion and pollution of water. To meet the gap between supply and demand, water conservation, water efficiency, rainwater capture, water recycling and drip irrigation would have to be embraced at national, provincial and local levels.
One can hope that advances in clean-water technologies would materialise before water conflicts flare. Low-cost, energy-efficient technologies for treating and recycling water could emerge from the scientific progress on nanoparticles and nanofibres and membrane bioreactors.
The writer is professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
Source: the Foresight Initiative.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
BEST WAY TO CLEAR JUDICIAL BACKLOG
The prime minister's call to states to implement the Gram Nyayalaya Act, which aims to set up nearly 5,000 courts across the country at the panchayat level, is timely. The idea behind the Act is to set up rural courts to clear the backlog of nearly 2.5 crore cases that have piled up in lower courts as well as to bring justice closer to those who have the least access to it.
The Act proposes setting up a gram nyayalaya for every panchayat. A nyayadhikari and two lay judges would staff the gram nyayalaya, which would function as a subordinate court. While the state government would appoint the nyayadhikari, the two lay judges would be nominated from a panel of names. The Act represents a much-needed effort to deliver justice to the most marginalised sections of our country. It is an important move that pushes forward the ideal of decentralisation and devolution of power to panchayats intrinsic to the Indian Constitution.
The device of having lay judges has the advantage of giving the ordinary citizen a role in the dispensation of justice. It also gives a human face to the judiciary. The inclusion of lay judges has predictably raised a chorus of protests. It is being argued that feudal and caste loyalties will hijack the delivery of justice. But that is taking a pessimistic view. In Britain, for instance, lay magistrates decide most criminal cases. There is no reason why ordinary Indian citizens, much like a jury, cannot assist a state-appointed officer to dispense justice. In any case, there is always recourse to an appeal against a decision by the nyayalayas.
Given the huge number of pending cases clogging the courts, radical measures are needed. The Gram Nyayalaya Act can clear pending cases as well as restore confidence in the judicial system. It's an idea whose time has come.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
JUSTICE WILL NOT BE BETTER SERVED
Sometimes, the best of intentions can turn out to be misplaced. The Gram Nyayalaya Act which hopes to secure the delivery of justice to those living in rural areas by instituting intermediary level panchayat courts falls in this category. Ostensibly, the idea behind this project is to ensure speedy delivery of justice to those living in India's villages. Ironically, justice might well be miscarried via this proposed mechanism, further disempowering those wronged.
It is not very clear how this new justice mechanism will be staffed, leading to concerns about the quality of the proceedings, which determine the end result. The nyayalaya will be staffed by lay judges, a dangerous idea as they will lack sufficient judicial training. If the idea is to ensure speedy justice, then the current system must be streamlined. Setting up another large judicial bureaucracy is not the answer. The estimated cost to the central exchequer to get this Act in motion is Rs 1,400 crore. Is this going to be money well spent?
Another cause for concern is the ability of these proposed courts to remain neutral to the complicated power equations especially caste politics that are a reality in most of our villages. The experience of Khap Panchayats has shown that, very often, it is the dominant community that influences decisions taken in a village. What is the guarantee that such forces will not undermine the delivery of justice through the proposed gram nyayalayas?
There is no denying that there is a huge backlog of cases in our courts at all levels, which chokes the idea of prompt justice. The way out is to staff our existing courts adequately. Courts should also not entertain frivolous PILs that add to the backlog. Sometimes, more is not such a good idea.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
LIVING WITH HEIGHTISM
K V KRISHNAN
Little known to many, the diminutive He Pingping passed away a couple of weeks ago. At 2 feet 5.37 inches, He held the record for being the world's shortest mobile living man. Fascinated as i am by the bizarre, the Guinness World Records has been one of my all-time favourites. Thumbing through the latest edition, i noticed that Indians had stoically held on to various records year after year. At 11 feet 6 inches, the longest moustache too belonged to someone from Rajasthan he had beaten another Indian by a few whiskers. With over seven inches of aural flares, Antony Victor boasted the longest ear tufts in the world. It has been now close to 50 years since Sridhar Chillal clipped his fingernails.
Thumbing through the height category, i noticed that a major record was broken a few months ago. Sultan Kosen from Turkey looming tall at 8 feet 1 inch snatched the crown from China's Bao Xishun as the tallest living man in the world. However, the herdsman from Inner Mongolia measured nowhere close to the deceased Robert Pershing Wadlow of Illinois who stood at 8 feet 11 inches.
I never understood how it must feel to be so tall, given that i look at this from a completely different perspective. Living in Chicago in Wadlow country, where the average height of a male is 5 feet 9, i am probably considered short stretching fully at 5 feet 5 1/2 inches (I beseech everyone not to omit that precious half point).
'Heightism' is a new word they have coined these days to define how taller people are advantaged at work. Actually heightism is also about how the vertically-challenged midgets are systematically discriminated in everyday life. Ninety per cent of the CEOs recently sampled in the US exceeded the average height. Not so surprisingly, all but five of the US presidents have been men taller than the national average. There is also a generally accepted theory that no one takes the less-paid, shorter man seriously.
Yes, taller men can reach their cabin baggage easily and throw successive hoops in a basketball game. They are able to hang a picture or replace light bulbs without a prop and get to the train station faster in longer strides. Towering above heads in a crowded train compartment they get to smell shampoo and not deodorant.
While i don't know much about heightism at work, i do believe tailors around the world generally favour the taller man. I just don't seem to find a pair of trousers that fit me to a 'T'. I have been spotted sneaking around the aisles of the "irregular" or "husky youth" sections in the men's wear department. Worse, after all this, i still end up paying alteration costs to transform what looks like pantaloons to pants.
However, i do believe that being short holds out more advantages than being tall. I don't have to duck under every possible doorframe or watch out for showerheads in the hotel room. Moreover i can adjust the water temperature without fearing that unexpected ice-cold spray hitting below the belt. I can roll and perform leg-flapping manoeuvres on a king-sized bed without banging my feet on the metal posts. I can even crouch into seat 42A of a painfully long international flight squished between a fully reclined 41A and a lap child in 43A.
Selective studies done by a vertically-challenged group of scientists have shown that shorter men live longer, have a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, and have better credit scores. With a much lower centre of gravity come a lot of blessings - nimbler movements and manoeuvrability from imminent danger. Latest research reveals that shorter men land with a much softer thud than their taller pursuers. I doubt Guinness has a world record for this.
CAUGHT IN A POLICY TRAP
The front-page photograph that appeared in yesterday's edition of this paper a frail 60-year-old feeding her equally frail grand-daughter black tea because she could not afford to buy milk showed the acute levels of helplessness and deprivation that exist in several parts of India, including the ground zero of Hungry India, Balangir in Orissa. However, Balangir, part of the infamous 'KBK' trio (Kalahandi and Koraput being the other two), has been an enduring reminder of how despite programmes and funds, a huge number of Indians still go to bed hungry every single day. The Balangir syndrome, unfortunately, is not specific to one or two regions when it comes to hunger, India as a whole performs disastrously. The 2008 India Hunger Index, calculated by the International Food Policy Research Institute, found that not a single state in India falls in the 'low hunger' or 'moderate hunger' categories. Twelve states fall in the 'alarming' category, and one stateMadhya Pradeshfalls in the 'extremely alarming' category. Four states Punjab, Kerala, Haryana and Assam fall in the 'serious' category. And in the Institute's Global Hunger Index, India ranks 66 out of 88 nations (developing countries and countries in transition). The report added that despite years of robust economic growth, India scored worse than nearly 25 Sub-Saharan African countries and all of South Asia, except Bangladesh. A shameful record, no doubt.
Even as Parliament gets ready to discuss the Food Security Bill, lawmakers must keep in mind that legislations, funds and programmes are just one part of the solution of the hunger problem. Along with laws, its own foot soldiers need to be made accountable for a time-bound implementation of the programmes. At the last count, five ministries run 17 anti-poverty and health programmes in India that is supposed to ensure a cradle-to-grave safety net. But when it comes to delivering them to the targeted category, every step is fraught with corrupt arms of government. Even getting a BPL card, which is supposed to be the first step to demand the safety net, turns out to be a challenge.
The World Food Programme says that the reasons behind hunger are myriad: war, the poverty trap, agricultural infrastructure and over-exploitation of the environment. Except the first, the other three are very true in most parts of India. All these and a poor delivery mechanism are ensuring a sub-human level of existence for many people.
This must end because only human capital can sustain India's growth story.
OFF TO A FLYING START
Why on earth were we worried about whether we would do well in the Commonwealth Games? The only problem seems to be that we are not looking in the right places for appropriate talent. Now athletes may have to overcome several hurdles put up in place on the field. But here we have people able to breach the highest of security barriers. A 65-year-old man was able to scale an emergency gate in Indira Gandhi International Airport to try and stow away on a flight. Now this is no mean task given how difficult it is for normal passengers to enter these premises legitimately.
Then we hear that a young man was able to climb a tree near the said airport and vault across. Now this could put the great Sergei Bubka to shame. So all we can say is that the airport is a good testing ground for aspiring athletes. If they are able to pass the stringent security measures and still scale such heights, then they are a sure bet for games of any sort. Perhaps, this could be a way for us to make a bit of moolah on the side. Instead of well-funded academies for sports abroad, we could put into use our maximum security premises as a testing ground for those aspiring to play with the best of them.
According to an official, the dense vegetation was a reason that trespassers were able to get through. We feel that this has distinct possibilities for putting potential sportspeople through greater challenges. They could hack through the vegetation, all the better to build their muscles, and then try and breach the high-technology area. Apparently, some of those who tried these feats at the airport were under the impression that this would enable them to get free flights. A small price to pay if it means medals for the country.
BROTHERS AND ARMS
In evaluating Pakistan's relations with its major benefactors, we tend to consider only the United States and China and normally overlook Saudi Arabia's role. The kingdom provides ideological succour and, nowadays, Wahhabi sustenance and financial support exert influence on Pakistan's domestic politics. There has to be some mutuality of interests in this bilateral with Pakistan playing on the kingdom's insecurities in relation to Iran and Israel, its own domestic dissidence and its vulnerabilities as an oil rich country in a turbulent neighbourhood.
While the rest of the world talks of Iran's nuclear ambitions, the issue of Saudi-Pakistan nuclear tie-ups never got proven but never quite disappeared. Suspicions remain, especially because Pakistan, a Sunni country, sold nuclear secrets to Shia Iran with whom its relations were never on the same plane as with Saudi Arabia. Logically, Saudi Arabia should have been Pakistan's market of first choice and gratitude. Although concrete evidence on Saudi intentions to acquire nuclear weapons' capabilities is not there, the story continues to attract international commentary.
The 'father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb' Abdul Qadeer Khan was back in the news when we heard earlier this month that the Pakistan government had sought permission to 'investigate' his clandestine nuclear bazaar. It made sense to announce it on the eve of the visit of a high-powered Pakistani delegation to the US where they planned to seek (and in fact did so) a civilian nuclear deal (CNE) of the India-US kind. Pakistan could not be seen to be seeking CNE while one of its national heroes remained an unpunished clandestine peddler of nuclear weapons secrets to an unrepentant Iran.
However, Khan's travel itinerary during his days as the merchant of Armageddon was very instructive. In the ten years till his network was 'discovered' in 2004, Khan visited Dubai more than 40 times, apart from visiting 18 other countries. Among the destinations were Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Turkey and, probably, most often Saudi Arabia. The role Saudi Arabia paid in the development of the Pakistani bomb in the 1970s is well known. A grateful Zulfiqar Bhutto renamed Lyallpur, Pakistan's third-largest city, as Faisalabad to acknowledge the Saudi monarch's generosity.
The Saudis had established a nuclear research centre in al-Sulayyil, south of Riyadh, in 1975. By the mid-1980s, they were providing financial assistance to Saddam Hussein's nuclear projects and offered funds to rebuild the Osirak reactor after the Israelis had destroyed it in June 1981. Saudi scientists were being trained in Baghdad. Apparently, the agreement between King Fahd and Saddam was that some of the bombs would be transferred to Saudi Arabia. But this agreement broke down after Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990. It also seems that the Americans were aware of this transaction at some level. By 1986, the Saudis had also acquired 36 CSS-2 intermediate range ballistic missiles from China. It was presumed at that time that these were for delivery of nuclear weapons.
In 1994, a Saudi UN diplomat, Muhammed al Khilewi, was defected with about 10,000 documents among which were some that showed linkages between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and a pact had been signed by the two countries that in case of a nuclear attack on Saudi Arabia, Pakistan would retaliate against the aggressor. It was during the 1990s that the Saudis began to provide financial assistance to Pakistan's nuclear and missile programme when North Korean missiles were traded with the financial backing from Saudi Arabia. The Saudis also came to Pakistan's rescue after the 1998 nuclear tests when they provided Pakistan with 50,000 barrels of oil per day free, to overcome the effect of sanctions.
In May 1999, Saudi deputy premier Prince Sultan bin Abdel al-Aziz, on a visit to Pakistan, was shown the Kahuta uranium enrichment plant a privilege that was not granted by Pakistan's military to their Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto some years earlier. A.Q. Khan had briefed the visiting Saudi minister. Prince Sultan also visited the Ghauri missile factory. Later in the year, during his visit to Saudi Arabia, Khan discussed possibilities of cooperation for the peaceful use of nuclear energy in agriculture and genetic engineering.
The withdrawal of the US forces from Saudi Arabia, for relocation in Qatar, in August 2003, led the Saudis to seek to strengthen their strategic relations with Pakistan and welcome Pakistani troops in replacement. There was probably a strategic review by the Saudis, which examined the need to acquire nuclear capability as a deterrent and forge an alliance with an existing nuclear power that would offer protection. This was denied officially in September. But there were also reports that the Saudis were considering replacing their outmoded CSS-2 with the nuclear-capable 500 km range CSS-5 missile in an oil-for-missile deal with China.
In October 2003, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz led a huge delegation to Pakistan. At the end of the visit, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said in a press conference that India-Israel defence cooperation would inflame the region, escalate the arms race and trigger instability. It was clearly left unsaid that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were going to react to this 'threat'. A few years later, German magazine Cicero in its April 2006 edition alleged that Pakistan had been collaborating with Saudi Arabia for several years to build a "secret nuclear programme". Citing western experts, the report stated that Pakistani scientists had travelled to Saudi Arabia for the last three years, disguised as Haj pilgrims and then disappear for weeks to work on this programme. Further, that the al-Sulayyil missile base was being upgraded and that there was a "secret underground city" with silos to house Ghauri missiles.
According to assessments in 2008 and 2009, Saudi Arabia, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is unlikely to move towards open nuclearisation for the fear of international reactions. But, at the same time, should Iran go nuclear, Saudi Arabia may do likewise. Meanwhile, Pakistan would remain the main proliferator in a non-proliferation era.
A great deal will depend on how the US reacts to these developments. Adverse US reaction against a Saudi nuclearisation, following an Iranian nuclearisation, is not a given. Pakistan, as a cash-strapped country, could sell its lethal goods to an insecure regime and acquire nuclear depth.
Vikram Sood is former Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing.
The views expressed by the author are personal.
RALLYING THE TROOPS
Although he arrived after dusk and left before dawn, Barack Obama's dash through Kabul Sunday night his first as US president points to a new purposefulness in Washington's Afghan policy. Obama's trip to Kabul came at the end of a week in which he won a historic political battle at home on healthcare, announced a new nuclear arms control treaty with Moscow, and elevated relations with Pakistan to a higher footing. After months of political drift, the White House is on a roll and Obama has chosen to celebrate it by surrounding himself with American troops near Kabul.
Beyond the photo-op for the voters at home, Obama had bits of political business to be done in Kabul. One was to end the tentativeness that marked the administration's early decisions on Afghanistan. In his speech last December, Obama combined the announcement of a surge in American military presence with a promise to start withdrawing them from mid-2011. In his address to US soldiers near Kabul, he made no mention of a deadline for American troop reduction. Instead, he reaffirmed that the mission of the troops in Afghanistan to disrupt, defeat, dismantle and destroy "the Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies" is a vital interest of the US. He also declared that the US will not quit until the job was done. Success, Obama also insisted, was about winning on both sides of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
As he promised a long-term partnership with Afghanistan, Obama directly pressed President Hamid Karzai to crack down on rampant corruption and start improving governance. Obama also cautioned Karzai against striking out on his own by opening talks with the Taliban leadership. The US, instead, wants to push the Taliban on the defensive before engaging them. Having made an impressive start in the Helmand offensive during the last few weeks, American troops are now getting ready to enter the Taliban's lair in Kandahar. Having covered the anti-war left flank at home with the healthcare legislation, reminded Karzai that he has no choice but to work with Washington, and mobilised some support from the Pakistan army, Obama appears to have gained some grip, at least for now, over the dynamic situation in Afghanistan. On its part, New Delhi must recognise that the Afghan scenario is open-ended and craft a policy that is flexible and can make a difference to the long-term political outcomes in the north-western subcontinent.
A Karnal sessions court has taken the first step towards dismantling the clutch of khap panchayats. A Jat social structure in Haryana, UP and Rajasthan, a khap is a cluster of several villages and castes. Organised through clans and gotras, they uphold social norms in the community. While they might have provided a kind of rough justice once, they are a terrible force for villagers and townspeople who have no option but to endure the pronouncements, despite the fact that they have no legal justification. Marrying within one's gotra (or a set of gotras) is one of the worst fears in this set-up, a profoundly destabilising force for which khap panchayats (community courts) reserve the most dreaded punishment, including death, exile and absolute social stigma. So far, this system of medieval oppression operated with near impunity, given its grip over much of Haryana's traditional society. A few years back in Karora village, two young people, Manoj and Babli, were gruesomely killed for daring to fall in love and marry.
One major hurdle has been the way public officials are reluctant to take on the system, accepting it as a "custom", a way of life in the region. Lawmakers and enforcement officers condone the criminality of such actions, ignoring the violent, woman-hating nature of the khap's dictums. Intimidation is easily punishable under the Indian Penal Code, and those who provide it support can be booked for criminal conspiracy. In fact, the worst betrayal is political, because caste solidarity feeds into their votebanks, and real panchayati raj institutions remain weak. The Haryana government opposed the prosecution of khap panchayats under the Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act 1967, arguing that such a "rash step" would disturb law and order. However, after the Haryana high court took a strong view on the matter, district administrations have made some changes recently suspending a couple of revenue officers in Rohtak for participating in a khap panchayat which declared a married couple brother and sister.
This conviction, therefore, is freighted with significance, and could even be the beginning of the end for the khap panchayats' oppressive order.
A committee of British MPs may have realised, 60-odd years down the line, what Charles de Gaulle had perhaps grasped right at the start: you've got to be a little harsh and a lot arrogant with the Americans to make them take you seriously. This committee has recommended an overhaul of the "special relationship" that the UK believes it has shared with the US at least since Churchill's Fulton (Iron Curtain) Speech in 1946 a relationship that was cast in iron in World War II, endured and won the Cold War, and then catapulted itself to a new dimension during the Bush-Blair bonding over the Iraq war.
Now, all that could have made for an equal partnership, one that both found indispensable. Except that, what was a "G-2" in Churchill's eyes has meant much more to London than to Washington simply because it was Britain that bereft of empire, without a new role in the world, as Dean Acheson put it needed reassurance of military security. A hotline to the US would also ensure a continued role in international politics. But more than six decades later, the British see themselves as tools by the wayside, useful but taken for granted. So even as Barack Obama reaffirmed the continuance of the special relationship, British diplomats, MPs, historians, policy analysts increasingly pronounced the qualifier "special" as a hurdle, culminating in the MPs' committee recommending the relationship be driven principally by "the UK's national interests within individual policy areas" in a geopolitically changing world.
It's not the beginning of a transatlantic rupture. But another shift within the Anglophone cultural and politico-economic bond shared since the two stopped fighting in the New World. Post-WWII, the relationship survived the Suez Crisis, Vietnam, Falklands, the Northern Ireland Troubles. Tony Blair, before allegedly becoming George W. Bush's echo, had scolded Bill Clinton into intervening in Kosovo. Perhaps the MPs have that more dignified a national role in mind?
PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
The BJP has, for the moment, settled into a path of very modest institutional consolidation. But its political trajectory and prospects remain deeply uncertain. While its relationship with the RSS has remained a focal point of discussion, the fact remains that the BJP has boxed itself in from several different directions. It is not clear that it yet has a strategy for emerging from those tight corners for several reasons.
The biggest question over the BJP always is whether its turn to moderation is simply dissimulation or a real change of heart? Ironically, the problem may turn out not to be Narendra Modi. Indian politics always has strange, unintended effects. Modi's appearance at SIT may actually help the BJP. We don't know the outcome yet. But if Modi is exonerated or the charges are framed in, what are at best circumstantial terms, it could actually clear a shadow over Modi. On the other hand, if the charges framed are credible and serious in a legal sense, it could allow the BJP to position itself as the party that takes law and constitutionalism more seriously than the Congress, if its leadership can grasp the nettle. The problem is likely to be that in several states the party sends you daily and petty reminders of how that party is still tempted to bait minorities, most recently over Eid holidays in Madhya Pradesh.
The BJP was attractive to many critics of Congress-style secularism. But it had also managed, for a while, to project itself as something of an ideological alternative to the Congress. This rested on three claims: a slightly more right of centre economics, a more muscular foreign policy, and some vague hope that it was a party above the petty arithmetic of caste and regional parochialism. In the Indian context, the state will be an important actor, particularly for the poor. To that extent, the BJP had to change. But its economic thinking now projects a deeply confused hodgepodge of everything from Gandhi to socialism to big capital, combined with an inability to take a lead on economic issues. On foreign policy it looks equally confused, oscillating between vague sentimentalism and nay saying to everything.
It is often said that the BJP is beholden to the RSS. Ironically, on the most significant political issue, it has consistently gone against the old RSS lines. This is on the issue of quotas, a space where a genuine alternative is needed. Indeed, there was an old refrain from Lajpat Rai through the Jan Sangh, of making identity less, not more, relevant to politics. Whatever its political plausibility, it at least had an argumentative integrity to it. The BJP's first big surge was an anti-Mandal wave. But it rapidly showed that on this issue it would neither follow the RSS, nor come up with imaginative alternatives of its own. And now quota politics will box the BJP. There is little doubt that reservations for Muslims will be an issue on the political agenda sooner or later. And it is hard to deny the legitimacy of the issue. On any criteria that reservations are handed out: backwardness, the likelihood that a community will be an object of discrimination, Muslims have a case. Who is to blame for this state of affairs is politically irrelevant. The women's bill has strengthened the following argument. It is being said, with some rhetorical exaggeration, but a grain of truth as well, that the only significant community being deprived of quotas are Muslims. The BJP will run its usual line that it is against religion-based quotas. But having conceded everything on quotas, its stance will now appear to be anti-minority more than a principled rejection of identity politics. The BJP needed to assure Dalits and tribals that their special position in the arguments over quotas would not be challenged. But its timid vacating of a space of a politics beyond the petty arithmetic of quotas has left it nowhere to go.
The BJP has tried to reposition itself as a party open to new talent, putting out some new faces, getting rid of spokesmen who spoke like broken records. But its political team inspires too little governance confidence. It is not clear that even those most disenchanted with the Congress will run head over heels to trust the political judgment of a motley crew from Navjot Singh Sidhu to Varun Gandhi. When the BJP first arose, it had enough talent whose gravitas, commitment and sophistication were not in doubt, even if a lot of its politics was disagreeable. Most of that talent has been decimated in the party's own infighting. The collection of chief ministers or ex-chief ministers, with odd exceptions, has been thoroughly compromised by their stints in power. And no one in its central leadership has yet made the transition to any statesman-like attributes. In short, the serious talent crunch remains.
As an opposition party, the BJP has another peculiar dilemma. It is not clear now whom it can attack. Even the most hardened critics of the Congress concede that the Gandhi family has conducted itself with enough personal dignity that attacks on it backfire. The Congress culture, as evidenced in the recent fracas over Bachchan, still succumbs to the temptation of pettiness, but in so far as the electorate is more comfortable with magnanimity than polarisation, the BJP cannot capitalise on advantage. It loses the personality wars hands down. The BJP has failed to corner the government on any single issue, whether it is inflation or security. It has nothing it wants to argue for; and nothing it can effectively argue against. Even a diminished Left is far more effective in staking out a position and letting it be the fulcrum of the debate than the BJP.
Finally, for the BJP to be a credible force, it will need to peak in all its current strongholds simultaneously. Its revival in UP now seems more difficult. And its traditional RSS cadres are weakening in social significance. An odd combination of hubris and complacency may yet make the Congress vulnerable. Gadkari seems well meaning. But he still does not have a team that can project credibility, and has not shown the slightest evidence that the BJP can overcome its deep-seated ideological confusions. The sole strategy seems to be to project the BJP as your homely next-door-neighbour guys. This act has two problems. It is not very convincing. And at times of crisis, parties require imagination and boldness, not the unthinking timidity that seems to characterise the party at the moment.
The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
TAKE IT TO THE ROAD
Road safety or lack of it has, of late, again been brought into tragic limelight by a series of accidents involving high-profile people. Isn't it a crying shame for a country that proclaims itself to be a potential superpower to top the table with about 10 per cent of the world's road accidents? Road crashes in the country took a toll of close to 130,000 people in 2007. Every hour as many as 15 Indians die in road accidents. Traffic deaths in India have been rising at 8 per cent annually.
Among India's cities, Delhi suffers the highest number of annual road traffic deaths (2,169 in 2006), followed by Chennai (1,136), Bangalore (919) and Mumbai (669). Some two-thirds of the fatalities happen on highways; in fact, over 80 per cent so in Haryana and over 95 per cent in Bihar.
Roads in India typically carry a bewildering mix of traffic. Pedestrians, push-bikes, hand-drawn and animal-drawn carts, pedal rickshaws, motorised two- and three-wheelers, tractors, tempos and a variety of animals compete for space with cars, buses and trucks, all driven at varying speeds. Add to this deeply potholed roads, frequent failure of traffic signals and absent or apathetic traffic policemen, and you have a lethal combination. Zebra crossings are often provided but, knowing the propensity of drivers to test the nimbleness of the pedestrians, none but the brave will use them. Pedestrians have a propensity of their own, namely, jay-walking. It is small wonder that the maximum casualties are among them. Heavy vehicles are associated with 50-70 per cent of fatal road crashes in urban areas where two in every three road fatalities involve pedestrians. The 2001 Census estimated over 778,000 urban homeless living on roads classified as pedestrians among whom about 1,000 die every year, victims of over-speeding and other road hazards.
Road death and injury is preventable. Most crashes are caused by human failure. A WHO-World Bank report, 2004, details the generic key road injury "risk factors" such as callous vehicle driving, drunk driving, lack of helmet use, seat-belt non-compliance, excessive speed, poor, almost non-existent, schooling and monitoring and, above all, chaotic growth of urban areas. Basic infrastructure, such as clear signs and road delineation or markings, is essential if road users are to know what they are expected to do and if traffic law is to be effectively enforced. Signalled pedestrian crossings in several countries are seen to have reduced crashes by up to 30 per cent and overtaking lanes by 25 per cent. Separate/ secure space is considered essential for pedestrians and cyclists in urban and sub-urban areas.
Effective safety management would involve proper design and infrastructure for example, service roads along the highways for short distance local traffic, adequate run-off area without impediments and, where this is not feasible, guard rails or concrete jersey barriers with proper road markings.
Some countries have introduced ISA (Intelligent Speed Adaptation) by way of an electronic map in a car connected to GPS to know all along what the speed limit is. The use of lidar gun along with video-graphy helps determine the speed and volume of traffic, the range and velocity of selected errant vehicles.
Excessive speed is really a major villain. Speed management is critical for managing a safe road system. According to a WHO analysis, a 5 per cent increase in average speed leads to about 10 per cent increase in road crashes that cause injuries, and a 20 per cent increase in fatal crashes. A 10 per cent increase in speed leads to a 30 per cent increase in deaths.
Clearly, the road safety issue has a multi-sectoral characteristic, in effect, the three "Es" of road safety regime: education, engineering and enforcement. A road safety audit needs to be integrated at all stages of road development starting at the design stage. The Motor Vehicles Act may be amended for rules and laws to be indeed stringent, for example, for overloaded vehicles, for minors driving automobiles, and for mandatory periodical effective inspection for their road-worthiness. Simultaneously it is imperative to ensure countrywide compliance, for example, with mandatory helmet and seat-belt use, drinking and driving rules, use of mobile phone, speed limits, and minimum child safety measures, together with inculcation of basic road safety knowledge among school children. Appropriate road safety campaigns should be a regular year-long staple.
With scarce, rapidly diminishing civic sense, the call is tough. Pavements and footpaths are mulcted by parked vehicles or encroached by cars and hawkers; rubble and remnants are left strewn at building sites and repair spots; potholes and craters on roads remain unattended. Many roads do not withstand even one monsoon. Not only do potholes appear but there are plague spots which get flooded after every heavy shower.
A major overhaul in the driving licence regime is also imperative. Punitive penalty deterrence has generally been missing. All this is tantamount to bad governance. Government must be seen to govern. Effective and efficient traffic management will demonstrate there is a government with a will to govern.
The writer was the first MD of the Container Corporation of India
THE EURO'S LOSING CURRENCY
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 modernisation 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 neighbours, 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 expenditures, raise taxes and cut government employees' salaries, actions that may push Greece into a deep depression. 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 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.
Moreover, should the US 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, revitalised euro could.
BANGALORE'S CAMPAIGN 2.0
Bangalore, India's Silicon hub and its global city has voted this weekend to elect representatives to its corporation. The city elections came nearly nine years after the last one in November 2001.
But some things had not changed. The same political parties that had rolled out tired promises of turning Bangalore into a Beijing or Singapore have fielded candidates. Dare the citizens of this city of seven million hope that those elected this time will deliver?
The run-up to the election was typically chaotic. There was violence when the Congress' candidates list was being processed. There was plenty of name calling. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said Bangalore was covered by an eclipse under the BJP. BJP MP Ananth Kumar responded by calling Krishna a migratory bird.
Despite the messy politics, there were encouraging signs. In India's hi-tech capital, technology is helping strip away any excuses that the educated classes could dream up for not marching to the polling booths to vote.
Bangalore's interactive city magazine Citizen Matters used an innovative tool to gather and compare candidates' profiles in the various wards. Through "crowd sourcing", the online magazine shared a questionnaire with its readers, then collated and shared the data collected about the various candidates.
Dozens of online venues pointed out how citizens could dig out their names in the voter rolls, the location of their polling booths, and the antecedents of their candidates. "There is much information available to reduce the "I-don't-know-how" excuses for not voting," said Meera K., co-founder and editor of Citizen Matters.
Bangalore stretches over 800 square kilometers and has acquired itself a "bruhat" (mega) tag, labelling its city corporation Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike. But the mega card only magnifies the complexity of the city's woes traffic, transport systems, sewage, power and water supply.
This time, activist groups worked at combating voter weariness, the first step towards getting a more responsive set of corporators.
In Bangalore's Koramangala neighbourhood, which consists almost entirely of educated middle, upper middle classes and upper classes, a group of doctors, lawyers and software industry professionals calling themselves Smart Vote gathered to dedicate time each week to smooth the election process.
Working with the State Election Commission, they used simple software to spot and remove duplication in the electoral rolls, useful in eliminating proxy voting. Mistakes and duplications in about 19 of Bangalore's 198 wards were corrected using the software.
P.G. Bhat, a volunteer with Smart Vote, said the software effortlessly showed up errors in the voters' lists. For instance in Koramangala, several people had two wives or two husbands, one voter was shown as 665 years old as per his date of birth, and many registered voters had their ages showing as below 18.
A lot of cleaning up is necessary, says Bhat, whose Pluma Solutions wrote the software that spotted UID chairman and Koramangala resident Nandan Nilekani's daughter's name duplicated four times in the voting list. Each entry had her age listed differently as 18, 19, 20 and 21, said Bhat.
Smart Vote set up a system by where all a registered voter had to do was text or email. The voter then got a personalised email or SMS providing the ward number, serial number, polling booth, and its location. "Technology showed that it was not magic, and you could no more blame the system for not voting," Bhat said.
Software came to the rescue when a candidate arrived at the State Election Commission to file his nomination but could not locate his name on the voting list. Several hours of searching later, former journalist and theatre personality Prakash Belawadi reached out to Smart Vote that used software to dig up his name and ward number so he could file his nomination.
Political parties and candidates are not far behind in the use of technology. Lok Satta, the "new generation" party which originated in Andhra Pradesh, is making a debut in Karnataka by contesting the Bangalore city elections. Lok Satta is unabashed in its use of technology in campaigning.
Its volunteers, many of them techies who work overseas, used software to focus the party's vote bank. "Youth and women are our support base so software helped up make lists of those in the 18-25 and 25-35 age brackets so our campaigners could target them face-to-face," said Ram Lakshmi, president of the Karnataka Lok Satta.
The party has fielded five candidates, including a metallurgical engineer and a gynecologist who have both worked in local welfare associations. Belawadi, the former journalist also contesting as a Lok Satta candidate, said his campaign was also on Twitter, Facebook and mobile phone. "I'm reaching out to those young Indians who want a change," he said.
Belawadi is on foot to reach parts of his Sunkenahalli ward whose slum-dwellers are far removed from the hi-tech parts of this global city. "But technology will play an important role in the elections of the future," he predicted.
THE ANATOMY OF VIOLENCE
Public displays of political anger have been a staple of the American scene for the last eight months or so, but in recent days a handful have gone a bit further than noisy, sign-carrying assembly to window-smashing, spitting, threatening faxes and phone calls. At the end of last week, Democratic and Republican leaders, while denouncing any violence or threat, reached the point of trading accusations over who was most responsible. Each party charged the other with fanning the flames of public outrage for political gain.
What is the nature of public anger anyway, and can it be manipulated as easily as that? Is it possible for tough-guy talk to prompt any more than an occasional nasty outburst or can it indeed sustain and amplify anger to the point of organised mayhem?
It's true that anger is contagious, just as most emotions are probably even more so. At a basic level, people subconsciously mimic the expressions of a conversation partner and in the process "feel" a trace of the other's emotion, recent studies suggest. This can be especially potent in small groups in which the leader is projecting a strong emotion like anger, said Leigh Thompson, an organisational psychologist at Northwestern University.
And in groups organised around a cause, it's the most extreme members who rise quickest, researchers have found. Among vegetarians, vegans are accorded high status; among church members, the most devout often take leadership positions. "If the source of a group's identity is some grievance, then clearly this is a recipe for elevating whoever can express the most anger" over the issue, Dr Thompson said.
In today's political climate, where some politicians are taking their talking points from radio and TV jockeys, outraged leaders are easy to find. What about the risk of organised destructive action? The risk that angry words themselves will incite violence is higher when they are aimed at a despised minority, or a feuding enemy, if history is any guide. The local press in many towns in the American South in the late 1800s and early 1900s played a role in inciting lynch mobs, for example. Inflammatory, racist propaganda on the radio station RTLM reportedly played a central role in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, in which extremist Hutus slaughtered rival Tutsis.
Even those who see an underlying racial element in today's political anger don't suggest that these extreme conditions apply. Furthermore, the psychological distance between talk and action between fantasising about even so much as brick heaving and actually doing it is far larger for a typical, peaceable citizen than many assume. In the aftermath of the July 2007 London subway bombings, for instance, polls found that about 5 per cent of Muslims living in England said that they believed violence was justified in defense of Islam. "That projects to about 50,000 Muslims in the UK," McCauley said, "but very, very few of them are acting violently."
Kathleen Blee, a sociologist at the Univesity of Pittsburgh said the same was true even for groups that consider violence a central tenet. "In the white power groups I study, people can have all kind of crazy racist ideas, spend their evenings reading Hitler online, all of it," she said, "but many of them never do anything at all about it."
Protest groups that turn from loud to aggressive tend to draw on at least two other elements, researchers say. The first is a "moral shock" a specific, blatant moral betrayal that, when most potent, evokes personal insults suffered by individual members, said Francesca Polletta, a sociologist. This shock may derive from an image: the horrific posters of tortured animals published by animal rights groups, or of aborted foetuses, which speak for themselves. It can also reside in a "narrative fragment," like the Rodney King beating, which triggered a riot all on its own.
Perhaps the best available candidate for such an outrage is the Wall Street bailout, Dr Polletta said. "The message there is rich people being rewarded for bad behaviour," she said. "That's going to hit home, especially if you've lost a job, or know someone who has." The second element is a specific target clearly associated with the outrage. A law to change. A politician to remove. A company to shut down. "If the target is too big, too vague say, the health care bill, which means many things well, then the anger can be hard to sustain," Dr Polletta said.
If a group with enduring gripes is shut out of the political process, it can leave behind a radical core. This is precisely what happened in the 1960s, when the domestic terrorist group known as the Weather Underground emerged from the larger, more moderate anti-war Students for a Democratic Society, Dr McCauley said. "The SDS had 100,000 members and, frustrated politically at every step, people started to give up," he said. "The result was that you had this condensation of a small, more radical base of activists who decided to escalate the violence." Given the shifting political terrain, the diversity of views in the antigovernment groups, and their potential political impact, experts say they expect that very few are ready to take the more radical step. "Once you take that step to act violently, it's very difficult to turn back," Dr Blee said. "It puts the group, and the person, on a very different path."
THE IRAQ STAKES
A lot hinges on the outcome of the manoeuvering that has followed the result of the Iraqi elections for Iraq, the region, for the US, and even for President Obama's second-term campaign. Former PM Iyad Allawi's secular Al-Iraqqiya group won two more seats than PM Maliki's INA-breakaway Shia-led State of Law or Al-Qanoon group; the ruling Shia INA is a close third. An early decision on the new government in an environment free from post-election ethnic violence will ensure that US's time-table for reducing troops to half by September 1 2010 and full withdrawal by end 20 11 will not be derailed.
If this post-election period of alliance formation, which could last several months, is not accompanied by violence as in 2005, the country would move towards consolidating a stable democracy. This time each sect is not contained within a single list and their common preoccupation has been to avoid being defined as either Islamist or sectarian. Still, several of the blocs retain a conspicuous sectarian tinge: the Iraqi National Alliance is predominately Shia, as is the State of Law Coalition, despite Prime Minister al-Maliki's strenuous efforts to incorporate Sunni tribal groups. The Iraqi National Movement is a bit different in the sense that it has a Shia (Allawi) heading a predominately secular Sunni list. The religious side of the Sunni community, on the other hand, is represented by the unabashedly Sunni Iraqi Accord. And the Kurdish lists are dominated by Kurds, with a few Arab candidates on the lists in Baghdad and other governorates outside Kurdistan. For their part, the Kurds enter this election with two lists: the Kurdish Alliance, consisting of the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani; and the breakaway Gorran (Movement for Change), which has turned out to be a serious competitor.
Three or more blocs will be needed to form the next government and determine the next prime minister. In the lead up to March 7, machinations between the 5 major political groupings with the best chances had already started aimed at denying power to Prime Minister Maliki. An Allawi-led coalition, likely now, will probably be closest to US plans given his past record. If it gives Sunnis a share of political power it would assure Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan. It would also mollify countries like Saudi Arabia which have not yet opened embassies in Baghdad making it a condition for Arab states' openness towards Iraq.
While an alliance among the two Shia blocs and the Kurdistan Alliance cannot still be ruled out, there appear to be real prospects of Allawi's Iraqi National Movement and Ammar al-Hakim's Iraqi National Alliance teaming up with President Talabani's Kurdistan Alliance. If the Kurds agree, the presidency might go to one of the of Allawi's bloc, while the Speaker of parliament would go to the Kurds. Such a scenario has become more palatable in Shia circles after the banning of many affiliated to the erstwhile Ba'ath party eliminated fears of their penetration of the political process.
That all aspirants have been in contact with their putative backers in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey speaks volumes for the role of Iraq's neighbours. None of them want to see a recrudescence of post-election ethnic violence in the country lest it delay the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
At the same time all of them are aware that effect of Shia-Sunni strife or reawakening demands for Kurdish independence could have a backlash in their own countries. In the geo-political tug-of-war Iraq is once again seen by Saudi Arabia and Iran as the testing ground for their regional power status, especially after US withdrawal. From this point of view, a united Iraq with a consensus government in place will be seen as the best outcome. By the same token, an overly strong and rising Iraq equipped with American military equipment will be seen as a malign development given Iraq's past belligerence towards Iran and Kuwait. Nevertheless Iraq's neighbours, while seeking to distance it from the US, will equally want to enhance the value of their equities in Iraq's emerging political structure.
The next Iraqi government will have to address three crucial unresolved issues: relations between the Arabs and the Kurds, including the status of Kirkuk; normalisation of relations between Iraq and Kuwait; and the effective management of oil revenues. It is going to require all the talent and resilience of the Iraqi people.
These elections could be the beginning of Iraq's return to prominence in West Asia and a model for evolving US strategy in Afghanistan. India's footprint in Iraq has become faint in the last five years. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Riyadh visit provides an opportunity to rejuvenate our long-standing ties with Iraq, another pillar of Gulf and energy security: let's not forget that Iraq was our largest crude oil supplier pre-1980 and still has the world's second largest hydrocarbon reserves.
The writer, a former ambassador to Iraq, is the director of the Centre for West Asian Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi
IIP GETS UPGRADED
The announcement made by India's chief statistician that the country will move over to a new series of the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) with 2004-05 as the base year and replace the obsolete 1993-94 series comes not a day too soon. Innumerable delays of the earlier efforts to shift the base year to 1999-2000 had forced the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) to move the base year even closer to 2004-05. This changeover will markedly improve the quality of industry data as the basket of goods currently used to measure the growth of output gives excessive importance to sunset products that are fast disappearing from production, including radio receivers, sewing machines, alarm clocks, typewriters, landline telephones, tape recorders, roll films, hair oils and tooth powders. At the same time, either ignored or under-represented is the importance of sunrise products like cell phones, readymade goods, music systems, cars, laptops, commercial vehicles, construction equipment and other products. A more accurate IIP will not only help improve industrial growth estimates but also quarterly and annual GDP figures, which use IIP figures until actual industrial growth is estimated from the Annual Survey of Industries after a huge lag of two to three years.
But revision of the base year is only one factor that will improve the accuracy as there are other equally or more important aspects that have to be taken care of, like the greater representation of products manufactured in small industries, which roughly account for more than a third of the industrial output, and the improvement in the functioning of the 15-odd agencies and sources that aggregate and provide the data to the CSO. Currently, only 18 of the 538 goods in the IIP basket are from small-scale industries and hence the numbers fail to capture the actual trends in the sector. The problems are further accentuated by weak legal statutes that frustrate efforts to collect data from different sources, by poor reporting from establishments covered in the sample and by incorrect reporting. Maintaining accuracy also requires a change in methodology from the current Laspeyre's fixed base index, which makes the numbers more inaccurate as the distance from the base year increases, to the more dynamic chain-linked index computation that improves accuracy of long-term comparisons. The CSO will hopefully devise ways to take care of these anomalies in the new index and improve the overall accuracy of industrial and GDP growth estimates.
AIRLINE SINKING, FREEBIES FLYING
It's truly amazing. Defying all the bad press that the management of Air India has been getting, the civil aviation ministry has decided to give all its previous secretaries lifelong free ticket upgrades to first class. The babus will also get unhindered access to lounges at all airports across the country. To state the obvious, the cost difference between economy and first class tickets is substantive. Seeking such upgrades when the national carrier is whipping up big losses is inexcusable. It is perennially looking for bailouts, and there is no sign that the current management can even envision a future in which Air India can face domestic and global competition on its own. The relevant order from the civil aviation ministry is applicable even to the families of the retired bureaucrats. Simultaneously, we hear that Air India is facing a severe salary crunch. March salaries may get delayed by a week. This too sounds similar to what we have heard before. Actually, ever since the National Aviation Company of India (Nacil) was conceived, it has been incurring big losses. The Air India-Indian Airlines merger was supposed to spin out a big fortune. Now, there are increasing calls within the governmentrefer to the recent report by the committee on public undertakingsfor a demerger. But these are all red herrings.
There is plenty of evidence to show that the merger never went through as it should have. The way in which staff integration, for example, has taken place could be great fodder for a dark comedy. If the agents of execution stay the same, how can a demerger prove more productive? Unfortunately, in India we don't have private airlines setting a precedence of excellence either. Remember, the private operators actually threatened a strike last year, and that flies in the face of everything they should have learnt from being held hostage by unions at one time or the other. Private operators overextended during the boom and continue to pay the price to date. As both the public and private sectors continue to make a hash of things, middle India's requirement of boarding planes continues to grow. The emphatic growth in the low-cost sector is testimony to how this demand is pushing the industry to change. The privatisation and modernisation of airports is another facet of this demand-driven change. In attempting to strengthen entrenched privileges, aviation ministry babus have shown how out of touch they are with their industry.
RBI POLICY - LESSONS FROM THE PAST
The 'surprise' rate hike by RBI mid-March has led to intense speculation about the next steps in the tightening sequence. Second-guessing RBI is a daunting task, but here goes. To get meaningful insight into the decision-making process, a combination of forward-looking trends and a look back at the environment during the last tightening cycle is likely to produce the best results. The objective is clearly a balance between maintaining growth impulses, containing current inflation impulses, anchoring inflation expectations and managing liquidity to facilitate the expected increase in bank credit and an orderly conduct of the government's market borrowing programme. Managing the yield curve would be a secondary objective of financial stability, since an unwarranted tightening is likely to have adverse effects on banks' balance sheets through an increase in bad assets and consequences on their capital reserves. The rest of the process comprises creating or deepening appropriate markets to strengthen the policy transmission mechanism.
Given these objectives, there are three dimensions to the policymaking process: (a) timing of the increase, (b) choice of instruments and (c) extent of tightening. Each dimension will have associated economic and financial variables, mostly interacting and overlapping. We will explore these instrumentalities and their presumed trajectory in a historical context in a follow-up column. The predominant decision variable at present has to be inflation. WPI inflation is almost sure to have crossed into double digits in March, widely anticipated by markets and by many policy authorities, and very likely to start moderating thereafter. This fall is mainly a statistical artifact due to the base effect of the pace of increase over the previous eight months.
This leads to the first issue of timing. If inflation is the primary target, how justifiable can a sequence of rate rises be once inflation starts moderating? RBI's medium-term inflation target of 3%, one it perceives to be consistent with sustainable growth, can then be used as an argument for continued tightening even during the descent phase. Whether this inflation level can be justified as consistent with a high growth ecosystem is open to debate; during the last decade, WPI inflation moved in a tight band around a trend level of 6%. What is certainly remarkable in a visual track of inflation is the increasing amplitude of oscillations in all the componentsprimary, fuels and manufacturing. This will definitely need to be damped down. Quite apart from the effects in fostering a wage price spiral, this volatility is inimical to the development of bond markets and of policy calibration.
To evaluate the issues of instrumentalities and magnitude of tightening, it might be worthwhile at this juncture to revisit the prevailing environment during the previous tightening cycle. Over 2004 to 2007, RBI increased the repo rate by 175 basis points (bps) and reverse repo by 150 bps and then held it there for a year before increasing it 125 bps in mid-2008. The reverse repo tightening preceded the repo increase, with the obvious intent of compressing the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) corridor and moving the call rate higher. Midway through the first series of repo rate increases, at end-2006, it started increasing the cash reserve ratio (CRR), increasing it a full 400 bps till mid-2008, just before the onset of the Lehman crisis.
The effects of the repo rate increases were decidedly mixed. Industrial growth kept increasing right up to March 2007, and there was little perceptible trend change in inflation end-2007, after which time the presumed speculative commodities positions, global liquidity fuelled, surged to the July 2008 peak. The only variable that seemed to have responded to early tightening was bank credit, with incremental growth rates levelling off at mid-30% levels, before tightening policy traction pulled it down to the mid-20s. Even this moderation might have been due more to a move of credit demand away from banks towards alternative sources, both domestic and global, leveraging on differentials in the cost of respective funds.
Two possible inferences relevant for the current environment can be drawn. One, given the relative ineffectiveness of the phased and gradual increase in policy rates in the early period of the previous episode, a much sharper trajectory of rate rises, more intense even if short-lived, might provide traction for policy to moderate economic activity. This is likely to be an erroneous inference since the current global environment is a meek shadow of its former self and is likely to inflict severe damage to economic growth. The second possible inference is the use of liquidity control as the preceding, if not the primary, tool of policy tightening, implemented prior to, and/or in conjunction with, policy interest rates. A look at LAF liquidity charts in 2007 shows a massive CRR-driven constriction of banking liquidity, coterminous with the deceleration in activity. This was at the acme of the global boom, with enormous capital flows and heightened MSS activity.
The author is senior vice-president, business and economic research, Axis Bank. These are his personal views
COMPETITION LEADS TO BETTER EDUCATION
KRISHNAMURTHY V SUBRAMANIAN
The Union Cabinet recently approved the bill to allow foreign universities to set up campuses in India. Many foreign universities are expected to set up shop to grab a share of the considerable demand for quality higher education, particularly from the burgeoning middle class. As more and more universities come, there will be greater competition in this sector. Of course, effective competition is key to enhancing efficiency and productivity in higher education. The pursuit to stay a step ahead of competition will force universities to pursue greater innovation in their pedagogical methods and, in turn, lead to more efficient delivery of education. Compared to the current alternative of spending foreign currency to pursue higher education abroad, it is possible that the arrival of foreign universities may lead to better quality education at lower prices.
However, stiff competition also creates incentives for unethical producers to cut corners to beat their rivals. A weakly regulated competitive market could lead to a bubble-burst syndromethe sub-prime financial crisis is a case in point. Therefore, in my opinion, there is a need for meaningful regulation of the higher education sector. First, policymakers need to decide whether the activities of universities fall under the ambit of competition policy.
In general, the aim of competition policy is to improve the efficiency with which a society's resources are used. Therefore, the aim of competition policy in the education sector must be to ensure that the large pool of talented and motivated high-school and graduate students is educated and trained adequately to be absorbed by the private and public sector enterprises. In deciding the competition policy for this sector, an important concern is whether the higher education sector must be subjected to the same competition laws as traditional businesses.
To throw more light on this debate, we need to ask the question: Are the services provided and the activities undertaken by universities commercial in nature? There are two opposing economic interpretations of this. The first is that universities are essentially service institutions provided by the community for its own good. The second is that they are commercial enterprises selling educational services for the benefit of their customers. This distinction could be made for both teaching and research activities of a university.
In the first view, universities are institutions of public service. They play a central role in educating the country's citizens and, in turn, in the country's economic, social and cultural development. So, a university cannot be equated to the usual for-profit commercial entity. Even many of the commercial activities that universities undertake, such as consultancy work and research and development projects, contribute to the knowledge base of society at large. In other words, the goods and services provided by universities have the characteristic of a public goodtheir benefits accrue, not just to the individual consumer, but also to the society at large. Therefore, a university's activities cannot be equated to pure market-based activities carried out for commercial motives. According to this view, subjecting universities to the same competition policy as traditional businesses may be inappropriate.
However, over the years, the government has pursued an active policy of urging universities to become self-reliant by increasing the proportion of income generated from non-governmental sources. Consequently, these institutions now provide specific services to particular groups and individuals in exchange for reward. Also, these activities are conducted in a systematic manner that resembles traditional business activities. So, the argument is that universities should be subject to competition policy in the same manner as traditional businesses.
In my opinion, the truth about the nature of activities undertaken by universities lies sandwiched between these two opposing views. While many of the activities undertaken by universities do resemble market-based transactions, others have the characteristic of a public good. For example, basic research pursued by universities can benefit the society at large; restricting usage to the immediate consumer limits its utility. Therefore, before competition policy is decided for this sector, a careful analysis and classification into the above two categories needs to be carried out for each activity undertaken by a university. Then, those tasks that resemble market-based transactions must be subject to a competition policy similar to that for traditional businesses; the remaining activities must be outside the scope of such policy. Thoughtful implementation of the competition policy in the education sector can ensure, on the one hand, that unscrupulous producers do not take unsuspecting students for a ride, and on the other, lead to public goods created by these universities to be used for our country's welfare.
The author is an assistant professor of finance at Emory University, Atlanta, and a visiting scholar at ISB, Hyderabad. These are his personal views
PORT OF CALL FOR CORPORATIZATION
Ports are a nation's face to world business. Their performance, capacity and technical capabilities are a measure of a country's development. When Indian policymakers decided to unfetter the shackles of the economy, waves of reform also swept across the ports. The cargo handling capacities of major Indian ports are set to be raised to over 1,000 million tonnes (mt) a year by 2012, from just half that capacity today. As the date draws closer, it is unlikely that the ports will be scaled up to the targeted level with an estimated gap of 35-40%.
A major share of the needed investment is expected to come from FDI and the Indian private sector. However, with investment severely lacking, the ports are wanting in modernisation and equipment. In this dismal scenario, the Ennore Port Ltd (EPL), India's first corporatised port with its success in attracting private investment is the only silver lining. This just-born (in 2001) port will have achieved in 15 years what older ports took decades to accomplish. By 2016, EPL will have the capacity to handle over 80mt of cargo. Investments by companies and the private sector will exceed Rs 5,000 crore, more than half of which will be from the private sector.
At conception, EPL was only a satellite of the Chennai port, but in a decade it has become India's first corporatised port. EPL charted its course by wearing the mantle of a 'landlord port', facilitating the development of world-class facilities, making it the eastern gateway port of India. It is now able to handle coal and a privately owned marine liquid cargo. By August 2010, two more terminals will be ready for handling coal and iron ore. EPL is building a terminal to handle cars and project cargo. A plan for a container terminal is caught in legal wrangles, but it is believed that litigation is coming to an end and EPL will continue to build a container terminal.
IOC is expected to play the lead role in developing an LNG terminal with its subsidiaries and a foreign strategic investor. This will boost the fortunes of EPL as the LNG terminal can help develop several downstream industries. TNEB is also planning to develop a new thermal power project with coal linkage through EPL. By 2015-16, EPL's coal handling capacity is expected to be about 43mt. With its rapid development, EPL is the port of call for modernisation and privatisation.
WHAT THE MOSCOW BLASTS MEAN
The twin bomb blasts in Moscow's crowded metro that killed 38 people and wounded 65 during the morning rush hours on Monday were a horrible reminder of continuing Islamist violence in Russia's troublesome North Caucasus. Female suicide bombers carried out the strikes a trademark tactic of Chechen terrorists. One of the extremist websites claimed the attacks were staged by Chechen militants. Since 1999, when Vladimir Putin launched a second military campaign to crush separatism in the overwhelmingly Muslim-majority republic, suicide bombers have killed hundreds of people in attacks in Moscow and other Russian cities. In 2004, one such attack in the Moscow metro claimed 41 lives. After Chechnya was pacified in the mid-2000s, violence spread to the neighbouring North Caucasus regions, where massive poverty, unemployment, and rampant corruption provided fertile ground for extremism. While the Chechnya war was waged for independence from Russia, today's insurgency is a patently jihadist movement. In 2007, Chechnya's self-proclaimed 'Emir of the Caucasus,' Doku Umarov, proclaimed the goal of liberating all of Russia's Muslim regions. Security experts do not rule out the latest deadly attacks being the terrorists' revenge for recent successful counter-insurgency operations in the North Caucasus, during which several terrorist leaders, including al Qaeda-linked Arab warlord Abu Haled, extremist ideologist Said Buryatsky, and head of the Caucasus Emirate's Sharia Court, Anzor Astemirov, were killed.
President Dmitry Medvedev has vowed to fight terrorism "without hesitation, to the end." At the same time, the Kremlin has shifted the emphasis away from a security crackdown to promoting economic development, rooting out corruption, and clamping down on economic crime. In January, Mr. Medvedev merged seven Muslim regions in the North Caucasus into a new federal district and appointed one of Russia's most competent administrators, Alexander Khloponin, to be in charge, with the rank of Deputy Prime Minister. Explaining his move, Mr. Medvedev said that the region's problems "lie in economic weakness and the absence of prospects for the people living there" and that these problems should be in the focus of anti-terrorist efforts. India, a major victim of terrorism, condemned the attacks, with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna expressing solidarity with Russia and underlining that New Delhi "condemned terrorism in all forms and countries." Ripples from the Moscow metro blasts may extend beyond Russia and provide a moral boost to terrorists round the world. It is therefore imperative that the international community steps up cooperation in the war against terrorism on all fronts.
CLEAN CHIT FOR NOW
The Financial Stability Report (FSR), released by the Reserve Bank of India last week, is altogether positive. Banks remain broadly healthy; they are well capitalised in line with existing regulatory capital ratios; and they have sustainable financial leverage. In short, the Indian financial system is stable. Maintenance of financial stability has been a key objective of monetary policy. Recent decisions of the government and the RBI have sought to institutionalise what has always been an implicit focus making financial stability "an integral driver of the policy framework." The RBI established a Financial Stability Unit in August 2009 and, two months later, revealed that it intended "to enhance transparency and augment confidence in the financial system," by issuing financial stability reports. These reports would review the nature and magnitude of risks that affect the macroeconomic environment and the markets, and over time they would also aid policymakers proactively to deal with incipient risks in the system. Equally important was the announcement in the Union Budget about the setting up of a monitoring body, the Financial Stability and Development Council. Although its role and composition have yet to be clarified, it is clear that the new body will rely on the RBI and, more specifically, the financial stability reports.
Although the global markets have stabilised after the crisis, there are uncertainties about growth prospects and financial stability. India remains exposed to the impact of global economic shocks. Among the key factors that will affect financial stability are inflationary pressures, delays in fiscal consolidation, and the unsettlingly large capital inflows from abroad. None of these potential threats is likely to go out of control. In the FSR's assessment, banks will be able to withstand whatever stress that arises from credit and market risks. Banks are resilient and, even if one assumes that all restructured standard loans become non-performing assets, the stress would not be disruptive. Households and companies have not borrowed recklessly and, at this juncture, the levels of capital inflows are not such as to exceed the absorptive capacity of the economy. However, there are negative features that need to be watched carefully. The propensity of many corporates to take unhedged foreign exposures is a potential source of risk for the banking sector. Beginning April 1, banks will be paying interest on savings bank deposits on a daily basis, thereby incurring a substantially higher cost than now.
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PREPARING FOR A BIG EARTHQUAKE
HAITI, WHERE 2,30,000 PEOPLE ARE THOUGHT TO HAVE PERISHED IN AN EARTHQUAKE IN JANUARY, HAS HEIGHTENED THE CONCERNS OF OUR SEISMOLOGISTS AND ENGINEERS.
N. GOPAL RAJ
"Earthquakes don't kill people, buildings do." The adage is very much on the minds of seismologists and engineers who worry about what might happen if India were rocked by a powerful quake. Haiti's experience, where 2,30,000 people are thought to have perished in an earthquake that hit the Caribbean island in January, has heightened those concerns.
The Haiti quake was more than twice as lethal as any previous magnitude 7 event, observed seismologist Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado in a report in Nature.
The death and injury that befell about 15 per cent of those living in and around the Haitian capital were the direct consequence of decades of unsupervised construction, when every possible mistake went unchecked. "In recent earthquakes, buildings have acted as weapons of mass destruction," Dr. Bilham went on to point out. Such deaths could be reduced significantly if minimal construction guidelines were mandated in all cities, especially those with a history of previous earthquakes.
That advice undoubtedly applies to India, which is no stranger to earthquakes. Many strong earthquakes strike at the Himalayas, the vast mountain chain, extending 2,900 km, that was thrown up when the Indian plate slammed into Eurasia between 40 million years and 50 million years ago. The strains produced by the Indian plate continuing to grind steadily northwards get released periodically in the form of earthquakes.
Medieval quakes occurred in the central Himalaya with magnitudes close to 9, Dr. Bilham told this correspondent. One that took place in June 1505 destroyed Agra, a number of other cities and huge areas of southern Tibet and Nepal. It is not possible to say when such a powerful quake will recur. But magnitude 7 quakes are quite likely, he added.
The central and northeast Himalayas have been historically deficient in earthquakes compared to other parts of the mountain range, according to C.P. Rajendran of the Centre for Earth Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Earthquakes of magnitude 7 or greater could reasonably be expected in these places in the foreseeable future.
Just south of the Himalayas are vast plains where many populous towns and cities have sprung up on alluvial soil. This soil amplifies the shaking of the ground that an earthquake in the mountain produces.
"It is a big problem in India," said Dr. Bilham. The Brahmaputra, the whole Gangetic plain and the Punjab are the worst places to site large cities. There may be as many as 50 million people living in the cities.
A large earthquake in the central Himalaya in 1803 not only triggered landslides that smothered villages in the hills but also caused damage in places as far away as Delhi, noted Dr. Rajendran in a commentary published in Current Science. The total casualties might have been in their thousands. It would be prudent to calculate the risk in the region if such an earthquake were to occur today in the Himalayas.
Nor are places elsewhere in the country free from the risk. There are known and as yet unknown geological faults in other parts of the country too that could become active again with potentially disastrous consequences, Dr. Rajendran told The Hindu. The Bhuj quake in January 2001, for instance, wreaked havoc on a considerable area in Gujarat and claimed over 20,000 lives.
Buildings, bridges, power plants and other structures can be designed to withstand earthquakes. Over the years, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has issued quake engineering codes that lay down specific requirements for various structures. For this purpose, the country has been divided into four zones of differing seismic risk. However, the codes are often not mandatory or are poorly enforced.
"Are we going to wait for a massive disaster before we wake up?" asked Sudhir K. Jain, a leading earthquake engineer and Director of the newly-established Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, in a telephone interview.
The country was going through a major development phase wherein infrastructure was added at an unprecedented pace, he pointed out in a paper published in 2005. It was a great opportunity to ensure that all new structures met seismic requirements. Instead, a huge number of unsafe buildings were continuing to be built every day in different cities and towns.
On the Andaman and Nicobar islands, for instance, a region of high earthquake risk, various buildings, jetties and even an important bridge were put up without paying heed to the seismic codes. When a quake of 9.3 magnitude that produced the lethal Indian Ocean tsunami struck in December 2004, these structures were badly damaged, in some cases irreparably, Dr. Jain and others observed in another paper.
The biggest problem was that the earthquake engineering codes were simply not being followed, he said during the interview. "First, we need to agree that we will enforce the codes." The Central and State governments as well as the local authorities must act to ensure that unsafe buildings do not continue to be put up, he said.
After the Bhuj earthquake, many municipal authorities began demanding that a structural engineer (and others such as architects and builders) certify that a building complied with seismic codes. "Unfortunately, such certificates are easy to procure, sometimes on payment of small money, and need not have any correlation with how a building is built," he pointed out in a paper.
Many existing buildings were likely to be unsafe in the event of a quake, he said. There had to be a long-term strategy to survey and retrofit at least important buildings, such as hospitals, so that they would become less vulnerable, he added. This might take decades but the process must start immediately.
The number of houses in the country went up by 45 per cent between the censuses of 1991 and 2001, said Anand S. Arya, Emeritus Professor at the Department of Earthquake Engineering in IIT, Roorkee. The number of "kachcha" houses made of clay had remained practically the same while those made with burnt brick had increased The latter, depending on the mortar used, would be a little less vulnerable than clay houses. But as most builders of brick houses would not probably have followed the code for earthquake resistance, these too could be badly damaged. The Indian code applicable to houses balanced the need for safety with what people could afford, pointed out Dr. Arya, who chairs the BIS committee for earthquake engineering codes. Even in the zone with the highest seismic risk, following the code in the construction of a house would increase its cost by only about six per cent. On the other hand, retrofitting earthquake resistance features could cost twice as much.
Safety was not just an engineering issue but a social one as well, observed Dr. R.N. Iyengar, former director of the Central Building Research Institute at Roorkee and now head of the Centre for Disaster Mitigation at the Jain University in Bangalore. A shed need not be built to the same level of safety as a hospital.
India was too vast and varied a country to be adequately covered with just four seismic zones. The existing codes give specifications for structures based on the maximum earthquake intensity that could be expected in each zone. Such an approach could not take into account the spatial variation in ground motion within a zone during a quake.
The National Disaster Management Authority was in the process of creating a probabilistic hazard map for the whole country, said Dr. Iyengar, who heads the committee overseeing the process. The map would provide the probabilities of ground motion that could be expected in squares of about 625 sq km during an earthquake. Using such information, a hospital or a school could be designed for a higher level of safety than a shed.
"We should not be caught unawares when the next major earthquake occurs," said Dr. Rajendran.
"EQUITY" CANNOT BE INEQUITABLE
THE RIGHT TO DEVELOPMENT IS NOT A RIGHT TO POLLUTE.
SURYA P. SETHI
As the debate over India's climate change strategy continues, it is necessary to address some misconceptions about climate equity that are evident in recent pronouncements of the Union Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, and the writings of his most recent adviser, Dr. Arvind Subramanian.
A solution to climate change, even an inequitable solution, has to address our planet's energy use. It is no secret that the human race has been increasing the use of fossil fuels and is expected to continue on that path at least till 2031-32 by all global projections. While new technologies have allowed more efficient use of energy thereby allowing higher growth with a given amount of energy; we have thus far not succeeded in delivering growth without a growth in energy consumption. And herein lies the lesson in equity/inequity.
Based on the most recent BP statistics, the use of commercially traded fuels in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries between 2002 and 2007, in absolute terms, was about 2.1 times that in India over the same period. The population of OECD countries is slightly less than that of India. And importantly, India delivered its highest ever growth during this period. So despite OECD's advanced technological and developmental level and already high income and consumption levels, OECD countries continue to disproportionately increase their consumption of global commercial energy supplies. As such incremental emissions from the OECD group of countries, even today, are disproportionate to India just as they have been since the industrial revolution.
Incremental commercial energy consumption in China, whom we seek as an ally in the fight against climate change, was about eight times that in India over the same period. Yes, China has a slightly higher population and its growth rate was also marginally higher but neither is anywhere close to justifying this disproportionate use of commercial energy and consequent emissions.
Such inequities persist not just among nations but even within nations wherein those that have no access to energy are simply denied development and many of the things such as water, health, education, gender equality and livelihoods that it delivers. India with over 17 per cent of the world's population has access to only about 3.8 per cent of its commercial energy. Within the known realm of technologies and technological forecasts India would need to, in the least energy intense scenario of the Integrated Energy Policy, double this share by 2031-32 to maintain an 8 per cent growth trajectory. The ground reality is that the growth in India's share of global commercial energy supply has been falling and at the current rate of growth it will take India another 40 years to double its share of global energy supplies.
Per capita principle
How then can we deliver equity without causing a climate and social catastrophe? We need to use available commercial energy more equitably to protect every human's development right and strive for new technologies that continuously lower the amount of fossil fuels needed to deliver a threshold level of development. And this is why the per capita principle of access to the global environmental space, propounded by this author and others is so critical to climate justice. It might help Dr. Subramanian to realise that depending on how the threshold level of development is defined, India today is at 15-20 per cent of that level.
To be absolutely fair, it is possible that Shri Jairam Ramesh and Dr. Subramanian have the technology that will deliver equity out of inequities but before my impoverished Nation agrees to towing their line consensus must be built around this golden path to development. And "Yes Minister" consensus in a democracy has to be built through inclusion and not through the exclusion of dissenting voices within the core negotiating team.
(The author is the former Principal Adviser Energy and Core Climate Negotiator, Government of India.)
OBAMA'S AFGHAN SPEECH SENDS MESSAGE HOME
"Got some marines in the house!" shouted the commander-in-chief, almost in campaign mode. Except Obama has never worn a leather bomber jacket, emblazoned with the American Eagle and the words "Air Force One," to address a political rally.
Yet his first appearance in Afghanistan since he became president is deeply political. "You inspire me!" he told them, before going on to say that they stood for values that America desperately needs, like sacrifice, honour and decency, that the American military had done what was required while so many other institutions had let America down.
I've spent the last three days watching Republicans campaign, and a constant refrain from the speakers and the crowds is the suggestion, sometimes put very bluntly, that Obama doesn't support the troops, and doesn't behave as a proper commander-in-chief.
There are never any specifics, but it matters a great deal in a country where the military are held in greater, more reverend regard, and have more political clout, than any democracy that I can name. If a politician is not for the troops, under all circumstances, it means he or she is unpatriotic.
Obama's speech was rousing but not gung-ho. He gave a run-down of how the war in Afghanistan was "absolutely essential" and how "we are going to keep them on the run." He concluded that section with the declaration: "The USA does not quit, you do not quit... we will prevail!" But his main message was not about the progress of the war but his attitude towards the military. He talked about his anguish about the sacrifices they made, and how he was humbled by it. The tone is very much his own.
Perhaps it was that white shirt underneath the bomber jacket but he reminded me of a military chaplin, rather than a faux general. He told the assembled troops that he would "do the right thing" for them back home and listed improving pay, benefits and child care. He would ensure better care for wounded warriors, particularly those with traumatic stress and brain injury.
It is the Obama dilemma in a nutshell.
I am sure his promises mean more to the men and women gathered before him than blood-curdling rhetoric, but you can almost hear the sneers of his opponents about a social worker-in-chief. He told the troops that politics back home looked messy but there was no daylight between the parties when it came to support for the troops. His first presidential visit to Afghanistan aims to convince people his stance is what patriotism really looks like. ©2010 New York Times News Service
OVERQUALIFIED? NO, JUST HAPPY TO HAVE A JOB
A NEW CADRE OF UNDEREMPLOYED WORKERS IS DOTTING AMERICAN COMPANIES.
Study shows that workers who perceive themselves as overqualified report lower job satisfaction and higher rates of turnover
There is evidence that many of the negatives that come with overqualified hires can be mitigated if they are given autonomy
Don Carroll, a former financial analyst with a master's degree in business administration from a top university, was clearly overqualified for the job running the claims department for Cartwright International, a small, family-owned moving company in Grand View, south of Kansas City.
But he had been out of work for six months, and the department badly needed modernisation after several decades of benign neglect. It turned out to be a perfect match.
After being hired in December, Carroll, 31, quickly set about revamping the four-person department, which settles damage claims from moves, and creating tracking tools so the company could better understand its spending.
Conventional wisdom warns against hiring overqualified candidates like Carroll, who often find themselves chafing at their new roles. (The posting for his job had specified "bachelor's degree preferred but not required.") But four months into his employment, it seems to be working out well for all involved.
It is a situation being repeated across the United States as the aspirations of many workers have been recalibrated amid the recession, enabling some companies to reap unexpected rewards.
"They're trying to really professionalise this company," said Carroll, who is the sole breadwinner for his family of four and had lost his home to foreclosure. "I've been able to play a big role in that." The result of the shift is a new cadre of underemployed workers dotting American companies, occupying slots several rungs below where they are accustomed to working.
These are not the more drastic examples of former professionals toiling away at "survival jobs" at Home Depot or Starbucks. They are the former chief financial officer working as comptroller, the onetime marketing director who is back to being an analyst, the former manager who is once again an "individual contributor."
The phenomenon was probably inevitable in a labour market in which job seekers outnumber openings five to one. Employers are seizing the opportunity to stock up on discounted talent, despite the obvious risks that the new hires will become dissatisfied and leave.
In some cases, of course, the new employees fail to work out, forcing the company through the process of hiring and training someone anew. But Carroll is just one of several recent hires at Cartwright who would be considered overqualified, including a billing clerk who is a certified public accountant and a human resources director who once oversaw that domain for 5,000 employees but is now dealing with just 65.
They represent marked upgrades for Cartwright, a modest-size business with expanding ambitions. The company is benefiting from an influx of talent it probably never would have been able to attract in a better economic climate.
"There's a nice free-agent market right now," said Randy Woehl, the human resources director. "The best it's ever been."
Exact numbers for workers toiling in positions where their experience or education exceed their job descriptions are hard to come by, in part because the concept is difficult to measure and can be quite subjective. But economists and sociologists agree that the frequency inevitably increases in hard times.
Nevertheless, an overriding complaint among many job seekers, particularly professionals, is how often they are rejected for lower-level positions that they desperately want and believe they could practically do in their sleep.
Academic research on the subject confirms that workers who perceive themselves as overqualified do, in fact, report lower job satisfaction and higher rates of turnover. But the studies also indicate that those workers tend to perform better. Moreover, there is evidence that many of the negatives that come with overqualified hires can be mitigated if they are given autonomy and made to feel valued and respected. The new variable in all of this is the continuing grim economic climate. Many workers' ambitions have evolved, after all, from climbing the ladder to simply holding on to a job, any job. Turnover would also seem to be less of a concern amid predictions that it could be years before unemployment returns to pre-recession levels.
Jackie Swanson, 44, accepted a part-time job in May as a facilities manager at Conservation Services Group, a Massachusetts company that delivers energy-efficiency programmes and training across the country. She had been laid off after 16 years at another company, where she had handled more than 50 offices as a corporate facilities planner.
In her previous position, she had been more of a project manager, whereas the new job was mostly about the upkeep of the headquarters building. Swanson managed to convince the company's recruiter that she was excited about the organisation and that her priorities for a job had changed.
"I was willing to take a drastic cut in pay just to have stability," she said.
Since then, Swanson has been promoted to full time. Even though her job still represents a step down in responsibilities, she has no plans to leave anytime soon. "I'm happy here," she said. "I actually feel respected."
At Cartwright, Carroll said he had so far found enough to keep him engaged because he had mostly been given free rein in the department. He has also volunteered to help the company's finance and accounting managers with anything they might need. Whenever he gets a request from someone higher up the ladder, he consciously tries to overdeliver.
Nevertheless, there are signs of angst. He is being paid a third less than he used to make. He and his wife realise that many of their financial goals could be set back years by this period. He is still paying attention to what is happening in the job market but is not actively looking.
Carroll's cubicle-mate, Mindy William, a former graphic designer and single mother who had been working at Target before she was recently hired as a claims adjuster, said she had noticed that he seemed to talk about his old job a lot.
"I know it's been an adjustment for him," she said. "He's just making the best of it like the rest of us are. We're
glad to have jobs in this recession."For his part, Carroll admitted that he had caught himself often trying to drop his credentials into conversations at his new workplace.
"Obviously that stems from maybe some embarrassment at the level that I'm at," he said. "I do want people to know that, to some extent, this isn't who I am." It helps somewhat that most of his former business school classmates are hardly becoming masters of the universe. "It's not like anyone else is tearing it up," he said.
While he is happy for now, Carroll worries about what will happen once he has finished the more interesting work of overhauling the department. He wonders how long simply having a job will be enough. ©2010 New York Times News Service
The BJP has two albatrosses around its neck the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition and the 2002 killings of more than 1,500 Muslims in the post-Godhra riots. Both issues cropped up again last week. First came LK Advani's former personal security officer (PSO) Anju Gupta's deposition in the Babri demolition case; then the questioning of Narendra Modi by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) about the killing of Congress legislator Ehsan Jafri and 80 others in Ahmedabad's Gulbarg Society. Both are part of long drawn-out and contentious legal battles whose conclusions are as yet in the future. There has, of course, been an immediate media debate on these two issues, with opinions and innuendoes being hurled from all sides. The anti-BJP brigade, including the Congress, has tried to push the party to the wall on these issues, which is not surprising.
The party has tried to put up a brave face. Modi smiled after the SIT questioning and the party spokesperson has tried to divert attention to the Congress-Amitabh Bachchan fracas. There is, however, a deeper problem. The BJP will have to come to terms on its own with 1992 and 2002. Public posturing may be a necessary political response, but the party will have to clarify to itself its understanding of these events.
There is the temptation to see whether it would make for good electoral sense to toe the hard Hindutva line by refusing to accept that the demolition and massacres were criminal acts, which are legally punishable and morally condemnable. The instinctive response of Advani to the demolition that it was the saddest day of his life his detractors call it hypocritical and Atal Bihari Vajpayee's anguished response at the Ahmedabad relief camp in the immediate aftermath of the riots show that the leaders knew that both these were inherently and morally wrong. But Advani and Vajpayee waffled on the issue in the days and years that followed.
So the ghosts of 1992 and 2002 continue to haunt the BJP and it needs to lay them to rest. This party can choose to take moral responsibility for the two events which might require a political price to be paid in the short term but which will give the party the moral authority that will win back national approval. The BJP cannot any more take shelter behind equivocation because that will cast a longer shadow on its political future.
This summer may not just be about the woes of high temperatures. Both water and power supplies in North India are likely to be affected. The ongoing Kumbh mela in Hardwar has led to the Tehri dam a major source of hydroelectricity for the northern grid being forced to divert water to pilgrims. The water released for the Kumbh amounts to between 10,000 to 14,000 cubic feet per second (cusecs). Delhi gets about 280 cusecs of water and the northern power system about 1,000 MW from Tehri. Half of Delhi's power comes from Tehri.
Already Uttarakhand, the host state, has been subjected to massive load-shedding to cater to the Kumbh. But that would be temporary inconvenience were it not for the fact that the water in Tehri has reached dangerously low levels. If there is no early rain, the hydel plant may have to shut down by April. The problem is compounded by last year's bad rains. If the glaciers do not melt soon enough, the entire northern grid could find itself in a severe shortfall.
Once again this seems to prove that no matter how much we progress, we are still dependent on the monsoon to bail us out. The frequent, if odd, water pipe 'accidents' in a major metropolis like Mumbai have added to the already existing water crisis. The culprit again is last year's bad monsoon. Officials hope that this year will make up for the shortfall.
The voluntary shutdown of lights on 'Earth hour' on Saturday night may appear gimmicky but in a sense it is a forecast of what is to come. We are dealing variously with the vagaries of nature. We have a political desire to help pilgrims while denying the rest of the population their power. We are yet to come to terms with our own profligate ways when it comes to both power and water usage.
Somewhere it is clear that we need to do more than pay lip service to our dependence on the environment and try to choose sense over sentiment. But that is on a personal level. As far as government and the administration are concerned, we need less sanguine and more practical, feasible and down-to-earth solutions.
The desires of the pilgrims of the Kumbh mela are being catered to which is fine as far as it goes. But when the future power supply of the northern grid may be jeopardised which could well have a cascading effect on the other power grids someone needs to do a cost-benefit analysis. Or, we all suffer.
A NEW N-DOCTRINE
The strategic community worldwide is agog with excitement about the contents of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to be released soon by the Obama government, but long overdue. The usual convention is for new American administrations to declare their NPR soon after taking office. An additional reason for the current interest in the Obama NPR is the upcoming review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in May.
The NPT is currently in crisis, partly due to the aberrant behaviour of North Korea and Iran that have relentlessly pursued their nuclear option despite pledging to forsake it as non-nuclear members of the NPT. However, the non-nuclear weapons states are quite disillusioned with the snail's pace at which the nuclear weapons states are proceeding towards eliminating their nuclear weapons as pledged in the NPT, though a start has been made with the Start-2 understanding between US and Russia.
The NPR's contents will influence the deliberations at the NPT review conference in dealing with these crises. Therefore, the current delay in releasing Obama government's NPR conveys its own message, especially after his epochal declarations to strive for the elimination of nuclear weapons to achieve a 'global zero'. What the delay informs is that the issues in controversy, involving several adjuncts of the US administration, have not been resolved.
These vested interests include the Pentagon, the state department, the intelligence agencies, and the weapons laboratories; all of them have a vital stake in the shape and size of the American nuclear arsenal.
What are the issues exercising these entities and which is delaying the NPR? Quite apart from the question of reducing the size of the nuclear arsenal, the basic issue troubling them is how to redefine the role of nuclear weapons. It is necessary here to suggest the obvious that nuclear weapons serve the ends of deterrence and defence. The difficult questions which then arise are when they should be used or their use threatened. Should a deterrent posture be adopted declaring that they would be used pre-emptively to prevent a nuclear or conventional attack? Or only used in a retaliatory mode to inflict condign punishment on the aggressor?
Either posture has its implications for arms control and nuclear disarmament. The threat of pre-emptive use suggests an aggressive posture, which does not square with the non-use predilections of the pacifists. A defensive posture, on the other hand, premised on using nuclear weapons after being attacked, requires a first strike to be absorbed before retaliating, which is anathema to strategists. Any decision in this regard has implications for weapons acquisitions and the alert status of the nuclear arsenal. So, what is the optimal posture to be adopted?
There are other conundrums that arise in using nuclear weapons for purposes of deterrence or defence. It would be excessive to suggest recourse to nuclear weapons at the earliest available opportunity. The patent absurdity of this posture was dramatised during the Cold War era by posing the rhetorical question whether nuclear weapons should be used by Nato when the first Soviet soldier crossed the East-West divide in Germany or at some other time.If, on the other hand, it is argued that nuclear weapons should only be used as the last option, then what is that option? Again, in the Cold War context, it was rhetorically asked whether the last option arose when the Soviets had overrun Germany, or when they reached the English Channel, or when they had invaded England.
So, when should nuclear weapons be used if deterrence fails and their use in defence is required? Other dilemmas intrude now. Would nuclear weaponsbe used to deter or defend against chemical or biological weapons? Existing international conventions prohibit the production, stockpiling and use of these weapons; hence the argument has been pressed that chemical and biological weapons can only be deterred and defended against with nuclear weapons. Incidentally, this is current US policy. Furthermore, the use of nuclear weapons is pledged by the United States if its allies like Japan and South Korea are attacked to provide 'extended deterrence'. Arms control lobbies urge that such an extensive set of circumstances permitting the United States to use nuclear weapons severely erodes the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.
On the other hand, the strategic lobby argues that, should the US weaken its commitment to provide 'extended deterrence' to its allies, they might exercise their own nuclear option on
security considerations. No wonder, that the Obama administration finds itself between a rock and a hard place. The internal debates into these seminal questions are delaying promulgation of the Obama NPR. But its decisions on these difficult issues would define its commitment to the elimination of nuclear weapons; this will shape the course of the NPT Review Conference, the future of the non-proliferation regime, and the prospects for nuclear disarmament.
NARENDRA MODI, THE SUN KING OF GUJARAT
I have to confess, I quite like Amul butter. Also Amul dahi and occasionally Amul ghee. I also like jeans. Amul products and denim both come from Gujarat. I don't however much like Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. I do like Gujarat and have lived there a couple of times in my life. The people, the handicrafts, the heritage and don't get me started on the food khandvi and handvo and dhoklaand lasooni bataka and bhakri and more, more, more.
Now this Modi chap says that if I don't like him that means I don't like Gujarat and I will most probably stop using denim and Amul. I reckon he doesn't much like Kutchi embroidery and khandvi or he would have mentioned them, but then we all have our preferences and as we've all seen, he's recently become quite partial to jeans. Modi, the fashion-plate forward-looking chief minister of Gujarat. What is it that today's children say? Yeah, right?
It is possible that the Gujarat chief minister is very fond of history and especially that of European countries. Now I know that you will immediately think of Nazi Germany and Herr That Chap but you would be doing both me and Shri chief minister a disservice here. The reference very obviously is to the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. With a fine and admirable lack of modesty, he once said to the Paris parliament, "L'Etat, c'est moi". The state, it is me or I am the state. Narendra Modi, it seems, feels that he is the state of Gujarat. If you like it, you like him and if you don't like him, you don't like the state. Disliking one and liking the other cannot exist simultaneously or side by side. L'Etat c'est moi. Finis. Modelling yourself on the Sun King though may not be such a bad thing.
You could take a loan from Lakshmi Mittal and ensconce yourself in the Palace of Versailles. You could have a glamourous mistress with an outrageous taste in wigs like Madame de Pompadour. If France is too far away though travel companies will take you there complete with vegetarian cooks for a very reasonable price if you manage to get a visa then how about setting up home at the Sun temple at Modhera? No, not the cricket stadium at Motera, even though Shri CM is now quite the cricket aficionado, though one could not help noticing that he was not wearing denim from-Gujarat jeans the othernight when he handed a cheque to Yusuf Pathan after an IPL match at Motera.
Modhera is a grand and exquisite structure just north of Ahmedabad and since it is a Sun temple and Louis 'L'Etat' XIV was the Sun King, well you get the picture.
Of course, there are a couple of hitches here. One is that a chief minister is not a king. The other is that Louis XIV would never havestooped to appear before one lowly officer of a Special Investigative Team appointed by the Supreme Court to look into riots cases which happened under the King's watch. Monsieur L'Etat however, not being a king or indeed living a few centuries ago when the divine right of kings was properly acknowledged and followed, finds himself caught in the terrible legal snares of the 21st century.
It is a matter of some small humiliation that Shri chief minister should have to be interrogated for the failures of an administration which he headed in 2002 when the state (c'est moi?) seemingly looked on while 2000 people were massacred. Yet if you look at it another way, it is perhaps better to be a chief minister when you are democratically elected you can be democratically chucked out as well than an emperor. Let's not even discuss what happened to the Sun King's descendant during the French revolution. But as a result, the world got libertie, egalitie, fraternitie. Now perhaps that's a French slogan which some elected members of L'Etat need to take closer to heart. As for moi, I still like Amul butter. And denim jeans.
OBAMA IN KABUL
WORKING ON POST-TROOP PULLOUT STRATEGY
President Barack Obama's first visit to Afghanistan on Sunday, without any prior announcement obviously owing to security reasons, has highlighted the fact that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda remain a potent threat to security. The US-led multinational military drive against the extremist forces has not been able to make even the country's capital, Kabul, safe from suicide bombers.
The Hamid Karzai government's writ runs in only a limited way. That is why Mr Karzai was informed of the US President's visit only an hour before Mr Obama landed at a NATO-controlled airfield in Afghanistan. Mr Obama, who wanted to get an "on the ground update", seems to be worried whether the enhanced military campaign in Afghanistan will actually produce the desired results before the withdrawal of US and other NATO troops begins in 2012 in accordance with the schedule he has set.
There is realisation, as Mr Obama's address to the US troops in Afghanistan shows, that depending on the use of force alone will not do. President Hamid Karzai will have to do whatever he can to win the people's confidence, which can help minimise the Taliban's influence. There will be tremendous pressure on Mr Karzai to fight widespread corruption at every level in his administration to improve the image of his government. So long as the Karzai regime remains in the grip of corruption, civilian efforts, which include Mr Obama's Afghan policy, cannot bring about an improvement in the people's daily lives. The Taliban factions have been exploiting the Karzai government's weaknesses to keep their following intact.
Though Mr Obama has vowed to reverse the "Taliban momentum" in Afghanistan, the US has not abandoned the idea of inducting in the Kabul regime some of the Taliban elements the "good Taliban" who are believed to be prepared to leave the path of violence once their grievances are redressed. He also reiterated the US desire for partnership with Pakistan as part of his post-troop withdrawal strategy. India, which has made an enormous contribution to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, also deserves a major role in the evolving scenario. New Delhi is not rigid in its Afghan policy, as it has started building bridges of understanding with one of the powerful Taliban factions, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar-led Hizbe Islami. India needs to rework its strategy in view of the changing situation in Afghanistan.
CBI ON THE MAT
PROBE THE JUDGE-BRIBERY SCAM PROPERLY
Chandigarh Special CBI Judge Darshan Singh's refusal to accept the CBI's "closure report" and his fiat to probe the judge-bribery scam properly and file a report by May 26 has added a new twist to the case. Apparently, the CBI had bowed to political pressure and given a clean chit to Justice Nirmal Yadav, who was transferred from the Punjab and Haryana High Court to the Uttarakhand High Court last month. In the course of its investigation, the CBI did find her to be the recipient of a bag containing Rs 15 lakh, sent by former Haryana Assistant Advocate-General Sanjeev Bansal.
Why it changed its stand subsequently is shrouded in mystery. Its rationale behind the case closure the absence of official sanction for her prosecution was unconvincing. It strengthens suspicion that the CBI, in collusion with the powers-that-be, had tried to let her off the hook. Former Attorney-General Milon Banerjee's opinion that there was not a "shred of evidence" to prosecute Justice Yadav helped matters in her favour.
Significantly, a three-member committee set up by Chief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan Chief Justice H.L. Gokhale of the Allahabad High Court, Chief Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court (now a Supreme Court Judge) and Justice Madan B. Lokur of the Delhi High Court had earlier reportedly said that Justice Nirmal Yadav's action was "unbecoming of a judge and amounted to impropriety and misconduct". As the people justifiably fear a cover-up operation by the CBI, the agency should probe the case thoroughly as directed by Judge Darshan Singh and bring the guilty, however high they may be, to book.
The Centre's stand that the CJI's advice to the Union Law Minister on Justice Yadav's transfer to the Uttarakhand High Court is exempted from disclosure under the RTI Act amounts to depriving the people of their fundamental right to know. The RTI regime will fail if the government is not transparent in its style of functioning and hides matters regarding the dubious role of the constitutional functionaries. In view of increasing cases of corruption in the higher judiciary, the Centre ought to enlighten people about the judges' misconduct and subject them to close scrutiny.
MONITOR CLINICAL TRIALS AND SALE
Not too long ago the government made much noise about tightening the regulatory mechanism and bringing in tougher norms for clinical trials. However, the ground reality remains as dismal as ever. The death of four tribal girls in Andhra Pradesh after the alleged administration of HPV (human papiloma virus) vaccine for prevention of cervical cancer as part of trial run by an NGO is yet another glaring example of how precious human lives are time and again lost in clinical trials.
What is even more startling is that it has also come to light that the vaccine is being sold openly even though comprehensive safety trials have not been conducted.
This is not the first time clinical trials have come under cloud. As India is fast becoming a destination for clinical trials, there have been instances of unsafe drug testing. Death of an infant in Bangalore and that of 49 babies in the AIIMS over two and half years ago have been grim reminders of pharma companies' callous disregard of human life. The introduction of untested vaccines without proper medical research earned the ire of the Delhi High Court that issued a notice to the Health Ministry last year. Indeed, the benefits of vaccination are manifold as it not only reduces mortality but also morbidity i.e. illness and disease. The HPV vaccine too once proved effective would help a large percentage of women in India where eight women die of cervical cancer every hour. However, that is no excuse for negligence. There is an urgent need for a strict vigil over sale of untested drugs and its clinical trials that often go awry.
The inquiry ordered into the death of tribal girls must fix responsibility and accountability and the role of the NGO concerned too must be thoroughly probed. Why the NGO was allowed to conduct trials in the first place is inexplicable. Under no circumstances should people, especially the vulnerable and ignorant ones, be made guinea pigs. Quest for better healthcare cannot be at the cost of precious human lives. Pharmaceutical companies too cannot shake off their responsibility. Be it sale of drugs or conducting trials, ethics cannot be forsaken and the ICMR and drug control authority must ensure compliance of rules.
IRAN'S GAS DIPLOMACY
INDIA FACES A MAJOR CHALLENGE
BY BHASKAR BALAKRISHNAN
Iran and Pakistan signed an agreement on March 17 in Istanbul to launch the construction of the $3.2 billion Iran-Pakistan (IP) onshore gas pipeline project, which includes a provision for India's possible participation at a later date.
Iran will deliver 750 million cubic feet per day (mmscf/d) of gas to Pakistan for the next 25 years under a controversial gas purchase agreement signed in Istanbul in May 2009 by the newly formed Inter-State Gas System (ISGS). The accord gives Iran great leverage and sets the price at $7 per million Btu (mBtu, at crude prices of $50), going up to $13 per mBtu (at crude price $100), making it far more expensive than the gas available from Pakistan's domestic sources. The 900-km 42-inch diameter gas pipeline is planned to become operational by 2015 and run from the Assaliyeh Gas Field in southern Iran to Pakistan.
The pipeline was initially planned to also run up to India, but due to concerns about the security of the project and deteriorating political relations India withdrew from the project in 2009. Pakistan and Iran have sought China's participation but without success so far. China has decided not to participate due to questionable economic feasibility and technical reliability, as the pipeline will run through high mountains with complex terrain, giving rise to concerns of operational safety and maintenance requirements. China has indicated its preference for buying gas directly from Iran. It has also been tying up gas pipeline arrangements with Central Asia.
The project raises several major issues an intractable and bitter political conflict in Balochistan through which the pipeline passes, US concerns, high pricing and the threat posed by religious militants. People of Balochistan will not get commensurate benefits. Unless these issues are resolved, the pipeline will remain just a pipedream.
India would like to access Iran's large gas reserves in a secure and stable manner. Iran would like to have countries like India and China as long-term customers and to get a certain amount of political leverage with India vis-a-vis US efforts to isolate it. However, since the pipeline through Pakistan, the lowest-cost option, will not assure the security of supply, other alternatives have to be explored.
India's reaction to this development has been reported as the NSC's advice to the Petroleum Ministry, suggesting a mixed land/sea pipeline, running undersea between points in Iran and India, thereby avoiding crossing Pakistan territory. This advice is flawed and poses formidable political, environmental and technical problems. These problems can be gauged by a look at the Nord Stream pipeline project for the supply of gas from Russia to Germany via a combined onshore and offshore pipeline, due to be completed in 2011.
The political problem arises from the fact that transit through Pakistan's EEZ requires its consent. This was the case with the Nord Stream project which involved consent of Finland, Denmark and Sweden. Given Pakistan's attitude, the proposed undersea pipeline will have to avoid Pakistan's EEZ as well, and possibly the "natural prolongation of its continental shelf" over which it might have economic rights under the Law of the Sea Convention.
The technical problems arise from the depth of the water through which the pipeline will pass. The Nord Stream project has the longest undersea gas pipeline today, some 1200 km, with two legs of a 48-inch-diameter capacity, 27.5 billion cu metres per year each; and an operating pressure of 220 bars. Construction of the undersea portion of the pipeline is to start only in 2010, and the technical problems that occur will need to be assessed. The high pressure and wall thickness of 38 mm are needed to withstand water pressure, which increases at the rate of 1 bar per 10 metres depth. Pipelines require compressor stations to raise gas pressure at several points, and these cannot be built for the undersea stretch.
The environmental concerns arise from the fact that the seabed needs to be stabilised for laying the pipeline by digging trenches. This would have environmental impact. The pipeline has to withstand possible seismic events in the seabed as well as severe monsoon weather in the region. Chemicals used for pipeline maintenance should not damage marine life. The Nord Stream project has been objected to by environmental groups on these counts.
A consortium (SAGE) has done a preliminary study for a commercial project for deepwater pipelines that will cross the Arabian Sea to the south of the territorial waters and EEZs of all third-party countries and will mainly follow a route, reaching a depth of 3500m, linking India to the Gulf gas resources. Some estimates put the transit cost for gas at around $1.8 per mmBTU, which is probably too optimistic. These studies need to be clarified further.
Transporting LNG as an alternative has many advantages. Firstly, India has already invested in LNG terminals and tankers for the transportation of gas from Qatar. This infrastructure can be scaled up to handle gas from Iran as well. The infrastructure built by Iran can be used for gas supplies to many other countries. The LNG system is competitive when transport distances exceed about 1200 km. The system is flexible and does not tie India down to one supplier, a useful option since Iran is known to be a difficult business partner, prone to bringing in political linkages and facing US-led sanctions. Nor does LNG tie Iran down to one buyer, but offers it export markets in Japan, South Korea and China.
The LNG system can accommodate future large gas resources that may be discovered in other parts of the world, including in the Bay of Bengal, regarded as very promising for gas. The gas can be landed at points along the Indian coastline, where energy demand is greatest, or where facilities exist for movement to internal consuming areas. The system can accommodate gas supplies from countries such as Myanmar, avoiding transit problems. Thus, for both the exporting and importing country, gas movement by LNG offers many advantages; the technology if proven and time-tested and may be less expensive than deep-sea pipelines.
On this basis, India should plan to step up its LNG facilities and seek long-term arrangements with all major LNG-exporting countries to secure its supplies as well as encourage countries such as Iran to go this way.
The writer is a former Ambassador and has participated in India-Iran gas pipeline talks.
CANOPY OF MOMENTS
BY N.S. TASNEEM
DURING those days in Shimla when in the words of an Urdu poet, Duniya jawaan thhi mere ahde-shabab mein (The world was young in the days of my youth), I could never imagine that I shall be an octogenarian one day. This has come to me as an anti-climax as I know, being a novelist, that the protagonist in a work of fiction should remain a likeable, if not a lovable, person till the last days of his life. Just as truth is stranger than fiction, the reality bounces back whenever an attempt is made to ignore it in one form or another.
I recall my interview with my would-be father-in-law when he came to Shimla in 1954 in search of a match for his daughter. He asked me about my salary which I told him by recollecting vaguely the amount which had never been registered in my mind. The reason was that during the five months of the year winter allowance was given to us and then there were variations in these figures off and on, due to increment or some raise in the dearness allowance. Luckily, I was drawing more than I had quoted. My father-in-law corrected me, as he had already made some enquiries of this sort.
But then there was another surprise for me. He asked me whether the post I was holding was pensionable. That query gave me a jolt as I had never thought of my retirement at the start of my career. I blurted out something to which he was satisfied.
Now when I draw my pension, I feel forlorn because this phase of my life had never been in my consideration. I often ask myself: Kya iss din ke liye zindagi ka safar shuru kiya thha? (Did I start the journey of my life for this day?). Although deep down in my heart, I console myself that I have the wherewithal for my old age, which I had disdained in the flurry of my youthfulness.
Now my best endeavour is keep myself abreast of the march of time. The days when I considered myself ahead of time are gone. At that time the past had no significance and the present was on its rickety legs. Indeed, the future was full of promise as well as the harbinger of new possibilities. It was like floating on a raft towards a new horizon. A new world was scheduled to take birth on the debris of hackneyed beliefs and debilitated notions.
A time came shortly afterwards when the present started rushing back to the past. As such, it became difficult to continue observing the contours of the present. In the process the future was also obliterated as the past seemed to be the ultimate reality.
It was like receding into a tunnel, dark and damp. With the passage of time, this also turned out to be a passing phase. Now the phantom fears have vanished and new expectations have occupied the screen of my life.
Ironically the new generation, not of sons and daughters but of grandchildren, is now pointing towards beauteous avenues of fulfilment and joyousness. As such, the fleeting moments have now provided me with a canopy, under which the long spans of time are huddled together. I recall, as if in a dream, Ben Jonson's line: "In short measures life may perfect be".
TEENAGERS TAKE DRUGS TO ESCAPE REALITY
BY HARPREET SANDHU
The future of every society is dependent on the quality and potential of its youth towards their respective work and role in society. Therefore, one cannot over-emphasise the need for preventing drug abuse.
Having dealt with several cases related to drugs in courts, I feel that drug abuse usually starts in the early teens, reaching a peak around the twenties and finally it becomes a routine habit.
During adolescence it is either "peers as role models" or tendency to "take risk by breaking established rules and values" that draw them to this. Social influence plays a key role in making drug use attractive to youth.
The first temptations for drug abuse may come in the form of pressure to "act grown up" and have a good time by smoking cigarettes or consuming alcohol and later drugs.
It is rare that the first contact with illicit drugs happens on the initiative of the users. Drug peddlers generally befriend their victims before they offer drugs for the first time. Dealers recruit youngsters who, in a few years, become engaged in drug trafficking very effectively.
Teens are lured by the easy money and the glamorous fast life of drug kingpins. They try to escape from the reality of school or college life, and the responsibility of their family as well as society at large.
Although drug trafficking is controlled by adults outside educational institutions, the immediate source of drugs to most students is other students. Drug abuse frequently progresses in stages - from occasional to regular, then to multiple drug use, and ultimately to total dependency.
With each successive stage, it intensifies, becomes more varied and results in increasingly debilitating effect. Psychological dependence not only erodes educational performance but can also destroy ties with the family.
The child goes from taking drugs to feel good, to taking them to keep from feeling bad. Overtime drug use itself heightens the bad feelings and can leave the user suicidal.
Behavioural disorder and parental disharmony are some of the common factors leading to drug abuse, besides over-ambitious, stressed adolescents having low academic aspirations and motivation or poor performance at school.
Pervasive drug use creates a climate in schools and universities that is destructive to learning. It is closely tied to truancy and dropping out of school because regular use increases restlessness and demand for constant supply as a result of which skipping classes becomes a need and a habit.
Also, drug use is intimately related to crime and misconduct, both at the school and college levels. These may range from criminal acts like stealing from one's own house to team attempts at robberies for want of money to maintain the constant supply of drugs.
If fact, it is the drug suppliers who are also responsible for drug abuse. They meet the demand for drugs by developing new strains, producing reprocessed, purified drugs and using underground laboratories to create more powerful forms of illegal drugs.
Consequently, the users are exposed to heightened or unknown levels of risk. The support of the community is very essential in creating an anti-drug social environment. Society should be educated about the ill-effects of drug abuse through different social organisations, the mass media, school health programmes and even through religious bodies.
A consistent message that drug use is wrong, dangerous and intolerable should be widely propagated and reinforced through strong disciplinary measure.
The enforcing agencies should drastically reduce the availability of illicit drugs and smash the distribution network. Clinics can detoxify addicts and educational institutions guide their pupils how to get rid of this social evil.
Today drugs have the potential to threaten the life of a nation as a whole, what to talk about Punjab alone Drugs are taking away our youth from socially useful and productive work, disrupting academic work, shattering families, increasing crime and overburdening social service agencies.
So the best way to fight drugs is to begin preventive efforts right from the teenage in order to not allow the "bud" take the shape of an ugly and dangerously spreading need.
MANAGING THE GLUT
BY K S CHAWLA
As the official procuring agencies of the Punjab Government and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) start procurement of wheat from April 1, the biggest task before them is how to tackle the problem of storage.
Punjab has set a target of procuring as many as 115 lakh tonnes of wheat this year compared with the procurement of 110 lakh tonnes last year. The Punjab agencies are grappling with the situation as 60 lakh tonnes of wheat purchased last year is still lying in the open in the state.
The state has a scientific storage capacity of 182 lakh tonnes. According to S P Singh, Secretary, Food and Civil Supplies, the Punjab Government has been pressing upon the Railways to lift maximum wheat from the state.
By March 31, the state will be left with 57 lakh tonnes of wheat and 57 lakh tonnes of rice. There will be a shortage of 44 lakh tonnes for scientific storage. The government has received offers from private parties, including farmers, for the storage of about 13 lakh tonnes.
The private parties were earlier paid a rent of 50 paise per quintal per month. Now the rate has been revised to 72 paise per quintal from this year because there was poor response when offers were sought. The reason for poor response was due to the rise in the land prices in the state.
For storing 31.55 lakh tonnes arrangements for unscientific storage have been made. Under this programme, 9.30 lakh tonnes will be stored with rice mills, three lakh tonnes in the yards of the grain markets in the state.
There are some mandis like those at Moga, Jagraon and Khanna which have a sizeable number of yards available for storing wheat. Some 4.5 lakh tonnes will be stored at brick-lined plinths and two lakh at focal points in the rural areas and 9 lakh tonnes will be stored at katcha platforms.
Besides, three lakh tonnes of wheat will be stored on the sugar mills premises. There are five sugar mills located at Jagraon, Rakhra (Patiala), Mansa, Budhlada and Faridkot which have been lying closed for the last few years. These have unused space on their premises which is being utilized for foodgrain storage.
Of the 182 scientific storage capacity available with the state agencies, 106 lakh tonnes is covered and 76 lakh tonnes open (cap).
The Punjab Government is encouraging private parties to construct additional storage capacity and NABARD gives 25 per subsidy for this purpose.
The Adani group has constructed a silo with a capacity of 2 lakh tonnes, which was filled to capacity last year. The group proposes to construct more silos in the state.
Punjab Food Minister Adesh Pratap Singh Kairon, who met Union Food Minister Sharad Pawar recently, has sought financial assistance from the Centre for the construction of more silos in Punjab.
Iqbal Singh Sidhu, Managing Director, Punjab State Warehousing Corporation, says that they have a storage capacity of 52 lakh tonnes but only 12 lakh tonnes was available this year.
Punjab is expecting a bumper wheat crop of 158 lakh tonnes this year and the marketable surplus may be around 115 lakh tonnes. The Punjab Government has set up 1,605 purchase centres and the RBI has sanctioned a cash credit limit of Rs. 13,000 crore for the procurement of wheat.
Punjab has suffered heavy losses due to the damage of wheat stored in the open. The state lost 16,500 tonnes of wheat lying in the open between 2006 07 and 2008 09, says S P Singh.
Renowned scientist M S Swaminathan has recommended to the Central Government to set up grain storage facilities at l50 locations in the country each with a capacity of a million tonnes.
During his two-decade long career Sachin Tendulkar carried a long line of products to success at the marketplace. From restaurants to cold drinks to toothpastes nearly every product category has ridden on Brand Sachin.
The only "product" Sachin is yet to endorse is a politician. Even that will stand corrected in the coming months if Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has his way.
The state government is pushing a proposal by Chavan to build a sports museum, which will honour the master blaster.
The CM conjured up the idea of building a museum honouring Sachin days after Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray attacked the sportsman for not being a "loyal Maharashtrian".
While Chavan's proposal was initially dismissed as political posturing when it was first announced, the Maharashtra government has earmarked funds for the museum in the 2010-11 budget.
Should the museum come up in the next few months, Tendulkar would be there at the inauguration and share the dais with the reigning Chief Minister. It will be an endorsement of the politician by Sachin for posterity and it is something Chavan is not keen to miss.
Will she or won't she? Frieda Pinto playing James Bond's babe, that is. Days after her publicist denied rumours that Frieda would be featuring as 007's love interest in the forthcoming Bond 23, news from Hollywood indicates that the match is definitely on and production would be on the floor later this year under the baton of Sam Mendes.
Frieda, who was catapulted from obscurity to the Oscars via Slumdog Millionaire, is already creating a buzz with Bondman Daniel Craig. The two are sizzling the screens in Cowbows and Aliens due for release this year.
If the Bond pic indeed materialises one can see the super spy trade guns and roses with Frieda in his arms on the craggy mountains of Afghanistan.
Cricketers and movie stars always make an explosive combination even if both are well past their prime.
Sir Vivian Richards, whose legendary abilities with the willow only matched his scores with the fairer sex off-field, is back in the news with his old flame, former starlet Neena Gupta.
After scorching the society pages through a relationship considered unconventional more than two decades ago, the two slipped into near obscurity though the former cricketer dropped anchor in India to meet up with his old flame and their daughter, Masaba, who is now a budding fashion designer.
But with Masaba hitting the headlines as a fashion designer, Sir Richards and la Gupta are being dragged back to the spotlight. There are photo-ops galore of a happy though somewhat still "unIndian" arrangement.
From the new face on the Page 3 circuit are stories and interviews on her relationship with her extended family, her views on films, on Twenty20 cricket, etc.
So will the proud parents also play the clothes-horse for their offspring? Stay tuned
THE SCHUMACHER IRONY
THE MAN WHO MADE F1 BORING IS NOW THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN BREATHE SOME LIFE INTO IT
For the last sixteen years, I've had a strange, one-sided love-hate relationship with Michael Schumacher. At the height of his career, I loathed him for being mechanical to the point of Artificial Intelligence. When young pretenders started vying for his crown, I supported them wholeheartedly, but by then a hint of grudging admiration had started to surface. And now, when he is back in the saddle as an almost-dignified 41-year-old, somehow I want him to show the world how for all his monotonous gear-changes he was the last real race-car driver.
The strange thing about Schumacher is that unlike most of the great names who have stood the test of time Juan Manuel Fangio, Niki Lauda, Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna he was never a true genius behind the wheel. A great Michael Schumacher lap was never fraught with risk, it was clinically perfect. He was neither a true politician like Prost, nor a true toiler like Damon Hill, but a combination of all those qualities, thrown in together to create the ideal prototype.
He came to the sport at a time when Senna, Prost and Mansell were just ending their great rivalry. Soon after his arrival, Ronald Ratzenberger would suffer a deadly car crash in a practice race, and Senna himself would die at the Imola circuit after a high-speed collision that still hasn't been explained fully. It was an era when Formula One started to stress on driver safety, when the rules started militating against exciting over-taking manoeuvres and new technology started putting an onus on consistency rather than pure, old-fashioned gall.
In many ways, Schumacher was the worst thing to happen to car racing in the mid-nineties. By putting up extraordinary lap-times despite all the hindrances, he never allowed a proper debate to be held on these new changes. The most learned of pundits were confused whether the sport was becoming boring simply because he was so much better than the rest or because of how the regulations were making it slower and more predictable.
Even when he moved to rebuild Ferrari in 1997, allowing Jacques Villeneuve and Mika Hakkinen their moments on the top step of the podium, it seemed inevitable that he would be untouchable once the team's transformation was complete.
What followed were five lop-sided seasons of bizarre driving, of lapping everyone up to third place in the rain, of charging to victory even after the side of his car was engulfed in flames. The Schumacher years were clearly Formula One's most boring, but somehow perhaps just to see for how long he could continue, how much higher he could raise the bar people continued to watch.
But ironically, his return in 2010 is the best thing to happen to a sport, which since his retirement four years ago has steadily lost eyeballs and plummeted into serious financial instability in the backdrop of the economic slowdown. That was why the cry to get Schumacher back reached such a crescendo when Ferrari's Felipe Massa suffered a nearfatal crash last year. The organisers were hoping he would give the sport something real to talk about something that was flesh, blood and bones; not the diffuser on the back of the car.
With Honda pulling out, with BMW calling it quits, with Jenson Button vs Fernando Alonso too tame to make headlines, Schumacher needed to give them a human story. And while he turned down the offer at that stage with a dramatic yes-no, the global hoopla it created clearly stirred something inside him.
More German than ever, Schumacher is now on the track in a Mercedes. There are an unprecedented 91 wins, seven world champions, and 1,378 points behind him. But more exciting (for once I can use that word in connection with Schumacher) than all that, is what lies ahead.
ROAD TO DEVELOPMENT
KAMAL NATH'S DECISION ON LAGGARD STATES IS THE RIGHT ONE
Roads are not just for fast cars. Roads are the lifeline of any economy. They provide connectivity between producers and consumers, between farms, factories and markets, between people and opportunities. The higher the road density of a region, the more developed it will become. All this is from a basic course in simple economics. So it is surprising that some state governments still remain laggards in securing the land required to lay the required roads under the national highways programme. The performance of the National Highways Authority of India's (NHAI) celebrated national highways programme is being stymied by the inability of state governments to make land available for highways construction. The Union minister for road transport and highways, Mr Kamal Nath, says that Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are the worst offenders when it comes to making land available for NHAI projects. Better road connectivity can be a game changer for these laggard states. Consider the enthusiasm with which the developed states have built roads and benefitted. The Delhi-Mumbai corridor, with improved road and rail connectivity, will further accentuate the regional imbalance in growth unless the states to the east of Delhi buck up and ensure that Centrally funded road and rail projects are implemented quickly. The less developed states must also invest in state highways and rural roads, funding for which can be accessed from the centre. Development, it must be remembered, travels down the road and the better the roads, the more the development.
NHAI projects, it has to be kept in mind, are almost entirely funded by the Central government or, in case they are of the public private partnership (PPP) type, by grants from the Centre that is, there is no state government funding that is required. The benefits, of course, go entirely to the state and there are enough studies that show that one of the single-most important factors in reducing poverty is the connection of villages by roads, since this is what allows people to travel to get jobs or to sell their produce. And yet, these states are not able to keep their side of the bargain, which is to help provide the land for the project the cost of the land, needless to say, will be borne by either the Union government or the PPP contractor. In Bihar, data released by the NHAI show, the state has helped acquire just 13.3 per cent of the land that is required in the current year, the figure is just 5 per cent for West Bengal and nil for other states like Chhattisgarh, Goa, Himachal, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. In the event, Nath has said his ministry will ignore these states and will continue to press ahead in other states. Since most states happen to be those run by Opposition parties, it will be said the ministry is favouring UPA-ruled states. The Opposition-ruled states have only themselves to blame for this.
MOMENT OF RECKONING FOR EU AND IMF
There is more at stake in Greece's decision to approach the International Monetary Fund for help than just Greece's economic stability. The decision of the George Papandreou government in Athens comes after much hand- wringing and soul-searching in Europe over the role that ought to be played by Europe itself in offering a lifeline to Greece. Germany's unwillingness to step in and bail out Greece demonstrates the limitations of the European Union and the managers of the eurozone. German voters are not ready to bail out the Greeks. The other political angle is provided by the undeclared competition for popularity within France between French president Nicholas Sarkozy and the IMF managing director, Dominic Strauss Kahn, a potential Sarkozy rival. Of course, Greece has not yet decided to go to the IMF. It has merely expressed its intention to do so. This in itself, Greece and its European friends hope, will enable Greece to secure a ratings upgrade and thereby access funds from the market. Further, the fact that Greece is willing to go to the IMF may soften attitudes in Germany and enable Chancellor Angela Merkel to step in and help.
But the real and surprising issue that the Greek drama throws up is the discomfort in Europe about dealing with the IMF. The president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, has gone to the extent of lamenting the approach to the IMF, stating categorically that this should be the last option for the eurozone economies, which should step in and help each other before, it would seem he is suggesting, rushing to Washington DC for help! It is amusing to see the fear of Europe's politicians on approaching the IMF, even though it is headed by a European and has always been so! If a multilateral organisation dominated by Europe for six decades finds its credibility in Europe under a cloud, one can imagine why the Fund finds fewer takers in Asia, Africa and other parts of the world. Just as in Asia, the unpopularity of the IMF has contributed to the revival, by China, of an old Japanese idea of an Asian Monetary Fund, the Greek crisis has encouraged some in Europe to suggest that there ought to be a European Monetary Fund. This is ridiculous. Instead of opting for Asian, European and other such regional financial institutions, what the global financial system needs is a revitalisation of the IMF.
However, if the IMF has to regain its intellectual credibility, seriously dented by the Asian and trans-Atlantic financial crises of 1997 and 2009, it must cease to function as an extension of the US treasury department and European financial interests and seek rebirth as a truly multilateral financial institution, reflecting the extant global economic system. This means a bigger voice for China, Japan, Korea, India and other successful Asian economies. In the specific case of Europe, where more than one country has already approached the IMF and others are likely to follow suit, it also means coming to terms with this new world order. Europe should not shy away from dealing with the IMF merely because the Fund is no longer a European preserve.
GOING OFF TRACK
MAMATA BANERJEE'S DECISION ON THE LAND ACQUISITION POLICY FOR THE DEDICATED FREIGHT CORRIDOR HAS VERY SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS
A K BHATTACHARYA
Rail Bhavan mandarins are quick to point out that in spite of their many similarities, Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee and her predecessor, Lalu Prasad, are different at least in one crucial respect.
First, let us look at the similarities. Both display great attachment to their respective states Banerjee to West Bengal and Prasad to Bihar. Both would stay away from their office in Rail Bhavan for several days in a week. Both are grass-roots politicians and are unconventional in their approach to politics.
However, the two leaders differ in a critical area, which has already made a big impact on the functioning of the Indian Railways.
In most weeks, when Parliament would not be in session, Lalu Prasad would reach Delhi by a morning flight on Friday. That is the day when he would meet his officers in the railways ministry. At the end of the day's work, he would convene a special session in which his advisor would present before him all the files awaiting his clearance during the week. His advisor would brief him on the implications of proposals on each of those files and then the files would get his signature after some deliberation if necessary. By a late evening flight, Lalu Prasad would return to Patna.
Mamata Banerjee is different. She is yet to put in place a system by which the railways ministry's decision-making process is not unduly affected because of her preoccupation with West Bengal politics and long absence from Rail Bhavan. Unlike Lalu Prasad, she has no trusted advisors in Rail Bhavan whose recommendations she can use to expedite clearance of files.
On average, the railways minister has to clear 50-100 files a week. Lalu Prasad would clear all of them in his Friday sessions every week. In sharp contrast, Banerjee has allowed the files to pile up in her office in Rail Bhavan. According to one estimate, made by a Rail Bhavan official a few weeks ago, the number of files pending her clearance rose to 600. Since that virtually brought the railway bureaucracy's functioning to a halt, Banerjee decided to initiate some action on the files. But without a system of having an advisor who could guide her on these issues, she made little progress. Many of those files were thus returned to various departments with her comment: Please review.
Rail Bhavan officials are deeply perturbed over the slow pace of railway work caused by such ministerial indifference. They may still find some solution to the problem of delayed clearance of files. But what has caused a bigger panic among them is the railways minister's moves that strike at the very root of the Indian Railways' viability.
The dedicated freight corridor project is widely acknowledged to be an initiative that is vitally needed to ensure healthy and sustained growth of the Indian Railways' freight traffic. The haulage of freight traffic by the Indian Railways has not kept pace with the Indian economy's growth as roads and pipelines have taken away large chunks of business that should have otherwise gone to the Railways.
While putting an end to the practice of subsidising passenger- carrying costs through freight rates may be one solution, a step that needs to be taken at the same time and with greater vigour is to provide dedicated tracks for freight movement on key routes. The dedicated freight corridor project, therefore, will help avoid the pressure of passenger trains on tracks and improve the average speed of goods trains to go up to an estimated 60 kilometres an hour, which hopefully will bring back a lot of freight traffic lost to roadways and pipelines.
These grand ideas, however, may not fructify with the latest hurdles that the Indian Railways will now face while acquiring land for laying the parallel tracks for the dedicated freight corridor project. Banerjee has mandated that the Railways would return the land notified for acquisition to anyone who may have objections to giving it up. The solution offered by her is that if necessary the Railways will explore an alternative route.
Rail Bhavan officials are not happy with this solution. They argue that once the dedicated freight project's tracks are not parallel to the existing railway tracks, then there would be political pressure on the Indian Railways to allow passenger trains to run on them, thereby reducing the speed of the goods trains. If they remain parallel tracks, such political demands are not likely to be made.
The pity is that the committees that are monitoring the implementation of the dedicated freight corridor project are not fully aware of such serious implications of exploring alternative routes for tracks in segments where the Railways have faced objections to their land acquisition programme. Rail Bhavan officials are hoping that Mamata Banerjee will realise the importance of a dedicated freight track for growing the Railways' goods traffic at a healthy pace.
FAITH, FATWAS AND FREE SPEECH
NILANJANA S ROY
As for Jesus, there isn't any single Jesus. There are Jesuses and Jesuses and Jesuses and Jesuses." Harold Bloom, in a 2005 interview for his book, Jesus and Yahweh, The Names Divine.
Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ is part of Canongate's excellent Myths series. Pullman is better known as the author of the controversial His Dark Materials trilogy for children, and his sceptic's view of Christianity and faith have often caused controversy. Before the publication of The Good Man Jesus, he had already attracted hate mail from the faithful.
Strictly speaking, Pullman's perspective in The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ is that of the heretic, not the blasphemer. His fictionalised rendering of the Gospels creates a twin brother for Jesus the scoundrel Christ who tempts Jesus in the wilderness, rewrites and manipulates his story, and will ultimately engineer his betrayal. Not so long ago, Pullman would have been cast out of the Church for his writings; and just a few centuries ago, he would have been introduced to either the stake or the torturer.
The world's great religions have an ebb and flow in their levels of tolerance. Pullman may be denounced from the modern-day pulpit we call the TV talk show, and his mailbox will probably carry the whiff of brimstone for a while. But he is unlikely to have to face down death threats, permanent bans on his book or howling mobs. If you take a look at how the world's major religions have handled an author's right to express his/ her own, possibly even blasphemous, views on faith and religion, it seems that the three major faiths are in very different places.
Christianity: In 1960, when Nikos Kazantzakis published The Last Temptation of Christ, there were still six years to go before the Pope would formally abolish the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. The Church's official index of prohibited books had last been updated in 1948, and Christianity's history of relative tolerance is very newly minted indeed. Calls for book bans in the US still come chiefly from the Bible Belt, and Pullman, like Kazantzakis before him, is likely to trigger fierce reactions. The Last Temptation was a narrative of Christ's life from the perspective of a fallible, human Jesus; it remains one of the great literary works of its time, but was banned on several occasions.
Islam: Perhaps no religion has been more strongly involved in the free speech-versus-faith debate than Islam. True believers argue that their religion is often misunderstood and misrepresented, and the debate over who has the right to speak for the faithful is a thorny one. Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses was not approved of by many Muslims; but few believers would defend Rushdie's right to explore the Satanic verses of the Koran in literary form, or his right to create his own version of the Prophet. Taslima Nasreen's Lajja triggered death threats from Islamic fundamentalists, and sent the author into exile.
The stereotype of the Islamic reaction to any kind of literary or artistic dissection of the faith is exaggerated, especially in the West. But in this century, the fanatic fringe of Islam have been more willing to use violence mob violence, bombings, death threats and fatwas than most other believers. In the same period, research into the origins of the Koran has grown and it seems necessary for modern-day Islam to find and create the space for debate rather than violence, which is ultimately just an extreme refusal to engage in debate.
Hinduism: In 1997, it was still possible for Kiran Nagarkar to write Cuckold which dissected the relationship between Mirabai and Krishna from the point of view of Mirabai's cuckolded husband without attracting consequences more damaging than heated debate. And back in the 1970s, Gore Vidal's admittedly bizarre Kalki could create a cult leader who claimed to be the final avatar of Vishnu, without consequence. Much of the protests from fanatic Hindus have focused on academic works since then but there have also been very few works of fiction that question Hindu beliefs. Scholars such as D N Jha, James Laine and Wendy Doniger have been repeatedly attacked by what Ashok Malik calls "a collective of the intellectually inadequate, the professionally frustrated and the plain bigoted", who "represent the collapse of Hindu politico-intellectual space into a caricature of the very Talibanism it opposes".
Three religions, three very different approaches to artistic freedom and tolerance. As the Pullman protests gather force this week, perhaps the path for readers to follow would be the Buddhist path mindful engagement, an abjuration of violence and an awareness of the impermanence of both skepticism and fanaticism, in the long run.
FICCI FRAMES 2010 - THE GOOD, BAD AND UGLY
THREE THINGS HAVEN'T CHANGED AT FICCI FRAMES IN A DECADE - THE FILMI INFLUENCE, ITS TEPID CONTENT AND ITS TIME MANAGEMENT
If you are in the media and entertainment (M&E) business in India or want to understand it, then Ficci's Frames, held annually in Mumbai in March, is the place to be. This year 2,000 people walked in on March 16, or day one. Most came back over the three days of the conference.
I have been attending Frames since it began, about ten years ago, and have enjoyed every single year. It is simply the best forum if you want to meet everyone in the business, under one roof.
Over the years many things changed the length (from half a day to three), the geographic spread (it is now held in Chennai as well), and the number of foreign delegates (roughly one-fifth now). In many ways it reflects the growth of the $16 billion M&E business in India and the rising interest of Indians and the rest of the world, in it.
There are however three things that haven't changed the filmi influence on the event, its tepid content and its time management. If Frames has to move on to the next level then Ficci needs to work hard on these. Take each of them.
One, the event remains a predominantly film-based affair. That doesn't mean it doesn't discuss other industries, it does. It means that the faces and personalities that come to the fore remain those from the film industry.
For instance, Yash Chopra has been chairman of the Ficci Entertainment Committee for several years now. The stars and directors, especially from Hindi films, are the face of the event. So there will always be one actress (who is not asked to say anything), Yash Chopra, and a few others who are the fixtures on the stage on day one. Nothing wrong with that.
However, the fact remains that TV, which forms roughly 40 per cent of the M&E pie, is very badly represented on this forum. There is publishing, the second-largest chunk, that barely gets mentioned. There will be some sad session on regional media or a senior editor might be called to talk. This year it was M J Akbar. But there were no discussion on any part of the print business and TV had fewer sessions than films.
This is not just about the number of sessions; it is about the focus of the organisers. If Frames has to be relevant to the market place and to where the money is flowing, then other segments need to be better represented. Maybe getting a popular TV star to do the decorative number lighting the lamp, looking pretty may help. At least it will tell TV firms, among the biggest sponsors of Frames, that this is also about other industries.
The second thing that remains constant is the mediocrity of the content. You could easily substitute one year's programme schedule for the next year, shift the speakers and lo and behold, you have the Frames content code.
So many of the speakers (usually the Indian ones) end up making corporate presentations and/or speaking way beyond their time. You could argue that this happens at all conferences. Maybe. But it leaves no time for a discussion or for taking the whole point forward. This leaves many in the audience who pay to attend Frames (like yours truly), feeling a little cheated. You just wish that someone had spent time thinking through what was being discussed. Some of this can be corrected by designing the content better, choosing good speakers and getting moderators who can spark a discussion.
The third thing that remains constant is Frames' abysmal time-keeping. Nothing begins or ends on time. Again, this happens to most conferences in India, but with a rising number of foreign delegates, it induces some cringe-worthy moments. I saw Martin Sorrell, chairman of WPP, waiting in a corner for his turn to speak, while an earlier session just went on and on. Lawrence Bender, a Hollywood producer (Reservoir Dogs, Inglorious Bastards), even made some crack on stage about how things don't seem to start on time.
Maybe Ficci could spend some time fixing these hygiene issues, instead of trying to get the biggest stars to light the lamp.
IS THE EURO OVERVALUED?
IT WILL STRENGTHEN, BECAUSE GLOBAL ECONOMIC CONDITIONS REQUIRE THE EUROZONE TO RUN TRADE DEFICITS
An American traveller in Paris or Berlin is continually struck by how high prices are relative to those in the United States. A hotel room, a simple lunch, or a man's shirt all cost more at today's exchange rate than they would in New York or Chicago. To bring the cost of those goods and services down to the level in the US would require the euro to fall relative to the dollar by about 15 per cent, to around $1.10.
It is easy to jump from this arithmetic to the conclusion that the euro is overvalued, and that it is likely to continue the decline that began last December. But that conclusion would be wrong. Looking ahead, the euro is more likely to climb back to the $1.60 level that it reached in 2008.
There are three reasons why the traveller's impression that the euro is overvalued is mistaken. First, the prices that the traveller sees are generally increased by value-added tax (VAT), which is universal in Europe but unknown in the US. Remove the VAT, which is typically 15 per cent or more, and the prices in Europe are similar to those in the US.
Second, the goods and services that the traveller buys are just a small part of the array of goods and services that are traded internationally. The goods that Europe exports include machinery, chemicals, and a variety of other products that consumers do not buy directly. To judge whether their prices are "too high" at the existing exchange rate we have to look at the trade balance.
Germany, Europe's largest exporter, has a very large trade surplus with the rest of the world. Because German exports are attractive to foreign buyers at the existing exchange rate, Germany in 2009 was the world's second largest exporter (after China). Germany's exports exceeded its imports by nearly $200 billion in the past 12 months, a surplus equivalent to nearly 6 per cent of GDP. It is clear that Germany's net exports would remain high even if the euro appreciated substantially from its current level.
The other eurozone countries are not as competitive as Germany at today's exchange rate. But the euro area as a whole nonetheless had a trade surplus of more than $30 billion over the past 12 months. And, with the euro down significantly relative to many other currencies over the past year, Europe's trade balance can increase further in the months ahead. To limit that increase, the euro must rise.
This brings me to the third, and most fundamental, factor that is likely to cause the euro to strengthen substantially from its current level: global economic conditions require the eurozone to have a substantial trade and current-account deficit so that it becomes a large net importer of funds from the rest of the world.
There are two reasons for this. First, the oil-producing countries and China will continue to export substantially more than they import. Their net foreign earnings must be invested in foreign countries' stocks and bonds. While much of that investment will flow to the US, the surplus countries want to diversify their investment of these new net export earnings. The eurozone provides the only large capital market other than the US for such investments.
But the eurozone can increase its inflow of foreign capital only if it has a current-account deficit, i.e., if it increases its imports relative to its exports. And that will require a less competitive euro higher relative to the dollar and other currencies. The flow of net export earnings from the oil producers and others into euros will push up the value of the euro and enable the transfer of funds to occur.
Second, countries with large accumulations of dollar reserves will be shifting substantial fractions of those reserves into euros. Central banks in Asia and the Middle East have traditionally held their reserves in dollars. That made sense when they needed those reserves to be very liquid so that they could bridge temporary trade deficits. But those foreign-exchange balances have grown far beyond the level needed as emergency reserves.
South Korea and Taiwan, for example, have foreign-exchange holdings of more than $250 billion each, and China's holdings total more than $2 trillion. These and other countries with very large foreign-exchange balances are beginning to diversify their holdings from dollars to euros, a process that will continue and that will inevitably cause the euro to rise relative to the dollar.
So, while I will continue to complain about the prices that I face when I travel in Europe, I understand that the prices that matter for trade are more competitive than those that I see when I pay for my lunch. And I also know that the complementary pressures on Europe to import funds, and on surplus countries to diversify their currency holdings, will make European travel increasingly expensive in dollar terms.
Martin Feldstein, a professor of economics at Harvard, was Chairman of President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors and President of the National Bureau for Economic Research.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
JUST NOT CRICKET
Indian Premier League cricket is turning out to be the most potent threat to any worldwide movement to save our planet from extinction. It is particularly unfortunate the much-promoted Earth Hour happened to fall slap-bang in the middle of two nail-biting IPL fixtures this week. Instead of this 'green' international event prompting a dip in power consumption during the season , significant IPL-induced surges are occurring every evening between 5 pm and midnight instead. Far from coaxing youngsters to be more mindful of the Earth, this fast-format cricket is drawing them in hordes to stadia to watch matches under thousands of kilowatts of lights, and tempting millions more who cannot watch it live, to switch on their television sets and their air conditioners too. The glare of the floodlights and the din of the fans make carbon footprints and other concerns seem like irritating killjoys to the me-now generation.
Just the thousands of litres of fossil fuel that is spent by enthusiasts alone, surely makes IPL one of the most destructive and wanton recreation activities in the world. Had it been available, data correlating these fixtures to the increased sale of packaged food and drink and the resultant piles of trash and garbage would set off many alarm bells as well. Even if the matches do draw youngsters away from their computers and out of their houses, the only thing 'green' about the IPL matches are the water-guzzling grounds on which they are played. The IPL must be forced to think about modifications, in the interests of the Earth at least if not the game itself.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TREAD WARILY ON NEW BANKS
The finance ministry has reportedly told the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) that the norms for new banking licences need not deviate substantially from existing norms that prohibit industrial houses from promoting banks. This is good news; not only for the RBI but also for the general public. Both can now heave a sigh of relief the RBI, though responsible for the safety and stability of the banking sector, is not legally independent. So it could, theoretically, be pushed to tweak norms against its better judgment. Admittedly, that would have been at variance with the tradition of institutional independence that both the central bank and the government have largely honoured over the years. As a result, the RBI has been allowed a fair amount of operational independence , especially in technical matters where its years of experience have stood it (and the country) in good stead. Even so, it is good to have the government reaffirm that it is not going to jeopardise this equilibrium and would allow the Bank to be the best judge of what the new norms should be.
It is good news for the public as well because, as the financial crisis has shown, banks are not like other corporate entities. Thanks to their ability to bring the economy to its knees, when there is a risk of a big enough bank going under, governments invariably come to their assistance . And with taxpayer money! Hence it is imperative that only 'fit and proper entities' , in technical parlance , are given a licence to start a bank. Industrial houses, unfortunately, have not been able to make the cut in this respect. The outcome has not been particularly happy, in India or abroad, when industrial houses control banks. For the same reason, non-banking finance companies that have links, direct or indirect, with industrial houses must be treated with the same circumspection ; as must corporate entities engaged in services. The bottom line is, when it comes to bank licences, there can be no such thing as too much caution. Remember, those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat history's mistakes.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FOR TRANSPARENT INSURANCE
Insurance companies going public should be transparent in disclosing their assets and liabilities to prospective investors. So should all companies raising money from the public, for which regulation already exists. For the insurance industry, the sector regulator, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority, has identified the specific kind of disclosures needed. These relate to the companies' assets and liabilities, intrinsic value of their present business, agreements with foreign promoters, product offerings and investment performance of unit-linked insurance plans and so on. Companies that do not comply with the regulator's norms should be debarred from going public. The government should, in addition, ease the rule that mandates an insurance company to go public only after 10 years of operations . Insurance companies need a lot of capital to grow their business.
A larger life insurance business will mean more people taking life covers. This will improve insurance penetration in this sorely underinsured country. More money will also be available to finance construction of roads, ports, airports, towns and other infrastructure. Infrastructure needs long-term funds and a large chunk of the needs can be met only by insurers and pension funds, whose liabilities have a long maturity profile. The money raised through public offers would give insurance companies the capital they need to grow their business. A growing insurance business would generate investible funds for long-gestation infrastructure projects. There would be positive spinoffs for domestic promoters of insurance joint ventures as well they would not have to depend on their foreign joint venture partners to bring in funds. It would also widen choice for retail investors. The capital market regulator also has to be a facilitator and allow insurance companies to raise money from the public, even if these companies make losses. The regulator allows other lossmaking companies to go public if they follow the compulsory book-building method for price discovery. A similar facility can be accorded to the insurance industry as well. Discerning investors can be trusted to deal with the risk associated with such issues.
Retail investors also need to make sense of the disclosures . It would help if institutional investors and credit rating agencies analysing the financial strength of insurance companies make the analysis public.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
So why did Uma Bharti quit her own Bharatiya Jan Shakti (BJS) as a first step towards rejoining the BJP? While some say it was like a captain fleeing a sinking ship, others feel it should be seen as an act of a sanyasin leaving the ashram in pursuit of political salvation. But those in the know say she took the step after she realised that in her own party, her wish was no longer a command for others. When approached for a 'homecoming' , the BJP leadership apparently told her to merge her BJS with the BJP. But then, many of her colleagues, notably Sangh Priya Gautam, refused to agree to her merger plan as that would have left them in the lurch given the BJP's lack of interest in them. So, quitting her own party was the only viable option for Uma to camouflage the fact that she was no more in control of her party. What an asset for the BJP's revival plot!
Hide & seek
We heard how Mamata Banerjee threw a tantrum and refused to meet the Congress president when she visited Kolkata on Jyoti Basu's death. Now, here is a sort of role-reversal . In Malda, the political fiefdom of the late Congress leader Ghani Khan Choudhury, the latter's family members think mingling with Mamata would be blasphemy. So, no sooner had Mamata announced her decision to accompany the PM to inaugurate a new technical institute in Malda, the local Congress MP and host A S K Chowdhury (brother of Ghani Khan) said he would not invite the Trinamul chief to his constituency. This created a political and protocol mess, triggering speculations about the PM deciding to skip the conflict area itself. So, Choudhury Jr spent a couple of days in Delhi last week, trying to present his case to Dr Singh. But he had to return home without getting an audience with the PM.
Big B's ways
As the Congress spin doctors have belatedly started giving a 'Moditva cover' for its Maharashtra leaders' conduct with Amitabh Bachchan, party leaders with a sense of history have started looking at the BJP's unfolding affair with Big B with a historic perspective. No, the Congress camp is yet to replay the colourful adjectives the BJP had used to target then Congress MP Bachchan during the Bofors days. Instead, Congress leaders say there is a pattern in the Bachchans' crisis-time conduct. They aver that Bachchan was quick to leave his 'best friend' Rajiv and the Congress the moment the Bofors issue hit them. Similarly, Jaya Bachchan also wasted no time in abandoning 'brother-in-law' Amar Singh the moment he got the knockout punch from Mulayam. Now, Congress leaders wonder how the superstar will react if the riot probe closes in on Narendrabhai ...
A turf war is on at 24, Akbar Road for controlling the Congress weekly Sandesh. Some of the 'too political' articles in the party organ have, of late, been tough to digest for the AICC media cell, headed by general secretary Janardan Dwivedi. So, he apparently is trying to wrest the Sandesh editorship from incumbent Anil Shastri. In response, Shastri is apparently murmuring that Dwidevi was out to usurp whatever little was given to the son of an ex-PM (Lal Bahadur Shastri). But Dwivedi well-wishers , quite straight-faced , ask how he could find time to take on Shastri when he is fully preoccupied with spreading confusion about the Rajya Sabha renomination of a Union minister who has the potential to emerge as a bigger Brahmin leader in the party durbar. Some logic, huh?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
COWRY SHELLS TO HELICOPTER BEN
Exchange of goods and services through trade and markets existed since the dawn of human civilisation. Beginning with barter, exchange systems inexorably gravitated towards money that is universally traded in exchange for any good or service.
While the earliest forms of money, or currency, were fashioned from, or comprised, scarce and coveted items such as cowry shells, settled civilisations gravitated towards first minting their currencies in, and later pegging them to, precious metals.
Barring brief and intermittent suspensions , the worlds' major economies were on the gold standard until as recently as the 1970s. The gold standard severely limited the scope of macro-economic policies in stabilising growth as money could not be created by fiat.
Fiscal expansion took place either through crowding out private demand, through higher taxes or debt (i.e., deferred taxes), or through war and plunder . Sovereigns were also tempted to try innovative means to balance their budgets , debasing the currency or issuing more currency than the amount of precious metal in stock like the United States under the post-war Bretton Woods system being the most popular.
Such innovations were subject to Gresham's Law, by which bad money drove good money out of circulation, as market participants hoarded the underlying precious metal and offloaded the debased currency. The world finally went off the gold standard in the early '70s when it emerged that the United States was minting dollars far in excess of its stock of gold.
Monetary policy under the gold standard was limited to interest rate adjustments that could impact the velocity of money in circulation but not its quantum. Money supply was endogenous due to movement in gold at fixed exchange rates in response to trade surplus or deficit.
Since the use of monetary policy is contingent on developed financial markets that can transmit short-term interest rates to the wider economy, its utility as a macro-economic policy tool is a relatively recent phenomenon. The efficacy of transmission mechanisms continues to be an issue in most emerging markets even today, constraining them from effectively using short-term interest rates and to rely, in addition, on monetary aggregates, like the statutory liquidity ratio and the credit reserve ratio, in the case of the Reserve Bank of India.
Sudden expansion in the supply of precious metals, such as following the Spanish conquests of Latin America, or the gold rush in the second half of the nineteenth century in the United States, could lead to price inflation. On the whole, however, the gold standard ensured remarkable price stability. There was limited scope for seigniorage to compensate for the increase in the supply of goods and services in the economy, as money creation was dependent on increase in the supply of precious metals. Indeed, it could be argued that the gold standard had an inbuilt bias towards deflation, just as the move away from the gold standard has an inbuilt bias towards inflation.
Modern macro-economic policies to stabilise growth, consisting of the familiar a mix of monetary and fiscal policies, are generally traced to the aftermath of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Milton Friedman argued that the Great Depression could have been averted had the Federal Reserve lowered, rather than increased, interest rates in the face of deflation . It was compelled to do so to protect the value of the dollar as speculators demanded gold for currency. However, it was the Keynesian solution of using expansionary fiscal policy to counteract the precipitous fall in private demand that finally pulled the US out of the depression.
FISCAL policy, however, is more susceptible to political considerations than monetary policy. Governments were tempted to flog fiscal policy too hard, constraining central banks to accommodate such expansion far beyond the expansion in economic activity. Milton Friedman and the Chicago School sounded the death knell of Keynesian economics by placing monetary policy at the heart of macro-economic policy. Over time, monetary policy tools were refined and streamlined and became more rule-bound . The US Fed has by and large followed the Taylor Rule, adjusting short-term interest rates to attain targeted inflation and trend growth and rates. Some central banks moved to pure inflation targeting.
There are, however, limits to the use of monetary policy since interest rates cannot dip below zero to stimulate the demand for money. This is the liquidity trap, into which Japan fell in the 1990s, and arguably the US in the wake of the recent global financial crisis. Ben Bernanke , current chairman of the US Fed, and a historian of the Great Depression , postulated that in these circumstances central banks should expand money supply not only through the discount window, but also through purchase of government (quantitative easing) and/or private (credit easing) assets, giving him the epithet of 'Helicopter Ben' , as this is tantamount to dropping money by helicopter.
In a true liquidity trap, however, neither conventional nor unconventional monetary policy works, as monetary policy transmission channels break down altogether. In these circumstances macro-economic policy is constrained to fall back on fiscal policy, as in Japan since the '90s, and in the United States and much of the developed world currently, to pull the economy out of crisis.
Conventional wisdom on the efficacy of fiscal policy is, however, mixed. According to the IMF, past experience on the use of fiscal policies indicates that they have been by and large ineffectual in developing countries, and even in developed countries they have worked only where they have been timely, temporary and targeted. Political economy considerations make such a happy confluence challenging at best, and in case of a protracted downturn sovereigns may once again be constrained to eventually inflate their way out of a debt trap like in the 1970s in the wake of the oil price shock.
(The author is a civil servant. Views are personal.)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NOW YOU DON'T, NOW YOU SEE IT
Do we see reality as it is? No, that's not a comprehensive enough question . Do we truly perceive what lies out there? Actually that won't do either. Can we ever possess knowledge, understanding or information and directly grasp in the mind as an inner experience the nature of all existence ? For a long time the standard answer of, say, physics was that yes we can given enough time. Ptolemy didn't know the Earth went around the Sun; Copernicus did. Copernicus didn't know the laws of motion; Newton did. Newton didn't know that matter could bend light; Einstein did. Einstein didn't believe two subatomic particles could communicate instantaneously; experiments show they can. And so on.
In other words, science maintains that as knowledge advances reality unfolds. Which would mean that given sufficient time more and more knowledge about the universe would be available till a time comes when, in principle , all can be known. However , this comfortable conclusion is now being questioned by many physical theorists who are beginning to wonder if what we think of as the "out there" is the true or even only "out there" there is.
For example, to take Plato's cave allegory a little further, think of a flashlight held behind a 3-D ball, the projected image of which falls as a 2-D shadow circle on a screen. Now, the people living in that shadow might consider the circle to be their universe yet, no matter what theories they develop about it, they would never be able to discover the nature of the source even if some of them realised they were projections of a higher reality. But what if the 3-D ball was also a projection of a still higher reality? Mathematicians routinely deal with the tesseract the 4-D equivalent of a 3-D cube as a valid construct but there's no way us 3-D beings can conceptualise it.
Or is there? According to the holographic principle which is a property of quantum theory, the universe is a gigantic and splendidly detailed hologram where, like in a hologram, every part of a lower dimension structure contains all the information about the higher dimension whole and can, in theory, be accessed. Perhaps that's what mystics do. Which is probably why the substance of the spiritual experience is always and everywhere the same, even though differences in its expression and interpretation become a cause for conflict among different religions.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE DARK SIDE OF RETAIL-SUPPLIER RELATIONSHIP
NIDHI NATH SRINIVAS
Here is one of modern retail's best-kept secrets. The real game is not what you sell but how you keep the money moving. More than anything, cheap trade credit has bankrolled the country's retailing explosion. ET helps you join the dots.
Trade credit is pretty straightforward. In everyday buying and selling, there isn't enough ready cash for every bill. People understand this. So when Company A buys from Company B, it routinely asks for some time to pay. This ranges from a week, fortnight, three weeks, to one month or more.
How much time Company B gives depends on what volume A is buying, whether it's comfortable with A, how badly B needs money, and the chances of A going bust.
Sometimes, B lets A take longer than usual to reel it in as a regular customer. The only caveat is that A must clear its bill by due date. Otherwise, once-bitten-twice-shy B will stop being generous.
In retailing, how it pans out depends mostly on your name. If you are a large branded company, the normal rules of business among equals apply. If you are a small or an unknown company contracted for private label, it's a different and dark world.
Take food retail. Giant brands such as Fortune, Amul, Britannia and ITC Aashirvaad can generate footfalls critical for any shop. If the grocery section doesn't display these brands prominently, a retailer can kiss customers goodbye. The last thing he wants to do is annoy these big boys in any way.
This power allows big brands to be strict about trade credit, rarely giving even the biggest chains more than 21 days to pay. It is equally rare for the chains to default.
Cut to the Russian roulette small non-branded suppliers are forced to play. Take a dal mill call the owner Mr X that sells a fixed quantity on the 1st of every month to chain Y. Mr X is just one of the chain's many pulses suppliers. So, it decides to forcibly extract credit by offering contract with payment after two months. Mr X can't afford to wait 60 days.
But he dare not say no. Customers don't know his name and neither do other retail chains. To hit the big league, he needs the assurance that comes with a large permanent customer like Y. His bankers and suppliers now look at him with new respect. Plus, the neighbouring mill is angling for the same business. With enormous competition and few bargaining chips in hand, Mr X can only sign and hope for the best.
Then the action begins. The retailer receives dal on December 1 from Mr X and sells it by December 10 with a 1% discount on MRP. This allows the chain to become the neighbourhood's friendly value-for money retailer. The chain has got back its money on dal. But it needn't pay Mr X till February 1.
From December 11, the retailer ploughs this cash into businesses that can yield anything up to 15% returns. In 50 days, you can do a lot with free money especially when the number is multiplied by dozens of suppliers like Mr X.
For some retail chain entrepreneurs, it's virtually full-time job. Rolling over cash brings in the real profit. In short, the retailer magically generates turnover and profit from trade credit given by hapless Mr X. It's the perfect business model.
Meanwhile, what of Mr X? By this time, his own suppliers are clamouring to be paid. He can't pay them unless the retailer coughs up. On February 1 (payment date), he will discover the fruits of his karma. All the honourable names in the business will pay Mr X. The rest will ruthlessly ask Mr X to further extend the credit period. Or make part-payment or say his bill is being 'processed'.
Till the going was good, even the smaller suppliers didn't mind extending credit to retailers. After the financial crisis, all this changed. Retailers now genuinely need more credit. But suppliers can't survive on old payment terms. They are themselves crippled by smaller credit lines and loans at 17% from financiers. If they go bust, the suffering radiates to farmers, traders and SSIs.
The survivors are now demanding better treatment. For retailers, this means finding a smarter, more humane cash-flow model. That may be tough. But it's the only kind of credit that will last.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INVESTOR CONFIDENCE'S VERY HIGH HERE'
At the Edelweiss India Conference 2010, Vikas Khemani, EVP & co-head of institutional equities, Edelweiss, spoke to ET NOW about investor sentiment and some of the emerging themes for the next decade in the Indian equity market.
What is the theme that inspired Edelweiss to put together this conference? And what can you tell us about the companies that are meeting with investors here today?
We believe that over the next 10 years, India's GDP will grow 4 times. Savings will become almost $1.4 trillion, which is more than today's GDP, while India's average age would be still 29-30 years. So, there are three themes, which converge very clearly if you were to look at a slightly longer term. One is savings-driven, the second is consumption-driven and the third is investment-driven. Across these three themes, we have a set of companies, both in the large cap as well as the mid-cap space. Some unlisted companies are also participating, which could be future leaders in their respective spaces.
Which are some of the most-interesting from an investor point of view?
Pipavav Shipyard is a company which most investors have ignored. That's one large asset-based play in a normal investor psychology, it is a defence play. Media is again a space where we think there is going to be a huge opportunity and we believe that this space has a huge potential, going forward. Currently, a tiny section of our market cap is represented by the media sector.
Are investors today looking for consumption or investment-oriented ideas or trading ideas? Do you see foreign investors continue to put money into the Indian markets?
One of the things that has changed in India in the past few years is the increased heterogeneity of investors. So, you have people with different investment time-frames. The mood is fairly good, in fact. India is one market where confidence seems to be high. Whether it's GDP growth, savings and investment growth, on all counts, it looks very promising. I think, we will continue to see foreign flows in the year to come and many years to come, in fact.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CONTEMPORARY INDIAN ART IS STILL BOUGHT IN A BIG WAY BY THE DIASPORA'
Vishakha N. Desai, president, of the influential New York-headquartered think tank - Asia Society - sees an increasing interest in India culturally. But that has more to do with the growing importance of India as a global player in business and commerce rather than her ethnicity, she thinks. In 2004, Desai became the first Asian American president of Asia Society, as well as the first woman to hold the prestigious post. And though Asia Society was among the first organisations that started India-related programmes in the US, way back in the 1960s, long before it had become fashionable, there's a lot that still remains to be done, Ms Desai thinks. For her, the cultural diversity of India and Indian art needs to be taken to the mainstream US art collectors. She's also driving efforts within her organisation to help India connect culturally, with other Asian countries. The setting up of the India chapter of Asia Society in Mumbai in 2006 has been a step in that direction. In Delhi for a conference, she spoke with ET Bureau on the growing importance of Asian cultures in the global context.
Asia Society has been promoting the engagement between Indian and American culture in a big way for many decades. Has the India-focussed programming become more aggressive since you became president in 2004?
The relations between India and the US have become far more multi-layered in the last few years and that is what is reflected in our focus on India-related programming. Besides, India is now a big player on the global and Asian stage economically. Some of our programmes are focussed on India as an important Asian culture and in building greater cultural relationships between India and the other Asian powers. In the larger Asia-Pacific regional context, it is important to promote cultural links between the Asian cultures such as India, China and Japan. However, I have no intention of converting Asia Society into an India society the attention that is being paid is because India has become very important on the global stage and not because I'm of Indian origin.
What are some of the important India-centric programmes on your calendar in the coming months?
Asia Society is planning a big exhibition in New York on the theme of Imperial Delhi in 2012. The theme will be about the transition from the Mughal to the British era. We plan to showcase works of art from India and the UK for this exhibition in a historical context. The show will explore the relevance of Delhi in the imagination of India and will be jointly curated by writer William Dalrymple and Yuthika Sharma, a young art historian from Columbia University. In 2007, we launched the Edge of Desire programme focussed on acquisition of contemporary Indian art.
And do you see the perception about Indian art and artists changing in the Western world?
With the emergence of India as an economic powerhouse, the interest in contemporary Indian art is definitely on an upswing. However, the marketplace is still dominated by people of Indian origin and the major recognition is restricted to a few modern masters such as S.H. Raza and F.N Souza. Contemporary Indian art is still bought in a big way only by the Indian diaspora in the US. Some contemporary artists such as Nalini Malani, Sheela Gowda, Subodh Gupta and Atul Dodiya are, however, getting mainstream recognition these days. I think that the modern Indian sensibilities that are reflected in some of the works of art are not yet fully within the grasp of global art lovers. In that context, organisations such as Asia Society will play an important role in putting India upfront in a global context. I feel it is very important for more art students, globally, to study Indian art and the historical context. In India, too, an understanding of the unique legacy that goes into art is important. For Indian art to become fashionable and to make an impact globally, the gamut of Indian values has to be conveyed in a global context.
Is the Asia Society now getting into larger areas than just culture and art and is that because of a growing importance of the Asian countries for the US?
We have always been a multi-disciplinary organisation. However, the visibility of our activities around art and culture have gained more attention because they're in public domain. In the new world order, after the global economic downturn, we will focus in a bigger way on emergent issues in US-Asia relations. One of the most recent important initiatives was our task force that presented a new strategy for President Barack Obama's administration to pursue deeper collaboration with India on global challenges. We have also come out with a policy document on US-India collaboration on climate change and greater energy efficiencies. Another important issue would be studying the impact of the economic downturn on the art market.
Has President Obama added any Indian art works to the White House collection?
The President and the First Lady are big art collectors - in fact, they are known to have had their first date at the Art Institute of Chicago. The President's mother too had a deep interest in arts and culture and an exhibition of her batik collection has toured the US recently. I'm not sure if the President has added any Indian art to the White House collection, however, he does have a large photograph of Gandhiji displayed in his office.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE ARE LOOKING FOR 51% STAKE IN PIPAVAV: NIKHIL GANDHI
Mumbai-Based Nikhil Gandhi, promoter & chairman of Pipavav Shipyard , on Monday scaled up his holding to 40% by purchasing co-promoter Punj Llyod's 20% stake for Rs 656 crore. The off-market transaction took place at an average price of Rs 50.50, nearly 22% discount to the stock's closing price of Rs 69.5. Mr Gandhi has also announced a mandatory 20% offer for the minority shareholder of Pipavav at Rs 61.50 a share. The offer, if fully subscribed, would cost Mr Gandhi another Rs 794 crore. In an exclusive interview to ET NOW, Mr Gandhi said he is interested in raising stake in Pipavav to 51%. Excerpts.
Why did Punj Lloyd pull out of the company? And, why did it sell at a discount?
We and Punj Lloyd have been great partners and we enjoy great relationship with each other. There was a three-year lock-in period on Punj's shares. So, only a promoter-to- promoter transfer was possible. And, when anyone has locked-in shares, there is always a discount to the market price. I am sure Punj would be efficiently putting the money to work. Besides, Punj is making a neat profit of nearly Rs 300 crore on a Rs 350-crore investment, that too in a 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. Punj would be investing this cash into the core competencies of infrastructure because, post budget, there has been a lot of impetus and lot of support from the government for public-private partnerships, private sector investments and government investments.
The open offer price is at Rs 61.5 per share, substantially lower than the market price. Will you be comfortable with a 40% stake if shareholders decide not to tender on the open offer?
If the shareholders decide not to tender, that would mean 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%. Secondly, 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 why we are putting in this kind of commitment. No one does it the way we are doing it. We raised Rs 500 crore five months ago and have put in Rs 1,500 crore off the table. So, we are basically here for a long haul.
On the order book position from an FY11 perspective, where do you see yourself? And, how much would you be able to monetise of that in terms of revenues and profits by FY11?
Our order book is very comfortable and we are expecting some more development during the course of next two quarters. Secondly, we have the order book fully intact with Rs 1,000 crore advances from the customers. We have construction of the ships going on in full swing. In fact, last week, we laid the keep for all the 12 ships for ONGC, far ahead of time, which actually pleasantly surprised the analysts and everyone else. We have the best of man and machinery to deliver the goods to the customers, on time and within the specified cost.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE'VE REMOVED AC TO BECOME WARM: NIELSEN
We removed the AC and decided to become a warm company," says Piyush Mathur, managing director of The Nielsen Company South Asia
italic">, referring to the change of the research firm's name from AC Nielsen. Six weeks into his stint, Mr Mathur is busy bringing in new products from Nielsen's global offering to the country including Neurofocus that tracks the brainwaves of a consumer as she watches an advertisement or go shopping. He also wants to increase the scope and robustness of Nielsen's Retail Audit, the most popular product of its sort that attracted some criticism from marketers over the last couple of years. Nielsen is also working with marketing communications school Northpoint to start a dedicated course to train professionals in this field. Mr Mathur talked about the impact of recession on research, Nielsen's new services and avenues of growth in an interview with ET's Ravi Balakrishnan. Excerpts:
Last year was one of the worst for the research industry in the west, and shattered the myth of the industry being recession proof. How did Nielsen fare?
A lot of companies in market research industry had negative growth. For us it was pretty gooda slight growth of 2% on the top. This was not a typical recession. It was truly synchronised and very few countries escaped unscathed. When you get impacted at a global level to such a large extent, obviously clients examine everything they are doing and at some point research gets impacted.
India was less affected. It was among the Top 3 in the consumer confidence index, a study we do in 52 countries. There was a slowdown in research though; none of the 20% growth that we had got used to, our growth was close to double digits at 8-8.5%.
What's the priority as far as India is concerned?
The vision going forward is to connect the dots. It's what makes information come alive, become insightful and actionable. We know what consumers are thinking, their attitude towards certain brands, the market in general and their confidence. On the other side, we know what they do via media measurement and finally their reactions at a behavioral level through neuromarketing. Connecting these dots really helps us look forward rather than backward. Historically, market research has been a rearview mirror. But there's a lot to gain if you look forward. Five years ago, the mobile phone market was at 33 million and today it is at 500 million. If market research could have predicted that, imagine what the operators and the government could have done.
What are some of the new services that are set to be introduced in India?
Neurofocus is in the realm of neuromarketing. We don't ask consumers any questions but instead get them to wear a hat and track their brainwaves as they are shown stimulus: advertising that's being tested, packaging or even the experience of walking down an aisle of a store. We get into their subconscious and know what and how they are thinking. Sometimes the consumer may not be able to articulate these things, even if they want to tell you. Research is about getting into the minds of the consumer and using technology to do so. Listening rather than asking what they have to say. It is already being used in the US by companies like Pepsi and P&G and we want to bring it to India. Another service we have is buzz metrics that lets us track 40 million blogs online. This is another example of not really asking the consumer but listening to what they say online.
What are some of the trends you are banking on to grow?
I believe the next phase of growth is rural. It's lead by a lot of initiatives the government has taken. While the population is 65% in rural areas, the number of stores is half of that and proportion of sales even less. As we speak we are doing large scale studies understanding rural India. We plan to introduce a rural dashboard which will be very interesting for clients. It will explain help them identify the low hanging fruits, work on distribution etc. We are building that as we speak.
Given you've spent a lot of your career in the Middle East, how do the clients compare to the ones in India?
I don't know the Indian markets as well but my feeling at this point is that our clients in the Middle East saw us as business partners. We were involved in their strategy and a part of their annual operating plan and would debate their growth numbers. If they were looking for a 15% growth, we'd tell them why it was low or high. We were very much in the game. That's closer to consulting than research. From what I've seen here, market research is considered the information provider. The evolution is probably happening and I'm yet to see it, but I feel that's a part that can evolve.
OBAMA IN KABUL:JUST A PHOTO-OP?
It is not unreasonable to suggest that the US President, Mr Barack Obama's almost surreptitious visit to Kabul on Sunday night, which was wrapped up in a few hours, was prompted by no higher motive than a successful politician's love for a photo-op. After successfully pushing through his ambitious health reform legislation, arguably his most significant campaign promise, the President needed to show he was on top of the situation in Afghanistan, which is rightly seen worldwide as the trickiest foreign policy item on his agenda. Mr Obama made his lightning trip to Kabul in the wake of successfully pulling off the arms reduction treaty negotiations with the Russians. Not too long ago, he had looked embattled with questions being raised at home whether he was living up to his image as a young leader aiming for big-ticket change. All in all, then, the US leader can savour the moment. It is another matter that the Afghans, and all those who had imagined the Americans were in the anti-Taliban and anti-Al Qaeda fight for the long haul, may harbour a sense of disappointment with the way the President's Kabul trip went. The ultra-brief visit was Mr Obama's first foray into Afghanistan in 14 months of being President (he had flown into the country as a presidential candidate after being taunted by the Republican rival, Mr John McCain, of not being concerned enough about foreign policy and national security matters), and he met the President, Mr Hamid Karzai, for exactly 30 minutes. This says it all, really. Most countries are likely to have declined the honour of hosting the President if such a timetable had been presented, but indigent Afghanistan was probably in no position to say no. It has been long known that the chemistry between the Obama administration and President Karzai's government is far from cordial, unlike the days when the President, Mr George W. Bush, was in office. The mood in Kabul on the occasion of the US leader's visit on Sunday, and the absence of joy in American or Afghan hearts, is betrayed by the fact that the two Presidents did not take questions from the media, let alone hold a joint press conference. However, before the assembled media Mr Obama did say to Mr Karzai that the "strong partnership" between the US and Afghanistan would continue. This would be logged on the positive side. The President blew it, however, when he proceeded to note the "progress with respect to the military campaign against extremism in the region". This might have gone down well in Pakistan, which America has gone out of its way to befriend. As for Afghans, they only know the worsening of the security situation in their country since the US military intervention began eight and a half years ago, and the likelihood of the Pakistan (and US)-backed return of the Taliban in their country's governance. It is a brave Afghan who would regard developments such as these with equanimity. Worse, before Mr Obama arrived in Kabul, his national security adviser Mr James Jones had tipped off the media that the visiting dignitary would do some tough talking with his Afghan counterpart and also some plain speaking on the matter of governance in Afghanistan. This is language worthy of a viceroy, devoid as it is of any sensitivity or appreciation of the difficulties on the ground in Afghanistan in running any kind of administration at all, especially when the Taliban and assorted extremist outfits have been on the rampage with the open backing of Islamabad.
TELECOM DRAMA, IN 3G
BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA
There is something strange about an auction if the likely winners can be shortlisted before the auction takes place. This is precisely what has happened in the much-delayed auction of third generation (3G) telecommunication licences with electro-magnetic spectrum, a scarce national resource used by mobile phone operators among others. It can be predicted that the maximum number of 3G licences would be bagged by three corporate players, Bharti-Airtel, Vodafone-Essar and Tata Teleservices, while a few would be obtained by Idea, Etisalat and Aircel and Reliance Communications (possibly in that order).
The outcome of the 3G telecom auction scheduled to start from April 9 can be easily anticipated because the department of telecommunciations (DoT) has shaped norms in such a manner that the scales are tilted in favour of existing players and against new entrants, both Indian and multinational. The consequence will be that 3G telecom will end up benefiting a small section. At the same time, the exchequer will be deprived of revenue it could have potentially garnered.
What will take place is that the new 3G spectrum will be used by existing telecom players to strengthen voice services whereas the much-hyped data, video and high-speed Internet facilities using mobile handsets would be used by a privileged few. The Indian market for mobile telephony is dominated by voice services which accounted for as much as 92 per cent of total industry revenues in 2009 with the share of short messaging services standing at only six per cent, followed by download of ringtones at two per cent. The important point to note is that no telecom operator can hope to earn profits by providing only 3G services. Since mobile telecom networks in metropolitan areas are highly congested witness how frequently mobile phone calls "drop" existing operators are greedily waiting to grab 3G spectrum to enhance their existing second generation (2G) services that offer relatively slow data and video transfer.
While the government had set a target of raising Rs 35,000 crores through the auction of 3G licences and two broadband wireless access licences, this amount is almost certainly not going to be raised. There are indications that the final sum could be barely Rs 20,000 crores. Why? The DoT is auctioning three slots of 3G spectrum in 17 out of the 22 telecom circles against four originally envisaged. After months of wrangling, the Empowered Group of Ministers, headed by Mr Pranab Mukherjee, decided that all successful bidders would receive spectrum only on September 1 instead of an earlier proposal to stagger allocations of spectrum depending on availability. Thus, the auction for the fourth slot has been kept in abeyance pending release of spectrum by the ministry of defence.
Then, the fixation of the minimum or "reserve" price was postponed several times as there was indecisiveness over the availability of spectrum and the number of operators who should be allowed to operate in each telecom "circle" or region. The DoT was at loggerheads with the defence ministry over the latter's alleged reluctance to vacate the designated spectrum for commercial use. The defence ministry argued that it delayed releasing spectrum on account of the public sector Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited not being able to complete on time an alternative telecom network for it.
After many missed deadlines, the reserve price for a pan-India 3G licence with spectrum was eventually fixed at Rs 3,500 crores. Many argue that over the last two years, the appetite of investors has diminished due to risk perceptions going up on account of industry profits getting squeezed due to intensification of competition with six new players entering the fray. It was also easier to borrow two years ago and the government could well have earned more revenue from the auction of 3G spectrum.
Experts believe the Indian market for 3G is between five per cent and 10 per cent of the total number of mobile phone users. Just about seven per cent of the roughly 500 million mobile telephone users in the country at present have handsets that are enabled for 3G services.
The cheapest 3G handset is currently priced between Rs 6,000 and Rs 7,000 against Rs 1,200 for an inexpensive 2G handset.
There are four inter-related sets of entry barriers that have restricted the competition for 3G licences. New Indian entrants are not allowed to bid unless they have prior 3G experience. This means that the only way a new Indian entrant can participate in the 3G auctions would be to find a foreign/multinational partner. But there's a second catch. The reason why foreign firms will not participate in the 3G auctions is that it will have to first acquire an all-India unified access service licence by paying an amount of Rs 1,651 crores without any guarantee that 2G spectrum would be bundled with such a licence.
Thirdly, as stated, operators would have to combine 3G and 2G services if they hope to become financially viable, which means that guidelines for mergers and acquisitions (M&A) should be clear before new companies foreign or Indian place bids for 3G spectrum. However, the government has (deliberately?) not formally approved new M&A guidelines. As per current restrictions under the existing M&A guidelines that were formulated in April 2008, no intra-circle merger is possible for an operator for a period of three years from the effective date of the licence. This would mean that even if a new entrant won a 3G licence, it would not be able to combine 3G spectrum with 2G spectrum for the first three years. Finally, the DoT and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India have not finalised the norms for sharing, sale or resale of 2G spectrum.
These entry barriers have ensured that the 3G auction has become a "friendly contest" among members of a "closed club". Foreign or multinational groups that had earlier shown interest in the 3G spectrum auction and which have dropped out of the race include AT&T, Verizon, British Telecom, France Telecom, MTN, Orascom and Deutsche Telecom. One foreign company with an Indian partner, Uninor, has gone on record stating that it chose not to participate in the 3G auctions because it had not yet received the 2G spectrum that it had already paid for.
This is truly a travesty of a level-playing field for a government that prides itself on having shaped policies that are meant to attract foreign investors.
- Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educatorand commentator
ON FINANCIAL REFORM STICK WITH THE PUNKS
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
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 favour.
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 GOP 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.
TELANGANA VS TRIBAL RIGHTS
BY KANCHA ILAIAH
On March 14, 2010, some students of the Osmania University held a demonstration in front of my house, shouting slogans and asking me why I was supporting the cause of tribals who are asking for a separate state of their own called Manya Seema. The students were reacting to what I had said at a round table conference organised by tribal leaders at Ravindra Bharathi, Hyderabad, where a well-known dalit leader and Andhra Pradesh high court lawyer Bojja Tharakam was present, apart from more than hundred tribal leaders and activists. The conference was organised under the leadership of Chanda Lingaiah Dora, a former Zilla Parishad chairman of Khammam district.
Tribal leaders and activists from Adilabad to Srikakulam attended the conference and prepared a map of the area to be carved out as a separate state. They also listed the problems they have been facing for decades.
The proposed tribal state encompasses Adilabad, Karimnagar, Warangal, Khammam, East and West Godavari, Vishkhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam. It touches three main regions Telangana, coastal Andhra and Uttarandhra and takes the whole Godavari basin with itself. The Chenchu tribal region mainly comprising the districts of Mahbubnagar, Kurnool and Prakasam is not part of the Manya Seema proposal.
One by one the tribal activists present at the conference explained the conditions in the entire tribal belt and complained that both the Andhra and Telangana political and bureaucratic forces have been exploiting them and their region to the hilt. They pointed out how the exploitation of their natural resources by the powerful forces of both regions keeps their life miserable.
I was shocked when one activist quoted a United Nations report stating that the average lifespan of tribals who live in those areas is just 40 years while the lifespan of people who live in the plains is 60 years. Their education levels are the lowest in the state and employment rate is also abysmally low. Their food consumption levels are worse than that of any dalit or other backward class (OBC) community of the state.
The Gond, Koya and Konda Reddy tribes were also finding it difficult to compete for their quota with the Lamabadas, who are plain tribes. They made all of us feel that 60 years of Samaikhya Andhra and democratic governance had done nothing for them. Hence, a separate statehood for them was presented as the best solution.
They are now planning to place their demand before the Srikrishna Committee and were asking our moral support.
Most of the upper caste Telangana leaders were of the view that those who live in the region should support Telangana and no other issue of caste, tribe, gender or exploitation should figure in the debate in any form. They are actually bent upon killing all other form of consciousness that exists in Telangana region and once the separate state is formed they would assume power and suppress other struggles for equality and improvement of life.
Many OBCs, Scheduled Castes and some Scheduled Tribes have been drawn into their fold because regional movements allow such space. But this has killed other modes of human consciousness. The Osmania University students who came to my house to demonstrate belong to that category. Of course there are hundreds of students who support democratic debate of issues.
But the question here is whether we understand the tribals' predicament in the context of selfish and money-making leadership in Samaikhya Andhra and Telangana?
The so-called Telangana agitators seem to think that whatever their position the tribals should not raise their problems now. If they raise such issues now, the separate Telangana process would be hindered. Similarly, if the minorities or exploited castes raise the question of their status in Telangana state, the process would be hindered.
This is an absurd argument. If separate Telangana is not meant to improve the lives of tribals, dalits, minorities and OBCs, and women and children, then why are we asking for it? The whole fight for a separate state has meaning only when these sections are assured that their living conditions, their education levels and their employment opportunities would improve quite significantly.
If the tribals are asking for a separate state, their right to do so cannot be suppressed. At least the Telangana leadership should assure them an alternative self-governing administrative mechanism would be put in place once the Telangana state is formed.
When a national committee is examining the development of all areas, the problem of tribals should also figure in it.
Telangana agitators as well as their leaders cannot ask for a separate state while keeping their own future in mind, but opposing tribal rights. If this is the moral and intellectual acumen of the agitating leadership, Telangana will be in serious danger.
The tribal question, more than any other question, becomes a litmus test for the democratic and futuristic imagination of the Telangana leaders and intellectuals. All sections of people raise their fundamental questions when there is a movement. It is in the process of a movement that solutions for many issues are found.
So long as the Telangana issue was revolving around elections the tribals did not raise their problems. But once it has become a people's movement the very people will raise questions which the exploitative leaders are not willing to listen to.
The problems raised by the Gond, Koya, Konda Reddy tribes should be addressed seriously. Attempts to suppress their voice would only boomerang.
HERITAGE ON TRIAL
BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
One Saturday evening in 1989, as I was aimlessly strolling through the Latin Quarter in Paris, I found myself in front of a building which made me pause. It was La Sorbonne. I was a student and new to the city. Till then I had not found the time to do the touristy stuff.
But that weekend I was determined to make up for lost time. I did not have the money to experience Paris from the vantage point of a corner table in an elegant bistro, perhaps in the Latin Quarter, sipping a glass of wine, nor was there any devilishly charming Frenchman around, with time on his hands, and the inclination to be my guide.
So I did the second best thing. I walked around the neighbourhoods which caught my fancy. Late evening, quite by chance, I had landed at the doorstep of Sorbonne among the Western world's most famous institutions of learning, founded in the 13th century. I desperately wanted to go inside, take a look. But it was late in the evening, a weekend, and the gate was locked. I must have been standing there for quite a while, lost in reverie, when I heard someone say something. It was an elderly, moustachioed guard staring at me quizzically. I mumbled that I was an Indian visitor, weary with walking, but overwhelmed by my physical proximity to this ancient university so rich in heritage. I also spoke a little about India, about Nalanda, and Francophile Bengalis.
The man laughed, sensing my struggle to match my limited French vocabulary with soaring thoughts. He asked me to come back on a weekday for a tour of the institution.
My weekdays were packed with classroom activities and I did not know when I would have the time again, I told him. The guard gave me a piercing look, and then, when I was least expecting it, a smile lit up his face. The key came out of the pocket, the doors of the Sorbonne were flung open, and I stepped inside.
As a proud Frenchman, his conscience did not permit him to turn away a foreign visitor who was so interested in the institution, the old man said.
Once inside, he turned raconteur. As we crossed the cobbled courtyard where students have gathered for centuries, and peeked into the muralled lecture halls, the labyrinth of classrooms and walked past the church of the Sorbonne, where French statesman Cardinal Richlieu, who renovated Sorbonne, lay buried, the pages of history came alive.
The memory of that evening in Paris some 20 years ago came hurtling back as I watched images of the fire that engulfed Stephen Court, a 150-year-old heritage building in Kolkata, my home-town, and read about the trail of death and destruction that followed. Some years ago another devastating fire struck another heritage building on the same street.
The guard at Sorbonne was no historian. But he had a sense of history and a profound respect for his heritage which contrasts starkly with the state of affairs in most Indian cities.
We are surrounded by historical buildings but have no sense of history. Although heritage is among India's most valuable assets, key to its soft power, there is little evidence to show that we value it in our everyday life. If we really valued our heritage, we would not let heritage buildings meet the fate of Stephen Court and so many others across the country, which are being destroyed through sustained neglect and a stunning indifference to illegalities perpetrated by builders, brokers and their political masters.
Heritage has staged a comeback as the buzzword of the day. The Central government has announced tax incentives for new hotels coming up near World Heritage sites. In Delhi, the city where I live, the Archaeological Survey of India and the tourism ministry are reportedly working hard at turning the capital into a world-class heritage tourism hub in the run-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games around 50 monuments are going in for a grand makeover, museums are being refurbished, more heritage walks and heritage trails are being planned.
All this is splendid news if it materialises in time.
But without the involvement of ordinary people and communities there will not be that sense of history that the Sorbonne guard showed, nor will ordinary tourists have the experience that I had.
There are excellent examples of how heritage can be harnessed in the work of agencies like the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, Dastkar or the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. But such initiatives have to be replicated more widely.
Heritage needs to be preserved because doing so is an end in itself. Heritage is also a key economic driver. Talking about heritage in neighbourhoods where there is hunger is more challenging than discussing it against the backdrop of leafy boulevards. But that does not mean it is not worth trying, or impossible.
To develop a sense of history among those who don't see its link with their lives, we have to start with the way we learn history, view history, and live with history. We read about dates and battles in far-away places in our history text books but don't know our local history.
We don't see our heritage buildings as an extension of ourselves. We deface their walls, mutilate them through illegal constructions or destroy them through neglect. If we saw our heritage as an integral part of ourselves, we would do more to preserve it because we would not want to lose a part of us.
If history is taught not as a dry catalogue of facts, but as a subject which lives and breathes amidst us, the attitude will change. Slowly but surely. If we educate our children that heritage is a public good which can add value to their lives, economically, socially and culturally, if we train and involve local people in preserving heritage sites in their backyards, conservation will become a popular cause. Perhaps then we will not need labels like "heritage walk". A walk through most of Delhi, and many Indian cities, will automatically be a heritage trail.
- Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 
YOGA NOT ABOUT KILLING DESIRE
BY YOGI ASHWINI
Yoga, as given by sage Patanjali, is chitt vritti nirodh, that is, to still the thoughts of desires so that the vision becomes clear. This in no way implies suppression of desire. Suppression amounts to violence, antagonistic behaviour the very basic of the five niyams, ahimsa. Brahmrishi Vishwamitra in the final stages of his sadhna had to resume the life of a householder because his soul had avoided the experience of sexual gratification. And this was hampering his final exit.
It is not taboo to give in to sexual desire. If you look back in history, most of our rishis used to have multiple wives. While we deem ourselves to be very "forward", we cave in when it comes to addressing issues such as this. However, our ancestors were well ahead of even our times. Not only did they acknowledge this urge in man, but they also provided for it in the organisation of the society.
As per the Vedic philosophy, for a man to complete his journey, it was imperative to go through the four parts of life: First being dharma, where one was to understand the purpose of life and about creation and the laws that govern creation and an individual's life. Then came artha, which involved earning money and enjoying the wealth earned. Next came kama or sexual satisfaction, for it was clearly stated and taught that unless a person is sexually satisfied he will not be able to proceed on the last and most important part of his journey moksha, or liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
Vedic masters had such deep insights about human character that realising this trait in man, they gave the concept of vaishya (legal prostitutes), ganikas (women of art and culture, who one was legally allowed to take for social gatherings) and, of course, the kulastree who was the legally-wedded wife. Curiously, a man was allowed more than one wife, if he could afford her and if the first wife consented.
Man-woman relationship was taken so seriously that if a man had sex outside marriage (with the exception of ganikas and vaishyas), it was considered a marriage and he had to take the financial and emotional responsibility of the woman for the rest of his life. In other words, she would be his wife.
Thus, the Vedic masters did not prescribe suppression. The key to evolution is to gain the experience and move beyond. This calls for a mastery over the five senses: the sense of touch (sexual sense) being one of them. Yoga enables you to reach a stage where desire does not control you but you control desire and you may indulge or may want to indulge in generating a specific kind of heat which is used to activate the higher senses.
It is sad, however, that in these days of negativity, the common man's faith has been shattered by unscrupulous men deceiving millions for power or money or satisfying their lust under the saffron veil.
Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He is the guiding light of Dhyan Foundation. He has recently written a book, Sanatan Kriya: 51 Miracles... And a Haunting.
Contact him at email@example.com 
PETITION A 'BIBLE'
ISN'T THAT GOING OVERBOARD?
POTENTIALLY ruffled Christian sentiments would be the least unhappy fallout of the head of the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team hailing a petition before it as its "Bible". For that description confers veracity upon the Zakia version of the killings at the Gulbarg Society; and lends itself to the charge of pre-judging an issue which the SIT was merely judicially directed to probe, the apex court, correctly, retaining unto itself the right to pronounce judgment. This is in no way a bid to "defend" Narendra Modi: yet having previously taken the chief minister to task for the wanton carnage, this newspaper deems itself duty-bound to uphold the principle of impartial investigation, objects to probes creating an impression of an inquisition. Declining to do what is fashionable or populist has ever been a hallmark of The Statesman, hence it has no hesitation in questioning the SIT chief's obvious playing to the gallery. It could be argued that RK Raghavan did display restraint, but was there any requirement for him to express "satisfaction" and claim that the questioning of Modi was a "very big step forward in unravelling quite a few mysteries", going on TV, giving interviews to newspapers etc? More so since he was not present during the interaction and admitted he was yet to appreciate the evidence. Already his reply to a query on why no officers from Gujarat were present has been interpreted as a confirmation of the allegation that the state police danced to the chief minister's tune: all matters for the SIT to probe, not pronounce verdicts nor pontificate upon. Clearly the lesson of the home ministry's disapproval of the head of Maharashtra's Anti-Terror Squad's shooting his mouth off has not crossed the state-line. Propriety demands that Modi be deleted from the equation, the larger issue be dispassionately debated. Ugly precedents fuel repetition.
Equally necessary, and equally unfashionable, is the need for the media (the electronic hordes especially) to shun sensationalism, cease to toe the activist's line after a certain stage, and quit arrogating unto itself the unified role of investigator, prosecutor, judge and executioner. Even "basics" like the difference between a person being questioned, interrogated or grilled have been obliterated, as has the difference between being asked to "appear" and being "summoned". Securing bail is equated with "getting off". Commenting on judicial proceedings, indeed seeking politicians' comments are now par for the course. A course which must impact on the credibility of the rule of law. If Modi is to be hanged so be it. But the punishment must be awarded by a judge(s) ~ not by a good-looking or sometimes not so good-looking face plonked before a teleprompter!
CONGRESS LESSONS FOR THE CPI-M
Prakash Karat may not agree with Alimuddin Street on the "misadventure'' of pulling out of UPA-I, but it is no secret that the CPI-M has considered the Congress a "lesser enemy'' if only to create a gulf in its alliance with Trinamul. If that called for tacit overtures, that was evident in desperate efforts by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose to place Congress and Trinamul on different pedestals with a sly hint that backstage arrangements such as the one in Siliguri are possible. However, the negative vibes from Congress may confirm that the public relations exercises have yielded nothing. The Union home minister may have been uncharacteristically harsh in predicting that the CPI-M will meet its Waterloo in the next 12 months but it echoes the perception that the Left confronts its stiffest challenge of the last 33 years. This was more or less endorsed by the CPI-M state committee which had been expected to explore methods of cultivating pockets of dissent in the Congress. This would have been its best hope for the coming elections in 82 municipalities considered a prime indicator for next year's assembly poll. After Mr Chidambaram's deadly swipe, the Marxists may have to decide whether it is worthwhile to soft-pedal the Congress while damning Trinamul.
The chief minister may have scored a point over his adversary while engaging in the bonhomie of a ride in the Prime Minister's car during Dr Manmohan Singh's last visit to Kolkata. That these are rituals which have nothing to do with a firm decision to confront the Left one-to-one in the coming elections should have been evident. But the Marxists have been reduced to clutching at straws even after signals like Mr Chidambaram's refusal to endorse the chief minister's suspicions of nexus between Trinamul and the Maoists. Now after months of lobbying by the CPI-M to add fuel to the tensions in the alliance, Pranab Mukherjee makes it clear that Congress does not have an option. The message is loud and clear. If Pranab's demand for a probe into the Park Street fire and the Prime Minister's letter to the chief minister seeking a clarification on prices of essential commodities which have come down everywhere except in West Bengal is any indication, it is that battle lines have been drawn. Whether it will be the CPI-M's Waterloo will be hotly debated but Marxists would have realised that where overtures to the Congress have failed anti-incumbency must be met with other ideas.
THE FRAGILITY OF ALLAWI'S VICTORY
THE margin of victory is as thin as a wafer and Iraq's former Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya alliance has emerged as what in the Indian context is often referred to as the single largest bloc. With 91 seats against 89 of the incumbent PM, Nouri Maliki's State of Law, the next government will be formed with a strong element of built-in fragility in a 235-member parliament. Allawi's victory is largely embedded in the substantial Sunni vote, the group that had become increasingly frustrated with post-war developments, in particular the sectarian tensions that Britain and America had exploited and the fact that Maliki is rather too close to neighbouring Iran. True, the democratic exercise has been decidedly more credible than the recent elections in Afghanistan and Iran. But there has been no trumpeted expressions of triumphalism in the 48 hours since the final results were announced over the weekend. Allawi is acutely aware of the fragility of victory. Hence the explicit anxiety to involve the entire political class in governance, including the "State of Law bloc of brother Prime Minister Nouri Maliki." The ultimate objective is to restore Iraq's place in the Arab and Muslim world. After exactly seven years ~ almost to the day ~ that hope must be eminently legitimate for a country that had been reduced to a Pentagon colony since March 2003. Indeed, the stability of the Middle East will hinge considerably on the stability in Iraq. And more than on the next government, Allawi has lobbed the ball onto the people's court as it were ~ "it is now up to the Iraqis to protect their country". With the caveat that is implicitly addressed to the invader of 2003 ~ "the nation should no longer have to depend on Americans to guarantee its security". The red herrings along the trail will make the formation of the next coalition as prolonged as it will be contentious. Though it has been a dramatic comeback for Allawi, he cannot be entirely sure of ascending the Prime Minister's pedestal. Chiefly because the composition of the next coalition remains absolutely unclear. The narrow margin makes the task vulnerable to political wrangling. And with Maliki holding the second place, he may yet call the shots. The elections have made Iraq vulnerable to a renewed bout of political instability.
NOVELTY OF THE SPIN-OFF
HOW A CORRUPT SOCIETY CAN FAIL A GOVERNMENT
BY NK SINGH
JOHN Noonan in his seminal work on corruption, titled Bribes, had said "the only real index of the intensity of corruption is the degree of intolerance in society about bribes." He may not have anticipated a new form of corruption that has emerged in India, in which a father does not send his child to school and forces the headmaster to share the allied benefits like scholarship, midday meal and dress money. The headmaster succumbs to this wanton demand as he has to show 60 to 70 per cent attendance failing which he may be transferred to an inconvenient location. If Noonan had chanced upon this form of corruption, he would have changed his formulation.
Now take another case of this new form of corruption. At Pathra village in Bihar's Saran district, Dalits refused to give the polio drops to their children. Their demand was that a road should first be constructed. Their womenfolk justified the move by asking, "what will the child do with strong legs if he does not have a road to walk on?"
That was a clear case of blackmail. The individuals of society were seeking to blackmail the district and health authorities and were bartering the future of that generation which cannot give its consent, for the present ~ a road.
Can any society be allowed to jeopardise the future of a child on such grounds? Bihar stood out for the highest incidence of polio cases till recently.
TAKE yet another case. Under the NREGS, a large number of people in villages which are close to big cities have got themselves registered although they are working elsewhere and are gainfully employed in the unorganised sector on higher wages. The pressure on the pradhan is that as they had voted for him, he should give some part of the wage in absentia and keep the remaining amount. The pradhans in such villages have enough money but no worker to work on various projects.
In the first case, this sordid nexus came to light when a comparatively conscientious village pradhan (mukhia) went to distribute the scholarship to the students of class IV and V in a village in Sathaon block in Azamgarh. He was shocked to find that nearly 40 per cent of the students, who took the scholarship money, did not put their names in the receipt column and instead put thumb impressions. On inquiry, he learnt that these students came only to collect scholarship.
Now why does the headmaster succumb? He is under government instructions that if attendance remains poor, he and other teachers may be transferred. So willy-nilly he has to show those absent as present. Now what about the midday meal? The guardians particularly those belonging to the lower and intermediary castes say they cannot spare their children as they are helping in cattle grazing, basket-making or other traditional callings. So their interest lies not in making the offspring educated but in cash that enrolment offers ~ like money given for dress, books and scholarship. He knows that since his child has been marked present, he wants a cut in the midday meal. So he, the headmaster and the pradhan split the "benefit".
The National University of Educational Planning and Administration's 2008-09 figure on the Composite Education Development Index for primary and upper primary education reveals that Bihar's position is at its nadir ~ 34th among the total of 35 states and Union Territories. Bihar is only ahead of Jharkhand which ranked 35th.
Two major findings of the Annual Status of Education Report (Rural India) 2009, prepared by ASER, an NGO, on the status of school education in Bihar are:
1) Only 56.7 per cent of the children in Standard V in government schools could read Standard II level text in 2009, a decline of 7.6 per cent from 64.3 per cent since 2006 . The all-India average is 50.3 per cent.
2) Less than 60 per cent of enrolled children are attending school in comparison to the southern states where the average attendance is well above 90 per cent.
Across the world, there were two broad types of corruption ~ shakedown and pay-off. If a person wants a birth certificate from the civic body (to be submitted for school admission) he may have to take leave from his office for several days as the babu will continue to ask for one or the other document with chances that he may not get the required certificate till the last date for admission. But if he pays Rs. 100 he gets the certificate in a few hours. In this type of corruption, the babu takes recourse to the state's authority and petty rules and indirectly extorts money from an unwilling citizen.
IN the payoff type of corruption, which is now prevalent in most of the developing but semi-literate nations, the engineer (state actors) and the contractor (avaricious individuals) enter into an agreement to use less cement in the bridge under construction. This type of corruption is most insidious. It cannot be removed from the system because society in general, and not individuals, is the victim. Laws are found ineffective as they operate only when there is tangible culpability. In the payoff type of corruption, this tangibility is missing.
But the third type of corruption, like the three mentioned above, has a serious dimension. The individuals constituting society, for whom the schemes are meant, have been forcing officials to frustrate the programme for immediate monetary gains by conveniently rejecting the vital, noble and highly essential cause ~ the education of his child. And there can be no law in any country that can bind an individual into educating his child. He will somehow obtain a medical certificate from a doctor allowing the child to stay away from the school and still pocket the scholarship.
More than corruption it is a kind of self-annihilating ignorance. It is not law or allurement or incentive but social pressure that will work so as to make these individuals take the child to school and administer polio drops.
The writer is a senior journalist
MASSIVE EROSION OF VALUES
INSTEAD OF HOLDING A BEACON TO THE REST OF THE WORLD AND SHOWING WHAT INDIA CAN OFFER, VISVA-BHARATI HAS BECOME ACADEMICALLY INSIGNIFICANT AND A HOME FOR THE UNDESERVING, SAYS SANTANU SINHA CHAUDHURI
In the recent past, violent protests were reported from places where students were not allowed to copy during the Madhyamik examination in West Bengal. These incidents were spread over five districts: Murshidabad, Birbhum, South 24-Parganas, Hooghly and Malda. Significantly, parents joined examinees in the protests. After the last day's exam, there were demonstrations at six places in Murshidabad, during which the protesters broke furniture and injured a headmaster. The most bizarre incident took place at Lashkarpur High School in Lalgola where irate parents went in to beat up teachers as punishment for "strict" invigilation. The teachers overpowered one of the parents, thrashed him, and handed him over to police.
From cheating in exams to parents actively helping their offspring to cheat is a downhill journey that illustrates a massive erosion of values. And this does not exist only in the rural backwaters where India doesn't shine that brightly.
At Visva-Bharati, the university set up by Rabindranath Tagore, a different kind of incident revealed a similar decline. On the night of 27 February, some students of the arts faculty entered a hostel for girls and used filthy language to harass and intimidate them. As if this was not bad enough, the perpetrators of this shameful act also beat up the boys who protested, injuring 17 fellow students. They also vandalised some priceless works of art.
The students who sexually harass their own classmates are despicable. The incident is more disturbing because it happened in Santiniketan where one of the tallest Indians tried to recreate a traditional Indian school, an ashram. Instead of holding a beacon to the rest of the world and showing what India can offer, Visva-Bharati has become academically insignificant and a home for the undeserving.
Education these days means acquiring saleable knowledge; it has nothing to do with building character. In older days, parents from many corners of the country sent their children to the school set up by Rabindranath not because it would assure them good jobs but because they wee expected to become better human beings. That the education that produced better human beings also produced brilliant creative artists and professionals is another story. Countless among the alumni of Visva-Bharati have excelled in their chosen fields. Syed Mujtaba Ali, Pramatha Nath Bishi, Ramkinkar Beij, Kanika Bandopadhyay, Satyajit Ray, Mahashweta Devi, Suchitra Mitra, KG Subramanian, and Amartya Sen are not exceptions, but dazzling motifs on a general pattern.
Visva-Bharati stopped producing people of such calibre long ago. And it no longer attracts talented students from far and wide. These days, mostly ordinary and substandard students from the nearby areas ~ not even from the rest of the state ~ join the university because it has become so bad that hardly anyone from outside enrols there. Consequently, Visva-Bharati has become a cesspool of mediocrity, with one or two exceptions.
But the reign of mediocrity is one aspect. What make the students ignore the norms of civilised behaviour so completely, just like the parents who fight for their children's "right" to copy in exams?
There are two main reasons. First, most parents have fuzzy ideas about education, and do not have a roadmap for their children's holistic growth. Many of them do not inculcate values in their offspring; on the contrary, they offer poor role models for their children.
It is common knowledge that many parents cut corners to admit their children to good schools. Many would not even hesitate to pay bribes to secure admission. Seats in private medical and technical colleges are auctioned to the highest bidders. Such children begin their education through deceit or money power. But who cares?
About 30 years ago, a father-son duo, who ran a flourishing high school for mainly middle class Bengalis in Kolkata, were under a cloud following the unnatural death of the son's wife. While the case lingered for years, the school continued to produce state toppers. Although a shadow of doubt hung over the principal, particularly during the progress of the criminal case, parents did not withdraw their children from the school. And many more were eager to get their offspring admitted to a school.
It was not a question of someone being treated as innocent until proved guilty. The question simply was whether one was prepared to put one's child in the hands of people of questionable morals. The parents, among whom were my friends, thought that if a school improved the chances of academic success, nothing else mattered. In other words, for many educated Bengalis, education had little to do with values. Should anyone be surprised that 30 years down the road, parents demand their offspring be allowed to cheat?
The second reason that emboldens people to do what they like is the absence of the rule of law in West Bengal; every transgressor today knows there is a fair chance that they would get away with murder. After the vandalism by the examinees and their parents, the police super of Murshidabad district said, "Police will take action if written complaints are lodged". He added, rather thoughtfully, "It is also important to identify the parents who indulged in violence".
Who will identify them? One thought it was the policemen's duty, which they perform shabbily in Bengal. The decline began with the unionisation of the policemen after the present government came to power in 1977. The process was accelerated by unbridled political interference in running the force.
On 22 January 2002, five men of Calcutta Armed Police died on the spot in front of the American Center when four terrorists sprayed bullets on them. Fifty-four shots were fired by the attackers, but the 34 policemen present there didn't shoot back one round. Many of them took bullets in their back, while fleeing. The incident ripped open the abysmal state of the training, preparedness, and morale of the police force in the state. Yet, not one senior police officer was taken to task; neither did the home minister resign in shame. In many other organisations, functionaries would lose their jobs for much less, because there is something called accountability. Should we be surprised about what happened in Silda in 2010?
The police alone don't suffer from lack of accountability. The first organised act of violence happened in Santiniketan during the hoodlum years of 1970s. Some students belonging a mainstream political party attacked the students of a different political dispensation. It is no one's case that the victims were angels, but they were unarmed. Armed to the teeth, the attackers launched a pincer attack from two sides of a boys' hostel. Several hoys were seriously injured. The offensive had been planned at the house of a professor. After the assault, the attackers took shelter in the same house. Everyone knew who the perpetrators were and who backed them. The university took no action against the guilty.
Therefore, there were many instances of violence in Santiniketan, but the guilty were never punished. Things naturally went from bad to worse. The time has come for people to demand that the university authorities throw out the latest bunch of ruffians from the premises of the central university run with tax payers' money.
We have come to the present sorry state because of general corrosion in people's attitude and a decline in the quality of governance. Attitudes won't change soon, but something can be and must be done to enforce the rule of law. People must be made to believe that a high price tag is attached to breaking law.
The writer is an alumnus of Visva Bharati
IRAQ POLL RESULTS 'CREDIBLE'
UN top official in Iraq Ad Melkert declared that the parliamentary elections were credible and no evidence has been found of any systematic or widespread fraud during the vote count, after Iraqi authorities announced the final election results, in a statement issued by spokesman in New York.
The Independent High Electoral Commission of Iraq unveiled the results for the national polls in which over 6,000 candidates competed for 325 seats in the Council of Representatives. According to the IHEC, some 12 million people cast their votes.
Mr. Melkert called on all candidates to accept the results of the polls and "to assume responsibility to lead Iraq to the next stage of democracy, stability and prosperity for all. Whether winning or losing, participation in the elections has been a collective victory."
Mr. Melkert said UN officials were confident that the counting process contained the necessary checks and balances, and "there is now a solid basis for ratification by the Supreme Court" of the results.
"All results of 50,000 voting stations have been checked at least eight times. On the basis of specific complaints submitted by different entities, specific audits have been held on places with indications of irregularities. Ballot boxes that could not stand the test have not been included in the count. We have not found evidence of systematic failure or fraud of widespread nature."
Myanmar: The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution at the regular session called on Myanmar Government to ensure that polls which is set for later this year are free and transparent, as it spoke out against violations of fundamental freedoms of the people of Myanmar. The body passed a resolution to voice concern that electoral laws unveiled earlier this month do not meet the international community's expectations.
According to media reports, these laws relate to the registration of political parties and prohibit anyone with a criminal conviction from being a member of an official party. It urged the junta authorities in Myanmar to desist from carrying out any further politically-motivated arrests and release all political prisoners of conscience, over 2,000, including Aung San Suu Kyi.
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana's mandate was extended for one year. Mr Ojea Quintana earlier said that there is no indication that the government is willing to release political prisoners ahead of the national elections. "Without full participation, including by the some 2,100 prisoners of conscience, and an environment that allows people and parties to engage in the range of electoral activities, the elections cannot be credible," he said.
Chemicals in Pakistan: The UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Customs Organization said that the authorities trained by the UNODC have seized $5.5 million worth of the largest amount of acetic anhydride used to produce heroin from opium in Pakistan. The agency said in a press release issued in New York that the chemicals, weighed 16 tons, were found in barrels labeled as paint destined for the city of Karachi by authorities at Port Qasim.
Afghan registration: Head of the UNHCR welcomed Pakistan's decision to extend the validity of official identification cards for 1.7 million registered Afghans whose cards had expired at the end of December 2009. "This is clearly welcome. Pakistan remains host to the largest refugee population in the world and its continuing generosity in response to the uprooted is vital", said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The Pakistani Government endorsed a new Strategy for the Management of Afghans in Pakistan, which includes the extension until the end of 2012 of Proof of Registration cards, the agency said in a press release. Pakistan has registered Afghan citizens living in Pakistan since 2006, providing them with official identification. The existing PoR cards, which expired on 31 December last year, will be replaced with new cards with enhanced identification features.
Dhaka joins ICC: Bangladesh has joined the International Criminal Court and ratified the pact that gave it a mandate for trying people accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the court announced in a press release in New York. The Bangladesh Government ratified the 1998 Rome Statute yesterday, according to a press release issued by the ICC.
When the statute comes into force for Bangladesh on 1 June, it will become the 111th nation to become a state party to the ICC. The court was set up in 2002 after the statute took effect that year when it passed a total of 60 ratifications.
Journalists' deaths: Unesco stated in its new report released that an increasing numbers of journalists are being killed worldwide, mostly in countries that are at peace. It called for an end to impunity in the murders of media professionals.
It said that some 77 murders had been reported by the agency. The high number is due in part to the murder of some 30 journalists in one day during an ambush in the Philippines on 23 November 2009. The figure exceeded the previous record of 69 set in 2006, when violence in Iraq was rampant, it noted.
In places where certain foreign visitors are greeted with suicide bombings, common sense dictates that such visits be kept from public knowledge. When the visitor is no less than the head of State of a country most of Afghanistan is at war with, a total blocking out of information is perhaps necessary not merely for the safety of the visiting dignitary, but also for that of the likely victims within the country. So it is inadvisable to read too much into the secrecy surrounding the visit of President Barack Obama to Afghanistan. The timing of the visit, of course, is open to deductions, as also its message. With the battle over the health reforms legislation behind him, the president's prioritizing work over a holiday at Camp David was, for all one knows, a public relations move needed to convey to the public at home, to the world (which recently watched, horrified, the Obama administration's supineness in Israel) and to the Nato allies, that the United States of America remains in the driving seat in Afghanistan and committed to the deadline it has set for itself. That Mr Obama's little speech at Bagram will do wonders for the morale of the US forces that are seeing a spurt in body bags as they push deeper south in Helmand is an understatement. With the impending drive into Kandahar weighing on their minds, Mr Obama's visit will undoubtedly be as 'important' to them as it is to the president.
There is another less apparent reason why the visit is 'important' to the trajectory of the war. Ever since General Stanley McChrystal took over the command, he has been stressing two factors a surge, which is happening in phases, and the need to focus on the Afghan people instead of the Taliban in order to convince the people that the war is for their sake. To win in Kandahar and to sustain the advance made in Helmand, the allied troops need to win this "battle of perceptions". This win would be impossible without the Hamid Karzai administration fulfilling its primary duty of providing a corruption-free government that will give the people the incentive to stay away from or turn against the Taliban. It was precisely this message that Mr Obama is said to have delivered to the Afghanistan president. The problem is, Mr Karzai may not know right now whether he needs to concentrate on winning the hearts of the Taliban or the people first.
Saying no to the government is part of an Opposition's game everywhere. But it becomes a completely different game if the Opposition does only that. Mamata Banerjee obviously believes that it is not enough to be utterly uncompromising and even combative while dealing with the Left Front government in West Bengal. She would simply not engage with the government on anything. The way she snubbed and abused Gautam Deb, the housing minister, who invited her to a government function, marks a new low in the state's political culture. She and her party, the Trinamul Congress, have been practically boycotting the government wherever possible. Ms Banerjee is not only the leader of the main Opposition party in the state, but she is also an important minister in the Union government. She has made the railway ministry's activities and functions in West Bengal out of bounds for the ministers and leaders of the ruling Front. This is political intolerance at its worst. Yet, Ms Banerjee has always accused the leftists of stifling the Opposition's voice during their long reign. There is a lot of truth in her complaint, but that is precisely the reason why she should tread a different path.
This is not simply a matter of political decorum. At stake is the larger question of the future of democratic rule and of political freedom. In West Bengal's sharply polarized political culture, this open exhibition of intolerance and belligerence by leaders can be used as an excuse for violence and lawlessness. The murderous clashes between the Marxists and TMC supporters in the districts show how dangerous the situation already is. Ms Banerjee has a real reason for crying halt to this culture of intolerance. She stands a realistic chance of becoming the next chief minister if her party and its ally, the Congress, live up to their recent electoral promises. What she now hopes to gain by such obstructionist politics could boomerang on her if she assumes power. It is possible that the leftists, even out of power, will have enough strength to make trouble. More important, such a scenario can further darken the state's economic horizon. Investors cannot be expected to flock to West Bengal if violence and ugly political confrontations continue even after a change of government. Ms Banerjee's ways suggest that the regime may change in West Bengal, but not the political culture.
A MODEL PROCESS
ATHENS HAD A JUSTICE SYSTEM FREE OF DELAY AND CORRUPTION
In the unliberated days of the Roman empire, the satirist, Juvenal, mourned the plight of absentee Roman husbands who had to entrust the chastity of their wives to the vigilance of their guards. But who lamented Juvenal would guard the guardians?
The judicial process in India is now in the throes of a Juvenalian crisis. A senior advocate of the Supreme Court, in an interview to a news magazine, has impugned the integrity of half of our last 16 or 17 chief justices. Allegations of corruption against the higher judiciary are flying thick and fast in an atmosphere made murkier by judicial immunity and resolute resistance to transparency and disclosure. A growing public perception that our judges are not only corruptible but perhaps corrupt as well has added to the discontent generated by a system that delays justice almost forever while judges enjoy long vacations and some allegedly collude with lawyers in fleecing clients through indefinite adjournments on the most frivolous pretexts.
As we question the capacity of our judicial institutions to dispense justice without fear or favour and, indeed, to handle the volume of litigation that we choose to burden them with, alternative models of the judicial process inevitably attract our attention. Perhaps the most interesting and instructive of these is the judicial system of classical Athens.
Athens restricted participation in political and judicial decision-making to free, adult male citizens, thus excluding slaves, women and youth. Within these limits, however, it evolved a most elaborate, sophisticated and yet egalitarian system for the speedy and impartial dispensation of justice.
Athens employed no judges only magistrates, who weeded out purely frivolous lawsuits. All other cases were decided by a citizen jury.
One had to apply for jury duty. Jurors were paid reasonably well relative to the daily wage of the artisan but not enough to financially attract the wealthy. The poor, the unemployed and the retired had the strongest incentives to volunteer for jury duty. The composition of applicants for jury duty was therefore strongly biased towards the poor (though travel cost to the courts worked in the opposite direction). Since the actual choice of jurors in every case was purely random, the composition of actual juries reflected that of applications: it was strongly egalitarian.
There were no public prosecutors. Each case was initiated by an accuser, or a set of accusers, who might have been aggrieved parties, but might also have pleaded the public interest, much like public interest litigants in contemporary India.
The Athenian citizen population comprised 10 tribes. Jury selection ensured equal participation of each tribe in each jury. From among the applicants for jury duty from each tribe, 600 were chosen by draw of lots, constituting a bank of 6,000 potential jurors for the year. On each day appointed for trials, some 10 separate courts would be in action, adjudging 10 different cases, but no one knew in advance which jurors would be assigned to a particular case.
On the appointed morning, jurors converged on the courthouse, each bearing his individualized invitation, indicating name and tribe. Each man deposited his invitation in the urn marked by the symbol of his own tribe under the eyes of an officer guarding that urn. A very elaborate ceremony, involving urns, columns, tubes and black and white balls (reminiscent of the hypothetical problems one solves in probability theory), a procedure too complex to be described here, then ensured the indisputably random selection of about 500 jurors from each tribe. Those not chosen were released for the day. Finally, the selected jurors drew lots that assigned them to specific cases. Each juror received a baton colour-coded for the court-room in which his particular case was scheduled: this baton was his ticket of admission to that specific court-room.
The main purpose of this elaborate process was to ensure that no jury could be bribed in advance since no one knew till that morning which juror would adjudge a particular case. Nor was bribery possible thereafter: jury selection was immediately followed by the hearing in open court where no covert transaction was possible and the entire procedure, from opening argument to sentencing, had to be completed during the day. Jurors were simply not accessible to potential bribe-givers before sentencing.
Jury duty lasted nine hours and a half. The first hour was spent in jury selection. The rest of the day had to be equitably rationed between the plaintiffs and the defendants with some time reserved for the jury to vote. In each court, a water-clock kept time: one of the jurors (chosen by lot, of course) watched the clock and allotted times accordingly. The proceedings commenced with speeches by the accusers, explaining the crimes of the defendant and seeking to establish his guilt by producing evidence as well as proposing an appropriate punishment. The defendant then had the opportunity to argue his innocence and present his evidence. Thereafter, the jury voted on the guilt or innocence of the accused. The voting was by secret ballot: another elaborate procedure guaranteed secrecy and ensured that jurors could reveal their real opinions without fear or favour. Decision was by simple majority; in the event of a tie, the defendant was presumed innocent. To discourage frivolous cases, plaintiffs who could not elicit the support of 20 per cent of the jury were heavily fined by the State. If, however, the majority found the defendant guilty, the latter got an opportunity to address the court again and argue that he should not be punished as severely as the accusers proposed. In fact, he was expected to propose a counter-punishment, presumably milder than that proposed by the plaintiffs. The jury then voted again by secret ballot, indicating which of the two proposed punishments it preferred. As in the first ballot, decision was by simple majority.
The main characteristics of the Athenian system were the speedy delivery of justice and the elaborate precautions against corruption. And these characteristics were intertwined: it was because trials had to be completed within nine hours after jurors learnt which cases they were assigned to that opportunities for corruption were minimized. In India, on the other hand, two and a half millennia later, our judicial institutions seem designed to maximize both delay and corruption. Everyone knows well in advance which judge will hear a particular case. Interested parties have ample time and opportunity to offer him bribes. If they have failed to do so before the first hearing, they are given an indefinite extension of time to rectify this error as the trial drags on in perpetuity. Sequestration of judges for the duration of a trial is out of the question. And to make bribery a low-cost option, only one judge (or at most, a very few judges) have to be bribed, as against the 251 jurors who needed to be bribed to guarantee a favourable verdict in Athens.
Life and the law are no doubt infinitely more complex in 21st-century India than in Athens 400 years before Christ. One-day trials with a legally untutored jury would no doubt fail to capture all the nuances of a contemporary law-suit. The Athenian model cannot possibly be replicated in toto in India today. It is notable, however, that we have no solutions to the two critical problems of the judicial process, problems that the Athenians resolved with exquisite finesse 2,500 years ago.
The author is a former teacher of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is currently affiliated to ISI, Delhi
THE AGE OF NEGLECT
MALA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
The Indian Institute of Advanced Studies in Shimla is housed in a historic building that is quite special but which needs urgent attention, repair and conservation. It still has its major elements virtually intact, representing a bygone era when the building its imposing architecture, carefully-crafted structure, and the environs in which it sat established the then demand for quality and excellence. The Viceregal Lodge is one such edifice. Converted into what was to be India's finest advanced studies institute, this building, and the institution it houses, needs to be put on the human resource development ministry's front-burner. It has to be restored to its status of being the symbol of the best environment and architectural space in the country for generating cutting-edge research, robust debates, discussions, ideas and initiatives.
National and international scholars should be in residence for short and longer periods to deliberate and discourse with their counterparts through seminars and dialogues. Publishing collections of writings, outcomes of the work done at the institute, should be part of the mandate. And much more.
The government of India keeps talking about drawing in the leading universities of the world and forging equal partnerships but there is not one academic or research establishment that is on a par with Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Heidelberg and suchlike in terms of a working and self-sufficient 'campus'. Our intentions remain in the realm of a dream sequence and no director, however creative and willing to take on the challenge, is able to function because of the babu and the archaic rules of operation. The atmosphere begins to suffocate the best.
There is always an excuse and explanation for all that needs to be done. Some of the brightest Indian scholars are in residence overseas because of the uninspiring atmosphere in virtually every one of our national institutions, and yet we remain unashamed.
Since India is in the process of restructuring many of its arms of governance, and is introducing acts to correct the discrepancies within the endless social structures that rule our lives, the business of creating a few outstanding academies that will bring back the ancient reputation we had as a civilization of great learning, with universities like Taxila to boast of, should be a priority.
The 'shells' are there and desperately need to be infused with energy and expertise. Some of the institutions are located in prime spots, like the IIAS in Shimla. An elaborate restoration plan has been presented to the people who take the decisions and advance the funds. It lies resting on some bureaucratic table, waiting for some babu in Delhi ridden with boredom, with no comprehension of how prime institutions are rebuilt and charged with intellectual capital.
The IIAS should be made into an example of an institution of distinction that India can present to the nation and to the world. The HRD ministry that is re-ordering a great deal of the past baggage needs to re-order this one too. Funds are never a problem, since allocated monies are never spent, and for this monumental work a strong case could be made and scholars will certainly stand by the initiative. It has to move beyond looking like a CPWD operation unkempt and patchworked, managed like a rusty bureaucratic machine dependent on babus unable to deliver international standards into being a liberated domain that encourages intellectual sensibilities to reach new horizons. Will inaction and babugiri frustrate yet another dream that attempts to break the shackles of government control and unchain such temples of learning? Will there be a positive and unambiguous intervention that clears the man-made hurdles?
NO BETTER THAN A MAD TEA PARTY
Be it with the ban on Satanic Verses or the forced exit of M.F. Husain, India is yet to find the golden mean between offensiveness and freedom, writes Somak Ghoshal
Indian democracy stands at a peculiarly knotty crossroads at the moment. A senior rightwing ideologue could be facing a charge of conspiracy for his alleged role in inciting the demolition of a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya, which led to communal riots nearly two decades ago. The chief minister of a state is, at long last, being questioned by a special investigation team, appointed by the highest court in the country, for his, once again, alleged involvement in the pogrom unleashed on Muslims in Gujarat, eight years ago. A leading artist, now in his nineties, has been successfully hounded out of the country by hoodlums. In exile for several years, he has finally relinquished his Indian passport for a Qatari citizenship. A renowned Bangladeshi writer, with a fatwa hanging over her head, has been given refuge in this 'robust' democracy. Yet, she continues to live in fear of being physically attacked by religious fanatics. Looks like we have more reasons to feel worried about Indian democracy than to celebrate its supposed glories.
This year is, in a way, an anniversary of sorts for the failure of Indian democracy, 60 years since the Constitution came into effect. It was 35 years ago that Emergency was imposed on the country by Indira Gandhi; another 25 years have gone by since Sikhs were butchered in the wake of her assassination (little justice has been delivered on that account); and some 20 years ago, the Congress government, led by her son, Rajiv, banned Salman Rushdie's controversial work, The Satanic Verses (1988), even before it was published in India, and much before Ayatollah Khomeini had imposed a fatwa on the author in 1989. All it took was a strong protest by a Muslim parliamentarian, Syed Shahabuddin, and, oddly, the finance ministry put an embargo on the novel. It is significant perhaps that Mrs Gandhi had taken great umbrage at Rushdie's caricature of her in Midnight's Children (1981), and had successfully sued him in a London court for defamation. The Rushdie affair became a landmark of sorts in the history of Indian censorship, a spark which ignited waves of intolerance in the subsequent years.
In the event, Satanic Verses left a trail of violence Rushdie's Norwegian publisher was shot, his Japanese and Italian translators were stabbed. But all these happened post-fatwa. India, on the other hand, took the lead in denouncing the novel fearing that it would lead to communal tension. The conclusion was based on a blinkered, at best a limited, reading of the book. (It is quite possible that those who called for the ban had never bothered to read the full novel in the first place.) The logic behind the ban also rested on a fundamentally flawed assumption. That the novel would give offence, and therefore foment hatred, which would lead to violence a non sequitur if there ever was any.
A democracy, by definition, honours the right to offend, as offence can always be countered with civilized debate and reasoned dialogue. But the worse bit of the assumption is that all Muslims would be offended by Rushdie's novel, and that an offended Muslim is always a violent Muslim. If anything, Satanic Verses rather had the opposite effect on a large section of Muslims, as commentators like Akeel Bilgrami have shown. A polemical work like Satanic Verses exposed deep conflicts within the so-called 'Muslim community' it went on to give the lie to the illusion of a homogeneous Muslim population, united by a common ideology.
India's unthinking ban on the Satanic Verses rose out of this false perception, which has been subsequently reinforced by systematic vote-bank politics deepening already entrenched differences. Indian democracy appears to have no quarrel with the idea that mainstream politicians are incapable of reaching out to all minorities who must then rely on leaders from their own communities in order to be saved. So Muslims are seldom allowed a fair chance to have a say on matters that are deemed controversial. Sensitive issues are pronounced upon by the religious leaders, speaking on behalf of the community.
During the Islamist furore over the cartoons of the Prophet in Danish newspapers, a few brave Muslim voices had spoken out against the death-threats and violent protests only to be drowned in a sea of fanatical clamour. While the collective hysteria arrested media attention, the progressive point of view remained largely unrecorded. A similar situation prevailed over the case of Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi writer, when she was expelled from Calcutta by angry clerics in 2007, in spite of eminent individuals offering her their unqualified support. With M.F. Husain, the focus shifted to the other end of the spectrum, as belligerent Hindu mobs coerced the State into keeping the painter away from his land of birth.
In all of these cases, the State gave more leverage to the idea of cultural authenticity than to creative whimsy.
While reading a novel, or looking at a painting, the readers or viewers are supposed to seek the work's intrinsic aesthetic merit, not carry out a reality check. Under the hawk-eyed scrutiny of people no better than a secret police, a creative work loses its imaginative credence. Strangely enough, this systematic surveillance is abetted by democracy, and nurtured by a loophole in the right to free speech and expression that sets the first principles of liberal philosophy.
Freedom of speech and expression entails the duty not to cause deliberate hurt. But art is necessarily unpredictable, offending some, pleasing others, earning the praise or ire of critics. Just outrage is unacceptable as an excuse for banning a work of art or banishing its creator, especially in a democracy. In fact, a democracy cannot encourage a free market of outrage or foster an ethos of competitive victimhood, where giving in to one set of demands will let loose a chain reaction. If the right to feel offended is upheld every time a book or a painting displeases someone, there will come a time when we will have nothing left to read or look at.
In an interview with the political scientist, Ashutosh Varshney, Rushdie had described democracy as "not a tea party" but a "clash of violently differing opinions". "You can't have a free conversation about ideas without offending some people." Until India recognizes this truth, its hallowed ideal of democracy will remain just a mad tea party.
THE LURE OF NECESSARY EVIL
A TALE OF TWO WOMEN AND A RELUCTANT BOOKSELLER
At the Baruipur railway station one afternoon, a friend and I stood looking up at the showcase that was a part of a choti boi-seller's cart. What lay in that glass casing was a slim volume called Nishiddho Galpo, which the bookseller thought was fit for display only from that high pedestal. We soon realized we had company. About half a dozen men belonging to varying age groups were also gaping at the book cover, on which was an illustration of a bare-bodied young man behind whom stood (we all hoped) a bare-bodied young woman.
These men seemed oblivious of the others till they spotted us. Up till then, there was nothing in the way they longingly looked at the shelf that needed to be spoken about, discussed or justified. No one, not even the shopkeeper around whose stall they were crowding, seemed to mind them staring at the book. It was a guilty secret they all shared, and seemed to have come to an understanding whereby such yearning was a part of life, a 'necessary evil'. They perhaps had a mutual sense of sympathy, as an acknowledgment of their common weakness. This arrangement suddenly seemed disturbed by the presence of two women sharing the same space and performing the same action. So the men started to disperse, hanging around only far enough to hear the conversation we had with the bookseller.
We asked to see the Nishiddho Galpo, to which the fumbling shopkeeper said it was "packed", and would be brought down from the shelf only if we intended to buy it. When we said we did, he considered a little before quoting a figure of hundred rupees for a volume that otherwise costs between five and fifteen rupees. The bookseller was visibly flummoxed when we agreed to pay that amount. As he was desperately fishing for another excuse to ward us off, one of our fellow-gawkers came close enough to contribute: "It is not for sale." As we turned back, disheartened, we thought we saw the seller give his rescuer a grateful look.
The genre of nishiddho galpos cannot really be called banned literature. Writing that is found offensive and subsequently removed from the public domain generally tries to be a part of the mainstream, but fails. Nishiddho galpo stakes no such claim in the mainstream. The very fact that this body of writing describes itself as 'nishiddho' or 'prohibited' might be indicative of the self-reflexive, even guilt-ridden, nature of the writing. The tag acts as a disclaimer, critiquing these stories before others begin to do so, thereby protecting the whole genre from attacks from the censors. This may seem like an ingenious plan. But the purpose of the label is purely utilitarian to communicate to the readers what the content of these stories is.
All those responsible for the existence of such work writers, publishers, distributors and readers know full well that what they are writing, reading or selling is offensive by any yardstick of modesty; they admit that these stories are unfit for society at large. Those who do end up patronizing nishiddho galpos are either believers of freedom of expression who do not find this kind of writing unacceptable, or those who are drawn to them, may be slyly, precisely because they are unacceptable.
'THERE ARE STILL ENOUGH WEAPONS TO DESTROY THE WORLD.'
The United States and Russia have reached an agreement on a new nuclear arms reduction treaty that will limit their nuclear arsenal to 1,550 warheads within the next seven years. This is 74 per cent lower than the number of warheads each was allowed under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and 30 per cent lower than that permitted by the 2002 Moscow Treaty. The agreement limits missiles and bombers to around 700 each. It includes a new verification mechanism that will ensure the 'irreversibility, verifiability and transparency' of the reduction process. The cuts in nuclear arsenal that the US and Russia have agreed to is substantial and the two countries must be applauded for their bold moves. And yet, this is not enough. Both countries still have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over. Thus what the agreement has achieved is only a good beginning, which must be followed through with more drastic cuts until the world is down to zero nuclear weapons. The agreement is an important achievement in President Barack Obama's arms control agenda. He needs to change that agenda to total nuclear disarmament.
While the nuclear arms reduction agreement is a landmark achievement, it might be too early to uncork the champagne bottles. The US and Russia are interpreting the agreement differently with US officials saying that it does not restrict their right to pursue missile defence programmes. Russia has said that it will walk out of the treaty if the US persists with setting up missile defences in eastern Europe.
US officials have said that the nuclear arms reduction agreement will send out a powerful signal to the rest of the world of US commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. It will not, so long as some countries, including the US continue to see nuclear weapons as an important part of their strategy. Expecting other countries to give up their nuclear weapons or not aspire for nuclear weapons is unfair when a few get to keep their nuclear arsenal. It is only when the US, Russia and others stop producing more and smarter nuclear weapons, whether offensive or defensive, and bring their arsenal down to zero that the rest of the world will be convinced. The NPT Review Conference is due in a couple of months. Will the nuclear weapon powers commit themselves then to a deadline for getting rid of their nuclear weapons?
UNBECOMING OF CJI
'THE CJI'S VIEW DILUTES THE GRAVITY OF RAPE AS A CRIME.'
Some remarks recently made by the chief justice of India, K G Balakrishnan, pertaining to rape cases are inappropriate and unbecoming of his position. The CJI said that due regard must be given to the personal autonomy of a rape victim so that she can decide whether she should marry the perpetrator or choose to give birth to a child conceived after the rape. The implications of the statement are disturbing and go against the letter and spirit of the law which prescribes stringent penalty for rape. Rape is a violation of the woman's personality and inflicts immense physical, emotional and psychological damage on the victim. The courts have in the last many years increasingly realised this and made trials in rape cases less traumatic for victims and more effective in bringing the culprits to book. Many rulings have covered fresh ground in the interpretation of the law. But the CJI's view goes against this trend.
The law does not envisage and allow any compromise in a rape case. A judge cannot go beyond the law and take a position that actually weakens it. The CJI's view dilutes the gravity of rape as a crime. The perpetrator of rape should be punished, and not rewarded with marriage. And the rape victim should not be punished with marriage to the person who violated her. Marriage cannot neutralise the crime. A marriage is a relationship based on love and respect, which are not present in rape. And the CJI's views are irrelevant in cases of gang rape, rape within marriage and homosexual rape. Village panchayats sometimes prescribe marriage as a compromise solution in rape cases. But that cannot be the CJI's idea of justice. He also said that lawyers and social activists should not take a paternalistic approach in taking decisions for the rape victims. This may be interpreted to mean that others are more serious about filing and following up rape cases than the victims, which is untrue.
The CJI was not on the bench when he made the remarks, but his views can influence judicial thinking, especially in lower courts. The comments show that he himself is not free of paternalistic and retrograde views on a serious offence. They are especially jarring when the government is planning to make the laws regarding rape more comprehensive and stringent.
A LABOUR TURNAROUND?
THE BETTING, IN A COUNTRY WHERE GAMBLERS BET ON THE ELECTION OUTCOME, IS FOR THE CLOSEST CONTEST IN MODERN MEMORY.
BY JOHN F BURNS
For all but the first few months of the three years he has been at 10 Downing Street, prime minister Gordon Brown has been cast by many of Britain's leading political pundits as a man doomed to lead the Labour Party to a crashing general election defeat by the opposition Conservatives, ending 13 years of Labour rule.
But he may, somehow, avoid that fate for now. The latest opinion polls have shown a marked swing toward Labour with less than six weeks to go before the expected election day, May 6. Many forecasts now are for a neck-and-neck race that could produce a squeaking Labour victory, or a 'hung parliament' in which neither major party achieves a majority.
In that event, the Conservatives, even with more Commons seats than Labour, would probably have to accept a minority government formed by Brown and Labour with the support of the left-leaning Liberal Democrats, Britain's other major party.
It is a prospect that almost strains credulity, given that barely a week has passed in recent months without a jarring new setback for Labour that has compounded its vulnerability. It was, after all, the party in power when Britain plunged into its worst recession since the Depression and with a leader, Brown, who has notably failed to achieve anything near the popularity that powered it to three election victories under Tony Blair.
Last week hit Labour with new blows. The government produced a budget that was seen by financial analysts as more of an election manifesto than a hard-headed plan to deal with the crippling public debt amassed under the party's rule.
The budget did little to relieve Labour's reputation and Brown's, as chancellor of the exchequer during the 10 years of 'rogue capitalism' in Britain that preceded the meltdown.
Just before the budget announcement, Labour was forced to suspend the membership of three former top Labour ministers under Blair who were caught on camera in a sting carried out by a television camera crew in which the officials offered to sell their political influence for up to $7,500 a day. One of them, Stephen Byers, likened himself to a 'cab for hire.'
And Labour-supporting unions went ahead with plans to continue a rolling series of strikes against British Airways, and to begin a four-day shutdown of Britain's national rail network just after Easter. That raised the spectre of the strike chaos that doomed the Labour government in the election that swept Margaret Thatcher to power in 1979.
In recent polls, Brown, 57, has trailed his Conservative rival, David Cameron, 43, when voters are asked who is better suited to be prime minister and lead the country toward economic recovery. The polls also rate Cameron as the more likable of the two men.
Brown is respected for his grit in battling personal and political adversity, including the loss of his own first child, a girl, in infancy in 2002. But there has been growing unease across the country after a run of reports about his cellphone-throwing tantrums behind the scenes, his grumpy manner with senior officials, and the fractious relationship that US officials say he has sometimes had with senior officials of the Obama administration.
Still, parliamentary elections are not just about candidates for prime minister. One of the country's most widely respected pollsters, YouGov, just published a new opinion survey showing that Labour had drawn within two percentage points of the Conservatives, Labour's best showing in two years.
Polls ahead of the election have been notoriously volatile only weeks ago, many were showing the Conservatives with a lead of as much as 12 percentage points, enough for a large Commons majority. But the polls suggest that Labour has made inroads with its main campaign argument: that Cameron and George Osborne, the 38-year-old expected to be chancellor of the exchequer if the Conservatives win, are privileged scions of Britain's traditional ruling class whose pledges to cut government spending more steeply than Labour would immediately plunge the country back into a recession. The new slump, they argue, would disproportionately punish Britain's working class and result in deep cutbacks in health, education and other public services, charges the Conservatives have denied.
The betting now literally, in a country where betting shops offer gamblers a chance to bet on the election outcome is for the closest contest in modern memory.
Cameron responded to the YouGov poll by recalling to the Conservatives' election team, after years of estrangement, two of Britain's best-known advertising executives, Maurice and Charles Saatchi, whose publicity campaigns for the party were credited with helping to achieve Thatcher's 1979 victory and the upset Conservative triumph in 1992.
The YouGov poll was not the only one to shake the Conservatives' confidence. Another survey, by Ipsos MORI, showed that a core Conservative strategy for the election, pouring campaign money into dozens of Labour-held 'marginal' seats the Conservatives have identified as a key to victory, is faltering. Like the YouGov poll, the survey also showed a fall in national support for the Conservatives to a four per cent lead over Labour. Even 'The Daily Telegraph', a strong supporter of the Conservatives, said that thin margin would make it impossible for Cameron to win a Commons majority.
ALLAWI HAS A TOUGH TASK AHEAD IN IRAQ
RIGHTFULLY, ALLAWI SHOULD FORM THE GOVERNMENT. BUT MALIKI IS PULLING OUT ALL THE STOPS TO PREVENT THIS.
BY MICHAEL JANSEN
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.
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.
QUE SERA SERA
THE SONG WAS AN INSTANT HIT IN THE USA AND EQUALLY POPULAR ELSEWHERE.
BY G K GUPTA
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...
RETHINK THE 'TALKBACK' RULING
The Supreme Court last week helped clear up an issue that has been bothering the courts over the past few years, as use of the Internet proliferates accompanied by readers' comments attached to articles on various sites.
Many court rulings have addressed the question of whether those who post comments anonymously should have their identities revealed, because many people would like to sue them for libel and invasion of privacy. Attempts to reveal people's identities through Internet service providers have reached the district courts. Various rulings have set various criteria and have left matters unclear. Only last Thursday, almost three years after someone requested that he be able to appeal a case decided in a district court did the Supreme Court hand down a precedent-setting ruling that will bind lower courts - something we have been awaiting for three years.
The Supreme Court was supposed to decide among various positions. Some justices thought a surfer's identity could be revealed only if there were concerns that he had committed a criminal offense such as libel with malicious intent or incitement to racism. According to another approach, it was sufficient if there were concerns that a civil wrong had been committed; for example, libel without malice. A third approach held that the court should have a series of tests at its disposal to decide on exposure. These tests would include the intensity of the remarks, the extent to which they were disseminated and how malicious they were.
Many people were surprised by the Supreme Court's ruling. In the end, it did not adopt any of the above approaches that would allow the court to order an Internet service provider to reveal the identity of an anonymous "talkbacker." The court ruled, in an opinion by its vice president, Eliezer Rivlin, that Israel's judicial framework does not make it possible to submit a suit whose rationale reveals the writer of an anonymous comment, because no explicit legal instruction exists to this effect.
The approach of the vice president, and of Justice Edmond Levy who joined him in the majority ruling, deserves praise; it is based on the great importance of freedom of expression when it clashes with other social interests such as the individual's right to a good name.
In addition, the ruling establishes the importance of the Internet, which is shared by all as "the new town square," and the right to privacy and anonymity. A minority opinion by Justice Elyakim Rubinstein recognizes the court's authority to use its judgment and order that anonymous surfers be revealed, as is accepted practice in many democratic countries, even if there is no law to this effect. This opinion, however, still stresses the right of a person to keep his good name, while placing conditions and limits on the exposure.
The appearance of anonymous comments is relatively new, but it is not at all clear that it requires new legislation. The minority opinion is also convincing, and it seems that the court had all the means to make a clear decision, as the lower courts have done over the past few years. It may be that in light of its decision, the Supreme Court should rehear the case.
THE PLAGUE OF DARKNESS HAS STRUCK MODERN ISRAELITES
BY AKIVA ELDAR
One of the harshest of the 10 plagues has smitten the children of Israel this Passover, and they are stumbling about in pitch darkness, bumping blindly into anyone in their way as they head toward the edge of the precipice. Warm friends, cool friends, icy enemies: Jordan and Turkey, Brazil and Britain, Germany and Australia - it's all the same.
And if that's not enough, the myopic Jewish state also has gone and collided head-on with the ally that offers existential support. Israel has become an environmental hazard and its own greatest threat. For 43 years, Israel has been ruled by people who have refused to see reality. They speak of "united Jerusalem," knowing that no other country has recognized the annexation of the eastern part of the city. They sent 300,000 people to settle land they know does not belong to them. As early as September 1967, Theodor Meron, then the legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, said there was a categorical prohibition against civilian settlement in occupied territories, under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Meron - who would become the president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and is now a member of the Appeals Chamber for both that court and a similar one for Rwanda - wrote to prime minister Levi Eshkol in a top-secret memorandum: "I fear there is great sensitivity in the world today about the whole question of Jewish settlement in the occupied territories, and any legal arguments that we try to find will not remove the heavy international pressure, from friendly states as well."
It is true that for many years, we have managed to grope our way through the dark and keep the pressure at bay. We did so with the assistance of our neighbors, who were afflicted with the same shortsightedness.
On Sunday, however, the Arab League marked the eighth anniversary of its peace proposals, which offer Israel normalization in exchange for an end to the occupation and an agreed solution to the refugee problem, in accordance with UN Resolution 194. But Israel behaves as if it had never heard of this historic initiative. For the last year, it was too busy realizing its dubious right to establish an illegal settlement in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, turning a blind eye to reality, has tried to persuade the world that what applies to Tel Aviv also applies to Sheikh Jarrah. He simply refuses to see that the world is sick of us. It's easier for him to focus on his similarly nearsighted followers in AIPAC. Tonight they'll all swear "Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem" - including the construction in Ramat Shlomo, of course.
Hillary Clinton is not Jewish, but it was she who had to remind the AIPAC Jews what demography will do to their favorite Jewish democracy in the Middle East. A few days earlier, she had come back from Moscow, where she took part in one of the Quartet's most important meetings. Israeli politicians and media were too busy with the cold reception awaiting Netanyahu at the White House. They never gave any thought to the decision by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations to turn Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's state-building plan from a unilateral initiative into an international project.
The Quartet declared that it was backing the plan, proposed in August 2009, to establish a Palestinian state within 24 months. This was an expression of the Palestinians' serious commitment that the state have a just and proper government and be a responsible neighbor. This means Israel has less than a year and a half to come to an agreement with the Palestinians on the permanent borders, Jerusalem and the refugees. If the Palestinians stick to Fayyad's path, in August 2011, the international community, led by the United States, can be expected to recognize the West Bank and East Jerusalem as an independent country occupied by a foreign power. Will Netanyahu still be trying to explain that Jerusalem isn't a settlement?
For 43 years, the Israeli public - schoolchildren, TV viewers, Knesset members and Supreme Court judges - have been living in the darkness of the occupation, which some call liberation. The school system and its textbooks, the army and its maps, the language and the "heritage" have all been mobilized to help keep Israelis blind to the truth. Luckily, the Gentiles clearly see the connection between the menace of Iranian control spreading across the Middle East and the curse of Israeli control over Islamic holy places.
Monday night, when we read the Passover Haggadah, we should note the plague that follows darkness. That may open our eyes.
ISRAEL IS SLIDING TOWARD MCCARTHYISM AND RACISM
BY DAVID LANDAU
"In every generation a man is to consider himself as if he personally experienced the Exodus from Egypt." That is the central message of the Haggadah, of the seder night and indeed of Passover itself - the Festival of Freedom.
The message isn't necessarily confined to the experience of the Hebrew slaves, who were delivered from bondage. The entire epic of the Exodus is meaningful. Our generation, in particular, the generation of renaissance and occupation, might do well to consider the narrative from the Egyptian perspective.
In other words, how does a society professing the noblest values toward the Other - "In the best of the land bring your father and your brothers to live," Pharaoh urges Joseph (Genesis 47:6); "the foundations of freedom, justice and peace," Israel's Declaration of Independence proclaims - how does such a society come to adopt policies of discrimination, persecution and endless conflict? "Let's double-cross them," the new pharaoh, the one who "knew not Joseph," says of his Jewish minority. "Or else they'll grow demographically, and when war comes, they'll side with the enemy ..." Sound familiar?
How, then, does a society morph in this way? The answer seems to be, inadvertently. Since last Passover, over the first year of Benjamin Netanyahu's prime ministership, Israel has slid almost inadvertently a long way down the slope that leads to McCarthyism and racism.
Inadvertently. That must be the explanation. Otherwise, how to explain the dismal fact that during this year a heinous travesty was perpetrated against Naomi Chazan - and the streets of our cities weren't seething with mass demonstrations? Major crossroads around the country were adorned with a literally Sturmer-like cartoon portraying this hitherto respected and distinguished woman, until recently a deputy speaker of the Knesset, who heads a fund that pours millions of philanthropic dollars into educational and civil, social projects in Israel - and thousands of decent people were not out there shouting, 'Fascism shall not pass!' One needn't like all of the organizations that Chazan's New Israel Fund supports to be outraged and disgusted and frightened by the style of the campaign that was mounted against her. (Full disclosure: I've lectured on occasion for the New Israel Fund.)
What's so depressing about the Chazan affair is not so much the crude brutishness of her adversaries as the limp impotence of the many people who tut-tutted - and did nothing. When this form of inadvertence descends on an enlightened society, it numbs and paralyzes. That, perhaps, is how to understand a recent academic discussion broadcast on Army Radio about the "Nakba Law." A noted jurist explained that a bill submitted by a group of MKs, slapping a three-year jail term on anyone mourning the Nakba ["the catastrophe," as the Palestinians see 1948 and after] on Independence Day was unlikely to get through the Knesset. Even if it did, she went on, it would probably be struck down by the High Court of Justice. The criminal code, she explained, was not the appropriate means to deal with "the problem." However, she added, completely matter-of-fact, a bill cutting off state funding from any local authority marking the Nakba on Independence Day would probably get through. Its curtailment of freedom of speech could be deemed proportionate. (A bill in this vein has since passed its first reading.) Not a word of reservation from this jurist or her interviewer, who himself is an academic lawyer. No value judgment. Just dry academic analysis.
Without making any ghastly comparisons, listening to this radio program, one found oneself thinking that in other countries where the regime steadily transformed from democratic to non-democratic, there must have been liberal-minded, gently spoken academics who provided meticulous, legalistic analysis of malevolent laws enacted against minorities.
As history, both ancient and more recent, teaches us, there is another vital component in the inculcation of a whole society with xenophobia. It's the big lie, repeated over and over until ordinary people inadvertently come to regard it as truth. "Go and worship your God," Pharaoh pretended to Moses, time after time. His own people no doubt believed him.
In our own case, this past year, Netanyahu has incessantly repeated his mantra that he's merely doing in Jerusalem "what all my predecessors have done for 43 years." The purpose of this pretense is to erase from the public mind, at home and abroad, the fact that two of his predecessors negotiated with the Palestinians and the Americans over dividing the city. The purpose, too, is deliberately to blur the hugely significant difference between building in the Jewish neighborhoods that have been developed over decades and forcibly inserting Jewish settlers into all-Arab neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah. The purpose, basically, is to obliterate any chance of implementing the "Clinton parameters" - Jewish areas to Israel, Arab areas to Palestine, Holy Basin to God [or an international consortium representing Him] and thus reaching a fair compromise on Jerusalem.
The demonstrations taking place on Fridays at Sheikh Jarrah offer some smidgen of hope that not everyone has been duped and silenced. The Naomi Chazan front was abandoned. The "Nakba Law" front was lost without a fight. The battle line in Israel's war of survival as a Jewish and democratic state now runs through the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. There, alongside the few brave Israelis out demonstrating, the president of the United States has planted his pennant, too. Is that the line, at last, where Israel's decline will be halted?
RAYAK'S DAILY BREAD
BY ZE'EV SEGAL
Last week, just before Passover, three Supreme Court justices sat in Jerusalem and heard not the story of the Exodus from Egypt, but the appeal by a Muslim inmate whose heart's desire was to receive bread instead of matza during the holiday.
The Tel Aviv District Court had turned down the request by Madaba Mahmoud Rayak, who then took his case to the Supreme Court. There he was opposed by the State Prosecutor's Office, representing the Prison Service's chaplaincy, which was bent on enforcing the precepts demanding the removal of all leaven during Passover, as laid out in the Book of Exodus.
The Jewish and democratic state told a Muslim citizen that it was legal to maintain strict kashrut and all the laws of Passover in a prison wing that housed a mixed population of Jews, Muslims and Christians. And if someone who knows how to ask questions, like the wise son in the Haggadah, inquires why non-Jews should have to observe these precepts, the answer as provided by the Prison Service and upheld by the court was that the Jewish prisoners sharing the cellblock with the Gentiles have the right to live in a leaven-free environment for Passover, and any other solution would lead to unnecessary friction.
The three Supreme Court justices who heard the appeal - Eliezer Rivlin, Edna Arbel and Elyakim Rubinstein - did not reach a unanimous decision. The matter of Rayak's bread touches on religious freedom in the Jewish and democratic State of Israel, and each of the learned jurists saw things differently.
Justice Rubinstein displayed a mastery of the religious laws pertaining to Passover. Although, in rejecting the appeal, he admitted that bread is "decidedly an important component in a regular diet," he summoned up the rule of proportionality that reigns in Israeli constitutional law. And he found no lack of that important legal component in giving all prisoners kosher, unleavened food during Passover.
According to Rubinstein, "There is no constitutional infringement if a Jewish and democratic state does not supply bread to prisoners in cellblocks where both Jews and gentiles are housed." Rubinstein, who seeks the golden mean with the devotion of a pious Jew searching for crumbs of leaven, observed, however, that "no one rummages through personal lockers of non-Jewish prisoners to see if they have prepared a supply of leavened foodstuffs to consume during Passover."
Justice Arbel agreed with Rubinstein, creating the majority that kept bread out of the prisons during Passover. It was sufficient, she found, that prisoners be given the chance to stock up on bread before the holiday for the Supreme Court to avoid having to delve into the basic issues of the relationship between the state and religion.
Justice Rivlin, in a minority opinion, did raise the constitutional banner, bringing up questions that lie at the very roots of a state that seeks a magic formula to let it be a democracy that respects the differences between its equal citizens. He aroused from their slumber the issues of freedom of religion and conscience that are guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence, and which are fundamentals of the constitutional rights of human dignity and liberty. He found that "a Muslim should not have to eat matza or refrain from eating leavened food during Passover." But he added that the "Jews who run the Prisons Service must not be forced to handle leavened foods during Passover."
Thus, maybe next year, the problem could be solved by ensuring that only Gentiles be required to handle leavened food. Fortunately for the Supreme Court, it did not have to make a clear-cut ruling. The majority rejected Rayak's appeal but found a solution that conforms with the philosophy that the precepts of religion and law are "to be lived with." And even the minority opinion saw no need for an unambiguous ruling now, as the prisoner happens to live in a cell with other non-Jews and receives the same food.
Incidentally, the chief chaplain at the Prisons Service also approved that sliced bread be handed out before Passover - bread that remains fresh and can be frozen. The problem has been put on hold until it comes up again, as it surely will, next year in Jerusalem. This is because freedom of religion is not only the freedom to worship according to a certain religion, but also the freedom from the religion of others, and freedom for those who have no religion.
HER FATHER, HIS DAUGHTER
BY YOSSI SARID
The Book of Exodus devotes only half a dozen verses to her. Then she disappears never to return, as though Jewish history had opened its mouth and swallowed up her life and death. In honor of Passover, this entire column is devoted to her so that her goodness and mercy will not be forgotten.
The Egyptians, as we know, oppressed the Israelites, embittering their lives with hard labor. None of that helped them: The Trojan Donkey continued to be fruitful and multiplied, and the fear of the demographic threat only increased. Pay up, Pharaoh.
Ominous reports reached the desks of the decision-makers: The natural population growth among the Hebrews is huge, and should another war break out, they are liable to become another enemy of Egypt. Torture alone, as has been proved, will not solve the problem, so we must adopt harsher measures.
The head of state summoned the Hebrew midwives and gave them new instructions: Kill the boys at birth. He threatened the women, and enticed them as well: They would receive transit permits for the checkpoints, and their husbands would receive work permits in Upper Pithom and Lower Ramses. The midwives refused to be collaborators, and invented an excuse: The Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women, they are like animals - they give birth anywhere, without medical supervision.
The rais had no choice but to turn directly to all his people, commanding them to throw into the Nile any newborn son who was not a proper Egyptian.
And here she entered the picture, as she went down to bathe in the Nile, accompanied by her maidservants. Suddenly she saw a basket in the reeds, and inside the basket was a little boy, crying. She immediately realized that this was a Jewish boy, defied her father, and saved a life.
She was not obligated. Most people would not have behaved as she did. After all, she would not have had to drown an infant with her own hands, she only had to turn away, not see, not understand. That's what everyone does - they turn their backs, shrug their shoulders and walk on. But she was not like everyone, she was different.
Not only did she pull him out of the water and rescue him, she hired a wet nurse. And when the child got older she took him into her home, adopted him as a son, and gave him a name.
What happened to this unique woman? The text does not tell us. Rumor is followed by rumor; where is she today?
One rumor has it that her father was very angry at her, sent her away from him, and she was pursued by a cursing mob that shouted, "Jew-lover, Jew-lover." Some testify that she fled to Rafah, and under a new identity helped children there, until one night she was run over by a bulldozer. Someone once swore to me that he saw her dressed in black, standing there with her girlfriends next to a checkpoint, observing the soldiers' behavior and recording it. There's no chance that she'll change, she's a lost cause.
If we survived Pharaoh, it is thanks to her. And if we have to survive more Pharaohs, we will do so thanks to women like her, and perhaps a few men, too.
Is it too late to declare her a "righteous Gentile"?
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
PRESIDENT OBAMA IN KABUL
President Obama's visit to Afghanistan on Sunday was a long overdue, and desperately needed, attempt to persuade President Hamid Karzai to clean up his act.
American officials have repeatedly warned Mr. Karzai that unless he truly commits to eradicating corruption (including among his own family members), improving governance and institutionalizing the rule of law, there is no chance of defeating the Taliban. Mr. Karzai has repeatedly shrugged off those warnings.
We hope that hearing it directly from the American president will finally make the difference. There is certainly no more time to waste.
Mr. Karzai has a long history of telling the international community what it wants to hear while he and his aides continue to do whatever they choose.
The most outrageous example was the brazen attempt by Mr. Karzai's loyalists to steal last year's presidential election. After Washington belatedly cried foul, Mr. Karzai seemed inclined to mend his ways. His inaugural speech in November resonated with high-minded purpose, with promises to end the "culture of impunity." But as Gen. James Jones, Mr. Obama's national security adviser, said en route to Kabul, the administration wanted Mr. Karzai to "understand that in his second term, there are certain things that have not been paid attention to, almost since Day 1."
Mr. Karzai has strengthened the government's anticorruption commission, and his attorney general is pressing forward on some cases involving former government figures. Still, corruption remains rife, including in Kandahar, where American and NATO forces are about to begin a major operation to rout the Taliban.
Mr. Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is the main power broker in Kandahar and reportedly has strong ties to the opium trade. If he is truly committed to rooting out corruption, President Karzai can start by pushing his brother to step aside as leader of the Kandahar provincial council.
He must also cut ties with many other corrupt officials and warlords and ensure that war criminals and human rights abusers are held accountable. His recent decision to sign a law giving amnesty to some of the worst offenders is especially worrying.
The United States and others rightly cried foul the administration even canceled Mr. Karzai's
planned White House visit after the Afghan president issued a decree that would allow him to appoint all of the members of the election watchdog commission that exposed the fraud in last year's election. Mr. Karzai should reverse that decree and return to the previous and far more credible formula under which the United Nations chose three of the five members.
Mr. Obama made the right decision to send another 30,000 troops to help drive the Taliban out of important strongholds. But there is no way to hold those cities and towns without an effective Afghan government (at both the federal and local level) to take over. And after eight years of fighting, more than 1,000 American lives lost and more than $200 billion from American taxpayers spent, Mr. Karzai's failure to build a credible, honest and even minimally effective government remains the Taliban's No. 1 recruiting tool.
Mr. Karzai's failure to devote maximum effort to fix his government is self-destructive. So is his recent cozying up to Iran's repressive government a clear effort to spite his American critics. We hope Mr. Obama told Mr. Karzai all of that in no uncertain terms. He will have to keep telling Mr. Karzai in the months ahead.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
RIGHT OF PASSAGE
A Mississippi school board was grossly discriminatory and mean-spirited when it told Constance McMillen that she could not attend her high school prom with her girlfriend. A ruling by a federal judge that Ms. McMillen's constitutional rights had been violated is a welcome sign that gay people are continuing to make progress toward equality. It should also be a warning to school districts nationwide about the cost of discrimination.
Ms. McMillen, a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School, has identified herself as a lesbian since the eighth grade. After the school learned that she was planning to take her girlfriend to the prom, it told her that the two could attend alone or with male dates but not as a couple. When Ms. McMillen asked if she could wear a tuxedo, she was told that she would have to wear a dress.
The American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter protesting those decisions and the district responded by canceling the prom. It was a move that called to mind the school districts across the South that canceled their proms during the civil rights era rather than open them to black and white students on an equal basis. The A.C.L.U. sued on Ms. McMillen's behalf.
The north Mississippi courtroom of Judge Glen H. Davidson, a former Tupelo city prosecutor named to the bench by Ronald Reagan, might not seem like the most hospitable forum for Ms. McMillen. But Judge Davidson ruled last week that the First Amendment right of self-expression is denied when students are prohibited from attending the prom with a same-sex date. Similarly, he said, Ms. McMillen's right to communicate a message that women should not be required to wear traditionally female clothing was infringed when she was prohibited from wearing a tuxedo.
Judge Davidson did not order the school to restore the prom because parents are expected to hold one that Ms. McMillen and her girlfriend will be able to attend. As a result of the ruling, the school district may be liable for damages for violating Ms. McMillen's rights, and for attorneys' fees. The school's treatment of Ms. McMillen was horrible, but she and gay and lesbian students everywhere have emerged from this battle as the clear winners.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AN EDUCATION BASIC
Nearly 600,000 students in the New York City area take the bus or subway to school. For years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has given most of them three free rides per school day. With the transit agency facing severe budget deficits and paring staff and services, it has threatened to eliminate all student passes. Officials say it would save $214 million a year.
The transportation authority's situation is dire. But when it comes to public education, this is as basic as it gets: young people can't learn if they can't get to class. The authority, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Albany need to make that commute as affordable as possible.
For 15 years, the state, the city and the transit agency have each contributed at least $45 million for student transportation. The city is promising its $45 million, but the state cut last year's contribution to $6 million. That leaves a big gap for the transit agency to fill at a time when there is no money to fill it.
One partial stopgap would be to limit the number of free rides to two per day. The third ride was allowed for an after-school program that often is beneficial but not absolutely essential. A much better answer, and one that would do more to close the authority's budget gap, is to start charging the drivers who use four toll-free bridges into Manhattan.
Richard Ravitch, now the lieutenant governor, proposed this idea last year as part of a broader plan for new fare increases and fees from everyone who uses the public transit system. Albany was willing to extract money from riders, businesses and taxi passengers but let those drivers off the hook.
One politician who staunchly resisted the new tolls has now reversed course. State Senator Pedro Espada Jr., a Bronx Democrat, announced last week that he favors a $2 dollar-per-car toll for the four bridges, with the money deployed to help save student discounts.
Mr. Espada has had trouble getting people to stand with him, partly because he is being investigated by state and federal officials for campaign violations. Still, the tolls are a sound, fair idea that would also bring more stability to the transit agency's finances.
In most places, children get a free ride in a big yellow school bus. In New York City, the buses and subways play the role of that yellow bus. The city's students should be able to keep their free or cut-rate rides.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
Lately, I've been studying celestial navigation, the seafaring kind that requires a sextant, a chronometer, and a nautical almanac. It's a way of adding a little trigonometry to a life that's mostly addition and subtraction.
I began this project just as spring arrived and noticed that spring, to navigators, isn't so much a season as a point. There it is in the nautical almanac, just between 5 and 6 p.m. (make that between 17:00 and 18:00) on March 20 when the sun passed from a southern latitude to a northern latitude.
There's more to it than that, which is one of the basic rules of celestial navigation. Spring is the vernal equinox one of two points of intersection between the ecliptic and the celestial equator. (The other is the autumnal equinox.) It's also the moment when the sun reaches what's called the First Point of Aries, a fictional line of demarcation, like the Greenwich Meridian, that happens now to be in Pisces.
I am not going to try to explain these things since I'm just beginning to grasp them myself. But this much seems to be true: In the nautical almanac, spring comes like clockwork, whether the snow has already withdrawn or is falling fast. The table of hour angles and declinations that pinpoints celestial spring seems to say, "Here it is, just where it always was. Make what you will of it." It's all dreadfully precise.
And then there is terrestrial spring, which is a matter of hints and wishes, promise and hope, a season that is only vaguely calendrical. On the first day of spring, I was driving along the Shields River in Montana looking out at a season that is really called "calving." It was nearly over. Most of the new calves wore eartags and moved with confidence. Some chased each other across the fields and around their sober dams, as though they could never grow up to be that stolid. A few seemed already businesslike, thuggish, looking across the fence line at a wider and more forbidding world.
Along the edge of one creek-bottom ranch, a cow had just given birth, the umbilical still trailing from her as she tried to lick her calf to its feet. It rose and stumbled. The cow seemed both agitated and patient, eager to have her calf on its feet, but somehow certain that it would be soon. I moved down the road because there were other things for her to think about besides me. On a tree in the next pasture there were six bald eagles, waiting. There were ravens on the fence and magpies in the ditch, their young yet to come.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE MAGIC POTION
BY BOB HERBERT
With the marathon effort to overhaul the health care system behind us, it is time for the Obama administration to move quickly and powerfully to the monumental task of putting Americans back to work.
The just-say-no crowd will insist that we can't afford a real effort to revitalize employment, that budget deficits are too high, that the economy will recover without additional government stimulus, that the president has used up most of his political capital, and that there isn't much that government can do under any circumstances to create jobs.
Meanwhile, the United States is in real danger of sinking into a long-term economic funk. The recession is not over for the nearly 15 million people who are unemployed. Many of them have been out of work for longer than six months, a seeming eternity. Widespread joblessness and underemployment are threatening to become permanent features of the American landscape, corroding not just our standards of living but the very vibrancy of the American way of life.
Poverty and homelessness are increasing. More and more adult children, unable to find work, are living with their parents. The Times's Michael Luo wrote in Monday's paper about the increasing phenomenon of workers accepting jobs for which, in terms of their education and experience, they are considered overqualified.
Those who think some kind of robust recovery is hiding around the corner, just waiting to spring a pleasant surprise on us, are deluded. Too many families and individuals are tapped out. They're struggling from week to week and month to month just to meet the necessities of housing, food and energy costs. Those crazed, debt-driven buying sprees that held the economy aloft for so long are over.
Foreclosure notices went out to 2.8 million households last year and that figure is expected to top 3 million this year. Nearly 1 in every 4 homes with mortgages is "underwater," which means that the mortgage holder owes more on the property than it is worth.
You can't get back to a robust economy without putting Americans back to work. The economy needs to be rebuilt on a solid foundation of good jobs at good pay, and many of those jobs will have to come from thriving new industries. This is a long-term project that demands big-time government involvement. It will require the kind of commitment over an even longer period of time that President Obama and the Democrats in Congress gave to their health care initiative.
Franklin Roosevelt had it right in his first Inaugural Address when he declared, "Our greatest primary task is to put people to work." He underscored the urgency of the task when he said it should be treated "as we would treat the emergency of a war."
The administration and Congressional leaders have been touting some recent legislation as "jobs bills," but they are small-bore initiatives that will accomplish little. What is needed are bold new initiatives on several fronts. The federal government needs to do much more to help state and local governments that are in desperate fiscal straits because of falling tax revenues and are responding by laying off workers and cutting essential services.
A long-term program to rebuild the nation's infrastructure (which was only made worse by the harsh winter) would create jobs and establish a sound industrial platform for 21st-century industries.
The transformation to a greener economy needs to be accelerated, and most of the manufacturing associated with that newer, greener economy should take place in the United States. And some new variation of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps should be developed to put economically distressed young people to work. What is happening to young, out-of-work and poorly educated American kids not just in the big cities, but increasingly in suburban and rural areas, as well is tragic.
The United States is a rich nation. To say that we cannot afford to do the things necessary to shore up the quality of our lives and establish a brighter future for coming generations is absurd. We always seem to have money for warfare and to bolster the interests of the monied classes.
As for the budget deficits, they will never be brought under control if Americans are not put back to work.
Unemployment drives deficits by depriving the government of tax revenues and dramatically increasing the costs of safety-net programs and other public services. Putting Americans to work will ultimately make it much easier to begin bringing the deficits down.
The closest thing to a magic potion for individuals, families and the American economy is a job. F.D.R. understood that. The longer it takes for the rest of us to catch on, the deeper the long-term damage to the society will be.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE SANDRA BULLOCK TRADE
BY DAVID BROOKS
Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?
On the one hand, an Academy Award is nothing to sneeze at. Bullock has earned the admiration of her peers in a way very few experience. She'll make more money for years to come. She may even live longer. Research by Donald A. Redelmeier and Sheldon M. Singh has found that, on average, Oscar winners live nearly four years longer than nominees that don't win.
Nonetheless, if you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn't matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn't matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.
This isn't just sermonizing. This is the age of research, so there's data to back this up. Over the past few decades, teams of researchers have been studying happiness. Their work, which seemed flimsy at first, has developed an impressive rigor, and one of the key findings is that, just as the old sages predicted, worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through.
For example, the relationship between happiness and income is complicated, and after a point, tenuous. It is true that poor nations become happier as they become middle-class nations. But once the basic necessities have been achieved, future income is lightly connected to well-being. Growing countries are slightly less happy than countries with slower growth rates, according to Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution and Eduardo Lora. The United States is much richer than it was 50 years ago, but this has produced no measurable increase in overall happiness. On the other hand, it has become a much more unequal country, but this inequality doesn't seem to have reduced national happiness.
On a personal scale, winning the lottery doesn't seem to produce lasting gains in well-being. People aren't happiest during the years when they are winning the most promotions. Instead, people are happy in their 20's, dip in middle age and then, on average, hit peak happiness just after retirement at age 65.
People get slightly happier as they climb the income scale, but this depends on how they experience growth. Does wealth inflame unrealistic expectations? Does it destabilize settled relationships? Or does it flow from a virtuous cycle in which an interesting job produces hard work that in turn leads to more interesting opportunities?
If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.
If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbors. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime (regardless of whether actual crime rates are increasing or decreasing).
The overall impression from this research is that economic and professional success exists on the surface of life, and that they emerge out of interpersonal relationships, which are much deeper and more important.
The second impression is that most of us pay attention to the wrong things. Most people vastly overestimate the extent to which more money would improve our lives. Most schools and colleges spend too much time preparing students for careers and not enough preparing them to make social decisions. Most governments release a ton of data on economic trends but not enough on trust and other social conditions. In short, modern societies have developed vast institutions oriented around the things that are easy to count, not around the things that matter most. They have an affinity for material concerns and a primordial fear of moral and social ones.
This may be changing. There is a rash of compelling books including "The Hidden Wealth of Nations" by David Halpern and "The Politics of Happiness" by Derek Bok that argue that public institutions should pay attention to well-being and not just material growth narrowly conceived.
Governments keep initiating policies they think will produce prosperity, only to get sacked, time and again, from their spiritual blind side.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MOSCOW UNDER ATTACK
BY SERGEY KUZNETSOV
EVERY time some disaster hits the Moscow subway, I remember that Soviet propaganda used to call this the most beautiful subway in the world.
Incredibly, in this one case, it wasn't lying: Moscow subway stations are marble palaces with pillars, mosaics and statues of happy swimmers and oarswomen.
Despite all this decoration, I was afraid of the subway as a child. I felt that there was some hidden terror in the gap between the sparkling stations and the dark noisy tunnels with their all-too-obvious symbolism.
Most of my life has been spent along the same subway line. Its official name is Frunzenskaya, but since Muscovites nickname their subway lines according to their color on the map, everybody just calls it Red Line.
This morning when I made my way to the nearest station, Park Kultury, I heard sirens and saw fire trucks, ambulances and police cars near the entrance.
"What the hell is that?" my wife asked. I got my iPhone and read the news.
"It's an explosion at the Lubyankya station," I told her. "Forty minutes ago."
"We must have had a second one," she said. She was right: five minutes later, the news agencies reported an explosion inside Park Kultury.
Moscow, understandably, was in a panic. Monday was the first day after spring break. The Beslan school hostage crisis of 2004 took place on the first day after summer vacation.
Out of the panic came conspiracy theories. It was said that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was starting his next presidential campaign. After all, his rise to power in 1999 began with his fierce response to a series of explosions that destroyed Moscow apartment buildings. Others said the explosions had been set by Mr. Putin's foes, using a terrorist attack to rock the boat. The majority blamed Chechens and Islamic terrorists.
In addition to the political conspiracy theories, the explosions carried symbolic force: the first station to be bombed was near the former K.G.B. building. "Lubyanka" is an informal term for state security and the symbol of Soviet state terror.
I don't know why nobody has thus far pointed out that Park Kultury the Park of Culture and Recreation is a symbol of the Grand Totalitarian Style, the almost joyous aesthetic of Stalin's era, represented by those statues of happy swimmers and oarswomen in the station.
In fact, Park Kultury and Lubyanka are two sides of the Soviet epoch. The contrast between them represents the gap between the marble stations and the dark tunnels that frightened me.
Of course, this analogy is the same rubbish as most conspiracy theories ....
I am writing about the history of the Moscow subway, my childhood, the two sides of the Soviet epoch because I don't want to think about the dead and injured, about their loved ones, their families.
In the end, nobody knows who is responsible for this attack. They have simply reminded Muscovites: Evil exists, and horror is always right beside you.
Tomorrow, we will wake up and live with these truths. At least, until we forget them again, as we have many times before.
Sergey Kuznetsov is the author of the novel "Butterfly Skin."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BY PETER ALESHKOVSKY
I WAS on the St. Petersburg-Moscow Express when I learned about the explosions in the Moscow subway. Ninety minutes out, my neighbor got a call on his cellphone. He asked loudly: "Papa, you at home? What happened?" He spoke for a long time in a whisper, then turned to me and said, "An hour ago there were two explosions in the Moscow metro."
I hurriedly called Mama. Mondays she works in the Historical Museum on Red Square. It's close to Lubyanka, where one of the explosions was. Thank God, she travels on a different subway line.
"You alive?" I asked.
"Alive, alive!" she replied. "I'm in the metro, can't hear, call back later."
Life can be so absurd. She didn't know about the bombing yet, and answered, as always, with a joke. I often ask her this foolish question; it's become a tradition.
A moment later, I got a text message from my daughter in Mumbai, where she's shooting a documentary. "You alive there? Not by chance riding metro?"
"Alive, and you?" I typed back.
"Need $400, want to stay longer, can u send?"
Next my son, a photojournalist, called from Georgia. "Papa, you alive?"
"Well, I've got a sore throat. I rented a Ford Explorer and am heading out today for Batumi."
All the other passengers in the car seemed to be asking the same questions. Everyone snuggled up to their cellphones. Soon the network had shut down.
So had Moscow. I barely got a taxi.
Cars trudged through the streets or stood still. The taxi driver gouged me and swore at everyone: terrorists, the government. He leaned out his window, howling at everyone who cut him off. The radio announced 26 dead. "There'll be more, they're all lying," he said. "Those beasts, I would hack them up into little pieces."
I kept silent. I wanted to get home. I turned to stare out the window.
At home I flipped on the news. Reports said that this was the 10th terrorist attack on the metro since 1974. I sank into the couch and decided that tomorrow I would send $400 to my daughter in Mumbai.
Though I don't feel like going outside.
Peter Aleshkovsky is the author of the forthcoming novel "Fish: A History of One Migration." This essay was translated by Paul E. Richardson from the Russian.
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
The story in this publication about a scam by the petroleum ministry which cost the nation a staggering $1 billion is enough to cause many hearts to sink. Those of us and the number of such citizens runs into millions who genuinely feel for this nation and its plight can only wonder at the mindset of those who think nothing of stealing away even the dwindling assets this country still has and leaving its people even more deprived than they already are. But beyond corruption, the story -- of how a lucrative contract for Liquefied Natural Gas was awarded to the highest bidder, a French firm, rather than the lowest, the Fauji Foundation and a reputable multinational who had bid jointly -- says something too about the working of our system. Mr Shaukat Tarin, the finance minister at the time, has said the lower bid in fact never appeared before the Economic Coordination Council (ECC) when it made its decision. Surely some mechanism should be in place to ensure all bids reach the right quarters and are not suppressed. Tarin apparently learnt of the Fauji Foundation bid only when he received a call from the head of the organisation. By then it was too late to act.
As things now stand, the matter is before the federal cabinet. The petroleum minister claims the rejected lower bid was 'unsuitable'. We need experts to tell us how true this is. But the fact is that the reputation of the sitting government, as far as foul play goes, is so bad that all rumours and insinuations will stick. There are many who believe rampant corruption will be a key factor in undermining democracy as indeed has been the case in the past. For the country this is a tragedy. The belief that those in government are lining their pockets through shady deals angers people and adds to the distrust that has created a yawning chasm between the people and their political leaders. Now that the affair is out in the open, the government needs to act. The cabinet must examine the facts before it and do so in an open and transparent way. Anybody found guilty must be penalised under the relevant law. It is important to set examples. In Islamabad, rumours float of all kinds of other scandals. Even the power crisis is linked to a desire to make money. Once perceptions are created they are hard to wipe away. But it is also true that smoke rarely exists when there is no fire. It is vital to douse the flames if there is to be any hope of cleaning up the atmosphere.
I. THE NEWS
STICKS AND CARROTS
President Obama's flying visit to Afghanistan fourteen months after taking office was overdue, and although it was brief he seems to have made the most of it. Not only did he thank US and Afghan forces for their efforts in battling the Taliban and Al Qaeda but he took President Karzai aside for a few quiet words. It has been widely reported that the US is less than delighted with the way Karzai has been running the show of late. He has supported and brokered talks with the Taliban that are considered 'too soon' by the Americans; and his government is stuffed with massively corrupt officials who have connived at the creation of the world's first narco-state. He has also presided over an election last year that saw him re-elected -- but at the cost of what was left of his credibility as a man worthy of the role.
Whilst we cannot know exactly what passed between the two men and the members of the Afghan cabinet who were also present, it is reasonable to assume that President Obama delivered a 'do more' message. Do more to counter corruption in both federal and provincial governments, do more to cut the narcotics trade which is where much of the money comes from which fuels the Taliban and do more to interdict the border with ourselves which is not so much porous as simply open for much of its length. It makes a refreshing change to hear the 'do more' mantra being spoken to a state other than Pakistan, and it will not have escaped the notice of President Karzai that President Obama was fulsome in his praise for our own efforts against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Nor will it have escaped the notice of India, which will be viewing the prospect of an American withdrawal with a degree of anxiety the more so as Pakistan appears to be increasingly ebullient and confident after what all sides seem to agree was a successful meeting in the US last week. President Obama came in the darkness and left in the darkness, but he shone a powerful light on President Karzai who is a man who has to do more, much more, if the efforts of the Americans and a host of other nations, ourselves included, are not to have been in vain.
I. THE NEWS
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, children are being recruited to join the 'lashkars' supported by the government to take on Taliban remnants in the tribal areas. This is unacceptable not only on the grounds of humanity but also international law which prevents the use of children as soldiers. Herded into madressahs, kidnapped and taken to seminaries where they were trained as suicide bombers and used as pawns in a conflict that has raged on for months, these children of the north have suffered enough. They deserve a break. Indeed, the primary responsibility of the government must be to give them back the childhood they have been robbed of.
How can this be done? In the first place it is important to make a greater effort to reopen schools. In Bajaur, for example, many schools remain shut despite official orders, mainly because buildings have been damaged or teachers remain displaced. In Swat too the damage to buildings and the loss of records have caused problems. The attempt to give children back some sense of normalcy needs to be expedited. There is also an acute sense of trauma, with the UNHCR setting up 25 centres where psychologists counsel people. Most who turn to them are women and children. Forcing children to engage in further conflict can only worsen their suffering. Steps must be taken to prevent the informal militias from enrolling kids. These children need pens, and not guns. The issue is one that deserves priority attention, so that the welfare of those who will constitute the future of the conflict zone can be safeguarded.
I. THE NEWS
THE CASE FOR PAKHTUNKHWA
The debate on renaming the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) is serious business because it concerns the identity of its people and their place in the federation of Pakistan. However, the direction it has taken is sometimes comical, and at best uninformed and politicised. Coining a new name for the province has become a favourite pastime for many people and, surprisingly, even those not belonging to it appear keen to select, if not impose, a name of their own choices.
Names such as Neelab, Nuristan and Darul Islam have been proposed for NWFP. People with fertile imaginations and unconcerned that the issue was to provide identity to its majority Pakhtun population came up with still more bizarre names that don't even deserve to be discussed. Abaseen and Khyber were pushed into the limelight after receiving backing from the PML-N and PML-Q. Abaseen is a name used for River Indus that runs not just through the NWFP but also Gilgit-Baltistan, Punjab and Sindh, while Khyber is the name of a mountain pass that links Afghanistan with Pakistan.
Khyber Pass is the most famous of them, but we also have the Gomal, Tochi, Khojak, Nawa and other passes that connect the two countries. Naming educational institutions, banks and other institutions after Khyber has been a popular option because it is non-controversial and possibly also for want of more suitable names. But neither Abaseen nor Khyber could confer the identity that most people in NWFP seek in demanding the renaming of their province.
Lately, compound names have been proposed for NWFP as a compromise to overcome the deadlock between the two major parties to the dispute, the Awami National Party (ANP) and the PML-N. Hyphenation to "Pakhtunkhwa" of names including "Abaseen," "Khyber," "Hazara" and "Afghania" have been suggested as a way out of the stalemate. But not only will this make the new name long, but there will be no end to demands by other parts of NWFP, including Dera Ismail Khan and Chitral, seeking the addition of the names of the own regions. Certain politicians from Dera Ismail Khan even suggested "Pakhtunkhwa-Dera-Hazara." One didn't hear Gandhara, the old Buddhist-era name of the Frontier, as a possible new name, or part of a compound name. Gandhara is certainly better in the historical context than, say, Khyber and Abaseen.
It is understandable if politicians with an eye to their respective vote banks adopt unreasonable attitudes on the issue. But it is disappointing if respected people such as Air Marshal (r) M Asghar Khan and retired civil servant Kunwar Idris don't check their facts before commenting on the question. Writing in a newspaper on March 28, Asghar Khan commented that "in a province in which the Pakhtuns are a little over half its population, insisting on renaming it Pakhtunkhwa could prove a divisive one." He also proposed Sarhad, which means "border" and is already used in reference to the province in Urdu, as the new name. In the same paper, Dawn, the same day, Kunwar Idris wrote that "most Punjabi- and Hindko-speaking inhabitants of the province (who, perhaps, outnumber the Pashto speakers)..." He also said that Pakhtunkhwa would carry a ring of Pakhtunistan for the devout Muslim Leaguers opposed to the ANP, which is spearheading the campaign for the name Pakhtunkhwa.
For the information of Asghar Khan, Kunwar Idris and others, the 1998 census showed that 73.9 per cent of NWFP's population spoke Pashto, 3.86 per cent, largely in Dera Ismail Khan, spoke Saraiki, 0.97 per cent Punjabi, 0.78 per cent Urdu, 0.04 per cent Sindhi and 0.01 per cent Balochi. A significant 20.43 per cent people listed in the "Others" column obviously included speakers of Hindko (believed to around 18 per cent), Chitrali, Gojri and other languages. The next population census must have separate columns for Hindko and the other languages to avoid future controversies.
73.9 per cent Pakhtuns in the census mentioned Pashto as their mother tongue, though there are many others in Dera Ismail Khan, including the Jadoons, Tarins, Mashwanis and Swatis in Hazara region and Miankhels, Gandapurs and Kundis, who are Pakhtuns but have forgotten Pashto. Challenge them that they aren't Pakhtun, and there is a chance they might come to blows with you.
The census figures for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), which are geographically and politically part of NWFP, are even more revealing in terms of the Pakhtun identity of the population. In 1998 an overwhelming 99.1 per cent of the 3.176 million population of Fata, to which the change of name will also apply, declared Pashto as their mother tongue. Even though the tribal areas have a largely separate administrative setup, it is headed by the governor of NWFP. If the Fata figures are added to those of the settled areas or districts falling under NWFP, the percentage of Pakhtuns and Pashto-speakers will rise even further.
In opposing the renaming of the province to Pakhtunkhwa, the two Muslim League factions led by Mian Nawaz Sharif and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain are driven by the fear of losing votes in certain non-Pashto-speaking areas. These are the only two significant political parties represented in parliament that object to the name Pakhtunkhwa. The Jamaat-e-Islami and Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf -- lacking representation in the parliament after unwisely boycotting the 2008 general elections and now keen to contest every by-election to get back into the assemblies -- also have reservations about Pakhtunkhwa and would likely support a provincial referendum on the issue. Almost all other political parties support Pakhtunkhwa, or in case of a stalemate, the alternative names Pakhtunistan and Afghania.
If democratic norms are to be followed, then the wishes of the majority need to be respected in the renaming. The NWFP Assembly, reflecting the will of the people, a passed resolution in favour of Pakhtunkhwa by majority vote in November 1997, with only the Saifullah brothers, Salim and Humayun, opposing it, and lawmakers from the PML-N, which was then a coalition partner of the ANP in NWFP, abstaining from the vote.
Abstention isn't opposition and the decision not to oppose the resolution was taken to save the coalition government from collapsing. Politics rather than principles was behind this decision by the then PML-affiliated chief minister Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan, Pir Sabir Shah and other Hazara politicians now in the forefront of opposition to Pakhtunkhwa. It is intriguing that the PML-N, according to Pir Sabir Shah, was willing to accept Afghania as the new name for NWFP. Though the ANP leadership too appears ready to agree to Afghania, it is difficult to understand how this name would protect the identity of non-Pakhtuns in Hazara or elsewhere who believe Pakhtunkhwa would wipe out their identity. Abaseen, Khyber and other names too cannot give an identity to the non-Pakhtun populations, but they would certainly deprive the majority Pakhtuns of their identity.
The argument against Pakhtunkhwa that it is ethnic-based is neutralised by the fact that all other provinces in Pakistan carry names that identify the majority ethnic groups living there. Even if Punjab is named after its five rivers or Sindh after the River Indus, the majority populations in the two provinces have come to be known as Punjabis and Sindhis. Balochistan is obviously named after the Baloch, the majority ethnic group in the province along with their Brahvi cousins.
Controversies would erupt if Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan were to be renamed today. The number of Saraiki-speakers in Punjab are 17.36 per cent of its population, compared to 75.23 Punjabis; in Sindh only 59.73 per cent of the population speaks Sindhi, while 21.05 per cent speaks Urdu; 6.99 per cent speak Punjabi and 4.19 per cent Pashto; in Balochistan, not more than 54.76 per cent of the population name Balochi as their mother tongue, compared to 29.64 per cent naming Pashto, 5.58 per cent Sindhi, 2.52 per cent Punjabi, and 2.42 per cent Saraiki. In fact, Pashto-speakers in NWFP and Fata form the largest group of a single ethnicity in any province in Pakistan.
Ignoring the aspirations of the Pakhtun people (15.42 per cent), who form the second-largest ethnic group in Pakistan after Punjabis (44.15 per cent) and refusing to provide them an identity in the renaming of their province, would be both undemocratic and unjust.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahimy firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
NAWAZ SHARIF'S IMMUNITY
One of the increasing sentiments among many democrats in Pakistan over the last few weeks has been the sense that perhaps we need to lay off the parties and their leaders. Limited, corrupt, centralized and myopic as they may be, what other choices do Pakistanis have? The military has already taken over the big picture decisions in the country, with the active acquiescence of the sitting government. The presence of the head of the Pakistani military in Washington DC for the strategic dialogue was only a manifestation of this. In practice, most key decisions have been getting made out of Rawalpindi for several months. Instead of piling on criticism, and increasing the aura of illegitimacy around Pakistan's mainstream political parties, it seems reasonable to begin to cut the politicians some slack. Pakistan's democracy can ill-afford another era of military-led, opinion-neutered King's Party politics. The nausea from the last trip on that roller coaster is still palpable, the tailspin it put Pakistan's institutions in, still dizzying.
Of course, to begin to actively cut politicians some slack at a time when the PML-N has completely gone off the rails would be patently unfair. The PPP has been in government for nearly two full years, and for almost the entire duration of its existence the government, the PPP leadership, and public policy under the PPP coalition have all been treated with an unforgiving critical lens. This is not to say that an unforgiving critical lens has been unnecessary or unfair. Most of this government and its policies have deserved being skewered by a Pakistani commentariat that is very skilled at barbeque, every night.
The PML-N during this time has been the beneficiary of the greatest era of good fortune ever enjoyed by any political party during the history of this country. Having Asif Ali Zardari as president will do that for you. Having a core cabinet in which Rehman Malik is a visible figure will do that for you. Having terrorists define the national narrative at a time when democratic institutions and public policy should have been front and centre will do that for you.
Nawaz Sharif's decision to support the lawyers' movement for the restoration of the judiciary was central to this era of good fortune. Without having to construct either the narrative for the rule of law or the movement to stand up to military unilateralism, by standing with the lawyers, the PML-N suddenly assumed a significant share of the political identity of the movement.
The Punjab governor's tactless suspension of the Punjab government was even more crucial to the success of the PML-N brand as the party of choice in the hearts and minds of Pakistan's political mainstream, especially in the urban stretch between Rawalpindi and Multan. Pakistanis love an underdog, and despise power-tripping bullies that treat underdogs with contempt.
So what has Nawaz Sharif done with all this instant karma? Not much is the short answer. For beginners, Sharif's first name is still part of the core existence of his party. The party's "Muslim League" credentials, in a country with a PML-Q, a PML (Functional), a PML (Ejaz) and several others are unclear. The only real distinction between the Noon League, and other Leagues is that the folks in Noon are loyal to Nawaz Sharif. Despite having two years to reconstitute the image and the reality of the PML-N as a family owned enterprise, Nawaz Sharif still owns the PML-N -- both as the party's image, and as its reality.
In Punjab, despite enjoying uncontested grassroots political support for the better part of two years, the PML-N provincial government has been unable to manage its image entirely. The provincial government is hardly ever seen as one that is responsible for anything positive, despite having several achievements, topmost being the fostering national integrity through its reasonable positions on the NFC award. Instead, in living rooms and on coffee tables nationwide, the Punjab government is seen as a bickering and clumsy operation, which is easily upended by the irrepressible Salmaan Taseer. The most visible frontman for the Punjab government is often not Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, but rather his law minister Rana Sanaullah -- a political figure that is now firmly associated with sectarian outfits in Punjab. The provincial government can cry hoarse about the moral equivalence of Salman Taseer himself courting sectarian parties in Punjab, but in politics, as in life, it is perception that is reality. The reality is that the PML-N offers no challenge at all to the PPP's skilled manipulation of the news cycle. The overall impact on the PML-N getting routinely outmanoeuvred by Taseer in Punjab is in fact quite significant.
After the lawyers' movement, one of the political demographic groups that the PML-N had the potential to win and to keep was the educated Pakistani urbanite. Too many of these former PPP sympathizers were deeply disappointed with President Zardari's handling of the chief justice. Too many of them were seeking a renewed democratic sizzle in the Pakistani political mainstream -- the kind of sizzle that had not been felt since 1988. Nawaz Sharif's performance during the last months of the lawyers' movement was encouraging to these Pakistanis. But this demographic is not be a solid bet for any party. From an electoral standpoint the group may be of only minor significance, but in terms of the overall national narrative, it has an outsized influence.
Getting knocked down and knocked around by Salman Taseer is bad news for the PML-N among urban Pakistanis in particular because it demonstrates a basic inability to negotiate the political narrative in the country. Over the least two years, instead of articulating a clear and winning position on national security, the PML-N has become known for being anti-Musharraf and pro-Taliban. That is not a winning position at all. It is disabling, to say the least. PML-N leaders outside of the Sharif family are routinely seen on television defending their party's anti-terror position. But what kind of a message machine is Nawaz Sharif running in 2010 if he has to cart out Ahsan Iqbal, Siddique-ul-Farooque, Saad Rafique and Khawaja Asif twice a night to repeat that position?
Now, with the most significant constitutional change anticipated in decades, the Noon League has gone ahead and undermined the last, and most significant pillar of its political strength in the country. It has built its entire politics since March 2009 around restoring the Constitution to a form that reflects its origins, and conforms to the Charter of Democracy. Instead of seizing the opportunity to remove the military's fingerprints from Pakistan's constitution, it has handed a massive victory to those very fingerprints.
As per pattern of course, it has done so in the most ugly and politically damaging way. One of its problems is the name of the NWFP province. By opposing the ANP's proposal it claims it is standing up for speakers of the Hindko and Potowari languages. Can speakers of Brohi, Seraiki and Urdu as their first-languages also expect this kind of moral probity from the PML-N for their languages? Of course not.
Over ten years ago, Nawaz Sharif was wrongly ejected from power. An over-centralization of decision-making and a habit of not listening to dissent within and outside his party made his government in 1999 immune to change. So much has happened since October 1999, but perhaps, to Pakistan's great misfortune, very little has happened in Raiwind. The Nawaz Sharif League it seems is still, immune to change.
The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He can be reached through his website www.mosharrafzaidi.com
I. THE NEWS
Of the many gifts given to the nation by the 2002 parliament, there were 60-odd holders of fake degree and an equal number of those who were either loan defaulters or had had their loans written off. Many others even wanted in criminal cases. It was common knowledge that fake bachelor's degrees were officially provided to many from the King's Party and madressah sanads (certificates) were overnight upgraded to degree level to accommodate a large number from the religious tribe.
The Higher Education Commission (HEC) raised no protest against this official lowering of education standards. The Election Commission looked the other way. As expected, many of these conmen rose to great heights, becoming MNAs, ministers and even vice chancellors of universities. Thus, for five long years, the people of Pakistan were forced to suffer these spurious MNAs and MPAs, who moved in the corridors of power in the same manner as spurious drugs circulate in the market.
With the BA requirements still in place, the 2008 elections created a fresh market demand for the manufacture and sale of fake degrees. We have once again ended up with many fake degree-holders and yet others who declared fake records of their assets. Many with huge properties and assets in foreign lands pretended to be paupers at home. Two events of the last few days have, however, produced a ray of hope, because they might have an impact on future elections. Through a constitutional petition in the Supreme Court, a citizen has challenged the assets statements filed by parliamentarians before the Election Commission of Pakistan. The Supreme Court also heard a case of fake degrees against three parliamentarians, who agreed to resign as a face-saving option.
The three, who were made to step down "honourably" (instead of being sent to jail), represent only the tip of the iceberg. Many others whose cases have still not been challenged yet continue to occupy positions of great power and importance.
A federal minister, who proudly displays his framed degree in the background, each time he conducts a press conference, has a degree from a certain Monticello University. (http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/06-army-colonel-lawyer-detained-on-espionage-charges-05-rs). However, the American Council on Higher Education Accreditation formally designates Monticello University as non-accredited. (http://www.michigan.gov/documents/ Non-accreditedSchools_78090_7.pdf.)
These and many other similar cases involving sitting parliamentarians have appeared a number of times in the print media. But they have failed to move those who ought to have prevented such lapses, in the first place.
Pakistanis need to question the credentials of their representatives and protest against them where they turn out to be bogus. It does not have to be their fate to suffer at the hands of those who hold fake degrees, make false asset statements and possess dubious characters. Why is the scrutiny system of the election commission so porous, so corrupt, so incompetent or so weak that it allows such blatant errors to go undetected? The Election Commission, the Higher Education Commission and the Federal Bureau of Revenue have repeatedly failed to scrutinise and filter out those with fake degrees or incorrect asset statements.
The judges of the Supreme Court had to ask only four questions to figure out the falsehood of a minister's academic qualification. Why couldn't the Election Commission ask the HEC and the FBR to verify the documents of all parliamentarians? If it is not the direct responsibility of the Election Commission, then who in this country is responsible for scrutinising these documents?
A new format for scrutiny of educational, financial and personal data of all parliamentarians needs to be defined to ensure that fraudulent people do not end up as our leaders. A three-stage filtration process needs to be adopted. Feedback from the public and scrutiny by the HEC and the FBR, and by the Election Commission itself. The Election Commission could place the facts declared by parliamentarians in national newspapers and ask all citizens to provide information on inaccurate declarations. For example, any citizen should be able to say that such and such a house in Islamabad, London or America also belongs to the parliamentarian in question but has not been included in the declaration.
Such reports (with an anonymity option) should be immediately investigated by special teams with authority to dig out the facts. The HEC and the FBR should be asked to scrutinise degrees and confirm if the degrees and the financial facts submitted by the politicians are genuine. Finally, the Election Commission must itself take responsibility for proactive scrutiny of facts by teams specially trained for this purpose.
Electoral reforms are urgently needed to improve the quality of the electoral process. Computerised voter lists must be displayed on a dedicated website. Voter education programmes must be initiated to help voters make informed choices about candidates. Voting must be made compulsory for all, and citizens must have the negative voting option when faced with a situation of having to vote either for rapist Tweedledum or murderer Tweedledee. We have had parliamentarians who served out full five-year terms without being exposed for their fake degrees or false asset declarations.
The government departments and the Election Commission have chosen the path of least resistance and opted to look the other way. While Article 62 of the Constitution stipulates many subjective, difficult-to-verify moral and religious requirements, the least we must do is to verify what is obvious, objective and easy.
Finally, one hopes that the Supreme Court will move beyond the polite "step-down" options for fake degree holders and go for the root cause the ineffective Election Commission. Shouldn't the Election Commission itself be held accountable for failing to verify the bona fides of these unethical individuals?
The writer is a management systems consultant and a freelance writer on social issues. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
ECONOMIC GROWTH REVISITED
DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
This article is written in response to Dr Meekal Aziz Ahmed's comments (March 27) on my article 'On economic growth' (March 23). Dr Ahmed is back again, "defending the indefensible" 'accomplished economists'. Like in the past, Dr Ahmed's comments are full of verbosity, personal attacks and political in tone, but unfortunately lacking substance. My response is limited to the essence of his comments.
The main thesis of my article was that growth in developing countries including Pakistan would necessarily be consumption-led owing to the dominance of private consumption expenditure in GDP. There is, therefore, nothing wrong in consumption-led growth. If people don't consume why should someone produce? The very act of consumption would encourage private sector to produce, invest and hence propel growth.
Dr Ahmed fully agrees with my main thesis and states that "there is nothing wrong with that. It is a welcome manifestation of a growing economy". But hastily he changes his gear and enters into policy arena, particularly in the domain of monetary policy. He finds fault with the policy of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) regarding cutting the interest rate sharply and flooding the economy with cheap money which, he thinks, is responsible for the surge in private consumption and a source of other economic problems the country faced thereafter.
As the readers would see, Dr Ahmed dissociates himself from my main thesis and enters into a totally different territory. In so doing, he provided me an opportunity to dwell more on the subject and hence clear his misperception.
I had covered the time period from 1999-2000 to 2006-07 in my article. Dr Ahmed would agree that the type of policy to be pursued by the government would depend on the prevailing economic conditions in the country. So, what were the prevailing economic conditions in 1999-2000 and 2000-01?
It is a well-known fact that the economy of Pakistan had reached to an extremely fragile state by the end of the1990s. The economic growth averaged 2.8 per cent per annum, budget deficit and public debt averaged 6 per cent and 82 per cent of GDP, respectively and as such the annual debt servicing was consuming almost two-thirds of total revenues during the period. Inflation on the other hand, averaged 3.8 per cent.
How to revive economic growth under the circumstances was the greatest challenge faced by the then policymakers. The economic growth could have been revived either by pursuing an expansionary fiscal policy or easy monetary policy. The former was not an option because budget deficit was high and the country was facing serious debt crisis. The only option left was to pursue an easy monetary policy to kick-start the economy as inflation was under control (3.8 per cent). Accordingly, the SBP gradually started reducing the discount rate from as high as 14.0 per cent on June 7, 2001 to 7.5 per cent by November 18, 2002 in five periodic interventions. In other words, an easy monetary policy was pursued for a limited period of less than three years (until April 13, 2005) to revive economic growth. During the period of low interest rate the real private consumption expenditure grew at an average rate of 0.8 per cent per annum. While investment-to-GDP ratio remained stagnant at around 16.7 per cent, real GDP growth moved up to 4.7 per cent in 2002-03 owing to the existence of excess capacity in the economy.
The real private consumption expenditure grew by 10.1 per cent and 12.9 per cent in 2003-04 and 2004-05, respectively. In this period, investment rate also started rising sharply and economic growth surged to 7.5 per cent and 9.0 per cent, respectively with inflation moving upward to 9.3 per cent in 2004-05. What happened thereafter? Quite naturally, the SBP started tightening the monetary policy and the discount rate was raised to 9 per cent (an increase of 150 bps) on April 14, 2005 and further by 50 bps each on July 31, 2006 and August 1, 2007.
What was the outcome? The real private consumption growth decelerated to a mere 1.0 per cent in 2005-06 but improved to 4.7 per cent in 2006-07. Investment continued to maintain its upward movement with investment rate rising gradually to a peak of 22.5 per cent in 2006-07. With deceleration in private consumption growth, the real GDP growth also moderated to 5.8 per cent and 6.8 per cent, respectively. Both exports and imports continued to grow at high double-digit rates. Imports grew at a relatively faster pace than exports on account of price effect.
What is the morale of the story? Dr Ahmed agrees with my main thesis that growth in developing countries would necessarily be consumption-led. He then raised the issue of the domain of monetary policy. In answering his questions, I described the prevalent economic conditions during 1999/00-2000/01 and the policy options that were available. Given the prevailing conditions, the pursuance of an easy monetary policy was the only option available. The SBP pursued such a policy for a limited period of less than three years. This policy not only encouraged private sector to come forward but succeeded in reviving economic growth. Once growth accelerated, the SBP started tightening the monetary policy to check inflationary pressure. Both consumption and economic growth returned to moderation but investment continued to rise to meet the growing demand for goods and services.
Dr Ahmed may disagree on the degree of tightening of monetary policy but I am sure he would agree with the choice of instrument and the direction of policy. What happened in 2007-08 requires another article and I promise that I would write on the subject as I am the eye-witness. Suffice it to say that unprecedented surge in food and fuel prices, deterioration in security environment, and run-up to the election resulting in policy paralysis are the root causes of macroeconomic difficulties in 2007-08.
The writer is director general and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
A VEXING ISSUE
MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
It may appear insignificant if the ruling coalition in the Frontier - the ANP and the PPP - gets a resolution passed by the assembly renaming NWFP as Pukhtoonkhwa and then gets it sanctioned constitutionally by using political pressure. Such a course, if adopted, can have serious repercussions.
Our constitution provides no procedure for changing the name of a province. Moreover, the proposed name Pukhtoonkhwa has some historical connotations. People have not forgotten that the creators of terms such as Pukhnoonistan and Pathanistan were against the creation of Pakistan. They had demanded referendum in NWFP to determine the future of that province. However, the pro-Pakistan element was so strong that the Muslim League won the referendum hands down. Pakistan became a reality in 1947 and yet propaganda by some elements against Pakistan and for the establishment of Pukhtoonistan continued for many years from Afghanistan.
There is no constitutional provision that empowers any body, including the provincial assembly, to change the name of the province by passing a resolution. If this principle was accepted, as the ANP is trying to do, then the practice of changing names would become common. No doubt, new states - Haryana and Himachal - have been carved out in India to satisfy the linguistic and ethnic aspirations of the population. The demand for the separate states of Haryana and Himachal was made by their people and accepted by the federation by amending the constitution. In their case, it was the minority who wanted separation from the Indian Punjab.
In the case of renaming NWFP, it is the majority which is insisting on the change of name. If the change is made without the consent of the minorities, then no one can rule out the possibility that the ethnic and lingual minorities might demand a separate province for themselves.
True, the constitution does not provide a procedure to change the name of a province, but it does not mean that a name can never be changed. The way out from this impasse is referendum. It is legally possible to hold a referendum although the constitution is silent on this count. However, the constitution is silent on many other points as well. For instance, it does not talk about political parties. However, political parties are the mainstay of democracy; without their existence democracy would wilt and yet constitution says nothing about them. We are not alone in this respect. The constitutions of the US, the UK and India also do not say a word about political parties.
The ANP has raised this controversial issue of changing the name of the province in front of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reform. The task of this committee is to undo the evil amendments which dictator Musharraf had forced into the 1973 Constitution. It is not required to recommend new amendments unless needed for administrative purposes. The name NWFP was not given by Musharraf or any other dictator; it was inherited from the British. Therefore, this issue of renaming the province should never have been on the agenda of the special committee in the first place. The committee's work has nearly been jeopardised on account of the renaming issue.
There is some controversy over the procedure of the appointment of superior judges as well. I think the proposed judicial commission for judges' appointment should be composed of (i) the chief justice (ii) the senior most Supreme Court justice. (iii) a nominee of the federal government and four other nominees, one from each province.
It is essential that the provinces are also given a say in the process of selection of judges. If adopted, this process of selection will increase public confidence by creating greater transparency.
Email: mirjrahman@hotmail .com
I. THE NEWS
HOW STRATEGIC WAS THE WASHINGTON DIALOGUE?
DR MALEEHA LODHI
The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.
Aimed at setting a new strategic direction for Pakistan-US relations and overcoming mutual mistrust, the recent talks in Washington were more significant for their atmospherics than any tangible outcome. Dialogue, of course, is a process, not an event. But the expectations raised by both sides about the fourth round had exceeded what was achieved in the two-day talks.
What emerged from the Washington encounter was already committed assistance for some development projects and a pledge to fast-track delivery of military hardware for Pakistan. Important, however, were the assurances conveyed to the Pakistani delegation that America's long-term strategic interests were consistent with Pakistan's security, and that these lay east of Afghanistan.
But despite the well-orchestrated pageantry, the strategic dialogue made little, if any, visible progress on the big-ticket issues that topped Pakistan's priorities: preferential trade, addressing the troubled Pakistan-India equation and securing access to civilian nuclear technology. While the US didn't want to say no to Pakistan's requests, it didn't say yes either.
The high-powered engagement was driven principally by US compulsions to secure Pakistan's cooperation as the Afghan endgame approaches and for the continuing fight against Al Qaeda. While the effort in the dialogue was to accord primacy to bilateral relations, Afghanistan remained the most pressing concern.
The dialogue nevertheless sought to broaden the relationship beyond a focus on security. But the agenda's expansion to ten "sectoral tracks" raised doubts about the wisdom of adding to a "strategic" dialogue multiple issues that are already the subject of ongoing discussions. This risks scattering the focus and detracting from pivotal matters.
The anodyne joint statement issued at the end of the talks was more important for what it did not say than for what it did. Absent, despite Islamabad's efforts, was any reference to US support for the resumption of formal peace talks, or composite dialogue, between Pakistan and India or the need to resolve disputes Kashmir and water among them.
There was silence on further engagement on civilian nuclear energy. American officials told the Pakistani delegation that this was not the time to press the issue. Pakistan's minimum expectation to secure in the communiqué some kind of formal recognition of its status as a nuclear-weapons power did not materialise.
As for trade, the vague US assurance to "work towards enhanced market access" fell short of a firm commitment on trade concessions, much less hold out any prospect of a future free-trade agreement. Considering Washington has for years been unable to deliver the modest trade access under the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones initiative, Pakistani expectations of preferential trade access will have to be squared with this reality.
Nevertheless, the Pakistani delegation saw a marked change in the mood in Washington. Even though the foreign minister overstated the point by describing this as a "180-degree turn" the environment for the talks was no doubt very positive. Pakistan's army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani read this as acknowledgement of the fact that "Pakistan had as a nation stood up to terrorism."
Certainly Washington made a special effort to roll out its top national security team for the dialogue and shower praise on Pakistan for its anti-militancy efforts. This improvement in tenor helped to restore a semblance of normalcy to a relationship that has recently been under much strain.
A new willingness to listen to Pakistan's concerns and priorities was evident. These had been earlier conveyed in a 56-page document handed over to US national security adviser Gen James Jones during his February visit to Islamabad. This had, according to American officials, been carefully read in Washington.
The really substantive and strategic exchanges took place outside the formal dialogue process in unpublicised meetings. They included a dinner hosted by the chairman of the joint staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and attended by Gen Kayani, as well as the unannounced meeting between the top members of the Pakistani delegation and Vice President Joseph Biden. Pakistan's economic needs, India and Afghanistan apparently figured in these meetings.
Although the content of these parleys and earlier meetings at the Pentagon and Centcom headquarters have not been revealed, it is believed they focused on an immediate priority: how to manage the Afghan endgame. Views were also reportedly exchanged on how a post-war Afghanistan could be stabilised. The two sides are believed to have attained a better understanding of each other's perspectives so as to align their policy on the next steps forward.
For President Obama, whose re-election prospects hinge considerably on "success" in Afghanistan, it is critical to secure Pakistan's cooperation militarily in implementing his surge strategy, and politically, once the ground shifts to negotiations with the Taliban. The exchanges on the sidelines of the strategic dialogue sought to determine the parameters of such cooperation.
Washington has not yet come around to seek a political settlement in Afghanistan. For now it wants to weaken, not talk to Taliban leaders. Efforts are being ratcheted up for a full-scale military offensive in Kandahar in coming weeks. The US has adopted a public posture of distancing itself from President Hamid Karzai's reconciliation efforts but has pointedly not signalled disapproval.
In congressional testimony last week Defence Secretary Robert Gates described the present US position in this way: "The shift of momentum is not yet strong enough to convince Taliban leaders they are going to lose . It's when they have doubts whether they can be successful that they may be willing to make a deal . I don't think we're there yet."
Washington's shoot-first-to-talk-later strategy is therefore predicated on the assumption that its military campaign will be able to weaken the Taliban. The specifics of a reconciliation strategy would then be fashioned as the situation changes on the ground.
In the light of this strategy it is unlikely that the Pakistani delegation would have heard any specifics about the timing and modalities of talks with the Afghan insurgents, even though it is apparent that they will eventually be pursued. The discussions left little doubt in the minds of Pakistani officials that Washington was looking for a way to "exit" from the Afghan war.
As for Pakistan's stance, Gen Kayani reiterated this at various forums: once a political framework for political reconciliation had been fashioned in what must be an Afghan-led initiative, Pakistan was willing to play a role. Without such a framework peace efforts would not succeed. He also reaffirmed Pakistan's interest in seeing a stable, peaceful and friendly Afghanistan.
While the talks helped both sides better understand each other's thinking, the delicate dance that lies ahead will pose many challenges. How far the Washington talks have paved the way for closer coordination will only emerge later. Islamabad will certainly expect Washington to deliver on specific assurances given to its delegation about addressing its concerns over India's military role in Afghanistan.
The future of Pakistan-US relations will hinge as much on how the Afghan endgame is played out as on other strategic issues. On the other security issues, Washington has listened to Pakistan's case but chosen to be noncommittal, even as it has tried to show more "understanding." These issues will not disappear just because Washington is unable to help address them: the unstable Pakistan-India relationship, the strategic challenges posed by the destabilising effects of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, the festering Kashmir dispute, and the complexities of the water issue. Public views of the US in Pakistan will also be determined by what didn't figure in the strategic dialogue: US policies towards the Muslim world.
Pakistan's decision-makers should draw an important lesson from the talks. Given the limits on Washington's capacity to address Pakistan's concerns just as there are constraints on Pakistan's ability to support all of America's geo-strategic interests Islamabad needs to change its US-centric mindset, learn to mobilise its own resources, rather than look to Washington to solve all its problems and fashion a foreign policy that is in sync with the multipolar world we live in.
CIVIL SYSTEM FAST COLLAPSING
CHIEF of JUI (F) Maulana Fazlur Rehman has done well by inviting attention of all concerned towards an issue that has far-reaching implications for the country. Talking to newsmen in Karachi on Sunday, he observed that civil administration has collapsed in the NWFP.
One can understand reasons for failure of the civil administration in the NWFP where militants had established their strongholds and they were in effective control of some parts of the province. Though inefficiency of the Government is also to be blamed for the all-round deterioration, the dominant factor there is the fall of the civil structure in the face of strong militancy and an effort is now underway to establish the writ of the Government again. But it is regrettable to point out that similar situation is visible in other provinces as well where Provincial Governments seem to have become silent spectators. There is virtual insurgency in some parts of Balochistan and there is no let-up in the target killings of non-Baluchs. In Sindh, people have lost faith in the government especially police and the lower judiciary as is witnessed in several cases of thefts and dacoity where mob killed the culprits on the spot fearing the system would not punish them. It is all the more shocking that Punjab, which was previously considered to be comparatively well-governed and its inhabitants thought to be more aware about their duties and responsibilities, has fallen into abyss too. Apart from other things, this is fully evident from the ongoing controversy over slapping of a judge by a berserk lawyer and the resultant turbulence leading to submission of resignations by a large number of judges and requests for long leave by others has polluted the environment and sent wrong message about governance in the Province. It is unheard of in civilised society that an honourable judge would be beaten and that too by lawyers who are supposed to be decent and champions of rule of law. But it seems that some members of the legal community have lost balance, which was also reflected by the incident of burning of office and banner of a free legal aid organisation run by the former judge of the Supreme Court Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid. The culprits offered a unique explanation for their vandalism that establishment of free legal aid organisations would deprive them of their livelihood and this spoke of mental bankruptcy of those who indulged in the crime. It is all the more regrettable that these things are going unchecked and there is no action against the culprits. The system is collapsing. Is any one listening?
PAK STUDENTS MISBEHAVE IN CUBA
CUBA has regretted misbehaviour of some of Pakistani students who are currently studying medicine there as result of an offer made by Havana after the terrible earthquake that hit Pakistan in October 2005. The attitude of some of the students, who indulged in strikes and violence, forced Cuban authorities to cancel visas of fifteen.
It is known to all that Cuba itself is braving unjust sanctions and blockades that have affected different spheres of its life. However, despite all this Cuban Government and people demonstrated their love and goodwill for Pakistan by providing every possible assistance in mitigating the sufferings of the people affected by the earthquake. Apart from this much-needed and timely assistance, Cuba displayed its generosity by offering not few but one thousand scholarships in medicine to Pakistani students. As against other countries which make such announcements but take years to materialise their commitments, Cuban authorities cleared all formalities and it is for three years that Pakistani students are getting medical education in that friendly country. All this was made possible by the incumbent Cuban Ambassador in Pakistan who is working hard to consolidate ties between the two countries. However, it is highly deplorable that instead of expressing their gratitude for the host country, some of the students have chosen to indulge in unbecoming activities as do many of their non-serious fellows back home. Cuban authorities have provided best of facilities to these students and this was confirmed by a delegation headed by Senator Nilofar Bakhtiar, which also gave assurance to the students that the medical degrees given by Cuba would be accepted by Pakistan. It is also understood that acceptance of their degree would not be a problem as the Government itself has sent them to Cuba. However, the attitude of some of the students clearly shows that they are not serious in pursuing their studies and are bringing bad name to the country by indulging in negative activities. Action should be taken against them and in future only serious and deserving students should be sent abroad on scholarships.
RAY OF HOPE IN IRAQ
AFTER relatively peaceful elections process has started to build a coalition that could provide much needed stability and security to Iraq. Former Premier Iyad Allawi who narrowly edged out incumbent Nuri al-Maliki has begun talks, which could last for weeks and even months to form a government
There is a ray of hope that a strong government, capable of taking decisions in the interest of the Iraqi people would ultimately be formed. According to official results Allawi's Iraqiya bloc won 91 seats in Parliament, two more than Maliki's State of Law Alliance. Despite occasional incidents of violence preceding elections and some on the election day as well, the security forces of Iraq that were tasked to provide security performed their duties superbly, which is a credit to the emerging capability of the Iraqi State. Iraq is an important country in the Arab world and formation of a credible and strong government in Baghdad is vital not only for the country but also for the region. Incumbent Maliki has refused to accept the results. Neither Iraqiya nor State of Law Alliance clinched an overall majority in the 325-member Council of Representatives. Allawi vowing to work with all sides to form a government has appointed Rafa Al-Essawi, current deputy prime minister and a member of his alliance, to lead negotiations over coalition formation. The task of forming a coalition government in Iraq appears to be difficult but we wish all the political parties and other stakeholders would keep the larger interest of the country uppermost and extend all the support in the formation of a stable Government which could run the affairs of the country in an orderly manner as the United States is due to withdraw all of its combat troops after five months.
SINISTER INTENTS ABOUT BALOCHISTAN
NEWS & VIEWS
Pseudo-intellectuals, some unpatriotic journalists and enemies of Pakistan are writing provocative articles and essays justifying the insurgency by centrifugal forces and handful of sardars of Balochistan. Since the inception of Pakistan, for members of elite it is a fashion use vitriolic against Pakistan's security forces and criticize Pakistan on every count because those with myopic vision cannot see anything worthwhile and good in this country. In fact, problems of corruption, poverty, hunger and disease are rampant in many countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America yet they consider Pakistan the worst place on the globe. Those infatuated with India because of its size and 'shine' should look the incidence of poverty and insurgencies in about a dozen states. Such shameless creatures bite the hand that feeds them. They try to devour the womb that gave them birth.
One latest addition to this class is Madiha R Tahir, who has spewed venom against Pakistan and sanctimoniously criticized Pakistan's security agencies because they try to quell the rebellion. She should have realized that no government worth the name in the world would let the insurgents go around challenging the writ of the state. She gives a sentimental touch to her story by starting with these opening words: "A child is fiddling with a poster of a mustachioed man, a missing political worker who may be his father or his uncle, and who is in all likelihood, dead. He draws my immediate attention, this child, because out of the thousands seated around him in row upon neat row inside the open-air tent, he is the only one not focused on the stage, the blazing lights, the young man holding forth in angry punctuated bellows". She narrates incidents of Frontier Corps firing on a student protest killing two students and injuring four more. She goes on to narrate the proceedings of the meetings and continues to lionize the insurgents who badmouth Pakistan and its institutions. They do not believe in the parliament, judiciary or the constitution because they do not consider Balochistan as part of Pakistan. She writes: "The province's location at this explosive geopolitical crossroads as well as its vast mineral resources and valuable coastline have focused the anxieties of international powers near and far, suggesting that a new Great Game may take Balochistan as its target. Tehran worries about what conflicts in Balochistan will mean for its own Sistan-Balochistan province, whose Baloch population has been brutally suppressed by the state".
She goes on to narrate stories of her meetings with some sardars and their scions who have either taken to the mountains or slipped into the neighbouring countries. One would not know the real intent of the author, but the sad part is that this lengthy treatise was published in The National, a daily from Abu Dhabi, which is one of the closest friends of Pakistan, and in fact Pakistan is second home for the Abu Dhabi rulers. Apart from that Pakistan's Human Rights Commission dwells at length if any Baloch insurgent is killed, but would prefer to keep mum on target killings of Punjabis and non-Balochis, or at the most they use full stop after one line, as if their lives are not important.
Balochistan has seen many an insurgency or rebellion in the past, and last year it was once again in the throes of violence after the murder of three Baloch nationalist leaders. When queer things happen in FATA, NWFP and Balochistan and given the information that terrorist activities of groups are supported or sponsored by foreigners then the government should seriously investigate into the matter and adopt a strategy to counter them. Though Baloch leaders including Ghulam Muhammad claimed that they were members of 'Baloch Dost Committee' formed for the recovery of missing Baloch men and women and had played a vital role in the release of UNCHR official John Solecki, yet other reports suggested that Ghulam Muhammad Baloch negotiated the deal but release of the UN official came after paying a huge ransom directly by the US.
There is also a perception that the murder could have been the result of personal enmity or could have been planning by those who considered the left-leaning nationalist leaders as a challenge and threat to their leadership. The people of Balochistan have been waging struggle for their rights ever since the British left. There could have been some justification for resistance when they were under strong center and unitary form of government in 1950s and 1960s. But once the One-Unit was done away with and complete provincial status was given to Balochistan, the struggle should have ended. But fact of the matter is that there has been a sort of rebellion whenever there was an elected government. However, the long dormant crisis erupted into a brutal confrontation with the center in 1973 when late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had tried to establish educational institutions and construction of roads in Balochistan.
The insurgency, however, lasted for four years from 1973 to 1977, and it was after promulgation of Martial Law by Late General Zia-ul-Haq that sedition cases were withdrawn against Baloch sardars. However, sardars and feudal chiefs thrive even amid the centre's injustices and the clashes between them and the security forces. It is unfortunate that the civil society does not consider it worthwhile to comment on what sardars have been doing to their people. It is common knowledge that tribalism is firmly rooted in Balochistan, as ethnic and tribal identity is a potent force for both individuals and groups in Balochistan with the result that there exists deep polarization among different groups. Each of these groups is based on different rules of social organization, which has left the province inexorably fragmented.
Tribal group-ism has failed to integrate the state and enforce a national identity. But those who have not weaned from the poison of sham nationalism should take a look at the history of the Balkans, and the fate they met. A couple of times Sardar Ataullah Mengal appeared in a television interview and to a question he said that America does not pay any attention and he even talked about disintegration of the country. Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Sardar Khair Bakhsh Marri and scions of late Akbar Bugti should try to safeguard the interests of Balochis but through democratic struggle and help stop bloodshed. We also strongly urge the government that measures should be taken to address the grievances of the smaller provinces, and in this regard Punjab and Sindh will have to sacrifice for giving more than the share of Balochistan and NWFP with a view to improving their lives.
MNS VOLTE FACE
DR SYED JAVED HUSSAIN
This is exactly how politicians in Pakistan are supposed to muddle up. They cruise along sprouting their ill-fated animosities expecting the nation to suffer their rancour, jealousy and distrust of each other with priestly patience and persisting tolerance. Nawaz Sharif's Press conference a day before the constitutional amendment package was to be presented before the House could not have been more ill-timed and in bad taste. The work of constitutional amendment committee, after more than 66 sessions, was cut short and the labour of toiling lawmakers doing the rounds for the last more than nine months went down the drain: quite unceremonious misrecognition of their services to the nation. And this too at the hands of a leader who claims to have no parochial leanings. Mr Sharif could not live with feathers in PPP's cap.
In the last two years he has been bashing Zardari for not undoing the 17th amendment which he considers as legacy of the worst dictator Pakistan ever had. This despite the fact that many a people in Pakistan still believe Zia, his mentor, as worse than Musharraff on many counts. What caught everybody nonplussed was not his ill-timed blabbering. It was the forum he had picked up.
One wonders why his two lieutenants on the Constitutional Reform Committee, doing rounds with all in-house political parties represented there to remodel the constitution, could not brief their leader properly so that he could hold his horses and refrain from indulging in his penchant for surprises to the nation in bad taste. Both excuses which he has presented to the nation to forestall the unanimous presentation of the Constitutional Amendment Bill in the Parliament are lousy and untenable. His naivety was well exposed as he had all along been demanding annulment of 17th amendment ignoring the fact that he was talking about not an ordinary law but constitution of the country and that not all injunctions of the 17th Amendment were under question.
The nation lived with his demand of blanket rejection of 17th amendment and ignored it all the time. But now when after proper study and thoughtful brooding, in conjunction with the joint efforts of all the political parties represented in the parliament, the result was within its reach, Sharief has thrown a spanner into it. What he intended to gain out of it is everybody's guess. But what he got in return is a lot of criticism from all quarters. Not a single political party has supported PML (N) over the issues of judges as well as the naming of the NWFP. He stands alone and with Punjab behind him to certain extant he stands tall as a Punjabi leader. Had his concerns, as expressed in front of the media, been genuine he would have gone to the proper forum through his acolytes where everyone was all ears and wanted a consensus which he has destroyed so callously.
On the day of the press conference it was the composition of the judicial commission as well as the naming of the NWFP but later as a second thought while writing its dissenting note the PML-N added transfer of some federal powers to the provinces, including preparation of curriculum, syllabus, planning, policy and standards of education. One wonders what Ishaq Dar and Ahsan Iqbal were doing all these months in the committees if things were to come out in the open this way. Mr. Sharief has a knack for keeping everyone guessing. Yet another bombshell is in the form of his uncanny demand for the exclusion of Babar Awan, Federal Minister of Law, from the Judicial Commission. It is hugely reflective of his myopic vision of state institutions. If his disliking for a certain person is going to weaken an institution then only Sharief can live with that.
He has simply ignored the fact that the Judicial Commission will certainly outlive the Law minister as well as Honourable Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhari. Further he has been demanding the implementation of the Charter of Democracy which calls for the inclusion of the Law minister in the Judicial Commission.
According to the Charter of Democracy the recommendations for appointment of judges to superior judiciary are to be formulated through a commission comprising chairman, who will be the chief justice of Pakistan, chief justices of provincial high courts, vice chairmen of Pakistan Bar Council and provincial bar council with respect to the appointment of judges to their concerned province, the President of Supreme Court Bar Association, the Presidents of High Court Bar Associations of Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and Quetta with respect to justices nomination to their concerned province, the Federal Law Minister and the Attorney General of Pakistan.
Of course the new formation of the Commission is not in letter and in spirit of the CoD. Then the CoD is a political document signed by the PPP and the PML (N). Many other political parties were not taken on board hence cannot be called upon to accept the document. Therefore, both the PPP as well as the PML (N) will have to show some flexibility to take all other political forces on board to steer the country out of its present malaise and not exploit the situation as Mr Sharif has done for political mileage.
Our politicians have to be extra vigilant regarding their acts of omissions and commissions. They have in Pakistan Army their rival compatriots to vie for political powers. Fortunately, the current leadership of Pakistan Army has no liking for politics which opens a window of opportunity for politicians to grow up and handle themselves maturely. They are the right and the only people to provide leadership to the nation and should not botch-up as in the past.
EDUCATION IN PAKISTAN
DR IKRAM AZAM
Pakistan was created in bloody riotous crises on 14th August, 1947 and continues to coexist in and with crises: both congenial and self-created. These crises are complex and multiple, the core being of: (i) ideological identity, vision, mission and destiny: Islam versus western materialistic sensate secularism.(ii) Anachronism (iii) Bureaucratism (iv) Feudalism (v) Corruption (vi) Incompetence (vii) Resistance to critical social change, because of ingrained statusquoism and adhocism (viii) Collective leadership, above all.
These core crises have been transferred tragically to all of Pakistan's national system and their sub-system, including education. The rule of thumb in Pakistan seems to be : "Mediocrity marginalizes merit, manipulatively and malevolently". The reason for that is petty power politics which is personal partisan and parochial even where there should be no politics at all, i.e.; the social sector: National integrative holistic development, education and health. I remember my last visit to two American former Principals of the Gordon College, Rawalpindi (my alma mater). That was way back in the summer of 1984 in a retirement home in Pasadena, Los Angels, California, US. I was then on a short professional course (as a career civil servant of the Govt. of Pakistan) at the USC. Both said of Pakistan nostalgically, fondly: "Pakistan has excellent peoplebut it suffers from the 'party-bazi' of its leadership". That was true in 1948-1952,1965,1971,1984 and remains true even today in 2010! The proof the PPP-PML (N and Q), MQM and ANP self-deceiving shadow boxingwhich fools no one but themselves! But the turf game for power, prestige and perks continue unabated. Education is the key to the future, and the future belong to the youth and children. These truisms are as crystal clear as day-light, itself. Yet, despite all the lip-service promise and pledges, these two independent vital sectors of the Pakistani system and society, are criminally neglected at all levels: primary, secondary and tertiary; urban and rural by the ruling and power elite.
There has been numerical mushroom growth of educational institutions: schools, college and universities, because of population explosion, and black money whitened by investment in commercialized "bazari"(street-smart) education. But the quality of education is deplorable despite the politicized white elephant HEC and its bragster's tall claims.
It is high time that, like all other national, provincial and local institutions, it be subjected periodically to the pristine principles of transparency and accountability, by means of performance and financial audit. It seems to have effectively disempowered the federal and provincial Ministers of education, rendering them redundant. It has also upset the crucial balance between the human and social science, the arts, languages and literatures on the one hand and science and technology, on the other. Sane and sensible societies need a balanced mix of both, while prioritizing moral and ethical education, and integrated family studies, rather than women's studies, exclusively. Above all, futuristics is deferred dismissively, because of turf game and also because Pakistani policy makers are like escapistic cuckoos in the clouds: 'God is in His Heaven and all is well with the world!"Nominal Ph.D's or not, Pakistani universities lack lamentably: (i) Profound and original, creative original, creative and innovative research: Scholars, scholarship and thinkers.(ii) The research tradition and milieu for researchers and research facilities, including supervisors, libraries and journals (iii) Quality control, standardization and monitoring authoritiesinternal and external. Pakistani university are like myopic, mechanical closed systems, rather than open, living human systems.
The whole thrust is on expansion not consolidation; generalization rather than specialization and expertise. The state universities are rank-dominated bureaucracies of mediocrity. Some seem to have been invaded, if not taken over by the USEFP (US Education Foundation, Pakistan) and American centres, particularly some key departmentsas counterparts of some foreign funded NGOs and consultancies to promote indigenous imperialism and linguistic-cum cultural-cum-linguistic colonialism. (1) The private universities are a money-making mafia. Their sources of funding need to be investigated. The worst and biggest agent-instrument of alienation is the so-said Anglo-American system of education. It needs to be indigenised immediatelyPakistanised. It also needs an independent national monitoring control and certification authority.
It is straightaway conceded that the present essay is based generalistic perceptions mine and of many others with whom I have discussed this topic. However, they are common experiences and observations which do not prevent one from recognizing the exceptions, e.g, The NDU, NUST, LUMS, GIK, NU-FAST, Comsats and the Agha Khan University, Karachi. The way out is futuristic future focus forward. It is futuristic. So for Muslims are dubbed and decried to be their own worst foes, rather than friends. (3) We need to opt immediately, individually, filially, socially, nationally and collectively as the Muslim Islami Ummah, for strategic sovereign self-reliance. That means authentic islamization, as well as Pakistanization for Pakistan. This, then, is the very first step or leap forward to Islami revival, with ever modern-futuristic Islam as the perennial peace paradigm and Muhammadi moral model.
A NAME IS ALL WE HAVE
The long debate of what should be the true identity of the people of the North Western Frontier Province is going on and the debate is getting more political by the day. There is an expression in the English Language, What's in a name? And another, It's all in a name? Which one makes more sense depends on the person. The people in the Frontier Province live by a code, "We are Pathans first, and anything else later. If the Pathans are raising an issue that the name of their province does not truly represent them, then that objection should not be taken lightly. What is the hurdle that the two ruling parties PML-N and PPP can not agree upon a name?
General Pervez Musharraf recently called Mian Nawaz Sharif in between the words "a closet Taliban". Everyone is wondering what is the real reason for Mian Sahib's sudden change in tone? Well, Mian Sahib has had such episodes in the past only to be seen rubbing the shoulders with the PPP days or weeks later. Unless his statement manifests itself into something practical and tangible then Pakistanis should take him seriously, otherwise not. One seems to wonder, "Whatever happened to Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif?" A dynamic leader, a two time Prime Minister, a man who respected ideas and intellect is playing such passive politics which is purely party-based. Not to mention that Chaudhry Pervez Ellahi recently leveled charges against PML-N which should be taken seriously.
The charge he made in general was that the Shraifs cannot stand anyone's preserve and leadership in Punjab and elsewhere other than themselves. There is fact to be stated here that under Chaudhry Pervez Ellahi's performance during former President Pervez Musharraf's tenure was exemplary. And just for the record neither Punjab nor Pakistan is anyone's "Jageer" and the same allegation made on the Sharif Brothers is made against the leaders of the PPP. No one wants to be wrong and no one is right either and in this situation when the ruling aristocrats are warring with each other, the only party that suffers are the weak-and the weak are in crores. The word that is being time and again in Pakistan is "Good Governance". This is not a recent dilemma, but it is a dilemma since 1947. If we had good governance then Pakistan would not have been partitioned. If we had good governance then the 1965 war would not have happened, Kargil would not have happened. And Pakistan would not have seen Martial Law for half of its history. What Pakistanis must understand is that the army had taken an oath and a solemn pledge to preserve and protect Pakistan. It is only when there is no other choice that the army intervenes. Why blame the Army and its rule dictatorship when the civilian government cannot keep the institutions and the State running.
Why is it that we are still re-naming provinces. Teaching nationalism and preaching patriotism. We don't have a sense of nationality. We don't have confidence in our national identity. We steal whatever is thrown at us from abroad, or we borrow it or best we accept it as "Aid" as it is our right as a "nation". Our new generation is both enterprising and brilliant and lost in terms of identity and opportunities. We look at Indians or other nations with an "Aah". Are we curable? Yes, we are but the remedy lies in our national idealogy? Our claim to Pakistan that we were Muslims, distinguishable and distinct in every way. Which is the truth. Then, we should live by what we identify ourselves with. The tragedy with Pakistan is that we, the Pakistani nation has chosen a path parallel to what we choose at our birth. We are like a child born Muslim gone wayward. But the child can be corrected. The child can be guided and made to choose the right path and execute the right decisions.
The Pakistani people are like a child. They should be loved and guarded like a guardian. I say we need a guardian and a father-figure like "Ataturk" in Pakistan. We desperately need a leader and a father-figure in "One". This nation needs leadership and compassion. A leader who exudes care, consideration, compassion and understanding. A leader who forgives mistakes and leades to a collective goal. Is there any one out there who fits this criteria? If so rise and stand up. What are you waiting for?
'AGGRIEVED AAFIA' AND AMERICA
After having implicated Dr Aafia Siddiqui in a false and fabricated case and keeping her in a secret prison for seven long years, the US court of justice have given the verdict which provided a laugh line to the world jurists community. Coming out form the court house even the defense Attorney, Linda Moreno wearing a worn out smile said, "Now I have no faith in American justice system. I completely disagree with this partisan verdict we will go into an appeal against this verdict. She further revealed in her closing statement "The case is about "Fear versus Facts".
The prosecutor portrayed Dr. Aafia as a terrorist, though she was not charged with any terrorism offences but prosecutor charged her as "would be terrorist". The verdict she said explains the fear versus facts but I say there is no room for fear in the court room, it indicated that verdict of the jurors took over fear of the US justice system. The verdict confirmed that it is impossible for Muslim terrorism suspects to receive a fair trial in USA courts. Is it not a biased behavior of the court that no Muslim media was allowed to cover the proceedings of the court or snapping up Dr. Aafia a torn up Muslim convict. Defense Attorney cleared up that prosecution had proved no physical evidence and their witness testimonies were inconsistent.
Does it not sound ridiculous that verdict charges her for assaulting 4 US nationals with M 4 riffle and had got a list of terror targets in New York landmarks including the State of Liberty, Brookly Bridge and the Empire State Building, and instructions how to makes a bomb. Another defense attorney, Charles Swift said, "my client Dr. Aafia who has earned her Doctorate Degree in Neurocongnitive science degree from Brandies University of America was kept in secret prison for seven long years without any legal representation.
The ill-fated Dr. Aafia narrating the gory story of her long agonizing arrest in US said, "I was kidnapped with my three small kids and kept in a secret jail where I suffered unbelievable physical mental and psychological torture by the US soldiers during interrogation, many times I confronted death owing to pains but I think pain is a state of mind either your give into it or not and I chose "NOT". The cruel culture of US prospects of justice are not good for any Muslim than how Dr. Aafia could receive any genuine justice form it.It is said that after the jurors left the court room Dr. Aafia showing no emotions shouted, "I know where the verdict has come from". Dr. Aafia has been declared as the terrorist but the jury could not prove it.
Factually she did not practice terrorism but the Americans dugout in her inner the hatred against the US terrorism against the Muslims and now the only alternate was with them to declared her terrorist. Dr. Aafia is a Muslim through and through how long she could see and hear the massive killings of her innocent co-Muslims. Being a weaker gender she was not in a position to express her anguish and alarm in practical form but she developed hatred against the US terrorists in her mind. May she had expressed her inner hatred at any place and the US forces like a sniffer dog held her.
The strange fact is this no Pakistani official of the Pakistan Embassy was present on the seat reserved for them. If a female member of one family is kidnapped the whole of the family even if it is on rifts get together and sit not silent unless they recover the female, but to our great disappointment US has kidnapped a young Fulbright doctor (Dr. Aafia ) of Pakistan in daybright light, but we are not in a position to snub our Exacting Master (USA). We cannot show even our anger or anguish to US because the United States of America has the power to make and break the Kings in Pakistan. If somewhat is being done in this case by the Government it is all under wrap and under lip, this apathetic action is shameful. Dr. Aafia I have no words